Wednesday, October 26, 2011

A New Beginning

Well friends, the time has finally come. By this time next week I will be the official full owner of Table 219. It's a daunting thought for sure, and one of the drawbacks to putting myself in the forefront of decision making is that I won't have the time to continue with this blog. I need to focus on improving the restaurant by emphasizing our strengths and building up our weaknesses.

What does that mean for my specials? They will continue on in the same way that they have been. I plan to dedicate a section of the new website to descriptive weekly updates, start an email list and continue feeding the social media sites, Facebook and Twitter.

As for the food itself I plan to keep doing what I've been doing - making it delicious, and this week is no exception!

It's pumpkin time and I love cooking with the scary little orb. I thought long and hard about what direction to take it and I finally settled on an old favorite: risotto.

When I started at the restaurant it was called El Greco, a Mediterranean restaurant that had an ongoing weekly risotto special that I really enjoyed creating, so I thought this would be a fitting end to this epilogue.

I began by roasting sugarpie pumpkins. These aren't the large ones you see everywhere. Those are so starchy that they are only good for two things - carving and making pumpkin beer. The sugarpies are sweeter and more tender, but much smaller. While they cook I simmer arborio rice in onions and chicken stock until just before the rice is cooked. This allows me to finish cooking the rice to order and infuse the roasted pumpkin that I pureed in half and half. I then added chantrelle mushrooms - a fall favorite - as well as fresh tomatoes and hulled pumpkin seeds.

For the protein I went with a bone-in, skin-on chicken breast that I special ordered for it's size since all that's usually available from my company are huge. I like the portion size that I get from a three pound bird, leaving me with the bodies for stock and legs to save for an already thought out chicken and dumplings special. To pair with the pumpkin, I created a spice blend by combining garam masala, paprika, chipotle powder, California chile powder, salt and black pepper. The spice caramelizes nicely as the chicken pan roasts and I finished the breast by basting it in butter, cloves of garlic and fresh thyme sprigs.

Even though the spice on the chicken plays very well with the pumpkin in the risotto I felt it necessary to bridge the flavors even further by creating a pesto featuring the pumpkin seeds once again along with fresh parsley, cilantro and extra virgin olive oil. The addition gave a brightness to the dish that really created a unique combination of flavors.


Caralyn and I are still working on cocktails for the new menu, and while we were focusing on dessert cocktails I think she came up with one that could be popular at either end of the meal.

By using some of my own limoncello shaken with our new favorite whipped cream flavored vodka and a shot of fresh whipped cream and straining it into a martini glass she was able to replicate an iconic dessert; a lemon merengue pie. It's a cocktail that isn't too sweet to be pigeonholed as a only dessert drink.


To those of you who have followed and supported me through this culinary writing adventure: thank you. You have inspired me as much as the ingredients on the plate.

With Love,

Cheffrey

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Sausage Party!

Sometimes it's difficult to come up with a protein that is new and interesting. There's only so many things you can do with a chicken breast, and a steak is just a steak. I tend to get stuck on an idea just because I'm bored with the monotony of a simple protein, even though to the rest of the world sees them in a better light.

While I do have a list of the types of meats and seafood that I have used for specials in the past, I realized this past weekend that there is one area that I haven't taken advantage of enough: some of the great sausages produced locally.

We already use sausages from Cascioppo Brothers for our corndogs and our brunch, sides, and I have been using a sweet Italian blend from Isernio's for my sausage gravy that adorns my happy hour fried chicken sliders as well as the chicken fried steak brunch item that I love. I realized that if Isernio's Italian sausage is so great, I bet their chorizo would be too!! So for the idea that I was stuck on simply using pork tenderloin again I opted instead to pan roast a couple of links of the spicy Mexican variety instead.

What I also wanted to do is incorporate some of the seasonal ingredients that I was going to use with a more simple meat, which actually played very well with the spiciness of the chorizo sausage.

For the sauce I had the thought to infuse fresh apple cider with roasted ginger, like you would do for Vietnamese Pho, along with beef stock, caramelized onions, sage, thyme and a small length of cinnamon stick. I originally wanted the ginger to be more pronounced, but I had already used a lot of ginger in the first place and I was really happy with the way that it turned out.
To keep with the Autumn flavors of the sauce I made a puree of celery root, one of my favorite ingredients despite my general dislike for the standard variety (even though they are technically different plants). I used half and half, milk and some water to cook the root along with some potato to help make it a thick, creamy puree that still had some of the deep characteristics that the root has to offer.

Finally, to balance some of the sweetness of the sauce I sauteed broccoli rabe, or rapini, in onions and garlic with a little butter and extra virgin olive oil. The bitterness of the rapini is also commonly combined with the likes of sausage, especially spicy ones, so it fit really well into this dish. 


Last year I had made an attempt of creating a caramel apple cocktail for this season but I wasn't as successful as I would like to have been. That was probably due to my lack of bartending experience and the fact that, at the time, I didn't have the experienced staff that I do now to confer with.

One of my new servers, Carolyn, has had a lot of bartending experience and has offered one of her cocktails - a Fuji Apple - to be added to the expanded drink list that I plan for Americana,  the future of Table 219. We had the chance to work the drink further and finally perfect the seasonal cocktail that I originally wanted.

We started by muddling fresh lime wedges with ice before adding the unlikely Southern Comfort with Apple Pucker and Baileys Creme Caramel. It's shaken and strained and garnished with a slice of a lady apple - a cute little varietal that reminds me of a crab apple, but much sweeter and more flavorful.


With Love,

Cheffrey

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Homespun

It shouldn't come to much surprise that sometimes my inspiration comes from one of my own home-cooked meals; afterall, comfort food is the foundation of Table 219's ideology. So when I cooked an iconic dinner for my wife and I on Monday, I realized the potential for a special.

I cooked whole wheat spaghetti with turkey pesto meatballs for us, and I said to Anna "this dish never gets old!". I then remembered once trying out an idea where I made a pasta with pureed Moroccan oil-cured olives, so I went with a play on that Italian-American classic that is ingrained into our society.

I made the pasta by pureeing the pitted olives with whole eggs and then mixed that into regular flour to form a dough that I rolled and cut with a Kitchenaid attachment as opposed to the traditional pasta extruder. Not exact, but close.

For the meatballs I took a cue from the lamb burger on our menu by mixing two parts of ground Anderson Ranch lamb from Oregon with one part all natural beef from Northwest Natural to tame some of the gaminess of the lamb. For a  Moroccan flair I mixed in my own blend of spices like coriander, cumin, cinnamon, paprika, turmeric, parsley, preserved lemon and some breadcrumbs to retain some of the delicious fat within the meatballs.

My sauce is also something more than your usual marinara: I slowly cooked onions and garlic in extra virgin olive oil before stewing them with tomatoes andred wine. I finished the sauce by adding spice like dried chipotle pepper, chile flakes and Sriracha chile sauce as well as blending in fresh oregano and basil. The sauce has such a zip and powerful flavor without being too overbearing!! 


Now that the word is out with my purchasing of the restaurant everyone wants to get their piece. Sometimes it's annoying due to all of the solicitors, but every now and then there's some good that comes from it.

A liquor rep of ours, Lucy, came by touting some new products to replace some of the top shelf liquors without the premium prices. One of her product lines is Effen vodka which I've had success with their cucumber version, but since that's their most popular vodka she wanted me to try out one of their other flavors: black cherry.

After speaking with one of our new servers, Carolyn, also an experienced bartender, she suggested this week's drink special: a Cherry Drop.

Similar to a lemon drop, it's made by muddling a fresh lemon wedge, adding a splash of simple syrup, a healthy pour of Effen Black Cherry vodka and finished with my own brandied cherry made a couple of months back with some leftover cherries from another drink special.


With Love,

Cheffrey

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

The Americana Dream

One of the few guarantees is life is that things inevitably change. Fortunately, sometimes that change is for the better.

Over the past month or so I have been in negotiations with my business partners, Gary and Stacey, to buy them out, making me sole owner and operator of the restaurant and now we are in the home stretch to make that happen. As of November 1st the place will be mine!

What will be different? Not that much. While I'm planning to make some minor cosmetic changes to better solidify the style and brand of the restaurant, the one thing that I won't change (and the biggest concern of our regulars) is the menu. I still plan on offering the same great food for brunch and dinner, only changing what I would've made anyways with a few nice additions.

Unfortunately, the one thing that will change for the worse is this blog. Since I will be taking on the additional duties that two other have been doing I won't have time to continue writing the beautiful descriptions like I have been. I will continue uploading my weekly specials to Facebook and Twitter (and hopefully to a new website for the restaurant) as well as a weekly e-mailing list that I will be setting up soon. So it's a loss for some and a gain for others; I hope!!

In the meantime I still have a special to introduce.....

Since the temperature is falling suite with the time of the season I felt it right to begin offering specials with flavors more reminiscent of what we taste when we think of autumn. 

I've been wanting to have a dish with roasted figs for a long time and there's few better meats that pair well with fruit than pork, so while I slowly sear thick cuts of pork loin that I tied with butcher's twine in order to maintain a circular shape I roasted fresh mission fig halves to concentrate their sugars and to create a more robust flavor.

For the sauce I didn't have pork stock on hand so I combined beef and chicken stock instead and reduced them down with an equal portion of red wine along with a blend of spices called Garam Masala which is an Indian spice blend containing cinnamon, black pepper, fennel, cloves and other autumn favorable spices, to which I enhanced with a cinnamon stick, fresh thyme, fresh rosemary and whole allspice berries. 

Another great ingredient and pairing for this season is braised cabbage, which is available locally this time of year. I cooked it in onions, garlic and a little fresh thyme that, for some unknown reason, tastes like fall to me.


Even though I offered a gin drink last week I couldn't resist this one, especially with the flavors of the entree special above.

Since October is synonymous with fall to most of us I intentionally poached pears with sugar, cinnamon sticks and allspice berries for last weekend's French toast topping so that I would have the remaining cooking liquid for this week's drink special. Clever, eh?

I felt that the autumn spices of the pear poaching liquid would make a really interesting combination with the complex flavors of a dry gin, so I made a twist on the classic gin fizz by shaking the pear liquid with Gordon's gin and egg white powder and topping it off with club soda for that classic feel. 

Only a few more week's to go!

With Love,

Cheffrey

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

A New Style

Now that we are officially in the cusp between summer and autumn I can create some truly unique dishes that could only be done in this short window of time.

Despite the delivery fiasco the last time I used ling cod for a special I couldn't deny what a great product that they normally get. With the skyrocketing prices of fish and seafood these days I really appreciate the ability to offer fresh, line caught fish from off of the coast of Washington (Neah Bay, to be precise) at a price point within our range. It is moist, flaky and delicious. I couldn't wait to use it again.

I wrapped hefty seven ounce portions of the cod with paper-thin slices of prosciutto to subtly infuse it's salty goodness the way that one would use bacon for more bolder proteins. The wrapping creates a barrier and allows me to simply place the fish in a pan and roast in the oven, keeping the flesh from sticking.

To pair with such a delicate fish I used several flavors of the season, starting last weekend when I pureed very ripe, end of the season heirloom tomatoes and poured the pulp into a bowl lined with a cloth napkin, tied the ends and hung the sack in the refrigerator, allowing the liquid to slowly drip over the weekend, yielding what is known as "tomato water". Once extremely popular when I started cooking in the Nineties it has fallen out of favor and out of mind until I read an article about it in the New York Times that made me decide to use it here. I simply warm the crystal clear broth with a pinch of kosher salt to allow for the pure flavor to shine.

For the final components I roasted halves of new crop spaghetti squash until tender and scrapped the strands out with a fork that I warmed in the oven while the fish cooked. I also sauteed chopped, local spinach and used a large ring mold to layer the two as a base for the finished ling cod.

As a first for Table 219 I was finally able to showcase a presentation that I've been wanting to utilize for a long time now. By putting the tomato broth into one of our tea kettles I was able to compose the plate with slices of jalapeno pepper topped with little domes of heirloom cherry tomatoes and having the server pour the broth into the bowl at the table; a simple little touch that really makes an impact.


Still grasping at the last bits of summer I wanted to have a drink with one last summer fruit: blueberries.

I have favorably combined blueberries and gin in the past so I wanted find other ways to use fruit with gin, and then I came across the Singapore Sling.

For this sling I muddled fresh blueberries, a lemon wedge and mint leaves, then topped it off with with gin, pineapple juice and a little egg white powder to give it a foamy top after I shake it all together.


Though I am happy with the cocktail, it led me to other ideas that I think could be better. Maybe you'll see a "Seattle Sling" on our cocktail list soon!

With Love,

Cheffrey

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Indian Summer

For my birthday my wife and I treated ourselves to one of our favorite restaurants in the Seattle area: The Herbfarm in Woodinville for their "Sketches of Summer" themed dinner.

One of the more memorable dishes was in the beginning of the meal featuring (among other things) a morel mushroom filled with caramelized cauliflower puree. It was one of the most amazing bites I have ever taken! The only complaint that I had was that they didn't give me a bowl full of them. When the chef made his rounds at the end of dinner service I commended him on a great meal and informed him that I will be stealing that idea.

I sat on that idea for two months now, thinking of how I would do it my own way. I have already known the wonders of caramelized cauliflower, but I knew that there is no way that I could offer an affordable special and use authentic morel mushrooms, so I decided to recreate the earthy duo with meaty lobster mushrooms instead.

So I heavily seared florets of cauliflower in olive oil until well browned before adding chopped onions and garlic, cooking even further until all was well browned. I pureed the mixture with just enough half and half to allow the blender to create a silky smooth sauce.

Lobster mushrooms are actually a fungi that grows on specific types of mushrooms that gives them a reddish hue like a lobster as well as have a seafood-like flavor. I simply saute thin slices of them in a little butter and freshly chopped chives because, for some reason, I really find that the subtle herb really brings out all that mushrooms have to offer. To further enhance the flavor of sea within the mushrooms I seasoned them with some Hawaiian sea salt that is now a part of my culinary arsenal.

To balance the sweetness that came from the caramelization of the cauliflower I decided to saute finely shredded treviso, a bitter lettuce like an elongated radicchio, along with baby arugula, onions, garlic and butter just long enough to wilt them down.

Not that my choice of pan roasting bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs was an afterthought, but let me be honest, it was the last component needed to finish the dish. The plate really could be served as a complete meal without it, but I wouldn't sell that many either, so I sprinkled two thighs with freshly ground coriander, salt and pepper and seared them briefly before sending them to the oven to finish.


I promised myself that I would create more punch drinks to fill a void in a chapter of a potential book on cocktails (not that I have enough on my plate already...), hence the back to back punches these two weeks.

A punch is categorized as being a drink made with fruit juices, which is why the summertime is a great time to offer these delicious beverages!

In addition to the mushroom/cauliflower combination that I've been holding onto I've also been day-dreaming about a drink that is made with a toasted almond syrup and an almond rum. Since I love cherries, I automatically realized how wonderfully they go together!

I toasted some sliced almonds and divided them; half went to steep in a simple syrup and half went into a bottle of rum that I sped along the infusion process by using a wine vacuum pump.

I assembled the drink in a pint glass full of ice with the almond rum first, followed by the almond syrup and plenty of pure cherry juice!!


With Love,

Cheffrey

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Swatting the Buzzword Bee

One thing that really bothers me about the cooking shows on TV is how they always seem to throw around the same buzzwords like "big, bold flavors". The fact is that it's easy for them to create a dish that way; that's why you see bacon and butter in so many of their recipes. It's a crutch that they rely on in order to churn out recipes for cookbooks. After all "fat is flavor"...

The true art of cooking lies not in the best bang for your buck but in the perfect orchestration of subtle flavors. That's where I like to play. Sure, I create high-impact dishes, but it's specials like this one that really show my range.

Like I've stated many times before, I love this time of year. It's the best of both worlds - the crest of summer's bounty leading into the wonderful flavors of autumn. I wanted to create a dish that is a culinary snapshot of this exact moment.

Since tomatoes are on the out for the year I wanted to make one last grab for them, especially with the beautiful yellow and red beefsteak tomatoes available locally from Imperial Gardens (in fact, they supplied a majority of ingredients for this special). I wanted to stuff them so I lopped off just enough of the bottom so they would lay flat and cut off the top thick enough to create a lid and allow me to scoop out the flesh. In order to keep the fresh flavor for a hot dish I sprinkled the inside with Hawaiian sea salt and baked them in the oven just enough to warm them through to order.

For the filling I lightly sauteed rock crab meat with ingredients indicative of the season like fresh yellow corn, oregano, a touch of handmade chili powder and roasted turban squash, a varietal with a flavor like the cross between a pumpkin and butternut squash named for resembling the middle eastern headdress. I also steeped the pulp and seeds from the squash in butter long enough to extract the flavor before straining and using to cook the filling.

To keep with the freshness of the main components I wanted a sauce, rather sauces, to further complement the dish. First I steamed fresh pimento chiles (yes, the kind that you find inside of the olives sunken in you martini) and then blended the deseeded flesh to make a vibrant, tangy puree. As a counter component I made a cold cream sauce by blending fresh cilantro and parsley with warm cream (so that it won't churn into butter). Both sauces create a yin and yang in flavor, color and presentation to help complete the plate.


I also wanted to keep with the waning seasonal ingredients for the drink special by utilizing the last of the available nectarines along with the (late) beginning of local blackberries.

One neglected area of cocktails that I always seem to forget about is the "punch". A punch is a drink that is comprised of many different ingredients and usually containing some form of fruit juice. To me, a punch symbolizes a festive atmosphere, something that I feel like embodies what we try to achieve at our restaurant.

For this punch I muddled four fresh blackberries (they're big this year) and then I filled the pint glass with ice, added brandy, aged rum, fresh nectarine juice and lemon juice to help cut through the sweetness. It's a tasty, refreshing beverage that creates a little party on the palate!

By the way... local ingredients aren't buzzwords; they're just the way to get the best flavor!!

With Love,

Cheffrey

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

An Organic Mind

Even though I offered a dish featuring curry last week I didn't think twice about doing something similar this time around. I have realized that my best specials have come from not overthinking them and allowing it to be more of an organic process of my mind working it out. I'm not saying that I don't put any effort into them; it's more like placing rocks in a stream to control the flow.

Last week I used a sweet curry powder because I liked the combination of it with soy sauce, but really curry powder isn't authentic Indian at all - it merely mimics the flavors found in traditional curries. I once lived in Jackson Heights, Queens in NYC where many Indian immigrants say has the best Indian fare in the city, which in turn really means the country. Since moving here to Seattle my wife and I have sought out good Indian and have only found one that even comes close: India Express just down the street on Broadway (feel free to email me your favorite spots). Finally I hunkered down and learned as much as I could about the cuisine from books, magazines, Internet and cooking shows. I realized that, like all cuisines, Indian food has its fundamental techniques and ingredients, and once you understand them you can make most dishes.

One of my favorite Thai dishes is a pineapple curry fried rice so I wanted to make a similar special but one spanning across Africa, the Middle East and India by combining similar flavors into one entree that has now become a staple meal in our country.

Basmati rice is normally used in Indian cuisine, but it is very costly. I've found that jasmine rice is nearly just as floral and nutty as basmati at a fraction of the cost, and creates a direct link to the concept of Thai fried rice. I simply cooked the rice in salted water with plenty of bay leaves for their subtle fragrance as well as a nod to traditional cooking. I spread some of the cooked rice over baking pans for the first night to simulate the reason why fried rice was created in the first place: to use leftover rice!

For the protein I went with lamb for its strong flavor and a Moroccan-style rub to season it, but I wanted to make sure that the lamb was moist and tender, so I utilized the technique called "sous vide" or under vacuum, to both marinate and cook the meat. By using a vacuum sealer right after rubbing lamb sirloin in olive oil, paprika ginger, garlic, chile flakes, a little cinnamon and turmeric I not only forced the flavor deep into the meat instantaneously but drew out the air around it so that I could cook it in a 145 degree waterbath controlled by a temperature regulator so that it was medium rare through and through before chilling and dicing. 

For the Indian flavor in this dish I created a heavily spiced coconut curry by first slowly cooking Walla Walla onions, garlic and ginger in extra virgin olive oil. While that cooked I toasted whole spices like fenugreek, cumin, coriander and fennel seed to release their oils before grinding them and adding to the stewed onion mixture. I also added coconut milk, cilantro stems and a little water to allow for evaporation while it simmered. I pureed and strained the curry and used it to finish the rice. For another dimension I added dried currants and cashew pieces as a nod to the delilcious way that they treat their rice in Turkey.


Before the summer gets away from us I wanted to use as many of the great summer fruits as long as I can until they're gone.

Even though no fruit embodies an American summer like watermelon, I find that it tends to overshadow its delicious cousin, the honeydew.

I wanted to use flavors that play well with the honey notes that lend to the melons name so I muddled mint and added aged Cruzan rum, juiced honeydew, St. Germain elderflower liqueur and a splash of soda and lime juice to balance out the sweetness.

Wow!! What a drink!!


With a little luck (and know-how!) I hope to give one last nod to the melon family and use cantaloupe in next week's drink special, but don't hold me to it!!

With Love,

Cheffrey

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Grill Me Like an Interrogation

After the phenomenal success of last week's Korean and Irish fusion special I thought that it would be nice to continue with the "melting pot" of cuisines that I love creating so much.

This week I wanted to make a dish with less dramatic differences by exploring two cuisines of which I've already realized share similar ingredients while ending with completely different results: Mexican and Indian.

First up is the Mexican side.

I made a sauce by first stewing onions and garlic with cumin and coriander - all common ingredients for the base of most Indian curries - as well as oregano and California chile powder that is mild yet still spicy. I blended and strained the mixture for a silky smooth puree that I finished with fresh lime juice and a touch of molasses to balance the sauce out.

For the Indian side I sauteed local, organic shitaki and oyster mushrooms with my favorite combination of sweet curry powder and soy sauce that produces the most wonderful Umami flavor that is crucial to any great dish. I also added slowly cooked Walla Walla onions and garlic with quickly braised dinosaur kale, aka Tuscan kale, that's more tender and less bitter than its traditional counterpart, and is more readily available this time of year locally. I finished it all with a healthy pinch of freshly chopped parsley and cilantro to really reinforce the correlation between the two cuisines.

As a bridge I needed a solid foundation that could hold up to the bold flavors of each, so I went with a grilled flank steak cooked to the obligatory medium-rare and act as the "filling" of this cross-culture "sandwich".


I initially wanted this week's dinner special to feature a grilled pineapple sauce, but since there is a very intricate algorithm of recipe development that is my mind - it didn't make the cut, though reserved for the near future. The irony of that ultimate decision is that I ended up with an far more inspired idea for a drink special than I had for the original main course dish.

At first I thought that I needed to only lightly mark the pineapple on the grill, otherwise the char would outweigh the flavor of the fruit, but when I started to juice the chunks I realized that I needed to get a full caramelization of the sugars in order to bring out all of the flavors.

Once I had the right flavor of the grilled pineapple juice I knew that it was ready to make an interesting version of a margarita with freshly muddled limes and a touch of triple sec to balance the extra amount of sugar brought out by caramelizing the natural sugars from grilling. And, of course, only some aged tequila could hold up to the strong flavor from the pineapple.


With Love,

Cheffrey

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Mr. McLee??

One of the great things about America is the melting pot of cuisines. I can take liberties to mix cultures in ways that can only be found in this country.

I have been a fan of Korean food every since my good friend Tommy Lee took me to a fine-dining Korean establishment, and I am lucky to work down the hall from Kimchi Bistro; good Korean is hard to find in NYC, let alone on Broadway.

I have been dreaming up ways to incorporate it into other cuisines but it wasn't until I was perusing the "fresh sheet" of available local ingredients from my produce company that I made a real connection. I could combine the flavors of kimchi with the traditional Irish cabbage and boiled potatoes dish.

I didn't have time to ferment my cabbage, and to be honest, I wanted to maintain freshness, so I found a recipe that was quick (considering the alternative) and easy, starting by salting chopped napa cabbage and allowing the water to leach out over several hours. I Then pureed garlic, ginger, rice vinegar, chile flake and fish sauce to make a dressing that mimics the flavor of kimchi very well.

For the "boiled" potatoes I steamed purple and red bliss potatoes and cut them into large chunks to keep with a more traditional shape, of which I sauteed in clarified butter to order, adding the "kimchi" at the end just to warm it through.

To balance the spice I needed something on the sweet side, so I took advantage of the season and slowly roasted Walla Walla onions for a few hours and then pureed them with a rich chicken stock. The final product is so interesting and complex you won't believe that it's ingredients are just these two simple things.

Finally, for my protein I needed something that is versatile yet lends well to a little sweetness, and wouldn't you know it? My good friend pork tenderloin is a perfect fit! Oven roasted to a perfect medium-medium well; it made for a perfect finale to the dish.


With summer burning bright and fast I had to keep with the watermelon theme before it got away from me.

The idea for this week's drink special was spawned from last week's dinner special, because towards the end of a very busy Friday night I decided that it was the perfect time to use some leftover watermelon to make what the my latino amigos call agua fresca or, in this case, a cool watermelon drinkfor well deserved co-workers on a hot, bustling night.

This week, I ordered a new one: a huge melon weighing in at about 13 pounds, yielding around a gallon of strained juice, about a third of which has already been consumed on half price wine night; no telling what the rest of the week will bring...

I made the first one for example by muddling three leaves of basil with ice until broken up enough to suck the herb through a straw and then I brought it up to about halfway with silver Bacardi rum and topped it off with the watermelon juice.


What a refreshing treat!!

With Love,

Cheffrey

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Ooh, Honey!!

I am worried that the summer will get away from me; after all, it's already mid-August. Considering the fact that the whole west coast got off to a late start this season I've had to really plan out my specials in order to be able to use all of the ingredients that I want to, or fate them to a year of solitude.

With watermelon at it's peak this season I wanted to incorporate it into a salad, but I really wanted to make it unique by cutting it into wedges and grilling them. By covering my grill for a half hour before I was able to get it super hot, allowing me to mark the melon without cooking it too much. The resulting ingredient was so amazingly complex and intriguing. The flavor goes well beyond what you would expect from the humble watermelon.

To match this bitter/sweet duality I wanted to first utilize a couple of my favorite bitter greens that are available here locally: beautiful baby arugula and some fantastic dandelion greens. While wonderful, they have to be used appropriately by balancing their varying bitterness. In the past I've paired a honey vinaigrette with dandelion greens, so I created an updated version of that by blending garlic, shallots, honey and apple cider vinegar with enough fruity extra virgin olive oil to balance it all out.

Since I already knew that prosciutto and melon together was a no-brainer, why not bulk up the salad with some finely shaved pieces of it? And for crunch I went with a classic garnish of croutons that I made by finely dicing a loaf of Macrina's sourdough and tossing the cubes in butter that I had steeped in fresh garlic, thyme and oregano before toasting them in the oven.


Even now, summer reminds me of when I was a kid. The bright sun in my eyes, the warm air on my skin, the sweet smells in the air; it all reminds me of a time of innocence, where I'm free from school and allowed to roam and explore the world around me.

One of my most fondest memories as a child is the discovery of the addictively sweet taste of the honeysuckle. At one point or another I had learned that if you pluck the flower of a honeysuckle bush and pull the stamen through the bottom you will scrape out it's nectar that has a wonderful honey-like flavor from which it gets its name. Like pistachios I could never get enough, until I grew tired of picking and pulling, picking and pulling.

Now, as an adult, I wanted to recreate that experience, but with liquor, of course!!!

Since I knew that an idea like this had already been thought of, I turned to the Internet, and wouldn't you know it? Our friends at Absolut already had a simple recipe posted on their website.

You take four parts of aged rum - I used Cruzan - two parts of honey syrup made by combining equal parts honey and warm water and one part of lime juice, shaken with my little touch of egg white powder to top the cocktail with a frothy foam that tastes like sweet clouds!


With Love,

Cheffrey

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Not on My Watch

Sometimes things don't always work out the way that you expect.

There are those times when even I would admit that I've had a "thin" idea that wasn't well thought out, or I couldn't find the ingredients that I wanted, and then there's this week, when I had a beautiful idea that I couldn't execute due to an outside factor.

I really wanted to offer a classic way of baking fish with a wonderful miso marinade made with the white variety of the soybean paste blended with mirin, or sweet rice cooking wine, rice vinegar, ginger and a touch of sesame oil. The mixture is then spread over fillets of fish and broiled or, in my case, baked in a high temperature convection oven until it caramelizes slightly, using orange slices as a barrier between the pan and the fish to prevent it from burning while also imparting a hint of citrus flavor that really pairs well with the miso glaze.

As a little playful nod to the Japanese influence of the miso fish I thought I would use the most abundantly available summer vegetable - zucchini - in an unusual way by finely cutting it into log, thin strips resembling noodles and sauteing them in oil, garlic and Walla Walla onions until soft.

For the sauce I really wanted to emphasize a spicy ginger note within a puree made by first slowly cooking it with whole cloves of garlic and chopped scallions. I added a touch of the Indian spice garam masala to give it a little dynamic since it plays well with the same types of ingredients that are found in both cuisines. I simmered this base with carrots until they're ultra soft, giving me a silky smooth puree once whirled in the blender.

The problem with all of this is that when I placed my fish order for true cod fillets with an unnamed company, I knew right away that something was wrong with it. Not only was it whole fish instead of fillets, I was immediately suspicious of it's quality, but it wasn't until I setup my "demo" plate used for this photo and to ensure the validity of the dish that I was sure that I was given garbage due to the taste and texture of the fish. I could tell that it was probably frozen and thawed a couple of times, and I was assured by my rep that it "wasn't representative of the type of product" that they sell, and blah, blah, blah.

The good news? I will have fresh, local line caught true cod available for the rest of the week. The bad news? No one had the special Tuesday night. I guess there's a first time for everything!


This year, instead of a reoccurring entree special of a sliced heirloom tomato plate I thought that this time it would be more interesting to offer it as a cocktail!

I used a mixed case of heirloom tomatoes from California (sorry locavores; tomato season was evidently canceled this year in the PNW) to make separately colored purees so I could use them to create a layered effect. Last week I started an infusion just for this by mixing 100 proof vodka with chopped celery and freshly cracked black peppercorns which ended up replacing our usual bloody Mary spice blend because it allows the fresh flavor of the tomatoes to shine through yet has enough spice to keep it complex enough.

And just for giggles I used pink Hawaiian sea salt to rim the glass, which gets its color by being rich in trace minerals and is traditionally used to cleanse, bless tools and in healing rituals.

I garnished it with a chipotle-pickled carrot that we use to accent all of our bloody Marys!!


Fortunately the rest of them looked a lot less like cotton candy than this one!!

With Love,

Cheffrey

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

I Know a Good Idea When I Steal It!

That was the motto of Chef Phil Delaplane, my culinary instructor in the Fish Kitchen class at the Culinary Institute of America that still rings in my ears thirteen years later, probably because it is one of the most practical bits of advice that I have ever received.

I'm constantly on the search for inspiration and it can be found in even the most surprising places. In his book about my favorite dining experience, Alinea, chef Grant Achatz describes the inspiration of a dish at his 3 Michelin starred restaurant (the highest possible, and most notable in the world) came from a rootbeer float at an A&W fast food chain during his move from Napa Valley, CA to Chicago, IL. Since reading that passage I try to never discounted a good idea. Luckily for me, insight is everywhere!

I initially wanted to pair the melon salad from a few weeks ago with a nicely prepared chicken confit before I realized how much better the cured salmon would go with it, so on the back burner it went until last week when I ordered my favorite Lao dish from Savatdee, a Thai and Laos restaurant in my neighborhood. It's a salad with prawns, lettuce, mint, cilantro, vegetables and a wonderful spicy coriander dressing. Like most Thai places the spiciness is based on a star system, and like In the Bowl a one star is more like two at other restaurants. My first experience was one of those where it was sooooo spicy but I couldn't stop eating it.

So I set out to create my own version, but this story first began last Friday, believe it or not.

The initial reason to confit - or cook in fat - anything was for preservation and was a speciality of southwestern France, but nowadays we do it for flavor. I do a basic version on the menu with duck legs, but I wanted to find a more common ground by using chicken, so late Friday night I dredged bone-in, skin on chicken thighs in a mixture of kosher salt, crushed juniper berries, coriander seeds, pickling spice and other little touches and allowed them to cure overnight where I slowly poached them in a combination of duck fat, bacon fat and extra virgin olive oil so that no one flavor would dominate.

I chilled the chicken in the same fat that it cooked in and stored it in the refrigerator over the weekend to allow for all of the flavors to mingle. To finish the thighs once ordered I heat a nonstick pan and place two of them skin side down and place in my hot oven without flipping them over, which heats them through and crisps the skin into something so light, crisp and tender it's astounding!!

While the meat heats up I first prepare a cold salad with green and yellow wax beans that I had steamed (never boil!!) and sliced into little diamond shapes that I then tossed in a dressing inspired from Savatdee made by muddling garlic cloves (yes, just like a cocktail; I didn't have a mortar and pestle on hand so I used a metal shaker and metal muddler so that the flavors wouldn't linger into your mojito) with sugar, freshly toasted and ground coriander and cardamom, fish sauce, chili flake, lime juice and scallions. I tossed the beans with the dressing and freshly chopped mint and cilantro to order so that nothing would discolor from the acid in the dressing.

For the sauce I revived a favorite from last year where I cut the corn kernels from the cob, made a stock with the leftover cobs, cooled the stock and used it to puree the fresh kernels into a liquid and then strained it. I brought the resulting liquid to boil once the dish was ready to assemble, yielding a silky smooth "pudding" that is simply thickened by the natural starch in the corn and is as fresh tasting as can be!

To be honest, after years of creating my own cocktails the sangria specials from last month came to me very easily, which only made me happier when they sold very well. This allowed me time to come up with a new drink without the usual pressure to get it done in time.

Some of the best flavors that summer has to offer comes in the form of herbs, and there is nothing that can liven up and create an intriguing cocktail better than a vibrant, local herb.

Rosemary grows readily here in the PNW, and while undoubtedly distinct, it is just as diverse. I used some leftover stems whose leaves were used to season our potato sides at brunch in order to flavor a simple syrup by steeping them in it over the weekend. I used this syrup to slightly sweeten cucumber vodka and club soda over ice, creating an intense yet light summer cooler!!


With Love,

Cheffrey

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Chilin' Out

Now that we're in the heart of summer, I feel like there is no better time than now to offer up one of my favorite cold entrees: gazpacho!

To be honest (and a little bit egotistical) I was never really a fan of gazpacho until I started making my own. Most restaurants serve a generic variety, banking on the freshness of the season to outweigh creativity. I'm all for allowing the ingredients to shine, but why not use a little poetic license while you're at it?

I've already made two unique versions myself, like the Yellow Watermelon Gazpacho and Heirloom Tomato Gazpacho, both of which had beautiful preparations of tuna. I obviously feel that seafood is the best protein for it, so why stop now?

I was originally going to have a dish with a minute amount of the pricey Dungeness crab, but after talking to my fishmonger I found out that a lot of restaurants are cutting their Dungeness dishes with Pacific Rock Crab, a close cousin, so I thought that it was best to offer a lesser known crab for less money.

This year's gazpacho is made with fresh tomatillos, a relative to tomatoes but more closely related to the gooseberry. I slowly cooked onions and garlic in extra virgin olive oil with a touch of ground cumin, which I cooled completely before pureeing with the husked, raw tomatillos and a splash of Worcestershire sauce and a few sprigs of basil.

I tossed the crabmeat in the usual accoutrements of brunoise (tiny dice) seedless cucumbers, red and orange bell peppers, red gooseberries, red onions that I soaked in ice water to mellow their bite and a touch of deseeded jalapenos for a little tingle on the tongue.

I needed a buffer between the acidic tomatillos and the sweetness of the crabmeat and the vegetable/gooseberry salad and I felt that there was no better addition than several slices of ripe, creamy avocado for you to stir in at will.


For my final sangria offering this year I went with a variation of what originally inspired this string of wine punch drink specials, as well as a tribute to one of our new popular menu items.

Since it's introduction on the menu a few months ago my Taleggio cheese sandwich with a Mirin poached pear (and optional bacon) has really taken off, so I drew from that for this one.

I started this month of sangrias with an apple sangria topped with brandy and hard apple cider which reminded me about a delicious pear brandy from Clear Creek Distillery that is full of pear flavor that I felt could hold up to an infusion of fresh ginger for several weeks along with a gallon of white wine with the same blissful fate.

I diced my coveted pears and allowed them to soak in the ginger-pear brandy and a little simple syrup to create a refreshing white sangria that you won't find anywhere!!


With Love,

Cheffrey

P.S. - For those of you who are interested; How do I celibrate my birthday?? With a pig roast, of course!! Check out my birthday party pics here.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

One for Me

Another year has passed and now I find myself facing yet another birthday Wednesday. This year I decided to create a special for me, though I'm sure that you guys will like it too!!

I have been mulling over the idea of offering a pork belly entree as a special for a long time, but with the popularity of my medium-sized pork belly plate that adorns both brunch and dinner menus I had to make sure that it was pretty damn good to compete with that dish. So I took my time developing it - making sure that each component was in harmony with the other. Finally, when I felt that it was right I realized that I was just in time to debut this beauty during my own birthday week.

Normally, as is the case with the pork belly dish on the menu, I like to just use quality ingredients without too much fuss and allow them to shine, but here I used the same belly from Carlton Farms but instead of adding just enough water to keep the meat moist until it releases it's own juices and slowly cooks in them, I had to inject as much flavor into the belly to make it stand apart so I drowned two slabs in apple cider along with herbs and aromatics and slowly stewed them in the oven for over four hours until perfectly cooked and infused with the apple. I pressed the two bellies under weights while still hot and allowed them to cool in the fridge that way so that they would have an even thickness from end to end and be firm when heated, not wobbly.

I clarified the resulting liquid that's full of apple and pork flavor like a consomme' with a process called a "raft" which consisted of finely chopped onions and carrots, bay leaves, egg whites and their crushed shells. Once the liquid is boiling I float the vegetable and egg mixture on top and allow it to simmer for an hour which collects all of the impurities in the broth, leaving it crystal clear.

To balance that subtle sweetness left from the apple cider I chose to finely chop some local mustard greens that have a lot of body and some bitterness to them; one of my favorite greens for exactly that reason. I saute them in a little butter, onions and garlic just until wilted.

As accompaniments I first cooked cut pieces of carrots in chicken stock that I had simmered with a ton of fresh ginger and thyme so that it would infuse the flavor into the carrot. Then I added a taste of summer by dropping in several fresh red and black currants for their tartness and texture. I finished the dish with a spoonful of yellow and black mustard seeds that I reconstituted in hot apple cider which added a lot more to the dish than just aesthetics. How much?? Come and see for yourself!!


For some reason, whenever I think of my birthday I think of when I was young. It's probably because when you're a kid there's something so special, so magical about that day. It's like the world is about to stop just for you.

When I was a kid, we had a cherry tree on the side of our house that I always considered was mine. I guess that it was because it always gave fruit right around my birthday. Back then, cherry was my favorite flavor of candy (now it's apple...) and I would pick cherries by the bucketful and eat myself sick.

So to bring together that taste of young with a taste of something a little bit mature I made a cherry sangria by soaking freshly pitted cherries in brandy, pure cherry juice and just enough simple syrup to draw out some of the flavor from the fresh fruit. Finished with cold Burgundy wine it had the perfect balance of fruit, wine and punch!!!


With Love,

Cheffrey

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Oh, Yeah!

As promised, I am continuing my month of sangria with another off-beat take on the summer cooler.

This time I'm getting closer to the more literal translation of sangria, which comes from the root word "blood", but this time I only get as close as a rose'.

I'm actually a fan of rose'. It gets a bad rap. It's a white wine that has sat on the grape skins long enough to acquire a little color and maybe a bit of flavor. It is usually served chilled as a refreshing summer beverage, which lead me to this variation.

I macerated sliced, fresh strawberries in simple syrup and aged brandy for several hours before combining it with a crisp rose' from our wine chiller.

Looks a lot like the Kool Aid Man, doesn't it??

~~~   ~~~   ~~~

I'm really enjoying creating interesting cold dishes right now. Not only is there a plethora of fantastic ingredients to choose from that warrant cold preparations, but I've found that people lean towards lighter fare in the summer months. Who am I to argue?

I have been working on this idea for a while now where I could cure salmon a pair it with a fresh melon salad, just like the classic prosciutto pairing.

I wanted to create an interesting cure for the salmon, so I juiced fresh apricots to use in place of sugar in a typical gravelax recipe along with a touch of coriander seeds. I wrapped the fillets and let sit over the weekend to allow all of the subtle flavors to absorb.

Though cantelope is the most common combination with prosciutto, I felt that it wasn't necessary to chose just one melon, and with the addition of honeydew I would not only get a new color but added texture as well. I tossed in a pinch of fresh pea shoots for a touch of summer freshness and chopped chervil for the great way that its licorice flavor favors the sweet melon as well.

With the salt in the salmon cure and the juice in the melon I really didn't need a "dressing" per se, but I wanted something to finish the dish - to tie it all together. So, over the last few weeks I have been steeping dried mission figs in aged balsamic vinegar until their flavors mingled, giving a sauce that has body, depth and complexity.


On a final note, we are hosting our third year at Farestart's Guest Chefs on the Waterfront tomorrow, so if you're looking for me, I'll be on Pier 66 ;).

With Love,

Cheffrey

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

A Month of Somedays

I hope everyone had a great 4th of July - I know I did!

Usually, my specials are a specifically composed dish that, at least in my mind, couldn't be made any other way, but throughout the brainstorming process I have these little ideas that sit around waiting to be picked up someday. I refer back to them when I need inspiration, but it can take some time for one of these good ideas to finally surface, and even when I find a good fit I can't use them right away because there are more factors to offering a good dish than just a good idea. 

Like next week, when I will be out of the kitchen on Wednesday because we will be serving our deviled eggs at our booth at Farestart's Guest Chefs on the Waterfront and when I'm away I want everything to go smoothly, and while the staff has the regular menu down, I don't want to trip them up with an overly complicated special. 

And then there was a braised pork belly idea that by the time the vendor had delivered the meat, I cooked, cooled and portioned it, it wouldn't be ready until Wednesday. That would only work when I schedule it ahead of time.

So in the end I had to compromise, but by no means settle.

I had a little idea of a seasonal jam made with rhubarb and red wine, and initially I felt that it would be awesome paired with lamb, which tripped me up because I have to be very creative with my cooking techniques in order to use an economical cut to keep within our price point, and I haven't yet been able to follow through with the thought, so I went instead with the breasts of Cornish game hen, which I have used with rhubarb before, but this time I feel like my experience with it has allowed me to make it even better this by not adding too much wine to the rhubarb allowing for its natural liquid to leach out and not having to cook it down a lot.

Since I started brewing my own beer at home (which I would love to do for the restaurant but would be a WHOLE other licensing beast to wrestle) I have felt like I really underutilize the great flavor value of grains, and though I'm not ready to cook with interesting ingredients like chocolate barley, I feel like I could find a place for it sometime in the fall. In the meantime I went with the more common pearled barley.

Pearled barley is a grain processed by polishing it in order to remove the bran, helping it from being too chewy once cooked. I simmered it in a rich, seasoned chicken stock and allowed it to cook in the liquid, further absorbing the flavor. Once ordered I sauteed it in butter, onions and garlic, local baby spinach, and the leg meat that I poached in the chicken stock to both fortify it and keep the meat juicy.



For some reason July has become synonymous to sangria for me, probably because it is one of the hottest months of the year and exactly why sangria was invented in the first place. So I decided to exclusively dedicate this month's drink specials to variations of the refreshing wine punch.

This week is inspired by my favorite ingredient for sangria: the apple. I love the way it absorbs the flavors and retain its crunch. Since I wanted to use Granny Smith apples, my personal favorite for their crisp flavor, I started this sangria tribute with the unofficial white variety.

I started early by dicing the apples and slicing some oranges so that they would have plenty of time to macerate in brandy and simple syrup, leaving a reason to actually eat the fruit - little explosions of flavor and liquor.

To top it off and add even more of the apple flavor I finish the glass with a couple of ounces of Hornsby's Crisp Apple Cider that retains more of that bright flavor without too much sweetness.

 

We're off to a great start!!

With Love,

Cheffrey