Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Never a Dull Moment

I received a pleasant surprise a little over a month ago when I strolled into the restaurant mid-week with the telephone ringing. To be completely honest, I normally ignore the phone at this point so I can hit the ground running before anyone else arrives (not to mention it is almost never for me), but this particular day I had a light workload, so I indulged myself, to my own delight.

It was a request for me to host a cooking demonstration at the Capitol Hill Farmer's Market, to which I immediately accepted. For those of you who may not know, it is held Sundays in the Bank of America parking lot on Broadway, an apple's throw across the street from our restaurant.

This past Sunday was my time to shine.

I was asked to not only feature the bounty of our Farmer's Market, but to spotlight the greens that have come into season and feature a recipe that is both easy and cheap to prepare. After trolling through the market for the last couple of weeks I decided to emphasize ingredients found at the local market that people weren't familiar with and explain the different ways to use them. So I composed a salad from Alm Hiu, Local Roots, and Alvarez Farms, potatoes from Olsen Farms, spring onions from Ze Chang, "Silly Billy" goat cheese from River Valley Ranch and garlic tops and turnips from Willie Greens (the farm whose organic greens we currently use at the restaurant).

(Click on either picture for more photos, which also includes the recipe that I presented. Email Me if you would like a copy of my outline, which briefly explains how I used each component, as well as other uses.)

The recipe was well received (especially the beet chips), so I decided extend it to this week's special - in concept, since I prefer to challenge myself each time to come up with something new.

Instead of the variety of greens, though, I wanted to use one of my favorite salad components before it disappears until next spring: Mache, a leafy green that is part of the valerian family of herbs and shrubs which has velvety texture and delicate, nutty flavor (sometimes known as "Corn Salad" here in the USA since it grows wild in cornfields). I paired it with the same vegetables - raw turnip and radishes, roasted purple potatoes, crispy beet chips and another end-of-the-season favorite: garlic scapes. Since the Lime-Cumin Vinaigrette that I used in the Demo is already on our menu with a Chopped Salad, I whipped up a dressing with fresh zest and juice of oranges, a touch of thyme, a few sprigs of mint, and a blood orange infused olive oil that I found from California...What a vibrant flavor!!!!

For the main component I really wanted to introduce a nice, mild whitefish such as Sole, but after my fishmonger left me high and dry, I was forced scramble and go with my faithful standby and close friend: pork. So I dredged seasoned scaloppine cuts of pork loin in rice flour (a gluten-free ingredient that has become a bigger dietary request than nut allergies BY FAR) and pan fried them in the blood orange infused oil to duplicate that bright zing, bringing the whole dish together:

For the final installment of the "Equalitini"... I was so busy with the demo that I forgot to brainstorm for this week's cocktail, so like any good leader, I handed off the task to Stacey, who quickly came up with the Hibiscus Cosmopolitan, based from our previous use of hibiscus in a margarita, and which has led to a successful Hibiscus Mimosa that has been offered for brunch lately.

Once she spoke the words of that cocktail's title I knew that she had a hit, and I knew (as before) that I had a creative muse to bounce ideas off of, and with all that can go wrong in a restaurant, I am reassured by the thought that I am in business with someone who cares as much about this restaurant as I do.

With Love,


Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Earthy Flavors

Last month when my mom and step-dad were in Seattle visiting, a common conversation for most chefs came up: What was the first thing I cooked. Not just the first thing I did in the kitchen, but the first time I set out on my own to accomplish a dish. Of course, my mother and I have different recollections of what that first dish was. She recalls that it was something know as "Dirt Pudding", which essentially consists of vanilla pudding with gummy worms, topped with ground Oreo cookies. Now, I'm not in the position to dispute her, but I like to think (and tell others) that it was something else.

The way that I remember it is standing at her kitchen counter, methodically forming my own tortellini by filling wonton wrappers bought at the grocery store with fresh chopped broccoli and grated cheddar cheese and served in jarred tomato sauce (if I could only go back in time and show myself the wonderful simplicity of making my own sauce from scratch...). I must have been around twelve years old, and there was just something so exciting about creating something with my own hands and the gratification of being able to enjoy it a short time later. I made those tortellini and many variations over a couple of years before moving on to family recipes and newfound delights like Asian foods before finally deciding to attend culinary school at the age of nineteen. It's funny, though, I can still feel the great sense of satisfaction and accomplishment, mostly because it is the same feeling that I still get every time I complete a dish for the restaurant.

So this week's special is a throwback to what I consider my first handmade meal - I even made my own saucethis time!!!

Even though I keep a notebook to jot down the ideas floating around inside my head, a good idea often lingers over time wanting to be built upon, more often than not developing into something beautiful. I had initially wanted to incorporated a braised oxtail ravioli into a steak dish, but after the wonderful way the Ribeye special I introduced a couple of weeks ago came together, I decided to alter the notion and let it stand alone as the main component. So on yet another adventure to Uwajimaya I hand selected the largest pieces of oxtail they had (the smaller pieces hardly have any meat) to be slowly braised like Osso Buco, yielding a tender meat and rich sauce. I chopped the meat, then mixed it with the seasoned sauce to fill handmade semolina pasta dough to form my updated tortellini.

Then for the accompaniment I sauteed red spring onion greens (the tops) with garlic scapes (pictured on the right) and tossed them with roasted fennel, baby carrots, baby turnips and red spring onions (the bottoms), and finished it all with a porcini foam, chopped fennel frawns and the garlic tops/bulbs.

For this week's installment of the "Equalitini", I needed help. Normally, I bang out the heavy opening day prep work and then move onto formulating the cocktail special, but hand-making tortellini is tedious (read: pain in the ass and takes eff'ing forever...), so I called upon Stacey, co-owner and smile aficionado to augment my cocktail inquest. I knew that I wanted to incorporated apricot and fresh sage leaves, but the rest was up to trial and error. After several liquor variants she reminded me about here desire to blend bourbon with sage, when we stumbled on a Eureka! moment. What we ended up with was bourbon muddled with fresh sage and shaken with apricot nectar and a touch of sweet vermouth and a dash of bitters, giving us The Apricot and Sage Manhattan!!!!

Just an example of how great things come from a collaboration of great minds!!!

With Love,


P.S. - This coming Sunday (a.k.a. Father's Day/Summer Solstice) I will be presenting a cooking demonstration at our local Broadway Farmer's Market . For more info on garlic scapes, spring vegetables and other local delights, see me there around Noonish time ;) More on that next week!!!

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Healthy Living, Healthy Drinking!

Even I have to admit that more often than not the specials that I produce delve into the realm of decadence that could make even Guy Fieri shudder. The reasons sound off more like a recipe for a coronary than a biography: a German-Irish chef born in the Midwest but with strong southern influences, who studied French cooking fundamentals at the Culinary Institute of America, and who now pushes the envelope of the whole "Fat is Flavor" concept to the limits (you just wait until my Guanciale is done curing - maybe then I'll push the limits over the edge!). Alas, sometimes even I succumb to an idea that is delicious without leaving you feeling guilty for splurging on a night out.

To be honest, it is hard not to come up with something healthy this time of year, and with the quality of produce that comes from this region, you could throw five random vegetables at a brick wall and end up with something tasty.

I went with a different approach...

In today's economy it can be tough to offer an expensive ingredient such as seafood, but I was able to formulate a dish featuring Ahi Tuna at a reasonable price without sacrificing quality, so I seared the steaks in a cast iron skillet just enough to brown the sides without overcooking the tender meat inside. The great thing about a cast iron skillet is very little oil is required to cook with due to the fact that a properly "seasoned" pan is as non-stick as any Teflon pan, but without the chemicals.

Fish has always acted as a blank canvas for me - a medium of great potential from which to build from, but tuna has the great attribute of being able to be paired with either hot or cold accouterments, and in light of our local "heat wave" (I'll use the phrase loosely for my East Coast follower's sake), I went with the latter.

I started by pureeing the sweet flesh of yellow watermelon and thickening it without heating in order to preserve the freshness of the fruit, yielding a soup with a silky texture that is both bright in color and flavor. I finished the soup by adding finely diced cucumber, bell peppers and seeded jalapenos for a little zing, completing what I like to think of as a unique form of gazpacho.

Though not overbearing, the sweetness of the watermelon needed something to balance it out in order to complete the dish, so I tossed julienned sour green apple, bitter radicchio and shaved scallions with a vinaigrette made from extra virgin olive oil, ginger, garlic, white scallion and Chinese Black Vinegar - an aged vinegar made from rice, wheat, millet, sorghum, and spices that is deep and complex in flavor yet much lower in acidity than most vinegars, creating a dressing that not only bursts with flavor, but contains half the fat of a traditional vinaigrette.

Finally!! Something I can enjoy for myself while staving off the guilt until the impending slap in the face from my doctor after my next cholesterol test!!!

~ ~ ~

This week's cocktail was also inspired by our recent warm temperatures - another concept built on Light 'N' Bright flavors (pun intended), but unlike the childhood toy, heavy on the booze!

So for this week's "Equalitini" I went with a medley of Passion Fruit puree, Guava Rum, and Vanilla Vodka!

As with every version of the "Equalitini" sold this month, $2 will go directly to help fund lawyers who fight for equal rights for gays and lesbians. I can't think of a better excuse to drink!!!

And on another note: this cocktail actually outsold our Regular Tuesday half priced bottle wine night special this week!!

I read that recent studies have found that it was actually better for you if you had two drinks a day, but with healthy food and great causes like these, why not make it three!!!

With Love,


Wednesday, June 3, 2009


Last week I finally received a product guide from my produce proveyor, Frank's Quality Produce (also mentioned in my last post), outlining the fresh available bounty that they have to offer right now, with emphasis on what's coming from local farms. I have been asking fruitlessly for something like this for quite a while now, but the truth was: they were simply too small of a company to offer the frills that many of us have come accustomed to in this digital age, some of which are already routine for their larger competitors. So why have we stayed with them, waiting patiently through their technological inadequicies? Two simple words: Customer Service. They strive to get me what I want and when I want it, with indifference to quantity or disadvantage to them, and always with personality and a smile; we have a relationship with them, not an account. I'll agree with you in believing that this is the way that every aspect of the service industry should be performed, but anyone who has dealt with a shoddy repair company or tried to return something through a company's "Customer Care Center" has learned that this is not the world that we live in, so I have to admire a business who even in today's world values what the customer wants and employs the best people to help them carry it out; a merit that mirrors the way we feel about our restaurant.

/End Rant.>

What I really wanted to tell you about was the product guide (but, really, I wanted to rant...): it is something that I like to refer to as "Produce Porn" for us food geeks. This little inspiration bomb sent my mind into a spiral - chasing after ideas in every direction at once like a losing contestant on Supermarket Sweep...

Then I was reminded of the trellis my wife and I were talking about building on our balcony and what kind of plants we wanted to grow on it (and what would be safe for our pea-brained cats to nibble on) when I realized that although it was too late for us to grow them this year, I still had time to incorporate Pea Vines into one of my specials. Then the building began...

Pea vines are the top tendrils and leaves of a pea plant harvested in spring/early summer that are similar to spinach yet still retain the flavor and sweetness of peas. They can be eaten raw, but I prefer them sauteed in butter, in this case with Walla Walla Spring Onions (the BEST onion), local Shitaki Mushrooms, Fingerling Potatoes, finely sliced Red Belgian Endive (whose slight bitterness balances the sweetness of the pea vines) and finishing the medley is some fresh Chervil, a delicate herb similar to parsley but with subtle licorice notes that I love pairing with traditional peas.

One meat that I love joining with peas is beef - especially steak... so I hand picked a whole boneless Angus Ribeye that I carved down into thick 6-7 ounce steaks, grilled them to the obligatory perfection of medium-rare before slicing for presentation. To finish the plate, I infused a rich beef stock with the leftover shitaki and chervil stems as well as one of my favorite spices - Juniper Berries, traditionally used as the distinguishing flavor in gin.

~ ~ ~

This week's cocktail special has an added benefit - other than the one that gives you a buzz! For the whole month of June we are featuring "The Equalitini"!!! Though the flavor will change weekly (as usual), $2 of every Equalitini sold this month will go towards funding the fight for equal rights for gays and lesbians. For more information, or if you want to feature the Equalitini at your restaurant, please contact us here.

For the first Equalitini I wanted to do something new, symbolizing progress, yet accessible enough to sell a ton of in order to maximize our donation, so I stewed blackberries with fresh thyme, then steeped the mixture allowing it to cool and let the two flavors meld. Once strained the elixir is shaken with ice, vodka and more fresh thyme, then poured into a chilled martini glass:

Just another example of our philosophy: it is more about you, and less about us.

With Love,