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!