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!!!