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.