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,