Archive for December, 2007

Best Of

Monday, December 31st, 2007

It seems every publication is all lists this time of year. What to gifts buy for this person or that, what to wear for holiday gatherings here or there, and finally, the “best of” lists.

We all have them, and personally, I love talking about them. Do you agree, disagree, what would you add or detract. Can you guess what kind of “best of” lists most cooks discuss?

If you said food you are a bit off. That comes second. First and foremost we discuss music.

Then we talk about food. Today Jonathan Kauffman’s “best dishes” list was on the top of our minds at Veil, mostly because one of our own dishes was in the honorable mention section. A prawn dish with caramelized chard, a honey gastrique, and a sunflower seed/bacon condiment. This “best dishes” list gave us all an excuse to discuss the best things we had tasted this year. Just us, cook to cook, in our own kitchen where the influence of “the scene” doesn’t penetrate.

I was very very lucky this year to make a few rare trips out of the kitchen to New York, Chicago, San Fransisco, and Colorado. Along the way I tasted some pretty amazing things. Seattle’s provided a few herself, and this list is going to contain a taboo for me. I am going to include a dish I would normally NEVER put on my own list.

Dana’s ten best bites of 2007

1. Paprika Punch cocktail, Tailor, NYC.

Hands down this is the best thing I have tasted this entire year. The cocktail was made from red bell pepper infused vodka, was mixed with something sweet and sour, and if I remember correctly was muddled with jalapeno. My friend Rosio and I lost all manners and asked for “refills”, which we were given 3 times. I think about this drink at random at least once a day, cravings attached.

2. Ssam, Momofuku, NYC.

I only made it to the ssam bar, and only ever had the berkshire pork ssam. But I went back to have it multiple times both trips this last year, and will do exactly that next time I am in Manhattan. The Ssam is a kind of Asian burrito, this one made with braised Berkshire pork wrapped in a rice pancake with kim-chee puree, grilled onions, pickled mushrooms, chili sauce, rice, and edamame. This dish was so amazingly delicious that it makes me wish for a momofuku in Seattle so I could eat it all the time. Even though I know franchising would destroy what makes momofuku so delicious, I want it.

3. Yuzu curd with spruce yogurt, pistachio, liquid sablee, WD-50, NYC.

This was the first of Stupak’s desserts that I tasted, and still the most memorable. The pastry sous Rosio plated me the tiniest cutest version of the dish out of scraps while I watched the cooks in service. Yuzu is quite possibly the most amazing citrus flavor as is, but paired with the bitter greek yogurt and the essence of spruce it was transcendent.

4. Pork Belly with Miso Butterscotch, Tailor NYC.

Butterscotch never had it so good as it does in Sam Mason’s hands. What is for me one fiddle flavor, butterscotch becomes the entire band here with the simple addition of miso. Perhaps it’s because miso is actually alive. Perhaps the sugary sweet combination of caramelized sugar is the perfect platform for deep earthy flavors. What ever it is, the combination of miso and butterscotch was a revelation for me. The fact that it bathed pork belly didn’t hurt either.

5.  Meyer Lemons picked from my Uncle Tom’s tree, Santa Cruz, CA.

I feel ashamed that in this sustainable day and age, where we should be connected to the source of our food, I could be so shocked by something growing in my uncle’s yard. But the lemons I had always known were there blew me away. Warm from the sun, ripened on the tree, these yellow orbs turned out to be Meyer lemons rather than the standard variety. It was as much a taste revelation as a that of connection, this act of reaching my own hand, grasping the dimpled flesh and plucking fruit so rare to me in Seattle. Lemon-aid never tasted so good as it did that day.

6. Cauliflower soup, white chocolate foam, curried cauliflower puree, dark chocolate, Schwa, Chicago, IL

I scheduled a one day layover in Chicago to eat at this restaurant. I was very eager to see the restaurant with no front of the house staff, where clad in whites, cooks come out to your table, take your order, open the “bring your own bottle” of wine, and run the food. I was excited to taste the food I had heard so much about from cooks I knew in the city, pictures I had seen in Art Culinaire. So when I rushed from the airport, took my seat alone, I was bubbling with excitement, visibly so. I ordered the larger of the two set menu’s and was treated like a, well, like another cook! The third dish that came was this, creamy warm cauliflower soup with a sweetish white chocolate foam on top in a tiny mug, reminiscent of a winter cup of cocoa. The plate was scattered with random patches of deliciousness, furthering the combination of chocolate and cauliflower.  This flavor combination seems wacky, but comes out of Heston Blumenthal’s kitchen, a place the chef Michael Carlson had spent time as well.  I used to shave cauliflower stems for their chocolate and cauliflower risotto, and darn it they really did smell like chocolate.

7. Fried Mayonnaise, Pickled Tongue, onion strussell, romaine, WD-50, NYC.

This dish, one of Wylie’s most notorious, was familiar to me by way of media and word of mouth long before I entered the restaurant. I saw it go out the kitchen, I didn’t think much about it, and then I ate it. My first immediate thought was, “this tastes EXACTLY like a hamburger!” Exactly, folks, like a delicious perfect hamburger. It hadn’t occurred to me that this dish had such a gripping context. I was floored by the amazing texture of the warm fritter filled with thick “mayo.”, by the perfect texture of the pickled tongue, by the precise ratio of brunoised romaine hearts and onion strussell which made every bite into the american classic in your mouth. But the apparent thought that went into making this dish perfect was what stood out most. This dish isn’t something someone stumbled upon, it’s a labor of love, and I thank Wylie for every long hour he put into making it perfect.

8. Lemon Cucumbers, Sitka and Spruce, Seattle, WA

Finally, something in Seattle, right? This dish couldn’t be more opposite from that at number 7. Lemon Cucumbers, picked up by Matt Dillon at the farmers market a few hours before his restaurant opened, sliced and briefly cooked with fresh dill and trempeti olive oil. Served all by themselves, on a plate his roommate picked up for him at the goodwill, in the tiny restaurant habitating a stripmall storefront. These lemon cukes were tenderly selected from their source, and with as much respect as the farmer grew them with, this chef cooked them. It may have been the only day they were on Matt’s Chalkboard menu which changes as rapidly as the farmers markets, but lucky me for stumbling in. It was a dish I’ll never forget.

9. Moroccan spiced Lamb Burgers, Veil, Seattle, WA.

Sliders have been more than trendy these past years, but Shannon’s version made as a bar snack for his cocktail lounge standout from the pack. Made with fresh lamb shoulder ground with garam masalla, they are topped with a rich cows milk feta and balsamic pickled shallots. Sandwiched between little brioche buns dressed with a house made harissa aoili, I could eat these all day. The flavor combination adds up to much more than the sum of it’s parts. I often find myself or another cook making little meatless sandwiches out of the feta, pickled onions, and harissa aioli for a quick pick me up snack durring service.

10. Mixed Citrus Creamsicle, Veil, Seattle, WA.

This is the dish I said was way out of bounds for me, because it’s one of my own. Normally I would NEVER put something of mine on a list like this. It goes against all humility I strive for, and breaks the deep criticism I view everything I make with. But this dessert is amazing. It’s everything I want all my desserts to be, and it’s the only dessert I have made that I want to sit down and eat. A uber light and airy tahitian vanilla bean bavarian, is made with an italian meringue rather than the usual custard base. By cutting out the rich custard base and substituting something very lean, the floral nuances of the tahitian vanilla bean really shine. It sits aside a mandarin sorbet, puckery, icy, and paired with the bavarian makes the orange/vanilla base for a creamsicle. Under these two components is this amazing bitter, acidic, fragrant passionfruit yogurt sauce pooled in a swoosh of brioche pudding. The broiche pudding, similar to a stovetop pudding rather than a baked bread pudding is a dense texture completely unexpected, and the yeasty rich butteriness is surprisingly delicious with the dessert. Little candied kumquats and confited meyer lemon add to the plate, which has received the same unsolicited compliment from nearly everyone I have fed it to, “this is one of the best things I have ever tasted.” And for once I can whole heartedly agree with them. This dessert is one of the best things I too have tasted, and every time I do I am stunned that it came out of me.

Enough about me, what are your favorite tastes this year???

In the midst

Wednesday, December 19th, 2007

In the midst of the holiday craziness, Veil hosted a wedding party. A small wedding, the bride and groom, brought their very small wedding party in for a special 6 course menu on a Friday, following their ceremony, and all their friends and family in for a cocktail reception the next evening.

With all the holiday parties held in a restaurant, their purpose can elude the kitchen. Mr. Dentist’s sit down dinner for himself and his staff of young dental hygienists simply becomes “Friday menu, 5 courses gluten free, want creme brulee” (I might add our dishwasher was crushed when we informed him the aging man with 8 hotties was not Seattle’s version of Hugh Heffner.) A cocktail reception in the bar for the Seattle International Film Festival is “that party we bought the cured meat from Pino for.”

This wedding itself may have slipped by our cooks notice, simply being “14 top, set menu” had it not been for the wedding cake I made. In the midst of Friday afternoon’s prep, I had allocated an entire counter to myself barking at anyone who came near it with a pot of this or a cutting board of that. I scrubbed it as clean as possible, and I rolled the snowy white fondant in thin sheets, covering flourless chocolate cake layered with rosemary and honey mousse.

Not out of the ordinary for a pastry chef, this process was something our cooks had never seen. Our dishwasher was chased back to work a few times, after standing and watching in awe through out the entire process.

It’s a different animal, a exagerated process that seems to be slow motion compared to the din of cooking. Nothing can be rushed, each layer gently built, covered carefully, smoothed by hand, perfected for two peoples “one and only” evening.

After the cake was covered, stacked, finished, it drew all eyes for a moment. A few deep breaths taken, the magnitude of the party it was meant for sunk in. This isn’t just another holiday party, this is someones wedding. It only lasted but half a second and the kitchen was back in full swing pushing to get ready for the evening, preparing for their usual busy weekend service and, “that wedding dinner on the communal table”

Chummus (and Hummus)

Tuesday, December 18th, 2007

chummus

If you have any experience with eating a favorite dish in another country and seeing it butchered, you will understand the following. While I could certainly use broader global culinary perspective and expertise, even with my admittedly narrow scope, I can think of no better example of the disparity between a local favorite and its horrid representative in North America than chummus (often spelled hummus). (I use the “ch” to signify the phlegmy sound the actual word begins with.)

Chummus is basically mashed cooked garbanzo beans (chickpeas), lemon juice, garlic, and tachina (a paste of roasted sesame seeds, also spelled tahini). There are variations, including the most common where thick, rich (and most importantly — flavorful) olive oil from the middle east is drizzled across the chummus before it’s served and scooped up in warm torn off pieces of pita. Chummus is a magical concoction. Smooth but with some modest texture that gives it a hold, but not a roughness. It’s thick but not heavy. It’s savory, a touch nutty, and best served warm. In short, it’s complex and delicious.

The chummus sold here in the U.S. is, well, honestly I’m not sure exactly what it is. It’s some sort of flavorless gruel with chunks. Yuck. In the middle east the chummus is so good there are restaurants whose sole purpose is to serve chummus. Everything else is secondary. Here, I can’t believe any of it sells. The closest thing you can find nationally is from a company called Sabra. It’s not horrible. It’s like a weak impression of what’s available in Israel. There’s a local company here in Seattle called Dreamland (QFC in University Village carries it). This stuff is probably the best retail chummus I’ve tasted in North America and it’s not as good as the worst I’ve had abroad.

The funny thing is that the worst chummus in Israel, what’s available in the supermarket, mass produced by Israeli food conglomerates is better than the best stuff here. I can’t imagine it costs much more (or any more) to do it right. So why not do it right here. The answer of course here is to make it myself (or go to The Hummus Place in New York city). Unfortunately neither is a viable option given the time commitment involved.

Just like there was a wine revolution here in the U.S. I want a chummus revolution. Where the local producers rise up and say, we can make quality too! Americans will be the better for it.

One of a kind

Thursday, December 6th, 2007

Seattle’s indie newspaper The Stranger has a holiday tradition, an auction of unique gifts every december collected in their Strangercrombie catalog. The catalog was put together as an excuse to raise money for a local charity while mocking the soft porn style advertising Abercrombie’s clothing catalog is notorious for. (The irony of no clothes in a clothing catalog doesn’t escape anyone.)

The best auction up there, in my humble opinion, is called, “The sweetest year ever” and features a dessert a month by yours truly! If that weren’t enough, you will receive a pound of Victrola Coffee, hands down my favorite locally roasted coffee, each month to enjoy with your desserts. Some of my favorite desserts will be part of this “dessert of the month club”, including my award winning Peanut Butter Chocolate Brownies Crunch Cake, which features cake layers made from a dark and chewy brownie, milk chocolate ganache, a double peanut butter crunch layer in the center, finished with a thick coat of bittersweet chocolate glaze.

This year also features a variety of food related auctions, including a series called, “The best dang dinner party” with local chefs like Ethan Stowell or Union, and Renee Erickson of Boat Street Cafe coming to your home to cook.

This year the money raised will go to a charity every chef and foodie in Seattle is familiar with, Fare Start. This program is known for it’s high profile Thursday evening dinners, featuring a local chef who donates the labor and food. A 3 course menu is provided for a mere 35 dollar donation to the fare start program, with 100 percent of the proceeds benefiting the organization directly. The organization uses the money to fund their various programs which include job training for disadvantaged adults in the culinary field, and providing meals to local shelters and soup kitchens daily.

So for those of you in the Seattle area, get on over there folks, bid away for one of the cities most unique gifts!

Food Blog Awards

Tuesday, December 4th, 2007

The food blog awards have crept up on us again, this time with out much fan fare or warning.  Perhaps it’s because they are hidden a site I don’t frequent, Well Fed Network’s, or perhaps I’m just a bit absent from the bloggy world.

Either way, you have until tomorow to make your nominations, which is my favorite part.  When it comes to picking winners and loosers, well, I just hate to exclude people.  So now is the time to tell the world who your favorites are, which blogs you track back to over and over, which ones you read for the content alone, which ones you go to for the pretty pictures, which one praises the city you love, which one is written by a chef you admire, which one makes you laugh.

Here is the nominations page

Nominations close wednesday evening, and voting begins on the 10th.

My nominations, which are essentially my own awards, are given by no true critical process. Simply, they are the blogs I find myself drawn back to each week, and those I am just so impressed with I can’t ignore.

Chef written blogs-

Eggbeater, and Ideas in Food

City Blog-

Eating Seattle

Humor

Roots and Grubs

Photography

Cook and Eat

Writing

Orangette

Over all-

Nordljus