Archive for June, 2006

Off to France

Thursday, June 29th, 2006

The culinary school is closed for vacation, so I’m taking a trip to France –to Paris and Provence. I’ll try to post from there, but I have a feeling that I’ll just end up chaining myself to my computer when I get back to post about all the food that comes my way.

I decided to plan this trip to Paris around the usual suspects: pastry, bread, chocolate, and kitchen supply shops. I’ll probably go to a different neighborhood a day, connecting the dots between my choices and stopping off at whatever monuments and serendipitous food shops we find interesting.

I took recommendations from the web and books, and compiled a master list before going to ViaMichelin (it seems like the French version of Mapquest) and finding where they were. I then found each one on a neighborhood map in my guidebook, and added it to the map, making my own key on the margin… such is my mania.

This my list so far…

Jean-Paul Hevin
E Dehillerin
Berthillon
La Charlotte de L’Isle
La Maison de la Vanille
Le Boulanger de Monge
Sadaharu Aoki
Boulangerie Moderne
Kayser
Pascal Pinaud Boulangerie/Patisserie
Ladurée
Pierre Hermé
Poilane
Gerard Mulot
Christian Constant
Cacao et Chocolat
Jean-Luc Poujauran
Michael Chaudun
Debauve & Gallais
La Grand Epicierie at Le Bon Marche
Fouquet
Ladurée Royale
A La Mere de Famille
A l’Etoile d’Or
Rousseau et Seurre
Lenotre

As for restaurants, we’re planning on Senderens, L’Atelier de Joel Robuchon, L’Epi Dupin, Aux Lyonnais, and Cafe Constant, and beyond that… whatever we have room for.

Lucques Revisited – Los Angeles

Tuesday, June 27th, 2006

For some reason, it proved to be hard to find a restaurant open for a Saturday lunch in LA, so we returned to Lucques, in anticipation of more seasonal, inventive food.

apricot

To drink, I got the Copper Swan (right), which had Glenlivet and sweet vermouth with apricot puree and a splash of lemon. Frankly, I ordered it to challenge Lucques. I’ve had so many encounters with apricot flavorings at school that I wanted to see if Lucques could revitalize the flavor for me. Turns out that scotch and sweet vermouth make apricot very exciting.

I love when restaurants offer interesting cocktail menus, and two other drinks intrigued me: Strawberry Fields — Beefeater Gin and Lime Juice with Fresh Strawberries and Mint; and The Pisco Kid — Pisco Capel with triple sec, lemon juice, and loquat. I do like a bit of loquat.

beef

Chad got the Steak Frites with Arugula Salad, Bearnaise, and Herbed French Fries. It was only decent. Both the fries and steak were seemed too oily for me, at the expense of clean flavors; it seemed a little tired. The plating is also a bit sloppy.

pork confit

I got the Pork Confit with Sweet Corn Fregola, Sun Gold Tomatoes, and Mint Salsa Verde, which I was thoroughly happy with. It reminded me of my trips to the Davis Farmers market last summer, when I’d come home and make a salad of corn, tomatoes, and mint for lunch. Fregola is a Sardinian pasta similar to Isreali couscous with a slight wheaty/nutty flavor and firm texture; it’s not as gummy as Israeli couscous. Taste-wise, it’s a brilliant addition to the salad — adding a slight toasted wheat note that rounds out the corn and tomato flavors rather than obscuring them, and texture-wise, its similarity to the corn kernels was a great contrast. I was a little concerned by the solid piece of pork for a confit, but when my fork pulled it apart without any effort, I knew I was in for good times.

I liked the plating here, which is subtly so balanced/symmetrical and let me eat it without feeling like I was demolishing it after the first bite, as with many vertical platings.

ricotta

For dessert, I got the Ricotta Semifreddo with Strawberries, Huckleberries, and Hibiscus Syrup. It was such a hot day that the slightly floral berries were my main concern, but the ricotta was so fresh and softly grainy that I couldn’t resist that either. Oddly enough, though, a film of the ricotta grains adhered to our utensils, which was a bit off-putting.

quenelles

Chad got the quenelles of Blood Orange and Orange Sorbets, which were great… but after making hundreds of quenelles for culinary school, and having two quenelles in my dessert, my thoughts didn’t get much past “Nice quenelles.”

The City Bakery Los Angeles Revisited Again – Los Angeles

Monday, June 26th, 2006

You can now purchase my handmade candy bars and marshmallows at http://www.bonbonbar.com/
I almost didn’t bring my camera to our lunch at The City Bakery Los Angeles, since I’ve already posted about The City Bakery again and again. But I brought it… and when the food and the drinks came out, they were just too great to not mention here.

lemonade

This was called a Farmer’s Lemonade. It had a little cream mixed into the lemonade, which added just a touch of creamy smoothness; it was somewhere between a cold milk and a cold juice. So refreshing on the hot day that it was.

raspberries

This Raspberry Tart is so simple that it’s brilliant. It’s just a chocolate tart shell with whipped cream and raspberries… but the raspberries are stuffed with chocolate. They’re stuffed by simply using a parchment cone to pipe melted chocolate into the hollow cavity, and chilling it for 15 minutes. The chocolate was soft, with just a nice bit of chew and surrounded by the juicy berry… like a reverse truffle. And you get about 8 of them… all in one perfectly balanced tart.

tuna

This was the first time that I ordered off the lunch menu rather than assembling a meal from the salad bar. My Wasabi Tuna Salad and Pickled Cucumbers with Mint carried its flavors so well. The tuna seemed to have just a little mayonnaise to hold it together, but it was also very moist somehow. And the cucumbers were cool and crisp. I also liked the tomato and tempeh crackers, which enabled me to make my own little open faced cracker bites with all the elements. The tomatoes and crackers also weren’t on the menu, so I liked the surprise of being given more than I thought I would get. They also justified the plate to me when I later saw that wasabi tuna was also being served at the salad bar.

chicken

When Chad ordered the Grilled Chicken with Gruyere and Caramelized Onions, I was a little apprehensive in my mind… The risk for dullness was so high… but then it turned out to be fantastic, and I celebrated by stealing some of his onion rings. The rings were lightly battered, which is great b/c I usually scrape off most of deep-fried batter, and it let the flavor and texture of the onions shine through. Then the sandwich had the most terrifically pungent gruyere that brought out the chicken-ness of the chicken and was rounded out by the sweetness of onions and the toasted bread.

A Tart with St. Andre

Friday, June 23rd, 2006
creme

In my mind, I have a conception of a tart with a cheese filling that would satisfy someone in the mood for a cheese plate garnished with fruit, nuts, and crackers. The texture of the filling of the tart would be in the ballpark of whipped brie (which is like whipped butter), and berries or pears on top or on the side would round it out with some fruity sweetness. I think that the crust probably shouldn’t be too sweet, veering more towards the backup support of a cracker or nut than that of an assertive sweet cookie. I could see brie, mascarpone, ricotta, goat cheese, or perhaps any soft cheese working in this way.

So, I was intrigued when I saw a Triple Creme Tart in The Last Course: The Desserts of Gramercy Tavern, a cookbook by Claudia Fleming. It calls for St. Andre cheese, which is a favorite of mine. Although similar to brie and other bloomed rind cheeses, it’s a bit more luscious than brie. In fact, it’s a triple cream cheese, and it has 75% milk fat; brie usually has about 45% (and up to 70%)… and butter in the US generally has about 80%.

I was even more intrigued by the technique. The recipe, available here, calls for making pastry cream and stirring in cubes of St. Andre so that they melt, and then grating in some nutmeg. That is set aside, and then you make an Italian Meringue by bringing water, sugar, and corn syrup up to 242 and then whipping that into frothy egg whites until they are just stiff. The Italian Meringue is then folded into the cheesy pastry cream and poured into a par-baked nutty pastry tart shell (the recipe calls for ground toasted hazelnuts and almond flour, but I used ground toasted walnut and almond instead because I don’t like hazelnuts) and baked until it is golden brown on top and puffy. In fact, she describes it as as a souffle anchored in a tart crust.

I have mixed feelings about the end result, though. It puffed up admirably like a souffle should in the oven, and it was supposed to be served shortly after taking it out of the oven — about 5 minutes. At that point, though, it was still quite warm, it tasted a lot like Italian Meringue, and the cheese was a note that came into play part way into the bite, and coated my mouth at the end. It seemed like the cheese and the meringue were battling each other for control of the tart, and the sweetness was winning. The texture was interesting, though — almost foamy. I added chopped cherries on top, but that fed into the sweetness and further obscured the cheese, even if they did add a welcoming density.

I decided to let it cool and chill it overnight. I hoped that the hot sugar would stabilize and mellow in sweetness, and the cheese would intermingle with the crust and the meringue.

It was better today, in increments. When I tasted it just out of the refrigerator, it had more of a muted sweetness and pronounced cheese flavor. When I waited for it to come to room temp, it had a wonderfully full cheese flavor with a just a bit of sweetness and a just foamy enough texture; and it was rather more dense in general.

If I want to serve it hot in the future, I’m considering halving the sugar and taking away an egg white– it was just that sweet and foamy. I think that would firm it up a bit and make it more cheesy straight away.

Also, I really like the appearance of it. When the tart is sliced, the wedges resemble wedges of cheese, but with different colors of rind for the top and bottom.

Restaurant and Production Desserts

Tuesday, June 20th, 2006

For our current block, we are essentially making plated desserts that you’d find in a restaurant, or at a catered event. So, instead of putting our baked goods out at the dessert buffet at some point before lunch, we plate up about 8 servings of our dishes at the end of our production time and deliver them individually to tables with people finishing up lunch.

The block is divided into two sections — cold desserts and hot desserts…  So, in the mix this time are Red Wine Poached Peaches with Chilled Syrup, Warm Chocolate Pudding with Nuss Sauce, Little Fried Pies, Coconut Crusted Bananas Tempura with Tropical Fruit Salad, French Toast with Pineapple Flambe, Crepes Normandy, Rum Babas, Peach Crisp, Lemon Souffle with Lemon Sabayon…  and then Saffron-Cardamom Bavarian Cream, Apricot Yogurt Mousse, Peanut Flour Panna Cotta, Tuile Cookies, Bread and Butter Pudding with Warm Raisin Sauce, Butterscotch Pudding Trifle, Hazelnut Parfait with Roasted Hazelnuts and Chocolate, Apple Cider Granite, Oreo Cookies Ice Cream, and Apple Sorbet.

Instead of a normal practical exam at the end, we’ll be working with a partner to design our own dessert menus for a fictional restaurant and serve the desserts to invited guests.   Our theme is Overpriced Napa Bistro…