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.