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Grapefruit Panna Cotta

Grapefruit Panna Cotta with grapefruit and red juniper marmalade, citrus crumble, and fennel

My interview with Jeremy Cherfas of ‘Eat This Podcast’, a one person labor of love that reveals the intersection of the historical, scientific, and cultural aspects of food that we often overlook amidst daily life. Of particular interest to those who eat out often is where I find the inspiration for my desserts and my unusual take on chocolate desserts and vanilla ice cream. From the website:

What is there to say about dessert? Utterly pointless, because by then I’ve usually eaten quite enough, thank you. And yet, utterly irresistible too, because I do have a bit of a sweet tooth. So I am usually quite happy eating out when someone suggests Let’s get just one and four spoons. And yet, the ability to create some of those magnificent concoctions fills me with admiration, especially lately as dessert seems to have become more and more creative. So I was really glad that I persuaded one of the top pastry chefs in New York to take a bit of time to chat. Charmaine McFarlane told me about her inspirations, some of the challenges she faces, and how much she loves a silky-smooth custard.

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“The free bread basket is off the table.”

Tomato Focaccia with Bell Pepper and Onions

Tomato Focaccia with Bell Pepper and Onions

Breaking bread before the meal begins is one of those social mores that transcends the globe and dates back thousands of years. Not surprisingly, tampering with ‘the staff of life’ has led to many bread riots, some of which fomented the early stages of the French Revolution. In today’s dining climate, we seem to be setting the stage for another bread revolution of sorts as diners rebel against the restaurants that have done away with the free bread basket.

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Here is an interesting article on why Southerners excel at making biscuits. That is, until they move to the Northern part of the United States where ice cold water and a delicate touch do little to turn out fluffy biscuits that rise to unimaginable heights. The answer revealed much about the regional differences in the types of wheat milled throughout the United States.

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Pie? Or Art.

Hexagon Tile Pie with Edible Flowers by @lokokitchen (Instagram)

Hexagon Tile Pie with Edible Flowers by @lokokitchen (Instagram)

On our way home from a farm visit, my produce sales rep showed me a picture of the most intricately designed pie I had ever seen and asked me if it was edible. It seemed so although I guessed the crust was likely shortening-based to withstand that much carving and physical manipulation. The photo was of a pie designed by @lokokitchen, an Instagram account manned by Lauren Ko, “an artist, writer, and self-taught baker” based in Seattle, Washington. Intrigued by the prospect of a tasty and good lookin’ pie, I set about finding where I could buy one of these pies and how much they would cost. Just kidding. There is no storefront and these pies are not for sale. In fact, they barely exist because as plentiful as those pie designs are, I could hardly find a picture of the baked pie. What I did find was a hashtag titled #yeahbutwhatdoesitlooklikebaked.

The answer was very underwhelming and begs the question: what’s the point? This is not to take away from Ms. Ko’s talent which has amassed over 200K followers on Instagram and been featured in O Magazine. But why trouble oneself and labor for hours to create such an impressive design when it doesn’t look as appetizing after baking? Isn’t a pie meant to be eaten? Art, this is. Pie, it is not.

Fruit Vinegar

Pear Vinegar (infused with chamomile) and Concord grape vinegar (infused with lemon thyme) 

When people think of vinegar, salad dressings and pickles usually spring to mind. Rarely does one think of fruit. But after staring wistfully at the couple hundred apple cores left from Thanksgiving pies, I researched fruit vinegars to use these fruit scraps that would otherwise be resigned to the trash heap. There are many ways to make vinegar but the simplest method is to ferment sugar into alcohol which is then oxidized into vinegar. Fruit, ripe with sugar, quickly ferments into alcohol so exposing it to air often spontaneously results in vinegar, much like wine that was forgotten about for decades or more. And like wine, fruit vinegars can preserve the aroma and flavor of fruit well past their harvest months. Peach, cherry, pear, raspberry, Concord grape, apple…any fruit is fair game for making vinegar.

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Orchid and Pearl

Orchid and Pearl

Cake is not just dessert. Cake is a nostalgic treat of joy. Cake celebrates childhood, family, and fertility. An anniversary, a birth, a marriage (and sometimes divorce), they’re all special occasions that we celebrate with cake. My early attempts at baking cake were abysmal and Duncan Hines strawberry frosting rescued an under-baked cake, sagging under the weight of its rawness, on more occasions than I’m willing to admit. Still, I loved baking cakes because I created a joyful experience, limited only by my imagination, and it’s still the reason why I bake today.

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