Wednesday, February 24, 2010

As Good As Gold

Last week's gumbo special left me a bit nostalgic for the flavors of the South, not so much of a longing for home but rather a reminder of the past. Awashed with memories of the many other childhood delicacies that I enjoyed while growing up, I contemplated a way that I could bring together traditional southern components with my current refined cooking style to come up with something appealing to the Pacific Northwest palate.

I remember my first experience of "fine-dining southern food" when I was an extern at a resort outside of Charleston, South Carolina in 1997. Just as I still do now, I went out to any restaurant that I could afford (and some that I couldn't) to learn and to grow with every bite. Grits were cooked and cut like the way that polenta was so popular at that time, cornmeal crusted whole fish were served swimmingly on platters and every vegetable was perfectly cooked as opposed to their traditional counterparts.

Now, years later, most of my southern culinary roots have given way to newer and more global inspirations, but this time I have included them in the mix.

If you have happened upon this blog at least once before you have probably already realised my infactuation with pork, and like a long lost friend I have been patiently awaiting its return to my side. My favorite cut is the tenderloin, due to its moistness and versatility, but this week I gave it a little extra love...

I marinated each portion in blended olive oil previously steeped with herbs, spices, chiles, shallots, garlic, etc., etc., and pan roasted them with this oil to give a more intense flavor than typical methods. Once all sides were seared and the center was perfectly pink I let the meat rest so that it can relax and allow for all of the juices to redistribute.

I have never cared much for grits as a breakfast item, but I always enjoyed letting them shine on the savory side. Here I initially cooked them with beef stock, but finished them with a touch of half and half and a handful of grated manchego cheese, made from sheep's milk in the La Mancha region in Spain which adds the perfectly rich/nuttiness to compliment grits.

For the sauce I deviated from the traditional red-eye gravy by making a country ham stock and then finishing it with freshly brewed chicory coffee, a blend of regular coffee beans with ground chicory root which yields a dark and robust version that was brought to Louisiana by the Acadians (a.k.a. Cajuns) and enjoyed in kitchens like my own. Instead of the brute flavor of coffee thickened with ham drippings and flour, I balanced the two brews into a flavorful broth with only a touch of brown sugar and black pepper since the cured ham provided all of the salt.

With the addition of beautiful, organic rainbow swiss chard, I assembled the plate with the rested, sliced tenderloin, omitting the always over-cooked end pieces, leaving beautiful medallions of meat as rich and valuable as gold!!!

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Now that I am refining my art of cocktail making, I now have a sense of what customers like when it comes to my concoctions. Though in a new decade, we are still in an era of Martini-Madness, and I am one to comply.

As a chef an cocktail drinker, I love the addition of more "culinary" ingredients to drinks nowadays, like lemongrass, specialty fruits and even herbs. While mint is the most common, I really believe that basil is the most versatile herb to use in mixology.
So, after a slow simmering of blackberries with just a touch of sugar (so that the pectin doesn't react, causing it to become too thick) I cooled, pureed and strained it before undergoing another process of pureeing and steeping before straining again to end up with an elixir that, when combined with vodka is a wonderful combination of fruity flavors with a grassy, slightly licorice flavor that's not too sweet - An absolute delight!!!

With Love,


Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Here, It's Fat Tuesday Every Week!

I am surprised at how many people that I talked to today didn't realize that it was Mardi Gras, the last night of rich eating (and now, debauchery) before the religious ritual of fasting for lent beginning on Ash Wednesday. I am not saying that everyone should know the calender of every religion, but New Orleans has made it into such a legendary event in this country that most people are usually aware of it. Maybe it's been overshadowed by the Olympics, or maybe it's a regional thing.

Where I grew up it wasn't so much of a religious aspect of it as it was a festive aspect, because my family has a deep affinity for the city of New Orleans, starting with my grandfather, Paw-Paw, whom we even had a jazz funeral for per his request. Naturally this love affair with the culture, music, and food was passed down to his children, which lead to feasts and revel of Cajun-style dishes peppered throughout my childhood, which, combined with my own rite of passage there myself at the age of nineteen, have lent a hand in shaping who I am as a chef today.

As a tribute to Fat Tuesday and my family's home-away-from-home I decided to feature a gumbo dish as this week's special, complete with all of my own special little touches!

Probably the most important aspect of a great gumbo starts at the beginning with the roux (a combination of flour and some kind of fat used to thicken a sauce or stew) and the key is how long you cook it; the more you cook it, the darker it gets and the more pronounced the flavor becomes. In Cajun cooking the roux is cooked anywhere from a deep red to a coffee black, depending on the region and cook.

I personally like to use flour and lard, or in this case, bacon fat, to make my roux for gumbo, and I cooked it slowly over medium heat while stirring it constantly for about half an hour until it is a little darker than the color of melted milk chocolate before I added chopped bell peppers, celery and onion (a.k.a. the "holy trinity") along with some minced garlic, fresh thyme and bay leaves. Once the vegetables have cooked completely in the molten roux I slowly stirred in ground tasso ham that I cured and smoked myself along with a mixture of clam juice, oyster liquor, chicken stock and lobster stock as well as the poaching liquid for some chicken andouille sausage (the same kind that I use for our corndogs) that I finished ahead so that they wouldn't be overcooked in final product.

While the gumbo simmered and developed its flavor for about an hour I began work on the serving dish - an edible bread bowl.

While brainstorming for my snow crab special a couple of weeks ago I started thinking about the possibility of creating edible plates and bowls for certain dishes, and while using a squash or individual round of bread might not be unique, the process has led me to some interesting ideas to try out in the future. Meanwhile, there are few better companions than a hearty stew and fresh baked bread, so why not combine them!!

I removed the gumbo from the heat before adding local oysters, scallops, shrimp and the cooked andouille sausage so that they would cook just enough in the residual heat. Then I seasoned it with the same combination of Cajun seasonings and file powder that I use to flavor our happy hour Cajun Cheese Fries with Beer Cheese Sauce. I add okra (from which gumbo takes its name) to each individual order so that it stays crisp and keeps the trademark sliminess down to a minimum.

You can't say Bourbon Street without saying bourbon, so I pulled out a little treat to commemorate the spirit of Mardi Gras...

For the past few weeks I have been infusing a couple of liquors with dried fruit; one being a fig and rum combination to put the successful Fig Mai Tai on our actual menu, and the other is another combination with great potential: plum infused bourbon.

Since I don't want to disrupt this subtle flavor mixture, I used it as an approachable variation of a traditional cocktail along with a touch of sweet vermouth and a few dashes of quality Peychaud's bitters from New Orleans to make The Plum Manhattan!!!

To be honest, I don't need a religious holilday to come up with a rich and decadent special, and you don't need one to come and enjoy it. Afterall, we do it every week starting on Tuesday with the introduction of the new special along with our half-priced wine night!!

With Love,


Wednesday, February 10, 2010


Valentine's Day means different things to different people. Sure, it's a Hallmark holiday, but for many it is a chance to appreciate their significant other by spending time with them rather than a forced showering of gifts. While still a part of that commercial aspect, we chefs spend the day apart from our loved ones toiling away for that lover's feast, trying our best to make up for that fact with sultry menus filled with enticing ingredients. I, of course, take it a step further.

I expanded the theme idea that I used on New Year's Eve for this Valentine's Day menu by developing dishes that contain aphrodisiac ingredients; some are more known like oysters and chocolate, as well as the less familiar basil, tomatoes and red meat. Here is what I came up with:
One dish in particular has a special meaning for me, so I'm going to offer it all week... and I am dedicating it to my beautiful wife, Anna, because the dish was actually inspired by her: the New York strip steak.

As sometimes happens, I stumbled upon this flavor combination by chance when I was trying to make a healthy yet flavorful meal for Anna while experimenting with some new ingredients. She loves roasted yams, and grapefruit is one of the few fruits in season right now, so I combined them as a sort of salad with a roasted chicken breast cutlet that had been marinated in soy sauce, sweet soy sauce, rice vinegar, sesame oil and gochujang, a Korean fermented chili paste that has a sweet, sour salty and spicy taste that I have fell in love with since being introduced to it by my friend and colleague, Tommy Lee (now of Elemental Food Design, but still Korean, he, he!), and continue to enjoy at our neighbor's restaurant, Kimchi Bistro.

Those flavor combinations really popped so I conjured a restaurant version of it, but instead of a chicken breast I went with a thick cut New York Strip steak not only for aphrodisiac purposes (see the menu notes) but also to represent my NYC born-and-raised wife. I modified the marinade into a sauce that also includes ginger, garlic, scallion, beef stock and a Korean fermented soybean paste similar to Japan's miso, along with the original recipe's ingredients of chili paste, rice vinegar, sweet soy sauce, soy sauce and sesame oil. I kept the yam-grapefruit salad simple by roasting garnet yams, which are sweeter, to pair with the sweet and sour of the ruby red grapefruit segments, and then garnished the plate with steamed baby artichoke hearts, because even after a menu like that I still like to show how clever I am :)!!
I know what you may be thinking, and we heard a lot of it on Tuesday night: "Yams with grapefruit!?!", but once you taste it, you will understand the true meaning of love.
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Once I came up with the Pomegranate Margarita a few weeks back I knew what I wanted to do for this week's drink special, since it consists of two great aphrodisiacs: sparkling wine and pomegranate.

Even though some believe that pomegranate was actually the forbidden fruit in the Garden of Eden, scientifically speaking it contains a long list of chemical compounds to get you in the mood, such as Vitamin C, alkaloids, and various minerals, but the truth is: we just want to get drunk and get down to the dirty!!!

So to facilitate that I made a "mimosa" by first combining three forms of pomegranate: juice, schnapps and molasses with some of our tasty brut cava from Spain. It is both refreshing and intoxicating - just like a good lover should be!!!

With (Extra) Love,


Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Gingerly Embraced

This past Sunday we had our annual joint employee party with our sister restaurant, Geraldine's Counter. It is a tradition that Gary and Stacey started well before I got there, and each year it is something different.

This year we rented a party bus to shuttle us between both restaurants, Trade Route Brewery in Pacific, WA and ACME Bowling in Tukwila; a wise choice considering the amount of booze we brought on board and the extra hour we spent riding around when the driver was lost while trying to get there (sorry, no incriminating stories or photos from me... all I can say is that restaurant people sure know how to party!). While we spent the majority of our time at ACME (the nicest bowling alley that I've ever been to, btw), it was my experience at Trade Route that influenced me.

We sampled five different types of beer that they are currently brewing, one of which is a pale ale brewed with fresh ginger that was so fantastic that I now have the arduous task of trying to get it on our tap at the restaurant. After talking with the owners/brewmasters we found out that a fortunate by-product of the ginger ale is all of the leftover ginger, which they then candy!

So with a bag full of candied ginger left to me by the brewmasters I worked on a cocktail that I have been planning since the Blueberry Tea last December: Ginger Tea.

Cooled, fresh brewed green tea is muddled with the candied ginger and mint leaves along with a touch of simple syrup and finished with brandy. I had originally planned on serving this cocktail exclusively hot, but due to our abnormal warm and sunny weather here I decided to offer it either way.

Though this particular cocktail is not directly beer influenced, I do have a few in mind that are, but those beer cocktails may have to wait for some experimentation and/or warmer weather, like the Stout Beer Float that I've always wanted to do, especially since I am now churning my own vanilla bean ice cream.

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It is no secret that I love crab, though it may come as a surprise that I love crab even more than I do pork (Bavarian Meats bacon excluded...), but due to the generally high price of crabmeat I can rarely use them for dishes in our price range. Now that we are in Opilio crab season in the Bering Sea (yes, I watch Deadliest Catch on Discovery), I am finally able to put the amount of crab on a plate that I feel is more than respectable.

While researching ideas to use king crab in a special a few months ago I came across a classic American dish called Crab Imperial, an east-coast recipe made by stuffing a shell or other vessel with an abundance of blue crabmeat, seasonings and just a bit of mayonnaise that is then topped with breadcrumbs and baked in the oven until golden brown.

In keeping with the season I decided to instead use snow crabmeat mixed with Old Bay seasoning and our house-made aioli to fill pre-roasted acorn squash halves, and then topped them off with fresh breadcrumbs made with the same sourdough bread that has made our French toast famous. As accompaniments I added two traditional parings for crab: fresh avocado slices and tomato, in the form of a chutney, made from stewing Chinese red vinegar, brown sugar, dried currants, onions, garlic, fresh diced tomatoes, Garam Masala, and a touch of arbol chile flake for warmth.

Aside from the squash vessel, the chutney adds an unbelievable dimension to the traditional crab dish, but for the purist who prefer their crab unadulterated (like myself), I kept it on the side to be enjoyed if interested.

With Love,