Monday, December 20, 2010

Porterhouse vs T-bone


This gets confusing for me, and a 22oz prime graded porterhouse is going on the menu at work next week so I have been doing some research lately. I understand people dont eat steaks like this very often, but once in a great while you may find yourself in the position of a splurge and like many you may look to the steak to celebrate. These steaks are as high end as you get, eventually I am confident you will be in a position where you want to know. Both of the steaks are cut from the shortloin of beef, both contain the tenderloin (filet) on one side of the bone and the strip steak (New York) on the other. To further confuse things all Porterhouse steaks are technically also T-bones.

The New York is fairly uniform in shape and size from one end to the other, but the tenderloin (we have talked about this before) has a very serious taper from one end to the other. T-bones are the steak cut, with the bone, that encompasses both. To be a Porterhouse it has to be one of the cuts coming back towards the head, but depending on who you ask this can only include the first 4-5 ribs (keep in mind the tenderloin piece is getting smaller the further you go back). Furthermore the strip loin has a nerve/vein that will not break down during the cooking process, and it cant be easily removed. So to be a true Porterhouse steak you have to have one of the first five cuts, but the first 2-3 arent as good as the fourth. Any cuts that follow down the animal have to be labeled strictly T-bones. Some would argue that the nerve end is part of the deal, and most of the people that eat a Porterhouse are going to expect it.

All of that makes the Porterhouse steak the nicest money can buy. We are looking at aging techniques for our menu but for now will go "wet aged". Don't take that for more than a second to mean the T-bone isn't as good. Skips the nerve end, and is a bit more manageable as an eater, and less expensive. Still encompasses both of the money cuts of meat, just the filet in a less amount. I have found T-bones at my local grocer on sale at a really fair price on more than one occasion.

Again- if in doubt ask your meat cutter (thats the guy who stands behind the counter at your megamart- he isnt just there to get stuff out of the case), or find a butcher shop that would be happy to guide you. If you are a steak lover, or trying to impress just about any man I know you can do this at home for much less than it will cost you to go out and have it done for you. Not to mention the steak is more than plentiful for two people. If the bone section of my steak hits 4 oz, then the NY side of it is about 12-13 oz, and the filet section is still around 5-6 oz, that is a lot of meat. This is a 22 oz choice graded Porterhouse that I am doing a little research with, as we are still arguing about the hip end. Regardless it will hit the menu as an item that wont be my lead selling item, and has an extremely high food cost, but all of that is just fine with me.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Updating

The restaurant has been closed since the end of November, but wanted to clarify that I haven't been on any sort of extended vacation. We closed to do a very extensive remodel of the dining room, our goal was to open with a new approach but to maintain our concept. Extremely hard to do, and I was out of loop on most of the choices. From the dark I was a bit worried, but felt better understanding that our company never goes into projects like this without the highest standards. We will reopen on the 24th of December and while my opinion is a tad biased I feel like we will reopen to one of the nicest restaurants I have ever seen. We continue to emphasize the view, but pushed for a more timeless feel with dark woods, mostly reclaimed, and darker less trendy colors. I am incredibly excited about all of it.

With Front of House changes this dramatic also came the need for menu changes, changes that were much needed. A menu overhaul was in order and we have been conceptualizing dishes with that in mind for months. Some old classics have been replaced with food that is a better representation of what we are trying to do, and for the first time in my career I feel like the menu is a pretty good example of my personal cooking style. To make a successful restaurant everything needs to have a recipe, be costed, descripted, plated, photographed, and then those cooking and plating processes have to be taught to my kitchen staff, and then I have to teach my servers how to sell them, and how to answer questions about the food or our choices of products. It is a long, hard, process that I am almost finished with, and I feel very good about.

With all of this change came the need for new china. Months of shopping and decisions involving everything from durability, flexibility, and amounts needed ensued. We bought a gorgeous glazed foot porcelain plate from a company called Syracuse, in round and rectangular sizes. In all 165 dz pieces were delivered and put up yesterday. I am so excited about the end product and feel like the plate is two times nicer than one you would get at any other restaurant in my local area.

All of this translates into money, but we balanced menu pricing as well as we could. A huge reason I work work for this company is that we refuse to settle for less than best. Two chefs buying the best product available, the only ocean view in town, two of the best managers I could hope to have, a service staff that is not only motivated, but understands good service and struggles to get better at it every day, and the best cooking staff anywhere on the coast. Couple all of that with one of the nicest restaurants in the state, the nicest china, the nicest glassware, etc, and you get value in your dining experience. We can be expensive, but we also stand by our products and treat our customers and employees better than anyone else around. All that being said we have still constructed the menu to be very approachable, and there are some really good deals in all the meal periods, and more importantly some things you wont see with any of my competition. If you do have the chance to join us keep an eye out for some signature things. Things we are cooking that you are familar with, cooked better and perhaps presented in a manner that is a tad more playful than you have ever had before.

Lastly I have again invested in a better phone in hopes of getting better pictures to this blog. I hope that effort translates into quality you can notice. Along with the new phone comes the ability to blog on the fly. Also, as some of you notice, I have a new twitter account, and you can read those updates on the blog to your right at the top. I am very new to the twitter thing, so please give me some time to figure it all out. The "tweets" will hopefully be less formal than the posts are, and if you ever want more info about something I have tweeted and not blogged about please let me know. As always I will keep them as food related as I possible. If you have a twitter account I would love to follow you, so please let me know. Still dragging some feedback here, so if you have questions or advice as to how to make all of this more approachable I plea with you to let me know. Thanks.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Broccolini



Often people are excited by vegetables that they have never seen before, or don't see very often. In my line of work this translates into value on the plate for a customer. If I can cook a protein perfectly, and a starch, and give someone a vegetable or three that they have never had, and cook it well, there is value in that. At the restaurant we spend a lot of time tracking things like this down, especially this time of year when I have to look outside of the local arena for most of my vegetables.I like broccolini as it isn't what I would call mainstream, and it looks great on a plate. Broccolini is often wrongly assumed to be a hybrid of an asparagus plant, but is really a hybrid of Chinese kale, and broccoli. It was developed in China by a certain company in the late 90's, that in turn patented the product for there usage only. Now we are seeing it more and more and even my local grocery store has it in stock most of the time. It cooks similar to asparagus, and the stock tastes very closely to that. The entire stalk and flowers are edible, even the yellow flowers you see on them sometimes, I usually trim the bottom inch or so off the stalk, just to them closer to the same size. It grills pretty well, but is great blanched and sauteed. It is worth saying that nothing bothers me more than overcooked green vegetables. I eat and cook vegetables as "al dente" as I can, as I think they are best that way. Overcooked green (brown) vegetables lose all of their flavor, and more importantly most of the vitamins and minerals we are looking for in them. Look for quick cooking methods, for a la minute serving. If you are really stressed about feeding a large group, or will need them quickly later just blanch them in boiling water for about 30-45 seconds, then ice them. When needed toss them into a hot pan and crank the heat until they are warmed through. Finish them with some salt and butter and maybe a squeeze of lemon.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Creme Fraiche


It seemed a while back that everywhere I went I saw some sort of creme fraiche on menus. The idea behind it is to be able to add some fat, and acid in what is usually garnish form. Not to mention it looks nice on almost anything. To make it is a snap, but there are a few different approaches, and it involves leaving dairy at room temperature for at least a day if not two. Again if you or family members are at risk (older, pregnant, young children, weakened immune systems, or already ill are the high risk groups for food born illness) proceed with caution. Some people will use yogurt or sour cream to help with the consistency, but I think it should be done the original way. You need heavy cream, and buttermilk. Per cup you need 6 oz of heavy cream, and 2 ounces of buttermilk. The buttermilk is highly acidic and will start bacteria that much like a good yogurt, or sourdough starter, will develop a depth of flavor that is impossible to fake. I whisk the cream and buttermilk and usually squeeze a half a lemon to help with the inoculation process. That's it. Let that rest at a warm room temperature in a covered bowl for at least over night but it usually takes about 30 hours or so. The liquid will thicken more and more, and develop more flavor as it goes so it is up to you. I salt it but not until it is done, as the salt will actually inhibit the growth of the bacteria (good bacteria) that you are looking to invite to the party. Once thickened to your desired consistency, cool it and hold it for up to a few weeks.

As far as serving- it goes pretty well with almost anything. Over soups, stews, beans, fish, french toast, etc. I cant think of a dish where it wouldn't belong. I like to cool it and then split it up in a few different bowls and flavor them differently so I am not making it everyday. Any sort of herb addition, more lemon or lime, peppers, hot sauce, etc. are all great directions to go in. I really like it with cilantro and lime as a taco topping that easily replaces the need for sour cream. 

Parsnips


A parsnip is a root vegetable related to the carrot. It plays a big part in classic French cuisine, and is very, very versatile and sweet. In some instances it is part of what is called a "white mirepoix" a mirepoix you would use if you were making a stock that you needed to be as neutrally colored as possible.Usually replacing carrots but keeping the onion and celery ratio. I like them in stocks, but think they are great for stews. They have a high starch content that will help to thicken your liquid during the cooking process, and will go a really long way with flavor.

They look a lot like carrots with varying color but usually a white to tan color. They need to be washed peeled and I always core them as well, as the core can be bitter and stringy, even when cooked. They are great blanched and then sauteed as a vegetable for dinner. This time of year they should be readily available and relatively inexpensive at your local grocer. My favorite preparation is a puree of parsnip, or parsnips that have been boiled and added to potatoes and then whipped or mashed. The flavor will change just enough that it will seem new but still familiar, and is a nice way to spice up a normal bowl of mashed potatoes.

Turkey


The Monday before Thanksgiving is always the day my meat purveyor brings our birds up the back ramp at the restaurant. At work we are able to sell out our reservations usually 3 weeks ahead of time. This is really nice as it leaves no guess work for ordering. We know that at max capacity the restaurant can feed about 350 ppl from noon until 8pm. Add a few walkins and a few no-shows and you get 334ppl this year in those hours. They feast on a limited 3 course menu, our offering for the first course are a pretty simple salad, or a mushroom bisque (crimini, shitake, chanterelle, and porcini). Second course options are our crab cakes with asparagus, and rice. Glazed pork loin with a cornmeal stuffing, mashed potatoes, gravy, cranberry sauce, and vegetables (braised brussel sprouts, broccolini, butternut squash), and of course turkey with a apple hazelnut stuffing, and everything the pork gets. For dessert- pumpkin pie, malted chocolate cupcake, or a berry cobbler with brown sugar ice cream were the options. About 70% of our customers will chose turkey, and we focus on it pretty hard. Our birds were pre ordered in September. We also do a catering for a local RV park with stuffing, turkey, gravy, and potatoes on the Saturday afterwards for about 150 ppl.

All of that leaves me working on a Monday evening as our meat guy rolls up the back dock with about 800#'s of whole turkeys. Big turkeys. We bought 30-32 # avg this year, from a company called Norbest. The task at hand was to get them broken, brined, carcasses roasted, and get the carcasses started for stock. The best way to cook a turkey is to break the breast off of the bone, and then the hindquarter away from the cage as well. It will roast more quickly, and evenly. Breast meat should be cooked to one temperature, and dark meat a much higher temperature, leaving a technical dilemma in roasting them whole. Once broken they can be cooked independent of each other, not to mention stock can be made, cooled and used for gravy, and for stuffing. I know this sounds like a shocker to some, and people tell me that it isn't Thanksgiving with out the whole bird carcass on the table, but I would never do it any other way. It ensures proper cooking, and gives you full utilization of the bird, not a carcass for the trash can after dinner. Anything less is a horrendous waste of that turkeys life.

The carnage involved in the breaking of 800#'s of turkey is a bit reminiscent of Vietnam battlefield movie scene. No matter how I tried, I had blood to my elbows, breast and dark meat all over the table, and carcasses in every oven in the restaurant. The birds are placed in my biggest lexan bins and then brined for at least a few nights, but once full those lexans weigh about 80-100# and to get them on the cart and to the walk-in was a task in itself. The task for timing purposes had to be done that night, and for sanitation purposes I wouldn't have done it any earlier in the day. Once the stocks were rolling, and the breast, and hindquarters were all in the fridge- we scrubbed, then hosed, then sanitized the table, floor, trash cans, sinks etc, changed chef coats, and came home to shower. All in all though everything went really, really well. We continue to get families that return year after year, who have decided that going at this at home or alone isn't worth it anymore. A choice that is gaining popularity is seems. For any of you who went it yourselves I would love to hear how everything went down at your house. In a restaurant I have a hugely qualified staff, plenty of space to store and cook, plenty of seating, and plenty of silverware and china. Which makes it pretty easy in comparison to what some people are able to do at home with one stove, one oven, and a fridge. That coupled with the fact that the "thank yous" seem to be few and far between makes it pretty obvious why people are eating out more for these major holiday meals. That being said, I from my core don't think that there is any better day of the year to be in your own kitchen. Part of cooking means I will always work these days, as my boys get older, I find myself wishing I was at home more and more every year. Teaching them, and making sure they understand and appreciate everything it takes to make meals like this happen.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Clatsop Community Action

If I felt relieved after my ORLA dinner it was for less than a few hours. Another, bigger, more stressful situation awaited. The Clatsop Community Action Food Pantry (http://www.ccaservices.org/) Originally, a good chef friend of mine was asked to head up a dinner to benefit the CCA. He in turn asked our company to host the dinner, and then asked the Executive Chef at my restaurant for one chef from our company to do a course. My name came up, my food, my course, alone. I was excited. That in turn morphed into this chef and I doubling up on dessert, and inviting other courses to chefs from throughout our county. Each team of chefs was also asked to do a hand passed app as well. A four course meal, each course with a wine, with 8 chefs involved. Since I was on my home turf, I was also asked to coordinate some of the service side of the dinner, and tasked to get food out on the pre-set schedule, a schedule in all honesty, that was almost impossible to adhere to with my own team, let alone some chefs I barely know, and who themselves have little or no experience doing this. For assistance we asked my high school ProStart class for help and 10 students were sent. As well as 2 young children that are involved in culinary classes with one of the chefs involved. Couple that with the 8 other chefs involved and you have a small satellite kitchen packed with 20 cooks, 2 dishwashers, and 18 more servers (from all over the county, who have never worked together as well). Tickets sold for $150 a piece, invite only, and they sold out for 150 seats. Everything that went out also needed recipes two weeks beforehand, as the customers were able to take a booklet home of everything we did. Bios, recipes, methods, etc. There was no cannot do here. Real deal, ass on the line stuff. I wasn't able to get any pictures but thought I would I could do a quick description of the courses.

Apps-
I did a crostini with a apple braised red cabbage, topped with pulled pork and creme fraiche.
Pan fried oysters on a half shell with a goat cheese pearl
Spinach pancake with seared beef tenderloin
Stuffed Mushroom Cap

1- The first course was a baked local salmon with a Swiss chard and walnut pesto over spiced cannelini beans
2- A zucchini boat with a fall vegetable ragu over Cajun lentils
3-Roulade of flank steak, romesco sauce, parsnip puree, baby heirloom carrots
4- (our dessert) sour cream pound cake, coriander ice cream, date tartlet

Our goal was to get courses out of the kitchen in 10 minutes. Two lines of eight ppl plating as fast as they could and you know what.... we did it. We did the second course in 8 minutes. We were well received by our guests and hosts, and as the dessert went out to dinning room my cohort and I were able to go out and talk about why we did what we did, and why a benefit for Clatsop County families in need of food was worth supporting to us. I have never felt better about a service. It may have been that it was for a very good cause, maybe I felt so vested in it that I took a very personal interest, maybe I just felt some justification for my consomme a few nights previous. It was not totally glitch free, but went more smoothly then I ever could have expected. None of the glitches made there way to the dinning room. I was on cloud nine as we finished and cleaned up. The day was really long, I sweat, bled, and almost cried, but in the end we accomplished what we came to do. As the rush ended I was washed with the most amazing tranquil feeling I have ever had. My food, my kitchen, my timing, my experience, my organization, our success. Over 40K was raised for the much needed new distribution warehouse of the CCA in Warrenton. As if I needed anything more than the emotions I felt afterward, I am told we will be honored with a placard at the office bearing our names.

Oregon Restaurant and Lodging Association









I know I touched on the ORLA dinner I was doing a few weeks back, and wanted to give you guys some of the details. A dinner for the heads of the Oregon Restaurant and Lodging Association which include restaurant power hitters from all over the state. About 85ppl purchased tickets but it isn't really a fundraiser. All of the food was donated by two or three different purveyors. The ORLA is newly emerged business, combining last year the Oregon Restaurant Association, and the Oregon Lodging Association. They lobby for restaurants in the state and with the nationwide network of restaurants called the National Restaurant Association. They also provide online training for food handlers cards in six different languages, OLCC serving permits, and offer Serve Safe classes. The group invited is the board members and the key members, mostly people that have been in the business for years. The approach demanded is that of gluttony, and since the food was donated, and a lot of the people are really old school we decided to break out some really classic stuff. Stuff you don't see anyone doing anymore. I learned a whole bunch as we developed the menu, and as we worked on the food. A dinner like this is more than a weeks effort of ordering, prep, cooking, cooling, holding, etc. This all culminates in a frantic whirlwind of action to get food on plates, and to the dining room. Pre-service meetings, plating diagrams, and special diet restrictions are all part of the gig. I got pictures of some of the apps, and all of the courses (6), some of the pictures don't do the food justice so take them with a grain of salt.
Apps-
Lobster Carpaccio- raw Maine lobster tails on a block of Himalayan Red Salt. We froze the block, laid the lobster on, EVOO, 40 yr aged balsamic, porcini mushroom powder, and finished with the roe from the lobsters we harvested.

Terrine- A terrine is like a meatloaf on steroids. We took pork butt and ground it ourselves to two different textures, then some of it got pistachios. The rest got hazelnuts, and dried apricots. Both were then laid into a mold and baked. Removed from the mold then cooled and sliced. Served with some of the classic accompaniments of gherkins, red onion, aspic (a gelatin thickened consomme). We had a total of 4 variations of this sort of stuff, and I made a very classic sauce called Cumberland. I made some black currant jelly, then thinned it with Port wine, and added the zest of a few lemons and oranges. Really cool sauce, and the jelly was to die for.

Dinner-

1- Seared scallops, farro (an ancient form of wheat) risotto, maple lacquered bacon, and a truffle and celery heart and celery micro green salad.

2-Double duck consomme, Swiss chard, cannelloni beans, and fois gras. A consomme is a clarified stock made with the help of a mixture of mirepoix and egg whites (raft). A double consomme also has meat in the raft to intensify the flavor. I made duck stock, cooled it, skimmed it, then added the mirepoix, egg whites, and more duck meat, then it is heated very very gently while constantly stirring. The fois (duck or goose liver) was gently seared and then floated in the top of the consomme with the chard and the beans inside it. Think of it as soup on steroids. This was the course we were most concerned about being successful, and while it left the kitchen as a perfect reflection of what we had wanted, it wasn't received very well. Many of the bowls came back full. Whether people had a hard time with the fois, or just didn't like the combination of flavors I am not sure. Angered me to say the least.

3- Chilled cukes, cucumber and lemon sorbet, American sturgeon caviar, buckwheat cracker. The palate cleansing course we wanted to do before the entree. We thin sliced and almost froze the cukes, made a sorbet of cukes and lemon juice. Topped that with the best caviar money will buy, and served it with a homemade buckwheat cracker.

4-Soubise crushed fingerlings, butternut squash, veal medallions, and mushroom gravy. We wanted to do a diner-esque dish upgraded to a whole new level. The soubise is a classic white sauce (bechemel) that is fortified with onions. Steamed local fingerling potatoes and then crushed them with the sauce. The butternut (look at those knife skills) was blanched and then sauteed with a bit of butter and some sherry. The veal was seared and then finished in the oven, topped with a porcini, morel, black trumpet, and chanterelle mushroom gravy. We studded it with some crispy black trumpet mushrooms that we had fried as well. Nothing has ever been so clear to me as to why we eat veal, as one bite of that steak was. Top five things in my mouth ever, easily. This one in particular looked better in real life then it did on the fly leaving the kitchen.

5-Heirloom greens, katiffi ring, maple pear vinaigrette, and diced pears. The greens were overnight from the LA area. The katiffi is a shredded phyllo dough and the rings had to be fried one at a time to keep the shape. the vinaigrette was pretty basic as were the local pears. Really hard to plate and get to the dinning room standing up. A great dish though that brought some great fall flavors to the table.

6-Milk Chocolate cremosa, seared pound cake, marscapone espresso cream, tart ice cream, and cocoa nib EVOO. The cremosa is a ganache that has been loaded with egg yolks, the pound cake was grilled and served hot with the cream and ice cream on top. We made a infusion of really good olive oil with some cocoa nibs to drizzle over the dish as it went out.

This was a really good experience for us, the third time we have done this meal in a row. I am unclear on if we will be asked to do it again next year or if the event will move to another location. Either way I had fun doing it, and wish the best of luck to whomever is asked to do it in the future. While the consomme wasn't as well received as I would've liked, everything else was really successful.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Huckleberry


At work we have a purveyor that is a forage queen. Mushrooms of all sorts and sizes, fiddle head ferns, sea beans, and wild blackberries- all that she has gathered alone up and down the Northern Oregon and Southern Washington coasts. She is also a tad on the crazy side and her personality is pretty abrasive to most, she never calls and we don't exactly order from her. She just shows up at random times with a few boxes of things for us. The thing we anticipate most from her is the huckleberry. I will buy every huckleberry she has through the fall to freeze to get through the winter. I can buy them elsewhere but their harvest is so tedious they tend to be pretty expensive. She will sell them to me in 1 gallon Ziploc bags and they are clean and ready to freeze or use, for about 1/2 of what I would find them for elsewhere. She will also bring me the even more elusive red huckleberries, that are a bit more tart and look more like a salmon berry.

I love them for their bright colors, amazing shape, texture, and of course taste. They will vary in color quite a bit as to your location from red to purple into almost black. They can be on the tart side for most people, but I really like them plain. A bit of sugar will off-set the tartness. While the sweet application is the go to usage and my favorite all time dessert is to have them sugared on a piece of pound cake with a touch of soft whipped cream, at work I try to work them into the savory side of the kitchen. With a bit of shallot, green onions, some champagne or white wine vinegar, lemon juice, salt, and maybe a touch of brown sugar will give you a fantastic huckleberry relish that will stand up to halibut, scallops, or even a pork chop. These were destined to macerate overnight with brown sugar, vanilla, and some salt and then I added some cream to pull out a perfectly purple color. This morning they are being sold over a malted waffle.

The huckleberry plays a part in my family especially on my fathers side. They are the state fruit of Idaho, and I find enthusiasm with them from customers and family in a certain age bracket that were raised in the NW states and into the Southern parts of Canada. I haven't ever seen them at the store but that doesn't mean they don't exist. A simple Internet search will give you a few leads, but there is always the option of foraging for yourself. They are worth getting a hold of by almost any means possible. This time of year I haven't had a peach for so long I always put huckleberries at the top of my mental list for my favorite food, at least until I can get my hands on really ripe Oregon peach again.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Dry vs Wet Age


When you hear the term "dry aged" at a restaurant or at your grocer it can be confusing even for me. There are a few ways to age proteins and the durations of dry aging can vary from a few days to about 45 days. About 99% of the time when you talk about aging beef is the subject at hand. By aging after slaughter or "harvest" enzymes in the meat have a chance to go to work. This helps to develop flavor and evaporate excess moisture. Most of the time an animal is harvested and then halved and hung to dry only for a few days, then broke down into what we call primal cuts (top and bottom round, sirloin, tenderloin, prime rib, strip loin, etc) then it is cryovacked and sold to your meat market, butcher, grocer, or restaurant supplier to be further processed in to steaks.This is wet aging. Sometimes the animal is allowed to hang longer (chilled of course- think 10-15 days) to allow the enzymes to do even more work and more evaporation to take place. Still in some other cases the animal is hung for a minimal amount of time and then cut into primals and aged as primals with cold air circulating around them. This allows the depth of flavor to develop more than any other approach. The cuts can go any amount of time and at a really nice steak house you will see some different options on the menu. 45 days seem to be the max I have seen and it will even allow some good bacteria to come into play. The cut will pick up some mushroomy flavor and in some cases will taste of good bleu cheese.  This is what I consider to be truly dry aged, and most really serious steak houses will do it themselves in a cooled area built just for such a purpose so that they can better monitor the process while it goes.

We don't see this much anymore as it is a very expensive process. You need the room to do it, but more than that the aging process will lose weight (water) as it goes. By losing weight you have lost money. If you bought a prime rib and aged it whole for 45 days you will lose about 30-40% of its total weight. So if it was 15 pounds to begin with at $10 a pound it costed you $150. But now its only 10# (and thats not all usable) and it still costed $150, if your cutting 16 oz rib-eye steaks you can only cut 10 instead of 15. Each cut cost you $15 dollars instead of $10, and that assumes 100% usability, and doesn't factor in the time and money it cost to store and manage them while they age. Mostly due to this simply math you understand why you don't see "dry aged" at your local grocer. If you do, or are at a restaurant that offers it, I encourage you to ask questions. Where was it aged, and for how long. Does the restaurant age it themselves or do they buy it as such. All of this will factor in to the overall taste.

This is a picture of a few prime graded rib-eye steaks that I cut that we are going to age ourselves in the walk-in at work. Since they are already steak cut I am going to only go about a week and see what happens. I will flip them daily until then. I hope to be able to get another picture of it when its done to offer a side by side look.

This post is the first of many where I am going to get involved in the way we raise and harvest animals, some of the misinformation that surrounds those processes, and even some of the terms used to make us feel better about animal and egg harvest. Please consider this fair warning that they will not be very pretty. The way we raise and slaughter animals in this country is cruel, and as a country we spend progressively less of our incomes on food then ever before, and less than any culture on earth. My attempt of course is not to get you to become vegetarian, but to talk a bit about the political side of meat industry. To try to clear up the fog so that you can make the best decisions for yourself and family, while at the same time making you understand that both meat and fish on your plate or cutting board represent a life that was taken to be there. If you had not ordered or bought it, it would still be alive. I have convinced myself that if I respect and treat that the best I can, and waste none of it, then I have done that animal the justice it deserves. I worry more and more that that isn't enough. For some research purposes I would love to hear from any vegetarians (privately via email) describing why you have made the decision not to eat meat. You can expect to hear information on terms like grass fed, free range, organic, heritage, natural, pasture raised, cage free, hormone free, sustainable, RBST, etc.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Butternut Squash


Over the winter we use a lot of butternut squash at the restaurant. Last year I got a hair to try to break down every ounce that the restaurant needed over the fall, winter, and first part of spring. I set a goal to try to break down 1 ton of it through the slower months. I got 1600 pounds last year and have pretty much decided not to attempt it again. That is 1600 #'s that was bought, stored, washed, trimmed, peeled, de-seeded, cut, and stored for dinner and banquet service. I know butternut squash well. I could easily "break" one blindfolded.

There are lots of different types of "squash" but mostly they fall into two categories. Summer squash (crookneck, patty pan, and even zucchini fall into this category) while available at the grocery store year round, as the name suggests are really only in season in late spring to late summer. I am not the biggest fan of their soft textures, and lack of flavor (they are mostly water). They also don't have a very good shelf life and you will never see them as a vegetable on my menu. Winter squash come in a wide array of shapes and colors and usually come around in late September locally. At your market you will probably see butternut, hubbard, danish, delicata, and spaghetti this time of year and chances are they were grown locally. Oregon harvests huge crops of winter squash and pumpkins that grow really well in our climate. The butternut I regard as king of all of them though as they have a much better yield (usable portion) and better flavor profile. The greatest thing about winter squash in general is the shelf life. From the store they are easily stored in your garage or pantry for 6 months, ranking them up there with apples and onions for storage through cold months. After cutting they will last in your fridge for at least 3-4 days, prolonged by laying a damp towel over the cut squash.

sidebar- always amazes me that nature takes care of that herself. an apple off of a tree will last months properly stored, as will potatoes, onions, root vegetables, pears, some stone fruits, and winter squash. Nothing grown in summer lasts that long but instead is replaced by something else coming into season. This time of year there is nothing else coming into season, so those foods have to last much longer then their spring and summer counterparts.  Before trucking, and megamarts these are the only things people had to survive the winter, they are also some of the most versatile ingredients in your kitchen.  If you don't think there is some higher power involved think about that for a few minutes.

The whole neck of the butternut is seedless (down to the bottom ballooning seed pod) so once peeled you have more real estate to work with than any other squash, leaving me room to make the cuts as large or small as desired, and allowing me to have them more even and equal to each other in size. Also important to wash your squash as they do grow on the ground and can be pretty muddy, then pat it dry because wet squash will slide your cutting surface. With a sharp knife cut the stem top part off. Then cut the bottom off so it will not bounce around on your cutting board. Cut just above the ballooning section, and then peel it. I use a knife but you could use a peeler. The skin is very thick and strong so go slowly, and you should be getting enough off to see some orange flesh (the outline of the flesh that is against the skin is discolored in comparison to the orange "meat" of the squash). Then while still round peel the bottom section, then half and remove the seeds. Cut all into the desired shape. Once you start peeling, the squash will leach a watery substance that will coat your hands. I like to call it butternut glove. It is very hard to get off of you so work one squash at a time if your even in a situation that calls for more than one.

Flavors pair really well with brown sugar, molasses, honey, maple syrup, butter, cream, and nuts. Like almost everything I cook, I really like to keep it as simple as possible. I like to roast it with some butter or olive oil, and salt until its just tender and serve it. You could also boil it and then puree it. Roasted squash soup is popular at my house and the restaurant. Roasted until cooked through with some onions, salt and garlic, then pureed with some good stock and a touch of cream will give you a great starting point. Look to change it up with herbs of all sorts (I really like thyme and oregano with butternut). I read once that the pumpkin puree you buy to make pumpkin pie isn't actually pumpkin at all but butternut. Inexpensive, sustainable, local, and in season.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Dulce de Leche

Dulche de leche is a milk based caramel sauce that I see increasingly on the sweet side of the kitchen. As the name suggests it is very popular in Latin cuisine but in shows up in other nationalities as well under the disguise of other names. It is usually made by simmering milk and sugar, reducing about 4 or 5 times the amount of liquid you started with. The sugar and the sugars in the milk will caramelize (maillard reaction) and will turn a darker more caramel-y color. 

Traditionally used for pastry work its great on muffins, cake, flan, etc. I think it is an amazing topping for strawberries, ice cream, breakfast breads, pancakes, and even toast. I made some yesterday to go with an apple pie, and would be good to have to dip apples, pears, and even some dried fruits.

Rather than go through the whole process of reducing milk, I like to take a can of sweetened condensed milk from the store and remove the label and shake it well. Cover it totally with water in a saucepan big enough to leave yourself at least a few inches of water covering. Then give it medium ish heat for about 2-3 hours. Remove from pan and place can in the fridge for at least a few hours as it may come oozing out the top when you try to open the can while hot. If you find the consistency isn't exactly what you want when you go to use it, it will thin with just a touch of heat in a microwave, and be a bit more pliable.

You are simmering a can here so monitor your heat as boiling could cause rupture, and make sure to keep it covered with water, adding, if needed, as water evaporates to ensure you are going to have even cooking. I cant keep it around long enough to tell you how long the shelf life will be, but i would imagine it would be good for at least 2 weeks as the sugar content is so high bacteria isn't going to be very interested in it. Once cooled you don't want to keep it in the can either. Modern cans aren't made to do anything but store food, and should never be refrigerated once opened, as they can leach minerals from the tin into the food if your not careful. Just go with a steady heat, for at least two hours for your first time. Its the easiest dessert sauce I can think of, and a can of name brand sweetened condensed milk will set you back no more than 3 dollars.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Oats

Originally the consumption of oats was only intended for livestock, specifically horses. Through the years we have been able to accept them as an amazing nutritious food that is extremely versatile. Oats is a generic term and I wanted to attempt to clarify some of the different kinds of oatmeal you can expect to see at your local grocer.

Groats- the first step of oatmeal, can also be called kasha (although the term kasha can be buckwheat, barley, or wheat groats). They are a long cooking product and my approach to them is more like my bean and legume approach. I have pretty minimal experience cooking them, but have recently acquired a pound for experimentation at home.

Steel Cut Oats- Like the name suggests these are groats that have been cut. In my opinion they are the far superior option for breakfast. One of my favorite meals of all time is steel cuts with dried cherries, cream, and brown sugar, or in season, the exact same dish sans cherries with slices of peaches on top. Something so pleasant about it simplicity. They take some time, but are far more healthy than the quicker cooking oat forms. I like a water ratio of about 4 times the amount of steel cuts, and about 45 minutes of cook time on medium-ish heat.  They can be reheated as well so for a quick breakfast option I will cook more than I need and cool and then reheat for the next few mornings. In some research for this post i attempted a over night crock pot recipe that I heard on a TV show recently. The steel cuts caramelized and took a great sweet flavor, with dark color to match. My boys wouldn't eat them though. They are usually available bulk at the grocery store, or sometimes in tins labeled Irish, or Scottish oats. Try them with any array of dried fruit, or fresh fruits or berries and you wont be disappointed. In fact I bet you never go back to the other stuff.

Rolled Oats- If you were to take the steel cut oats and individually roll them flat you would have the most popular form of oats. I do understand the appeal- quick cooking, versatile, and for the most part they are what people expect when you say "oatmeal". They are still very high in fiber, and in baking they are the option to use as steel cuts usually wont cook thoroughly in most applications I can think of.

Quick oats/Instant oats- these are parboiled, or blanched (and sometimes cut) rolled oats. I hate them. I hate them for their lack of nutrients that have been lost in the precooking process, I hate them for their easiness, and for their disrespect to all the other forms of oats. These are the oats that cook in just a few minutes, sometimes even in the microwave, or even with just the addition of boiling water. They lack any of the flavor, or color of the better forms of oatmeal. If I had a horse I wouldn't feed them to it.

Serving ideas are a fight at my house. My wife grew up eating them with crackers, so while I cant think of many things that gross me out more than that, in my absence for breakfast at my home my boys have decided that is how they are going to eat them. I had never heard of such a thing before I met her, but apparently it isn't that odd, as we get people requesting them at the restaurant sometimes. Like i mentioned before some cream or milk, dried or fresh fruit, some brown sugar, and of course a pinch of salt is how I take mine. Hold the crackers.

Bobs Red Mill

I try not to offer much purchasing advice, but wanted to mention Bobs Red Mill. They are an Oregon company that does all of their own milling, and has a extremely extensive list of products. Some certified organic things, and a huge collection of gluten free products. I have been using their products for years at home and work and am always amazed at the quality, and consistency. I am to the point now where I wont cook polenta if its not theirs. I also have a chance to interact with their sales reps at food shows and on the telephone every so often and am always impressed with their vast knowledge and passion about their products. If you or a loved one has gluten tolerance issues they are worth checking out, and even if you are not they carry some interesting things like spelt flour, barley flour, green pea flour, brown rice flour, etc. I also am a huge fan of their groats, steel cut oats (more on both of those very soon), polenta, semolina, rye flour, bulgar wheat, breakfast cereals, etc.

Their website is super informative and they are available in the health foods section of your local grocery store to some extent. The whole reason this came up is that Fred Meyer is having a sale this week and all of their Bobs Red Mill stuff is 40% off. So I went yesterday and scored pretty big, for as low as 1.47/# on some stuff. I encourage you to buy food from trusted sources, and to buy food from people that are passionate about what they do, and these guys are. Check it out.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Still Here

I know I have been absent from the blog lately, but other than a bit of a writing block I have no excuses. Fall brings my favorite flavors and produce to the plate, not to mention my favorite weather. The restaurants slows from a relentless pace to a much more manageable one, so in order to keep busy we get hit pretty hard with events that we need to attend and cook for. I love it as it keeps us busy, and is a chance to show some skills that i don't get to show off in everyday restaurant menu stuff. I also have the chance to really hit the restaurant hard, working on cleaning, menu development, administrative stuff. In short it is a really good time of year to be Josh. In the very near future I hope to talk about some of the cool fall produce available and how you should be approaching it, but while I gather my thoughts on that I wanted to talk about some of the other cool things I get to do in the coming weeks, and in the past few.

Harvest Dinner- In early October the chef team for the company (there are 4 of us) got to do a collaborative dinner at one of our restaurants that turned out to be a really good time. Keeping with the Oktoberfest theme we did a four course dinner that included German beer pairings for each course and was a benefit to the Cannon Beach Elementary Schools backpack program (which insures that every child has a backpack and every supply they need). Stationary apps were a apple fennel slaw on a crostini, black forest ham and dijon cream with a homemade relish on a rye crisp, and caraway rye pastry twists.  First course out was table set with three different German cheeses, brats, cured brats, and home made sauerkraut (really, really easy to be making at home). Next course was a German potato soup with a steamed dumpling. The entree course was a jager shnitzel, spaetzle, wild mushroom sauce, beets, carrots, braised greens, and turnips. Then for dessert a Lindzer tort- a shortbread crust filled with fall raspberry preserves. We paired it with a frozen custard, and a touch of caramel, and homemade almond roca. All of it turned out great and it was exciting to cook with the whole group of chefs, as i interact with them daily, but we rarely hit the kitchen together.

My cioppino class went well. It was nerve racking and consumed my entire thought process for what seemed like a month. I need to be prepared before I talk, I am not one of those people that can ramble things off the top of my head. I rehearse conversations in my head, so that in turn I don't sound like a blubbering jerk. In those situations my mind tends to work about 400 times faster than my mouth, and there is nothing I hate more than walking away from a conversation feeling like I said something I shouldn't have, and that only ever happens when I am ill prepared. First class had 8 customers, and the second that I taught was sold out at 16 ppl. I had fun doing it and am prepared to answer any cioppino question that will ever be asked.

Oregon Restaurant and Lodging Association- For the last few years we have been asked to cook the Oregon Restaurant Associations yearly shindig. This is really cool stuff. The list of attendees in invite only, and these guys know their stuff. They are owners and operators of some of the biggest restaurant empires in the state. This year they have merged with the Oregon Lodging Association so attendance should be up from the 70 or so for the last few years into the 100 person range. The food is all donated by a few different purveyors, so there is no budget when we write the menu. A situation which will lead any good chef over the top, traditionally it is a really high end event so our owners really wanted us to push the limits of what a person can eat. The resulting spread is always amazing, if not a bit on the gluttonous side. We strategized on the menu for weeks and finished it last week. 6 courses plus some really serious appetizers. If it is controversial, and expensive we used it. Lobster carpacchio on a salt block, porcini mushrooms, veal medallions, fois gras, duck consomme, terrines, galantines, etc. Some stuff you don't see very often anymore, a lot of it very traditional French stuff, but if you ever were going to justify this sort of thing then these are the people to feed it to. The dinner is on the 15th of November.

CCA- My local county food bank has decided to have a invite only fundraiser to the tune of $150/person, for about 150 ppl. We were asked to host it in our ballroom as its the nicest place in the county to feed that many people. We as a company were asked to do one course of the 4 course meal as well as one of the hand passed appetizers. I was nominated to be the chef from our company to represent. This is a collaborative thing so chefs from other area restaurants will be involved in the other courses. I am paired with another chef as well, and we have chosen to do dessert (the gutsy chefs pick dessert). Think we will end up doing a apple tart/turnover thing, with a coriander ice cream, and sour cream chocolate cake. A great benefit that I hope will have a decent turnout, and raise some much needed  money for the local food banks. This dinner is on the 18 of November.

Prostart- Soon we will head back to the high school in Seaside for our annual prostart competition which involves kids who are interested in cooking as a career. We will turn out a three course menu, then practice it approx 400 times, and send them to cook it in a competition. All the menus have to be costed and have recipes, and have to be cooked with nothing more than 2 butane burners. A great chance for us to get out of the kitchen but a huge time commitment from what is sometimes just some high school kids who are trying to get out of PE. It is a practice of patience for me, but in the end I am always amazed at the progress we have made.

Iron Chef goes Coastal- a benefit for the United Way that is growing every year. My boss Will is the defending champion so will cook in Iron chef format in front of an estimated crowd of 1000. Restaurants from all over the county will attend in hopes to be the winner of the people choice award to cook against this years winner next year. Since Will is cooking, I don't have to cook anything so I will most likely help at another restaurants booth. A really cool event though if you find yourself wanting to attend tickets are available for $35 at the door or $30 ahead of time at any US bank in Clatsop County. For your $30 you will have the chance to bid at a silent auction, and eat bites from what will be at least 20 different restaurants. Last year the event raised over 20k for the United Way of Clatsop County which filters money down to all sorts of worthwhile causes. The event is on November 2nd.

The restaurant- My restaurant will undergo a huge remodel just after Thanksgiving that will make us close for about a month, opening back up right before Christmas. While the remodel will update the dining room and lounge area, the kitchen will remain mostly unchanged except for a bit of cleaning, painting, and a slight equipment remodel. The best part about this is we get a chance to work on the menu conceptually, and hopefully there will be some big changes. We are hoping to revamp some of the menu stuff, to reflect a more direct approach to food. Less clutter, more sustainable, etc. We will see on all of this, and I will keep you posted.

I am keeping busy, again fortunate to work here on the coast, for a company that will not only allow me to do all of this stuff, but to promote it as well. Every day i get to do something new, work on something different, or cook something I have never cooked before. For the dinner special tonight I am cooking venison ossobuco, I cant pull that off in August. Like I said, its a good time of year to be me.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Porcini


The procini, boletus, or King mushroom is just that. King. Highly regarded by chef's all over the world for their absolute meat-like qualities, and mind boggling aroma and taste they are the most expensive and hardest to find of the fall mushrooms. This was a single porcini that one of my chanterelle foragers found. It is very early for them as they like it to be much cooler, so I wouldn't expect to see many more of them for another few weeks or so. This one had the cap removed, and then both the cap and the stem were cut in half. The discoloration under the cap has to be removed as it has a very bitter flavor, and horrid texture. The jury is out on sizing as well. Some chefs prefer the very small almost button sizes where the cap hasn't had a chance to separate from the stem. Others are fans of bigger the better, as they are much more versatile. The bigger ones can be cut into thick slices and grilled or seared to be able to put a mushroom steak on a plate, that will impress even the most refined palates. The bigger they are the more problems you can have with worms as well. Some chefs go for a quick soak in milk to draw out any bugs lingering, but i like to just keep a really close eye on them while cutting. You can see obvious worm tracks if you take the time to look at what your doing. The bug and any tainted mushroom can be easily removed. I am also seeing an increase of mushroom powders on the market, the leader in this segment being porcini powder. A perfect preservation method, the mushrooms are dried and then ground into a very fine powder. A powder that will pack and amazing punch in a soup, stew, or starch dish. My favorite application is to dredged a piece of fish into the powder and sear it, and then top the fish with a sautee of the same mushroom. It shows off the different texture while retaining the same flavor.

Foragers have to look hard for porcinis as they often pop up over night, and will grow to amazing sizes in just a few hours if the conditions are right. Stories of them moving or disappearing aren't odd. The mushroom in general but especially the procini is a more life like creature than anything other piece of produce. I had an instructor in culinary school who had a game of trying to talk vegetarians out of eating them with his vast and extensive knowledge. He usually succeeded. The way they release spores, grow, breath, and move is a true marvel.

Lobster Mushrooms


The lobster mushroom is found locally until we have had a few good freezes. Named lobster for its vibrant color that resembles a cooked lobster, and also because it has a almost oceany aroma to it that is very noticeable while cleaning and the first stages of cooking. They grow in odd shapes and sizes, and due to the muddy terrain where they are found they often show up very, very dirty. These were actually a gift from one of my cooks who found them on the side of a road. I brushed them with a pastry brush and then cut off any excessively dirty parts. While the fall focus is almost always on chanterelles, the lobster mushroom is usually found more easily, and I love it for its amazing color, a color that will stand out in a blend of other mushrooms. Again while pricing will vary, and it may not be locally available to you lobster mushroom should be less expensive then chanterelles.

Cioppino

While made famous on Fisherman's Wharf in San Francisco cioppino actually has roots from seafood based cuisines all over the world. Italian immigrants most likely made the biggest effort to popularize the dish in California. Although the name sounds intimidating, the dish itself is a snap, easily done in your own kitchen. The class I am scheduled to teach about razor clams has morphed into a class on cioppino, so my free time for at least 5 days has been spent doing research and development on it. A wonderful dish as its intent is to use whats available, its also great utilization for leftovers, or scrap from the day before. Salmon bellies, a few clams and mussels, and some halibut trim is the recipe that I am using tommorow. We are starting with a base stew with razor clams as well. You can make it at home with some tomatoes, wine, onions, shallots, and seafood though. Classically served with a brushetta or crostini and an aioli of some sort, I have chosen to pair it with a saffron aioli, and a brushetta ( a grilled slice of baguette rubbed with garlic and oil). In very classic preparations it is also served with a "rouille" which is a emulsion of bread crumbs, garlic, and oil. I did a ton of research on the rouille and recipes are all over the place. A few of my best textbooks don't even touch on it and a few of the super classical chefs I know hadn't attempted it in so long they couldn't remember what it was, so I opted to stay away from it in this setting.

If you wanted to put it over the top from home I would simply roast some tomatoes and garlic and then puree and cool them (i have talked about that before). For the actual dish talk to the person behind the counter at your grocer to see if he has some salmon bellies, or any sort of white fish trim available. They most likely will, and most likely will sell it to you on the cheap. On the flip side though some sort of clam, mussel, or oyster is almost required. Your dish will be better with the release of juice from inside them, but you don't need many at all. Think 4 oz of fish (1-2 oz chunks of as equal size and shape as possible), a few clams, and a mussel for each person.

Saute your aromatics, add wine and allow to come to a simmer, add your roasted tomato sauce and clams. Cover. Allow to cook on medium heat for about 3-4 minutes. Open, stir, and add your fin fish. Cover. Allow at least 2-3 more minutes of cook time. Check to make sure your shellfish have opened, if so remove from heat and plate.

Perfect for a cool fall afternoon or evening, served with an aioli to dip in, and some bread to sop up the liquid. If i have a chance I will try to get a picture of my final dish on Saturday, but my approach is a bit more complicated than this, and i am trying to make and explain how to make an aioli, by hand, in front of 15 people while this happens. Good times will be had by all.

From Home

To take a break from Razor clam research I hit the kitchen pretty hard this morning. With some rain earlier in the day I was motivated to make some soup. Potato leek for soup with grilled ham and mozzarella sandwiches and some grapes. The boys have been asking me to make ice cream so I made, cooled, churned, and am now freezing a Reese's Peanut Butter Cup ice cream, that is going to be fantastic. Got four baguettes put together that are now resting. Yesterday I bought half a beef tenderloin, cleaned, tied and seared it to be roasted for dinner over a lobster mushroom risotto. Since the boys have been in school it has been pretty hard for Melissa and I to be able to go out on a date. Previously we have been very spoiled and fortunate to eat at some of the nicest restaurants locally and in the city, I am even able to expense a lot of our dates for research and development (a fantastic perk).  In tern I have been tyring to cook a meal that we would have on a date, from home, once a week or so, it is also helping with our ongoing efforts to get our children to have better manners at home and at restaurants.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Leeks

An often overlooked member of the onion, and garlic family, leeks are an amazing ingredient on the savory side of the kitchen. When grown they can either go over winter, and be an early spring harvest, or a late summer harvest. chances are your local grocer has them year round, and grown in the USA, and because they grow easily, they also tend to be on the inexpensive side. This bundle costed me less than $2.00. they also have a ton of usage applications. They are fantastic sauteed over fish, in stocks with your mirepoix, and the leaves are great to tie vegetables for a fantastic presentation, or to tie around a bouquet garni (a mixture of fresh spices that sits in a stock- tied for easy removal). The perfect application for leeks is a leek and potato soup that when served cold is called vyshisoisse (vish-ee-swa). A fantastic rainy day fall lunch.

When buying leeks look for heavy, full, and bright. The leaves shouldn't have any discoloration. The leaves are always discarded as they tend to be very fibrous and bitter. I usually cut just above where they begin to change from dark green leaves into the lighter green stalk. They grow in layers so dirt will pack into some of the layers making them one of the few vegetables that should be cleaned after cutting. Rinse them well, trim the top, then cut the root end off, quarter or half them, then slice them fine. Put them in a large bowl and cover them with water. Allow them to soak for at least a few minutes, stirring often to allow the water to separate the dirt from the flesh.  The dirt should sink to the bottom. Pull them out, don't dump them, and then give them another good rinse with cold water in a collander.

Some classic applications are sauteed with clams, soups, and stocks. I really like them sauteed over a baked potato, grilled with beef, braised in a salad, or crispy fried as a cool snack or garnish. Regardless of your intended use they are very approachable, and easily procured.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Razor Clams

The pacific coast razor clam can be located from Northern California to the Aleutian Islands in Alaska. Like foraged mushrooms they are one of our greatest and least expensive delicacies. I work with them often, and have breaded and cooked thousands. Recently a chef whom i have known for sometime, and have much respect for, asked me to come to his cooking school and teach a class about them. In tern my spare time thoughts for the next few weeks will consist of becoming a razor clam connoisseur. Needless to say i am ridiculously nervous. I will teach the Saturday class in the beginning of October with him there to help, and oversee. And then again on my own later in the month. I would complain to all of you but its a great opportunity, and will push me to become a better cook. If the class was about making stock, or knife cuts, or something I could just stroll in 10 minutes before it started and get to it. That is not the case with the razor clams though.

Available usually from mid spring until fall (recreationally), and all you need is a permit ($20-$25) a low tide, some boots, and a shovel or clam gun. On a good morning some of the pros i know can catch their limit in a matter of 30 minutes or so. Stored in ocean water, they will last (alive) in the fridge for a few days. Or some people with just rinse them and set them in the fridge for a day or so. Regardless the need is to get them cleaned and eaten or frozen as soon as possible. While ceviche, steamed, soups, chowders, etc are all wonderful applications, most people want them breaded and pan fried. Served with some sort of familiar and simple sauce and a wedge of lemon. We three stage ours at the restaurant with panko, but traditionalists will use cracker or bread crumbs of some sort.

Commercial harvest happens in parts of Washington, Canada, and a few different areas in Alaska. the commercial industry is highly regulated so in fresh form they are tough to find, available maybe 10-20 times a year. The upside is once cleaned they have a great shelf life (for a seafood product) and will last a good 10 days on ice. We were seeing them fresh even less until part of the Washington coast decided that they would allow commercial clamming once a month for a day. Keep in mind though that samples have to be taken and all shellfish can be prone to what we call a "red tide".  A red tide means that the water toxin levels are at a abnormally high level and will stop clamming, or catching of all shellfish, until the tide passes and the water is deemed safe again. Regardless of commercial, or recreational this has a pretty big effect, and usually causes me to run out on a few different menu items (a chefs, server, or managers worst case in the restaurant business).  Always check any local warnings immediately prior to going clamming, or crabbing. You also need a really low tide, and fairly good weather to get the harvesters to go out. There was more than a few times in the last year that one of those three things have failed to line up with the picked harvest date.

The other tough thing about razor clams is that they are very hard to clean. This is a living creature up to that point that buries itself in the sand, so they are pretty dirty and sandy. Once dug they are usually blanched in boiling water to open the shell, then iced to prevent cooking at this point. peeled away from the shell, then attacked with either a paring knife or a pair a scissors the first cut is up the zipper to open up, and then through both of the valves. The gills have to be removed as does the kidney. All of this usually happens at a sink under running water to continually rinse the sand away. A few serious razor clam guys i know can do about 1 clam every 90 seconds or so. Some cut the actual "digger" part of the clam off and others like to leave it all in one piece. Once a razor clam gets to this point (the most available product will look like this) they are called razor clam steaks. The jury is also out on the neck. The neck contains the valves and can be pretty tough. Some cut it totally off, others tenderize it with a meat mallet, and others still leave it and consider it part of the animal. At work we have to be very careful not to put the neck on the plate in a presentation that will lead the customer to have it be the first bite. Usually if you aren't familiar with the texture they will be a disappointment as they aren't as tender as most of the clams most people eat on a regular basis. Once overcooked they are the equivalent of a car tire. As far as cooking to prevent that, you need a hot pan (cast iron) and a fair amount of fat. The goal is to get them brown as quick as possible, and are overcooked after much more than about 60 seconds a side.

I am amazed at the dedication of some razor clam enthusiast. Up very early in the morning to clog around in the wet sand and rain to catch a limit of clams, only to come home to spend 2 hours cleaning them. That being said they are absolutely delicious, and a tradition that many people grew up doing, and continue to do with their families.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Chanterelles

The beginning of local forage mushrooms is upon us. I am fortunate to live in an area that has a wealth of them, and fortunate to know the people that are willing to spend their spare time walking abandon logging roads in search of them. Like raspberry jam, of the locally available forage mushrooms the chanterelle is king. While prices wont exceed that of a few of the other popular types of mushrooms, they are highly prized for versatility, availability, taste and texture. Rather than post about mushrooms as a whole, I wanted to focus on them individually. As they become available to me I hope to be able to post a picture of each of the different kinds i interact with.

Depending on weather chanterelles are usually the first of the fall mushrooms available. They are also the most plentiful on the Oregon Coast. With the rain that we have been having for the last week or so they should be out in full force, which will help flood the market, and keep the price reasonable. If you are unfamiliar with true "wild" or "forage" mushrooms, you are missing out. There is a lot to learn here, and i am not even going to scratch the surface. Most of the varieties of mushroom you see in the store were at one time wild, but now are cultivated. Chances are they are grown somewhere near you, and they are available year round. Some types you can expect to see in almost any grocery store are- shitake, portabellos, crimini (baby portabello), oyster, button, etc. There is nothing wrong with any of these types of mushrooms, and some are fantastic. Perfectly suited for your day to day cooking. As we work our way up the mushroom ladder though we begin to come across some mushrooms that can not be cultivated. Therefore they must be hunted. That process is called "foraging". People go out to the woods and find them. It is important to note that they aren't on the side of the road either. I know plenty of people that will hike 3 miles up a logging road to find that one secret patch of them. Most of them also wont tell you where they find them, so its a hard business to get into. A lot of what is picked is sold directly to restaurants in what usually goes down like this-

forager (whom i have never met)- Josh- i have about 15# of chanterelles, 1 hedgehog, 5# of lobster, and 2 good sized chicken of the woods. you want in?
Josh- they clean?
forager- kind of
Josh- how much do you want for them?
forager- well what are they worth (my first clue he has no idea what they are worth)
Josh- I will give you (insert ridiculous lowball number here) per #.
forager- was hoping to get (insert ridiculous high number here)
Josh- hmmm. alright. Wanted all the chanterelles and the hedgehog but i cant go that high.
forager- if you want them all maybe i can work something out for you.

it goes on and on. then the person shows up, we weigh them together, on my scale, and he scribbles an invoice on a guest check and i cut him a check. its odd, but happens three or four times a week this time of year. There is some major movement on pricing as it just depends on the market. Earlier in the season chanterelles will be pretty spendy, but will come down a bit as we get some saturation. Also no one has to feed the chanterelles, or own the land they grow on, or slaughter them, so essentially i am only buying the guy who picked thems time or effort. Definitely debatable as to how much that is worth.

If your interested in locating some chanterelles then there are quite a few good books on the subject, but none i know well enough to recommend. I shouldn't have to explain that this can be dangerous work as well. Some of the varieties that exist are deadly poisonous, and foragers are known to protect their secret spots. If you are like me and that sounds like way to much work then some of them will be available at high-end grocery stores in the coming months (a tough one because to get them to a grocery store they have probably changed hands three times- met a guy once who considered himself to be a mushroom broker). They are also available in dried form all over the Internet. Though many of them dry well, the chanterelle actually doesn't so i will buy as many as i can find, and them saute them, cryo-vac them, and then freeze them. They are a treat in fresh form and always a welcome fall sight. I have a blast figuring out all the different things i can use them for. In essence they sum up fall flavors, and colors for me. Perfect with salmon, chicken, steak, pork, or pasta. If you can bribe a friend, everyone should go out mushroom picking at least a few times, pouring down rain, cold, stomping through the forest in search of pure, unaltered, organic, sustainable, chanterelle mushrooms, that wont cost you anything. It could be one of natures best gifts.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Filet Mignon

Cut from the tenderloin section of a steer or heifer, the filet is the most tender piece of meat on the animal. every animal probably only yields about 8-12#'s of tenderloin (two per animal-one on each side of the spine) total, so with trimming and cleaning you are looking at close to 7-8# of total, center cut, product that is available for steak usage. this means they are always expensive, on the other hand they are perceived to have amazing value to them as well. many people consider it to be a real treat (we sell more filets at work on New Years Eve than any other night of the year). personally,  i am not a big fan. i dont like the soft, almost mushy texture of most filets. they are in an area of the animal that gets no work, doesnt bare any weight, or have any movement, and they dont contain any fat, and the result is what is, in my head, the equivalent of eating a beef pillow. if i am going to eat steak i want it to have a bit more fight to it. for the same reasons mentioned a lot of restaurants will serve a sub-par filet as it doesnt contain any give in the first place. it is usually tender regardless so people can get away with selling dairy cow filets. furthermore it is rarely available "dry aged" which wont help the mushy problem i mentioned at all. bottom line is, if it sounds to good to be true it probably is. a good filet will be spendy, always. some things worth mentioning-

wellington- a wellington traditionally is a filet of beef wrapped in puff pastry, baked to a golden brown. while it sounds easy it is a amazingly difficult dish to pull off, and my hats off to chefs and cooks that are brave enough to be selling it on menus. the beef will cook at a totally different rate then the puff pastry will, so the steak has to be seared first then wrapped. the puff will burn in a hot oven so it takes a long time as well.  then it has to be pulled from the oven and served. there is no peeking or poking to check doneness, and you cant fake it. wellington will also often contain a mixture of mushrooms packed around the steak then wrapped in the puff pastry.

Chateaubriand- is a bigger chunk of beef tenderloin that is usually served for two people. often carved tableside in thin slices

Tournedos- technically the French only consider the small end of the tenderloin true filet mignon. as the muscle gets larger they call those steaks tournedos. usually two thick slices of steak (think 3-4 oz each) seared or grilled.

Au Poivre- while classically a NY steak pepper seared then topped with a sauce of brandy and cream, i see it on menus as a filet dish fairly often.

barding- when you wrap a cut of lean meat with a fat it is called barding. this if often done to even the total fat in the protein, and give a better mouthfeel. the most popular example is a filet mignon wrapped with bacon.  conceptually its a grand idea, problem is it is never executed correctly. again the steak will cook at a totally different rate then the bacon. not to mention when you grill a filet (or any steak for that matter) the sides of it dont get any heat, and are very prone to cause flare-ups on the grill, so the fat wont render out of the bacon, and instead you get par-cooked, limp bacon, or a burnt steak. neither one is very good. your call but dont be disappointed when you are presented with some stringy, fatty, razor thin slice of bacon. there are better ways to bard, and better products to bard off. a better idea would be to mount the sauce with more fat, or the starch to keep a per bite balance on your palate.

if you are looking to entertain family or friends and want to blow it out of the park a whole tenderloin may not be a bad idea. they are available at my local costco for a respectable price. they are relatively easy to clean and prep (i am sure a you tube video exist, or hey just ask me) and you could easily cut 8 steaks out of a decent sized tenderloin. not to mention you get all of the fun trim parts. you will pay too much money to waste any of it so be wise with your usage.

one last tip- i am sure you have seen the diamond marks on grilled foods at restaurants. this is a amazingly easy trick to pull off at home. when grilling on a really hot grill place your oiled and salted steak on the grill and allow it to cook for a few minutes, grab your tongs and turn the meat exactly 90 degrees, allow to cook for the same amount of time, turn over, repeat. you never want to touch grilling meat more than you have to, so you have to estimate how long the steak will need to cook and time your turns to match. the picture is a few of the 70 filets i needed to mark yesterday for a banquet last night. no pressure, those steaks only costed well over a thousand dollars.

no matter what, always remember that a whole animal was slaughtered to put 16-18 filets on plates across the world. it is not an injustice to that animal to cook them, appreciate them, treat them with dignity, and enjoy the work and life that went into their cooking, fabrication, aging, and butchering. season them, temper them, cook them, rest them and serve them with the respect they deserve. a good filet, some salt, and some heat will speak for itself.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Tomatoes

Most of the year i use canned tomatoes at home. as consumers we have become accustomed to being able to walk into a grocery store in December and buy tomatoes. in tern my thought is that we actually have forgotten, or have never been aware of what a ripe, fresh picked tomato is supposed to look, smell, and taste like. most of the year tomatoes come from as far away as Mexico, and South America, as they have the only climate that will support the growing of them in the off season. the problems with that are many. tomatoes dont travel well, so they are forced to be picked very early on and then gassed to promote them to take some sort of color. if you have ever picked a really ripe tomato and then tried to keep in for even a few days it deteriorates very quickly. it is also a huge waste of energy in growing and transporting. when i see someone in the store in the winter buying organic tomatoes i laugh to myself. they have been brainwashed into thinking if it is badged "ORGANIC" then it is somehow okay to not eat locally, or even seasonally. if you grow your own tomatoes, or know someone who does you know exactly what i am talking about. the ripe tomato only really exists for a month and half out of the year in my neck of the woods. we are rapidly approaching the end of them.

like i mentioned i have a stash of canned tomatoes, sun-dried, and tomato paste on hand all the time. canned tomatoes are canned in the peak of their season and i will take that over out of season, from 3000 miles away any day. they dont freeze well at all, but i know of some people that have had some luck doing home drying with them. i have even had a bit of luck smoking them. any of the ways you attempt to preserve them they just wont turn out the same as fresh, off of the vine, tomatoes. in turn i feel like we are doing a dis-service to nature by not eating them in huge amounts this time of year.

there are hundreds of types of tomatoes and i thought i would at least attempt to clarify some of the terms you can expect to see in stores and on menus.

pear/cherry/grape- these small tomatoes are named after their fruit shaped cousins. they are very sweet and wonderful in salads, but their seed to skin ratio makes them less than ideal for soups and sauces. this time of year i am able to find them in orange, red, and yellow colors.

roma- a roma is a oblong shaped, small ball sized tomato. there are many different varieties but all of them are great for saucing, and slicing. the roma is held in relatively high esteem in restaurants as well because they are the most consistent tomato available throughout the year.

utility- utility tomatoes are often packed in different sizes without much consistency. they are less expensive for it and great for chopping, and saucing.

hot house- any time you see the term hot house it means that the product has been grown to be the prettiest possible. bell peppers are often labeled hot house. these tomatoes should all be close to the same size, and relatively "pretty"

beefsteak- beefsteak tomatoes like hot house should be large and blemish free. great for slicing over sandwiches and burgers.

heirloom- as i mentioned last week this can mean so much. with tomatoes it means they wont be pretty, and are usually best eaten raw with a touch of salt. there are hundreds of varieties in all sorts of shapes, colors, and sizes.

concasse- a concasse is when you score a tomato with an X in the bottom of it and then blanch it in boiling water, then shock it in ice water, and then peel and remove all of the seeds, then cut it very fine. it is usually done with roma tomatoes, but can be done with any type. the thought here is that the seeds of a tomato arent digestible (i watched a online video of the San Francisco water treatment facility once and there were the most gorgeous tomatoes growing inside it. hot, humid, really good soil, good stuff) and the skin never really breaks down with cooking, so you eliminate all the bad stuff and just get pure essence of tomato. i serve it at work in a sauce called "piccata" over a piece of local snapper. it takes me about 30 minutes to concasse and brunoise 30 tomatoes. a true pain, especially when you start with 30 tomatoes and end with two cups of product.

on the vine- as far as i am concerned this is a marketing gimic. regardless of the fact they are attached to some of the vine they still arent attached to the ground. the amount of nutrients that can be stored in the vine are very limited so this approach works for about 15 minutes after they are picked. they will likely be the most expensive at your grocery store.

buy 4#'s of roma tomatoes and cut the vine end off, then quarter them. peel a whole head of garlic, and toss all of it together with some olive oil and salt. place on a sheet pan and roast at 450 degrees until they turn golden brown. pull the tomatoes out of the oven, allow to cool for 10 minutes then puree with a handful of fresh basil and a touch of balsamic vinegar. a perfect sauce in a hustle for a pizza, or pasta. with a touch of cream you even have a pretty good soup.

You dont have much longer to enjoy the tomato as it was intended to be- fresh from the plant, picked that same day, and as plump and juicy as it could be.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Mirepoix


Mirepoix- A combination of chopped aromatic vegetables-usually two parts onions, one part carrot, and one part celery- used to flavor stocks, soups, braises, and stews. -TPC 8th edition

Most of you are aware that my favorite things in the world are stocks, soups, braises, and stews. therefore i have a great relationship with mirepoix. way back in culinary school we spent hours cutting it. a busy restaurant will blow through so much of the above listed ingredients it can be mind boggling. last year to prep for thanksgiving i took a 50# bag of onions off of the produce truck, then continued to trim, peel, and dice them. all of them. i also use some sort of mirepoix at home almost every day i am here. i have been known to send Melissa to the store for onions and nothing else even if i am not sure what i am going to cook. i just know i cant make much progress without them. the thing that makes mirepoix so cool is that when you use all the ingredients it adds a depth of flavor that cant be beat or matched without them. whether in a sauce, or a soup. also they are some of the least expensive things you can buy at any grocery store, almost anywhere in the world, any time of the year. i read once that the onion is the only ingredient that is seen in every major cuisine across the world.

there are definitely some arguments about the ratios, ingredients, and even the prep involved though. a very, very good chef i know thinks that celery should be upped and the other too backed off to impart what he considers equal flavor on the palate. very true if you think about the flavor of mild celery versus the aggressiveness of carrots and even more aggressive onion. i personally have a bit of a dislike for the texture of celery so i dont always use it, instead, especially in a braise, i will use carrot, onion, and dried peppers (pasillas, chipotle, etc.) if you are cooking a recipe that calls for a "trinity" you are reading what is most likely a Cajun recipe and it is describing a mirepoix without carrot, and instead green bell peppers. some chefs wont peel onions, or carrots when they are using them for mirepoix, but i think if nothing more than basic kitchen discipline it should be done "start with garbage-end with garbage". usually the cooking time is long so a rough chop or cut is fine for flavor extraction, which is precisely why it is a popular task for culinary students, interns, or even dishwashers in restaurants everywhere.

Jamming


Lets be honest by saying that when someone mentions "jam", everyone really thinks "raspberry jam". by no means does that make the existence of other fruit jams unimportant but it does make raspberry jam the king. if i am going to make jam at home, i am making raspberry. i made some blackberry last year and it was awesome, but it still sits in the freezer, mostly untouched, because my family really didnt want to bother with it because there was raspberry jam i made as well. i grew up eating raspberry (of course) jam that my grandmother made every year with raspberries that she grew in her own garden. at work we make our own jam (and even most of our own breads-another story) for breakfast service and i am even able to buy a brand of frozen berries only from Oregon so i can make local berry jams year round. when the berry market prices drop we will buy flat after flat of them for the sole purpose of jam. freezer jam especially is a great use of any berry and some fruits that are passing their prime and need to be used.

the local fall raspberry market is in full swing and the prices and quality are very good. i made three gallons of jam at work yesterday evening and have just shy of a flat that will be jam at the house by later today or tomorrow. i like using fall berries as they are priced a bit cheaper and tend to be a bit sweeter than the early summer Oregon berries are. i love making freezer jam. freezer jam is intended to be stored in the freezer or even the fridge and is not shelf stable. cooked jam is cooked and then usually sealed to be shelf stable. jam and jelly differ in that jam has chunks of fruit, and usually seeds, while jelly is made from the juice of fruit so has no seeds or pulp.

pectin is the thickener in jam (although gelatin-animal derived, was commonly used in years past) and it is derived from the skins and flesh of different types of fruit. it is available in powder form almost anywhere but i use liquid pectin. it has a better mouth feel and considered to be far superior. it is expensive, but available at most grocery store or pharmacies (pharmacies also are a great place for canning jars and equipment). the coolest thing about liquid pectin is that inside the box will be the exact recipe for any sort of freezer jam, cooked jam, or jelly that you could ever want to fabricate. we actually make a savory jalapeno and lime jelly at work that is derived from the recipe in the box. it will even tell you how much fruit to buy to yield the amount of product you want to make. pectin in general is pretty odd stuff. the thing i hate about it is that is so perfectly formulated that you have to follow the exact recipe. you can not double up a batch as it wont set correctly. and the thing that bothers me most is that you can not adjust sugar levels. if you think about it, most fruits are much sweeter in season then out of season. they also are much better the less they have traveled, how ripe they were when they were picked, etc. if i have raspberries that are more sweet than tart i would love to adjust sugar levels in the jam to even that out, or even vice a versa. liquid pectin just wont let me do that. i am convinced if i had a more sound knowledge of food science i could figure it out, but havent been able to do it yet.

making jam at home is extremely easy. it is also a product that most households will use often, and one of the most pure food preservation methods available. it does take a lot of sugar, but store bought jams can be sweetened with HFCS, and other sweeteners i like to stay away from. this way i know i exactly what went into it, and just a flat or so of berries will satisfy my families need for jam until the local berries are available again.

the picture is just about every prep bowl that wasnt in use and more than half of the prep table, as well as measuring cups, pectin boxes, lemon juice, whisks, spatulas, and buckets to store the jam in. there is also a bunch of whisking involved and at one point i actually had a cramp in both of my forearms. it was the last task i had to do to finish my work week, so i was working as quick as i could.