Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Sibling Rivalry

I'm going to Sibling Rivalry tomorrow night! There are so many good looking desserts! I wonder how many I can convince Mom and Anne to get...

Also, I got the ingredients for my jasmime lime crescent cakes...when I'm not feeling so pathetically run down and sick I'll get around to making them. At least I'll do the lime curd today, probably.

Still reading Letters to a Young Chef. The tone is actually very annoying. But I know at least some of what he's saying is accurate. I'm eating Red Chileatole with Chicken, Mushrooms and Zucchini from Rick Bayless...it's decent. But a little one dimensional. I doubt the epazote would have much aided that...maybe I'll add some oregano next time. Or something...here's where it would be useful to know how to flavor savory food. Not that I would have learned that in culinary school even if I did eat or cook the meat dishes.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

what Daniel Boulud says about taste

To Read: The Physiology of Taste, Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin. The United States of Arugula, David Kamp. What I'm currently reading: Cool For You, Eileen Myles, Letters to a Young Chef, Daniel Boulud.

I started reading Letters... because Daniel is actually one of the few quite nice restaurants I've been to. My mom and I went several years ago on some trip to New York, and I had no concept of famous restaurants per se, nor do I remember what I ordered, although it's fair to assume we probably had creme brulee for dessert. So yes, I've been to Daniel, I only remember having to look pretty and knowing I was supposed to be impressed. Maybe I'll ask my mom if she remembers. Maybe it was Ruth Reichl's description of Daniel in Garlic and Sapphires, or maybe some desire to slight New York, but I picked up Letters in the first place because I was hoping for a good laugh.

While I've never read Rilke's Letters to a Young Poet I am of course aware that Boulud is stealing from his. I read Boulud's first sentence in the library, and he begins: "Writing these letters to you has inevitably made me think of myself when I started out in this business more than thirty years ago." It was self-aggrandizing enough for me to decide it was worth a read.

Then on p. 42--after I'm reading and fine with his style, not really relating to his odes to braising, but hey, I'm a patissier, I'm not supposed to--I get to this:

"One thing that influences taste but which has nothing to do with taste buds is texture. With many dishes, your mouth seeks out texture first before it 'decides' to experience taste. That is one of the fascinating things about taste: you prepare yourself mentally beforehand. Texture is a critical messenger in letting your tate know what is coming." (42)

And he's right, of course, if I stop to think about it. Why this interests me in particular is that I've over my entire life chosen to eat foods (or not) based primarily on texture and temperature. Nothing cold (except dessert), nothing slimy, nothing raw, nothing mushy. No egg yolks. No cereal with milk. No cheese, no tomatoes, no cold cuts, no mushrooms, no ketchup, no mayonnaise...It goes on and on, and dessert's pretty much the only food group I've never had these sorts of rules for. As I've gotten older they've bent. But I've never considered how (or if) the things I've chosen to put in my body allow for a certain sort of taste experience left out.

Maybe tomorrow, when I go out for Mexican with Drew at the deliciousRudy's right down the street from me, maybe I'll dip my taco or what not into the sour cream and see what it actually tastes like. Some combination of yogurt and creme fraiche likely, and I probably won't be too keen, but it is used a lot in baking and I do have no framework for tasting it. Not only it is mushy and cold, it's sour...

Saturday, October 28, 2006

the chocolate room at gramercy...

I was talking to Eric, one of the sous chefs this morning. We got into discussing work and all--he apparently is used to working seventy something hour a week, and only gets four hours of sleep, and by the way is only twenty years old and is a sous chef. He mentioned he was cooking in New York and so I asked his what that was like...

I imagine it's all postage-stamp-sized kitchens, dim fluorescent lighting, giant subway rat in the dry storage...basically, like Boston onyl tinier, dirtier, and darker. Though probably better paid. It was great, Eric said.

Then he told me about working at Gramercy Tavern. I've never eaten there but it's only two blocks away from the Barnes and Nobles I worked at in the city...so I feel a certain claim to it.

The kitchen, Eric said, is about twice the size of the Sonsie dining room. And there's this giant wood-burning stove that takes six chefs to work. And they crank out 200 covers for lunch.

But here's what got me: they've got a room the size of my bedroom for tempering chocolate! I wanted to get all technical with him...marble slab or seeding method? Or do they have a tempering machine? A room the size of my bedroom. Just for tempering chocolate. I've got to see this. I've got to eat there. I don't want to be one of those hoity toity restaurant chefs but a chocolate room is just so decandent! Maybe I can call them up, finagle a reservation, beg to see the kitchen...hah right.

But between Jacques Torres and this, and my millions of New York friends, there's got to be an NYC trip planned one of these days. If I ever have another free weekend.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

jasmine-lime crescent moons

Amy commented on my sample menu for baking that she thought it should be more exotic. So I've been thinking of moon-shaped ladyfinger cakes with whipped lime curd, covered in fondant...ideally the fondant would be light, vaguely translucent white and just drip down from the top off the edge of the cakes. since there's no liquid in ladyfigners I'm not sure if it would work to do a jasmine infusion somehow...or to just add some lime zest and put some tea in while I make the curd. last resort i'm thinking is a thin layer of white chocolate-jasmine ganache, with the lime curd overpowering any white chocolate taste.

I'm also thinking lime-grapefruit. or mexican chocolate ganache with hazelnut meringue discs. But I think the lime moons will be really cute. and I can always save the mexican chocolate for another menu.

Today I went to Flour Bakery to check it out. They had a lot of little things--the menu reminded me of hi rise, but with less bread--and so I got a piece of berry bread pudding that i'm saving for breakfast tomorrow. mmh, frozen berries cooked into mush. the piece was enormous (for only 2.95) and I am hoping I like it. I dunno, I really love the Figs' white chocolate challah bread pudding but I'm not that fond of sonsie's "award winning" chocolate bread pudding, or the chocolate bread pudding from Henrietta's Table. Probably, I just don't like chocolate bread pudding.

In good news, I got the chocolate pecan pie recipe from East Coast Grille. It was published in The Thrill of the Grill. Unsweetened chocolate, and only three hours. And the sugar is cooked with the corn syrup, so the filling is pretty much all liquid. I guess I'll see how that affects the texture.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Perhaps why I try eating fish after 7 years

In Kitchen Confidential (which I read, once, while in culinary school, and reread--vastly preferring it this time--after working in kitchens for a year), Anthony Bourdain writes:

"We went on. Calling for more, more, Phillipe telling the chef, in halting Japanese, that we were ready for anything he had--we wanted his choice, give us your best shot, motherfucker (though I'm sure he phrased it more elegantly). The other customers began to melt away, and our hosts, the chef joined by an assistant now, seemed impresed with our zeal, the blissed-out looks on our faces, our endless capacity for more, more, more....Our sakes were refilled, the chef openly smiling now. These crazy gaijin wanted it all, baby! The best course yet arrived: a quickly grilled, halved fish head. The chef watched us, curious, I imagined, to see how we'd deal with this new development.

It was unbelievable: every crevice, every scrap of this sweet, delicate dorade or Chilean pompano had responded differently to the heat of the grill. From the fully cooked remnant of body behind the head to the crispy skin and cartilage, the tender, translucently rare cheeks, it was a mosaic of distinct flavors and textures. And the eye! Oh yeah! We dug out the orbs, slurped down the gelatinous mater behind it, deep in the socket, we gnawed the eyeball down to a hard white core. When we were done with this collage of good stuff, when we'd fully picked over every tiny flake and scrap, there was nothing left but teeth and a few bones."

Sure, there's some amount of horror in reading this (fisheye? come on), but at the same time there's something beautiful about the analysis of taste, of eating. If I'm lucky I can do that with a dessert (more oftne than not)...but there's a lot more world out there I've never tasted and I think it's time for some slight reckoning.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Lydia Shire was at East Coast Grille tonight! It was totally funny, because my mom spotted her and all I could think was, well how do you even know who she is? And of course my mom got all offended, and then asked the waitress if it was in fact her, and it was, and then we started speculating on Lydia Shire...She's more diminuitive in real life...

my mom actually dared me to go up to her and tell her I made the butterscoth sauce she'd just featured in the Boston Globe a few weeks back, but I was too nervous to do it plus I had food stains on my shirt from some sweet potato that went tumbling awry.

Also, I ate fish. For the first time in like 7 years, or so...really just a bite or two of swordfish. Enough to realize that it didn't taste overwhelmingly oceany, and enough to understand that it was chewy, dense, and slightly rubbery in the mouth. A whole world of flavors out there that I just don't know...

will I do it bite by bite? at what point will I stop or even really get started? (Not pickles, not tonight, but pickled carrots, which were unpleasant)...

pecan pie.

A while ago at East Coast Grille I had the good fortune of enjoying their chocolate pecan pie, a deceptively simple gooey, chocolately piece of straight-up pie. While the food at East Coast Grille is spiced up, seared, and fussed with as chefs are wont to do, all the desserts I've eaten there are straightforward classics. Banana split. Pecan pie. And since that visit I've been craving a chocoalte pecan pie of my own. My original impression was that they just made a pecan pie with a little cocoa powder in the mix. But when I decided to do some research on the topic, most of the recipes specified melted chocolate.

Wanting to keep it simple I followed a Tyler Florence recipe from the food network. I nixed Emeril's version cause it called for store-bought pie crust and chocolate chips, and I figured hell, bitch, if I'm making a pie I'm making some pate sucree...So I did, using the Joy of Cooking cause the batch size is much more manageable than Delphin's "3 lbs. of butter" version...

And then filled it with the Tyler Florence non-fussiness of chocolate, butter, pecans, corn syrup, etc. And having never made pecan pie before (too American for cheffy) I figured the nuts I put on the unbaked crust would rise up through the corn sryup before baking...why else would they be placed on the bottom yet always seen on top? Maybe not my brightest moment.

Here's the recipe for the filling:
4 ounces bittersweet (not unsweetened) or semisweet chocolate, chopped
2 tablespoons (1/4 stick) unsalted butter

1/2 cup (packed) dark brown sugar
3 large eggs
1/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup light corn syrup
1 1/2 cups pecan pieces, lightly toasted

For filling:
Stir chocolate and butter in heavy small saucepan over low heat until melted. Cool slightly.

Whisk brown sugar, eggs and salt in large bowl to blend. Whisk in corn syrup and chocolate mixture. Sprinkle pecans over unbaked crust. Pour filling over pecans. Bake until crust is golden and filling is puffed, about 55 minutes.

Cool pie completely on rack.

Makes 6 to 8 servings.

I ended up with a big fudgy gooey brownie type confection glommed onto some pie crust! It wasn't pecan pie with delicate chocolate whispers, it wasn't the sort of thing that confounds the mouth (pecan pie? or warm melty chocolate?). It was a glorified brownie with over-large nut slivers...So I'm going back to East Coast Grille tonight to at least sample the original version again and plot some more...

Sunday, October 15, 2006

& oh yeah, the sonsie scene

The interesting if somewhat inaccurate Boston magazine article on Sonsie

shadowy networking with the ladies

I went out to eat last night and had the best food I've had in two months! Really it made me feel like a fully realized human being to be able to appreciate food so much. But the brief thing to discuss--because I'll post my review of Om when I've got a little more brain cells working up there--is chef Rachel Klein was asking about me (this is memorable, you see, because I nurtured a brief but intense one night crush on her at Spinnazola).

Okay so she wasn't asking about me per se. She was only wanting to know who this individual was that was sitting at the bar asking her bartender detailed questions about the dessert menu. Find out who she is, Rachel said. I of course hinted that I was worknig at Sonsie fairly happily (the bartender also used to work for the lyons group which owns Sonsie) but *could* be tempted away (for mroe pay, etc.), and gave them my number. Apparently the old pastry chef there quit. And the replacement seems to give a fuck that she's working for a fusion restaurant and just wants to serve fucking cheesecake and creme brulee. Please. Just when french pastries are getting so popular in Asian cultures...at least make a fusion-flavored creme brulee and not "tahitian vanilla bean" for fuck's sake...

I actually doubt Om will call, mostly because they're pretty flaky. I was supposed to interview with them before, but I had to reschedule and when I called to inform them of this found out they'd already hired someone else. They're pretty flaky but pretty big right now...So many choices. I float around the city wondering where I am supposed to be working, what I am supposed to be learning, whether I should bother working the restaurant scene at all?

Eastern Standard, Om, Dante...I've been "supposed to" work at a number of Boston's finer dining establishments...

and here I am set to get up at five to make the donuts for Sonsie...
which is sort of its own category of eating establishment.

the "bulletproof vest on the floor, in case they call a hit on me" establishment.

Meanwhile, how many crushes on semi-famous chefs do I need to have before I become solely the girl who crushes out on celebrity chefs? Rachel's sexuality notwithstanding I do sense a creepy pattern. Maybe it was just that combined with mildly cruhing on my friend's boss at harvest (who is a) not my type and b) straight)...but I'm pretty sure I can attribute that to the afterglow of my perfect tofu from Om.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Bambara, Kendall Square (Galleria), Cambridge MA

I went to Bambara after a trip to the creey Bodies exhibit at the Science Museum...not the kind of thing you'd want to see and then do dinner, but we were actually starved. It's possible I was prejudiced against Bambara from the start cause I'd wanted to go to dante, but my mom's friend was set on Bambara...so in we walked, and we were ushered to the bar to grab some martinis while we waited for a table, which is when I found out they've got an open kitchen...very exciting.

I think it waqs my first open kitchen sort of watching the guys at Indian restaurants do the naan since becoming a chef myself...They were fast, clean, and then one of them stuck is hands on the grilling meat and flipped it over so another side could sear. Yikes. He was wearing gloves of some kind, so I inched closer and kept staring before deciding they were probably just standard latex gloves...adn if so why would they not melt?

We're seated and we order. i start munching focaccia and wheat from the bread basket--better than average breads, fairly dense with thick crusts. The focaccia was salty and oily, but in a good way...

We started with the roasted beet and hazelnut salad (with goat cheese, watercress, adn tangerine vinaigrette)...Quarter sized slices of red beet rested atop butter-yellow shapes, indistinct and slightly confusing. Not carrots, not seared tofu batons, not...well, not much is that color yellow. Golden beets? I offered. Taste confirmed they were. The salad was adequate--tangerines were not evident in the too-oily vinaigrette. The golden beets had minimal flavor and the red beets somewhat better. I guess it's difficult to have an okay beet salad when the last beet salad you've had was the one here, which was flavored much more to my liking and where the quality of the beets, greens, and dresing were overall better.

But then when the orders came, they mixed up my mother's meatloaf with a second order of halibut (which, she was informed, was good). Service was slow and generally confused-slash-indifferent. The mushroom tagliatele I got was plentiful, and plentifully creamy, but the mushroom flavor was lacking. I swallowed my way through half the mushrooms in the dish jut to get it to taste like something (hate the texture, like the flavor)...

Dessert was fairly sad. We asked for the profiteroles, but were told they ran out. We'd also ordered a pear-cranberry crisp which was large enough for 4 to share. The pears were unskinned, slightly hard, and not very flavorful...not sweet enough to balance the tartness of the cranberries. The streusel, the best part of the dish, disappeared within the first minute, leaving us with a bottomless ramekin of tart cranberries and forgettable pears.

Expensive and forgettable, overall, would apply to the gaudily decorated Bambara, whose charms of an open kitchen and a somewhat exciting martini list (I got to have a basil-cucumber Hendricks drink that tasted not a morsel like basil) don't make up for the wussy flavors, generally un-imaginative fare and lackluster service.

Friday, October 06, 2006

Improper Dining

When discussing Biba (where incidentally Chef Bill worked at one time), the Improper says:

"Whimsically written menu copy-" a mushroom masquerading as a steak, skate wing with a splah of elderberry wine , roasted pumpkin butter and charred chard ribs , spritz of ice wine vinegar on clams hearth-roasted over pine needles with foaming sauce of pine nut"--reflected [Lydia] Shire's focus on lusty, imaginative dishes resulting from research and hard work. "Far be it from me to chop up tuna tartare and put it on a chip; that's not working hard for your customers," she says.

While I can't even begin to imagine what those sorts of things must taste like (fine, I've had ice wine, chard, mushrooms, no to elderberries and skate), and how those flavors must combine, adn I muss confess to mising the foam trend entirely, there's something to be said for that philosophy. For putting more on a plate than a little banana-nutella sandwich sauteed, or a pastry-cream filled fresh fruit tart with glaze. For going that extra mile in ingredients or preparation or innovation. It reminds me somewhat of those weird petit fours we made for Spinazzola, the passionfruit jelly strawberry mousse cream cakes. Something a little different as Chef always said.

But what does it take to invent that newness? (or, why fennel pollen? why yuzu?) More later, when I'm not watching Fight Club and drinking the best pumpkin beer, Brooklyn Brewery's Post Road...

Spinazzola petit fours from January 2006, pastry school ladies and Delphin Gomes.

Homemade bread would have been good but ugh...

Got home from work today to find my plans abruptly canceled...one of my friends had to work late and the other was too tired to go for the reading series at our school. So the whole evening stretched in front of me with nothing to do and since I hadn't eaten anything since 10:30 and it was now 6 dinner was forefront on my mind. Actually I wanted (and still want) an ice cream sundae but first things first...Nothing in the fridge. Just got paid but am putting the money aside for rent since I'll be short next check. Lots of rice and beans in the cubby, no produce, a wine crate of cookboks. Flipping through Chez Panise Vegetables--

and a side note on Chez Panisse...my mom keeps giving me Chez Panisse cookbooks for Christmas. I have "fruits", "vegetables", and "Chez Panisse Cooking" and out of the three of them have made a total of maybe three recipes in four years. Mostly because I don't eat meat and therefore don't have the sort of meat-and-potatoes-y meals that the vegetable side dishes should go with...and I don't exactly want to serve them with braised tofu. (Can you even braise tofu...? Or would it just fall apart)

I find Alice's recipe for Mediterranean Lentil Soup, which is basically lentil soup. And I do have carrots, garlic, onion and lentils, and it is somewhat cold outside and almost soup weather. So I go for it...but as my mom taught me I browned/burned my garlic in the gas flame. It's something she learned from Jordan and anyway I love that smoke garlic flavor.

Then I was thinking warm bread and butter...hell I can make warm bread. I do have yeast in the fridge and hi gluten flour and I was pretty sure I could cobble the ingredients together for something. And then have to let it rise and then shape it, rise again, bake it, and it's not difficult only I knew I would leave the kitchen out of sheer boredom and it'd overproof and it would be only ordinary bread and not divine because out of hunger adn not out of art, and I can just go to the foodmaster and buy ordinary bread.

But I still want divine bread. I do have a great recipe from Monte who bakes at Craigie Street Bistro, Tony Maws's fancy place in Cambridge where this waiter totally insutled me (this was before I became a chef) for Rosemary Raisin Bread...perhaps next week I shall make some with the rosemary from my garden, which I should bring in before the frost.

Alice's modified lentil soup is bubbling, and I'd like some red wine (but not my good Zin), but more than that I'd like company for dinner...Sigh.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

bread and chocolate

I went to visit my friends Joyce and Erica at the new bakery where they work in Newtonville, bread and chocolate. The space is so bright and design-y and cute! They sell sandwiches, pastries, cakes, and even dog treats for dogs with sensitive stomachs.

It was nice to see my friends. Even nicer to tell them I have a new job on swanky old Newbury Street. Messy little me with an intense job...

I took the mini chocolate mousse cake home with me. The ganache dripped lusciously down the side of the cake. The structure of the mousse was perfect. Not grainy at all, dense and rich and so creamy. Yum, mousse. With a tiny bit of genoise soaked in some sort of liquor-y syrup...what flavor, though, was hard to tell. Bailey's, maybe? Kahlua? The mousse should have been amped up with a little of the flavoring to make it more intense. That said, it's hard enough finding a good chocolate mousse that I'll settle for the smile that puts on my face.