Friday, June 20, 2014

Artichoke Gelato, Anyone?

Ingredients that are pegged as savory items have been sneaking their way into desserts more and more these days - to the dismay of many.  I've often found myself on the fence, sometimes appreciating the risk-factor, but usually I am left shaking my head.

A while back I dined at WD~50, Wiley Dufresne's restaurant on Clinton Street in New York City.  The dessert tasting menu was what immediately caught my eye.  The Pastry Chef, Alex Stupak had just left to open his own restaurant, however, his menu was still in place.  Known for their use of molecular gastronomy, WD~50's menu teases diners with playful plating, and contrasting textures, temperatures and flavors.  While it was an enjoyable experience, certain elements were just too much, in my opinion.   One dish in particular made me feel like I was a cow grazing in the meadow - there just happened to be a scoop of ice cream in the grass.  I was not sold.  Since Stupak's departure, the menu has changed.  His predecessor, Malcome Livingston II seems to have tamed things down a bit.  Selections include Bartlett Pear Sorbet with Honey-Milk Crisp and Tarragon & Apple Tart with Pomegranate, Swiss Chard and Pistachio.

I gave up on these pseudo-desserts, until I popped into Amali for lunch.  Located on the Upper East Side of Manhattan, the restaurant offers sustainable Mediterranean cuisine.  After enjoying olive marinated in Greek olive oil and parsley pappardelle Bolognese (side-note: it's AMAZING!!) I moved onto Pastry Chef Anna Markow's dessert menu.  I enjoy following Chef Anna on Twitter (@verysmallanna) and was excited to taste her selections.  I was not disappointed.  She sent out her signature Sticky Chocolate Beet Cake with Stracciatella Yogurt Gelato and Chocolate Honey.  The beet cake was like a chocolate pillow.  The tangy gelato paired perfectly with the warm, moist cake.  Rounding out the wonderfully balanced dessert was a meringue topping that offered a crunch before melting in your mouth.  

Chef Anna also sent out her Ginger Carrot Sorbet.  The texture was spot on.  Also well balanced, the carrot offered a freshness that was complimented with a zingy ginger blast.  It was a perfect palate cleanser to her final offering - Artichoke Gelato.

Believe me, I was nervous, too.  It just doesn't sound like a good idea, but once again I was proven wrong.  Chef Anna nailed it - smooth, rich an flavorful.  The artichoke was subtle.  It offered a nutty flavor that was welcome and refreshing.

Moral of the story:  When carefully thought out (and placed and prepared with purpose,) a savory ingredient can really enhance a sweet offering.

Saturday, May 3, 2014

Everything's Better With Butter!

Who doesn't love butter?  For some reason, I've been thinking about how undervalued it is.  Not only is butter used to grease pans, used in almost every baking recipe, and to make pancakes and waffles taste better - it is the shining star of madeline cookies, pound cake and Italian buttercream.  So why does no one talk about how amazing of an ingredient it is?

All butter is not created equally.  For baking and cooking purposes, I only use European (or European-style) butter since it has a purer taste.  It also yields a better product since it has a higher percentage of fat.  (Both European and European-style butters are readily available at local supermarkets.  Check the specialty cheese section if it's not with the other butters.)  

However, lately, I've been making my own butter.  This is usually when this dialogue begins:

Friend: Wait, what?
Me: I made my own butter.
Friend: What do you mean you made your own butter?
Me:  I.  Made.  My.  Own.  Butter.
Friend:  How??  I didn't even know you can make butter!

(Whenever someone says that statement it drives me crazy!  You can make ANYTHING.  Except for matter, I think.  I also get the same response when I make marshmallows.)

Butter is one of the easiest things you can make.  I've even decided to include this recipe in my cookbook.  This will be the first recipe from the book that I'm sharing prior to the release of the book.  Anyway,to make butter all you have to do is over-whip some cream.  The cream will break and you will be left with two byproducts - butter and buttermilk.  Save the buttermilk!  It makes great pancakes, biscuits and red velvet cake!

Makes approximately 8 ounces.

I typically use homemade butter as a condiment, therefore I like it to have a hint of saltiness in the butter, plus some bursts of salt from a sprinkling of fleur de sel or Maldon. 

2 cups of high-quality heavy cream
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
Fleur de sel or Maldon Sea Salt

Using the whisk attachment of a stand mixer, beat the cream on medium speed until it begins to get very thick and starts to yellow in color.  Lower the mixer to slow and continue to whip until the cream breaks.  Turn off the mixer.  Strain the liquid (buttermilk) into a plastic container and refrigerate for other use.  Transfer the butter to a clean bowl and run cold water over it.  Dump the water and refill the bowl with fresh old water.  Repeat this process until there is no debris coming off the butter and the water remains clear.  Transfer the butter onto a piece of paper towel that is folded in half.  Press a second piece of paper towel on top of the butter and gently press to capture excess moisture.

Transfer the butter onto a clean work surface and sprinkle the top with the kosher salt.  Gently massage the salt into the butter.   Shape the butter into a rectangle on top of a piece of wax paper or put it into a ramekin.  Sprinkle the top with the fleur de sel or Maldon.  Cover and refrigerate until you're ready to use.

TIP:  TRY to find cream that is not ultra-pasteurized.  It tastes better!

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

When To Move On...

So, my last few posts have been more about answering questions and discussing topics about the culinary industry as a whole.

My friends are often seeking advice on what their next step should be.  The culinary industry is a tough one - long hours, competitive nature, physically demanding - the list goes on!!  But, there comes a point when you've overcome the challenges and it's time to move on.  However, sometimes we become too comfortable and make excuses as to why we can't leave.  "No one knows the department like I do."  "Who's going to train and do inventory."  "I created these dishes, I can't just leave them."  YES YOU CAN!

For me, aside from my love of cooking and baking, the best part about this industry is being able to constantly push yourself, your creativity and your growth.  Yes, it can be hard to pick up and leave a job where you're comfortable and surrounded by friends, but if it's holding you back professionally, it's time to go.

When in doubt, ask yourself:

1.  Am I learning something new every day?
2.  Am I passionate about what I'm doing every day?
3.  Am I given the opportunity to make a difference?
4.  Does this job promote creativity?
5.  Is there room for professional growth?

If you do not answer yes to almost all of these questions, you need to think about moving on.  You owe it to yourself!

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Is Culinary School Worth It?

Many people ask me this question - two people so far this week!  I HATE IT!  It really depends on the person and where they are in their life.  Here are some pros and cons to help you decide if it's for you...


1.  It's EXPENSIVE!  #thisaintcheap is an understatement.  You're going to pay upwards of $25,000 then graduate to try to find a job that pays $10/hour (If you're lucky!) Oh, and good luck with benefits.
2.  Time Consuming.  Many people I attended school with worked a full-time job before heading to class.  It's exhausting and eats a good portion of your free time.  There's studying and projects to do.  Plus, if you really want to succeed, you'll be making puff pastry dough at home, too.
3.  Gets you set in your ways.  I often come across people who say things like, "Well this is how they taught me in culinary school!"  There are many ways to do one task.  The best part about working with different people is learning from them.  I learn something new every day.
4.  It's competitive.  This isn't necessarily a bad thing as it can really help motivate you, but don't let that be your focus.  Do the best you can do.
5.  It may not meet your expectations.  You are not in school for 8 years.  You cannot spend two weeks blowing sugar.  Typically, a technique is demoed, you have an opportunity to try it out and then you move on.  If you really want to learn about a specific ingredient or technique in depth, you may have to do it on your own.


1. You're not alone.  Think about how scary it can be starting a new job - you don't know anyone, you're low man on the totem pole and you're expected to jump in and know what you're doing.  Well, everyone is on the same boat, so it's not as intimidating.
2.  Friendships.  You are trapped in a room with people who want to do what you do and who love cooking/baking/food.  You already have tons in common!  I am still friends with many of my classmates and we support each other constantly.
3. Builds a good foundation.  At any good institution, you will learn all the basics, and although you may not spend tons of time practicing a particular technique, you will have the knowledge you need to succeed in the real world.
4. Resources.  Schools have a tremendous amount of resources - libraries, clubs, workshops and culinary demonstrations - which are usually lead by instructors who you haven't been assigned to your class, or even guest chefs / celebrity chefs.  
5.  Alumni Services.  Job portals, advisors, etc.  This is priceless.  I still talk regularly with my advisor and she is always willing to help me make smart decisions. She has even helped me land some pretty amazing jobs,

So, as you can see, the ball is in your court.  YOU have to decide if it is a smart career choice. You can definitely skip culinary school and build a name for yourself in this industry, but you will have to hustle and build your own support system and create your own connections.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

I'm a Sap for Maple.

Last weekend I took a trip to Madava Farms, home of Crown Maple Syrup.  Once your car maneuvers up the narrow, muddy hill leading up to the farm, the road opens and you are face to face with thousands of maple trees, many of which are tapped with a food-safe tubing.  I arrived just as the sap season was beginning.  Sap is extracted when the temperatures are above freezing during the day, but below freezing at night.  The variance in temperature creates pressure which pushes the sap right out of the tree.

For a small fee, you can tour the facilities and learn how sap is turned to syrup.  Long story short - after an intensive round of filtering, the sugar content in the sap is increased until it is high enough to caramelize.

At the end of the tour you are lead to the tasting room where you can sample all the different "strengths" of syrup. Crown Maple Syrup is super smooth and has a very pure taste.  It is one of the best products I've sampled in a long time.  I purchased both the Medium Amber and the Grade B.  (SIDE NOTE: Grade B does not mean it is not a premium product.  It just has darker color and more intense flavor profile, therefor it is commonly used for baking.)

Madava Farm also houses a store that sells their products as well as the products of some other local businesses, like Mast Brother's Chocolate.  There is also a little "cafe" where you can order house-made savory and sweet items.

Fast forward.  I've spent a better portion of the last week developing recipes for my upcoming cookbook and am almost completely out of syrup.  Here's a recipe that I developed for fun.  Don't be creeped out by the thought of using cedar as an ingredient.  It is easy to find and offers a subtle, yet smokey flavor that balances well with the sweetness of the maple syrup.

Charred Cedar Ice Cream with Maple Swirl

1 cedar plank, charred and broken into three or more pieces
2 1/2 cups heavy cream, divided
1 cup milk
3/4 cup sugar, divided
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
5 extra-large egg yolks
3 tablespoons Crown Maple Syrup, Medium Amber, plus more for garnish

Bring 1 1/2 cup of the heavy cream, the milk,  1/2 cup of the sugar and the salt to a simmer in a high-sided skillet.  Add the charred cedar pieces and allow to steep, covered, for one hour.  Remove the cedar, making sure to scrape as much liquid off them before discarding.  Bring the liquid back to a simmer.

Meanwhile, whisk together the egg yolks and remaining 1/4 cup of sugar until it begins to lighten. When the liquid begins to simmer, temper the yolks.  To temper, slowly add some of the hot liquid to the yolks while whisking constantly.  When half of the hot liquid has been added, pour the yolk mixture into the pot with the remaining liquid mixture.

Over a medium heat, stir the mixture continuously until it begins to thicken and coats the back of a wooded spoon.  Be careful to not overcook or the eggs will scramble.  Strain (the finest mesh strainer you have!) the mixture into a quart sized measuring cup (or a large bowl.)  Add the remaining 1 cup of heavy cream and gently stir until fully combined.  Transfer to a quart container or tupperware and refrigerate overnight.

Following the instructions provided with your ice cream machine, churn the base until it is the consistency of soft-serve ice cream.  Place a quarter of the ice cream into a pre-frozen container. Drizzle with the syrup.  Repeat the layers until you use all the ice cream and syrup.  Place a layer of plastic wrap over the ice cream and harden in the freezer for at least four hours, preferably overnight.  Serve as is or with a drizzle of syrup.

Friday, January 3, 2014

New Year, New Career

Every year I get off to a good start and am pretty good about keeping up with my blog.  Sometimes it's just too much pressure to write and/or develop a recipe for a blog.  So, I am going to take a new approach.  Instead of just posting written blogs, look for picture blogs and even video blogs this year.

What can you expect?  Well, this year I'm hoping to work solely as a full-time freelance pastry chef, food stylist and culinary producer.  Also, in case you were unaware, I've been working on a cookbook which I hope to have done by next fall.  My future posts will revolve around all the various projects I'm working on. So, if you have a google account, subscribe to my blog!

I am going to keep this post short and sweet, but want to share a link that really made sense to me.  I hope you find it insightful.  (Thank you Megan!)

Happy New Year!!