Tuesday, December 29, 2009

The Buche

This buche de noel was my contribution to the Christmas dinner we attended.  It was loads of fun to make and I learned a lot about working with genoise sponge cake.  My husband helped mightily by sculpting all sorts of forest creatures out of marzipan to decorate the darn thing! 

Instead of filling it with the traditional buttercream, I went with a bittersweet chocolate mousse to compliment the chocolate genoise.  I think you end up with a better flavor and a better mouthfeel with less work to boot.  After the drama of rolling the cake, we coated it with semisweet Callebaut chocolate ganache, chilled it, and then began decorating.

We did the traditional meringue mushrooms (filled with chocolate of course) along with sugared fir boughs, but the highlight was really the little critters.  We had a snail (this is the northwest, it should have been a slug...), a rabbit, some earthworms, and a beaver that, depending on the angle, looked more than a little rabid.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Why Consider Private Chef, Jasmine Biernacki.

Going out for a nice dinner has become very popular in the recent years. Many people make it an evening out of it. It’s typically a fun experience where ambiance and food come together to create a memorable evening. Some like to go out simply because there are no dishes to wash afterwards or there is no time or motivation to cook. With today’s busy schedules and hectic lifestyles, have you ever considered a private chef for the evening? Here are 6 reasons why you should consider Gig Harbor’s Chef Jasmine Biernacki:

1. Custom and fresh menu, just for you
Restaurant menus are typically designed to cater to the masses. If you’re like me, you frequent a handful of your favorite restaurants. If you like to visit one restaurant, it can get boring quickly as you find yourself ordering the same thing more then once. Restaurant menus tend to be locked-in due to cost of ingredients, profit margins, abilities of the kitchen staff, etc. Hiring a personal chef is like having a restaurant in your own home kitchen. A personal chef considers your likes and dislikes; they work closely with you to come up with a custom menu for the specific event. The food is seasonal because the chef shops specifically for quality and freshness. Chef Jasmine loves this part of the business. Local, organic, high quality, in season foods is the basis of stellar cuisine. She takes a very personal approach to make sure your meal is the best it can be. Many restaurants simply do not have this flexibility.

2. No wine corkage fee
At a restaurant, if you like to enjoy a bottle of wine with your dinner, it could cost a pretty penny. Restaurants typically make their profit on the wine that they sell. In most cases, a good restaurant keeps a nice wine list that complements their menu. In many ways you can have the same experience at home. A good private chef can recommend wine to go with the dinner that they are preparing for you. If you keep a cellar in your home, the chef can recommend specific wines. No corkage fee and not driving home after the dinner are some very obvious benefits to hiring a private chef. Chef Jasmine has a great understanding of wine and how it should be paired with food.

3. It does not cost any more than going out
Contrary to popular belief, the cost of having a private chef produce a culinary experience in your own home kitchen is almost always lower than going out to a good restaurant. If you consider the overhead associated with running a restaurant, you will see that the cost is much lower by having Chef Jasmine come to your kitchen. No matter if the chef is preparing fried chicken for your Super Bowl party, or a 5 course culinary extravaganza for your business partners, the cost will always be within range or less expensive than what the food at a comparable restaurant would cost you.

4. Cleanliness
I think most of us can agree that washing dishes is not a fun chore. After a great meal with your family or friends, one person usually gets stuck in the kitchen cleaning up, while everyone else mingles and has fun. A good private chef will leave the kitchen spotless. So you, as the host, can enjoy your friends and not worry about cleanup. One other thing to consider, restaurant kitchens are not as clean as you may think. Have you ever asked to see the kitchen before you get seated in a restaurant? How about see the walk-in freezer? I’m not saying that all restaurants are dirty, but I believe you would be shocked more often then not how dirty some restaurants are. In addition, if you go out to a restaurant, you don’t meet the chef who cooks your meal. Having your own chef allows for you to know exactly what is being cooked, and then washed and cleaned. Chef Jasmine’s training comes from kitchens that declare cleanliness king. One kitchen she worked in did a full cleaning (including the ceiling) 2 times a day! She carries this attribute to all the private or personal chef work that she does.

5. Food is Hip and Cool
With the introduction of channels that focus strictly on food, and with the emergence of celebrity chefs in the last decade, food, in a way, has itself become a celebrity. A good private chef is humble and tries not to interrupt a meal service, but at the same time a chef needs to be a crafty performer. I find that people love to interact with the chef, ask questions, and observe. This often adds a nice coolness factor to any event. Imagine having your own chef in the kitchen while you enjoy your time being a guest in your own home. Although Chef Jasmine is by no means a celebrity chef, she does enjoy the interaction with guests and is willing to share pointers on cooking or a funny kitchen story.

6. Nutrition
Many restaurants pay very little attention to the nutritional value of their food. The food comes from food service companies and is usually not seasonal. It’s often frozen and stored for too long. The cooking techniques used to cook this frozen or over processed food wipe out most of the nutrients. Menus contain more fat and sodium than they really need because it tends to make the food taste better. Simply put, if you like to go out a lot, many restaurants are bad for your health. Chef Jasmine takes a more wholesome approach to cooking. She is very careful with the quality and cooking techniques so you get a healthy meal that tastes great. She will also consider your specific nutritional needs and will work with you on your preferences. Having Chef Jasmine in your kitchen instead of going out means that you are feeding your friends and family high quality and healthy food.

I hope this post answers some questions that you may have about Chef Jasmine Biernacki. Gig Harbor is definitely in need of quality culinary establishments. This may be due to the fact that Gig Harbor is not a major metropolitan area such as Seattle or San Francisco, in which the local population is much more interested in culinary arts. I have had many discussions with friends who complain that the food choices in Gig Harbor seem to fall short of what could be. To make up for this fact, I feel that having a world class private chef that has worked in a 3 star Michelin restaurant and who has been formally educated at one of the best culinary schools in the world as your own private chef solves that lack of quality culinary establishments in Gig Harbor.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Festive and Tasty

I accidentally made a super cute appetizer for a party on Sunday. 

I've had a recipe for a blue cheese tart floating around for ever and I wanted to give it a shot.  I found some great Valdeon cheese (from Spain, usually made from a mixture of cow, goat, and sheep's milk) and went from there.  The recipe is basically a savory cheesecake; a cream cheese/blue cheese custard brightened up with some minced shallot, thyme, and parsley.  I chose to set this over a standard tart dough, but next time I think I would do a nut crumb crust, perhaps with a little prosciutto ground into the crumbs. 

While the tart was in the oven, I made a quick red onion jam with red wine, balsamic vinegar and black pepper.  I also picked up some baby arugula (was hoping for watercress) and searched through for a few perfect leaf tips.
The super cute part came when I went to assemble the appetizers...  I stamped out little circles, placed an arugula leaf, and the moment I set a dab of jam on top it just looked like Christmas!  Holly leaves and berries totally by chance! 

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

A Fantastic Challenge

So, everyone always asks me "What was it like at The French Laundry??  Was it fun?  Did you learn a lot?"

The only word I can use to describe my experience there is: intense.  It didn't matter if you were preparing salad for staff meal, picking parsley, or scrubbing $40k worth of Perigord truffles, it was intense.  It made the experience stressful, but it was worth it for all of the things I was exposed to there that I otherwise never would have experienced.  I do have to admit it was a bit of a culture shock coming out of the classroom environment of the CIA.  No matter hardcore the teacher, nothing can compare to the real pressure of a three star Michelin restaurant. 

I started off on the morning shift, which begins at 5am every day.  We would prepare basic sauces, make pasta, prepare all of the fresh herbs and other greens that would be used as garnishes among other things.  We would also make stock and the staff lunch for all of the employees.  Some fine knife skills were required, but most of the tasks required more perseverance than anything.  I think my least favorite task was chopping duck carcasses for stock.  I was perpetually worried that the gnarly cleaver I borrowed from the butcher would slip out of my hand (because of all the duck goo) and go flying- denting something shiny and probably someone's head.

After a bit, I switched to the night shift.  This provided a completely different experience than the mornings.  You were actually involved in service!  Not that you were working the line or anything, but you were running backup for all of the chefs de partie, and sometimes they needed something very urgently (like two cups of apple in fine brunoise- 1/16" square, cut fast enough to not oxidize, then stored in a citric acid solution).  If you weren't too busy helping the chefs, there were plenty of tasks to do.  I had to take care of stocks, empty and clean at least two flats of eggshells per night, and maintain a par stock of blanched brunoise made of carrot, leek and turnip.  The eggshells were the most challenging part- not that they were difficult, but they took a particular amount of precision and care.  That, and I managed to rub off the ends of my fingers cleaning them (why are my hands bleeding??)!  It's a dirty job, but someone's got to do it.

One of the best experiences I had in the TFL kitchen was working in the pastry department.  Since my focus has mostly been on the savory side, extra time spent with pastry was very highly appreciated.  Even though I was doing the same mundane caliber of tasks, many of them were new to me and I was glad for the practice.  I learned a lot about the fundamentals like making proper sabayons, caramels, sorbet bases, and creme anglaise. 

The most valuable things I learned there were the parts that didn't involve cooking.  I learned that it really is worth it to take the time to clean the entire kitchen, ceilings included, twice every day.  An impeccable workspace is such a joy, and most kitchens don't take the time to encourage that.  I learned that you have to be a special kind of crazy incredibly dedicated to survive in a restaurant like that.  And I learned that an extreme level concentration and precision results in some of the most amazing food in the world.  It all seems obvious, but when you see this super-controlled philosophy in action it makes more than common sense.  

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Amadeus Cookies

This year I decided to learn more about baking with nut pastes...pistachio, almonds and hazelnuts mostly. This cookie is my first foray into the world of pistachio.

I came across this recipe from the Demel pastry shop in Vienna and varied it just a bit to fit what I had in the pantry. The cookie is a simple shortbread that is rolled about 1/8" thick and then baked until slightly golden around the edges. For the filling, the traditional combination is of almond paste seasoned with ground pistachios. Well, I had no pistachios and no almond paste, but I did have pistachio paste, so I forwent the almonds altogether and used the paste for the entire base. The paste is then flavored with kirsch and vanilla.