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,


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,


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,


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,


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,