Monday, April 20, 2009

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Sunday, November 9, 2008

On food and my life.

These are times of change. At 25 I'm now starting to follow the true path of my life and making my first real committment. This path is leading me away from many of my friends but I don't want to stop walking it. Working in the pastry field again fills me with a bizarre mixture of contentedness and hunger. I love working with food, but I hunger to be better, to learn more, to create as much as a can. Its a dissatisfaction thats oddly juxtaposed itself with a form of near peace. Maybe I'm masochistic? I love it at work when I start to get slightly backed up in my brain over the things I need to make, and which should be made first to allow for proper timing and to maximize the few hours in a day. Should I make the sponge for that bread and then apply the crumb coat to the cake, so that I can chill it and then apply the sponge to the dry ingredients and work on the formation of the dough while the frosting sets up? Yes! But at what point to I refresh the garnish station, cut the previous cakes, make a new batch of truffles, bake more cookies, and replenish the iSi whip cream? Oh, and I can't forget to make more caramel sauce, and damnit! Wouldn't you know, we're all out of icing for the rest of that cake... Its moments like these that I shut off the rest of the world and my thoughts focus on work. Even when the work is done its hard for me to turn back on.

As I said food is my life. Not becomming my life. IS my life. Currently I'm reading How to Be a Chef, which is excellent and highly recommended. Next I'll be studying Culinary Artistry and The Flavor Bible which is by the same pair of authors, Karen Page and Andrew Dornenburg. And I've just gotten Alice Water's The Art of Simple Food. Pair that with In the Sweet Kitchen by Regan Daly and I'm hoping to really up the ante on my ability to create recipes.

Also my choice in culinary schools is changing. The French Pastry School was recommended to me by Master Chocolatier Norman Love, above even the French Culinary Institute. And taking into consideration that I'm from Chicago, all my extended family is there, my friends have moved there, the tuition is HALF of my beloved FCI, and Christine-HOLY CRAP ARE YOU SERIOUS?! I LOVE HER WORK!-Ferber is a frequent guest chef, well, I'm heading up to check it out and take an extended education class in the beginning of December. The only thing bringing me pause is I did fall in love with the FCI, and NYC, and the internships available. Especially one with Chef David Arnold, a rising star in the scientific culinary scene. So only checking out the school will let me decide. The French Pastry School also has a working relationship with the Four Seasons, the Hyatt, and the Ritz, which was exactly the path I wanted to take my career. I think the choice is obvious, even though hard.

Marshmallows on the Atlantic



Feeling the need to really get into it all (I don't consider camping as getting away from it all, but instead further emersing myself into the world) I packed up my brother's car and headed down to the Florida Keys for a one night, two day camp out. It was nice and cold (in the low 60s, upper 50s, Huzzah!) and I knew that this served as the perfect excuse to make some fresh marshmallows. Arriving extra early into work one morning I boiled down a nice simple syrup and beat it with some gelatin until I had what one could consider the porterhouse of marshmallows. One giant half sheet pan full of dense, spongy, soft, white confectionary goodness.

Cutting these revealed wonderful and rather large pillowy cubes of nostalgia. Not many people continue their love affair with marshmallows into adulthood. Back in Sept on a recent trip to NYC I remember taking the subway from Bushwick up to Chelsea just so that I could get some vegan marshmallows from the Whole Foods. Marshmallows are a classic, especially on camping trips and I promise you people will be impressed when you tell them that you've made your own. Most people fall into believing the myth that they are difficult to make. Sticky? Yes. Difficult? No. And a fresh marshmallow is leagues above the bagged varieties sold at your local grocer. Upon toasting these beauties developed a nice, slightly crunchy shell, a la' creme brulee, that held a molten gooey mess inside. Truly perfect for slightly charring and snacking on at 7:30 in the morning while watching the sun come up over the Atlantic on a chilly laid back morning.

This batch was shared with two lovely gentleman who had camped out at the site next to mine. Mark Adams (of ) and Hugh are close friends who travel the countryside by motorcycle. Hugh is a budding shamen and Mark is an accomplished oil painter. They are both very sweet guys who traded Tanqueray Rangpur Lime Gin with Rose's Lime juice for some fresh marshmallows and a campfire. I consider it a good trade. Mark was so taken with the alien appearance of the roasted marshmallow that he painted a still life of it, which can be found on his blog, check it out! He also was such a sweetheart that he is mailing me the original, which will proudly be displayed on my wall for years to come.

I doubled the recipe so that it would fit into a half sheet pan and I would have plenty to share with people.
3 envelopes unflavoured gelatin
1 1/2 cups water
2 cups granulated sugar
1 cup light corn syrup
1 TBL vanilla extract
Veg oil for spraying the pan
Powdered sugar for coating the marshmallows.

1.Oil a 9x13' pan, set it aside.
2. In a large mixing bowl, soften the gelatin over 3/4 cup water. Cover the bowl and set it aside to allow the gelatin to soften until needed.
3. Combine the sugar, 3/4 cup of the light corn syrup, and the remaining 3/4 cup water in a heavy medium saucepan. Place the pan over med. heat. Stir until the sugar dissolved completely and the mix comes to a boil.
4. Using a candy thermometer to gauge temp, cook the syrup without stirring until it reaches a soft ball (240*F.) Remove the pan from the heat and add the remaining corn syrup.
5. With the mixer at high, beat the hot syrup into the large bowl with the gelatin in a slow steady stream. Beat for 10 minutes, possibly less until the mixture triples in volume and becomes very stiff. Beat in the vanilla.
6. Spread the mixture into the prepared pan. Smooth the top as much as possible using a thin, flexible spatula, or wide knife dipped in water. Set aside uncovered for 8-10 hours at room temp, or till mixture is cool and firm.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Simplest Autumnal Fruit Salad.

The first "cold" snap has hit Florida and I feel that my diet should change accordingly. I'm posting over at my mother's house. The French doors are open, the jack russells are napping, the wind chimes are making their music, and its absolutely perfect outside. Damn near noon and I could spend all day in the sun and probably wouldn't even break a sweat. 

So why am I on the computer? Well, because I am getting information on my next little endeavor, which will be a one night camping trip Wed. night. The low should get to be around 45 degrees F and I'm trying to decide what to cook that night if I don't catch any fish. I'm still rather new to wilderness cooking. This much I know, lots of tin foil. So more on how that went later. 

I've moved onto the next food pairing duo: parmesan and chestnut honey. As I mentioned before I'm a nut about honey and chestnut sounded just divine. I anticipated a warming, nutty, possibly toasted tasting honey, with a thicker viscosity than most. While it was a nice, rich, amber colour the flavour was biting and a little more floral than I'd like. I'm not wild about it on its own. 

I had to figure something to do with it though, so I took a ripe bosc pear, chopped it up, topped it with some freshly crumbled aged parmesan cheese, and tossed these both in the chestnut honey. It was warming, fresh, light, and slightly musky at the same time. And when I say musky I mean that hearty aged cheese flavour. Musky is a good thing to me. Musky is earthy and sensual and adds a soul warming depth to food. This dish was surprisingly filling, but I think "satisfying" is a better term. Next time I'd toast the parmesan to increase the nuttiness, and possibly some type of pepper, maybe just the slightest sprinkling of fresh crushed white pepper to give it a hint of heat. Might even shred it and cook the parmesan till crisp to give added textural depth. 

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

TGRWT # 11, Banana Clove Truffles

Heston Blumenthal, I humbly thank you. Had you not taken the time to research the different (but more importantly the similar!) chemical compounds of certain flavours then I would not have known that white chocolate and caviar is just the sexiest food ever. And how lucky was I to have discovered his works right in the beginning of my descent into the rabbit hole that is molecular gastronomy? And when I say molecular gastronomy I am still including chefs such as Ferran Adria and David Arnold, even though the two of them try to distance themselves from such nomenclature.

Mr. Blumenthal posted a list of foods that you wouldn't think to pair up but due to their sharing of the same major volatile molecules they have a tendency to taste really nice together, or taste somewhat surprisingly similar. The list can be found here . Of all the suggested new food pairings listed the two I was most ready and eager to try were white chocolate with caviar and banana and clove. These two seemed the easiest considering my culinary history in confections and the in realm of sweet vs. savory.

I rushed out and bought a nice bar of white baking chocolate and the only jar of black caviar at my local grocer. Not a great brand but one I grew up eating on Christmas Eve at my grandparents' house. A friend of mine was over at the time and I broke us off a few pieces of chocolate and simply spooned a small amount of caviar on top of it. We placed the pieces on our tongues with the caviar on top. Pressing my tongue into the bottom of the chocolate I smashed the whole thing up into the roof of my mouth, the heat melting the chocolate which then blending astonishingly well with the salt of the caviar. At first the caviar was too present and I was nervous that this was going to be a mistake. Once the two melded and the chocolate liquefied it was a different story entirely. Both of these are powerful flavours and the end result was a dreamy, sensual, soul warming buttery wash of savory sweetness coating the palate. It was an intense taste, and a little goes a long way. I think that will go into the memory banks as my new trump card.

After the wonderful success of that pairing, the next one to move onto was bananas and clove. After a little researching online I found a recipe for a banana and clove milkshake at . I added more cloves then Erik here did and really enjoyed this recipe. It was simply, it wasn't too sweet, and it seemed to me to be a wonderful comfort food flavour. The cloves added a really nice but not overpowering depth to the bananas. Personally I can't get enough of flavours like cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves. They are my weakness and I often say if true love had an aroma it would be pumpkin pie spice mulling on the stove.

I decided I would try and develop a recipe for the challenge had posted with TGRWT #11. TGRWT is the acronym for "They Go Really Well Together" and is an invitation to try out new flavour pairings and post them in the blogosphere. So with that today I came up with Banana and clove truffles dipped in white chocolate.

Banana filling:
1 cup pureed very ripe banana
1/4 cup dark brown sugar (I would use light brown next time, as the dark was very heavy)
1/2 TBL butter at room temp.
1/4 tsp powdered cloves

for the Ganache:
1/2 lb. white chocolate
1/2 cup heavy cream
10 whole cloves, cut in half
1/2 TBL butter at room temp.

Melted white chocolate for dipping.

Put white chocolate in a medium sized heat resistant bowl.
In a small saucepan simmer the heavy cream and the cloves for 5 minutes. In a shallow nonstick pan mix the banana, cloves, butter, and brown sugar. Cook till banana mixture starts to boil, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon or a spatula. Keep tasting the mixture until it reaches a nice caramelized flavour, and remove from heat.
Strain the heated cream to remove any pieces of cloves. Bring back up to a simmer if necessary. Immediately pour over white chocolate mixture, stirring constantly starting from the inside and working towards the outside of the bowl. Stir in the butter and banana mixture, whisking all of the ingredients together until light in colour and all the white chocolate has melted. Line a shallow tray with wax paper and spray with cooking oil. Pour the banana and white chocolate mixture onto the tray and place in the freezer until it firms up enough to be able to be rolled into small balls. Dip these into melted white chocolate and dust with clove powder.

Verdict: These were overly sweet. Granted they were decent but they could stand for some major improvement. First of all the filling was very sticky and difficult to work with (but I didn't spray the paper.) Secondly there is just way too much white chocolate going on here. I was having to ghetto rig some of my cooking equipment as I was reprising my role as the kitchen nomad and had to make these in my friend's near barren kitchen so the white chocolate dipping could have gone a lot smoother. I will try to make these again at some point (when I get the taste of white chocolate out of my system and my molars.) and changes I will experiment with are caramelizing the bananas before pureeing them, either cutting down/cutting out the sugar or just switching to a light brown sugar as the dark is a rather powerful flavour, and possibly rolling these in powdered sugar or coconut instead of dipping them in white chocolate (remember the ganache itself is made of white chocolate.) The main downfall is that they are too sweet. If you still wanted to have these coated in white chocolate I would recommend going the chocolate mold route so you could have a nice thin shell of white chocolate and you could pour the filling in, which would allow for the addition of more pureed banana and the subtraction of some of the white chocolate and cream.

End note: white chocolate, banana, and clove go well together, just don't let one overpower. Banana and clove itself is excellent and I will experiment with these two a lot more.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

The cookies keep on keeping on.

Fall is here but way down south at the near end of Florida you would never know it. Unless perhaps you were sitting in my kitchen with me right now. I've just made a variation of the Pumpkin Oatmeal Cookies from Vegan with a Vengance. Which is the precessor to Veganomicon. Like I said before, not a huge cookie person. However since those peanut sesame ginger cookies were so excellent, and since my father was out of the kitchen long enough for me to whip these up and I had most of the ingredients on hand, I damn near jumped at the chance to bake.
I collect varietal honeys. Have for a few years despite the fact that the collecting has slowed down severly since I have a surplus of honey and a defecit of space. The jar I started this collection with was purchased down in Sav-La-Mar in Jamaica. Bottled locally into an old J. Wray & Nephew rum bottle the honey is just as dark as a buckwheat. Thats all well and good until you take your first taste of this carmelized sweetness... and, what the hell? Whats that taste? Is that rum? They never rinsed the bottle before filling it back up with honey! So the bottle resumed a position up in my cabinet until I could find a use for this alcoholic tasting sweetener. Well this honey was the perfect answer to the fact that I still haven't broken down and gotten any molasses, like the recipe called for.
The cookies are very soft and moist. They were supremely easy and will serve as a good base for experimentation. They essentially retain the same shape as they have going into the oven and seem to be rather forgiving in the preparation. While I would not be against making these again I think I have too many other recipes to try before I would be making this one. These cookies get better as they cool, and I was informed they will be better the second day.
Originally just a plain pumpkin oatmeal drop cookie, they really benefit from the addition of a pinch of cloves and powdered ginger, and a vegan "browned butter" icing.
"Browned Butter" Icing
1/6 cup vegan butter
1 1/2 cup powdered sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1 1/2 tsp- 1 TBL almond/soy milk
Heat the vegan butter until it is clear and starts a mild boil. Remove from heat and whisk in the powdered sugar and almond extract. Add milk 1/2 tsps at a time until you reach a consistency that will drizzle well but is not too watery. If you need to test this, put a small ceramic plate in the freezer ahead of time, and drop some of the icing onto the plate to see if it hardens. Take a small sammich style ziploc bag, cut the tiniest bit off of one of the corners and fill the icing into the bag. Viola! You've made a makeshift piping bag. I also find putting the bag into a coffee mug and wrapping the opening of the bag around the lip of the cup makes pouring the icing in a snap.
Then just drizzle the icing over the cookies of your choice.
Because this is not real butter and tends to have a plant oil base it doesn't brown like traditional butter. I'm going to look into adding a little salt and brown sugar next time in the melting stages. To better mimic the flavours.