Monday, June 22, 2015

The Road Trip, Part 10: Salt Lake City & Craters of the Moon

*Just a quick note - as the formatting on this blog keeps some of the photographs pretty small. You can click on any of the pictures to enter a slide show, which will allow you to see larger format photographs*

Previous Entries: 

Day 42:
Jackson Hole, WY to Idaho Falls, ID. 88.4 Miles, 1 Hour 44 Minutes.

We left Jackson heading to Salt Lake City - planning a stop in Idaho Falls for the night to break up the drive and buy us one more day before arriving at J's aunts house - who just returned from a trip herself only a day before. We ate some tacos and slept at a Walmart.

Day 43:
Idaho Falls, ID to Salt Lake City, UT. 214 Miles, 2 Hours 55 Minutes.

We arrived at J's aunt's ( we'll call her: C ) house in the late afternoon, unpacked and acclimated ourselves. We chatted for a while and then decided to go out for a bit while J's aunt went and got some stuff for dinner. We went down to Trolley Square, a kind-of-dumpy shopping mall, to check out Tabula Rasa - a stationery story J enjoyed on previous visits. We swung through Whole Foods and made our way back to C's house. We spent the remainder of the evening preparing a nice dinner and relaxing. Towards the end of dinner, C's husband (E) came home. They gave J a birthday card and brought out a cake that C made the night before as soon as she got home from the airport. 

Day 44: 

J was still feeling under the weather but sleeping in a real bed seemed to help. We got a pretty late start to the day - something that seemed to be a theme for us in Salt Lake City. Our first stop was the Utah Museum of Contemporary Art. They were in the process of installing a new exhibit so there was really only one gallery open to view. It was over and done with in a matter of minutes. We made our way through downtown a bit to the Joseph Smith building where we went up to the observation deck - or really just the top floor which has some nice views of the city. 

The somewhat lackluster view of the city
We ventured a little further to the Lion House Bakery - where we tried their famous rolls (free if you ask) - which we ate in a beautiful garden behind the bakery. The rolls were indeed good - but the overwhelming creepy (religious) vibe that this area of the city has was a pretty big turn off. 

It was good
Keeping up with the creepy religious theme we went to a sculpture garden - something we both enjoy doing. This one was called the Gilgal Sculpture Garden was mostly creepy religious things. Cool birdhouse though!

Reminds me of the Stanley Hotel in Estes Park!
After the sculpture garden and general weirdness of our activities we decided to get a little bit outside of the city and go look for the Old Saltair Ruins. What this is supposed to be is the very last bits of the burnt remains of a 'Coney Island of the West' - mostly broken dishes and burnt timber. We did not find anything that was conclusively the ruins... as the directions we found online were very vague - but as far as we can tell we were there or pretty close, and the views were nice. 

After we were done on our little excursion we retuned met C&E for dinner at a place called Avenues Proper - one of their favorite places. It was a nice, intimate brew-pub type place with good beer and a nicely executed menu. 

Day 45:

A shot of the farmers market, which does nothing to show how great it was.
We started the day by checking out the Downtown Farmers Market. This was one of the nicest I have seen outside of the Capital District. It ran the perimeter of a Pioneer Park with farmers and produce vendors on one half, and crafts/other goods on the remaining sides. There were also food vendors on a path through the center. Everything looked beautiful. We really enjoyed it. Ive said it before - but Ive been routinely disappointed by farmers markets most places we visit (there are obvious exceptions) - as the ones we have become accustomed to in this area are really some of the best I've seen. 

As we were leaving the market we stopped to grab some subs at Caputo's - a market very similar to Cardona's or Roma's. They also had a nice fish market attached to them, accessible from both indoors and outdoors. We enjoyed our sandwiches. After lunch we drove over to check out a chocolate shop - Hatch Family Chocolates. According to C, they are one of the best in the city - and one of the owners studied in Chicago. On our way from the chocolate shop we stopped at a sidewalk sale that was pretty much a dream come true because of my obsession with Reverware. I agonized over buying the lot and shipping it back to New York - but opted out as we were trying to be frugal. 

All of the Revere Wares!
After J pulled me away from the side walk sale, we headed to the Utah Museum of Fine Art. The museum is located on the University of Utah Campus. It has a nice, well curated collection from around the globe. I was particularly taken by the Pacific Islander exhibit - and its display of ritual and war time costumes.
Just look at that mask!
For dinner, we went to Red Iguana with C&E. Red Iguana is a very popular Mexican Restaurant in Salt Lake City - known especially for its selection of moles. There was quite a line, which wrapped around the building, but it moved pretty quickly. When we sat, our server brought us a platter with some chips and a little bit of every mole they offered so we could compare and contrast - this was a great experience. I wound up with the Mole Coloradito - with pine nuts, almonds, peanuts, sesame seeds, ancho, guajillo, and poblano chiles, and mexican chocolate. The mole was served with grilled pork loin. I really enjoyed our meal here - sitting down for a Mexican meal like this, authentic or not,  is not something I do often - as we frequent taquerias more than anything - so it was a nice change of pace. There was a Mariachi band playing in the dining room, something I also havent seen in a while. The whole thing reminded me of drinking pitchers of blended margaritas at La Rondalla in the Mission in San Francisco when I was a teenager.

Killer Neon!
Day 46:
We slept in a bit, so when we got going the only activity we had planned for the day was to visit Antelope Island - an Island and State Park, accessible just north of the city. You drive over a causeway to get to the Island and then you just explore. Its an unusually beautiful place - with large rocky formations, grassland, an enormous amount of wildlife (especially buffalo), and plenty of sweeping vistas. We really enjoyed our time here.
Views like this were the norm on Antelope Island

Im thinking J is annoyed with me about something here

 For dinner we met C&E and a couple of their friends from Rochester, NY at BTG Wine Bar. We all really enjoyed the food (Italian fare like gnocchi, polenta, etc..) and the wine (I think we were drinking Duckhorn). 

Day 47:
We originally were going to leave today but J's mother and another one of her aunts were arriving to visit C&E in the evening so we decided to fart around a bit and stay one more night. We spent most of the day looking for some new clothing (to stay warm in the car). We did make a stop at the Natural History Museum, which seemed like a great museum, and a really cool building - but it was their free day - and Columbus Day - so it was PACKED with screaming children. We were in & out in short order. We got back to the house and chatted with everyone into the evening, talking mostly about our trip up to this point. 

A look into the center of the Natural History Museum

Day 48:

Salt Lake City, UT to Craters of the Moon, ID. 263 Miles, 3 Hours 48 Minutes

We tried our best to have an early start to the day because we wanted to check out Craters of the Moon National Monument in Idaho, on our way to Boise.  This was a bit of a shot in the dark for us, as we couldn't really find a ton of information about the park - and our Parks of the West book only had one photograph. The detour added a hundred miles to the trip, be we felt like gambling and we had been really enjoying our time spent in parks so far. 

While its pretty hard to compare the different parks in the US Parks System because they are all really very unique - when it comes down to it - I think this was my favorite I have been to. Theres really no way to describe how random and bizarre it is. It is truly like you are on another planet. 

From wikipedia: 
The Monument and Preserve encompass three major lava fields and about 400 square miles (1,000 km2) of sagebrush steppe grasslands to cover a total area of 1,117 square miles (2,893 km2). All three lava fields lie along the Great Rift of Idaho, with some of the best examples of open rift cracks in the world, including the deepest known on Earth at 800 feet (240 m). There are excellent examples of almost every variety of basaltic lava as well as tree molds (cavities left by lava-incinerated trees), lava tubes (a type of cave), and many other volcanic features.

Ill just let the pictures do the talking from here out:
Fish eye of the lava field, at a pull off just east of the park. It goes to the horizon.
The first thing we did was get a cave permit - our first - so we could check out some of the caves in the park.
Views from the North Crater View Trail
More views from the North Crater View Trail
We loved the stark black, volcanic soil

The truly amazing hike up to Inferno Cone Overlook

This is a video I took at the top of Inferno Cone Overlook, its fuzzy and choppy, but it should give you a good idea of just how 'in-the-middle-of-nowhere' this park is.

The paved path through the lava filed, heading towards the caves

J, on the descent into the cave.

A photo, from her perspective
J, for perspective, next to a pile of rubble from a roof collapse.

Another roof collapse. This particular cave did not require headlamps because of multiple roof collapses.

We considered camping for the evening, as we did want to spend more time exploring in the park, but since we were just getting back on the road after a stay in a city, we were short on supply (food) - so we took in as much as we could and then pushed through to Boise.

 From our book:

  • Downtown Farmers Market - Pioneer Park – Sat 8-2, Tue 4-dusk.
    o 350 S 300 W/Salt Lake City UT/84101
  • Curry Friend Chicken – Mon-Wed 11-3 & 5-9:30, Thu-Sat 11-930. Cheap fried
    chicken w curry spices.
    o 660 S State St/Salt Lake City UT/84111
  • Bourbon House – pub, has juicy lucys. 11a-2a o 19 E 200 S/Salt Lake City UT/84111
Free to do:
  • Neighborhood: Sugar House
  • Liberty Park – SLC’s ‘Central Park’
    o 600 W 900 S/Salt Lake City UT/84105
  • Lindsay Gardens – Park in the city’s first neighborhood, next to a cemetery,
    spectacular views of the valley.
    o 417 M St/Salt Lake City UT/84103
  • Utah Museum of Contemporary Art – Tue-Thu 11-6, Fri 11-9, Sat 11-6. $5 suggested.
    o 20 South West Temple/Salt Lake City UT/84101
  • Gilgal Sculpture Garden – 8-8
    o 749 E 500 S/Salt Lake City UT/84102
  • Old Saltair Ruins – 2 miles east of where Saltair is today, just of 180 & sr202.
    Take exit to go to where Saltair is today, on the frontage rd, turn east. Go 2 miles. You will see an old train car w rubble and an old building. Illegal to take artifacts.
  • Chase Home Museum of Utah Folk Arts = free (Mon-Sat 10-3; Fri-Sat 3-6). 1853 Greek revival house; Utahn’s baskets, cradleboards, jewelry, origami, rugs, furniture & spurs
    o 1150 S Constitution Dr/Salt Lake City UT/84105
  • Garden Tour = free (tours Mon-Fri @ 11; Wed @ 7; Sun @ 10:30 / rooftop
    tours Mon-Fri @ 10) 16,500 beddings; pool& fountain; 4 acre prairie rooftop garden with native trees & drought resistant plants
    o 50 W North Temple/Salt Lake City UT/84150 Other:
  • UU Natural History Museum
    o 301 Wakara Way/Salt Lake City UT/84108
  • The Leonardo Contemporary Museum for Science & Culture – Sun-Wed 10-5, Thu-Sat 10-10. $8Students
    o 209 E 500 S/Salt Lake City UT/84111
  • Clark Planetarium – Free exhibits, imax cost $. 10:30-last movie time. - Take a
    trip through the universe; lunar hemisphere; rotating relief globe o 110 S 400 W/Salt Lake City UT/84101
  • Tracy Aviary – 9-5, $6/students
    o 589 E 1300 S/Salt Lake City UT/84105
  • Natural History Museum of Utah – 10-5, wed til 9. $13 adult. o 301 Wakara Way/Salt Lake City UT/84108
  • Utah Museum of Fine Art – Tue-Fri 10-5, wed til 8, sat-sun 11-5. $7/Student o 410 Campus Center Dr/Salt Lake City UT/84112
  • Loveland Living Planet Aquarium – 10-6, $12.95/student o 12033 S Lone Peak Pkwy/Draper UT/84020
  • Hogle Zoo – 9-5, $14.95
    o 2600 E Sunnyside Ave/Salt Lake City UT/84108
  • Wheeler Historic Farm = free / cow milking = $1 (daily dusk-dawn; milking Mon-Sat@ 5; tour Mon-Sat @ 3). 1898 Victorian house; farm animals o 6351 S 900 E/Salt Lake City UT/84121 
  •  Antelope Island – 6a-10p, $10/car. o 4528 W 1700 S/Syracuse UT/84075 

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Keeping up with the conversation

Last week, Daniel put up a post where he discussed his feelings on garnishes. Apparently at some point he was lambasted for using lemon wheels on a plate he made for a competition - a story that most chefs have a version of their own that they can relate to.

He went on to - for lack of a better word - criticize Dominic for the use of a lemon wedge as a garnish on a plate of grilled Sardines. He said;

'if the stated goal is to “use more intelligent garnishes” then this one falls short of the mark.'

I think that garnishes - and using them intelligently - is a much more complicated thing than most people realize. What makes the use of a garnish intelligent? I think most of us would agree that above all else, it needs to serve a purpose. Now, with that being said - what is purpose? Is a garnish not okay if its only benefit is visual? If good food is the ultimate goal, what makes it good? How important is the aesthetic quality of a dish? Is flavor really the only important function? 

In this specific instance - I don't really agree with Daniels assessment on Dominic's use of a lemon wedge. Heres why:

Yes he could have just put a squeeze of lemon juice on the fish and foregone the wedge - and I would wager that he did, in fact, season the fish with lemon before sending it. He also could have used lemon zest rather than the wedge - though it would mostly just add the flavor of lemon, rather than the bight hit of acid that lemon juice would lend. Lemon supremes also may have worked, but they are tricky to use as they often completely overpower your palate - and this is why you seldom see them being used this way. The idea of shaving the lemon is an interesting one - that may be worth exploring. It reminds me of a Shaker Lemon Pie, where the whole fruit is shaved and macerated and finally baked in a pie crust. 

But the reality is that the use of a lemon wedge on this dish goes beyond just seasoning or flavoring the food.  There is a certain quality - a je ne sais quoi - to the actual act of squeezing a lemon over grilled sardines - that I feel strongly is a key part of the experience when it comes to enjoying this dish. There is something instinctual about it - something primordial. The fish is served, Im guessing head off, but otherwise whole. Its thrown over fire - its skin blisters and chars, its fats soften and begin to render. Its judiciously seasoned with flaky salt and that final step to enjoyment - crushing that wedge between your fingers. The aromas permeating through the air - the oils absorbing into your skin. When you put your hand to your mouth later in the evening you are reminded again of the whole experience. So - while the lemon wedge is not the experience itself, it is an important part of it. And without it - the dish is just becomes grilled fish. 

So, in some cases a lemon wedge is fine. Sticking a sprig of rosemary through a habanero and into some roasted garlic, now thats just stupid. 

I am a very visual thinker. Its not unusual for me to just see a finished plate in my head, and then go about creating it. Most times the original idea does not come close to the finished product - but my inspiration is not some obscure flavor, or some new technique or ingredient. Its a picture. This is why I look at art publications and frequent museums when I travel just as much as I read cook books and eat out at restaurants. I can find just as much inspiration in a painting, or photograph, or sculpture, or building as I can on a plate or in a cookbook. So it should come as no surprise that the aesthetic quality of a plate of food is just as important to me as the actual flavors. I say that with a little bit of exaggeration - because I do know that above all else your food has to taste good - but I am trying to convey the point that flavor is not the only factor to consider. 

Just like any medium - there is good art and there is bad art. Its all in the eye of the beholder.  So my poking fun about the rosemary/pepper/garlic thing at Prime - may be unfair of me to say. Its simply not something that I find attractive, or relevant or whatever.  I've encountered people that feel the same way about the way I plate my food. Recently I overheard a woman proclaim 'That doesn't look like any cheesecake I've ever had' - with a very negative intonation, as she sat up and slid her plate back. 

But I also put some thought into my garnishes. I don't use nasturtiums on a dish where their peppery bite would detract from the flavor. Often times you can find pansies or marigold petals on my plates,  which  impart a very mild, sweetly vegetal flavor that really doesn't do anything good or bad. I just like the way they look on the plate. I don't put sprigs of mint on every plate (like I have been told to do at previous jobs) but I do put a few young mint leaves on my mint brownie dessert which indicate and enhance the flavor while looking attractive. I use things like basil, salad burnet, wood sorrel, and lemon balm on my cheesecake not just because they are all complimentary to the composition of flavors but also because they add a nice visual element. 

I also like the idea of a garnish forcing interaction with a plate. I loved that when I had a vacherin on my menu people were forced to peel away slate like shards of crispy meringue to expose the frozen core. I like that our servers suggested they eat the whole thing like chips and dip. I like that people played with my food. 

An early version of the vacherin

My Sous Chef, Bryan, has been helping enormously. He used to work at one of my favorite restaurants, Woodberry Kitchen, which I would frequent when I lived part time in Baltimore.

I had my first CSA pick up of the season this week - I cannot believe I haven't got my shit together in the past and purchased one. The quality is exceptional, all the stress in figuring out what to buy is taken away and its fun to spend the evening prepping, preserving, and planning what to do with everything. 

'The wall is the artwork' Vic Christopher. This is something he said in passing during conversation and really resonated with me. 

Currently we are going through roughly 30 pounds of rhubarb a week at the restaurant. Its been tricky getting local strawberries through our regular channels - meaning I usually only pick them up at the market on Saturday mornings. Since we are closed Sundays - Tuesdays...well like I said, its been tricky. I have some plans for processing them so I can use them throughout the week. Frozen desserts are just around the corner.  

Dominic - since my last post, you have put up two - and they're both great. I loved the stream of consciousness in, 'More or Less' - and hope to see more of that format from time to time. 

We are eating a LOT of tacos, and making a lot of tortillas - both wheat and corn. Its amazing how - even a poorly made tortilla is delicious when it is fresh. 

While doing some...lets call it ...'r&d' - I rehydrated some Chipotle Moritas with a lot of vinegar, brown sugar, oregano, cinnamon, and thyme and let them cook and reduce to a molasses like consistency. This...'stuff' is earthy, spicy, sweet, beautifully smoky and utterly delicious and am pretty sure I will use it to make an ice cream sometime this week. 

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Rip Off

Dominic, this post is not just inspired (read: I am ripping off your format for this one) by your writing, but intended to give you a nudge to keep at it. I know its hard to find time and inspiration but good ones are so hard to find and - yours is good!

I am in awe of people like Daniel, who update their blog daily  - and when he is not being a walking advertisement for yelp - his posts are often thoughtful and well articulated. 

Like I said in my last post, I don't lack ideas for writing (I  have notes written everywhere, and several unfinished drafts here waiting for revision), however I often lack the inspiration. Because of my work schedule, I always wind up writing late at night (or in this case, when I should be heading into work).. and nearly every time I type a dozen variations of the same sentence and then give up. You can't force it, I suppose.

This makes me often debate about 'borrowing' Dominic's format - and just filling the page with little bits about this or that. My ideas are often fractured, and sometimes there really isn't anything more to say than just one or two sentences. 

Perhaps I'll simply add a few little lines like this to each post - giving me the opportunity to say some things without too much expansion - as well as alleviate some of the pressure to write more than just a few paragraphs on one subject.  

Mazzone is opening a BurgerFi in Saratoga. J and I ate at one by our hotel when we were at a wedding in Florida last year. I can say with confidence that it will be his best restaurant. Take that however you like. 

People shouldn't believe everything they are told. Even the good ones aren't always so good. I often see people praising local businesses for things that I know to be untrue from my own experiences working at these places, or from first hand accounts of people I know well who work for them. 

I find myself torn about bringing stuff like that to peoples attention. In person, I will gush. Written down, its a different story. Im sure you're at least aware that this industry is built on networking. Its how I went to school - two times, in two different states. Its how Ive gotten every job I have had and booked every stage Ive done. Once you have a reputation for airing dirty laundry - things change. And that reputation will follow you. 

On the other hand - people outright lying about their food, their practices, and methods causes problems much deeper than just misrepresenting themselves. Because of the prevalence of this practice - the collective palate of this region has changed over time. When someone says 'Why does this crème fraîche taste weird?'- my answer is, 'Because its not sour cream'.

I also feel conflicted about criticisms on local businesses. I know daily struggles involved, I know the stress and the difficulties. I want to support the small guys, as much as I possibly can - not deter people from checking them out. I told Daniel that I would methodically go through his list of recommendations now that I am back in Upstate NY for a bit. So far, my thoughts on many of these places haven't changed. 

One place I have tried and I go back and forth on is Lucky Corner, in Troy. I spent a good part of my twenties (essentially) living with a Taiwanese family and have grown to love Taiwanese cuisine. These guys have the best in the area. Its not the best Ive had by any means - but its still better than others...and they're new. Still finding their feet. Go check them out. Encourage them to offer more traditional Taiwanese and scrap the dumpy American Chinese. Encourage them to cook the way their mothers did. Not only is there a large Taiwanese American community in this area, theres a large community of people with interest in more traditional Asian cuisine. Look at A La Shanghai's success.

There is a reason why you don't see chefs hanging out at some of the 'nicer restaurants' around here on a daily basis - and it isn't the price point. 

Ive been trying for several weeks to book a table at Blue Hill at Stone Barns. Our schedules make it so only one day of the week works. They book two months out on to the day. This makes it tricky to get the table you want. I got the table this morning. I had an easier time booking a table at Alinea in 2011 when they were the 6th best restaurant in the world. According to the same list, updated yesterday, Blue Hill at Stone Barns is the 49th best in the world (Alinea has dropped to 26). 

I am always hesitant to drop that kind of money on a meal, especially because some 95% of meals I've had at restaurants of that caliber have been...lackluster. But, I have admired Dan Barber for many years - I even thought about working for him for a while (again with the networking, a friend in Chicago knew people on the pastry team). The food at Blue Hill speaks to me in a way that most does not. I am hopeful. 

The other 5% of those meals? - they have been some of the most transformative experiences Ive ever had. 

Apparently the FDA is banning trans fats in restaurants nationwide. This reminds me of when Albany county did the same and some bakeries cried about how it would negatively affect their products. Ive never seen a better example of businesses outwardly admitting they are selling shitty products. I have not been to either since (not that I was much of a patron before..) although, now that I think about it, I would bet their product is better now.

I now have a sous chef, for two days a week.

If Fancis Mallmann isn't on your radar, he should be. I've never dreamed about dropping everything to go work for someone as much as I do with him. There is an episode of Chefs Table (on Netflix) about him. Here is a quote, in response to this article in the New York Times, about issues with the Pellegrino Top 50 List:

Francis Mallmannbuenos aires
Thanks so much for choosing me as one of your voting members but
I have decided not to vote any more in your awards. I have been feeling this way in the last two years, and now I can´t do it anymore.
As you know, cooking is a romance with produce, space, service, timing and silence. This runs counter to the sentiments I observe in so many of my colleagues who are so concerned with the awards that they spend the year lobbying the electorate, jetting to conferences, and, in my view, wasting precious time: walking away from the true values of what restaurants are.
Awards created a fictitious, hyper-competitive ambiance for our cooking culture.
Innovation seems to be the prime value. Although there is nothing inherently wrong with that, it has moved us away from valuing craft in pursuit or so-called art. Young chefs attempt to cross bridges, long before they should just for the sake of being new, different and famous. Art is an intellectual thought, and eating good food and wine has more to do with the senses and with sharing. Wine and food makes us more acute, witty, trenchant. Only then can it stimulate our thoughts and improve our communion with our peers, friends, lovers. Certainly food can be intellectual, but in a more silent, dare I say humble, way.
To be sure, I have been greatly honored to be number 7 on your list the first year.
Its just that my cooking life has no links with these awards anymore.
So I wish you all best,
Let us break bread together.
Francis M.

I am turned 29 this past week.  I plan on making the last year of my twenties (as well as my last year in New York) count for something

In my 28th year:

  • I was fired from a truly awful job and lived to talk about it
  • I found a new job and love to talk about it
  • I rediscovered my love for gardening
  • I rediscovered my love for working
  • I learned the importance of mentoring people
  • I learned to relax a bit (this may be hard to believe for those of you who have only known me a short while)
  • I ate so much chocolate ice cream in one sitting I puked
  • I paid off all of my credit card debt
  • I visited 42 states and put well over 30,000 miles on my car. This leaves 7 that I have not been to - a few of which I will cross of this summer.
  • I was able to share so many of the things and places that I love with someone who I love
  • I found somewhere new that I will call home soon

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Rhubarb Curd

It seems typical that I wouldn't put up a post in a few weeks and now suddenly have a few different ones that I want to put up rapidly. We'll start with this one:

Ever since a customer dropped off two overflowing shopping bags worth of Rhubarb, I have been on a bit of a Rhubarb kick. I wanted to show my appreciation by using it in as many ways as possible rather than just having a rhubarb dessert and letting the majority of it waste away in my walk in. In doing this, I realized how much fun it is and I've decided to adopt this approach to all of my menus from here on. I love the idea of things changing as the ingredients available to me go in and out of season. Right now you're seeing mostly Rhubarb - with little flutters of Strawberry. In another week or two, strawberries will be dominating. 

So, among several other items, I ran a Rhubarb Tart this past week. It was a  bit of a riff on your traditional Lemon Meringue Tart - Pate Sable crust, Grilled Rhubarb Jam, Rhubarb Curd, Toasted Meringue, Poached Rhubarb, Balsamic Strawberries, Pistachios - with a dollop of whipped Crème fraîche that is just kissed with sugar - and finished with a splinter of crispy strawberry meringue. 

Now, the reason I am telling you about this dessert is because of the Rhubarb Curd that was in it. Occasionally I will have an idea for something and not really have a good place to start - and in those instances Ill spend a while reading and comparing recipes that I turn up via google. Pretty often this leads to total failure, or at the very least moderate failure - but it frames me a bit, giving me somewhere to jump from. 

After searching for a while I realized that nearly every recipe I came across was a slight variation on the same recipe. So I went at it and made the curd and in the end it tasted just like sugar, eggs and butter. A total waste of time. 

So I after 86ing that batch I had to start over from scratch. I decided to abandon my original approach and simply use my 'go-to' lemon curd recipe, utilizing the juice extraction process for the rhubarb that I found in the shitty recipes - and simply replacing the lemon juice with the rhubarb juice. Makes sense, right? The only hitch was that I knew - after the last batch having no discernible rhubarb flavor - I would have to match the intensity of lemon juice. In order to achieve this I had to reduce my rhubarb juice by 1/2 - from 1000 g to 500 g. At this point it was nearly indistinguishable form lemon juice.  

And with that, I present you a reliable, tastes-like-sweet-rhubarb-and-butter, Rhubarb Curd - in metric, like any good pastry chef would want - for the next poor pastry chef desperately scouring the web for a good recipe.

Rhubarb Curd
Yield - I didn't check. I made about 30 x, 90mm tarts with it. 

Rhubarb Juice:
1500 g Rhubarb, Trimmed and chopped into 1" pieces
Filtered Water 

Place rhubarb in medium tail pot and cover with water by an inch or so. Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer and cook for 20 minutes. Remove from heat and strain through a chinois, pressing firmly on solids to extract as much liquid as possible. Scale juice (I yielded exactly 1000g) and return to heat in a clean tail pot. Reduce by 1/2 (Leaving me with 500g) and remove form heat.

Rhubarb Curd:
180 g Sucrose
350 g Rhubarb Juice
320 g Egg
180 g Sucrose
1 x Lemon, Zest of
350 g Butter, Room Temperature
3 g Salt

Combine first measurement of sucrose and rhubarb juice.

Combine egg, second measurement of sucrose and lemon zest.

Combine these two mixtures and heat gently over a pot of boiling water, stirring constantly, until the mixture thickens significantly. 

The thickness you get here with determine the thickness of your curd. If you cook it to a nappe/creme anglaise consistency (around 82 C)  - you will have a very loose curd. If you push it way further than you feel comfortable, you will wind up with something that is thick and can stand on its own. How thick you want it depends entirely on its application. Do not be afraid of curdling the egg - as it is very very difficult to do. At Sperrys I made lemon curd almost daily and in my recipe I noted, 'cook until thick like mayo.'

Once you are happy with the thickness, pass it through a china cap. Tap gently on the side to push the curd through - do not press on the inside of the china cap. This can push unwanted solids into your strained curd. In the china cap, you should be left with mostly chalaza from your egg - which may look like small bits of scrambled egg whites. 

Place your strained curd in a bain marie large enough to hold it and the remaining ingredients, and homogenize with a stick blender, taking care not to incorporate air into the curd. Place plastic wrap on the surface of the curd and place in the cooler until it has cooled to 60 C

Once curd is 60 C, begin to emulsify in the butter a little at a time, with a stick blender. Take care to not incorporate air into the curd. Once all of the butter has been emulsified into the curd - season it with the salt, top with plastic wrap on the surface, and place back into the cooler to rest a minimum of four hours, or ideally - overnight. Use as desired. 

Sunday, May 3, 2015

Creating a Dessert: The Story of Two Panna Cottas

For a long time I had heard about Brooks Headley's brown butter panna cotta - and how amazing it is. My first week at Pecks, Nick brought in Brooks Headley's Fancy Desserts and told me to take it home and thumb through it. Aside from being one of the coolest cook books I have read in a long time - the only way to really describe it is punk rock - I noticed that it had the recipe for the panna cotta in it. Knowing how badly I wanted to try it and the likelihood that I would ever be dining at Del Posto, I scribbled it down and put it on reserve mentally. I often will find inspiration this way - reading a book or article, looking at pictures, eating out - and even just in my surroundings.

I feel silly saying that I am inspired by nature, because it has become such a cliche - but there is some truth there. I remember walking past some garlic mustard growing through the cracks in a sidewalk in Chicago on my daily commute...I was always amazed at how beautiful it was, it looked like a perfectly composed salad. I felt really awkward squatting down and taking pictures of it on a regular basis as it grew and eventually bolted over the course of a few weeks. I often think of that plant when imagining how I would plate a salad. I also constantly think of places we visited on our trip this past fall whenever I am designing a plate. I am particularly excited for my 'Craters of the Moon' dessert that is starting to take shape in my head. Its easy to make the comparisons...a salad green looking like growth, a dusting of sucre neige looking like a bit of snow, candied nuts looking like stones, torn cakes looking like mountains or pumice...the list goes on forever - and changes with context and application

Often times I will take a screen grab, a photograph, dog ear a page or take some notes...all with the idea of revisiting these things and expanding on them. A few weeks ago I decided that I was going to finally try making the brown butter panna cotta. The hiccup that always stopped me was the fact that it takes several days to make - and the restaurant is only open four days a week. But it didn't really matter..because I really wanted to try it.

While I cooked the panna cotta, I was surprised at how similar the process was to making a dulce de leche - where you slowly cook milk and sugar over low heat for a long time until much of the water has evaporated out, and the milk solids and sugars begin to caramelize. This put it in my head that I would use some dulce de leche on the finished dish - as I almost always have some kicking around. Now the dish was starting to formulate - panna cotta & dulce de leche. 

Once the base was cooked, I tasted it to adjust the seasoning and immediately I was reminded of the packages of apple slices and caramel I ate growing up. Frankly I was surprised at how strong of a caramel flavor there was, relative to the mild brown butter flavor. This balanced itself out over the next few days as the butters flavor had time to permeate throughout the base. But now I had another component for the final dish - panna cotta, dulce de leche, and apple.

Now that I was in the home stretch it wasn't long before I had the rest of the plate finished. It was made mostly with ingredients that are used elsewhere in my menu. I added a maple granola (which I use on my vegan dessert and chevre cheesecake options), a chevre mousse (we always have a tub of R&G chevre in the walk in), and some caramelized marcona almonds...because well...they're delicious and would provide a wonderful crunch that the granola wouldn't otherwise.

The completed dish: Brown Butter Panna Cotta, R&G Chevre Mousse, Dulce de Leche, Maple Granola, Caramelized Marcona Almonds, Green Apple Sorbet, Shaved Green Apple.

For the past month or so, we have been working on a tasting menu - the theme was, 'Food & Wine from Trentino-Alto Adige'. In the past, most places that I have worked in the capital district have put very little effort into themed dinners or tasting menus. They're either put together on the fly with  things that are kicking around or built with various go-to items used specifically for these occasions. This, greatest-hits approach has never sat well with me because, creatively, it seemed to defy the whole reason for offering them. There was no trying new things, no creative push.

For this dinner - our first we have offered at Peck's - we spent about a month researching the food of the region. Nick and I both ordered several books, and spent countless hours going down rabbit holes on the internet. We met with the wine rep doing the parings for the dinner and tasted many wines from the region and discussed them at length. I learned more about this regions cuisine that I ever expected - and realized how interesting it is. There were many similarities to food from Alsace, which is where many of my mentors are from - and a cuisine that is very special to me. So, not only did I have the opportunity to learn a lot about a subject and grow as a chef - I was also able to make sort of an emotional connection to the food that otherwise, I would not have.

There is a lot of blending of German and Italian food in this region - undoubtedly because of its proximity. I learned that apple strudel is a very popular dessert here. I have made strudel once before - and because of its very unique method, as well as the chef who taught me the dessert - its something that has always stuck in mind. Here I made another connection to the food, so I knew I wanted to use apples and strudel in some capacity on my dessert.

I also read quite a bit about a tart called Sbrisolona - a very popular crumbly tart...think somewhere between the topping on a coffee cake and a hearty topping on a fruit crisp with maybe just a little more texture than usual from the ubiquitous almonds found in every recipe I came across. Suddenly it clicked with me - the first great panna cotta I ever had - a toasted almond panna cotta, was taught to me by one of the aforementioned Chefs from Alsace. It was beginning to come full circle in my mind.

Toasted Almond Panna Cotta, Sbrisolona Crumble, Broken Strudle, Green Apple, Raspberry
Being in such a nurturing environment does wonders. It pushes you - creatively - to do things you didn't realize you were capable of. Being constantly surrounded by other creative types who are all functioning on a very high level and who are encouraging you to push yourself - its just a great thing to be a part of. 

In the past, I have been ashamed of my work and my food. I've always been ashamed of compromises and shortcuts I've taken - and I can't really articulate how great it feels to be part of something I am actually proud of. 

In 17 weeks - thats 67 days of business - I have sold 21 different desserts on my menu at Peck's. Here are a few:

Carrot cake, Cream Cheese Mousse, Caramelized Pineapple, Vanilla Poached Carrots, Walnuts

Olive Oil Cake, Fennel, Cardamom, Blood Orange Pearls, Orange & Ginger Sorbet, Vanilla Cream, Olive Oil.
Vegan Chocolate 'Ice Cream' with Maple Crumble
'Mocha' - Warm Chocolate Cake, Coffee Caramel, Vanilla Bubbles, Blue Bottle Hayes Valley Espresso Ice Cream, Cocoa Nibs
Gluten Free Gougeres

Bread for dinner service. 

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

The Road Trip, Part 9: Yellowstone National Park

*Just a quick note - as the formatting on this blog keeps some of the photographs pretty small. You can click on any of the pictures to enter a slide show, which will allow you to see larger format photographs*

Bozeman MT to Yellowstone National Park. 85 miles,  1 hour 52 minutes. 

We planned to spend a few days in Yellowstone so we stocked up on some goods in Gardiner, MT before heading over the state line and into the park. Our first photo op was when we crossed the 45th parallel.

We drove further into the park and quickly arrived at Mammoth Village. This was far and away the most well established village we had seen in a National Park. There was some very nice architecture, and apparently most of it was designed and built by the US Army while they managed the park - starting in 1886 and finishing in 1918 - 32 years later.  Just on the outskirts of the settlement was Mammoth Hot Springs - the first of many alien landscapes we saw in Yellowstone

After leaving the Hot Springs we headed south to our campground - which was about 35 miles away. Its hard to put it into perspective just how massive Yellowstone is - but the entire park is set up (more-or-less) in a large figure 8. There are things to see virtually everywhere. One could spend quite a long time there and only see a fraction of the park. We were taking the Cliffs Notes approach as we wanted to see a lot in a short period of time. After we set up our tent site we went further south to Old Faithful Village to see….you guessed it, Old Faithful. As silly as it seems - especially considering the quantity of geysers we saw all throughout the park - I love checking quintessential American Road Trip things like this (and Mt. Rushmore, Grand Canyon, Hoover Dam, etc..) off the list, no matter how corny they are. 

We waited about 30 minutes before it started going off. It was right around golden hour so it was nice. There was a coyote stalking the area looking for food. The site is set up like an amphitheater, the geyser taking center stage, with bench seating nearly surrounding it on all sides. 


The sun was starting to set around this time so we started making our way back to the campground. We stopped at Black Sand Basin on the way and took a walk along the raised boardwalk - while we were engulfed in steam from the hot water, hearing animals in the distance, and water boiling out of the ground. It was truly surreal.

The next day we got an early start and methodically saw a lot of the park. Theres not a whole lot to say other than it is incredibly beautiful and moving and very unique. Some of the things we saw:
Grand Prismatic Springs
A crystal clear, so deep you can't see the bottom, hot spring - somewhere in the park
A geyser hole (?), and many other in the background, giving off steam.
The Grand Canyon of Yellowstone
Water, colored presumably by the abundance of sulfur - somewhere in the park.
There was an incredible amount of wildlife in the park - we saw Foxes, Coyotes, Wolves, American Bison, Bighorn Sheep, Elk, and probably more that I am forgetting. Bison will often cross the road in packs, bringing traffic to a stand still while they're so close to you you can hear them breathing.

Bison, from the car
Big horn sheep, going up - from the car.
Bison, from the car. 
Bison, on the edge of a parking lot - I think this was in Old Faithful Village.
Elk, grazing on the lawns in Mammoth Village
At our campground we noticed the couple across the way from us had a large cat they were walking on a harness - which is something J always talks about wanting to do with our future pet. They noticed us gawking and came over to say, 'Hi'. 

Looking kind of pissed off
We wound up spending most of the evening and night with them. It turns out they own a candy shop on the coast a little north of Seattle. They, too, enjoy traveling by car and were on an extended trip of their own. They were taking the same route (Glacier, Yellowstone, Tetons) as we were but were a few days behind us. After a while we realized that they ordered chocolates from a chocolatier in Hico, TX - who I also know. The weirdest part about this is why I know him. On a similar trip I took in my early twenties, I randomly (and I do mean randomly) stopped in Hico, TX because of a Billy the Kid statue I noticed while driving through. We got out and walked around a bit, met 3 elderly people driving around the country who envied us to camp by their camper that night. We had dinner with them, traded stories - and this wound up being one of the most memorable travel experiences I have had. Fast forward maybe 5 years, I am starting school in Chicago and I find out a classmate is from Hico. Since Hico is in central texas, off any major road, and has a population of about 1,300 - I made it a point to get to know her and let her know that I had been to Hico before and knew it. After graduating school in Chicago, I was driving around the country again - and wound up in Hico again to visit my friend, who worked for this chocolatier - who I also met then. I love when serendipitous things like this happen. What are the odds that we would be in Hico, originally? That I would see that statue, and have enough interest to stop? That we would randomly meet other travelers and stay? That someone I goto school with half a decade later happens to be from there and I learn that? And then that a couple I meet 1500 miles away from it who order chocolates for their candy store from this particular chocolatier. Blows my mind.  

Lake Yellowstone
We eventually got to Lake Yellowstone where we exited the park and headed to the Grand Tetons.

We didn't spend a whole lot of time in the Tetons, which were almost comically beautiful. J had caught a cold camping in 15 F weather the night before. We drove through to Jackson, grabbed a hotel room, ordered some food and picked up some cold medicine. We spent the night watching TV. 

Best breakfast.
The next day we grabbed breakfast at the Virginian Restaurant which was awesome - perfect diner breakfast. I still think about it today. We headed back to the park and saw some of the sights, but any hiking was off the table because of J's cold (which was pretty bad at this point). Some of the highlights:

A phallic lake
I believe this is Jenny Lake, but Im not 100%. It was crystal clear, you could see very large fish swimming around in it. 
J's condition was worsening, so we decided we were going to start heading to Salt Lake City, where her aunt lives and had finally returned home. The drive from Jackson to Idaho Falls was incredibly beautiful - winding along the Snake River for a good portion of it. We grabbed dinner (tacos) when we got to Idaho Falls (our second time here on the trip - we grabbed gas here on the way to Butte). We found a Walmart and turned in for the night.

I enjoyed the tacos here!

Up next: SALT LAKE CITY, and maybe more?