We just returned from our culinary immersion Italy tours, one leg in the Southern Campania, specifically in Sorrento, region, and one in the Northern Piedmont region where we tasted that frequent alternative to pasta—risotto. Early October was still very warm by our standards in both regions, but still clearly fall in Italy, like here, so seems the flavors of risotto we saw there are very suited to the fall flavors of our own area; pumpkin, squash, and kales and cabbages. Yes, cabbage in risotto was one of our favorites, but before we share that recipe, we want to describe how we like to make all risotto.
Over time risotto has developed somewhat of a mystique, surrounded by “truisms” and “hype” relating to how to cook it; one must do this and never do that to be “true” risotto. Seems it isn’t just Americans who are confounded, as we heard such contradictory rules from our Italian encounters, too. So we have decided to extrapolate the techniques that work for many recipes and adapt for ingredients that are in season and available any time of the year. To that end let’s start by describing the characteristics that define what we are looking for in a well-made risotto. Note: we consider “risotto” a method, not just a recipe; it can be applied to other grains like barley and cracked wheat, but for today our focus is risotto made with rice.
“Risotto is creamy, smooth and rich even without the addition of butter or cheese; the grain texture is still “to the tooth” firm; it is thick enough for the spoon to stand up alone when finished; and the flavors of the individual ingredients are clearly discernible and fresh.”
The main components then for a risotto are (1) the rice (grain), (2) the sofrito, the Italian word for aromatics, always onions and, perhaps, garlic, and typically, the addition of wine, and (3) the stock; and, lastly, often but not required, (4) fatty, creamy additions like cheese, butter or olive oil, and cream.
(1)The rice itself must be short grain to achieve the creaminess without adding cream or cheese, accomplished by continuous or frequent stirring with a wooden or silicon spoon helping the rice to give up its starch resulting in creamy texture. Only short grain rice is said to have this quality, and many of us believe the best varietals come from Italy, right from the Vercelli region of Piedmont, where we visited a rice farm on our tour. There are a few different short grain rice varietals and the most well-known and easiest to find in the states is Arborio.
(2)The second prominent ingredient in risotto is the stock or liquid. We consider the stock carefully since it plays such an important role in the flavor outcome. It can easily overpower the rice and the rest of the ingredients if it is too strong, and likewise, it may get lost if not flavorful enough. Our guiding rule to choose homemade versus store purchased stock rests on how prominent the stock is in a dish. When the stock will dominant, we typically choose to make our own; or when the quantity of stock is small, we may choose a quality low sodium store bought stock.
Chicken stock is often the first choice for risotto; with our own vegetable stock a frequent second. In Italy, we saw vegetable stock, flavored with cured meat as an economical option. Seafood or fish stock is appropriate for a seafood risotto and we always prefer homemade there, too. Whether or not we roast the bones and meat for a stock or just simmer without roasting is another consideration. Roasted stocks produce a very much more pronounced flavors in the finish product, and may mask the more delicate flavors in the risotto. For example, when making a traditional Milanese saffron risotto, where a small amount of saffron is added to the stock, a roasted stock would be too strong, so we would opt for the lighter homemade unroasted version or to water down the roasted stock when making this dish from Milan.
(3)The sofrito or the flavorful aromatic ingredients seem to always including onion; other aromatics such as garlic, sausage, and tomato are added in this step. In addition, the rice goes the pot here, followed by wine or other acidic liquid. If the ingredients in a sofrito cover the bottom of the pot before the rice is added, they can be removed while the rice is being warmed for about 3-7 minutes depending on amount. When using watery vegetables ingredients such as cabbage, squash and pumpkin, they would typically not be part of the sofrito, but rather cooked separately and held to the side and then added to the pot when the rice is about half done, so as not to absorb too much stock or add too much of their own liquid watering down the stock. We saw an exception that was almost bazaar to us at the rice farm where we watched the local risotto cook (hired by the farm just for our visit) make a large batch of risotto, called Panissa, in a caldron over portable stove on the outdoor patio. The stock itself was a mixture of cabbage, beans, carrots and more onion. Then solid parts of this stock were also added to the rice with each new addition.
So here are the A, B, C steps for making risotto; it is going to take about 25-30 minutes to make and your attention will be required for the duration. Having everything ready is a requisite for success.
A.In a wide heavy bottomed pan, sauté the onion and other sofrito ingredients until they are translucent. Add rice and continue to stir while rice begins to polish and a few become slightly translucent about 4-6 minutes. Add the wine or acid liquid, while stirring until it is evaporated dry. Usually the wine is a white, but red wine is used when the dish includes tomato and a meat. Also tomato juice or other acid fruit juice may be used.
B.It is time to move on from this wine step when all of it is absorbed and evaporated, at which point you start adding the hot stock a little at a time. Note: the stock needs to be hot in order to properly release the starch from the rice. Add stock, one half cup at a time, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon or silicon spatula, as a metal implement may break the rice kernels; as we perpetuate one of those risotto truisms. If adding a cooked vegetable, such as previously cooked pumpkin or squash, add it about 12 minutes or half way into the addition of the stock. Be sure it is hot when adding it. At this point continue to add stock until the rice is very creamy and almost fully cooked, but still al dente or firm to the tooth when tasted. You will want start to tasting for doneness about 20 minutes into the process. When the risotto is creamy and your spatula/spoon stands straight up by itself; the grain is “to the tooth,” or, still slightly firm in the center of the kernel, you are ready to adjust seasoning and/or add any finishing ingredients, step C; or, if not adding more ingredients, cover 2-3 minutes before serving.
C.The finish is known to increase the rice’s own creaminess as well as richness and flavor. Cream, butter, and cheese are common ingredients used in this Italian called, “mantecatura,” step. Here are some popular combinations.
·Most common is to add grated Parmesan cheese or other hard cheese to plain risotto or even meaty wild mushroom flavored risottos;
·For seafood risottos, the fat of choice is rarely (Italians would say, never) hard cheese, and often no cheese, but some soft cheeses such as triple cream, soft mascarpone we think totally tasty for seafood risotto.
·A gorgonzola cheese is popular in risotto simply prepared with roasted walnuts, as gorgonzola wants to be the star in whatever it is in. It is also a prominent ingredient in the Piedmont region of Italy.
Today’s recipe, PANISSA RISOTTO, is a cured sausage risotto from Vercelli (Piedmont) area in Italy where most of the rice for Europe is grown. This recipe is made with a cabbage-bean cooked stock and is shared here with our best “reenactment” of the dish, as we didn’t received a written copy of the recipe from the farm.
Ingredients for the sofrito:
3 Tablespoons lard or EVOO
1 onion, rough chopped
4 ounces dry cured Italian salami, skin removed and broken up or whirled in food processor
2 1 /2 cup Arborio rice
4 ounces red wine
2 ounces tomato sauce, strained
6 cups, approximately, cooked stock (see recipe)
Method: As described above, create the flavorful sofrito, cook the rice, add and evaporate the wine and tomato, then add the stock, stirring after each addition.
Ingredients for the stock: (have this ready before making the risotto, of course)
1 gallon cold water
1 large yellow onion, minced
1 head green cabbage, rough chopped
4 carrots, peeled, left whole so they can be removed
3 cups cooked pinto beans; if canned, drained and rinsed well
2 teaspoons sea salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Method: Combine all stock ingredients in a large pot and bring to a boil; reduce to a simmer and cook until vegetables are tender, about 30-45 minutes. Vegetables and beans should be tender; remove carrots before adding stock to risotto along with vegetables and beans. (no carrots are in the served portion of the recipe; they are there for stock flavor)
Ingredients for the Mantecatura, or finishing step:
2 ounces unsalted butter
1-2 cups freshly grated dry aged Grana Pandano cheese, if you can get it; or Parmigiano Reggiano, is a good second or first choice
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper only if needed for taste
Method: Remove risotto from the heat; add butter and cheese and fold into the rice. Taste and adjust seasoning if needed. Serve immediately.
We’re back from Italy, where we enjoyed our two tours with our EVOO guests. We had so many food and wine experience that we should have lots of material for our blogs going forward. For now it was easy to see that Bob would rather be on the other side of these activites because he did the dinner show last night, first in two weeks, and he was pumped! He belongs in the kichen at EVOO.
Our welcome dinner in Sorrento was our first night together. Almost everyone arrived at the hotel in time to freshen up, maybe even take a swim. They dressed up a litte and we went by bus to a local family restaurant, barely six months old. The entire family was involved. Mom and daughter were the chefs and dad and son, Giavanni, were in the diningroom. They have very high standards, ones that they won’t compromise, even for local customers. For example, they told us they once had pizza on the menu and a local family really liked it. When they returned it was no longer on the menu and the customers insisted. They owners told us that they will not make a static menu like so many other restaurants in the area, because they know that the quality of the dishes they serve depends upon the freshest and best ingredients that are available. Giavanni and Bob went to the fish market the next day, a routine that Giavanni makes daily. That way he has only the best. Sound familiar? Bob won’t compromise on the quality of ingredients either!
Running a cooking school on the coast, it is just a natural expectation that we do a fair amount of fish. And we do.
Let’s start at the beginning. Perfection is what is needed to convert a fish skeptic or to change the minds of those who “have had a bad fish experience.” We believe starting with our local varieties is the first step, since they are bound to be freshest. Then give fish the respect it deserves by keeping it as fresh as possible while holding or in preparation, and lastly, cooking “au point.” We think it is a special skill to cook fish to the point of perfection. The goal is “to the point” or perfectly done! In other words, the point at which both flavor and texture are just right!
So I will do my best to describe cooking a first class fillet using a couple different techniques.
To begin with, success is a bit easier when we start with a fatty fish with very flavorful fat, such as salmon. The catch from the pacific and in the Northwest waters is unique due to the water temperature and currents. We can usually count on more fat of the native species to allow more aggressive cooking preparations. And they may be served with highly flavored condiments such as chutneys and paired with more earthy wines, than a more delicate fish.
So before you decide what cooking method and accompaniments to put on the menu, find out exactly what is available. Shop! It is amazing how quickly the catch of the day turns over. The waters are being regulated and everything isn’t always available when you need it. If it is, ask questions to learn when it was caught and/or if previously frozen. Take along a way to bring home your choice from the grocery. You must know that fish and seafood demand proper handling once they are caught. The fishers do their job, and so do the grocers. So why not take along an insulated pack to carry your purchase home in. Every minute left in temperatures above 32˚F diminishes quality. Once home, continue the 32˚F atmosphere by packing in ice while holding in the fridge. Again, put over ice while you work in preparation at room temperature, and finally, when marinating or holding for later cooking, keep ice nearby to help lower the refrigerator’s average temp, typically, 38˚F.
If you choose salmon, you might ask for a block cut when it is caught prior to taking the long journey back to their birthplace to spawn. You see they eat ravenously to build fat. This will enable them to make the long journey. They get much leaner closer to their destination. By catching them just before they enter the river, you can cut them straight down the middle of each side, then into blocks of 4-6 ounces, and know that both the belly and back pieces will taste and cook the same.
These fish are prime for the two step method of cooking. We start by skinning the fish or not, but season the skin side generously with salt, pepper and coriander (my personal favorite for salmon). The first step is to get a heavy bottom skillet up to temperature, as high as you can before adding the cooking oil. Then add a little grape seed oil, our pick for the qualities of high smoke point, neutral flavor, and its healthy benefit of omega 3’s. Fish goes in as the oil lightly shimmers, placing one at the handle of the pan and going clockwise around the pan until filled but fish is not touching each other. This way you know what went in first second, third, etc.
Don’t try to move or manipulate the fillets for the first 30-50 seconds. Give the fish a chance to crust up on the cooking side. All food is pretty wet and when placed into a hot pan, it will stick until it is crusty and the water on the surface has evaporated. Then it will release itself allowing you to remove it without tearing the flesh. Out of the pan, placing it crispy side up on a waiting cooking sheet, and you are ready for the second cook-step. Using the oven actually helps you manage the process as you strive to cook it to “the point.” You now have a little window of time to finish cooking other menu items. Clearly to cook fish properly, you need to focus only on the fish; no distractions. Just before needed then, place the pan of fish into a 400˚- 450˚ F oven, for about 3-5 minutes. For the record, you will know after doing this a few times with the same species and same size fillet, your own pans and your oven, just how long it will take. It is prudent to set your timer lower than you think it will take; you can always add on. The goal, of course, is to pull the fish a little before it reaches “the point,” so that you can allow it to continue to cook, but not over-cook, on the serving plate.
So what to look for in a perfectly cooked fillet? Along with timing and temping, I go by feel. The center of the fish will respond to my pressure with a little push back, while pinching the sides and thinner edges, it will begin to break along the natural layers of the muscle. The temperature for done fish is about 140-145˚F. I would pull it before that, hoping for a good 60-90 seconds of further cooking after I pull from the oven. A couple signs of going past this point are the appearance of a white milky secretion and a fishy smell. This is the protein in the fish rising to the surface as it gets too hot. Pull it out before this point whenever possible. Over cooking is one sure fire way to achieve a fishy result. We tend to believe fish that smells fishy is old, but it could just be overcooked.
Planking is a traditional Northwest-style of cooking fish, utilizing a variety of aromatic woods, usually cedar, alder or fruit wood. These are untreated pieces of hard woods, cut into any shape that will support the size of the item to be cooked. Most cooks recommend soaking the planks for approximately 30 minutes or longer in water so that the wood absorbs enough water to inhibit the plank from catching fire, while on the outdoor grill over direct flames. Water soaked wood will smoke rather than catch fire. We don’t soak planks for those 4-6 ounce fillets we cook in our oven, because they won’t be in the oven long enough to catch fire, and the wood aromatics are greater with dry wood. We generally brush a little cooking oil on the wood before placing the fish on top and season with sea salt, ground coriander and other aromatics.
For grilling outdoors, place the water soaked plank with fish directly on the preheated grill and cover. Check after 10 minutes. The fish should be opaque throughout before removing. Use the same touch and visual as before.
As I said, because the wood plank is water soaked before cooking it generates a small amount of smoke that imparts a subtle but rich flavor, that with the fat from the fish, gives a great mouth feel. You can see why this might create a nice foundation for introducing other flavors and interesting condiments such as salsas, chutneys, not to mention full bodied wines. We have enjoyed other planked creations using dark meat chicken or turkey, lamb and pork. Always the key to success is working with foods that have a fatty background to support the smoke-flavor.
Another popular Northwest fish preparation is to brine and smoke the fish. We do this then finish in the oven. The outcome is a smokier flavor than the planking method gives, and more caramelization from the sweet soy brine I use. I cannot describe this process without recalling the origin of the recipe and the first time I did this.
One summer I took a job in Alaska at a fishing lodge. It was at a high end fishing experience for the likes of the owner of Cabela’s sporting goods stores, who was there. The lodge itself was minimal and rustic! It was located on the Alagnak River, where one has to float plane in and out. I should have known right away I was in for a summer adventure that I would be talking about for a long time, when I could only call Lenore from a two-way radio phone, before cell phones and no wires. At the time, I also taught at North Community College in Seattle, and Sheldon, one of my students, former lumberjack retraining to be a chef, decided to come along to help. And turns out good for me that he did! Sheldon’s presence helped me get past some bumpy times when the guests and staffers started razing me and my way too citified demeanor for the rugged conditions of the lodge and tundra. After all, Sheldon, a 6’6’ native of Alaska, could not only speak the “language” of the area, he also gave anyone pause just by his presence.
So Sheldon and I fell into a routine of cooking starting around 4 in the morning after a night in our sleeping bags on a slab of cedar planks—in our guest rooms. It was never dark so I just plain lost track of time, but had to crank up the propane stove early enough to have scones and coffee cakes for breakfast. In no time, the guests were grooving on the food. So my confidence in my safety rose. Often we would meet the guests for their lunch break at the river’s edge and prepared fresh caught fish over the open fires, while the guides watched for bear with riffles.
Like the bears, I was in salmon heaven! So many in fact, you could almost reach in the river and pull one out with your bare hands, just like the bears. And so much fish that we put the smoke house to work on a daily basis. Sheldon shared his family recipe for brining then smoking the fish. It was very good. The way I like smoked fish. Not so strong that you don’t know what species of fish you started with, so smoky that smoke is all you taste. His recipe had the salmon in the brine about an hour before it was smoked slowly in the smokehouse. After a while I notice he would disappear every afternoon. I wondered if he was doing something he wanted to keep secret, so I followed him. There he was in the smokehouse with his tongue in the fish! I called out, “Sheldon, what are you doing?”
Then, quite like this gentle giant of a man, he said, “You know, Bob, we sense salt on the tip of our tongue and I was just trying to gauge whether the fish had enough salt yet before I take it out of the brine.” This was the way he had always done it, and his dad and grandfather before him. I asked if he thought he might “time it,” so we didn’t have to put our tongue on it, you know in favor of public food safety? We did and it was exactly 70 minutes in the brine.
That summer gave me the recipe I still use, with time in the brine only 70 minutes. But without a smoke house, I learned that I could smoke, indoors, top of the stove, (smoke detectors disabled for a while), and get the exact smokiness needed in just 4 minutes. I create a homemade smoker using dry hard wood chips in the bottom of a disposable foil pan, cover the chips with a cooking grate, place the fish on the grate, cover the pan with foil and place over high heat. When it starts smoking, time 2 minutes; turn off heat, time 2 more minutes. Remove to the back yard and take off foil lid. That is all the smoke needed to impart smoke without destroying the fresh salmon flavor. The fish is placed uncovered in the fridge for about an hour before I cook it, so that the wood residue has a chance to dissipate. You will see a coating of brown sticky residue on the foil lid, which I believe to be on the fish as well, so I let it rest uncovered to air it out before cooking and locking in the bitter wood residue.
Again, I like to use the stove top and oven method to finish the cooking. I sear one side of the smoked salmon in a hot sauté pan with a little grape seed oil. The caramelization forms quickly because of the sugar and soy in the brine. Into a 400˚F oven for about 4 minutes for 4 ounce fillet and it is cooked to perfection! I can almost taste it now.
Here is the recipe for brining salmon from that summer adventure in the Alaskan tundra so many years ago.
BRINE FOR SALMON TO BE SMOKED
1 quarts water
8 ounces soy sauce
½ cup brown sugar (light)
2 tablespoons sea salt
4 – 6 each six ounce portions of salmon fillets, block cut, bones removed
Method: Combine water, soy, sugar and salt in zip locking baggie. Mix to dissolve. Place salmon fillets into brine and close top of back, carefully removing air. Place onto pan of ice and refrigerate 70 minutes, no more, no less. Remove fish from brine and pat dry.
1-2 cups dry hard wood chips (cherry, hickory, apple, etc)
Salt, pepper, coriander–to taste
Method: Prepare smoker pan using desired dry wood chips on bottom under cooking rack. Place salmon onto rack. Place over heated outdoor grill, or on high heat indoors. When chips begin to smoke, cover pan tightly and start timing for 2 minutes. Turn off heat–walk outdoors if not already outside, and time for 2 additional minutes before removing cover. Remove salmon and place onto clean plate and refrigerate uncovered until needed, or at least for 30 minutes to allow bitter wood resins to dissipate.
Pan-sear in pre-heated fry pan with small amount of grape seed oil or other high smoke point oil. Over high heat, add salmon for about 2 minutes or until starts to caramelize and lifts out of pan without tearing. Place seared side up on cookie sheet and bake in 400ºF -425 ºF oven for 4-7 minutes. Always check in 4–looking for the salmon to be about 140ºF in the center and starting to flake when sides are lightly pinched together. Fish will continue to “carry-over cook” a few more degrees. Season if needed and serve.
Suggested serving accompaniments: Bob’s Blackberry Ketchup; Stone fruit chutney
Suggested wines: Capitello Sauvignon Blanc, Durant Vineyard Pinot Noir Rose, J. Scott Petite Syrah, Sineann Abondante.
Today I am reminded why I love the business I am in so much. I have chosen to be a cook for my life’s work and that never sounds as good to me as it does in the summer. Suddenly I think of my craft as “the art of cooking” and my medium dramatically rich with colorful, full flavored abundant varieties of plant based foods. Markets are now so full of the best examples of the plant world that it is almost frustrating that I must limit my urge to make everything in sight. The good news is there will be another market next week.
So this time I am writing about some of the tastiest recipes I make with vegetables, grains, nuts, and fruits. Lenore and I have dedicated the last eight years to teaching the craft of cooking, and we have developed guidelines for the recipes we make in our dinner shows. First our recipes must be attainable to every cook. We limit our use of exotic and hard to find ingredients. We pretty much stick to the belief that simply prepared ingredients that are chosen close to home and seasonally are going to propel the end result without trying very hard. And when we combine ingredients our mantra guide is “what grows together goes together.” That alone gives us so many successful combinations.
The summer seems to start at our place with cherry tomato season. They are the first tomatoes to hit the scene and we incorporate them into our menus early. After all, we have waited a long time for fresh tomatoes as we stick to our promise to eat them in our local season. One recipe we have served this month gives us lots to talk about in our classes. It is what we call SUMMER RATATOUILLE.
To the French I suppose it is just ratatouille, a vegetable stew, but adding the word summer changes it for me. We don’t stew it at all. When we roast the vegetables and we use only fresh tomatoes, it is a new experience. In addition I like to use Japanese eggplant instead of the Italian globe eggplant because its prep is so much easier and the results, creamy and sweet. There’s no need to peel salt or drain out the bitterness. Just wash, cut, and cook Japanese eggplant. Keeping it simple, we also add roasted zucchini and red peppers. Then when the tomato skins have just blistered and started to brown, we blend the roasted veggies all together, juice and all. Before we even get the mixture on the plate, the natural pectin seems to go to work and thicken the juice into a sauce that lightly coats a spoon. This recipe makes a great topping for pasta, gnocchi and polenta. We have also used it to top zucchini “spaghetti” made by stripping zucchini into long spaghetti like pieces and just giving them a quick dunk into very salty water before draining and plating for the base of this ratatouille sauce.
But I am getting ahead of myself. The recipe isn’t finished. Let’s talk about the garlic. It’s no secret I use a lot of garlic. I am Italian, after all. But I think in the beginning of my relationship with my wife I almost blew it by over using the garlic. You see my family used garlic by the head not the clove. When I would make a salad for Lenore and me in those days, I would use 3-5 cloves (very modest, I thought) in the dressing for the two of us. She was polite at first, but soon she volunteered to make the salads, and now she tells me she did so in self-defense. A half clove was her limit in those days, she said. Today she might be up to two cloves in a salad for two people, she explained. Anyway I digress. We both think of garlic as a good addition to our recipes. Not only is it healthful; like Lenore says it has every “anti” reason in the nutrition book to include it in our meals; (anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, antibacterial, etc.).
Garlic at EVOO is both a vegetable and a seasoning. For example we add a whole head of sliced garlic per bunch of broccoli for a great combo, (see full recipe below) and by the time it is on the plate it is very mellow and no sting is left in the cloves. In contrast, when we want the sharp taste and heat of the garlic, we use it minced or pasted and typically add it at the end of the cooking. You might say then, the smaller the chop the more pungent garlic is. And, of course, the longer the cook, the less strong it is.
One more tip, maybe an idiosyncrasy of mine, is to remove the sprout of the garlic clove. If when split open we can see the sprout, green or white, we remove it. It is because the sprout may be the bitterness that some people find offensive; and it may be the source of the sensitivity to garlic that people say they have. You know, when it repeats on you long after the meal? We don’t know for a fact that is true but we practice the removal of sprouts in garlic and it seems to work for us.
This of course means that oven roasting whole heads of garlic is “out” in our kitchen. Our version of roasted garlic is done on the stove top. Just peel and split the cloves of about 3 heads garlic, remove the sprouts, place in a small pot; cover with EVOO, then slowly tenderized and slightly caramelize over low heat about 20-30 minutes, yielding the same tenderness and sweet flavor of the traditional roasted whole heads of garlic. We add roasted garlic and its oil made this way to the summer ratatouille and we finish with a little fresh minced garlic, too.
So to sum up I really enjoy cooking with plant ingredients! I enjoy eating plant based, too, but I don’t want to sound like I don’t like animal foods. I do. How dull would cooking be without eggs, for example? It is just that meat in general can be one dimensional; vegetables fruits and grains make a big difference when they hold a strong position on the plate alongside animal foods. Here are a few vegetable recipes that have been popular for us.
Preparing the vegetables:
EVOO as needed
2 large Japanese eggplant, (no need to peel or salt) 1 inch diced
1 red or green pepper, 1 inch dice
1 zucchini, 1 inch diced
5-8 cloves garlic, sliced, roasted with the tomatoes
4 cups cherry tomatoes, left whole
½ to 1 clove garlic, minced or pasted
1/4 cup parsley, chopped
4 – 5 sprigs fresh Greek oregano, stems removed
1/2 cup basil, fresh, chiffonade
2-3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
Add sea salt, pepper and coriander to taste
more EVOO to taste if needed
Prepare vegetables by coating with EVOO and seasoning with salt, pepper, coriander and place onto separate shallow baking pans. Place into 400 °F oven using convection if you have it. Roast uncovered for 10-15 minutes, depending on vegetable. Remove from oven. Place vegetables together in a bowl and lightly toss to mix. Add minced garlic, parsley, and oregano. Adjust seasoning. Add basil chiffonade on top for garnish. Serve hot over fried polenta, gnocchi, or top pizza or pasta.
Broccoli Garlic Sauté
1 bunch broccoli
1 head garlic
EVOO, as needed
1/4-1/2 cup roasted chicken stock (or water)
1/3 cup dry aged parmesan reggiano, fine
Season to taste with salt and coriander
Prepare broccoli by removing florets from stems. Boil a pot of water and drop in the whole unpeeled stems for about 3-4 minutes to blanch. Remove and shock in a bowl of ice water until easy to handle. Carefully peel off their tough outer layer; this should be easier than peeling the raw stem. Slice into smaller pieces on a bias. Set aside.
Continue blanching the broccoli florets 1-2 minutes and shock /cool in bowl of ice water. Remove and set aside.
Prepare whole head of garlic. Split each clove, peel and remove sprout; slice each into 2-3 pieces. At service, place wide bottom pan on high heat. Add EVOO and immediately add garlic; keep moving it to prevent browning. Add broccoli stems and roasted chicken stock; cook till garlic is tender and stems are heated through. Lastly add florets and cook to just to heat. Pour onto heated platter and coat with good aged parmesan reggiano cheese. Serve immediately.
Bulgur, Beet & Bleu Salad with walnuts and preserved lemon
To prepare the bulgur:
1 cup toasted cracked wheat (we use Bob’s Red Mill)
2 cups water
1/2 to 1 teaspoon Bob’s Flavors of Middle East spice blend (purchase or see recipe)
Salt to taste
To finish the salad:
1 cup fresh raw beets, julienne slice
1/2 cup walnuts, coarsely chopped
3 tablespoons chives, minced
2 tablespoons parsley, minced
2 tablespoons fresh mint, minced
1-2 tablespoon preserved lemon, rinsed and minced (optional)
2-4 tablespoons EVOO, as desired
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
2 ounces crumbled bleu cheese for garnish
Toast bulgur /cracked wheat in dry hot pan until you smell its nuttiness. Add the water, a little salt and spice and bring up to boil over high heat. When it boils, cover and shut off heat. Let pot stand for15-25 minutes. Before making this salad cool bulgur completely by spreading out onto cookie sheet and placing into refrigerator, uncovered, until it drops to 40°F or less. To finish, toss bulgur with beets, preserved lemon, mint, parsley and chive. Garnish with crumbled bleu cheese.
Just served three nights of the new August dinner show menu and to our surprise our guests are getting it. Couldn’t be more of a mixed blend of concepts and flavors but in the end our guests are encouraging us to continue the madness.
We start with a curry lemon marinated piece of fresh seared / oven finished, pacific halibut caught just few miles off Cannon Beach shore; with that some Umbrian lentils (but a Northwest lentil works too, if you can get the grade A’s even better). These lentils with Tilda basmati rice from India made pilaf style with aromatics and herbs and toasted almonds. On this plate is a stack of minted mango chutney that I made a few days earlier to give time for the flavors to meld and we serve a creamy pineapple juice pan sauce over the fish. So there you see the blend of far and near to create this easy to duplicate course.
We could align it to the Northwest a bit more using rice a bit closer to home (almost every continent grows rice). Lenore would always prefer brown rice, but for me, it is Tilda basmati all the way. As I said before we can certainly find a NW lentil, knowing that our farms export out the best grade A, and so what I usually can get are not as perfect as the Italian Umbrian. I like the lentils that hold their shape and don’t become mush. We could bring the chutney closer to home, too, by using fresh peaches instead of the mango; NW peaches are in season right now. The fish could be mahi mahi from Hawaii to match the mango as well as bringing the pineapple cream sauce in line.
I’ve never been opposed to blending concepts, and it seems, according to Lenore that it is a trend with many chefs turning to blending ethnicities on a plate. Jury is still out but since I’ve been doing it awhile now, I guess it is less of a trend and more my style. My Italian roots cannot help but show up even when I am trying to cook a full on Northwest menu, or Thia or Mexican concept. So looks like there will be more of the same before they hall me away.
But wait, I haven’t even finished describing the rest of the meal. Second course is a stacked tostado with the usual suspects (guak, salsa, and some crumbly fresh cheese) and topped with my citrus braised pork belly.
The final course is a quick charred tenderloin steak coated with flavors of Spain spices served with a tamale stuffed poblano peppers . That sounds compatible, but here’s the finish you might not be expecting. On a wedge of fresh seedless watermelon I am putting lime, EVOO, jalapeno, feta cheese, and red onion; topping with cumin whipped cream and strawberry tequila sorbet, dotted with crunchy sea salt flakes.
See what I mean? I told Lenore I am going to tie the whole dish together tonight by adding a quick grilled veg medley after I grill the steaks so I don’t waist those meat flavors left on my flattop (Mongolian style ) grill. The veg should pick up the spice and beef flavors. I think they will compliment both the steak and watermelon.
This morning, I received a text from a frequent flyer at EVOO who said dinner last night was the bomb! Thanks, Lisa, but you may not want to encourage too much of this type flavor explosion. Seriously I couldn’t be happier that after eight years at EVOO I am being trusted with whatever goes onto the plate. No worries, though, I plan to continue listening to our guests.
Having a small corner of our store dedicated to foods like imported olives and oils, vinegars made with local honey and berries and a few of the many specialty salts, was the impetus to send Lenore to the FANCY FOOD SHOW, summer version. Of course the fact that it was located in Washington DC, where we met almost twenty-six years ago, solidified the idea for Lenore. She said she felt guilty leaving town when our season here would just be kicking in, but in the end, seeing a good friend who just had her first child helped ease the guilt. “After all, he (baby, Seth) would be in school before you know it and I would have missed it,” she said.
Summer version of the show was to be smaller than the winter, but some show is better than no show, so off she went. It was at the Washington Convention Center, on all levels—took her and another friend, Alice, three days to do it justice. First day they went was a Sunday and the search for parking was the first challenge, even with the parking goddess, Alice, in the car. Seems many churches are in the same area and to accommodate their parking, they are allowed to park perpendicular to the curb. It really seemed to help, but still nothing was available. The convention center itself must have planned for the Metro (rail) to be the exclusive mode of transportation; it seems there is no convention center parking at all. They finally found the Radisson Hotel a short distance away that had plenty of parking.
Equipped with a list of what we want to carry or expand in our store, Lenore and Alice started on the first level. Luckily there was a large show case display of all the products that had won this year’s accolades for most innovative and creative. Among them a retail pack for fennel pollen, at the top of Lenore’s list. They tell me they spent the next two days trying to find this product on the grand floor of the show. So I soon got the picture that this smaller version of the show was bigger than they needed.
There was another motivation for this venture for me. It was for Lenore to scope out how to become a fancy food exhibitor. We do have some nice spice blends and soon to have more, and we are thinking big. It certainly would be great to be on the exhibitor side of the aisle at these shows. So I waited anxiously for her report.
When Lenore arrived home she announced that the “box” of samples and pamphlets she had collected over three days would not arrive until the next Thursday. As I am writing this now I am going off of her memory.
Seems Lenore finally found the location of the fennel pollen; a small display with other vendors who also “forage” for their products. Beautiful! I am intrigued. Lenore actually met the founder of the line of products called Wineforest Wild Foods, who is also the author of a book I was familiar with, “The Wild Table” by Connie Green. Who is known in California as the foraging goddess. The forward of the book is written by a personal favorite chef of ours, Thomas Keller. Green is now taking some of her wild finds to market for those of us too busy to go foraging. Look for her products to sit on one of our shelves soon.
We really enjoy filling our shelves with local products so when we find some that tastes good and are produced in the USA, we are very inclined to add them to our shelves. A new product of interest is the organic estate grown olive oil from ENZO out of California. It is made in the Italian tradition of four generations of farmers, and it fits the very smooth buttery flavor description that Lenore says will round out our many other EVOO choices in the shop.
We have been looking for some specialty Mexican products to carry, both for local Hispanic families and for the cooks who enjoy making authentic Mexican recipes that have become so popular in our American mainstream cooking. The fancy food show had two large aisles of Mexican products, some of which we hope to carry as long as our in-house expert agrees. That would be Florencio Lopez, our cook and server who enjoys teaching us his native cuisine.
Of course, we simply cannot compete with the big boys, so a perpetual goal of ours has been to find tasty and good products that have not yet hit the shelves at big box stores. Luckily there was an aisle dedicated to new vendors—first timers who are at the beginning of this food manufacturing journey. Lenore found really good cookies with exotic flavors that would be perfect to add to the selections we carry for beach picnics. In addition, there were s’more options, one of which, we will buy—especially since they are made by a company in Seattle. Imagine up-classing the s’more with a handmade marshmallow stuffed with nuts and caramel! Put that between your graham crackers!
My nightly phone calls from Lenore left me with my mouth watering. She seemed to taste everything in sight. She didn’t just taste what was on the list, for example, but she spent some time explaining why she needed to taste the many lines of chocolates designed to pair with wines. She stopped at a chocolate vendor whose display was designed to demonstrate how soil and the resulting cocoa bean were related. Alice, she said, was very good at identifying the flavors and even where in the world they had been grown. Just like wine, she said.
On the second day of the show Lenore called with the answer to two questions we are asked frequently. The first discussion occurred at a French truffle vendor’s booth. A gentleman took time to expound on the virtue of truffle oil even though it is a chemically induce product and not the real thing, a controversy we hear mentioned frequently on cooking shows as well as in cooking periodicals. Seems to the French it is simply a matter of what is available. When truffles are fresh, but of course slices of the real thing are preferred, but when out of season, infused oil helps bridge the gap. Simply, Lenore said, the issue doesn’t seem exist for the French, who developed the craving for truffles very early in culinary history. And besides if we didn’t use infusion to extend the truffle flavors past their season, then we would miss the product she described as “pretty amazzzing.” Truffle flavored cashew nuts! I can hardly wait to get those into the store.
The second insight Lenore said was from a Canadian maple syrup vendor. Why do we in the USA grade maple syrup? And why do most consumers prefer grade B to grade A? The simple answer here was that in Canada, they don’t grade the syrup, because grading implies quality. The USA grade A stayed in the tree longer and was harvested later than grade B. The Canadian display showing vials of syrups from pure clear in color to very dark brown conveyed this well, because the later the syrup was harvested the darker it became. He also said Canada and the US are in dialog about changing the grading system so as not to portray one better than the other, just longer in the tree, which determines flavor but doesn’t become necessarily better. This allows the consumer to pick by their personal taste preferences.
Another reason Lenore was so captured by the Canadian maple syrup display was that they were touting the discovery of four new antioxidants, often considered the most powerful food defense we know to fight diseases. At least for now, these new ones are found exclusively in pure maple syrup, A nutrition angle is always good for adding ingredients to our pantry, especially when the pure stuff tastes so much better than the imitation.
Let me sum it up with some specialty “fancy” food trends. Look for more designer cookies, specifically brownie “crackers,” and others a little more sophisticated “SLIMS” that were made from traditional loaf cakes like banana bread, cut thinly and twice baked and packaged like a biscotti. Then there were cookie “chips,” a sweet version of the salted snacks with the same texture that also challenges us to “eat just one.” Famous southern recipes for sauces are now packaged for upscale convenience. For example, a popular southern treat, banana pudding sauce, first made famous by vanilla wafers, is now in ready to use format. The manufacturer now has a spinoff product made by adding a little bourbon to the pudding for a banana-bourbon pudding shooter? Said shooters also are conveniently prepackaged for any buyer over 21.
More innovative thirst quenching drinks, such as the Q-tonic and Q-Kola, have been revamped with clean ingredients that one can pronounce and with nothing artificial added. Of course, any product with clever marketing seemed to catch Lenore’s attention, too. Like one cereal product that was first designed as a shelf stable product loaded with healthy stuff especially slow burning chia seeds and hemp hearts. This was developed first for emergency food kits to use following natural disasters such as tornadoes (and tsunamis, maybe.) After test marketing in grocery stores the founder of the product named it for the most frequent comment taste-testers made, “Holy crap, this is good!” Thus its name, HOLY CRAP. Gets my attention, too.
This experiment has led to some deep musings (is that an oxymoron?):
You may be able to teach an old dog new tricks. But it’s really hard to teach a tired dog new tricks!
We modern women may ‘have it all,’ but we’re also really tired doing it all, and may not be doing it all really well!
Like many women today, I have the superwoman complex – I must have it all and do it all – marriage, kids, career, hobbies and, of course, enlightenment and improvement in all possible areas. Thus this experiment – to introduce my family to local, seasonal, organically grown produce, good for our bodies and our planet. But in the process, I have learned that my culinary skills are very, very limited! I know how to cook what I grew up eating, and I’m really good at the semi-homemade approach to cooking using some prepared foods and some fresh. But when it comes to trying new ingredients and cooking from scratch, I am doubly challenged because there are so many techniques I’m not very familiar with. And when you have young kids you’re trying to feed and get into bed after you get off work and before their 8:00 bed time, trying to teach yourself new recipes and new techniques can cause a Type-A, first-born, perfectionist Super Woman like myself to nearly go catatonic.
I’m sure I’m not alone in this. Which leaves me scratching my head and asking a lot of questions: What is the new model going to be with moms not staying at home to slow cook all day and gradually passing their skills on to the next generation of little women? More dads are staying home with the kids, but are they doing the slow-food-from-scratch thing which they’ll then pass on? Probably not. And with so little time and energy on my hands, when do I teach my kids the little bit that I know? And when do I learn more myself? I am lucky enough to observe Bob and Lenore in action throughout my work day, but that’s while running the store and manning the reservation line. So my learning is taking placing very slowly.
The only conclusion I have to come to is that I have to “lighten up,” as my mother told me often in my youth. When I get my CSA basket, rather than pressuring myself to do something new and different every night, I may have to deem one night a week New Recipe Night and get in the kitchen early armed with a recipe from Bob and Lenore’s cookbook which I can faithfully follow rather than rushing and improvising.
Here’s what has most recently appeared on the Bonn table with ingredients from the CSA basket:
Fried ham, steamed broccoli, Bob’s handmade papparadelle noodles drizzled with basil-infused olive oil and garnished with chopped parsley and grated parmesan cheese
Turkey-spinach burgers and potato hash with onions and carrots
Pan fried pork chops, apple-beet slaw, fried rice with onions, carrots and bok choy
Bratwurst, mixed greens salad, lightly sautéed zucchini and mushrooms finished with Bob’s Tomato Jam
Italian turkey meatballs, boiled cabbage, potatoes and carrots with onions and garlic shoots
The biggest hit was, of course, the burgers and hash. The kids were intrigued by the beets, and we talked about how beet juice has been used as a natural coloring agent throughout the ages. Unfortunately, these beets were small and young and not quite as sweet as others I’ve had, so they didn’t go over well. I wonder if they’d like those pickled beets from a can I hated as a kid?! The boiled potatoes and carrots would have been well-received had I not included the cabbage. I chopped it up real fine so they couldn’t avoid which just made them mad! I do have a wee bit of knowledge and saved the stock from the boiled vegetables for another night to use when cooking rice.
And that brings me to the end of another week in the life of the Green Project. I welcome your comments on our Facebook page.
When a CSA basket arrives with some recognizable ingredients like broccoli and sugar snap peas, I breathe a sigh of relief. Finally, something my kids will eat without a fuss, though it doesn’t exactly accomplish the goal of this experiment. When I arrive home at the end of a long work week, to my kids’ daily tribal chant, “Hungry – feed me – hungry feed – me” I toss them the bag of peas to munch on, then get started on dinner. I create a one-dish meal I’ve dubbed Pizza-roni: Italian sausage, elbow macaroni, tomatoes and lots of cheese. To that I add some chopped spinach from the CSA basket and we’re good to go. I set aside some of the spinach leaves, which are quite large, and set them on the dinner table to use as wraps. I introduce the concept of stuffing the leaves with the Pizza-roni as a filling hoping the kids will think this is “fun” and thus consume some more green goodness. But alas, they do not go for it. I do not press the issue. They’ve gotten a good dose of green already.
My next endeavor is a cannellini bean soup. Chicken broth, cannellini beans, elbow macaroni, onions, tomatoes and a bunch of leafy greens thrown in at the end – chard, kale, black kale (a.k.a. Tuscan kale) and some spinach. It’s an easy way to get some greens into the family’s tummies since they like beans (although the boys did try, unsuccessfully to get spoonfuls of soup with no greens). My only misstep was not realizing how tender cannelini beans are and how little cook time they require! They are a bit on the soft side, but luckily no one complains!
With each CSA basket comes a nice big bag of mixed salad greens, a welcome change from green salads made strictly with Romaine lettuce. The kids are afraid of the purple leaves and feathery sprigs whose names I don’t even know. But they soldier on. I also use this opportunity to try to get two of my Ranch-dressing addicted kiddos to appreciate a simple dressing of blood orange olive oil, sea salt and coriander. Jacob is not having it! He is a Ranch man all the way! But little Joe is working is way towards a sophisticated palate and enjoys it.
With the most recent basket I decide to tackle another first for me: cole slaw. I am not at all a fan of traditional slaw as one eats alongside fried chicken, with it’s sopping mayonnaise and harsh vinegar bite. But Bob schools me on how to make a slaw from the basket ingredients – garlic shoots, sweet onions, green cabbage, carrots and black kale. I try my hand at doing a “chiffonade” which I realize I don’t have a clue how do to do. So I wing it then throw in a spoonful of mayo, a splash of honey vinegar and a sprinkle of salt. I really like it. But not one other person at the dinner table does. I’m starting to think my family is a hopeless cause!
Well, next on the menu are turkey burgers (will lightning strike twice?) and potato hash. And maybe I’ll get brave again and try out some more bok choy, radishes and turnips. I keep giving them to Bob and Lenore after the first unsuccessful go around, but really, we’ve got to give them another chance!
When Bob and Lenore decided to offer EVOO as a drop-off point for the weekly CSA (community supported agriculture) vegetable baskets from R-evolution Gardens, they also thought it would be fun to do a little experiment with me, their Sales Manager, who has had zero formal culinary training. Like many a working Mom, I come home to kids screaming, “What’s for dinner?” or “When will dinner be ready?” and I have to scramble together a quick meal that consists of the holy trinity of the dinner plate: a meat, a starch and a vegetable. And many times, the produce I use is far from being local, organic or seasonal. We all know it’s healthier for our bodies, our environment and our local economy if we eat seasonal foods from within our own food shed. But knowing that and doing it are two different things. So my task this summer is to make something new each week for my family from ingredients found in my CSA basket which will by and large be entirely new to my family.
First, let me introduce you to the cast of this “reality show”:
Mamma Shanda: I’m not an adventurous eater, but my Dad is from Alabama, so I did grow up eating strange, exotic foods like collard greens, black eyed peas, ho cake and grits! And growing up in southern California, I had a healthy dose of Mexican-American food.
Daddy Rick: From a small town in the Pacific Northwest, he grew up eating a typical Middle American diet and had very little contact with ethnic cuisine or vegetables other than the standard fare like broccoli, carrots, iceberg lettuce, cucumbers and, like me, yucky canned veggies.
Fiona: 12 years old and willing to try almost anything and to say something kind even if she doesn’t like it.
Jacob: 7 years old and not at all eager to try new things except under pain of punishment.
Joe: 5 years old, also reticent to try new things, and highly addicted to sugar and processed foods.
Like most American kids, mine like pizza, mac ‘n’ cheese, hot dogs, simple veggies either steamed or sauteed, and a green salad made with Romaine lettuce.
Day 1: I’ve come home with so much produce that I know won’t keep long so I decide to use the baby bok choy and the arugula and arugula blossoms. Before prepping them, I corral all the kids to show them what they will shortly be consuming. They are dubious. If I were a really good Mom, I would make them stay and help, but I have to work at break neck speed because to hear them tell it, they are so hungry they are about to start eating each other! So I send them away and commence the experiment. Bob said that the bok choy would be easiest done just sliced down the center, root cut out, gently washed, then placed in a heated pan with olive oil and garlic. Well, as soon as I slice the bok choy down the center and attempt to cut out the inner root, the entire thing falls apart in my hands. Then I realize I have no garlic as I have just moved and not yet restocked the pantry. Drat. I go forward placing individual pieces in the olive oil. It comes out saturated and the greens wilted. The white stalk is hard to chew. The sea salt I finish it with makes it only somewhat edible. Dad and Joe kind of like the greens, but this is not a big hit at all. The arugula and arugula blossoms become a salad with olive oil, wild honey vinegar and sea salt. The boys both spit it out, “Blech!” Fiona just says, “Hmm, interesting.” Rick eats it without comment.
Day 2: A few days later, somewhat gun shy now, I plunge ahead. Today I’m going to attempt to use up the radish, Japanese turnip and mixed salad greens. I decide to simply cut the bulb of the turnip and radish into coins and let everyone try them fresh and plain. I do, however, saute the turnip greens and radish greens together in a bit of olive oil and finish with sea salt. The mixed salad greens I reserve for Mommy and Daddy, having tasted them and knowing full well they’ll be wasted on the kids. So we go around the table tasting off the plate of turnip and radish coins and their sauteed greens. It’s quite funny to see everyone’s faces as they pucker and wince. None of us likes the coins. And the boys declare the sauteed greens horrible. Daddy grosses everyone out by eating sauteed greens sandwiched between two turnip slices. He’s actually enjoying the variety of vegetables being introduced even if he doesn’t necessarily like all of them.
Day 3: Many days have now passed. I figure the troops will revolt if I do this to them too often. And I have evening commitments that leave no time for experimentation. A new basket has now arrived and Bob figures a pound of bacon and a head of garlic will do the trick. Tonight I will chop up the bacon, cook till crispy, throw in garlic till aromatic and throw in the greens: kale, bok choy, and chard . It smells great and I am quite optimistic (even though I was in such a hurry the bacon did not get totally crispy). But what do I get? Two yuck votes from the boys, an “it’s okay” from Fiona, and Dad and I end up eating it all. We like it. But for the kids, this experiment is not going well. Tomorrow it’s going to be steamed broccoli again. My ego can’t take this!
Day 4: At the bottom of the produce drawer is a bunch of limp spinach from the first week’s basket. Bob calls it variegated because it’s bumpy. Lenore says variegated means something else entirely (mufti-colored?). So I don’t know what this stuff is exactly but I like it better than the typical spinach you find in the grocery store. It’s much less bitter. Tonight turkey burgers are on the Bonn family menu. I decide to blanch the spinach then chop it real small and hide it in the burgers. Well, there’s no hiding the spinach, so it takes some prodding to get the kids to dig in. But I will say, I make a pretty mean turkey burger to begin with so I feel confident I may have a winner on my hands. To the ground turkey I have added a generous supply of dried herbs and spices: garlic, onion, parsley, coriander and sea salt. Plus two tablespoons of olive oil. Into that mixture goes the spinach blanched in salted water, squeezed “dry” and chopped. And voila! They WILL eat their greens, so help me. I fully expect riotous outbursts for messing with one of their favorite meals. But no such thing occurs. Instead the table is quiet as they munch away. And Jacob and Fiona ask for seconds. VICTORY!
Jacob enjoying his turkey burger (stuffed with fresh spinach)–he’s likes it! he likes it!
And now I get a break until the next basket arrives . ….
Just three months ago I was embarking on a new adventure here at beautiful Cannon Beach. Wide eyed and white knuckled I ventured into the kitchen at EVOO. Now 12 weeks later I feel there is much I still want to experience but I am no longer the fledgling learning to fly. It would be a daunting task to surmise all I have learned here to date. It has been an amazing and almost overwhelming amount of culinary staples as well as a surprising amount of small details overlooked by the home cooking I have been used to. I really feel that I have been welcomed in to an almost underground society here; the scene behind the curtain of a great meal or a good night out. Memories created on a first date, a birthday celebration, or just a fabulous dinner with close friends usually start with the when and where to eat. The people in the background who you may never see, work like madmen to ensure their guests’ good time out. Remember to be kind and tip them well as they deserve it, believe me!
When I first decided to come to the coast I was on the fence about whether attending a culinary school was the direction I wanted to take. I have always loved learning but the heavy price tag of admission, coupled with some of my chef friends advice to just work your way up the ranks had me questioning what to do. This experience seemed to be the perfect chance to test the waters. For me the dynamic here has been exceptional. The standards are high as are the expectations of mental and physical stamina. Thinking in a proactive way so you can anticipate and delegate the best of your time is the key. It was a chance for me to test what my grandparents used to call “the stuff you were made of.” In my family we pride ourselves on some pretty tough stuff. And here, everyday technique, cleanliness and speed are questioned.
I have been reading a great book in my down time called “Beaten, Seared & Sauced” that has closely resembled my day to day activities here in this little kitchen. It’s about a man changing direction late in life and attending the CIA in NY. Let’s just say I can relate. One of the similarities is that encouragements are given but even the most subtle of compliments are reserved only for when the job is done correctly. In my mind that makes it much more meaningful and heartfelt. The recognition gives me a good sense of pride for my accomplishments. Actually the ultimate compliment from Bob is when he stops mid stride, leans in to check my work with a discerning eye, pretends to wipe away a tear and says “they grow up so fast ” before continuing on his way. In return when I stop with inquisitive looks, my questions of the how and why have always been answered with a scientific background and a practical approach. It has really helped me to connect with what I am doing.
Which brings me to the question of what I am doing next? Culinary school still looms in the background after seeing my mentor in action. I have also been in touch with a select catering company and looking at the possibility of going back to school in the food writing realm. Anything is possible, right? I am happy to say that for now, I have been asked to stay here at EVOO and continue learning through the summer. I plan to become a jack of all trades, handling the retail, service, and still doing my favorite time, prepping in the kitchen.
These past months I feel like I have found little pieces of myself and my passions again. I am excited every day to be cooking in the kitchen, and sharing my very first blog has rekindled my affinity for writing. I feel lucky to be surrounded by a supportive community and amazing group of people that have made me feel like family after such a short amount of time.
Thanks to everyone for reading and following me on my journey so far, and thank you, Bob and Lenore, for all you have done to help me on my way. I’m looking forward to an amazing summer full of new experiences and the chance to follow my heart. Signing off but not going far…. Kate
P/S: Watch for Shanda’s blog, “The Green Project”–coming this summer as she tells us how her family responds to eating “green,” i.e., more vegetables from her CSA basket.
Its time for a new menu and new learning’s. I have a good feeling that this month will be an appreciation of patience. The best things in life take a bit of time. In the past couple of months things like pasting garlic have tested my time table. First you must peel each clove, remove the innermost sprout, mince it and then you can finally draw the flat of your blade over it again and again until an aromatic paste is formed. At first it sounds simple enough but in the midst of the 5th clove, with more garlic sticking to the knife and my fingers than actually turning into the beautiful smooth texture I envisioned, I realize the clock is against me. I am pretty sure I was given this laborious task for a few reasons. Either Bob wants to be sure I’m not able to attract ANY eligible men and therefore keep my mind in the kitchen, or he is protecting me from potential vampire attacks.
I feel this month will continue to challenge me to remember to breathe in times of frustration and to persevere toward the amazing meal. Take shucking peas for example. In my mind I have lofty ideas that a whole box of English peas should take oh…45 minutes to get done. I have the water on and heating so it will be ready to blanch them when I am ready. Of course, I should have known by my mentor’s slight head shake and Cheshire cat smile that my time-line was more around the 1 1/2 hour mark. In the end the whole huge box only yielded about 3 1/2 cups of shucked sweet little green peas. I call them ” escapeas ” because half of them take flight – in no particular direction except away from the bowl they are meant for! And let’s not forget these little gems are just one component for the risotto on our first course of the May Dinner Show.
This Italian rice dish is one that must be nurtured itself as well. A good risotto must be tended to constantly for about 25 minutes and when it is done it must be served right away to impart the creamy texture intended. It waits for no one! Arborio rice is most commonly used, sauteed in butter or olive oil first and then adding a ladle of stock one at a time, stirring to distribute the liquid evenly and prevent any burning. When the stock is absorbed you repeat the process. It can be mixed with a variety of ingredients, mushroom leek and lemon has worked well for my dinner parties in the past. Whatever you add the goal is to have a dish that is hands down one of my favorite comfort foods.
I was so excited to see Osso Bucco on the menu this month as well! I had seen plenty an Iron Chef make it while totally geeking out on the Food Network, wishing that I did not have to live vicariously through the judges on the flat screen. The first time I was able to order it for myself was at Mario Batali’s restaurant Babbo on my birthday trip to NYC. Truth be told he was always my favorite Iron Chef anyway so this was my little dream come true. Lets just say I was not disappointed…the marrow from the bone gave the slow cooked braised veal a velvet mouth feel. The meat was so tender it almost melted.
It is made with lamb on our menu, but the effect is the same. I have seen it turn even the most skeptic of palates into lamb lovers. I truly believe it has to do not only with the painstaking preparation, but also with the quality and freshness of the lamb itself. Bob has it delivered within the week the lambs are harvested, and they are only harvested when ordered. It doesn’t get much better than that.
I now know the time and work involved in each little step takes my enjoyment of a meal to a whole new place. Every component in the menu has a purpose on the tongue. It can be light and sweet like my peas or full of richness and depth like the lamb. A bright gremolata balances any heavy notes and a thick nutty cream sauce can smooth out delicate potatoes. It is truly the little things, the sometimes frustrating, time sucking, minute details, that really do make all the difference in a dish. So this week I am in great appreciation of the symphony of food I help to create as I embrace every task I am given!
Pizza, originally from Naples Italy, is practically an American pastime. I consider it an important part of my right of passage into the working world. It was a given that in those days all of my clothes be covered in flour. I perpetually smelled of garlic and could wield a pizza cutter like a ninja!
It was Friday night staple for our busy family, tired after a long week. Pizza is also synonymous with sporting events, and growing up in my world watching all the big games was a given. I have probably eaten pizza as often cold as piping hot out of the oven. It is great for a late night snack or breakfast the next day.
Pizza can be piled high as the sky like my friend Mike does it or eaten with the bare minimum of toppings. In New York, folding it over before eating is the way. In Chicago, you need a knife and fork to enjoy the deep dish style that they claim. With as much as we indulge in this versatile food, it’s a staggering surprise to me how little we actually make it at home. Instead we wait, sometimes for hours for a driver to deliver a cardboard box that incidentally by the time it reaches your door ends up holding half the cheese hostage anyway. And to think we prefer picking up a frozen one to making it ourselves seems funny to me.
Everyone already knows what THEY want on the pizza. Wars have been waged over what a good pie is supposed to be. Staple toppings like pepperoni or Canadian bacon, mushrooms or olives, peppers or pineapple; do you want thick or thin crust; square or round, and the debate goes on! Obviously there are infinite possibilities creating these pizza masterpieces. Yet it seems that half the time I order out, the pizza is pretty unmemorable in general. I feel like there is a little romance in the whole process of making a perfect pizza that has somehow been lost in the western world. What if we tried to bring it back to life? Make it from scratch just the way you envision it. What would that taste like to you and how hard could it possibly be? Have we gotten so spoiled that we choose convenience over quality?
I think that truth be told, it’s the dough that scares people away from the doing it themselves. At least that’s what it was for me. Most of the time, I would just get a pre-made crust and go from there. Then I thought if I was already going half the distance for a “home- made” meal, why wasn’t I all in? Looks like it time to channel my inner baker.
So let’s focus on the dough; it is really only 6 little ingredients, water, yeast, flour, salt, oil, and “biga” if you have it (a natural fermented, living starter, that is easy to make) That’s it. Not nearly as scary as I was thinking. For some reason breads and doughs have always been a mystery to me. It is more of a fun science experiment than anything. It does take a little bit of time when you commit to it. It makes me think about how long it must have taken my grandmother, or her mother, to put together some of our elaborate meals. These days I have a trusty Kitchen aid that does all the mixing and the kneading in mere minutes. Aren’t we the lucky ones?! I realize that you just have to do a little prioritizing before you hit the kitchen. Put the more complex task at the top of your list and then fill in the gaps with the quicker side work. So you make the dough first. You have to let it rest and then come back to it. Knead it a bit more and let it rest a second time. This makes the dough surprisingly soft and delicate, like a pillow of goodness. Suddenly I was thinking of other amazing things this dough could do. It could be used for so much more than just pizza. Calzones, pot pie toppings, cheesy filled breadsticks. There are options to grill it and make healthy wraps, or fry it for sinful desserts. Are you feeling the endless creative exploits? Even if you are just doing pizza though, the best part is that you can do whatever you want! There are no rules. You can make a basil pesto, do a spicy Thai chicken or a BBQ pie just to name a few. This week feels like goat cheese, spinach and olives to me.
The best part of this whole process is when you sit to eat. Somehow this all too familiar food tastes totally different to me. The crunch of the crust and the simple flavors on top all seem to shine through in separate ways and yet they merry together so well. I didn’t order this off a menu. I made it from start to finish just the way I wanted it. And it is the best pizza I have had in ages. So this weekend I say you can make, MAKING the pizza, the best part about dinner. Involve all your senses, all your friends, family and yes, probably all of the kitchen for a night. Turn off the TV, open the wine and enjoy the time and the process with all the people you love. Now that’s amore!
Its official…I finally like octopus!! I wasn’t sure this day would ever come despite my efforts to order it at every authentic Greek, Italian, and sushi restaurant that boasted the best of the best of these intelligent eight legged sea creatures. I had come to the unfortunate conclusion that it just may be the “ocean’s bubble gum” for me. Maybe it was just one of the things my palate and I did not agree on. Don’t get me wrong, I have had a good deep fried calamari from time to time but I find it hard not to love something battered and submerged in grease. And then it happened…
“I’d like to be, under the sea, in an octopus garden in the shade”plays in my head as I pull from the oven a dark Stuab cauldron filled to the brim with olive oil, garlic, thyme, lemon zest, juice and itty bitty squid and tiny octopi. The texture of this dish is perfect. If I didn’t know what I was eating I would equate it to, well, chicken, I guess but only in texture. The colors have turned from translucent and white to a beautiful lavender/mauve mix. The taste is rich, bright and has the hint of sea in the background.
With the change of our April menu comes the beautiful Springer Chinook salmon. This may be the most amazing fish on the planet. They are caught coming in from the ocean this time of year as they head back upstream to their original spawning grounds. I can’t even find my keys half the time! Fish instinct is amazing! The bright, pink-red flesh is tender and full of good fatty oils for their long journey home. Salmon has long been revered as a spiritual creature in the Pacific Northwest having sustained cultural civilizations for centuries. So with this amazing fillet in front of us, just a little less than 24 hours old, Bob and I pause and with intention and all seriousness, take a moment to honor and thank this fish for its life and sacrifice. There’s not much more that needs to be done with a fish of this caliber. It can be eaten raw, pan seared and lightly smoked. I have a feeling we will be cooking it all these ways before the season ends. I am loving spring!
This week I was also set loose with the pasta machine…. (mwahhahahahhahhah!); the goal being fresh pappardelle noodles and, of course, to make my mentor nervous. That would be, Bob, who watches with eagle eyes as I take on this task. The snowfall of flour took me back to one of my favorite jobs, working in the cooking classes of a local natural health food store. I have a newspaper clipping of myself, all of 19 years old, bleach blonde pigtails and arms filled with what seemed like miles of flat golden dough. I had to stop to laugh at the cyclic nature of life. Somehow, years later, I am here again in a quaint kitchen, covered in flour with a smile on my face, creating plates of happy, edible memories for the masses. Katie B
It has recently come to my attention that I may no longer be the “spring chicken” I once was. Not that I am that far out of the woods mind you, but my new venture has proven a bit more of a challenge both physically and mentally than I had previously envisioned. Along with my first month of learning’s came sore feet, sweaty palms, and a surprising amount of blushing! Thankfully my digits are all still accounted for, but I have had a couple minor burns and a fight with the edging on the foil box that sadly I lost.
Further, I have had occasion to stutter as well as be at a total loss for words when asked simple kitchen questions. And yes if truth be told there may have been a tear or two shed in the walk in cooler. Learning something new every day isn’t as easy as it once was. As kids we can make mistakes and bounce back without missing a beat. Still, I have had such an amazing ride already; makes it hard to wipe the silly grin from my face. New techniques, kitchen tricks and a good friendly banter between co-workers is a great day in my book.
The conversations I have in my head often start something like, “Whatever you do, don’t screw things up”. Which, of course, inevitably means I will do just that. It’s ironic the pressure you can put on yourself to achieve some sort of instant perfection; as if that were possible to begin with. The words “there is nothing to fear but fear itself” come to mind. Isn’t that why I came here in the first place? To learn, have some fun, broaden my horizons and yes, possibly screw up once in a while? Well, OK maybe once a day! That is why we call it learning after all. And there’s a well known euphemism that says we learn best from our mistakes. So maybe we go ahead, throw caution to the wind and try a new approach. And if I muck it up, hopefully its not beyond repair or salvage but even so c’est la vie right?
Wisdom, after all, comes with time and experience. It is obviously time for me to step out of the way, well, of myself. Stop over thinking and just trust the process. Its funny how things can flow so much better when you stop fighting so bloody hard. So to you, my previous all knowing spring chicken, I say this. You would be delicious rubbed with a Tuscan salt blend, stuffed with fresh rosemary and roasted to a crispy, golden perfection. Bon appétit!!
Who doesn’t love a field trip??? Getting out on the open road to see and do new exciting things. My destination this week was Red Ridge Farms-Oregon Olive Mill, a trifecta of fun! Not only is it home of the beautiful Durant vineyard, ( FYI you must try the Pinot Gris) and a sprawling olive grove of 13,000 trees, it also has an amazing Zen like nursery. These being a few of my favorite things- insert Sound of Music tune here- I am a happy girl.
Somehow the inclement weather made it all the better to be near the old stove stirring a robust Ribollita (Italian bread soup) to perfection; pancetta with a mirepoix, 3 varieties of beans, Italian black kale, cabbage and zucchini all swimming in a bubbling tomato and chicken stock bath. The first time I had this dish, I was in Sienna Italy, staying in a huge villa built in the1500’s. It also had olive trees for miles and I was lucky enough to be there in November for the first pressing. The oil was green, cloudy and spicy, like pepper at the back of the throat. We made this traditional soup in a HUGE pot inside a massive fireplace. It is one of those kinds of dishes you literally have to make yourself walk away from after the second helping.
RIBOLITTA: Hearty from the three varieties of beans, light from clear stock, fresh from the kale and ribbons of fresh basil
I learned the proper way to taste olive oil from the experts at the Oregon Olive Mill. Take a bit of the oil, aerate 3 times across the tongue, before coating the roof of the mouth, and finally swallowing toward the back of the throat. This allows all areas of the palate to taste and weigh in equally.
I also have a new found respect for micro greens, tiny freshly sprouted plants that are cultivated about 4 days after they are planted. Not only are they beautiful for presentation, they have an incredible concentration of flavors that add a fresh component to the dish; and come in many different varieties or a blend of plants or micro herbs.
When we see the connection from Earth to farm, and farm to table, it transports us. It is a time before IPADS and emails, TV or twitter. When people relied on the sun and the soil, their hard work and intuition to know the perfect time to pick the grape, harvest the olives, or plant the seed. All of these things come together at just the right time to feed our friends, our families and our souls.
Sent from my Kindle Fire–KB
Have you ever wondered why they call cooking, “a labor of love?” Well now that I am privy to the inner sanctum of the EVOO kitchen, let me tell you, it is nothing short of a hurricane of tasks; all of which are equally important, but much like the weather here, the urgency can change at any moment. And just when you feel like you are close to reaching the end of your list, a timer buzzes, or a vendor phones to tell us the catch of the day didn’t make it to shore; or the guest list just jumped from 12 to 20. (doesn’t sound like a big deal but if we didn’t have two tenderloins in house we’d be going shopping, for example.) At this point the menu reaches out for our creativity to adapt, adapt, adapt, without straying from the course originally set to please the palate.
When we DO finally get to sit and taste the fruits of our labors, we realize that all the sweat, hard work and the standing (my goodness the STANDING) is well worth it. So you might say, we love the results and the “labor” is just a necessary element of cooking for the public.
Here’s a few of the dishes we cooked this week:
Pasta fagioli- a playful rendition of a pasta primavera is a combination of 3 beans, a splash of colorful asparagus, red bell pepper and zucchini all mingling together in an amazingly flavorful broth. Fresh escarole gives the dish a light crunch, but the fresh pecorino and perfectly crisped prosciutto chip seals the deal. This bowl of goodness is like a hug from the inside!
Oh wait, there is so much more…how about freshly made ravioli filled with mushrooms and duck confit?? By the way, the answer to that question is YES! These little pillows of love are rich from the duck cooked in its own fat, earthy from the mushrooms that were quickly sauteed, and the bitter arugula pesto sauce finishes with a fresh component that balances the dish.
This was also my first time making fresh tamales! Masa harina, a fine ground cornmeal, is mixed with grilled squash, jack cheese, cumin, cayenne, paprika, and the filling is tucked sweetly into its little corn husk bed for steaming. Serve that with a fresh tomatillo and avocado salsa, and bittersweet chocolate mole and let the happiness ensue!!! Our guests seem to really enjoy the texture of these tamales, saying they are more tender than ones they have had, and a bonus, Bob makes them vegetarian.
I am running a little behind–this menu was last weekend SAVOR CANNON BEACH menu, and so next week you’ll see the menu we are really working on this week. Till then.
We have all heard the saying “When life gives you lemons, make lemonade.” Well lets just say last year, my glass was never empty. Then I got to thinking about those wonderful words. I realized that I was always happiest in the kitchen, creating, cooking and making a general mess of things!! There is nothing better than the smell of onions sizzling in a hot pan or the smell of bacon permeating every nook of the house. Às fate would have it, this newfound knowledge was quickly put into culinary motion. For my birthday, my best friend booked us for a dinner show at EVOO at Cannon Beach. I was hooked.
Low and behold they just happen to have an internship program as well. Needless to say, I quit my job, packed my things and was beachward bound.
Now to the important things….the food!!!!!
So apparently drooling around the food is not acceptable…so the challenge begins. Braising large legs of grass fed lamb, de-glazing the pan with white wine and tucking bright green stems of rosemary and thyme around perfectly seared meat is just the start of my day. Into the oven it goes & then its on to a 12 layer lasagna. Fresh rolled pasts, Basil pesto and a creamy bechamel sauce. If you have never attempted this staple sauce- get ready. You make a roux of butter and flour, onion and milk and you stir- CONSTANTLY- until you have either a thick creamy sauce or a beautiful new arm muscle!!!
The Basil pesto is a vibrant green & the smell of garlic, herb and pine nuts is transcendent. Suddenly I am cooking with my grandma Gilda in her kitchen, laughing and speaking our half Italian, half English dialect. We also put together spring rolls in a zen like fashion. The bright colors of the freshly julienne vegetables displayed neatly in a translucent rice paper gave me a simple pause. There is bread to make, mussels to clean, fish to de-bone…an organized chaos ensues. The bread pudding??To die for. Cubed bread tossed with chocolate chips, cream anglaise and LOVE, emerges from the oven in a warm melty goodness. Perch it atop a orange wedge and top it with Godiva chocolate gelato and freshly whipped cream….NIRVANA.
All in a days work. Welcome to my bliss friends!!! Katie
This past week started a three month internship with Katie B. Katie is not coming to us out of culinary school. She is instead a highly motivated interested and passionate home cook who wants to see if the culinary business is for her. Typically it is not our first choice to take an intern without some formal training or even restaurant experience, but we were very impressed with Katie’s desire. Heck, one must start someplace and all that enthusiasm might as well be here! So we said yes to three months worth of dedicated hands-on learning, doing whatever is needed or assigned.
In exchange she gets room (that comes with a bicycle) and board in a small quaint most desirable beach town! Our little studio is as small as can be, but handy to work—she comes up stairs! Board consists of whatever we have. Her room has a coffee maker, small dorm room fridge and a microwave oven, so not much cooking can happen there, but then she really has cooked all day and gets first pick for her meals. Then of course she just brings her dirty dishes upstairs. She is free to come up after class at night and forage in our walk in refrigerator for fresh made dinner show remnants. We don’t anticipate a lack of choices.
An EVOO internship requires homework; usually in the form of looking at the culinary origins, definitions and even seasonality /availability of different ingredients or methods. Sometimes they are asked to read a book, such as the Art of War, or The making of a chef, etc. We require interns to start the day with a note pad for their “list” one-on-one with me, and then we talk again at the end of the day. In our daily debrief, I want to know what three things they learned; and they must keep of journal of these items. At first interns have no problem with this, but as time goes by, I really see some creative thinking by the end of their tenure with us. Because they do this five times a week on a daily basis usually totaling 180 new learnings, and because I require full sentences, well articulated and documented, they get pretty good by the end without repeating a single learning. Of course when they go back to their professional school they have lots of things to say when the counselor asks, “what did you learn?”
As for Katie B, we have ask for one more duty since she is not reporting back to a culinary school. We’ve asked her to “blog” with us her experiences. And the jury is still out whether or not she will return to her former occupation, that of massage therapist.
During the winter we are getting busier and busier trying to get some traction on the many balls we have in the air. One of those is our salt project. We’ve been interested in getting a salt product made from our ocean water for several years now.
Making sea salt from ocean water is not as simple as it sounds. But we are finally moving through some of the roadblocks that came up early on in the project. Like how do we get water off the shore of a publicly owned beach? How do we ensure the salt is being produced from clean water? Our local health department told us to write the regulation and they will evaluate it because right now they don’t have such a regulation. And if we copy the lowest fossil fuel method of extracting salt from sea water, that of evaporation, where do we do it and is there enough sun in the NW to get the job done?
Encouragement came a few years ago when we discovered a small salt company in Maine. After all their weather pattern is similar-being on the same parallel as Washington state. And they are willing to share details of their method. Lucky for them, they get their water off a privately owned beach. And they do not test for safety. My guess not many seasalt makers do. Recently when posing that question to a seasalt maker in Hawaii it was clear they thought this was an incredulous question; afterall the waters of Hawaii are pristine!
By now we are working closely with OSU college of engineering and OHSU research. We have found our location. We are close to knowing our process. And we know where our water will come from. We even know how to collect water only when the purity levels are safe. And we can do it all, we believe, without using much in the way of fossil fuel. We may even have a by product that will be put to excellent use. The technology is something we want to share with other coastal towns. So stay tuned. More to come.
It is trite but true. Being in business for oneself means there is never enough hours in the day. It means we’re always doing something for the business, and it means we sometimes over commit.
Don’t get me wrong we have never been happier. Our path these past seven plus years has been a steady climb, at times steep, but mostly on the level. We see our growth as a reward that we want to enjoy fully. The progress we have made inspires us to dream some more. What happens is just when we start to coast a little bit, some new idea or project comes along that takes us on a new course; a new road with more learning curves as well as exhilarating high-points as we make traction toward our destination.
All this to say we believe this road we’re on to be the most fulfilling and enjoyable we’ve ever had the pleasure of traveling. We wonder if we’ll know what to do if it ever comes to a dead end and stops being fun.
So what the heck am I talking about? The road less taken? The road to riches? The fork in the road? For sure I am speaking metaphorically; I’m just saying our business is evolving in a way that we never expected. We thought we knew so much about business until we actually had one of our own. We don’t have all the answers and we actually have learned to appreciate not having all the answers. We’d love to find a navigational app that when we plug in our location it tells us where we will wind up if we stay on this road. But for now, we are just making our way down the road we believe we want to go. What doesn’t seem to work, we stop doing; what does work becomes our mainstay, or as my chef head thinks, the main course. The gravy or the frosting is that we can always add gravy or frosting!
What works so far is that every evening we meet new people and about 50% of them have been here before. These people are not just customers to us; we break bread together. We enjoy the nightly affirmation that we get, so much so that it feels like one gigantic vitamin infusion for our psyche! Our dinner shows are the mainstay of this business. The fact that we are getting involved in this community in a way neither of us has done in the past feels good too. Call it the gravy. And a brand new project getting our attention has been a few years in the making and just now getting some traction–the making of Cannon Beach sea salt; it is definitely the frosting for now.
Anymore we don’t need reminding that following the celebrations of the holidays & ending another year brings opportunity to reinvent, renew, refurbish an refresh in the New Year. The media lets us know that with the turning of the calendar year it is the logical time to assess our activities, business practices, and how we feel. This is especially true for weight loss tips and hints.
So like sheep, we too do our serious planning for the year in January. And this year we started with our health. Both of us know what to eat and what is good for us. What we tend to do is forget to limit the amount or up the output in the form of exercise. We are reminded of the old days when getting ready for a beach vacation meant a little more effort at the gym and a few less mash potatoes. Not anymore. So on the personal planning sheet we are upping our output–even getting up earlier to get the personal stuff done first; I sort of think of it as paying the “piggy bank” first, saving first, before paying the rest of the bills.