Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Composed Cheese Plate

Of the many outstanding Swiss cheeses, there is a special place in my heart for the Tete de Moine. Typically, mountain cheeses are made in large wheels of twelve pounds or more. The Tete de Moine is a small wheel, less than two pounds, made of raw cow's milk, and typically aged two to three months. It's name means "monk's head," and refers to the cheese's resemblance to the shorn heads of the abbey brethren after the first slice has been removed. Today, it is produced by cooperatives surrounding the town of Bellelay, and is sometimes called by that name.

The Swiss have a penchant for gadgetry, which is probably why I am so fond of their customs and traditions. A devise called a girolle is used specifically to cut this cheese into beautiful, thin ruffles. The cheese has a sharp and intense flavor, quite nutty and salty, with sweet fruity notes, so these light curls of cheese are an appropriate means of approaching it without being overwhelmed. I thought this unique appearance would be the perfect way to start serving a composed cheese plate.

Taking advantage of the early spring shoots and wild herbs, I thought it would be fun to imitate the mountain pastures where this cheese originated. The base of the dish is made of crumbled honey walnut cake, which is then covered with an assortment of foraged greens, wood sorrel, lemon balm, watercress, wood violets, miner's lettuces and dressed with a sherry walnut vinaigrette. A few florets of cow's milk cheese and some fried strips of salsify for crunch, and a pastoral pleasure is ready to serve.

Great cheeses deserve great accompaniments. Come try it this spring,


Sunday, April 3, 2011

No Cake Until You Eat Your Vegetables

For several years now, it has been my mission to make the desserts at Park Kitchen a natural extension of a vegetable focused menu. At first, this meant that instead of using tropical fruits in my desserts like many restaurants do, I would utilize the natural sugars of vegetables instead. You won't find mango or pineapple on my dessert menu, but you might find beets, fennel, carrots or parsnips. As this repertoire developed, I gradually decreased the amount of sugar in my recipes, and began adding more salt. I've never liked hiding flavors with excess sweetness, as so often happens.

I found that adding salt enhances not only the natural flavors, but also the perception of sweetness without actually being more sweet. Most people have experienced an extreme of this in salted caramels, something that has an awful lot of sugar in it, but the salt brings out the richness of caramelization.

Now, I am able to focus on bringing these elements together in pleasing varieties of texture and temperature. My chocolate cake is served with a frozen parsnip custard, which is covered with a roasted white chocolate ganache, and sliced parsnips that have been poached in milk and honey. Roasted white chocolate tastes like dulce de leche, but is not as sweet. It makes a nice bridge for the creamy parsnips, and the rich dark chocolate, and the layers of warm and cold are delightfully refreshing.

You don't have to feel guilty about dessert,