Friday, September 21, 2012

Yet Another Tasting

As fall became official yesterday, we trotted out another really seasonal menu for our latest Chef's Table. We didn't put a lot of thought into this menu—in fact, we were barely functional and running solely on coffee at the time we scrawled this menu on the back of a used menu out on the deck yesterday morning. Thank the culinary gods for coffee!

Jerusalem Artichoke Soup
Jerusalem Artichoke Soup. The first of these sunflowers arrived this week and we have been talking about soup ever since. You see the soup realized as a take on sopa de ajo with bread, roasted garlic, and pimentón. The croustade is topped with a tangy salad of tomato, pickled and truffled green peaches, and crisp bacon, the tang coming from sherry vinegar.

Beet and Goat Cheese Empanada
Beet and Goat Cheese Empanada. We got to talking about beets and Tony said, "I wish we had some phyllo or puff pastry." I offered to make puff pastry, but I was never clear on what he wanted to do with it because it then clicked for me to make a batch of my awesome-if-I-do-say-so-thanks empanada dough. The beet garnish is dressed with a syrup of Tasmanian pepper; the frisée is dressed with a classic and highly tangy mustardy vinaigrette; the plate is dressed with both sauces.


"Bouillabaisse." An overabundance of beautiful peppers was the spark for this deconstructed take on a classic. Saucing the plate are an addictively garlicky sauce rouille, extra virgin olive oil, and a reduced saffron-laden fish broth. The traditional croustades have been reformulated as crispy bits fried in olive oil with garlic and basil.

Prosciutto-Wrapped Loin of Rabbit
Rabbit Loin. There is nothing new in this dish really. We do it fairly often in the fall and winter. We pound rabbit loins and stuff them with greens (cavolo nero in this case) and local goat cheese, the whole being rolled in prosciutto. The sauce is a sweet potato cream.

Sweet Potato and Cranberry Risotto
Sweet Potato and Cranberry Risotto. We've been talking about this dish for months now and finally all the ingredients aligned with weather cool enough to serve this. The risotto base starts with onions and sweet potatoes and we add cranberry juice instead of stock. Dried cranberries get added along the way. The risotto is finished with maple syrup and brown sugar instead of butter and cheese. On top, you see a slab of house-cured pork belly that we candied in maple syrup, a fresh fig, a bit of blue cheese, and some candied walnuts. This dish was custom designed to pair with an awesome tawny Port.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Another Tasting

And the fall dishes keep coming. This tasting is all about two things: comfort and flavor. No boundary pushing, no fancy food, just pure flavors, simple presentations, and awesomeness of ingredients.

Chowder/Lentil Shoots/Scallop/Black Truffle Beurre Blanc

Duck Confit Pupusa/Orange Salad

Crispy Cavolo Nero/Grits/Quail Stuffed with Cannellini, Smoked Sausage, and Sage/Cacciatore Sauce

Corn-Thyme Crème Caramel/Pickled Figs/Duck Breast/Tiny Green Beans/Tasmanian Pepper Syrup

Orange Polenta Upside Down Cake/Coconut Sorbet/Crème Anglaise

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Alien Ingredient #38: Lentil Shoots

Lentil Shoots: A Beautiful Garnish
One of my growers brought me a flat of microgreens that I had never seen before and asked me, "What is it?" I tasted a couple shoots and they start a touch bitter then finish distinctly green chickpea. Some tasters said they tasted like green peas, but these sprouts taste more chickpea to me. And they look like a legume as well. She told us that these are lentil shoots.

Vote: with a beautiful texture and a pleasant pea flavor, what's not to love?

Alien Ingredient #37: Tasmanian Pepper Syrup

Tasmanian Pepper Syrup
My specialty goods sales rep called me and said, "Ed, you buy some crazy stuff. You should try this stuff we just got." And he's right, I buy crazy stuff, especially if I have never tried it before. I just have that itch to taste as many foods as I can before I die.

This is a syrup made from the fruit of a small shrub (Tasmannia lanceolata) native to Tasmania and southeastern Australia. This fruit has been used as a black pepper substitute.

When I first heard about the syrup, I thought "duck." And then I tasted it. It combines the flavors of black pepper, cinnamon, and red wine, all of which we use today to garnish our duck breasts and lots of other things.

And most certainly, this syrup will go with the duck breast on our menu this evening. And equally most certainly, I will not pay $13 again for a tiny quantity of a syrup that I can easily imitate by adding black peppercorns to our current red wine-cinnamon syrup recipe.

Vote: delicious! But I can make a gallon of similarly flavored syrup for the same price.

Alien Ingredient #36: Chipilin

Chipilin: A Legume from Sothern Mexico and Central America

I was trolling through the market a few weeks back and I saw some mangy looking plants with leaves similar to peanuts, but they were in too sad a shape to bring back to the restaurant. And they were not labeled. I saw a guy with some in his basket, so I asked him what they were and what they were used for. Alas, he spoke no English, but still I managed to learn that they were called chipilin and were used in chicken soup.

I finally found a beautiful bunch that I brought home with me to check out. It turns out that I was right in thinking peanuts; chipilin is a perennial legume of the Crotalaria genus. We checked it out raw, quickly stir-fried with garlic, and boiled as a pot herb. The color is beautiful and we could see where it could add greatly to the presentation of caldo de pollo, but the flavor just isn't there. It is a very neutral and fairly boring green leafy vegetable.

Vote: a very pretty leafy green but extremely uninteresting in flavor. Give me spinach or pea shoots!

Friday, September 7, 2012

Early Autumn Tasting

I know that it's not fall yet and won't be officially for another couple of weeks, but mentally, Tony and I are off creating fall menus already. As much as we love tomatoes, squash, squash blooms, and peppers, we are ready for the change to game, mushrooms, braised dishes, conserved pork products, and bacon, bacon, bacon.

Grilled Prosciutto-Wrapped Goat Cheese-Stuffed Figs

Grilled Prosciutto-Wrapped Goat Cheese-Stuffed Figs. This is not an earth shattering new dish, but it is wonderful nonetheless for having been made with local figs and local goat cheese. Next up, we're already scheming to make our own prosciutto when it gets cold enough. Served with a glass of prosecco, these are a great start to any meal.

Sausage and Eggs

Breakfast. Yet another in the long list of dishes that we have so titled, this one starts with a bed of chanterelle buttons cooked up with our bison and our venison sausages. On top is a spoonful of oeufs brouillés, duck eggs with chives and a splash of cream that have been whisked over a water bath until just set, more like a heavy sauce than traditional scrambled eggs and so, so much more sinful. Maple syrup around the edge adds a sweet note.

Truffled Steuben Yellow Eye Bean Soup; Potted Confit

Beans. Definitely my favorite dish of this whole tasting, and for being a soup, the most complex to make. My guests for this tasting are frequent diners and lovers of cassoulet, and so I worded the menu in such a way as to make them think that this course was going to be cassoulet. The beans are my favorites, Steuben Yellow Eyes, soaked overnight, drained, cooked to tender, and recooked with the juice that comes from roasting our pork belly (what we call "goodness"), mirepoix, smoked Surry sausage, garlic, thyme, bay, rosemary, and sage. It's all blitzed in the big Vita-Mix and passed through our finest chinois for an ultra-silky texture. Thinned, splashed with a touch of cream, seasoned, and lavished with a big spoonful of chopped black truffles, this is a soup for the culinary gods. Served with a croustade topped with potted confit. We finely chopped some of our duck confit and pork shoulder confit, then mixed it with softened butter, nutmeg, mace, and fresh thyme.

Braaied Skilpadjies

Skilpadjies. You South Africans might recognize the minature skilpadjies that we braaied on a skewer and served with geelrys. The rest of you see small tortoise-shaped patties of minced lamb and rabbit liver wrapped in caul fat, which have been grilled and served with a fragrant yellow rice and a green tomato ketchup. Somebody brought us a bunch of green cherry tomatoes from a field that needed to be tilled under for fall crops and so we made a big batch of spicy green tomato ketchup from them.

Corn Crème Caramel with Duck Breast

Duck. Here's another savory crème caramel. I just love the silky texture that it brings to a dish. This one is made from fresh corn flavored with thyme. You also see grilled Moulard duck breast, baby brussels sprouts, and a fresh fig. I made a jus (almost a consommé but I didn't technically clarify it) from more pork belly goodness, defatted Surry sausage jus, and star anise. This jus I spooned over so that its salty essence could marry with the caramel giving a delicious sweet-salty contrast with a haunting star anise note to bring out the spice in the accompanying Barossa Shiraz.

Pawpaw Panna Cotta

Pawpaw. We've been fortunate this year to have a local forager supply us wild pawpaws which have a banana-melon-mango flavor very similar to jackfruit. But pawpaws are a gigantic pain in the ass to prepare, unlike jackfruit. Here you see a plate with pawpaw purée, crème anglaise, and maple syrup on the plate, with miniature pawpaw panna cottas scattered about. Though it's hard tell, the large ball is a ball of coconut sorbet rolled in crushed black walnuts, with an oatmeal lace cookie sticking out of it.