Monday, February 22, 2010

making snowballs

In the restaurant business
there are a few, extra busy days; New Year's Eve, Mother's Day, Valentine's Day... you get the picture. Working in the kitchen on these days the "prep" can be a bit overwhelming. I have always likened the experience to preparing for a snowball fight. As kids we would have epic battles. Starting of course by building a fort, but then spending the better part of the afternoon making snowballs.Then when the fight begins you very shortly start to think, "OH $#!+, I didn't make enough!" When I started cooking professionally the "fight" was my favorite part. It didn't matter what station I was working, the intensity and focus were all powerful. The adrenalin rush lasted well into the night, long after the dinner service had ended. But the prep...the prep was something you had to do. I can remember dreading some of those extra long prep days. They seemed endless. Usually in a hot windowless kitchen, working away, snowball after snowball, just hoping to eventually get to the service; the fun part, the fight. The service was the challenge and the prep was the mundane. snowball after snowball. As I mature, I find that I am getting more and more satisfaction out of the prep. How can I work as efficiently as possible to minimize my time away from my family? Challenging myself to be as organized as possible to make sure the snowball fight is a success. When I was a kid my older brother and his friends usually pummeled me. Now if we have a snow day it's my kids turn. But, at the restaurant, most nights I get to throw more snowballs than anyone else. If I happen to get a thrashing, at least you know I was there, that I care, that I did the prep as best as I possibly could and I was trying to win.
I wanted to offer some kind of snow ball recipe, but instead, I'll share the recipe for the chocolate caramel tart that we served this past Valentines Day. It's made up of three basic recipes that we use in many different ways on the dessert menu. I hope you will give it a try.

for the crust

1 # unsalted butter (soft)
11 oz sugar ( about 1 1/2 cups)
3 egg yolks
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
pinch salt
28 oz flour (about 5 1/4 cups)

Cream the butter and sugar, add the eggs one at a time blending after each addition, add vanilla, salt, and flour, mix until just combined. This makes enough dough for about 3- 10 inch tarts. It will last a week in the fridge and it freezes nicely. I like to roll it between two sheets of plastic wrap instead of the traditional flour method. For our purposes here roll the dough and form your tart, then chill for twenty minutes, then bake at 350 until golden.

for the caramel

1 1/2 cups sugar
3 tablespoons light corn syrup
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup water
6 tablespoons butter
4 tablespoons heavy cream
2 tablespoons bourbon
1 tablespoon sour cream

Over medium heat stir together the sugar, corn syrup, salt , and water continue to stir until the mixture boils. Cook until the mixture turns a dark auburn or registers 365 on a candy thermometer. Remove from heat and carefully add the remaining ingredients. ( the caramel likes to spit at you when you do) . Pour into the prebaked tart shell and chill for 2 hours.

for the ganache

1/2 cup + 2 tablespoons heavy cream
4 oz bittersweet chocolate (chopped)

Bring the cream to a boil, pour over the chocolate and whisk until smooth. If some lumps remain place the ganache over a double boiler and whisk until smooth. If the ganache looks oily or starts to separate add a few drops of water. Pour this over the caramel and chill for 3 hours.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

making the bed

OK, I'll admit it, as a kid making the bed was not my thing.But, my mom had a rule, you were allowed to keep your room as clean or as messy as you liked as long as your bed was made. So, you do the math. By the way, she did make us clean our rooms for company. Anyway, my bed got made and the rest of the room was a mess. Well as they say, with age comes wisdom. I made my bed, and slept on top of the bedspread. In the morning all the blankets went under the bed and viola it was made. Perfect.Then as I stumbled into early adulthood the whole making the bed thing went out the window (which reminds me of another story) and that part of my life could be a complete and total mess. Just shut the door and go. After Tracey and I got married the bed making responsibilities fell to the last one out of bed. Guess who that was. So if you know me at all, you also know my mantra is "happy wife, happy life". So my friends, I have become a Bed Maker! and actually I enjoy it. The whole thing, straight sheets, fluffed pillows and all. I do occasionally find, that when things get hectic I will be leaving for work saying to myself it's okay to not make the bed today, you don't have time. And then, I stop myself and go back to the bedroom and I make the bed. And the reason is this. I have a friend that I shared a house with before I was married. We were both in that just shut the door phase. Leading busy lives with no time to make the bed. When she felt her life was spinning out of control, like the to do list was just to long and she didn't know where to start. She would make her bed. The reasoning being, She could face all of those things because she could give into them and say to herself "at least the bed is made". Or in my mind, at least I did one thing right today. At the very least, in this crazy world when I feel like I have lost all control, like I don't even know where to start, and will never catch up no matter how many things I cross off the list. At least I know the bed is made. There is the smallest sense of order and control. And I can build on that.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

paying attention

people ask me all the time, "how do you come up with your menu?"
...the answer...
"eat alot , and pay attention!"

As a father of two small children (rapidly getting bigger) I am consciously trying to raise them as citizens of the earth. To assume responsibility for their actions. To take only as much as they need. To leave behind as little as possible. But most importantly, to Pay Attention! Sometimes the most important information is coming from behind you. When you cross a busy street are you actively crossing the street? Are you paying attention? Or are you eating, texting, blowing your nose, talking with your friends and just putting one foot in front of the other and hoping for the best? Missing out on the fact that the old lady standing next to you could have used a hand navigating the pot holes, or that there was a driver that almost just clipped you. Did you ever find yourself sitting in traffic and if the guy in front of you would just pull up six inches you could make that precious turn? Next time you find yourself there cursing him out, think about how often you use your own rear view just to see what's going on behind you. By paying attention you will get more out of life. Sometimes in the satisfaction of helping a stranger or simply slowing down to let someone cross the street. If you are both paying attention, very often you don't even need to hit the brake, you just need to take your foot off the gas. Please don't misunderstand me, I love to multi-task as much as anyone. In these fast-forward times we live in, technology is making it easier by the nanosecond. I am guilty of the "I am more important than you, get out of my way" as much as you are. But, I'm trying to be better. I find that as I try to be a good parent and teach the kids to be great people, I am learning as I go. They are teaching me as much, if not more than I could ever teach them.

A few weeks ago (OK it was a few months ago) we took the kids to Philadelphia. Museums, The Pool in the Hotel, The Aquarium. Many, many Highlights. But for me there was one special dinner, at a restaurant called Osteria. Maybe a little too fancy for the kids. It was a little later than they usually eat, and we were all a bit tired from a busy day. The kids were both drawing and excited to be having pizza and pasta in a fancy restaurant. When the server brought our appetizers we were moving along fine. It could have been a nice night out with great food and that was that. But Tracey's pasta was heaven on a plate. Butternut Squash Ravioli, Sage Brown Butter, Grated Amaretto Cookies. One of the greatest, most memorable dishes of my life. Again, we could have been done and on our way but, I was paying attention and needed to know what was making this dish so fabulous. Well, it was the Pasta itself. So thin and delicate, with just the right amount of bite. So I asked a few questions, and after our trip, back at our restaurant I started playing around with my own pasta recipe. First switching to King Arthur bread flour. Then adding some semolina. Then, thanks to my sous chef getting my hands into some imported OO flour from Italy.

Next I will start to play with the ratio of eggs to flour and the results of whole eggs to egg yolks. For a recipe with only a few ingredients the possibilities seem limitless. But the hardest part is the paying attention. I can't tell you how many times I carefully put something together and then get distracted. The restaurant rolls into service and the pasta is gone, sold out before I got to sit down and contemplate the differences of the finished product. So, the next time you find yourself with a cold winter afternoon and no pressing engagements. Get in the kitchen, make some pasta, and don't forget to pay attention. The recipe that follows is the current base recipe we use at Andre's. I am still playing with the eggs.

18 ounces OO flour

5 large eggs

1/2 shell full of olive oil

1/2 shell full of water

(a 1/2 shell is a little more than a tablespoon)

Monday, February 1, 2010

going bananas

A few years before opening Andre's I was having a conversation with a young cook newly graduated from the Culinary Institute of America. We were working on a new dish for the menu. I don't recall the specific protein but, she refused to try it claiming she "didn't like it". I did my best to explain that she didn't need to like it but she needed to understand it in taste, texture and presentation. So that in the future if she intended to impress a boss or customer who requested it, she could shine. Patience is always an issue with a young culinary grad that thinks they are ready to run the whole operation. Well, she wouldn't give in and came back at me with "you are a hypocrite! You don't like bananas and you never put them on the menu". So what's a guy to do? I came to work the next day with a new dessert. Caramelized Banana Tart with Coconut Ice cream. It seemed easy enough, quality ingredients, prepared with care, a crispy fillo crust, vanilla pastry cream, topped with thinly sliced bananas, sprinkled with sugar and brulee'd. A scoop of coconut ice cream to finish it off. Ready to ram straight down her throat. Well that dessert went on to be one of the most popular plates on the menu. Every time I took it off the customers would request it. So, I got stuck working with my least favorite ingredient just to prove a point. Fast forward a few years. (remember, with age comes wisdom) Me and Tracey are on vacation and I'm reading a book by Jeffrey Steingarten called "The Man Who Ate Everything" . In the book there is a story about him overcoming his own food phobias or aversions. He claims that if you eat said item eight to twelve times you can overcome your aversion. So I proclaim to my lovely wife that upon return from the sandy beach I will be consuming a banana a week for the next eight to twelve weeks. My wife, in her infinite wisdom declares me a fool, and insists on an eight to twelve DAY regimen. When we get home, true to my word I give it a go. The first banana actually took thirteen hours to eat. I do not lie! By the way I decided a long time ago that it is much cooler to eat everything than it is to be a fusspot. So I really truly want to like the thing. Anyway the guy was right, after about ten days of a banana a day I kinda got to like 'em. Sometimes now I actually crave them, with all that potassium and the disposable environmentally friendly wrapper. So it is with pride and affection that I may offer you the Caramelized Banana Tart complete with Coconut Ice Cream both here, in recipe form and at Andre's Restaurant on the new dessert menu. Oh, and the last thing on the list of things I don't like is the hard boiled egg. Which I do offer at the restaurant every now and then.And for the record I'm coming around ...

For the crust

16 sheets of fillo
1/2cup butter melted
2 tablespoons honey

combine butter and honey with a pastry brush alternate dough with butter mixture to form two sets with eight layers of dough in each set. cut each set into four even rectangles. bake in a 350 oven until golden brown.

For the pastry cream

2 cups milk
1/2 cup +2 tablespoons sugar
1/4 cup flour
6 egg yolks
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 tablespoons butter

bring the milk to a boil. combine flour and sugar. add yolks and vanilla, whisk to combine. whisk hot milk into egg mixture. return to heat and cook until very thick. do not boil! strain and stir in the butter. chill.

For assembly

spread an even layer of pastry cream over the baked fillo rectangles. top with 1/2 of a banana sliced very thin. sprinkle with sugar and torch or broil to caramelize the sugar. serve with coconut ice cream.

For the ice cream

13.5 ounces unsweetened coconut milk
13.5 ounces milk
1/2 cup Malibu rum
1/2 cup sugar
8 egg yolks

bring milk, coconut milk, and rum to a boil. combine egg yolks and sugar, whisk until pale yellow. Whisk hot milk into egg mixture. return to heat and cook for three or four minutes to thicken slightly. chill and follow manufacturers instructions.