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FLAVORING INGREDIENTS

Two very important ingredients at EVOO are EVOO, of course, and SALT. Recently we conducted a very successful tasting of EVOO and sea salt. I initially wanted to conduct a formal tasting, like the pros would do, but for more practical reasons I decided to “taste” these ingredients on preparations you might use at home. In any event it made for a nice class and even a light lunch for those attending.

We tasted Sel Gris, Fleur de Sel, and Cyprus Black Salt. The olive oils tasted were Hacienda 1917, Arbequina and Arbosana from California Olive Ranch. We use olive oil and salt as individual ingredients like herbs and spices of the dish. They are treated with equal importance. So how does one choose from the 100’s available today?

TASTE as many as you can before buying. Many markets do EVOO tastings on Saturdays, and even kitchen shops now offer salt tastings. So take advantage of those opportunities–I do, and always learn something.

Next, go to some of our favorite websites and read about their particular characteristics. You will learn the nuances that make them special and different–and inspire you to use them. For salts, I buy from Saltworks in Washington State and their site is very informative. www.saltworks.us. For oils, our staple oils are California Olive Ranch and their site is http://www.californiaoliveranch.com/

Choosing salts or oils is similar to how I choose wines—go to the wine makers themselves and read what they are saying about their wines–in some cases such info is found on the label.

Considering salts for example, here are a few facts that help me decide which and how to use them. First of all it is all just sodium chloride. So make no mistake the differences are subtle. There are minerals in some salts that contribute to their flavor profiles, but the most distinguishing characteristic may not be taste, but rather the texture of these various salts. Texture in salt is attributed to the way the salt crystallized. The area or region from which it originates determines the crystallization much the same way snow flakes are formed.

Sel Gris and Fleur de Sel are sea salts, both harvested at the mouth of the La Geurande River in the South of France where the saline is thick. A Celtic style method using wooden rakes to stir the salt as it dries in the sun is used. When the pure white, top layer is formed, it is immediately collected. And since it is not always there, it is considered to be the best, and is aptly named, Fleur de Sel, “salt flower.” The bottom is the Sel Gris, “gray salt,” getting the gray color from the mud flats that it dries on–some minerals from the earth are included, giving another flavor dimension. The Cyprus Black salt we use is a Mediterranean style salt that is extracted by boiling, and the lava, “activated charcoal,” is added afterwards. Among other things, activated charcoal is used in Spas for purification. Ingested, it sort of collects the impurities which are then eliminated.

This is allot of information, but at the end of the day, hereís how I use these salts. I use Sel Gris in cooking applications where I need to know immediately if I have achieved the salt-profile required. Like for sauces, soups and general cooking. The Fleur de Sel is a finishing salt where a “burst” of salt – texture is desired. The Black Cyprus adds texture, color and a burst of flavor once the activated charcoal layer melts away. Perfect companion to fish!

Bottom-line advice—enjoy the process of playing with different salts until you find what YOU like! Ciao, Bob


SPRING!

There are many ways to entertain and celebrate, but brunch has to be one of the best. Best I think because menus are pretty simple and usually enjoyed by most. Even people who don’t eat eggs, will often eat them baked into a bread pudding or French toast, and even an egg strata–the universal brunch recipe. I love the fact that when entertaining with brunch, we can have a 4 hour party and still be cleaned up before the evening news. And this is especially important when Brunch is on a Sunday. At least that is true for Bob and me, as we seem to need some time to get ready for the work week.

We served brunch just this morning–celebrating Easter / Passover and Spring. Often we are asked how we decide what to serve. We start the same as we would for any meal–with what is in season. Of course, we mean nature’s season, but right now, Mother Nature’s spring is taking her sweet time to arrive in our little town and I cannot wait. There are certain foods that say spring better than others, and it’s ASPARAGUS for me. If I waited until local farms are harvesting asparagus before I have any–spring would not be the same for me. Bob brought it in for our brunch today from our California neighbors–just for me.

Though asparagus wasnít the centerpiece of our Brunch, the fact it was there made my day. It is not just my spring fetish. I remember a restaurant in WASH DC that would serve every diner a full pound of asparagus for about a week every spring, and people would stand in line for the experience. It is a great vegetable that is often associated with fine dining. Maybe it is because the plant, a member of the lily family, takes three years to mature before the spears are harvested. There is a big debate out there about which are best, the pencil thin or chubby stalks. We think the chubbies are most tender and delicious, but the main thing is whichever you like, consider getting them all about the same size so cooking is consistent.

While I am musing about spring, I cannot help think about my family in Seattle, who are probably all sitting around a decked out-for-spring-table in the living room of my cousinís house, the only room that could hold the table for 28! That is where our family has celebrated many EASTERS, and many memorable meals–mostly pot luck but always someone brings the requisite plate of fresh asparagus for Easter. I miss being there today, but I do enjoy remembering because it adds to my celebration of spring. Here is the menu item that we served with asparagus this Easter Day.

Dressed up Polenta with Asparagus & Oregon Pink Shrimp
1 ‡ cups fine ground organic cornmeal
2 cups water
2 cups chicken stock unsalted, vegetable stock may be substituted
2 oz Mascarpone cheese
4 oz heavy cream
1 TBS roasted garlic (see recipe)
TT sea salt, Pepper, Coriander
2 TBS EVOO or butter as needed to finish

Asparagus:
1lb. washed and cut into 2 inch lengths
EVOO
Seasoning-salt, pepper, coriander

Shrimp:
EVOO for sautÈing
3 oz shrimp per person, peeled, and deveined
1 tsp minced garlic
‡ cup dry vermouth

Sun dried tomato relish, optional
METHOD:
Polenta: In 2 quart saucepan, bring water and stock to boil. Whisk in cornmeal, stirring quickly to prevent lumping. Lower heat and simmer stirring occasionally until the polenta is creamy about 20 min. Add the mascarpone cheese, heavy cream roasted garlic and seasonings. Just before serving add EVOO or butter.

Asparagus: Heat skillet; add EVOO; heat over medium-high. Add asparagus, season with salt, pepper and coriander. Cook about 3-5 minutes or until tender. Set aside off heat.

Shrimp: Heat skillet; add EVOO and heat over medium-high. Add shrimp and sautÈ for 3 minutes or until just pinkóbeing careful not to overcook. Add garlic and sautÈ a few more seconds. Add vermouth. Set aside off heat.

At service, place polenta in bowl, top with asparagus, shrimp, and garnish with tomato relish. Serve.


Noodles

One of the most satisfying experiences is watching someone learn something new, especially when
you are the teacher. Hi, Lenore here, writing in Bob’s stead.

We had “kidís in the kithen” classes this week and they made pasta. The children added water to
little piles of semolina flour right on the worktable that was adjusted for the average height
this day–about 4’2″ The goal: to make sand-pies “It feels just like the wet sand you make
sandcastles with,” I explained. That way they might relate the feelwe needed for the
dough. “Does it hold together when you squeeze it?” I said, and before I could get around the
table, the sand pies became dough. Dough in hand, they then worked in pairs, one feeding the
pasta to the machine, and one cranking the handle. Everyone practiced patience as they waited
their turn to crank the dough on the school’s only two pasta machines. ìLook how long it is
getting!” each called out. And before long, carefully folded layers of well floured flattened
strips of dough were pushed to the center of the table. Next step, cut into the “fettuccini
noodles.” And this is the precise moment the little light bulbs went onóit was the first time the children put together how the sand-pies became noodles. What an accomplishment!

Minutes later the boiling salty water was ready and noodles dropped. When dished up onto the
childrenís plates, some were still not quite sure that these very delicious cooked noodles were
the ones they had made, yet they so wanted to believe.

For the children in your lives, (including your inner child), here is the recipe for HOMEMADE
PASTA NOODLES:
A little more than a cup of Semolina flour
A few pinches of Sea salt
Water, room temp, as needed
All Purpose flour to prevent stickage (Bob’s word, not mine)

Method: Pour semolina onto table (a bowl may be used). Add salt and blend with fingers. Add just a little water at a time until when squeezed, the dough holds itís shape. It is the texture of wet sand for molding into castles. Flatten dough into disk and rest 10 ñ 30 min or longer in the
refrigerator.

When rested, using the #1 on your pasta machine, run dough through. Fold into thirds and run it
through again on #1. Do it three times. This is the kneading process. Now gradually thin the
dough strip by putting it through the machine on #2, then #4, and #6. Make sure all the dough is
the same thickness so the noodles cook evenly. Take the elongated strip and flour it well; fold in half again and flour again. Do this folding and flouring each time until the dough is very small with
multi well-flouered layers.

Cut across the layers º- ‡ inch thick ìnoodles.î Separate the layers and leave floured noodles on a
cookie sheet until ready to drop into boiling salty water. For cooking: Bring large pot of water to boil. Add salt to make it very saltyólike sea water might taste. Use about º cup salt per gallon water. You should have 4-5 quarts water for every pound of pasta. Bring to full boil; drop noodles and cook until tender about 3-5 minutes.

Serve with EVOO, a little more sea salt, pepper and coriander.


INNOVATIONS – Improv-open stove night at EVOO?

Finally, I am finding a moment to write again. Lots of distractions this week, like a trip to the big city, Beaverton! Amazing how small our world is in our paradise. Our girls, the poodles, needed hair cuts and we decided to make it a family outing. It was a good day–complete with sunshine, meeting a friend over coffee, and a short play date with “Dude” (a big friendly chocolate lab) at the “off-leash” park. Simple, enjoyable and a breath of fresh air.

Speaking of which, letís get to today’s topic. This past weekend we had a visitor, a friend from our old neighborhood, Kurt, who just happens to be an excellent cook. He and I prepared a course for our TASTE of TUSCANY class. It never fails to remind me of how vast this cooking thing is and how much there is to learn. Itís fun just having the company of another passionate cook around. I always come away with something new and sometimes innovative. We started talking about being a little looser about cooking–less formal. Kurt described how he just loves to make stuff up as he goes. It gave us an idea that we want to put out there to see if it has interest.

You’ve no doubt heard of “open mike” at comedy and jazz clubs. Well, how about “open stove” at EVOO! Our stove is your stove–just shop the walk-in (thatís our refrigerator), and put together an “impromptu course” that is then tasted by the other participants. We could do this throughout the evening, for at least 3 courses, with each given a time limit for preparation. They would even choose a wine to go with, and each course is graded by the participants that night. The winner gets an EVOO apron for a souvenir and proof of title–winner of EVOO Improv-open-stove night. If you like the idea, give me a shout at bob@evoo.biz; and if you don’­t like it tell me why not. Thanks in advance for your input.