Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Happy New Year!!!

Another year is gone, another decade has passed. A new year can mean a new slate; a chance to make the future better than the past.

The world has many great traditions to help make the new year lucky and prosperous, and in addition to our full, regular menu I'm once again offering a special menu for New Year's Eve to help celebrate those traditions.

The meal starts with a canape of golden caviar harvested from sustainable whitefish and is served on a sourdough crouton with crème fraiche, followed by a salad of frisee, celery root, green apple and crunchy pomegranate with flakes of hot smoked salmon and an herb vinaigrette. In Germany and Poland fish is often eaten to bring fortune because its scales represents coins.

The entree, which I will be offering for the entire week, consists of three ravioli filled with a handmade wild boar chorizo because round things represent coins and pigs are often consumed because they root forward, symbolizing prosperity and also because the fatty meat translates to a fat wallet. To continue with the round theme I laid the ravioli on a bed of lentils sauteed with my own cured beef bacon, tomatoes, roasted fennel and leaves of brussel sprouts for green, the color of money. I finished the dish with a brown butter sauce laced with shredded black trumpet mushrooms.


Since it is often felt that the richer the dessert, the richer the new year will be, I took no chance and created “The Elvis”. I made a peanut butter mousse cake with a brioche crust and a little chocolate ganache swirled in. The cake is then topped with thick slices of banana that I brule, or sprinkle with sugar and caramelize with a torch to mimic gold coins. No “Elvis” would be complete without bacon, so for that great flavor and added texture I sprinkle the plate with cubes of bacon that are caramelized in brown sugar.

Finally, no New Year's Eve celebration can take place without a little bubbly, but I like mine with a little more kick, so I came up with a twist on the classic French 75 that I call a French 2011. I infused dry gin with fragrant jasmine to intensify the liquor. This is then mixed with the juice of freshly squeezed blood oranges that are now in season, a honey syrup and topped with sparkling wine.


With a menu like this, how could your new year go wrong?!?!

With Love,

Cheffrey

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Beet That!

We have made some changes to our hours of operation due to the upcoming holidays. They are:

Friday, December 24, 9 am - 3 pm (though we may close earlier, depending on how busy/slow we are)
Saturday, December 25, CLOSED
Sunday, December 26, 9 am - 3 pm (Normal Hours)
Friday, December 31, 9 am - 10 pm (Normal Hours)
Saturday, January 1, 9 am - 3 pm (Closed for Dinner)
Sunday, January 2, 9 am - 3 pm (Normal Hours)

On New Year's Eve we will be offering our full menu and featuring a special menu as well. Check back next week for a full description.

 ~~~   ~~~   ~~~

I still can't believe that Christmas is this weekend. It seems like just two weeks ago when I said the same thing about Halloween.

Since we are only open for a few nights this week before another gluttonfest holiday I wanted to offer something simple and light, featuring one of my favorite ingredients: beets.

Beets are beautiful, versatile and delicious. I like them simply roasted (never boiled) to concentrate their sugars and flavor. I feel that the best way to serve them is sliced cold and dressed like a salad, and it is one of the few dishes that I truly enjoy reprising.

 This time I am using the Chioggia, or candy-striped beet, a heritage variety originally grown in Italy that has concentric rings of red and white much like a candy cane; perfect for a dish this time of year. Though cooking tends to allow the colors to bleed a bit, I prefer it over any raw application. Instead I roast them whole in a deep pan covered with aluminium foil and a little water to help loosen the skin. If done properly you can wipe away the skin with a paper towel once they are cool enough to handle. When completely cooled and sliced thinly the beets are dense and meaty but have ultimately lost their crunch. To compensate for this I needed to use the textures of other local, seasonal ingredients.

To dress the beets I made a vinaigrette with hazelnut oil, champagne vinegar, garlic and shallots, and sprinkled them with flakes of Maldon sea salt. I also added chopped, toasted hazelnuts from Oregon (our nation's top producer of them) to accentuate the flavor and add a ton of texture.

Next is another favorite of mine. I finely julienned Granny Smith, or green apples, to create a sort of crisp salad to top the beets. The acidity of the apples really accentuates the earthiness of the beet and makes the flavor really pop. But the one addition that truly speaks from this dish happens to be one of my least favorite ingredients.

I've always hated celery. I rarely use it, even in stocks because I find it overpowering, even in small quantities; blasphemy in the traditional French techniques that I have been trained in. Perhaps I am ultra sensitive to it - a complete opposite to my perception of ginger root - but what I finally figured out was that I dislike the texture of celery,  and I associated the flavor with that. I needed to forgo that association because I knew the flavor would really make the final product stand out, so I bypassed the fibrous texture by juicing the ribs of the celery stalk and then freezing it in a shallow pan. Once the plate was assembled I grated the frozen surface, creating a finely shaved ice known in Italian as granita.

Along with a pinch of fresh chives the granita really added a whole new dimension to the dish, not only in terms of flavor but also the way the cold crystals melt on the tongue as you scoop up the green apple and beet, with little time bombs of toasted hazelnut pieces to help drive the dish home.


The final installment of my trio of holiday dessert cocktail specials was actually the first one that I came up with, bringing the theme full circle now that we are in the Christmas stretch.

It is probably no surprise that this week's special is a candy cane cocktail since it's the most iconic sweet treat of the holiday season, but what may be a surprise is how good this cocktail actually is, and not just a novelty.

I simply shook Godiva White Chocolate Liqueur over ice with Cruzan Vanilla Rum and peppermint schnapps and strained it into a martini glass rimmed with finely crushed candy canes, with another one hung from the rim.


A final wish of Happy Holidays to you from all of us at Table 219!!!

With Love,

Cheffrey

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

I Got My Christmas Goose Early!

Despite what you hear in carols, cooking a goose has become a relic of Christmas' past. The lack of demand led to diminished availability and, until recently, you couldn't get one if you wanted to. Fortunately there is a small farm in Reardan, Washington, outside of Spokane that has started to raise them for just these occasions.

Geese are in the same family as ducks, with the same "red meat" only they are larger and have a slightly gamier flavor. Since they are still hard to come by they are very expensive, but I really wanted to offer them this holiday season so I had to come up with something that was both economical and intriguing. It finally came to me this past weekend after picking up some pho for takeout.

The Vietnamese noodle soup was a perfect muse for the Christmas goose on many different levels. The broth base is supposed to be rich and flavorful; an easy task for the bones leftover from carving out the meat, which also allows me to use every part of the bird, thus lowering the cost of the final product. Also, traditional spices like cinnamon, clove and star anise used to give the broth it's distinct aroma are the same that many of us relate to as Christmas flavors. Once I made these connections in my mind, the idea just snowballed.

In addition to the spices, the broth is flavored with charred onion halves, called an onion brule, to help add color and flavor, a western technique taken from the French colonization of Vietnam back in the 19th century, much like using pate and a baguette in a bahn mi sandwich. I used the same technique on two large, peeled knobs of ginger split lengthwise to soften their spice and bite, with more flavor coming from green cardamom pods, fennel seeds, black peppercorns and fish sauce. I allowed the ingredients to simmer and meld together all day while I prepared the laundry list of components that comprise the dish.

There's julienned leeks and carrots, chopped napa cabbage, vermicelli noodles, fried tofu, Thai basil, and fried garlic and shallots (subtle yet necessary ingredients that aren't always added to some pho but are essential, in my opinion). On the side I offered the typical condiments of Sriracha hot sauce, hoisin sauce and cute little key limes instead of regular ones since they're in season.

Last, but not least, I used all of the meat that I cut and scraped from the bones to make a "meatball". I say "meatball" because since it's common for the meatballs served in pho to be sliced I just made long logs out of the ground breast and leg meat that I mixed with sauteed ginger, garlic and scallions, soy sauce and breadcrumbs to help hold in some of the succulent fat and flavor. After shaping them onto pans I roasted and cooled the meat before slicing it into little discs, saving myself a lot of time.

To serve a pho at a restaurant like ours in a pho-centric city like Seattle takes a lot of balls (pun intended). I have shied away from trying it in the past because there are so many good places here that serve it, but with a dish as delicious as this one that crosses cultures while focusing on such an iconic ingredient, I have to say... it's perfect!!



For the second part of my three week holiday dessert cocktail offering I am honoring another great interpretation of a classic Christmas sweet: the gingerbread cookie.

I never grew up making a gingerbread house, nor did I ever hear of someone doing so until I started working at the '21' Club in Manhattan, where a pastry chef told me about the intricacies of the art from his past experience. New York City is an amazing place to be during the holiday season, but if you work in the service industry you are very busy from Black Friday through New Year's Day. Needless to say, I never got the chance to learn how to make a gingerbread house.

Here in Seattle things are a little calmer this time of year and I actually got the chance to make my first gingerbread house this past weekend after eating my takeout pho, but I refuse to post pictures since I bought a pre-baked kit. Maybe next year...

Instead of the gingerbread house I am offering something much more manageable than a house - a tasty cocktail made by shaking Absolut Vanilla vodka, gingerbread liqueur, half and half and Kahlua with ice and straining it into a martini glass that is garnished with a skewer of assorted gum drops!!


It is surprisingly light despite the dairy and Kahlua, and isn't too sweet, even with the gum drops!

Happy Holidays from all of us at Table 219!!

With Love,

Cheffrey

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Not Exactly Kosher

The holiday season is a special time of the year to me. I grew up celebrating Christmas while my wife celebrated Hanukkah, and while neither of us practice our religious heritages we still enjoy the traditions that go along with them, combining the two whenever possible, like a Christmas tree decorated in the Hanukkah colors of blue and silver, or a modern menorah on the fireplace mantle surrounded by stockings, garland and baubles.

Last weekend we started a new holiday tradition by cooking latkes, potato pancakes made with egg, flour, grated onion and pan-fried in oil to represent the single day's worth of oil that lit a menorah for eight days until a new supply could be obtained, which is why a menorah is now represented with eight candles (and another one in the middle to light them). Traditionally they are served plain, with sour cream or with applesauce, but for those of us who don't follow the strict Jewish dietary guidelines a flavorful substitute for oil can be schmaltz, Yiddish for chicken fat. I took it a step further and cooked ours in duck fat and served them with Fage Greek-style yogurt and unsweetened applesauce on the side.

The result was so good it inspired me to create a dish to honor these final days of Hanukkah, in my own way of course...

I grated raw potatoes and rinsed them in cold water to remove the excess starch and wrung them free of as much water as possible which ensures a crispy exterior while keeping the interior from being pasty. I tweaked the recipe by slowly cooking finely sliced leeks in butter until soft before adding with a little egg and foregoing the flour, which makes it much harder to keep them from falling apart but allows our friends with the gluten allergy to be able to enjoy it (THE most common food allergy question I get these days). Like at home I pan-fried them in duck fat while pressing the mixture into a metal oval mold to help keep a refined shape.

I personally like to have both sour cream and applesauce with my latkes, but I also dislike any dish to be straightforward, so I nestled two latkes on top of a compote made from Asian pears cooked down in apple cider vinegar and sugar into what must now be my now signature sweet/sour condiment, and then finished them with tiny dollops of sour cream.

For the vegetable component I knew that cabbage would be a great accompaniment, and I have been wanting to find a place to implement an idea that I've had to braised red cabbage with a bottle of all natural red hibiscus cocktail mix that is only lightly sweetened with a touch of agave nectar. I have really been stuck on the apple/hibiscus correlation for a while now, and since apples are a common addition to braised cabbage I felt that it fell right into place here, especially in reference to the latkes.

As is often the case with me I credited the meat portion of this special as being the main focus when describing the dish just to keep with the way customers expect to hear it explained, but this ingredient is by no means an afterthought. Some lean beef belly had just became available to me from a Walla Walla farm called Thundering Hooves (I love that name...) and after a sampling I bought about 50 pounds of it; half for this special and half to be cured and smoked into beef bacon for a later use....

The bellies were smaller and leaner than you would expect, with a meat and fat structure that reminded me of brisket, a cut traditionally braised for Jewish holidays and special occasions, perfect for this kind of dish. And while braising is the easiest way to transform a cut like this into succulents pieces, in the right hands (i.e. mine), slowly roasting it would achieve a richer flavor with less fat.

I first rubbed the meat with kosher salt, not to make it kosher but to help draw out some of the blood, although it is the same technique and reasoning, minus the rabbi. I then sprinkled a generous mixture of Chinese five spice powder, freshly ground black and pink peppercorns, granulated onion and garlic, brown sugar and few other little secrets. I then slow roasted the bellies in the oven at 325 degrees for about 6 hours, using a spray bottle to mist the meat every hour with soy sauce to baste it with flavor and moisture. Once cooled and portioned I reheated the meat in a rich beef broth to keep it moist and flavorful.


In keeping with the holiday theme I have decided to offer holiday-influenced cocktails for the next three weeks. The only downside to such a dedication is that outside of a play on words (like a Grey "Goose" Martini), most holiday inspirations tend to be better as translations of desserts and therefore sweet, which I think isn't necessarily a bad thing due to our lack of dessert drink options. So here is the first of three holiday drink specials that can be drank as either an appetizer for the sweet-toothed, or as a dessert.

The first of my holiday trilogy is the Toffee Martini, inspired by a typical handmade gift made of caramel and nuts. I came up with a toffee flavored syrup by caramelizing sugar in water until it was a beautiful amber color and cooled it down with cream, water and a touch of bourbon vanilla extract. Once strained and ice cold I shook it with Absolut Vanilla vodka, Baileys Creme Caramel and a splash of Frangelico hazelnut liqueur before straining it into a chilled martini glass.


As a final note, while it isn't unusual for my to have a dessert special, it is unusual for me to have it finished on Tuesday after my busiest day preparing the restaurant for the week as well as the aforementioned specials, but this one is important, especially due to the celebratory nature of this blog entry.

Since I had some chestnut flour leftover from my Thanksgiving special and due to the lack of people who've actually enjoyed chestnuts during the holiday season I decided to make a Chestnut Mousse Torte by whisking cream with chestnut flour that I folded into a mixture of meringue, more chestnut flour and gelatin set over a crust of oatmeal, brown sugar, almonds, flour, ginger and cinnamon. To give it that true seasonal flavor I topped it with handmade egg nog ice cream and a fresh dusting of nutmeg as well as powdered sugar to symbolize a dusting of snow.


Happy Holidays from all of us at Table 219!!!


With Love,

Cheffrey

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

The Bacon Paradigm

There are many pairings that are perfect together, as if they were cosmically meant to be, like wine and cheese, coffee and doughnuts, cookies and milk; and of course there are the things that go with what many believe that could be the center of the culinary universe: bacon.

And why not? I mean, how many ingredients are either directly related to, or greatly enhanced by the addition of bacon in classical preparations alone? I started thinking about how all of those ingredients could come together in a sort of bacon paradigm, where every ingredient used has either a direct relationship with, or is at least greatly enhanced by the addition of bacon.

By now, scallops and bacon belong to the former of the two categories because I'd be surprised to find someone who has never had a bacon wrapped scallop, without religious recourse, of course. But there are many other branches that relate to bacon like apple, anise, and cabbage.

Once I started thinking about these relations the dish just fell into place like the aligning of the stars on planet Bacon, guiding me to my destination.

Of course, a great combination of bacon this time of year is with brussel sprouts. I pre-cooked julienned portions of bacon and reserved the fat just to use it to caramelize the little cabbages before finishing them with the remaining bacon strips, some chopped pistachios and fresh chervil for its mild licorice flavor that compliments both the bacon mentioned above as well as the apple mentioned below.

I seared scallops as the "main" focus for the dish, but the heart lies within a puree of cauliflower, green apples and slowly cooked onions and garlic that has the creamy, almost nutty flavor of the cauliflower with the crispness of the tart apple that I accentuated with a touch of apple cider vinegar to make it pop and balance out the richness of the fatty bacon. Giving the dish a simple topping of freshly julienned green apple tossed with some more pistachios and chervil seemed like a fresh and inviting finish to the dish.


~~~ ~~~ ~~~

It's hard to come up with cocktails made from fresh, seasonal ingredients this time of year that don't involve apples, pears, or pumpkin. Fortunately, this time of year offers a few gems that help lift the spirits from the mundane attributes of autumn/winter like pomegranate, tangerines and the object of my focus, the kiwifruit.

I remember as a child how exotic the kiwi was to me; the bizarre skin around a sweet and tart flesh that looks like an amulet when sliced. In the early stage of my career I learned two things about the kiwi. 1 - the juice irritates the hell out of my skin, and 2 - an amazing way to remove the skin is to cut off the ends with a knife and slip in a small spoon underneath and slide it around like an avocado, both of which I remembered to my astonishment and dismay today.

Since the pulp can be thick and the black seeds seem to be indestructible I decided to use a mechanical juicer to extract all of the flavor from these little babies. Due to their natural balance of flavor I didn't need to add any lemon or lime juice and very little simple syrup, especially since I felt a natural pairing for them was rum. One thing that I did need was something as bright and green as the kiwi, something like freshly muddled mint leaves, giving me a perfectly balanced cocktail that says "sunshine" even as it rains!


It brings a whole new meaning to "Going Green"!!!

With Love,

Cheffrey

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Gobble, Gobble

I love Thanksgiving! Before moving to Seattle I think I only had 1 real Thanksgiving dinner in about 10 years, usually because I was either working or too tired to cook. But for the last 3 years of being at this restaurant the other owners and I have been hosting Thanksgiving dinner at our closed restaurant for those of us close friends who have been transplanted into Seattle and don't have family to spend the day with.

This year I am deep-frying a turkey that I brined with fresh rosemary, thyme, parsley, chervil, garlic and coriander. I also like to have some sort of pork alternative to turkey so I am also making mini hams using pork cushions that I will be roasting while basting with a Dr. Pepper glaze, an extension of a traditional southern way of baking ham with Coca-Cola.

Beyond that I'm keeping with my own tradition of serving Parker House rolls, mashed potatoes, herbed gravy and my ever so popular dressing made with bread, hot and sweet sausages, banana peppers, herbs and half-and-half. The guests will be bringing the side dishes of their choice with the explicit instruction to make something indigenous to their family or where they're from. Probably my favorite aspect of the dinner!!

The meal is finished with pumpkin and Derby pies made by Stacey (with my recipes) and my wife Anna's first attempt at making Bourbon Balls, another Kentucky holiday classic that are supposed to be made a week ahead... Let's just hope we haven't eaten them all before then!

As for the restaurant we'll only be open for dinner Tuesday, Wednesday and Saturday nights but we will still be open for all of our regular brunch hours Friday, Saturday and Sunday, which, at the time of posting this only leaves a snow crippled Wednesday and Saturday to wow people with a Thanksgiving-inspired dish that will intrigue them enough to order it, despite the fact that they will be (or have had) their fill of the traditional version on Thursday. I Feel confident that I have succeeded yet again.

I really wanted to come up with something new that was comparable to last year's Thanksgiving interpretation in both style and success with as little repetition as possible for a themed dish as this. The first thought that struck me was to make a pasta by using half chestnut flour and half bread flour, creating a flavorful base that has the bold taste of the holidays to come. Since I left my spaghetti cutter attachment at home and had to walk to work today due to the snow/ice I went with the old stand-by of cutting the sheets by hand into what could be considered a tagliatelle shape.

In what is probably my last use of pumpkins for the year due to its limited season I felt it necessary to add it here to symbolize their use in pies but instead roasted chunks with garam masala (an Indian spice blend that contains similar ingredients to our pies but used in savory cooking) and some dried chipotle pepper for zip.

The hardest part is the turkey. Since most people only enjoy it on Thanksgiving I have an added pressure by using it in a special during the same week. But you know me; I'm gonna try to make it better than your Mamma's!!

I cooked my turkey legs in duck fat, known as turkey confit, until the meat was moist and juicy before shredding it once cooled. No dry meat here!!

I finished the dish the same way that I started it: I melted butter in a saute pan with a little fresh thyme and parsley, and a good bit of chopped rosemary to create a simple sauce that screamed the flavors of the season. I used the herbed butter to cook local hedgehog mushrooms ('tis the season in the Pacific Northwest...) and warm the roasted pumpkin while the chestnut pasta cooked to order, using a touch of the pasta's cooking water to help build the sauce. After finishing it with a pinch of Parmesan inside and out I realized that this one might actually be better than last year's interpretation, and I really loved last year's dish!!


So you think that something is missing from my Thanksgiving dish, eh? Say, maybe some cranberry?? Well, I didn't forget about our little red friend. Actually, I've been planning this one for a while now in anticipation of this wonderful week.

At the beginning of this month fresh, local cranberries became available and I jumped on them. At the time I had already been infusing gin with plum for about a month and loved the progress that it was making, so I felt that cranberries would absolutely complement the complex flavors of gin as well. I roughly chopped the little gems in a food processor with a dash of sugar and let the mixture sit covered at room temperature for a day before adding the gin in order to leech out the flavor and natural color.

My foresight paid off today when I tasted the strained result of the infusion: an intricate combination of sour, sweet, citrus and juniper that can only be explained by tasting yourself. I used this special spirit as the start of a cocktail by pouring it over ice in a rocks glass along with 2 counts of simple syrup and topping it off with a good portion of our sparkling cava.


It isn't cranberry sauce, but I bet you would prefer it at your Thanksgiving dinner table!!

With Love,

Cheffrey


Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Getting Into Shape

The wonderful thing about produce is that not only is it a vast palate of flavors and textures to work with but it also has an amazing natural beauty; with all of the colors, shapes and sizes I find myself in awe at the turn of every season.

The main inspiration for this dish was the local availability of a bizarre vegetable called romanesco, a cousin to broccoli and cauliflower that has a series of fractal buds. In addition to being absolutely stunning it is very tasty, and since I love caramelizing cauliflower I started by carefully braking off perfect buds to use as garnish and trimmed down the remaining pieces into tiny florets that I browned in butter and olive oil to order and finished with chopped parsley, chives and chervil.

Since the romanesco had such a striking appearance I wanted the rest of the dish to reflect many different shapes as well, and that was when things really started to come together.

Another vegetable that has become available locally is some beautiful baby fennel that would not only give me another natural shape but some robust anise flavor. I trimmed them, reserving the tops, and roasted the whole bulbs in a high heat oven, filling my kitchen with its sweet aroma.

The meat portion actually started last Saturday when I cut beef chuck into 2" thick slices and seasoned them with freshly toasted and ground fennel seeds, coriander, mixed peppercorns, mustard seeds and salt that marinated until I got in Tuesday, allowing the flavors to fully penetrate the meat. I then braised the slices in a rich beef stock made from the end pieces of the chuck and a variety of herbs and vegetables.

Once tender I cooled the meat before portioning into squares and simmered the cooking liquid with the leftover fennel tops, further enhancing the flavors of the dry rub and bringing the two components together. I used the resulting broth to reheat the portions of beef and allowed it to reduce into a powerful glaze to finish each piece.

For the finishing touches I made a round croquette by shredding cooked potatoes mixed with cream, eggs, scallions and some of the same spice blend that I used for the beef that I then fried, yielding a crispy crust and creamy interior. Since the dish as a whole had a lot of Mediterranean influences that contain rich techniques I felt that a bold kalamata olive puree with garlic, shallots and olive oil would really add some contrast.


As we now get into colder weather you can expect to see more and more of those great citrus fruits on both sides of these specials, starting right now. Once I saw the first boxes of satsumas, a.k.a. Mandarin oranges, I immediately grabbed a couple of stacks and thought about what I was going to make with them later.

With their thin skins and sweet/tart flavor I decided to juice them by hand (like I've got nothing better to do...) and use the strained juice to make the base for a margarita along with a dash of triple sec and a healthy portion of tequila. But that wasn't enough for me, because I've really been into herbs lately (if you haven't noticed from my specials). So I thought that I would take it a little further and rim the glass with a sugar that I ground with fresh tarragon that actually goes quite well with the flavor of the Mandarin.


There's a lot of amazing things that you can come up with once you think outside of the box ;) !!

With Love,

Cheffrey

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

A Vast Sea of Gravy

One of the greatest things about our culinary point of view is that I get to travel the country via tastes and flavors of any region at my choosing; experiencing cultural classics along with my customers.

I really enjoy exploring the local treats of any city that I visit, whether its hot dogs in Chicago, sourdough bread in San Francisco or alligator in Florida, and some of my greatest influences drawn from living in New York City aren't from fine dining restaurants but from the little gems that define the food culture there, like egg creams, "street meat", and greasy diner food. But since I live my life in the kitchen I can't always get out to explore the country so I do it through my research to find new dishes to offer as specials at the restaurant.

One common dish that I have never been exposed to despite its popularity as far north as Manhattan is chicken and waffles. This is one of those ambiguous dishes where it seems that there is no definitive way to serve it; it all depends on where you had it (and loved it) for the first time. Even though its ingredients sound straightforward, the combinations are endless. Usually there is butter and maple syrup on the waffle with fried chicken, sometimes there is gravy, and sometimes the chicken meat is pulled, etc.... and that's not even getting into the different ways to make fried chicken!!

I've already made my own version long before I started this blog with a more refined preparation with Cornish game hen two different ways, but I decided to reinvent the dish once again with a more accessible style that people can wrap their hands around.

For the chicken I split large breasts in half and squared them off, leaving me with a 4"X4" portion that I dredged first in a well seasoned flour with Lawry's seasoning, black pepper, coriander, oregano and paprika before dipping them into a combination of buttermilk and eggs before returning to the flour mixture and resting, awaiting the fryer.

I made waffles by whisking eggs, extra virgin olive oil and buttermilk into sifted flour, sugar, salt and baking soda, to which I folded in freshly chopped parsley, chives, oregano, thyme and rosemary that helped give the waffles a unique, autumn flavor. I poured the batter into a square waffle iron, yielding thin, crisp panels that I topped with Taleggio cheese after realizing what a great gooey cheese it was for sandwiches after making myself a snack with it the last time I used it for a special. Once the chicken is fried crispy and delicious I pressed it between a layer of each, doubling up on the cheese for good measure.

Since chicken 'n' waffles has southern roots I felt it necessary to pair it with a typical side of braised greens, in this case an organic medley grown locally and cooked in bacon, of course. And though the sandwich is juicy and moist even without the Taleggio I felt the dish was incomplete unless it had a sauce to dip it into so I whipped up a gravy by simmering dried porcini pieces in a rich chicken stock that I then thickened with a roux made from flour and the leftover chicken fat (some cultures call it ghee, some call it schmaltz; I call it LOVE) and finished it with sauteed chanterelle mushrooms.


A lot of people get a kick out of how long some of these cocktails take to come to fruition, especially the ones made by the slow process of infusing flavors into a spirit instead of just blending it in.

I have to say that I even surprise myself sometimes, since a chef is conditioned to deal with the here-and-now, concentrating only on the day or maybe the week; sure, it may sound like we have a short attention span, but considering that every dish that goes out has to be our focus, it's easy to see how next month can seem like a long time away. But I use this to my advantage, because once I combine ingredients and put them away to infuse, the next thing I know they are ready to be used!

For example, sometime in the end of September I had about eight or ten red plums leftover from brunch that were the last of the season and I couldn't let them go to waste, so I chopped them up and sprinkled a little sugar on them to leech out more flavor but then I wasn't sure what spirit to use. Sure, vodka was an easy choice, but it didn't have any character, and then I thought of gin; once my friend, then turned nemesis and now back in my good graces. Gin had the complexity that I needed to create an interesting infusion with my sacred plum, so there it sat on my shelf until, before I knew it, it was a perfect marriage.

Like with most liquor, if it's good you shouldn't mask it with too many flavors, so I chose a classic gin cocktail preparation that will allow my plum gin to shine: a Plum Gin Fizz!!

A gin fizz is simply gin, a little sugar, lemon or lime juice to accentuate the citrus notes in the gin and club soda. I used lemon juice as a neutral flavor and shook it with egg white powder, a nod to the old school style but without the health concerns, giving it a frothy head and beautiful body.


With Love,

Cheffrey

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Eat My Words

Last week I said that I wasn't even going to consider a pumpkin cocktail because everyone would just imagine drinking pumpkin pie filling. The moment I wrote that I started thinking of a way to disprove myself but left the sentence in there anyway. Now here I am, eating my own words, about to describe my contradictory drink special.

It's nothing new for me. I like to say that I suffer from "Foot-In-Mouth Disease"; I always seem to say something to the contrary of what I ultimately mean. First of all, I realized that not everyone thinks like me and maybe there are people out there that would actually appreciate a pumpkin cocktail - after all, there's a certain nostalgia associated with autumn and pumpkins.
Secondly, I realised after an outing at Sambar that I could actually juice a sugar pie pumpkin, the one variety that is actually meant to be eaten and not just decorated, yielding a fresh and light liquid that's not too sweet and all pumpkin in flavor. This realization gave me a use for the "Autumn Spiced Vodka" that I started about five weeks ago, just to see what would become of it, by steeping Smirnoff vodka with cinnamon sticks, crushed nutmeg, orange peel, allspice berries and star anise. I added a simple syrup made with brown sugar (instead of the typical white, granualted variety) to the pumpkin juice with equal parts of the spiced vodka into a shaker full of ice, shaking and and straining it before I garnished it with freshly grated nutmeg and cinnamon to create a cocktail that is rife with the flavors of fall.


Since I've been creating my own cocktail specials the single most comment that I hear is "why don't you create a cocktail that pairs with your special the way that wine does?". The truth is that even the world's greatest mixologist have difficulty doing so for two reasons: 1 - wine has been around for about 6,500 years while the earliest cocktail was documented around 1806; a lot more time to experiment with the combinations, and 2 - the harshness from spirits in even a diluted concoction tends to dull the palate.

Just because it isn't easy doesn't mean it can't be done, you just have to start with the basics. The simplest way to match wine with food is to "bridge" them by using the same wine in the main preparation of the dish, thus automatically pairing them together, so if I'm using pumpkin in the drink then I should use it in the dish.

Another way to pair a drink with food is by intensity; like a big, bold Syrah and a fatty steak, so I came up with an intense dish by cooking an Italian-style risotto with the flavors of a red Thai coconut curry by simmering the rice in a mixture of onions, garlic, coconut milk and red curry paste until it is "al dente" and then adding chopped tomatoes, chicken smoked with jasmine tea and freshly chopped Thai basil, all served in a ring of roasted sugar pie pumpkin that you scoop in while you eat the risotto to complete the flavor profile, and all the better if you have a Spiced Pumpkin Martini to balance the heat and compliment the spice!!


If my words are this tasty, just imagine how good the food is!!

With Love,

Cheffrey

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Bringing it Home

I love going out to the other local restaurants to see what they're up to and enjoying a few bites for myself. Whenever I'm asked which is my favorite I have to stop and think, choosing my words very carefully.

With many notable restaurants like, Lark, How to Cook a Wolf and my trip this past weekend to Spur (I can honestly say that my pork belly dish is one of the best that I've ever had, but their Pork Belly Sliders blew it away!!), but the one that still sticks out is Tilth, and like most restaurants that you've loved everything you've had, there is always that one memorable dish. Mine was what they called "Trotter Cakes", a patty of braised pigs feet and meat set in the rich cooking liquid, pressed into a sheet, cut, breaded and fried.

The chef, Maria Hines, is a James Beard award winner, has been on Iron Chef America (and won) and Top Chef Masters (yes, I watch them all...), and, as they say "Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery", so I made my own version of the dish, but with my own personal touches...

I made a rich stock from pork bones used to slowly braise pork cushions, a cut from the shoulder that is more uniform in size that I chose for even cooking. The meat was chopped and shredded while the braising liquid was strained and cooked further with thyme, rosemary and allspice until it was uber rich and succulent. I packed the cooked meat into cleaned cans leftover from beans, black truffles, etc. to act as molds, covering it with the rich broth while still warm before chilling them to set the shape. Then I heated the cans slightly to loosen them and shake out just like the cranberry sauce at Thanksgiving dinner. Once sliced they were breaded and pan-fried in a combination of olive oil and lard for that over-the-top flavor enhancement.

I wanted to balance the rich pork medallions by stewing some locally grown Asian pears into a wonderfully spiced chutney that is both sweet and sour with a subtle heat and intricate flavor composition. I started by dicing peeled Asian pears that were reduced with freshly minced ginger, chopped red bell peppers and dried currants in a combination of apple cider vinegar and sugar seasoned with chili flakes, cinnamon sticks and clove. Once cooled I stirred in freshly chopped scallions to give the chutney more texture as well as a sweet onion flavor without overpowering the fruit. To counter to warm spice flavors I separated the mounds of the compote with fresh leaves of shiso, an bright herb in the mint family that also has a slight fennel or anise flavor.

To complete the flavor profile I added fuyu persimmons, the most common of the 50 or so known varieties because it is the sweetest that can be eaten raw while still being firm. This fruit is close to my heart because as a child I used to go out and gather a smaller sister genus for puddings and custards for my mother to bake. I say gather because you have to wait until the fruit is so ripe that it has already fallen from the tree but be quick enough to get it before it starts to rot. I have spent the last 12 years trying to replicate those dishes; I've even had my recipe for Persimmon Pudding featured in the New York Post using a ripe hachiya persimmon, but neither compares in flavor to that Midwestern mushy treat that remains nameless to me; but I digress...

Since the fuyu persimmons have an almost pumpkin-like flavor I felt that they would make a perfect complement to the spices in the chutney. I am currently using it as a fresh puree, but I feel like the remaining fruits will enhance the plate by being served sliced once they mature more.


I spent a lot of time last weekend researching what is in season that I could use for a cocktail that didn't include apples or pears, and despite Halloween being this weekend, I wasn't even going to consider pumpkin; no matter what I did with it people would only envision drinking pumpkin pie batter...

Almonds are in season, though they're readily available year round, which made me think of making my own almond milk, and then my mind wandered and I thought of all of the spices that I could flavor it with, but then what kinds of cocktails can I substitute almond milk for? There's only one that I can think of: a White Russian. But instead of making a White Russian with spiced almond milk, I thought "Why don't I play off of the coffee flavor of Kahlua and make a sort of chai coffee cocktail?!"

Chai coffee and tea are Indian beverages made by adding a combination of "warm" spices like ginger, clove, cardamom, cinnamon and black pepper, etc. The recipe varies greatly, but I made mine with the addition of a little nutmeg and fennel that I steeped into milk and half 'n' half and let cool to allow the flavors to absorb.  To be honest, the taste reminded me of my egg nog recipe, with less egg and more nog, but when combined with equal parts of Kahlua and vodka over ice, it created a familiar drink that had a whole new depth of flavor!


The Chef abides!! ;)

With Love,

Cheffrey

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Old Friends, New Friends

I recently received the disappointing news that my favorite getaway Kurtwood Farms is ending their five and a half years of Sunday Dinner, where practically everything you eat in the seven family-style courses is grown and raised within eyeshot of where you sit. Sure, I'm sad to hear it, if not just for selfish reasons then for the many who never got a chance to dine there, but alas Kurt Timmermeister is on a new journey, promoting his new book: Growing a Farmer: How I Learned to Live Off the Land. Good luck, my friend.

To commemorate this departure I wanted to do something to pass along to those new people who have found us through our latest Groupon promotion, in spirit at least, so I thought back to my favorite dishes that I had there, and the most predominant was from the pasta course, thanks largely to Tyler Palagi from Spring Hill in West Seattle who has cooked each Sunday dinner at Kurtwood Farms since its inception. The guy knows his pasta, and he would routinely serve a wide, handmade noodle with either a braised pork or beef (the two types of meat raised there, unless you count the AWESOME eggs from chickens in the yard) and topped with a shaving of hard cheese that's made there as well.

Though I don't have my own farm, I decided on a similar style of pasta dish - the most humble form of appreciation there is. Every chef has their own way of doing things, and I prefer my pasta to be made with whole eggs, half semolina flour and half bread flour to make it rich and vibrant with that al dente bite that marks a great pasta. I machine-rolled the dough into thin sheets that I hand-cut wide strips, known as Pappardelle, by cutting them with (of all things) a pizza cutter. While they dried I had time to assemble the other ingredients.

One of the greatest things about the Pacific Northwest this time of year is all of the great wild mushrooms, especially true with delicious chanterelles. These bountiful jewels represent the hallmark of foraged goodness that beg to be eaten, so I started the dish by slowly simmering them in butter until soft, awaiting the addition of a sauce.

A pasta is nothing without a sauce, no matter how simple or complex. I made mine with a combination of my own marinara and the braising liquid made from slowly cooked and shredded beef that I finished with a healthy dose of sherry wine, resulting in a sauce that is robust and complex with a slightly acidic bite. I countered that bite by topping the dish with breaded and fried Taleggio cheese that, when cut into, acts like a luscious egg yolk that oozes its richness into the rest of the components, creating a swirl of delight!



If autumn had a flavor, it would taste like this:

I have been waiting months to showcase this cocktail; biding my time until the air is crisp and the leaves begin to turn into a kaleidoscope of colors. With apples and pears abound people expect to see cobblers and crisps turning up on menus, but I have a better idea.

I instead chose to create a cocktail with all of the flavors of a pear cobbler but without the heft; a drink that could be enjoyed either as a cocktail or as a dessert because it isn't cloyingly sweet.

I started with a base made by simmering fresh, ripe Red Anjou pears in water with a cinnamon stick, fresh ginger slices, allspice berries, lemon juice and just a touch of brown sugar to keep it all balanced. Once cooled and strained I combined the fresh nectar with an equal part of Absolut Pear, a splash of Frangelico hazelnut liqueur and Creme de Cacoa over ice, shook it and strained it into a martini glass rimmed with an oatmeal crumble made by cooking a batter made of oat flour, eggs, brown sugar, milk and baking powder that was then ground to give it that final touch of authentic texture and flavor.


On a final note, one day last week a couple wandered in an asked our server, Nikolia, if we will be offering any kind of pumpkin dessert in the near future. My response? Sure! Believe it or not I do take requests...

The first thing that came to mind was the first pastry recipe that I developed myself six or seven years ago. By using a recipe for cheesecake that I was already familiar with I added pumpkin puree and gradually added ground cinnamon, clove, allspice, nutmeg and ginger, substituted brown sugar for more depth of flavor and adjusted the consistency until it yielded a rich and creamy texture that had a flavor that screamed autumn. I topped it with an egg nog cream, which is actually handmade egg nog in a whipped cream maker, that is now in its third year of use to top our brunch coffee cocktails during the fall.

I hope to see you soon!!

With Love,

Cheffrey

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

The Things to Come

Barring any of the unforeseen circumstances that usually cause things to go wrong in a restaurant we plan on introducing a somewhat significant menu change at the start of next week. For the most part our menu has remained the same since the birth of the restaurant two and a half years ago - an intentional tactic to ease the transition for the former El Greco patrons and draw in new fans. Now it's time to turn to a new page.

Specials are generally used as a way to test a dish to see if it has the mettle to make it onto the menu, the best example of which is the Tuna Tartar Tacos that I added on the last menu change and has outsold even the previous best sellers. This is important to note, because though I never put an item on the menu that I didn't think was great, sometimes they just don't sell that well, so when it's time to print up new menus we go over the number of sales for each plate, starting at the bottom.

So what's going to go? The first to get the axe are the ribs; though they sell well, they are ordered more in the summertime and therefore will be a seasonal addition. To replace them will be a heartier version of my Pork Loin Rockefeller that I have been wanting to add since its inception last year. Other castaways include the Roasted Garlic Sandwich, Banana Foster and the coup de grace: the Crispy Penne. To replace them is my former signature dish Scallop Wellington with a Spinach Cream Sauce, a Polenta Lasagna with Marinated Eggplant and Basil Pesto, and an Angel Food Cake with Nutella Glaze and Whipped Cream.

The final change is the fish, which is the one area of the menu that actually did change often as an homage to the Fish du Jour offering at El Greco. Like the Tuna Tacos, I knew that this dish would be a hit so I once again jumped the gate to bring our customers an early taste of what's to come.

In our price range I have to be crafty in order to be able to offer a fish entree. Even though farm raised fish is a major sustainable option (excluding "Atlantic" or farm-raised salmon from consideration), most customers prefer the real thing, not that there's anything wrong with that. So I chose the versatile Pacific cod as a good middle ground since price tends to reflect demand and demand reflects the availability or stock of a species, fitting both of my needs.

To prepare the cod I simply baked a fillet on parchment paper instead of oil to help keep the bottom from drying out. While the fish is cooking I sauteed great northern beans (aka Navy beans) that had be cooked in a combination of clam juice and fish stock along with onions and garlic, fresh thyme, butter and wonderful mustard greens that were grown locally but owe their popularity to the south.

Autumn is the season for earthy flavors, the best of which can be found in luxurious black truffles, which go hand-in-hand with the creamy beans and spicy greens, but are subtle enough to not overpower the delicate cod. Since fresh truffles are out of our price range I was able to find real canned versions from a great company that even my idols use, of which I whipped into a butter seasoned with black truffle sea salt to finish a broth made from the leftover truffle juice and vegetable stock.

In the end the dish is a wonderful marriage of American culture and ingredients elevated by the European influence of black truffles; a taste of luxury with a moderate price.


Lately I have been enamored with Pimm's Number 1, a gin based liqueur that has been around since 1823. Though they used to produce five more varieties (up to No. 6) based on other spirits, the No. 1 is the one that stood the test of time, and while I would love to use it in some new way that would break it free from the Pimm's Cup mold, it just has too much of unique of a flavor, always leading you back to that classic cocktail. So instead of trying to find new flavors to mix Pimm's with, I decided to add to those ingredients that already go with it.

The best Pimm's cup is made by combining equal parts of Pimm's and a lemon-lime soda, like Sprite, with a slice of cucumber over rocks in a tall glass. I figured that since the cucumber is a natural pairing to the gin-based liqueur, and ginger is a natural pairing to cucumber, I could muddle fresh ginger slices as a base for a Pimm's Cup, and instead of the Sprite I could use ginger ale to top the sunken slice of cucumber that gives it a suprise burst of flavor with each draw of the straw.



With Love,

Cheffrey

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Willkommen

Being of German heritage and since it's the end of Oktoberfest I felt a deep urge to represent, but being me, I just couldn't serve a straightforward dish, now could I? Instead I wanted to create something that not only reflects me but some traditions of my family as well.

When I was growing up we didn't have too many classic German dishes served; dinner was more of a typical southern style with some Cajun influence here and there, but what we did do, we did well. One of my favorites was Bratwurst, a white pork sausage that we poached in a mixture of beer and sliced onions before tossing on the grill. There was only one way to serve it: stuffed into a long bun and topped with mustard and the leftover onions cooked in beer. Period.

Breaking from tradition I went with a burger variation of my childhood favorite for this special. I used a recipe from an amazing book called Charcuterie that I picked up a couple of years ago to make my own fresh bratwurst by hand-grinding pork and mixing it with ginger, nutmeg, egg and heavy cream that I formed into patties (instead of links) and allowed to rest while I prepared the rest of the dish.

I love pretzels. Even though I didn't really grow up eating them it kind of makes me wonder if there's a hidden cultural force behind it. To me, the only way that I could make a bratwurst burger was to forgo the roll and make my own pretzel bun. After a bit of research and trial and error I finally ended up with a great likeness by adding celery seed to a standard bread dough. I formed and proofed the rolls and then dunked them in a mixture of boiling water with sugar and baking soda to help give them the expected chewy crust that pretzels have. Before baking I brushed them with egg white and sprinkled on Maldon sea salt for a classic look.

I had to have a few things to accompany the burger. The onions were a must, so I cooked down sliced yellow onions with Alaskan Amber (the same beer that I use to make my cheese sauce for happy hour) until all of the liquid is reduced. Another must is mustard, so I again used the Alaskan Amber (hey, it's Oktoberfest...) to make a fresh mustard with crushed caraway seeds, ground mustard powder, vinegar, honey and egg yolks that I cooked over a double boiler until thick. The result was a rich, malty condiment that was a little sweet and a little spicy - a perfect balance.

Then there's the wild card. A couple of years ago on the 4th of July I was at a party who's host I told that I was bringing bratwurst to cook and when I showed up he gave me some cream cheese to serve with it, saying that he had it once down by Safeco Field. My first though: BLASPHEMY!!! But being a guy who likes to try new things I gave it a chance, and all I could say was WOW!! I've never had a brat without it since.

Instead of the usual mundane "burger 'n' fries" combo I wanted add something a little closer to my heart. Once I made the decision to go to culinary school thirteen years ago my father decided it was time that I learn the family recipe for German potato salad, and while I won't give you the recipe I will tell you that it is vinegar based as opposed to the more common mayo based version, with bacon and raw onions. My menu already has may references to what I consider comfort food, like the Henry Baine sauce on the ribs, the Parker House rolls for the 219 Sloppy Joe Sliders and even twists on my personal favorites of corndogs and donuts, but there is one hidden gem that isn't so apparent - the dressing on the BLT Salad, which is a professional take on what my father taught me that day. So to mimic my family's potato salad recipe I simmered large diced potatoes in water until just cooked and air-cooled them before marinading in the same bacon vinaigrette that I use for the salad.

Kostlich!! (Delicious!!)


In my opinion the best alcoholic drinks that come from Germany are beer (duh) and white wine, in particular Riesling and Gerwurztraminer (my favs), but cocktails made from beer and wine haven't caught on yet, so I went in a completely different direction instead.

Stacey, one of the owners, requested that for our next menu change we use St. Germain for one of our cocktails, and I couldn't agree more. It has one of those floral flavors that you can't put your finger on; it just tastes... magical.

I'm not saying that this is the one, but it's a solid start. It's a simple cocktail, similar to a Cosmo but more elegant. It says "I enjoy a drink that is smooth and with a kick, but I also prefer something that sets me apart - something that shows my individuality." (Have I been watching too much Mad Men??)

Anyways, I came up with an interesting mix of Absolut vodka shaken with cranberry juice, a splash of St. Germain elderflower liqueur and garnished with an orange twist to accent both the cranberry and the elderflower.


Mit Liebe,

Cheffrey


Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Undying Passion

Well, I didn't advance in my food blog competition, but I won't offer any theories or make any excuses; it was a great learning experience that made me realize how much I enjoy writing about food and want to continue doing so, with this blog as well as new ventures in the future. Even after rejection we must press on with the things that we believe in and are passionate about. After all, Colonel Sanders spent a year and half on the road, sleeping in his car, before he struck a deal to open the first KFC.

At risk of brushing off the failure like I never really cared, I have to say that I am a bit relieved that I don't have have to stress out while jumping through hoops to form my writing or my food into a mold as dictated by someone else. I fret tirelessly over my specials as it is, and though we all need to work out of our comfort zone to improve, I don't want the focus to stray away from what's the true point of this blog: the food.

That relief payed off in spades, because once I sat down on Sunday night to work out this week's special the lack of constraints opened the flood gate of ideas, and along with the concepts in my notebook, I laid out three quarters of the specials from now until Thanksgiving! And for that, I am thankful.

I had written this idea off for this year since summer in Seattle was just a fizzle and salads don't make great statements for food blog competitions, but I guess the stars aligned just so to allow it to happen, and I'm all the happier for it. I had the thought written down to pair a stuffed calamari with a hearty salad for quite some time now but it was overshadowed by too many other seafood dishes that played better with the summer season, but now with the warm temperatures predicted for this week this one seemed fitting.

I've been wanting to make a chorizo vinaigrette, probably because I like the notion of taking something that is seemingly healthy like a salad and desecrating it with something like sausage. So instead of simply adding sausage to the salad I brewed a rich stock by simmering fresh chorizo sausage from the local Cascioppo Brothers meat company. Once cooled I blended it with champagne vinegar, shallots, garlic and extra virgin olive oil as well as the ingredients that flavor the sausage like smoked paprika, black pepper, fresh oregano and a touch of ground arbol chile.

To balance such a rich dressing I went with contrasting flavors by using baby arugula and radicchio for bitterness and crunch, which I then countered with freshly julienned green apple and ripe tomatoes. To give it more depth I roasted radishes, which changes their texture and softens their bite.

I initially thought of stuffing calamari tubes with the chorizo, like a play on sausage itself, but I chose to use the filling to bridge the flavors instead; kind of like working from the inside out. I knew from one of our brunch items (and past specials) how well the classic combination of chorizo and manchego cheese go together, so I made a base by sauteing onions, garlic and celery that I then cooled before incorporating finely grated manchego cheese and the cooked, chopped calamari tentacles.

Not to leave anything to waste (and taking every opportunity to add flavor) I used the leaves from the radishes that I roasted to make a delicious pesto by chopping them with whole almonds, fresh garlic and olive oil that is not only very functional by holding the calamari in place, but also gives a suprising hidden burst of flavor.


If there's a last chance of selling a summery style cocktail I think that this week is it; besides, last week's Tropical Iced Tea sold so well I think that our customers are about as ready to give up the thought of summer as I am ready to give up pork!!

This one has a classic southwestern flavor with sweet prickly pear puree (which is actually a type of catus) combined with the tart juice of passion fruit in place of the lime juice that typically balances the sweetness of the common mojito, an since these flavor combinations work so well together I bypassed the mint and just added a splash of club soda to lighten it up enough to drink more than just one!


With Love,

Cheffrey