Top of My Wishlist: Hand-Forged Knives by NYCutlery

Top of My Wishlist: Hand-Forged Knives by NYCutlery

As an avid cook and kitchen professional, I can be kind of, well, obsessive ((cough, cough)) about my food preparation tools, knives topping the list. To work with a sub-standard knife is not only ineffective and dangerous, it’s just plain … Continue reading

TO-DIE-FOR Chocolate Ganache & Macadamia Nut Tart

Chocolaty goodness!

The Mediterranean sea is deep, azure blue just as I’ve heard it would be, the sun warm, and my thoughts are on dark chocolate…rich, glossy, mahogany-colored chocolate… A languid breeze brushes my skin as I finish my cigarette on the crew deck of the cruise ship I’m working on.

It’s late April and I’ve been less than two weeks on board as Pastry Chef and am seriously struggling with the schedule: 7 days a week, 14 – 18 hours a day.

I didn’t smoke before I boarded, but I smoke now.

Sleep deprivation and high stress do not a pretty combination make. Oh glorious weekend, where art thou?

Photo © John Gertz

Combing the back streets of Lisbon.

Today we are sailing somewhere between Malaga, Spain and Lisbon, Portugal. A day at sea means the dining rooms will be at their fullest. I have several desserts to prepare for this evening, one of which is a chocolate macadamia tart. As often happens when you step in to take the helm from another departed chef, you must learn to fly by the seat of your pants to a certain degree. For this dessert there is little description to go by and no recipe to speak of…some interpretation would be in order.

Given that the first word in the dessert title is chocolate, I deduce – as any chocolate lover would – that really good chocolate should feature prominently with macadamia nuts magnanimously offering up a supporting role with their toasty, buttery notes. I decide to use a dark ganache filling (luckily we are able to source Valrhona on the ship) slowly cooked in a ring mold, dotted with toasted macadamia nuts with salted caramel ice cream, chocolate sauce and chocolate garnish to complete the dessert.

The result was a dark silky disc studded with crunchy bits of toasted nut and buttery undertones. Smooth and delicate to eat, every bite rewarding with full flavor and richness. I was pleased to serve it, as was the Executive Chef, and it ran very well – always the bottom line. Compliments came back with the servers; it was a hit.

Show plate on the pass (since this plate must survive the long, hot hours during service, the ice cream quenelle is marzipan and not real ice cream).

Some weeks later, when a veteran pastry chef came on board, I was at last shown the intended execution for this dessert which turned out to be oceans away from what I had done. It did not prominently feature chocolate as an ingredient, the chef adding instead a mere sprinkling of chopped chocolate (the cheapest I am sad to report – yes, even five-star kitchens must succumb to the budget overlord – each chef dealing with it in their own way) to a very sweet, chewy, bar-like mixture cut into rounds. Now this wouldn’t have been my personal choice for the level of clientele we were serving, but out of mutual respect I think it’s always a good idea to keep an open mind as to individual interpretation.

Though our work is done within the confines of the kitchen, as a chef I feel it is vital to always put myself in the diner’s seat with the dessert I’m preparing. Besides the obvious taste and visual components, I must ask “will it be elegant and graceful to eat with no embarrassment potential?” (think poppy seeds or too much gelatin). Blame it on us pastry people being a little obsessive, but just I couldn’t shake the vision of some poor guest dressed in swank evening attire going in to wrest a bite from this tart and the entire dense, sticky disc launching off the plate into a perfect slow-motion arc to ping another guest 2 tables away squarely in the head…or landing in their glass of 89 Lynch Bages – or some other mortifying scenario.

So, call me a rebel if you will, but I’m going to give you the unctuous, silky and oh-so-chocolaty version that I would prefer to eat (and did…several I must tell you). And judging from the guest response, I’m going to venture out on a limb and say you will enjoy this rendition equally well. Break out the best possible chocolate you can get your hands on for this tart. I’m serious. It is the star here. You will thank me later. My choice? Valrhona Caraibe 66%. It’s dark and rich with warm, nutty notes that speak well to the toasted macadamias. But don’t just take my word for it, experiment and try different kinds! Don’t you just love doing R&D?


Macadamia Påte Sucrée (yield = 3 – 8″ tart shells, approx. 1000 g) You’ll get best results if all ingredients are at room temperature:

  • 125 g powdered sugar
  • 250 g butter, unsalted
  • 3 eggs, large
  • 500 g cake flour
  • 100 g finely ground toasted macadamia nuts
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  1. In the mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the powdered sugar
    and butter until light and fluffy.
  2. Add the eggs, one at a time, making sure the mixture is homogeneous after each addition.
  3. Add the cake flour, baking powder and ground macadamias all at once.
  4. Mix slowly just to combine.
  5. Wrap the dough and refrigerate it until firm.
  6. While that’s chilling, preheat your oven to 180C/350F, make yourself a perfect cup of espresso and start your mis en place for the filling:

Tart Mixture

  • 225 g chocolate, 60% or darker, chopped
  • 215 g heavy cream
  • 65 g eggs, about 3 large
  • 95 g  whole milk
  • 200 g macadamia nuts, toasted and very roughly chopped – 150 g go into the tart, and reserve 50 g for sprinkling on top after baking.

Roll out and line either:

  • 1 – 8″ or 9″ tart pan or
  • 6 – 4” tart pans or
  • 12 – 60mm ring molds (If you are using ring molds, line a 1/2 sheet pan, dock, par bake, then press the rings into the crust while still warm).

Line tart pan(s) with parchment and fill with pie weights or beans. Par bake the sucrée until it just barely starts to take on colour. Remove the crust(s) from the oven, remembering of course to lower the temperature to 85C/185F. Let shell(s) cool while you make the tart mixture.

  1. Make a ganache of chocolate and cream; bring the cream just to a scald and pour over the waiting chocolate pieces. Let sit several minutes then mix from the center gradually incorporating the ingredients until dark, glossy and fully mixed.
  2. Combine eggs and milk, add gradually to the ganache, mixing constantly with a spatula, making sure not to shock the eggs and not to produce bubbles in the mixture.
  3. Mix in 150g of the roughly chopped macadamias. Fill tart shells to a bit below the crust edge or ring molds to about a good finger’s thickness.
  4. Bake in 85C/185F oven – low and slow baby– until just set. No bubbles should appear on the tops of the tarts while baking – this means the temp is too hot. (Should you notice some bubbles forming during baking, lower the oven temperature a little).

Depending on the size of your tart(s) and your oven this could take as little as 30 minutes and up to an hour or more. They are done when the centers are just set and not loosely jiggly anymore. The tops should be still glossy (if not, also too hot).

Remove from the oven and let them cool to room temperature. If you are serving that day, leave the tarts at room temperature. If not, refrigerate but bring out at least one hour before serving.

Sprinkle tops with the remaining 50 g chopped macs and garnish as you wish!

My Wine Pairing Suggestions: Ruby or vintage port, or late growth Cabernet would pair well with the dark chocolate here.

Tip: You can also store the unbaked mixture, well wrapped in the fridge, for up to 3 days.

Additional photo credits:

To hell with Black Friday…I’m celebrating ESPRESSO WEDNESDAY!

To hell with Black Friday…I’m celebrating ESPRESSO WEDNESDAY!

Do you know what today is? Do you? Do you? Do you?!? Well, if you haven’t heard, today is National Espresso Day. Now this definitely has made it to the top of my list of Holidays To Celebrate. It’s easy, … Continue reading

LEMON CURD TART – lip-puckering zingy buttery lemony goodness!

LEMON CURD TART – lip-puckering zingy buttery lemony goodness!

I never used to care for lemony things until I had lemon curd.  Real lemon curd. You know what I’m talking about, right? The kind with tartness that made your cheeks ache ever so pleasantly, your lips pucker and left … Continue reading



Okay, I know it took me awhile to enter the 21st Century. I may be one of the 19 remaining people that does not possess a smartphone or an iPad, but at least I have learned how to enter some … Continue reading

PORK PORK DUCK – My Quest for Authentic Mexican Carnitas

Juicy porky goodness

I’m not really sure what sets off a craving. For whatever reason an idea infiltrates your senses like aromas in those old cartoons. For me it settles in and sets up camp until it has been satisfied and could end up sticking around for any amount of time, from a few hours to months. Basically, however long it takes. I once craved a mint chip ice cream cone for 5 months one winter until it was finally warm enough in spring to properly enjoy the icy snack. Cravings have no sense of time in my gastronomic psyche, nor pity. I’m in a village in Indonesia and suddenly I simply must have a chocolate cream doughnut, or I find myself desperate for authentic Thai noodles while somewhere in Europe where there is nothing but sausage and sauerkraut to be found, a plump ripe tomato in the middle of winter, or pining for a good ol’ American burger in the south of Mexico surrounded by fish tacos and margaritas. Not that I don’t enjoy the tacos, and all the other local or seasonal foods – I most certainly do – but when you’re itching for something and you can’t have it…well, that just makes you want it more right? Chock it up to human nature I guess. Honestly, these yens can be cruel sometimes.

So if you were to ask me from whence the sudden need for some good, juicy and authentic carnitas arose, I honestly couldn’t tell you, but arise it did and I was at my local grocer’s quicker than Sarah Palin to a gun show poking around the pork section and carousing for fresh chilis. Tortillas? Check. Orange? (what? Yes, trust me) check. Cilantro, limes and onion? Check, check and check. Mexican beer? Checkity check.

Now, I had become captivated a while ago with trying my hand at making authentic Mexican carnitas. I remember feasting on the Best Carnitas Known To Man years ago in some remote town in western Mexico. Nothing has come close since. No restaurant nor taqueria. They haunt me, those blasted succulent nuggets of porky goodness nestled into homemade tortillas with fresh salsas and a squeeze of lime, savoured with cool Coca-Cola in a glass bottle under a huge palapa with pigs, chickens and stray dogs running around loose over yonder.

I realise it may be hard to fully recapture the taste of that time, but I’d like to at least try, so here I go. This may take a couple tries, but I’m willing to do the work. There is no doubt lard must figure into this dish which I am totally game for because, as we all know, lard makes stuff even yummier than you ever thought possible. Oh lovely lard…which, I was sure I had a container of in the back of the fridge but alas I find this day I do not have after all. Snif. But I do find – wait for it – duck fat, which also makes stuff even yummier than you ever thought possible. An apt substitute, n’est pas? Quandary quickly solved. I reward myself with a beer for being so resourceful!

I decided to base my recipe on a method from but added some additional flavours and aromatics as well. The orange gives a nice roundness of flavour and gentle acidity to the dish and balances the herbs and garlic without being overpowering. I’ve done the whole thing on the stove top in a cast iron braising pot so it’s super easy.

Give it a try! I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

Snow white duck fat

Here’s what you’ll need:

  • 1.5 # pork butt, cut in roughly 1.5” cubes
  • generous 1/2 c duck fat (lard or oil are fine too)
  • 1 small orange, sliced thinly
  • 2 cloves garlic, smashed
  • 1/2 t dried oregano
  • 1 bay leaf
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • lime juice from 1/2 lime
  • corn or flour tortillas
  • good fresh salsa

Here’s what you do:

  • Melt the duck fat in a Dutch oven or heavy braising pot then add the (patted dry) cubed pork
  • Fill with water just to the top of the meat
  • Add the garlic, orange, oregano, bay leaf and salt and pepper to taste
  • Bring to a boil uncovered
  • Give it a stir, reduce to a simmer and cover. Let simmer until pork is just starting to become tender, about 30 – 40 minutes.
  • Uncover, turn up the heat to a brisk simmer reducing the liquid until just the fat remains.
  • Stay close now, scrape the fond from the bottom, adjust the heat so it doesn’t burn. Move the meat around to brown on all sides. This takes just a few minutes, take care not to over cook or the meat will become dry.

Serve with warmed tortillas (corn or flour) fresh salsa verde or pico de gallo and a squeeze of lime and a cold beer. Que bueno!

Tip: Strain and reserve the left over duck fat drippings to use for sauteing whatever – potatoes, veggies, mushrooms – wonderful!!