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,


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,


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,


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,