Wednesday, December 23, 2009

White Burgundies - part deux?

love affair

The wine pictured below is the one responsible for beginning my love affair with white burgundies. It delighted my palate one early April evening during a celebratory dinner at Chez Francois in Vermilion, Ohio (some years ago). This 2001 Domaine Marc Morey & Fils, Chassagne-Montrachet is a Premier Cru from the southern part of the limestone ridge, defining the Cote D'Or, south of Beaune. This vintage was spectacularly dry and woody.

Pictured next is a more everyday white burgundy. It is very drinkable and satisfies my desire for dry minerality without being austere. I buy this unoaked 2007 Cave de Lugny from the Maconnais for 10.99 locally, a really good bargain, if you enjoy this style of wine.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Two Wine Recommendations

another sauvignon blanc

My comsumption of whites falls mainly into two camps: French-style sauv blancs by a long shot (not those NZ style tropical bombs...yuk!), followed by a smattering of lower-end white burgundies. Recently I have been purchasing Ferrari-Carrano Fume Blanc on sale. This is a Sonoma wine labled with the marketing ploy of calling it a fume blanc instead of sauv blanc when the "smokiness" is added by way of oak, sur-lie aging...thank you very much Mondavi. The F-C is 33% French oak and 67% stainless. It's a nice wine, no doubt. However, every once in a while one needs the "real deal," the fume sans oak. Sure you can find that from Chilean producers, but it's great to stumble across an affordable neighbor of the Loire's premium appellations Pouilly Fume and Sancerre. If you're looking for that flinty, dry minerality with just the right amount of sauv blanc fruit, consider wines from the appellation Reuilly. I bought this Domaine Henri Beurdin et Fils at Mustard Seed Market in Solon, Ohio for seventeen USD. It's a really nice budget white.

In Praise of Roussanne

I'll buy more of the Reuilly and more of the aforementioned CA fume. Still, it's nice to take a break from the usual and refresh the palate with something else. Why do I forget about Roussanne? I love this varietal when from sunny, hot climes that give it body and color. Look to the southeast wine country of France young man! I can't afford Chateauneuf-du-Pape (their white is largely roussanne). No. I picked up this Verget inexpensively at Whole Foods. Verget, Jean-Marie Guffens' negociant company, which famously makes burgundies, produces wines from the Vaucluse as Verget du Sud (makes sense), trucking them up to Sologny to do this, but never mind. This wine does not have that bone dry minerality (structure) I adore. Rather, there is a bit of assertive straw and herb with a touch of sweetness, while remaining on the whole a dry wine. It hangs in the mouth a bit, too. I mean that it has good body and a pretty long finish for a white, but still clean. It may be somewhat limited for food pairings, not quite dry enough for rillettes de porc, but something less fattening, it should go well. Try it with roast chicken (if you've not already opened a lightly chilled Brouilly) or better yet, seafood. If you do give this Roussanne a try, let me know what you think.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Bob Waggoner Dinner at the CVI

a celebration of friendship dinner, monday, june 8th, 2009
I can't keep waiting for others to supply me with photographic material for blog posts! So, it is with limited images, many missing pictures of deliciousness, that I upload an incomplete catalogue of the evening.

I assisted with the preparation of this dinner at the hosts' request. As I have mentioned before, it is my great pleasure to volunteer my time for Patricia Mowen-Ziegler and her husband, Jerry Ziegler. These gracious people help support Veggie U, a not-for -profit children's program, by winning auctions at the home of Veggie U, the Culinary Vegetable Institute. The auctions take place at the annual Food and Wine Event (the most recent of which happened to be Saturday, July 18th -- a post coming soon to this blog). At the Ziegler's dinner last October, you may recall from a previous post, the star chef was Lee Ann Wong. Bob Waggoner of The Charleston Grill was recruited for this occassion.

First, the menu. I was recruited to do the starters and cheese course. Bob Waggoner, star of the evening, did five courses. The lovely and talented Ann Blackwood (aka cocoa) was recruited to prepare dessert.
Chevre Stuffed Strawberries
Foie Gras au torchon with Spiced Rhubarb
Tuna Tartar in Baby Tomatoes
Tomato-Yogurt Smoothie with Caviar
Iron Horse Blanc de Blanc Sonoma County, California, 1990
Bellecart-Salmon Brut Rose Champange, France
Warm Maine Lobster Salad with May Tomatoes, Avocado and Young Arugula in Garden Lemon-Thyme Vinaigrette
Silex Blanc Fume de Pouille, Loire Valley, France, 2006 (Magnum)
Zucchini Blossoms Stuffed with Wild American Shrimp Mousse over Fennel Mouseline in Chardonnay Caper and Opal Basil Butter
Puligny-Montrachet Les Combelles, Burgundy, France, 1999
Pan Seared Carolina Quail Breast over Eggplant and Sweetbread Risotto in Calamata Olive, Sun-Dried Tomatoe and Rosemary Jus
Volnay Santenots-du-Milieu, Premiere Cru, Burgundy, France, 2001 (Magnum)
Long Island Duck Leg Confit and Seared Breast with Goose Liver and "Cracklins" in Sangria Reduction Scented with Fresh Cherries
Chateau Pichon Longueville Comtesse de Lalande, Bordeaux, France, 1982 (Imperial)
Sauteed Kobe Beef Tips with Salsify, Ice Onions and Butter Potatoes in Morel Jus Scented with Truffles
Chateau de Beaucastel, Chateauneuf-du-Pape, Rhone, France, 1989 (Double Magnum)
Chevre, Brillat Savarin, Camembert, Sharp Cheddar, Roquefort
Dow's Porto, Portugal, 1970
Dessert Trio
Berry Compote with Lavender Anglaise
Peanut Butter Mousse, Chocolate Ganache, Gold Leaf, Chocolate Mint
Chocolate Truffle, Star Anise Mousse, Port Reduction
Ok, now the pics.
The berries are stuffed with chevre and diced strawberry with a balsamic reduction. The micro herb garnish is anise hyssop.

This is the smoothie. It's made with dehydrated tomatoes and garnished with a dehydrated slice of baby tomato, American sturgeon roe and micro oregano.

Mixed baby tomatoes stuffed with tuna tartar and garnished with two types of micro basil.

Gougere (is what it is, but I love 'em).

One of the few courses Bob Waggoner did that I was able to photograph.

Here's Bob at the stove. He was perfectly enjoyable in the kitchen, very relaxed and mellow about the whole evening.

The kobe beef. Now that's a pretty plate.

Ann Blackwood doing her thing. Go girl! She and I were pretty much left to one side of the kitchen while three other chefs helped Bob produce the main courses.

A close-up of her dessert.

At the end of the long day.


Saturday, June 13, 2009

Foie Gras au Torchon


I prepared this foie gras au torchon for Patricia's dinner (last Monday) at the CVI. I prefer this method (and also terrines) over the ubiquitous seared foie one sees on restaurant menus across the US. In this method the foie is lightly cured and then mi-cuit, meaning barely cooked, in this case, poached.

Here's a picture of the foie gras after curing. I broke apart the lobes and soaked the foie in milk with curing salt. After an overnight bath in the milk, I drained the foie and cleaned it of blood vessels. The cleaned foie was sprinkled with kosher salt, sugar, more curing salt, and freshly ground black pepper and allspice. I rolled it into logs using parchment paper and allowed it to cure in this shape. Foie gras is graded A, B and C quality. B will work absolutely fine, if well cleaned, for au torchon. Because this was for Patricia's special dinner, I used A.

In this picture, I am rolling the cured logs in dampened cheese cloth as tightly as possible. Even allowing some of the fat to press through the cloth. Here are the logs all rolled and tied, ready to be poached. The tied foie is lowered into barely simmering stock where it will poach for just under two minutes.Into an ice bath it goes to stop the cooking process. And here is where I stopped taking pictures. The next step is to tie it (still in the cheese cloth) as tightly as possible in a kitchen towel (torchon in French, and thus, the name of the method). This last step allows one to reshape and press the foie, guaranteeing that it will hold its form. Hang it in a cooler over night and that's it!

Here is the final product, sliced and trimmed with a small circular cutter. It's on mini toasts and garnished with rhubarb and anise hyssop. YUM!

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Update Teaser

overdue and coming soon
I've got a couple posts to put up (not the Boston trip yet!), but some good stuff nonetheless. Last Monday, June 8th 2009, I cooked with Bob Waggoner at the CVI, again for Patricia Mowen-Ziegler. Patricia asked me to do the hors d'oeuvres and cheese course. Details and pictures will follow. I took some pictures and will post those, but I'm hoping to get some better shots from Bob's photographer/TV co-producer Mike Kirk.

So what's this post about then? Just to say I'm still here, still having fun with food, still enjoying my job, life is good.

Life is especially good when you get to sample fine wine. So, here's the teaser part. The only two bottles I photographed at Monday night's dinner.

First up Chateau de Beaucastel--this is a double magnum of '89 Chateauneuf-du-Pape, people. Need I say more?
Second up, and star of the show in my humble opinion, an Imperial (all beautiful six liters, that's one big bottle folks) of 1982 Chateau Pichon Longueville Comtesse de Lalande. Easily one of the best wines I have ever tasted.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Cookie Time: an Interview with Chef Anna Kim

from the interview desk
This morning we reopen the Interview Studios to welcome Anna Kim, Chef at Sans Souci, and a dear friend. Keep an eye on this rising star. She has a lot of talent.

Petit Soleil (PS): Hi Anna, welcome to the Interview Studios at Petit Soleil. Did you bring us any food?!

Anna Kim (AK): My world famous, secret family recipe, chocolate chip cookies. I have had people try to marry into my family for this recipe!

PS: Now that’s what I’m talking about! I’ll get the milk. While I shake this un-homogenized
Snowville Creamery local deliciousness, why don’t you tell us about your culinary passion?

AK: Much of it comes from my upbringing. Holidays and celebrations were always centered around a warm kitchen and everyone pitching in to put together a fantastic spread of food. As I got more into cooking, I discovered that food can be just as creative and artistic as a painting and as precise and measured as science. Art and Science are two subjects I have been drawn to my entire life.

PS: Gosh these are good. Hmm, slightly narcotic effect. What’s in these again? Oh, right, it’s a secret. You've been the chef at Sans Souci for quite a while now, but you've honed your skills elsewhere. If I remember correctly you were turning up the Arizona heat in some trend-setting joint?

AK: Yes, I spent my externship plus about two additional years at a French bistro named “Zinc”. I worked under a very classic French chef with the brigade system in place. Chef Matt Carter spent time with Thomas Keller as a sous chef. He held everyone at Zinc to that same level of perfection. Very high pressure, very male dominated (it had a reputation as “the seventh level of hell”), but very fair. I learned more there in 3 months than I did in my entire culinary school experience. It was rough, but I love those guys. They used to say, “if you can make it here, you can make it anywhere”, and I believe that to be true.

PS: Sounds like a fantastic first restaurant experience. What have you carried over and put into play at Sans Souci? You’ve got some cookie crumbs on your jacket.

AK: Many of the skills I learned at Zinc I have brought with me to Sans Souci. Organization, sense of urgency, multi tasking. I learned techniques developed from people with vast experience, and have shared those tricks of the trade with my crew. I also hold myself and my crew to that same level of perfection I learned at Zinc. I do try to stay calm and politically correct at all times, something not so true at the bistro. It is a different environment working in an independent kitchen versus a corporate business. I am definitely not allowed to throw pans at people here!

PS: Yeah. Darn rules. Pan throwing has such a dramatic impact too. Sans Souci has been a strong player for years. With lots of really good, innovative competition popping up, how do you see Sans Souci fitting into the Cleveland restaurant scene?

AK: We have two different approaches that I keep in mind at all times. We are located in the historical Cleveland Renaissance Hotel, a gorgeous facility. We stay true to our long time patrons by keeping our signature dishes such as the angel hair pasta and bouillabaisse on the menu. As well as some other traditional and authentic Mediterranean items…our tapenade, osso bucco, etc. But, we must also take into account the changing times, and now, the economy. I am very supportive of using local, sustainable products whenever possible. We can achieve this by using such resources as the Chefs Garden. We have also begun to use organic protein items as well. Our menu now features a broader price range ($18-$32 for entrees, $7-$14 for appetizers), we can accommodate those going out for a special occasion as well as those just coming in for a casual pre game meal.

PS: We haven't visited the restaurant in quite a while, our spies report you've got a new promotional menu starting soon. Is it top secret or can you tell us about it?

AK: We have begun our spring promotion “Le Jardin”, it features the bounty of the French countryside in the spring. We are utilizing such produce as French breakfast radishes, baby carrots, beets, asparagus, ramps, and spring peas (just to name a few). All locally grown. The produce is used to not only accent the fantastic proteins we are featuring on the menu (lamb, strip steak, wild salmon, and scallops to name a few) but to star in the dish as well.

PS: That’s a great approach. I’m a big fan of plates without protein as the center focus or when it plays a supporting role. What's your favorite knife?

AK: Chefs knife, I use it the most.

PS: What's your single most memorable culinary experience?

AK: Gosh I have so many. That is what I truly love about my job. Every day is an adventure! I do have a funny one that pops in my head that I can share with you though. It was back at Zinc. I had been there for maybe a week or two, and I was really trying my hardest to impress and earn my keep amongst this very talented and judgmental kitchen. That meant eagerly attacking each command with enthusiasm and with an increased sense of urgency. Chef Adam, the chef de cuisine, was cutting fish and asked me to grab the halibut from the walk in. This was not a side of fish, or loin of fish, it was like, the entire fish, on a sheet pan. I didn’t realize he was just kidding around. That fish was half the size of me. I picked up the pan, pushed my back against the door, and muscled my way to the butchering station. The looks I got from the big guys on the hot line were priceless as I held that fish firmly between my chest and the sheet pan, not daring to even think what would happen if I let it hit the ground.

PS: I think I’ve filleted halibuts bigger than you! We happen to know that you're half of a dynamic culinary duo. Can you tell us what your talented husband is up to these days?

AK: He is working over at the
Shoreby Club in Bratenhal. It is a private yacht club over on the east side. They are going to be unveiling a new menu in the Mansion dining room any day now. Unfortunately, the club is not open to the public. At home, we are really excited to be into grilling season. Eddie will make us breakfast, lunch, and dinner from the grill if given the opportunity.

PS: So what does the future hold for Chef Kim?

AK: I can’t divulge everything, but I can tell you that Ed and I hope to have our own restaurant one of these days. Our son is already in training to be one of our sous chefs.

PS: Do you have a time table for these plans?

AK: That will probably be determined by the economy these days, but I would say five to ten years.

PS: Do you get to try (have the time for) other restaurants? If so, where have you been and which did you like?

AK: We really don’t get to go out too much. I work too much (as most chefs do) and have very little spending money. I get to meet many of my culinary acquaintances at benefit functions, between those and reading local publications, I know of other restaurants I would love to have time to check out. When Ed and I eat out it is usually from one of our little known, ethnic places we have around the neighborhood. For a special occasion, I really like Lola’s. Michael Symon has a great crew over there, and I have never been disappointed.

PS: I really have to get back there, too. Who let that kid in here and why is he making weird noises?

AK: Oh, that’s Tommy. He wants to know why you are intruding on what he has deemed “mommy and tommy” time. I think he’s growling at you.

PS: Here, kid, have a cookie. Thanks Anna for stopping by. Anything else you want to share with the millions of readers of this blog?

AK: Millions? Now I’m nervous. Well, I guess I would like to share with them that I hope to see them down to Sans Souci soon. We have some really fresh, seasonal, and fantastic dishes on the menu right now. There is nothing I love more than to share my cooking with friends, and any friend of Ben’s, is a friend of mine!

Thursday, April 30, 2009

An Affordable White Burgundy Recommendation


Pictured above is a white from the Maconnais. This middle of the road chardonnay drinks like its more famous neighbor, Pouilly-Fuisse, at a reasonable price. I picked up a case of this 2005 Pouilly-Vinzelles for 12.99 a bottle (before case discount). This wine normally retails in the sixteen to twenty-two dollar range, usually right around eighteen. I recommend locals hit the store before it’s all gone. I think there may only be a few bottles left. If you want to give it a shot, I picked this up at the Whole Foods on Cedar Rd in Cleveland Heights.

It’s ready to drink now and won’t really benefit from cellaring. As you can read on the lable, Louis Latour is the Negocient-Eleveur. This designation means either that Latour has contracts with specific growers or buys wine that has only begun to ferment, and refines/elevates it. This Pouilly-Vinzelles was bottled at the other end of the Burgundy region in Beaune.

Remember why I liked that Chilean sauv blanc so much (a few posts ago)? The lack of aging in oak allowed the terroir to shine through. With this wine one can expect much the same. While unoaked chardonnays are not always put through malolactic fermentation, Latour has for this wine. The result is a rather soft, medium bodied wine, easily accessible. It’s got nuttiness and a bit of honey with, as one might expect, enough acidity to make a great food wine.

a votre sante

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Palatability Revisited - a dinner at Taste

infamous cheesecake?
On Saturday, April 11th, the evening before my last hurrah at Fire (Sunday Brunch), I went to dinner at Taste. This lively spot graces Lee Rd just two blocks from my home. It opened last autumn, yet it has taken me this long to get there. And for shame: I know the chef. Anthony Vicente, a Parisian transplant, interviewed with me for a position in my kitchen several years ago. I would have hired him in a heartbeat, but our hourly rate did not satisfy his requirements for compensation. We ended up working side-by-side for a short spell. I actually trained him for all of one (maybe two?) nights on the pantry station at Fire, before I switched to my favored Sundays only schedule. He patiently tolerated my extremely rusty French and endured some razzing as the new guy with a funny accent from the line cooks and sous chefs. For about half a year now (I believe) he’s been the chef at this new establishment.

I turns out that we have some food ideas in common. Ideas about small portions and flavor combinations that push our preconceived, socially constructed palates. Most of the food is innocuous enough in this regard. I opted for the prix fixe menu, and let Anthony send out whatever he wanted. What I ate was flavorful, well seasoned and presented nicely, if simply.
He started me off with Red Mullet. It was topped with black olive tapenade, set on a quenelle of sweet potato and surrounded by yellow curry, lightly foamed, a great combination. The fish was fine, properly cooked. The sweet potato-yellow curry combination (not a stretch by any means) was really delightful. My main criticism here (likely unshared by locals) is: too big! Cut back to less than two ounces of sweet potato. Also, I would have enjoyed an herbaceous counterpoint. Bring on the lemon balm or anise hyssop, brother! This was one of my favorite courses, which is why I have included it in this post.
What peaked my interest, gastronomically speaking, came in the form of dessert. Anthony sent out a cheesecake made with red bell pepper puree. The server who brought the dessert to the table referred to it as “the infamous cheesecake”. Uh, training anyone? Now, I’m a mellow kind of guy when I’m not in a kitchen, so the irksomeness of this declaration faded quickly. But, come on people, support your chef! Don’t make suggestive critique of the food (or leading commentary) in this form. Anyway, server’s blunder aside, I liked it. It’s actually pretty simple, two dimensional at best. Still, it satisfied my palates desire for savory flavors in dessert. Why are we so wary of using traditionally savory flavors in this way? I won’t revisit that discussion so much as to say, do try it. You might like it. After the meal, since I’m interested in these things, I asked the host (and Anthony) about sales and the future of the cheesecake (or others similar) on the menu. It remains undecided. Public reception of the dessert seems to fall into a love it or hate it dichotomy. Oh well. I’m in the middle ground again with decided leaning toward the love-it camp. I strongly encourage the powers at Taste to let Anthony free reign for a minimum of another six months. At the very least, it will allow me to eat some more food that challenges the status quo. My specific suggestions for this dessert: ditch the fried basil leaf. Basil might make a great garnish in another form. Fried, it has little flavor. Also, trim the portion size. I once overheard Trotter direct his pastry chef, Della, to make smaller portions. He said "put what you think would be the right amount...then cut it in half!"

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

quick update

hello friends
I've had a little more than a week at the new job. It's going very well; meaning, I like the family, I like the challenges, I look forward to the many meals and channelling my creativity. Every once in a while, I'll try to take some food pictures. So, this quick post is just to say, "All is well!"
Lots of bloggers, with pages more elaborately garnished than mine, include a "what I've been reading" gadget. It's nice really (I enjoy it on other pages), but it's not for me. The times when I feel a link is important, I'll insert a hyperlink into the text (scroll through old posts for many examples, most of these are for reference). However, every once in an while, when I read something that I want to share, I'll put the link into a post (not a side bar) with an explanation.
A post or two ago, I extolled the virtues of a Chilean sauv blanc. Sauvignon Blanc has become my favorite white (at least, for the time being). Of sauv blancs, I particularly like Sancerre. So, it is of special interest that I read this, which is not only about Sancerre, but references the region of which I wrote. With this post, I'll create a new, temporary, honorary award: good buy wine of the month. It's goes to the afore-posted Cono Sur Vision Sauvignon Blanc for being everything one might expect from a Sancerre, yet at 11.99. Try it, love it. And if you do try it, please let me know what you think.
A votre sante.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Roasted Duck

for a twist on moo shu preparations

I really enjoy cooking and eating duck. Here are a few pictures of a dish I made last week, based on the Chinese classic. I stuffed the duck with mirepoix, oranges and a little garlic all of which was tossed in a mixture of fresh thyme, bay leaf, five spice powder, fennel seed, whole cloves, chili flakes, cinnamon, black pepper and sea salt. I rubbed a little of the spice mixture on the outside of the skin, minimally trussed the bird, and used a skewer to "sew" for body cavity closed.
The neck, hearts and wings went into a sauce pan with a little white wine and some of the flavored mirepoix mixture. This barley simmered for a few hours until I had a perfectly clear, delightful stock. I reduced this stock and used it to moisten the shredded duck.
Here is the duck right out of the oven. I pricked the skin heavily with the tines of a dinner fork before cooking it. It was slow roasted at 325 for several hours until super tender. When it was well rested and cool enough to handle, I removed the meat and chopped/shredded it, mixing in a little bit of the most crispy skin. The five spice and orange flavors had infused the meat nicely.

Finally, it became this. Warmed, rolled into buckwheat crepes with hoisin sauce and served warm with a salad of Asian greens, bean sprouts and baby bok choy tossed in a simple orange and shallot vinaigrette. Delicious, if I do say so myself.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Tools of the Trade

these are a few of my favorite things

Question: Why is it important for a chef to master knife skills?

Answer: Because it is the most commonly used tool in the kitchen.

Recently I've developed a fondness for Japanese knives. The steel, geometry and artisan quality of Japanese knives, far outshine the steel, geometry and quality of the German knives. If you know what you're doing, although it takes a lot of practice, you can get a wicked edge on a Japanese knife unknown to any German blade. And it will last. As I convert my knife set to mainly Japanese knives, I'll have to find homes for the German stuff. There are many types of steels and styles of manufacture among Japanese cutlery. Here's a little Show And Tell...

The knives from top to bottom are: an 8 inch shun gyuto, a 240mm Kumagoro gyuto, a 170mm Moritaka santoku and a paring knife that I picked up at Dehillerin. I love all of these for different reasons. The Shun was a gift from a former executive chef at the Renaissance Cleveland Hotel, the Kumagoro I ordered from The Epicurean Edge, and the Moritaka I ordered straight from the maker in Japan (click here).

Next is a closer look at the Kumagoro gyuto. It is made of Blue Steel #2. It is the sharpest knife of the bunch currently. It's high carbon, so one has to wash and dry it lovingly. If cared for properly, it will develop a wonderful patina. The handle is made of Ho wood. It's untreated and must be specially cared for. I'm using a mixture of beeswax and mineral oil. See pictures and a description below. The ferrule is water buffalo horn.

This next picture is of the 170mm Moritaka. This style of knife, santoku, is becoming very popular in western kitchens. Santoku refers to three virtues; it's a knife designed for meats, fish and vegetables, kind of your all around-multi-purpose kitchen knife. This one has a rosewood handle and water buffalo horn ferrule. It's also made of Blue Steel #2. I think I waved the knife over these veggies and they just fell into these cuts, terrified by the sharpness of the knife.

In this picture, you can see that the high carbon blade of the Moritaka is forge welded to a stainless steel tang (the metal part that goes into the handle). This is supposed to give the knife a longer life.

Here are the three lined up so that you can see the heels.

The Shun is by far the most western of the bunch with the metal bolster. All three have a D-shaped handle for ergonomics. The Shuns handle is impregnated with resins and, therefore, needs little special care.

Here's what I am now using to treat my knives' wooden handles (and also my cutting boards). I make a mixture out of beeswax and mineral oil. I learned this from a terrific spot for knife talk: Fred's Cutlery Forum. The beeswax is from a local bee keeper. This pound of wax cost me five bucks. It feels and smells fantastic.

The mise en place for my mixture.

For melting the wax into the oil, I used a double boiler method so as not to overheat the wax.

There's the finished product along side the knives. I first made a blend of about 25% beeswax, which turned out to be too hard at room temperature. I found that 20% seems to work well, but I might even go a tad lower next time.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Two Wine Recommendations

two good buys

A few years ago I participated in a food and wine event for which the emcee was a local food writer/wine critic personality. He awarded some prize bottles (as thank-yous, really) remarking that one could buy a really great wine for sixty dollars. Was his tongue firmly planted in his cheek? As just about every sane person knows, there are some fabulous wines for less than half that price point. The wines I buy for daily enjoyment mostly fall into the ten to fourteen dollars a bottle range. It's easy to spend more, but there is a certain satisfaction (not to mention financial incentive) when one finds a really pleasing bargain. In my ever so humble opinion, the following wines fall into this category. Each cost 13.99. Hint: buy mixed cases to benefit from the ten percent discount.

First up, a Chilean sauvignon blanc, produced by Cono Sur and wine maker Adolfo Hurtado. Cono Sur (an intentional cross-lingual pun?) means southern cone, a reference to the shape of its continent of origin. Established in 1993, they have become a major producer and particularly focus on pinot noir. This sauvignon blanc comes from their Vision line, which uses grapes from selected vineyards to show off the terroir. I've been enjoying the 2006, although I believe the 2008 is available and ready to drink. The whites of Cono Sur have screw caps. Good for them! The Vision sauvignon blanc is all stainless steel, no oak anywhere near it, no malolactic fermentation, so the terroir shines through (it's not masked). It's not over the top floral. What I love about this wine is how well it balances the floral qualities with minerality. I like to taste a bit of the earth in wine. As you might imagine, knowing the style and manner of production, it makes a really good food wine. I've got one bottle left, but I will be buying more.

Next up, one of my all time favorite (maybe my all time favorite) wine region and style: the Cotes du Rhone. California reds have moved mostly beyond the price point I target for everyday consumption, especially the pinots, which I so enjoy. I've been looking to Chile, Argentina and France for my reds, keeping Mexico on the radar. This 2008 Cotes du Rhone, Belleruche, by M. Chapoutier, might benefit from another year or two in the bottle. Perhaps I'll cellar some. It shares one similarity with the Cono Sur: no oak, all stainless steel fermentation and aging, no interference with the terroir. This wine, too, strikes a wonderful balance of fruit and earth. Here we can speak of garrigue, a term specific to the flavors of Provence, it's terroir and the associated herbaceous flavors. This wine's got it, and I like it. Again, a bargain at 13.99. Try it yourself and let me know what you think. Cheers everyone!

Sunday, March 22, 2009

New Job

lost sailor
Yes, no one knows better than I. I've been far too long at sea. However, despite strange currents, some of fate, some of my own manufacture, I seem to have landed. Friday night at about eleven o'clock, after cooking a six course meal, I accepted a job offer. Starting in about two weeks I will be the private chef for a family on the east side of Cleveland. I am very, very pleased. The family and those others who work in the house seem extremely welcoming. I will have an outstanding kitchen in which to work, better than some profession kitchens I've seen (that's not saying much really). I will be an employee of the house, their Private Chef. This is distinct from Personal Chef, a position I might cultivate later in life.
I will, of course, keep my commitment to the Hospitality Management program at Tri-C where I teach as an adjunct instructor. It would be unfair to the students and the department, if I were to leave half way through the semester. My other two jobs are another story, although I will miss both: teaching at the Viking Culinary store (I do love teaching) and my weekly restaurant fix (Sunday's at Fire).
I've got a good reason now to open that champagne we'd been saving. But not on the side of a ship. I've had my fill of sailing.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

The Balut Incident: an Interview with Jeremy Esterly

from the interview desk

In my last post I mused about culinary preferences and sensibilities. There are items which might make western stomachs reel and the gag reflex give us the quick kick and heave. Seaweed ice cream, I have made perfectly clear (I hope) is not one of these. What about duck embryo? Think you could chow down on a seventeen day embryo with a little salt and pepper or a dash of lime juice? Not me. Not yet anyway. It’s not that I am afraid. It’s that my socially constructed preferences make it seem very unappealing. I’m just not ready to make a leap so far. This isn’t the case with Jeremy Esterly, Executive Sous Chef at Fire Food & Drink. We all know that it’s the chefs de cuisine and sous chefs that are often the backbone and driving force of day-to-day success, productivity and creativity of professional kitchens. Jeremy and Fire seem a good mix: the uncomplicated, big tasting food done exceptionally well weds with Jeremy’s love of charcuterie, his dedication to meat and his passion for all things food. His hunger for knowledge and food experiences seems to surpass my own. This was highlighted recently when a kitchen practical joke turned foray into a novel taste and texture incident. I write “incident” because even he had a little difficulty downing the balut. (Click here, if you don’t yet get what a balut is.) I’ve got to hand it to you, Jeremy. To put it kitchen vernacular: you’ve got balls! And so, we’ve opened the Petit Soleil Interview Room and invited Jeremy for a little chat.

Petite Soleil (PS): Jeremy, can you tell us, briefly please, where does your culinary passion come from?

Jeremy Esterly (JE): My passion comes from the fact that neither of my parents were accomplished cooks. I always wanted to provide better meals for my family. A lot my passion come from being able to do what I want with my job. We always strive to do as many interesting things daily as possible. A job in the culinary field is super rewarding. You learn something every day, literally. I am also extremely inspired by Martin Picard in Montreal. His food is so playful and over the top. I don't think it gets much better than him.

PS: We heard you were going to be interviewed by a culinary magazine (of much less stature than this blog, I'm sure) about your pig tattoo. Is it also true what they say, that you can't remember the basic parts of the pig so you had them tattooed on your forearm?

JE: The magazine in question is Meatpaper. Everyone should check it out. The pig tattoo will be featured in their March issue. Getting the tattoo sure didn't help me remember the pork primals, since the diagram on my arm is from a 17th century woodcut illustration. Too late to cover it up now. Maybe I'll update the cuts one of these days (feature 21st century retail cuts perhaps)

PS: You and one of the other guys at Fire do a lot of charcuterie in house. How do you manage to pull it off for the volume, when the kitchen is not really set up for charcuterie?

JE: The charcuterie project has been put on hold for awhile, aside from our small scale bacon factory that we have running right now. It is very hard to produce charcuterie in a kitchen that isn't set up to do what we have done. Dave Treaster (one of the guys) rigged a deep hotel pan so that we can smoke 5 slabs of bacon in our tandoor. Before that, it would have been a slow process, smoking one slab at a time. We are getting ready to introduce “private label” bacon in the coming months that should be awesome.

PS: We're vexed trying to balance a feeling of immense respect for you with nauseous revulsion. So we'll get right to point. What possessed you to eat the duck embryo? And for the millions of readers of this blog, please describe the experience.

JE: It all stemmed from a trip to Asiatown looking for some tamarind paste. One of the cooks and I decided that it would be funny to buy "balut" and trick one of the other cooks. At Fire, we offer sieved egg as an accompaniment to our Caesar salad. We placed one of the eggs in the pot with his other eggs. When he peeled the balut, he got a disgusting little surprise. After this, I decided that I had to eat one. Gagging this down was pretty hard. Part of the embryo felt like it was calcified, and I couldn't seem to chew it no matter what I did. After a couple of minutes, it finally went down and I was victorious over the lil' embryonic treat.

PS: Our researchers have discovered there exists a video of your experience (I've even seen it). Any chance of a YouTube appearance?

JE: We are thinking of doing a Cool Hand Luke style balut eating contest. So far, no one has signed up. If we get around to it, we will definitely put it up on YouTube.

PS: Are you planning to add duck embryo to the menu at Fire?

JE: We'll try to run it as a special with duck testicles. Coming soon to a plate near you.

PS: What's your favorite knife?

JE: Shun 8" Chef's Knife with a granton edge

PS: What was your single most memorable culinary experience (aside from this recent experiment)?

JE: So far, I would have to say being photographed for Meatpaper and getting promoted to Executive Sous Chef. I feel like I have come a long way in a short time. I went to New England Culinary Institute 3 years ago without any experience in the field, and am loving every minute of it.

PS: Wow, didn’t realize you were still such a babe in the woods. You're doing very well at Fire and may be there for some time, but we assume it's not your final destination. What's the next move?

JE: I hope to open up my dream restaurant.....The Little Pig. The restaurant will be pork-centric and feature quality ingredients from some of our finest local farmers. I also want to open up a soul food restaurant called Greens. We'll see. I'll keep you posted.

PS: Thanks for stopping by our studios. By the way, it's customary to bring some food with you. Next time how about some of that delicious bacon you cure and smoke in house?

JE: For you Mr. Fambrough, I'll bring a whole slab!!!!

Monday, March 2, 2009

On Palatability -- Seaweed and Ice Cream

from the contemplations desk

It may be obvious to say that each person’s cultural inheritance heavily influences his or her dining preferences; that is to say, culinary sensibilities. While I deeply love the tastes associated with umami, I am not necessarily in love (or even used to) some of the slimy-soft textures slurped, sucked and swallowed by the Japanese. Had I been born Japanese, however… You catch my drift? And it follows that the more foreign a texture or taste, the more difficult it may be to swallow. Of course, this is not always the case. I remember with dreamy reverence the first time I melted monkfish liver au torchon on my tongue; or the subtle caress of uni across my taste buds; or standing in a walk-in cooler dumb-struck by the taste of a chocolate truffle powdered lovingly with curry. Epiphany! Dare I liken those experiences to the first time one makes love? I digress. These eye-opening (taste bud opening?) experiences intrigue me to no end. When I dined at L’Avant Gout (July 19th, 2007) I ate a dessert of alternating layers of chocolate and roasted red bell pepper mousse—sweet and savory together in perfect harmony. Union. Two together as one. Sentence fragments. It’s like that. At least the first time.

And THEN, then one begins to play. Flavors reposition themselves. Or one repositions them. And so it was recently when I decided to inflict my demented sensibility upon witting students. They were so good, so tolerant. It was the dessert that was my weapon, my gyuto to cut across their culinary assumptions and sensibilities. Poor students. They enjoyed the chocolate truffles, these infused with cardamom, clove, star anise and cinnamon. It was the ice cream they politely tasted and left unfinished.

When I catered for my brother and sister-in-law, she took me shopping in Boston’s Chinatown. One of the ingredients I needed was furikake, a variable mixture of seaweed, toasted sesame seed, bonito and a few other ingredients. There are several varieties with slightly differing combinations. Maybe someday I’ll learn to use each appropriately (whatever that might mean). Furikake is used commonly to dress rice. And I did that. I also coated some salmon skewers, which were then seared. As I tasted the furikake, I noticed a delicate sweetness to the bonito. It pairs well with the perfume of rice. My mind began to wander, imagining some possibilities untried, untested. A month later I was making vanilla ice cream, folding furikake into the churned, but not frozen cream. Was this a flash of limited brilliance? (Is it possible to have limited brilliance?) Alas, I did make a common error, forgivable for a first offence. I tasted the churned, partially frozen sweetened cream with furikake…and liked it. But it wasn’t quite “there” with the effect. I added more not considering that the ice cream would need time to absorb the flavors of the furikake. I think two tablespoons would have sufficed for the quart plus we made, rather than the three I added. Still, the flavors were new and in concert (at least, if you ask me). I know, I know…no one else is going to try this, right? “Eew, yuck… seaweed and ice cream" (never mind the bonito!). All I can say is “give peace and chance.” Oops, sorry, wrong post. All I can say is that my mind and tongue were satisfied. It IS possible. It’s not for everyday. It’s not for everyone. However, a primary goal had been achieved, a primary thirst quenched, a fundamental need addressed: I have expanded my palate. Joy.

And now I must meditate (actually, I’ve got to go preheat an oven for homemade pizza). Thanks for reading. Stretch your ears with Ives and Schoenberg; expand your culinary palate with ice cream and seaweed.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Just for Fun

While I'm waiting...
on pictures of the Boston trip from my sister-in-law, I thought I'd post some food related pictures from a few years ago. When we went to France in 2003, we stayed in an apartment on Place de la Victoire in St. Germain-En-Laye, a medieval (and very chic) town just west of Paris. It afforded me the luxury of being able to shop in the markets and cook chez nous. Here are some pictures from that tiny kitchen. The pastries were purchased in one of the several shops tout pres.

Pasta with fresh artichoke, mushrooms, haricots verts and bulb onions sauteed in beurre d'Isigny.
Poire cannelle
Apricot Tart

Apple Tart

In the Spring of 2006 we found ourselves in the same apartment for a week long taste of Paris after spending an equal amount of time visiting the coast of Normandy. So, three years later, here are potatoes being sauteed in butter. We enjoyed them with a chilled Cotes du Vivarais.

Checking out the pommes de terre and tomates. This market was in Place de la Victoire, right below our windows.Finally, two tarts to end this post. We had these in a cafe just outside Versaille.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Kalua Pork

kalua pork preparations
In a few days, I'm flying to Boston to cater a party for my brother's family. Part of the celebrations are for his 10th wedding anniversary. My brother and his wife were married in Hawaii; therefore, we've adopted a Hawaiian inspired theme. Part of the menu includes kalua pork, a dish traditionally made by wrapping pig in banana leaves, stuffing it with hot lava rocks and cooking it in a wood fired pit, nearly buried. No, it's not kahlua, that's something else. The result is smokey and tender. Here is my method for accomplishing very similar results. I bought Niman Ranch pork shoulder, a tad over seven pounds. In this first picture, I've got it on my grill with a hard wood fire. The pork is not directly over the coals. I shut the lid and smoked the beast for a few hours, until the fire was out and the winter evening chilled it enough to bring in.

Below is pictured an essential ingredient, Hawaiian pink salt. Yum. This is a great finishing salt. On the second day, I seasoned the pork shoulder liberally with this salt. The next step is to wrap the pork in banana leaves, a necessity that took me down to our Chinatown. Back home with the banana leaves.

Here's the pork wrapped in the fragrant leaves and secured with twine. Next comes the slow cooking.
So, to finish the kalua pork, I've put it in an enamelled, cast iron pot with a tight fitting lid, French cookware, Coussance, great stuff. I added some smokey pork jus that I had in the freezer (left over, expressed from other versions of smoked, pulled pork). It's in a 300 degree oven, and will stay there for more than three hours, until it becomes falling-off-the-bone tender. I'll shred this, reseason it and voila! When I get it to Boston, this will become tiny sandwiches on mini, soft buns.