Sunday, May 25, 2008

The Laminator's Secret Weapon - Rugelach!

It was a busy week at Bullwinkle Ranch, and after working six days straight, I'm glad to have a couple days off. On Thursday, the fancy-pantsed restaurant reopened - with my dessert menu. I had to demo how to plate each dish, then let the servers try it so they could recommend it to guests, etc. Chef said he was very happy with it, so I'm happy with it, too, though there are always things I want to tweak and fuss with.

Friday was a rehearsal dinner for about 100, with bread pudding and caramel ice cream to plate with help from Chef and Dopey, my assistant for the week (thought I think Chef's nickname for him is more appropriate... Lumpy).

Saturday was another rehearsal dinner for another 100 people, featuring a buffet of cookies and brownies. Not complicated, but it was all leading in to Sunday, with a dessert buffet for 120 people with five different items. (All these days, I'm also prepping the desserts and mignardises for the dining room, plus doing the coffee shop items, etc.)
Here's a shot of the latest mignardises, including a petit four made of cake scraps, berry jam and marzipan, and a mini-lemon tart about the size of a quarter that I made from left-over puff pastry and extra lemon curd - I love it when I find a use for scraps!

To complicate things, on Saturday, two of the bridesmaids for Sunday's wedding asked to speak with me. Turns out the wedding cake they brought in from God knows where (we don't do wedding cakes on site because we don't have the space, a fact that secretly delights me as they're probably my least favorite thing to do) was a mess.
The chick they got it from gave it to them on a cheap black plastic tray with no means of transferring it without wrecking the border, a moot point since the border itself had melted and crumbled. They asked if I could do anything with it. Chef and I looked at the cake and I have to say, by the power of St. Honore, I was pissed. I was really angry that someone would sell such a crappy cake. Nevermind the frosting was that heinous powdered sugar and shortening crap. The sides were crooked, the border crumbled off and uneven where it was intact, and the whole thing was lopsided.

Here is a shot that doesn't do justice to the cake's craptastic heinousness:

I suggested replacing the crumbling borders with ganache since I couldn't replicate the gross frosting's color or texture. They also gave me some of the flowers used in the table centerpieces. And, I might add, a nice tip.

Fifteen minutes later, voila:

I'm not saying it's great. In truth, my borders aren't even, either, but they covered most of the border areas' sins and, I think, improved the overall look of the cake. The flowers helped a lot, too.

I left before the cake-cutting ceremony on Sunday, but I'm hoping my repair work was enough that no one noticed anything about the cake other then it going into the bride and groom's mouths.

Meanwhile, about a month ago I did a conference call with the events coordinator and the bride about the dessert buffet. She asked what I could do and I said the usual, cream puffs, fruit tarts, yadda yadda yah. Then she asked if I could do rugelach.

"Arugula?" asked the events coordinator, confused.

"No, rugelach," I said, then added I would be happy to, and what flavor did she want.

A couple weeks went by as I waited to hear her final selection of buffet items. Then, one day, Chef came over and asked if I'd ever heard of something called "rugala."

"Rugelach? Yeah, of course. I think I'm making it for one of the weddings at the end of the month, but I'm waiting to hear back from the bride."

Chef nodded thoughtfully, waiting for me to say more. Then, a little impatiently, he said "So what is it?"


I told him it was a pretty traditional Jewish baked good, a semi-laminated, enriched dough filled usually with fruit such as apricot or prune, or nuts, and folded similar to a croissant.

"Well, I never heard of it," he said.

A couple days later, I heard him asking someone else if they'd ever heard of "rugala."


Right up until the wedding, I was amazed at the degree of rugelach ignorance in the kitchen. I guess growing up in the greater New York area, where rugelach are as common as doughnuts, I just took for granted that everyone knew the flaky, addictive treat.

Time after time, as I baked off test batches with different fillings (I had to make the filling from scratch, with no recipe), the conversation went:

"What are you making?"



"No, rugelach."

"I've never heard of that. What is it?"

Only the woman who runs the coffee house, who lived for years in the Milwaukee area, didn't miss a beat when I offered her some of my test batch.

"Oh, yummy! I love rugelach! I like making it, too."
I don't mean to sound like a snob. I just think little cultural disconnects are funny.

Saturday, the bride came into the kitchen asking if she could look at the room where the ceremony would take place. I offered her some of the rugelach, and she said it was perfect. But the best compliment I got about my "arugula" has come over the past few days, from Chef himself.

"So. That's what it is. It's good."

"I really like that rugelach."

"The rugelach is good."

"I like the rugelach."

Then, the ultimate huzzah... he took some home to his wife.

Meanwhile, as I banged out ten dozen of them Sunday afternoon in about an hour, I found myself thinking, with some irony, how much I enjoy laminating, and how relaxing I find it. I say "ironic" because lamination was always stressful and I never had a feel for it.

Then came that hellish breads class right before graduation, when I was The Laminator. I never want to work the 0200-1200 shift again, but I think doing all that danish lamination alone in the middle of the night, not quite awake, in silence, in the semi-darkened bakeshop somehow caused the act of lamination to sink into the fibers of my being in such a way that it's now like a meditative exercise.

I don't have to think about it - I can't think about it. When I've tried to show the interns and explain what I'm doing, I screw it up. But left on my own with dough and a French pin, I might as well be sitting in lotus position and chanting "om."

And yes, I semi-laminate my rugelach dough. Not everyone does, I know, but I think it really improves the flakiness. After making the dough using a basic 1:1:1 ratio of butter, cream cheese and flour, I chill it well, then roll it out keeping it cold and give it a couple folds.

And apparently, it works.
One of several trays of my magically delicious rugelach:

The bride ended up choosing apricot rugelach, chocolate cupcakes, chocolate flourless cakes with raspberries, cream puffs and fruit tarts for the buffet. Here's a shot of one of several platters I sent out Sunday with the help of the intern Delilah, on her last day before returning to school:

Monday, May 19, 2008

Moose on the Loose

When the weather is good here, it's outrageously wonderful. Such was today, so I skipped cleaning my thumbnail-sized apartment and doing laundry in favor of taking Sir Smalls on a car ride and a couple hikes.

I had hoped to get up to a reservoir that's at 10,000 feet, almost right on the Divide, but alas the last five miles of road was snow, mud and potholes that might have swallowed whole my much-abused Focus.

On the plus side, as I was doing a 90-point U-turn on the steep, narrow, muddy road, I saw Something Big just to the side. It was a moose...

I saw three moose idling by the side of the road driving home from work last week, but they were girls and calves and just not as impressive as Big Boy over here. After driving a safe distance back down the mountain, I took Wiley for a walkies along a logging road where we saw plenty of evidence of other mooses... meese... moosi in the area. Keep in mind that I have big hands for a girl due to my height... I wear a men's large glove.

Then we drove to the Indian Peaks Wilderness and were able to walk along an old mining road that, last time we visited, was covered with six feet of snow.

Wiley was, as usual, doggedly keeping up with me though I think he was hot and tired and sore. No complaints from the old little scrapper. And the view at the end was worth it:

A New Hallmark Greeting?

A couple days ago, in the final hours of prepping for the huge black-tie affair Bullwinkle Ranch hosted on Saturday, I was scrambling to finish six different things and Chef was helping Keanu strain 80 quarts of venison stock. He looked up and said: "[Pirate], I would totally be in the shit without you."

Uhm, ok. I can see the greeting card... cover: pastel soft-focus flowers with gold script, "Just a Note to Say" and inside, in same font, "I would totally be in the shit without you." I can't believe Hallmark hasn't thought of that yet.

Anyway, I'm not one to need constant reassurance, but it felt really good to get some acknowledgement of how hard I worked on the dessert buffet... nine different kinds of desserts for 400 people. Plus I made 24 pounds of puff pastry (by hand, no sheeter) and baked it off in sheets for savory tarts, plus I made four pans of jalapeno-cheddar cornbread, plus I made 200 mini-cinnamon rolls for a "breakfast bites" buffet in the other restaurant...

Even though I had prepped and organized and planned for Saturday, when it came down to it, there wasn't much time for photo-taking. I was feeling a little down going into it, because, in my experience, women in fancy gowns and men in fitted tuxedos, there to see and be seen, never eat, especially a dessert. I remember in Vegas, when I worked the ice cream station at the annual board meeting for the hotel and had exactly one customer in four hours, and how the chef in charge was nearly in tears at the end of the night because no one had touched his gorgeous sushi set-up, with fish flown in that morning from all over the world.

So I was feeling kind of "I did all this work for nothing." Well, was I surprised. The people pounced on the desserts like hyenas on a downed zebra. I swear I don't know what got into them. The servers were bringing back empty platters faster than we could refill them. For a couple hours, it was madness.

Here's as much of a photo recap as I could manage:

I was happiest with my mini-tart tatins, literally bite-size. I poached the apples in cider, Calvados, cinnamon and rose water. As for "rose water?? what were you thinking??" I do believe apples are related to roses, and besides, shaddup, it worked.

Anyway, here's a shot of the platters in progress before the hyenas arrived. As a bonus, it's also a surreptitious shot of Chef, refilling the coffee machine. One of the things I really respect about him is his work ethic. He'll wash dishes, peel parsnips, take out the linen and get down on his hands and knees to clean the ovens (and refill the coffee machine) if it needs to be done.

A close-up of one of the platters. From left to right, flourless chocolate cakes with raspberries and cream, cream puffs, my freakin' adorable tart tatins, lemon bars, carrot cake with apple cumin butter and cream cheese frosting, financiers soaked in Amaretto, filled with ganache and capped with a candied pecan, more lemon bars and tart tatins and, finally, opera torte mini-slices:

And one more shot for good measure... on the far right is a row of coffee truffles. They were such a nightmare to make. The kitchen was so hot with all the ovens and burners going that my chocolate kept going out of temper and the coffee ganache balls kept liquefying. Like most of the items, I wound up finishing them in the walk-in. And I'm proud to say, 200 coffee truffles later, my chocolate Did. Not. Bloom. Hell yeah.

In addition, I also did plates with bite-size poundcake pieces layered with fresh berries and bruleed sabayon that servers brought to people sitting at tables. I didn't get a picture of that in all the chaos, but you get the idea.

The Chronicles of Adventure Dog

Just a couple quick photos of our hike today through Gore Canyon... Wiley was such a trooper, even scrambling over a spot in the trail that had been washed out. He slept well on the ride back home.

Heading up into the canyon...

Getting Wiley to stand still and pose is never easy... but there's something about this shot that works for me.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Just Wondering...

Driving over the gorgeous Ute Pass this evening, trying to avoid the deer and the spot in the road where a flash flood had created a five foot deep, twenty feet long sinkhole (a nice guy in a pick-up told me I could detour through a ranch, which he had just done), I happened to tune into a Christian rock station, briefly.

The lyrics of the song went something like "for those who work, heed the call of the father and you will work no more..."

Uhm. Is it me, or is that a really un-Christian concept? Isn't idleness the devil's playground or something? And what if the listener understood the context of "those who work" as "those who have their act together"? Just wondering...

Part of me wanted to hear what other hijinks resulted from heeding the call of the father, but the rest of me just couldn't stand the bad production and nasal, overearnest vocals.

So I put my Kid Rock tape back on.

Yes, I have a cassette player in my car. Them CDs and new-fangled iPod-things are for you youngsters.

You May Refer To Me As Teng Kai Mao

I just visited a special pre-Olympics page on Chinese ettiquette and whatnot, where you can get your Chinese name (for entertainment purposes only) and find out your Chinese Zodiac. I was a little disappointed that my previously cool Zodiac sign, the Year of the Rooster, is now apparently known as the Year of the Chicken (not nearly as, er, cock-sure), but I found the name amusing.

Apparently, in Chinese I would be known as Teng Kai Mao, which means (this is the best part) "thick, lush, dense and talented."


Go here to get yours.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Rocky Mountain Randoms: The Bread and Circuses Edition

A long post, but hopefully something for everyone.

Yesterday, I accidentally went to Wyoming. It's not as carbon footprint-shameful as it sounds... the state line is closer to me than Denver is, after all.

I had a day off, it was a gorgeous day, and I decided to head to North Park. As an aside, "park" here in Colorado, at least regionally-speaking, means a valley in the mountains, a relic from the French word used by, well, French trappers back in the day. I live, technically, in Middle Park, and North Park is just over the Continental Divide from me, while South Park, to the, duh, south, is the setting for the Cartoon Network show of the same name.

So, anyway, I headed to North Park, which reminded me of Central Asia -- miles and miles of high steppe with snow-capped mountains glistening on all horizons. I really liked it, and kept seeing interesting rock formations and such until, next thing I knew, I saw this sign:

Wiley and I hiked a bit in Routt National Forest, right on the state line, where Sir Smalls decided to chase a marmot nearly over a cliff:

In other news, training for my triathlons this summer has begun in semi-earnest. I went swimming at the Y for the second time in a week today. I would go cycling and hit the trails on foot, but we keep getting snow! Another foot is expected in the next 36 hours. Anyway, today at the pool I learned an interesting fact: the lifeguard told me I couldn't wear my flip-flops from locker room to pool because everyone had to be barefoot. I said I wasn't willing to risk athlete's foot and he said "I know, I felt the same way when I moved here from Indiana, but I found out that no one gets athlete's foot here. The stuff that causes it can't survive at this altitude."

You learn something new every day.

In the little victories department, a couple weeks ago I asked Chef if we could get organic, cage-free eggs. He shrugged it off, but then, last week, when we got our food order in, I discovered that we had new eggs... from an organic, cage-free purveyor. Huzzah!

And finally...

Bread, as you may know, is probably the most scientific discipline in the baking and pastry world. At school, I was taught to calculate things like desired dough temperature based on room temperature, humidity, flour and water temp and even the "mixer friction" - the amount of heat generated by the actual mixing of the dough. My bread chefs were constantly tinkering with formulas (bread recipes aren't even called recipes... they're formulas!) to take into account new shipments of bread flour, the time of year, the phase of the moon, etc.

At Bullwinkle Ranch, I mentioned to Chef a while back that I'd like to start trying to do breads, because he currently buys them all par-baked and just finishes them in the oven for service. He shrugged.

Last week, a 50-pound bag of bread flour mysteriously arrived in house.

And Friday afternoon, Chef casually mentioned that he'd forgotten to order bread for the Saturday wedding so could I make dinner rolls for 150 people!!

Sure, out of the blue, with no time to tinker and take into account altitude, equipment and so forth, I'll just whip up 450 rolls...


The best breads are made with a preferment, such as a poolish or biga, which is essentially flour and water and a little yeast mixed 24 hours or more before you make the actual dough. This gives the bread better, more complex flavor and also a more desirable crumb, or interior. So I started by making a poolish for the next day, then tried to make a couple doughs that didn't require a preferment.

First, I took der Brotmeister's Sunflower Seed Roll recipe and scaled it down to fit our lone 20-quart mixer. To give you an idea of the scale, I'm used to making bread in a 40-, 60- or even 80-quart spiral mixer made specifically for bread production. Our mixer is a general, jack of all trades mixer with a low speed that's about the same as a high speed on a real bread mixer.


Also, we didn't have sunflower seeds, so I substituted pumpkin seeds and walnuts. The dough never rose like I wanted it to in the jerry-rigged proofer I made out of a hotbox and hotel pan of hot water, and it baked crazyfast (damn altitude!). At sea level, the rolls bake for 18 minutes at 440F... I had them in for 11 minutes at 400F and they nearly burned.


I also took a recipe for Zopfe (essentially, gentile Challah) and scaled it down and made individual Kaiser rolls instead of braided loaves. The rise was okay (I suspect a mathematical error converting the fresh yeast called for in the formula to the dry yeast we had on hand was the undoing of the Pumpkin Seed Rolls), but even lowering the oven to 375, the rolls baked too fast and got a thick crust before taking on color.


Saturday morning, I arrived at work to find my poolish had died. Because of the altitude, yeast's life cycle is accelerated, and I had no time to experiment to find the right time frame. I used it anyway, and it actually made a nice lean dough... but not a baguette dough. (By the way, "lean dough" just means it's flour, water, yeast and salt, as opposed to an "enriched dough," such as challah or brioche, which contain butter and/or eggs, sugar, etc.)

It was supposed to be a baguette dough, but I could tell it was too soft. God knows why. It could have been an error converting the formula, meant for an 80-quart mixer, to one that would fit in a 20-quart, it could have been the altitude, it could have been the mixer friction or the phase of the moon or seismic activity in Fiji... who knows.

I took the wet dough and made mini-Ciabatta out of it. Here's a shot of the ill-fated bread basket, my first attempt at baking bread at 8500 feet above sea level:

At least they looked kinda cute.


The Wine Chronicles: Bottle Two

Stormhoek Pinotage, South Africa, 2006, $12: served with a spinach salad with goat cheese and garlickey pinto beans. I had high hopes for this wine, since it was the first straight, non-blended pinotage I'd be trying after enjoying the Sebeka and Herding Cats blends. It was jammy and very berry-ish, but had a touch more puckery tannin than the other South African wines I've tried. I know many serious red wine drinkers like tannins, but I don't. Also, coincidence or not, but I got a splitting headache every night I drank this (I worked my way through the bottle over three nights). So my verdict is: eh. It was okay, but I wouldn't buy it again, especially since, for the same price, I can get two bottles of Sebeka!

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

What Have I Done Now?

Several weeks ago, I signed up to do the Denver Danskin Triathlon, slated for the last weekend in June, even though my training so far has consisted of getting Cerdic my bike out of the storage unit I rent and purchasing a trisuit from REI (I had a coupon!).

Tonight I learned there is another women-only sprint triathlon in Denver in August, this one for Tri for the Cure, an offshoot of the Race for the Cure behemoth. I decided to do it, and when registering they gave me the option of creating my own personal fundraising page.

I did it, mostly because I was tickled with the idea of adding "The Pastry Pirate" to the list of do-gooders displayed on the Tri for the Cure page.

If you want to make a donation to Team Pastry Pirate (motto: "fueled by rum and rage, though not necessarily in that order"), or if you just want to check the page out, here's the link.

And thanks for your support, even if it's only muttering "Christ on a crutch, I hope she at least gets her bike tuned up and remembers to stretch before the event."

My New Job

Check this out... hmmm, I already have experience baking at high-altitude. Okay, not that high, but still...

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

In the Interest of Research...

I'm starting a new semi-regular thang here on the blog. Today I drove to Boulder to use my member's coupon at REI. I bought an inflatable kayak, because dammit, I needed one, plus I scored a deal on buying a paddle at the same time. Alas, the kayak was on sale, so I couldn't use my coupon on it... so I had to find something at full-price to buy. I bought more Superfeet High Volume insoles, the same ones I have in my hiking boots, for my kitchen shoes. I highly recommend them for anyone who spends a lot of time on their feet (the green ones only, though... those are the High Volume ones).

The Superfeet insoles were also on sale, as was the Gorillapod flexible tripod I got for my camera (Coolest. Thing. Ever.). I wound up buying some maximum compression leggings and a triathlon suit so, you know, I could take advantage of that 20% coupon.

In any case, while in Boulder, I also stopped at the storied LiquorMart. They had unbelievable prices (my Sebeka cheetah wine for seven bucks!) and an incredible selection. One of the salesdudes kind of followed me around and kept asking if he could help, and I finally said yes.

I was interested in trying some of the Spanish albarino I keep reading about (there should be a tilde over the n, but I can't figure out how to get that character), so he steered me to a couple choices. He also kept asking me about my preferences and seemed knowledgeable but not snobby, so I let him recommend another pinotage from South Africa that does not have cheetahs on the bottle and a few other Spanish wines.

I asked him about my weird reaction to some red wines (the flushing, the shortness of breath and feeling that Andre the Giant is sitting on my chest) and how I haven't had that when drinking the South African wines. He said it was because they had no added sulfites and were produced "the old way." I dunno about that, but he recommended an organic, sulfite-free merlot and cab blend from California and, for eight bucks, I decided to give it a try.

I left LiquorMart with a dozen bottles, most of them brand new to me and less than $10 (the most I spent per bottle was on the two albarinos, which were $15 and $16). And I feel my research should not be kept to myself. So, every time I open a bottle, I'm going to tell you about it.

Tonight's bottle, served with Korean-style cabbage and green onion pancakes, was a $7 Riesling. I bought it as a lark, mostly for the name: Funf (which just means "five" auf Deutsch, but is a fun word to say). There should be an umlaut over the u, but I can't figure out those whacky foreign characters on Blogger.


Funf, German Riesling, $7. Essentially white grape juice. Not syrupy sweet but definitely not on the dry side. Much like Keanu, the line cook I adore, it's uncomplicated but pleasant. No exciting (or appalling) notes. I know I'm supposed to say something like "citrus on the nose" or whatnot, but it really wasn't complex enough. Drinkable, certainly, but not something to try to impress anyone over 22 with. Probably worth the seven bucks, though I wouldn't buy it again unless the only other Riesling available was Mondavi (shudder).

Stay tuned as I drink my way through my LiquorMart purchase, sitting in my inflatable kayak wearing my tri suit. It's a dirty job, but some pirate's gotta do it.

Sheep Swarm!

Yesterday Wiley and I drove out to Dinosaur National Monument, in the very northwest corner of the state (the monument itself straddles Utah and Colorado). It was a nice drive, first through the mountains and Steamboat Springs and then into ranchin' land. I suspect it's the emptiest corner of Colorado, though I haven't been to the southeast yet... there was nothin' for nowhere for miles.

We stopped for a walkies in the town of Craig, where the local park was full of wooden sculptures. The style of several of them reminded me of an illustrated (and probably bootlegged) version I had of The Hobbit in Russian. Others were just odd:

I guess it's supposed to say something like "we hold the lives of the unborn in our hands" but between the flames at the bottom and the aggressive, to my eye, hand posture, I call it "Fetal Fist of Fury."
Anyway, Dinosaur National Monument itself started out as a bust. There are two roads in. The first one, which leads to a scenic canyon drive, was closed due to mud and snow. I'd checked the website the night before and it said which roads were closed - that wasn't one of them. Humph.

The visitor center for that entrance was also closed, but reading the notice board I saw that there had been a recent mountain lion "encounter" with a hiker and also that rabbits were testing positive for tularemia, poor things.

I drove to the second entrance, which is actually in Jensen, Utah, but the Temporary Visitor Center was already closed for the day. The actual Visitor Center, the one with all the fossils and cool stuff, has been closed indefinitely because of structural safety issues, which I knew from the website.

I decided we'd take a little drive and see whatever we could see, then head back home. I had the tent in the trunk, but the one campground that was open was full of RVs and river rafting groups. Yuck.

It was late afternoon and I was thinking "oh well, at least I saw the place and Wiley got to pee somewhere new."

Then it happened.

Near a private ranch that's smack dab in the middle of the monument, we encountered a sheep swarm.

A rancher's pickup (ahead on the road in photo above) just plowed through the sheep, and they moved aside, but I decided to turn around, since there wasn't anything that exciting to see ahead and I didn't want to risk running over any sheep.

I was just about to start backing up when all hell broke loose. Wiley had been staring intently but silently at the sheep (interesting note... he doesn't make a peep when he encounters livestock or deer, so something in his little head must identify them as non-dogs and non-squirrels). All of a sudden he went crazy barking...

...and so did the sheepdogs. Three of them, not little slinky border collies but big, brawny Anatolian shepherd-types (I don't know that they were Anatolians, but that's what they looked like... they were not as large as the dreaded Kavkazki Ovcharki, the bear-sized thugs I encountered in Russia). You know, the dogs bred over centuries to have a bony plate at the base of their skulls to fend off wolf attacks?

The three big shepherds surrounded the car, barking furiously. My first instinct was to roll up the windows in case Captain Adventure decided to do anything really stupid, like launch himself out of the car in a fit of deluded bad-assedness. I left mine rolled down because the dogs were not interested at all in me... it was the wolf-like berserker in my car that they wanted to get their paws on. (The shot below was through the window... sorry about the bird poop.)

I was trying to slowly do a U-turn without hitting any dogs or sheep when I heard a neigh.

Coming up behind me was an actual cowboy! Okay, technically not a cowboy, but sheepboy doesn't sound right. As soon as he arrived on the scene, the dogs sauntered off back to the herd.

He apologized for their menacing, saying "they're just doing their jobs." I said I knew, and I wasn't upset by them, it was the faux-savage dingbat barking in my backseat that I was worried about.

The light was really cool and the sheep wrangler just looked so cool on his horse, the canyons in the background, that I asked if I could take his picture. He said sure, and I said "smile!" to which he replied "it's really the horse that should smile."

I tried to get his name, but with Wiley still all crazied up (I imagine his side of the conversation was: "Lemme at 'em! I could take all three of them!"), the dialog went like this:


"What's your name?"


"-just like hokey-"




"-work at Chew Ranch [actual name of private ranch]-"


"What? What was your name?"


"-rhymes with okey-dokey-"


I didn't want to keep asking, because there comes a time when it seems almost rude to do so, plus he had mentioned when apologizing (unnecessarily) for his dogs that they were just tired after a long day and I didn't want to hold them up. So I waved good-bye and thanked him and he shouted "drive safe" and mosied on.

The whole way back I was reminded of that Seinfeld episode where he can't remember a girl's name, only that it rhymes with a slang word, but not which slang word. In my head I was thinking "Pokey? Mokey? Gokey? Like Michael Gokey, a kid I went to grade school with who turned into a pot head and wouldn't it be funny if that was, after all these years and miles, Michael Gokey?"

In the end I could think of only one possible name, and even though it made no sense, I really liked it. So here's my shot of Loki the sheep wrangler:

Someone's in the Kitchen with Pirate

Mud season is upon us at Bullwinkle Ranch. Instead of being at or near full capacity, the hotel has had one or two rooms -- or none -- booked the last couple weeks, aside from a few small conferences. It's deathly quiet, and the Fancy-Pantsed restaurant, as well as the coffee shop, is closed till the middle of the month.

While I've had to take a few three- and four-day weekends (unpaid) so Chef can keep his labor costs down, when I have been at work, I've been prepping a huge county-wide black-tie event later this month (dessert buffet with nine items for 400 people done entirely by yours truly!).

I've also been working on the new menu. Chef wants to completely revise the desserts at Fancy-Pants, and has pretty much given me free reign. Yesterday, I plated a couple ideas for him (we were the only two in the kitchen most of the day):

This is the one I'm happiest with: Chocolate-Hazelnut Molten Cake with cinnamon ice cream, hazelnut cookie and cappuccino ganache. I think visually it's the most complete, the flavors are good and it's got nice textural variety. One thing I like about my molten cake, stolen with some adaptations from one I made in Vegas, is that it's not raw in the center. It's liquid, yes, but that's because when I pipe in the batter, I insert a ganache disc that's hard at room temperature but perfectly gooey right out of the oven.

From a service perspective (something Chef is rightly concerned about), it takes seven minutes from the time the ticket comes in to plate up. The trickiest part is scooping the ice cream so it's on the plate but not melting when the cake comes out of the oven.

I'm still tinkering with this recipe. It's a Lavender Cheesecake with lemon reduction and strawberries macerated with St. Germaine, an elderflower liqueur that both Chef and the Food and Beverage manager are crazy for. Personally, I find it too sweet (which is saying something!) but hey, I know who signs my paychecks, so I'm trying to find uses for it. The problems with this dish as I see it are the viscosity of the lemon reduction (I'm trying to avoid using gelatin, but I need to add it to this to make it less runny), the berries (next time I'm quartering them, or even leaving them whole, and standing them up to avoid the "pile of slop" look) and the intensity of the lavender flavor of the cheesecake. I was worried it would be too strong, so I backed off the lavender when making it, but it turned out to be barely discernible.

All that said, look at that quenelle!! I was practicing my quenelles when Chef came over and asked what I was doing. I told him my dirty secret: I suck at quenelles. He said he did too, then proceeded to take my spoon and whipped cream and try his hand. And you know, it wasn't perfect. It wasn't as pretty as mine... though this is about the 2oth one I did.

I will say that watching a leftie quenelle (Chef is also sinister) helped me visualize the right motion and mine improved after his impromptu demo.

Quick tip to the quenelle-challenged... Anyone can quenelle with two spoons, or quenelle something stiff like a forced meat (possibly the least appetizing food category name I know). But if you want to quenelle one-handed something soft like whipped cream, put your spoon in hot water and semi-freeze the whipped cream. Don't freeze it really, just get it as cold as possible. As you quenelle, drop each one onto a Silpat-lined sheet pan or parchment-lined plate or cake pan. If you screw up, just scrape it off with a spatula and start again. Then put them in the freezer. Again, don't actually freeze them, but let them chill just long enough that they get a bit stiff. Then using two offset spatulas, transfer them onto the cheesecake or plate or wherever they're going and voila, you'll look like you can quenelle perfectly everytime.

That's what I do.

And finally, here's Carrot Cake with cream cheese frosting, apple-cumin butter, ginger ice cream and pineapple chip. Chef didn't like the plating... he wants it on a square plate because the cake itself is round, which I understand. But other than that, he liked it. In an earlier version, I had the apple cumin butter inside the cake, but a few test subjects freaked at having cumin in a dessert, so I decided to move it onto the plate. Chef disagreed, saying he liked the apple-cumin butter, but I talked him out of it, reminding him that he and I loved, loved, loved the fennel ice cream I made... and no one else would go near it, so the two of us wound up eating it. A dessert that doesn't sell because it frightens customers isn't much of a dessert, you know?

He liked the other two as well, and another one that I didn't get a photo of because I'm still working on certain aspects... it's a doozy, though. Chef said it would be a "rock star" on the menu, but you'll just have to wait to hear what it is. Two words: whisky sabayon. And that's just the start of it.