Monday, December 19, 2011

Lessons in Plating

One great thing has happened that directly impacts this blog: I have an iPhone! Which means that I have a decent camera with me at all times, ready to document all my culinary adventures. And believe me, there have been a few this past week.

Right now, I'm enrolled in baking production class. It meets twice a week for like 10 hours--until the school's restaurant Sage Bistro closes on Monday and Tuesday--and we make the baguettes for the restaurant along with any desserts for catered events. The class meets at the same time as the Plated Desserts class, which essentially has students be the pastry chef for the bistro for the quarter. There happens to be only one student in that class this quarter, and she is responsible for producing four completely unique desserts each week. So alleviate her insanity, our instructor is having different students from my class fill in to help her each week. I got to go first, along with my friend Katie. Let me say, thank goodness I had Katie to bond with, freak out with and laugh with because it was a complete cluster.

We we responsible for two desserts: creme brulee (pretty easy really) and this thing called a tian (refer to the strawberry-orange dessert displayed above). I would be very happy to never make that dessert again.
The thing was Chef Mar's idea. She brought us a print out of the concept: cookie, marmalade, mousse, and packed with fruit. She said we could reinterpret it how we wanted. So we made a sable cookie, used some in-house marmalade, I made an orange-vanilla bavarian cream stabilized with gelatin, and then we chopped up a bunch of fruit. Monday morning before the restaurant opened, Chef Mar hated it. It was all wrong, she said. The fruit looked disgusting--it kind of did. Katie and I were clueless. I had no idea how to fix it. Finishing things is not my forte--Katie is much better at it than I, but we were both at a loss. Finally Chef Mar came over and showed us what to do, but not after an agonizing period during which time we flubbed around with the dessert. We got out of the kitchen after more than 12 hours of work without more than a 15-minute break then we turned around and came back the next day for more.

I had made a batch of the mousse on Monday to use Tuesday and Wednesday, except that by the time we left the kitchen at 10 p.m. or so the mousse was still a runny mess. I was paranoid that it wouldn't set and that there wouldn't be enough time to make another batch and set it so that it stood up on the plate long enough to travel from the kitchen to the dining room. The only way I got any sleep was to give it up. I thought, "There's nothing to be done now. I'll just arrive and remake it." But Tuesday, miracle of miracles, the mousse was solid enough to work--barely. Tuesday went much better. Katie and I both had a handle on what we were doing and what to expect, and we left planning to leave everything to the student managers on Wednesday and Thursday. That is until some of the Table Service students tried to eat our dummy dessert.

We had to make a false dessert to display to the restaurant's customers. The creme brulee was really, but the tian--not being shelf stable for hours--needed a stunt double. Katie made this perfect model out of Crisco and a little food coloring. It looked so realistic that the students got hungry and ate the creme brulee and started in on the mousse. The student manager caught them before they finished it, but they had effectually ruined the dessert. I got called in to remake the dessert for Thursday's service. What a week.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Deer Tenderloin

I had four or five paragraphs written out about this deer tenderloin, but things just kept rambling on and on very amateurishly so I deleted it. There were all sorts of ponderings about life and blogging and eating and dating--trust me it was boring. Just look at the photos.

I cooked the deer, brought to me straight from the woods from my friend Dan, with a fennel and crushed bay leaf rub. I've used it before on pork tenderloin--quite tasty and not at all as weird as it sounds. Try it with this season's trappings.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Me Oh My, I Love Pie

I'm usually a nut for pumpkin pie at Christmas and Thanksgiving, but I have lately been converted to the pecan variety. I've been making this pecan pie for work quite a bit lately to pretty rave reviews, but I hadn't tried it myself yet until last week. It is great. No surprise here, the recipe hails from Tartine Bakery's cookbook. Every recipe is a knockout. This one is great with the addition of whiskey and my substitution, orange zest. Tasting the batter before the bake, the whiskey is overpowering but ends up perfectly balanced.

The recipe also calls for several kinds of sugar, as opposed to just corn syrup. It adds a lot of depth the pie, making it not just sweet sweet sweet--my usual complaint with pecan pies. I was careful to add extra salt here too if you're not using salt pecans. I just love salted nuts, it seems such a shame to miss the opportunity for salted and toasted pecans covered in caramel.

Pecan Pie:
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup maple syrup, I've also used honey
1/2 cup corn syrup
2 tablespoons whiskey
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup butter, unsalted
1 teaspoon vanilla
3 eggs, lightly beaten
2 cups pecans
zest from one orange

One partially baked pie shell.

In a small saucepan, melt the sugar, maple syrup and corn syrup together with the salt. Boil for one minute. Remove from heat and pour in a mixing bowl. Let cool a minute then add the vanilla, whiskey and butter. Stir. Then add the beaten eggs. Stir to mix. Pour the pecan in the partially baked pie shell then pour the batter over the top. Bake for 45 to 60 minutes at 350 degrees until the filling is just set.