Dinner Shows • Classes • Catering • Culinary Shop
EVOO Cooking School

Found some inspiration on our vacation

Just returning from a little sunshine respite. Lenore has family in sunny Brea CA where we spent a few nights at their very comfortable CA home. It was nice for Lenore to catch up with her aunt and uncle while I played in the kitchen with her cousin, Mary, quite an accomplished cook. Never done it commercially but even if I had never enjoyed her cooking, her ability to cook certainly shows in her kitchen.

She has everything any cook could want and a place for everything. She has one of the newest drip coffee makers, one cup at a time, and uses her tiniest Tupperware to set up her own coffee “pods.” There are so many drawers that I finally asked how they found this home with the biggest kitchen on the block, and she explained that David, her husband, is very handy and just kept expanding the kitchen. So right away the experience of cooking with her was going to be great.

I think Mary was a little surprised that I wanted to make her famous shortbread that she mails to us every Christmas, ours just one of 125 that she sends out. Her shortbread molds are collector’s items as well, and we picked out a couple since one batch makes two. I was amazed that she actually broke every so-called rule for baking by making this tender delight in a giant Cuisinart–didn’t even know they make them so large! She started with a pound of frozen salted butter (I get that) and proceeded to blend until I could feel the heat off the blade. Asking if she was going to chill the dough, she said no, and in fact she heated the molds before filling with dough. She let me play with the second half of the batch. To it, I added a few spices that I found in her cupboard (anything you could imagine was there). I made a little curry mix and yes, added some coriander to it. Both went into the oven and out in about 30 minutes. I guess that even with her giant Cuisinart and several molds, she can only bake 4 at a time in her double ovens, so it must take close to 36 hours to make all 125. The addition of curry was interesting and Lenore liked it, but I was not satisfied, so plan to improve it a bit next time. Mary, of course, is sharing her recipe and I intend to post it once I do it again in my kitchen. No doubt about it, Mary makes the best shortbread I ever tasted.

Mid week our cousins drove us to Palm Springs, a short 90 minute drive, to meet up with friends from Seattle who were there for a whole month! Mutual friends from Maryland were already there. In fact, almost the entire group from our French Laundry experience were together again. Being foodies, we did as much eating as talking. First day we went to the local Farmers Market–it was all organic foods, no crafts, and they had cut flowers!

Anyway, it was tough to shop the market when we only had two days for cooking! The couple we were visiting had a full fridge and tangerine, orange & lime trees outside their door. We had to use restraint. Lenore found a new fruit, to me anyway, called ‘Yellow Sapote’ from Mexico, also known as Canistell or “egg-fruit.” The farm stand attendant didn’t speak allot of English, so we didn’t really know what we were buying. She cut one up for tastes. It was sweet like very ripe persimmons but had the texture of a ripe avocado, to us anyway. Researching it on the internet, I found the texture described as a hard boiled egg since it doesn’t produce much juice. In any case, I included it in the breakfast watermelon salad I made the next morning. It was pretty good and I will be looking for that fruit again if I ever get to Florida where they are grown commercially. For now I am happy that it happened to be grown by a little farm in southeastern California and brought to market that day.

If I were to make the salad again, here is a recipe subbing avocado for the Sapote.

1 small seedless Watermelon (or Crenshaw melon, would be good too)
2 avocado, 1/2 dice or 2 “sapote” if you can get it
6 fresh figs, quartered
2 fresh sweet persimmons, core and cut 1/2″ dice
juice of 1 large lime
1 bunch Basil, rough chop
1 serrano pepper, seed, devein, mince
1/4 cup EVOO, just to coat fruit
To Taste Sea salt Pepper Coriander (SPC)

Method: Prepare fruit; gently toss with lime juice and EVOO. Add pepper, basil and toss and taste. Season to taste with SPC.We served this with Marty’s eggs with an Armenian sliced cured meat.This recipe is worth knowing but first I need to find a local source for the cured meat. Marty gets it shipped from the East coast from an Armenian butcher. Stay tuned, because Marty and I may just be making it on the west coast.

Appetizers bring spice to my life…

It is official. I admit I do usually enjoy the classes Lenore dreams up! This one featuring appetizers was scheduled for noon on a Saturday. I really pushed back at first. After all I am preparing for dinner every Saturday night and when you add 10 plus recipes for a lunch class, my little kitchen and crew are really cranking. But when I actually do the class I really enjoy myself.

I love what I do. The variety is endless and it truly gives the spice to a sometimes too familiar routine. The impetus for the class was “WOW weekend.” That is, Women Only Weekend. Dreamed up by one of the hotels in town, The Ocean Lodge, for the purpose of encouraging women to come to town, start their holiday shopping early, while they “pamper” themselves with spa treatments, and a variety of classes such as flower arranging, quilt making, and of course, a slow-food lunch around my stove. Women around my stove, what is not to like about that! And I did.

Then off to the Ocean lodge after dessert at our Dinner Show because there was one more WOW assignment for me. All I had to do is show up with my “Devilish Hot Chocolate” and whipped cream and serve at hotel’s pajama party. Forty servings I was told and please wear pajamas! So just another one of those things my wife insists that I do. 40 women at a pajama party –okay if I must.

8 oz heavy cream
10 oz whole milk
2 oz butter
2 oz 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 with a hint of cayenne
2.Add splash of dark rum or Kaluha
Sprinkle of nutmeg, cocoa powder, or cinnamon.


For me, every day is the first day of a menu! Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy the stress relief of knowing a menu so well I can sail through the prep without much thought. And of course, I can make two or three days worth of prep together, but unless I start fresh everyday, it is harder for me to maintain my edge. You see you never know who you may be serving!

What we do know is that our business depends on repeat customers. So every day has to be fresh or we potentially loose first time customers who dine with us. Lenore and I help each other to get in the game on days that we aren’t. We leave at least 30 minutes before a class just to clear our heads and get excited about the recipes we are doing. And even when it is hard to do, when the first guests arrive, new or not, we almost instantly get into the game as if we were some how plugged into110 current!

The potential for bad press can spread pretty far with one underwhelmed person. Cultivating good buzz one customer at a time is what we strive to do, and when the customer is an unidentified food writer dining with us, it can pay off in a big way. Arriving to work after two days away this past week, our voice mail was extra full! It seems an article about us was in the Sunday Nov 1,2009 Oregonian Travel section. We had no idea! Many people called wanting to learn more and even to sign up.

So when I tell my interns that “you are only as good as your last banquet or meal,” I mean, do not become too complacent or comfortable. Keeping an edge is the best way to demand the most from yourself. Don’t rest on your laurels. Demand more from yourself.

After all the years I have been cooking, I am still working on my self esteem. When customers come back over and over again, it is the best affirmation I can get. Knowing they trust us, often coming even when they don’t know what we’re serving, makes me more determined than ever to work on that “edge.”

Marathon behind my stove

It was a long day yesterday! We started actually a few weeks ago to prepare for yesterday. Didn’t matter, we were still pushing to get everything done before the guests arrived. We did 20 bites for 45 guests at our “A Nightmare Before Christmas” Halloween Party. Our intent besides saying thanks to our loyal customers (ENCORE CLUB) was to showcase some interesting appetizers for holiday party giving. When we got to appetizer #12, couples were “sharing” bites. By #13 they flatly refused to take any more. So we omitted two apps (the scallops and the white bean crepes) and went on to desserts. Even eliminated one of those too, the big caramel apple slices. But all in all it was rewarding because I actually did this marathon behind my stove without missing a beat, in full costume! The crew was phenomenal and worked their “mmm’s” off. We could have had an after party with all the leftovers from the leftovers after the crew refreshed on them, but we were just too tired. Guests were great and seemed to enjoy themselves–staying to the feeding frenzy end! Guest voted and the winning appetizers of the evening were the “Wild Mushroom Strudel with Crab salad” and “Baked Muffalatta.” And of course, the hot chocolate with chipotle cream was a big hit. All the recipes are to be posted ASAP! (Or, as soon as Lenore gets to it) 🙂 Ciao, Bob

Time is flying by

Once again I can barely keep up with my work and once again I cannot remember what happened to September. We are experiencing a warm and wonderful Indian summer and that means that our usual down turn day after Labor Day didn’t happen. That is good in itself, but we had anticipated the slow down, so made plans for a brief respite–a short trip to Friday Harbor, San Juan Island, Washington. We went with friends, also in the hospitality biz, so they too were needing restoration. And that is what we found–easy beautiful Friday Harbor. We ate well as you might expect and even had some mini-power dine experiences where we got everything on the menu before we left. Whale watching was good too, and for the first time we saw them really close. Yes, there is something about catching the ferry to an island that really helps one feel “away.” Ah, it might mean a return trip is needed again soon.



Here is our new August menu with a quick DNA analysis, or as Lenore says, what made you think of putting these together.


Our longing for the summer is long past and a dim memory by now. Summer is here going by so fast we feel we are missing it! For sure we have missed staying in touch. Just to let you know it wasn’t by choice. Our website “face-lift” included a new “admin tool” and we are just getting that up and running. So now everything is running including us! Before it all gets away, here’s a quick update.

We are happy to report the Cannon Beach Farmers Market is going very well withover 2500 participants last week. For those of you who may have forgotten, the CBFM is 2-6 every TUESDAY June through September. And we are offering a MARKET DINNER after every market at 7, where we bring in what’s fresh at the market and make up an “ad hoc” dinner. Aside from being a little nerve racking, the results have been very well received! And we are doing our bit to ensure the CBFM continues because we give back 5% of the tuition. Restaurant of the week at the market has been implemented this year, where one restaurant from town comes to sell some ready to eat foods and beverages. Look for EVOO on Sept 1 for our next turn at ROW at the market.There are more vendors, more volunteers, and more music this year making this a great community event. Click CBFM for market pictures and details.

The main thing occupying our minds right now is that this is actually our fifth summer in operation. We are very proud to be celebrating our 5thanniversary on August 14. It was that very date in 2004 that we first opened our doors. It seems both fast and long, but for sure it surprises us how despite some refining and additions, we are still doing what we did the very first day we opened our doors. The “Small Plates with Wines” concept is still what our guests want, and though we now call it “THE DINNER SHOW,” the format is still as it was five summers ago. We do three full entree plates paired with selected wines and still finish with a great dessert and sometimes two desserts on the same plate. We have added a self-serve coffee station with CAFFE UMBRIA decaf coffee, which our guests have really appreciated.  And we appreciate working with the Caffe Umbria brand and the personal attention we receive from owner, Pasquale. We are small potatoes in the world of coffee but are treated like we are their only! Gotta love that!

For our special celebration in August we invited Michael Sebastiani to join us with his very special wines. He is coming with the Sonoma valley wines that he makes using Oregon styles. He will explain more about that during the class. It couldn’t be a better time for a wine dinner since so many great food products are in season. Between the two, Chef Bob and Michael, the wine and food talk promises to be quite celebratory, educational and entertaining. Please note if you are a returning guest to EVOO you may sign up for ENCORE CLUB and receive a 5% discount for this event. Please indicate you are a club member at the time you register for either class, August 14 and August 15.

That is a quick update for now. Watch for more real soon. Ciao!

Sand Castle Day

Building sand castles on cake---the great Haystack Rock and sea creatures at low tide.

Today was a busy one here in CANNON BEACH. The annual sand castle building contest took place starting at low tide at 8 am this morning and continuing until the last one was judged at 2:00 pm. The crowds were bigger this year and the quality of the entries very high. From the beach to the town, everyone in CB seemed to have the sand castle spirit. Our sand-cake for the children was a hit. We had a step stool up to it as children “shoveled” a large portion onto their plate. No end to the fun here at EVOO.

DIRT & SAND CASTLE CAKE Makes one 5 quart size or four 1 qt size
16 oz pkg Oreo cookies for dirt cake
16 oz pkg pecan Sandies for sand cake
4 pkg instant chocolate or butterscotch pudding
12 oz cream cheese
6 TBS butter
4 ¾ cup milk
4 cups whipped cream

Gummy worms, marshmallows, gumdrop flowers Method: 1. If using a flowerpot with a drainage hole, reserve 1 cookie to place over hole to prevent leaking. Place remaining cookies in the bowl of a food processor. Process until mixture resembles dirt. Set aside.
2. In a large bowl, combine cream cheese and butter, and stir until creamy. Set aside.
3. In another large bowl, whisk together instant-pudding mixes and milk; stir until well blended. Using a rubber spatula, fold pudding mixture into cream-cheese mixture. Fold in whipped cream.
4. In a flowerpot or bucket with a 5-quart capacity, alternate layers of cookie “dirt” and pudding mixture, starting and ending with cookie “dirt.” Chill at least 4 hours or overnight before serving. Garnish with candy. To make beach scene: crush peacan sandies and/or Lorna Doone’s shortbread cookies. Press into children’s sand toys and unmold on sand of your beach cake.

New Website

Hello and welcome to our new look! It has been in the making for several weeks and we certainly want to thank our web designers, Amy and Jonathan of www.grow-creative.com They have been patient and helpful dealing with Lenore especially since she does more of the updating than I do. At any rate, please don’t hesitate to weigh in on the new looks and features. But at the same time give us a few more days or so to get everying fully functional, like the recipes and pictures.

Taking a break from writing for the GAZETTE

Today like many we are really thinking about how we spend our money. After paying for the basics there is less and less leftover for what “they” call discretionary funds. Lenore reminds me often that what really seems to count when life goes sideways on people seems to be all that we have postponed or denied ourselves far too many times. Making memories with friends and family means so much more than the things we can buy. So what might be considered worth spending on and or “priceless” is my topic.

Just last night one of our guests asked us how we got started and why Cannon Beach. Lenore, a Northwest native, answered as usual that the first time she brought me to the Oregon coast I told her this is where I want to live some day. It took us about 15 years to get here but we did it. Someone usually asks if we have any regrets. Lenore’s pat answer is only one: that we didn’t do it sooner!

Heck we had no idea what this was going to entail and yet we came with the confidence in our desire to be our own boss in the hospitality field. It was clear to us early on that we had a steep learning curve and soon became humbled by business ownership. Such respect and admiration we might never have known had we stayed in our city corporate jobs. The great thing is that every time we greet new guests at the door or welcome back those who have participated before, we still get the satisfaction and appreciation we felt when we opened.

Just being given the opportunity to put into practice the many principles we choose to live by in our very own business has been a priceless experience. It isn’t as easy as we once thought. For example we believe strongly in the principle of sustainability. Not just the way foods are grown and produced but how the producers treat their land, animals and workers. We have learned that being sustainable requires both providing for our employees AND for ourselves. Did we actually think we could do it all without taking time to revitalize and energize our engines from time to time? Though we have moments in every day to enjoy this beautiful place we live and do appreciate the beauty, clean air and amazing people, we haven’t always made sure our personal schedules are sustainable. So with a bit of regret we have asked our editor if we may take a break from writing this column for a few months. We want to give our attention to some new projects, namely the children’s pea patch and the community projects we are already involved in. We have some things to give attention to as with any business nearing it’s fifth anniversary. We are hoping to get our coriander oatmeal cookie to market and providing some home meal replacement products for our visitors. Additionally we have another intern this summer who deserves lots of my attention. Our goal is to return to the Gazette with so many topics we cannot wait to write about them!

We also have been given free rein when it comes to writing these articles and we do appreciate our editors’ confidence and faith. In fact they have told us to promote EVOO in the process. So before we take a break it does occur to me, gratefully, that our customers have been purchasing memorable experiences and learning new skills every time they come to a class. Our Dinner Show, formerly Small Plates with Wines, $89, offers four courses, three of which are full entrees paired with wines, followed by a great dessert. All are presented in smallish portions with the overall satisfaction of a full meal. The objective is for guests to go home feeling happy with three new menus and the skills to create them. We never tire of customers kind words and praises, and are all the more flattered when they come for celebrations.

Some of our customers explore through our classes to see if their avocation and love of cooking might be a good new career move for them. We offer a full day one-on-one class, called Sous Chef of the Day, with Chef Bob and crew for $125. And our Culinary Fundamentals classes can be several days long and are even more personalized to the individuals. Another popular class is the Artisan Bread making class for $75 where students learn a skill that pays back with grocery savings as well as the sheer satisfaction of creating bread!

When it comes to investing in oneself through making memorable experiences, one of our partners, Lexie Hallahan, director of Northwest Women’s Surf Camps, is at the top of the list! Offering fun, skill building, surfing, personal growth and bonding, Lexie’s events do this and so much more while occurring in two places people love to be, the Oregon coast and the island of Kauai. This year she has added a couples and partners weekends. We hope you will visit her website, www.nwwomenssurfcamps.com, to learn more about the experiences she offers. Oh and by the way, we do the organic foods for many of her projects.
Another trend we are noticing is a full on interest in sustainable products, both food and non and the desire to become green. We have corporations asking us for team building because we support sustainable seasonal concepts and we teach it to others. I have done some consulting to the company I worked last to help bring their corporate dining closer to being seasonal, sustainable/local, and organic.

Maybe it is the turndown economy that is actually helping people to focus on what can be done in our own back yards–organic gardening for one thing. Cannon Beach is in the process of forming community gardens, and I am working with our elementary school to get a small pea patch started for children to experience the growing, cultivating and cooking of their harvest.

Speaking of kids, we have started a class for the local kids after school once a week for twelve weeks. They have made up a menu for their cafe named by them, “Want S’more Café.” By now they have made from scratch every dish on the menu. Each week they take a new role–server, cook or customer–in running a café. Eventually everyone experiences all the roles, and everyone eats every class. Before long these 8-11 year old little chefs will have cooked, set tables, waited tables, ordered and paid for their snacks and tipped out their fellow players and will almost be ready for the public. Well at least their parents and friends. Thanks to Helene Hal and _____ for volunteering their help with our kids café.

On the retail front, more and more culinary tools and gifts are coming in stamped, “Designed in Germany (or France, or US) but made in China.” We find this trend to be escalating over the past year and a half. The challenge to find made in USA has been building even longer, and so much is outsourced. You would think pricing would have remained stable but not so. We are seeing more customers who are conscientiously choosing not buying items made in China. With this new reality, we are more determined to find local and artisan made products. Our shop is small but we are proud our made in the Northwest gifts and food section is growing. For example we carry hand lathed saltcellars, rolling pins and cutting boards by Will Leroux, Executive Chef for Martin Hospitality in Cannon Beach. He creates this useable art in his spare time.

In closing we invite readers to think of EVOO whenever they need a memorable experience, be it for a girls’ weekend out, an anniversary, landmark occasion, graduation, birthday, engagement, marriage, reunion and most importantly a weekend just to relax and re-energize, we would be honored to help make it so.

See you again soon in the pages of the Gazette. Bob Neroni


March for me has meant many things. The hope of spring starting early, beginning to decide on what to plant in our garden, unwrapping the patio furniture and of course, St. Patrick’s Day. As a youth, the celebration in Cleveland, meant taking off of work to attend one of the largest parades in the Midwest. The city would put on its green and begin serving corned beef, cabbage, potatoes and Irish beer at daybreak. Although a real holiday with its roots tied the Roman Catholic Church, as a teen it just seemed to be about food and drink, the unfortunate demise of many a holiday. Today as a chef, I not only respect its origins but work to create dishes that truly reflect its humble beginnings. The use of corned beef dates back to Ireland as a diet staple and Irish Americans used it as a breakfast meat to replace Irish bacon as a much cheaper form of protein, still resembling their native product. My research revealed that corned beef was introduced by their Jewish neighbors on the lower east side of New York. Today along with cabbage and potatoes it makes for a hearty meal any time. So what makes good corned beef? First is the salt. The term “corned” refers to the “corna” or grains of coarse salt. Kosher salt is the primary ingredient in my brine, along with garlic, mustard and brown sugar. The secret to an authentic product is the slow brining process followed by curing time; brining being a wet saline preparation and curing being a dry rub without water. Getting right into it my recipe follows:

Corned Beef Brisket from Scratch
1 gallon water
8 ounce sea salt
4 ouncelight brown sugar
1 ounce pickling spice
6 pounds brisket

Cure Dry Rub:
3 each bay leaves
1 ½ ounce garlic, minced
1 ounce mustard seeds, crushed
2 ounce black pepper, cracked
2 ounce red pepper flakes
1/4 ounce coriander seeds, crushed

Combine the brine ingredients into stainless steel pot and bring to a boil, dissolve completely; cook for an additional 5 minutes; remove and cool completely; place the beef in the mixture and cover, ensuring meat is submerged; refrigerate, keeping the meat in the brine for 7-14 days. Turn the beef everyday to ensure even brining; ensure the meat is submerged each time; remove from wet brine and drain.

Combine dry ingredients and rub into all areas of the beef; place beef in sealed bag with air removed for 5 days in refrigerator. Remove beef from dry rub bag; place into a large pot; cover the meat with fresh cold water. Bring to simmer and cook for 2 1/2 – 4 hours until tender to the fork.
Slice and serve.

As the recipe states, this is a long and dedicated process with a minimum commitment of 12 days. The original beef was only dry cured with large grains of salt to preserve the meat since refrigeration had not yet been introduced. As techniques and cold storage became available the recipe morphed to include other methods of preparation while preserving the original flavors. In supermarkets today you can find small briskets or other tough cuts of beef sealed in a bag with pickling spices and other aromatics. The manufacturer has taken most of the work out of it since the meat has been curing for some time before the package was shipped. The downside to this is that you have no control over flavor since the meat has taken on the characteristics of the ingredients it has been sitting in. Whether it is mine or the manufacturer’s recipe being used, keep in mind that we are dealing with a tough cut of beef. Specifically located below the chuck and just above the shank, this muscle meat needs to be tenderized before consuming. Salt not only preserves the meat but aides in breaking down the fibrous muscle. Salt water slowly opens the cell walls of the muscle allowing for the tenderizing to begin and while this process takes place, flavors slowly take hold. The process finalizes in cooking. A slow covered bath finishes the breakdown of muscles tissue and forces the aromatics into the meat. The resulting product is tender and juicy. Understanding the basics allows us to play with the ingredients. For instance, replacing some of the water with beer, cider or flavored stock is one option. Mixing up the traditional spices of mustard, coriander and garlic to include a curry or Middle Eastern spice or even espresso begins to create new exciting recipes. However, the basics are just that. Keeping it simple keeps it true to form and allows the sides to do their job. Most agree that cabbage and potatoes are a must. A simple head of cabbage and baby redishes or fingerling potatoes work well. As the brisket is finishing its last hour in the liquid, add your potatoes and cabbage cook for 30-40 minutes.  Both vegetables will take on the characteristics of the meal while preserving their individuality. My Jewish traditions kick in at this point with a splattering of fresh horseradish overall. If that is not your thing than a good coarse mustard will suffice. For the finish I have to fast forward to a recipe we discovered this past year that is not authentically Irish but good nonetheless. A Guinness Float! In a tall glass put 3 scoops of your favorite vanilla ice cream and slowly add a bottle of Guinness. You can also make this into a milkshake or as I like it with the addition of a shot of espresso. So whatever your reason for celebrating March 17, remember to include good friends, good music and your own freshly made labor of love corned beef!

Mardi Gras in Cannon Beach?

My wife and I have a bucket list. All the things we want to do yet! And this time of year we think about our fantasy of being in New Orleans in the middle of the celebrations. Of course we want to enjoy the parades, the jazz and seemingly free flow of festivities. But as foodies, we really want to taste the foods of New Orleans first hand—Creole, Cajun, and Acadian. Then it occurred to me that I could increase my knowledge and experience with this cuisine right here in Cannon Beach. I just had to pick up the phone and call chef John Sowa.

Locals may already know that besides his current success as owner/chef of Café Sweet Basils here in Cannon Beach, John previously opened and managed Lil’ Bayou in Seaside for seven years before settling into Cannon Beach. I spoke to John to find out how he became connected to the cuisine of the bayou and he had a lot to tell me.

John’s first exposure to New Orleans was during his stint in the army. In the late 60’s he was stationed in Georgia. On leave one of his platoon members invited a group of his buddies to Louisiana. As John puts it, “I fell in love with the cuisine immediately.” He was there when the king of Cajun, Paul Prudhomme, was at the helm. Not to pan TV’s Emeril Lagasse, John says, because Emeril was one of the youngest chefs to take over for Paul Prudhomme at Commander’s Palace.

But being a native New Yorker Sowa ended up back home after the army and settled in Long Island. It was there while working during the day in sales and marketing that he took evening and weekend opportunities to learn the ways of the kitchen. Tony’s Crab House, Busters (in Manhattan), and Main Street (in Long Island) were a few of the restaurants that fueled his passion and gave him the experience to open his first restaurant in 1992. At first he was going to open with a southwestern theme until he hooked up with an old friend, Pete Lutzen, who had worked under Paul Prudhomme and even married into the family, marrying Paul’s niece. It was at Pete’s urging that The Pepper’d Owl was created as a Cajun/Creole dinner house with live Blues, Jazz and Zydeco (a Cajun style with a zippy washboard sound). A good call as the restaurant secured four stars from the New York Times and News Day.

With this success in his pocket, Sowa moved on to one more venture before heading west or rather northwest to Seaside with his wife Deborah, a native of the community. Lil’ Bayou’s tenure is pretty well known to this area and to anyone who has had the pleasure of dining on John’s food.

So what makes good Cajun food? Well to start I had to learn a little about its roots. It begin in Nova Scotia with the French Acadians, who to escape religious persecution from their new landowners, the British, moved to Louisiana. They populated the bayous, marshes and prairies. The food of the area became known as Cajun, which as it turns out is a somewhat bastardized word for the French word, Acadian. Creole cuisine was thought to be the city version of Cajun, derived from the aristocracy of the main cities of the day.

Today however most agree that Cajun and Creole are intertwined. And that the migration of other European cultures to the area brought significant influences. For example the French dish, Bouillabaisse, is said to be the forerunner of Gumbo, the Spanish dish Paella, the predecessor of Jambalaya, and the use of charcuterie and sausages is attributed to the Germans. From my research and speaking with Sowa, one thing that is clear and consistent is the use of butter and pork products. Of course these are two of my favorite flavors, and are perhaps the reason John’s latest venture (Café Sweet Basil) is more mindful of the balanced use of such ingredients. But for the occasion of Mardi gras, let’s bring it on with the real thing.

Here are two of Chef John Sowa’s favorite recipes to make and enjoy with friends. You can watch for these on my family meals coming again this June. Thanks, John, for sharing this romantic and interesting side of your life.

CHICKEN AND SAUSAGE JAMBALAYA The word Jambalaya comes from the African word “Jamba” which means Ham and the “Ya” is Rice. The French Cajuns somehow put the “la” in there for luck? This serves about 4 main meal portions or eight appetizers.
1 pound of boneless chicken cut into bite size pieces
½ pound chopped Tasso Ham or other smoked Ham. (Tasso is a highly seasoned Cajun product.)
1-Pound Andouille Sausage (In a pinch Kielbasa could be used but is not recommended)
3 TBS Butter
1 Cup Chopped Yellow Onions
1 Cup chopped Green Bell Pepper 1 Cup chopped Celery
(These 3 ingredients are the Trinity of Cajun Cooking add add garlic and you have the Holy Ghost!)
3 TBS minced Garlic
¾ Cup Tomato Sauce
1 Cup chopped tomato
2 ½ cups Chicken Stock
1 ½ Cups Uncooked Rice (converted)

Jambalaya Seasoning
2 Bay Leaves
1 tsp Salt
1 tsp White Pepper
1 tsp Dry Mustard
1 tsp Cayenne Pepper
½ tsp Cumin
1 tsp Paprika
½ tsp Black Pepper
½ tsp Dried Thyme Leaves
Combine all spices well and set aside

Melt butter in a cast iron pot or heavy aluminum one over high heat. Add chicken and Tasso Ham Stir frequently and scrape bottom of pot. When chicken is almost cooked lower heat to medium heat, add Andouille sausage and garlic. Cook 2 minutes while continuing to scrap bottom of pot. Add ½ the seasoning mixture, ½ cup each of onion, pepper and celery, and cook till vegetables are tender.
Add tomato sauce cook scraping bottom of pot for 2-3 minutes. Add remaining seasoning, remaining vegetables, and chicken stock, stirring well. Bring this mixture to a boil; add the rice and stir together. Reduce heat to med and cover. Cook about 30 minutes or till rice is tender. Remove cover and continue cooking till liquid is just about gone.
CRAWFISH ETOUFFEE This is one of my favorite Cajun dishes and the fresh crawdads become available just around festival time. The word “Etouffee” translates to smother and the it’s the tail meat that is smothered in this wonderful sauce. This recipe makes about 6 servings.
½ Cup chopped yellow onions
½ Cup chopped celery
½ Cup Chopped Green Bell Peppers
1 TBS Minced Garlic
3/4 Cups vegetable Oil
¾ -1 Cups all-purpose flour
3 cups of basic seafood stock (Chicken Stock can substitute in a pinch)
½ pound unsalted butter (2 Sticks)
2 pounds cooked crawfish tail meat (no substitute!)
1 cup finely chopped green onion
4 cups of hot cooked rice

Etouffee Seasoning
1 ½ tsp salt
2 tsp cayenne pepper
1 tsp white pepper
1 tsp black pepper
2 tsp dried sweet basil leaves
½ tsp dried thyme
1 tsp paprika
Combine the seasoning mixture

In a large heavy skillet, cast iron if possible, heat the vegetable oil on high heat until smoking, with a whisk gradually add the flour and stir till smooth. Continue stirring until roux is a dark red brown. Care should be taken with this part, as the roux is extremely hot! Remove from the heat and add all the vegetables and garlic (be careful as this may splatter) and ½ the seasoning mixture. Stir until cooked for a few minutes. Return to low heat; slowly add 2 cups of stock whisking till smooth.

In a 4-quart pot melt 1 stick of butter over medium heat, add the crawfish tail meat and chopped green onions cook for 1-2 minutes. Gradually add the roux and vegetable mix and whisk until well combined and smooth. Add the remaining seasoning and remaining stock till you a have smooth silken sauce consistency. Cut remaining sick of butter in to 1 inch pieces, individually melt into the mixture stirring constantly. Serve immediately, with a mound a ½ cup of rice on each plate surrounded by Etouffee.

Recipe for romance

With a couple hours to kill at the airport between planes, I am writing this article as I wait for my flight. Although I enjoy traveling I am much more a homebody, especially when Lenore is there and I am here. I truly appreciate our life together and the relationship we have. Relationships, now there’s a neat segue. With Valentines Day right around the corner and my nostalgia for Lenore, I am in the perfect mood to write this. Valentine’s day, incidentally a day created by the greeting card industry, has early memories of cutting out hearts from a variety of craft papers nervously wondering if my cards and sentiments would be reciprocated. Who cares if we were only in third grade, it mattered! As we matured it became more about flowers, candy and dining out.

Dining in might make more of an impression. Everyone who otherwise never dines out is out to dinner on this night. Prices might be elevated and food is made “cute” to accommodate the theme of the holiday. I know this because I have done that on my own menus past. Now days, I am motivated to create an experience that makes my “date” feel special. And I do mean “date” as on that night Lenore is my date. So guys this is for you. Listen and learn. It’s time to step up and take the V- day challenge to create your own romantic night in your home-restaurant for two. I’ll get to the food in a minute, after we set the mood, table, and timeline.

Remember that in order to make the evening special, your focus is on pleasing your date. The fact that you never cook, might be enough in itself, but this night is all about sparing no inconvenience to you, and rather putting your partner’s needs first! Only you know best what you need to do. You need to detail it out and then follow through. If ironing the tablecloth and napkins are on the list, just do it. You may not care or notice such things yourself, but you know it will add up for her. Candles are a must, but remember not to get the scented ones that interfere with food aromas. Plan to get some flowers—her favorite if you can, so you should be ordering them right now to be certain they are here in time. (For me that is a gardenia.) The table needs to be set correctly and with polished flatware and glassware. If you don’t have decent stemware for the wine, you might consider a purchase of two very nice crystal glasses as part of your gift. And last but for certain extra points, print the menu on a nice place card to set on the table.

Now let’s consider the ambiance. A clean room free of clutter is the only way to go. Run the vacuum before you set the table. And plan for a clean kitchen, which means you will need to clean as you go. Set up a soapy sink of water and drop the pots and tools into it as you go. Put away the ingredients as you finish with them and try to remember where they go. Now consider the background music. A little theme music like you might hear in a Parisian bistro if your menu is French inspired will add to the mood.

Being organized will make you a hero. Believe in the timeline you’ve plotted out to do the shopping, cleaning, table setting, and cooking. Give yourself plenty of time so you don’t get rushed. Don’t forget to ask her to be your date, and suggest she do something for herself during the day while you cook.

As for the menu itself, remember that even macaroni and cheese can be special when presented in a romantic atmosphere. But hey gentlemen, if you can actually make mac and cheese, then you can make a French inspired menu like mine. And for the wine, you can find some brilliant examples of local sparkling wines under $25 or even champagne like Veuve Cliquot for under $40.

Stick with your plan and your success is imminent. Call me if this isn’t the most rewarding V-day gift you have ever given. Bon Chance & Bon Appetite!

February 14, 2009
My Valentine Dinner Menu
Fannie Bay Oyster Paired with Horseradish Champagne mignonette
David Hill Sparkling 06
Gratin of French Onion Soup Paired with Rillette of rabbit on grilled pane rustica
Stangland Rose of Tempranillo 07
Coquille St Jacques revisited, Pan seared scallops, bacon, caramelized leek, Verjus butter
Pepper Crusted Strip loin of Beef, Confit garlic and marrow enriched glace &
Beets, fennel, fingerling potatoes with hazelnut & maple vinegar emulsion
Cathedral Ridge Cabernet Merlot 06
Bittersweet chocolate fallen soufflé cake
Vanilla bean cherry custard and French tuile
Caffe Umbria dark roast Arco Entrusca

If you still think all this is over your head—still get her those flowers and bring your date to EVOO for the Dinner Show and enjoy some of my French inspired cooking!

French Onion Soup
2 TBS butter
3-4 cups sliced onions
1 TBS water
2 c chicken stock or vegetable stock
2 TBS apple brandy
½ tsp sea salt
To taste fresh ground pepperand coriander
½ cup heavy cream, heated
1 cup shredded Gruyere cheese
As needed for garnish, apples, small julienne
Method: In large skillet, melt butter over medium heat. Stir in the onions and sauté slowly until tender and golden brown about 30 minutes. Stir towards the end to ensure onions do not scorch. Add more water if necessary to prevent scorching. Prepare cheese cracker by placing 1 TBS at a time onto cookie sheet about 2 inches apart; bake 350 for 10 min At service, stir stock, brandy, and seasoning into the onions. Over medium heat simmer 10 minutes. Stir in cream to taste. Float a cheese cracker on top. Top cheese cracker with small amount of julienne apple. Serve immediately.
4 TBS rosemary, minced
4 TBS parsley, minced1 egg white, frothed with 1 TBS water
2 each New York strip steaks,
6 oz each
As needed sea salt, ground pepper, ground coriander3 TBS vegetable oil
1shallot, minced
2 cloves garlic, paste
¼ cup red wine
1 cup demi glace
Steak method: combine herbs; brush strip loin with egg white and coat with herbs; season and allow to marinade in herbs for a minimum of 1 hour before cooking. At service, place oil in large sauté pan to heat well; place steaks herb side down and sear well; cook 21 minute; turn and repeat coking until you reach desired doneness. Sprinkle with finishing salt before serving.Demi method: place oil in heated sauté pan; add shallot and garlic cooking until aromatic; add wine and reduce by half; add demi and reduce by 1/3; remove from heat and strain; adjust seasoning with salt an coriander.
6 oz bitter sweet chocolate, chopped
6 TBS salted butter
1 tsp espresso powder
3 eggs¾ cup sugar
5 TBS plus 1 ½ tsp cornstarch, sifted
1 qt. half and half cream
10 each egg yolks
10 oz sugar
2 tsp. vanilla
Method: combine chocolate, butter and espresso in double boiler; melt. Meanwhile whisk eggs and sugar until sugar dissolves; whisk chocolate mixture into egg mixture; gently whisk starch until blended – do not over whisk.Line a sheet pan with parchment; place six, 4” diameter by 1” high rings on the paper; divide batter between rings coming up ¾ of the way; bake at 325ºF for approximately 10 – 15 minutes or until tops have formed crusts and cake is soft to touch.Anglaise: Heat cream to a boil; reduce to simmer. Meanwhile, whisk yolks with sugar until frothy; temper yolks with cream until completely incorporated; place mixture back onto stove using a double boiler; heat until cream is thick enough to coat a spoon; cool in an ice bath for approx. 1 hour before using.

SUPERFOOD SUPERBOWL STYLE … foods like this are the touchdowns on my field of culinary guy foods

As I begin to write this article I am guessing that readers may expect me to elaborate on my best gourmet recipes to match up to the teams for this season’s super bowl get together. Like something Philly cheese to hit at least a couple teams for the great state of PA. In fact when I was chef at the Seattle Sheraton, I had the privilege of going to Minneapolis for the Super bowl back in 1992 along with Steve Rebel, former quarterback, to represent Seattle Seahawks. Not that they were playing, but rather it was part of the festivities that year. Chefs were paired with a player to make a dish that represented their cities for a big celebrity party the night before the game. It was a great time for Lenore and I and the first time we had been to the twin cities with their sky bridges and icehouses, but we didn’t get to go to the game. Tickets were sold out! Good thing I am not a die-hard fan of the game!

And that is precisely the problem. I have never really been a football fan and I really couldn’t name the teams in contention this year. Oh yeah, I will be tuning in and I will enjoy halftime with Bruce Springsteen and seeing the hyped up commercials, too. Suffice to say my best memories of super bowl Sundays past are all about the food and beverages. Admitting to be somewhat intimidated by the game itself and exposing my lack of interest, I know I am risking my reputation as a guy. But I usually watch the game anyway, and enjoy some of my favorite foods and drinks. And since my manhood is on the line, I am prepared to dish up some super guy worthy foods for this year’s event.

You see, I am a lover of pub food and all things loosely labeled “junk.” To me super bowl food should be guy-food. Now not to offend the women, but we are talking about real guy stuff! Foods that contain dark ale, plenty of cheese and hot stuff. Lots of meat especially beef as the star, always served with condiments in squeeze bottles. Yeah. Take my dawg meatballs with grilled onions and spicy ketchup. I do also invite chicken to the party. Bring on the fire hot chicken wings, (go KFC). Cheese you say—mmm, layers of it baked with nachos and jalapenos! Oh and dips are a must. My version of a favorite French onion dip with tons of chopped up caramelized onions, leeks and shallots, beef stock, all whipped into smooth sour cream topped with raw chopped onions and served with hearty ridged giant potato chips or oven roasted potato skins. Give me a bowl of chili that has so much shredded beef, beans would be embarrassed to show up. Oh yeah, I’m there! Or what about a thick rare roast beef hoagie covered in sautéed sliced mushrooms and how about that the “dipping liquid?” Let’s just say it’s thick, rich, dark and deep. My version starts with hearty beef broth from slow roasted bones that is reduced along with rich dark ale, some earthy fresh herbs and finished with a streak of fresh horseradish. I could yell all day for either team munching on this version of a French Dip. And how about bringing some razor clam fritters to this party? Catch em, clean em and cook em tender ahead of time, then shape em and fry em up! Serve with a dip of raw garlic aioli with red pepper flakes. Yes sir, foods like this are the touchdowns on my field of culinary guy foods.

I could create a meal by going to the supermarket, too, especially the chips and beer isles, and a brief stop at KFC on the way home. But I do get a kick out of making my favorites from scratch and of course an upgrade on the beer by stopping at Bill’s. My manly menu might look like this:

Bill’s Duck Dive Pale ale – lot’s of it
Lightly salted russet baked potato skins with my Not-Lipton-soup onion dip
Homemade corn chips with three-pepper salsa with Avocado-achiote relish
My version of fire fried chicken wings & celery hearts served with Rogue River Bleu Cheese and Buttermilk sauce
All beef chuck chili, sharp grated cheddar, red onions and sour cream, along with cheesy jalapeno quesadilla
Shaved rare rib roast & sautéed mushrooms on a French bread bun with horseradish laced beefy ale dipping sauce

“Dawgfood” Balls on Hoagie with grilled onions and spicy ketchup

For the gals if they dare to show, I’d throw in some roasted veggies with a sesame wonton chips and curried aioli dip (not in a squeeze bottle)
Dessert – Banana splits with Haagen-Dazs karamel sutra ice cream, chewy brownies, peanuts, hot fudge and for the ladies, brandied cherries & whipped cream

Most of these recipes can be made or par-made a day or so ahead of time. But remember, for me it’s all about the food, so I am usually cooking with the super bowl on the tube much the way anyone else might be cooking while listening to the stereo playing in the background. As I finish and serve a course, I can’t wait to get started on another!

Want to join me? See you in my kitchen!

1 qt. Vegetable oil 1
# Yukon gold potatoes, sliced thinas needed sea salt and coriander
Method: heat vegetable oil to 365°F; meanwhile slice potatoes on a mandolin and pat dry on paper towels to remove any moisture; fry until golden brown, being careful to stir constantly during cooking to ensure even browning; remove to paper towels for draining; season and serve. Note: if chips become wilted you may bring back by placing on a sheet pan in 350°F oven to re-crisp for a few minutes.
4 baking potatoes, baked, cooled and cut in halve, potato meat scooped out and saved for another use EVOO as needed to coat potato skins.Salt pepper, red pepper flakes½ cup parmesan cheese, grated Method: Cut potato skin into strips about 6-8 per potato. Coat with light EVOO, seasonings, and parmesan cheese. Bake 400° F until they are crisp and brown about 10-12 minutes. Taste and adjust the seasonings. Serve with favorite dips or sour cream.
1 cup leeks, sliced
2 cup onion, sliced
½ cup shallot sliced
4 cloves garlic, paste
1 TBS beef glace (or reduced beef stock)
dashes Tabasco to taste
as needed sea salt, pepper and coriander
4 cups sour cream
1 bunch green onions, minced
Method: combine onions and shallots and place into dry pan on medium heat and cook until they brown. Cool thoroughly before blending with remaining ingredients except raw onion. After adding sour cream refrigerated at least 30 minutes to blend flavors. Add green onions on top for garnish. Serve.
2 Serrano chilies
10 each tomatillos, cleaned
2 cloves garlic
1 TBS white vinegar
1 tsp sea salt
½ cup cilantro, chopped
2 avocado, diced
½ cup white onion, mincedas needed sea salt, pepper, coriander and achiote pepper to taste
Method: place chilies in water and bring to boil and cook for 5 minutes; add tomatillos and cook an additional 3 minutes; drain and place in blender with garlic and vinegar – puree; remove to a medium bowl; add salt, cilantro avocado and onion; adjust seasonings and serve.
¼ cup Tabasco sauce
2 tsp Worcestershire sauce
½ tsp cayenne pepper
½ tsp cumin
1 tsp white pepper
2 tsp coriander
1 tsp salt
1 cup flour
1# chicken wings, washed, dried
Method: Combine Tabasco, Worcestershire and remaining spices in large bowl. Remove ¼ cup of it and set aside for after chicken is cooked. Toss the raw wings with the remaining sauce in bowl until well coated. Refrigerate 30 minutes to marinate. Remove wings and drain of marinate. Discard marinade. Toss marinated wings in flour to coat lightly. Fry in vegetable oil heated to at 375° F. Fry for approximately 5 minutes or until chicken reaches 170°F. Remove to clean bowl; pour remaining Tabasco sauce over wings. Adjust salt and serve immediately with the Bleu cheese dressing and Celery hearts.
8 oz buttermilk
8 oz sour cream
8 oz mayonnaise
1 TBS garlic paste
1 cup crumbled blue cheese
Zest of one lemon
1 tsp Tabasco
TT sea salt
2 tsp. black pepper, cracked
TT coriander
Juice of ½ lemon
Method: Blend well to combine. Allow blooming at least 1 hours in refrigerator before serving. Sprits with lemon juice. Adjust sea salt as needed and serve with spicy chicken wings as a dip. (NOTE: this condiment may be placed in squeeze bottle if it blended in a food processor or blender to break up the cheese.)
5# chuck eye roll, diced
4 carrots, diced
4 stalks celery, diced
2 onion, diced
1 bulb garlic, sliced
3 jalapenos, cleaned, seeded, left halved
1 TBS cayenne
1 TBS chili powdered
1 ½ TBS garlic powder
1 ½ TBS onion powder
2 tsp dry mustard
1 TBS cumin
1 TBS paprika
2 tsp thyme
1 TBS oregano
3 TBS cornmeal
Method: Sear chuck in a small amount of vegetable oil; sear in batches and remove; place vegetables in pan and sauté until aromatic and fond is removed; add seasoning and cook 3 minutes; add tomatoes and bring to a boil; add seared meat and bring back to a simmer; cover and cook approximately 90 minutes or until tender; with fork, pull apart meat. Add cornmeal; cook an additional 30 minutes to blend flavors; adjust seasonings.