Friday, April 23, 2010

The Sharper Your Knife the Less You Cry

Back before I started culinary school, when I was reading a ton of books all written by people who like me had a passion for food and facing a crossroads in their life; I read a book which had the same title as today's post. It was a really good book, one that I would definitely recommend, and the title is definitely true. I know because I slit my index finger open on my just sharpened paring knife the other day, and had no idea until the acid from the oranges I was supreming got into it. Think salt on an open wound is bad, trust me...citric acid makes salt look like a sissy.

Which brought me back to " there is no crying in pastry". Work in a kitchen long enough and you are going to cut yourself, or burn yourself, or drop something on your head/foot. Things move so quickly that it injury can't be avoided and no one has any sympathy for you so it is best to just suck it up and pretend it didn't happen. Last night my foot slipped into the drainage hole for the dishwasher and scalding hot water immediately went all over it. Whipping off my shoe then my sock I bit my lip long enough to ask if there was burn spray, at which the Sous looked at me like I was crazy. " I never want to hear you ask for burn spray's a kitchen, you are going to get burned." Little solace to my blistered tootsie but I nodded, shoved my foot back in my shoe and hobbled through the rest of break down then drove home barefoot, I didn't need that first two layers of skin anyways.

The last three weeks have been a never ending roller coaster of activity. The restaurant has had engagement parties, bar parties, and one wine dinner on top of at least one party of twelve per night. I've learned to move quickly, though probably not as quickly as I need to, and I've learned general lingo. " Walking in" means a ticket is printing. "In hand" means that it is about to be done. "86" means that something is being omitted from the dish IE. " One hydro walking in 86 the cheese" When I'm not plating desserts I'm helping with the appetizer station, which is completely out of my league as I have no idea when a quail is done, or how long it takes the risotto to cook.

With spring our menu has changed a bit, we have discontinued the Upside Down Mango Frangipane ( to be honest I could never figure out what about it was upside down) and replaced it with a deconstructed strawberry parfait. I'm a fan of strawberries so this is all the better for me though I might change a few things about the dish, namely the whipped cream garnish. The Pastry chef adds sherry vinegar to it, which gives it a bit of a twang, and stabilizes it with gelatin which is a rather European thing to do. For the benefit of you all, and because it is rather easy to replicate, I've included the recipe below so you can try assembling it at home.

Deconstructed Strawberry Parfait: (the dani version)

You will need:
1 loaf of banana bread (recipe below)
1 pint of strawberry's
1 cup of simple syrup (recipe below)
2 cups of creme chantilly. (recipe below)
granola of choice ( I recommend Bear Naked)
balsamic vinegar ( a good quality does wonders here, don't skimp for sake of frugality)

For the banana bread:
I'm a big fan of Cook's Illustrated recipes for home use, as I have never had one that failed me. This is there recipe, I always omit the nuts and then brush the top of the loaf with honey while it is still warm.

2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
3/4 cup granulated sugar
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon table salt
1 1/4 cups toasted walnuts , chopped coarse (about 1 cup)
3 very ripe bananas , soft, darkly speckled, mashed well (about 1 1/2 cups)
1/4 cup plain yogurt
2 large eggs , beaten lightly
6 tablespoons unsalted butter , melted and cooled
1 teaspoon vanilla extract


  1. 1. Adjust oven rack to lower middle position and heat oven to 350 degrees. Grease bottom only of regular loaf pan, or grease and flour bottom and sides of nonstick 9-by-5-by-3-inch loaf pan; set aside. Combine first five ingredients together in large bowl; set aside.

  2. 2. Mix mashed bananas, yogurt, eggs, butter, and vanilla with wooden spoon in medium bowl. Lightly fold banana mixture into dry ingredients with rubber spatula until just combined and batter looks thick and chunky. Scrape batter into prepared loaf pan; bake until loaf is golden brown and toothpick inserted in center comes out clean, about 55 minutes. Cool in pan for 5 minutes, then transfer to wire rack. Serve warm or at room temperature.

For the Strawberries:

Never wash your strawberries until you are ready to eat them. This prevents them from getting mushy. Just lay them out on a clean towel placed on a cookie sheet in your fridge and they will stay fresh and juicy until you need them. For this dessert I'd do the strawberries as late in the game as possible, just give them a quick wash in cold water about twenty minutes before you are ready to plate and gently dry. Slice the top off of each berry and cut it in half lengthwise, then slice each half into 1/4" thick pieces. Place them in a metal bowl and gentle toss just until just moistened with the simple syrup. You probably won't need all of it to do the job.

For the Simple Syrup:

Combine two cups of sugar with two cups of water and bring to a boil. When the entire surface of the pot is covered with large bubbles then the majority of water has left the mixture and you can remove it from the heat and let it cool. Don't stir it while it is cooking, the sugar crystals will stick to the sides of the pot making it harder to clean!

For the Creme Chantilly:

Creme Chantilly sounds harder to make then it is. Empty a quart of whipped cream to the bowl of your mixer and add 1/4 cup of confectioners sugar (more to taste if you like it sweeter). At the restaurant we also scrap in the caviar from one vanilla bean. Whip it until you have whipped cream...ta da...Creme Chantilly. This is much much easier than adding gelatin to stabilize it, and works just as well.

To assemble each plate:

Cut yourself a piece of banana bread about 1/2" thick, then slice that piece horizontally so that you have two banana bread 'logs'. Place the logs in the center of your plate spacing them about two inches apart. Add three tablespoons of your moistened berries to the space in between your logs , then a tablespoon of granola on top of that. Using two tablespoons or server spoons, spoon your creme chantilly into a cornelle and place that on top of your granola. To finish it dribble a tiny bit of balsamic around the outskirt of the plate. have a deconstructed parfait(I'd eat it for breakfast if I could!)

Making a cornelle is the hardest part of this, trust me. The trick is to scrap your tablespoon across the top of the creme chantilly, then use the other spoon to help get the football shape. Just keep moving it from spoon to spoon until you get it the way you like. Resist the urge to curse and hurl your spoons across the kitchen...they make a satisfying crash but clean up is messy.

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