Wednesday, February 23, 2011

It's About Time!

Sometimes it takes a while for a good idea to form. Sometimes a good idea forms instantaneously. And sometimes a good idea has to wait its turn.

Last summer I was researching recipes when I came across a cookbook by one of my favorite chefs, Charlie Trotter, where he had a dish that featured a mustard pasta. At the time I had just made a lemon flavored pasta and was very interested in infusing flavors into pasta and I quickly came up with this dish, tucking it away until a season where it would be more suitable to offer a rich braise.

My initial plan was to offer it sometime in autumn, the nearest time I could, but something kept coming up; maybe I wanted to take advantage of an seasonal ingredient that was available for a short period of time, or I had a different pasta idea, or I wanted to save such a good idea until just the right time... The next thing I knew it was seven months later and I'm finally getting to it.

The pasta is made by mixing stone ground mustard and eggs with all purpose flour and some wheat gluten, the pure form of the protein in flour that helps hold the dough together. I used the gluten to fortify the pasta to compensate for the added moisture that the mustard brings. Not only does the pasta have a wonderful flavor but it is also a beautiful golden color with specks of the whole mustard seeds.

To stand up to the robust pasta I needed ingredients that were no slouches themselves, so first I braised cubes of wild boar leg meat in a combination of rich pork stock and a hearty tomato sauce, and then roughly shredded the meat while the sauce simmered once again with red wine and fresh herbs like parsley, oregano and marjoram. There is enough of the light gaminess of the meat to shine through the pasta yet it is subtle enough to meld into the dish.

Another component that I added was broccoli rabe, or rapini, which is a pungent and bitter green that resembles a leafy broccoli. Its distinct flavor is a perfect match for the strong pasta and rich boar ragout. And to finish the dish and help thicken the sauce I tossed in a handful of Pecorino cheese (think Parmesan, but made from sheep's milk).

For the final touch - that last coup de grace of richness and goodness - I topped the pasta with my own freshly made ricotta cheese by separating the curds and whey of cream and milk by slowly cooking them with buttermilk and then straining out the cheese. I chose to top the pasta with the ricotta as opposed to mixing it in so that the diner can taste the freshness before stirring it in themself.

Good things come to those who wait!!

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I sometimes go a little overboard with the infusions that I make for cocktails due to the time it takes to impart the flavor. I'd rather have too much than run out of my cocktail too soon.

As was the case when I made my kumquat vodka for a martini cocktail a few weeks ago. With a bottle leftover I wanted to utilize that great flavor once again.

I felt that the combination of orange and apricot, one of my childhood favorite fruits, would be a good combination, compounded with the kumquat vodka, muddled fresh mint and a healthy dose of Angostura orange bitters. I was blown away by the result!! It was the perfect balance of sweet, sour and bitter with the added brightness of the mint.

With Love,


Tuesday, February 15, 2011

100 Acts of Love

Sometimes it's very hard to not believe in fate. My 100th blog post falls on Valentine's Day, one of my most deliberately catchy menus to fully embrace the notion of aphrodisiacs in food, where I have the ability to not only create great food but be able to explain my every intention and inspiration. To my loyal followers and new readers alike: thank you for being my muse.

Like I said, I once again formulated a menu for this Valentine's Day based on the and fundamentals of cooking with aphrodisiacs. We all know about the classic ingredients like oysters, chocolate and alcohol, but I wanted to showcase a few more, both historic and superficial. And since we all could use a little more romance in our lives I plan on offering these specials for the rest of the week until I run out.

For starters, I concocted a cocktail that embodies the romance of sparkling wine with a play on words that actually makes a tasty, balanced drink. I used a passion fruit puree that I gave an added touch of vodka (to help get you in the mood) that we used as a base in the same way as a traditional mimosa but with more of a sweet and sour pop kick.

For the appetizer course I used local oysters from Totten Inlet to make my oyster pot pies by first poaching them in a little water to release their liquor so I could use it to make a creamy sauce with onions, garlic, celery root, carrots and edamame as a play on the traditional components. Instead of the pie dough I meticulously shaped puff pastry shells with a little heart on top.

Beef has been known to get the blood flowing, if you know what I mean, and spiciness gets the heart rate up, so I went with an entree that is flavorful and light - light enough to ... er, keep your mobility??

Anyways, I braised chunks of beef in a teriyaki sauce made by mixing soy sauce with brown sugar and slowly cooking in an oven until perfectly tender. Once cooled the meat was slightly shredded to be tossed with a warm Asian slaw of carrots, Napa cabbage, bok choy, fresh cilantro and scallions. To accompany the dish and fulfill the orgasm-like spicy attribute I used a little known technique of cooking a white curry. Generally curries are colored by the chile that they are made with, but there is an Indonesian variant that has all of the seasonings without the heat. While I love the flavor that it has, I feel that the missing heat really takes away from what is expected from a curry, so I cooked onions, ginger, cumin, coriander and lemongrass with the white seeds of jalapeno peppers in coconut milk and blended it into a luscious broth to finish the dish.

For the final course, I (of course) had to have a chocolate dessert, but not just any dessert; a Chocolate Baked Alaska! I perfected my baked Alaska skills at the '21' Club years ago and have been wanting to offer it here for a long time. Well, there's no better time than V-Day!!
I started with a base of chocolate cake that I layered with chocolate ice cream infused with creme de cacoa and mixed berries that had been macerated in Grand Marnier orange liqueur. Once frozen solid and cut into portions I decorated them with an egg white meringue that's toasted to order to represent the flames of passion and love.

Here's to a hundred insights, and a hundred more!

With Love,


Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Good Ol' Country Boy

Every now and then I like to get back to my roots. That is, working with and refining what is known as southern cuisine.

I grew up on southern food, but I didn't realize what heights it could reach until I worked my culinary externship in Charleston, South Carolina where I first learned the extent that this hodgepodge-influenced soul food could be refined. Giving the richness that this type of food inherently possesses I tend to limit my offerings to this time of year since most people prefer heavy dishes in the winter.
I've been wanting to serve a loaded cornbread for a while now, and I finally settled on the additions of finely grated smoked Gouda and ground Chinese sausage, but instead of cooking a whole skillet I used these little non-stick pans that make perfect individual portions, great for laying a foundation.

Over the holiday season during my short vacation in Florida my mother cooked Christmas breakfast for my wife and I, which included one of my favorites: country ham with red eye gravy. It's made by rendering pre-boiled country ham (to help remove some of the excess salt from the curing process), adding flour, water and coffee - hence the "red eye". I've made a thinner version in the past as a play on au jus, but this time I wanted something more substantial. This time I made a rich broth by simmering sliced country ham with vegetables and herbs that I then thickened and finished with freshly brewed chicory coffee (my preferred cup at home). The resulting sauce was bold and slightly bitter - a perfect pairing to the sweetness of the cornbread and the Chinese sausage.

Traditional southern dishes usually contain some form of cooked, bitter green. While kale, mustard or dandelion greens are the norm, I felt some wild, baby arugula would fit the bill. Simply sauteed with a little onion and garlic confit helps give flavor to a newer version of accompaniment.

While I could have gone many different ways with the "main" protein for this dish, chicken is a perfect medium; a blank slate. I've always preferred a pan roasted airline breast - with the first section of the wing attached to add flavor and a classier presentation. Think of it as a healthier version of fried chicken, except for an added boost of flavor I whipped up sweet cream butter with freshly chopped oregano, thyme, and chives that I molded into a loaf pan to chill so I can slice it thin to finish the breasts while still hot to infuse more flavor.

As if my dinner special isn't down-south enough, I've dreamed up a drink special that'll turn a yokel into a socialite!

There has been a lot of distilleries offering "moonshine", or unaged corn whiskey, probably so they can have something to sell while the rest ages in barrels for a few years. You can even buy some of them at our state run liquor stores. On a whim, I bought a bottle made by a company out of Virginia that was a lot sweeter than expected, so I realized that I could use this as a clear version of sweet vermouth along with another more traditional style, a few dashes of Peychaud's bitters and a maraschino cherry to make a completely transparent Manhattan!!

Hell Yeah!!

With Love,


Wednesday, February 2, 2011

A Few of My Favorite Things

We all have our vices; some of us more than others. As a chef, I of course love food, but sometimes other guilty pleasures come into play...

While at my favorite coffee stand, Vivace, I had a moment of clarity. What if I took my favorite booze for flavoring (vodka) and infused it with my favorite coffee (Vivace) to make one of my favorite drinks (White Russian) from one of my favorite movies (The Big Lebowski)?? Brilliant!!

Since I have no real guideline for this I had to wing it, as usual, so I felt that a half pound bag of whole bean vita blend could impart a strong enough flavor for two bottles of vodka to have a strong enough flavor similar to Kahlua. First, I allowed the beans to steep in the vodka for two days until they all sank, indicating that they were soft enough to then roughly chop them in the blender. Another five days and the brew was ready for the next step.

I knew that I needed some sweetness to create my own version of Kahlua, and to add to that deep, rich flavor I decided on a simple syrup made with light brown sugar and a little water. Once combined, the resulting liqueur is like Kahlua and vodka already mixed, simply needing to be topped with some smooth half-and-half.

The chef abides!!

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Another one of my favorite things are dumplings, and while it's easy to find, say, the Asian variety in Seattle, I've had a hard time to find some good pierogies here.

Pierogies are roughly Slavic in origin (Polish, Russian, Lithuania, etc.) but those boarders tend to bleed. Simply put, they're an unleavened dough with a filling. While no one in my family came from this region (just to the west, in Germany, for the most part), I have always loved them, and one of my favorite restaurants in NYC is still Veselka where they make eight different types of pierogies (as well as a mean Ukrainian borscht).

Since I haven't found my new pierogi spot yet, my only natural course is to do it myself and share it with you!

In my research I found that the dough is basic; simply flour, salt, eggs, butter and sometimes sour cream, which only means "required" to me since it adds flavor, thus an essential in my book. They can be baked, boiled or fried, but for now I'm sticking with the more typical boiled variety.

Traditional fillings include sauerkraut, meat, fruit, or my favorite: potato. Perhaps it's my Kraut/Patty heritage but I LOVE potatoes!! And the only thing better is potatoes with cream, Taleggio cheese and onions cooked in butter... Yeah! That's the way to go!!

For a sauce I chopped the white parts of fennel bulbs and stewed them with onions, garlic, cream and mixed mustard seeds as a sort of play on both braised cabbage and creamed spinach. To finish the sauce and retain the crunchy texture of the fennel I added the finely chopped green tops and fronds before it's reheated to order.

After boiling the pierogies I toss them in a little brown butter and garnish the dish with crispy, fried shallots that have been marinating in buttermilk before tossing in flour and frying to play on another traditional way of finishing the dumplings by sauteing them in butter and onions.

Hopefully, the things that I love will help influence the things that you'll love in the future!

With Love,