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chefpliska

Traditional Culinary and Pastry Arts

 

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Farmers markets are becoming more popular and prevalent all over the country and when in season are the best place to buy vegetables and fruits that are locally grown. Many other types of foods and goods are also being sold at these markets and with a little thought and guidance, your trip to the market can be fun and fruitful as well.

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I love buying my vegetables at the farmers market! Here are my top reasons why!

  1. The freshest vegetables in season.
  2. Because they are so fresh they last longer at home.
  3. Finding out where and how the vegetables are grown.
  4. Getting some good deals on vegetables with slight blemishes.
  5. Supporting our local small farmers.
  6. Many of the vegetables and fruits are pesticide-free, make sure you ask.
fire roasted peppers at the famers market
Some unusual methods and products are often found- here fresh bell peppers are charred and then sold by the pound.

Here are some tips for finding the best deals and using the vegetables once you get home.

  • Walk the market and compare prices before you buy. Often the best deals are on the fringes of the market in the smaller stands.
  • Look for small or imperfect vegetables and fruits they are often marked down and if you plan to cut them up and cook them then it won’t matter if they are the not the perfect size or have some small blemishes.
  • Alternatively, if you are seeking the best perfect produce go early to get the first picks.
  • However, if you shop at the closing time you can sometimes find good markdowns because the farmers don’t want to take all of the vegetables back to there farms.
  • Resist the emotion of getting caught in the moment and buying vegetables or fruits that you don’t know how to cook or won’t cook when you get home. Beets is my example. I don’t like them even though they are cheap and very healthful.
  • Make sure you cook them properly and season them accordingly once you use them at home.
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Baby pattypan squash is a type of summer squash available in early to mid-summer.

Pattypan, summer squash and zucchini cook quickly when sauteed. To mix them with other vegetables such as green beans or carrots in a sautee application it is best to first pre-cook the other vegetables by steaming or boiling them and then stopping the cooking (shocking) of the vegetables by chilling them in ice water. To prepare a tasty medley of these vegetables sautee them with minced shallots in butter or olive oil and then finish them with sea salt, fresh ground black pepper, and chopped fresh basil.

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Using the abundant amounts of vegetables once they are harvested before they go bad has been an issue since ancient times. Preparing vegetable soups is one way to use them and they can also be frozen for use later in the year. Here is one of my recipes for a delicious cream of tomato soup. This recipe was previously published in the Missouri Life magazine. Use imperfect tomatoes which are cheaper and plentiful later in the season at your local farmers market. For an extra special garnish top with whipped goat cheese and crunchy croutons. To see the article and learn more about tomatoes go to page 71 of the  Missouri Life issue found at the following link-  https://issuu.com/missourilifemagazine/docs/ml0817lr

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Cream of Tomato Fennel soup was published in a tomato article that I wrote for Missouri Life Magazine in August of 2017 the photo was taken by Harry Katz.

Cream of Tomato Fennel Soup
By Chef Daniel Pliska
Yield: 6 cups
Ingredients:
2 pounds                      Tomatoes cut in quarters
1 cup                             Red Bell Peppers large diced
½ cup                            Yellow Onions, large diced
½ cup                            Leeks, white part only, rinsed well and large diced
½ cup                            Celery, large diced
1 cup                             Fennel, large diced
1 Tablespoon               Garlic, minced
3 Tablespoons             Olive oil
3 Tablespoons             All-purpose flour
½ cup                            White wine
2 Tablespoons             Tomato paste
6 cups                           Water or Chicken Broth
1 Tablespoon               Balsamic vinegar
1 teaspoon                   Sugar
½ cup                            Heavy Cream
2 Tablespoons             Fresh Basil chopped
1 Tablespoon               Fresh Chives chopped
To Taste                        Salt and pepper
Olive oil for roasting the tomatoes and bell peppers

Method:

  1. Toss the quartered tomatoes and bell peppers in a small amount of olive oil
  2. Roast for 30 minutes at 400 F
  3. Sauté the onions, leeks, celery, fennel, and garlic in three tablespoons olive oil
  4. Add the flour and stir in
  5. Add the white wine
  6. Add the water or chicken broth, balsamic vinegar and sugar
  7. Bring to a light boil and skim off the scum and reduce to a simmer
  8. Cook for 1 hour while skimming off any scum
  9. Puree in a blender and return to the pot and cook 30 minutes
  10. Strain and add ½ cup of cream, and continue to cook until the right consistency is met.
  11. Add the chopped herbs, season with salt and pepper if needed and serve.

For more ways and tips for preparing vegetables, go to my previous post, On cooking vegetables- 7 tips! Enjoy and live well!

 

 

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Cold hors d’oeuvres is one category of Garde Manger.  This image includes deviled eggs, ham and olive crepe gateau and savory filled tartlettes which are a type of canape. Together this display made a lasting impression for an Easter Buffet when I was the Chef of the University Club of MU.

Mention the word Garde Manger to a group of non-culinary people and prepare yourself for a blank stare or the question “What are you talking about?”. In this age of chef celebrities, Youtube how-to videos and TV food shows the world of Garde Manger is not well known. In its simplest form Garde Manger could be described as the art of cold food preparation and presentation.

Garde Manger is taught in most culinary schools in only one semester in a 3-credit hour class. However, since it is such a broad topic there are a number of textbooks that are written about it. Here is an outline of the categories used in Garde Manger and basically how I teach it in my 8-week class at Ozarks Technical Community College:

  • Salads – tossed, composed and bound
  • Cold hors d’oeuvres and appetizers (canapes and tea sandwiches)
  • Chilled seafood – raw, cured, smoked, poached and grilled seafood (sushi, ceviche, smoked salmon, shrimp cocktail)
  • Charcuterie (includes pates, terrines, mousses, rillettes, and sausages)
  • Cold food trays and platters (crudite- vegetables, fruit displays, cheese trays and cold cut and deli trays, etc)
  • Food Art – Vegetable carving, Fruit Carving
  • Non-food Art – Ice Sculptor, dough sculptors, butter and tallow sculptors all used as centerpieces for cold buffets
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Blue Crab and Mango salad garnished with fried bean thread noodles.

Salads can be divided into three sub-categories: Tossed, Composed and Bound. The most common tossed salad is undoubtedly a green salad made up of a variety of greens and lightly tossed with an oil and vinegar based dressing.  Composed Salads are salads that are laid out in a decorative manner and then served drizzled with dressing or dressing served on the side for the guest to use. Bound salads are salads that mixed with a dressing that binds all of the ingredients together – think chicken or tuna salad. Bound salads can be served as is on a bed of greens, in sandwiches or as an hors d’oeuvre such as a single bite serving presented on spoons, as shown in the image above. Two of the most important concepts for this category that I cover are the ratio of oil to vinegar, 3 to 1, to make a simple vinaigrette and the method for preparing mayonnaise to understand the emulsification process.

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A composed salad is made by laying out the ingredients in a decorative fashion for either a single served course or as a platter on a buffet. The dressing is normally served on the side or drizzled over the salad when served.

Canapes and tea sandwiches are very popular and used for butler-passed appetizers, on a buffet or served on platters as is done in a classic tea party. Canapes are normally made with three components with a standard ratio of a 1/3rd base such as a croustade, 1/3rd spread, 1/3rd main item or garnish. In my class, I offer alternative ideas for bases such as tartlettes, choux puffs, crisp wontons, puff pastry, phyllo pastry, and vegetables. When combined with all of the spreads such as compound butter or herb cream cheese mixtures along with delectable main items such as shrimp, smoked salmon, ham, beef tenderloin or caviar, to name but a few, the possibilities are endless.

Finger sandwiches and tea sandwiches are small dainty sandwiches which are larger than single bite canapes. They are normally two or three bites and usually built with fresh bread. Some examples are chicken salad, ham salad, egg salad or watercress cucumber, to name but a few.

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Mono Maki style sushi (translated to rolled Sushi) is one subcategory of this beloved Japanese cold food – extremely popular and served in many restaurants and eateries.

Chilled, smoked and cured seafood covers a vast amount of specialties that include smoked salmon, poached seafood (shrimp and lobster), gravlox and the ever popular sushi. We cover these types of cold food in 2 class periods… not much time when you consider the vast amount of presentations and types of seafood that are served in this way.

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Gravlox is a Scandinavian specialty. It is prepared by curing very fresh salmon with salt, sugar dill, and pepper. Cured in this way it can be preserved for a longer period of time. Traditionally it is served with ice-cold Aquavit.

Charcuterie is a time-honored traditional method for cooking, preserving, and utilizing all of the meat and organs from a pig after it is slaughtered. It includes pates, terrines, rillettes, and sausages of all types. Over time it has evolved into the practice of using other meats (such as game and poultry) and some seafood and vegetables as well. This topic is recently becoming popular again and is the sole subject of some books. A subcategory of Garde Manger, Charcuterie is a highly advanced skill that takes years to master. The methods that I cover in our class are forcemeats, of which there are four types, that are used for pates, terrines, and galantines. We also prepare a simple fresh sausage method so the students can learn the technique of how to stuff sausages into casings. We also discuss some of the other methods and ingredients used in the practice of Charcuterie.

Chef Pliska's Chicken and Apricot Terine image by Madeline Stanely
One of my charcuterie specialties is “Chicken and Apricot Terrine.” In it, I use the breast meat for a mousseline style forcemeat and the brine-cured smoked meat from the legs. The terrine also includes diced ham, dried apricots, and pistachios.

Tray and platter design is like any other visual art form and it employs methods and techniques for laying out food in the most decorative eye appealing way. For this portion of the class, I discuss, draw out, show pictures and books that illustrate some of these basic concepts.  These are the focal point, flow, slicing, serpentine, tin solder and the use of negative space.

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Vegetable and fruit carving can be simple and yet quite effective if done correctly and used in the proper combination with various foods. By learning and practicing basic techniques one can start the journey to more complicated and elaborate presentations such as those used in Thai melon carving which has a history of being served to the royalty of Thailand hundreds of years ago. This food art form takes extreme skill and practice to become proficient.

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Another example of cold appetizers that I served on a buffet while working as the Chef of the University Club of MU.

Fruit and Cheese is a classic combination and is served in many different ways and presented in all types of banquets and receptions. We cover the steps of cheese production and some of the types of cheese that are produced arranged by texture. In the kitchen lab, the students learn some methods on how to display and serve it with fruit.

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Cheese with fruit is a classic combination. Here I serve it with fresh fruit and dried fruit re-hydrated in various ways with honey, sugar, fruit juice and liquors.

The last subcategory of Garde Manger is taught as an overview. This class focuses on centerpieces and sculpture or carvings and covers the methods used to produce ice carvings (the most popular of centerpieces) as well as dough sculpture and the history of tallow and butter sculpture which has fallen out of fashion and is rarely seen today.

In only sixteen class periods, the broad subject of Garde Manger can only be covered as an overview or in academic terms as an exploration class. Consider the fact that baking and pastry arts are taught in a two-year period due to the current interest of many of today’s students. The subject of Garde Manger takes just as much time to learn and master and can be every bit as artistic as those in the pastry arts field. Furthermore, it is a major sector of culinary arts. Hopefully, it will become more widely known again so as not to become the subject of another lost art form- that would be a shame!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Our greatest joys as chefs are cooking, serving and educating students and staff about the many types of seafood that are available to purchase. Shellfish is one type of seafood that is both delicious and available to cook, both in professional kitchens and in our homes. In this post, I will focus on three types that are featured in the opening image. Oysters, clams, and lobster.

Although most of the earth is covered with oceans much of our treasured wild seafood is being overfished. That being said it is important for us to learn about the types of seafood that are sustainable to serve and to make sure that we as chefs and home cooks treat the seafood with the care and respect that it deserves. As a culinary arts teacher, I emphasize this on a continuing basis in our kitchen labs and classrooms. For a good resource for checking on which fish and seafood to use and to avoid see the link from the Monterey Bay Aquarium:

https://www.seafoodwatch.org/

Here are a few tips for how to cook, care for and serve some of these beloved shellfish that come from the seas.

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Littleneck clams “Casino Style” is a very tasty way to serve this beloved mollusk.

Littleneck clams are the smallest size available of the Atlantic clam species. These are easiest to serve by cooking them quickly in a very hot pan with shallots, garlic, parsley, and white wine, covered and steamed to release their own juices. Cook them until they open wide and serve with crusty French bread.

Another way that takes more effort is to cool them after they are cooked and then remove one of the shells and serve them topped with a garlic herb butter, bread crumbs and crisp bacon. To make this even more interesting I remove the clams from the shells, then chop them and add them to a tomato, fennel, bell pepper and onion mixture that I reduce down with the clam cooking liquid prior to cooling and topping with bread crumbs and bacon. This is my way to create the classic “Clams Casino” which, as legend has it, is said to have been created in 1917 by a Maitre de’ in New England.

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Split steamed lobster served in its shell is a classic way to serve this luxurious crustacean served simply with drawn butter and lemon.

Maine lobster is a cold water species that is famous for being one of the finest lobsters in the world. The best way to purchase it is alive! After killing it by piercing the head between the eyes with a heavy chefs knife immediately cook it in a steamer or rapidly boiling salted water for 7 to 8 minutes per pound. Then split and serve it or ice it down and cool for another use. I like to serve 1 1/2 to 2-pound lobsters which are the most tender.

If I remove the meat from the shells I always go on to use the shells for a lobster stock or lobster cream by roasting them and then crushing them up prior to sauteeing them with 25% mirepoix and a little tomato paste. The next step is to add a good amount of brandy and then carefully ignite (flambee) prior to adding herbs and water for a lobster stock or heavy cream and a small amount of water for a decadent sauce.

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Served on the half shell- oysters are served in restaurants and oyster houses near the coasts often with just a dash of lemon or a peppery shallot vinegarette known as mignonette

Eating oysters raw on the half shell just after being shucked is an acquired taste. However, it is cherished by many who love the creaminess and briny saltiness that can only be found in these raw bi-valve creatures that are farmed or harvested wild from our coastal regions. There are many different types of oysters available in this country, all of which belong to only 5 species. They are Atlantic, Pacific, Kumamoto, Belon or European flat and Olympia all of which are different in taste and size. Atlantic Bluepoint oysters, which are the ones pictured in the opening image of this post, are one of the most popular types; some of the best come from the Chesapeake Bay in Maryland. For more on oysters go to

https://www.chefs-resources.com/seafood/oysters/the-5-oyster-species/

As with all oysters, when served raw it is best to know where they originate specifically and purchase them from repeatable dealers. This is due to the fact that eating them raw can be dangerous to your health if the oyster has been tainted by toxins or pollutants that can cause serious illness if consumed raw. Cooking them is a safer way to eat them and two of the best ways to do this are either fried or baked as in the classic oyster dish “Oysters Rockefeller”.

Shellfish are also often served cold for buffets, at raw bars and in the famous cold seafood platter known as “L’assiette fruits de mer” which when translated from French means, a platter of seafood. I like to serve cold seafood on canapes as well. Here are three of my favorites: Butter Poached Royal Rock Shrimp, Smoked Mussels and Cilantro Lime Grilled Scallops. Simply delicious!

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Vegetables range from common to exotic such as the baby Romanesco which is a type of Broccoli.

Eating more vegetables should not be just a passing practice for a New Years resolution. As a self-proclaimed carnivore, I also enjoy balancing my daily intake of meat and seafood with vegetables and fruit. Here are some tips and thoughts for preparing vegetables in the new year.

  1. Roasting vegetables such as carrots, parsnips, butternut squash, cauliflower, and Brussel sprouts is a great alternative for boiling them in water. Toss with olive or grapeseed oil and season with salt, pepper, and cumin or turmeric then roast until lightly brown.

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    Brussel sprouts, Cauliflower and Tri-colored Carrots are ready to be roasted.
  2. Quick blanching and then wok stir frying is an Asian technique that yields very tasty vegetables. Try doing this with split baby Bok Choy. Stir fry it in sesame oil, garlic, and chili oil or oyster sauce then top with toasted sesame seeds. To do this use a pot of salted boiling water and wok or saute pan on two separate burners. Plunge the vegetables into the water for a brief few seconds then remove them with a strainer or tongs and stir fry them in the hot wok or sauté pan with the garlic, sesame oil, chili oil, and oyster sauce or fermented black bean paste.
  3. Cooking vegetables Au Gratin is a classic French preparation which yields excellent results. The classic technique for this is to make a Bechamel Sauce, then blanch or steam the vegetables then shock them in ice water. Place the vegetables into a casserole dish then cover with the Bechamel Sauce and top with buttered bread crumbs mixed with grated parmesan or other suitable cheese and bake in the oven until golden brown. Try this with asparagus, cauliflower, Belgium endive, or Brussel sprouts.
  4. Dips are a great way to add another flavor profile to vegetables when batter fried, steamed or roasted. Try using an aioli sauce with the vegetables. Aioli is classically prepared with raw egg yolk and olive oil. Due to salmonella risks, try using a good quality mayonnaise as a base for the aioli then mix in roasted garlic and olive oil to create a base sauce that can be flavored with saffron steeped with white wine or pureed with avocado and lime for very tasty dipping sauce.
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    Beer batter fried vegetables can be served with an Avacado Aioli. In this image, I served them in bamboo cones.
  5. Mix mashed potatoes with other vegetables such as cauliflower or parsnips to decrease the white starch content in a side dish and to increase the vegetable portion. This is very easy to do, just boil or steam the vegetables until very soft and mash with the boiled potatoes.  Finish with butter and hot milk or cream. Try adding roasted garlic, chives and a touch of nutmeg for additional flavor.
  6. Try fennel and leeks if you have never had them. Fennel is a bulb that tastes like licorice and leeks is a green root vegetable in the onion family. Try fennel stewed with green beans, tomatoes, bell peppers, and garlic.  Leeks can be sautéed with mushrooms, shallots, dry sherry and a splash of cream for a delicious sauce or gravy with mashed potatoes. They are also excellent when sautéed with spinach and then cooked down with cream and puréed.
  7. Sautéing with shallots and toasted nuts or herbs is an excellent way to prepare many types of vegetables. Green Beans Amandine (sautéed with almonds) is the most well-known version of this preparation. To do this:
    1. First steam or parboil the green beans until the desired point (al dente for some, fork tender for others)
    2. Then plunge them into cold ice water to stop the cooking and retain the color,
    3. Sautée some chopped shallots in butter and then add the toasted nuts,
    4. Sautée briefly with the par-cooked vegetables to reheat them and season with salt and fresh cracked black pepper and serve.  Try doing this with broccoli or cauliflower for a great result as well. Substitute the almonds with toasted chopped hazelnuts or pecans for another flavor profile. If you don’t care for nuts omit them and use fresh herbs such as basil, chives or green onions, adding them at the end of cooking just prior to serving.

If you are a vegan check out my recipe for spicy lentil rice cake on My Recipes tab. It is bound with flaxseed and water which is a vegan substitute for eggs often referred to as a “flaxseed egg”. Wishing you a happy and healthy 2019 with more vegetables in your daily diet.

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Baby squash with their flower blossoms attached are a special treat. Chefs often serve them stuffed with goat cheese and tempura fried in a very light batter.

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Making the transition from working Executive Chef to Chef Instructor is and has been a natural progression for many chefs and is now the path that I have taken. Rewarding, humbling and challenging are three words that have summed up my experience so far.

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Rewarding for me to be able to teach and demonstrate my style of culinary techniques for students who are eager to learn the necessary skills to be successful in the modern kitchen. To be more specific, the type of kitchen where food is the focus and culinary arts reigns supreme. I tell my students that although taste is king – presentation is queen when it comes to food because as we all know, that we eat with our eyes first before we ever take a bite.

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In my first semester at Ozarks Technical College, I have taught classes in Garde Manger, Fabrication, World Cuisine, and Contemporary Cuisine. Garde Manger is basically the techniques and methods of cold food production. It includes many different skills that take years to learn and master and are applicable in many different environments. The main segments that I teach are cold appetizers, canapes, fruit and vegetable carving, salads, patés and terrines, and smoked and cured seafood. The class is an 8-week class and with a subject so broad I am only able to touch on many of the skills that are a part of this discipline. Certainly, a challenge to teach such a broad subject in such a short span of time.

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Fabrication which was also an 8-week class is a technical name for a butchering class. This is also a broad field and encompasses both meat cutting and fish and seafood portioning and cooking. The challenge that students have is that cutting a piece of meat or filleting a fish once or twice does not enable them to become proficient. However, all chefs need to be quick and efficient in breaking down large pieces of meat such as beef, pork, chicken or game into usable parts before the cooking process begins. As with all eye/hand techniques practice is the key to mastering these skills.

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Humbling is the word that best describes the emotion that I often feel when teaching culinary arts. So many students with different skill levels, abilities, and experiences. All look to me to lead them on the path of learning how to cook and run a kitchen. In our Contemporary Cooking class, we operate a working kitchen for lunch once a week in a 16-week span of the course. The students rotate through the stations of Sous chef, Sautée, Middle/vegetable, Grill, Pantry and Desserts in a 2-week cycle. They have to produce a core menu along with their own personal signature items on a weekly basis. Here is the menu that we serve.

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In world cuisine, I share my experiences and philosophy for cooking ethnic cuisines from the major regions and countries on the globe in a 16-week class that meets once a week. As I expressed to the class, this type of cooking can be interpreted and produced in three ways: authentic, in the style of, and fusion. Most of the recipes and techniques that I teach in this class are from the area of what I label as “in the style of”. I have also been honored to have some authentic trained chefs come to visit the class as well. Chef Steve (Yutaka) Oshita is one of these chefs who hails from a well known Japanese restaurant here in Springfield. He came to class to demonstrate the basics of Sushi and also gave some history from his homeland in Japan as well. A field trip to visit Chef Andy Hampshire, owner of a British gastro pub (Farmers Gastro Pub) has also been a topic for one of these classes. Researching and studying the cuisines of the world has been quite a humbling experience. The challenge that I have discovered in this class is that the more I think I know about a subject the more I find out that I need to know before I write my lesson plans for world cuisine.

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Chef Oshita demonstrates the basics skills that are needed to make sushi.

In closing, I am happy and honored to be have been given this chance to teach and share my experiences at OTC to a diverse range of students in a well-run ACF accredited program.  A new path in my ever-evolving culinary journey.

Until next time I remain yours in all things culinary,

Daniel

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Molded chocolate bonbons are one type of chocolate candies that are very popular today in many shops and restaurants.

Chocolate candies are without question one of the most luxurious and enticeable treats that have ever been created. Ever since chocolate was first brought from the new world to Europe, where it was first used as a drink, it has held the fascination and appreciation of all who consume it. This complex compound is derived from the laborious process from the pod of Cocoa plant yields what we in the culinary and pastry trade know as Couverture, which is basically the refined chocolate solids mixed with sugar, cocoa butter, and lecithin. From couverture comes the multitude of chocolate candies. The two most well known are molded bonbons and chocolate truffles.

Before any type of chocolate candy, chocolate decoration or showpiece is made one must first learn how to properly melt and cool the chocolate so that it will set properly. If done correctly the cooled set chocolate will yield a shiny crisp finish after it has hardened. This process in technical terms used by chocolate makers and pastry chefs is known as crystallization or in older terminology as tempering. When the chocolate is properly crystalized it can be piped, formed, molded or poured onto thin sheets called acetate to create many different shapes and decorations. The process basically is done by melting and cooling the temperature of the chocolate through three temperature ranges which are: melting, cooling and working ranges and differ slightly on the brand and type of chocolate.

Chocolate does not have to be crystallized if mixed with something else, as in a chocolate mousse for example. Only when it is used on its own is it necessary to be concerned with the proper crystallization process.

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Properly crystallized chocolate couverture is poured into polycarbonate molds to create thin outer shells. When filled with delectable fillings such as ganache, gianduja or gelee they yield delectable chocolate bonbons.

A basic reason for this is that when chocolate (couverture) is melted and re-sets as it cools the various fats and solids contained in the chocolate set at different rates and at different specific temperatures. If done naturally without using a method to control the crystallization the chocolate would not set properly and would be grey and streaked when it hardened. Here is another way to look at it: Think of an instance in the summer when you left a chocolate bar somewhere hot and it became slightly melted and soft, then you took it into the house and refrigerated the bar. What happened once it rehardened? It had become an unsightly grey with streaks (this is called bloomed or fat bloomed in chocolate making jargon).

To crystalize (temper) the chocolate there are three basic methods. They are tabling, seeding and microwave methods.

The table method (the classical method used for generations) is accomplished on a marble slab. The chocolate is first melted to a specific temperature range and then a portion of it is poured onto the marble and then spread back and forth with an offset palette knife. When it begins to cool and set it is returned to the original bowl and stirred until the chocolate is cooled to the proper temperature. Lastly, the chocolate is then briefly re-warmed to bring it to the working temperature and ensure that it is fluid enough to work with.

In the seeding method, the chocolate is first melted to the correct temperature range and then a portion of pre-crystalized chocolate (that has not been melted and is shiny and hard when purchased) is added to the melted chocolate and then stirred until the chocolate has reached the proper temperature and the entire batch is crystallized properly. In both of these methods, the correct ranges of temperature along with the slow gentle stirring of the chocolate is of utmost importance in order to create the proper formation of the crystals, ensuring a smooth workable chocolate that will set properly when cooled.

 

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Properly crystallized chocolate is held in a chocolate holding machine that keeps the chocolate at the correct temperature to keep it fluid for use. This machine used by professionals can be used to crystallize the chocolate by way of the seeding method.

For home use, the best way to work with chocolate is to use the microwave method. This is done in a plastic bowl by melting the chopped chocolate on 50% to75% power until about 3/4ths of it is melted. The bowl is then removed from the microwave and stirred until all of the chocolate has melted. This technique is accomplished because all of the chocolate is not melted and therefore the chocolate that is still solid remains in a crystallized state. When stirred with the melted chocolate this enables the entire batch to develop the crystallization needed to bring it in its proper state. If done right and then tested the chocolate can be used for candies, decoration, and showpieces.

In all of the methods, the temperature is of the utmost importance. If the chocolate does not reach or exceeds the top temperature then the chocolate will not crystallize properly. Make sure to use a good thermometer to check it throughout the phases. See the following guide.

  Crystallizing Chocolate  
Type of Chocolate Initial Melting

Temperature Range

Cooling Temperature Rewarming/Working Temperature Range
Dark 113°F to 122°F 80°F 88°F to 90°F
Milk 104°F to 113°F 79°F 82°F to 84°F
White 96°F to 100°F 77°F 80°F to 82°F

 

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Always make sure to test the crystallized chocolate when making chocolate candies or decorations. One test is to dip a small palette knife into the chocolate and allow it to harden in a cool place and then cut it off with a paring knife to create a chocolate curl. If you can do this the chocolate has been crystallized properly

Decorations made with crystallized chocolate is an art form that uses many techniques some of which are shavings, piping, ribbons, plaques, and filigree.

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Chocolate shavings are the most basic type of chocolate decoration made by scraping a paring knife across a chocolate block onto parchment paper. The shaving can then be stored for topping pastry and tortes prior to service.

Piping chocolate is a technique that takes practice to create thin graceful lines with no breaks. Done with crystallized chocolate this technique which is also used for chocolate writing is a skill with many applications.

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Piping thin lines of chocolate on plates and then filling in the negative spaces with colored jam or piping gel is one technique used to decorate with chocolate.

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Chocolate curls, plaques and filigree can be used to make decorations or showpieces for elaborate presentations.

 

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This chocolate decoration can be used to top a torte or as a centerpiece garnish for a platter of chocolate pastries.

Chocolate is surely one of the most luxurious and enticing foods in the world. With knowledge and practice, it can be used to make candies and desserts and simple decorations in both the home and professional kitchen!

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Warm up cold winter nights with spicy charred tomatillo salsa! Normally I like to make this type of salsa on a cast iron pan over my backyard BBQ grill in the summer. However, when the days are short and the nights are cold, and we shiver in the grips of deep winter this can be a great snack to bring us back to warmer days.

The secret to the flavor of this type of salsa comes from the technique of charring the vegetables on the stovetop in a cast iron pan (make sure to turn on the hood fan). Charring or slightly burning food is the hallmark of the Argentinian Gauchos and it is mostly done over an open fire. This simple tomatillo salsa is made with the green Mexican tomatilloes, poblano, and jalapeno peppers. It is great as a snack with tortilla chips or as a side condiment for Quesadillas, Tacos or Enchiladas.

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As always, prep all of the ingredients before the cooking process begins. Start by removing the papery like husk surrounding the tomatillos. Then wash all of the vegetables. Cut the peppers in half and remove the seeds.

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Over high heat in a very small amount of olive oil char the tomatillos (do not burn). Then remove from the pan and continue with the rest of the vegetables.

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Puree half of the tomatilloes and rough cut the rest of the vegetables and add to the puree.

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Wash the cilantro and rough chop. Do not cut too finely — this reduces the flavor by driving some of the essential oils of the cilantro into the cutting board during the chopping process. This is the reason that many chefs like to use scissors to cut herbs instead of chopping with a knife.

IMG_1535 To complete the salsa cut a small lime in half and insert a fork then twist and squeeze out the juice into the salsa (this is one technique used to get all of the juice of limes or lemons… who needs a reamer) and add the olive oil and season with salt.

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Tomatillo Salsa
Yield 3 Cups

7 Each                         Tomatilloes
1 Each                         Poblano Pepper
1 Each                         Jalapeno Pepper
2 Each                         Tomatoes, medium size slicers
2 Slices                       Red Onions, 1/2 thick
3 Each                         Garlic Cloves, peeled
1 Each                         Lime, small
¼ cup                          Chopped Cilantro, coarsely chopped
2 Tablespoons           Olive Oil
Olive oil                      For Charring the vegetables
Salt                              To taste

  1. Remove the outer husks encasing the tomatillos
  2. Wash all of the vegetables
  3. Cut the peppers in half and remove the seeds
  4. In a very hot cast iron pan char all of the vegetables until soft with a small amount of olive oil (this can be done over a charcoal grill on cast iron as well to get a smoky finish)
  5. Puree half of the tomatillos
  6. Rough chop the rest of the vegetables and add to the puree
  7. With the aid of fork squeeze out the juice and add to the salsa by inserting it into the cut halves and twisting while squeezing
  8. Add the chopped cilantro and olive oil and season with salt
  9. Serve with tortilla chips or as a condiment for quesadillas, tacos or enchiladas.

 

Keep warm and cozy in the winter with warming and comforting foods, time will pass more quickly, and remember spring is right around the corner.

When it comes to holiday seasonal desserts Pear Frangipane Tart is unquestionably one of my all-time favorites. This classic French tart or “tarte” as it is spelled in French is known as Tarte Bourdaloue. It is said to have been created in the pastry shop Bourdaloue in Paris in 1909 by the famous patissier Coquelin. However, there is some dispute about the legitimacy of that claim.

In my version of the Pear Almond tart, I start with poaching pears in a simple syrup of sugar and water that is flavored with Chardonnay and Vanilla. I then roll out a chilled base of pate sucrée and form into tart pans. I then place the sliced pears on a small amount of jam and fill in the empty spaces with Frangipane. I then decorate with a border of sliced almonds and bake them. Once baked, the Frangipane has the texture of cake. Frangipane (also spelled Frangipani) is used in many types of tarts and pastries. Two of these are the famous Bakewell Tart from England and the French Pastry, Pithivier that is encased in puff pastry.

To make this pastry, any type of tart pan can be used; however, I like to use the pans with removable bottoms because of the ease of removal of the tart once baked. In this post, I produced these tarts in large production in our club’s kitchen with a special machine called a dough sheeter which is used in commercial pastry shops and bakeries. It has two conveyor belts on both sides with a set of mechanized steel rollers in between.  As the dough is rolled back in forth the rollers are brought closer and closer together by the operator in order to reduce the dough in thickness until the dough reaches the exact size that is needed. Alternately the dough can be rolled out by hand for small production or at home. My home size recipe is as follows:

Pate Sucree (Home recipe)
Yield 2 -10″ Tarts

18 ounces            All-purpose flour
12 ounces            Butter (unsalted)room temperature
6 ounces              Granulated Sugar
2  each                 Eggs, Large
1/2 teaspoon     Vanilla Extract
Pinch or salt

1) Cream the butter and sugar together in a mixing machine with the paddle attachment
2) Add the flour, eggs, salt, and vanilla
3) Mix just until a smooth paste is formed
4) Take out the dough and knead it into a ball and chill until firm
5) When ready to use knead the dough just enough to make it pliable and roll out while still cold.

pear franjipane tart step 1&2
Step one and two in preparing the tarts is to poach the pears and to roll out and fill the tart pans with pate sucree.

While the pears are poaching, the almond cream (frangipane) can be made. It is a simple recipe or formula, as bakers and pastry chefs like to call it, accomplished in three steps in a mixing machine. Made with almond paste, granulated sugar, eggs, butter, cake flour, a small amount of vanilla and a touch of salt.  Here is the recipe for Frangipane:

Frangipane (Home recipe)
Yield 2 – 10″ tarts
8 ounces   Almond Paste
8 ounces Granulated Sugar
8 ounces All-purpose or cake flour
8 ounces Butter (room temperature)
4 each Eggs
1 teaspoon Vanilla Extract

1) In a mixing machine with the paddle attachment mix the almond paste and the sugar with one egg until smooth on low speed
2) Add the butter and add one more egg and mix until smooth
3) Add the flour, vanilla and the last two eggs; mix until a smooth creamy paste is formed
4) Use as needed or store in the refrigerator or freezer until needed.

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In the next steps pipe in a small amount of apricot jam or orange marmalade, then slice the poached pears and lay them into the pans.
Final steps to finish the Pear Tarts
In the last steps with a pastry bag fitted with a large tip, fill in the empty spaces in the tarts with the Frangipane. Then press some sliced almonds into the edges of the Frangipane and bake.
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Hot out of the oven these tarts are now ready to be glazed.

To finish the tarts, I brush them while still hot with an apricot glaze and then slice them and serve them warm with vanilla ice cream or Cream Anglaize for a decadent dessert that is perfect for the cold winter weather of the Christmas holiday season. Happy New Year!

Pear Frangipane Tart - Tarte Bardaloue
One of my favorite wintertime tarts is made with Pears and an Almond cake-like filling known as Frangipane. It is served best warm with Ice Cream or Vanilla Sauce
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Roasted Plums with Goat Cheese, Red Onions, Candied Pecans and Arugula laced with Red Wine Vinaigrette makes a tasty salad platter for cold buffet station.

When comes to healthful eating, dieticians like to tout the saying “Eat the Rainbow of Colors” in fruits and vegetables to ensure the intake of vitamins and antioxidants. Some of my favorite purple and dark red colored fruits are Plums, Blackberries, Figs. They are all delicious and easy to pair with other foods to create tasty healthy dishes if you know how to use them and get them at their peak.

Plums can range from the color purple to dark red and in some cases green such as in the Mirabelle variety. One of my favorite ways to serve them is in a salad with Goat Cheese, Arugula, Red Onions and candied Pecans laced with a red wine vinaigrette.

The technique that I would like to share in this post is that of roasting the plums. To do this the washed plums are cut in half and then de-stoned, after which they are tossed with a five spice flavored cinnamon sugar and then roasted until soft. When cooled they are used to top the salad. This gives the plums a sweet and exotic flavor that goes perfectly with the bitter arugula greens and creamy earthy taste of goat cheese.

For those of you unfamiliar with Chinese Five Spice it is an ancient spice blend that is made with a combination of spices which can include  Anise, Cinnamon, Cloves, Szechuan Peppercorns, Ginger, Fennel, and Star Anise, depending on who makes it. It can be purchased pre-made and is used in many Chinese and Asian inspired dishes.

Candied Pecans are easy to make in just a few steps:

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Candied Pecans – Yield 1 cup
Ingredients:

1 cup cold water
1/2 cup sugar
1 cup pecan pieces
2 TBL sugar

  1. Mix the water, sugar, and pecans in a small pot
  2. Bring to a boil over high heat (blanch)
  3. Pour off the water through a strainer
  4. Toss the blanched pecans in a bowl with the sugar
  5. Spread out onto a baking sheet on a nonstick silicone mat
  6. Bake at 375F for 12 to 15 minutes stirring occasionally until dry and golden brown
  7. Cool and use or store at room temperature in an airtight jar.
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Duck Breast with Blackberry Molasses Whiskey Sauce is served with Sweet Potato Puree, baby Romenesko, Pistachios, Blackberries, and Arugula for a memorable dish at a recent wine dinner.

Blackberries are most notably served in jams and jellies. Due to their large seeds, they are not as popular as their cousins, Raspberries. This unusually shaped berry is scientifically known as drupelet because it is actually a cluster of small fruits grouped together in one berry. The taste of the juice from blackberries makes great sauces and is full of the powerful antioxidant pigment anthocyanin which is prevalent in all of the purple fruits and vegetables. Here is my recipe for Blackberry Molasses Whiskey Sauce that goes great with duck or pork.

Blackberry Molasses Sauce
By Chef Daniel Pliska
Yield 3 cups

1 cup                       Sugar
1 cup                       Red wine vinegar
4 cups                      Blackberries
¼ cup                       Whiskey
¼ teaspoon             Cinnamon
¼ teaspoon             Cumin, ground
½ cup                       Molasses
2 cups                      Rich Duck stock or Chicken Stock

  1. Mix the sugar and vinegar together in a sauce pot and cook until caramelized (gastrique)
  2. Add the blackberries and flambé with the whiskey
  3. Add the molasses, spices, and stock
  4. Bring to boil and then reduce to simmer
  5. Puree with an emersion blender
  6. Simmer for 10 minutes and strain
  7. Return to heat and thicken with a small amount of cornstarch slurry
  8. Strain and serve.

Figs which many people would consider to be an exotic fruit make great tarts and also pair well with another blueish purple food: blue cheese.  I like to wrap the figs and blue cheese up into small bites with thinly sliced prosciutto ham. The technique that works well for pears and figs alike is to poach the figs in a port wine syrup and then reduce the syrup after the fruit is poached to a thick glaze. This can then be drizzled over the prosciutto wrapped figs and blue cheese bites once cooled. To add texture and crunch to the bite I sprinkle the bites with candied walnuts or pecans before skewering them so they can be eaten easily in one bite.

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Wrapped Poached Pears in Port Wine with Blue Cheese Topped with candied Pecans or Walnuts is a wonderful bite that can be made with figs as well as pears for a passed appetizer or a cold food buffet.

All of these purple foods were served at the University Club of MU and can be made at home for unique dishes that will surely create a wonderful experience for your family and guests. Enjoy the color purple.

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