Friday, July 28, 2006

Perfecting Puree's

Like myself, you fellow dessert makers have no doubt found yourselves, at one time or another, pureeing berries such as a strawberry, or perhaps a raspberry. A simple task, requiring you to throw the berries in a blender, perhaps with some sugar, spin and strain. Often finding myself pureeing some berry or another, but not settled with random results, or just what ever comes out of the blender cup, I have worked on a few additional steps to ensure certain results. Could I let a puree be simple? Of course not.

The little alterations to the aforementioned process, simple in and of themselves, result in a puree that is thicker, brighter, and more luxurious.

First, because I have flats of berries passing through my hands, I choose only those that are ripe ripe ripe. Often these berries are so ripe that they don't look pretty enough to serve. The ripest berries have the sweetest flavor and are perfect for puree's. Don't feel that you need to let your berries get over-ripe, however. If they are ripe enough to eat, then they are ripe enough to puree.

Second, after washing, I freeze them. Spread in a single layer on a sheet pan, the berries are left to freeze solid, then gathered and stored overnight in a container with a tight, protective seal.

Third, when defrosting them, I transfer them strait from the freezer into a bowl, and toss them with a little sugar. When they are defrosted most of the way, but the temperature is still near freezing, I puree them. The puree is strained through a fine mesh strainer to remove all the seeds.

After the straining, the puree is super thick and luscious, and the color is as bright as can be. The puree stands up tall on a plate, working perfectly as a sauce. The thicker puree folds into recipes better, covers desserts better as it both sticks to them without running off, and is easier to pick up with your spoon making for a very happy mouth.

It is often enough to simply know a process works. I have followed these steps many times, observing successful results, and can enter this endeavor with confidence that I will achieve these results every time. But could I let it be that simple? Of course not.

I have to ask "why?"

When I ask why, I go to two places. First, Harold McGee. Well, not him, per se, but his book.

Then, when I find what I can from Harold, I ask my friend Chris Young. Chris is the research assistant to Heston Blumenthal, and runs his "Atomic Kitchen" or laboratory and the intense study of gastronomy that goes on inside. I often post him questions like, "Why does Elderflower taste so familiar to everyone, yet like nothing they have ever tasted?"

Or "Why does freezing my berries make such a huge impact on the resulting thickness, color, and flavor?" The answer is simpler than I thought. Ice.

The information I found in On Food and Cooking discussed the damages ice crystals cause on vegetable matter when frozen, and how to avoid this. Because I am not avoiding this process, rather using it to my advantage, I went to Chris.

Anyone who has placed liquid in the freezer is aware that it expands. Thus, when we freeze our berries, the water molecules inside the cells expand. The sharp crystals of ice damage the cell walls of the fruit, causing for a better extraction of liquid, carrying both pigment and aroma molecules (Remember that flavor is made of 5 tastes on our tongue, and about a billion aromas in our nasal receptors).

So freezing makes for more release of liquid. Logically, more liquid would seem to make a runnier, thinner puree. But not so. What this process also does is break down the cell walls themselves. When the blade of the blender tears apart the cells, breaking them open to extract the liquid, it also breaks some of the cell wall down into particles small enough to remain in the puree. The damage from the ice allows for more of the cell wall to break down and become part of the puree. Made from carbohydrates, the particles of cell wall will act to thicken the puree.

Finally, the freezing temperatures slow the enzymes that naturally deteriorate the bright hues of berries. Pureeing the fruit while still icy cold slows these enzymes from discoloring your fruit while the pigments are released.

Friday, July 21, 2006

Come out and play

Rather than write about what I have done this summer after the fact, I thought I'd open up my schedule with my few but faithful readers and give them a chance to participate in some of the fun things I am doing this summer!

July 23rd- At noon I can be found on the street in front of the Pike Place Market. In a stall at the farmers market held outside, I will be demonstrating some delicious ways to use Raspberries. I will be giving tips on making puree's thicker and brighter, demonstrating the recipe for an easy Raspberry mousse, and talking about all the delicious ways to incorporate raspberries into desserts.

July 23rd- At 5 pm I am teaching a class at Cooks World about summer fruit desserts. Filled with professional tips, I will share with you all the all the nitty gritty details of what I do, however tedious they may seem. By nature, fruit makes for quick to prepare desserts, particularly in the summer when they are so ripe and delicious you want to eat them out of hand. We will make a frozen wild flower honey mousse which can be paired with many summer fruits, the easy raspberry mousse, and a few more recipes to be decided. There is still room in the class if you are interested, you can reserve a spot on the cooks world web site.

July 31st- At Eva Restaurant, we have been very honored to host an event celebrating Emily Luchetti and her newest book, A Passion For Ice Creams. The event is organized through Books and Cooks, a wonderful program that pairs authors with chefs for these events. I will be preparing a selection of treats from her book for you to enjoy while you get a chance to meet Emily Luchetti. This event is billed, "an ice cream social for adults" and will include a selection of 5 frozen treats, some ice cream, and a little champagne. The cost is 36 dollars per person, and the books will be for sale ready to be signed and cherished.

Those pastry hounds should be familiar with Emily Luchetti's books, and if you are lucky enough to live in San Francisco, her desserts themselves. She is an amazing pastry chef with a down to earth yet elegant style. I have worked with her books for some time now, and getting the chance to meet her and prepare her desserts for her is truly an honor.

Again, there are still spaces open. To make a reservation, call Eva Restaurant at 206-633-3538 and ask to make a reservation for the Emily Luchetti Ice Cream Social. The seating is at 7:30 pm, but come early and mingle, the bar will be open and some little bites will be passed to nibble on.

August 12th- At the Columbia City farmers Market Amy McCray, the chef at Eva along with me (her trusty pastry side kick) will be competing in a Ready, Set, Cook competition. We will have a little time to scour the market for ingredients, then will set to work. We go head to head with the Julie Anders, the chef of La Medusa in Columbia City. The competition begins at 11:00 am, so while you are out supporting our local farmers and indulging in some of the most beautiful produce, honey, fruits, and such, stop by and watch!

August 20th- An Incredible Feast- This super fun event held to benefit the local Farmers Market foundation, run by local Seattle legend Tamara Murphy, is a celebration of local farmers and chefs. Each participating farmer is paired with a chef, who creates a small bite centered around the farmers specialty. Over 20 of Seattle's favorite chef's participate, showing off their talents. This year Amy is making barbecue, which will be served with a little slaw, on top of a buttermilk biscuit made by yours truly. For the 50 dollar admission you get the chance to nibble on tons of great food, the knowledge that you are supporting and celebrating your local farmers, and a book including all the great recipes you'll taste. Information on purchasing tickets can be found here.

August 26th- I will be participating in a wedding. I am pleased to say I am the Bride, marrying the sweetest, most handsome man alive, Russell Cree. We are holding the event on his parents property in Oregon. The ceremony will be held on the banks of Rock Creek, with a reception to follow in the Cree's back yard. The biggest question I hear is, "who is going to make YOUR wedding cake?!" Well, me of course! I plan on one single white cake, old fashioned coconut layer cake with fluffy white icing, and a big table filled with all sorts of other cakes, pies, tarts, brownies, cobblers, buckles, and other down home desserts. Following this big day is a honeymoon road trip through the Grand Ganyon, through Sedona, to Flagstaff Arizona, and back up the coast.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

An Ice cream social for grown-ups

A blurb in the Seattle PI today announced an ice cream social we are hosting at Eva.

Ice cream stars

One name you probably know, one name we bet you're going to know better in years to come. Emily Luchetti, former pastry chef for Stars restaurant and a James Beard award winner, will team up for an "ice cream social" at 7:30 p.m. July 31 with Dana Bickford, talented pastry chef at Eva Restaurant & Wine Bar (2227 N. 56th St.). Bickford, an alumna of Lampreia and England's Fat Duck, will be preparing recipes from Luchetti's book, "A Passion for Ice Cream," in this Cooks and Books event. Luchetti, currently pastry chef at San Francisco's Farallon restaurant, will sign books and talk food. Cost is $36, not including tax and tip. Reservations required; call 206-633-3538.

I am very excited as Emily Luchetti is one who's 4 books I pour over hoping to absorb a bit of her down to earth, elegant, and nostalgic dessert style.

While the entire menu isn't set quite yet, I am planning on an Amuse Sucre of petite lemon ice cream and gingersnap sandwiches, and miniature chocolate cupcakes stuffed with pistachio ice cream. Plated courses will include, but are not limited to a frozen creme caramel, a peach "stuffed" with blackberry granita, and a dessert called Cho Cho Cho, (short for chocolate) that should send you home in a chocolate induced haze.

The book, which is a summer dessert must, will be for sale with the chance to chat with Emily Luchetti and have the booked signed.

Saturday, July 15, 2006

Tall Poppy

A friend with a true passion for life has finally taken the time to set up a blog. Traca, the gal who writes the blog tells a little about herself, and how she spends her days. I have been amazed with the richness she fills her life with and her truly beautiful outlook on life. Her magnetic personality and generosity with friendship draws almost everybody she meets in.

Her blog will reflect much of her culinary musings, reviews of cooking classes she frequents around the city, exciting restaurant events she helps organize and attends, a bit about Union, the restaurant she works with, and reflections on her outlook on life and travels in general.

Her writing, like all she shares with the people she meets, is personal and inviting. On occasion, she'll share a recipe or two from the amazing collection she is amassing.

Her blog is titled "Seattle Tall Poppy". A tall poppy is the way the Australians liken an eager achiever to a bright flower, reaching towards the sun. And a Tall Poppy Traca is.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Frozen Honey Mousse

Mixed in amongst the stalls at the farmers markets, spilling with summers bounty you're bound to see someone selling honey. This sweet syrup can be found the day the market opens when fruits are still clinging to their trees and vegetables are hiding underground. When the market finally closes in December, honey will be there amongst the squashes, hazelnuts, and kale. This constant staple is my rock. I may never know if the strawberries are quite ripe, but I know honey will be there. When I tire of squashes and pumpkins, I know I can fall back on honey.

It is not only during times of fruit famine that I reach for jars of honey. The byproduct of a bees busy work of pollenating our fruit bearing plants, honey is the perfect foil for the fruits themselves.

With the days growing hotter and the fruit getting riper, I am using honey to make a frozen dessert. Easier than ice cream, this frozen wild flower honey mousse is a delicious cold treat for a hot day, and a great companion for summers fruits. I have covered it with raspberries, strawberries, sometimes tossed in black pepper, cherries confited with their pits, roasted apricots, the list goes on.

This dessert has a stunning purity of flavor, who's secret lies in the inclusion of just 4 ingredients. Because it must set in the freezer for a minimum of 8 hours, preferably over night, it becomes the perfect do-ahead dessert for entertaining. Thanks to honeys versatility and humble sophistication, you will find this an appropriate dessert year round, served on the patio or in a formal dining room.

This mousse can be prepared in a loaf pan or terrine mold to slice servings off of, or in individual molds. I am using a wild flower honey gathered from the Tahuya river apiaries on the Olympic peninsula right now. Seeking out an excellent honey makes all the difference as this recipe highlights every aspect, or flaw, of the honey you choose. The use of vanilla bean rather than extract also makes a huge difference in this recipe, so seek them out. However, if you are to go without, be a miser with the vanilla extract, adding only a few drops.

Frozen Honey Mousse

4 oz honey (just over 1/3 cup)
2 egg yolks
1/2 a vanilla bean, seeded
1 1/2 cups cream, kept cold to whip

1. Prepare a loaf pan or individual molds. A loaf pan can be wetted with a damp rag and lined with plastic wrap or foil for ease in later removal, but individual molds will need to be dipped in hot water and the edges run with a paring knife to remove the smaller servings.

2. Place the honey, yolks, and vanilla seeds in a metal bowl large enough to fit over a pot of simmering water. Whisking constantly, cook this mixture over the simmering double boiler until the mixture is thick and pale, and has at least doubled in volume. This takes about 5 minutes. You will know the mixture is done when a stream drizzled back into the bowl holds a little mound rather than disappearing into the mass.

3. Set this mixture aside on the counter to come down to room temperature.

4. In the meantime, whip the cream to soft, thick peaks. Keep cold until the honey mixture has come down to room temperature. If the cream is added when the honey mixture is still warm, it will melt into the mixture rather than fold in.

5. When the honey mixture is room temperature, fold a third of the whipped cream in. When this is incorporated fold in the remaining cream.

6. Pour the mousse into the prepared pan or molds, cover with plastic wrap, and store in the freezer for at least 8 hours or overnight.