Archive for the ‘My Travels’ Category

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New England Ice Cream

July 9, 2010

I’ve been in New England the last few days and it has been really hot and humid. To compensate I have been eating ice cream every day.

Better yet I haven’t even been making it. I did start to make some to go with the cake I made my nephew for his birthday but the motor blew out on my White Mountain ice cream machine. My husband tried to keep it going with an electric drill but the canister wouldn’t turn fast enough. Fortunately within 5 miles of where I am staying there are 4 old fashioned ice creameries. After dinner we quickly clean the dishes and away we go.

In the Bay Area we are happily spoiled by artisan ice cream shops. They make delicious and interesting ice cream. Each is distinct in its own way. I have my favorite flavors at Birite, Humphrey Slocombe and Mr. and Mrs. Miscellaneous.

But city ice cream is different from east coast creameries. The flavors aren’t as sophisticated but they are institutions. Many creameries have been around for decades and haven’t changed much. Traditionally they were located at the dairy where the cows were milked. Open only in the warmer months some offer only so-so ice cream but some rank up there with the best. Near me one is designed as the shape of a bucket of ice cream, another like an old fashioned milk can. A third has a piano in the back of a pick-up truck in the parking lot for entertainment while you are waiting in line.

Most offer a wide choice, between 15 and 20 different flavors, some of which are special to the New England area. Besides the basic vanilla, strawberry, coffee, and chocolate you see Black Raspberry (often with chocolate chips), Frozen Pudding (vanilla with candied cherries, candied pineapple and yellow raisins), Grape Nut (yes, it is what you think it is), Mocha Chip, Peppermint, Blueberry, Moose Tracks (Vanilla Ice Cream with Peanut Butter Cups), Ginger and Maple Walnut.

There is some jargon to be aware of when ordering. If you order a milk shake you will get flavored cold milk- no ice cream. You need to order a frappe if you want a thick mixture of ice cream and milk made in a blender. To further add to the confusion a frappe is called a cabinet in Rhode Island.

Scoops are double the size of California. My brother asked how much ice cream was in a double scoop of a waffle cone. The response- “The first is soft ball size, the second tennis ball size.” A small in New England is a medium or large in San Francisco. That’s a lot of ice cream but when its 95 degrees I certainly don’t mind.

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Something About Paris

January 29, 2010

Last week I went to Paris with a friend to celebrate her cancer remission. Not surprisingly we had a fabulous time, tasting, walking, eating, using the Metro, shopping (everything is on sale in January) and tasting some more. We even managed to find time for a couple of museums. January is a super time to go as the city has few tourists and it is easy to get into restaurants and museums. I almost didn’t write about my trip in this blog because there are countless internet posts about Paris.  I am not providing any new information by telling you not to miss Pierre Herme’s macaroons, Patrick Chapon’s Chocolates or Ladurée’s croissants. (Don’t worry I had my share of all these things).

But then I started thinking about the underlying factors in the French culture that make Paris so incredible from my vantage point as an American pastry chef. Parisians have a deep appreciation for the quality of food. They take it seriously but also get an immense amount of pleasure from it. They expect good quality but do not take it for granted. The food is displayed attractively. Shopping is a visual experience. Even in grocery stores it’s not wrapped in plastic wrap with a bar code slapped on top.

The French have a healthy perspective on eating and indulging. The answer isn’t in low fat and/or over doing it. They have dessert and are in shape. They eat small portions. Pastries are expensive in Paris (as is everything) but the expense helps them keep them special.  Like other expensive things they are treasured and savored.  Each sweet is not wolfed down like the bag of cookies you get on sale at the supermarket for $3.99. They make a smaller amount last longer. This trait is commented on and agreed with here in the United States but not many people follow it.

There are an amazingly large number of excellent quality pastry shops. Every neighborhood has at least a couple of good boulangeries and pastry shops. A sizeable population and a dedicated clientele allow French pastry chefs to specialize in a smaller number of items. Many of their selections vary and they do not feel compelled to make everything all year long. At home we are lucky to have several great bakeries in an entire city.

My pastry style is classics with a twist. When I walk the streets of Paris and window shop in the patisseries I get inspired. I don’t even have to eat anything. France has always and continues to do an amazing job at French classic desserts. While French savory food has evolved and changed the basic fundamentals of French pastry are consistently alive and well.  Seeing the Mona Lisa a couple of times is enough for me but I can never get enough of displays of freshly made baba rhums, financiers or apple chaussons. I see these and it gets my mind turning on how I can twist them so they are still recognizable but have just a little bit more. French pastry chefs make twists on the classics but the original is always recognizable. Fauchon’s éclairs and Le Ble Sucre’s apple tarte tatin show how well French pastry chefs combine the new with the old. They are wildly creative but rarely go too far. Everything works.

When I got home there was a phone message from my credit card company asking me to call their automated number to verify some charges. The system was efficient. The “guy” on the phone stated the amount spent and then said if it was a restaurant, bakery, or clothing store. I pressed “1” if it was a legitimate charge and “2” if I wanted more information. I easily verified three charges. On the 4th, it said at a “fast food place”.  I pressed 2 for more information and the voice said “Pierre Herme”. I guess it was fast food as they were efficient and I wasn’t in the shop very long but his work is a long way from American fast food. I will take  French fast food over a McSundae any day.

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Still Full from Last Night

November 13, 2009

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What a meal!! Yesterday evening I attended the James Beard Foundation Gala Dinner and Auction. It was in New York at the legendary Four Seasons Restaurant on 52nd street. The Four Seasons just celebrated their 50th anniversary. It is, and always has been, the classiest place without being stuffy. It is very 50’s but at the same time it is timeless. I am surprised they haven’t filmed an episode of Mad Men there. The first time I went to The Four Seasons I was about 19 and I thought I had died and gone to heaven. It was my first New York City fine dining experience. I couldn’t believe one could have such a fine level of food and service. If you have never had the opportunity to see The Four Seasons, the next time you are in New York you have to go.  It is fabulous the restaurant has endured all these years both in terms of food and décor. It is memorable just to have drinks at the bar if you can’t go for lunch or dinner.

It was fitting to have the Beard Foundation dinner there as James Beard was a consultant in its early days. The auction is the annual fundraiser for The James Beard Foundation. There is a silent auction and a live auction. I was “auctioned off” with my friend Michael Lomonaco, the chef and co-owner of Porterhouse at The Time Warner Center. I am going to give a hands on baking class for 6 people at the Beard House and Michael will cook a steak dinner with all the trimmings for 12 afterwards. It’s a perfect combination. After all that sugar you crave a big piece of prime meat! And if it is cooked by Michael it will be perfection.

The evening was called The American Icons Dinner. Here’s the menu.

Reception Cocktails

Dale DeGroff

Flame of Love Martini -Absolut Vodka, Tio Pepe Fino Sherry, and Flamed Orange Peel
Absinthe #2 -Plymouth Gin, Pernod Ricard Absinthe, and Regan’s Orange Bitters
Irish Blond- Jameson, El Maestro Sierra Oloroso Sherry, Lustau Pedro Ximénez, and Angostura Bitters
Chandon Reserve Pinot Noir Brut NV
Stella Artois, Hoegaarden, and Leffe Blonde

Hors d’oeuvres

Fabio Trabocchi, The Four Seasons Restaurant, NYC

Otoro with Fennel Pollen
Kumamoto Oysters with Cauliflower and Lobster Aspic
Parsnip Cappuccino with Périgord Black Truffles

Foie Gras Sandwiches on Pain d’Epice
Nantucket Bay Scallops with Parsley and Piment d’Espelette

Dinner

Dan Barber- Blue Hill, NYC and Blue Hill at Stone Barns, Pocantico Hills, NY
This Morning’s Farm Egg
Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars Sauvignon Blanc 2007

Larry Forgione-  An American Place, Saint Louis, MO, & Monkey Bar, NYC
Butter-Poached Maine Lobster with White Asparagus, Fresh Hearts of Palm, and Roasted Parsnips
Heitz Cellar Chardonnay 2007

Alfred Portale-Gotham Bar & Grill– NYC
Braised Artichoke Ravioli with Shaved Black Truffle, Wild Mushroom Broth, and Pecorino Romano
Oakville Ranch Vineyards Robert’s Blend Cabernet Franc 2005

Charlie Palmer and Christopher Lee- Aureole, NYC
Niman Ranch Pork Loin with Pork Belly Cannelloni, Mostarda, Brussels Sprouts, Pickled Mustard Seeds, and Tarragon
Staglin Family Vineyard Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2005

Gale Gand-Tru, Chicago
Butterscotch Pudding with Molasses Crisps and Black Pepper Whipped Cream
Beringer Vineyards Nightingale 2005

Breads provided by Amy Scherber of Amy’s Bread, NYC

The chefs are individuals who have each made amazing contributions to American cuisine. Each course was as good as the last. Thankfully, Amy supplied her delicious bread so I could soak up every bit of sauce on every dish. Since you weren’t able to enjoy the chefs’ food last night take my word for it that these are exceptional chefs and visit them at their restaurants.

Last night The James Beard Association was selling raffle tickets for a trip to Mardi Gras in New Orleans hosted by Dickie and Leslie Brennan.

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Whoever wins will get a VIP Mardi Gras experience plus you will get to hang out with Dickie and Leslie, two of the finest and most fun people I know. Check out the website for more details. Tickets are on sale until November 30th.

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Where the Girls Were

September 18, 2009

fortune waterbar sign

I just got back from Fortune Magazine’s Most Powerful Women’s Summit near San Diego. I and 4 other lucky female chefs were asked to cook one of the dinners at the conference. It was a blast!

The meal we cooked was organized in my favorite way to serve large crowds. All the chefs had full kitchens set up around the perimeter of the garden at the Four Seasons Hotel. The tables were in the middle and the 350 guests came to each of our stations to pick up their food.

Since I was the only pastry chef of course I had to do two desserts. (It was too hard to pick between chocolate and fruit so I did one of each.) I made the servings small so the women (and some men) could have one of each. I prepared Brown Butter Crepes with Raspberries, Vanilla Ice Cream and Orange Beurre Blanc and Chocolate Brownie Cakes with Caramel Sauce, Chantilly Cream and Candied Almonds.

The savory chefs and their food were as follows:

Anne Burrell, chef and TV Food Network, a Vegetarian dish with Farro.

Alexandra Guarnaschelli, chef at Butter restaurant in NYC and who also has a show just about to debut on the Food Network, Sautéed Shrimp with Crispy Rice.

Cindy Pawlcyn, chef owner of Mustards, Go Fish, and Cindy’s Backstreet Kitchen all in Napa, Halibut with Red and Yellow Pepper Piperade.

Suzanne Tracht, chef and owner of Jar in Los Angles, grilled humongous pieces of Rib eye, thinly sliced them and served it with Horseradish Cream and Green Beans.

All their food was incredible. These women can cook!

The event was special on two levels. It was cool to be serving so many intelligent savvy women but also as chefs we got to hang out and cook together. We each spend most of the time in our own kitchens and don’t often have the opportunity to get out. We have all heard of each other and have eaten each other’s food but to do a dinner like this is a unique and fun experience. It is very motivating and I came back home inspired to create new desserts.

Here’s a picture of me with, Cindy Pawlcyn, Theresa, the pastry chef at Waterbar, and Noreen Morioka, an AMAZING graphic designer from Los Angeles. She came along for moral support and to help us all plate our food. If she ever wants to switch careers I would hire her in a minute.

Cindy, Theresa, Emily and Noreen

P.S. Don’t forget the ice cream sandwich sweepstakes is going on until the end of October. See last week’s blog for details.

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Pastry Pen Pals

August 28, 2009

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A couple of years ago I got a note from a woman who was in pastry school in Florence. I was intrigued as her card was hand drawn and very artistic, not your average pen and paper. She asked for some advice on pastry schools and the business in general. I wrote her back and gave her some ideas. Time went by and the next time she wrote me she was at The Cordon Bleu in Paris. Later she wrote she came back to The States and worked at a B&B in Maine. After that we lost touch.

Last month I was doing a book signing at my good friend Anne Sadow’s shop, FLORA, in South Dartmouth, MA. She told me the pastry chef from Gracie’s Restaurant in Providence, RI was coming. Always interested in meeting fellow pastry chefs I was looking forward to it. When she arrived, I discovered it was Susan Vandenberg, my pastry pen pal from Italy, France and Maine. What a small world!

So of course I had to go to Gracie’s for dessert and dinner. Want an amazing meal we had. I went with Anne and Richard from Flora. As soon as we opened the menu we wished we were part of a bigger group so we could order more dishes. Everything sounded delicious. For first courses Joseph Hafner, the chef and owner, and his kitchen team made us corn soup with crab rangoon agnolotti. (Anter, the general manager, told us that the corn soup is a special summer dish but even in the height of corn season it isn’t always on the menu. Although the corn is grown just outside Providence and is picked daily the flavor can vary. If it doesn’t have just the right flavor the soup is not offered that night.) We also had some house-made gnocchi that melted in your mouth, just like Italy. We all have had our fair share of heavy gnocchi but these were perfect. We also had a summer vegetable hash served with smoked pork and a slow poached egg. After eating it I wanted to sleep there so I could have it for breakfast.

Our main courses were equally as amazing. Local skate with braised rapini, fried capers, white beans and a brown butter buerre blanc and Colorado Lamb Rack with artichokes bariagoule, summer vegetable couscous, tabouli salad and romesco sauce.

All this wonderful savory food whetted our appetite for Susan’s dessert creations. Here’s the amazing array of sweets she sent out.

gracie's desserts 

My first bite was a little fudgesicle square that far surpassed the bars you get in the grocery store. As much as I loved those as a kid Susan has now spoiled me. A “milkshake tart” had a chocolate crust with a milk chocolate ganache center and small pieces of brownie inside. Three different flavors and textures of chocolate. Need I say more? A mango cream with fruit and a baked ricotta custard were light and delightful. A small plum cake with an almond crust and streusel would be great any time of day.

When they brought a tray of mignardises with the check I thought I couldn’t eat any more. Sure glad I did. The chocolate macaroons were light and chewy and as I write this I wish I had one to nibble on. I may have to go work for her to get the recipe. The raspberry paté au fruit burst with flavor.

I feel so fortunate that Susan corresponded several years ago and that we ended up meeting (and eating).

Here’s Susan’s recipe for her fudgesicle squares.

Susan’s Fudgesicle Squares

4 oz best quality bittersweet chocolate, chopped (I use Valrhona 70%)

4 cups heavy cream

pinch of salt

6 large egg yolks

1/2 cup sugar

Place the chocolate in a large bowl. Place the cream and salt in a heavy saucepan and bring to a boil, then pour over the chocolate and whisk until smooth.

Whisk the egg yolks and sugar in a separate bowl. Slowly whisk in the hot chocolate cream and place all back in the saucepan.

Cook, stirring constantly, until the mixture thickens and coats the back of a spoon, but don’t bring to a boil.

Strain into a clean bowl, place over an ice bath and whisk occasionally until cooled. Put the custard, with plastic wrap directly on the surface, in the frig over night where it thickens even further.

Pour the cooled chocolate cream into flexi-molds and freeze until firm, at least 4 hours.  Pop out of the molds and serve with chocolate sauce, candied nuts, chocolate streusel or whatever accompaniment strikes your fancy.