Cream Puff Pic under Nav Bar

Cream Puff Pic under Nav Bar

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Rusty's Birthday Dinner Party at the Chefworks

I thought it would be fun to showcase the way a Supper Club menu is put together. My Friend Rusty asked me if we could accommodate eight guests for her birthday, so with the help of my technical adviser we built an extension to the existing dining room table. We decided on the menu: (Click menu to view larger)

 Here we go, step by step:
      We start with a cheese course and a selection of my breads. I always go to Murry's Cheese on Bleeker Street in Greenwich Village. This time around I got Shropshire Blue, Vendeen Bichon, Raclette, and Brilliat Savarin. Shropshire Blue Cheese is a bright yellow cow's cheese from Shropshire England. It is dense and creamy with an intense but sweet flavor. Vendeen Bichon, also a cows cheese made in France is what Murry's carries in place of the wonderful  Tomme de Crayeuse which I love. It is mushroomy, clean and rich even though Tomme style cheeses are generally made with milk from which the cream has been removed. Raclette is an Alpine cheese also of cows milk that is slightly stinky, but still sweetly reminiscent of a Pont l'Eveque and Brilliat Savarin is one of the greatest triple creams ever and is also produced from cow's milk. Yes, I know that conventionally one serves a sheep, a goat and a cow's milk cheese but I don't care. These are all cheeses that I love, my philosophy being that you will come to love them as well. In my own defense I also served a little amuse bouche plate with a crispy ginger flavored cracker which I baked in the shape of a flower, filled with a quenelle of herbed goat cheese. In addition the plate had a confit of figs which my neighbor Rosalie gave me at the end of the season, and a nice puree I made from poached pears in red wine and herbs. The pears were also given to me by a friend who has a pear tree in her yard which produces French farmhouse quality pears. ( Go Jersey City! )  The puree was made from the scraps and pieces that I saved from cutting up the pears for various purposes, as I could not bear to just throw them out. I always save the different syrups and relishes, preserves and preparations so that when I throw a dinner party, they are already at hand. This makes any given event more special, and the work is already done. I piped some mascarpone cheese onto the plate and in between I put purees of red and yellow peppers, respectively.
     The Second Course was a timbale of romaine lettuce
 stuffed with sweet sauteed onions and leeks, thyme from my garden, raisins and chunks of my sour dough bread. I blanched separate lettuce leaves and shocked them in ice water to stop the cooking and to keep the color bright. I buttered ceramic cups and layered the leaves against the sides, leaving some hanging over the edge to close over the stuffing. I packed in the stuffing and baked them in the oven. I made a stock from the scraps of lettuce and added the reduced raisin soaking liquid, and some pomegranate syrup I made to use for the dessert later. When it came time to serve I heated and unmolded the timbales of lettuce onto the plate I added the raisin liquid and the fresh heated cream to
the plate. I decorated with chiffonade ( thin strips )
of lily, white and pink rose and parsley.

     Nice vegetable tarts, with chard, eggplant and sweet banana were the third course. I blanched the chard, deep fried squares of eggplant and cut pieces of fresh, sweet banana. I made a custard from 3 eggs and a cup of cream mixed with some milk ( to lighten the custard ) tarragon, nutmeg and thyme. I used a nice unsweetened pie dough and put sauteed onions and leeks in as well. I had some Spanish sheep cheese called I diazabal hanging around in the fridge, so I put that in too. I thinned some goat cheese with cream and used that as the sauce. I made some orange syrup, with which I decorated the goat cheese cream sauce. It was a  tart and refreshing foil for the cheesiness of the dish.

     Lime Sorbet was served after the veg tarts. I have a marvelous Lello Musso brand Ice cream maker from Italy, which I fell in love with when I was pastry chef of the Lighthorse Tavern here in Jersey City. They still have their machine, I purchased my own. Sorbet is made with fruit juice and sugar syrup. I make the syrup with half sugar and water. For a lime or lemon sorbet, or the wonderfully sour passion fruit, I squeeze the fruits and use it in equal proportion to syrup. I always check before spinning in the ice cream freezer to make sure it is not to tart or too sweet. The recipe of 1/2 cup juice, 1/2 cup syrup is just a guide.

     The main course was capon, stuffed with onions, leeks, goat cheese, and spinach. This was served with potato galette and brussels sprouts.
I called my butcher ( Ottomanelli's in Greenwich Village ) and ordered the capon and what is called a soup hen, or fowl to make the stock. The older the bird, the better. I made the stock overnight, at a heat so low that the liquid barely moved. There was just a single bubble or two slowly making its way to the surface. When you do this the stock does not acquire a muddy, overcooked taste redolent of the hapless disintegrating vegetables which boiling for extended periods produces. The meat ( and veg ) can then be used for something else, in my case I made creamed chicken from the dark meat and used the now too dry breast meat for cat food. The slow 'shimmering' method also produces clear, clean stock, with a minimum of sediment which can be used to make clear bullion and consomme.
I pounded the breasts of capon flat after removing the tenderloins and extra meat ( capons are huge ) which I reserved for another purpose. I kept the skin on. I then first added blanched spinach, layered on sauteed onions and leeks, and then herbed goat cheese. I tied them like a roast with butcher's twine. I sauteed them in olive oil, adding whole butter to make them a deeper and more delicious caramel brown. I added some stock and cooked them slowly in the oven for perhaps ten minutes. They are then put aside to rest so that they can 'bloom' to doneness. People invariably overcook poultry. They are well intentioned, but do not realize that if the thermometer stuck into a chicken reads 185, by the time it rests before serving it will be well over 200.  The cooking times given in books are just plain wrong. Poultry is way overcooked at 185, or 165, the temperatures most books and recipes recommend. Of course this is a matter of preference, and I prefer the the meat of the capon to be slightly blushed with pink. The saute gives it quite a jump start, the meat is no more than a half inch thick, so no more than ten minutes should be allowed for finishing the roulade ( roll ). There is also no way you can stick a thermometer into less than 1/2 an inch of meat and get a reading, so it is better, using intuition and practice to err on the side of caution and take it out to soon. You can always cook it a little more. I then added all the pan drippings to the reduced stock and when it was nice and thick, not syrupy, I added fresh whole butter and boiled it briefly to mount the butter. The slices of roast were then sauced with this ambrosia.
I sliced some unskinned russet potatoes and coated them with melted butter, nice olive oil, herbs, salt and black pepper. I layered them in a casserole and added some cream and baked them covered until they offered almost no resistance to a knife blade inserted into them. I then browned them under a broiler. This step was done the night before the dinner to let them set. before serving I cut little towers from the casserole and placed them on a tray to which I added some cream a baked them to heat them up.I then grated some potato into long skinny strips with a tool designed for that purpose ( a Japanese mandolin works too ). I added salt and pepper, and some corn starch and layered them onto my waffle iron to make the fantasy shapes seen in the pictures. I blanched and sauteed the brussels sprouts.

Lemon Chiffon Dessert:
I made what is known as a lemon curd using the juice, and rind of 3 big lemons ( I added a little extra juice, ) 8 egg yolks and a cup of sugar. I cooked this over a double boiler for about half an hour. When cool I whipped a pint of heavy cream mixed with a 1/2 cup of 10x sugar and folded it into the curd. I made lady fingers and lined the molds I was using with them. I soaked the ladyfingers with lemon syrup and piped the cream into the molds. I put them in the freezer as this is a 'semi-fredo,' or partly frozen dessert.
Now for the garnishes:
I combined sugar and corn syrup and made a caramel which I then spun into art deco type garnishes.
I scraped lemon peel and added granulated sugar to it. I call this fairy dust in my kitchen.
I made candied lemon peel and stored it in lemon syrup. I did the same with oranges sent to me from White Flower Farms.
I made a syrup from pomegranate juice.
I had on hand, in my freezer what I call paint. There was reduced passion fruit puree, and also some fresh plum puree that I had left from making plum tort for someone.

At service I removed the Lemon Chiffons from the freezer and freed them from their molds using a knife blade dipped in water. While I did the decorating, and photography, they thawed to their semi-frozen state which is the perfect temperature for enjoying them.

Disclaimer: heavy cream, my preparation of goat cheese and herbs, plus my mixture of onions and leeks were used in no less than three of the menu items. One is taught not to do this in schools and in kitchens but again I often break the rules with excellent results, and I prefer to think of using these delicious items as recurring themes like the ones used throughout various movements in a composed symphonic piece of music or an opera. I like to think that my hero, Giacomo Puccini would have enjoyed this menu, and would have approved my use of recurring themes.


Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Green Tomatoes

      As the growing season draws to a close, and the atmosphere is no longer warm enough to ripen the many tomatoes still on the vine, green tomatoes are one of the last products our gardens have to give. 
      What can be done with them? They can be fried or battered sweet or savory, but I tire of them quickly. I have also made green tomato ice cream. It may sound bizarre, but it is great, and unlike anything anyone who has tried it has ever tasted. Pickles, and green tomato pie are my favorites. I had one habenero plant which burst into intense production at the end of September, and by last week had produced more than forty multi-colored peppers which hung in clusters like Japanese lanterns. I decided to pickle them along with the green tomatoes.

     I chose the simplest method. I sterilized the bottles, and then packed them with herbs and alternately, the tomatoes or habeneros. I salted the tomatoes which I had sliced into wedges, and let them weep their water out for a few hours. I dried them and put them in the jars. I had enough babies for only one jar, and these I put in whole with just the stem removed. I put one slice of habenero into each jar of tomatoes. I cut the tops off of the peppers. Some I sliced, some I used whole.     I made a brine and poured it just boiling into the jars and sealed them.
Bring the above ingredients to the boil, stirring occasionally to dissolove the sugar. You can put almost anything you fancy into a pickle brine which you feel will make the objects to be pickled taste good/interesting. I strain the brine when using sliced items like the above green tomatoes because the peppercorns and seeds get stuck in them, and some people do not find that to be delicious. When the brine is to be strained I let it sit for a couple of hours or overnight and then bring the strained brine to the boil to be poured into the jars.
 Many times when doing a project, there are only a few pictures good enough to use. This time, the opposite was true and I spent over an hour picking out the ones you see here. Maybe it was my new 500 watt, sunlight counteracting photography bulb.
 I make the green tomato pie almost exactly like making an apple pie, and they are wonderful. I put sugar on the tomatoes and let them weep their liquid, then I squeeze out most of the liquid. I then put more sugar and corn starch, and just the barest hint of cinnamon. Most of the time I resist the temptation to add brown sugar, more cinnamon or other spices, raisins etc. The taste of the green tomatoes is unique, and oddly compelling, and seems to resist complication. Like apple pie, the tomatoes can be sauteed first, but a true, classic American apple pie starts with raw fruit - and that is how I like my green tomato pie.
My favorite pie dough is made by working 3 ounces of vegetable shortening into 18 ounces of flour, to which I add 14 ounces of almost frozen butter cut into 1/2 inch cubes. You may add salt if you wish. I use two pastry scrapers to cut the butter and flour together. ( I like to use paint scrapers from the hardware store, instead of the kitchen ones. I use them for everything, and I find them easier to hold. ) A solid strong pastry blender is good too. Avoid the wire ones, they always seem to get bent cutting butter of the hardness I like. When the mixture looks like rough meal, flake it with your fingers a bit, and then use the blender, or two scrapers again to break up any clumps. Add 1/2 to 3/4 cup ICE water. Take the trouble to put ice and water together and then strain it. The reason for this is that if you have worked the dough a little too long, if it is a warm day or a warm kitchen the flour will absorb some of the butter, instead of forming the hundreds upon hundreds of layers nescesary for puffing up beautifully. Ice water is fool proof in this regard. Start with 1/2 cup of water and hold back the rest. The least amount of water you can use, and still have the dough come together produces the tenderest flaky pastry. Just press the mass together and let it sit. The molecules need time to absorb the water on the microscopic level, and only time will allow this to happen. Use the heel of your hand and press, touching as little as possible. The warmth of your hands is a danger to the dough. Put the bowl in the freezer if you need more time. If after ten minutes or so, the dough still crubles when touched, and you can still see dry flour, sprinkle a little more ice water. This may seem like too much trouble, or unnecessary, but the result is the lightest, tenderest, flakiest dough you have ever tried. I promise. Let the dough rest in the fridge for an hour before using. I also give the dough a couple of turns ( like puff pastry ) to give it more pizzazz. Questions? Want to tell me off? Call the Chefworks Hotline: 551-200-9359

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Cheese Cake Adventure

     Cathy, A Vietnamese lady who runs a liquor store in my neighborhood, after receiving my business card and viewing my website, said she goes to Brooklyn to buy Junior's cheese cake. I said I can make cheese cake as good as theirs, why not buy it from me? Cathy said give me a sample. If I like it, I will order one. I looked on line for the recipe and made it. I made small ones with graham cracker crust, and a big one with  sponge cake on the bottom ( like they do at Junior's ), using my own recipe for sponge cake. A friend said, "I love Junior's cheese cake, but after the first day it's not as creamy." With this in mind, when I made the batter, it looked too thick, so I more than doubled the cream called for in the recipe. What happened was the best, creamiest, silkiest, cheesecake I ever ate. I have since been getting orders from almost everyone I give samples to. ( Including Cathy )
     This adventure solved a problem for me. I too, had been disappointed with cheese cake recipes I have made and tried over the years and for the same reason my friend was disappointed. It is not as creamy after the first day, and sometimes is dry, thick and unpleasant to eat. The reason for this is:

All instructions for making cheese cake say to bake the cake until the top is no longer jiggly. That is the mistake, right there. Cheese cake, like it's cousins: pumpkin pie, coconut custard pie, key lime pie, quiches etc., is a custard. That means a liquid combined with eggs which is then baked. The proteins in eggs set at about 160 degrees farenheit. With the addition of sugar and liquids, ( water, milk, cream, ) the temperature at which the custard will set is 175- 180. This is the reason for cooking the cheesecake inside a pan of water. Water cannot get higher than 212 degrees F except under pressure, ( or when it becomes a vapor ). The "water-bath" as this method is called, makes sure the cheesecake is protected from the 325-375 degree F temperatures which most cheese cake recipes call for. This method assures, provided you take it out of the oven soon enough, that the cheesecake will get to the temperature required to set the proteins in the eggs slowly. Why do this? For the same reason that a car going at 100 miles an hour cannot stop as quickly as one which is going 30 mph. If the custard is brought to 180 degrees F in a 350 degree F oven without the water protecting it, the custard is well on its way to being way over 200 degrees by the time it cools down. (curdled and over-cooked. It cannot "stop on a dime," as it were. This is why people over cook meats. If the meat is rare ( 120 degrees F ) when it comes off the fire, it will be 130-135 degrees F when it cools down. In other words, medium rare.
     So, I took my cheesecake out while it was very jiggly, and almost liquidy. A tooth pick inserted did not come out dry, it was coated with cheesecake batter. If you do this, you must leave it overnight until you can unmold it and cut it. It is cream cheese, and it will almost set without cooking it. simply add cream to any cheese cake recipe, until it looks like very thick pan cake batter, and take it out of the oven while it is still "jiggly," like I did, and you will never go back to the old way of doing it.

Friday, October 14, 2011

A Few Helpful Hints For Making and Baking Sweet Yeast Breads

Just mixed dough ready for kneading
1) Keep the dough as wet as possible, while still being able to handle it.
2) Don't stint on the kneading.
3) Use a thermometer to check the internal temperature of the bread. (190 degrees F)

Experience and practice are the best teachers, even when you have a guide ( a teacher or a recipe ).
Even failure, while daunting, makes you wise and able.
Dough kneaded sufficiently, ready for the first rise
      I am making stollen, a traditional Christmas sweet bread made in Teutonic countries like Germany and Sweden, and American style raisin bread. The softest most luxurious pastry style breads benefit from using the least amount of flour which can be added to the liquid, and still be handled. Always withhold some of the flour while mixing, slowly adding flour until the dough just begins to come together and clear the bowl. The dough should still be slightly sticky. Place the dough on a generous amount of flour on the work surface and begin to knead. The temperature and humidity in the room, plus the amount of flour already in the dough will determine how much flour the dough will accept. As the dough sticks, just clear the surface with a scraper, sprinkle with flour, and continue kneading. The dough should remain supple but not wet. Resist the temptation to make the dough look "perfect," in other words perfectly smooth. it should be as moist and sticky as possible, while still allowing you to be able to work with it. During the first rise, the dough will absorb the moisture ( on the cellular, microscopic level ) which no amount of kneading is able to force into the dough. The dough should almost triple in bulk, and a finger poked into the dough should produce a dent which does not spring back.
The dent which shows it's ready to punch down, and start the second rise
      When kneading by hand, allow 10-15 minutes of kneading. Diligence at this step will reward you with fine results. ( and it is good exercise ) Most household mixers are not designed for dough kneading. They come with a dough hook, but this is for mixing, which is an extremely messy job if done by hand in a bowl or on tabletop. The kneading of soft yeast doughs and certainly true breads will stress and even burn out your mixer, and kneading by hand conveys an encyclopedia of sensual information. It is an education in and of itself.
     The baking time given in a recipe is only an approximation. Again, the conditions which prevail in your kitchen and oven are the gospel which must be attended. Most every oven has its quirks, strengths and faults.
People often use a thermometer to check a roast, but if you use one to check the internal temperature of your bread, it will take the worry and stress out of the indecision which occurs sometimes at the moment of truth - the moment the bread is ready to be removed from the oven.

Thursday, September 15, 2011


This pastry is a regular type pie pastry which is folded once like puff pastry, but which doesn't puff too much and which is light, buttery, flaky and crumbly at the same time. we get the benefit of both. It is then baked draped over the top of a mold which gives it its beautiful flower like shape, eliminates the need for weighting with beans and wax paper ( or whatever ), and whatever shape the dough is cut into, it makes an interesting and unusual shape. I don't have to cut of the excess, and it is the quickest, easiest, artiest and fun way to produce pastry cases.
I love creating recipes where the easiest thing to do is the best thing to do.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Using Evette's Pears

     My friend Evette, gave me some beautiful pears from the tree in her front yard. I had often passed her yard and seen the pear tree, and wished I could have some of them. As Autumn is near, my thoughts had turned to pears, the things that can be done with them, and the problem of finding some worth the price I would pay for them. It is rare these days, to find fruit in the stores which is not at best disappointing. Pears are one of the fruits which can be quite good, even from the supermarket - but to get some gorgeous pears right from the tree is a religious experience. A pear is for me a symbol of sensuous pleasure, and for a pastry cook, if you start with perfect, delicious pears, the work is already done. What remains is getting out of their way.
     I used Evette's pears as follows:
     First and foremost I ate a couple of them as is, and with cheese and some pecan-raisin bread that I made.
     I made some quick puff-paste and made a Tart Tatin. Tart Tatin, made famous by the Tatin sisters in their hotel-restaurant in Lamotte-Beauvron at the turn of the twentieth century, is the finest fate which can befall an apple or a ripe pear. The fruit is cooked in butter and sugar with a lid of pastry on top and then turned upside down when served. Vanilla ice cream or some sort of clotted cream are the best accompaniments. I made some vanilla bean ice cream laced with orange, ( which fooled Evette into thinking it was pear ice cream. )
     I made some of the pastry cream we use to stuff our cream puffs, and prepared a hazelnut crust from the great restaurant Chez Panisse, mounded the cream inside and laid slices of pear on top, which I coated with apricot glaze.
     The pears I did not use right away I poached in wine, honey, sugar and herbs. I used galanga ( a root similar to ginger which Thai and Vietnamese people use ) ginger root, fresh laurel leaf, orange peel and juice, peppercorns, fresh thyme and sage from my garden, and some soaking liquid from raisins I had left over from making the bread.
     The pears can now be used at leisure, whenever we feel like having some. They make an unforgettabe gift which never fails to give people the idea that you have real class, and they keep forever. I am going use them for the dessert course at the end of the month for a bouillabaise party I am doing for a friend of mine.
     The poaching liquid is very useful in the kitchen. It can be reduced to make dessert syrup, ( straight or mixed with cream ) to make plated dessert presentations, or used on ice cream. It can also be turned into ice cream, mooses and sorbets, and injects a mysterious savory something to roasts, gravies and sauces, sweet potatoes or turnips, pumpkin pies,( whatever ). I used the syrup I made to go with a French Toast party I did at a friend's house for her, her husband and children. ( which saved face for showing up with Krasdale C-Town maple syrup. )
     The peels, trimmings and over-ripe pears I cooked at the same time as the pears ( with exactly the same seasonings and moistened with the poaching liquid, to be turned into out of sight pear sauce ( like apple sauce ), and also pear jam.


Friday, September 2, 2011

The Pears have fallen/ Contributed by Evette

I am a fan of Chopped, Iron Chef America and the Food Network. In a chance meeting through a neighbor I met Chef Marco on the streets of Jersey City and just began to talk about this pear tree in my little yard. I had asked Chef if he wanted some pears....later that week he dropped by to pick up a brown bag full of pears that I had picked. After the pears had ripened to a point to release their aromatics and flavor, pear desserts arrived at my door step from Chef Marco. Not one but three different types of desserts with an accompanying tub of pear flavored ice cream and boy do I love desserts. I couldn't wait to dig in......mmmm. I ate the pear tart first with a dollop of ice cream on the side. The pears from tree were at full attention making a bold statement with such flavor and tenderness nestled on a buttery flaky glazed crusty pastry shell. The ice cream was gently flavored not to over power the pear was so good. Can"t wait to eat the other treats in the days to come.