Saturday, March 26, 2011

Help Wanted: Experienced Baker

Ah, the smell of warm bread... there are few things better or more basic to human beings.  Krissy is back and in full baking mode.  Here are some of the loaves she made Thursday.  When I get to work, she's usually just finished delivering the breakfast pastries to the Main House.  We usually chat for a little bit and then she goes around a corner from my work station for about an hour.  The next time I see her, she has a stack or two of tubs, five tubs high, all full of dough.  Then, she weighs, forms, lays out and proofs all that dough.  By mid-afternoon, the kitchen is full of the aromas of all that lovely baked dough, in rolls, loaves, baguettes, batards and pullmans (pullmen?).  She speaks in ferments and preferments and poolishes and sourdoughs, a language I can barely follow.
  We are looking for someone who can follow that language, to work the weekends, including Krissy's days off, so if you know anyone with bread baking experience, who can chat that special language with her, send them our way, please!
  In the meantime, the p.m. staff has been designing new desserts.  Melanie has made a plate of spring time, with sheep's milk yogurt cake, infused with fresh thyme, dressed with candied rhubarb and yogurt gelato, drizzled with local honey.  There's a crunchy baked streusel under the ice cream that is everyone's favorite part of the dessert, especially the sweet-salty contract it gives to the gelato.  
  Suzie made pineapple upside down cake, made with crunchy, locally ground cornmeal, served with dulce de leche ice cream, pineapple juice caramel and caramel corn.  It was delicious, and goes on the menu today.

We're also changing the room service menu to make it faster, easier and more in-room dining friendly.  I made a French silk pie, though I'm not sure what's French about it.  I just wanted a diner-ish, eat-in-your-pjs kind of dessert!  Josh's spoon is poised and ready, as usual.  Everyone agreed it needed a little something:  more salt, more sweet, more chocolate, but there was none of it left at the end!
Last week, Melissa Clark in the New York Times had a recipe for a bread-wrapped baked chicken, and I've been intrigued with the thing all week.  On the way to work yesterday, I picked up a chicken and at lunchtime, I crammed fresh thyme under the skin and inside the carcass.  I salted and peppered it and Krissy wrapped it in wild rice bread dough.  Here it is, about to go in the oven.  Now, Melissa Clark's recipes usually get my attention, and I've tried her no-soak bean soup recipe several times, with mixed success.  But this one really sounded good, especially the part about eating crisp, hot baked bread that was infused with chicken-y goodness.  She said it took an hour, but ours took 1 1/2 hours, and the bread was, well, kind of gross.  It was soggy and and doughy inside.  The chicken was pale, the skin was slimy and the thighs weren't cooked through.  It was a fun experiment, but I won't try it again.  I do think it looked pretty funny before it went in the oven, though.
  Tonight, John Hiatt and Nancy Wilson perform at the Barn, and everyone will be having lemon meringue pie for dessert, so I've got to get cracking some eggs.  Have a lovely spring day!

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Has Spring Sprung?

Or am I just being optimistic?  Yesterday's high was 81; today's was 71; tomorrow's is 51.  I might have jumped the gun, but if I did, so did my yard, the nurseries and just about everyone I saw out in their yards today.  
  Mom and I were supposed to go Nursery Hopping today, but we spent our whole budget at one store.  I got a lilac and a camellia.  I can't remember what she got, only that it took her a lot longer to decide than it did me.  I have been fully immersed in all of Penelope Hobhouse's books on gardening, and I long for a cottage garden.  I have a checklist of plants I must have, and the lilac and camellia were on that list.  They've gone in near the peonies I planted in October.  Remember the little nubby roots I planted while it was snowing?  Here's one of them, the largest.  No blooms or buds yet, and they aren't supposed to have any until next year, but all three have come up and are thriving.  
  The camellia has two frothy blooms, and at first sniff, have no scent, but as they sat in my car while I ran my errands today, they became quite fragrant.  The lilac has a little under a zillion buds, and I just noticed my neighbor's lilac is just beginning to bloom.  I think mine might not be far off.
If you remember the loropetalum I bought in November, you'll remember I posted a photo of someone else's from the internet.  Well, mine is now in full bloom, and simply gorgeous.  My iphone camera is not the best, so it doesn't do it justice, but today was the first day I noticed it, and it took my breath away.  
Yesterday, I put the geraniums out on the porch from their winter home, the back porch, where they bloomed their heads off all winter.  I noticed as I sat on the porch and knitted that people were slowing down and looking at them.  Whether it was the flamingos, the geraniums or both, I'm not sure.
One thing that keeps catching my eye on my way to and from the car is this Carolina Jessamine I planted two springs ago.  It has suddenly burst into exuberant bloom, clinging to my sister's copper tubing trellis. 
And my garden is bursting with nitrogen and nutrients, full of Crimson Clover and rye grass, tempting me to plow and plant.  But Jeff Ross, gardener to the stars, keeps telling me to wait until after April 15th, the normal date of our last frost.  It's difficult to wait, but I'd rather do so than risk sad, frost-burnt plants.

 I also bought some snapdragons for the front yard, as well as some bulbs for anemones and alliums, but the daylight was waning, my stomach was growling and it was time to call it a day.  I leave you with my lovely but sparsely populated red bud tree, fading in the sunset.

Saturday, March 19, 2011


  Why is it that just when you think it can't get any busier, it does?
  Krissy is back, baking bread and training our new pastry cook, Sarah.  The baker who gave notice last week decided not to work out her two weeks, so Sarah is doubly welcome, but I will be baking bread for the foreseeable future on Krissy's days off.  Sorry, guests!  I'm the Dessert Goddess, not the Bread Queen.
  We have a wedding today, with a full house as well, but I decided it'd be a great weekend to change the brunch menu, and to have Suzie and Melanie have a tasting of their new desserts.  Not a great idea, and I have no pictures--Suzie promises to send some to me--but we all got through it relatively unscathed.  They have a follow-up tasting next week, and my brunch desserts go on the menu tomorrow.  I will try to remember to take photos.
  Still no time for weaving.  I hope the second baby isn't applying for colleges by the time I finish the second baby blanket.  His dad gave notice this week and will be going to another farm to be the cheese maker, but they're staying in the area, and we'll stay friends.  I walk by the loom and think I really need to finish that and something else catches my eye.
  Like socks.  I finally settled on  a pattern for the socks I keep ripping out, and even now I'm not too excited about it, but I refuse to rip out again.  It's a four-stitch cable alternating with an eyelet rib.  It's something I made up, so I can knit them without carrying around a pattern.
  I ripped out another pair of socks from a couple of years ago and started them over, this time on four needles, knitting the Lealt Socks pattern from the Vogue on the Go series.  Weftie likes it, so far, but what you can't see is Leo lurking behind the chair, trying to pull the sock off the table.

 Matt and Dana came to visit on my days off, and we ate our way around Knoxville in 24 hours.  In between meals, we walked around Ijams Nature Center on a beautiful early spring afternoon.  Matt helped me download a new "camera" onto me iphone from the Hipstamatic app, and I had to use it.  I just wish I would have remembered to use it more often!  Someday I will get a picture of Matt and Dana together!
  Time to go make the desserts!


Sunday, March 13, 2011

Come Back, Krissy!

Rosemary-onion-potato bread.  What can be bad about that?  That the butcher took the last half loaf for his lunch without asking?   And so I never got to try it, but I did make it, and I think it's quite beautiful.  Krissy, bread baker to the stars, will be back Tuesday, and so I thought my early mornings with bread were done, until her back up baker gave notice yesterday.  Which is fine, since she's a very unpleasant person to work with, but it does mean I'll be the bread baker's apprentice for the next few weeks.  I hired a new person last week to replace the person I had to let go my first week, thought I was going to be caught up for a little while, and now we're back to being two people down.  Sigh...

  But things are still sweet in the bake shop.  I had a cake order yesterday for one filled with raspberry mousse, covered in raspberry frosting and to have a Pavlova in the center, which "must remain crunchy."  Now, a Pavlova is an Australian Christmas dessert, a meringue baked slowly so that it stays chewy in the center but crunchy on the outside.  The top is usually cracked open just prior to serving and the center is filled with cream and fruit, usually red fruits, with touches of green, since it is for Christmas.  Kinda hard to put that in the center of a cake.  So, I decided what she meant was simply a meringue, baked hard and crunchy, and that's what I did.
  It looks like Barbie's dream cake, all pink and girly, with the raspberry frosting.  And let me tell you, those raspberries are quite dear, coming from a hot house in California!  They were $45.65 for 12 tiny half pints, and they had a weird, pasty texture.  But their flavor was good, and I did charge them an extra $25 for insisting on fruit out of season.  The white swirlies on top are meringues, too, just in case the meringue inside had the nerve to soften in the midst of all that mousse and frosting and cake.
And I had so much meringue left, I made little meringue tart shells, filled them with leftover raspberry mousse and called it the pre dessert.  I love meringues, baked to crispy delightfulness, especially warm out of the oven, when they haven't quite hardened all the way, so a couple were sacrificed for tasting, but I still had plenty.
  The chocolate making continues to be pushed to the last of the day, so Saturday's chocolates were chocolate piped in paper cups with dried cranberries and cashews thrown in before the chocolate hardens.  It's one of those times when I have to be glad the chef is out of town!
  This morning, I'm back at it early, especially with daylight saving's time, but then it's three glorious, leisurely days off, with my son and his girlfriend, my garden--hopefully with sunshine and not rain--and no baking.  I'll stop by Tuesday Weaving to see the gang and have Wednesday all to myself and my furry entourage.  Ahhhhhh...

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Dream in Chocolate, Breathe in Flour

I have a friend who likes to point out that all the names I use for colors are food-based.  I don't deny that food is a large part of my life, but after today, I believe I am part food.  Not just in the way of "you are what you eat," but that I am absorbing what I do for a living.  I have sourdough starter crusted on my right forearm.  I just washed about five pounds of flour from my face.  And I believe that my cuticles are in danger of becoming permanently chocolate-encrusted.
  Krissy, our Bread Baker Extraordinaire, is on her way to Disney World with her husband and two small children, and Tracy, her relief baker, is off today and tomorrow.  And we are two pastry cooks down, which means I spent a large chunk of my day today at work.  I arrived at 5 a.m. to make the breakfast pastries, something I haven't done in probably four years.  I made biscuits, brioche, chocolate-filled Danish called Babka and raisin bran muffins.  To be clear, Tracy made the Babka and brioche days ago, and simply pulled some from the freezer for me to proof and bake.  Then, I started the bread for the day. I only had to make the dinner bread, since Krissy and Tracy have been baking ahead for this week, but Krissy has so far surpassed my bread knowledge since I was last her boss, I don't understand her recipes.  I had to skip the normal rotation and pull up some old recipes from the computer.  I made one I love from the old days, sunflower wheat rolls, but I didn't take pictures.  Suzie baked them tonight; they were still in the fridge when I left.  I did make this sourdough rye bread from an unfamiliar but understandable recipe, and it came out quite lovely.  It was my first time "loading the deck oven," in which one flours a pizza peel (those long wooden spatulas you see at pizza restaurants), gently lifts the risen loaf onto the peel and pops it into the oven, right on the oven floor.  
  After I finished the doughs for dinner, I made the lunch desserts, finished up the dinner desserts, then made chocolates for turn down.  I'm not very good at making chocolates yet, but I've gotten a lot better in the last two weeks.  We did learn chocolate making in school, spent many weeks perfecting the shine, crunch and texture of chocolates, but that was fifteen years ago, and I have skillfully avoided making much since then.  These are spiced coffee chocolates, adapted from a book that has become my new favorite, Chocolates and Confections by Peter Greweling.  He's a chef at the Culinary Institute of America, and has written the most complete book on making chocolate candies and other candies I've ever seen.  A few of my pastry cooks past and present helped him test the recipes, and every pastry cook who attended the CIA knows Chef Greweling.
  I left at four this afternoon, and have to be back at five tomorrow morning, so I'd best be off to bed. Just wanted to let you know what I was up to, post onion.
  I should let you know that first, my chef thanked me for persevering in the face of the onion dessert, and another one of my many bosses assured me that he saw people eating and enjoying the dessert Saturday night.  Hopefully, they still had sweet dreams!

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Onions and Orchids

 The title is from the headline in a daily feature of the newsletter we received every day during my one-and-only week at summer camp.  Onions were the items listed as things the camp counselors didn't like; orchids were the things they did.  My footie pajamas made it on the orchids' side.
  This week has been a collection of onions and orchids.  Onions, literally, as seen here, draining from the Preserve Kitchen steam kettle.  I cooked these two cases of sweet onions--from Peru, not Vidalia, Georgia--all day yesterday, trying to get them to cook without color.  Dear Readers, I hesitate to tell you the truth, but I'm afraid I must:  these onions are for a dessert.  Every year, the Farm hosts a fund raising dinner for the local art museum.  The last four years, we've featured a guest chef.  This year, the guest chef wrote a menu of difficult recipes, weird food pairings and a dessert from his pastry chef that makes me want to wear a bag over my head.  Neither the chef nor his pastry chef, who shall both remain nameless, are making their food.  They've sent recipes, and I've talked with the pastry chef over the phone to clarify the recipe.
   These onions have now be gelatinized and are chilling.  Today, I will cut the onion gel-oh into squares.  Tonight, I will place a square of melted-then-hardened sugar over each square and, using a blow torch, will remelt the sugar.  Then, I will place a hemisphere of hominy ice cream (yes, you read that correctly) on top.  Next to that, I will place a cylinder of buttermilk panna cotta.  So, white onion gel-oh, white hominy ice cream and white panna cotta.  Light brown-to-beige sugar melted.  No sauce, no garnish, white plate, no change in texture, onions, onions, onions in a dessert.
  And at the end, we will all be asked to come out to the dining room to greet the guests, 250 of them.  In the other three times I've participated, we've been greeted by a standing ovation.  I'll be ashamed to go out tonight.
  But the job is going better, in spite of the onion unpleasantness!  And the rest of my life is very nice, indeed!  It's been a beautiful week, after the deluge of Monday, and I was able to go hang out with my weaving tribe, the Tuesday Weavers!  I gave Dustin the baby blanket and he loved it.  I've been knitting some nice things, too.  Here is a scarf I'm knitting from the Alpaca yarn Mom gave me for Christmas, in a pattern I got a couple of years ago from the Yarn Haven, a LYS in Cedar Bluff.  
  I've made several false starts on the socks, but I keep trying.  I am in search of a startlingly beautiful lace pattern that will show up in this dark variegated yarn.  The yarn is merino-alpaca-silk, and it's so very luscious!  It feels good to knit, but I need to stop reverse-knitting soon and get down to business.
  Well, I'd love to stay and chat but I have onion gel-oh to cut!  Have a lovely weekend!

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

An Easier Week

 I am settling into my new-old job, and this four-day week was much easier than the first eight-day week!  I only introduced one new dessert, seen here, but it needs work.  It's the strawberry consomme from the pickled beets & strawberries, made in to gel-oh, layered onto buttermilk panna cotta, set on a piece of pink peppercorn shortbread.  There's a piece of the gel-oh on the plate, and the strawberries are drenched in the consomme.  The flavors were all fine, but the panna became somewhat... relaxed by the end of the night.  I will try it again today in square molds and see if it will come unmolded in a peaceful way for the p.m. pastry cooks.
  We had an elopement at the farm this weekend, and this cake was a team effort.  Adjryche, the outgoing pastry chef had a stockpile of cakes frozen ahead for when guests suddenly remember their birthdays.  That always cracks me up, if I have cakes ahead and can make one quickly.  Oh, yeah!  It's Grandma's 80th birthday today!  Can we have a cake for 40 for dinner tonight?  Anyway, we pulled the cakes out to thaw, and I assembled the cake.  I was nervous about the ribbon application, so Krissy took over.  She and her husband make cakes in their home for customers, so she has a lot more experience with wedding cakes.  She finished it, and the florist provided the hydrangea blooms.  The photo the bride sent is behind the cake.  I think we nailed it!
  The torrential rains Monday flooded my neighborhood, but not my house.  The backyard was Lake Davidson for a few hours, but now, it's just muddy bare garden spots.  The weeds are really excited about the warm weather, but Jeff the gardener has warned me to not give in to the temptation of plowing.  He assured me that my cover crops of clover and rye grass are doing the plowing for me, and to leave it alone until the last frost.
  My black walnut tree got a reprieve yesterday, when the friend who will be cutting it down came down with a cold and couldn't make it to Knoxville yesterday.  This picture makes it look very majestic and beautiful, but it is actually a scraggly, poisonous tree that always looks diseased.  It leans back toward the alley, so if it falls, it won't fall on the house, but I'll still have to pay to get it removed from the alley!  My friends want it for furniture making, and I want the space for a rose garden and beehive place.  I'll be excited to be an urban beekeeper!  Especially since the tree-cutter-downer is also a beekeeper and will tend the beehive for me, with a supply of honey to boot!
  Today is my Monday, and it will be a busy week.  We hold a fundraiser for the Knoxville Museum of Art every year, and it's this weekend.  It's only a four-day week again, but it'll be a full one.  I hope yours is sunny and happy!