Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Happy Birthday To Me!

I know, I know.... How long am I going to milk this birthday thing, right? Well, I promise that this will be the last post about it this year, and I'm only doing it for a special reason.

I now have a regular crew that come in every Wednesday night to have my weekly special after reading about it on this blog, and as if having such a loyal following of people just as excited about the food that I create as I am isn't enough of a gift, last Wednesday Chie, Mark and Derek brought me a birthday present. And not just some random thing either, but a pasta cutter attachment for my Kitchenaid because I have ranted about not having one in several past blog posts.

I was blown away.

Not only do they give me and my business their continued support, but a gift from them is above and beyond anything that I have received in my career to date. So, again, thank you guys. It really means a lot.

To honor my prominent fan club I put the new tool in my arsenal to good use by creating this summery pasta dish that I dedicate to my faithful admirers.

Right away I began thinking about the flavor combinations I could do and the first thing that popped into my mind was crab, and since I have yet to use it I decided to go with Dungeness for this one. It's rich and succulent but delicate enough to allow for a lighter preparation. I knew lemon would be a good way to brighten up the dish, but instead of putting it in the sauce I added it directly to the pasta dough, which I made with three parts bread flour to one part semolina flour and whole eggs that made a vibrant pasta that, to be honest, may be a little chewy for some people's expectation of Fettuccine, but with all of the other soft ingredients it's an important textural component.

Now that we have heirloom tomatoes available I thought that this would be a great time to introduce them before the local varieties are ripe enough for a standalone dish. I sliced a few different colors and removed the seeds before chopping to eliminate the bitterness that they can have. To create a sauce, I warmed the tomatoes chunks with Walla Walla onions that had been softened in a combination of extra virgin olive oil and oil leftover from roasting garlic and a little butter along with the picked crab meat, to warm it through. Once the pasta is cooked I add it to the pan with a little of the cooking water to help thicken it before I toss in diced avocado for added richness and creaminess. To finish the dish I added freshly chopped tarragon for it's anise notes and Italian parsley for more brightness.

Since I had promised that this will be my last post in reference to my birthday I had to scramble to get this one done in time for this week.

For my birthday dinner my wife and I chose an unusual place for voracious foodies like us. Those who know us expected to hear that we were going to a place like Spur, Tilth or maybe even The Herbfarm for a celebratory occasion, but since we don't need a special occasion to go to those places, I simply wanted a HUGE STEAK!! So we went to The Metropolitan Grill for my favorite cut - Prime Rib. In the end, even after protests from my stomach, we ordered the Cherries Jubilee dessert that they flambe table-side, and even before the flames subsided I knew that I wanted to try and turn it into a cocktail.

Just like last week's drink I started with three scoops of my own handmade vanilla bean ice cream, to which I added a couple of splashes of brandy that I quickly infused with cherries by blending the liquor with dried, tart cherries just enough to break them down a bit. Then I poured a good amount of "Just Cherries" juice from Trader Joe's (the name says it all) and topped it off with Cherry Lambic for sparkle and fresh Rainier cherries!!!

Enjoy these tasty treats!!

With Love,


Wednesday, July 21, 2010

The Art of Subtlety

Last Wednesday was our second attendance to Farestart's Guest Chefs on the Waterfront down at Pier 66 and we had a wonderful time! We offered our Deviled Eggs once again and I really thought that we were going to win the Best Appetizer competition after all of the buzz that was going around about our offering, but alas, no dice. At least we gained some exposure while benefiting a great cause. If you are unfamiliar with the event it's an annual fundraiser for their organization that not only gives job training and placement to the homeless and disadvantaged but also provides over 4 million meals to other disadvantaged while doing so. It's a great thing to be apart of and a win-win situation for everyone involved.

My favorite booths (that I got to try) were Salty's on Alki, Cantinetta and Roxy's Diner (their house-smoked pastrami that they offered both this year and last year was outstanding!!). Though they could be considered our competitors I wanted to showcase them here because I'm proud of the work that they've done and the delicious food that they had made. Even though my special wasn't inspired by the food that I tasted, it wasn't due to a lack of trying; I simply knew what I wanted to do beforehand!!

One of my favorite greens is baby arugula and we get a wonderful organic variety here locally that I use in my wildly popular Sauteed Gnocchi with Duck Confit dish. It is sleek, tender and less bitter than its grown up version but still enough to bring balance to a dish. I love it especially now that all of these great stone fruits are available (like, say, nectarines) because I can pair them together for a savory dish without all of that great sweetness becoming overpowering. By thinly slicing small segments of the nectarines they easily suspend within the greens and give the salad hidden bursts of flavor.

For some much needed texture and added richness I did what only a chef with my obsession for pork could do: I deep-fried thin slices of prosciutto into salty, crunchy and chewy spears of goodness that is guaranteed to turn any serious carnivore into a salad junky. And if that wasn't enough meat, I shingled the plate with fine slices of veal that I spiced with freshly ground coriander, juniper berries, fennel and mixed peppercorns before searing, roasting and chilling. In the end I had a subtle base of flavor that was perfectly pink, wonderfully tender and interesting undertones.

I also added a new personal favorite, wheat berries, to give the salad more heft and make it more of an entree. Wheat berries are the dried, whole kernel of wheat before it is ground down into flour and I have found them incredibly filling due to their high fiber and the fact that you can't get any more whole grain! The only downside? It takes an obscene amount of time to cook. I mean, all of the research that I have done says to simmer them for about an hour, but even after soaking them overnight like dried beans I still ended up cooking them for over five hours in chicken stock before they were perfectly tender. A long time, yes, but still worth the wait if you ask me.

To tie it all together I made a vinaigrette by reducing Californian Chardonnay by three-quarters, allowing the naturally occurring acid to concentrate enough to make a vinaigrette with only a little help from champagne vinegar. In my typical style I blended it with shallots and garlic as well as a little fresh thyme, but instead of using just extra virgin olive oil I replaced half of it with the leftover prosciutto frying oil, giving the dressing another little boost of flavor while complementing the ingredients.

Now that cooking is so popular and the Food Network has two channels everyone is always spouting off the key buzz words "big, bold flavors" and how it exemplifies their style of cooking, but the truth is that it takes a dish like this, with its subtle nuances, to show a true mastery of flavor.

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I don't like to flaunt my birthdays, but I do like to make them memorable, and like everyone else, I still want to get my way. Fortunately for our friends what I want is something new and exciting!

A while ago I promised (or threatened) the idea of making a beer float after we received an accidental keg of stout beer and my beer-loving friends showed their enthusiasm. Now that we have a nice milk stout from Left Hand Brewery on the menu I knew that it would take an excuse like my birthday to justify why I would offer such an unusual drink, but since I make my own ice cream with real Madagascar vanilla beans I'm happy with the way that the two play off of each other: its almost as rememberable as your first root beer float.

To be honest, I don't plan to sell a lot of these due to their obscurity and tendency towards being a dessert instead of an actual cocktail, but to my regulars like the Wednesday Night Crew I ask of you: Why not give one a try? Think of it as a updated throwback to the yesteryear of soda jerks, but with a kick!!

With Love,


Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Healthy Fare

I remember back when I was awaiting my admission date to culinary school my father jokingly said: "Nobody trusts a skinny chef." I was twenty years old and twenty pounds underweight; nothing a crash course in classical French cuisine couldn't cure. I gained thirty pounds in two months. Thirteen years later I am literally embodying my father's words.

My weight now isn't so much of a result of my success as it is a result of my love for rich, fatty foods; if there's a Bacon Anonymous group I should be a member. I'm still not a huge guy, but I'm starting to push the index and with my 34th birthday just around the corner it's all downhill from here if I don't make some changes soon, so after I came home from NYC back in May I decided to really concentrate on my diet.

With a hereditary disposition to cholesterol I had already been focusing on chicken, turkey and fish, but that had proved not enough so I had to start focusing on my culinary nemesis: tofu.

Even as a chef I had problems coercing tofu into something satiable enough for a serious meat-eater like myself, but with perseverance and a little imagination I came with some delicious uses, the easiest of which is by using the silken variety as a substitute for cream in purees, which led to the sauce component of this special, as well as the notion that I could create a dish that not only tastes fantastic but is healthy too.

The main focus of the dish was inspired by a Asian-style marinated beef that I grilled and made into tacos to celebrate our server Tommy's 40th birthday last month, and after the great response I realized that I had to let our customers enjoy this amazing flavor as well. The marinade consists of ground, dried chiles, fresh lemongrass, lime juice, ginger, garlic, scallions, sesame oil, soy sauce, and black sugar, a unique variation popular in Asian cultures. I stuck with beef for the special - a Flat Iron steak - merely for presentation and consistency, though it is fantastic with chicken and could easily have been done successfully with a block of "extra firm" tofu if I had the gall to offer it!

Since I had this Asian theme going I knew I could put my new tofu techniques to good use by creating a sauce from two totally different ingredients that are actually of the same plant. Edamame is a popular soybean snack that originates from Japan but is now enjoyed all over the world, but the most famous soybean product is tofu, which is simply a vegan cheese made from soymilk. I used this adjusted thinking to make a surprisingly rich puree by blending the cooked soybeans with garlic, green onions and a touch of wasabi with soft tofu before pressing it through a fine strainer, leaving me with a refined sauce that stays true to the art of Japanese cookery.

To keep with the light theme I decided on a slaw based with jicama, a high fiber, low calorie root vegetable that I tossed with shredded carrot, unsweetened coconut, scallions and sea beans, a plant grown in salt marshes that has a bite like green beans and a fresh sea salt flavor. To bring the slaw together I made a vinaigrette with tamarind pulp, shallots, garlic, extra virgin olive oil and rice wine vinegar. By using the tamarind along with the lowly acidic vinegar I was able to reduce the amount of oil that's usually needed to make a vinaigrette by half!!!

Who knew that healthy could be this delicious?!?!

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In a rare coincidence I am able to offer a cocktail special that actually compliments the dinner special!!!

I say coincidence because I've had this drink on the back burner of my mind for a little while now, and since fresh orange and ginger already go together so well on their own, they will flourish alongside the Asian and citrus components within the marinade.

I wanted to go with a variation of our house margarita where we muddled fresh limes and oranges, but also with the addition of ginger slices and leaning more heavily on fresh orange juice and less on the manufactured triple sec and sour mix, ending up with a drink/food combo that has been called Chino/Latino, but I've lovingly referred to it as Latinasian.

With Love,


Wednesday, July 7, 2010

To Curry Your Favor

Even after it happens time and time again, it has yet to amaze me where my inspiration comes from and the chain of ideas that link inception and execution.

Due to the heat and humidity I had to switch the caramel garnish on the Banana Bread Foster dessert to a more resilient plantain chip. As I peeled the green, starchy cousin to the banana something sparked in my mind, and like a fire I had to fan and nurture the idea by adding a little bit here, taking away some there and move things around before it really got going.

I quickly realized that I could grate the plantain and pan-fry it in metal rings to make perfectly shaped pancakes that were seasoned with onion, garlic, brown sugar, salt and pepper, but that was only a base, and considering that plantains are grown and used in every tropical country from Hawaii, Egypt, Malaysia, Australia and back again, I had a broad spectrum of cuisines to draw from. After cycling through my mental Roll-A-Dex of unused ideas I remembered one about cashews and curry, and I was off from there.

Cashews are a staple in vegan cuisines for their fiber and protein and are high in delicious fat, making a butter that blows away peanut and almonds, which is why I chose it; I wanted to create a cross between an Indian curry and an Asian peanut sauce to help give richness to the starchy plantain cake. Instead of a soupy base, though, I opted for more of a powerful sauce-like consistency that I achieved by blending raw cashews with coconut milk, hot curry powder (similar to the sweet version, but with a touch of cayenne and spicy ginger) and a touch of dark soy sauce to give it that fifth dimension of taste: umami!

To continue my avoidance of the typical curry stew I went with pan roasting Cornish game hen breasts to have a white meat version that is not overcooked by braising, like so many Americanized curries that I've seen. Since Cornish game hens are sold whole I had all of the leg meat leftover I decided to make my own crumbled sausage by chopping and cooking it with freshly ground fennel and fenugreek seeds and extra virgin olive oil, mirroring some of the curry powder flavors while excluding the typical ones.

To balance some of the sweetness of the dish I went with an ingredient that I've had my eye on at Uyajimaya for over a year now, and despite all of the common greens now available it was the only option in my mind: Chinese spinach. Its beauty was the initial draw, but the fact that it had a mild bitterness made it a keystone to the dish. I sauteed it with the handmade sausage from the leg meat along with a little butter, onions and spring garlic.

What I ended up with was a special that combines ingredients from other countries that would be considered blasphemy in their own, yielding something uniquely American, referred to as the melting pot, but decidedly my own.

"Damn, what the hell am I going to with all of these cheap strawberries!!" was the first thought that crossed my mind after a recent pricing update, but that's really just the same question that has been asked for centuries.

Strawberry cocktails are very popular, especially this time of year, probably because it represents summer in full swing, and I came up with a drink that is so dated that it has now become retro. I have to admit that the combination of strawberries and balsamic vinegar has outdated even my career, but like a boomerang and bell-bottoms, everything comes back eventually.

I'll be the first to admit it though; the rich vinegar does compliment the beautiful little berries perfectly, so why not try the combination as a cocktail??

With the abundance of ripe strawberries I simply chopped them up and simmered them in a little water, allowing their natural sugars and water to create a true nectar. While that was working I reduced traditional balsamic vinegar with some corn syrup to keep the acidity from becoming too overwhelming. Once both were cooled I poured the strawberry syrup over ice in a tall glass along with some Skyy vodka and a little strawberry puree and topped it off with a healthy squeeze of the balsamic reduction that slowly mixes itself into the drink as it settles.

After the hot weather predictions that have been forecasted for our Seattle area this week, it's nice to know that there's a place that you can go to experience a drink as cool as this!!

With Love,