Friday, December 24, 2010

Chef's Table

For what will be most likely my final blog post of 2010, I wanted to post some photos of a recent Chef's Table. We hold these each Thursday at 6pm at the table in our back bar next to the kitchen. We only seat a maximum of 8 diners each week. Five to six courses paired with wines for $60: a deal no matter how you slice it and even more of a deal once you consider the labor.

Arancino of Porcini Risotto. Isn't this a gorgeous photo? First, thanks to Billie Clifton of Sunflower Cottage for all the beautiful herbs, greens, and flowers this winter. We made balls of wickedly good and creamy porcini risotto, rolled them in panko, and deep fried them for an addictively good amuse bouche. We made some extras for chef snackies. I loved the contrast between the crunchy crust and the sinfully creamy interior.

Fall Salad. This is a salad I came up with several years ago and it has featured on our late fall and early winter menus ever since, such a hit with customers it is. I don't like to repeat dishes that are on our dinner menu on our tasting menus, but this salad is so good that I want everyone to try it. This salad popped into my head at the farmers market one bleak Saturday when I needed a salad for that night's menu and nothing green was to be found. In classic Asian fashion, this salad has sweet and crunch from the Asian pears, salt and spice from the pecans, and earthy creaminess from the butternut squash. It's all bound with an apple cider reduction and topped with earthy Bull's Blood beets. I love this salad.

Winter Bounty. There may not be a vast selection of items at the farmers market in December, but we can do some cool things with what there is. This is a napoleon featuring three layers of parsnip latkes sandwiching layers of mustard greens and cavolo nero, standing in a pool of butternut squash cream. This dish is enough to make me turn vegetarian. All the flavors play together so well.

Cassoulet. This menu so far has been tamely vegetarian. Time to turn on the meat! This is pork and beans amped up with copious quantities of duck fat and house-cured duck confit. We made this cassoulet with Steuben Yellow Eye Beans, an heirloom variety that keeps it shape while becoming sinfully creamy inside. The French only wish they had this bean for their cassoulets. We make our cassoulet with amazing Virginia sausages and smoked slab bacon, keeping it as local as we can and keeping the local cardiologists in funds.

Pork, Pork, Pork. Did I mention that I could happily be a vegetarian except for one small problem? Pork products. Yep, I'd walk five miles for a taste of pork confit. This is a mini-homage to my friend the pig and one that hopped into my mind a couple of days ago while eyeing the pan of leftover ossobuco of pork from our company Christmas party. What if we debone the osso, reshape it into disks, wrap it in prosciutto, crisp it in a pan, and serve it in a bowl of smoky pork jus? What if indeed! This is one sexy pork dish, with its crown of sausage and duck fat-roasted brussels sprouts!

Apple Crumble. I'm not a dessert guy. Give me another glass of wine and a piece of cheese and some fruit after dinner and I'm really happy. So my desserts tend to be more savory, less sweet, and fruit-driven. And I guess 2010 has been the year of deconstructed, scattered desserts for me. If you look back at my dessert photos over the year, there seems to be a theme. Traditional apple crumble has been selling like hotcakes this fall and winter. This is a reworking in which the apples, the apple cider glaze, the crumble topping, and the vanilla bean gelato have all been pulled apart and reassembled. The crumble topping is in the form of a cookie, the result of another what-if. What if we bake the crumble topping too long? Sometimes good things come of curiosity!

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Cavolo Nero

We've been serving a lot of cavolo nero recently, mainly because it's the season and because, finally, a local grower is supplying it to us. Cavolo nero is Italian for black cabbage, but in English, it's often known as Tuscan black kale, lacinato kale, or less frequently dinosaur kale.

Although this green is hard to find, it is easy to recognize with its long narrow dark black-green leaves with the distinctive leathery appearance. It's only leathery in appearance: the leaves of cavolo nero are as tender as any kale and the stems are significantly more tender than standard curly kale. But the big payoff for this kale is the flavor: customers universally love it. It has a big, meaty flavor that makes it easily my favorite winter green.

To prepare cavolo nero, we slice it into thin ribbons from top of the leave to the bottom. We may discard a couple inches of the bottom if the stem gets a little tough. Our favorite way of cooking it is the simplest: we warm some extra virgin olive oil, garlic, salt, and pepper in a sauté pan. Then we blanch the kale ribbons in simmering water for 45 to 60 seconds, drain them, and add them to the oil and garlic. Onto the plate they go after a quick toss. For our recent wine dinner, we used half duck fat and half butter instead of olive oil for a wholly decadent treat.

I also like the way this kale stands up in soups. For me, it is the must-have green in ribollita or any white bean soup. And it's an excellent, but different, stand-in for tronchuda in caldo verde.

I can't tell you where to find cavolo nero, but if you ever spot some, take it home. I predict it will quickly become one of your favorite greens.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

$50 Gift Certificate Photo Caption Contest

For all of you who follow the blog, but not our Facebook page, we're having a photo caption contest over on for this photo. Keep it clean!

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Recent Photos

Here are a couple of recent photos from the restaurant.

Here is one of our flats of blood sorrel, just waiting to be picked for garnish. Blood sorrel has that great lemony oxalic acid zing of any other sorrel and it looks great on the plate too. We only ever use this in raw applications.

And finally after waiting all summer, our first batch of field peas (aka cowpeas, cream peas, crowder peas) is in. These are the traditional purple hulls (the ones with the eyes) and the cream peas called Zipper, the larger ones without the eyes.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

More on Crab Cakes

More on crab cakes: when a picture says it all.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Ugly Tomatoes

I'm always on the lookout for unusual produce and today I ran across this beast at the farmers market. I was told it was called a Traveling Tomato. A little sleuthing (thanks to Tatiana's TOMATObase) led me to the German name Reisetomate ("Traveling Tomato").

And at the primary supplier of seeds for my garden, Baker Creek Seeds,, I read:
The most novel tomato we have seen, this tomato is like a big bunch of cherry tomatoes all fused together: an amazing trait that had everyone here asking questions about the alien-looking, bumpy tomatoes. Also called “Traveler tomato” (“reise” is German for “travel” or “journey”) for the ability to tear it apart a piece at a time, with no need for a knife. This type of tomato traces its roots to Central America where the native people would carry traveler tomatoes on trips, to eat as they walked. Bright red tomatoes taste--well, rather sour, strong and acid. The perfect tomato for those who love raw lemons, but who cares? They are still far-out and groovy.

And for the acid test (pun intended): it has good tomato flavor and thick skin with disappointingly soft flesh. Definitely high in acid, but all good tomatoes are so blessed in my humble opinion, but not what I would call lemon-like. As Chris said, "I wouldn't kick this tomato out of bed."

Friday, August 13, 2010


For our charcuterie plates, speaking of which note-to-self: must make lamb terrine this morning, various pickles: Kirby cucumbers, lemon cucumbers, West Indian gherkins, poona kheera cucumbers, carrots, dill, cayennes, and garlic.

I doubt you can see it in the photo, but you should note the weight that I'm using to hold the cucumbers under the brine. It's a seal top bag full of brine and I've squeezed all the air out of it.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Summer Bounty Chef's Tasting

Here are photos from a recent Chef's Tasting, inspired by the produce that we found at the farmers market.

Patata a la Flamenca. A new potato stuffed with shrimp, chorizo, and red pepper. Pimentón sauce on the plate. Conceived as a way to use the fabulous new potatoes and a really cool flattened, thick-fleshed cheese pimiento pepper.

Scallop and Watermelon Seviche. We have a watermelon in house so we can pickle the rind and we had to have a way to use the flesh. This is a start.

Summer Salad. How to showcase fresh tomatoes and fresh mozzarella without doing the same old insalata caprese? We let the bowls shape the warm mozzarella into disks, marinated them in a pesto made from lemon verbena, and then built the salad on top of the mozzarella. Garnished with cherry and pear tomatoes, fresh corn, tomato dice, and sliced West Indian gherkins.

Arctic Char. We went round and round on what to do with the char. I love char (and any of the salmonids, really) with fresh tomato. I won the argument. Hmm, I sign the paychecks. Any correlation? And once more with the gorgeous new potatoes, because they are new but once a year. Some really garlicky aïoli and a little dill to finish the dish.

Red-Cooked Lamb Shank. This dish could appear at any season, but we just got a lamb in with its tiny shanks just begging to be braised. Full on northern Chinese treatment, braised with soy, rice wine, brown sugar, five spice, cinnamon, ginger, garlic, green onions, and star anise. Quick fried rice for garnish. Fried rice contains chives, egg, country ham, black trumpet mushrooms, and carrots.

Plum Cake. A less is more dish. Plum soup down, half a split polenta cake topped with roasted plums, topped with the other half of the polenta cake, zabaglione, and a half a plum. This was all about showing off these wonderful round plums that taste like prune plums. The grower doesn't even know what kind of plum it is. All I know is that they taste great.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Another Gherkin

I have a very curious palate. If it's new to me, I want to taste it. I operate from the point of view that chances are very good that I will like a new food. This is a contrarian position to that of most people whom I encounter: if it's new, they're not eager to try it because they might not like it. And so, I have a very, very tiny list of things that I don't care to eat and an almost infinitesimal list of things that I won't eat.

Take a good look at this joker: another gherkin from Mark Bishop at Master's Touch in Berkeley Springs, WV, this one about the size of a small egg.

The reason I asked you to take a good look at it is because I just added to the list of things that I don't care ever to eat again. It had all three of us who tasted it running as fast as we could for the trashcans to spit it out. Although I am a fan of bitter foods, such as bitter melons, this was so bitter that my mouth still tastes nothing but bitter 30 minutes after having tasted this gherkin. Nasty. Nasty. Nasty.

This experience will not tame my restless palate. As soon as I can taste again, I'll be off searching for the next new food experience.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Food for Thought

This morning I saw a copy of Bon Appetit and it struck me that in English we have no direct translation for that term. And I thought it sad that we have no phrase for inviting people to the table and bidding them to dine well. No "bon appetit," no "mangiare bene." This explains a lot, I think, about the relationship with food in WASP-influenced America where food is something to stave off hunger and not something to celebrate. Food for thought. Tutti a tavola e mangiamo bene!

Friday, July 30, 2010

West Indian Gherkin

At the market this morning, I spied some of these pointy beasts at Mark Bishop's stand. I haven't seen West Indian Gherkins (Cucumis anguria) in a long time, so I brought the little cucumber cousins home with me to share with the crew and with my blog readers. I'm sure they'll end up in the next batch of pickles that I put up, hopefully next week.

In the garden, you'll see that the vines are of similar size to common cucumber (C. sativus) vines, but that the leaves more closely resemble watermelon (Citrullus lanatus) leaves than cucumber leaves. They're prolific little guys too. One plant yields dozens of fruits. If you see some at a market near you, bring them home and give them a try.

Thursday, July 29, 2010


Sorry for the dearth of posts recently. Staffing and personal issues have taken a huge toll on my free time.

I've always been a fan of foraging for food: it's hard to beat the price of free food! Now that it is mid-summer, local purslane is in full swing and there happens to be a bunch growing in the crack where the asphalt of the parking lot meets the stucco of the restaurant. And how ironic that this wild Portulaca (P. oleracea) with its tiny yellow blooms is growing under the window boxes full of its showy cousins with the big pink and fuchsia blossoms.

But be careful when foraging anything whose identity you're not certain of. Growing in the same crack right next to the purslane is a Spotted Spurge (Euphorbia maculata) which I have seen people confuse with purslane and which is mildly toxic. Spotted spurge, as you can see, has very thin stems which exude a milky sap when broken and has tiny leaves that are opposite each other on the stems. This is an entirely different growth habit from the purslane with its large succulent stems and whorls of leaves, largely at the end of its stems.

Here in the United States, purslane is considered a weed; however, it finds favor as a salad and cooking herb around the world. In Mexico, purslane is called verdolaga and while it is often used in green chile and pork stews, I like it best when used raw on tacos. Nothing like carnitas on a fresh corn tortilla with a nice tart green tomatillo salsa and a sprig of purslane. And in the Mediterranean and Middle East, you'll see purslane leaves in all manner of chopped salads and often in tzatziki-style yogurt sauces and salads.

We use purslane in salads (just the leaves) where the crunchy and slightly tart leaves make a pleasant addition. We also toss some in sautés with spinach, garlic, and olive oil. The whole plant is edible, stems, leaves, and blooms, but I find the stems a bit much, so I just strip off the leaves. Also, because purslane is a succulent, it has a mucilaginous quality similar to okra. I like purslane best when raw or just slightly cooked: it becomes a bit slimy for me when cooked longer.

It's pretty neat and no doubt you have some growing in one of your gardens or flower beds. Give it a try.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Chef's Tasting

I finally managed to get some photos from last night's Chef's Table menu. It's often too busy to photo the food.

Leek and Potato Shooter. A shooter of classic Vichyssoise topped with an oca latke and micro onion greens. Oca is a rare Andean tuber that strikes me as a cross between a fingerling potato and a sunchoke/Jerusalem artichoke. Oca is an Oxalis (O. tuberosa), so it brings a little of that classic sweet-tart oxalic acid flavor to the party. The micro onion greens are from Chef's Garden and are not onions at all. What they are, I don't really know, but they have a small tomato-like leaf and a great onion flavor. The idea behind this dish is that you eat the latke in a single bite and chase it with the soup.

Cantaloupe Carpaccio. Mandoline-cut local cantaloupe topped with cubes of cantaloupe marinated in lime zest and agave nectar, Thai basil oil, micro Thai basil, purslane, and red ribbon (aka blood) sorrel. I'm so glad that cantaloupes are just starting to ripen here. Notice the generous grind of pepper on the dish; cantaloupe loves pepper: it brings out the sweetness in the melon. Wine pairing: Broadbent Vinho Verde NV.

Tomato. We should have tomatoes coming out of our ears by now what with all this scorching weather, but nobody can seem to get tomatoes to ripen this year. We have been hoarding and ripening a very few tomatoes just for this tasting. Here you see tomato ricotta gnocchi in a pool of pesto garnished with micro opal basil, a small tomato stuffed with yellow tomato granita, and a tomato taco suave. The tortilla is masa and tomato, the filling is tomato dice tossed in pesto, and the garnishes are sun-dried tomato sour cream and micro basil. I was very pleased with the amount of flavor we managed to pull from the yellow tomato granita, which we served with a grind of sea salt on top. Wine pairing: Château de Ségriès Tavel Rosé 2009.

Lamb Makisushi. This dish is the answer to the question, "How do we serve lamb like sushi?" You see a maki roll of grilled summer squash, Israeli couscous, and braised lamb shank. The green garnish is leek leaves. The wasabi is colored mashed potatoes, the gari (pickled ginger) is pickled zucchini, and the soy sauce is the lamb braising liquid. High cuisine? I don't know. Fun? Most definitely. Wine pairing: Fabbioli Cabernet Franc Virginia 2008.

Napoleon of Pulled Pork. This dish represents summer to us. We were looking for a way to showcase corn, squash, and tomatoes in the same dish. You see a napoleon whose layers are, from the bottom to the top, sinfully unctuous squash cake, pulled pork, pimentón- and cornmeal-crusted green tomato, pulled pork, and fresh corn cake. The pork is shoulder that we have braised in the Cuban style: classic puerco con mojo. Garnishes are micro cilantro, sweet corn sauce, charred corn, red and orange pepper confetti, and chipotle adobo. Wine pairing: Fabbioli Chambourcin Virginia 2008.

Blueberry Cheesecake. I'm starting to move away from the slice of dessert on a plate school and moving more to deconstructed desserts. Here you see bite-sized blueberry cheesecakes, fresh blueberries, blueberry sauce, crème anglaise, graham cracker crust, and micro lemon balm. I'm very happy with this dessert. Wine pairing: Di Lenardo Verduzzo Passito Venezia Giulia 2003.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Creative Greens

I like making salads from a large variety of greens: lettuces, chicories, herbs, all kinds of things. So I'm always happy to find new greens at the market for my salads.

In this photo, you see at the top red-stemmed dandelions and below that, radicchetta, the one that is similar to oak leaf lettuce. Dandelions are fairly bitter so I only use the small leaves raw in salads. The larger leaves I blanch and then sauté with olive oil and garlic, or I add them to braises of mixed greens. Radicchetta is a new green to me. Being a chicory, it has a little bitter note, but it is also nutty enough to be eaten out of hand. I can see it doing really well on a tomato and goat cheese sandwich. Both of these are from Mark Bishop at Master's Touch, Berkeley Springs, WV.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

25th Anniversary 9-Course Vegetarian Tasting

Earlier this week, we did a nine-course vegetarian tasting menu for a couple's 25th wedding anniversary. In some respects, the timing was good, this being the last week for local asparagus and sugar snaps, and being the first week for English peas. In other respects, doing vegetarian menus before the onset of the summer vegetables such as squashes, peppers, tomatoes, and eggplants poses its challenges.

This menu is truly a menu of the season and was inspired in large part by what we found at the farmers market and what our growers brought to us: green garlic, garlic scapes, sugar snaps, English peas, fava beans, fennel, asparagus, dandelions, mulberries, morels, and shiitake mushrooms.

Sopa de Ajo. Creamy Soup of Local Green Garlic; Roasted Garlic Scape; Garlic Scape Pesto. This was inspired by the abundance of green garlic and garlic scapes that we have from thinning our garlic and keeping them from blooming so that they will focus on making garlic bulbs. Wine Pairing: Feffiñanes Albariño Rias Baixas 2008.

Fennel. Salad of Fennel Confit, Fennel Latke, and Fennel Slaw; Pernod Cream. We have so much fennel on hand now that we are looking for creative ways to use it. Fennel confit was marinated in herbs, garlic and olive oil then grilled and then poached in olive oil for 10 hours. The greens you see are red-stemmed dandelions. Wine Pairing: White Hall Vineyards Viognier Virginia 2008.

Spring. Sauté of Morels, Peas, Sugar Snaps, Favas, and Garlic Scapes; Achiote Pasta. This was conceived as an open-faced raviolo showing off all the spring vegetables on hand. The morels and veg were cooked in the Tuscan style called trifolati, in the style of truffles, with butter, garlic, and lots of fresh parsley. There's no better spring sauté in the world! Wine Pairing: La Slina Gavi di Gavi 2008.

Napoleon of Local Shiitake Mushrooms. Roasted Shiitakes; Crispy Goat Cheese; Crispy Shiitake Bits; Balsamic Gel. I love shiitakes and goat cheese together (anybody remember my shiitake polenta with herbed goat cheese mousse?) so the napoleon flowed naturally from the disk shape of the mushrooms and the cheese. We wanted some bacon for this dish; the crispy shiitake bits do a great job standing in for the bacon. Balsamic vinegar works really well with shiitakes too. I wanted to use the balsamic as a plate garnish but didn't want to reduce it and get that muddy caramelized balsamic flavor, so I gelled it. Wine Pairing: Swedenburg Pinot Noir Virginia 2008.

Vegetarian Yiouvetsi. Baked Orzo with Tomatoes, Artichokes, Preserved Lemons & Local Goat’s Milk Feta. My Greek friends know that I'm a fairly deft hand with a traditional yiouvetsi, baked orzo with lamb and tomatoes, redolent with olive oil, lemon, and fresh oregano, topped with feta cheese. I had heard of Michael Psilakis doing a vegetarian one, but I never knew what he put in it. That idea has been in the back of my brain for a long time and I am happy to have had the chance to bring it to a menu. This one contains tomatoes, onions, artichokes, house-cured preserved lemons, and garlic scapes. It may not look like much in the photo, but the flavors are intensely amazing. Thanks to Alan at Spriggs Delight Farm for the feta. Wine Pairing: Dupeuble Beaujolais 2008.

Panisse. Fried Chickpea Cake; Smoky Chickpea Salad; Roasted Red Pepper Hummus. For red wine vegetarian courses when tomatoes are not in season, I look to paprika and last year's roasted red peppers. And I love chickpeas. I eat them every day; they are my primary source of protein. This then is a loving homage to the many forms of chickpeas. Note to anyone listening: we tried to make the smoky chickpea salad with fried chickpeas, thinking we could get them crunchy. Instead, they just got leathery and no bueno. Wine Pairing: Borgia Campo de Borja 2008.

Stuffed Piquillo. Sweet Red Piquillo Pepper Stuffed with Israeli Couscous in the Style of Paella. You may have seen me make this couscous on WVPT. It is a customer and staff favorite because the flavors are so amazing. The couscous is flavored with sweet yellow and red peppers, artichoke hearts, yellow onions, green onions, tomatoes, saffron, garlic, and pimentón. And piquillos are the best tasting red pepper in the world. All in all, a terrific dish. Wine Pairing: Finca Sobreño Toro 2005.

Cheese Plate. Artisanal Cheeses; Mulberries; Caerphilly-Pecorino Crackers. I don't eat sweets after a meal; they just don't appeal to me. But I love to finish dinner with cheese and a glass of wine so when the customer told me he'd like to finish dinner with cheese, he was talking my language. I foraged some mulberries and made some crackers to accompany the three artisanal cheeses, one each from New York, Wisconsin, and Virginia. Wine Pairing: Linden Claret Virginia 2006.

Gorgonzola Cheesecake. Candied Walnuts; Port Reduction. Another riff on the cheese theme to end dinner is my subtle gorgonzola cheesecake made with Gorgonzola Dolce. This is my kind of way to finish a meal: all the classic port accompaniments reworked into a dessert. Wine Pairing: Warre’s Otima 10-year old Tawny Port.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Crab Cakes

Several years ago, we had a spate of complaints about our crab cakes. They were all along the lines that our crab cakes have no flavor, that they're tasteless. After several years of no complaints, we've had another recent rash of similar complaints.

Our crab cakes are made from the best blue crab we can buy, mayonnaise, celery, parsley, panko, salt, and white pepper. That's it. Over the years, I've tried every binder known to man for holding crab cakes together (béchamel, fish mousse, scallop mousse, egg whites, sour cream, etc.) and the best binder hands down is a mayonnaise made with a neutral oil.

Crab meat has a very delicate flavor that is easily overpowered by other flavors. This is why I especially despise crab cakes containing any form of assertive bell pepper or, God forbid, Old Bay seasoning, which reeks of celery seed. Some people actually like to taste bell pepper or celery seed rather than the $18 per pound crab. If that's your preference, fine; it's not mine though.

The complaints come from one of two kinds of people. The first is someone who actually prefers to taste bell pepper and celery seed to crab. I don't understand their point of view, but they're entitled to it. I just wish they'd allow that my crab cakes are well made, just not to their taste.

The second complainant is one who does not perceive the value of expensive fresh blue crab bound with just as few additives as are necessary to hold the crab meat in a cake. These are the ones who tell me that the frozen crab cakes (that are short on crab and long on filler) at Costco are as good or better than mine. I wish these people, rather than pick on my crab cakes, would just say that mine are too expensive for them. That's really what their gripe is, so why not just say it?

In any case, the complaints are few and far between and for each, we have served thousands of other customers who have loved the crab cakes. And I'm not changing my recipe regardless of what anyone says.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

When Local is Not Better

Yesterday, one of my long-time local suppliers and I parted company.

From his perspective, the economy has hurt his sales to the point where my restaurant was the only one in this small town still to buy his product and the economy has severely reduced the amount of his product that I can sell before it goes bad. Moreover, it was a long drive for him to deliver to me. From my perspective, the quality of his product has been slipping to the point where I had refused to accept or pay for an increasing number of deliveries.

So really it came as no surprise yesterday to get a phone call from him saying that he couldn't afford to deliver to me any longer. I was at the point of making the call myself. I'm also sure that he didn't want to deliver any longer because it had to sting when I had to reject his product, even though I was very nice about it.

When we had discussed the quality of the product, he would say over and over, "But none of my other chefs have a problem with it." Unfortunately, because his other customers are not nearly so quality focused as I am, my entreaties to him to improve the quality of his product fell on deaf ears. It happens.

Fortunately, I have another supplier who is 100% attuned to delivering the highest quality product possible. And I can get this extraordinary quality product for the same price that I have been paying to my now former supplier. The downside: my backup supplier is not local.

I really do want to buy locally. It's been a hallmark of my restaurant for the better part of a decade, long before it became fashionable to fly the local flag, and so it pains me to have to part company with a longstanding local supplier. But when local is not better, I don't have a choice.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Chef's Tasting

"Shrimp Provençale"—Pernod-poached shrimp; salad of oranges, oven-dried black olives, fennel confit, and fennel fronds.

"Cream of Arugula Soup"—Last of the bolting arugula with watercress stems, yellow onion, potato, splash of cream.

"Bouillabaisse"—fish and shellfish poached in classic bouillabaisse stock; stock reduced and gelled; pansy, microradish, and poached shrimp garnish.

"Poussin and Veal Galantine"—boned poussin stuffed with local free range veal, porcini, pistachios, madeira, pancetta, bacon, and green peppercorns; one and a half quarts brown poussin stock reduced to four teaspoons; micro squash with blooms.

"Porcini Gnocchi Trifolati"—classic potato gnocchi augmented with porcini powder (very tricky dough, very light on gluten); morel mushrooms cooked in the style of truffles (trifolati) with butter, brunoise of pancetta, garlic, and lots of fresh parsley; shaved asparagus. Sorry for the crappy photo, camera would not focus.

"Prickly Pear Cheesecake"—prickly pear purée; candied hibiscus bloom; hibiscus syrup; borage blooms

Thursday, April 1, 2010

On Bread Pudding

Bread pudding: I woke up thinking about it this morning. Call it a gift or call it a curse: we professional chefs seem to be preternaturally prone to ponder food at all hours of the day. And today, my first waking thoughts were of bread pudding, no doubt in large part because I must make another one today. The current dulce de leche pudding has found such favor with customers that we cannot keep it in stock. In fact, I've never seen a dessert fly so fast.

It seems unusual that bread pudding would be hugely popular at a fine dining restaurant because it is a quintessentially homey, comfort dessert. Part of its appeal no doubt is that once you tuck into a dish of ultra-creamy bread pudding, there is no doubt that you're eating dessert. There's no feeling of guilt in destroying the post-modern composition on your plate, no wistfulness at pulling down that sculpture in chocolate that some pastry chef slaved over, no, no remorse at all about digging deep into that bowl of warm, cozy goodness. Except perhaps that fleeting remorse about one's ever increasing waistline. But that can wait until tomorrow, this bread pudding is so damned good that there's no stopping until the bowl is clean!

Bread pudding is also probably so popular because it is somehow deeply rooted in our psyche. In my case, there is no doubt of it. Every time I think about bread pudding, I think about my maternal grandmother. Near the end of her life when I was nearing the end of college, I would make the three-hour drive to spend the odd weekend with her. I loved these visits and she loved them too. She would slave away cooking for me and being no slouch at the table, I would eat all she fixed for me. Toward the end of her life, I could see how much of an effort, how painful it really was to cook for me, but how much pleasure she took in seeing me eat.

The meal that she would cook for me was ritualized by my final year in college: fried rabbit (technically smothered rabbit, first browned then cooked in gravy), turnip salad (the greens of turnips cooked slowly with side meat, cured but not smoked pork belly), crackling corn pone (white cornmeal, lard, crispy cracklings of pork skin, and hot water, shaped into submarine shapes and baked), and for dessert, bread pudding.

My grandmother's bread pudding was not like mine. Hers was a very quick dessert made of store-bought sliced white bread buttered and spread with jelly or jam, strawberry being my favorite, the slices overlapping one another in the bottom of a flat pan, with a custard of milk, sugar, vanilla, and eggs poured over. Twenty minutes later and I was a very, very happy young man.

My bread pudding today is an amazingly rich and decadent affair that bears scant resemblance to hers. I've taken her concept of bread pudding and tweaked it over decades and although the familial resemblance is still there, my pudding is a very different beast, but not so different that it doesn't resonate with customers the way that my grandmother's resonated with me.

My grandmother died before I could return the favor by cooking for her. How I wish I could share a bowl of bread pudding with her! She'd be tickled!

Friday, March 26, 2010

Chef's Tasting

"Cockles and Chorizo", Wine Pairing: Broadbent Vinho Verde 2008

"Shrimp Cocktail"—pickled shrimp, caperberry, baby cucumber with bloom, glass rimmed with cumin salt, cocktail: tomato juice, mussel broth, lime juice, cilantro juice, cumin, sherry vinegar, gold tequila

"Piquillos and White Beans"—parfait layers of brunoise of piquillo pepper and Tuscan "refried beans," green layer flavored with pesto, tan layer flavored with rosemary, Wine Pairing: La Slina Gavi di Gavi "Giorgio Cichero" 2008

"Morel Risotto"—onion and Carr Valley Shepherd's Blend cheese risotto napping a hidden poached quail egg (surprise!), crispy morel mushroom, Parmesan tuile, fresh thyme leaves, Wine Pairing: Clifton Springs Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast 2007

"Duck and Veal Ravioli"—raviolo stuffed with Moulard duck and local veal ragù, roasted romanesco, romanesco brown butter mousse (killer!), Wine Pairing: Cristom Syrah Willamette Valley 2005

"Oxtail Empanada"—chimichurri down on the plate, shredded oxtail, crispy polenta, radishes, pickled cipollini, pea shoots, johnny jump ups, Wine Pairing: Boxwood Winery "Boxwood" Virginia 2007

"New York-Style Cheesecake"—mini cheesecakes, poached dried apricots, almond brittle, Moscato d'Asti sabayon, crumbled amaretti, Wine Pairing: Vietti Moscato d'Asti "Cascinetta" 2008