Archive for August, 2006

Seaweed Cafe – Bodega Bay

Tuesday, August 29th, 2006

We stopped for brunch at the lovely Seaweed Cafe a couple weeks ago. From the food to the atmosphere, I liked how it balanced being casual and sophisticated. And a lot of restaurants talk about seasonal and local food, but Seaweed Cafe lives it. Even all of their wines are from west Sonoma County.

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Oregon Shrimp Sandwich. AMAZING. I don’t think that Chad and I will ever stop talking about this sandwich. The shrimp were so velvety, and made just a touch creamier with mayonnaise and a little crunchy from some celery, but the masterstroke was the Portugeuse cheese melted on top, which was also just a little chewy and caramelized on the edges in the best way. This is definitely in the pantheon of perfect sandwiches.

The waitress said that their ham and cheese sandwich is made in a similar way, so get that if this isn’t on the menu. She said that the cheese is Portugal’s oldest and named it quickly, but I don’t remember it and will have to do some research.

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Sand Dabs with Heirloom Tomato Salad and Potato Pillow. It’s a shame when bad things come out of good restarants. This wasn’t inherently bad — just very, very bony. You could get most of the bones out in one connected piece, but so many little ones lingered anyway that you spend most of the time trying to pick out the sweet, flaky meat. I liked the fluffy potato pillow and fresh tomatoes, though… potato-tomato works for me.

Willi’s Seafood and Raw Bar – Healdsburg

Tuesday, August 29th, 2006

We went to Willi’s for lunch on Sunday, and it was the most consistently good seafood restaurant that I’ve been to in a long time. Very fresh, well-prepared, and in interesting combinations. I also liked the quirky modern decor, with an emphasis on deep blue.

The only issue was that they serve small plates, and we were told to order with sharing in mind. I eat something like small plates at home, but at restaurants they kind of frustrate me. Usually, two aren’t enough, but three is too much… but you never know how big the serving will be until you get it anyway, as portion sizes vary wildly. And the small plates are usually just as expensive as a normal appetizer and main course, if not more. They’re meant to be shared, but as generous and sharing as my family is, we don’t like being forced to share. And who has fun trying to calculate the amount of a dish it’s socially acceptable to eat at one time before it’s been passed all the way around? And trying to get it back once it has?

So, we didn’t share any more than we normally do, which is actually plenty, but it wasn’t because we were told to.

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Hamachi Ceviche with Rocoto Chili, Lime Juice, Pepitas.

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Tuna Tartare, Jalapenos, Cashews, Ginger, Coconut. I had a single morsel of tuna, and loved the strong spice and tender meat, with the slight creaminess of coconut.

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Cornmeal Crusted Oysters with Smoked Chili Remoulade. There are some dishes that remind me how simply good warm food is. The warm, juicy oysters were so amazing with the crust and cool, crunchy cabbage.

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Almond Crusted Mahi Mahi, Baby Spinach, Lemon Caper Butter. Tender, and I liked how the almonds didn’t dominate the flavor of the fish, as often happens with nut-crusted fish.

4

Warm Maine Lobster Roll with Garlic Butter and Fennel. Everyone else loved this, but I thought it was only okay. The viscous garlic butter got everywhere, and I couldn’t taste the fennel or lobster as much as I wanted to. My personal taste is for a chilled lobster filling in a warm toasted bun, so maybe that was why, too. The Pearl Oyster Bar version in NYC is still my favorite.

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Sweet Corn and Crab Fritters.  Two types of sweet and two types of crispy.  We also ended up getting two orders.

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Minted Lamb Skewer, Black Soy Sauce.

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Bev’s Mud Slide Milk Shake, Vanilla Bean Ice Cream, Kahlua & Bailey’s Irish Cream. This was the dessert to beat. So creamy and chocolate-y, which the liqueurs lending an added bit of excitement. They didn’t overpower, though, which I find very admirable.

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Warm Chocolate Cake Sundae, Toasted Almonds, & Mint Chip Ice Cream. A mixed bag. The whipped cream on top of this kind of spongy — maybe it had been frozen? The warm chocolate cake had a decent chocolate flavor (and had been cut in half after being baked in a round aluminum mold, from what I could tell). I liked the mint chip ice cream the most, but it melted so fast, and clumps of almonds kept dominating the melty bites.

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Lemona Verbena Drop. Lived up to its name. I got a medicinal aftertaste after the first sip, but it mellowed out. I didn’t think it was as bright lemon-y as lemon verbena usually is, but everyone else liked it.

I also got the Lime Drop, but it was just sweet more than anything else.

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Strawberry Limeade. I liked this best… such a fresh strawberry flavor.

Practical #8 – Contemporary Cakes

Tuesday, August 29th, 2006
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For this practical, we were asked to make two identical entremets cakes based on recipes of our own devising or findings — making it so that it had 30% chocolate by eye, at least 3 flavors and 5 textures, and incorporated the theme “Flower Power!” Like the Restaurant Project Practical, I like that we are given the responsibility to come up with something that we like and try to make it work, even if there was the added risk of making things that sounded good but we hadn’t personally made before. I practiced making the nutter butters and bavarian cream (x1, instead of x3 as I used for the cake) the day before, though.

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Mine was a Nutter Butter Banana Cake, made of honey peanut bavarian cream layered with chocolate flourless cake, caramelized bananas, nutter butter crumbles, a honey glaze, and garnished with a nutter butter flower and mini-nutter butters. As I was thinking about what flavors I wanted the cake to have, I became stuck on the idea of an adaptation of the Elvis sandwich, which layers honey, banana, and peanut butter (bacon optional… and was seriously considered for the cake) on white bread and is then fried. I was going to spray the top with chocolate and then put the honey glaze on so that it would look like fried toast, but I practiced it, and it just looked messy.

The night before the practical, I’d worried that my cake would turn out boring because it really didn’t have many things in it, so I tried to re-arrange the elements and add new things, but the new versions weren’t appealing to me.

So, I stuck with it, and sure enough, I was told that it was monotonous in my evaluation. Plus, the bavarian just barely set up. So, my cake was a sideways entry into the world of entremets. I think it would work as an entremet if a layer each of dacquoise, feuilletine, and chocolate mousse. But as I’ll discuss below, I wouldn’t wanna do that.

Here are some technical thoughts on the cake:

  • I hoped that the nutter butter crumbles would provide a crunchy element, but the recipe turned out sandy cookies rather than crunchy ones. They were, nonetheless, delicious. I got the recipe from Nancy Silverton’s Sandwich Book. You can shape them by hand using a certain tedious method, but our creative chef pinched a round cookie cutter into a peanut-shaped cookie cutter, and that’s better and faster.
  • Here’s why the bavarian cream barely set up and was so soft — I’d simply tripled a recipe for a bavarian cream in our packet, but I should have taken our bavarian cream formula into account — for bavarian creams, there should be a ratio of 100 ml anglaise : 100 ml cream: 1 gelatin sheet, but the original recipe called for 3 gelatin sheets for 375 ml cream, which is a touch loose, so when I tripled it for 1125 ml cream, I got 9 sheets gelatin, which is very loose. I should have just added at least 2 more sheets. It didn’t set up for a long time, and I unmolded it at the last minute in case it collapsed. Ironically, though, I probably only needed 2 x the recipe to make the correct quantity for two cakes, but since the cream was so loose and oozed out of the bottom of the cake rings to form mounds on the sheet pan underneath that were akin to the fjords of Norway until it finally set, I ended up needing exactly 3 x the recipe to fill in for the oozed-out cream.
  • It’s quite home spun for an entremet, but heck, it looks cute.
  • I’d never made the flourless chocolate cake in our recipe packet before, and assumed it would make a reasonable cake for two thick layers, but no, it turned out so thin, which didn’t bode well for a cake whose only other main element is simply a lot of bavarian cream and bananas. Maybe doubling the recipe would make it thicker.  Maybe I over-folded it, but I don’t think so…
  • My bavarian cream had bubbles that came up when I poured on the final layer. I used a blow torch to get rid of them, but then more appeared. No one had ever seen that happen before, and I still have no idea why it happened.
  • Caramelized bananas are really good — you just melt sugar in a pan into caramel, add butter, roll bananas in it, sprinkle nutmeg over them, and cool them (I put plastic wrap over them as they cooled so that the caramel would stay soft).
  • I don’t usually like mirror glazes because a set jelly on top of cream rarely appeals to me, but I liked the honey glaze because I’m used to honey being thick. We used a standard formula of 1 cup water to 3 sheets gelatin for our mirror glazes, so I used 1/2 c water and 1/2 c honey.

But there was one very important element that did work: taste. I couldn’t stop eating the cake. It was comfort food — the kind that makes you want to find a back porch and a sunset.

So, even though it doesn’t really work as an entremet, I think it works as a dessert, nonetheless. In an oddly Proustian moment, by the second bite of the cake, I was brought back to New York in 1999, when I’d go to the Magnolia bakery and occasionally emerge with some Chocolate Wafer Ice Box Cake or some Banana Pudding — both basically involved a form of cream with layers of cookies/fruit. My cake for this practical seemed to be a kind of combination of these two cakes. First, the creamy part — my bavarian cream was made by folding whipped cream into a gelatin-laced dairy component (peanut honey creme anglaise) while the banana pudding is made by folding whipped cream into a starch-thickened dairy component (condensed milk vanilla pudding) and the ice box cake simply has whipped cream. Next, the cookies — the wafer-thin chocolate cake replicated the chocolate wafers in the ice box cake, and the bits of nutter butters replicated the Nilla wafers in the pudding. Also, the flavor of the bananas layered in my cake permeated throughout the rest of it, like the bananas in the pudding do after a few hours, too. The result was a cake whose taste so strongly suggested a more complex and less sweet honey-peanut-banana pudding and whose soft cookies-bathed-in-cream texture also mimicked the ice box cake.

So, even though the bavarian cream was so soft, I liked it more than if it had been firmer (the creepy, unnatural firmness of bavarian creams is why I usually don’t like them), and when I think about adding, say, some crunch, I can’t come to terms with it. If I were to make it again, I’d layer my components in a glass bowl instead of a cake ring, put in a lot more cake and cookies, and serve it in scoops, as Magnolia does.

Contemporary Cakes Wrap Up

Tuesday, August 29th, 2006

This week in early August focused on cakes generally composed of layers of sponges, dacquoises, mousses, creams, and glazes. We’d already made some during our Basic and Classical Cakes class, but I guess these cakes had more elements in them. We made two cakes in two day each, and the fifth day was a practical.

I’m going to name “proportionality” as the most important concept of the week. Since these cakes were composed of so many different things, each component had to be made with the correction proportion of ingredients so that they had the correct flavor and texture to begin with, and all of the components have to fit together proportionally for a composed texture and an interplay of flavors — and the amount of each component used in proportion to each other is very important. I almost wish that cake rings had grooved marks on the inside so that you could tell more accurately how thick a layer is b/c once you pour it in, it’s hard to tell.
Since many of these cakes have components that are poured in or placed in, you can make a lot of cakes in just a little longer than it would take to make one of them. But you often have to wait for something to set before adding the next layer. We put these cakes in the freezer a lot between layers.

It doesn’t feel right not to mention that the students had a rough time in this block because the recipes that we were given needed tweaking — quantities were off, instructions were off and incomplete… and I don’t think we had a firm idea of the art of these cakes. Since it was only a 4 day class with the 5th day for the practical, the course didn’t have a chance to smooth out, and many of the problems couldn’t be anticipated — like if there was too much gelatin in a mousse (esp since, in this case, we learned more about bavarian creams than mousses). We handed in notes about what was off so that corrections could be incorporated into the recipes, so I can only hope that future sections have a better time with this… and that our instructions don’t reflect errors that we made. I think it would have been cool if we were given the recipe guide as a reference at the beginning of the week, and then used the week to perfect a unique cake to make for our practical. Since these cakes are often featured in competitions, treating the block in a similar way makes sense, especially since we knew the basics of the components already.

hazel

Coffee Hazelnut Cake. From the bottom, this had a crunchy paillette feuilletine (melted choc, praline paste, and wafers mixed together and spread out to set), two layers each of alternating hazelnut coffee mousse and coffee dacquoise, a white coffee bavarian, and then chocolate ganache sprayed with chocolate from a paint gun. This was made as a larger sheet cake, and then cut into smaller cakes, one of which is pictured.

This one was mostly okay (only the quantity for the dacquoise and feuilletine should have been reduced by 1/3), except that the ganache became problematic. It was too soft so it was put into the freezer and became too hard. We tried to hand form it into shell shapes as we were supposed to, but that looked icky because it was all pointy and bumpy, even after spraying it. So, the next day, we took off the bumps, and rolled them into the round you see here. There’s a vaguely tiramisu-like style to it that I’m okay with. And actually, the ganache should have been whipped so that it could be piped on, but the instructions were incomplete.

kir

This was The Shining Cake, er, no, I mean the Kir Royale Cake. For the jaconde that runs around the outside, we used a special rectangular silicone mold with grooves in it so that we could spread in purple colored tulip paste, and then spread almond jaconde batter on top and baked it. That was cut into a strip and used to line a 2″ cake ring. An almond dacquoise was used as the bottom, topped with a cassis mousse made with cassis puree and gelatin sheets. That was left to set overnight, as was a cassis jelly in a 6″ silicone mold. The next day, we placed another layer of dacquoise over the cassis mousse, and then the cassis jelly disk. Then we made the Champagne mousse, which was the real reason that I wanted to make this cake, since I find that working with bubbly alcohol is one of the trickier things that you can do. It was made by mixing sparkling wine with egg yolks and sugar over a double boiler until it foamed up a lot and then reduced down into a thick reduction that could hold a ribbon. That was then used to make a mousse adding a little more sparkling wine, gelatin, and cream. It was all topped with a cassis mirror glaze.

I loved the flavors of the champagne mousse and cassis mousse, and thought that they were a great combination, rivaling the charms of the drink.

But then there was that cassis jelly. It’s quantity was at least double what it should have been in the cake, and it didn’t set up, so it ran everywhere.

And I didn’t like the almond flavor mixing with the kir royale flavors. Granted, I don’t know what flavors would go well with kir royale flavors in a cake… I’d probably just leave them alone together.

We also made really good Apricot and Pistachio Ice Cream Bombes in dome molds as a class project, as well as Baked Alaskas.

Odds and Ends from Paris

Tuesday, August 29th, 2006

After a month and a half of blogging, I believe that I’ve finished writing about our week in Paris. Here are some pictures to fill in some atmosphere…

Oh, and we were also in Provence for a week, so… stay tuned…

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My view of the World Cup semi-final game against Portugal, standing in the middle of the street with everyone else, and marveling at the virtual riot that erupted afterwards.

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At La Maison du Chocolat

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At La Maison du Chocolat

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At La Maison du Chocolat

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At La Maison du Chocolat.

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The oldest candy shop in Paris.

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A glorious bacon and cheese filled bread from Pain D’epis.

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