Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Good Idea, eh?

This past weekend my wife and I visited Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada to celebrate her 30th birthday as well as our 3rd anniversary. It was our second time visiting there; she loves it there because it reminds her of New York City, and I love it because it's another culinary playground.

I'll spare you the Travel Channel rendition of our itinerary, but some of the highlights include brunch at Market by Jean-Georges, drinks at the Four Seasons and Chambar, and a seven course tasting menu at Lumiere by one of my favorite chefs, Daniel Boulud. Now, I know that I sound like some asshole who throws around money, but the truth of the matter is that I am doing research for my career!! No, really... I can legally write half of this off on my taxes next year!!! God bless the USA!!!!

So, what did I learn from my research?

Bits and pieces really; some fortifying ideas that I've already have had as well as many sparks here and there that will show themselves over time.

Since I can't condense everything that has influenced me on our trip into one week's worth of specials, I've decided to spread them out over time, starting with something both of our cultures seem to agree on: a good cocktail.

Despite being much more expensive, I noticed a lot of similarities with the cocktails that I create, some of which we Americans would call post-prohibition, using raw egg whites to create a nice foam on top of shaken intricate concoctions, something that I've been apprehensive about due to the salmonella potential, that is until I found egg white powder at the Granville Island Public Market.

So I decided to showcase my newly bottled handmade limoncello by shaking a few ounces of it with a splash of cranberry juice, a dash of Peychaud's bitters and a teaspoon of egg white powder to pay tribute to the old ways of cocktail making with current responsibility.

This week's food special wasn't inspired by my trip, but I have been slowly plotting it out for awhile now.

I wanted to do a take on veal fricassee, but with the it being officially spring I didn't want to have a heavy stew so I took a different approach. By using a cut called the eye round I was able to make thin, tender slices that I dusted with a combination of rye flour and cornstarch before sauteing in clarified butter instead of the typical braise. The usual vegetables for fricassee are carrots, peas and button mushrooms, but I though a little change-up would be nice, so I sauteed shelled edemame, shitaki mushrooms, spring onions and some thinly sliced white asparagus that has just come into season. I also simmered slices of golden beets with a touch of saffron to create a beautiful stock that I used to cook some fragrant jasmine rice. Finally, to represent the cooking liquid I made a rich sauce by reducing beef stock with tomato and red wine and thickening it to order.

With Love,


Wednesday, March 24, 2010


Yes, I do realize that this blog is supposed to be in English, but with this week's special, I couldn't help it. The blog title, horale, is Spanish slang that usually translates to "right on!", like when I assemble a really good special for the first time and it comes out even better than I had hoped, and I turn to my cook Alejandro and say "Horale!" while nodding my head; he knows. He knows that i've made it chingon - the best.

I'm always asked where I learned Spanish, and I always respond with the same lousy joke "in school", but while I was taught the words by a teacher, I didn't speak the language until I worked in kitchens in New York City, and even more so when I became chef there. The funny thing is, the more you learn the more you become apart of the culture, and before long I started to notice the Latino influences seeping into my cooking style. Nowadays my tastes are ever-changing, and I usually add those influences in subtle moderation, but with a new taco truck popping up everywhere in Seattle, I know that I can find a good audience for my take on comida authentica.

For those of you who wish to disparage how much Mexican cuisine has become apart of our culture, all you need for proof is to visit your local grocery store, like the banana leaves or corn husks at the QFC on Broadway or the masa harina (corn flour) at the Safeway on 15th Ave, the essential ingredients for tamales, but for me that's not enough.

To fill my tamales, I first slow-cooked chicken thighs over applewood logs, allowing for a good, smoky flavor without being overbearing. Once cooled I mixed the shredded meat with onions, garlic, oregano, chicken stock and other spices that made up the core for the tamale. For the filling of the tamale I went traditional, but with extra flavor by slowly mixing the masa harina with pork fat until it was crumbly like making pastry dough and then I added just enough rich chicken stock to bring it all together. I used banana leaves to wrap the meat and dough into one very large ubertamale. While they steamed for two hours I prepared the remaining components.
For the first component I needed a sauce, so I went with a French-Spanish hybrid, faulty gas pedal excluded (yuk, yuk!). I started my ragout by first searing off diced chorizo sausage in butter, and then I added chopped onions and garlic, chicken stock, Spanish paprika, smoked paprika, chipotle powder (which technically is another type of paprika...) tomatoes and parsley. Once thickened and seasoned I set the ragout aside to cool.

To balance out the spicy ragout I decided to use another winter vegetable favorite before it's gone - the rutabaga. This misunderstood yellow turnip is absolutely outstanding when peeled and simmered in a little half and half and water, and it is silky smooth after you strain it and puree it with just a touch of its own cooking liquid. Here, it acts as a buffer between the smoky tamale and the spicy chorizo ragout.

To continue on with the Latino theme I decided to concoct a punch of sorts to pay tribute to some of this lovely afternoon sun that we have been receiving lately.

Tamarind is a tropical sour fruit that comes from a pod, and when the pulp of that fruit is mixed with a little sugar it has a delightfully balanced of flavor. For this cocktail I mixed a little tamarind concentrate with some leftover kumquat puree and a little fresh lime juice, and, once mixed with a hefty portion of rum it makes for really refreshing sipping drink - almost like you were on the beach in Oaxaca, Mexico!!

Con Mi Amor,


Wednesday, March 17, 2010

It Ain't Easy Being Green

As I'm sure that you know, Wednesday is St. Patrick's Day, or perhaps better known as Anotherreasontogetreallydrunk Day. Despite being part Irish myself, I had sworn off going out drinking on Saint Paddy's years ago due to an overwhelming amount of amateurs drinking well beyond their capacity, trying as they might to be Irish for a day.

Instead, I prefer to honor the day the second-best way that I know how: cooking, and of course the only dish there is to discuss is Corned Beef and Cabbage. Now, since I didn't want to take the straightforward approach (as usual) there were several variations that I could have taken. For instance, my best friend, Greg, celebrates the day by making Reuben sandwiches, cooking them grilled cheese-style but with mayo instead of butter. Scoff if you must, but ignorance isn't bliss... that sandwich is!! Nevertheless, I just didn't want this special to be a sandwich, so I decided to play off of the traditional dish more exclusively and make Reubens for me and my staff with the leftover trimmings!!! ;)

Over the last month or so I deliberated whether or not to cure my own brisket for this holiday (fyi - the term corned refers to the corn kernel-sized salt used to brine the meat), but in the end I thought it was best to use pre-cured beef since it is during the cooking process that the magic happens.

In my opinion the best way to cook corned beef is in a large pan in the oven, submerged in liquid and spices, and being St. Patrick's Day there is only one liquid that comes to mind: Guinness. Those of you regular followers might remember the inspiration for this when I braised beef in Guinness for a risotto special earlier in the year. I kept the spices moderate and simple, just a little coriander, bay leaves and peppercorns to allow the beer to shine. While the beef cooked slowly in the oven I started on the other components.

For the sauce I wanted to toy with the traditional condiment of mustard without any chance of it overpowering the subtle flavors that I was developing while cooking the meat. To do so I created a sauce base of equal parts of white wine, chicken broth and heavy cream that I slowly reduced
with a medley of aromatics that included shallots, garlic, bay leaves, thyme and peppercorns. Once the mixture was the right consistency I strained and chilled it, awaiting the final dab of Dijon mustard upon order.

The cabbage for this dish deserves an interesting side note: as I stated above, I am part Irish, but the other part is German. While the two are remarkably different, culinarily speaking they share many similar keystones such as potatoes, drinking and cabbage. As a graduation present from my mother, she and my stepfather took me on an European trip that included a stop in Munich, Germany where I sampled true versions of sauerkraut that literally made any that I've had before taste like water. The sauerkraut that I had at a restaurant across from the Rathaus-Glockenspiel has remained in my memory still today, twelve years later. Even aside from its layers of pure craftsmanship there was one unique flavor that stood out: caraway. Growing up, like most Americans, I believed that rye bread tasted the way it does because of the caraway seeds and not the rye flour used to make it. Now, every time that I cook cabbage I try to impart some of that caraway flavor to pay tribute to the sauerkraut that I had back in Munich as long as it doesn't take away from the dish as a whole.

So, to bridge my two heritages I integrated caraway into my braised cabbage for this dish by first simmering beef stock with aromatics similar to the mustard sauce above but with the addition of toasted caraway seeds for their floral aroma, which I used to cook the cabbage to order, imparting all of that wonderful flavor.

After all of that, I am left with the crucial final component: the potatoes. All along I wanted to encrust long portions of the cooked beef with potato, but after several attempts using different techniques I was still unsuccessful, but being a chef I was relentless with my vision and finally came up with a solution. By making very thin potato pancakes I was able to wrap the pieces of meat similar to using a crepe or tortilla. Once trimmed each serving was roasted in the oven to crisp the potato and heat the corned beef before being sliced and served over the cabbage and sauce.

Happy Saint Patrick's Day!!!

I still find it funny how one idea rolls into the next and into the next; it's that perpetual ball of creativity that gets me up in the morning, makes me want to work on my day off and, of course, fuels this blog.

Once I got my hands on kumquats for my recent duck special they brought back a lot of great (yet still unfounded) ideas that I had for them back in my early days of cooking, but then again, I wasn't a self-proclaimed mixologist then either!!!

So I decided to enterprise on them while they are still in season by chopping and simmering the bittersweet fruit with a little bit of sugar into something that is somewhere between a juice and a syrup, but even after the addition of Absolut Mandarin and sans the sugar rim...... it surpasses anything that I've dreamt up before !!!

With Love,


Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Beware of Feral Chef

I have been working on this dish for quite some time now, which sometimes seems funny to me since my specials usually take shape at the last minute, but every now and then there are those vague ideas that surface while trying to work out a completely unrelated dish, like a culinary daydream, when every now and then a "wouldn't it be cool if I did this" thought lingers but never goes away completely. This one lived in the dark recesses of my mind, biding its time, waiting for the stars to align, until....

I always had envisioned a variation on the chicken fried steak concept, but every component was still blank. It wasn't until a couple of weeks ago when I decided that I wanted to use handmade tater tots filled with extra sharp white cheddar cheese as one of those components did I finally see this dish come to life. Instead of the traditional ketchup usually served with tater tots I used my own version that adorn the Chicken Andouille Sausage Corndogs: Sweet Soy Ketchup, a blend of our house-made tomato jam with Indonesian sweet soy sauce that is as thick as molasses, and almost as sweet.

After writing last week's post where I decided to use this time of year to utilize the last of the winter vegetables while they are still available I realized that I almost forgot one of the season's great unsung heroes: cauliflower. I used to hate it, until I had it sauteed! There is little better that a nice pile of well caramelized cauliflower, especially when you finish it like I do with a touch of butter and a hefty pinch of fresh parsley and chives to brighten both the flavor as well as the color.

In order to stay true to the original concept I had to sauce any incarnation of chicken fried steak with the traditional pepper gravy, so I thickened milk with a roux made from flour and lard, that key Southern flavor, but seasoned it with not only freshly ground black pepper but also white, green and pink peppercorns to offer a familiar yet distinct flavor to the gravy.

Now that I had all of the components decided I needed a unique meat to finalize this concept dish. It wasn't until just yesterday that I finally got my hands on some "feral swine" (delightfully fitting for me ;) - better known as wild boar, from Texas. I sliced a boneless leg into half inch slices and divided each one into two per serving before pounding them relentlessly into thin, tender cutlets. Then I tossed them in a coating made with flour and an array of seasonings (Cheffrey's 13 herbs and spices??) before dunking them into eggs blended with buttermilk and back into the seasoned flour before pan-frying it into crispy goodness.

~~~ ~~~ ~~~

When I was a kid, without a doubt my favorite thing in the whole world was cherry... anything cherry. Supposedly the cherry tree on the side of our house was planted when I was born, to which I had always attributed my infatuation with the fruit. Now that I'm older (and a chef) my tastes have matured and grown, but whenever I taste a great cherry it automatically takes me back to when I was young when life was much simpler.

So when I saw the latest Trader Joe's flyer promoting their 100% pure cherry juice I knew that I was destined to create a cocktail with it. After all, in my mind it's something from my childhood with something from my adulthood... that makes you act childish. It's perfect!!!

I was excited the second I opened it; it's literally just cherry juice and filtered water (you gotta love TJ's!!!) and tastes rightfully so. Since alcohol dilutes everything that it is mixed with I reduced the juice slowly down by half, adjusting with a little sugar to balance out the increasing tartness. After chilling and blending with some Skyy vodka, the final product was remarkably like a cherry version of Chambord, the raspberry liqueur, in both appearance and refinement.

After a flurry of ideas, some of which I will be using later, I finally decided to keep it simple and feature another variation on the classic Kir Royale by using my own liqueur instead.

The Cherry Royale might sound sophisticated, but you now know that it has a kid's ambition at heart.

With Love,


Wednesday, March 3, 2010

The Sweetest Man on Earth!

With the blossoming cherry and dogwood trees here in Seattle, it's hard to believe that it isn't even officially spring for another two weeks, but we chefs aren't buying it. The market has nothing new to offer; salad greens are wet, staple items like herbs aren't available, and there's the same winter vegetables that are now so familiar I could spell them backwards in my sleep. I have reached that one culinary point in the year that I can honestly say I hate.

Luckily for me I have yet to use some of the seasonal vegetables that are readily found now, but pretty soon I'm going to start having dreams of squash eating me.

The thought process for this dish started with a tiny fruit, the kumquat, and my love affair with anything agrodulce (I like to use the Spanish spelling since it has influenced my style of cooking more than Italian). I immediately thought of pairing duck breast with kumquat as a variation on the classic Duck a l'Orange dish, but due to the high cost of quality duck breasts I was afraid that the price for the dish would be too much, but I managed to keep it within our range.

Since I wanted to use the kumquats as a sauce I first built a foundation of flavor with minced shallots, ginger and garlic that I cooked in brandy and apple cider vinegar until almost all of the liquid had evaporated, then I simmered it with fresh orange juice until it reduced by half before I added clover honey and sliced kumquats. After gently cooking until thickened the final glaze resembled something similar to a marmalade but wasn't too sweet due to the cider vinegar and fruit.

Those of you regulars probably have noticed by now that I love cooking with bitter, leafy greens like the sauteed curly kale that I used here. Not only is it healthy and vibrant, but it's mild bitterness helps balance out even slightly sweet vegetables. Instead of a long braise that can turn it an ugly color and release some natural occurring sulfur (yuk), I like to chop my kale very finely and cook it covered with a little white wine, onions and garlic, butter and just enough water to make it wilt before it all dries up.

While kale can offer some great texture to a dish, I wanted to go a step further and compose a sort of dry salad by combining freshly julienned green apple with raw celery root, a.k.a. celeriac, which is kind of funny because I can't stand regular celery, but I love the flavor and versatility that the root has to offer, and you don't often see it used raw like the way that I am using it here. The combination of the two really gives a unique flavor and subtle undertone that complements the other components and helps define the dish.

For a velvety element I opted for the last use of butternut squash for the season by first peeling and chopping it, and then simply simmering the cubes in half and half before blending it into a wonderfully thick puree. It is only after I place the perfectly roasted duck breast on top and finish it with the kumquat glaze do you get the chance to dig in and experience the way that this chain of ingredients intermingle and play off of one another, and that isn't just some chef jive!!!

As of last Friday we started with a new menu with some slight changes: The Fig Mai Tai that was once featured as a special here has now made it into the big leagues and the hanger steak has been replaced with a New York strip because it is heartier and less wasteful, but the real winner is found on the back side of the menu.

Since the Doughnut A la Mode and 219 Ding Dong have dominated the dessert scene here I decided to replace the Apple-Cardamom Crisp with something more noteworthy, so I added the Banana Bread Foster, which is a take on the traditional flambe dish where I fill slices of handmade banana bread with a mixture of banana liqueur, caramel sauce and fresh bananas and top it off with our very own vanilla bean ice cream. I'd love to post a picture of it here, but these damn things sell so fast, I can hardly keep up!!!

So as a tribute to the "new sheriff in town" I thought a matching cocktail would be fitting, one that I stumbled onto while testing out the Bourbon Ball cocktail that I offered over the holidays. I combined creme de banana, Frangelico hazelnut liqueur, rye whiskey and a touch of creme de cacao with a splash of lemon juice to cut any sweetness to present the world's first Banana Bread Martini!!!

With Love,