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


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


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.


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.