Sunday, April 30, 2006

The Hinds Head

Heston Blumenthal and his atomic kitchen have sent shock waves through the culinary community, most of which knows nothing more of his work than the highly marketable "molecular gastronomy." And it's not to blame. The bacon and egg icecream and snail porrige has been writen up frequently, extending from culinary trade magazines to the mens journal GQ.

But across the street from The Fat Duck is another of Heston's children, The Hinds Head. Not satisfied with just blazing trails in pursuit of cuisine not yet discovered, ever reaching into the future, Heston dove into the past recreating recipes rooted deeply in British tradition. Imagine the intense focus of a Michelain 3 star chef put into traditional british pub food.

Often overshaddowed by the giant across the alley, The Hinds Head sometimes seems a little left out. The red headed step child so to speak. But much to my delight, the NY Times Magazine published a bit about The Hinds Head today. It's well worth the read, so please, do follow the link! And take a peek at what The Hinds Head offers the culinary community.

Friday, April 28, 2006

for a limited time only

A great cook I know with a great sense of humor has finally started a blog. But this blog has a short life span. It was set up to document a culinary adventure cooking on a yacht traveling in a floatilla from Seattle to Alaska. The departure is in 16 days, and the trip lasts a mere 21 days.

A post about the head contraption built to sustain the land lubbin' chef is roll on the floor laughable.

So all aboard, quickly! This is a trip you will surely want to take part in.

Hard Tack at Sea

For a limited time only? Reminds me of another blog set up for a limited time to document a culinary adventure.....

Saturday, April 15, 2006

What's poetry got to do with Pastry

What's poetry got to do with pastry, you might ask. Well, nothing really. But it's got to do with Dana. A poet, I do not claim to be, but I enjoy twisting words on occasion for no purpose other than to enjoy their aesthetic. And I am a big fan of those that have mastered the art, my favorite being Frank O'Hara.

So while reading the New York times this morning, I found an article about Fibonacci, a form of poetry whose syllabic rhythm is dictated, much like the well known Haiku. In this form, the syllables are dictated by the mathematical Fibonacci sequence resulting in a 20 syllable poem with a count by line of 1/1/2/3/5/8.

Writers and poets use poems with strict syllabic structures as exercises. It forces you to select your words very carefully, considering how much you can convey with so few words. In my highschool writing classes, my favorite exercise was to take all our writings, and reduce each to a haiku. This taught us to reduce pages and pages of thought into just a few words, carving out the soul of the writing.

Ok, ok, so to the point already. The NY times article wasn't just about the poetic form, but about a blogger. This blogger, Gregory K by name, Gottabook by blog, had made a call to all others in cyberspace to add their own poems, to play with the form. The post spread like wildfire, collecting enough participants for the New York Times to take notice and spread the work further.

And I too, am joining the cause. I have composed 3 fibs, as they are called, inspired by my last 2 posts. And I call to you, dear readers, food bloggers, word smiths, to enjoy the movement and compose your own food fib. We create with food, and then manipulate words descriptively on our own blogs, the poem is there in all of us.

Don't fear, these aren't meant to be timeless works of words, rather snapshots so to speak. Post here, on Gregory K's blog, on your own blog, or on a napkin no one but yourself will ever see.

In Bloom

Seasons birth,
coaxed from a bare branch.
Springs first light spilling from the sky.

Burnt Sugar

Come here quick!
You're Caramel's burning!
"Relax," I say. "It's supposed to."

I Heart Bacon
inspired by a comment

Your blog's
about sweets.
I can't help but ask,
What's pork got to do with pastry?

Thursday, April 13, 2006

In Bloom

My morning commute to work can be a daunting endeavor. It's a mere 6 block walk, taking 10 minutes at the most. A hop, skip, and a jump, I know. But for good reason, my fair city of Seattle has earned the nickname "Rain City". Through this endless drip I drag myself each day, coffee taking grip and prep lists forming in my waking brain. I often think, "I don't remember there being this much rain last year."

Just when I begin to think about packing my things and moving to a sunnier climate, the skies open a bit, and spring begins to spring. Light spills out of the sky, illuminating lush new growth, and teasing blossoms out of dry branches. My morning commute becomes a delight, walking down residential streets lined with trees in bloom.

As I enter the door to the kitchen, these blossoms fresh in mind, I can't help but bring spring inspiration to my menu. While flowers themselves haven't made their way into my desserts, one tart, made of apples, blooms.

To recreate this tart is simpler than it appears. The apples are halved, cored, and sliced thinly. The slices remain stiff, but soften after sitting an hour in a coating of sugar and spice. The juices are drained, and the soft petals of apple in concentric circles starting from the outside, working in. The juices are cooked into a syrup, mounted with butter, and brushed over the top before baking.

As the tart is sliced, warmed, and served aside burnt sugar icecream and salted creme fraiche caramels, the blossom is lost to the eye. It would surely bring spring into the dining room, alas, it's a joy I'll have to keep for myself... and my faithful readers.

Apple Blossom Tart

1 blind baked tart shell

7 tart apples
1/3 cup sugar
1/3 cup brown sugar
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1/2 tsp salt
2 tbsp butter
1 tbsp cornstarch

1. Peel, core, and slice the apples just under 1/8th an inch thick.

2. In a small bowl combine the sugar, brown sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, and salt. Use your fingers to mix the ingredients together, making sure to break up all the brown sugar lumps.

3. Sprinkle the sugar over the apples and very lightly toss the apples, making sure not to break them up. If the apples are too stiff, and are beginning to crack, let the mixture sit 10 minutes before trying to toss again. The apples should be a little softer, and a little more forgiving. Let the apples sit for an hour.

4. In the mean time, I prepare the crust. I use a pie dough baked in a tart shell, but a pie crust baked in a shallow pie pan works just as well. Any crust recipe you are familiar with will work here. Roll the crust and transfer to your pan. Trim the sides 1/2 inch larger than the sides of the pan. With fingers moistened with water, wet the outer 1/4 inch of the pie crust. Fold the edge of the pie crust over enough so the fold is even with the top of the pan. Press the dough to adhere. Chill the crust for 20 minutes. With a fork, prick the surface of the crust in 1 inch intervals. Line the crust with foil and fill with pie weights, or a good amount of dried beans. Prebake the crust for 20 minutes with pie weights at 425 degrees, then remove the foil and pie weights, and bake for an additional 10 minutes, until the surface is light golden and looks baked. This blind baking ensures the crust will be cooked through after the moist apple filling is added.

5. Strain the juices from the apples and set aside in a small sauce pan. Sprinkle the cornstarch over the apples and toss them enough to distribute the cornstarch evenly.

6. Begin layering the apples, side by side, against the outer edge of the shell. Continue to lay them side by side, working around in concentric circles, filling the tart from the outside in.

7. When the tart is filled with apples, place the saucepan with the juices over a medium heat. Cook until the liquid is reduced by half and becomes bubbly and syrupy. Remove the pan from the heat, and add the 2 tbsp butter. Stir until the butter is melted and combined.

8. With a pastry brush, cover the apple tart evenly with the syrup, using a blotting motion. A stroke motion will dislodge the apple slices.

9. Cover the tart snugly in sheet of foil. Cut steam vents in the foil, and bake the tart at 375 for 45 minutes. After this time, remove the foil and check to see if the apples are cooked through. With the tip of a knife, check the inner apples, as they are the slowest to cook. If the apples need more time, replace the foil and bake for 15 more minutes. Check again and add time as necessary.

10. Let the tart cool at room temperature for at least 1 hour so the juices can set.

11. When the tart is cool enough to touch, press the apples lightly towards the outside to create the blossom effect.

12. When cutting the tart, use a serrated knife and use knife strokes that pull towards the crust. A knife stroke pushed towards the center will dislodge all the apples on either side of the knife.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Burnt Sugar

It's a well known fact, that if you overcook caramel, even just for 2 seconds, the once sweet candy will turn unpleasently bitter. With great caution we avoid this, testing testing testing the caramelizing sugar's color on a white background.

For any that have stood in angst over a pot of caramel that has gone from amber to black, you may have noticed a perfumed aroma lingering in the air that was quite pleasant. I myself have burned a fair amount of caramel in my day (I blame multitasking), making this fragrant scent a strong memory for me.

So three weeks ago while flipping through Fran Biggelow's book, Pure Chocoate, I stumbled into a recipe for "Almost Burnt Sugar Icecream." The recipe requires you to bring the sugar past caramel, letting it get darker and darker, pulling it moments before the blackening begins. With the aroma of a batch of burnt caramel fresh in my nose, I couldn't wait to try it.

If you consider other bittersweet flavors, the burnt sugar icecream makes perfect sense. Coffee, and chocolate are unpleasant alone. Would you ever eat a spoonful of cocoa powder? Or chew on coffee grinds? (Please don't say yes) But dressed up with cream and sugar, the bitterness transforms near inedible flavors into two of the most adored flavors in the dessert world. Nay, the entire world.

After 3 weeks of making this ice cream, I declare the results fantastic. The icecream isn't sweet the way caramel is. The darker caramel gets, the more the sweet flavor disapates, leaving an aromatic bitterness in it's place. To taste this soothes the palate with memories of chocolate, and awakens the senses with a new and exciting flavor not often tasted.

In my version I really darken the sugar. Not just take it a little past dark, but let the sugar start to foam a little, singe almost. I wanted the aromatic quality to perservere after being added to the custard. Because it's cooked so far, hardly a trace of sweetness remains, so I add a little sugar and vanilla bean to the scalded cream.

Burnt Sugar Ice cream

½ vanilla bean
2 cups whole milk
2 cups heavy cream
½ cup plus 2 tbsp sugar
8 yolks

  1. In a heavy saucepan combine the vanilla, milk, cream, and 2 tbsp of sugar. Bring to a simmer over medium heat, stirring a few times to distribute the sugar and vanilla. Keep this over the lowest heat possible, it needs to be hot when added to the burnt sugar in the next step
  2. Have a white plate ready. Using the remaining 1/2 cup sugar, place 2 tbsp in a heavy bottomed pan and cook over a medium high heat until it starts to melt. When the sugar has melted and started to take on a bit of color, stir (with a wooden spoon) in another 2 tbsp sugar. When this has melted and taken on color, add another 2 tbsp of sugar, stirring and repeating until all the sugar is in the pan.
  3. Let the sugar caramelize, and then over caramelize. Begin testing the color of the caramel on the white plate. The mixture will smoke a bit and the bubbles will start to foam a little. It is important that your heat isn’t up too high at this point or the sugar will change from edible burnt to black and carbon before you can catch it.
  4. When the caramel has become a nutty brown, start adding the cream in small amounts. It will sputter and spatter, so add the cream with caution. When the sputtering has died down enough to get your hand close, stir the cream into the burnt sugar. When all the cream is added bring back to a boil to dissolve any bits of caramel that remain.
  5. In a mixing bowl, whisk the egg yolks. Slowly pour in the cream, stirring constantly to avoid curdling the eggs. Then pour the yolk mixture back into the saucepan, stirring continuously.
  6. Return the pan to medium heat. Cook, stirring constantly, until the mixture thickens enough to coat the back of a spoon. Remove from the heat, and strain through a fine-mesh sieve into a bowl.
  7. Set this bowl in an ice bath and chill, stirring occasionally until cool. If churning immediately, keep the ice cream base over the ice bath until very cold. If churning tomorrow, or much later in the day, store the base in the refrigerator.
  8. Freeze in an ice cream maker according to the manufacturer’s directions.

Sunday, April 02, 2006

I Heart Bacon

We all like bacon. It's hard not to. Crispy, salty, fatty, it's perfect as a snack, as a start to start a lazy Sunday, sandwiched with lettuce and tomato, or as a boost of flavor in a dinner dish. I have even come across a ginger cookie recipe that takes advantage of bacon's mass appeal by calling for 3/4 cup of drippings instead of butter.

My general "like" of bacon became a big fat "heart" recently. I was given a parting gift after visiting my friend Gabe's cooking school in west Seattle in the form of bacon. About 6 inches square, this gift sat for weeks in my fridge, looking unassuming in it's cryovac coat. I knew it was going to be good, and I wanted it's final resting place to be appropriate.

But saving food quickly becomes hoarding it. And to hoard food denies said food it's destiny. To be eaten. I broke down one night with no plans in mind and sliced, cooked, and devoured the bacon helping it reach a glorious final resting place in my stomach. (stop picturing me alone with a pound of bacon, I had a little help from my better half.)

It was better than I thought possible. The meaty part became delicate and crisp, breaking and crumbling between my teeth. The white fatty part was nothing like commercial bacon which is stringy, often chewy. The structure within the fatty tissue was strong enough to hold much of the fat in place, but gave way to my teeth immediately, releasing a flood of flavor onto my tongue. Waves of endorphins were immediately released into my brain causing my eyes to flutter just a little, while a slightly audible "mmmmmm" was emitted from my upturned mouth.

This compares to only one other experience I have had, Pino Rogano's cured Lardon, just the belly fat, no trace of muscle tissue. It was used at Lampreia, scored and seared. It held the same texture, the same wave of salty fat rushing strait to my brain, the same flood of joy marked indelibly on my sensory memory. Like the joy of 5000 potato chips packed into one bite.

The bacon is made from organic Kurubuta pigs who's flavor is greatly improved from a pastured diet. The fresh pork bellies are rubbed in a cure of brown sugar, salt, and nitrates, 40 grams per kilo of pig. The curing process, held under refrigeration for 8 days, involves daily turning and basting. After the curing process is complete, the bellies are rinsed and hung to dry overnight in a cool room. Come morning, the bellies are held in smoker at 185 degrees, absorbing the mild applewood smoke until the internal temperature reaches 155 degrees. They are then cooled, cut, and packaged in cryovac to send home with the students and a lucky guest or two.

Unfortunately, at this time, the only way to taste this bacon is to take the class. Gabe has talked of one day starting to produce this bacon in a commercial setting for resale to restaurants and individuals. One can only hope this day comes soon.

The bacon began as a class project. While Culinary Communion, a small immersive cooking school run by Gabriel Claycamp in West Seattle started classes in December 2001, the charcuterie class wasn't introduced until the following summer. It has since become one of the most popular classes offered from their broad scope of education. The class spans 10 weeks and includes duck prosciutto, chorizo, saucisson sec, blood sausage, coppa cured tenderloin, comprising a curriculum of 26 items.

Students have fallen so hard for this class that they have been known to repeat it, in one case 3 times. This led to the creation of the preserving class starting up this summer.

This is a great class for the avid foodie, home enthusiast, and continuing education for professionals. The class size is small, the enthusiasm is large, as is the student participation and one on one time with the instructor. The dinner served after the class provides a forum for like minded people to share in discussion and camaraderie, often lasting hours after the class has ended.

I am adding Culinary Communion to my list of websites. Not only does it offer great classes taught by the resident chef's, but offers a guest chef roster with some of seattle's top chef's including Ethan Stowell of Union, Sue McCowen of Earth and Ocean, and Becky Selengut of Seasonal Cornucopia. Somehow I got thrown into the mix too, and am starting my first class tomorow, a 3 part series on plating desserts.