Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Beer Bread

I got my first taste of kitchen work at a small restaurant in Seaside called Vista Sea Cafe, at the age of 14. Some of my readers and all of my siblings worked there at some point. A quaint downtown restaurant focused mostly on pizza and sandwiches. Melissa and I met there when she was hired to bus tables, and we went on to return once married to run the restaurant for an absentee owner. In all I must have worked there for almost ten years. Melissa and I almost bought the restaurant on a few different occasions and sometimes I cant help wonder what our life would be like had we done that. I know with zero doubt that I wouldn't be half of the cook I am now if we had. On the flip side of that, I also know that with what I know now, I could've made the food better. Don't get me wrong it was never bad, but some small changes, and a touch of creativity could've taken a once trendy restaurant and made it more fresh, and streamlined. I just didn't know that then. The restaurant has long ago closed, and is now defunct. Inside of it is a horrible taco shop, that I took Abe to once and marveled at the floor I had mopped so many times, and the counters I had cleaned, the shelves I had stocked, the issues with customers I had dealt with, etc. Of the things I miss beer bread isn't at the top, but it is on the list, but people still ask me about it. Because I still work with some guys who worked for me there we bust it out at the restaurant every now and then. So currently I am working to get the pizza/bread dough recipe together to get broken down into a manageable size so that I can post it for all of you, and can fool around with it myself. It was a long time ago, and recipes in kitchens are odd. We measured flour by weight without "taring" the scale, we just measured it in the exact same container everyday. At the time I never thought to actually weigh the container to see what amount of actual product we put into a bowl, machine, or pan. I wish I had. So many times there have been recipes I have wanted to write down and then I have thought - I have done this so many times, how could I forget. So I never do, then 6 months down the road it begins to get a tad fuzzy, and 2 years later it is just a vague recollection of some ingredients, and now 5 years later I cant even remember all the ingredients.

Beer Bread- (Exact Vista Sea Recipe)-

5# Self Rising Flour
3 cups Sugar
3/4 cup canola oil
76 oz beer

Measure flour, add sugar to flour, whisk to combine. Add beer, then oil, stir gently to break up the lumps. Split evenly between 5  greased loaf pans and bake at 350 for about an hour, until golden brown and pulls clean with a skewer. Let rest for about 10 minutes then gently pull them from the pan and allow to cool on a cooling rack.

That's it. Crazy simple. First off though I would never buy self rising flour. A single use ingredient that is just a combination of other things you have in your kitchen already. Use AP flour and add 1.5tsp of baking powder per cup, and 1/2 tsp of salt per cup. Self rising flour is mostly just flour but has these ingredients already mixed in. In it's store bought form it takes up too much room in my pantry at home to keep around. Not to mention I don't see recipes calling for it very often anymore. As for the beer, long ago we used two 40's of "Lucky Dog." Funny stuff in hindsight. We then cut the beer back a tad and started using draft Bud Light. I have tried it with different  darker beer before and the beer will affect the color and flavor quite a bit. I would stick with a light beer that is cheap at least for the first few times. Then you can experiment more if you so desire. Chances are you will enjoy it enough as is. I bought two "40's" of Old English to use early this morning and the clerk looked at me like I was homeless. Good stuff.

As far as uses, I like it warm with a bit of butter, or even some honey. It makes an amazing french toast, and I am going to use some of the batch coming out of the oven in a bit to try a bread pudding of some sort. It will last a day or so, and probably freezes well (I have never tried) but like all homemade bread it will not store on the counter very well. Give it a shot and you wont be disappointed. I used a tad smaller than standard loaf size pans and got six out of it, so I will most likely give 4-5 loaves away today. I told Melissa I was going to make a half batch and she seemed to think that was a waste of time cause she knew enough people that would be interested in some. Hopefully even with Vista Sea Cafe gone, we can work to preserve things like this. Without this job I would have never got into professional cooking, nor would I have ever met my wonderful wife, and I worked there with all of my siblings (never at the same time....that could've been ugly) at one time or another. We had fun, learned tons, and are better people for it. Lets not let that die.


Will and I have been visiting the Seaside High School advanced culinary classroom every week day since late November. A team of 4 plus an alternate was picked from a group of about 20 kids to be our Prostart team this year. The prostart program is the brainchild of the National Restaurant Association, and locally the Oregon Restaurant Association. A way to show high school students that cooking, or restaurant and hotel management can be a great career. A career that while I absolutely love, I am very hesitant to recommend to people. The money is always tight, the hours are long, and the work is hard. The attrition rate at culinary schools the world over is appalling as people (especially younger ones) find out the work is nothing like it looks on TV, and not as creative as they would like. While our company was very involved in the initial costs to get the program together at the local high school (the kitchen got a total overhaul, and is now a very capable professional kitchen) we weren't involved much beyond that for the first few years. Three years ago we were asked to mentor those kids through the span of the program. It ended up being a much bigger time and financial commitment then we had originally expected. Now in our third year of this mentoring we have a much better grasp on the rules and capabilities of the students.

The culminating event is a competition where our team is expected to show some technical skills by breaking down some chickens, and then showing some basic knife cuts. Then the four students cook a three course meal, two identical plates for each course, on nothing but two butane burners and two 8 ft tables all of that within the one hour time limit. Due to the lack of any sort of extreme heat on the burners, and no oven, grills, or even electric appliances we are forced to get a bit creative with the products we can cook. Especially desserts. The team practices the meal over and over again, and on D-day packs all of their own products that are inspected for temperature and labeling upon arrival. Recipes and the food costing, as well as plating diagrams are all required a month before the event. Even during the cooking judges come by the table and ask questions like- what temperature is your oil to do that?, What are you going to do with those scraps? Is that beef grain, corn, or grass fed? etc. Scores are tallied for organization, paperwork  communication, sanitation, knife skills, poultry breakdown, and the actual cooking technique involved, as well as plating and taste of the dishes. Scores are tallied by a group of highly talented chefs from the area and then awards are presented at a banquet that evening. The winning team will go to DC to cook in the nationwide championship against the winning team from each of the involved states.

The idea of having to balance your relatively un-experienced team, the burner situation, and also the struggle to show as much basic technique as possible makes coming up with the menu pretty tough. At the same time the expectation from the judges is very high. These plates need to be fine dining restaurant quality or better. They need to be trendy yet technical. To keep the playing field more even you are also very limited on the actual plates provided to present food on. There are only 3 options for plates and one bowl. EVERYTHING you put on those plates has to be made in during the competition, nothing comes in prepped, reduced, or set up already.

Our team took a very respectful fourth place on Saturday, and the students and Will were very excited about that. Since the competition involves about 50 teams, there is no break for bigger or smaller schools, so we compete with schools that are much bigger and better financed then us. So fourth place is a very good showing. Hopefully these kids will remember the dishes and techniques that we have pounded into them for months now, and can execute them for the rest of their lives. We can even score a couple of great employees from the students to help us through the summer months. If I can find pictures of the finished dishes I will get them posted as soon as I can. The food looked amazing.

Appetizer-Pan Fried Oysters- Shucked oyster, then pan fried and placed back in the shell on a bed of a jalapeno and lime jelly, topped with a "pearl" of goat cheese. All of it rests on a bed of rock salt.

Entree-Beef Tournedos- Seared slices of beef tenderloin on a bed of local fingerling potato hash with corn, wilted spinach, all finished with crimini and oyster mushrooms in a veal glace sauce.

Dessert-Apple Beignets (bin-yeah)- topped with our now famous plastic bag/10 minute vanilla ice cream and powdered sugar

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

167 West 12th Street

James Beard is often referred to as the father of American Fine Dining. His life and passion still fuels great American chefs from all over the country. The simplicity, and the technical aptitude of his cooking makes his food and style very close to the style I strive for in my culinary career. His respect and passion  for ingredients was far ahead of his time. The mere mention of his name will cause any chef or cook to pause and reflect reverently. James Beard died in New York in 1985 when I was very young, his efforts and passion carry on in his foundation- The James Beard Foundation. Unlike chefs a bit older than I, I never grew up watching him on TV, and while I have read a few of his books, and cooked a few of his classic recipes I can never say in a romantic way that while watching this giant of a man cooking I was inspired to cook for a living, or at least motivated to cook more aggressively and passionately at home.

What most people don't realize is that James Beard was born in Portland Oregon. A mere 80 miles from where I live and work. Furthermore as a child he vacationed through the summer in a beach house in Gearhart Oregon, a town where I grew up and my parents still live. He taught classes at Seaside High School where I attended and volunteer to be a chef mentor for our culinary "Prostart" class. He held weekend seminars throughout Astoria Oregon as well. His food is always classified as America, but he was very open and honest about his passion for local ingredients, Northwest ingredients, Oregon ingredients. Oysters, clams, berries, salmon, mushrooms all ingredients I am able to work with on a daily basis. Ingredients that he built a career out of a simple passion for, and was able to instill that passion in others. After his death his ashes were scattered on the beach in Gearhart.

After his death his home in New York city was renovated into a restaurant where chefs from the world over are invited to attend- packing their local ingredients with them culminating in a meal presented to about 80 ppl. with a real focus on local food. Why leave New York when you could have the best local ingredients cooked by the best local chefs from any given point on a map on any given night. The best chefs in the world have cooked in that kitchen, the most famous eaters, writers, and journalists have all eaten in that dinning room.

Since I began my tenure at work our company has made that pilgrimage 2 times, and disappointingly to me I wasn't included either time, the first I didn't really qualify for and the second was real heartbreak. While the rumblings from upper management have been that the hope was to go again this year, and I figured I had to go this time, I wasn't going to count my chickens before they hatched. Last week I was asked to attend. We are cooking at the James Beard House on Wednesday October 12th, at 167 West 12th Street New York NY at 7pm. In the past due to our fluctuation in business the winter always made the best time to go, but our owner has (wisely, and correctly) decided that fall is a much better time to really showcase the same foods that Mr. Beard himself was so passionate about. A group of 3-4 chefs will go, our owners and managers, our marketing group, local journalists, and wives and friends of the restaurant and stay for at least 4 days in New York and with some luck Melissa will be able to join me. While I am absolutely ecstatic about the opportunity, it is to be approached with the up most reverence. A menu will be developed and tested, a local winery will most likely be selected to attend with us to highlight those pairings, and even a few local purveyors/farmers/fisherman will have the opportunity to come with us. This is a huge honor, an experience that you can not be the headlining chef for until you have gone under another headlining chef, so it is a relief to get out of the way as I hope to be able to attend multiple times over the course of my career as a headlining chef. It also consumes an astronomical amount of work, resources, time, and money for both my company and restaurant to agree to absorb. I have seen a overnight Fed-ex bill for 4k dollars before. Again, I am so fortunate that I get to go to work everyday doing things I love, working with people who take the time to mentor and teach me, get paid fairly, and still have opportunities like this. I guarantee as we go through the menu development process, and the process of travel and the actual event itself I will keep you all posted. For now I am just fortunate to have this opportunity.  James Beard took the time to make cooking cool. At a time when this country was obsessed with Jello, and Tupperware he strived to make food more. He argued for better ingredients, grown and harvested in a better manner far before it was trendy to do so. He was a pioneer of the food movement that I strive daily to preserve and develop.

Friday, February 4, 2011


Leavening of anything can be done in three different ways. The first would be to steam leaven something, as in a souffle, or popover. Usually whipping egg whites, or using a very light batter to cause the expansion of water into steam giving the item a lift during the baking process. The second way is chemical leavening, as in biscuits, quick breads. Involving baking powder or baking soda, these items sometimes will require a quick rest (allowing the flour to bloom- or hydrate) but usually will go directly into the oven once assembled. The term "double action" in baking powder refers to the fact that it will release gasses once when assembled, and then again when it reaches around 150 degrees. This is a bonus for a cook especially in the world of pancakes, and waffles, resulting in a more "fluffy" final product. The third way to leaven is organic leavening which is just a fancy term for yeast.

Yeast has been a staple in humanity since we first decided to ferment grapes or make beer, or make any sort of bread. Originally harvested from decaying fruits, or simply allowing a mixture of flour and liquid to attract the natural yeasts that are in the air all around us. While a really great idea, giving yeast a undeniable flavor that differs from the flavor you could get 30 miles down the road, it isn't really a possibility in today's world. The actually rise of the dough is the yeast multiplying and dying, that process creates carbon dioxide, and ethanol which not only develop flavor, but also help to develop the gluten structure of the dough. Yeast is alive in your bread dough all through the mixing and rising process even into the baking process. The oven will put the yeast into hyper drive during the first part of the baking process causing what is called "bakers spring" the quick growth of a dough in the first few minutes of the baking process due to the ideal conditions. The different types of yeast most bakers and home cooks use can be confusing and I thought I would try to clarify.

Brick/Fresh/Cake Yeast- A compressed form of yeast that is still alive and kicking. It dissolves into a paste when mixed with water. While its flavor is amazing, and I think it is more "yeasty" than the other yeast options it is very temperamental, especially if you are used to working with the more refined products. I have lost a whole restaurant size batch of wheat loafs to it. Not because we didn't know what we were doing, but more because it reacted differently than the other yeast we usually use. It cant be beat for flavor, but beware. Even the most aggressive home/restaurant bakers I know don't prefer it. If you are dead set on giving it a shot (you should at least a few times) then the cakes will have to be acquired from a specialty baker store of some sort, or of course online. Much of it's varied reaction can be due to its age, as it is alive and working. It must be stored in the fridge, but not in a airtight setting, and should be used within a week or two of its production date.

Active Yeast- this term really kind of cracks me up as no one would want inactive yeast. Active yeast is what most people use. Often coming in small packets (their measurement is 1TB). This yeast has been dried and then given a coating to make it go dormant. Because of that it needs to be "awaken" and that is best done in a quick soak in warm water. When proofing yeast in water you want only to include the water and yeast. All yeast reacts poorly to salt, and even large amounts of sugar. The nice thing about the process is that it only takes a few minutes and I think it actually speeds up the rise of the dough once assembled. You have given it an ideal place to wake and get to the business of multiplying, therefore when mixed with the dough it is already alert and in maximum production mode. Also best stored in the fridge, and in its individual packet form it should be good for more than a year, although if you don't use more than a few packets of yeast a year you should be baking more bread.

Instant Yeast/quick rise Yeast- this yeast has been quick dried, but does not have the coating that active yeast does. It can do directly into a mixing bowl and will activate "instantly" with the addition of water. I can find it in almost any grocery store now, and it is my best choice for home usage. It is so predictable, flavorful, cost effective, and easy to use. It needs to be stored in the fridge, but a friend of mine taught me to store it in the freezer, and I have never gone back.

A big misnomer about yeast is that it needs to be measured. A tsp of yeast will do the same leavening as a TB, just much slower. But it is important to remember that while yeast multiply, burp, fart, and die inside your bread dough they develop flavor. Slower is always better. Letting a bread dough rise once, and then putting it in the fridge overnight to rise again tomorrow will always develop more flavor than a rise, punch, rise, bake. That being said never let the fact that you don't have a dough in the fridge stop you from making a loaf of bread for dinner tonight. Bread making at home is one of the most gratifying things I experience in my kitchen at home. People don't expect it, people don't do it anymore, and once you get the hang of it, it becomes pretty routine. The smells involved, and the example of all of that knowledge and work in a finished form on a table for my family and guests shows an over the top effort to make a meal enjoyable, and healthy for them. At the end of the day that is the whole reason we cook.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011


Both sides of my family have a very rich heritage throughout Northern Utah, and I spent a lot of time there growing up. Melissa and I have worked to make the relationships with those relatives as strong as possible, and think it is of the up most importance especially for our boys. While some people take their children to Disneyland, we think a road trip to Utah is more important. We just returned from a week long trip to celebrate my grandmothers 80th birthday, and all of my siblings and families were able to attend. We also got to see some cousins on both sides of the family, some of which I haven't seen for 10 or more years. I was also able to spend some time in the kitchen with Grandma, an honor to say the least.

This woman amazes me, at over 80 she is content to work all day long in the kitchen to prepare meals for her loved ones. The idea of a meal out is ridiculous to her. She has a very elaborate garden, and a few fruit trees, and is a master preserver of foods. Freezing, and canning the summer and fall bounty to get her through the winter months. I realize that while some of us and others are getting into food preservation as if it were trendy, and allows us to eat locally year round, she on the flip side does it for different reasons. While I will search out organic, local raspberries and make jam for the year from them, she will plant, grow, water, and harvest her own raspberries, and turn that into a jam that blows mine out of the water. From a humble upbringing on a small farm, this is how she was raised. There was never enough to waste, and the things you ate were direct reflections of your hard work. There was an attachment to everything that was eaten, an attachment that is missing in almost every household in the country now. An attachment that when not in place has led us to "factory farming", un-sustainable practices, over worked land, and what some consider the basis of all of the problems that plague our society.

Grandma is the poster person for sustainability. I am extremely fortunate to have her experience on my side. Some of her cooking practices absolutely crack me up. For food storage in the winter months she keeps things outside, or in the garage, a practice that makes perfect sense in that it never gets warmer than 30 degrees or so, but I wouldn't have thought of in a million years. On more than one occasion I put things on the back porch or on top of the truck in the garage to "cool down" for her.

In all honesty I find the fads that most states have recently found for eating already in direct action in Utah. Family meals and values take a higher meaning. Produce stands are everywhere. Putting food by is the norm, almost everyone has a garden, almost everyone bakes, almost everyone cans. But, at the same time I found an absolute lack of fine dining restaurants, and somewhere the two are related. Because people eat, and cook like this I was able to track down a few great finds, stores that couldn't exist in my local. My grandmother was making rolls one morning and I noticed the flour she had was absolutely gorgeous. She said she bought it straight from the mill about 25 miles up the road. We sought out said mill later that day, and were able to pack home a 50# bag of bread flour, and a 25# bag of AP flour. Then we stopped by a small supply store and I was able to buy some dried potatoes for use in breads, some tomato powder (grown by the company that sells them, dried and then ground into a powder- perfect for soups, sauces, etc) and a few other items. All of them without preservatives, all of them yielding produce that was grown just down the road, never leaving the company's hands.

All in all we had a great trip. It was great to see family, get on the open road, and learn. I am back home now and am not working again until the 11th of February, so after a fortune worth of grocery shopping yesterday, I plan to spend most of that time in the kitchen at the house. If your in the neighborhood feel free to stop by, I will be cooking, most likely trying to figure out how my grandma does it.