Archive for March, 2007

PR People Send Us Mail

Tuesday, March 27th, 2007

It’s getting to the point where as a food blogger I get at least one e-mail a day from a public relations person telling me about the latest restaurant/cookbook/food product that I should visit/read/try. The PR folks are lovely people who are just trying to get the message out for their client. In the best cases, the product they’re telling you about is pretty good and they genuinely believe what they’re saying. But as you can imagine, not every product can be great, and it’s still their job to tell the story.

Ever being a connoisseur of humorous names (not to mention an owner of one) today I got e-mail from a pr person named “Colleen Lies”.

Michoacan Meat Market, Castroville, California

Monday, March 26th, 2007

As often as I can I try to take my own advice. My old employer called it eating your own dogood. Yucky imagery aside, there’s something to be said for testing your theories on yourself. I figure if I’m going to blah blah on this site about what each of you should do I should try it myself as often as possible to make sure I know what I’m talking about. Novel, huh?

One of my favorite pieces of advice is to find a small restaurant that caters to the local ethnic population. The theory is that immigrants to this country with a strong culture and sense of home will want the most authentic experience possible. Typically these restaurants are also inexpensive. Cool.

I recently attended the TED conference in Monterey, California. Last year it became clear quickly that the little patch of Monterey we occupied was filled with horrible restaurants. I admit I haven’t tried every one, but every one I tried was more mediocre than the next. (Can something be more mediocre?) Any Monterey experts who know of great food there feel free to comment angrily now.

This year I dutifully tried more restaurants only to find more disappointment. What killed me the most was that this part of Northern California is not only filled with high quality ingredients, but with a strong Mexican immigrant population. Agriculture is a major foundation for the whole region. And yet, I was eating at crappy restaurants in Monterey. I knew of great Mexican food in Watsonville but it was slightly too far away to make it for lunch. Leaving Monterey I had to hurry to San Francisco and was feeling down about another year without some good local food.

And then it occured to me that there must be more than one good Mexican restaurant serving the local population. (I know, I’m a little slow on the uptake.) Sure enough, the next exit was for Castroville (Artichoke capital of California). I turned off and started looking for the smallest, most untouristy looking Mexican restaurant I could find. And then I found it and it wasn’t a restaurant at all. It was the Michoacan Meat Market. A butcher/grocer/video shop with a taqueria in the back. I’d struck gold.

Much as you’d expect the Michoacan market was packed to the brim with all manner of products. There even seemed to be a clothing store jammed in the back in its own separate room. It was like a tiny Tokyo department store with a Mexican bent. I sat down at the bar and ordered one pork and one steak taco. Juicy, savory, spicy, and delicious were all present in copious amounts. I heaped on crema fresca, lime juice, and green hot sauce to round out the flavors. No disappointment there. There was also a bowl full of what was described to me as Mexican oregano. I tried a bit and it was great too.

Testing out my own advice of seeking the small authentic restaurants that serve the local population has proven again to be a relatively reliable mechanism for getting a delicious meal and a memorable experience. And next time you’re in Castroville, California (or driving by) now you don’t even have to make that search yourself as the Michoacan Meat Market will be there to make you something delicious.

Eating “Menu Americana” at Vagabond, Seattle, Washington

Tuesday, March 20th, 2007

As Dana said in her last post(s), we’re experimenting with giving you a view of a single meal from both her and my perspective. Granted as much as I love to eat Dana’s cooking this will likely be a rare occurrence as it’s logistically difficult for her to cook in every restaurant I eat at. :) It’s also important to note, that even though I claim objectivity is not a real goal for any food reviewer, you’ll have to understand that since I am an unabashed fan of Dana’s cooking (and we’re partners here on tastingmenu) that my opinion comes from a fan’s perspective. With all the small talk out of the way, let’s get on with the meal.

As Dana explained, Vagabond is a non-traditional or underground restaurant “event”. On this evening we were at Portalis Wine Bar who had graciously offered their lovely space for the Vagabond dinner. The kitchen was small, but it didn’t seem to matter. Dana and her small crew of helpers kept things simple. One of the nice things about the restaurant is the selection of bottles that literally surround you. There’s something nice about picking a bottle of wine for dinner from a rack or a shelf as opposed to a printed list. I don’t know why more restaurants don’t make a visit to the cellar (even a guided one) part of the dining experience. I bet most people would love it. We chose an Australian bottle – 2004 Two Hands Brave Faces, 65% shiraz and 35% grenache. Super enjoyable.

Dinner started off with a Salad of Romaine Lettuce, Red Onion, and Croutons tossed in a Roasted Garlic Ranch Dressing. The dressing was thinner than I expected and gave the salad an almost coleslaw like quality. The thinness was unexpected, but not unpleasant. The flavor was decidedly buttermilky. The highlight however was the croutons (which I fought over when a second bowl came around). Normally I refuse to eat croutons. They are essentially stale bread. Why would I want to eat stale bread. These were definitely something else altogether. The best way I can describe them is as buttery cubes of crispy goodness. Soft, toasted, almost juicy with butter. These are croutons I could fall in love with.

Next up was Corn Bread. The corn bread was sweet and cakey but still light. With the honey butter it was delectable and it had already started out pretty buttery. Walter, who grew up in Tennessee was the perfect dinner companion as he had an opinion to offer on the authenticity of the food. His take on the corn bread was that it was good but not like Mom’s. In Chatanooga the corn bread is crispy and crumbly and not at all sweet. Walter described Dana’s corn bread as “not-all-the-way-north-northern-cornbread”. I described it as yummy. Walter agreed with that description as well.

I’m a fan of corn. On the cob, niblets, etc. I love it. We got an enormous bowl of Corn off the cob with red pepper. It had a slight spike on the finish and was oily in a good way. I wasn’t happy sharing.

Finally we moved into high gear and got to the main event – the Pork and Beans. Adding garam masala to the pork was a very good idea. It was clearly there but still in the background, not overpowering. The beans (which often can go awry) were not overcooked and mealy. Instead they were firm and juicy providing an excellent foundation for the pork.

Every dish of the evening had a sweetness to it. And while in general I gravitate towards the savory side of things, this realization was nice as the sweet was like a note on which the food could rely as a baseline while other flavors weaved around it. Dessert stayed the course in terms of the sweet factor with Fluffernuttter Pie and a Rice Krispie Treat. I’m not entirely sure how to describe this other than amazing. Any word I choose seems to pale in comparison to the deep peanut and chocolate flavors, the impossibly smooth textures, and the incredible integration and balance present in this “simple” dessert. I usually don’t spend a whole lot of time on dessert, but this was a dish to honor with a slow and appreciative pace. And besides, it was so rich that you had no choice but to eat it slowly or you’d go into a diabetic coma.

Lest I be accused (again) of being a snob or too cool for school because I appreciated being invited to this meal, anyone (even you) can find a way to Vagabond dinner by sending mail to dinner@codenamevagabond.com. Do it soon before the waiting list gets way too long.

Cooking “Menu Americana” at Vagabond, Seattle, WA

Sunday, March 18th, 2007

As of late, tastingmenu has begun to offer you a second point of view. Originally the documentation of Hillel’s journey through experiencing cuisine at tables around the world, I have recently come aboard to offer a second point of view. Not from the seat next to him, but from behind the doors to the kitchen.

Occasionally, Hillel and I share an experience from inside the same restaurant. We thought it would be interesting to bring you a true review of one of these experiences, starting from the kitchen to the table. Last month, an underground dinner with Vagabond, myself as the guest chef, and Hillel in attendance offered us just that. The Monday night supper-club is housed in Portalis, a small wine bar tucked down the old main street of Ballard.

Vagabond emerged from Gabriel Claycamp’s collaboration with Portland’s irreverent Michael Hebberoy, who created a hip dining empire out of an underground restaurant. Seemingly built on quick sand, the empire crumbled and Michael found his way to Seattle looking for new aveneus. Here in Seattle the tragic tale of Hebberoy’s “Ripe” empire filled the gastronomic gossip forum enough to pave his way directly into the heart of our food scene. He came, he saw, and he vowed to undermine the restaurant by launching an underground movement here called “One Pot.”

One Pot’s anarchist intentions caught the attention of the people behind Seattle’s largest underground dining movement, Gypsy. Of these parents, Vagabond was born. Stripped of Gypsy’s white tablecloths, but cooked in more than “one pot”, Vagabond is an supper of 3 courses, humble in nature and rooted in tradition. “Sexy peasant food” the founders call it. After a month of collaboration, One Pot left the well versed waitstaff and restaurant style service behind for an experience more chaotic.

Originally, I was asked to prepare the desserts for every dinner. A challenge I wasn’t prepared to turn down, the format shifted, and I agreed to create an entire menu instead. I dug deep into my own tradition and came up with a “Menu Americana.”

Using dishes that are rooted not only in deep american tradition, but in comercial pop culture, I set to work. The first course was a salad of romaine lettuce, sliced red onion, and soft toasted croutons tossed in a Roasted Garlic Ranch Dressing.

Ranch Dressing’s roots grow deep into American culture, beginning at Steve and Gayle Henson’s Hidden Valley Ranch guest house outside Santa Barbara, California. The proprietors created this simple dressing of mayonnaise, buttermilk, fresh herbs and garlic for their guests as early as 1952. The popularity grew with every new guest and soon they were preparing enough of the dressing to send home with each. The demand for the dressing became stronger than their kitchen could produce and the Henson’s set up a small plant that manufactured seasoning packets to be mixed in the home.

In 1972 Ranch Dressing took it’s leap into infamy when the brand was purchased by Clorox, formulated for stability on the grocery store shelf, and sold nation wide. Since then Ranch has surpassed all other prepared dressing sales, dominating the market and our daily eating habits. From down home American roots to commercial prominence, Ranch is a flavor every American can relate to.

Recreating this popular flavor while surpassing the store bought standard was the challenge I gave myself. I began with a mayonnaise base made with roasted garlic cloves and the oil they were cooked in. The base was mixed with a thick Bulgarian Buttermilk, fresh chopped parsley, a hint of lemon, and seasoned with salt and fresh cracked pepper. A fancy ranch indeed, but to hold this flavor to it’s roots, it needed the bite of raw shallots. Less aggressive than the raw garlic flavor of the commercial product responsible for the lingering “ranch breath”, the shallot added just the dynamic Ranch needs.

The second course possesses the most recognizable American brand in the entire world, Coca Cola. The dish, playfully called “Pork and Beans” featured a coca cola braised pork shoulder served over Boston style beans. The dish, I must admit, grew entirely out of my desire to serve corn bread as a side dish. From there, I began pondering American flavors that worked with corn bread like chili and barbecue. My corn bread, it must be said, is made in the northern tradition of sweet, moist cake-like bread. Southern style corn bread is dry and crumbly, ideal for absorbing the syrup that is a staple on the southern table.

The highly marketed term “Pork and Beans” stuck in my little ol’ American head, and the dish began to take shape. Five varieties of heirloom beans were cooked in the Boston style with bacon, brown sugar and molasses, mustard and tomato paste.

The pork began with a simple braise with onions and ginger, following a generous rub of Garam Masala. Garam Masala, an indian blend of spices that includes cinnamon might insinuate a straying from american flavors. But as all american cuisine was carried from other continents, to absorb and assimilate the cultures that continue to come ashore is a truly american statement, and Garam Masala will forever live in my cupboards. The pork however truly took shape when I witnessed the sous chef at the Rainier Club pouring Coca Cola into a pork braise for mexican carnitas. My face beamed, “Eureka!” and with just under a week to put the finishing touches on my dinner, the crowning American touch came to be.

The resulting pork melted in your mouth, spicy from the ginger and garam masala, and deep from the coca cola. Served over a bed of the heirloom Boston beans, the pork was topped with a layer of crispy fried shallots. The crispy fried shallots are a play on Durkee’s french fried onions, an american grocery store staple, and something every green bean casserole would be empty without.

Two side dishes were served, corn bread, and corn. While corn was not in season, a better-than-your-average-bear frozen brand was purchased, and brought back to life with a quick saute in honey butter. The dish was brightened with roasted red peppers and a pinch of cayenne pepper. The corn bread was served with honey butter on the side, a touch my friend Amanda introduced me to in culinary school.

The last course was a pie born of this country. “Apple pie!” you might say. You’re right in thinking that. What’s more American than Apple Pie? Well, I argue Fluffernutter pie. Peanut butter is a flavor that not only boasts of being born of this country, but also experiences it’s only true popularity in this country. A chocolate crumb crust was filled with peanut-butter cream mousse, and topped with a greasy spoon diner-style rosette of marshmallow cream, toasted just before serving. A fudge sauce based off of cocoa made for an American chocolate sauce smeared on the plate. Bittie little cubes of rice crispie treats garnished the top, making me confident that this pie is surely more American than apple pie.

My labor of love does not stop here. If I have spoken to the american in you, then read on. The recipes follow, and you too can create my American dream on any given night.

Roasted Garlic Ranch Dressing

Sunday, March 18th, 2007

Notes….

I used this recipe to dress a salad of romaine lettuce, sliced cucumber, red onion, and lightly toasted croutons. A summer addition of tomatoes would be nice, or prepare a salad any way you like.

Seeking a high quality buttermilk will make all the difference in this dressing. If not in flavor, then the thicker organic or bulgarian style buttermilk will improve the viscocity of the dressing, allowing it to coat the salad better.

The final steps ask you to add enough buttermilk to create the dressings consistancy. Remember the homemade mayonnaise base you make will be thinner than it’s comercial counterpart. If you do thin the dressing too much, a quick fix would be to add comercial mayonnaise.

Roasted Garlic Ranch Dressing

 

For the roasted garlic

10 cloves garlic, peeled

1 cup of canola oil

 

For the mayonnaise base

3 egg yolks

1 tbsp dijon mustad

2 tbsp white wine vinegar

1 medium shallot chopped

1 tsp salt

1 cup of canola oil

About 1 cup of water in a spouted measuring cup

To finish the dressing

½ cup sour cream

1 cup buttermilk

½ cup chopped parsley

1 tbsp lemon juice

1 very small pinch of cayanne

Salt and pepper to taste

  1. Put 10 cloves of garlic in a small ovenproof dishor saucepan and cover with 1 cup of the oil. Cook in a 300 degree oven for 1 to 2 hours, until the cloves are soft and caramel colored. Remove the pan from the oven and allow the contents to cool. Transfer to a storage container and allow the flavor to develop overnight.
  2. Remove the garlic cloves from the oil and place them in the cup of a blender along with the egg yolks, dijon mustard, white wine vinegar, shallot, and salt. Turn the blender on high and allow the ingredients to blend for 30 seconds.
  3. Remove the center cap of the blender lid and begin pouring the garlic oil in a thin steady stream. The mixture will sputter and splatter at first, but after enough oil is incorporated, you will recognize the mayonaise base you are making.
  4. Continue adding the garlic oil and canola oil. If the mixture becomes too thick, no longer moving in the cup, or even starts to break and curdle, turn off the blender, add a tablespoon or two of water, and mix on a lower speed until the mayonaise becomes fluid again. Continue alternating the addition of the oil and water until all the oil has been incorporated
  5. When all the oil has been incorporated and the proper consistancy is reached, transfer the mayonaise to large bowl and allow to rest in the refrigerator for 1 hour.
  6. When the mayonaise has set, whisk in half a cup of sour cream. Add enough buttermilk to thin the mayonnaise to a dressing consistancy. This will depend on the consistancy of the buttermilk you are using, and the final consistancy of the mayonaise. If the dressing is too thin, it will slide off the salad lettuce.
  7. After the dressing is adjusted to the proper consistancy, add the parsley and whisk to incorporate. Use the lemon juice, cayanne, salt and peper to correct the taste.

Pork and Beans

Sunday, March 18th, 2007

To Serve this dish…..

Place the Boston style beans in the bottom of a serving dish. I liked the use of a Le Crusette style dutch oven for a rustic touch. Cover the beans with the Coca Cola braised pork. If the two components aren’t hot enough at this point, the dutch oven can be placed in a hot oven to rewarm the dish. Sprinkle with the crispy fried shallots just before serving. Cold left over pork makes a great sandwich the next day!

 

Coca Cola Braised Pork

10 pounds pork shoulder roast, cut into 1 pound pieces

½ cup garam masala spice mix

Salt

2 litres of coca cola

2 cups chicken stock

4 yellow onions cut into ¾ inch round slices

4 inches of fresh ginger, cut into disks

¼ cup black peppercorns

  1. Rub the pork with salt and a generous coat of garam masala.
  2. Place a large pan over high heat and add a layer of cooking oil. Place the rubbed pork in the hot oiled pan and cook breifly, searing the outside to a nice brown on all sides.
  3. Meanwhile, heat the stock and cola in a large stock pot. While the stock is heating, line a large roasting pan with the onions, ginger, and peppercorns.
  4. When the pork has finished searing, place it on the bed of onions and ginger, and cover it with the hot cola/stock mixture. Cover the entire pan with foil or a fitted lid and cook at 300 degrees for 5 hours.
  5. After 5 hours, the pork should be tender enough to fall apart when pressed. Pull the pork from the braising liquid and set aside. Reserve 3 cups of the braising liquid, discarding the remainder. Strain the reserved liquid through a fine mesh strainer into a small saucepan.
  6. Cook the liquid over medium low heat until it has reduced by half and becomes thick and glossy.
  7. Break the cooked pork up as you would for pulled pork, and mix with the reduced braising liquid.

Boston Beans

4 lbs dried heirloom beans of similar size

¼ cup kosher salt

1 pound smoked bacon

1 yellow onion, diced

1 ½ cup brown sugar

1 cup light molasses

1 tbsp dried mustard powder

¼ cup cider vinegar

1 small can of tomato paste

2 cups chicken stock

Approximately 2 cups of warm water

Salt and pepper to taste

  1. Soak the beans overnight. Drain and rinse well. In a large stockpot, place the washed, soaked beans and cover with an ample amount of water, and ¼ cup of kosher salt. Bring to a boil over high heat, then reduce the heat and simmer uncovered until the beans are tender, 1 to 1 1/2 hours. If you choose beans that are noticeably different in size, cook the larger varieties seperately as they will need a longer cooking time.
  2. Strain the cooked beans and set aside.
  3. In a small sauce pan heat the chicken stock and set aside.
  4. Place a large pot over medium heat, and add the diced bacon. Cook the bacon over medium low, stirring occasionally until the fat has rendered and the bacon begins to shrink. Add the onion, and cook 5 minutes, until the onion is translucent.
  5. Add the sugar, molasses, tomato paste, cider vinegar, mustard powder. Mix until the ingredients are evenly incorporated with a whisk. Add the beans and stir. Add the chicken stock and enough water to increase the liquid level to just cover the beans.
  6. Cook this mixture over low heat, just bubbling, for 2 hours, stirring occasionally to avoid scorching. The mixture should thicken to the consistency of baked beans. If the beans become dry, add liquid as necessary. When the beans are done add salt and pepper to season the dish to taste.

Crispy Fried Shallots

5 shallots

1 cup rice flour

1 tsp salt

¼ tsp cayenne

Prepare a medium sized heavy bottomed pot filled with 4 inches of neutral flavored oil (like canola) heated to 375 degrees. Use a candy thermometer to regulate the temperature.

  1. Peel the shallots and slice into ¼ a cm thick on a mandolin or hand held slicer. Slice against the layers to form small rings.
  2. In a medium bowl, sift the rice flour, salt, and cayenne together. Add the shallots and toss with your fingers to coat evenly and help separate the slices into individual rings. Place the rings in a sifter and tap the excess flour from the rings.
  3. Drop the rings into the oil in 3 batches, cooking them until brown and crispy. Transfer cooked shallots from the oil to a plate lined with paper towels to drain.

Fluffernutter Pie

Sunday, March 18th, 2007

Fluffernutter Pie

One chocolate cookie crumb crust, home made or purchased

1 cup peanut butter, Jif is best (trust me)

8 oz cream cheese, soft and at room temperature

½ cup sugar

2 cups cream, whipped to soft peaks and kept cold

  1. In the bowl of a mixer, paddle the peanut butter, soft cream cheese, and sugar on medium speed for 2 minutes. Stop the mixer after 1 minute and scrape down the sides of the bowl well. The mixture should be homogeneous, and become a bit lighter, but be careful not to over mix this or the cream cheese will become grainy.
  2. Carefully fold 1/3 of the whipped cream into the peanut butter mixture with a spatula until even. Repeat with the remainder of the whipped cream and fold gently until the cream is incorporated.
  3. Transfer the filling to the pie shell and smooth the top into a dome. Cover with plastic and chill in the fridge for at least 2 hours. This will keep in the fridge for 2 to 3 days, but the marshmallow cream topping will need to be prepared within a few hours of serving.

 

Marshmallow Cream

1/4 cup water

1 cups granulated sugar

½ cup light corn syrup

Tiny pinch of salt

1 tsp vanilla extract

  1. Place the sugar, corn syrup, salt and the water in a small, heavy bottomed sauce pan. Begin cooking this mixture over high heat, washing the sides of the pot with a moist pastry brush to remove any sugar crystals that have formed there. Continue cooking until the mixture has reached 240 degrees on a candy thermometer.
  2. When the mixture reaches 240 degrees transfer it to the bowl of a kitchen aid mixer fitted with a whip attachment and begin whipping on high speed. A dish cloth draped over the mixer down over the bowl will minimize painfully hot spatters from being flung from the whipping mixture.
  3. Mix for 10 minutes, or until the mixture almost cool. Add the vanilla and mix for 30 seconds more to insure it is evenly distributed. The marshmallow cream is done when it is lukewarm, snowy white, and the consistency of marshmallow fluff.

Mashed Potatoes

Friday, March 9th, 2007

People watching is a favorite pastime of mine. A true Seatellite, I am often found in a coffee shop, getting my daily (OK, twice daily) fix of caffeine (double tall americano, room for cream). The busy hub offers glimpses of people also going about their lives at varying paces, and when I have the time I pause for a moment, take a table, and watch.

One thing I always take notice of is shoes. I have often thought a person reveals a bit about themselves from the shoes on their feet. Clothes change daily, but shoes are a true commitment and often give better insight into true personality.

This said, the same can be estimated of a restaurant by it’s mashed potatoes. Not yet have I worked in a restaurant that didn’t serve mashed potatoes, and each revealed a bit of their soul through their preparation of the side dish, a constant component on ever changing seasonal menus.
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My first job in the kitchen was at a growing Seattle restaurant group called the Bluwater Bistro. A upscale American bistro with a menu designed for mass appeal, their roast chicken, stuffed pork chops, and dry aged new york steaks all sat atop garlic mashed potatoes. Garlic cloves boiled with the potatoes presented the flavor subtly, adding mass appeal to the dish, and insight into the restaurants use of American standards to gain a large customer base.

Lampreia, a restaurant known for it’s pure, minimalistic cuisine prepared nightly by the savant chef served their potatoes in just that fashion. Potatoes hand chosen by Scott Carsberg at the market early in the week for their particular starch content, are peeled and boiled in salted water. Passed by hand through a fine mesh drum sieve to achieve the finest texture, the puree is then moistened with whole milk, mounted with butter, and seasoned to perfection. Before going to the table, each portion is individually rewarmed and lightly whipped with additional cream, placed in a miniature dutch oven to retain warmth, and served separate from the plate, to be enjoyed as the diner feels appropriate.

The Fat Duck’s potatoes were a true reflection on Heston Blumenthal’s intellectually grounded cuisine. Treated for service in a Michelin 3 star restaurant, a correctly chosen variety of potato was boiled, passed through the drum sieve, and mixed with an exacted and tested combination of milk, salt, and clarified butter. This recipe, treated for service in a Michelin 3 star restaurant appears as Pomme Puree in the cookbook Blumenthal wrote called Family Food. A reflection on his duality, Blumenthal is driving cuisine into the future yet puts the same attention to the simplest and most traditional of dishes, and places it on the simplest of tables, your home.

At Eva, a restaurant that is built on a solid foundation of locally sourced organics, seasonal ingredients, and close relationships with those that grow and produce the food they use, the potatoes were kept as close to their natural state as possible. Dug recently from local soil, skins sometimes left on, and occasionally studded with Neuske bacon, Chef Amy McCray calls them smashed potatoes, and leaves them earthy, lumpy, and hearty. Offering a flavorful and memorable experience, the meals at Eva are meant to be as comfortably satisfying as their smashed potatoes.

During my first week at the Rainier Club I was given a glimpse at the kitchens soul by learning their preparation of mashed potatoes. Peeled and weighed to the portion, the potatoes are cooked in large batches, held in single layer trays in a steamer. They are then milled through a ricer with the salt and pepper for proper distribution, and mounted with butter. Mixed by the aid of a large stand mixer, the potatoes are moistened with an aromatic cream. The cream, steeped with varying herbs and peppercorns, adds a hint of luxury and a sense of dignity to the potatoes. The recipe is calculated exactly, balancing everything a large kitchen like the Rainier Club needs to take into consideration; controlling cost through exacting portions, speed in preparing large quantities, and a consistently luxurious and high quality product.

I often consider how I would prepare the humble potato for mashing had I a kitchen of my own. I would most likely combine a bit of everything I have learned, first and foremost keeping the earthy quality of the potato intact. I would hand choose the potatoes like Scott and perhaps even serve them in adorable little dishes on the side.  I might add clarified butter like Heston, leave the skins on like Amy, and aromatically steep the cream like the Rainier Club. If the mood strikes, I’ll know to boil cloves of garlic with the potatoes for a subtle addition of the flavor, or stud them with bacon, adding all the rendered fat for extra flavor. For my own touch, I would add sour cream. A rich acidic balance, the addition of sour cream, or perhaps thick Bulgarian buttermilk would make these potatoes my own, and offer you a hint at the balance I insist all my cuisine holds.

Vosges Haut Chocolat

Friday, March 9th, 2007

Started and owned by the smart and talented Katrina Markoff, Vosges Haut Chocolat is an up and coming high end chocolatier based out of Chicago. Among the special experiences I’ve had as an attendee of this year’s TED conference is that every few hours Katrina and her crew offer extensive tastings of a variety of different chocolate creations and experiments from their table. There’s something extremely positive about knowing that every few hours a table will be piled with free, delicious, and most importantly – interesting – chocolate deliciousness.

I haven’t been properly documenting all my eating so a proper writeup will have to wait. But there is something I found incredibly attractive about their chocolate. In general I don’t like anything other than nuts/caramels/toffees and the like mixed with my chocolate. So, fruit, herbs, liqueurs are out for me. But not only was everthing I tried creamy and deep, but the combinations were inspired. Every different configuration of sweet and savory mixed with chocolate was balanced and interesting. I felt like Katrina really has a thoughtful and disciplined palate and is not just trying combinations to be weird or different. I find that having a clear idea in your head of what something is supposed to taste like is a prerequisite for making something great. I intend to fully explore all the greatness from Vosges Haut Chocolate as soon as I can.