Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Times Gone By

New Year's Eve is an interesting time for us restaurant folk; it's a mad dash to successfully complete one of the busiest nights of the year and hopefully manage to make it out for cocktails with those who mean the most to us before the stroke of midnight. This isn't always the case, but some of my fondest restaurant memories are set to the soundtrack of "Auld Land Syne".

Most restaurants opt for the "prix fixe" menu, meaning a limited menu of three to six items per category to choose from for one set price, for faster service and make it easier on the kitchen. While I do agree that it is easier, I have learned through my experience that customers who go to a restaurant do so because they enjoy the food that is already offered, so, as always, we will be serving our entire menu in addition to a special set of dishes that I have devised to accentuate the folklore of food eaten around the world by using ingredients and shapes that are considered lucky or that can bring wealth and prosperity in the next year. Check out my menu below for many examples.

Since I also had three nights of dinner service aside from NYE, I still needed a special to offer to our patrons while still bringing them good luck, so I stuck with the same entree for the entire week.

It's no secret that pork is my favorite choice for meat due to its diversity, but it is also commonly considered to bring good luck in the coming year. Most of the typical ingredients eaten for luck are done so out of symbolism, not because it is actually lucky (too bad for my four-leafed clover salad with rabbit's feet...). Round objects represent the year coming full circle; lentils resemble coins, and colorings like saffron and turmeric represent gold. Pork is twofold: pigs root forward, considered as progress, and their meat is fatty, translating to a fat wallet. After the shitty recession that we all have been enduring, I didn't take any chances with this one!

First, I developed a dry rub similar to what you would use on barbecue except that I doubled the brown sugar to compensate for the bitterness of the instant espresso powder; I used a quality version instead of ground coffee because it would dissolve completely and penetrate into the meat. Then, after a full day of marinating, I slowly roasted the pork shoulders at 275 degrees for about 4 hours until they were meltingly tender before slicing them into medallions.

In the south, beans are eaten because they swell when cooked, like you hope that your bank account will, and greens are common because they resemble money, so I slowly stewed red beans in Hungarian Paprika and some of my handmade ham. When ready to serve I sauteed them with onions, garlic, butter and some local purple kale, a variant of cabbage. The plate is finished with a rich sauce simmered with caraway seeds (a traditional ingredient in Dutch cakes and cookies), and topped off with a pinch of crispy fried pork belly for good measure!!!




Where I'm from, a traditional holiday gift usually comes from a loved one's kitchen. One of the most beloved homemade items (at least as far as my wife is concerned) is the Bourbon Ball, which is often enjoyed well into the new year, if they last that long. They are simply bite-sized balls formed from a mixture of finely ground Nilla wafers mixed with cocoa powder, chopped pecans, corn syrup, confectioner's sugar and, of course, bourbon.

So instead of me giving out tin boxes of these treats, I'm offering this cocktail interpretation instead: bourbon shaken with ice, Creme de Cacao for the chocolate and Frangelico in place of the nuts and strained into a martini glass rimmed with a fine dusting of Dutch cocoa powder!

Happy New Year!!!


With Love,


Cheffrey



Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Using My Noggin

Due to the Christmas holiday we will be closed on Thursday and Friday, leaving me with three nights of dinner service. This short week gives me an interesting opportunity to work outside the box with this week's special and come up with something that embodies our ideology that plates don't have to be either small or large, but rather a variety of sizes to mix and match to suit individual tastes. As a chef, this style of cooking is incredibly freeing; at a lot of restaurants the appetizers are more interesting than the entrees because with a smaller plate, people are more likely to take a chance on something a little different, where with entrees they want something more cohesive and complete.

Since most of our customers expect the special to be of an "entree" size I tend to oblige them, even if a lot of the time I don't conform to the standard meat-vegetable-starch format that the traditional ways of cooking stipulate. So with a short week like this, I can take a chance with an idea that is smaller but more interesting without pissing too many people off ;).

Another interesting aspect to a medium-sized serving portion is that I can also implement more vegetarian options, because even though "Meaters" won't normally order a vegetarian entree, everyone will enjoy a dish like this!!:

People often associate winter with rich, heavy food, but in fact this is the season where bright and vibrant flavors such as citrus fruits and pomegranates are starting to peak, so I used that misconception to pair with the more notorious cold weather ingredient, the beet, to create a refreshing plate that still brims with seasonality.

I didn't use the standard red beet, of course; instead I whole roasted both golden and chiogga (a.k.a. candy striped beets) to concentrate their flavors and peeled them easily while they were still hot. While the beets cooled I finely zested the rinds of blood oranges and used that to make a vinaigrette with champagne vinegar, shallots, garlic, a touch of fresh thyme and a wonderful blood orange-infused extra virgin olive oil that I found from California. I then carefully cut the segments from between the membranes that I saved in the remaining juice until I was ready to finish the plate.

Once ordered I alternated thin slices of each beet and drizzled them with the vinaigrette and topped them off with crumbled Greek feta cheese, the blood orange segments and a fine shaving of fresh mint to end up with a dish that is as beautiful as is delicious!

Since I didn't feature a holiday-style dish for the food-side of my specials, I couldn't help but introduce one of my favorite holiday drinks to make up for it: Boiled Custard.

Boiled custard is a Southern beverage that is similar to egg nog, but growing up, I always felt that it was lighter, and well, less eggy than egg nog. Traditionally speaking, the only difference was that boiled custard was cooked and egg nog was not, but now they are both cooked, so the difference nowadays is that egg nog is richer and contains cinnamon and nutmeg, whereas boiled custard is lighter and contains vanilla.

One thing that has never changed for either? They both do very well with the addition of liquor!

For mine I tempered egg yolks with sugar, vanilla and hot milk and then cooked the mixture slowly until it thickened slightly. Once cooled I whipped the leftover egg whites with granulated sugar and cream of tartar (used to "cook" them so they're safe to eat), then folded them into the cold custard.

We are offering our boiled custard with or without brandy, but either way, it's like sipping sweet clouds and happiness!!!!

Happy Holidays!

With Love,

Cheffrey

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Dinner With Me

Believe it or not I still enjoy cooking on my time off. I usually cook dinner every Monday night for me and my wife, Anna, whose palate is as adventurous as mine. Not only does it allow me to experiment with different flavor combinations, it also allows me to do something that I absolutely cannot do at the restaurant: have a dish that fails. Of course, my idea of fail is far from inedible; it just doesn't fulfill what I believe would wow our customers enough for them to return again and again.

With that said you may think that every week we eat a rich, extravagant feast, but actually the meals I prepare are relatively healthy and somewhat simple, at least as far as I'm concerned ;). For instance, a few weeks ago I prepared what I felt was a rudimentary soup consisting of lentils simmered in a broth with some leftover pork cooked on my wood burning grill and a little curry powder. The result was outstanding! There was a touch of magic that came out of that combination of smoke and subtle Middle Eastern flavors that I had yet to realise. I knew after one bite (and the look in my wife's eyes) that I had to incorporate these flavors into one of my specials.

To offset my obsession with pork I decided to use chicken instead for this dish. First, I deboned chicken thighs (my favorite part) and used the bones to make both the foundation for a stew as well as the cooking stock for the lentils. While the stock simmered I quick-smoked about a quarter of the thigh meat and added it to slowly cooked onions, garlic, carrots and a touch of sweet curry powder that I used to cook French green lentils, the best in my opinion because they hold their shape without becoming mushy.

Once my lentil inspiration was set I started to build a stew around it by separately roasting rutabaga (a.k.a. yellow turnip), carrots, fennel and pearl onions and then adding them to the chicken stock along with tomatoes, smoked paprika, thyme and garlic. To finish the dish I sauteed the remaining thigh meat until golden brown and added the infused broth, served it with sauteed lentils and finished it with the delicate fennel frawns.



Don't think of it as a entree that you've had in a restaurant, but more like a dinner with me at our house.

~~~ ~~~ ~~~

I think that a lot of people are surprised that citrus fruits are actually in season this time of year, as opposed to the summer due to their bright and refreshing flavors. For me, that is the best part about them: a shining star in a culinary season of heavy, rich and creamy.

Once I saw that mandarin oranges were available, I knew that the would make a great cocktail because they are sweeter and have a thinner skin than their orange cousins, which allows their flavor to be released more easily under a bartender's muddler. With the addition of Absolut Mandarin vodka and a splash of Grand Marnier this cocktail bursts with more sunshine than we will see here in months!!

I'm not complaining, though; a little rain never hurt no one.

With Love,

Cheffrey

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Shank You Very Much

Often, when people think of the holidays, for some reason chestnuts come to mind. Other than hearing of them in Christmas carols, they weren't apart of any holiday festivities that I can remember when I was growing up, and it wasn't until moving to NYC that I recall ever smelling roasted chestnuts (and even then it wasn't an open fire under a mantel but a hotdog truck, and it was more of a charring than a roast). Being raised there, my wife has fond childhood memories of them, but the allure had eluded me.

That's why when I came across a bin of fresh chestnuts, I had to use them.

If you ever have the chance to roast and peel your own chestnuts, don't, and find someone else to do them for you, like the nut stand outside of Uwajimaya or at the restaurant of some over-achieving chef. They must be scored with a knife so that they don't explode (!!!) in your oven and to allow you to pull off the outer shell and inner skin. On a nut-by-nut basis they are relatively easy to peel if they are not over/undercooked, but after about ten nuts and twenty minutes your fingers start to get sore, leading me to believe that it is impossible to get "full" on chestnuts (or pistachios, for that matter).

Once inside you get a large, delicately flavored nut that is lightly sweet. Since the texture is a bit crumbly I initially thought of pureeing them as a filling for ravioli, but then decided to introduce some German heritage and use them as the base for spaetzle instead, which I sauteed in brown butter to accentuate its nuttiness and served as the main foundation for the meat component of the dish: a lamb shank.

'Tis the season to feature succulently braised dishes that define the idea of comfort food with hearty warmth and a rich sauce that can only truly be obtained by cooking meat that is still on the bone. It is the best of both worlds because the bone provides the flavor while the meat soaks it back up! For the lamb shanks, I seared them in oil at a very high heat to form a beautiful brown crust that helps develop the flavor, then I added caramelized onions and carrots, vegetable stock and beef stock to mellow the gamy flavor that lamb tends to have, tomatoes, herbs and red wine. I simmered the whole lot slowly and tended to it like a loving father until the meat was perfectly tender. Once strained the cooking liquid was reduced and thickened with a deep red roux reminiscent of one used in a great gumbo.

~~~ ~~~ ~~~

This week's cocktail involves an ingredient that is usually a substitution for alcohol, not an accompaniment: Martinelli's Sparkling Cider.

Although I do remember drinking Martinelli's in place of champagne to toast the new year as a child, my most recent memory is when it was served after successful performances by my mother-in-law's music group, Continuum. The sweet effervescence and tart apple flavor is a true balance by itself, but I couldn't help giving it a twirl.


I like the combination of apple and cranberry so I opted for a Cape Cod style cocktail with cranberry juice, Skyy vodka and finished it with the Martinelli's cider to tickle the palate. It goes down so smooth it's like taking a breath of fresh air!

With Love,

Cheffrey

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Secrets

I love the holidays; even as the weather turns down there is an elevated spirit in the air drawn from thoughts of giving to family, friends, and strangers alike - and instead of fretting on the things that we don't have, we start to realize and embrace the things that we do.

Last Thursday we had our own celebration at Table 219 where we owners invited friends and fellow transplants, who also live too far from our original families to visit, to celebrate Thanksgiving with us in our own way. I took care of the turkey, stuffing, gravy and desserts (Derby Pie and Bourbon Balls, my personal touch taken from my own childhood Thanksgiving) and everyone else chips in with their favorite side dishes.

How, as a chef, did I prepare my turkey? Instead of the traditional roast (or fry) I deboned the meat, ground the legs and thighs, diced the breasts, mixed them with pureed shallots, garlic, coriander and seasonings, rolled it tightly, wrapped it in the leftover turkey skin and baked the whole thing until golden brown and crispy (known by chefs as a ballotine). The process sounds tedious, but the end product is moist and delicious because the roast is an even size and the white meat is surrounded by the moist, dark meat.

Another personal touch that I used was taught to me by an old-timer cook back in my days at the '21' Club in NYC: Italian sausage stuffing with sauteed onions, fresh herbs and banana peppers. The slightly spicy peppers add a whole other dimension to the stuffing, which I push even more by using half sweet sausage and half spicy sausage. Louie was a mentor to many who freely shared many of his little touches, but the one that I'll never tell you is his finishing ingredient for sweet potato soup.....

Speaking of secret finishing touches, there's one of my own that helped me develop this week's special - the simple potato. An amazing virtue of a starchy potato such as our own Washington State russet is that cooking a little bit in a soup before pureeing will result in an amazingly velvety texture without actually adding cream; a refreshing supplemental for those of us who are trying to watch our cholesterol.

So for a sort of sauce I pureed sauteed onions that were simmered with some peeled potato and chicken stock along with lightly roasted garlic cloves and finished it with a touch of heavy cream (hey, our restaurant isn't called Healthy 219...).

For the main component I wrapped pieces of skinless Pacific red snapper with finely shaved strips of Bavarian Meats bacon (if I said it before I might as well say it again - THE BEST BACON!!) that were pan seared on all sides until crispy.

A classic and seasonal compliment to anything bacon is cabbage, so I pan-stewed shaved savoy cabbage with julienned local leeks in butter and white wine, and, as a sublte final touch I drizzled just a few drops of White truffle oil over the potato and garlic puree.

Now that the chilly months are here I thought that I would try my hand at some warm cocktails, though no monthly themes this time!

Co-owner Stacey had a regular a couple of weeks ago ask for one that I had never heard of before, a Blueberry Tea.

Even though it doesn't actually contain any "blueberry" flavoring, its components lend to a similar taste. The original recipe calls for Amaretto, Grand Marnier and Orange Pekoe, but Stacey uses my personal favorite kind of tea, Earl Grey, instead, due to its bergamot orange flavoring that only enhances the Grand Marnier. Add a twist of orange rind and it must be complete!

Warm up with a fire by your side, or with this drink in your hand, but you know which one will make you feel better!

With Love,

Cheffrey

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

UMAMI (Oh Mommy!)

Due to the Thanksgiving holiday we are only open for dinner Tuesday, Wednesday and Saturday this week, which lead to some serious thought about this week's special. First and foremost I had to steer clear of any traditional Thanksgiving dishes (which is why the turkey day tribute special was last week) since, again, no would would order it this week. Secondly, with such a short week I felt that I had a chance to do something more challenging and time consuming while also feature a dish that is still conventionally American enough to honor the holiday without being typical.

I finally settled on the idea of pot roast, but not the usual mother's recipe. I wanted to use the classic meat-starch-vegetable combo that you find in most home meals, but compartmentalized - each component is not only separated into the individual cast iron pots that usually adorn our mac 'n' cheeses and side dishes, but also three different instances of umami.

As some of you may know, umami is the recently discovered fifth basic taste (after sweet, sour, salty and bitter) whose name is loosely translated from Japanese as "deliciousness" or "savory". It is that subtle flavor that you can't place your finger on that is found in certain soy products, cheeses, mushrooms and seafood. By emphasizing these components, I knew that my dish would pop as flavorfully as it did visually.

To keep redundancy to a minimum I have marked each umami ingredient used by following it with an appropriate MMM:

The vegetable is simply halved green beans sauteed in ginger, garlic, scallion, soy sauce (mmm) and Szechuan peppercorns - not actually a peppercorn but a tiny fruit with a lemony flavor that slightly numbs the lips and tongue.

For the starch portion I wanted to do a twist on congee, an Asian rice porridge, but using southern grits in place of rice. To cook the grits I used milk, sauteed shitaki mushrooms (mmm) and Parmesan cheese (mmm).

Finally for the meat section I slow braised a whole beef brisket in a stock made with dried shitaki mushrooms (mmm) that, once finished, was tossed in a miso barbecue sauce made with ginger, garlic, scallion, rice vinegar, ketchup, red miso paste (mmm) and sweet soy sauce (an Indonesian version similar to molasses).

I won't say mmm again.... but you will!


For my last installment of the apple drink theme of November I went out on a limb with something different, yet simple.

This week's cocktail has another(!) liquor that is special to me: Jameson Irish Whiskey. Though my heritage is mostly German, my red sideburns tell the tale of a faint Irish bloodline, which is probably why drinking copious amounts of Jameson in my early years as a cook in NYC never ruined my love of the stuff (unlike gin in college...)

So, as a twist of fate, I choose an Irish whiskey over my usual bourbon preference to base this drink, but it is its subtle character that lends itself to this drink so much better.

The recipe is simple, yet effective: two parts Jameson whiskey, two parts cranberry juice (the missing holiday ingredient!) and one part sour apple pucker; shake, strain, pour and sip before the froth disappears!

Happy Thanksgiving!!

Cheffrey

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Giving Thanks in Advance

All I can say is "WOW!", Thanksgiving is next week!

This is the time of year when we realize the importance of what it means to give thanks. This past Monday my wife and I attended the second annual fundraising dinner at our sister restaurant Geraldine's Counter to support the Rainier Valley Food Bank, where friends and family of the restaurant and neighborhood gathered to show our support and decorate sugar cookies. In these economic times it is no surprise that the number of people seeking assistance has doubled over last year, and we all know how shitty last year was, so if it is in your capacity, please consider donating to the Rainier Valley Food Bank, Northwest Harvest, or your local supporter.

In honor of the season I wanted to come up with a dish that embodied that wholesomeness of a traditional American Thanksgiving dinner, with my personal touches, of course!

Why am I featuring this now instead of next week? Well, experience has taught me that no one wants to go out to a restaurant the week of Thanksgiving and order turkey... or the week after... or probably for the next three months, so I thought that I'd get a jump start and make something that you'll remember when you do sit down and eat the usual fare on the big day.

This dish is like a combination of all of the things that are great in the typical feast: pumpkin pie, green bean casserole, turkey and gravy. Here's the breakdown:

For the pumpkin pie component I formed handmade gnocchi with roasted pumpkin, potato, eggs and parmesan with a hint of nutmeg and cinnamon. The green been casserole flavors were developed by sauteing shitaki mushrooms and haricot vert (or French green beans) in butter, onions and garlic to mimic the traditional use of canned cream of mushroom soup. I added applewood smoked turkey meat and turkey stock with a hefty pinch of fresh chopped thyme, sage and rosemary to bring out that customary fall flavor that you would find in great gravy. Finally, I topped it all with thin slices of shallot soaked in buttermilk and tossed in masa harina, a fine Mexican corn flour, that I fried to not only for the final green bean casserole component, but also to hint at another classic side dish, creamed corn.


After tasting this dish you may find yourself at your family table next Thursday wishing that you were served this instead, but please DO NOT tell them so - the last thing I need is an angry mob of relatives beating down my door!

This week's drink special is actually the little demon that sparked the idea to come up with an apple themed month, and all of the work was worth it now that I have an All-American cocktail to pair with my Thanksgiving bowl. Not only that, but this will also be my first HOT cocktail feature!

The only thing as American as Thanksgiving is warm apple pie, and to translate that same flavor as a drink was quite easy with some special touches: in a glass Irish coffee mug I added hot apple cider and Tuaca (an Italian liquour with brandy, orange and vanilla flavors) that are topped with my handmade egg nog cream that we are now also using to finish our specialty coffee cocktails during brunch. What a treat!



With these unforgettable flavors, who could go wrong!?!

With Love,

Cheffrey





Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Rolling Up a Fatty

If there is one complaint about our menu that I am surprised that I never hear it's the lack of an actual chicken dish. Sure we have our Chicken Andouille Sausage Corndogs, but that is really more of an appetizer, though many make a meal out of them. Most restaurants feature an obligatory version or two that are usually more of an afterthought in order to cover all bases; the creativity is instead found in the beef, lamb and fish entrees.

Even I hesitated after the initial menu was laid down, and again at each revision, but I still stand by our unconventional format - not because the menu doesn't warrant it, but in order to allow myself infinite variations to present as specials.

Chicken is a blank slate - perhaps not the independent flavor that its ancestors or relatives have, but it is its neutrality that allows it to shine with the right ingredients. Now I am able to use chicken as a fulcrum to balance between fall and winter dishes to create something that is rich and hearty, yet light on the palate.

With such great local pears available I initially thought of pairing them with cheese along with dried fruit and nuts (kind of like what you would find on a cheese plate), so I pounded out fat chicken breasts into thin cutlets and stuffed them with roasted Bosc pears, dried currants and chopped pecans. Once they were rolled up, I breaded them with Japanese breadcrumbs and fried them to order.

For the sauce I went with Gorgonzola, a mild blue cheese, pureed with half and half and corn starch to thicken it and give it that rich texture of cream without all of the heaviness. As another seasonal touch I lightly roasted spaghetti squash just enough to cull its strands and form pancakes that were dredged in rice flour and pan-fried until crispy and golden brown. Since the dish had a lot of ingredients that leaned towards the sweet side I finished it with a quick braise of local, bitter greens that consisted of kale, mustard and collard greens, as well as chard.



The funny thing about these entries is that I tend to purposely paint myself into a corner as a personal challenge to see if I can work my way out. It's really just an extension of how we chefs strive to overcome our daily challenges despite any obstacles.

Last week I stated that all drinks this month were going to feature apple as the main ingredient not only to prelude next week's drink special (he, he!), but to propel my mixology skills further and come up with something completely different.

Sure, sometimes I may fail, just like when you push the limits of anything, but then there are the times like these when you stumble onto something great!

After the great success of the fig infused rum in the previous Fig Mai Tai special I used the same liquour in combination with some fresh apple juice from our brunch menu and a splash of club soda (never underestimate the power of seltzer) to shape this fall treat!

Mistakes are bound to happen; it is the sweet surprise when they happen for the better!

With Love,

Cheffrey



Wednesday, November 4, 2009

An Apple a Day

Autumn is a very nostalgic time for me: the leaves have changed and are clattering in the streets; the crisp, chilly air while the sun is still shining, and even hopes of seeing another harvest moon. Despite working on this past Halloween (and every other one that I can remember) I still appreciate the enchantment that it brings. As a kid I all I ever thought about was the candy that I would get, but now as a chef all I think about is the bounty that the season will bring... and it's funny how those two emotions now feel the same.

One of the many great parts of living in this area this time of year is the abundance of our state fruit, the apple. Despite haunting memories of bobbing for apples (the waterboarding of Halloween tradition), the apple remains one of my favorite fruits, whose family spans from tart to sweet with the ability to accent every course.

The process for this week's special went like a word association game:

I started with the idea of combining apple and fennel since they have accenting flavors and great textures, then I used those flavors with other ingredients that they compliment - fennel goes great with fish and seafood, and green apple gives a bright acidity that pairs well with spices, and they both blend well with earthy ingredients.

I started with a broth made of fresh Alaskan halibut bones and fennel, not too fishy and not too light, along with ginger, star anise and a touch of soy sauce. While the stock was simmering I cooked pearled barley with apple cider and a splash of heavy cream for body. I emphasized the apple and fennel in the broth with a fresh shaved salad of each on top, along with king crab, seared scallops and shrimp, but there was an underlying treat to this dish as well:

The Ozette potato.

Though it may sound like some new fancy hybrid, it is actually the only potato that has come here directly from South America (the origin of all potatoes) in 1791, where all other varieties came to North America via Europe first, thus being a highly unique ingredient that is distinctly from our region, a knobby gem of the slow food movement here in Seattle. With this year being the first time that this tuber is available on a limited commercial basis, I jumped at the chance to use it in one of my dishes. Some say it's earthy, I say it's minerally, but we all agree that it's flavor is distinct.



Keeping with the apple theme I have decided to feature it as our cocktail for the entire month of November!I started with a take on a popular cocktail that is loved by all, though few would admit it - the Appletini.

For this version, I wanted to reflect on the ghosts of Halloween past, if you will, and offer a familiar treat with a combination of apple vodka, apple pucker, butterscotch schnapps and a touch of my personal recipe of caramel sauce on the rim.

A touch of home, a touch of sweetness, a touch of comfort.

With Love,

Cheffrey

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Death Row Menu

Many people ask me what my favorite food is. As a chef I have been fortunate enough to taste some of the best ingredients that you can find in this world. I've had heaping spoonfuls of Beluga caviar, triple-seared Kobe beef and beloved foie gras (just to name a few) prepared at some of the greatest restaurants in this country, if not the world.

The question always reminds me of the last meal on death row game where you pick the menu perfect enough to die happy afterwards. My answer may surprise you since even after all of my travels and culinary conquests, my menu is simple: Alaskan King Crab Legs with Drawn Butter, Prime Rib (roasted whole) with Sauteed Broccolini, and Krispy Kreme doughnuts. Classy, huh?

But since I was asked what my one favorite food is, it would hands down be the King Crab. Why? Maybe it was growing up in the Midwest back when if tuna was served, it was cooked more than just seared, where family trips to Florida with my mom and step-dad broadened my culinary horizons with fresh fish and seafood. I remember seeing my first live shrimp jumping around on the docks, deep sea fishing with mom "Chumming" over the side of the boat, and of course, endless buffet lines piled high with displaced Alaskan King Crab Legs. My mother and I still believe to this day that we put at least one restaurant out of business due to their "All You Can Eat King Crab" nights...

Due to a drop in prices for king crabs I was able to not only use it in this week's special, but to also do a take on my Death Row Meal to offer our first (and affordable) Surf 'n' Turf:

Right away I knew I wanted to create a variation of Steak Oscar, which is filet mignon topped with crabmeat, asparagus and bearnaise. Instead of using the dry and costly tenderloin I went with the second most tender cut of beef - the flat iron steak. Once grilled to medium rare I topped it with an "au gratin" of crab, half and half, shallots, garlic, butter, Parmesan and white wine before lightly coloring in the oven. To finish the plate I went with a combination of two traditional steakhouse accompaniments: mashed potatoes and creamed spinach, along with a preparation of a red bell pepper jelly with balsamic vinegar that balances the dish by cutting through the richness of the au gratin.



If Alaskan King crab is my favorite food, then I must include my favorite spirit in this week's cocktail special as well: bourbon. Bourbon may not be what I grew up on, but I sure grew up around it in the suburbs of Louisville, Kentucky and I never miss an opportunity to play with it!

Despite mixing bourbon with anything other than water being blasphemy in my family (a trait even my NYC born wife has taken to) even I stray from the pack from time to time to try out new combination of flavors.

This time I went with a combination of bourbon and hibiscus water with a splash of simple syrup, Tuaca Italian Liqueur, club soda and a dash of Pechaud's bitters, but instead giving it some dignified name I decided to give it something more silly in light of the upcoming Halloween festivities, something like "the Scarecrow".

Fortunately this won't be out last meal together, so see me here next week for more great tastes!

With Love,

Cheffrey

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Hamming it Up: The Duality of Cooking

With a title like that I'll try to keep the puns to a minimum, but I'm not going to make any promises... ;)

When the seasons change like this, it isn't that I just have different ingredients to use but the way in which I use them also changes. For instance, this summer you saw a lighter style of cooking from me: roasted meat and fish, broths instead of sauces and pan fried pork accompanied with salads, whereas my future winter dishes will be comprised of deep flavors developed by braising and rich sauces. My goal as a chef is to not only use the available ingredients, but also cooking techniques that relate them to the current season.

Life isn't always like that, though; some people still love hot soup no matter what the temperature is outside, just like the way that mom never changed her pot roast recipe to adjust for the season. It isn't a matter of rhyme or reason, it is simply what tastes good. It is because of this duality of cooking that I chose to showcase two contrasting specials: and entree born of necessity, and a cocktail born of desire.

The art of making ham (and yes, I do mean art) originally came about because back in the day it was a way of preserving the meat for the cold months without refrigeration, but it has become an integral part of our everyday lifestyle as are pickles, cheese, ketchup and jams. I wanted to re-create the traditional cooking of a ham that is commonly found in the South, where a fully cooked ham is tenderized by slow roasting in the oven with Coca-Cola, Dr. Pepper, or even root beer.

I couldn't be the chef that I am and simply buy a pre-made ham... you should know me better than that by now, but I also wanted to work outside of the box a little to make a "boneless ham" by using the front quarters instead of the typical hindquarters, so I butchered and tied sections of meat that were brined in a solution of allspice, cinnamon, brown sugar and curing salt for two days before being slow cooked over applewood logs for three hours, during which I basted the hams every half hour with a variation of my step-father's family recipe known as "Lamb's Ham", which consists of a glaze of Dijon mustard, brown sugar and Indonesian sweet soy sauce (used in place of molasses). And that was just my day off!!

Since the meat was already tender after the slow roasting I had to reproduce the soda cooking technique, so I made a sauce by not only simmering a mild beef stock and typical root beer, but I also added elements that would help fortify/intensify the natural root beer flavor, such as: burdock root, ginger, vanilla bean, prunes and citrus zests. The flavor profile also extends to a quick saute of roasted fennel and cannellini beans simmered with a touch of star anise for that licorice note, and I finished the dish with a light foam of the sauce to re-create the "head" that we all associate with good root beer.



This weeks drink special would seem more fitting in warmer climates, but as I stated above, a familiar taste is always more appreciated.

This one took some time and care to prepare because I have been marinating dried black mission figs in white rum for a few weeks now. The result was a dark and flavorful liqueur that reminded me of Meyer's Rum, which lead me to the idea to use it in place of the white and spiced rums that make a typical Mai Tai. Secondly, in order for us to make it traditionally I needed Orgeat Syrup, a sweet syrup made with almonds, but since it can be difficult to find, and when you do it's usually filled with more high fructose corn syrup than anything else, I chose to make that by hand as well.

Not only does this cocktail take its cue from last week's entree special, but it gives yin to the ham's yang!

With Love,

Cheffrey



Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Cruisin'

This past Sunday my wife, Anna and I took a road trip to Port Angeles for their Dungeness Crab and Seafood Festival. We gorged ourselves on crab bisque, crab pizza, fresh oysters, grilled bacon-wrapped scallops, and even a crab and bechamel pastry. If you haven't yet experienced this yourself, I highly recommend that you secure it in your calender for next year NOW.


To be honest, the festival was only half of the experience for me. After 9 years of living in New York City without the need for a car has led me to a great appreciation for a road trip, and what a drive it was. From highways to ferries, to state roads and towns, the foliage is the same. Autumn is upon us, and even though I've had this dish in mind for a few weeks, there is no better time for it than now.

The main component of this dish is composed of a filling made by stewing dried mission figs with red wine and balsamic vinegar that is then pureed and stuffed into a crescent-shaped pasta known as agnolotti. While the pasta cooks I brown butter in a saute pan that I also use to warm strands of pulled duck confit and chervil, a subtle herb that is like a cross between parsley and tarragon that gives the dish a light and fresh licorice note. When the dumplings are done they are dumped into the pan along with a lilttle of the cooking water to help give body to the sauce. Once seasoned and plated I finished off the dish with a healthy shaving of Manchego, an aged sheep's milk cheese from Spain that has a sharp, nutty flavor that complements the fig and the brown butter sauce.



For this week's cocktail special I wanted to showcase one of our house-crafted liqueurs, limoncello, which I personally infused and bottled over the summer to add to our dessert drink list. I have used it as a base for cocktails before and I am always looking for new ways to integrate it, so why not create a simple, refreshing Limoncello Sour.

This drink actually pairs very well with the Fig Agnolotti special because it has the citrus from the limoncello to balance out the richness of the brown butter and the duck confit, but is light enough to allow the rest of the dish's flavors to come through.

But don't take my word for it... try them both for yourself!

With Love,

Cheffrey

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Tribute

This week I want to start out by saying goodbye to a dear friend.

For 68 years Gourmet magazine has offered the insights of the world to its readers, bringing to their homes exotic sights and flavors well before most were able to travel and see them for themselves.

Sure, it may not have been as smart or as good looking as younger sister mag Bon Appetit, but as the nation's longest running culinary magazine it has inspired countless home cooks and chefs alike, a legacy in and of itself.

So as a tribute to Gourmet I have chosen a cocktail featured in the "Gourmet's Favorite Cocktails" section on their website, which showcases the best cocktails that they have published since their inception, categorized by decade! Check it out while you can!

With a lot to choose from (and more to appear as specials later on) I settled on a simple yet delicious cocktail from the 1970's: a combination of champagne and Lillet, a French Aperitif comprised of a blend of 85% white wine and 15% citrus liqueurs, garnished with a healthy twist of orange.

To me, no drink pays respect like a glass of bubbly, and to raise a drink that comes from the source of inspiration is the ultimate tribute.

Cheers to you, old friend!


As for the dinner special, I came up with a dish worthy of any food magazine's cover:

Keeping with my earlier promise, I am continuing my quest to present dishes that embody the seasonal transition by combining the light attributes of summer with the earthiness of autumn, and this one sure fits the bill.

First, I slowly smoked chicken thighs with applewood until the meat is a beautiful, dark amber that I rolled with chevre goat cheese as a filling for thin crepes made with parsley, chives, thyme and rosemary.

Then, for a sauce I shaved the kernels of fresh, local corn that I blended with the rich corn stock made from the cobs. Once strained and thickened with Agar Agar (a vegetarian alternative to gelatin that I also use for my "Ding Dong" dessert), this sauce has an amazing velvety texture that packs an unbelievable punch of pure corn flavor!

For the finishing touch, I topped the crepes with a mound of local lobster mushrooms that I sauteed simply in butter and chives to allow their flavors to shine.

This is not the greatest dish in the world, this is just a tribute ;)

With Love,

Cheffrey

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

A Taste of Home

I'd be lying if I said that I've had a hard time dreaming up specials lately. Truth be told: I have enough completed dishes to get me through the next month, and that doesn't even include ideas based on those wonderful "blips" of produce that quickly surface in the market (Lobster Mushrooms anyone??). So why the long list? It is the inspiration of that first chilly day, where the leaves turn crisp and jingle in the breeze and when the bounty of produce begins to peak; it is in fact my favorite time of year.

This is the time of the year where we get to view another side of my style of cooking - rich and bold flavors mingling with familiar ingredients to impart the fundamental sense of home; not just my home, and not just your home, but any home. With years of living in different areas of this great country and with its many influences I have found that, though the regions and the people differ, the soul of the food remains the same, and with that thought in mind, I came up with this:

I started the dish by sauteing large pieces of rockfish, which I love for it's almost shrimp/lobster texture while still staying flaky, like a fish should. Next I wanted to combine something traditionally American with what is unconventionally American, so I made a base of roasted sugar pie pumpkins pureed with garlic, onions and a touch of allspice and blended it with red Thai curry paste and some coconut milk for richness.

To finish the dish I went with a Guamanian preparation of pickled papaya that I used to form a salad along with red bell pepper, scallion, jujube (a.k.a. Chinese date) and fresh cilantro to offset the lusciousness of the pumpkin curry, and topped it all off with toasted papaya and pumpkin seeds for even more crunch and flavor.



~ ~ ~


Once I had this week's special finalized, I knew that I had to come up with a cocktail that is also both conventional and unconventional, and then it struck me.

No cocktail has been more prevalent in America in the last decade than the ubiquitous Cosmopolitan, a blend of cranberry juice, lime juice, vodka and triple sec. So I replaced the lime juice and triple sec for lychee nectar, which not only rearranged the whole characteristic of the drink, but actually formulated a cocktail to pair with my special!!

Try them seperate or taste them together, either way you'll feel right at home.

With Love,

Cheffrey

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

The 25th Hour

Last week I snuck away for a little vacation to go back home for my brother's wedding. Sorry for not telling you before, but when people know that the chef is away they tend to expect the quality of food to go down, and when you already have negative expectations, they usually come true for you.

Obviously southern Indiana isn't an ideal place to summer for a week, but I had other matters to attend to, the biggest of which was the arduous task of making the wedding cake.

Fear not dear reader, I have done this before, even at my own wedding, and I hate to say it - this one came out better. With the requested kelly green ribbons, fleur-de-lis molded fondant and the fresh green rose topper this cake sure came out sharp!!

The bad side of the trip was the return; not that I didn't want to leave but because my wife and I had to go through Atlanta, GA to get here, and since they had more rain in 12 hours than we get here in December and January COMBINED, we had to leave Louisville at 2 am (Seattle time) just to get here in time for me to start work today. Now that's dedication!! Lucky for me, I already had this week's special mapped out.

The foundation of this dish starts with purslane, considered a weed here in the US but is now being cultivated by local farms that has a herbal, slightly sour flavor that makes an amazing puree when I blend it with shallots, garlic and cream.

As I've stated before I am now officially moving into fall flavors, so I continued building another layer of flavor for this dish with a light saute of sliced fingerling potatoes, baby fennel, bacon, thyme and scallions to showcase some earthy components of fall.

To top it all off I pounded portions of boneless lamb and cooked them sous vide to perfect medium rare and tender medallions which I dusted with a fine mixture of ground fennel seeds, black pepper and coriander.


During our layover at my mother's house last night she made us a favorite cocktail of a friend of her's - the French Martini - a blend of vodka, pineapple juice and Chambord to ease our traveling woes, which reminded me about a new type of flavored vodka that has hit our restaurant's shelves: Effen Black Cherry (as in "This effen situation sucks!"). So I thought that it would be fitting to merge the two into one great cocktail!


So I would like to dedicate this drink to my brother Craig and his new bride Heather: may your lives be sweet, together and forever.

With Love,

Cheffrey




























and cheers to the new bride and groom!!!

Monday, September 14, 2009

Summer Lovin', Had Me a Blast...

This is it, the end of the summer season… at least as far as my specials are concerned.

I’m not going to jump right into braised meats in rich and heavy sauces; I’ll ease into the season slowly by straying away from cold dishes and by introducing some earthy flavors, then once the autumn vegetables are in full swing the real fun begins.

So before the final shift to fall I wanted to make one last set of specials to pay homage to summer.

It is always popular when I have some kind of ahi tuna as a special, and there has been this idea floating around my head for quite some time involving an incarnation of tuna salad, but instead of a unidentifiable mushy mishmash using canned tuna I used fresh, seared tuna steaks and a variety of fresh textures and familiar flavors that stay true to the traditional dish.

First, I seared the ahi tuna steaks hot and fast like they should be and while they cooled a bit I assembled a crispy salad of red and orange bell peppers, shaved celery, cornichon, baby fennel, scallion and tomato dressed with a an Old Bay vinaigrette,and finished the plate with a wasabi-dill crème fraiche to add the finishing touch for the flavor profile.


For me, nothing says summer like a cool, refreshing glass of sangria, and a white version is a nice alternative. I was inspired by a night out at our friends and neighbors at Poco Wine Room where my wife and I had a pear fruit wine that, if we didn’t already know, could pass for a crisp chardonnay with strong pear notes. Unfortunately, it would be blasphemy to make sangria with a wine of that caliber, so instead I blended white wine with Looza (the best!) pear nectar and added chopped peaches and nectarines, the last of the season.



Sip it with joy, my friends, never with sorrow; though the end of summer is nigh, the bounty is near.

With Love,

Cheffrey

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Seasonal Tribute

I hate to be the one to break it to you, but the summer is fading fast. In fact, my produce purveyor has already informed me (to his own dismay) that local Winter Squash(!!!) such as butternut and acorn are now available, although the term actually refers to squash harvested autumn that can be stored through winter, but still...!!!

I always find myself grasping at the tail-end of the season this time of year, trying to squeeze in every incomplete idea that I have jotted down in my notebook over the summer out of fear that I will be unable to coerce the same ingredient for another nine months or so. Fortunately for me I am always looking forward towards something new, but if an old idea falls into place it is only a sign that it is even more apparent that it belongs in my repertoire, as is the case with my next special.

I had first conceptualized a sauce that I've called a "Bacon Ragout" for my Guest Chef Night at the Farestart organization a little over a year ago, but I never had a chance to use it at the restaurant until now: first I finely chopped some Bavarian Meats bacon (have I already stated this as the BEST?...worth doing again) and rendered it slowly to yield its fat in order to create a base for my sauce, then I added sliced garlic, chopped onion, diced carrot and a touch of grated ginger root. Once the foundation was set I added half of a bottle of red wine, a mild beef stock, diced local tomatoes and chopped baby fennel and allowed it to simmer for a few hours to mature.

I knew that I wanted to use this sauce as a variation on the classic Southern dish of Smothered Chicken Thighs, but I really wanted to add the refinement of crispy skin to the traditional concept, so I pan-seared the skin side in rendered duck fat before roasting them in the oven (hey, I have to make up for the vegetarian dish from last week, right?). Once cooked through I returned the chicken to the bacon ragout so that they could absorb some of that succulent sauce before turning it all out over perfectly cooked jasmine rice.

The favors are Mediterrasian with the health benefits of southern style cooking!!!


For this week's drink special I decided to do a tribute to one of my many mentors, Paul Nicaj. Paul is one of a few who are responsible for giving me my first Executive Chef position and is also notoriously known from the Plaza and Pierre Hotels in New York City. One of his favorite introductory drinks to greet guests is the Bellini, a mix of peach nectar and champagne, so I thought that I would pay tribute to Paul and the progress that he has helped me make by offering a bellini made with fresh juiced Northwestern Peaches!!!!

Better yet, if you specifically ask for "Paul's Bellini" we will give you 25% off of the regular price!!

If Paul has taught me anything, it is loyalty to your customers, because without them, you are nothing.

With Love,

Cheffrey












Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Where's the Beef?

It would probably come as no surprise that at any given time that I sit down to figure out my next special, I'm usually trying to figure how I can put more meat into a dish, and more often than not it would be some form of pork. I must be coming down with something (swine flu?? waa-waa) because when I reached deep down inside to come up with another great idea, a vegetarian dish is what I found.

Perhaps I was inspired by all of the great local produce that I am seeing right now, or maybe it's another step in my growth as a chef by working out of my comfort zone in order to expand my horizons and potential. Either way, I am happy with the outcome, and after only one night as a special I was called out to the dining room to meet a guest who declared the exact words that I was hoping to hear:

"I'm not a vegetarian, and I love this!!"

If that isn't convincing enough, allow me to entice you: I started by salting thick slices of local eggplant to draw out the bitterness and any excess moisture, then grilled them until tender and pliable. I filled the slices with red lentils that were cooked with a fresh vegetable stock and then mashed with Japanese breadcrumbs, onions, garlic and extra virgin olive oil.

Due the the inherent mushiness of both the eggplant and the lentils I knew that I had to add some crunch to balance their textures. Since I also have an extensive knowledge of Pastry Arts I sometimes like to crossover sweet ingredients and concepts into savory dishes, like last week's Corn Custard, so for this I made an unsweetened crumble out of butter, flour, fresh thyme and oregano, cashews and dried porcini pieces - similar to what you might find on top of an apple crisp.

Yes, the eggplant is also complimented by sauteed baby swiss chard and a fresh sweet bell pepper sauce that was blended with a touch of mild middle eastern spices, but what really completes this dish is a warm and luscious brie sauce that gets its unbelievably velvety texture by passing it though my trusty whip cream canister.



~~~ ~~~ ~~~


I am starting to feel like a radio DJ because I've been getting requests for repeats. I usually ignore the requests for the dinner specials unless they're something that is transformable like a flatbread or a seasonal item like my heirloom tomato plate simply because I like to make something new and you can only try one entree at a time, but as far as cocktails go, I'm all ears!!

So when a regular requested my Vodka Lavender Lemonade (a favorite of mine as well!), I gratefully complied.


To my loyal fans and followers, this bud's for you...;)

With Love,

Cheffrey

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

In a Pickle

I know that I have already professed my love for over-extending myself by hand-making the components of my specials that could otherwise be purchased like vinegars, cured meats or chips, but what you may not know is that the same holds true for our everyday menu as well. From condiments like Tomato Jam, Tzatziki and Ginger Dill Pickles for our burgers to the Sweet Pepper Relish under our Deviled Eggs. Aside from the concept that the more you do yourself the better the outcome, there is another factor here: my passion for the old world technique of preserving.

This time of year is the highlight of agriculture, with an overwhelming abundance of produce falling off faster than we can use, and just as much now as before fruits and vegetables are being jarred, dried and canned, but what was a method of survival is now a matter of flavor. So now I take it upon myself to carry on those traditions - not out of necessity, but of desire.

So for this dish I went with a more delicate approach of the pickling method; a tribute, if you will: instead of the heavy infusion of a boiling vinegar solution poured over the ingredients I decided to quickly marinate thinly sliced Green Beans, Red Onions, English Cucumbers, Red Bell Peppers and Celery in seasoned red wine vinegar over a period of hours at room temperature in order to retain their color and crunch, but still imparting that acidic bite.

The next component is something that I have been bouncing around my head for quite some time, being someone from Indiana and having a background with some Pastry Arts skills: I pureed fresh corn kernels with half 'n' half, cream and egg yolks and baked the mixture in a shallow pan (like a savory custard base for creme brulee), which was then cooled and cut into rectangular bars and topped with a new ingredient - Seared Sea Scallops, and for added dimension I dotted the plate with a sweet and spicy puree of thickened carrot juice cooked with Madras curry powder. The dish pops from the pickled vegetables and the spiciness of the carrot curry puree in contrast with the rich and creamy custard, all of which compliments the naturally sweetness of the scallops.

I know that this may seem like a backwards way of composing a dish, but you have to realize that accompanying ingredients are just as important as the alleged "main" ingredient, thus creating a balanced dish.

~ ~ ~

This time, I can't take the credit for this week's drink special, and I am more than happy to do so. Our Brunch Manager Extraordinaire Kari Zumwalt took it upon herself to come up with this one.

Sometimes my cocktail specials don't translate well from nighttime to brunch; some people just don't like the taste of bourbon at 9 am (go figure...), so we have been augmenting them with more accessible concoctions like pomegranate mimosas or apricot bellinis in order to soothe the beast instead. Last weekend Kari was inspired by my use of local raspberries in the raspberry mojito and decided to implement her own version of a Kir Royale, but instead of sparkling wine with creme de cassis she used Chambord and garnished the glass with the same local raspberries! I loved it so much that I had to showcase it here!!!

It just goes to show you the dedication that everyone here has, and that I am not the only one here that has love to give.

With Love,

Cheffrey

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Ambition

Life is not without irony, and that is certainly true for me as a chef. These days my specials have a tendency to be inspired by what I can write about them in this blog instead of the other way around, which is fine since it not only allows me explore another form of creativity in tandem with that of food, but sometimes those literary conceptions can come back to slap me in the face.

Case in point: this past Sunday my wife and I sat down to watch the much anticipated season premiere of Mad Men, an amazing show about an advertisement agency set in 1960's NYC. During the show a character's wife told him that he is "an ambitious man, and an ambitious man is never happy with what he has". The dialogue struck a chord with me because I too am never satisfied with what I have done in my profession; I am always trying to push the limits of myself and my kitchen further to create something better than I have before that can still be expedited quickly without sacrificing quality.

So I sat down later that night to do some brainstorming and I came up with an intriguing technique of wrapping partially cooked slices of potatoes into a lattice-woven crust around pork tenderloin. My mind was piqued with the possibilities, and after a couple of nights of stewing on it I finally had the chance to try it out early today at the restaurant, and the result was:

FAIL!

Not on a large scale, but since I didn't want to serve raw pork wrapped in a beautiful, crispy crust, I decided to go without. Fortunately, this idea wasn't the focal point of my dish... the succotash was.

Last week my purveyor presented me with some local fresh cranberry beans (cranberry beans are a fresh legume that have a chestnut-like flavor with a creamy texture, pictured here) and I knew right away what I could do with them. In the past I have used various beans in the place of lima beans to make succotash, a southern dish of shell beans cooked with corn that became popular during the Great Depression, but this time I added some local favorites: Red Corn, Yakima Tomatoes, Baby Swiss Chard and Walla Walla Onions.

To go with my now naked pork tenderloin I chose to make a bold and flavorful sauce that is still light enough to be enjoyed in the summer heat: a combination of pancetta broth with some beef stock for body and slowly simmered with a good dose of sherry wine for added refinement and depth.

"We aim above the mark to hit the mark." - Ralph Waldo Emerson


Keeping with the theme of local I decided to once again tweak a personal favorite - The Mojito.


I didn't want to go too far with it though... after all, I have touted in the past the importance of simplicity and using quality ingredients in order to let them shine, so this week's cocktail is no different: to our already delicious mojito recipe I have added a muddling of some of the country's best raspberries from Richter Farms (not just by my opinion) for an added twist on the greatest heat-beater.


"A drink a day keeps the shrink away." - Edward Abbey


With Love,


Cheffrey

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

'Tis the Season

Being a chef relatively new to the Pacific Northwest (2 years this month) I am still getting used to the way produce grows around here. In the east, the scorching hot sun nourishes plants and ripens tomatoes faster than a chef can sweat, but here, the anticipation builds slowly, developing the flavors of some of the best fruits and vegetables that I have ever tasted, but the window in which to get them is short. Sure, these days it is as easy to get produce from Peru as it is from other parts of the US, but if you're living here, I don't need to explain to you the difference.

Obviously I wanted to take advantage of the summer bounty before it runs out, but I also wanted to take it a step further this week. In the past, I have served a variety of interesting meats as specials like Pheasant Meatloaf, Wild Boar Stuffed Cabbage and Venison Meatball Subs, but there is another type of meat that I love that you won't find on most menus, at least this time of year: Turkey.

We all know it during the holiday season, but for the rest of the year it is an ingredient that lies somewhat dormant. Somehow, someway this delicious bird has been "Hallmarked" as a treat only for Thanksgiving. Personally, my wife and I cook with it often, mostly ground for fillings and burgers; an even healthier alternative to other lean substitutes like chicken or pork, and I think that it is time that turkey makes it's debut here.

I started with the idea of pairing local peaches with local basil, something that I have been toying with in my mind because of the fruity notes that basil has and the fact that they couldn't have come into season at the same time just by accident. For me, grilling peaches has been a way to bring them out of the dessert world and into a savory dish like this because the high heat caramelizes the natural sugars in the fruit, which is not only less sweet to the tongue, but chars it just enough to balance out the sweetness.

Turkey breasts are a very lean cut and can become tough quickly if not handled carefully, so I pounded them thinly and sprinkled with some salt, pepper and a subtle amount of Ras el Hanout, a popular blend of herbs and spices used in the Middle East and North Africa. After rolling and skewering the cutlets I sliced them into thin medallions, which are pan roasted in the oven to cook through while I assemble the rest of the ingredients for the dish.

Another great component to this dish is sauteed Treviso, a cousin of radicchio that is longer yet just as purple and mildly bitter. It acts a perfect balance to the sweetness of the peach, a classic Italian pairing with the basil, and an unusual new friend of the dish's final component: Chinese Black Vinegar, often compared to typical balsamic vinegar but with a far more complexity and added spice.

I plan to introduce more specials with turkey as the main ingredient, but with the bar set this high, it might take a lot more time to come up with something comparable to this one!


Another idea that spawned from my home life is one of my favorite summer drinks, Sangria, and although I have introduce a basic version of it already this summer, I now have even better intentions.....

You see, traditional sangria needs a bit of sugar to balance the fruit with the brandy and the tannic wine in order to produce a beverage that is easily drinkable in the summertime without being heavy. So I dispensed with the refined sugar and used fresh juiced watermelon in its place, along with diced peaches, pineapple, and some sour green apples (for balance, don't you know!).

With all of the uncertainty in the world, it is comforting to know that there are things here that will put us at ease.

With Love,

Cheffrey

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Inspirations

The weekend before last my wife and I headed to Chicago for a wedding/birthday celebration for me, starting on Friday in the 'burbs for the reception of my childhood best friend and ending with two nights of culinary debauchery in a seriously food-centric city. At first we were to go at it alone, but with my home town a mere (!!) six hour drive away, I asked my mother, stepfather and brother to join us.

For the first night I plotted out dinner at Graham Elliot, with a fun and playful menu by award winning Chef Bowles that paired elegantly plated food with an impressive cocktail list in a trendy environment. For the second night, I had bigger plans... dinner at Alinea, one of this country's greatest restaurants, helmed by a culinary genius, Grant Achatz. I have his cookbook, so I was somewhat prepared, but my mind was just as blown away as everyone else's! To see course-by-course pics, check them out here.

I knew that going to Chicago wouldn't be just a self-fulfilling prophecy of inspiration, nor do I need to eat at high-end restaurant to find a muse; it can come from vegetarian delivery from The Hill to simple bar food to festive east coast traditions.

As a chef I am constantly learning, and learning comes from researching and reading books like Chef Achatz', which goes beyond the importance of fresh ingredients to focus on new ideas like:

Global Awareness - using ingredients and techniques from other countries that are unfamiliar in order to create unique combinations

Form Mimicking - making familiar food by manipulating other items to look like it

and of course,

Technology - using what we now know as "Molecular Gastronomy": the process of using new techniques to create different textures and profiles that are unachievable with traditional cooking methods.

I am paraphrasing of course, and there are for more insights in his book and in this realm of "Modern Cuisine", for lack of better terms, than I want to get into here.

So, to get to the point, I wanted to create a special that is not only a part of our culinary view, but embraced the ideas of these great chefs, and be simple enough to execute in our small kitchen. With that in mind, a bar food type sampler was in order, with a twist.

Here's the breakdown:

The Clam Bake is a New England classic, so I centered the plate with our shot glass full of clams, brunoised purple fingerling potatoes, corn and a chorizo and beer broth that I foamed with lecithin for an airy texture. Next I went with some variations on the classics: Lamb "Wings" - seasoned ground lamb wrapped around pieces of sugar cane to act as a bone over a fresh made harissa sauce; herbed goat cheese stuffed cherry peppers, breaded and fried, over powderized house made ranch dressing (a now common substance called Tapioca Maltodextrin can turn any fat into a powder, until it touches your tongue and becomes liquid again); and my version of potato skins - hollowed out purple and red potatoes filled with an unbelievably light and smooth mousse that I made by filling a whipped cream dispenser with hot mashed potato, bacon fat, milk and truffle oil.

Not on the level of such great chefs, but well above what you will find from a small kitchen like ours - but, as you know, big things come in small packages!


~ ~ ~

As I noted above, Graham Elliot had an exceptional cocktail menu, and one drink that I (vaguely ;) remember had an infusion of bourbon and plum, which I took as soaking prunes (an ugly way of saying dried plums) in good ole bourbon for a few weeks. So when I came back to Seattle, wouldn't you know it, Northwestern stone fruits such as peaches, nectarines, and yes, plums are in abundance. I started out with the intention of making an intricate cocktail with fresh juiced plums blended with my new favorite whiskey - rye, maybe some herbs, or perhaps some of my house made limoncello.... but once I tasted the simple combination of the plum juice with the rye whiskey I realized that anything else would be going overboard. The plum's naturally sweet and tart flavor balanced perfectly with the slight bitterness of the rye whiskey, omitting any need for additional filler. A perfect summer sipper to compliment the fruits of my labor!

With Love,

Cheffrey