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MOVIES THAT COOK

Do you ever watch a movie and become fascinated by the food in the story?
I may suffer from the Chef’s obsession, but sometimes I become so intrigued by the food they are making in the film that I forget the plot and just want to get in the kitchen to cook. Lenore and I recently surveyed a group of guests at an EVOO dinner for their favorite food scenes. Here are some from that discussion. Just thinking about them makes me want to watch them again.

EAT DRINK MAN WOMAN – Lenore and I first saw this on a flight to London. Full of culture it is about a renowned Taiwanese chef and his daughters. Clearly a successful chef by societies standards, he spends much of the movie trying to impress his grown daughters with his cooking. He even loses his sense of taste, critical to his craft. Alls well in the end, but I don’t recommend seeing this movie without your best take out in front of you. Airline peanuts do not suffice.

THE BIG NIGHT – It’s all about the food, or is it all about the success of a business? The opening scene introduces the quirky brother-owner duo, one the front man and the other master chef, Primo Pilaggi. As the movie opens Primo is alone creating an intricate dish while Tucci waits, pacing for his brother to finish. In this restaurant the food takes way too long to get to the customers and business is falling apart. After much consultation, Tucci’s mentor convinces him that the restaurant needs Louis Prima and his band to come to dinner. Preparations begin and what unfolds is a testament to one chef’s obsessive attention to detail and passion for his craft, and another’s failure to recognize when it’s time to move on.

FRIED GREEN TOMATOES – With a cast including Kathy Bates, Jessica Tandy, Mary-Louise Parker and Mary Stuart Masterson you know you are in for an enjoyable ride. What you don’t expect is great barbecue and southern recipes throughout. Very much a period piece, set in the 1930’s at the Whistle Stop Café, the movie explores women in the south and what true friendship can endure. A movie I still think about when frying green tomatoes and especially remember the best line of the movie, “its all in the sauce.”

LIKE WATER FOR CHOCOLATE – a romantic story of a fictional family set in the early 1900’s, in Mexico. It covers two decades of life, love and food. Young Tita spends most of her childhood in the kitchen with the family cook, learning the craft. Tita falls in love. Her mother denies her marriage, and besides, her older sister is betrothed to the man Tita loves. Because she is oldest, tradition requires her to remain in the house as her mothers’ caretaker. Tita vents her frustration through cooking and her emotions are felt in the meals created, especially when making her sister’s wedding cake.

CHOCOLAT – In the 1950’s the main character (Juliette Binnoche) is a single mother who brings her daughter to a tranquil French village. The quite town suits her just fine as she opens a chocolatierre, just as lent begins. Being a time of fasting and restraint, the towns mayor attempt to overcompensate for his miserable life, makes it his mission to oust the chocolate maker as quickly as possible. Meanwhile, the newcomer demonstrates her tenacity and skills, and even gets into the villagers lives, learning their preferences for chocolates and gaining their patronage. As with all great food movies, there is life, love (in this case with Johnny Depp) and good eats. The plot is one of fantasy that leaves you beliving and turning to your favorite box of chocolates.

BELLA MARTHA (MOSTLY MARTHA); recently remade as NO RESERVATIONS. It takes place in Germany where chef Martha Klein rules supreme. God forbid any diner queston the quality of their entrée. Martha’s passion and need for control is tested when her sister dies in a car crash leaving her 8 year old daughter for Martha to raise. Motherhood proves more challenging than expcted until Martha’s new Italian cook comes into the picture. Martha’s overbearing and intimidating ways soon melt away allowing her vulnerability and playful side to show. I particularly enjoyed the realism in this working kitchen but definitely liked the original better than the remake.

RATATOUILLE – Okay, I probaly don’t even have to go here since it is so recent, but as a chef I enjoyed the familiar portrayal of a professional kitchen. Set in France the star is Remy the rat, who has a passion for fine food and finds himself uprooted from the countryside to the sewer just below a famous restauarant, owned by his idol chef. The story unfolds as Remy gets his shot at culinary freedom while teaching an unlikely cook named Linguini. Between relationships, turf wars and smart culinary jargon, this movie is a whole bunch of fun and honestly my favorite movie that year.

Then there are the movies that are not really about food but hard to imagine with out it. Take MOONSTRUCK, for example, where almost every scene takes place in a restaurant, bakery or home kitchen, and I being both Italian and romantic find the final scene where the family gathers around the kitchen table over oatmeal quite essential to its plot.

There are isolated food scenes from movies too, that do nothing but make a huge impact. For instance, whenever I cook hard boiled eggs I think of COOL HAND LUKE. And most people remember WHEN HARRY MET SALLY’s delicatession scene that wasn’t really about the food, and for me, memorable because it’s my worst high maintenance customer nightmare. And lastly the scene where one shared strand of pasta leads to an innocent first kiss between the LADY AND THE TRAMP is a sweet classic that I’m sure the child in us all remembers whenever we eat spaghetti and meatballs.

So mix up some popcorn and tell us your favorite food scenes from the movies. Send your thoughts and even better, your recipes inspired by a movie to info@evoo.biz Here are a couple of my recipes named for the movies – Enjoy!

BIG NIGHT – Ravioli
3 cups AP flour
1 tsp sea salt
5 eggs
3 -4 TBS water, more or less as needed
1# duck confit*
Chicken stock as needed to cook ravioli
2 cups parmesan cream – see recipe
Method: Combine flour and salt in large bowl; make a well in center and add the eggs and most of water; work the dry and wet together and add enough water to make a moist dough; remove to board and knead for 10 minutes; cover with a towel and allow to rest for 1 hour. Divide the dough into 4 pieces and roll through pasta machine gradually to lowest setting. (Pasta should be thin, #8 on our machine) On one side of a long sheet, place-filling 1 in apart using a small spoon; moisten edges with water and fold noodle over filling to cover and seal using pasta wheel or fork.
For service: boil raviolis in salted chicken stock until they float. Drain well; Place on top of cream sauce and garnish with more duck and apple chutney, if desired.
Note: duck confit and apple chutney can be purchase at many specialty stores such as Whole Foods or Zupan’s.

Parmesan cream for ravioli: Reduce 4 cups of cream to 2 cups; stir in ½ cup grated Parmesan cheese. Season with salt, white pepper, and coriander.

FRIED GREEN TOMATOES with Garlic-Dill Aioli
2 cups Panko bread crumbs
2 tsp sea salt
1 tsp black pepper
1 tsp coriander
½ tsp cayenne
2 cups buttermilk
4 ea green tomatoes, sliced ½”
As needed vegetable oil to fry
Method: set up a breading station by combining panko and seasonings in a container appropriate to hold panko and tomatoes; place buttermilk in breading pan next to panko mixture; place a slice of tomato in panko with left hand and cover completely and evenly with crumbs – remove with left hand and dust off completely; place in buttermilk and coat well using right hand –remove and allow to drip over pan, using right hand; place back in panko to double coat tomato; remove to parchment lined pan and refrigerate a minimum of 30 minutes before cooking.
Place oil in large sauté pan and heat until oil begins to haze; add tomatoes and cook through, browning on both sides; remove to paper towels to drain; serve immediately – adjusting salt as necessary.
GARLIC-DILL AIOLI
4 cloves roasted garlic
3 egg yolks, room temp.
½ cup EVOO
½ cup grape seed oil
juice of 1 lemon
1 tsp fresh dill
Method: mash garlic into a paste; add yolks and whisk well until light and fluffy; add oils in a steady stream, whisking constantly; add juice and chives; adjust seasoning with sea salt and coriander; reserve chilled.

CHOCOLAT – HOT CHOCOLATE LACED WITH DARK RUM
6 oz heavy cream
12 oz whole milk
¼ cup salted butter
2 TBS sugar
½ tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper
8 oz good bittersweet chocolate, broken into small pieces
8 oz sweetened whipped cream
2 tsp dark rum
Sprinkle of nutmeg Method: place all ingredients except chocolate into heavy bottom sauce pan; bring to simmer. Add chocolate until completely melted and absorbed. Ladle into cups; garnish as desired. Suggested size serving: 4 oz as this is very rich
To Garnish: (pick one or a couple)
1. Float whipped cream on top
2. Add splash of dark rum
Sprinkle of nutmeg, cocoa powder, or cinnamon.


MEDITERRANEAN DINING

I am struck by the number of times over the years that I have been asked to explain my style of cooking. It is not that I don’t know but rather that I struggle with putting it into words. Lenore and I promote the benefits of eating in the Mediterranean style. But that doesn’t quite describe our style of cooking because the word Mediterranean in the mainstream is frequently associated with Greek, and though we love Greek cuisine, our “style” isn’t. Of course we called ourselves EVOO after extra virgin olive oil, because it’s the oil I choose to use most of the time.
This year we have embarked on a rather daunting task that has both of us awed by the amount of preparation required. Hats off to those who have written their own cookbooks! Our publisher wants to know just what our style of cooking is, and so started another awkward attempt to put into words how we prefer to cook! In order to do it justice I found myself going back in time.
In 2001 in Seattle we found a little Italian restaurant overlooking the city that was a little tired and in need of some new TLC. Being sold by owner, we were the only buyers looking. We hired an architect to show us that the remodeling we wanted would work. It was looking good and we were finally going to open the restaurant we had only dreamed about. At the same point in time we had a scheduled trip to Italy; the café owners were fine with waiting until we returned to complete the sale, and so off we went happily on our three-week vacation! In Italy we met up with several of our friends in Florence and they wanted to know about the restaurant. “What’s your style of cuisine?” (There’s that question again), and “What will you name it?”
Lenore summed up that we love cooking cuisines that use olive oil as the preferred fat, and of course Italian food is a favorite. One night during a lovely Tuscan dinner with our friends, the name, Oliva, (olive in Italian) earn the most votes. Check that off our list. The rest of the trip continued our focus on what was waiting at home. We bought some hand-painted Italian pottery that would fit nicely in our café. We learned as much as possible about olives and olive oil, too. It was a wonderful time.
Upon returning to Seattle, we discovered the bank had foreclosed on “our” cafe, sold to another buyer, and we were out. What a lesson to learn—once we got over the shock, we decided it wasn’t meant to be. At that point we took a drastic detour from our plans to find a restaurant of our own.
To mourn our loss of the café, we went to our favorite get-away. We had been weekending in Cannon Beach ever since we moved to Seattle! It was on this particular weekend we decided put the money we saved for our restaurant toward building our beach house. Our spirits lifted and by April 2002 we had found the property, the builder had broken ground and we were in motion to the ocean! A year later our get-away was complete. It was about this time that we also picked up a standard poodle puppy to enjoy the beach with us. We named her Olivia—not quiet the same as the restaurant name but by then, we had really moved on!
Little did we know we would turn our second home into our primary residence. We gingerly entertained the idea of opening a restaurant—but when the concept of a cooking school came up—once again we were in motion.
Again the question surfaced: “What is your style of cuisine?” So once and for all, here is my recipe for what cooking in the Mediterranean style means to me. Think of it as a chunky guacamole—pieces of ideas that make for a tasty experience.

1. Extra virgin olive oil is indeed at the core.
2. Plates are small but complete! Portions are small but flavors are often complicated and quite diverse.
3. Many grains, legumes, and plant-based ingredients are present.
4. Animal proteins are never more than 2-3 oz and tend to represent less than 1/3 of what is happening on the plate.
5. Preference is given in order to fish, shellfish, chicken then red meat.
6. Added touches of bright and bold flavors make for a surprise or contradiction; as with condiments, micro green salads, relishes, chutneys, sorbets and fresh sauces.
7. Plates are textural from soft to crunchy, chewy, crispy to smooth; raw to cooked.
8. Temperatures range from the oven along side something right out of the refrigerator, and all points in between.
9. Wine always accompanies and completes the plate.

Lenore tells me this list is very close to the highly touted Mediterranean healthy lifestyle diet. Studies show people who live in the Mediterranean countries have the lowest rates of chronic disease and the highest life expectancy. Health organization studied these eating patterns to design a Mediterranean food pyramid, which shows the majority of the daily food intake from plant sources: fruits, vegetables, bread, grains, beans, nuts and seeds. Processed foods are to be avoided. Locally grown seasonal ingredients are preferred. The fat of choice is olive oil. Other fats in the form of cheeses and yogurt are minimal. Fish weekly and red meat no more than once a month, focusing on leaner cuts. Fresh fruit is the preferred and traditional dessert, avoiding significant amounts of refined sugar. One to two glasses of wine per day with meals rounds out the regime with a large dose of regular exercise (walking) throughout the week, of course.
The lands of the Mediterranean basin include Spain, France, Italy, Greece, Turkey, The Middle East, and North Africa. The sea itself touches the shores of three continents: Europe, Asia and Africa. Historically the cuisines of these places grew out of the fact that the sea is at its heart so no wonder fish and shellfish dominate cuisines. The rough rocky terrains tended to inhibit pasturing cattle, not so much sheep (lamb), which are more prominent, but still used more for special times than daily fare.
Given these same regions with twenty first century changes and influences, and we probably see less of the healthier peasant characteristics of their cuisines. And yet, perhaps after centuries of eating low on the food chain the tradition continues enough, even with modern availability of meats and dairy foods. In addition the trade of spices and the use of spices in its cuisine have significant influence, too. Spices were considered much more than just seasonings and were touted to propel foods to the luxurious, fine and pungent, accolades we still use today. The contrast between then and now is perhaps best seen with dessert that has evolved from simply fruit to the amazing sugary sweets for special occasions and traditional celebrations. For sure, we owe much to the Mediterranean for its purity of ingredients, boldness of tastes, and simplicity of preparations.
I guess I am comfortable now saying that my style of cuisine is to cherry pick from the myriad of Mediterranean dishes, use my locally available ingredients, and put a whole small meal on a plate! Here’s an example of a plate that somewhat replicates the Mediterranean pyramid along with this week’s recipes.
Picture at the base of the pyramid, savory green salad coated lightly with lemon infused extra virgin olive oil. Choose a 2-3 ounce filet of Washington or Oregon wild sturgeon or pacific cod; marinate it in a spicy buttermilk blend for up to four hours and then pan sauté Building on top of the fried fish is a large dollop of rustic hummus topped off with warm minted sesame seed vinaigrette over quickly sautéed julienne carrots. Wine: Abacela Syrah. Dessert: Baked figs with Grilled blood oranges, Ice wine Sabayon and Candied walnuts

PANFRIED STURGEON
Seasoning:
2 1/2 TBS paprika
2 TBS salt
2 TBS garlic powder
1 TBS black pepper
1 TBS coriander
1 tsp ground mustard
1 TBS onion powder
1 TBS cayenne pepper
1 TBS dried leaf oregano
1 TBS dried thyme
1-2# sturgeon steaks, block cut 3-4 oz each
1 ¼ cups buttermilk
As needed vegetable oil
1 cup all-purpose flour Method: In a medium bowl, combine spices and herbs; mix well and reserve. Or, purchase a blend with similar ingredients.
In a large bowl, gently toss the sturgeon with 1½ tablespoons of the spice mixture; add the buttermilk and let marinade under refrigeration for 1 hour.
Preheat enough oil in a large sauté pan to fill the bottom ¼”; heat to almost smoking. Combine the flour with1 tablespoon of spice mix in a bag; remove the sturgeon pieces from the buttermilk and add to the bag in batches, tossing to coat with the seasoned flour; shake to remove any excess breading and place on a parchment lined sheet pan until ready to pan fry. Add to the hot oil in batches and cook, turning, until golden brown and cooked through, 4 to 6 minutes. Drain on paper towels and season lightly with spice mix.
1 lb serves 3-4
2 lbs. serves 4-6

RUSTIC HUMMUS
8 oz garbanzo beans, cooked
2 ea garlic cloves, minced
1 TBS parsley, chopped
1 tsp lemon juice
TT Sea salt
½ cup EVOO Method: Rough chop garbanzo beans. (You may use blender or food processor, but we like the texture better this way.)
Blend all ingredients. Taste as you go. Flavors will intensify as they sit. Refrigerate if not serving immediately.

MINT VINAIGRETTE OVER BLANCHED JULIENNE CARROTS
1 shallot, minced
2 clove garlic minced
¼ cup parsley, finely chopped
¼ cup mint, finely chopped ¼ cup red wine vinegar
½ cup EVOO
2 cups match stick cut carrots
As need e sea salt, pepper and coriander
Method: combine shallots, garlic, parsley, mint and vinegar in a medium bowl; whisk to combine; place bowl on a towel for control and begin drizzling in oil while whisking to combine; adjust seasonings with sea salt, pepper and coriander. Blanch carrots 2-3 minutes in boiling salted water. Drain well, toss with vinaigrette and serve.

BAKED FIGS (PEARS MAY BE SUBSITUTED) serves 4
8 ripe figs or 4 small Anjou Pears, whole unpeel, pricked with fork
2 TBS honey
Juice of 1-2 oranges
Zest of 1/2 orange
2 TBS brandy
2 bay leaves
Method: Place upright in baking dish. (prick to allow juice to penetrate better). Pour remaining ingredients–should cover 1/4″ in bottom of pan. Cover with foil and bake 25-30 min until fruit is tender. Transfer to serving dish and sprinkle with sugared walnuts.

SUGARED WALNUTS
1/2 cup sugar
1 cup walnuts
Place in heavy bottom sauté pan over medium high heat. Move walnuts around in the pan to coat well while sugar is melting. When lightly brown about 4-6 minutes, remove to silicone sheet lined pan to cool at room temperature. When cool break apart and serve. Note: nuts will still have sugar granules.


SIGNS OF FALL! By Robert Neroni

Orange, yellow, dark and pale green, red-orange, white and gray are the colors of fall, and they also make up the spectrum of colors representative of the varieties of a popular squash named Cucurbita, better known as pumpkin. We see the bright orange spheres of the most common American variety everywhere by now on porches and in windows, and I for one, welcome the fall for its colors and its flavors that signal for me the time for comfortable traditional recipes.
Native Americans first roasted long strips of pumpkin on the open fire and ate them very simply. But it was the early American colonists who took the first steps toward the Pumpkin pie we know today. They sliced off the pumpkin top, removed the seeds, and filled the insides with milk, spices and honey; then baked them in hot ashes. Pumpkins are now grown everywhere in the world, and no surprise, Illinois leads the US production with over 4000 acres planted just for their local manufacturer of canned pumpkin, Libby’s.

The traditional pumpkin is used for its robust fruit and seeds toasted into pepitos, and both seeds and flesh is rich in potassium, fiber, and vitamin A. The flesh can be roasted, grilled, steamed, sautéed, baked, squeezed for juice, and pureed and such variety of uses is very appealing to us chefs. Savory or sweet, I have used the seeds for garnishes, brittles, and sauces, like Romesco, a Spanish style ground nut/seed condiment used with meat and chicken. I use pumpkin seed oil too made from the pressed and toasted seeds in gnocchi and a garnish for apple pie, and even vanilla ice cream. Young sugar pumpkins, peeled seeded, accompany any fall menu just as a steamed or sautéed vegetable side dish.

I would guess that most Americans still use canned pumpkin to make their Thanksgiving pies, because cooking the fresh meat by either roasting or steaming might seem like too much trouble for the results. Home steaming yields a much more delicate flavored puree than the canned counterpart. I still prefer the flavor of the canned pumpkin for pies and find that roasting rather than steaming produces a pretty close flavor profile. Going to the trouble of using fresh pumpkin, I usually make more than needed for pie, so I freeze some for later use. Pumpkin is over 90% water and once thawed it will need to be strained before using as a baking ingredient. I am more likely to use the pumpkin I freeze for pasta, breads, muffins, scones, soup, and ice cream than for pie.

Just remember anything you already do with other varieties of squash you can do with the pumpkin. I am such a fan of Libby’s pie recipe that I rarely stray far, but the recipe for Pumpkin cheese tarts here is worth it. I like chunky pumpkin risotto for a one dish vegetarian dinner, too. And the French toast recipe is Lenore’s that she serves only in the months of October and November! Enjoy!

ROMESCO SAUCE (Spanish topping for chicken or roasted meats)
4 TB EVOO
2 slices white bread, crust removed
3 dried Ancho peppers, soaked, seeded and minced
1 small fresh jalapeno pepper, split in half
3 whole cloves garlic
1 cup peeled, seeded and chopped tomatoes
1/2 cup roasted pumpkin seeds or pepitos
1/2 cup almonds, roasted
2 teaspoons red wine vinegar
Salt
1 TB finely chopped fresh parsley leaves Method: In a large sauté pan, over medium heat, add the oil; when the oil is hot, add the bread and fry until golden on each side, about 2 minutes; remove and set aside; in the same pan, add the peppers; sauté for 1 minute and remove from the pan; reserve the oil; in a food processor, combine the peppers and garlic; process until a paste forms; add the reserved fried bread, tomatoes, pepitos, and nuts; process until smooth; add the vinegar, 2 to 3 tablespoons of the reserved oil and season with salt; process for 15 seconds add the parsley and process for 5 seconds; remove and store in an airtight container under refrigeration until ready to use.

PUMPKIN CHEESE TARTSCrust: 2 cups all purpose flour
1/8 tsp sea salt
1/8 tsp cinnamon
8 oz butter, cubed
½ cup sour cream
Filling: 6 oz cream cheese
¼ cup thick pumpkin puree
1 large egg
½ cup brown sugar or maple sugar
½ tsp orange zest, minced
½ cup powdered sugar, unsifted
½ tsp cinnamon
½ tsp ground coriander
Method: Place the flour, salt and cinnamon in a large mixing bowl; stir to blend; Cut in butter with a pastry blender until the mixture resembles split peas; stir in the sour cream with a fork; work the dough into a ball. Divide dough into 6 balls for tart size or 12-18 for miniature muffin pan tarts. Refrigerate for 4 hours before using.
Filling: process all of the filling ingredients in a food processor bowl until mixture is smooth and blended. Pat the pastry into bottom and sides of tart pans or muffin pans. Spoon filling into shells; refrigerate for 30 minutes. Adjust rack to lower third of oven and preheat to 375 degrees F. Bake 12-18 minutes or until firm. Cool 10 minutes before removing to wire rack. Sift powdered sugar and cinnamon together and sprinkle on tops. Serve room temperature.

PUMPKIN RISOTTO, a vegetarian dinner option
3 TBS EVOO, plus additional as needed
½ cup onions, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup Arborio rice
1 cup Riesling
½ cup pumpkin puree
5 cups (approximately) pumpkin water, vegetable stock, hot or other favorite stock
1 tsp sea salt
½ tsp ground pepper
1 tsp ground coriander
1 ea lemon zested
1 cup Romano cheese, shredded
4 TBS salted butter
Sautéed sweet fresh pumpkin, see recipe Method: place oil in large sauce pan on moderate heat; add onions, garlic and rice – cook till vegetables are aromatic and rice becomes slightly translucent; add wine and cook until it is almost absorbed; add the puree and ½ cup of stock; stir to combine; continue adding ½ cup of stock at a time, stirring to incorporate; wait until each stock addition is absorbed before adding more; when most of the stock has been added, add the salt, pepper, coriander and zest to the risotto with the remaining stock, stirring throughout; fold in the Romano, butter and cooked sugar pumpkin; adjust seasonings.
Pumpkin: 4 TBS salted butter, 2 small sugar pumpkins, peeled and diced (1/2 to 1 inch), dash nutmeg and cardamom –Method: heat butter until frothy; sauté pumpkin till tender. Fold into risotto at last minute and season with more sea salt, pepper, coriander, if needed.

PUMPKIN FRENCH TOAST, a fall favorite of our Omelet 101 class.
2 eggs
1 egg yolk
¾ cup sugar
½ cup pumpkin puree, canned or fresh
1 tsp pumpkin pie spice
½ tsp vanilla
½ cup milk
½ cup heavy cream
8 thick slices day-old bread
As needed powdered sugar
5 TBS butter

Method: place eggs, yolk and sugar, pumpkin and pie spice in large bowl, whisk to combine; add vanilla, milk and cream; mix to combine; soak bread slices thoroughly and remove to platter; dust with powdered sugar; place butter in sauté pan and place bread, sugar side down in pan to brown and cook; dust each with additional sugar before turning; add additional butter as needed; serve with vanilla ice cream, whipped cream or sour cream.
Optional toppings; vanilla ice cream, whipped cream or sour cream


Napa Valley Calling, part 3, The Food!

It was our first night, before the others arrived, and we had arranged to stay with friends who moved from Seattle Tacoma area to Calistoga two years ago. The four of us walked from their house to Brannan’s restaurant in downtown Calistoga. The dining room was air-conditioned against the day, and we were guided to a window seat. By the time our appetizers arrived, the floor to ceiling accordion hinged windows pushed open creating an almost sidewalk café and before we knew it we were dining al fresco in the evening valley breeze. We grazed the appetizer menu with calamari fritto-misto, Ahi tuna tempura roll, Chipolte corn chowder, and potato-herb gnocchi with ratatouille. Our entrees included a beautifully grilled pork chop with seared pork belly and greens, a chili pepper crusted chicken with red quinoa with figs, Diver scallops with yellow corn risotto and a sautéed halibut with capers and an herb vinaigrette. Our wine choice: Summers Cellars Charbono—a relatively unknown grape variety being produced in limited qualities in California. It seems to love the hot regions where the swing between day/night temperatures are greatest, thus allowing for enough acid retention during ripening.

All dinners there after were eaten in our rented cottage with each couple taking a turn. It was done more for the fun and companionship than for a serious culinary effort, but despite our intention, all meals were better than most! Marty who I have written about before prepared his chicken piccata, a lemony favorite, and had enough that Alice made up lemon chicken and vegetable pasta with it next night. Alice has very creative culinary knack for putting flavors together. She and I are often compared for being a little out there when we pair flavors, but the difference is she does it from whatever she finds in the refrigerator, a skill I do not possess. And despite my admiration for it, I don’t see myself cultivating the leftover skill.

Of the lunches we ate out, one memorable stop was at the new Napa Style location in Yountville where we tried the Panzanella salad that looked like it was made from canned tomatoes but tasted like fresh. Anyway, this establishment is owned by Food network star, Michael Chiarello, Lenore’s often quoted favorite show. We have a picture of Lenore as Michael in person passed us in the shop. You can read it all on in her face.

The big night we were waiting for was not a night after all. We had bid on the date and time, but the French Laundry could only deliver a Sunday afternoon on that weekend. Lunch at this world-famous North American eatery was as it turns out the same experience as dinner, just done in daylight. With our positive expectations in full force we woke up Sunday morning and dressed a little better than the previous days. We were glad it was cooler that morning, better for the women wearing panty hose and jackets for the men.

Arriving about twenty minutes early gave us time to collect ourselves and take a few pictures in the courtyard. Some of us used the restroom adjacent to the garden where our first impressions were forming: very understated, clean and friendly.

Our hostess offered to take a group picture before escorting us to a table upstairs in one of many small dining rooms. Ours consisted of five tables with crisply starched white linens that seated 18 guests in total. Our table for six was the only round one in the room. Some parties were already seated. A starched white napkin carefully creased in the laundry’s signature fold marked each place setting. An ordinary clothespin sporting the restaurants name and phone number served as a napkin ring. Our headwaiter said his name and welcomed us, as he gathered the pins after we placed napkins on our laps. I thought he was taking them up before we slipped them for souvenirs into our pockets, but he carefully placed them around the small fresh herb bouquet in the center of the table, telling us to feel free to take them with us, as they are our business cards, he said. (And we did). It wasn’t until after we left the restaurant that someone mention that no background music was playing. None of us missed it, and the dining room was quite, though completely full, our party might as well have been alone.

The menu consisted of two full nine-course prix fix options with some courses within each requiring us to choose. All of us wanted to get the first menu sporting several courses with meat and fish, so Lenore volunteered to order the vegetarian menu. Our team of waiters (4 altogether) remembered our choices with seemingly little effort. Before the first course we were given a very small ‘bite” to begin the experience. This full flavored morsel called a gougere is a like a cheese puff, crunch with buttery center that melted away in the mouth. In addition we received a tiny portion of a Gravlox of Scottish salmon with caviar in a petite savory-sesame cone. Lenore’s version was a sweet potato caviar (diced very small) in the same cone vessel. These offerings were designed to tease our palates, and tease they did.

First courses arrived with anticipated flare. The service plates themselves seemed to be designed for the particular item served. Square with a round depression in the center or maybe off center slightly to make more impact. In all our table experienced 18 courses plus a few more since we ordered at least one of every choice available. The entire menu is worth description, for now I will describe only those that were my favorites.

Cauliflower “Panna Cotta” – a concentrate puree of fresh cauliflower bound slightly with cream and gelatin to help hold its shape on the plate. An oyster glaze or reduced liquor to be more accurate was drizzled around and white sturgeon caviar, with its briny nature brought out the earthiness of the entire dish.

Moulard Duck “Foie Gras Au Torchon” – breaking my PC rule to avoid foie gras, I sampled what was the best I have ever had. Creamy, buttery and yet distinct, the duck liver must have been passed through sieve after sieve to create a completely perfect mouth feel. The brioche, yeasty and toasted far enough to provide carmelization, kept my interest by complimenting each bite. Paired with a green apple relish and crisp radish, the flavor contrasts worked to fill in any gap my palette required to make each bite whole.

Bulgur Wheat Salad – simple and elegant! Pickled pearl onion petals, soy beans, baby tomatoes slightly dried to raisin stage, red radish, garden blossoms and slivers of avocado rounded out this beautiful vegan salad.

“Fricassee” of Hand Rolled Russet Potato “Gnocchi” – anyone who has attempted gnocchi knows that the secret lies in not overworking the dough and knowing when enough flour is enough. These dumplings were slightly firm on the outside but quickly broke under the tooth revealing the creamy potato beneath. Foam of sweet corn, lovage and golden chanterelles created the finishing texture, which satisfied completely.

Sweet Butter-Poached Maine Lobster “Mitts” – a little disappointing that not all products were local, however as with all the dishes the execution allowed for forgiveness. Poaching in butter requires the butter to remain emulsified with perfect temperature control throughout the cooking. The food, in this case, lobster, gently cooks while maintaining juiciness and no fat is absorbed. Not as easy as it sounds and there’s a special piece of equipment used in kitchens that do this often. The lobster was served with a Tourne of turnips in light cream, white pomegranate seeds, Sicilian pistachios and cilantro micro greens. The seeds provided a slightly sour component, the turnips, slightly bitter and cilantro – tang; a perfect compliment of flavors for me.

“Boudin Blanc De Poularde” – a sausage of chicken fortified with cream and apple wood smoked bacon. Fingerling potatoes crispy fried in duck fat garnished the top along with local farm fresh figs and a summer truffle coulis. This was not your mother’s breakfast sausage and potatoes!

Grilled Pave of Kuroge Beef From Shiga – Of the various qualities of beef in the world, ‘wagyu’ is one of the most famous and widely known. Ohmi Wagyu is created from Kuroge Wagyu, a breed of Japanese black hair cattle born and raised in the Shiga near Kyoto. Our waiter brought the raw beef to the table so we could witness the extreme marbling of this beef. It requires quick high heat cooking to provide an almost short rib like texture with steak firmness. This option was a supplement to the price-fixed menu, and each couple ordered it so everyone had some. The beef was paired with Akita Komachi rice, grilled hen of the wood mushrooms, sugar snap peas (served in their pods), and a sauce of light soy and ginger.

Dessert for Lenore was my favorite – banana tempura with peanut butter mousse dusted with brut cocoa, two forms of ganache, one creamy and one dried using new age science that crumbled like cocoa puffs.

And just when we thought we were finished, a tired silver vessel was bought with house made candies, followed by a platter of chocolates, each as different as the last and with the instruction – take as many as you like.

After coffee we awaited with trepidation for the check…I won’t disclose the price but suffice to say the little to-go gift packages of homemade shortbread cookies and specially designed chocolates helped ease the pain. Without a doubt, our group agreed that this was the best food experience we had ever had.

As we began to collect ourselves for the journey back to Calistoga, I asked our waiter if it would it be possible to see the kitchen? As with everything this day, our waiter’s attentive response was “yes.” In the kitchen there were at least twenty-five cooks. Since the shifts were passing, there may have been some overlap of day and night crew. The lab atmosphere of the kitchen was humming with orders from different chefs quietly commanding their departments. We saw the lobster poacher in action along with equipment for cooking sous vide style.

There was a wide screen monitor in the center of the kitchen with a live video feed from Per Se, Thomas Keller’s restaurant in NYC. On top of the monitor, a small camera moved slowly from side to side providing a return feed of the Laundry’s kitchen, allowing Keller to view both kitchens at any time from his laptop.

And as one would expect the kitchen was immaculately clean, with every size shiny copper and stainless steel pot/pan lining the walls like culinary soldiers awaiting duty. The cooks paid no attention to our group so clearly our request to see the kitchen was not unique, but for me, the experience was truly special from start to finish and will provide culinary inspiration for many menus to come.

Today’s recipe:

NAPA STYLE PANZANELLA SALAD (EVOO version)
2 lb. ripe local tomatoes, peeled, seeded and chopped
½ red onion, minced
4 cloves garlic, minced
EVOO, as needed
Juice of 1/2 lemon
2 TBS each chopped fresh basil, tarragon, parsley
Sea salt TT
Several grinds of coriander seed & black pepper
3-4 cups croutons, see recipe
4 cups mixed greens, including at least 1 cup arugula
Fresh parmesan cheese
Method:
Blend tomatoes with onion, garlic, and moisten with EVOO and lemon juice (about 2:1). Add fresh herbs and seasonings. Adjust. Toss over croutons and serve atop a blend of mixed greens or arugula and garnish with fresh shaved Parmesan cheese. Serve immediately (4-6)

Croutons: Heat about 3-4 TBS of EVOO in saute pan; toss with day-old ½”bread cubes and coat well. Place onto baking sheet. Sprinkle on 2-3 TBS grated parmesan cheese and bake 350°F for 15 minutes until light brown and crisp outside and still soft inside. Cool then store in air tight container until needed.


Napa Valley Calls, Part 2, The Winery Tours

In part one, I described our food and wine focused itinerary for a brief stay in the Napa Valley. We were driven to see the sunshine, too, and we certainly had eight days of fun in the sun. The outside temperature climbed well past 103F daily and dropped to 55F by morning! Good for the grapes and especially nice for us, the pale faced residents of Oregon’s north coast!

Upon arrival in the valley, our friends, Joan and Frank, who moved from Washington to Calistoga just two years ago, had lunch waiting for us: spicy provolone picante and local pears along with a crispy flatbread pizza, hot, right out of the oven. It was just right paired with an August Briggs Charbono, a rare grape that is cousin to the French Charbonneau. Joan and Frank have become friends with the owners of the August Briggs boutique winery, and said we could tour it if we wanted. Of course we did, and this wine further influenced our choice for dinner that night—It would have to be somewhere whose wine list included more of this intriguing grape.

The next day when everyone was finally gathered at the cottage it was off to help August Briggs with its crush. It is a small winery averaging about 1000-2000 barrels per varietal. The retired owner, parents to the current wine makers, met us in the tasting room. They were recruited to cover tasting room duties since today was a day of “crush,” and all hands were needed to pick, sort, and press. It is a verb, “to crush,” but in the wine world, it is a noun referring to the entire process of harvesting the grapes for wine making.

Our role was to be on the sorting line. Not all crops are sorted by hand. Zinfandel grapes, ready this day for crush, earlier this year due to the long hot summer, were, we learned, an especially good crop and the extra care was warranted. The wine maker and person who inspired the Vineyard’s brand, is Joseph August Briggs, and Joe is pretty well known for cleanliness and attention to such quality details.

Looking into the holding boxes of newly picked grapes we could hardly see a reason to sort. They were extraordinarily perfect! When the first grapes hit the conveyer belt, we were coached as to what we were looking for, and before we knew it our eyes adjusted, as they do from bright light to a dark room, so that within minutes we could pick out the green or under ripe clusters, hard and slightly pink. No mold should be present on the clusters some already looking like raisins. Our little group took turns on the conveyor, stopping occasionally while we caught up. The carefully picked over grapes fell into the automated picker, where the berries (grapes) were separated from the stems.

Occasionally the wine makers poured a clear liquid containing sulfur into the sorted grapes before they were striped from their stems. Sulfur kills potentially offending bacteria and the scrawny strains of yeast naturally found clinging to the fruit. When full, these one-ton collectors were dumped into very large barrels for the first fermentation. It didn’t take that long with so many sorters working the line.

After some time in the fermentation barrels, the grape skins and seeds float up to the top forming a thick cake. A long arm-press at the top of the barrels is employed to push the cake back down into the juice, at least a couple times, to allow the skins and seeds to impart their color and tannins into the juice. From here the juice is strained off and sent to stainless tanks for blending and inoculating with additional yeast, a strain hand-picked by the wine maker, and one that will survive the process until the desired alcohol content is achieved. The natural yeast strains often die when the alcohol content is only 5%, and the goal is to reach about 15%.

I am often struck by the similarities between making wine and cooking. From the time the wine is strained off the leis, (stems, seeds and skins), it is like a stock before it is seasoned, blended, enriched, and made into its unique destiny. The wine maker like the cook must make all sorts of decisions. They must decide to oak or not, what origin of oak, French or American, to toast or not, or how much toast, and decide if and what to blend with the juice. All as in cooking to created the flavor nuances of the final product.

Unfortunately we couldn’t stay with the August Briggs team all day. We said our goodbyes and headed over to Schramsberg, the second oldest winery in the valley. It was still only 10:30 am.

Schramsberg sits on a hillside with a two-mile underground-cave system built to control climate and store vast quantities of sparkling wine. Although it started with riesling and gewürztraminer still wines, the new owners who purchased just before prohibition eventually made it into a sparkling wine facility, which is what it is today. Our tour was conducted about a quarter mile into the caves, beneath the ground, where maze-like rows of bottle-lined paths with their dusty lichen ceilings create a mystical sense of being where we shouldn’t be.

At one point we stopped at a widened portion of the path where a large arched area was carved out and filled solidly with stored wines in bottles. This wall we learned was actually 70 rows deep and we could only see the bottoms of the last row, forming the back drop for three hand carved German antique barrels formerly used for the riesling and gewürztraminer. A hand-operated antique riddling rack was there too, poised to demonstrate to us what role riddling plays in making the sparkling wines of today.

Riddling is the term used for moving the bottle in a series of strategic turns and well placed angles for the purpose of moving the spent yeast cells, now forming a row in the bottom of the bottle as it lies on its side. As the wine goes through bottle fermentation, the dead yeast cells collect on the bottom or in this case side and are sticky and well attached. The goal is to move this sticky mass into the neck of the bottle to later be disgorged and until recently, this process was done entirely by hand. It was imperative to move gently in small increments with increasing angles toward the neck of the bottle. Slowly but surely the neck filled with the yeast cells that were frozen and disgorged again by hand. Today, gyroscopic machines move the bottles racked top down in the cages. Some believe that the hand method is still best for the most precious bottlings and it is still employed at Schramsberg. Ramón who is their long time employee still riddles thousands of bottles a day by hand and was there to gave us a demonstration of the rhythmic process, making it look far too easy, and reminding us of the Las Vegas act, Blue Man Group!

At another turnout in the cave a long trestle table held two large lighted candelabras and several flute style glasses awaiting our arrival for tasting. Here we sampled their blanc de blanc and blanc de noir, where we experienced first hand the tiny bubbles forming the creamy texture in the mouth as promised during the tour.

Tasting (and swallowing) made our group ready for lunch before heading to a different valley, the Sonoma, where we followed our GPS instructions to a most unlikely place for a winery. We had arrived at modern-day version of Quonset hut style buildings in an industrial park. We knew we were about to become educated in a new winemaking culture. Highway 12 Winery is a partnership between Michael Sebastiani, Paul Giusto and Doug Offenbacher, and they don’t own property or a single grape vine. As Paul put it, “when you own the milk, who needs the cow.” Their model is to lease a temperature-controlled warehouse and to lease land/grapes from good farms. They buy the wine barrels and equipment for crush and fermentation to make great wine without having to start with a sizable fortune.

And make great wines they did. We sampled ten wines and enjoyed the style differences in each. One became our favorite. It is a Late Harvest Aleatico – the red aleatico grape, cousin to the white Muscat with a rosy, floral, honey-like aroma and flavor that I thought would make a great aperitif to start a meal.

The wine distributors we partner with here in Cannon Beach helped us set up most of the winery tours before we got to the valley. We had no idea that these tours would be so educational. Unlike the general public tours, trade tours give a total picture of the wine making at each property and we picked up plenty of new information to apply back home. We gained friendships too, exchanging phone numbers, and presenting some good Oregon pinots to show our appreciation.

Our last trade tour was at Robert Mondovi, a winery well known and one that many in our group had already done in previous visits to the valley. We wondered if we could possibly learn anything new. To our delight we experienced the best tour of the week! We were in the vineyards, the barrel rooms, the fermentation rooms and the laboratory, too. The techs offered us samples of grape juice that they tasted to gage sugar levels and determine when to crush. In this sterile room the mood was very upbeat as crush is already happening in parts of the vineyard. We saw topography maps supplied by NASA of the vineyards both owned and leased by Mondovi. They show clearly a variance in color of the foliage from plot to plot and we learned the better fruit would be in the lower green to bright yellow range. With this tool and the tasting of the grape juice, winemakers decide when to pick, where to pick, and predict the quality each plot of the vineyard promises. Indeed we saw it all as told by a 19-year veteran, with the title education specialist, whose quite confidence and visible respect for this winery made us laugh and reminded us that it is just grape farming and fermentation after all. We learned many facts and heard enchanting stories that we will use in the selection, service, and teaching about wines back home.

No doubt the highlight of our wine touring was getting to know the real people behind the scenes: the pickers, sorters, pourers, and a riddler named Ramon. I see many parallels between what I do and the guys who went for it without starting with a fortune. The “romance” as seen from the public side is neutralized when we know that wine making is a business that takes down to earth grunt work, kind of like the sweat blood and tears of owning a restaurant. Not so sexy after all and yet thank goodness for those passionate enough to do it! .

Next time, I will describe the meals we cooked at the cottage as well as the centerpiece of our trip, simply lunch at the FRENCH LAUNDRY in Yountville.


Napa Valley calls, Part 1- The anticipation

As I write this week it is rainy, windy and I can’t tell whether it is going to be hot or cold in the next few minutes. A customer was in wearing a soaked sweatshirt and ball-cap from this little summertime squall. And I say, enough! For us there truly is light or in this case sunshine at the end of the tunnel. Lenore and Iare taking some time off just after Labor Day and heading for Napa Valley. For Lenore’s birthday this past May I gave her a night at the French Laundry in Yountville, CA!

We have rented a small cottage in that area and will be joined by friends and family from Seattle, Maryland, Brea, and Calistoga, California. When they heard we were going, they too expressed interest in the critically acclaimed, French Laundry. And no wonder. It is said that its chef-owner, Thomas Keller is serving up the best cuisine in North America. For me, to experience the best is like getting a super charged vitamin of culinary wisdom. It revitalizes my senses and reminds me where the bar is set. The commonly named restaurant resides in a building that was once a saloon and then brothel before emerging as a French steam laundry in the1920’s. At some point it was purchased and turned into a restaurant before Keller bought it in 1994 and created the destination it is today.

The impetus for my interest stems from my quest for well matched flavors, textures and comprehensive sensory dining experiences that leave guests satisfied and happy. For me, Thomas Keller does this like nobody else. Keller is more than a chef’s chef. He is to culinary what Picasso is to art. In an interview once, Keller was asked who his competition was. Alain Ducasse, Keller had stated without reservation. That was the first time I remember thinking this chef is a stand-out. Up to that point, Alain Ducasse had always been for me the Dali Lama of cooking. Ducasse became the first chef to own restaurants carrying three Michelin stars in three cities. Ducasse in his writings introduced me to the concept of exploiting a food product in every way to extract flavors. In any event when Keller named Ducasse, I knew I would follow Keller’s work as well. I thought of him as a peer then. Now I know he is the American version of France’s Alain Ducasse himself.

Of course to design a holiday around one meal is a little extravagant if not extreme. Hopefully by part two of this story, when I share the highlights of the trip, you’ll see why it is more than a meal to us.

Meantime, our wine country itinerary looks like this:
Day 1: We arrive in Calistoga in time to meet friends for lunch in Sonoma. Our first wine tasting tour is that afternoon at Chateau Montelena’s, where the movie, Bottle Shock was filmed. Dinner is in Calistoga with our friends who will pick the location.
Day 2, we head to Napa with stops at Jarvis, Franciscan, Heitz and more if we can. Dinner prepared by friends from Seattle is back at the cottage – al fresco with two more couples.
Our night to cook is Day 3 following a full day —sparkling wine flight at Schramsberg in the morning, followed by a picnic from the St. Helena Market somewhere close to the next wine tour at Hwy 12 Winery in Sonoma.
Day 4 we’ll have only one afternoon tour, Mondovi, with lots of free time to explore boutiques before lunch. And finally, day 5, the long awaited meal at the French Laundry.

And yes, it was truly an accomplishment to finally get these reservations. The French Laundry requires customers to call 60 days prior to the desired date. Each day they field some 700 requests. By the time I got through, I did not get my first choice, but didn’t hesitate to take the one offered. I aspire to enjoy such popularity! – can you blame me?

The night we are cooking at the house we are making whatever vegetables we discover in the St. Helena farmers market. Not knowing exactly what kitchen equipment and cooking might be, or what we might find in the market, we are planning a few recipes in advance that fits the occasion. That night is when all our friends and cousins will be there! Dinner for 10 it is up to now!


G–is for garlic!

Garlic, with its unique flavor and medicinal attributes is more than the runt of the allium family, it’s a contender! Its close relatives include the onion, the shallot, the leek and the chive. It’s characteristic pungent, spicy flavor mellows and sweetens considerably with cooking. A bulb (head) of garlic, the most commonly used part of the plant, is divided into many fleshy sections called cloves. The cloves are used as seed, for consumption (raw or cooked), and for medicinal purposes. The remaining stem and stalk is generally used when the plant is young and tender. When we pick and use the young stems early in its growing period, it helps the heads grow even larger.

The origins of garlic are debated but the consumption is not. China produces around 23 billion pounds annually which acounts for 75% of the worlds output. Gilroy, California purports to be the garlic capital of the world, despite growing only a meager 2% of the world’s crop.

To cook garlic the outer paper-like skin is usually removed and the individual cloves can be sliced, chopped, pasted or roasted whole. In my experience, removing the center sprout, although somewhat time consuming, can prove to be very rewarding. Any bitterness or sensativity in digestion can usually be midigated once the sprout, especially when even slightly green, is removed. My own capacity for digesting garlic is well tested and many times I use raw garlic I can still taste when the sprout was not removed. Most recipes ensure better digestibilty by partial or complete cooking. A happy medium I employ is cooking garlic with the main cooking of the dish, then adding a small amount of raw garlic at the end to increase its impact.

Medicinal garlic dates back to the Egyptians, where they believed it increased strength and work capacity. In the middle ages, adding garlic to wine and drinking it believed to protect you from the plaque. In World War I and II it was used tp prevent gangrene. Today because of their antioxidants, garlic is known to contribute to heart health by decreasing plaque build up in the arteries. And it is said to improve the immune system and protect against cancer.

As much as garlic may enhance health, storing garlic at room temperature in oil (even buttered garlic bread) can be fatal. Botulism spores are prevelent in the soil in which garlic grows and once place in an anaerobic atmosphere such as surrounded by oil and left at room temperatures, the spores reproduce leaving behind the botulium toxin. Of course, commercially made flavored oils have a retardant component to prevent growth of dangerous spores.

Also important when home-canning garlic, even if in an acid soluition, one must be certain of the food safety precautions necessary. For most of our cooking with garlic the danger is midigated by one or or another condition that the prevents spores from growning.

Of the many of types of garlic there is sure to be a favorite. The artichoke garlic is a soft neck variety that is in most supermarkets and is easy to use with its 12 – 20 cloves. Most people are comforatble with this type since the cloves are generally the same size and therefore easily adapted to recipes. Another variety, Lorz Italian garlic, as found at the CBFM, is a surprisingly subtle variety with a twist. As it is eaten the intensitiy builds and subtle turns to pungent. Sicilaino is a variety known for its mellowness. It is most often used raw, and where crunch is a desired texture. It stars well in pestos and salsas.

Elephant garlic is very popular too. Many people think its larger size makes it stronger but the opposite is true. Actually it is less intense and sweeter than most other varities and although a single clove is larger than most bulbs, it takes much more to get the same effect. Likewise when wanting the milder impact it takes less to get there.

While arranging my thoughts on garlic I decided to check out some facts on the internet, particually the words of Harold McGee, my and many others personal source of cooking truth that we count on to answer obsurd and scientific questions on food. Like how to make garlic turn blue! None the less I did surf the internet and am struck by the many debateable topics on this simple but prolific veggie.

To press or not to press! To buy it pre-peeled or peel your own. To smash or chop? What strikes me is the strength of conviction of the people on either side of these questions. And I guess I have my own opinions too, but in the end it probably really doesn’t matter a whole lot in the enjoyment of a dish.

Quickly here are my thoughts on each question: To smash vs slice and chop—both important—I don’t believe the garlic becomes so much stronger when pasted but I do believe it disperses best when it is pasted, and I especially enjoy this for raw pestos. When chopped with a whirling blade of a food processor, I do notice increase in intensity and a strong undesirable flavor results. Slicing doesn’t seem to intensify the strength of flavor.

Purchasing garlic already peeled in brine is not happening for me, period, but I do believe there is a variety of peeled garlic that is out there that does save time and gives good results when it is purchased very fresh and not held refrigerated too long.

And on the point of using a garlic press, I don’t, but not because it isn’t a good way to handle garlic, it is just more time consuming for me first to find the tool, and then difficult to clean it, not to mention the waste—or perceived waste—I seem to throw away more than I use.

In the end, garlic is almost as common in cooking as its relative, the onion, but for me, the enjoyment the dish is enhanced in a way that makes garlic for me a more important and aboslute staple.

Below are some of our favorite recipes – Enjoy!

ROASTING GARLIC
3-4 bulbs/heads garlic
Method 1: Cut heads crosswise and place in shallow oven container of good olive oil. Season with salt and pepper if desired. Cover and back for 1 hour. Cool then squeeze out the garlic cloves.
Method 2: Peel and separate cloves. Place in pot and cover with a good olive oil; heat on medium low heat maintaining for 30 minutes or until cloves are completely tender. Strain, but reserve oil. Use as spread or in recipes requiring roasted garlic.
Always reserve oil roasted garlic in the refrigerated and promptly refrigerated any leftovers.

GARLIC BARBECUE SAUCE
4 TBS EVOO
1 bulb garlic, mashed
1 cup cider vinegar
½ cup soy sauce
2 cups ketchup
2 cups honey
1tsp dry mustard
½ cup instant espresso
as needed sea salt and black pepper
Method: place a medium sauce pan over moderate high heat; add oil; add the garlic and sauté gently until golden brown; add cider vinegar, soy sauce, ketchup, honey and mustard; stir well; add a pinch of sea salt and coffee. Bring to a simmer and simmer for 10 minutes.

GARLIC PULLED PORK
½ cup vegetable oil
2# pork butt
as needed sea salt, coriander and pepper
2 ea yellow onions, diced
4 bulbs garlic, peeled
1 TBS ground cumin
2 tsp thyme leaves
1 tsp ground mustard
1 tsp smoked paprika
1 tsp cayenne pepper
Method: heat oil in large sauté pan; season pork with salt, pepper and coriander and place in pan as oil is beginning to smoke. Sear on all sides and remove pork; reserve. Remove excess oil from pan and discard. Place onions and garlic in semi dry pan and cook to coat with pork particles (“fond”) – cook until they are translucent and aromatic; add pork and mix to combine; add remaining spices – stirring to combine; cook for 2 minutes; cover 2/3 with water and bring liquid up to a boil. Cover with tight fitting lid or foil, and place in 400ºF oven. After one hour, remove and turn the pork pieces; cover again and cook for an additional hour or until pork is tender and begins to pull apart. Remove pork from oven. Utilizing 2 forks, tear “pull” pork apart. Simmer shredded pork, uncovered on moderate heat while stirring often for another 30-60 minutes. Adjust seasonings. Serve.

GARLICKY CHICKEN MUSHROOM SOUP WITH CRAB
2 TBS grape seed oil
2 tsp ginger, minced
4TBS garlic, sliced
24 oz chicken stock
1 TBS grape seed oil
1 cup assorted mushrooms
4 oz grilled chicken, diced
2 ears corn, roasted, hulled
½ tsp light sesame oil
4 oz crabmeat
2 TBS cilantro chopped
2 TBS green onion, minced
Method: heat first grape seed oil in large sauté pan over moderate heat; add ginger and garlic and heat till aromatic; add stock and bring to a simmer.
Meanwhile heat second grape seed oil in a large sauté pan; add mushrooms and sauté till they become glossy and slightly cooked; set aside. In the first pan add chicken and corn and heat through; add mushroom mixture and stir to combine; place soup in serving bowls and garnish with crab, cilantro and green onion.

Makes 4 servings

PS. I used this recipe in Maryland where the blue crab was king. I think I like it even better with Dungeness. Be certain to remove all the cartilage.


BERRY EXPLOSION!

It’s the week of the 4th of July so no wonder I am exploding with berries! The Cannon Beach Farmers Market has been going for three Tuesdays now and I have walked away with a flat of strawberries each time. I know that seems a bit greedy because there is no way Lenore and I alone can eat them fast enough especially when they have been just perfect for eating NOW! So that is why I am sharing my berry season strategies with you today.

First and foremost, we like to eat them as they are, fresh picked and at their peak! We like them room temperature or even sunshine warm, as nature intended them to be. So my simplest strategy is to use them as is for a topping on a creamy freshly made shortcake biscuit with some lightly whipped cream. No need to improve upon the shortcake formula—it works as is.

Now I could eat shortcake every week until strawberries are gone, but for spice in life, I am always looking for other complimentary foods to top with these beauties. There’s always cheesecake—our dessert at our first market dinner was cheesecake made with Lisa Jacob’s fresh made ricotta and cream cheese. In addition whole berries have been appearing in our fresh market green salads. Who needs tomatoes when we have fresh strawberries? Add balsamic vinaigrette and it’s a salad I truly enjoy after a big meal.

Our next market dinner will see strawberries again—from Columbia farms and Luna sea Gardens, no doubt. Perhaps some blueberries will show up or a raspberry or two. I am open to all that arrives. Anyway, at our next market dinner we will top yet another classic but perhaps not as well known. We are making Pavlova, a light meringue dessert that just cries out for berries, although I have used other fruits as well. For this time, we might use a Romanoff approach and top the Pavlova with the strawberries which have been soaked in a little orange liqueur. They might be a bit sweet for the top of a sweet meringue so I will balance the flavors with a bit of crème fraiche whipped into some heavy cream. Of course, I recommend the strawberries Romanoff as a great dessert by itself; as well as to top an artisan made creamy goat cheese, for another simple dessert or starter course.

Do we all remember the wonderful strawberry pie, you know, the one in a blind baked pastry shell glazed with a shiny red berry sauce? I remember it first at the Howard Johnsons along the turnpike on the way to the Atlantic shore for summer vacations, and Lenore tells me she first ate it at Denny’s in Seattle. We both remember it as a seasonal specialty in these two restaurants and how much we looked forward to it. Now we think it is on the menu all year long, although, I cannot say for sure since we’ve not been to either restaurant in a very long time. But back to this impressive pie, best in season, when topped with sweetened cream, it has about the same satisfaction for me as strawberry shortcake, but for the extra work in making it. I am not including the recipe we use because a package glaze is prolifically available in the supermarkets today, right next to the fresh berries. It works, I am told.

About the fourth or fifth week of the season I am running low on ideas for using the fruit as a topping, so I start using them in recipes for ice creams and sorbets as well as pie. It is also about this time that the stone fruits begin to appear and just as I think that sour rhubarb and fresh strawberries make a great pair, so do berries of all kinds match up well with peaches and apricots. What comes to mind is a slab pastry dessert. This is a double crusted cookie sheeted dessert that sports a thin but tasty fruit filling. A bit easier to make than traditional pie, yet definitely less formal for eating since it eats right out of the hand like a bar cookie.

It is also about now that I start freezing the berries I cannot use up while they are at their peak. I anticipate this so that I actually buy the berries to freeze at their prime. I take a couple pints for room temperature storage—just for eating; a couple in the refrigerator for toppings, and the rest are washed, hulled and placed stem side down on a cookie sheet for individual freezing. They freeze quickly and I scoop them into plastic bags and date them for use through out the year. I use these frozen berries like fresh in that I don’t thaw them when I bake or cook with them. And Lenore makes berry sauce all winter for topping French toast in Omelet class.

One more recipe to share, another classic is the glazed hard shell candied fresh strawberry; it is one of my wife’s favorite things in life, she tells me and can only be made while with fresh berries. I like using these candy shelled beauties to accent a dessert plate, much as I would use a bright strawberry sorbet, for both offer an extraordinary punch of strawberry flavor to the plate. The glazed strawberry is still warm from the candy coating so there is a rush of sweet warm juicy strawberry when it is bitten. These are tricky in that the coating needs to be cooked to the hard crack stage or 300°F, and must be eaten within the hour or two that they are made for best results; a nice afternoon snack after the market on Tuesdays!

I hope you enjoy the recipes posted here, but remember to enjoy lots of these delicious fruits while they are at their seasonal peak for their shear overall best impact!

SLAB STYLE PASTRY WITH SEASONAL STONE FRUIT & BERRIES
2- cups stone fruits, pitted peeled and sliced
1 cup raspberries or strawberries or blueberries or combination
1- 1 ½ cup sugar
¼ cup cornstarch
Juice of ½ lemon
Pinch of salt
Enough Pastry to cover top and bottom of a sided cookie sheet (see recipe.)
1-2 TBS butter, cold pieces
1 lightly beaten egg with 1 TBS cream for coating top crust, optional
Sugar for sprinkling
Method: toss stone fruits, berries, sugar, cornstarch, vanilla and salt in a large bowl; set aside. (they may be frozen)
Roll out half the pie crust on a floured surface, 1/8” thick and slightly longer than sided cookie sheet. Place the crust on the pan and pour the fruit mixture overall evenly. Dot with butter pieces if desired. Roll out the second half of crust and top the pie; seal the edges with a crimp. Dock top with fork or small circle cutter. Whisk egg and cream together and brush lightly on top of pie. Bake in preheated 375ºF oven for approximately 1 hour or until berries begin to bubble in the middle. Let rest until cooled. Cut into squares or rectangular pieces about 3”x 3”.

MELTED CANDIED STRAWBERRIES
2 cups granulated sugar
1 cup water
½ cup light corn syrup
1 # fresh strawberries, firm, stems on
Candy Thermometer or review cold water method
Method: Get a cookie sheet ready with buttered parchment or silicon liner. Wash berries, and dry very well. Prepare a bowl of ice water to help cool your saucepan of candy when needed. Set each aside.
Cooking: In medium sauce pan or straight sided deep fry pan, stir together sugar, corn syrup and water; place over medium high heat. Stir to dissolve sugar about two minutes. Cover with concave lid (not flat) so steam washes down the sides of the pan, catching any sugar crystals that may be left (about 3 min). Uncover and continue cooking without stirring until you reach 300°F on a candy thermometer. (Old fashion check cold water test: spoon a drop simmering sugar into glass of cold water; if it forms the hard crack stage you will see hard brittle threads.) It can take 10-15 minutes to reach 300 degrees. Be sure to change glass of water for each test. Once at 300°F or hard crack, remove pan from heat and immerse into the prepared bowl of ice water to stop the cooking and make the bubbles subside. Take care not to let even a single drop of water touch the sugar liquid.
Dipping: Carefully hold the berry by the stem with fingertips and dip until strawberry is almost submerged in candy. DO NOT TOUCH CANDY! (use food grade glove for extra protection for your hand.) Remove the berry and allow excess to drip off. Place dipped berry on your prepared parchment or silicon mat. Repeat until all the berries are dipped, about 12 is a good number. Allow room temperature cooling; when cool serve immediately or within the first 2 hours.

PAVLOVA (with BERRIES)
4 large egg whites, room temperature
Pinch of salt
1 cup plus 2 TBS superfine sugar
1 tsp cornstarch
2 tsp champagne vinegar
1 tsp vanilla

1-2 pints berries, cleaned and cut if desired
1 cup heavy cream, whipped and sweetened with 1 TBS sugar
1 cup crème fraiche, if desired Method: preheat oven to 300ºF; Trace 6 equal circles evenly spaced on two pieces parchment paper. Use a 3 “ cup or bowl to outline your circles. Flip the paper over so you can still see the outline; set aside.
Place egg white and salt a mixer with whisk attachment and beat on medium-high to create medium peaks; with mixer running slowly add sugar to whites beating until stiff and glossy. Fold in cornstarch, vinegar and vanilla. Place mixture in a large pastry bag with a large tip; pipe 12 mounds of whites inside each drawn circle on the parchment. Reduce oven temperature to 250°F and bake until meringues set, crisp on outside but like marshmallow on the inside, approximately 1- 1 ¼ hour. Turn off oven and allow the meringues to cool slowly in the oven, about 2 hours.
To serve, top each meringue with prepared whipped cream and crème fraiche and sugar. Top with fruits and serve immediately.

QUICK STRAWBERRY ROMANOFF*
2 pints strawberries, washed, dried
¼ cup Grande Marnier liqueur ¼ cup orange juice
1 cup heavy cream, whipped with 1 tsp vanilla and 2 TBS sugar
½ cup crème fraiche
Method: Reserve several whole strawberries for garnish. Quarter the remaining berries. Place ½ the quartered berries in bowl and add Grande Marnier or other orange liqueur (or use all orange juice); gently mash with fork. Fold in the second half of the quartered berries and refrigerate 30 minutes and up to 2 hours. Whip the cream with the vanilla and sugar to soft peaks. Fold in the cream fraiche. To serve: Place cut berries into serving glasses; cover with cream. Garnish with whole berry. If topping Pavlova place cream down onto meringues first, and then top with berries.

*Romanoff refers to Russian Tsar, Nicholas I, an early member of the Romanoff dynasty who was served this dessert by the great French pastry chef, Marie Antoine Careme. There are several versions of origin and recipes.


Fabulous foods that survive the “pack-and-go” of a summer picnic

This is a busy time for us so my days off are few and short in the summer. Whenever possible, we like to be outdoors since we are inside so much. And when I am not fishing, I enjoy cooking outdoors and eating al fresco. Over the years when I wanted to impress my wife with a surprise for her birthday or even a no-occasion date, Lenore loves a picnic!

Picnics are great because the taste of food just seems better when eaten outdoors, and I am especially craving these outings after this long winter and chilly spring. Even if it is on our backyard patio, dining and cooking al fresco is very satisfying.

So how to pack foods that withstand some smashing and squishing in a backpack and that can also be out of refrigeration for a time? Today I am sharing a few of my favorite picnic foods along with some ideas for maintaining quality and freshness.

I borrow some of the old tricks that Moms use to keep lunches cold when kids go to day camp or need to leave them in lockers until lunchtime at school. For example placing a frozen juice container in the lunch bag keeps the things around it cold while melting in time for lunch. So that is a great backpack trick. I will a ginger tea recipe that can be frozen in water bottles and packed with a simple version of the muffaletta style (pre-smashed) sandwiches that backpacks well too.

Then there is the controversial issue of taking mayonnaise to a picnic. I am going on a limb and taking a position. It usually isn’t the mayo at all—in fact is more likely something else, because commercially made mayonnaise has a low pH and therefore acts as a deterrent to microbial growth. As long as all the ingredients including the mayo, starts at least at 40 degrees before mixing together, the finished product is safe to take to a picnic in a cooler. But for the non-believers I have included a French potato salad using vinaigrette, no mayo that we enjoy at a picnic.

Entree salads are also good to take on a picnic. We pack ingredients separately and then mix when we get there. That way the ingredients stay fresh and dressing can be put on the side or blended just before serving whatever seems best at the time. If you have a vegetarian sharing your picnic, when adding meat to a salad, add it after some salad is removed for your guest. I like a cold version of Pasta Primavera. It can be made with or without animal protein, either way between the pasta, the veggies and the cheese we love this hearty salad on a picnic.

Melons are popular picnic foods. Start with them plenty chilled and don’t cut them until you get to the picnic. Watermelon makes for a satisfying sweet dessert and a great thirst quencher after a rigorous valley ball game on the beach. If you want to be more sophisticated with your melons try my watermelon salsa that contains a touch of vinegar, also a retardant to microbial growth. Just remember to wash the rind of melons very well, especially cantaloupe, and chill them before packing them whole in your cooler. Then carve them only when ready to serve, and on really hot days, put leftover cut up melon—if any, back into a cold holding cooler. For other parts of the country where the temperature reaches 90 º and plus, the less time out the better.

Now some people like to take along hot foods, like baked beans. Baked beans are good but for me, if I am cooking out, I prefer starting with the raw product. If it is meat, we take beef, pork or chicken, over fish and seafood. Unless of course you are fishing and get lucky—then there is nothing better than cooking up a fresh catch. Otherwise fish is hard to keep at 32°F, which is the way it should be held. When you plan to cook at the picnic site, use a cooler to pack raw meats separately from the cooler holding RTE foods, that is, “ready to eat” foods. This ensures that meat juices won’t drip into the potato salad. Now hot dogs are already cooked so keep them away from the meat juices also, but definitely keep them cold just like raw meats.

Lastly, remember the food safety basics—good applied when indoors or out. Handwashing, for instance, is the greatest preventative measure we take for food safety. Hiking into the picnic spot or beaching can put you far away from running water let alone hot water. So enters the antibacterial hand gels and even the food handler gloves. Better to use a couple barriers (gel & gloves) when handwashing isn’t available. Watch out for cross-contamination, too. Change the tongs to remove the cooked meats, use fresh cutting board after cutting meats, and checking temperatures of hamburgers with a thermometer are all good. If no thermometer is available, cook till there is no pink and meat juices are clear, not pink.

Applying some simple rules of food safety ensures a great outdoor picnic experience that will last a long time.

SWEET GINGER “T” (HOT OR COLD)
Large knuckle of ginger, cut into thick slices lengthwise
2 TBS to 1/4 cup light brown sugar
Boiling water, about 6-8 cups
Method: Place first amount of sugar and all ginger into 2½ quart pot. Pour over 6-8 cups hot water, depending on the strength you like. Taste and adjust for sugar. Steep at least 5 minutes. Strain out ginger. Enjoy hot or cold. If freezing for backpacking, when cooled completely, using funnel pour into bottles with 1 full inch to spare at the top. Cap and freeze completely. Shake before drinking

FRENCH-STYLE POTATO SALAD WITH TARRAGON VINAIGRETTE
2# Yukon, red bliss, or white potatoes, cooked, and still warm
4 TBS white wine vinegar
½ tsp sea salt
½ tsp ground pepper
1 tsp freshly ground coriander
1 TBS Dijon mustard
2 TBS shallots, minced
6 TBS EVOO
2 TBS parsley, minced
1 TBS tarragon leaves, minced
balsamic onions (see recipe)
Method: slice potatoes and layer them in a large bowl, sprinkling them with ½ the vinegar and salt, pepper and coriander as you layer; let stand at room temperature for about 10 minutes.
Meanwhile, whisk remaining vinegar, mustard, and shallots together in a small bowl; whisk in oil until you reach a slight emulsification; pour over potatoes and toss lightly to coat; refrigerate for service.
At service, stir in parsley and tarragon; adjust seasonings; top with balsamic onions and serve.

SALAD PASTA PRIMAVERA (In the style of Spring)
1 bunch asparagus tips, blanch, chill
2 small quarter size zucchini, sliced into coins
1 small summer squash, sliced or cubed
1 cup cut green beans, cooked, al dente, but cooked-color set bright green
1 cup fresh peas, pea pods or pea shoots (blanched Frozen peas work if you really like peas in this)
1# vermicelli, cooked, drained, rinsed, chilled (also shells, bow ties, even fettuccini works too) 2 TBS EVOO
2 TBS heavy cream
1 TBS wine vinegar
¼ cup chopped It parsley
2 cloves garlic, minced to paste
2 cups cherry tomatoes, halved
1 bunch Scallions, chopped
¼ cup chopped fresh basil
½ cup toasted pinenuts
Parmesan cheese, shaved over all for garnish
Protein add-ins: Julienne sliced ham, genoa salami, even turkey breast.
Method: Prepare vegetables and set aside separately to chill thoroughly.
Cook pasta slightly more al dente and chill.

Watermelon Salsa
1 watermelon, seeded, or other melon, diced
½ cup cilantro, chopped
1 red onion, minced
1 jalapeno, minced
1 lime juiced
Method: combine ingredients and adjust seasonings with sea salt, coriander and pepper; chill for service.
Serve as a condiment with grilled steak.


At the farm, a chefs perspective—

Undoubtedly by now people who know me, have heard me say that purchasing from the local farms whenever possible is the best start to a good meal. From my roots in Cleveland’s Friday market and throughout my career I gravitated to the citys farmers markets, docks, dairies and culinary artisans for my ingredients. So it stands to reason that when CB decided to create its own farmers market I wanted to be involved. My roles have been to source out a variety of products from vendors in our own food shed of Oregon and Washington, and invite them to participate. In the process, I became increasingly in touch how these personal connections with food producers of my ingredients are central to my cooking.

I am pretty sure most chefs feel the same and yet with the distance from the valley to the coast, there is little opportunity here to buy directly from the source. Instead efforts often dead-end with the reality that little volumes don’t warrant the farmers cost to drive it here. That is why the market committee approached the farmers with what we hoped would make their participation more attractive to them. After lots of phone calls to the farms and considerable dialog with our local restaurants and businesses we were encouraged that our model could work. Chefs were very interested in the opportunity to buy directly from a weekly source for the summer. And the farmers and producers were definitely intrigued with the prospect of increasing their sales. The market committee held an initial “meet and greet” event where chefs and producers got together and the collaboration started. The market vendors are set to deliver business owner’s orders before the market starts every Tuesday, with plenty of product for the general sales to the public from 2-6. During the process, we learned that farmers sometimes shy away from new markets altogether, until the market is a year or two old. We think the collaborative helped us put together a nice diverse group for the first market.

You might think that is all there is to it, but we are following the Oregon state advisory on putting together a successful farmers market that suggests some type of quality assurance be in place. A farm or site visit is recommended to ensure that what is brought to market is actually produced at the source by the applicant. Aside from getting business licenses and vendor certifications, we set out to meet our vendors where they work.

A site visit to a farm, ranch or artisan producer not only tells me allot about the products and producers, but it also helps me unite and connect the circle with what I do. I am not sure if people actually think much about where food comes from. In fact as a city dweller all my life, I have been guilty of not giving it a second thought myself. This opportunity makes me hope I never forget the “who, when, and where” of my ingredients.

In every case, the story behind the food product and its cycle of growth to harvest brought out in me some of the passion I saw in the producers. In some way I imagine it must have been the way my grandmother purchased ingredients in her Italian village. To know the actual person(s), who grew the potatoes or whatever, makes my task to prepare them a bit more real. At the risk of romanticizing something that is truly hard work, I must say that Lenore and I came away from farm visits wishing we had just a little more land to raise a chicken, pig, cow or two. The farmers and producers welcomed us with open hospitality. We saw and felt their heart-warming pride in their contributions to this life.

One rancher that I have to mention is Lance Waldron and his wife Tammi Lesh of Lance Farm Vittles. Theirs is a third-generation family farm on the north coast of Oregon not far from here. Lance’s grandfather bought the farm in the 40’s with milking and beef cows only. Lance grew up there and by the time he was in high school they had added pigs and started selling to neighbors. Four years ago they added a small flock of Icelandic sheep to the mix, and about then they decided to sell frozen beef, lamb and pork at local farmers markets. Lance told me they had such great community support that pretty soon they added whole fryers to their product list.

I was most impressed with the quality of the pasture-raised beef and sheep because they are raised on a diet of grass and hay, and never any grain. After three weeks in a homemade brooder, the chicks on this farm move to a “predator proof” and moveable pen out in a grassy field behind the farmhouse. The pen is moved at least once a day so chicks have fresh grass, bugs, worms, etc. all the while they give back good quality nitrogen into the grass. They are also fed a natural vegetable protein based poultry food from the local feed store that augments the grass. Water is available like drip irrigation from a big bucket on top of the pen.

The pigs there also receive a natural vegetable protein based diet of barley vegetable compost along with fresh grass during summer. When we were there, they were fed the leftover milk from the dairy cows, called colostrum’s, which is the first milk after a cow has a calf. Apparently after a cow births, her milk has a strong flavor and fat molecules so large it mucks up the equipment at the dairy. Since this first milk, five to ten milkings worth, isn’t popular with humans either, after the calves get their share, the rest goes to the pigs! We watched in amazement while they poured several gallons of this sweet creamy liquid into the pig troughs. The pigs rejoiced and the smell for me was intoxicatingly rich, creamy and sweet, the way fresh milk should smell.
What a treat for us to see this well-run family ranch-farm and get to know the working-owners. For me, the phrase that kept going through my mind is one that I picked up at that software company I used to work with, you know, “garbage in, garbage out.” The feed on this ranch was anything but garbage, and for sure the resulting food products promise to be top of the line. I kept imagining working with the pinkish white fine-grained pork meat from those cream fed pigs.
These are just a few of the valuable outcomes for me after these visits. The farm and my stove are connected in a way that my appreciation for food ingredients I use takes me to a higher level of conscience. I no longer clean my walk-in refrigerator and dump spoiled food without truly feeling it. I know spoiled food happens, but now that I genuinely appreciate my ingredients. You might say I cook with more conscience now. It literally hurts when a bag of parsley or a piece of cheese goes bad due to my neglect or oversight. I have watched Lenore pat the noses of the Jersey cows in the pasture, and yet I do not imagine them a cute pet, but rather the proud example of their breed that are being raised sustainably for market. So for me, a food source with such conscience is just a required segment of the circle that continues in my kitchen.
My recipe today is one that utilizes our very first crop from our little backyard pea patch. We call it our ode to the New Radish Slaw, made with the radishes you either just picked yourself or ones you purchase from CB Tuesday market. Enjoy.

ODE TO THE NEW RADISH SLAW
2 bunches fresh radish, julienne or cut into matchstick pieces
1 handful micro radish greens* (optional)
1 bunch baby carrots with tops, julienne 1 handful new cilantro leaves only, chopped
1 skinny bunch chives, minced
2 TBS sherry vinegar
4 TBS EVOO
TT sea salt, ground coriander, ground pepper
1-2 tsp sugar, to taste, optional Method: Clean garden fresh radishes under cool running water to remove all the dirt; cut off the green tops. (Note we don’t even bother to take off the root once they are well cleaned as these roots are still so tender and sweet).
Do the same with the baby carrots, removing tops; clean well so no need to peel. Add radish micro greens (if available), cilantro, and chive; toss with sherry vinegar, followed by EVOO and seasonings. Taste and adjust with a tiny bit of sugar if it needs it. Serve immediately or chill for service.

*If you plant radishes from seed a couple weeks apart you will also have plenty of micro radish greens to add to the salad That would be just the sprouts of the when they are about 2 inches high.


Saucing for contemporary cooks

I remember the first day of culinary school. Chefs in starched white coats and white neckerchiefs leading the new recruits in their semi-starched coats with yellow neckerchiefs, made the subtle yet clear distinction of chef vs. apprentice. The halls smelled of spice, baking breads, simmering stocks and sauces. The curriculum was daunting, designed to weed out less serious students by overwhelming all of us with work, both hands-on and text-study. “A Chefs Orientation to Soups, Stocks and Sauces,” the most intense section of all, introduced us to the world of classical technique and culinary fundamentals, including required memorization of the five-mother sauces and hundreds of their offspring, called smaller sauces. We were told repeatedly this would ensure success with all we were about to undertake the next eighteen months as well as our whole culinary careers.

As in most things new you learn the basics and take baby steps forward from there. For sauces it begins with stocks. For soups, it begins with stocks. For braising, stewing and a variety of cooking techniques it begins with stocks. So stock is where I’ll begin today. A stock is the resulting liquid from cooking bones with aromatics (herbs, spices and vegetables) in water for long periods of time. There’s lots of skimming and monitoring until ready to strain out the bones and solids. However the resulting liquid extraction is not yet ready to serve. It is now an a important ingredient for making many more intense stocks, sauces, stews, soups and braises.

Today’s chefs and home cooks often use commercially made stocks and demi glace that saves the 12 to 24 hours it takes to make it from scratch. Demi is made from combining one of the mother sauces, Espagnole, with more brown stock and then cooking down by half with an herb bouquet garni. It is a long process that makes the choice to use commercial varieties a good alternative, especially since there are some really good ones available. I recommend resisting the varieties that come in a cube or dehydrated pack. In any case check the ingredient list and be sure the first ingredient list is stock and there is no salt or corn syrup.

Admittedly it is hard to beat a homemade stock especially chicken, which is pretty easy and still inexpensive to make. My love of chicken stock as a basic ingredient may be from my Jewish heritage. At all times, I keep a couple of gallons in the freezer for soups, sauces, risottos, braises, and pastas, and I still make it the way my mother does. But as much as I use chicken stock, lately I am into using the liquid made by extracting the flavor from single vegetables, like mushrooms and beets. My migration is toward simplifying the process without loosing the impact, with sauces made from reductions or those that are made without a stock in the background at all. Fresh sauces like salsa, infused oils, juice extractions, relish, pesto, chutney and even ketchup are often on my menus these days.

The word “sauce” according to Food Lover’s Companion is “thickened, flavored liquid designed to accompany food in order to enhance and bring out its flavor.” For many people, the word conjures up pictures of something flour or cornstarch thickened that our mothers made with mushrooms or possibly something from a can with the promise of low sodium. Roux (flour and butter thickener) thickened sauces and gravies are very challenging, and when a cook does them well, s/he wears it as a badge of kitchen accomplishment. Seems every family has one member who is known for making the best gravy. Still even though I am first to load up on the turkey gravy at Thanksgiving, sticking to lighter saucing is best for everyday dining for me. I find contemporary saucing, that is, sauces without flour thickening, easier to make, lighter on the palette and just more interesting to create.

Dining al fresco and grilling season is the perfect time to start saucing without roux. Sauces made with an acidic background from vinegar, tomatoes, or citrus are easy and light. They add a big punch of flavor without adding weight. A Latin favorite of green tomatillos salsa makes for a great companion to spicy rice and grilled halibut, for example. And a grilled vegetable relish style sauce adorning the top of a buttery risotto creates a yin/yang flavor profile. Golden delicious apple in a juicy chutney works well with goat cheese ravioli and toasted hazelnuts. I like a simple pan seared filet of beef with chive infused oil and fiery romesco sauce.

This week I am teaching a fundamentals class in cooking, which is probably what started me thinking about my early culinary training. I find myself wanting to skip over the mother sauces, and teach to my more recent repertoire that still fits the definition of saucing. Here I have a wine based sauce, and some others that are made without classical thickening.

MARSALA WINE SAUCE
¼ cup EVOO
2 each shallots, finely chopped
1-2 #mushrooms, sliced
2 cups Marsala wine
1-2 cup chicken stock
21 tsp. fresh thyme, hand picked from stems
2 oz butter, room temperature
Seasoning of salt, pepper coriander to taste
Chopped chives, as desired Method:
Heat the EVOO in sauté pan. Add shallots and mushrooms and cook gently until translucent. Add the wine and stock to deglaze; Add the fresh thyme and simmer to reduce by 2/3s.
Strain sauce into clean pan or service container. Add butter and swirl in to incorporate. (Off the heat) Season with salt, pepper, and fresh ground coriander, and garnish with a clipping of chives, if using.

Serve with chicken, seafood and steaks.

GAZPACHO SALSA (as a sauce)
¼ cup peeled, seeded, minced tomato
¼ cup peeled, seeded, minced cucumber
¼ cup seeded, minced red pepper
¼ cup seeded, minced green pepper
2 ½ tsp seeded, minced jalapeno ¼ cup minced red onion
2 ½ tsp minced shallot
2 ½ tsp finely minced parsley
2 ½ tsp finely minced tarragon
¾ tsp celery salt
3 TB EVOO
3 TB sherry vinegar
TT sea salt and coriander
Method: combine ingredients and reserve chilled for service. Serve on grilled fish; as dipping sauce for fried fish or fried shrimp; with Ahi tuna; and even grilled chicken.
ROMESCO SAUCE
4 roasted plum tomatoes, cooled
6-8 cloves garlic, roasted
6-8 raw garlic, peeled and chopped
2 TBSP plus 1/3 cup EVOO
¼ cup blanched whole almonds
¼ cup peeled hazelnuts
1 dried ancho chili, cored, seeded (rehydrated)
1 slice crusty It. bread
1-2 tsp sea salt
2 TBSP red-wine vinegar
salt and pepper to taste Method: Coat with small amount of EVOO and roast the tomatoes and half peeled garlic for about 90 min at 375F. Meanwhile place about ¼ cup EVOO in a hot pan followed by the nuts and toast nuts about 6 minutes. Drain on paper towel. In same pan toast the chili pepper only about 15 seconds. Remove and soak in hot water for 10 minutes to soften. Drain; set aside. In the same pan toast the bread and set aside.
To finish: Place roasted tomatoes, garlic, nuts, bread and drained chili in a food processor with metal blade. Process pulsing to blend; add the rest of the EVOO and red wine vinegar and blend into chunky yet smooth sauce. Adjust thickness if too thin with more bread; if to thick with some red wine.
Serve with beef, chicken, and vegetables; stirred into soups as a finish, risotto, over polenta; and as a spread for bread or sandwiches.
BLACKBERRY CATSUP
1# blackberries*
1-2 TBS water
1 1/3 cups pure maple syrup
1/3 cup cider vinegar
½ tsp cinnamon ½ tsp nutmeg
¼ tsp cloves
½ tsp sea salt
¼ tsp ground pepper
Method: place blackberries and water in a large sauce pan and simmer until they begin to break up, approximately 20 minutes; puree through food mill removing seeds; return to stove; reduce to slightly thickened and add maple syrup, vinegar, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, salt and pepper and cook for approximately 20 minutes or until ingredients have bloomed in the blackberry reduction, chill to serve.


Growing up Italian

Eating from the simple Italian pantry

I have always been proud of the fact that I have strong Italian roots and I find that when I speak of my family the story is almost always centered on something that happened in the kitchen over a good Italian meal. What I appreciate the most is I learned to enjoy simple pure, authentic ingredients. No matter what the time of year, cooking at our house meant the weekly trek to the West side Market in Cleveland. We’d always get the staples; see below, along with whatever fresh vegetables were available. We’d also get some imported meats or a fresh sausage, hand made in front of us, and of course, cheese. Our trip to the market was made faithfully despite our rather large well stocked pantry. We ate simple home cooked meals created from raw ingredients including lots of fresh market foods all the time.

So, eating and cooking Italian does start with picking out pure simple ingredients. For my family it meant maintaining minimum number of staple ingredients, any one of which might be called a basic Italian food group.

Extra Virgin Olive Oil: Ours was often from the bulk barrel imported from Italy. I guess we were unable to get the expensive imported varieties, so when I traveled to Italy the first time I remember thinking I had never tasted such olive oil! It was bold and grassy and made me want to eat it alone without adding vinegar on my salads. It is influentially tastier than butter to me.

Tomatoes: When they were not fresh in season we bought canned. My dad would proudly describe the farm in Italy where they were grown and canned when tomatoes were at peak, making them better than just any canned tomato.

Parsley: Flat leaf is what I recommend. And though it is easy to grow in season, it is widely available year round in markets due to local green house productions. It is undeniably a requisite for simple Italian food.

Garlic: There are many varieties and I look forward to garlic season when the interesting ones appear at farmers markets. My one consistent belief is that the sprout, especially when green, should be removed before chopping because it is the sprout that imparts bitterness and makes it difficult to digest.

Cheeses: Especially a good Parmigiano-Reggiano; in our fridge my mom kept a large Tupperware container of this good stuff, already grated! Cheese was not as much a main ingredient as it was used to add a punch of flavor in small amounts. Provolone Picante stands out as a super star that I use regularly today. Unlike the cylindrical domestic variety often confused with bulk mozzarella because of its bland flavor, the picante has a hard rind that surrounds a spicy, lemony-tang flavor with an herbaceous background, perfect for finishing Italian dishes.

Lemons were another staple in the produce bin of our fridge, along with the seasonal vegetables we’d get on market day. I don’t think my Mom knew what “real-lemon” was from the green bottle, that is. Fennel at our house was as common as celery is in most American households. I know it is seasonal, and there must have been times we couldn’t get it, but in my memory it was always there!
Pasta: Of course we always had pasta around. This would be mostly dried pasta as I recall, and even when the fresh stuff was sold commercially, my folks stuck with the dry varieties they had learned to trust. My mom would do homemade ravioli quite often, and that must have contributed to my taste for making it fresh now. I do like some dried pastas and use them regularly, too.

These basic ingredients or staples of our family kitchen together actually make up a meal that my dad would whip up pretty regularly. He called it pasta aioli (pronounce “i- yoy”) which distinguished it from the French garlic mayonnaise classic, spelled the same and pronounced, “ay-oh-lee.” I was corrected many times during my early culinary training when I would give my dad’s pronunciation. Anyway, Bob Sr. would put EVOO in a pan, just to warm it with the chopped garlic being careful not to brown it or let it cook too fast. Then he’d stir in pepper flakes, and many times, added canned anchovies packed in oil that would melt into the sauce. He finished with fresh chopped parsley and a squeeze of lemon before tossing it in the pasta, usually fettuccini. Grated Parmesan went on at the table usually. This was dinner allot in our house, a sort of poor man’s Carbonara meets mac and cheese. And with the exception of anchovies, it is a meal most kids would remember, Italian or not.

Occasionally dad would dress up this family recipe with fresh tomatoes or chicory and even fresh spinach, making a primavera style pasta. And my mom would sometimes fry up a white fish to go with the pasta. In any case family meals were almost always accompanied by raw fennel. I believe one of the best ways to begin and end a meal so heavily leaden with garlic is with sweet raw fennel. Sprinkled with a little salt, this crisp vegetable promises a light anise flavor that not only cleanses the palate but aides in digestion.

I hope you enjoy this recipe as a side dish or light dinner meal. You will notice my recipe is a bit different from my dad’s described here, but I am sure he wouldn’t mind. I suggest you use it whenever you are thinking of macaroni and cheese—for a little variation.

BOB SR.’S PASTA AIOLI (i-ohoy!)
1 lb dry pasta, cooked in boiling salted water until just el dente
EVOO as needed
1 head of garlic, cleaned, peel, remove sprout, chopped or sliced
Zest and juice from 1 lemon
4 oz anchovies & oil
½ cup flat leaf parsley, washed, dried, roughly chopped
½ cup parmesan cheese, grated Method: Cook pasta; coat with small amount of EVOO set aside.
Place ¼ cup EVOO over medium heat in a large sauté pan. Add ¾ garlic and all anchovies with their oil. When garlic is translucent, add parsley, lemon juice and zest. Add in remaining raw garlic pasta and toss.
Serving Suggestions: Add 1 pint washed cherry tomatoes to sauce when adding the anchovies and garlic; and or add 1lb washed baby spinach. Accent with dry cured olives. Eat along side crusty pan fried white fish or quickly grilled chicken breast.

Complete the dish with a salad of fresh shaved fennel or fennel sticks, lightly salted with sea salt.


More Baking Chatter

In Alton Brown’s book, I’m Just Here for More Food, he explains that in baking the “devil is in the details.” He says, “Baking is all about sweating the small stuff.” I agree, cooking is more forgiving than baking. It is more about personal taste, and we can add and subtract without danger of failure—a little of this, a little more of that! Baking just requires more precision than cooking.

Flour, eggs, liquids (milk, water), sugar, fats (butter, shortening, oil) and leavening, (baking powder, baking soda, eggs, air, steam) are the staples for baking. I believe that knowing what function these play in the baked good is a big step toward becoming a better baker.

If I could just pick one or two words that best remind me of their function, I would have to say flour is the backbone or structure in baked goods, and wheat flour is required to supply the glutin; eggs are there for many functions but for sure their proteins help the structure and they emulsify give help leaven. Milk is a big contributor but can be relpace with water or juice in most cases, but what milk actually brings to the table is flavor, browning, nutrition, and preservative. As for leavening agens, they well, make the product rise–or at least the steam and CO2 make it happen. Fats play a big role in making something satisfying in the mouth, especially butter that adds browning and richness and tenderizes. And of course sugar makes stuff sweet but also browns and tenderizes.

So, just getting a little lesson in the contribution that these ingredients make in baked products, may help us to understand that we are truly putting in action some of the chemistry we learned in high school. Baking simply requires a little respect, I think. It is important to believe in the formula, and of course, use good technique in measuring those ingredients.

Unlike in cooking, exact measured amounts of ingredients is required in baking. Compactable ingredients like flour, one cup of which varies in weight at least 3-6 ounces depending on the humidity, must be spooned lightly into a dry ingredient volume measuring device. Oh, and level it off to be accurate. Don’t tap, scoop or compact it in anyway. Scooping using the measuring cup is a good way to add way too much ingredient, so avoid packing, except for brown sugar.

After all ingredients are measured accurately, pans are prepared and oven set, it is time to mix. Here is another crucial place to understand the consequences of your actions. In cooking if you happen to put the onions in after the tomato sauce your spaghetti sauce will still work. But in baking, combining in the order dictated and with the proper tool, the right speed and timing is critical.

By now you have much to assimilate so I will end this home ec lesson, only to pick it up another day with the critical points for mixing that make a big difference in everything from biscuits and muffins to pancakes. Basically the recipes are usually good—the failures are usually in our execution. Our knowledge can be good but our experience is a better indicator of how successful we are. Practice makes perfect, afteall.

Check out these 101 recipes to sharpen your baking technique.

SWEET BUTTER SCONES 101

2 cups All-Purpose flour
6 Tablespoons granulated sugar
1Tablespoon baking powder
¾ teaspoon salt
6 Tablespoons unsalted butter
1 egg lightly beaten
¾ cup heavy cream
1 tsp vanilla
Mise en place: Preheat oven to 400°F. Pull out your baking sheet. (ungreased)
Measure all ingredients in advance and keep separate. Check before starting to mix.

Measure: Fluff up or sift the AP flour before measuring. Spoon it into a one cup measure and level with a straight edge tool (spatula). Measure each tablespoon of sugar and level off in separate container. Measure baking powder by first fluffing in the container, as it is very compactable, then level off. Dip ½ and ¼ measuring spoons into salt, level and place in separate container. Cut a stick of butter on the 6 TBS line, or measure butter by packing softened but not warm butter into a 1/4 cup measure, level off; plus pack into tablespoon measure, two times, for 6 TBS. Break egg into small bowl or cup and beat to blend yolk and white with a fork. Measure heavy cream using liquid measure and pour up to the ¾ line- when looking at eye level. (You bend down to it rather than holding cup up to your eye level). Measure 1 tsp. vanilla by using the 1 teaspoon measure. Measure over something so if it spills you can save it!

Mixing: Biscuit method: Combine flour, sugar, baking powder and salt in a large bowl and stir it up to distribute evenly. Cut-in butter into flour mixture until crumbly using a hand-held metal pastry blender or use two table knives, cutting back and forth, until butter is completely distributed throughout the flour. Set aside.
Blend liquid (egg, cream, vanilla) ingredients together. Pour liquid ingredients into the flour and stir together gently with a fork until liquid is on all parts of the flour. No more than 8-10 stirs.

Shape: Dump onto lightly floured spot on your clean counter or cutting board. Pull dough together gently a few times until it holds its shape and pat into ½ inch high circle of dough. You don’t need a rolling pin with such a small amount of dough. Cut into triangles by cutting circle in half, and then half again until you have the desired size and number. Sprinkle with granulated sugar if desired.

Bakeat 400ºF for approximately 15 – 20 minutes, until golden brown on top and bottom. Cool on rack until you can handle. Then enjoy with butter, crème fraiche, jam or all three!


Sardines, Quail, and Lamb too obscure?

This week Lenore got me thinking that my menus for our Small Plates with Wines classes may have strayed too far left of center. She said we usually have only one item that might be considered out side of mainstream. Neither of us believes lamb is in that category, but when served with two courses that are not so common, well, it just got both of us thinking.

When class started we had some guests who actually reported they had signed up for this class because we were serving sardines. Unfortunately, sardines have just been named to the endangered list and we used fresh halibut instead. The sides and flavors on the plate were matched to the sardines, but went quite well with the halibut, too. One guest told me that the halibut course was the favorite last night until we served the grass fed free range lamb from Anderson Valley. She was thrilled with its tenderness and couldn’t believe how great the forbidden black rice went with it.

In between those two courses, we slipped in a proscuitto wrapped sausage stuffed quail. The dinner companion of the guest who liked the lamb best was not as intrigued with the quail. He wished more quail flavor came through. My spicy pork sausage was the dominant flavor he said. Thinking about it now maybe Lenore’s comment about serving quail, lamb and sardines on the same menu made me make the choice I did. I was trying to introduce the quail with some familiar flavors. I liked it allot, and would do it again, and yet will remember that feedback the next time I stuff quail.

In last night’s class there was several in fact the majority of people who had been here before. A group of ten women, escaping husbands and children, and bonded together for the last 20 years by college, seemed to enjoy last night’s dinner the best of the three times they were here.

What prompts me to write about this is that the answers to a chef’s questions are usually right in front of him or her. I got the feedback that I needed to continue letting my inspirations take me into new territory for our menus. And by now I think I have made it clear to our guests that we want them to make our recipes their own. It always pleases me when they have no trouble saying what they might do differently.

I am going to include that quail recipe here. Since I made the sausage, I suggest for more quail flavor, one might use less seasoning in the sausage or actually make it with ground quail rather than pork. Tell me what you think.

SPICY SAUSAGE STUFFED QUAIL
Spicy sausage:
½ # pork shoulder, cubed**
2/3 tsp dried thyme
1 tsp sweet paprika
2/3 tsp chili powder
pinch cayenne pepper
1 tsp cumin
1/2 tsp. dried basil
1/2 tsp sea salt
1/2tsp ground black pepper
1/4 tsp fresh ground coriander
1/2- 1 TBS EVOO (add to make up for Pork fat when substituting all quail or chicken meat)
**You may substitute with 1/2# of ground quail and chicken thigh meat for the pork so more quail flavor comes through.

Sausage method :< /b> Place spices over cubed meat and toss to coat completely. Refrigerate. Grind after meat has rested under refrigeration for 30 minutes. Make a small meatball of the sausage and cook in a small pan or in the microwave to check the seasoning and mouth feel (fat). Proceed as directed below.

Quail Breasts
4 each quail breasts
4 oz sausage mixture
4 slices Prosciutto
4 rosemary spears, needles removed
1 TBS light sesame oil
As needed fresh grind of coriander
1 lemon quarter
Quail method: stuff breasts with 1 TBS sausage mixture; wrap breasts with Prosciutto and skewer with rosemary spear; season with sesame oil and coriander. Sear quail on preheated grill to mark; remove and finish cooking in 375F oven for approximately 5-8 minutes or until it reaches 160F. Spritz with lemon before serving.


Sardines, Quail, and Lamb too obscure?

This week Lenore got me thinking that my menus for our Small Plates with Wines classes may have strayed too far left of center. She said we usually have only one item that might be considered out side of mainstream. Neither of us believes lamb is in that category, but when served with two courses that are not so common, well, it just got both of us thinking.

When class started we had some guests who actually reported they had signed up for this class because we were serving sardines. Unfortunately, sardines have just been named to the endangered list and we used fresh halibut instead. The sides and flavors on the plate were matched to the sardines, but went quite well with the halibut, too. One guest told me that the halibut course was the favorite last night until we served the grass fed free range lamb from Anderson Valley. She was thrilled with its tenderness and couldn’t believe how great the forbidden black rice went with it.

In between those two courses, we slipped in a proscuitto wrapped sausage stuffed quail. The dinner companion of the guest, who liked the lamb best, was not as intrigued with the quail. He wished more quail flavor came through. My spicy chicken and pork sausage was the dominant flavor he said. Thinking about it now maybe Lenore’s comment about serving quail, lamb and sardines on the same menu made me make the choice I did. I was trying to introduce the quail with some familiar flavors. I liked it allot, and would do it again, and yet will remember that feedback the next time I stuff quail.

In last night’s class there was several in fact the majority of people who had been here before. A group of ten women, escaping husbands and children, and bonded together for the last 20 years by college, seemed to enjoy last night’s dinner the best of the three times they were here.

What prompts me to write about this is that the answers to a chef’s questions are usually right in front of him or her. I got the feedback that I needed to continue letting my inspirations take me into new territory for our menus. And by now I think I have made it clear to our guests that we want them to make our recipes their own. It always pleases me when they have no trouble saying what they might do differently.

I am going to include that quail recipe here. Since I made the sausage, I suggest for more quail flavor, one might use less seasoning in the sausage or actually make it with ground quail rather than pork. Tell me what you think.

SPICY SAUSAGE STUFFED QUAIL
Spicy sausage:
½ # pork shoulder, cubed**
2/3 tsp dried thyme
1 tsp sweet paprika
2/3 tsp chili powder
pinch cayenne pepper
1 tsp cumin
1/2 tsp. dried basil
1/2 tsp sea salt
1/2tsp ground black pepper
1/4 tsp fresh ground coriander
1/2- 1 TBS EVOO (add to make up for Pork fat when substituting all quail or chicken meat)
**You may substitute some ground quail and chicken thigh meat for the pork so more quail flavor comes through.

Sausage method :< /b> Place spices over cubed meat and toss to coat completely. Refrigerate. Grind after meat has rested under refrigeration for 30 minutes. Make a small meatball of the sausage and cook in a small pan or in the microwave to check the seasoning and mouth feel (fat). Proceed as directed below.

Quail Breasts
4 each quail breasts
4 oz sausage mixture
4 slices Prosciutto
4 rosemary spears, needles removed
1 TBS light sesame oil
As needed fresh grind of coriander
1 lemon quarter
Quail method: stuff breasts with 1 TBS sausage mixture; wrap breasts with Prosciutto and skewer with rosemary spear; season with sesame oil and coriander. Sear quail on preheated grill to mark; remove and finish cooking in 375F oven for approximately 5-8 minutes or until it reaches 160F. Spritz with lemon before serving.


BAKING INTENSIVE SERIES

Last week I had 2 and 3 students here from 9am – 3pm getting intense about basic baking techniques. I think they did fabulously, and it was great for me as we did kick out some product. Starting with baking powder biscuits and piecrust, puff dough and sour dough, and finally angel food cake and gelato; it was a great review for me and a way to remember old times.

To my good fortune, I was first trained as an apprentice in a large-scale bakery. Otherwise I might be like my many of my comrades who defer to the pastry chef for their entire baking repertoire, and mind you I do too for many things. Even Rachel Ray, the Food Network chef admonish herself for steering clear of baking. Why?

I think it is the same for home cooks, too—perhaps lack of experience and maybe even fear! Fear of making piecrust is one comment we hear over and over. When it comes to putting together something that requires flour and ovens, it seems to stop even very accomplished cooks. But in baking, the recipes themselves are carefully written in ratios of ingredients that go together in a certain way to create the desired end result. Maybe it’s the science that scares cooks away from this side of the culinary arts.

Ah, but the satisfaction of turning out simple banana bread when the bananas went too ripe, or getting up on a sleep-in Saturday and making a batch of blueberry muffins for breakfast is so worth the effort. Trust me, I know, I am not about to change anybody’s mind who, like Rachel Ray, has already drawn the line; but I think I might sway a few fence sitters into giving it a try. I can hear Lenore saying don’t even bother to teach me anything mechanical that has to do with the car, because she is not about to start now! So let’s focus on the fence sitters. Think of it as the home economics class that so many schools have dropped from the curriculum. Hmmm… maybe a contributing factor to why cooks don’t bake


Ready for Spring and interns!

Lenore and I love this time of year when days are getting longer, supposedly warmer, though not yet, and the promise of spring is everywhere. We are especially aware when a short-lived sliver of sunlight briefly warms our front deck after a rainy morning and draws us outside. We all seem to smile more. But the best indicator that spring is about to “pop” is when asparagus and Spring Chinook Salmon make an appearance on our menus.

In addition to planning and ramping up for the new “season,” we have been preparing the studio bedroom in our building for the culinary interns that are coming to learn and work with us in three month intervals. We have been quite successful with the quality of individuals that come here, and yet it was becoming more challenging because of the lack of affordable housing in Cannon Beach. Our quick remodel, well maybe not so quick, has opened the door to many more potential interns to come.

Some of you might remember the room downstairs in this building as a former beauty salon with charming dark wood work wainscoting, and a not so charming hair washing sink in the middle. We converted that sink to a little kitchenette sink and counter cupboard from IKEA; adding a refrigerator and small microwave oven to complete. We then replaced carpet and painted the walls and ceiling. But the big news is the shower that we punched into the little bathroom. Under the capable direction of friend, Eric Nagel, our Tolovana neighbor (he and wife, Sarah own the Surfcrest Market), I faced my admitted fear of dry walling. There is a definite sweet satisfaction when one accomplishes a goal of something completely out of his/her comfort zone. In some ways it is just like cooking is for people who don’t feel comfortable in the kitchen. Sometime our guests are intimidated by a French omelet, and we know to keep encouraging them to push past their fear and go for the satisfaction that comes from “doing it themselves.”

The first person to use the studio bedroom is Wendy Noon, who is with us end of March through June. She is in the homestretch of her formal training as a chef from Oregon Culinary Institute in Portland. Of the studio bedroom, she says it is “awesome,” but then so far she describes most things that please her as “awesome.” And luckily, most things do please her! Having interns is a good thing! Keeps me young and on my game!

RECIPE FOR THE WEEK:
PAN-SEARED CORIANDER SALMON
4 ea 4 oz salmon, block cut
Fresh ground Coriander, to taste
Sea Salt, to taste
EVOO as needed*
Method: Ask your butcher to cut salmon filets into 4 oz blocks, so all will cook the same rate. Prepare salmon for searing by brushing with EVOO and season with sea salt, and ground coriander. Preheat pan over med high heat. When hot add approximately 1 TBS EVOO to the pan and immediately add the pieces of salmon, top side down. After 2 minutes, turn over and cook 1-2 more minutes or just till au pointe, and the center is just turning opaque. (Au pointe, in French means just to the point of done); serve immediately with fresh asparagus for an early spring repast. (*Don’t worry about searing with EVOO because the second you put the fish into the pan, the oil will temper and not over heat–and you will get the benefit of the flavor of EVOO and its healthful qualities too).


SOUP

Soup is so appealing in the winter, and as I embark upon a cleansing diet to make up for holidays and vacation power-eating, I am inspired by the benefits of eating freshly made soups.

More encouragement came last evening at friends for dinner. The first course was a delicious Tomato-Basil soup that I would not have thought to make in the middle of winter. It was absolutely great and I find myself modifying one of my guiding principles—“eat only in season,” to say, as in this case, use canned tomatoes that were organically grown and canned in their season somewhere! And making another exception for the fresh basil from CA, I am ready to say I would repeat this one any season. I know for some restaurants, tomato basil soup is actually a staple all year round, and what keeps it consistent is the canned tomato product!

Our hostess graciously dictated over the phone what she had done to make the soup, as she had not used a recipe. She winged it! Good for her! Cooking without recipes is the sign of a confident cook. She did something key to her success that really made a difference with her soup. She roasted the canned organic tomato paste in a little butter on top of the stove to caramelize it. With Marni’s permission, I have included the recipe here exactly as dictated.

For the remainder of this article I thought I would offer a basic recipe for a simple stock soup base, from which to create different soups by varying the add-ins, such as winter root vegetables and hearty grains such as barley, Farro, and beans. There are no set rules for the add-ins; simply experiment with the combinations I recommend in the recipe or wing it and make it totally yours.

Quick two-step stock making is not only easy it is efficient because in our busy lives, cooking for more than one use is a great timesaver. I am also suggesting chicken stock because it is so versatile, and easily creates the basis for two or more meals.

I am learning that that in most busy households today cooks do not roast chicken bones and make stock the old fashioned way, but before you grab the commercial stock, consider the quick chicken stock that starts with a whole chicken as in my recipe. It takes only an hour or so, saving time and money, especially when you consider whole chicken prices compared to the same chicken cut-up.

Don’t leave it whole as smaller pieces release flavors faster into the liquid. Don’t worry about the proper way to cut it up. Just cut through the bones and all if you want, leaving the two breast halves in tack as much as possible for secondary use. What makes the stock richly colored and flavored in a relative short time is the braising of the chicken pieces before adding the rest of the liquid. Braising creates browning or caramelizing, intensifying the flavors. Be sure to retrieve the chicken breast-halves first, after about 30-minutes, and cool them for another meal. (De-bone the breast and throw the bones back into the pot if you want as they still have more flavors to give up into the stock). Add the boiling water and simmer about an hour in total. Remove the remaining chicken pieces and strain the liquid. You can throw away the mirepoix of veggies with the bones, because they may have some bone fragments and they are usually pretty flavorless by now.

After straining stock through a fine sieve, I usually quick chill it to skim off the solid fat, and then divide the liquid stock into 2 smaller portions. Freeze one half immediately for later use as a base for a quick sauce, another soup or the liquid in a risotto. Simmer the remaining half and add in one of the finishing touches as recommended in my recipe.

People tell me they like making enough soup to have leftovers. But when reheated the vegetables and grains, and especially noodles, tend to overcook and become mushy. One way to keep leftover soup fresh is by borrowing the concept of Vietnamese pho-bac, where fresh cooked vegetables and meats are placed in a warm bowls and covered with the steaming hot broth. A basic chicken broth keeps much better than full-on soup, so use only small amounts at a time. For chicken noodle soup or other pasta soups, hold out the pasta until the last minutes of cooking, and only make what you need for the one meal. Change out the vegetables and meats and you have a completely new fresh soup with the same chicken broth!

Here are a few more soup making techniques worth considering:

Cut vegetables uniformly so they cook at the same rate. If you prefer a variety of cuts (julienne, dice, or even rough-cut), blanch them separately so they all have the same finish cook time together.

Mirepoix is a traditional flavoring trinity that consists of 2 parts onion and one part each carrot and celery, and should be cut into small dice for my quicker stock described here.

Bouquet garni is a spice pouch made by laying fresh +/or dried herbs and spices onto cheesecloth or a coffee filter, then tying the bundle with kitchen twine. Drop the pouch into the soup, tying the other end of the string to the handle of the pot for easy removal.

Stock, stews, braises are easily defatted by quickly chilling the cooked product allowing the fat to rise to the top. When solid it is easily removed, as desired.

Beef Broth can be very mild made traditionally from roasted bones. To get real beefy flavor be sure to use meaty, bone-in, tougher cuts of beef (shank or chuck) and braise the beef first before covering with water to extract the flavors into the broth.

To thicken soups and stews without roux, puree the mirepoix into the liquid, then add in freshly blanched vegetables.

Pureeing soup can be accomplished by using a stick blender or bar blender. I prefer these to the food processor, which often leaks or spills over.

Carefully salt soups remembering that as soup simmers, water evaporates and concentrates and intensifies flavors. Be especially aware when using cured meats such as bacon in soups.

For Italian soups, especially tomato based, add the leftover rind of good aged parmesan or Romano cheese; it adds flavor and makes the cheese go farther.

Two-step SOUP Step 1. Soup Base
1 whole chicken, cut up small pieces
Mirepoix: 1 onion, 1 celery rib, 1 carrot, rough chopped
EVOO as needed
1 bouquet garni consisting of 1 bay leaf, 2 sprigs thyme, 4-6 parsley stems, 2-4 white peppercorns.
1 tsp salt
3 quarts boiling water
Method: Brown chicken pieces and mirepoix in hot Dutch oven in EVOO. When brown, add about 1-3 cups of water (do not cover chicken) and continue braising the chicken for 30 min. Remove chicken breast meat, de-bone, return bones to the pot, and chill breast meat for another use. Add the rest of the water to the pot with the bouquet garni. Simmer 30 – 45 more minutes. Remove large pieces of chicken and bone, reserve. Strain liquid broth through a fine mesh sieve. Chill broth until fat rises to the top and is easily removed. Pick through chicken and bones when cool, and remove just the meat; chill until needed. Discard bones, skin, bouquet garni and scraps.
To finish base:
2 TBS EVOO2 onion, diced
2 carrots, diced
1 celery, diced
3-5 cloves garlic, minced
Method: Heat oil in dutch oven. Add & sauté onions, carrots, and celery until vegetables soften, about 5 minutes. Add garlic and continue cooking. Add quick broth (reserved above), bring to a simmer, and simmer 1 to 2 minutes. Cool half of this base in shallow metal pan in the refrigerator then freeze for another use. Finish the soup in the dutch oven with one of the following suggestions.

Step 2: SOUP SUGGESTIONS added to 1-quart simmering soup base
A. Chicken Noodle:
2 cup picked chicken reserved from step 1, chopped
2 cups cooked egg noodles
2 TBS fresh parsley, chopped
Method: Add picked chicken from step 1 to the soup base. Add cooked noodles. Bring back to simmer and reheat thoroughly. Serve immediately; garnish with fresh chopped parsley.
B. Potato broccoli:
1 bunch fresh broccoli, trimmed, cut into small florets
2 large potatoes,
1”cubes, peeled, cubed to 1”
Sea salt, pepper, coriander to taste
EVOO as needed¼ tsp pepper flakes, optional
Method: Add the potatoes to simmering soup base first 5 min. then add broccoli and cook until very tender but not mushy. Add seasonings to taste and pepper flakes if desired. Puree vegetables using bar blender in small batches. Taste and adjust seasonings; reheat if needed. Serve immediately hot, or chill and serve cold. Float small amount of EVOO on top.

C. Italian Sausage & Bean Soup:
½ # sautéed spicy Italian style ground sausage
2 cups cooked cannellini beans
3 cups ribbon cut Swiss chard, ribs removedSeason with sea salt, pepper and coriander
Method: Brown sausage; add to reserved hot soup base. Add beans and bring to simmer. Add swiss chard and cooked additional 10 minutes until chard is bright green and tender. Garnish with grated aged parmesan cheese, if desired.

Marni Postlewait’s Tomato-Basil Soup
Mirepoix:
1 onion, small dice,
2 celery, small dice,
1-2 carrot, small dice
EVOO as needed
2 TBS butter6 oz tomato paste
28 oz organic tomatoes in juice
¼ tsp. pepper flakes
1 large bunch basil, chopped
2 cup chicken broth, as needed
½ cup heavy cream + 2 TBS
½ tsp salt1 tsp sugar, if needed
Method: Sauté mirepoix in small amount of EVOO until tender. Remove from pan; reserve. Add butter to pan, add tomato paste and stir as it browns and caramelizes. Add tomatoes and juice, pepper flakes and reserved mirepoix. Add first heavy cream, 2 cups chicken stock a little at a time until desired flavor is reached. Set aside enough basil for garnish, and stir in the rest. Puree soup using a hand blender. Season with salt. If needed to reduce the acid of the tomato, add up to ½ tsp sugar.At service, place soup in warm bowls, drizzle in a swirl of heavy cream and garnish with reserved basil. Serve immediately.


Power Dining-out

With my nose to the grindstone working in my own place, it is harder to keep up with what’s happening on the city restaurant scene. We ate out so regularly in the cities we have lived that keeping current wasn’t an issue then. Now when customers ask us if we’ve eaten here or there, we too often haven’t even heard of the restaurants. So when the opportunity arises and we find ourselves in the city again, we’ve come up with a new way to get it done. It’s fun, quick and even efficient –we call it power dining. On a recent trip to Seattle for example, we got together with three of our friends and hit 9 places in 12 hours. We started at with a couple new bakeries and one old fav, and ended at a fine new Italian restaurant in old town Ballard, followed by dessert at Palace Kitchen, another old favorite.

We are always on the lookout for menu/recipe inspiration to stay competitive in a marketplace whose guests also keep up on the latest food trends, and power dining is our way. Since we are taking a few weeks off this winter, we decided to spend a couple days getting know the restaurants of Portland. Considering the suggestions by customers, other chefs, along with restaurant reviews I outline our weekend. Our goal is to go to as many restaurants in one day as we can, staggering reservations based on walking or driving times. Walking is preferred.

Now you might wonder how we eat that much. Let me assure you that this undertaking works best with like-minded friends so we can taste more stuff and leave less food on our plates! This speed eating is a blast, yet it is research that drives it. It is not unlike how I imagine a restaurant critic approaches a review, except that our discussion is always positive, focusing on the creative process, techniques in execution and what changes/options one of us might utilize if repeated back home.

In Portland our culinary whirlwind was less aggressive than Seattle. It began a little later with lunch at Blue Hour, so named for the romantic “blue hour” in the evening as sun begins to fade. The romance we found there was the way chef Kenny Giambalvo took some of the classics and gave them a fresh spin. Clearly there’s talent in the kitchen that starts with great ingredients so that even a grilled chicken and truffle mashed potatoes is executed so well it is new again. I really enjoyed learning that this kitchen brings in whole pig and uses every part of it. We sampled the slow roasted suckling pig of pulled pork butt wrapped in a thin crepe that is pan seared into a crusty oversized egg roll and is as good as it sounds.

Dinner at Clyde Common was a surprise. This funky respite greets you with communal tables and a happening bar area. We were seated beside a party that was well underway in their dining and we took their lead on some of our choices. We began slowly with a seared squid stuffed with fennel sausage and bathed in a broth of sherry vinegar and squid ink. It came with perfectly cooked garbanzo beans that popped with every bite. A martini with a hint of smoky scotch, peaty and rich, complimented the dish perfectly. Following our neighbors lead, we ordered the “Poutine” – French fries, gravy, Gruyere and Foie gras torchon. Put simply, fries with gravy, duck liver, covered in cheese that takes bar food to another level, not to mention our blood pressure. Next it was a short walk to Saucebox, a Pan-Asian restaurant featuring sushi and diverse menu items. We ordered the appetizer platter to try several options at once. It is especially nice to see assortment plates on the menu when power dining. In this case the sampling included one of the reasons we want to go there in the first place. Tapioca dumplings were an interesting texture of large unsweetened tapioca pearls wrapped around chicken, peanuts, cilantro and garlic oil and enhanced by a tamarind dip; as good as we had heard.

As I often say in our classes, I almost always order duck when it is on the menu. It is my version of a collectible. I collect orders of duck, making mental memories of its characteristics. This one was right up there, especially with the Thai ginger gimlet we ordered to go with. Specialty drinks was another must at the Saucebox.

Breakfast on Saturday took us to the highly touted Kenny & Zuke’s Delicatessen where pastrami is the mainstay. It was tender with a slight salty background and pungent smoke that came through with a burst. Piled on top of classic rye, it was made only slightly better by my slathering of coarse mustard and horseradish.

Our evening dining started at 5PM with the arrival of Cannon Beach friends, Rob and Kristin, who had recently returned from a trip to New York City and were pretty familiar with power dining, though this is the first time they heard the label. Leveraging our ability to try more things, and me as the designated driver, the four of us set out to discover what’s new, delicious, and worthy of recreating at home. We began with an encore at Clyde Common since we had time before our first reservation at Hiroshi, and ended at VooDoo Donuts! If that sounds extreme take a quick look at our entire weekend itinerary. After some amazing dishes and a new wine blend discovery by Sinnean called Abbendente, we were back to the hotel by midnight with full bellies and many new food memories.

The next morning we got up late, checked out and drove for dim sum at Wong’s King Seafood, whose chefs have received international recognition. The shear volume of food that came to our table probably matched what we had consumed the entire night before. It was quite good and takes care of our dim sum fix for a long time.

Admittedly our approach to culinary research seems extreme, but it gets the job done. Power dining is like taking a bus tour when arriving in a new town so you can see all the sights in just a few hours, and discover where you want to focus your time while there. We know we want go back to Portland and hit the places we couldn’t get to this time such as Le Pigeon, Country Cat Dinner House, Pok Pok, and Moonstruck Chocolate, and to return to a few of our discoveries this visit. In fact, so many good restaurants still to see we will be power dining in Portland again another day!

Power dining in Portland
Blue Hour (250 NW 13th avenue 503.226.3394) for slow roasted suckling pig
Clyde Common (SW 10th and stark 503.228.3333) for grilled whole fish with winter tabouli, pistachio and pomegranate molasses or the crispy pork belly with blood orange marmalade
Saucebox (214 SW Broadway 503.241.3393) for tapioca dumplings and updated martinis
Kenny and Zuke’s deli (1038 SW Stark 503.222.3354) – pastrami, pastrami, pastrami
Hiroshi’s (926 NW 10th Ave 503.619.0580) for sushi or whatever owner Hiro fancies that night – the tuna belly with ponzu sauce and steamed monk liver over miso dressing was fantastic!
Wildwood (1221 NW 21st 503.248.9663) for pork rillette and foie gras with zinfandel braised cippoline
Paley’s Place (1204 NW 21st Ave 503.243.2403) for either the house specialty of razor clams with a petite cassoulet and bacon wrapped radicchio; and the emmer faro, wild mushrooms with roasted squash and black truffles.
VooDoo Donuts (22 SW 3rd Ave 503241.4704) for crispy bacon maple bar!
Wong’s king Seafood (8733 SE Division 503.788.8883) – dim sum! Plan to wait.