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,


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,


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,


Wednesday, October 6, 2010


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,