Monday, November 23, 2009

Best of Sacramento 2009

It's hard to believe it's been a year since Grange participated for the first time in the annual Best of Sacramento event at the Convention Center. Back then we were the new kid on the block, having just opened the hotel and restaurant a few days before in a whirlwind of frenzied activity. Everyone has worked so hard since then to make Grange one of the best dining spots in the city, and so it was sweetly rewarding to go this year having been voted "Best New Restaurant" and "Best Hotel Restaurant" by Sacramento Magazine subscribers.

A group of us went - me, Chef, my assistant Jackie, sous chef Brad Cecchi, extern Randy, and our PR angel Sarah Essary. Jackie and I made over 1,500 mini Ginger Guinness Cakes with Caramel-Braised Pears and Guinness Sauce to go along with gallons of Chef's Butternut Squash Soup. We all had a lot of fun handing out samples and meeting everyone who stopped by our table. It was a great party and we look forward to doing it again next year!

Today's Secret Ingredient Is ... Duck Fat!

Thursday, November 12 was the Duck-Off at Grange, a cooking competition between Chef and Hank Shaw, a local food blogger, avid hunter and great cook. As part of the special event we offered a five course dinner menu featuring duck in each course. My assignment was to produce a dessert for the menu, with the only parameters being that I had to use pears, creme fraiche and duck fat in the crust. I thought, no problem ... I can do that. I simply substituted half of the butter in my standard tart dough with the fat. It was challenging to work with because duck fat melts when you merely touch it, and the dough had to be kept very cold at all stages. But it made a wonderfully flaky crust. OK, that was done. Now what? I wanted to surprise Chef and Hank by using the fat in another way in the dessert. I thought of how it's used in savory cooking, such as sauteeing potatoes in duck fat. Hey, what if I sauteed the pears in it? So that's what I did. I used small Bartlett pears, peeled, cut in half, cored, then sliced but with the halves kept intact. Sauteed in the hot fat and sugar, the pear halves took on a glistening golden brown color, with the slices softening and fanning out like a bird's wing. They tasted wonderfully sweet, but also had a delicious, lightly savory flavor from the duck fat. Pulling the dessert together, I chose huckleberries and port as the complementary components.

I assembled the dessert by filling the tart shells with lightly sweetened whipped creme fraiche and cream, then topped that with a layer of sweet huckleberry compote. The compote was drizzled with a port and star anise syrup, then a sauteed pear half was fanned out over it and napped with a pear brandy sabayon. I used a propane torch to toast the sabayon and warm the pear. A little more of the port syrup on the plate completed the dessert.

I was really pleased with the way it all came together and loved how the pears looked against the dark purple huckleberries. The duck fat made a great flaky crust but also gave an unexpected yet intriguing flavor note to the sweet, juicy pears. It was such a fun dessert to create and Hank told me that the pear tart was one of the most complimented dishes of the night ... very cool!

Monday, November 2, 2009

Featuring ... Dessert!

As some of you may know, Grange offers daily 3-course dinner menu features in addition to our regular menu. I'm pleased that we're now offering a special dessert each week to accompany the feature menu. We're starting today with an Orange-Almond Cake with White Wine Poached Pears and Orange Muscat Sabayon. The cake is citrusy and nutty, made with ground toasted almonds, chopped whole oranges and olive oil. It's garnished with D'Anjou pears which are poached in white wine with a little bit of sugar and lemon juice until they're just tender. The pears are sliced and laid against the cake, then sprinkled with slivered candied oranges. The cake is topped with a lovely orange muscat sabayon which is lightly toasted. Delicious! Next week we'll offer a new dessert, so if you'd like to try this one you'd better come in soon!

The Sweet Flavors of Fall

Fall is my favorite season. The days grow shorter, the weather cools and the bright, juicy fruits of summer give way to the burnished yellows, oranges, reds and browns of apples, pears, persimmons, quinces, cranberries, pomegranates, squashes and sweet potatoes. To celebrate the change of seasons I've put several new desserts on our menu joining our Chai Creme Caramel with its infusion of cardamom, cinnamon, fennel, clove and black peppercorn ... believe me, if fall had a flavor it would be this dessert (see 9/28 post below). Our seasonal lineup now also includes Sweet Potato Tart, Guinness Ginger Cake and Apple-Cranberry Strudel.

I make the Sweet Potato Tart by roasting orange sweet potatoes until they're soft, then pureeing the flesh. I blend the puree with eggs, milk, cream, brown sugar, cinnamon and ginger, then pour the filling into pecan tart shells and bake them at a low temperature so they bake evenly and gently. The tarts are garnished with a dollop of toasted meringue, and flanked by candied pecans and a compote of butternut squash, Granny Smith apples and maple syrup. The gently spiced, creamy filling marries beautifully with the nutty pecan crust and the maple poached squash and apples - it's a delicious change from the usual pumpkin pie!

The Guinness Ginger Cake is packed with flavor - it has molasses, dark brown sugar, Guinness, ground ginger and cinnamon, and lots of candied ginger. I wrap the top of each little cake with slices of caramel-braised D'Anjou pears, then top them with lightly sweetened whipped cream and a candied pear chip. Since the taste of the Guinness is subtle in the cake I emphasize the flavor of the beer by making a sauce with it. I slowly reduce Guinness with dark brown sugar, then streak the sauce across the plate and place the cake on top. The cake is served warm so that the deep flavors really come through - the sweet pears are such a great complement to the moist, gingery cake and slight bitterness of the sauce - yummy!

Last, but certainly not least, is our Apple-Cranberry Strudel. In fact, it's already become very popular with our customers and staff as well. I slice Granny Smith apples, add dried cranberries and gently cook the fruit with brandy, white and brown sugar, and butter until the apples are just tender. The fruit is drained and the cooking juices returned to the stove to reduce to a lovely caramel, with cinnamon and a touch of cloves stirred in at the end. The fruit is then added back to the caramel and the mixture is laid out on phyllo sheets that have been buttered and sprinkled with cinnamon sugar. The strudels are rolled up like giant burritos and baked until golden brown. I make an apple-brandy sauce by reducing apple juice, brandy, lemon juice, brown sugar and cinnamon to a syrup, which is drizzled over the warm slices of strudel and French Vanilla ice cream. Oh, is it good - warm apples, sweet-tart cranberries, cold ice cream and flaky pastry ... not the mention the brandy ...

I hope you can join us for dessert - the sweet flavors of fall won't last forever!

Monday, October 19, 2009

A Perfect Storm ... of Desserts

This past week was the busiest banquet week we've had at the hotel since we opened last November. In five days, from Monday through Friday, the pastry department produced for banquets 700 plated desserts, a full sheet of focaccia and four extra batches of flatbread in addition to our regular production for Grange. The list of desserts included:
  • Chocolate Caramel Tart w/Caramel Sauce - 30

  • Gianduja Moussecake w/Chocolate Sauce - 30 (a new banquet dessert; see picture, right)

  • Mixed Berry Shortcake w/Orange Buttermilk Scones - 30

  • Deep Dark Chocolate Cake w/Espresso Sabayon - 100

  • Lemongrass Panna Cotta w/Ginger Cookies - 30

  • Orange-Almond Cake w/Mixed Berries - 100

  • Chocolate Raspberry Moussecake w/Raspberry Sauce - 60

  • Chocolate Mousse w/Brandied Cherries - 30

  • Lime Tarts w/Lime Curd - 35

  • Apple Crisp w/Cinnamon Anglaise - 30

  • Butterscotch Pudding w/Milk Chocolate Dipped Shortbread Cookies - 230
The desserts required various components and accompaniments and I'm proud to say that we make all of them in-house: tart shells, cake layers, cookies, sauces ... even the brandied cherries. It's an incredible amount of work but I think it shows in the freshness, taste and quality of the final product.

And of course all of these banquets meant that we had a full hotel for most of the week, so we also needed plenty of desserts for Grange. To make the week even more challenging my assistant, Jackie, was out sick for two days.

But you know what? We all pulled together, and with a little help from externs and stewards we made the banquets, we kept Grange well stocked, and we had a lot of very happy guests. And, we managed to have some fun, too, as you can see from Jackie's picture. She's posing a la Vanna White next to one of the banquet carts loaded with the Deep Dark Chocolate Cake.

It's so important to have a relief valve when you're faced with this kind of daunting workload. Jackie and I share a lot of laughs as we work and allow each other to vent when we need to. I'm very fortunate to have an assistant who cares about the desserts as much as I do.

I'm not eager to repeat this kind of week any time soon, but I do know that when another dessert storm appears on the horizon, the pastry department will handle it with determination, perseverance ... and humor!

Monday, September 28, 2009

Variety is the Spice of Life

One of the things I love most about being a pastry chef for a restaurant and hotel is getting to make a wide range of products. In addition to creating Grange's desserts, Jackie and I also produce flatbread, foccacia and brioche, banquet desserts, breakfast breads, chocolate amenities for hotel guests, celebration cakes for restaurant guests marking a special occasion, the weekly desserts for the Follow The Chef market tours, and more.

Today I went in early to bake off fresh breakfast breads for a meeting that Joie de Vivre's CEO, Chip Conley, was having in the hotel. We made sweet cardamom rolls, orange scones, coffee fruitcake, banana chocolate chip muffins, and almond brioche. I liked the cardamom rolls so much that I might put them on the brunch menu since they can be made a day ahead and left in the walk-in to rise overnight. It's a great sweet yeast dough that's spread with a cardamom, brown sugar and butter filling, rolled up, cut and baked. The rolls are glazed with a powdered sugar and milk icing ... YUM. I think the coffee fruitcake will go on the menu because it's perfect for the fall/winter season. It has coffee, molasses, cinnamon, clove and nutmeg and is loaded with raisins and currants. It's delicious thinly sliced and spread with a little cream cheese.

Two weeks ago I designed a dessert for the Food & Wine Society, a gourmet group that's having a banquet in the hotel later this month. After looking at Chef's menu, which already featured sparkling wine and Sauterne, I decided to do a dessert with port. I made a pecan tart crust, put down a layer of fig and port compote, and topped it with fresh, halved Autumn Royal, Flame and Muscat grapes tossed in a concord grape and port syrup. I crumbled a little Pt. Reyes blue cheese on top and accompanied the tart with roasted figs and grapes, port-glazed candied pecans and lightly sweetened creme fraiche.

And of course we have some new desserts at Grange. We just introduced a Chai Creme Caramel, a Plum Galette and a new cookie plate. The Chai Creme Caramel is fantastic - the custard base is infused with cardamom, fennel, cinnamon, clove and black peppercorn. It tastes like fall! We unmold it onto a crispy shredded phyllo disc with a layer of date and honey puree underneath and a cardamom and coffee poached date half on top. The caramel flows over everything when it's umolded and then we sprinkle some sugared pistachios on the plate. The Plum Galette has a layer of almond cream, sliced Italian prune plums, cinnamon sugar and a raspberry-brandy glaze. It's served warm with a scoop of French Vanilla ice cream, balsamic caramel and cinnamon anglaise. Our new cookie plate features maple pecan butter cookies, apple pie bars and chocolate chip gingersnaps.

My job keeps me very busy, but I absolutely love what I do and enjoy the challenge of coming up with so many different items for the restaurant and hotel. Now I think I'd better get back to designing a couple more new desserts for the menu this week!

Monday, August 31, 2009

Summer in a Martini Glass

When Chef told me he wanted me to prepare a dessert for the heirloom tomato celebration we were having in Grange for Slow Food Sacramento on August 30 I thought, wow, what am I going to do with tomatoes in a dessert? I mean technically tomatoes are a fruit and sure, I could do a tomato sorbet, tatin or tart, but I thought it would be fun to do something that incorporated the dominant flavors of late summer - tomatoes, yes, but also peaches, corn and rosemary.

So yesterday I served a dessert to 75 people that contained all those elements - a Summer Heirloom Tomato & Peach Sundae with Sweet Corn Ice Cream, Balsamic Caramel & Rosemary Shortbread. There were six components to the sundae: a fresh peach sauce made with peaches, brown sugar and honey; corn ice cream made with white corn and brown sugar; a compote of fresh diced peaches and tiny sweet tomatoes drizzled with a balsamic caramel made by reducing equal parts balsamic vinegar and brown sugar; a tomato jam made from 9 quarts of tomato juice and pulp from Mr. Stripey tomatoes slowly reduced over 8 hours down to 2 quarts; and fresh yellow corn kernels lightly poached in a sugar syrup. I really wanted to introduce an herbal element to the dish and chose a rosemary shortbread to accompany the sundae. To play up the martini idea I put peach cubes and sweet whole cherry tomatoes on bamboo cocktail picks and inserted them into the ice cream.

The dessert was a big hit with the crowd - they loved it! (It was popular with the staff as well, as you can see from the picture of Peter, our Executive Housekeeper on the right.) I knew all the flavors and textures worked together, but I'll admit it was a little nervewracking serving such an unusual dessert to so many people. I'm glad I took the risk, though. I got a lot of positive comments from the guests and I was able to show them that dessert doesn't always have to be super sweet and chocolatey. The sundae was a delicious taste of summer in a martini glass!

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

The Best Food Event. EVER.

It's taken a few days to come out of the foodie haze I've been in since attending SFChefs.Food.Wine. on August 6-9. It took 2-1/2 years to plan this amazing event and the organizers didn't miss a trick. The weather even cooperated - it was a balmy 72 degrees in San Francisco!

SFChefs was 3-1/2 days filled with the most fantastic food and wine - every participant brought their "A" game. It's hard to think of a top Bay Area restaurant or chef who was not at this event. And I loved that everyone served their food and drink using recycled and compostable plates, utensils and cups - way to go, San Francisco! The daily morning and afternoon seminars that I attended were all great, but two stood out for me. The first was En Vogue Toque, which was a discussion of emerging trends in cuisine, design and service. The panel, which included marketing guru Andrew Freeman, whose firm organized SFChefs, and Jennifer Cox, Joie de Vivre's Director of Culinary, talked about the impact on restaurants of the general public using Twitter, Yelp and blogs to criticize or praise, and in fact that thread ran through discussions at each of the sessions I attended. Instant critics are here, for better or worse, but restaurants can also use social media to their benefit. For instance, I'm able to promote the dessert program and special events at Grange through this blog and Twitter.

The other session I really enjoyed was Culinary Matriarchs, a panel of four female chef icons - Nancy Oaks (Boulevard), Annie Somerville (Greens), Cindy Pawlcyn (Mustards et al.) and Patty Unterman (Hayes Street Grill). They talked about their experiences in the industry and how it's evolved over the years. When some of them first started it was difficult to source fresh, local ingredients - now Cindy has acreage at Mustards when she grows a variety of produce for her restaurant and just bought a tractor! Patty lives in an area where she's allowed to have four animals - and she chose chickens for the fresh eggs! They are all dynamic, talented women and it was a pleasure to sit with them for a short time and hear their stories.

Some other highlights: The Back Burner Blues Band (chefs in their chef's whites with electric guitars - that's just hot!), followed by Hubert Keller (my new not-so-secret crush and a genuinely nice guy) spinning records like a NYC DJ, the stunning pastry display created by executive pastry chef Jean-Francois Houdre at the Westin St. Francis, a cooking demo by Laurence Jossel, chef at Nopa and recently named Best Chef by San Francisco magazine, who admitted he was improvising his chili recipe and using a pressure cooker for the very first time. He said, "Let's see what happens." That's a phrase I use often in the kitchen, because, after all, cooking is an adventure.

If the organizers plan to repeat this event next year I'll be one of the first in line to buy tickets. As I said to my husband at some point during the festivities, "If I died and went to heaven this is what it would be like."

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Margaritaville

Here's my new summertime dessert - Margarita Semifreddo with Lemon-Lime Granita, Watermelon Cubes, Sweet Salted Lime Chips, Watermelon Lime Syrup and Candied Watermelon Rind. I started conceptualizing this dessert when I saw our fabulous banquet chef, MJ Jackson, using compressed watermelon slices for a melon and tomato salad. MJ put watermelon slabs in a plastic bag and sealed them under pressure with a Cryovac machine, which is like a big Foodsaver. It forces all of the juices into the watermelon and turns it an incredible shade of red - absolutely beautiful! Since I had already planned to put a frozen dessert on the menu, I started thinking about using the melon as a component for a semifreddo/granita combination. Lime is a great complement to watermelon, so that became the next flavor. Then I thought, what goes with watermelon and lime ... why, tequila, of course, or more specifically, a margarita!

So the margarita flavors became the main component in the semifreddo - it has Hornitos Reposado tequila, Cointreau, lime juice and simple syrup blended with yolks, sugar and cream. The base is a moist citrus sponge cake loaded with orange and lemon rind. The granita is a mix of fresh lemon and lime juices with a sugar syrup - it's so tangy and refreshing! Lime also shows up in the watermelon lime syrup that's drizzled over the watermelon cubes. The chips are made by cutting wonton wrappers into triangles, dipping them into sugar, adding just a sprinkle of kosher salt and baking them. When they come out of the oven they get a drop or two of fresh lime juice squeezed onto them. The final garnish is candied watermelon rind.

I love this dessert - when you eat the granita with the semifreddo it tastes just like a frozen margarita. The fresh watermelon and the crunchy, sweet & salty lime chips are fantastic accompaniments. It's the perfect way to cool down on a hot summer day!

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Eat Your Vegetables!

I like to blur the boundaries between sweet and savory, using ingredients not typically associated with desserts. I had to plan a dessert for this week's Follow the Chef Market Tour and decided to start with sweet corn. Corn is at the height of its season right now, it's wonderfully sweet and brings a nice crunchy texture to the plate. Blueberries were a natural partner for the corn, and to tie everything together I made maple syrup the third element.

I started the dessert by making corn crepes, using a light batter with white corn kernels added to it. I laid the crepes out and spread some lightly sweetened whipped mascarpone cream in the center of each one, then spooned a little cooked blueberry compote over the cream. I folded the crepes over the filling and refrigerated them while make the rest of the components. Next, I started a maple caramel sauce by combining cream, maple syrup, sugar and salt in a saucepan. I brought it to a boil, then lowered the heat and let it reduce slowly until it became thick and creamy. The final step was to quickly saute more white corn kernels in a little butter and sugar, adding fresh blueberries at the end just to heat them through.

To assemble the dessert I spooned some of the warm maple caramel on the plate, set the crepes on top, spooned a little more of the sauce on them and scattered the sauteed corn and blueberries across the top. It was a lovely blend of tastes and textures, and the market tour group seemed to really enjoy it. I had a lot of fun presenting them with a seasonal dessert using a summer vegetable ... it might even make an appearance on the Grange dessert menu!

Monday, July 27, 2009

SFChefs.Food.Wine.

I'm absolutely thrilled to be attending a fabulous 4-day event in San Francisco on August 6-9. SFChefs.Food.Wine. is the city's premier culinary weekend event showcasing top Bay Area chefs, artisan food producers, cookbook authors and fantastic wines and spirits. Everyone who's anyone in the culinary field in the Bay Area will be there - the list of participants is amazing.

The festivities begin with an opening reception on Thursday evening featuring Rising Star Chefs and Bar Stars as recognized by the San Francisco Chronicle, including Joie de Vivre's own Michelle Mah, Executive Chef of Midi. I'll be attending sessions each morning and afternoon for the next three days, including one entitled "The Chocolate Chronicles" with Alice Medrich and Michael Recchiuti (lucky me!). On Saturday evening The Back Burner Blues Band, a band of local chefs, is going to rock Union Square and Hubert Keller of Fleur de Lys will offer his spinning talents as DJ (can you believe it?). The night doesn't end there - from 10:30 pm to 1 am I'll be at a late-night after party called "Chocolate Enchantment" at Victor's on the Imperial Floor atop The Westin St. Francis, which will feature chocolate confections from executive pastry chef Jean-Francois Houdre.

It's going to be one long party, and believe me, no one knows how to party better than a group of chefs! If you have the opportunity to attend even one of the three days I would encourage you to do so. It's gonna be a blast!

Monday, July 20, 2009

"Follow the Chef" Market Tour Desserts

Every Wednesday Chef Touhy takes a group of guests on a tour of the great farmer's market across the street at Cesar Chavez Park and then plans a meal for them based on what he finds fresh and in season. The menu always includes dessert so each week I plan something special for the guests. Last Wednesday I went across the street and picked up a box each of golden and red raspberries, tayberries, loganberries, blackberries and blueberries. They all came from Patrick's Garden, a local berry grower. They were beautiful and ripe and I wanted to serve them fresh, not cooked, so I combined all of the berries in a bowl and set them aside. I put equal amounts of sugar and water in a saucepan and brought it to a boil, then removed it from the heat and added fresh lemon verbena, a heavenly herb that infused the syrup with a lovely light lemony essence. I chilled the syrup then spooned some of it over the berries. While the berries were bathing in the syrup I made a sabayon with a brut rose sparkling wine and chilled that as well. I love to make sabayon - it's a magical combination of egg yolks and sugar whisked together over a hot water bath that can be flavored in a million different ways. To assemble the dessert I put a couple spoonfuls of the berries with some of the now red-tinted syrup in martini glasses, followed by sabayon, then another layer of berries. I used a propane torch to brulee the last layer of sabayon, then added a caramel lace cookie for a little crunch. The desserts were absolutely gorgeous, light and summery.

I don't know what I'll do this week ... maybe something with crepes? Come on the tour and find out!

Sunday, July 12, 2009

I Heart Nectarines!

Nectarines are my favorite summer fruit and I've used them to create a new dessert for the Grange menu: an old-fashioned upside-down cake that I've updated a bit. I make a deep golden caramel with sugar and water and portion it into flexipan molds, then arrange fresh, thickly sliced nectarines on top. The fruit is covered with a lovely butter cake batter and baked until the caramel starts to bubble up around the edges. I take them out of the oven, let them sit for a few minutes then turn them upside down and unmold them. The hot caramel flows over the fruit and soaks into the cakes. We serve them warm with a scoop of French Vanilla ice cream draped with spiced nectarine butter, which is made by simmering nectarines in water until soft, then pureeing them. The puree is returned to the saucepan and sugar, lemon juice, cinnamon and a touch of ground cloves are added. The mixture slowly reduces over a low flame until it becomes thick enough to see the bottom of the pan when a spoon is drawn across it. This dessert is like a cross between cake and Tarte Tatin - all caramelly goodness!

When I found out Grange would be participating in the Grape & Gourmet event at the Convention Center this week I thought it would be a great opportunity to promote our new dessert by offering a mini version of it. Jackie and I (with a little help from a few friends) made batch after batch of mini upside-down cakes over a three day period, slicing what seemed like a tree's worth of nectarines. We served them with just a dot of the nectarine butter on top and a squiggle of lightly sweetened creme fraiche - two bites of heaven. We took 1,600 of the minis to the event and came back with zero. Everyone seemed to really enjoy them, Jackie and I had a great time and we look forward to doing it again next year.

Monday, June 29, 2009

A New Perspective

This week my sister and nephew came to visit me from out of town and we dined together at Grange on Friday night. It was the first time they ate at the restaurant and I was thrilled that they would be able to try the desserts. Although our banquet chef, MJ and I have done quality checks before, this was the first time I had eaten at Grange as a civilian and it was interesting to experience the restaurant solely from a diner's perspective. It's fun to develop a recipe for the dessert menu and taste it as it goes from concept to reality, but when you're actually sitting in the restaurant and the dish is put in front of you it's easier to notice little things you don't see in the kitchen. Was the dessert plated properly? Is the temperature correct? Was it served with the right utensils? Was the server able to answer questions about the ingredients or components? There are so many details that go into the making and presentation of what may seem like a simple menu item and if one of those details is off the dining experience can be compromised.

As we ate our desserts we watched as other diners received their orders. One table of six people behind us had been happily talking until their plates were set in front of them - then they fell silent and just concentrated on their desserts for a few minutes. A couple next to us had the chevre tart and the cookie plate - they shared them and ate every bite. As a chef it's so rewarding to see customers enjoy what I make, but since I work in the downstairs kitchen and don't plate my own desserts I rarely see it. That's also true of the banquet desserts that we put out - they go up to the banquet rooms and Jackie and I don't see how they're received by the guests. This experience made me realize how important it is for us to make time in our production schedule whenever we can to plate desserts in Grange - there's no substitute for immediate feedback from a customer.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Double the Fun

This week we put together two new desserts. The first, Lime Tart, was created for our banquets menu. I make the dessert by combining chocolate cookie crumbs with soft butter and building individual crusts in small metal rings. The crusts are baked, then filled with a mixture of fresh lime juice, sweetened condensed milk and pasteurized egg yolks. The filled tarts are baked at a low temperature for about 15 minutes. They can be refrigerated or frozen after baking, and removed from the metal rings by heating them (carefully!) with a propane torch. We plated them with a lime caramel, fresh whipped cream and lime zest. MJ, our banquet chef, said one of the guests told him that it was one of the best desserts she's ever had, and that another guest was practically licking his plate clean! It's the best feeling in the world to know that someone has enjoyed something I've made - nothing makes me happier!

The second dessert is making its debut in Grange on Tuesday. It's the Vanilla Bean Panna Cotta with Blackberry Hazelnut Linzer Cookies, Creme de Violette Glaze and Fresh Berries. I'm excited about this dessert because I've incorporated two of the new ingredients I've been playing with - Valrhona Absolu Cristal neutral glaze and Creme de Violette liqueur. The panna cotta is made with half and half, milk, sugar, vanilla bean, vanilla and just enough gelatin to set it. It's unmolded onto a glaze of the Absolu Cristal combined with blackberry vanilla sauce and Creme de Violette. Fresh blackberries and raspberries (and perhaps loganberries and tayberries from the farmer's market) are tossed in the blackberry sauce and set on the plate together with a couple of the linzer cookies. The dessert is full of vanilla, blackberry and hazelnut flavors, and when you eat the panna cotta you get a lovely violet essence from the glaze underneath it. I think it might be my new favorite!

Sunday, June 14, 2009

It's a Tart!


Meet the newest member of our dessert family - North Valley Chevre Tart with stone fruit, blueberry compote and buckwheat honey. I had done a special goat cheese tart for the Ashcrafts of North Valley Farms when they came to Grange this week and Chef and I liked it so much we put it on the menu. I use the Ashcraft's chevre, local stone fruit from Jim Mills (whatever we have ripe that day - in the picture it's nectarines) and local buckwheat honey from Frank Lienert. The tart is slightly warmed and served with the cold blueberry compote and a drizzle of honey across the fruit and on the plate. Warm and cold, sweet and tangy all on one plate ... yum!

This week we also provided the dessert for the Michael Pollan lecture at the Westminster Presbyterian Church. Jackie and I made 200 nectarine crostadas - all with handmade crust. It was a bit of work rolling out all that dough, but the end result was worth it. The tarts were beautiful (displayed on Chef's gnocchi board) and everyone seemed to really enjoy them.

Monday, June 8, 2009

A Few of My Favorite Things, Part 2


So what have we been doing with all the stone fruit that's in season? It's showing up in our fruit galettes, it garnishes our Lemongrass Panna Cotta, and we've made some delicious cherry cobblers. It's great to be able to use such wonderful produce, most of it locally grown!

I think tomorrow I'll make a tart with Mark and Deneane's artisan goat cheese and pair it with some beautiful nectarines and perhaps some local honey from Frank Lienert. Mmmmmmmm ...

The Ashcrafts are being featured in a segment for California Country on Channel 10 and some filming is taking place at Grange this week. They need a dessert and I think a goat cheese tart will be perfect!

Monday, June 1, 2009

The Goat Whisperer

Chef Tuohy and I just got back from visiting Mark and Deneane Ashcraft of North Valley Farms. The Ashcrafts have a 62 acre farm where they raise goats for milk that they use to make wonderful handcrafted farmstead goat cheeses. They are committed to the care and stewardship of their farm and the animals and have earned not only the Animal Welfare Approved Seal but a number of awards for their cheeses. It takes an incredible amount of hard work to produce these artisan products and I have the utmost respect for their dedication and integrity. We had a fantastic day with Mark and Deneane, getting a tour of the farm, seeing how the goats are cared for and how the cheeses are made. As a bonus Chef brought along some vegetables and fruit to pair with their cheeses for a luncheon in the garden. The Ashcrafts love their animals and it was a kick to see them follow Deneane all around. These are happy goats!




If you'd like to try the Ashcrafts' cheeses you can find them at the Farmer's Market on Sundays at 8th & W Streets in Sacramento (which is where Chef discovered them). We also feature their cheeses on our cheese plate at Grange.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

These Are a Few of My Favorite Things ...





Check it out - our great produce supplier, Jim Mills of Produce Express, brought us our first boxes of apricots and nectarines, which are two of my favorite stone fruits. These are absolutely gorgeous and I'm using a lot of them tomorrow to make 200 fruit galettes for banquets. Jackie and I are cutting squares of puff pastry, then spreading them with almond cream, layering the sliced fruit over that and sprinkling with cinnamon sugar. We bake them in a hot oven until the pastry is golden brown and the fruit starts to caramelize. Making galettes is one of my favorite ways to use stone fruit - they're simple and so delicious!

Monday, May 25, 2009

The Grange/Citizen Team Rocks!

On Saturday seven of us from Grange/Citizen (Chef Tuohy, me, Jackie, MJ and his banquet crew Rachel, Jackson and Vern) headed to Raley Field to work the Walk 'n Rock event in conjunction with the Journey concert. We prepared 250 beet salads for one of the two first courses, then assisted all the other chefs and their crews with their courses. After all the VIPs were served MJ and Rachel got to personally deliver meals to the band backstage. MJ was in seventh heaven meeting one of his guitar idols, Neil Shoen. The Grange/Citizen team worked their magic, the event was a huge success, and as a bonus we all got to attend the Journey concert! We watched the band from 5 feet away in front the stage - it was awesome!

This was just the latest of several offsite events that Grange/Citizen has participated in. We recently worked the Jewels on J charity event, MJ and I partipated in the Sierra College Taste of Excellence fundraiser, and Chef Tuohy is one of four local chefs featured in the Chef's Challenge at the Raley's Grape Escape event on June 6 at Cesar Chavez Park. Chef and I are also really pleased to be providing the food for an "Earth to Table" organic, slow food reception for An Evening with Michael Pollan on June 10 at Westminster Presbyterian Church, 1300 N Street, Sacramento. Michael Pollan is a highly respected author, teacher and speaker who urges us to eat with a fuller knowledge of all that's involved in getting food to our plates, which ties in perfectly with Chef's philosophy of supporting local, organic, sustainable agriculture. It promises to be an outstanding evening and it's an honor to do my small part by providing dessert for the reception (seasonal fruit galettes).

These offsite events are a lot of fun for us because we get to work in different (and challenging) environments, socialize with local chefs and their crews, and meet people like Neil Shoen and Michael Pollan, not to mention current and prospective Grange/Citizen guests. I hope to see you at one soon!

Monday, May 18, 2009

Pastry Perks










One of the fun things I get to do as a pastry chef is attend demos for new products. Last Monday my friend MJ (our fantastic banquet chef) and I went to see the first presentation in the U.S. of Valrhona's new Coeur de Guanaja, a unique blend of 46% cocoa extract and 34% cocoa butter. I already use their Grand Cru Guanaja 70%, which was the world's first percentage chocolate, as my all-purpose bittersweet chocolate. The new product was developed for use in chocolate recipes that call for cream, milk or butter where using chocolate couverture would add too much additional fat, which can result in ice creams or mousses that freeze too hard or are stiff and crunchy. Cocoa powder is sometimes used instead of chocolate, but that can result in a grainy texture, pale color or undesirable flavor. Using Coeur de Guanaja instead of couverture or cocoa powder gives an end result that is more intense in chocolate flavor and color with no compromise in texture.
It was a fantastic demo, lasting almost 5 hours! Philippe Givre, Pastry Chef at L'ecole du Grand Chocolate Valrhona, and Derek Poirier, Pastry Chef for Valrhona USA, made 3 plated desserts using the Coeur de Guanaja which were absolutely stunning. They passed out mini versions so we all got to taste them, then they passed around samples of chocolate biscuit (sponge cake), ice cream and pastry cream prepared the traditional way and with the new product so we could see and taste the difference. Not a bad way to spend the afternoon, right?
They also talked about other Valrhona products, including their neutral glaze called Absolu Cristal. It can be used hot or cold, it holds a shine even when fridged, and it can be used to make sauces, which is what the chefs used it for. I just got some and I'm going to make a sauce using the Creme de Violette liquor and see how it comes out.

MJ and I had a great time and we both learned a few things. If you go on my Flicker account you'll see more pictures from the demo. Thanks to Michael Dadisman of European Gourmet for the invitation.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Labor Pains


Well, we survived our first Mother's Day, typically one of the busiest days of the year. Grange did 320 covers in 4 hours for brunch plus another 100+ for dinner. My assistant, Jackie Wilfong and I, along with help from our extern David, produced 400 currant scones, 300 orange scones, 800 muffins and 1,000 truffles (3 flavors, 2 of them dipped in chocolate), in addition to chopping up 4 flats of strawberries, making chocolate mousse for a banquet, and prepping all of our regular line desserts. Jackie and I both worked back-to-back 12 hour days. It was a lot of work but very rewarding. Our truffles and desserts were beautiful and we had a lot of laughs along the way. I had the day off today and went to a Valrhona chocolate demo which I'll tell you about later. Tomorrow it's back to work with a full day of banquets!

Friday, May 8, 2009

Life's a Bowl of Cherries!










Look what we found at the farmer's market - cherries! The variety available right now is Brooks which have a crisp texture and a nice flavor. I decided to use them to make clafouti - a classic French dessert. I buttered and sugared some mini cast iron dishes, scattered fresh halved cherries in them and poured a batter on top. I baked them at 375F for 20 min. The batter puffed dramatically, they looked gorgeous and tasted great! I paired them with a vanilla creme anglaise and whole cherries poached in Zinfandel. Chef Tuohy loved the dessert and we may put it on the menu but only if we can bake it to order. By the way, the Creme de Violette I mentioned in the previous post is great sprinkled on fresh cherries!

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Roses are Red, Violets are Blue

This weekend I discovered something new to play with - Creme de Violette, a liqueur produced in Austria from the Queen Charlotte and March Violets found in the Alps. It's a beautiful violet color with a delicate floral perfume and taste. I think in terms of flavor it would be compatible with cherries, almonds, mint, blueberries and blackberries, not to mention champagne and silver tequila (I happened to taste it in a tequila cocktail, so I know for a fact that pairing tastes good!) It would be great for a spring dessert, so I'm going to start experimenting with it over the next few days and see what I come up with. I'll keep you posted ...

If you're in the area tomorrow, stop by the farmer's market across the street from the hotel. Chef Tuohy and I are going over there at 11 a.m. to do some shopping. I'm hoping to pick up some cherries to go with the Creme de Violette!

Monday, May 4, 2009

Mother's Day


Grange is open on Mother's Day offering two special menus for brunch and dinner. Both menus will feature our beautiful Strawberry Shortcake for dessert. We split a freshly baked Orange Buttermilk Scone, top it with lightly sweetened housemade creme fraiche and Grand Marnier marinated organic strawberries, and drizzle the plate with a sweet basil syrup. Delicious!
We're also offering complimentary handmade chocolate truffles to finish your special meal at Grange. Happy Mother's Day!