Monday, October 30, 2006

The White Dinner

I have no idea how this notion got into my head: create a meal out of foods that are white, and serve on white china. But not just white: white with intense flavors so that you don't notice the absence of color, only the abundance of flavor. It was very interesting! Here's the menu: Moet et Chandon White Star Creamy cauliflower soup with white truffle oil (served in white soup plate) Steamed white asparagus with sour cream viniagrette (served standing up in individual souffle dishes with sauce in center) Lehman Semillon White chanterelle risotto with Forme d'Ambert (blue cheese) mornay sauce Seared sea scallops with cider beurre blanc (both courses served together on large oval chop plates) Vanilla panna cotta One thing that was very interesting was the interplay of the mornay and the beurre blanc on the plate -- because of course blue cheese and apples are a great match, and so were the sauces with those flavors. I'll get photos later this week and post them. I'm pretty tickled about actually executing this off the wall notion!

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Vagabond dinner

Monday night we had our first experience with a "legal" underground restaurant, Vagabond. It's gotten some media coverage that unfortunately made it look like an elitist party, which it certainly was not. It was a fine experience, good company and good food. I'd call it a mix of "elite attitude" and "jus' folks" so I was reasonably comfortable. Having dinner in a wine shop (Portalis), with anything available at retail and no corkage, was a great thing. And we were able to share tastes with each other (and the chef). Seating was all over the place -- crammed into corners, up at the bar, a little on the cozy side overall. But since they were planning on family-style service, that wasn't as much of an issue except for us lefties. Regarding the food, the goal is to do sexy one-pot cooking, with a salad and a dessert course. No plate changes between salad and main course, by the way. Salad was almost a side dish: warm pumpkin cubes with roasted cranberries, gorgonzola, and candied pumpkin seeds with a sage viniagrette. The contrast of salty and sweet with the pumpkin was very nice. The poulet au cidre, with Normandy cider, pearl onions, turnips, and chanterelles, was done perfectly. Nice whole-grain bread to sop up the juices and a little braised swiss chard with pine nuts and golden raisins on the side. Dessert was an apple and olive tart, with ginger ice cream. The filling was interesting, as I've never had kalamata olives in my dessert before, but quite good. Unfortunately, the thyme pate brisee crust on my slice was undercooked. But my husband's crust was fine and he enjoyed it. I think there was some challenge with the kitchen as there were only two burners (yes, I know many people do service every night with two burners!). And it didn't look much bigger than an airplane galley. All in all, it was a great evening with great company, and time and opportunity to talk to the people preparing our meal as well as the others enjoying it. I know there are already a number of other prominent Seattle-based chefs who are interested in cooking for the monthly get-together. I'll be very interested in how it evolves.

Thoughts on celebrity chefs

In the past few days I've gotten involved in the Chef2Chef forum. Partly because I ran across it while looking for the menu for Monday's Vagabond dinner. While there I posted my thoughts to a culinary student writing a paper on celeb chefs for a hospitality class. Thought I'd capture those here, since I appear to have an opinion (and when don't I?). I think that there are two levels of celebrity chefs (maybe 3): local, national, and maybe international. All have different effects on food trends and consumer behaviors. In our area, we have a few local celebrity chefs who seem to be happy being local, and of course others who aspire, with varying degrees of success, to share the national or international stage. One thing that seems to distinguish many of the aspirants is a "publish or perish" attitude. You're nobody unless somebody has published your cookbook. The local aspirants can be good for the culinary community as long as they don't forget where they came from. We have a few around here who are doing an excellent job of self-promotion while stepping on every toe they can. I mean, really, is it that hard to be polite instead of a prima donna? Some times it sure seems to be. Time will tell if they get out of the local celebrity and get to the next level. Another thing to look at, btw, are "foodies" looking to be celebrities. Do a google on Michael Hebberoy to see the rise and decline of someone who aspired to change things. Some things he did (and is doing) are very good, but he took his eye off the ball and instead of running the very good and very high profile business he had, decided to write a book, develop a line of gin, ... Now he's going through a divorce and two of the three restaurants in his business have closed. I met him the other day, and he reminds me of those young turks in the dot com craziness who were sure they were going to get rich if only everyone would listen. I think there is a trap there also for celebrity chefs who try too soon to expand their "brand" and lose sight of their foundation. And then there is dear old David Rosengarten, who seems to be trying to expand into selling all his favorite foods at outrageous prices to other foodies who want to be like him. I used to like his newsletter, but now half of it is trying to sell yet another food club of the month...

Lip-smacking lamb shanks

Always wanted to cook lamb shanks, and when Dave found some for $4/lb I had him pick up a couple. Then of course the challenge was how to cook them. I took some cues from the new CIA cookbook "One Dish Meals." Made a paste of spices, including coriander, fennel, cinnamon, pepper, allspice, caraway, curry powder, cayenne, and some salt and rubbed it into the shanks. Refrigerated for six hours. Chopped some dried apricots and raisins and soaked them in brandy. Browned the shanks in some olive oil in a cast iron dutch oven. Took them out and put in a couple of sliced onions, cooked those until they were starting to brown and added a couple of cloves of minced garlic. Stirred for about a minute, then added a couple tablespoons of tomato paste and stirred until it began to brown. Put shanks and juices back in, added a couple of cans of chicken broth and the fruit and brandy. Put a lid on, put it in the oven at 300 degrees for three hours. Served with mashed potatoes. YUMM! One of the best things I've ever made.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Easy fish

I was reminded this week how easy it can be to cook great fish fast. I was at a client offsite and we were fixing our own dinner. Not surprisingly, I volunteered to cook the entree. They had four-pound chunks of halibut and salmon. Many different dietary restrictions in the group, but fortunately absolutely fat-free isn't one of them. So I made a marinade of lemon zest, pepper, and grated ginger in olive oil, skinned the fish, and brushed on the oil. Found some broccoli stems, celery, and red onion. Set the oven to 425. Peeled the broccoli and then julienned all the veggies, tossed them with a little of the flavored oil, and spread them on a baking sheet. Put the fish on top, sprinkled the fish with salt, and roasted it for 25 minutes. Turned out just perfect, nice topping for the green salad with lemon-dijon dressing that others made.

Monday, October 16, 2006

I can't believe I ate the whole thing!

Another Gypsy Dinner last night. Four chefs and TWENTY COURSES!!! Truly, more than a little overkill. It was great, and some incredible flavors. But by the time we got to the end, I could barely eat the interesting and intriguing desserts (bacon baklava, anyone?). An incredible cured scallop carpaccio with a Thai-style cucumber salad. A corn agnolotti with chanterlles that I could bathe in happily. Wagyu beef tenderloin, slow roasted with butternut squash. Some things were a little too complicated ("too many notes," said Dave, quoting from Amadeus). But others were a symphony of combined flavors and textures, like the suckling pork chope with a clam and house-made fresh chorizo, seared off and slow roasted -- so incredibly juicy I would have sworn it was brined, but it wasn't. Duck eggs scrambled with black truffles, served in an eggshell -- the ultimate aphrodesiac, if you ask me. Mussels in cider with smoky bacon, one of absolute favorite things of the night. There were many times where I was just giggling in joy over the flavors, over the combination of wine and food, over the surfeit of incredble stuff and interactions with such great chefs. Now, to be realistic, this was an exorbitantly priced meal -- nearly $600 with tip for two. But a once-in-a-lifetime chance to get farm-fresh inspriations from some of the best chefs in Seattle, and learn how their minds work in pulling them together. Oh, and the most interesting challenge to get my mouth around? Black truffle ice cream. Loved it, I think, but way different. Not Dave's favorite.

Monday, October 09, 2006

Beef with wild mushrooms

My favorite butcher in Pike Place Market, Don and Joe's, sells trimmings from steaks and roasts for about $7/lb. Mostly these are tenderloin trimmings, so when I see a nice little pile of them in the back of the case I ask for them. Last week I got 14 oz of mostly tenderloin trimmings. Figured that since it's getting to be mushroom season (it's a little late, really, since we've had practically no rain) I'd try a little braise with some wild mushrooms. Picked up 3/4 lb of white chanterelles, hedgehog, and lobster mushrooms and 1/2 lb of fat white mushrooms (vendor was selling for $1/lb, thought they'd carry the flavors nicely which they did). Cut the beef and the mushrooms into 3/4" cubes. Tossed the beef with a couple of tablespoons of minced shallot, pepper and some kosher salt and let it sit for a few hours. Then I slow-cooked the mushrooms in a couple of tablespoons of butter with a little salt, pepper, and a sprig of thyme until they were well-cooked, about 30 min. Set the mushrooms aside (removing the thyme) and sauteed the beef and shallots, deglazed the pan with some Pinot Noir, and put the 'shrooms back in. Sprinked a couple of teaspoons of flour over it and stirred it in, then added another half cup of wine. Simmered for about 20 minutes while I cooked some radiatore pasta. (Garofalo brand is great, I finally found a pasta that is worth eating naked because the flavor is so good. And Costco carries it!) Served the beef over the pasta, with a quick gratin of some thin-sliced zucchini and tomatoes roasted for 20 minutes sprinked with some grated aged Gouda. Dave says I can make this meal anytime :)