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,


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,


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,


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,