Thursday, April 30, 2009

The Endlessly Useful Silpat

I take certain equipment for granted in a kitchen and I don't really miss it until I am in a kitchen without it. The Silpat, a fiberglass and silicone mat for baking, is one such essential piece of equipment. I am guessing that Silpat stands for "silicone pour la pâtisserie," silicone for pastry. I have a bunch of them here at the restaurant and at home. Here you see an original Silpat that is about 20 years old and a newer knock-off Exopat from Matfer, a competitor.

So ubiquitous are these silicone mats that we call them Silpats no matter the manufacturer. I guess my Matfer rep is used to it: I call in an order for Silpats and she sighs and sends her Exopats. There is no functional difference between a Silpat and an Exopat, and little price difference. I prefer Silpats because I'd like to pay the company that invented the product. Still, my current kitchenware supplier buys from Matfer, so all my new mats are Exopats.

A French chemist named Guy Demarle invented the Silpat and his company Demarle still produces it along with other highly useful silicone products such as the groundbreaking Flexipans. Silpats come in a wide range of sizes, but the most common seems to be the half sheet pan size (11-5/8" x 16-1/2") with the cut corners that you see here.

They have a long lifespan if you treat them well. Wash them with soap and water and a soft cloth; don't put them in the dish machine. Even after you clean them, they're going to feel a bit oily to the touch. That's normal. Also, some staining is normal: see the stains on the Silpat above; what's a few stains after 20 years of hard use? Finally, store them flat to keep from breaking the fiberglass mesh. At home, I store mine in half sheet pans in a drawer that I built in directly under my ovens.

Silpats are a great replacement for parchment paper, which is really a euphemism for silicone paper. Parchment burns if exposed to a hot oven for very long; a Silpat will not. Once I bought my first Silpat about 20 years ago, my use of parchment paper for lining sheet trays became nearly nil (but you wouldn't want to cut a Silpat into a circle to line a tart pan, would you?)

We use them for all manner of pastry: cookies, tuiles, macaroons, biscuits, meringues, and so forth. And they also work great when used in pairs to keep items flat while baking. We often sandwich rounds of prosciutto between two Silpats and bake them until crispy. The crisp rounds then become part of a napoleon. Ditto for two ultrathin slices of potato sandwiching a sliver of truffle as a soup garnish. I recently made "bacon" from carrots in this manner. You just never know what you might need Silpats for and it makes sense to at least have two on hand.

Silpats are available at better kitchenware stores and on the net at Bridge Kitchenware and other retailers. Half sheet pan-sized Silpats are about $20. That's $20 really well spent.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Purple Dead Nettle

Recently, I've been serving a lot of foraged salads and most of them include Purple Dead Nettle (Lamium purpureum) mainly because I have a lot of it in my yard and flower beds. Purple Dead Nettle—not a true nettle at all—looks superficially similar to both the closely related Henbit (Lamium amplexicaule) and the unrelated Ground Ivy (Glechoma hederacea).

I prefer the very young leaves of Purple Dead Nettle (they're less hairy than the more mature leaves). You have to dress this plant very lightly in salads because the hairs collect dressing and it is easy to overdress a salad. I also use the younger bloom spikes, pinching them off the stems. The large square stems I discard. Purple Dead Nettle has an agreeable green flavor, with a smell that is slightly medicinal. Because it can dominate a salad, I tend to use no more than about 20% of Purple Dead Nettle in my mix.

In this photo, you see two stalks of Purple Dead Nettle rising above a field of Ground Ivy with the occasional violet (Viola spp.). Violets are quite edible, both bloom and young leaves. Violet flowers, like their domestic cousins the Pansy, have a slight floral flavor. I use them mainly for color in salads. The leaves are a bit earthy in the good way that Swiss Chard and the other beet greens are earthy. Ground Ivy (aka Creeping Charlie) is also edible, but I find it really medicinal, so I use it sparingly and mainly for the blooms.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Zanahorias en Escabeche

I've been fond of pickles my entire life. My mother, her mother, her mother, my aunts, all the women in my family, were accomplished pickle makers. When I was growing up, making pickles was what you did to put the summer bounty by for the winter.

I remember dipping peaches in a gigantic pot of boiling water in the already steamy August kitchen and peeling them until I was sick of them. They'd be loaded into canning jars, topped off with a heavily spiced syrup, and processed to seal the jars, adding yet more steam to the kitchen. Likewise for all manner of other things: figs in lemon syrup, hundreds and hundreds of jars of dill pickles, lime (sweet) pickles, okra, pepper relish, green beans, tomatoes and tomato juice, beets, and so forth and so on. Hardly anyone puts things by any longer, but I still remember the hot and sweaty labor with some fondness and a lot of nostalgia.

I still like to put up things for my customers; well, if the truth be told, it's probably for me, to reconnect me to the generations of my family who have done so. I try not to dwell on the idea that I will probably be the last of my family and the last generation to do so. My children seem to have little interest in the kitchen.

Last August, I put up a bushel of pickled peaches using my mother's recipe, which was certainly her mother's and her mother's before her. The peaches were outstanding and we managed to eke them out with roasted duck breast into the new year. I often make quick cucumber pickles for same day use. I put up half a bushel of lemons just recently to use in my tagines, something that the women in my family might look askance at. I can just hear the hens now, "Whoever heard of pickled lemons?" But they'd be proud that I am carrying the torch, no matter that it is foreordained to sputter out in the not terribly distant future.

My latest endeavor involves a style of pickle that I first encountered when I moved to Texas in my early 20s. As I have written previously, I was pretty desperately poor in those days, and when I could eat out, it was alongside the Mexican laborers in the local tacqueria/dive. Señora would always bring a dish of pickled jalapeños to the table with the beans and tortillas or menudo (tripe, if I was feeling particularly flush) and tortillas. And I always counted myself fortunate if I found some sliced carrots and onions in the jalapeños. I came to love the spicy carrots in red wine or cider vinegar brine.

I love them so much that this time, I dispensed altogether with the jalapeños and just pickled the carrots. I also kept the spice level down so that I could share them with my customers. I wonder if they will sense the history behind these carrots?

Foraged Salad

This is a salad that I designed last week to pair with the lovely 2007 Viognier from White Hall Vineyards just outside of Charlottesville, VA. This wine is ripe and full with loads of tropical fruit, just about everything you'd want out of a Viognier (Condrieu eat you heart out!).

To work with the fruit in the wine, I knew that I wanted to use mango, but I also wanted to do it in an unusual way. Longtime customers know that I am a fan of framing a salad by placing it on top of a flat base, such as summer greens on grilled focaccia or my grilled fig, goat cheese and arugula salad on a base of prosciutto slices. In this case, I decided to make a gelée of the mango and use it as a runner down the salad plate.

The salad is foraged from my yard—purple and white violets, henbit, chickweed, pansy flowers, and maple blossoms—all dressed with a light lemon dressing (lemon juice and salad oil).

Mango Gelée

1 cup water
1/2 ounce gelatin
3 mangoes, peeled and chopped
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
sugar or honey, salt, and lime juice to taste
half sheet tray

Bloom the gelatin by pouring it over the cold water and letting it stand while you prep the mangoes.

Blend the mangoes to a purée. They should be ripe enough to purée on their own without any additional liquid; add water if you need liquid to make the blender work. Pass through a strainer. Add the vanilla and season to taste with sugar, salt, and lime juice, if the mangoes need more acid.

Gently heat the purée over a medium flame. When the mango starts to bubble, add the gelatin and turn off the heat. Mix well until the gelatin melts.

Place the Silpat in the bottom of the sheet tray. Pour the purée over the Silpat and tilt the tray so that the entire surface is covered in an even layer of mango. Refrigerate until solid.

Using a butter knife, slice the mango jelly into whatever shapes you desire. Peel them carefully away from the Silpat.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Kaffir Lime

The Kaffir Lime (Citrus x hystrix) also known by the Thai name makrut is one of the glories of the food world. A kaffir lime is roughly the same size as the common lime, but is easily distinguishable by its bumpy surface, like that of a Seville orange, or in some cultivars, a really warty surface. The rind is highly aromatic and is a common flavor component of many curry pastes.

Maybe I'll get into curry pastes in another post (or series of posts: it's a subject that deserves its own book) but here I want to focus on the true gems of this tree, the leaves, which are known as bai makrut in Thai. And it is the distinctive doubled leaves that are used more often than the fruit.

Once you have smelled the addictive floral citrus aroma of kaffir lime leaves, I promise that you'll be hooked. And you'll know immediately that there is no substitute on this earth for these leaves. Trust me, I've tried every substitute under the sun for them and nothing can come close to that haunting citrus perfume.

I hooked several guests at a tasting last evening when I served pan-roasted halibut on a quenelle of beluga lentils with a highly scented broth poured over it. I cooked the lentils in broth infused with kaffir lime, ginger, lemongrass, and garlic; then drained the broth and reduced it again with more of the same aromatics, then a third time with coconut milk. I used the highly reduced coconut milk to bind the belugas into which I mixed more fresh aromatics. Separately, I made a fumet of halibut scraps, shiitake stock, and more of the same aromatics. After infusing the aromatics, I removed them, reduced the fumet to 1/4 volume and clarified it twice. Before pouring it over the fish, I scattered very fine threads of kaffir lime over the soup bowl. When the hot fumet hit the lime threads, the entire dining room was perfumed.

So haunting was the dish that customers wanted to know all about it and we played show-and-tell with the lime leaves in the dining room. Naturally, all the cooks at the table wanted to know where and how to get them.

Fortunately, kaffir limes are being grown in small quantities in the US, so they are readily available on the market, if rather expensive. Wholesale, a pound of leaves—a small mountain—approaches US$50. You can buy them retail in small quantities via Priority Mail from I did a lot of business with them years ago before the restaurant and they are an extremely reliable small family business. Sorry, UK readers (we have a ton of fans in the UK), I have no clue how you go about getting these gems.

A pound of leaves is a lot, enough to jam a gallon-sized freezer bag, and way more than we can possibly use before they go bad. But fear not, they freeze well. Although they lose their bright color in the freezer, the flavor still goes strong up to a year later. And, no need to defrost the leaves to use them; use straight out of the freezer.

A final word about how to use the leaves. I often use them just like bay leaves, to flavor stocks and soups. I mince them and then pound them in the mortar as part of curry pastes, and very frequently, I cut the central rib out of the leaves, stack them, and chiffonade them into very fine threads which I scatter on dishes at the very last moment.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Free Dinner

While I was surfing the net recently, I saw that food distributor North American Import Export is offering a chance to restaurant diners for free dinner at the restaurant of their choice. To enter the random drawing, leave a comment on their blog. There are no catches and I verified that this is a legitimate contest. Contest closes on May 4th.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Timing Courses and Miracles

Last night after dinner, we were standing around talking about timing courses, pondering the eternal question, "When should the next course be served?" This question, like so many others, has no one correct answer. Each table has its own answer (and often each person at that table has a different answer) and expectation. Deviate from that expectation and the customer will not have as positive an experience as we would like. Deviate significantly and your service will be labelled as poor, even though the timing of getting food to the table rarely has much to do with the service staff.

Some people want their food out of the kitchen as soon as possible (especially at lunch when time is limited); others want to linger. I'm a lingerer. I like to have food come out of the kitchen slowly so that I have time to relax and get ready for the next course. I really don't like my next course on the table as soon as the previous one is cleared. But in Winchester, I'm definitely in the minority; this town wants its food on the table now.

At One Block West, it's on the shoulders of the front of the house staff to pace the meal for the customers. And it's a tricky job to interpret just what pace the customers want and relay that to the kitchen. My hat is off to those servers who do it well.

In some restaurants, the kitchen dictates the pace of the meal: I know very highly regarded restaurants that put up a course every 20 minutes unless the servers tell them to slow down. While that may work for them, it doesn't work for me. I was a customer a lot longer than I have been a chef and I've always looked at it from the customer's point of view. The customer sets the pace; so at my restaurant, the servers pace the meal. And our average customer wants his next course on the table not more than about five minutes after the preceeding course is cleared.

What can cause the timing to be longer than the table would like?

As I mentioned earlier, it is rarely the server's fault that food does not arrive quickly at a table. But, it does happen on a busy night that after clearing the appetizer course that the server or the assistant fails to fire the entrée course. I generally see the appetizer dishes coming back into the kitchen and will ask what table they're from if I'm not told. There's really very little excuse for the server not firing a table, but if you have ever waited tables, you know that on a busy night, your head is spinning with the next 10 things that you have to do right now. My hat is really off to good servers; they make a nearly impossible task look easy.

But when I'm busy plating, picking up food for one or more tables, or have my back to the door, a table getting cleared and not fired can get by me. As a failsafe, I can also see that a ticket is not progressing normally across my rail. That's when you'll hear me screaming for a runner to give me a status update on the table and woe unto him or her who does not hightail it into the dining room and get me an answer in the next 45 seconds.

I kind of pity this poor bastard, because if it is really busy, servers are going to be asking him for stuff in passing, he'll get flagged down by two tables needing something, the telephone will need to be answered, somebody will spill a drink that needs to be mopped, and he'll have the chef screaming at him if he isn't back in the kitchen in fifteen seconds. And you thought working in a restaurant was an easy job!

I've also seen tables get slowed down because the server forgot to turn in a ticket or a server in her haste will set a ticket down on the counter and it will blow off and under the counter before anyone notices. We are a small restaurant that uses handwritten tickets: a point-of-sale system makes no sense when our menu changes every day. And I surely don't miss going to bed at night with the racket of the ticket printer going off in my head.

From my station in the kitchen, I can see part of the dining room and as often as I can during service, I step out into the front server station to survey the tables. I'm running the seated tables against what my ticket rail tells me. If I spot a table without menus and without food and for which I don't have a ticket, I know there's a potential problem. Often, they've ordered cocktails and dinner and have asked the server not to fire the ticket until they've finished their cocktails. But I have caught a couple missing checks this way. The servers involved no longer work for me.

As for tickets blowing off the counter, we require the servers to hand them to the expediter (usually me) before leaving the kitchen. And that's about it for the servers causing delays.

Sometimes the food doesn't arrive at tables as expected because the tables have unreasonable expectations of when it should arrive. This usually happens when the table does not order a first course. When a table orders a first course, this gives us the time to start cooking things that take a long time so that they can be cooking while the table enjoys its first course. For example, roasting one of our really large 8-ounce quail stuffed with foie gras and prunes takes about 20 minutes, about 25 with resting time. If a table orders this dish without a first course, it's going to be about a half an hour before it arrives at the table.

In our point-and-click world of instant gratification, a half an hour is an eternity and surely the restaurant's service is pathetically slow if it can't get a quail on the table in less time. So, we discuss cooking times in our pre-shift meetings and I warn the servers of the potential issue when they bring in tickets like this. We try to anticipate this at the table and to set expectations about when the food will be out: "The quail takes about a half an hour, perhaps you'd like to order an appetizer to tide you over while you wait?"

Sometimes we fail to meet expectations because the tables don't tell us that they're in a hurry. We can expedite food through the kitchen, but only if we know that you want it to happen. So, if you're in a hurry, let us know. But be serious about it. I have seen way too many times a table inform us that they're in a big hurry which generally causes us to fire the second course at the same time as the first course, only to have the table dawdle over the first course for 20 minutes. In this case, we bring the second course to the table when it's done even if the first course is not finished. If we trashed the second course and recooked it, chances are very high that the table would finish the first course immediately and then be fuming at us for taking forever with the second course. Don't cry wolf. Be very explicit about your needs, as in, "We need to leave at 7:45 to catch the 8:15 show."

Sometimes tables confuse us. This past weekend, a table pre-ordered chocolate soufflés for their third course. They dawdled forever over their first course, so we slowed the soufflés down, even though they take about 25 minutes to cook. Normally, we'd start the soufflés just about the time that the second course goes to the dining room, so that they would be on the table about five to ten minutes after the second course was cleared. Rather than lingering over the second course as they had the first, the table bolted their second courses and the plates came back to the kitchen just as we were firing the soufflés. About fifteen minutes later and ten minutes before the soufflés were done, the host of the party informed the server that they were getting "impatient." All I can say is that we did our best to match the pace of the table.

Sometimes, one customer will spoil everything for the entire table. At times, we offer vast bone-in beef rib steaks known as Cowboy Steaks. Cowboys are so big that they take about a half an hour to get to medium rare. And well done cowboys are on the grill over the hour mark. We now refuse to cook cowboys over medium out of self defense as the following story illustrates.

We seated a table of eight people, all separate checks, and one of the guys ordered the behemoth cowboy well done. The server informed him that it would take over an hour on the grill and he replied that he didn't mind, but from the expressions on the faces of the other diners, it was clear that they did mind, but steak guy was oblivious. The server reported that they were OK for the first half an hour, but even though we kept them supplied with loaf after loaf of bread, the grousing started. By the time the food finally arrived, the whole table was in a really foul mood, starving no doubt, and grumbling vociferously about how slow the service was. It didn't improve the mood at all that all the tables around them got food in a timely manner. And in the end, the table punished the server both verbally and by tipping poorly.

That's it for the servers and the customers mucking about with timing the courses. Most of the time, the problem lies with the kitchen. Remember that if you feel like stiffing your server because the "service" was slow. The server is pretty much at the mercy of the kitchen in the vast majority of cases.

One weekend recently, we were down several employees because of illness. On a Saturday night, I was running the kitchen by myself and I had a line cook on dishes. The front of the house was really thin too, or I would have pulled an assistant back to the kitchen. I had no time to plan for this; it just happened. Fortunately, or so I thought at the beginning of service, the weather was foul and the reservation book was very light. Easy enough for a skeleton crew to handle.

Wrong! The front door opened and tables started walking in seemingly out of nowhere. Servers were bringing multiple tickets to the kitchen at the same time. I can move food out of a kitchen and for the first 90 minutes of service, I held my own, but at the point where I had tickets hanging on my rail for all but two of the tables in the restaurant, even my maniacal pace wasn't enough. Tables were having to wait about seven minutes longer on average for first courses and about fifteen minutes longer for second courses. Fortunately I was only in the deep weeds for about 45 minutes. Often, when a kitchen is slow, it's because it's short staffed.

At other times, food has to be recooked. A table will linger a lot longer than expected and we will have to pitch their food and start over. This causes a delay in the second course. Sometimes the table doesn't mind and sometimes they do. It's really a crapshoot.

And we do goof in the kitchen. One of the downsides of handwritten tickets is that sometimes we cook the wrong food, as in we cook a rockfish rather than a rack of lamb because we read "rock" on the ticket instead of "rack." That doesn't happen very much any more because we go over this situation in the pre-shift meeting and try to clarify the ticket with the server before the server gets out of the kitchen.

And handwritten checks let the servers write where they will. Sometimes for large parties, if the party orders out of order, the items ordered can end up at random locations on the check. One server in particular is prone to putting the last seat of the party all the way down at the bottom of the check where the dessert course generally goes. And in our haste, we miss that item and have to hold up the entire check while we recook it. It doesn't happen very often, but when it does, it's generally my fault. Now that I have worked long enough with this server, I'm much more prone to go through his check with a fine-toothed comb for big parties.

And, stuff just happens in the kitchen. The grill flames out and leaves nasty soot all over something and we have to pitch it and start over. Or as a cook turns to plate a piece of fish, another cook bumps his arm and the fish ends up wrecked against the floor tiles.

In all these cases when we screw up in the back, I believe in honesty with the customers. I tell the servers to let the customers know that we dropped the fish, that we're sorry, and we're recooking the check as fast as possible. Sometimes the servers tell us that the customers are so engrossed in conversation that they will never even notice an extra seven minutes for us to put up the food. But most of the time, customers appreciate the honesty.

So far, I have only touched on events that cause the food to be delayed to the dining room. But as I mentioned when I talked about my own dining preferences, it can be an equally grievous sin to get the food to the dining room too fast.

I must confess that on a really busy night, our natural instinct in the kitchen is that we just want to get that ticket off the rail, especially towards the end of the night when we are beat and just want a cold drink and to get off our feet. That's when we have to reign ourselves in and slow down.

Besides making customers feel rushed when the next course is served just as the previous one is being cleared, it creates havoc for the service team. The servers need time to change out silverware for the next course, to do wine service for the next course, and so forth. Jamming the food out of the kitchen ruins their service dance.

Knowing all the things that go into creating a great experience and all the things that can and do go wrong with timing food to the dining room, sometimes when I step out of the blindingly bright, overly noisy, and insanely hyperactive kitchen into the dimly lit, peacefully quiet, and calmly romantic dining room, I'm often amazed that customers are oblivious to the chaos that we have been through and I'm shocked as hell that we have pulled off yet another miracle. Here's to all of you out there in the miracle business!

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Bird Eggs & Blogs

Way back in August of last year, a lone woman came into the restaurant on a Friday night and proceded to order her way through the menu. Only after she was finished with her dinner did she introduce herself to me as Christina Ball of Virginia Living magazine.

What came out of that visit is an extremely well written article about the restaurant entitled "Bird Eggs & Blogs" that appears in the April 2009 edition of the magazine. I really do enjoy this magazine and I'm not saying that just because they had something nice to say about the restaurant; I've been getting the magazine for many, many years.

Monday, April 13, 2009

On Necessity...

A couple of weeks back when it was really chilly, I wanted to make a classic leek and potato soup, a potage Parmentier, as a first course for our dinner menu. So I grabbed a bunch of leeks and prepped them and then went back to the walk-in for the potatoes.

No potatoes. How does a restaurant have no potatoes? To be quite honest, we don't serve a lot of potatoes and we have a really small walk-in, so we buy potatoes in very small quantities. It was a Friday, the day before market day at the farmers market in the winter, and we had run out.

Potatoes are easy enough to borrow from another restaurant, but I took the situation as a challenge and went back to the walk-in to hunt for stand-ins such as parsnips. Parsnips are a no-go by April; they get black spots and start deteriorating by March.

But, I did see a half a case of salsify. Perfect. The resulting soup was silkier and smoother than the soup with potatoes would have been.

Adding salsify to soup is not a novel concept by any stretch, but it sure wasn't top of my mind. I'll be adding this trick to my repertoire of vegetable purées that I can use to thicken soups without adding a lot of flavor.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Busy, Busy

Thanks for the emails asking if I'm alive. It's been something like 6 days since I posted something. I'm just swamped is all. Two Chef's Tastings and a big Easter Brunch menu have sucked up all my spare time for writing, not to mention an inordinate amount of paperwork.

Here are a couple of tidbits for you:

A customer called us four times yesterday to keep us in the loop about her progress in getting another couple to join them for dinner this weekend. Last status update: she was unable to get in touch with them, but she left a voicemail for them. ;)

A customer called last evening at 6:55pm for a 7:00pm reservation. Why waste the cell phone minutes? ;)

A young lady booked a table for six for a birthday party earlier this week. She was breathlessly excited on the phone about coming to the restaurant for the first time. Three of the party arrived, were seated, ordered a coffee and two iced teas, then after two sips, asked for the check and walked out. Clearly a case of sticker shock, but why not look at the menu on-line before booking? This booking caused me to bring on one more server than I would have normally and not only did the server get stiffed on tips, it cost me far more to pay the server minimum wage than I got paid for the three drinks. How's that for rude?

I attribute all this to a full moon this week. How else do you explain it? Oh, wait, I forget, it's just business as usual here at the restaurant. Cheers!

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Foraged Greens

One good thing about spring is that wild greens appear before cultivated greens, giving us a jumpstart on fresh salads and a well-deserved break from winter foods.

First of our foraged greens on tonight's menu is Common Chickweed, Stellaria media, a really invasive pest in my flower gardens. I take revenge on it by eating it and feeding it to my customers! I first learned of its edibility in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania in local recipes for quiches and quiche-like egg dishes containing chickweed.

Next up is the violet, Viola spp. What we call violets are the wild cousins of the cultivated violas, johnny-jump-ups, and pansies. Before the pansies in the window boxes at the restaurant can set good blooms in late April, I can harvest beautiful violets from my yard. In addition to making lovely garnish, they're great, both young leaves and blooms, in salads.

And last, but certainly not least among our foraged greens for this evening, is Miner's Lettuce, Claytonia perfoliata, a tasty salad herb from the west coast. These were harvested by a Laotian family from the Columbia River valley in Oregon.

I'm finally happy to have to really fresh greens on the menu. To rephrase the old saw about men and trash and treasure, one man's weed is another man's feed.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Espresso Marshmallows

I have a Chef's Tasting tomorrow evening and was looking for something to pair with a Chocolate Granita for dessert. I happened to stumble across a photo of Lillet Marshmallows in this month's Gourmet and that triggered me to rip them off, with all due thanks, by making Espresso Marshmallows. I needed this to remind me how easy and fun it is to make your own marshmallows and how good they are when compared to commercial ones.

Here is the very slightly modified recipe from Gourmet.

Espresso Marshmallows

3/4 cup instant espresso
3/4 ounce powdered gelatine
1-1/2 cups sugar
1 cup light corn syrup
1/4 cup water
pinch of salt
50-50 mix of confectioner's sugar and cocoa powder for dusting

You'll need a candy thermometer, an 8-inch by 8-inch baking pan, and a stand mixer with a balloon whip to make these marshmallows. Humidity is the enemy of marshmallows and today it's pouring outside. They won't be nearly as good as if I made them on a dry day.

You need 3/4 cup of espresso. How you get it is your own business, but it needs to be cool. Me, I put three tablespoons of instant espresso in a measuring cup and fill it to the 3/4 cup mark with cold water and stir until dissolved. Then pour the gelatine over the cold espresso to bloom while you cook the syrup.

Mix the sugar, corn syrup, water, and salt in a sauce pan and heat, stirring as necessary, until the mixture reaches 240F on your candy thermometer.

Put the espresso in the mixer and turn it on slow speed. Pour the boiling syrup down the side of the bowl, gently and carefully. Put the mixer on high speed and whip until fairly firm and stiff, about 12 minutes.

Spray your baking pan and a spatula with pan spray. Turn the marshmallow fluff out into the pan and smooth with the spatula. Let stand uncovered for several hours at room temperature until the surface is no longer tacky and you can work with it.

Dust a cutting board with a 50-50 mix of confectioner's sugar and cocoa powder. Gently pull the marshmallow away from the edge of the pan and invert onto the cutting board. Dust the top with more sugar mix. Cut into squares and dredge in more of the sugar mix. Try to stop yourself from eating one! Go ahead, grab the Graham crackers and get after it!

Store in a covered container in between layers of parchment or wax paper.

We're So Lucky!

We're so lucky to have local farmers to bring us fresh eggs to the restaurant whenever we need them. From left to right, the tiny spotted eggs are quail eggs, the medium green eggs are pheasant, and the large brown eggs are chicken eggs. Not pictured are the large white duck eggs.