Wednesday, December 16, 2009

What Dreams May Come........

Occasionally, from the depths of REM sleep, I get an idea. Something wells up from deep in my unconscious mind, and I'm forced to deal with the concept my brain has given me. When these ideas come to me, I generally find that the kinks have already been worked out. In the past month I have received four or five ideas from the ether, and I'll share a few of them now.......

My new favorite condiment! It doesn't have a name yet, but it smells and tastes amazing.

1 1/2 cups rice vinegar
The zest of two limes, plus the juice
three cloves of garlic, minced
6 thai chilies, chopped
3 tbsp honey or palm sugar
2 tbsp fish sauce
handful of basil, minced
handful of mint, minced
1 tbsp chopped shallot

Combine all of the ingredients in a pint jar, and let them rest in the 'fridge for three days before using.

I enjoy this drizzled over steamed chicken with jasmine rice. Add a little sweet soy, sliced green onion, and sesame seed on top and you're in heaven. This can be used to liven up any Asian influenced food.


Duck and Mission Fig Brule' with Crispy Polenta

Two duck breasts
8 Mission figs
the juice of two blood oranges and the zest of one
1 tbsp + 1/2 tbsp ancho chili powder
1/4 cup honey
I tbsp cocoa
2 4 inch rounds of hard polenta( recipe from "puttin' on the grits")
salt and pepper
4 inch ring molds
corn starch
sugar for finishing
Propane torch

Mix the blood orange juice, zest, honey, and 1/2 tbsp ancho, let rest for 2 hours. Combine one tbsp of cocoa and a tbsp of ancho with a little salt and pepper. Coat both sides of each duck breast with the mixture. Sear each breast in olive oil until browned, but rare. Set aside. Coat each of the polenta rounds in corn starch, and fry each in vegetable oil until golden brown. Slice each duck breast and figs 1/4 inch thick. Set one ring mold on top of each piece of polenta. Toss the duck slices in the honey mix. Layer the slices of duck in the molds, alternating layers of fig and duck, finishing with the figs on top. Drizzle the figs with the remaining honey mixture. sprinkle with a little sugar, and caramelize using the torch. Serve with the '07 Argyle Pinot Noir.


Veal Meatloaf, Bread pudding style

6 ounces chicken livers
2 lbs Veal Breast, slices 1/4 in thick
1 loaf Brioche bread, crust removed, sliced lengthwise 1/2 inch thick
6 eggs
2 cups heavy cream
1/4 cup brandy or bourbon
1 cups onion, finely chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 pinch nutmeg
1 tsp dry thyme
3 tbsp fresh chopped parsley

In a blender, combine the chicken livers, parsley, eggs, and cream. In a shallow saute pan, lightly caramelize the onions and garlic, add the liquor, and reduce slightly. Add this to the mix in the blender, and blend until smooth. In a loaf pan, layer the veal and brioche until full. Pour the blended mix over the bread and veal. Allow to absorb overnight. Bake in a water bath(a larger pan, with a little water in it.) at 325 for 1 1/2 hours, or until the top has browned, and the egg mix has fully set.

Now for the accompanying sauce;

Melt 3 tbsp of butter in a saucepan, add 1/4 cup of whole-grain or dijon mustard. Let the mustard warm through. Add 1/4 cup of brandy and 1 1/2 cups of heavy cream. Reduce by 25 %.

Slice the meatloaf 3/4 of an inch thick. Serve with Garlic Horseradish mashed potatoes, and a spoonful of the sauce.


Let your dreams and fantasies guide you in the kitchen. Properly prepared food will never let you down. You might even create something never-before-seen, and that is a thing of beauty.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

In Vino Veritas; A guide to using alcohol in food

Translated to English: "In wine there is truth." I'll continue to add that in wine there is flavor, in wine there is value, in wine there is conversation. It doesn't matter if you share the wine with friends or family; if you add it to your stock, your marinara sauce, your desserts, your breakfast. I'll amend the saying further to make it this: In wine there is true flavor. The alcohol in the wine acts as a solvent, allowing essential oils and aromatic properties to fully bloom in your recipes. Without it, all classic recipes seem to fall flat. You find its use in every major food culture. The Asian cultures use rice wines, plum wines, and rice whiskey in their cooking. The Europeans use every variation of fermented and distilled beverage to produce exceptional flavor in their cuisine. Central Americans use beer, tequila, and sugar cane-based liquors to bring out the fullness of their recipes. Americans use, well, whatever we can get our hands on--we like it all.

I'm not going to give you specific recipes this time. A proper nudge in the right direction will serve you just fine. I want to encourage all of you to branch out in your own style, and mimicking me won't get you there. On that note, let's begin.


Say you're making a beef roast for a Sunday dinner. You brown your roast, add your vegetables, and cook for a few hours until tender. Normally you would make a gravy. Try this instead: takes 3 cups of red wine, and add them to the drippings while the pan is very hot. Add 1 cup of beef broth and reduce the whole mix by 75%. When reduced, turn the stove to low, and add one stick of butter cut into small cubes, a few cubes at a time. Use a whisk to stir the sauce. This is a basic Buerre Rouge, or red butter sauce. It is vastly superior to gravy in every way, and a little can be stretched much further than gravy can, as it is very intensely flavored.

You can do the same with roasted chicken just by substituting white wine for red, and chicken or turkey stock for the beef. What you end up with then is a Buerre Blanc.

The same follows with any meat. If the meat is dark, use red wine; for light meat, use white wine.

For family gatherings, I like to meet the recipe in the middle, just reducing the liquid less, and adding Roux (a cooked mix of 50% flour to 50% butter) to thicken the gravy. Just make sure to cook the gravy long enough that the raw flour taste is gone. DON'T USE CORNSTARCH! IT RUINS SAUCES!


Try poaching Salmon in Pinot Noir--It's delicious and healthy.


BBQ sauce

I think that any BBQ sauce worth making needs two things to be special: a pint of whisky and a pint of beer.

Put both in a pan and reduce by 50%, then add some tomato (sauce, fresh, ketchup--it doesn't matter). Next add your choice of spices: mustard powder, chilies, cumin (necessary), coriander, black pepper, chipotle (necessary), chili powder (necessary), garlic, onion (both necessary). You can really add anything that you want. Next, thin the sauce by adding 2 cups of cider vinegar and a half-cup of molasses.

This a basic BBQ sauce. I add two times this many ingredients to mine to make it taste the way I want. The variations are all up to you. Just make sure to put it in the blender at the end to get it smoothed out.


Scottish Ale Chowder

1 lb thick, center cut bacon, cut into 1 inch pieces
2 lbs fingerling, Yukon Gold, or red potatoes, cut into 1 inch pieces
2 large red onions, 1/4 inch slices
1 quart heavy cream
2 22-oz bottles of Pikes Kilt Lifter Ale
16 oz of chicken stock
1/2 stick butter
4 oz. each of the following: blue, sharp cheddar, Parmesan, and swiss cheeses.
salt and pepper
4 oz roux

Brown the bacon in a large stockpot, then add the butter and sliced onion. In a separate saucepan, bring the cream to a simmer and whisk in the roux. Let the cream thicken (3-5 minutes) and add the cheese, letting it melt. To the bacon add the beer, potatoes, and chicken stock, and reduce by 1/2. Slowly add the cream mix to the beer, stirring to incorporate. Let this mix reduce by an additional 10-15%; by that point the potatoes
should be fully cooked. Season with salt and pepper, and the soup is ready to serve.


I hope this gives you some further inspiration in the kitchen. I apologize for taking so long to add this article, but working as a chef again is taking most of my time and energy. Get out or stay in, just eat!

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

A Fungus Amoung Us: A Sourdough Primer

A Fungus Among Us: A Sourdough Primer

Wild yeast (Saccharomyces cerevisiae) is everywhere, in every season. It is on the strawberries you eat in spring, the best of the July cherries, and the grapes ripening in October. The first leavened bread was baked thousands of years ago, around the same time as the first beer was brewed, and the first grapes were crushed for wine. It came to greet the dawn of agriculture on this planet. It supplies our bodies with B vitamins, and gives us the ethanol to brace our spirits and fuel our vehicles.

I'm going to show you how to capture this beneficial and wily creature.


This one is not commonly used, but it's my favorite.

Grape Sourdough Starter

1/2 pound of red table grapes OR 1 cup of raisins, soaked in warm water for 2 hours.
2 cups unbleached flour
2 tbsp raw sugar
Warm water
One glass or ceramic container with a loose fitting lid
Rubber band or string.

In a blender, puree the raisins with the water, or the grapes without water. Transfer to a small sauce pan and bring to a quick boil. Set aside. Once cooled to room temperature, add the raw sugar and two cups of flour. Stir in enough warm water to make a smooth batter. Now things get tricky. I like to set the container with the batter in it and covered with the cheesecloth, either outside or by an open window overnight, just to guarantee exposure to the wild yeast. After that you can move it to a warm, dim corner of any room. Let it ferment for 3-5 days, or until you see the mix riddled with bubbles and smelling vaguely "beerish". If the mix settles, you'll need to stir it a little. I like to use a chopstick that has been wiped with vodka or hydrogen peroxide. If the mix smells "off" or rotten, or has a colored film on top, discard it and start again. If everything looks good, then you're ready to make bread.


Sourdough Yukon Gold Starter

2 Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled and diced
2 1/2 cups water
1 cup unbleached flour
1 tbsp raw sugar

Combine potatoes and water in a small stock pot or medium saucepan. Cover and boil until potatoes are tender, about 15 minutes. Drain cooking liquid into a large glass measuring cup. Reserve potatoes for another use.

Transfer 1 1/2 cups of potato liquid to a large ceramic or glass bowl. Add flour and sugar to the bowl; stir to combine. Cover bowl with cheesecloth and let stand at room temperature until the starter begins to ferment and bubble, about 4 days. The starter is now ready to use. Again, if it doesn't look or smell right, don't use it.


Starters are alive and need care. A properly cared for starter can live for more than 100 years. There are boulagers (Breadmakers) in France and Italy that have used the same starter for centuries.

Storage and feeding of the starter: Put the loose lid on the container and store it in the refrigerator. Feed the starter every 2 weeks. Begin each feeding by discarding all but 1 cup. Mix 1 cup of flour and 1 cup warm water into the remaining mixture. Cover with plastic wrap and let it stand at room temperature overnight. Replace the lid and return it to the refrigerator.


Sourdough Tomato Focaccia

1 1/2 cups sun-dried tomatoes
2 tbsp chopped garlic
1 cup grape starter
1 tbsp dry yeast
3 cups + one cup flour
1 tbsp sea salt
3 tbsp raw sugar
2 cups warm water
Olive oil
1 cup shredded parmesan

Combine the tomatoes, garlic, three cups flour, salt and starter. In a separate glass container, combine the yeast, sugar, and 1 cup of warm water; wait five minutes and combine with the other ingredients. Add the remaining water and stir to a soft but solid consistency. If it's too wet, add some of the extra flour; if too dry, add a little more water. Form into a ball in the bowl, using olive oil or butter to moisten the surface of the dough. Cover with plastic wrap and let sit for 4 hours. Divide the dough in 1/2, placing each half on separate oiled baking sheets. Smooth the dough out until a half inch thick. Dimple each portion of dough with your fingertips, and drizzle with olive oil. Let the dough rise for an additional hour. Set oven to 425°.

Bake each focaccia until light brown. Remove from oven, sprinkle with Parmesan cheese and return to the oven for 3-4 additional minutes. Remove and serve with good olive oil for dipping.


I've found that these starters can be added to any recipe by omitting 1/2 cup water and 1/2 cup flour, then substituting 1 cup of starter. For sweet recipes, the potato recipe works better; for savory, use the grape version.

I'm attempting to give you ideas that can improve your cooking abilities daily. I hope you can use them to bring a little more life to your everyday meals.

Puttin' on the Grits!

If you're hungry and you don't know where to go, why don't you eat what your hunger fits...putting on the grits. Sorry, I had to go there.

No matter what you call them--Grits(Deep South), Polenta (Italy), Corn Mush (Rural West Coast), Pop (South Africa)--they all come down to one single item: ground corn.

Zea Mays, a tropical grass native to central Mexico, was first domesticated thousands of years ago. Once integrated into the culture of Mexico it became so revered that the Aztec people would literally weep if they saw it spilled on the ground. It is one of the few plants so far domesticated that, if we were to stop growing it as an agricultural crop, the plant as we know it wouldn't exist within 10 years. It simply cannot survive without human intervention.

When explorers brought this wonderful plant to Spain, it became so popular that its use quickly spread across Europe and Africa. Today there are few countries that don't grow or use corn, so the culinary uses are endless.
Basic Polenta Recipe:

6 cups water
1 tsp salt
2 cups polenta (a.k.a corn grits - a coarse ground degerminated corn)
3 Tbsp butter
1/4 cup white wine
black pepper

Boil water and salt in a large pan. Whisk in polenta and continue stirring until polenta remains suspended in the water. Reduce heat and simmer about 30 minutes, stirring with the whisk every couple of minutes, scraping bottom of pan and preventing sticking. Whisk in the butter, wine and black pepper. Add salt to taste. The mixture should be thick but not lumpy. If it's too lumpy, add a little water and whisk to fix the problem.

At this point, the polenta can be served right away or it can be poured into an oiled pan and chilled for firm polenta. I personally prefer the firm variety.

Some additions for soft polenta:

Shrimp and grits--my favorite southern shrimp recipe.

Saute 1/2 cup of chopped bacon or fatback until crispy, add 1/4 cup chopped onion with 2 cloves chopped garlic. Next add a pound of peeled gulf shrimp and 2 tbsps of butter and cook for 2 minutes. Add 1/4 cup of heavy cream and a small handful of chopped parsley. Cook for 1 additional minute and pour over the soft grits/polenta.
Northern Italian--a great side dish for herb roasted chicken.

To the finished soft polenta, add crumbled Gorgonzola cheese, chopped parsley, and toasted pine nuts or hazelnut pieces.

Firm Polenta additions:

To prepare the firm polenta, cut thoroughly chilled polenta into rectangles or squares, and brown in a teflon pan with butter, or grill until warm.

Dried Cherry Sauce--for wild game, pork, or game birds.

Saute 2 tbsp garlic, 1/2 cup dried cherries, and 1 tsp chili flakes in olive oil. Add 2 cups of dry red wine, 2 tbsp honey, a pinch of dry thyme and and 1 tbsp apple cider vinegar. Reduce to 1/4 volume. Place the warmed polenta on a serving plate, top with your sliced meat, and drizzle both with the dried cherry sauce.


Wild Mushroom Polenta

Follow the instructions for basic polenta, but before adding the water, saute one pound of mixed wild mushrooms, a chopped onion, and 3 minced garlic cloves in butter. Follow the rest of the directions to the letter. This can be served soft or firm.


Try making it for breakfast with butter and salt. Then drizzle with it maple syrup or sprinkle with brown sugar.

It can be served at any time of day, with any sweet or savory topping. Polenta is so underutilized, I challenge each of my readers to try using it at least once over the next week. I dare ya'!

Sunday, November 15, 2009

A Comedy of Layers or a Comedy of Errors

Lasagna. When we pause to consider it, what comes to mind? A fat, orange cartoon cat? A runny, textural nightmare from the freezer case? The bland main course from your high school cafeteria? Properly prepared and cooked lasagna is a marvelous thing. It is a mélange of contrasting flavors, a striated and wonderful dish that far outweighs its boxed and frozen analogues. This piece gets its name from the many small mistakes that normal home cooks make when it comes to this noble dish. It could be a comedy, or it could be a tragedy--it all depends on the techniques and ingredients you use.

1. Fresh vs. Dry pasta: This all depends on your level of skill in the kitchen. Fine lasagnas have been made from both. Regardless of which one you use, it is the foundation that the needed to build a good structure for the other ingredients. With dry pasta, only ever cook it halfway to avoid an overcooked mess. With fresh dough, make sure that you roll it thin enough to avoid having to use a hardware saw to cut the final product.

2. Fillings: It doesn't matter if you choose vegetarian or meaty ingredients. If you don't pre-cook all your goodies, you'll end up with watery lasagna.
Veggie Lasagna: Sauté or roast your zucchini and mushrooms beforehand. If you're adding spinach, wash it first, then cook it down with garlic and onions. Make sure these ingredients are just moist, not soaking, before they hit the pasta.
Meats: I prefer a 50/50 mix of lean ground beef and Italian sausage. Brown all of the meat before adding. Then reserve 25% of the meat to use in your sauce. The sauce can be the basic tomato recipe from "When the Moon Hits Your Eye"; just make sure to mix in some of that meat, and then reserve 25% of the sauce to use on the finished dish.
The sauce must be thick. Do not forget to buy or grow fresh basil for all tomato-based sauces. Shred it or slice it, just make sure that it's there.

3. Cheese: Mozzarella is imperative; fresh is better but normal Mozzarella is fine. Shred it finely, or slice it very thin. Cheese is the glue that holds this dish together. Ricotta is your next ingredient. You need it more than you think, and no, cottage cheese DOES NOT WORK as a substitute so don't use it. When using ricotta, you need to give it a binder; the only one I use is eggs. Whisk two eggs into every 16 ounces of ricotta and season with parsley, salt and pepper.

4. Assembly: Start with a layer of dough or pasta on the bottom of a 9x13 glass baking dish that has been oiled first. I like to vary the layers slightly to assure that everything holds up. Pour on the ricotta mix, then the first layer of Mozzarella, and cover it with meat and sauce. Repeat the layers until all ingredients are used up. Cover the top of the lasagna with a final mix of Parmesan, Mozzarella and fine bread crumbs.

5. Baking: Set your oven to 350°. Rub olive oil on the underside of a pan-sized piece of aluminum foil, and cover your lasagna with it. Keep it in the oven for a minimum of 1 hour, then remove the foil, and turn the oven to broil to let things get brown and beautiful. Let it rest for 30 minutes before serving.

6. Service: Portion all your sections before they hit the table--it's less messy, and you can give the plates some flair with a little fresh chopped parsley, chives or basil sprinkled on and around the lasagna. Top each piece with a little extra sauce.

7. Wine Pairing: With vegetarian creations, unless you're serving a lasagna heavy in mushrooms, stick with a nice chilled white such as a Sauvignon Blanc or Viognier. With the heavier meat lasagnas, I suggest a Pinot Noir, or a Rioja, something with enough backbone to stand up to the assertive flavors of the tomato, beef, and sausage. But drink what you love; after all, all I can do is make recommendations.

Follow these simple rules, and I guarantee success with your lasagna. You can vary the fillings as much as you want, enabling you do pretty much anything with the dish. As with any food, limitless ideas make for limitless possibilities.

When the Moon Hits Your Eye.....

Most people think that pizza originated in Naples, Italy, about two hundred years ago. Modern food historians trace it back much further. As near as I can tell, the Armenians began topping their flatbread, Lahmajoon, with rustic cheese and vegetables more than three hundred years before the Neapolitans. Lahma bi ajeen, the Lebanese version, was topped with ground lamb and tomato, and za'atar, a mix of sesame, herbs, garlic, and spices. The Middle Eastern versions are amazing.

Today, however, I am going to concentrate on the Italian versions. I'll try to make it easy for you neophytes.

The Sauces:

Basic tomato

1 32oz can Italian canned tomatoes
1 whole head of garlic, finely chopped
1 medium onion, finely chopped
8 oz fresh basil leaves, torn
1 tbsp oregano
2 tsp thyme
1 cup white wine
salt and pepper
olive oil

Saute' the onion and garlic until softened; add salt, pepper, and thyme. Add the tomatoes and wine. Simmer 20 minutes, then add the basil leaves. Continue to cook the sauce until reduced by 50 percent. Makes 16 oz +, enough for 4 pizzas.

Basil Pesto

1 lb fresh basil
2/3 cup toasted pine nuts or hazelnuts
1/2 cup grated Parmesan
1/4 cup garlic, chopped
olive oil, amount varies.
the juice of 1 lemon

In a food processor, combine: basil, nuts, garlic and Parmesan until it forms a rough paste. Continue blending; add lemon juice, and drizzle in the olive oil until the desired texture is reached. Season with salt and pepper. To use on pizza, mix with white wine and a little olive oil until thin enough to spread easily.

Pizza Dough (I also use this dough for cinnamon rolls and pita bread)

4 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 plus 2 tbsp raw sugar
1/4 cup red wine
3 tsp salt
1 packet active dry yeast
1 1/2 cups plus 1/2 cup warm water
extra flour for working the dough

Combine the wine, 1/2 cup warm water, 2 tbsp sugar and yeast. Set aside until foamy. In a mixing bowl combine remaining flour, sugar and salt; add 1 cup of water and the yeast starter. Combine by hand until the dough forms a solid ball. If too dry, add water; if too wet, add extra flour. The dough should be solid yet pliable. Cover with plastic wrap and let the dough rest and rise. Deflate the dough once by pushing firmly on the top, then let it rise once more. Sprinkle table or counter with flour so things don't stick. Roll the dough out into two pizza crusts, each 15 inches across and 1/4 inch thick. Let rise 20 minutes before adding toppings.

Bake at 500 degrees for 8-10 minutes, longer if your toppings are heavy.

Pizza Marguerite

1 unbaked pizza crust
8 oz fresh Mozzarella cheese
whole basil leaves
tomato pizza sauce

Top the crust with sauce, then basil followed by cheese, and drizzle with 1 tbsp olive oil.
Bake at 500 degrees for 8 minutes.

A few things to remember: never overload your crust with extra toppings--stop at 3. Never put an overly wet sauce on the pizza or your crust will be soggy and unappetizing. If you want mushrooms on your pizza, saute them first. Tomatoes should be fresh, and only added after the pizza is out of the oven.

I hope this has given all of you some additional ideas for feeding yourselves and your family. Once you make pizza yourself, I know you'll be less tempted to go to Pizza Hut or Papa Murphy's. Ciao!

Friday, November 13, 2009

The Other Side of the Family: The Farmers

I've explained my attachments to the restaurant business, now I should explain where my love of agriculture comes from.

Some of my earliest memories are of Red Gate Farm, the three-hundred seventy acre parcel of land that my mother and all of her siblings grew up on. Simply put, it was a wonderland. More to the point, it was a giant chunk of farmland, encompassing pasture, sugar beet and alfalfa fields, myriad rows of hazelnut and fruit trees, dozens of acres of thick forest, and a half-mile of Willamette River frontage. My Grampa Jim was the quintessential farmer, Gramma Glo was the consummate preservationist.

I spent far more time with Jim and Glo, than I did with my other grandparents, they simply lived much closer. Riding on the tractor with Grampa was an experience, my ears would ring for hours afterwards. I remember the farm always having the greatest "toys", and by toys I mean giant Harvesters, Lifts, Sprayers, Tractors, and Processors. Huge barns of farm equipment. Huge barns of alfalfa and grass hay, bales stacked to the rafter. My cousins and I, with the help of my favorite uncle, Johnny, would build giant forts and tunnels out of the bales. We would lose ourselves for hours in these giant hay "castles".

The Farmhouse was another matter entirely, and also a huge influence on my culinary leanings. Glo would spend months of every summer and fall, canning, pickling, and drying. She would make the most flavorful jams and jellies, some of which I still haven't found an equal to. The Canning House was a separate building from the main farmhouse. It was a dark, spider-infested house of horrors. The only redeeming part of it, it was where to find the jam and pickles when the house ran out. Very scary, and very delicious.

She could fill the canning house with more food than five families could eat, and because of their involvement with Calvary Mennonite Church outside Canby, OR, she often did feed those extra families. They never had much money, but no one ever went hungry. If you brought extra people for Sunday dinner, there were always extra seats for them, even with no notice. Glo was always a "the-more-the-merrier" type of person. I still have no idea how she did it. Some have said, jokingly,(Lyndsey Palmer-Day)that I could take pickles, cheese, mayonnaise, and lettuce, and cook a four-course meal out of it. They're not far off, and I learned how to do it from Glo.
They always made a lot from a little.

They communal dining experience is also something that has stayed with me over the years. Family Fourth of July, Thanksgiving, and Christmas were HUGE. My mother had three sisters and two brothers, so I had a lot of cousins. My Gramma's identical twin, Gloria, had eight children, and between those eight children, I had more than 20 second-cousins. Things got crowded very fast.

Sitting at a boisterous table, crowded with all your friends and relatives is a wonderful thing. Seeing that ideal take hold in fantastic Portland restaurants like Beast, Clyde Common, and The Montage(the originator, of course)gives me hope for the whole dining scene. Sharing the experience of food is so important in a country like ours, in a time like this. Eating food "on-the-go" is destroying the importance of dinner time. I believe (strongly) that we build stronger friendships and families by sharing the time and the nourishment. A few good friends, a few glasses of wine, some great food and stimulating conversation is a foundation that can support a very fulfilling life.

I hope that most of you can take the time to sit back tonight, relax, and focus on your families and friends. Cook your dinner with the knowledge that prepared right, served properly, and given the proper respect, your food can be so much more than a dollar burger and a overly sweet soda. It can be an authentic experience.

I am an advocate of Farm to Table eating, and I hope to explain the importance of this more over the coming articles. This is only the beginning, I hope all of you are here to enjoy it with me. This is the meaning of Family.

A Little Family History: Sunset West.

In spring of 1971, my grandfather opened the Dory King in Pacific City, Oregon. It was
a small family diner, catering to the fisherman that launched their boats off the sand at Cape Kiwanda. The Dory King's life as a small diner didn't last long. The original building was remodeled in 1975, after a few banner years of business. The result was Sunset West, a restaurant and lounge that was my first experience in the business.

Sunset West was really nothing special, I wouldn't consider it gourmet by any stretch of th meaning. It was a greasy spoon, but it was my family's greasy spoon. Great breakfasts, lunches, and dinners. The typical things that you would see in any family restaurant. But there was great attention to detail. Nearly everything was made in-house. Grandpa was, and is a stickler for good ingredients.

In the late seventies, they added Chinese food to the menu, and brought in Sam, a Hong Kong born chef, to handle that side of the kitchen. It was, of course, your average corn starch laden Cantonese menu; Sweet and sour pork, chow mein, egg foo young, etc. There was an art to it, nonetheless. I fell in love with General Tso's chicken , and Kung Pao-style dishes. To this day, they are still the measure that I judge other Chinese restaurants by.

In 1982, they sold the restaurant to a young couple, and retired to the riverfront in Milwaukie, Oregon. Their retirement was short-lived. Soon the payments made to my grandparents by the young couple ceased, and Grandpa got a letter from the IRS, saying that he was getting the business back, as the couple had neglected to pay their taxes for the restaurant. So back to Pacific City they went.

Upon their not-so-triumphant-return to the coast, they threw themselves into the business once again. Eighty hour weeks were not uncommon for Grandpa. Grandma Phyllis got her little beauty salon going in a space near the front of the building. The lounge upstairs was always booming, with my Uncle Bret playing Rock and Blues, five night a week. It was always an illicit treat, when they let us kids upstairs before the bar opened at noon. It always made me feel like a VIP, being able to walk in through the kitchen, saying hi to Sam and the rest of the kitchen employees. All the machines endlessly fascinating to me. I loved the smell of the deep-fryers, the way that all the stainless steel looked when clean. Racks of knives, stacks of pots and pans, boxes of fresh produce taller than I was at the time. Then, my very favorite part; the walk-ins'. I still love big refrigerators and freezers. Something about those whole prime-rib roasts stacked five tall, whole halibut and salmon, bins of fresh crab and shrimp nestled in ice, these are firmly implanted in my mind.

I never cared much for the pantry section, save the Asian ingredients. There were big piles of black mushrooms, dried chilies, ginger and garlic. Dried spices by the jar, the musky scent of Chinese Curry powder, and the camphor aroma of Bay Leaves.

In 1999, Sunset West closed its doors for the last time, and a chapter of my life came to a close. So the days spent at Sunset West became the memories of childhood.

Is it any wonder that food is my main passion, my art form, my obsession? Why did I take so long to being writing about it? I put pen to paper, and fingers to computer, and words come out. When I write about food, I never get writers block, my prose seems to flow effortlessly. It feels more natural than anything I've ever known.

Now, on the twenty-third of this month, I start my own chapter of the family tradition, as I head back into a beautiful kitchen again. I'm starting near the bottom of the food chain, as there are many things I need to learn again. I will make my Grandfather proud.

Thanks for reading this. Hopefully this gives you some insight into my life and history.


Thursday, November 12, 2009

Some Like it Hot!

I love spicy foods! It doesn't matter to me if it's Mexican, Thai, Vietnamese, Indian, or good old American Buffalo Wings, I like it all. I want that burn so bad, that I've actually come to resent the chefs at several local Thai joints, because they won't make it hot enough. I keep on asking the waiters to have the chef push the envelope, to no avail. Bribery has been no help. So now, when I go out I take my own homemade condiment with me, to guarantee the burn. Is that tacky? I've always thought that it was tacky to consistently let down a good customer, that always tips over twenty percent. How hard is it to add some extra crushed chilies to a sauce? On to the business...........

The Scoville Unit measures the heat of chilies. It is the number of units of water that it takes to wash away the burn of a chili. For reference:

Jalepenos:1500 SU
Serrano:8000 SU
Cayenne:10-12,000 SU
Thai:25-50,000 SU
Chiltepin Arrebatado:75,000+SU
Orange Habenero:75-150,000 SU
Red Sport Habenero:500,000 SU
Thai/Ghost Cross: 750,000 SU
Bhut Naga (Pakistani): 1.2 million SU

There is a tremendous natural range in the chili plant, more so than most plants that I know of. They started out in the Chihuahua Desert in Northern Mexico. The small wild berries of the Chiltepin, were intensely hot, and slowly, the Nahlatl (nah-wahl) people of the desert, began to find uses for them. From there they traveled into South America, then into Europe with the first Spanish and Portuguese explorers. The Europeans found a tremendous malleability in this plant, breeding it into the European varieties we currently know. From Europe the plant traveled south and east with the Portuguese traders to Africa, and the Asian sub-continent, where it found a home in the Spice Plantations. Obviously, the plant liked it in Asia, because use of it spread like wildfire. So wildly in fact, that the only two continents that don't have a traditional use of chilies are Australia and Antarctica.
That said, onto some recipes:


1 cup fresh red Thai Chilies
1 cup dry red Thai Chiles
4 cloves of garlic
1 cup sweet rice vinegar
1/2 tbsp Sea Salt

In a food processor: Blend the dry chilies, garlic, and salt, process until fine. Remove, and saute' in a hot, dry, non-stick pan until it begins to smoke. Process the fresh chilies until well chopped. Add to the rest of the ingredients in the pan. Saute' 1 minute. Add rice vinegar, turn to low, and simmer for an additional 5 minutes. Store in a clean glass jar. The Sambal will last for 2 months if kept cold.

Spicy BBQ dry-rub

4 oz Dry Ancho Chilies
2 oz Dry Chiltepin Arrebatado
2 oz Spanish smoked Paprika
1 oz Cumin seeds
1 oz Mustard seeds
1 oz black peppercorns
2 oz dried onion
2 oz dried garlic
1-1/2 cups dark brown sugar
1/4 cup sea salt

Wrap the Anchos' and Chiltepin chilies in foil. Place in a 450 degree oven for 10 minutes until well-dried and toasted. Add to Food Processor and blend to a powder. Add the brown sugar, salt and smoked paprika. Blend well. In a dry pan toast the cumin, black pepper, mustard seeds, onion and garlic, until very fragrant. Use an electric coffee grinder to pulverize the toasted ingredients. Add the last ingredients to the Food Processor. Blend well. The dry-rub will last one month. You can apply it to any meat or veggies you like, my favorite meat for this rub has got to be baby back ribs. Another great way to enjoy the rub is on grilled sweet corn. Just roll the corn in olive oil, and grill. Sprinkle with the rub.

Peach-Habenero Wing Sauce

1/2 lb fresh Habenero chilies
1 fresh white peach
1 16 oz can golden peaches(reserve liquid)
1 small sweet onion, chopped
1 head roasted garlic
1 tbsp chopped ginger
1/4 cup honey
1 tbsp veg oil

Finely dice 3/4 of the Habeneros, all of the canned peaches, and the peeled white peach. Saute the onion, garlic and ginger in the oil until soft, add the peaches and chilies, cook 3-4 minutes. Transfer to a blender. Puree this mix with the honey, and thin with the reserved liquid until you reach the desired consistency, add salt and pepper to taste.

Some final thought: Always use latex gloves when handling anything hotter than a serrano. Always wash your gloves before removing them, otherwise you can spread the oils to the rest of your body, and with Habeneros on up, that can mean blisters, burns, and severe pain. DO NOT EAT THE Bhut Naga's They won't kill you, but you'll wish for death.

Some do like it hot. I'm one of 'em!

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

When I grow up I want a wood-fired cookstove.

Many of you know, that for a significant portion of October I was in rural Northern California. During my time on the Klamath River,I saw and experienced many things that I consider out-of-the-ordinary. Helping Yurok tribal members set gill-nets in the river. Going to sleep nightly, wondering if "The Bear" had wandered off the mountain that evening, and would he be munching on the figs, apples, and pears in the orchard, thirty feet from my tent. I cooked on a wood-fired kitchen stove for the first time. The stove, filled with Tan Oak, and applewood, became my pet project in my time on the reservation.

Five o'clock in the morning; I wake up, chop some of the oak, wash my face and hands, and head to the kitchen. I pile a bit of newspaper in the small box beneath the wood burning chamber, add some kindling, and light the fire. I add two small logs after the kindling catches, and cross my fingers. We had no coffee maker on site, so I would make giant batches of Turkish-style coffee each morning. Boil one gallon of water, and add 10 ounces of fine-ground Italian roast. I let it simmer for 15 minutes until it reached rocket fuel strength. Then the tricky part: I had to add one cup of cold water and a pinch of salt to settle the grounds. This was just to get my morning cup o' coffee.

Taking this much time in the kitchen teaches you a lot about proper preparation, and patience. Just cooking a breakfast scramble was a Herculean task. No longer was I concerned with par-cooking, dicing, emulsions, or the Maillard reaction. My mind was cleared of culinary pretense. The flavor of an oven-roasted Boar loin, glazed with figs and Bourbon, took on a whole new meaning. The scent of oak kissed everything
that came out of that kitchen. Potatoes, simply roasted with butter, garlic, salt and pepper had an "otherness" to them, that I hadn't experienced otherwise. The same evening I roasted the Boar loin, I started a small cooking fire, just outside the house. When the bed of coals was properly hot, I cleared a small opening in the center. In went a small pumpkin, stuffed with apples, butter, salt and honey. Forty-five minutes later it was done. I had wanted a side dish, what came out of that small fire was more akin to a rustic dessert. Dusted with cinnamon, and a little additional honey, it was the perfect compliment to the wild flavor of the loin. The rich smoke flavor of the loin was complemented by the simplicity of the apples and pumpkin.

The dichotomy of the wood stove still intrigues me. Yes, I was cooking in a kitchen, but everything I prepared had taken on the quality of food prepared by my ancestors.

I can't turn back now. The experience, for better or worse, effected me too deeply. I want that same simplicity in all my food. Well, maybe with a little more flair. However, I want those qualities to remain. Take fantastic wild ingredients, paired to compliment each other, and cooked in a way that your Great-Grandparents would recognize. Forget all about the parlance of modern presentation. Ingredients should look like what they are, otherwise we tend to forget that what we're eating used to be a living breathing creature.

In this day and age we are bombarded by blatant commercialism, advertising, pre-prepared frozen dinners, value-added cereals, and pasteurized cheese "product". These have caused us to lose sight of what dinner used to mean. Our parents even knew what it meant to sit down to a meal. It meant that something had to die to feed us. Someone else had to break their back to grow the potatoes, carrots, onions, and celery that accompanied the roast beef, sitting on the table in front of you. In all of this joy at the table, there was suffering at its heart. Food should be a labor of love, just don't forget about the "labor" part. We've made it so easy to eat now, that no one thinks about just how hard it used to be to get dinner to the table.

Give thanks to the Animal and the Farmer that raised it. Go to the Farmers Market, if only once in a while, and talk to the men and women that work the soil for your dining pleasure. Grow a garden of your own,(organic of course) just to feel the dirt under your nails, to feel the heartbreak of a lost crop, or the joy of a bumper harvest.

All I am suggesting is taking a step back. If we take this step back, maybe it can send us two or three steps forward, in a better direction.

This is why I want a wood-fired cookstove when I grow up.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

I love Autumn.

The days get short and rainy. The nights are long, cold, and leave you wishing for a warm, mildly alcoholic beverage(Hot cocoa and bourbon for me) to comfort you by the fire. Baseball is finally off the television and Football has happily taken it's place.
This is the least of what fall means to me.

This is the season, where all the hard work of late summer preservation begins to pay off. My oven dried tomatoes taste like just-picked, when crafted into a marinara. The dried mushrooms will be redolent of fall, long after the maples leaves have turned to compost. Curried Pumpkin Soup with Armenian yogurt will be a centerpiece. The wheel of Rebouchon goat cheese will call to me, crying to be smeared on a piece of crusty bread. The lightness that touched everything during the summer season in gone. Replaced by an explosion of intense flavors and textures. Gone is the light acidity of the Dry Reisling, it has been supplanted by big Balloon glasses filled with Chianti, Pinot Noir, and Rioja.

Time, every year I'm on this planet it moves faster. Left with less and less time to enjoy the little things around me. This Autumn is when I begin to react to this unwelcome shortening of the seasons and hours. This Autumn, I open the Doors.

Welcome, to to the Church of the Holy Chefs Knife. My name is Brother Gabriel. I'm the High Priest here.

Welcome to the Chapel!

The doors of the Church of the Holy Chefs Knife are open. We are accepting of all the worlds cuisines. Your creed matters not to us. We only ask that you approach our table with an open mind, and an open heart.
The God of our Church is food, real nourishment, not spiritual. You can believe in everything we bring to the table, you may see,taste, smell, and touch the object of our affection. Welcome, we do not discriminate, unless you conform to Kosher or Halal traditions, or have food allergies, then we cannot help you. We are omnivores, and cannot let food prejudice weight us down. Join us. JOIN US!!!!