Archive for October, 2006

The Milk and Cookies Tart

Wednesday, October 11th, 2006
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Chocolate Chip Cookie Crust w/ Vanilla Mascarpone Mousse

I suppose that you could just stick to a milk dunking routine for your chocolate chip cookies, but if you do, you’ll be ignoring Judy Rodgers‘s motto: “Stop. Think. There must be a harder way.” I’ve come up with one: make a tart with a chocolate chip cookie crust.

I have to admit that I’ve never absolutely loved short dough tart crusts. Why let some fatty crispness get in the way of the intense flavors and varied textures of the filling? It always boggles my mind when dough recipes suggest baking off extra tart dough as little cookies for snacks. Where’s the joy in that?

But then it occurred to me that if a tart crust can be a cookie, then why can’t a cookie be a tart crust? Because, you see, I love cookies.

Cut-out cookies would be the obvious choice for this experiment — and I have plans to try them out in the future and have made graham cracker tart crusts before in the past — but Chocolate Chip Cookies are really my favorite. I wanted to see what I could do with them.

The challenge was to make what is usually a free-form, convex baked good become a molded, concave baked good, and I’ve found a CCC quirk that makes for a tart crust that works for me.

Make the dough from the recipe on the Nestle Toll House chocolate chip bag. Place a piece of cookie dough that’s a little smaller than a tennis ball into a greased, parchment-lined mini non-stick springform pan that’s 4.5″ in diameter and 1.5″ high. Press the dough to the edges of the pan so that it is even; be careful to keep the parchment flat and centered. Run your finger around the inside edge so that the dough is pressed against the side of the pan. It should be about 3/8″ thick (I dislike that measurement, too, but 1/4″ is too little and 1/2″ is too much; think of it as just a little bit thicker than a chocolate chip). Bake in a 350F oven until the edges are golden brown and the center is just set and light brown but still soft and a little puffy– about 13 minutes, rotating if necessary. The center might already be a little concave, and as it cools, it will become more concave — and it is baked all the way through. When warm, unmold; slide an offset spat underneath, if necessary.

In effect, the cookie dough is baked like a cake whose center you are encouraging to fall. I tried a few different methods until I hit upon this one…

  • My attempt to bake it in flan rings resulted in cookie dough overflowing… everywhere. The dough needs high sides to contain it as it puffs.
  • My attempt to mold the dough onto the outside of an upside mini pie pan and bake it resulted in a ragged-edged, brittle bowl that was quite large… and weird.
  • My attempt to bake it in an ungreased pan resulted in a flat cookie. This seemed counter-intuitive, but maybe the dough gets stuck on the ungreased sides while the greased sides allow it to move around a bit more, even if it keeps its high sides by the end. And oddly enough, it doesn’t really matter whether you press the dough into a concave shape or not before you bake it. Either way, the center falls and the edge rises a bit higher. I used a Canola spray.
  • The parchment is important for a flat bottom after unmolding; without it, bits of cookie tend to stick to the bottom of the pan and the bottom of the crust gets ragged and trails melted chocolate.

The crust won’t be as thin as a short dough crust, but that’s desirable since it’s the star of the tart. Don’t overbake or else the middle will set flat. You could probably still mound a filling on top, but the cookie will cool hard and it’ll be hard to eat.

The filling was the next challenge. A chocolate mousse would be easy and delicious, but I wanted a filling that would complement it like milk. Whipped cream would be okay, but rather light, and while I didn’t want a rich mousse, I wanted something with a good body and a milky flavor tinged with vanilla. The issue with vanilla mousse is that it needs something to give it the body that the vanilla bean alone can’t give… and I didn’t want to make it excessively egg-y; fruit and chocolate mousses generally don’t have this problem.

So, I used this Vanilla Mascarpone Mousse. The flavors of milk and vanilla come right away, and it finishes with a mascarpone flavor. To purists, it may be hard to accept, but it’s an interesting twist. And the body is just right — not to light or too heavy…

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You’ll notice that the tart in this pic has a smooth top while the first pic had a textured top. The first pic was a tart filled with mousse that had chilled overnight in a bowl, and this pic was a tart filled with mousse the night it was made. I think it’s best to make the mousse, chill it in a bowl to set, and then scoop/smooth it into the cookie shell when you’re ready to eat it. Otherwise — if you chill the mousse in a cookie shell — the cookie chills, and that’s not as good as a room temp cookie. Ideally, you’d eat it the day the mousse is made, but you can make the cookie crust days in advance.And I tried adjusting the mousse recipe to diminish the mascarpone flavor by switching to the following quantities in the recipe: 1/4 c mascarpone, 2 egg whites, and 1/2 c sugar. The result was a bit thinner and sweeter. The mascarpone flavor was diminished, but it was replaced by a cloying meringue flavor that made me miss the mascarpone. I may keep trying different versions of the mousse and other fillings, but the original is best so far.

As a culinary school graduate, I found myself worrying about the garnish to put on top. Lines or drops of melted chocolate would work. Or an arrangement of cocoa nibs. Or a candied walnut half. Or a cluster of roasted, chopped walnuts.

But part of me likes the clean look of the circular white mousse in the middle of the tart — like a glass of milk seen from above and accompanied by a chocolate chip cookie. And the specks of vanilla seeds add their own mini-garnish intrigue.

The Modern – New York

Wednesday, October 11th, 2006

The Modern at MOMA was my finale fine dining experience in New York, and my Dad and I loved it for its delicious take on vibrant dishes that match the art collection in the museum.

In fact, I can’t help getting a little sentimental about it because it made me excited about food in a way that brought me back to that pivotal year: 1999. I was 19 years old and living in NY during the year that I took off from college. I’d backpacked alone across Europe for a few months, and then went to NY to work at a theater and with a photographer to supplement my interest in film. Of course, the whirlwind of Europe was great, but it was in NY that I appreciated what it meant to really know a place and its people. A lot of that happened at dinners with my Dad. We started off at classic local places, but we became curious to try those restaurants we kept reading about in the newspapers…

To suddenly find yourself becoming familiar with the likes of Nobu, Le Bernardin, Aquagrill, Aquavit, Jean Georges, Provence, Verbena, Rosemarie’s, City Hall, Montrachet, Gramercy Tavern, Union Square Cafe, Tribeca Grill, Il Cantinori, Alison on Dominick, Bouley, Ideya, Pearl Oyster Bar, Danube, Layla, The Mercer Kitchen, Blue Water Grill, Union Pacific, Balthazar, 71 Clinton Fresh Food, and Gotham Bar & Grill, is, in a word, amazing. I don’t think that I’ve become blase about dining at fine restaurants and I know I’m extremely fortunate to be able to go them, but I have expectations now… and with them comes analysis and quite a bit of cerebral and sensory activity. In 1999, it was pure wonder. And my Dad and I experienced it together while getting to know each other better. He may say that I introduced him to the martini, but he introduced me to a city that is filled with the amazing food that still serves as my foundation and ideal. In fact, my earliest memory of an amazing dessert was at Montrachet: a cool Passionfruit Pavlova with Warm Berries.

I also learned about the pleasure of exploring food with others, and it was fun to explore the food with my Dad at The Modern. We got the prix-fixed three course meal, but you choose the dish for each course yourself and they serve you ample amuse bouches, palate cleansers, and mignardises so that you feel like you’ve lost track of the courses. Each dish came out looking beautifully, with a taste to match, and you were never quite knew what was next, but you sure were looking forward seeing it, tasting it, sharing it (we said “you have to try this” a lot), and talking about it.

So, it was that kind of meal — the kind that where you alternate between admiring the food and enjoying the company. With culinary school behind me and the unwavering support of both my parents (my Mom is especially wonderful about making sure that I’m able to make good food myself; and both were way more thrilled about culinary school than they ever were about law school, to their undying credit), it made me realize how far I’d come in the food world. I try to appreciate the fancy and the humble — taking in each on their own merits — and although I am more familiar with food now, it’s fun to extend my admiration for it by trying to figure out how it all comes together, almost alchemically. There’s still a lot of wonder.

In other news, the service was polite and attentive, but a little spotty answering questions, as if they were uncertain about the food. The wait staff wears suit-like uniforms, and jackets are required for gentlemen diners… so everyone looks stylish.

And our table for two was right next to the window, overlooking the statue garden, which is well-lit at night.

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Amuse Bouche – Lobster Ravioli. Watermelon, Feta, and Pineapple Skewers.

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Butter, cubed.

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Amuse Bouche – Nettle Soup with King Crab and Purple Potato.

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Pheasant and Burgundy Truffle Veloute, Millet Blinis and Celeriac Julienne. This arrived with the vegetal arrangement in the middle, like a bare plant w/ roots, and then the veloute was poured in by the server, so that it looked like a planted plant. Cool. I especially liked the use of millet here, and how the veloute looked creamy, but was not dominated by the flavor of cream.

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Spanish Mackerel and Hamachi Tartare with Sea Beans and Toasted Sesame Seeds. This picture doesn’t do justice to the dish as it was — which was more elegant. The sesame dominated just a little too much for me, but otherwise, it was fresh and full of many flavors.

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Braised Veal Sweetbreads Dusted with Fennel Pollen, Escarole, Preserved Lemon, and Caper Salad. These were so silky. I loved the fennel pollen and salt dusted on them, too. I was disappointed by the amount of salad at first, but it was such a great refreshing contrast to the rich and earthy tones of the rest of the dish that I came to greatly appreciate it.

The waiter arrived at our table with a portable work service topped with crockery, and actually plated this all while tableside. My Dad’s dish came out exactly as my dish was finished. That was impressive.

On the other hand, though, it took a long time for the dish to be plated, and the watchful silence was a bit awkward. It also gave me the time to realize that, in effect, I’d ordered a soup and salad (and would go on to order a soup for dessert, no less).

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Colorado Lamb Chops and Braised Shoulder with Heirloom Shell Beans, Natural Jus.

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Palate Cleanser – The combination of strawberry, lemon, and tomato was wonderful here, with the tomato as a sly acidic backdrop to two tart fruits.

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Buttermilk Panna Cotta, Lemongrass Infused Green Apple Soup and Concord Grape Sorbet. The concord grape sorbet was amazingly intense and smooth — perhaps made with a pacojet.

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Milk Chocolate Dacquoise and Raspberry Sorbet. The creaminess and crunchiness — as well as the milk chocolate — made this irresistible. I believe that it had a hazelnut dacquoise and a cookie inside.

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Fromage Blanc Sorbet (I believe), Lemon, and Raspberry (or Strawberry). The crunchy, sweet cone was the perfect touch for this.

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Mignardises.

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Orange Spice Tea Cake. The party never ends at the Modern. This is given as you leave — to enjoy for breakfast.

Drinkswise, the Gemini Martini was a standout; made of Grey Goose Orange Vodka, Amaretto Disaranno, Acerola, Pink Grapefruit & Lime Juice. It popped with a rich orange flavor, and my Dad stuck with it all evening. I liked the flavor of the Sandia — with Bacardi Grand Melon, Cantaloupe, Dill, Lemon, and Tonic, but the pervasive slivers of cantaloupe made it very difficult to drink.

Casa Mono – New York

Monday, October 9th, 2006

I went to the Batali/Bastianich-owned Spanish tapas restaurant Casa Mono in Gramercy Park two days before I left New York, and I wish I’d had more time left to go back…  and try everything on the menu — from the exotic (like Cocks Comb) to the ordinary yet different (like Cauliflower with Black Olives).

Each dish was its own perfect world, showing off its own laws of flavor and texture for delicious, unique results. Just after I started eating, I worried that I wouldn’t be able to do the food justice with my descriptions, and I still worry about that. So, it’s all I can do to recommend it so that you can experience it yourself. You can also read about its genesis, among many other things, in Heat.

I’ve read about long waits at dinner, but we went for lunch around Noon on a Friday and it was fine. It’s a very small space, though, and it did just about fill up by the time we’d left.

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Artichokes with Mint. By some process of deep frying, these wedges of artichoke hearts acquired golden crisp curls of trimmed leaves on top and green morsels of tender meatiness on the bottom… it was like the artichokes had been allowed to let their hair down and play. And the mint leaves seemed to bring out the mintiness of the artichokes themselves, which was a revelatory taste. I have to try making this at home. Curiously, the meaty parts were barely crisp, so maybe they were briefly fried at a high temp to barely penetrate the meat part.

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Duck Hearts with Fabada. I half expected duck hearts to be gummy masses of ventricles, but they were actually quite meaty, almost like steak with a hint of kidney flavor and a thin layer of skin on the outside. It was a bit tough to cut through, but it was very tender in the mouth… and the hint of thyme on the outside was wonderful, as were the just slightly spicy/sweet and earthy beans, silky greens, and quail (I believe) egg. This is what a cross-section of a duck heart looks like.

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Cockles with Huevos Revueltos. The saltiness here was perfect w/ the cockles (baby clams) and moist eggs. Even the bit of sauce on the bread was great — a smooth orange, if I remember correctly.  I liked the plating; it demanded interaction and discovery.

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Scallions with Romesco. The peppery romesco studded with chopped almonds went so well with the slightly charred scallions. It was a little difficult to eat — the scallions tangled with each other and were hard to cut, but it was worth it.

L’Escale – Marseille

Monday, October 9th, 2006
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Bouillabaisse. For our last meal in France, we drove to the village of Les Goudes on the outskirts of Marseille to have this glorious bouillabaisse. You must order at least a day ahead, because it is prepared especially for you, based on what is caught the morning of your dinner.

But let me back up…

I’d read up on Marseille before our trip, but without the local savvy of Brigitte and her family, we wouldn’t have known about — much less experienced — L’Escale and its bouillabaisse. So, I’m happy that I can let my readers know about it in the same way that we were so lucky to have our hospitable friends in Provence introduce us to it. They also helped find an automatic rental minivan that seated 7 (a rare gem that eluded my search) and arranged other pre-trip logistics. I wish that my French language could be as skilled as their English, but I can say “merci beaucoup!” and know that I’m speaking for the rest of my family, and Chad, as well.

So… back to the restaurant… Or rather, this luxurious view from our outdoor table…

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I started off with a delicately floral Violet Kir Royale. And I love the glass. It’s somehow ripe.

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Bouillabaisse is usually served in two stages. First, the broth is brought out and poured over bread that you rub with garlic and spread with toppings, such as rouille.

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It was so good that we had two servings of this. You would expect that such a soup that takes all day to prepare will taste of the ocean, but that expectation didn’t prepare me for the flavor. It tasted more of the depths of the ocean — a rich, yet elemental flavor that, obviously, goes beyond “earthy.”

And then, the fish themselves (with potatoes) were served, as pictured first above. Full of the freshest fish imaginable from the Mediterranean, it speaks for itself.

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Mi-Cuit de Chocolat. I liked the intensity of chocolate in the middle of the plate, and the opportunities to contrast it w/ either frozen or whipped vanilla cream at your leisure.

We also had perfect Profiteroles, with this piping on the side of the plate… which vindicated all the piping homework that we had in culinary school…

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For more about bouillabaisse — including a California approach to it — see this LA Times article.

Bouchon Bakery – New York

Friday, October 6th, 2006
You can now purchase my handmade candy bars and marshmallows at http://www.bonbonbar.com/
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The Time Warner Center Bouchon Bakery is not your Yountville Bouchon Bakery. It’s actually more of a cross between Bouchon and Bouchon Bakery, since there are separate bakery and bistro areas (the bistro has some Bouchon dishes, but is a bit more American casual, with many salads and sandwiches). Instead of being nestled into a cute Yountville Street, the restaurant area is perched over Columbus Circle, with this bewitching view. The design is more sleek modern than rural quaint. They also have chocolates for sale, which I don’t remember seeing in Yountville.

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Tomato Soup & Grilled Cheese – Roasted Satur Farms Beefsteak Tomato Soup with Grilled Fontina and Gruyere Cheese Sandwich on Pain au Lait. A very satisfying take on a classic. Buttery, cheesy, tangy, and perfectly hot. It’s rainy and chilly in Napa today, and this is what I crave.

Although there are many wines available, I kept it true to the borough of my birth and got a Brooklyn Brewery Pilsner.

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Chocolate Butterfly. I really liked this variation on a classic pastry.

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Cheese Danish. This was the lightest danish that I’ve ever come across, and I discovered that I don’t like my danishes light… It wasn’t moist enough and was almost hollow inside. I wasn’t into the almond slivers on top, either.

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La Fromage Blanc. I think of this style of pastry as a kind of entremet tart; they were at Bouley, too. It looked like this inside…

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Desserts with many thin layers don’t really do it for me — this was crust, muscat grape jam, cake, jam, biscuit, mousse, gelatin, grapes, gelatin — it was very dense. I would have appreciated the mousse on top to lighten things up a bit, but it had too much gelatin — it was very firm — there was even more to hold the grapes in place and sprinkled on top.

But I love the idea of a grape tart that takes grapes seriously (no peanut butter in sight), and the contrast between the muscat grape jam and fresh green grapes was nice.

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Caramel Noix.

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This featured pear, walnut, and caramel flavors, with touches of chocolate on the side for good measure and a dacquoise layer… and again was very heavy… but the flavors were even more vibrant here, and it was fun to eat. And that candied walnut was terrific.