Friday, April 27, 2007

well, brandade it ain't but...!

I tried bacalaitos tonight.

All my life, I have never understood eating things that smell bad. (Or are raw, or rotten, like cheese or sushi or so many gourmand items). And there's not much that stinks more than salt cod someone's rehydrating. I'm reading Mark Kurlansky's Salt at the moment, so I'm learning historically about why salted fish was/is important economically and to the survival of human history, but still, salt cod is a white leathery piece of fish that's wooden and dried out, and when you cook it to rehydrate you get this briney, sea smell. Not a beach smell (god, I've really been missing the beach lately.

At Sonsie the guys used to make brandade, and they'd always end up pureeing the cod with potatoes right near me, and it just smelled like bad fish that washed up on the beach somewhere.

But somewhere along the line of eating things in general and fish in particular, I owned up to brandade curiosity. I didn't expect to like it. I didn't expect to get near it anytime soon with any adventuresome friends. But they had bacalaitos at this Puerto Rican restaurant I was getting takeout from tonight, and I did it. I was going to get a filled churros from the lady by the BART, too, but decided salt cod was more of a challenge. How was it? Bizzarely, the texture was like fried eggplant in my mouth, only I could see the little fishy protein fibers. It wasn't overwhelmingly salty; it didn't taste like it smelled while cooking. It didn't taste like much I could pick out, more like a salty, deep undercurrent. Like something I'm not smart enough to know. It had gotten soggy, too, in the takeout container. Probably not the best salt cod.

Certainly the maduros and the pollo guisado were really not impressive. Which is to say, I guess, I miss Cuba, because their stewed meat dishes are much more flavorful (mine was a little congealed, too, from sitting there, even though the chicken was very moist), and the maduros really weren't ripe enough or else not cooked long enough to let the sweetness bleed out.

Work today was:
blackberry financiers w/browned butter, tasting pleasantly of almonds
more upside down cakes, again with rhubarb and blood orange, this time with the chez panisse fruit book recipe
orange chocolate meringues, to be filled with orange jam
strawberry-mascarpone filling for strawberry tiramusi a la olivetto
more fresh fruit tarts
more strawberry lavender tarts
shortcakes, maybe, blackberry-strawberry?
butter cookies

I burned myself again, once on each hand actually. Did not sleep well last night. I was wondering about a lot of things today. The physics of pastry, and such. Where to find something to make my rhubarb tarte tatin in. How lemongrass would taste with rhubarb. How substituting honey for sugar would work in cakes and what spice would rough up those blackberries in the financier (pepper. cinnamon. citrus. berries.), and what made Cheffy's financiers so much better than the David Lebovitz recipe I tried because I'd rather make a dozen of something that 50.

I tried almond extract plain today. Last week, I tried raw rhubarb. I need to learn bitterness. And then sweeten appropriately.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

interesting very interesting

Just when I was underestimating my prim hometown, this comes along. It's like tablehopper but with the sass of a people used to underdogs and underestimation. And the total obnoxiousness we *always* give to outsiders.

It's good, because I was starting to think SFers are rude, or at least bizarre in interpersonal relations. Nice to get a reality check from the land of Dunkies.

I'll write more about the orgasmic reception of my napoleon later. I'm trying to pick a patisserie to visit with Laetitia next week for more french pastries--Noe Valley, or Delenghe, or the Italian ones in North Beach or the Mission that make mille feuille anyway...nothing stands out yet, so more research.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

new blood one day?

Oh, Boston. Ken Oringer just opened La Verdad and according to Bostonchefs his steakhouse (of course, a steakhouse) is opening imminently. And then there's a vague new Barbara Lynch outreach Stir also hyped on Bostonchefs. And while I have no doubt that Clio and 9 Park aren't at the top of the game over there 3000 miles away, I just want someone else to do something else. Lynch and Oringer and Todd English (my least fave) all have these enormous empires and as Michael Ruhlman reminds us that's the way of the chef today if that chef wants to make any money.

*ah, on the steakhouse...apparently they're just renaming Spire, where I interviewed before moving to SF. Guess naming Oringer as the consulting chef meant total revamping and stealing Eastern Standard staffers...see here.

Beehive's almost open though, and the non-cheffy folks are catching the buzz on the Chow boards. I want to know where Picnic is.

It occurred to me today that I could go back east. Just...go back. It'd be sunny and gearing up to be humid. But I haven't learned what I came out here to learn, or eaten at any of this city's restaurants, and one bad week does not send me back to Boston.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

puff pastry magic

Tonight I had to make quick puff pastry, since I promised a french friend a mille feuille. Ugh, puff pastry. Of course I have not made it since culinary school, but the 6 turns, the rolling out the arms ached at the memory. However, a french meal and all I have to provide are pastry cream and not a bad bargain.

I find Cheffy's quick puff pastry recipe, head to the store, dawdle, realize I have to FREEZE the butter in chunks, do so. By the time I start it's 7:30 and my head's off in the clouds because of the GQ article on the Ferry Building. Which is funny, and over the top. Not only does the FB "enlighten," "enthrall," "nourish" san franciscans, it also "[is] a testing ground for a radically different way of dining." Read your May GQ and see, I kid you not. More on the FB later. So, head in the clouds, I throw my ingredients in the kitchen aid and go back to check the recipe because I feel like it's weird there's no sugar in the puff. Dash back to the other room when I hear the sounds of the paddle thwacking the dough around.

I'm glad I've become attuned to those sounds. Milk about to boil. Dough coming together. The sort of sounds that are not sounds at all to those who don't cook and I mean professionally.

Rescue the dough, begin to roll it out with huge holes of butter since that's what the recipe says and I know it will work. After two or three turns the butter's been worked in.

I love the feel of dough. It's so sexy. How it goes from being cold and riddled with butter holes to how the butter gets mixed in, the dough calls out for flour, more flour, the dough tells you what it needs if you know how to listen to it, if your hands know how to read it right.


Six turns. No wait, Five. But I've turned the oven on to 400 for the puff, only I'm supposed to drop it down to 350, and I don't know what the purpose is, what the heat does, and Cheffy's recipe tells me I don't need to rest the dough before using but David Lebovitz's (which I'm checking for the baking time) does say to rest it and I'm breathing out through my nose in short little bursts, heaving my body onto the silky dough, trying to roll it thinner, wider, better, wielding the edges of my french rolling pin to get it rectangular, working the edges out, making it nice. Losing my mind with the heat.

Five turns, and before the last fold I cut a large swatch to save for palmiers.

Sixth turn, bake off, freeze a good quantity of the puff.

Roll out the palmier dough one last time in sugar. Cut palmiers, dainty Maura-sized ones. Freeze some and bake six, so that there will be a breakfast surprise for the roommates.

Food is desire. Food is love. Food is exhausting yourself for others. When you haven't eaten or slept properly. When you yourself live on scraps of staff meal, dumpstered vegetables, cheese quesadillas with a splash of lime because you've exhausted the salsa, the zaatar, the avocado.

In insatiable, Gael Greene expresses wonder that anyone could term a food item better than sex. But the night of profiteroles, eating Claudia Fleming's salted caramel ice cream straight from the machine, before freezing, we both said sex was irrelevant.

Two hours start to finish and I have palmiers to eat nad bake off later, puff to bake later and puff for my napoleon, and flour all over my pants and righteous body exhaustion.

But the FB, the Ferry Building. I knew from the Chow discussion it was coming, but I didn't expect to see my boss in the teaser when I opened it up. Or the pastries I bake off at five am. I really wouldn't have thought Frog Hollow would be such a feature of the article--maybe because it's next to Boulette's Larder and everyone loved Boulette's. Miette is reduced to a tiny picture and a mention of its macarons. Probably the only thing worth getting except for the graham crackers which I liked. I wonder what Meg and Caitlin are thinking of their poor placement. Recchiuti and Scharffen Berger aren't mentioned at all, really.

I had lunch at Out the Door today. Five Spice chicken with vermicelli. It was good, fresh. The vegetables tasted fresh. The meat was moist, spiced but not too spicy. It was good. Clean. Though my favorite Vietnamese food still is from Poughkeepsie, which is bizarre, who would have thought that my first exposure to red chicken, lemongrass chicken, vietnamese curry tofu and so on, would be so irreplacable.

The FB, do you think it's a temple of food, as Richman claims? I do. I love the Ferry Building. I love coming at it from all angles of the city, how it calls you down Market. I love how people come together, tourists or local, how the FB makes the happy. I love using the second floor restrooms and spying on people. I love my job. I love watching the red-haired chef open up Boulette's in the morning, that I'm not the only one working at dawn. I love the Bay Bridge view. Sunrises.

My life changed in one day and that day began at the Ferry Building, in fact with breakfast from Frog Hollow, and when I was so sick of Sonsie , in my deepest longings all I wanted to do was come here, work with organic bakers, hang out in the FB, and figure out my relationship to food. And here I am. I'm just not used to sharing my temple.

Monday, April 23, 2007

small towns.

Is is Boston or is it SF?

Throw a stone in Boston and you hit Lydia Shire. Ken Oringer. Todd English.

Throw a stone in SF, you hit a Bostonian. Sox fan. Everyone here knows the places I've been so far, and I've only just gotten here and already the San Francisco chef community feels both small and insular, and weirdly connected to the community I left behind. Is it chefs the country over, or is there some kind of SF siren song us cold New Englanders are particularly susceptible to?

I was walking around the Gourmet Ghetto this afternoon looking for a good pastry, reached as far as I wanted to go and crossed the street to turn around when I notice Poulet is hiring. What the hell, I think, why not? If I fill out an application I can at least try to snatch a copy of Edible San Francisco without feeling so guilty about it.

So I fill out the application, take the magazine, go to leave the application on the counter and they're like, wait, we'll get someone for you to talk with, and they do, and I sit down with this woman Michelle who has lived in Cambridge. Worked at the Bostonian with Lydia Shire. I mention Sonsie, how Bill Poirer used to work with Lydia at the Bostonian, etc. She's eaten at Sonsie. I describe the French doors, how the tables face Newbury Street, I ask her how Lydia Shire was to work for, etc. She asks me if I'd like to bake one day a week or so if they need the help. Yes, duh, definitely. I've got an interview/trial there Thursday. Mmmmh roast chicken. I think working in the Gourmet Ghetto would be fun and dangerous (for the wallet). It makes me happy, so much good food. In the same way the Ferry Building does.

Apparently there's some Ferry-Building-is-the-temple-of-food article in GQ. Don't have my issue yet, though.

Went to Masse's after Poulet for some opera cake and coffee. The cake wasn't coffee-ish enough for my taste. It was strange. Eating it made me realize I've only had Cheffy's opera cake. Kind of like a lover's touch, you think you like being touched that way and then you realize it was only with those hands.

(n)ice milk

The peppermint cookie ice milk turned out a lot better.

Still a little iciness/graininess to the texture, but it scoops really well and the creaminess dominates the ice taste. I'd like to try someone else's ice milk, because I feel like by its nature (having the same sweetness as ice cream, but less milkfat) it's got to be grainy. Ice cream depends on milk, yolks and sugar in order to have a smooth and creamy mouthfeel. Taking away one of those while not altering the others, doesn't that have to mean grainy? You know, that frostbitten taste...

Sweet Adeline looks really good. I might try to go there after my appointment in Berkeley today. That or head over to the gourmet ghetto and the cupcake place upstairs on the corner where the Peet's by the Chez Panisse is (love the vagueness of directions from my boss), and pick up some nice bread from Acme so that I can make sandwiches to take to work for lunch.

Vietnamese food in Oakland tonight with the roommates.

citrus sorbets

aaah,a tip, from the archives of Shuna Lydon's blog I just can't seem to stop reading even though it's growing late.

It is best to eat citrus sorbets soon after they are churned. They tend to freeze rock-solid.

{If you find that this is true, "temper" your sorbet in your refrigerator for about 20 minutes or as long as it takes to come to desired temperature.}

On a similar note, I noticed my strawberry ice milk was also better/softer after about ten minutes of sitting out. When initially removed from the freezer, I could barely scoop it but ten minutes later the iciness was mostly gone and it had a rather creamy mouthfeel after all.

I made a second batch of ice milk tonight that had been doctored with 3T peppermint schnapps and, when mostly frozen, chopped thin mint cookies. Pissed off after the strawberry experiment I figured the extra sugar would help it freezer better. We'll taste the results tomorrow.

I'm going for Vietnamese food in Oakland tomorrow night, for someone's birthday party. I have to be in Berkeley tomorrow afternoon--maybe I'll stop by Sweet Adeline's or the Berkeley bowl or somewhere I probably won't get back to once I move to SF.

I really like Shuna's blog, and I really hope that she writes me back and that I can help with one of her cooking classes. I feel like I'm always struggling to learn more or better but I don't have other people I can bring that dialogue back to. Not even the pastry girls, really. Sometimes, sure, but not really. In culinary school I wasn't caring about the whys of what I was doing so much, so I think they'd be really surprised at me...if they knew I got Food Arts and ate at all the best restaurants I could (not) afford to go to, and arranged unpaid stages with amazing chefs and relocated my whole life for food, if they knew I made lists and try to really understand the thing (cardamom. sorbet base. dough.), well, do they do the same thing? I don't know.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

miette internship over/shuna lydon

I am really impressed with Shuna Lydon's blog. So impressed, actually, that I emailed her to tell her about it. I found the blog after searching for other people who had dome internships at miette, because miette basically fired me for two reasons this week:

1. I voiced concerns over the direction the internship was taking because I wasn't being challenged and there were 5 interns at the same time, and it wasn't really rotating the way it's supposed to rotate or progressing toward anything. Generally, when I asked if I could help with something they'd either let me help or say, umm, no, I don't need help but ask ___ and ___ would either give me something to do or send me over to someone else, who would be similarly flummoxed. But yes, the whole thing was basically running on autopilot and the too-many interns were jamming the machine. And when I tried to be flexible with my time commitment to them and to talk about how to make the situation better I was met with the following

2. "You work for Frog Hollow, anyway, so..."

Apparently the miette people believe the ex-frog hollow pastry chef tried to steal their recipes. Like, he'd walk over to their stand and see they were doing pot de cremes and then the following week be selling his own pot de creme. In defense of Frog Hollow I told Meg if that was happening I was sure it was without the knowledge of the farmers and that I wasn't interested in doing such a thing, but they didn't trust me after that not to steal their recipes.

I am also left wondering if it was just an aesthetic choice, as well. I didn't fit in with the miette vibe. I'm no cute, straight girl interested in talking about sex and Britney Spears. The only person I bonded with was the 60 year old man interning there who was similarly othered, and we would talk about how we felt ignored by the girl squad.

Moving on from miette, I loved this gramercy memoir of Shuna's about working with rhubarb and Claudia Fleming. And how open she is about the fact that she's still learning and the need to grow with what we know and to share.

Which makes miette's paranoia even weirder. The chefs I learn the most from are the generous and open ones--Delphin, Maura. I remember what Maura said to me about Hi-Rise Renee, about how you need to treat people well in this business because you never know where they'll end up and what you might need from them in the future. As I was trying to do with miette, exhaust all possibility of improvement for the better before throwing in the towel.

Who knows where I'll be, relative to the miette people, but I'll pass on the truth of my experience there. Ideally I'll come up with something really amazing to serve at Frog Hollow that they'll be jealous. But it isn't about jealousy. I didn't come out here for jealousy. I came out here to learn about organic baking, and I came out here because all of a sudden I couldn't stand NOT to be in california. I came out here for the next step of my career and to learn about food, as much as I can. As I am trying to do.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

eliabeth faulkner's lovelova

oh, SNAP! it's really, really funny to watch Elizabeth Faulker on Martha Stewart's cooking show...A study in contrasts for sure.

Well Orson's opening in the fall I guess and her book's coming out then and I for one will be here, actually, which is awesome! The persian pavlova recipe is on Elizabeth's blog...

so nice to have a job I like finally

I was just drooling over the Tartine cookbook today in Sur La Table while I waited for my knives to get sharpened. Absolutely and without shame drooling.

The girls who work the farm market are really taken with my strawberry lavender tarts. I brought some out today and they got all "oh, yay! you made those! i was hoping you did!" and then later, sidled up to me all flirty asking were there more of them? not just cause they wanted to eat them, but cause they recommended them to customers. I've been dolloping them with a really fatty quenelle of lavender whipped cream and a sprinkle of dried lavender on top. I really have to bring my camera and start taking pics for my portfolio. But it's really rewarding to see things sell. Like the rhubarb orange upside down cakes, which are so PRETTY with the dark red of the blood oranges and the pale rhubarb pink, and sold down to 2.

I'd like my things to sell more although it's difficult to get a lot of things made, what with all the standard baking off and mising for saturday items. I guess I'll just have to get through my prep faster, but it has been difficult to get a lot done when each time I want to do something I'm getting the frozen butter and heating it up until it's soft enough to cream. Oh well.

There's an apricot jam and hazelnut tart I'd like to try, and I still do want to make a bavarian and do some chocolate cherry tarts when the cherries come in. Maybe this week I'll look for something I'd be really excited to try out. I should look through Chef's recipes, too. I've got all this great French training and I'm just running around after Elizabeth Faulkner, Lindsey Shere and Claudia Fleming like and wondering what Maura would do. Maybe it's just the aesthetic of traditional French pastries that don't appeal to me or maybe they're too involved. But there's got to be something I can adapt...a lot of Cheffy's stuff was really, really good.

I am glad to finally have a job I enjoy and look forward to. Especially when I get to be so creative. Hopefully I'll learn a lot from it, but I still would like to go somewhere else and get the organic bakery experience thing, though the being-my-own-boss thing will be useful down the line too.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

beard awards

Ana Sortun's Spice cookbook is nominated for a Beard! I didn't realize that...I hope they get it because I really love that cookbook. But it's up against Claudia Roden's book Arabesque and it's sort of weird, they have one category for Asian food and then a whole other category that's just International.

I'm going to make reservations at one of the local nominated places for when my mother comes out, and I think I'm going to take my friend to Delfina when she comes in June. The chef at A16's nominated for Rising Star (and is up against David Chang, and Patrick Connolly from Radius and the guy from Eleven Madison Park). So we could go there or Jardiniere (has Traci des Jardins really not won a Beard yet?), or Quince, or Delfina which I'm saving for Leah because I think she'd like to go there and then go to the Lex afterward. Still want to go to Boulevard and Slanted Door and...and...

I made this weirdly disappointing strawberry ice milk yesterday. I made a giant base which only called for 4 yolks per 4.6 c. milk (which I boosted up to 6 yolks), and 1 c. sugar. Split the base in half, made half strawberry with some sugared and pureed strawberry and it came out kind of grainy. So, was it the liquid in the strawberries that made it grainy, or was the base not fat enough or was it not sweet enough, because one cup of sugar seems low for all that dairy plus there isn't a lot of fat from the eggs. The rest of the batch is going to be peppermint cookies and cream and I have some peppermint schnapps here, so the alcohol could help make it not come out grainy, or there's some rosemary simple syrup kicking around the fridge. Double checked my baking book and it could be any of those things--not enough sugar, milk fat or yolks, but which one? Oh, ice milk. According to wikipedia, it has the same sugar content as ice cream but less dairy fat. But I assume ice milk is not supposed to be grainy. The Gourmet recipe also called for 2 T cornstarch which I guess is what, a preservative to keep it from turning grainy? Maybe the containers are just really not airtight and so ice crystals are getting in. All I know is Claudia Fleming's ratios work just fine for me, so maybe this is my first and last experimentation with ice milk and I'll just go back to my 3/4 milk and one dozen yolks, and one of these days buy the Gramercy Tavern cookbook (along with the Tartine cookbook, and the Citizen Cake cookbook whenever it comes out).

Hopefully the schnapps will boost up the second batch but if not I'll be on hand with the simple syrup and with any luck it's be smooth thin mint ice cream!

Tomorrow at work I'm rolling out the David Lebovitz orange poppy cookies, and making strawberry meringues with lemon marmelade, doing more strawberry lavender tart prep and pastry cream and new upside down cakes, and working with tart shells.

Monday, April 16, 2007

sorbet/egg test

Making Claudia Fleming's grapefruit-rosemary sorbet right now, with rosemary I ganked from the neighbor's yard. Ahh, the bounty of California. I cut off the grapefruit peels after I juiced the fruit and now I'm candying those as well. If only I made some rosemary shortbread cookies the whole thing would be so cute! Maybe tomorrow...

I used the egg test for this batch of sorbet since it seems to be my lot to flail with sorbets. Float a cleaned raw egg in your solution, and you want a dime-sized portion of the egg to remain afloat. If less egg's showing you need sugar and if you've got more like a quarter patch of egg, add water. I hope it's going to be good. The grapefruit seems to balance out the rosemary and I wonder if maybe I didn't use enough, but I picked a good handful--and quickly, so I didn't get caught--and had maybe four or five short stalks, rather than 2 long ones. Ah well, it tastes good.

The roommates are raving about the strawberry meringue cookies. I watched Robin eat one with this look of total bliss on her face. Yeah, they're really good. And normally I'm modest about that kind of thing. "She just made them, while I was sitting right there," Robin said.

"Actually I was sitting on the floor of my room and you poked your head in," I reminded her. Now my Kitchen Aid's in the kitchen and all's right.

Sunday, April 15, 2007


So in the L word, season 2, Kit claims she stole her new chef from Suzanne Goin, except she pronounces it more like gawn-az. As if. I wish Lara would come chefs on television, there just aren't enough of em. I'm not talking about the Rachel Ray variety. Though Tom Colicchio is kind of fun, especially when he's grumbling about how none of the top chefs could hack his kitchen.

Mmmh, it would be kind of nice to be at Craft right now or some other new yorky place. Perfect vegetables and skinny, trendy people. Sheesh, maybe I'll have to drive out to St. Helena and wrap myself up in the west coast Dean and Deluca. I didn't expect to Miss New York. Huh. Got to spend some time with some east coast transplants out here...I'm sure there's place in the city I could go to feel that murky, frenetic New York energy. And I know plenty of people who'd be really happy if I went to visit.

strawberry meringues

Just made strawberry meringues this afternoon. Aside from being a good way to make sure I never leave the house (takes a long time for meringue to dry), they were wicked good.

3 whites
1 1/4 c. 10x

to stiff, shiny peaks. Fold in 2 mashed up strawberries. Plop out in tiny cookie-cups. Bake.

I tested them to see if I want to make them for Frog Hollow and fill them with lemon marmelade. I think I do. I think the marmelade will be tangy enough to counteract the sweet, saccharine meringue taste.

It also brought back Oleana for me. I never liked meringue cookies (macaroons, exception, though so similar in texture and taste). Mostly because they're always cooked to the point of being brittle and crackly and then they taste like dust. The chocolate chip vacherins that we made at Sonsie were that way. Dusty chocolate fingers with an ugly, cracked texture. But when you make them with confectioners' sugar, and if you don't overbake them as I did just slightly, they taste like cotton candy clouds when you bite down on them, the sugar all hot and caramely, and they don't turn dusty and dry. So, mine somewhat dry, but still way better than most meringues, and upon my roommates' suggestion, I dipped the bottoms in chocolate, which ended up being really yummy. That's the good thing about living with people who tell you: we have this discolored, white-streaked chocolate you can totally use.

This weekend went really well at the market. I made strawberry lavender tarts with giant quenelles of lavender whipped cream, all luscious on top. Cute kiwi strawberry fresh fruit tarts. And the quince rhubarb upside down cakes sold really well also. Do I want to find a moister cake for those, or do I just want to soak them in a brown sugary syrup? Both maybe, Cake is so difficult. It's so rarely moist and good. Why I always end up making the 1234 cake from Joy. I think Gourmet just had an upside down cake recipe though, maybe I'll look it at. Or just try subbing half cake flour in my recipe.

Friday, April 13, 2007

I miss Maura

I really miss Maura. From a story I'm writing about food and girls:

Maura gave me shredded phyllo dough for the kunefe. She knew I was trying to impress this girl, and another also, and my car had gotten stuck in a massive snowbank on the street outside my house. We’re not paying you, so here, she said, rummaging in the walk-in for a box of phyllo. It was the next-to-last time I’d be in her kitchen, and I knew it then, so I was stuck on trying to memorize every detail of what we did in the hopes that one day I too would be able to put together dessert half as complex, flavorful and heartfelt as everything she did. In one week, she’d finished putting together two new desserts for the menu, and she fed me samples: a brown sugar frozen chiboust with black walnut strudel, and tiny profiteroles with Arabic ice cream made from ground gum mastic and rosewater. The ice cream was minty and warm in my mouth, with the rose flavor. Another thing I’d come to crave. I lingered, offered to bring things downstairs, tried to stay with her, because she was the only person I’d worked for in the industry I liked and admired, and because I still thought she had so much to teach me.
I made other Lindsey’s kunefe the night before our date, shredding the phyllo in my roommate’s under-powered baby Cuisinart and soaking it in milk and butter. I opened a bottle of French champagne I’d had from New Year’s, popped my old cardamom pods in a baby mortar and pestle, and tore strips of lemon zest with my paring knife. The syrup simmered. The phyllo concoction baked, two layers of dough swaddling a mascarpone center, a sandwich I’d soak with syrup when it finished baking. Hungry, I read Chef Ana’s introduction to the recipe in the restaurant cookbook. Chef Ana described the perfect kunefe as a caramely, hot toasted cheesecake, and I thought I knew how it would taste just from reading her words. I could barely wait to cut myself a slice of kunefe, after I’d doused it with the syrup.
Mine wasn’t crunchy. The syrup was lemony, with the aftertaste of cardamom rolling around my mouth. Cardamom was a spice I knew I didn’t understand. I could describe it, I could taste it, but I knew that I had no control over how to use it. I could only mimic other’s suggestions, the mark of a weak chef. My kunefe was limp, and the mascarpone center no more than a schmear of cream cheese. I’d baked the dish for the time listed, and having worked with Maura to batch test recipes for food magazines I knew her process was perfect, but there was no crunch. The caramelization wasn’t as deep as I expected. I wrapped my sad kunefe in plastic. I’d wanted to give Lindsey more.

Learning by myself is fun. Having a boss who says, go, do whatever, just use the fruit, it's amazing. Especially less than a year out of culinary school. But I miss being inspired by someone I'm working with. Miette, not so inspirational. Interesting. Frustrating. Useful, I hope. Fun at times. It's very realistic. But I need to be in some kitchens for a while. Maybe Alice's kitchen (if Alice ever is in there), zesting fruit for the Chez Panisse kids. Or Elizabeth Falkner's artier-than-thou, tongue in cheek mecca of perfect lemon squares. Somewhere in this city I'm just getting to know. Maybe I just need someone to talk about food with.

knife bliss

I got a new knife today! Finally used up my Sur La Table gift certificate after work, to buy a Global Santoko. I tried the Shun on the staff's insistence, but I can't use a Shun. Reminds me too much of the grim old boss, plus the handle's too big. The Wusthof handles were likewise weird, overly large in my small girlish hands. I just went to the kitchen to pick up my bread knife and even that feels odd in my hands and that is the sexiest knife I own.

My Global's really awesome. I'm not into them for being trendy, and if I were into trendy knives I'd get a Shun or something, but it fits so naturally in my hand and it's really lightweight esp. when compared to my chef's knife. Knives, boring, right.

The last Fauchon in NYC's closing. I read the Beard dateline pages for three cities now, Boston, NYC and SF. I was thinking yesterday about what my life would be like if instead of coming west I'd gone back to New York to beg a stage out of Claudia Fleming or someone else. How I'd be crashing on the apartments of friends, how I wouldn't have gotten the chance to see a Michael Pollan reading like I did last night, and how I probably wouldn't have been as writerly as I've been here. Enjoying myself.

Today at work, I made quince-rhubarb upside down cakes, using David Lebovitz's recipe. The fruit part is yummy, but the cake is stiff and sort of flavorless. I'd like more of a brown sugary, burnt-buttery cake, but it's hard because I've onyl got one day to make anything I could want and even then a good chunk of that day's spent prepping for the standards and baking things off. Still, I've got a good five hours to do ANYTHING I WANT. What else did I make today...Maura's strawberry lavender cream tarts (got to try one tomorrow, that's been on my list to make for a long time). Pastry cream for fresh fruit tarts. Shortcakes for blood-orange and quince shortcakes.

I'm thinking of a Bavarian for next week. Still haven't tried one. Maybe with the asian pear chutney, or a caramel and apricot marmalade, or a lemon bavarian with something, maybe strawberry plum jam. The caramel idea is my favorite, but do those things all go? According to my handy flavor profile list, cardamom, caramel, vanilla nuts and stone fruits all go well with apricots. So vanilla bavarian with caramel and jam layer. Also some poppy orange cookies with blackberry jam. The strawberry tiramisu (Paul Bertolli's recipe, I presume) if Becky does fax over the hot milk sponge recipe.

I should just make larger batches. I made the shortbread today and it made 18 cakes. Enough for two weeks, but I could have made double that and frozen most, but the recipes really don't indicate quantity at all. I'd just like to be more effective. I'd like to not have to spend so much time baking tart shells and cutting up fruit and more time making muffins and custards and cakes and cookies. I'll get more efficient with time. Today was only day three. Sheesh.

Bad thing: I got a chicken burrito from the cart outside my street last night and i was SO SICK today. ugggh. Like, really I shouldn't have been working kind of sick. That is until Rafael made me a magic drink. Sparkling water, salt, half a lemon and baking soda. He promised me I'd feel better and I didn't believe him. I don't want to think about what meatiness founds its way into my burrito: pork skin, brains, tongue...this, and I'd daydreaming of bacon ice cream and foie.

Friday, April 06, 2007

David Lebovitz saved me

Emergency cake-making for people who've invited you for dinner is REALLY, REALLY challenging when you don't have a kitchen aid or electric beaters or anything to either cream butter and sugar really well, or to beat egg whites. it also makes the buttercreams and other frostings pretty impossible. Luckily I borrowed David Lebovitz's Room for Dessert from my new boss, and figured I could at least make Orbit Cake.

Orbit Cake: 2 sticks butter, 12 oz. bittersweet, i cup sugar, 6 eggs

Mix together eggs and sugar, melt chocolate with butter, add chocolate to eggs, bake in a water bath. What could be easier, and still taste like dense, rich, high class chocolate that you'll devour so fast you won't know for hours you've got chocoalte on your mouth?

Granted, it would have been a lot better if I'd used Scharffen Berger chocolate. But, Albertson's doesn't carry a lot. This was 2/3 62%, plus 1/3 Guittard semisweet. Well, next time, if it's only for me, I'll splurge ;)

Also made some vanilla pastry cream for a kiwi-strawberry fresh fruit tart. I bought a gallon of organic milk, since it was only a dollar more than then non-organic, and only found out when I got home it was fat free! Skim milk has no presence in a baking kitchen. I freaked out about how the texture of the pastry cream would be and if it would taste fatty enough or if it would be too watery and ditched Delphin's recipe for something I found online crafted specifically for skim milk. It ended up tasting okay.

skim milk pastry cream, for eemrgency use only:
2 c. milk
qs vanilla
4 T starch (I used AP flour here)
6 T sugar
4 yolks

Cook milk, vanilla and half sugar to boil. Ribbon remaining sugar and starch with yolks. Temper yolks into milk mixture and bring to boil, whisking vigorously. Strain--that is if your house has a strainer--and chill. May need more vanilla or butter if you like fattier things. But it is acceptable.

Today at work today I made Chocolate Cherry cakes (also a David Lebovitz recipe, on my boss's request), and Banana Date bread (bastardized Hi Rise recipe) and pastry cream for blood-orange kiwi fresh fruit tarts. It was a pretty good first day in the I-get-to-do-whatever-I-want school of baking.

Monday, April 02, 2007

uh oh

any sentence that starts out "I was thinking of eating some foie gras" is bad. I'd eat to know how it feels to eat it-how it feels in my mouth, how it feels under my fork, and so on. But's fattened duck liver. How gross.

Also considering eating brandade. But it's the smell I'd have to get by in that case.

Please, some nice vegetarian somewhere, tempt me away from the foie gras. I'll feed my characters salads and whole grain rice, so I won't have to wonder how foie gras slides down your throat and why it supposedly goes so well with jam and why it causes such rapture.


Oh, wow...Just found out the Cyrus pastry chef went to my little culinary school! How very impressive. They're all up for a beard and whatnot.

My pineapple rum compote is really good. It could be better-things could pretty much always be better-but on the whole I'm satisfied and I'd like to have it with cakes or shortbread and custardy things.

My friend Tara wants me to make her some tiramisu. I don't understand why people like tiramisu so much. I mean it's okay but there are ways I'd rather have my coffee and chocolate in an opera, or in Chef's Alhambra. Umh, the alhambra. Chocolate-rum goodness.

The kitchen aid and ice cream maker are coming Monday and I can't decide what to make first...dark chocolate ice cream, strawberry ice cream, all my doughs, upside down cake.

I got the Chez Panisse Desserts cookbook in the mail today. And the Scharffen Berger cookbook from the library.

Sunday, April 01, 2007

pineapple-rum compote

I just made a ginger-rum-pineapple compote today, straight from the April issue of Gourmet. It sounded so good, and I wanted something to put on my vanilla ice cream, and I knew it's only cost about 2 dollars for the pineapple and ginger. So then I started thinking, what to do with the rest? Came up with:

pineapple flan
trifle with vanilla poundcake, coconut pastry cream and compote
upside down cakes
warm gingerbread with rum whipped cream and compote
pineapple macarooms with compote and pineapple frozen yogurt

Probably I'll make some flan. Although the trifle could be nice, too, but I don't really want to make pound cakes, at least until the kitchen aid comes.

I went to tartine today with a new friend. So sensuous! Their pastries just look so sexy. I got the Scharffen Berger chocolate rich. Truly amazing pudding experience. Reese got the banana cream pie, and it was the PERFECT flaky dough with a layer of chocolate on the bottom, then bananas in cream, a caramel drizzle and whipped cream on top. Umph. Sort of impossible to eat with the plastic forks, but that dough was amazing.

When the kitchen aid comes, I will make some truly amazing flaky dough...and I;ll do the strawberry lavender tart from oleana, and the rhubard nougatine tart from david lebovitz, and I'll go on from there. In the meantime, what to do with all my pineapple?

nostalgic for boston

I miss my stage at Oleana. Since my trip to Frisson the other week, I've been REALLY wanting to try their bacon ice cream dessert...pancakes with blueberry jam and bacon ice cream. I'm not a fan of breakfast-as-dessert and I don't eat bacon. But I sit here and wonder, is it salty? Is it crunchy? Would I like it? Bit of a dilemma. I think the reality is that I miss being around someone who makes me crave things I never thought I would want or like...hence, missing Oleana.

Or maybe it's bigger than that. Maybe there's something in me that wants to be the person that eats everything. Maybe I'll go back to Frisson and get the foie gras thing followed by the bacon ice cream. ugh, I'd be so sick.

I'm still waiting for the beehive in Boston to open up. The Cyclorama is such a cool space, very dining as theater. I checked the Oleana website to see if there's anything about Sofra (there isn't) and the Sonsie site to see if they'd put up the new menu so I could see what Michael did for spring menu change (they haven't). There's not much new happening in Boston at the moment.

But I did enjoy this, from the James Beard site: sf update--a whole shop dedicated to the molecular gastronomy fuss. Could be fun to browse. I might be making some new friends who are foodies. Very exciting. I'll finally have someone to go out to dinner with, and there are so many restaurants to start with.