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!!


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,


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,


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,