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,


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,


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??

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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,


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,