Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Hooray for the USDA!!

Most likely due to the fact that the world did not end last weekend, the USDA announced Tuesday that it has lowered the recommended cooking temperaturefor pork from 160 to 145 degrees, bringing it in line to the same cooking standards as beef, veal and lamb.

This is finally on par with what we chefs have been doing for about a decade because we are governed by the FDA, which has allowed the lower temperatures, because otherwise the meat would be dry and tough when fully cooked. I must have some kind of pork radar thing because I had this incredible urge to feature a pork special this week... or is that just how I am every week??

Since apricots have just come into season and the amazing way that pork pairs with sweeter ingredients, I wanted to make a sauce with them, but I had to make sure the dish didn't end up tasting like a dessert, so I decided to first roll portioned tenderloin in a robust spice blend popular in North Africa called ras el hanout that I fortified with freshly ground coriander, cumin, caraway and chile flake before pan roasting it, which also toasted the spices. Though the new guidelines suggest cooking the pork to medium rare, I prefer to cook it medium to medium well not only to appease a wider audience but also because I have found that cooking it less makes it too chewy.

For the sauce I simply simmered the whites of Walla Walla spring onions in some fruity extra virgin olive oil until soft before adding the depitted apricot halves and some white wine, cooking them down until they are soft enough to puree, giving me a silky smooth, almost pudding-like sauce.

Even though the natural sweetness of the apricot is far from cloying I felt that I should further detract from it by sauteing finely chopped broccoli rabe, aka rapini, which has a bitter and pungent flavor that also really brings together the spice rub and the sauce. To take it a step further I added wedges of red radish that had been roasted to mellow their spiciness but still leaving a lot of flavor.

After last week's cocktail success I wanted to keep with the light and fresh theme, especially with the upcoming holiday weekend that is the unofficial marker for the start of summer.

One of the most recognizable classic cocktails is the gin fizz, which is the perfect summertime drink because it is cool and refreshing. To take it a step further I added the crisp juice of pomegranate to the usual suspects of gin, club soda and a splash of simple syrup to make the ultimate tribute to our glorious season, the best time of the year and the reason why we all tolerate the bleak, rainy season.

With Love,


Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Diecisiete de Mayo

At face value, this week's specials may seem more appropriate for the week of Cinco de Mayo, but even though I had the idea for the sauce well before, I couldn't have come to this conclusion without the proper dishes, which I just so happened to need for a private party last Friday.

We do close for private parties from time to time depending on their size, and I have to apologize if you ever stop by and are unable to dine with us during these events. Last Friday's was a pre-Bat Mitzvah celebration, a Jewish daughter's coming of age ceremony, and for the grand finale they wanted banana splits with the works, thus leaving me with a new set of dishes to use as a blank canvas of sorts.

The shallow, oval bowls that we got are actually for baking and broiling, so I thought that I could utilize my ancho chile and hibiscus sauce as the foundation for some unique enchiladas. Another example of how the plate is the inspiration for the food.

The sauce is made by slowly cooking the whites of spring Walla Walla onions (saving the greens for the filling) in oil with garlic, cumin, and ground ancho chiles, or dried poblanos which have a wonderful raisin/dried fruit and a slightly tobacco flavor that aren't very spicy. I added tomato paste and hibiscus syrup and simmered until everything was very soft before I cooled it and blended smooth with fresh oregano and parsley.

For the filling I went with coarsely ground wild boar that must have been lingering on my mind every since I decided over the weekend that I want to cook a whole boar in the ground luau-style in my backyard sometime this summer. I guess I just had it on the brain!

The ground boar cooked in its own juices along with chipotle powder, garlic oil and cumin. Once cooled I mixed in fontina cheese, freshly chopped cilantro and the leftover Walla Walla green onions.

The glory of enchiladas is in the preparation: you dip each corn tortilla in the simmering sauce so that it absorbs all of its goodness, then mound with the filling and roll, placing each in a dish with a little  more sauce. I bake two per order in a hot oven until bubbly before I top them off with more fontina and a pinch of cheddar for color.

Since I only had one chance at offering fava leaves this season (and all of my other ideas fell through...) I used them here, where they offer a unique vegetable pairing to a usually solitary dish and lend to the presentation as well.

I have been steeping tequila with dried black mission figs well before Cinco de Mayo, but since I had other ideas for that week I saved it for the right moment. Once watermelon became available, I knew the best way to use it.

I carefully peeled all of the rind and white pith from the watermelon, leaving only the sweet flesh that I pureed in the blender and strained until it was just the silky juice. I then simply poured it into a pint glass filled with ice, followed by the fig tequila and topped with club soda to brighten it even more and make it dance on the palate!!

With Love,


Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Mint Condition

Few ingredients scream SPRING!! to me more than fresh peas. The thing is, there are few things in life that I hate more than shucking peas - fava beans being one of them - hence my love for the the more practical pea vines and fava leaves. Not only do they offer all of the flavor of their more popular pod stars, but they're a fraction of the cost, which translates into high class dishes at affordable prices to you.

I'll save my rare gem, fava leaves, for next week. In the meantime I want to focus on the more prevalent climber, pea vines.

Over the years I have amassed great knowledge about what flavors work best with peas, like the freshness of mint, the earthiness of caraway and the crispness of radishes. I feel that this dish expresses what could possibly be the perfect matching for all of these ingredients.

First, I wanted to make a thick puree of the pea vines by first slowly cooking the whites of spring onions and garlic in butter, and then cooking down the vines with half and half. I quickly pureed and strained it to make sure the sauce is silky smooth and set the vibrant color.

Seafood plays well with that bright, green flavor so I chose to pan-seared scallops to match with it, though the real emphasis is on the accompanying salad that features the epitome of my pea pairings: a salad of freshly sliced and julienned radishes like English breakfast, purple and Cincinnati, that I enhanced by adding the finely chopped leaves as well. To this I also added the classic fresh mint and some crisp green apple that is all tied together with a vinaigrette of spring onions and toasted caraway seeds; the unsung hero of peas.


As I've stated before I grew up in a Louisville, Kentucky suburb, and last weekend was our big day, The Kentucky Derby.

Even though I didn't offer the staple Derby drink, the mint julep last week, I knew first-hand that it isn't the only time of the year that we drink a julep. TRUST ME!!!

So, in celebration of the "Run for the Roses" and in honor of my geographical heritage  I wanted to offer a slant on the mint julep that I like to call the Georgian Mint Julep: freshly muddled mint topped with bourbon, peach schnapps and topped with a splash of club soda. A spring cocktail that begs for better weather...

With Love,


Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Duty Free

I still have a few ideas kicking around from my trip to Hong Kong a few weeks ago; don't be surprised if you see remnants for months to come.

If you haven't ever gone abroad, let me tell you that one of the greatest things about international travel is actually the duty free shop here at the airport in Seattle. Seriously! The yardstick by which duty free prices are measured: Johnny Walker Blue Label is $138 a bottle!! We held out for Asia only to see that price rise.

Luckily for us duty free extended onto the plane, where we went for the Remy Martin XO cognac that was priced a little less. We sipped glasses of the elixir like royalty in our hotel room; I even mixed it with some champagne which made an amazing cocktail that I promised myself that I would feature at Table 219, but alas, the price would be too much, so I had to draw inspiration from elsewhere...

The second most memorable beverage we had was at Bo Innovation, where aside from some amazing food that you will no doubt see in my specials over the next couple of months (or even years) we had sparkling sake for the first time. As I was trying to figure out my specials this past weekend I remembered that Gary had been duped into buying a bottle of Effen cucumber vodka, I realized how well the vodka would benefit from the unique flavor and effervescence of the sparkling sake, leading me to this refreshing cocktail:

 We muddle fresh mint and sliced ginger with a little simple syrup and ice to help break it all up before dousing it with the cucumber vodka, topping it off with some sparkling sake that Uwajimaya happened to have on sale, like it was meant to be!!

Another inspiration came from THE most beautiful restaurant that I've been to (and that says a lot!!), Amber, in the Landmark Hotel which is a part of the Mandarin Oriental Hotel chain. Though my wife Anna giggled over the fact that our server looked like one of our close friends, Tommy Lee, she burst out laughing at a dish that looked like "Asparagus Man with Bone Marrow and Black Truffle 'googly eyes'"! It was delicious, but comical; too bad we were laughing too hard to take a pic...

So I drew from that flavor profile, one of my favorites, and created a dish like it but with more of my own style.

Since asparagus is available locally now I knew that it would be a good time to pair it with the leftover black truffles that I had from the cod dish on the previous menu. I also love black truffle with chicken, so I seasoned an airliner chicken breast (which has the wing bone attached for presentation and flavor) with black truffle salt and pan-seared it while basting it with butter, fresh thyme and garlic. During the long process of roasting I warm thick slices of purple potatoes in butter, steam the spears of asparagus, and whip up a black truffle hollandaise to order with the aid of a hand blender.

Everything is seasoned with some sea salt that has been infused with black truffle that I've been using to flavor our popcorn every since the conception of my Pacific cod dish on the last menu. A wonderful, earthy dish that joins the flavor of winter with that of spring.

Enjoy the past while it lasts!!

With Love,