Thursday, April 29, 2010

Potato Gratin

Was invited to a BBQ yesterday at a friends house down the coast a bit. was asked to bring something but proteins were taken care of, as were salads, vegetables, and dessert. with not enough time to make bread i decided i needed a starch option, so i went with the potato gratin, or scalloped potatoes. i make it with a mixture of cream, milk, onions, and cream cheese which i heat and then puree, then i turn the heat way down and load cheese into it. yesterday had grana padona, and two types of Tillamook cheddar. i thinly sliced potatoes and blanched them in hot water (never boiling with potatoes) to give them a head start on the cooking process and allow me to get some salt directly on the potatoes. drained well then arranged in a glass casserole, topped with sauce, then po's again, then sauce, potatoes, and finished with sauce and some more cheese. into the oven covered for two hours. thinking i was way original i headed to the BBQ, and low and behold another woman had made the same freaking dish. grrr. anyway mine i hope was superior. first time i had ever been to a BBQ with a group of restaurant people, and of the 20 or so total that showed there were at least 4-5 who cook professionally. which leads to some interesting takes on what is brought. all of it amazing. next time i will have to up my game by at least two fold.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

"Springer" Salmon

Springer salmon runs locally beginning around mid March. Springer is a term used for first of the season fish that were actually hatchery started then released into the wild. after a long winter of having frozen salmon i am always so excited to see them. they are all of the Chinook (king) variety and are considered one of the tastiest of all salmon species. salmon have a few really unique facts that i thought i would share. first these were hatched in a fishery but most salmon are born up river, i have read accounts (before dams) of them as far inland as Montana. as hatchlings they return to ocean and run wild off the coasts for usually 2 years at which point they return to the place they were born. what makes that journey more impressive is that once they leave the comfort of the ocean they stop eating, and some even change shape in the nose and mouth for better aerodynamics. this journey can take as long as a few months. they then spawn and die. a magnificent story, often containing many obstacles. i also read an old coastal Indian account saying that when the season was perfect you could walk on the backs of spawning salmon from astoria oregon to the washington side (about 4 miles). normal salmon season opens on may 1st at which point we will start shopping for different types of salmon from different places up the west coast. we will buy copper river (Alaska) salmon when it is in full run, and some salmon from other Alaska inlets. for the most part this local king run will be over soon, and we will move on. i have a local fisherman who we be off the coast of souther Washington picking them up for me, then selling them to me on the back dock of the restaurant. the choices are amazing especially once the season really gets going (mid-late june) farmed salmon isnt an option and it shouldnt be for you. farmed salmon is an Atlantic species, usually pen-farmed offshore. there is all sorts of speculation about what happens when a farmed and genetically altered fish escapes and breeds with a wild fish, they dont swim for life, they dont return to their birthplace to breed, the just sit in a offshore pen and are fed dog food. real, wild salmon has a depth of flavor that you cant match and color that is so superior. if your in the market to buy, go local if you can, and if you cant go local at least go Alaskan. it will be a bit more expensive but you can sleep at night knowing that in purchasing it you have sustained a community, and have helped guarantee that your grandchildren will one day be able to feast on it, instead of hearing about how far they used to swim to spawn, or how many there once was. the wild population was over fished at one point but with support we are doing so much better, they are as sustainable now as they have ever been. i am fortunate to be able to work with such an amazing product. a product many desire that was line caught mearly 20 miles from my home. if you are interested in purchasing salmon ask your local fish monger these key questions- is it wild? where was it caught? when was it caught? how was it caught?. this was a line caught local springer salmon and i encrusted it in toasted pumpkin seeds, then seared it to a perfect medium rare, then topped with a classic salsa verde. it was served with a Himalayan red rice, local asparagus, carrot julienne, and ciopolini onions. at home its perfect with a bit of salt and heat and maybe some lemon.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Malted Cheesecake

A while back i realized the potential of adding malt powder to desserts. malt has a very recognizable taste, that is craved by many, and helps them to recall memories of childhood, or even adulthood. historically used in milkshakes, but i have had a really hard time finding just plain malt. i have found malted milk (which i have been using in breads at home) and various chocolate malts, but i wanted plain malt. a few weeks ago i found plain malt in an Ovaltine container at a local Winco and bought a jar for a few dollars. i made a few malted milks with it, and then used some to make a chocolate malted creme brulee that is pictured in one of my first posts. the idea was to make a brulee that tasted like really good hot cocoa, just cold, so i used a few different types of chocolate and then the malt powder. they turned out amazing, and i was surprised at the depth of flavor that the malt powder provided. at work i am fortunate enough to be one of the only restaurants with a full time pastry chef so i told her my thinking and she thought rather than a brulee it would work in a cheesecake. this is the first rendition. (hopefully more to come) she swirled bittersweet chocolate into the cheesecake at the end and all of it was mixed with the same Ovaltine malt that i bought at Winco. her recipe makes three cheesecakes and i got my hands on one piece today. should be on the dessert tray at work for the next day or so, but if we can get some more malt we will run with it through the remainder of the month at least. not my doing in the least, but mine from conception.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Smoked short ribs

Short Ribs- you see this trendy item fairly often at higher end restaurants lately. i think that rib cooking and all proteins for that matter really comes down to an attempt to do the animal (a choice graded steer in this case)some justice. apply smoke, apply heat, eat. mine were cherry wood smoked for about 4 hours, then slow roasted in the oven for another 5 hours, followed by a quick ride in a scorching hot oven to develop some sort of sear on the outside of the meat, then served. i always rub BBQ style meats at least one day ahead of time with a blend of spices that i make from all sorts of different things depending on the final taste profile desired. would've like to get these rubbed earlier but only got 1 night on them. beef ribs require more time then pork ribs as they can contain more fat and are larger, so the trick is to get the fat rendered out but still have them attached to the bone. i always make enough rub to cut into some catsup with some molasses, lemon, and liquid smoke for a bbq sauce, that while isn't really necessary is a nice touch for some people.

polenta- a corn based starch that you may be more familiar with as grits. don't let a southerner hear you call grits polenta and don't let an italian hear you call polenta grits. jury still out on cooking methods, as every one has an opinion, i like a good three hour polenta. be careful, they get hotter than they look and are like culinary napalm, as they boil and spit at you while you work them. i flavored them with some herbs and some cheese. they take any meltable cheese really well, and sweetened they are even great for breakfast. these were from Bobs Red Mill, a local mill that does some very amazing things with different non gluten flours, and has just about every starch one could imagine. they are available at most supermarkets, and of course online. the cool thing about starches like this is they are really inexpensive and have an almost infinite shelf life. most guests at my home have rarely had things like cous-cous, polenta, quinoa, etc. all very easy to cook, and its something new that didn't take much more effort than roasting potatoes.

brussel sprouts- not a real popular vegetable choice, but has so much overlooked potential. i shaved them and then just quickly sauteed them with some salt, white wine, and some butter. they are often hated upon as most people had them frozen then microwaved as a kid. they can be so much more.

grapefruit soda- i make soda fairly often with a isp soda siphon that i have. it is very similar to a whipped cream charger, it is a wonderful way for me to make a dinner that is totally homemade, and also allows me to control the amount of sugar involved, and what types of sugar i am using. fresh squeezed grapefruit juice, brown sugar, agave nectar, water, and a pinch of salt. i am the only guy i have ever heard of doing this, so i am still trying to get a feel for some of the basic ratios, but it still is a riot for me to be able to play with and incorporate things that you normally wouldn't think of.

bread- i made a roasted garlic and whole wheat bread that i was worried wasn't enough to feed the group of people that were coming, a quick fix was a batch of popovers that i lean to whenever i need some sort of bread in a pinch. they are fast and delicious. i actually used the beef fat drippings from the ribs to make them which in turn makes them Yorkshire puddings (classically made with dripping from a prime rib roast)

grilled romaine- romaine hearts oiled and salted then quickly grilled, shaved cheese, and frozen red wine vinegar and your ready to go. hot, cold, crisp, wilted, all the great textures are there, took a total of maybe 10 minutes.

didn't get as many pictures as i would've liked as the final assembly was a bit frantic. this one is a rib over the polenta. don't expect a ton from me today as this was a ton of work and i have a few other obligations toaday.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Navy beans and ham shanks

up early to get going in my home kitchen this morning, at bat for lunch was a pot of navy beans (dutch oven in the oven) with a ham shank from the pig that i bought last fall, there is something so comforting about a pot of pork and beans, shown with a bit of sour cream and some pickled jalapenos...perfection. paired it with homemade hot dog buns (i can never get the shape quite perfect) that i needed to make for a apple bratwurst that a butcher i know did for me. fresh bread and beans, and ham, and a wonderfully delicious bratwurst. on deck for dinner- cherry wood smoked beef short ribs (the ferrari of ribs), polenta, shredded brussel sprouts, whole wheat and roasted garlic bread, warm romaine heart salad, and homemade soda of some sort. been busy, but i am having company.


Braising- a cooking method in which the main item, usually meat, is seared in fat, then simmered at a low temperature in a small amount of stock or another liquid (usually half way up the meat item) in a covered vessel for a long time, the cooking liquid is then reduced and used as a sauce.- TPC 8th edition

my all time favorite cooking technique as is it very good for all the cuts of meat that i love. these are seared chicken hindquaters that are in a stock set with onions, chipotles, and some fresh thyme. they hit the 300 degree oven, covered, for about 2 hours- resulting in absolute delisciousness. braising usually involves less expensive cuts of meat that will require some break down of meat structure. your house will smell amazing and will be warm all day long. a perfect scenario for a cold winter/raining spring day.

Thanks....and prostart

wow.....i am astounded that you guys are reading this. thanks bunches. as for the uncrustables i almost regretted writing it until you all agreed with me. i do know who Jamie Oliver is and have been a fan of his since the early naked chef days, and then jaimie at home days. this has been issue of mine for some time. i am involved in the local high school as a chef-mentor for a program called prostart. students that are interested in potentially cooking as a career can take an elective class that teaches some harder skill things that you can expect in a professional kitchen or restaurant. we develop a menu that once perfected goes to a competition where the students have 1 hr to cook a three course meal on two portable burners only. it is a huge time and financial commitment for the restaurant, but i think it provides a good experience for the students and if they take away a solid knowledge of fundamentals then they are better for it, even if they aren't ever going to cook professionally (a career i rarely would recommend) my interaction at the school exposes me to the lunch options (exactly the same as when i was there 10-15 yrs ago) we have also done two-three meals for school functions at the local elementary as well, to give them a healthy break from the foods they are exposed to both at home and school. its a problem i an deeply passionate about, i just am not sure how to approach it.

Saturday, April 17, 2010


So i got a call the other day from one of the higher ups (really high up) at work looking for a product for a birthday party. the product is called "uncrustables" and is made by smuckers. i was unclear what they were but made a phone call to a purveyor and was able to track them down. the product showed on Friday and i got it out today.... this is a peanut butter and strawberry jam sand. and the crust has been cut off of it. its then frozen and sold that way. the person that wanted them from me knew they were available wholesale as they feed them to their children at elementary school. i was totally grossed out and as if i needed another reason to not like them, they are extremely expensive as well. over $1.10 a piece wholesale. i didn't try one and they could be amazing but i cant get behind the fact that there are people buying these. at work we make loaves of bread (white and wheat) that i can make for $.80 per loaf, good bread takes no more than 5 ingredients (yeast, flour, salt, water, and maybe butter, or oil) good jam takes 3 (fruit, pectin, sugar) and peanut butter takes 2-3 depending, that is a total that is around 10 total ingredients to make that same sandwich, instead the ingredient list went on for almost 4 inches (i measured) and i didn't recognize most of it. what got me more is that these are wealthy people, people that not only know better, but can afford better. if you have this crap around the house don't feed it to your children, they don't need it. crust less pb and j is one thing. frozen, packed with preservatives and chemicals, in a fake bread with fake jam and fake peanut butter is a whole new ballpark, especially at our public schools. get involved, and feed your family better than this. seriously.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Homemade Foccacia

homemade foccacia paninis. this one with goat cheese and black forest ham. homemade foccacia spiced with rosemary, thyme, and basil then brushed with oil, more spices, course pacific sea salt, and Parmesan cheese. bread did turn out excellent but the sandwich did leave something to be desired. i made a crimini and porcini (a wild only mushroom that is considered one of the best flavors- foraged locally in late fall, then these were dried by a friend of mine) soup that i finished with a bit of cream. served it all with a bit of homemade dressings and some organic broccoli, carrots, and some pickled sweet peppers. also worked on a roasted winter squash soup for a group of people(40) that i was asked to do for some friends for Saturday. not my most productive day. the sandwiches were grilled on a lodge logic cast iron grill pan that i bought recently that is quickly becoming one of my favorite tools. it is double sided for a grill on one side and a griddle on the other, it simply sits on top of the stove elements (gas or electric) so the heat is very controllable, and it allows me to sear bigger cuts of meat at a higher heat then i have been able to do before, also allows me to quick grill any sort of meat, sandwich, or crostini. problem is if i get it smoking hot my hood wont keep up with it, so i have to be careful.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010


home a bit earlier then usual today and was able to help with dinner. Italian sausage in homemade tomato sauce tossed with orzo and finished with a grana padano cheese. really simple meal with a loaf of french bread and my grandmothers green beans. orzo is rice shaped pasta that you don't see very often. i like it for a few different reasons the first being that you don't see it very often. second, it is able to take more of a beating than most other dried pastas can. it is harder to overcook and more easy to hold warm without losing all of its integrity. the third and most important thing i like about it though is its size. much easier for children to eat (think spoonfuls) and adults without getting shirts and tablecloths covered in sauce. it will easily replace spaghetti, fettuccine, angel hair, etc in any recipe i can think of, costs about the same and can even be cooked risotto style (more on that at some point for sure). if you have small children or a very well dressed spouse, give it a shot next time your at the grocery store.

Chicken Feet

in a search to build a better stock we have recently turned to chicken feet. here is a picture of a small amount of the 20#'s that i roasted today. they contain an enormous amount of gelatin that when done correctly can give a sauce or soup the lip smacking taste that we all crave. i rinsed them, then roasted these for about an hour at close to 400 degrees, then set them in a large stockpot covered with water. i brought them to a simmer, reduced the heat to where the stock was barely trembling, then let them go for about 5-7 hrs, skimming as needed. drained and refrigerated overnight (separates the fat) then slowly reduced tomorrow. i have a few dishes that have a natural reduction sauce so i will take almost five gallons of good chicken feet stock and reduce it to less than one gallon. tricky as if you let it come to a rolling boil the impurities, and fat in the stock will emulsify itself into the stock and leave you with a horribly greasy final product. in parts of Mexico you see kids walking the streets nibbling on the roasted necks and feet of recently harvested chickens. next time your looking to make a mean chicken stock ask your butcher for feet, they are cheap and will give you the depth of flavor that you just cant get with just a ribcage carcass.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Questions and Comments

if you are reading this i would love to hear questions and comments about this. i am little bit unclear as to what the goal is here but i would like to know what you think or what kinds of things you would like to hear more about. i am flexible and if you give me a challenge i would love to tackle it head on. thanks.


i have been harassing one of my produce vendors for spring ramps, and today he came through. ramps are sometimes called a wild leek and are celebrated in east coast states like west Virginia and the Carolinas with numerous festivals as they are one of the first spring vegetables. they have an extremely "garlicky" flavor and are very aromatic. the ramps in the picture actually came from northern California and i am anxiously awaiting their Oregon season. killer is- these bad boys costed the restaurant over $20/#. that's right, lets take a moment to think about what we can buy for 20 dollars a pound.... live Maine lobster, dry aged rib-eye steaks, kobe beef, "springer" salmon, kumamoto oysters, venison osso bucco, wild and fresh diver scallops, ahi tuna, bluefin tuna, etc, etc, etc. honestly i felt robbed, i wanted to return them, i was pissed. then we cooked some, this is a few of them simply sauteed in butter with a bit of salt. they are utterly delicious. they were really hard to clean (i weighed one piece of dirt that costed me $.75) and look like skinny green onions, but the leaves are totally edible. i can still taste the garlic taste in my mouth and i ate them about 5 hours ago. not to mention my hands still smell like them. gotta love it.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Dinner Line- Grill Side

As odd as it sounds i don't get the chance to cook on the line at the restaurant very often. i help as needed but as far as a scheduled shift working on the line it rarely happens. on a busy night we would have one guy that does salads and desserts, another working fried foods and kids food, another working the middle who is in charge of plating, vegetables, sauteed and pan fried items, and pastas. the fourth is the grill side, in charge of fish, steak, poultry, etc. also in charge of the firing and timing of all tickets, and any communication that needs to happen with servers or management. so i camped up on the grill side last night. on the menu is halibut cooked 4 different ways, salmon cooked three different ways, a total of 6 steak options, two chicken dishes, whole crab, sole, razor clams, and a snapper dish. its a lot to manage, but when everyone can hit stride, you can get to a point where no one needs to talk to each other, everyone knows what each other are doing and whole tickets come to the pass together in a fluid motion by up to four people involved. it is the ultimate test of not only cooking skill but also your ability to stay calm and focused (luckily the grill man usually gets control of the radio- and i had my ipod) in the end things went fantastically smooth with not one dropped plate, mis-cooked ingredient, customer complaint, or missed items. the reason for all this banter is simply this- the whole process can be one of the most gratifying in the kitchen, when you are done for the night and everyone is fed, a customers expectations have been far exceeded, and they will not only open their wallets and happily pay their bill, but will go out and remember that meal, and perhaps even send a friend our way, you go home and feel like you accomplished an impossibly insurmountable task.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Functional Cutlery

There are so many ways that home cooks and professional cooks go wrong with cutlery. The knife is the most basic of tools, yet i go to peoples homes all the time where they have all-clad pans but not one good knife. i dont get it, and its a peeve of mine. Thought i would take the chance to talk about my choices both at home and in my knife bag at work. This is a 10" Vorshner chef's knife. I love it for its weight, size, balance, ability to hold an edge, and cost. This one is new today and i picked it up for around $30. I do own a few more expensive knives (global, henckel, f. dick) but none of them do what this knife does, and for less than 1/3 the cost of some. It isnt unusual for me to spend 8 hours a day with this knife in my hand, to do that my hands take a beating. With a bigger heavier knife i definately can tell a difference. This knife also takes a ton of abuse as cooks snag it off the prep table or out of my bag and use and abuse it in my absence, it takes a beating but takes an edge with a few passes on a steel. The 10" chef's knife is the classic knife that i can do almost any task with. Granted i have others but once you become comfortable with this knife it is really all you would ever need. If you have small hands i would say go for a 8" that will be plenty big for anything you would do at home. This knife is at every kitchen supply store i have ever been to. Remember this isnt about pretty, or expensive. If you want to be a better cook at home, start with one good knife and practice with it, find joy in simple cutting task. Your progress you will make will amaze you.

Steak and Beans and Avocado....oh my

The marinated flank steak, spicy slaw, avocado puree, grilled scallions, and pinto beans. Grilled the flank on a smoking hot grill to just med-rare. As for the avocados they hold a soft spot in my heart, their healthy fat and mouthfeel is unamtched. They are especailly excellent when paired with grilled beef. I really like just pureed with salt, lime, and a bit of heavy cream. As for the slaw- i simply cut the cabbage as fine as i can then throw in some red onions, cilantro, radish, and carrot. I salt it and then juice a few limes on to it and a bit of olive oil, allowing an hour or so for it to macerate before serving. The pintos got some sauteed onions, and some epazote (a mexican spice that prevents gas when eating beans-that also tastes amazing) and slow cooked in my dutch oven. This is a meal i get a ton of satisfaction from preparing and serving.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Applesauce and Whatnot

actually got to the applesauce last night. 24 apples peeled and cored, cooked, seasoned, and canned. got 4 qts out of it and its a bunch of work (whole process was about 2.5 hrs) but the product is unbeatable. toaday i am working a chicken and organic wild rice soup, poached chicken yesterday and was able to have some stock from the poaching liquid. also have a vegetable stock on the stove to help with some pintos i will start for dinner. seasoned two choice flank steaks with salt, lime and adoba that have been marinating overnight. looking to go to the grill with the steak for dinner, with pintos, red rice, and spicy slaw. Still working on the picture thing.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Strawberry Lemonade Concentrate

With spring and summer harvests around the corner I broke out my canning goods today, to give myself a little refreshing course and canned 5 pints of a strawberry lemonade concentrate, with some fresh strawberries that came to me for a great deal at work on Sunday. Also picked up a 6#'s both of some pink lady, and granny smith apples for applesauce tommorrow. Finished up a malted chocolate creme brulee and waiting for them to cool now. All that cooking and i still didnt get bread made or dinner done so pizza it is. pics of all of it to come and soon as i figure out how.