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,


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,


Wednesday, October 14, 2009


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,


Wednesday, October 7, 2009


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,