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.

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.
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.


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


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.