Saturday, November 10, 2012

Recreating an Experience and Making it Your Own

For the last several months my husband and I have been going to beer and food pairings. I have never been a big beer drinker. I was a Coors Light drinker for years and in the last few years I have become a fan of the wheat beer. We have a local brewery Hangar 24 that started offering Flight Formations where they pair a type of food with their beers. Man has this been mind blowing. Who knew some of these bitter beers were actually good?

Several weeks ago we attended a beer and food pairing dinner at Farm Artisan Foods in Redlands. This was our first fine dining beer dinner there. Let me say all the food and beer were incredible. Roberto & his team outdid themselves. One of the dishes we had was a butternut squash ravioli with sage brown butter, served with Ommegang Scythe & Sickle beer. Now this was the best beer/food pairing that I have ever had.

Over one weekend we went out on a beer collecting trip. We went looking for some of the beers we had a few weeks ago at three different stores. We were lucky to find the beer from Ommegang and we brought that home. So now it was my turn to try to recreate the dish we had at The Farm.
Flour with a well with eggs, olive oil, & salt.

Now I was ready to get to work. I had some butternut squash from the farmer's market and I was ready to make homemade pasta. I happen to have Roberto's recipe for pasta so half the battle was done there. In the oven went the squash and then it was time to make the pasta. I like to do it the old fashioned way, by hand flat on the counter, no bowl required. Once the pasta was made and resting I went to work with the baked squash getting it pureed.

Roasted butternut squash.
Pureeing squash is easy. Once it is baked where a knife will slide in and out easily let it cool slightly then scoop the flesh out of the skin and put into a food processor or blender and pulse it until the flesh is creamy and smooth. Because squash has a lot of liquid in them I place cheesecloth into a strainer add the puree and let it drain for a few hours. With a large butternut squash you can get close to 1 cup of liquid from it.

Pasta dough with finished filling.
After several hours of separating the liquid from the puree, the squash was ready for me to make the filling. The filling consisted of the butternut puree, shallots, parmigiano-reggiano cheese, cream, nutmeg, salt, and pepper. More water evaporates when you heat the puree, so it becomes more solid than runny. Adding the cream adds a richness to the filling. While the butternut mixture was cooling it was time to roll out the pasta into sheets to start the assembly process of the ravioli.

Finished ravioli waiting for boiling.
After you assemble the ravioli you then cut out the shape desired and place on a floured pan so it does not stick while you are finishing the other raviolis. The ravioli does dry out a bit, but don't worry about it. You then bring salted water to a boil and add a few of the finished ravioli at a time as not to crowd the pot and cook until the ravioli is tender. About 7 minutes.

Butternut squash ravioli ready to be eaten.
While the ravioli is cooking in a saute pan melt butter and let it begin to brown. Add fresh sage leaves and allow them to crisp up. Once the butter achieves a nice brown color without burning remove from heat. Place finished ravioli on a plate, spoon over brown butter and sage, finish dish with grated parmigiano-reggiano cheese and parsley. It is now time to eat the fruits of you labor.

Making pasta may seem a bit labor intensive and time consuming, but in reality it can be done in less than an hour and fillings or sauces can be made while the pasta dough is resting. This is something you can get the whole family involved with and what kids don't enjoy helping make dinner? It is also a way to introduce your family to vegetables in fillings that they might normally not eat. Have fun with pasta and for the adults try a beer you wouldn't ordinarily have with food.  Enjoy!

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

The Next Master Chef?

Since the first episode of the reality show Master Chef I have been sitting back thinking, "I could do that." Season's 2 & 3 went by and timing wasn't in the cards, so I patiently waited for the casting to begin on Season 4.  Applying was simple enough by filling out an online form and then printing out 14 pages of application and releases. Then the waiting began for when the casting call would be.

In early October the email arrived with the information I had been waiting for. November 3, 2012 at Le Cordon Bleu in Los Angeles I would audition for Master Chef.  Now the question was what would I make?  The Master Chef website didn't give you much information other than you need to bring a dish prepared, there is no place for you to heat or cook the food.  I knew what I wanted to bring, roasted pork loin wrapped in caul fat with caramelized fennel and onion.  Thankfully I didn't have to worry about having it hot as the judging was not on temperature.
Shaking Hands with Gordon Ramsey

On Saturday, November 3, my husband Doug travelled with me to Los Angeles for my audition.  We arrived at Le Cordon Bleu at 10 am and see several hundred people and who was greeting all the contestants waiting in line? The infamous foul-mouthed chef himself, Gordon Ramsey.  He finally made his way down the line to me and I was able to say hello and shake the hand of the man that is feared by many chefs. 

After about three hours of waiting to go in for my audition, I was called in with about 19 others. Once we were in the room we had three minutes to plate our dish before they came around and photographed us and our food. Once they were finished with that we were interviewed about ourselves and our food was looked at and we were questioned about it.  I didn't know what to think and I was only asked why onion with the fennel and I was told I had pretty plating.

One thing I noticed while in line and while in the audition room was that some of us had three digit numbers and some had the letter V followed by three digits. They didn't have to wait in line as long as those of us with only the three digits.  When the judging was finished they were the only ones asked to remain while the rest of us were dismissed. 

What did they do to get that letter? Why do they have that letter? Why weren't anyone without that letter called to remain? Is this show somewhat prejudged? Those questions I do have still to find the answer to. What I do know is we were told that we were not all no's and that we could still be called back.  Los Angeles was not the only audition city and thousands of others will be going through the same process I just went through.

Will I be the next Master Chef?  I don't think that is in the cards. No matter the outcome I do know I had a great experience doing something I love. 

* During the premiere episode of MasterChef in May 2013 one of the people I saw at the audition with the letter V in front of their number did make it on to MasterChef as one of the top 100. She made heart shaped cookies. Laughable, I'm sorry, but it is. Also, during the show one of my friends from high school appeared on the show. She was never shown with her falcon or with her dish. She answered a casting call and did not audition. My realization is MasterChef is just TV, they want the ratings and don't really care to have the best cooks if they did they wouldn't have had a guy with giant waterbugs in the top 100. As I said I wouldn't change my experience, but if I knew then what I know now.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Caul Fat? What the heck is it?

Butcher's are a dying breed. What we know as butchers at our local markets are not really butchers, they are just meat cutters who know little about the animals and their parts. I went into the market this morning looking to see if I can order caul fat. What is caul fat you ask? It is a membrane found in pigs that is used for adding moisture and flavor to chicken, roasts, & sausages. Restaurants use this product to help hold together roulades of meat. It also adds flavor to lean meat and the caul fat is rolled over the meat and almost entirely disappears once the cooking process is finished.
Caul Fat

After not succeeding in getting the product ordered from my market I proceeded to call every meat processor within 30 miles and no luck. Some of them had no clue to what I was talking about.  In many ways this is scary. Who processes our food and where does it come from? Nothing is local anymore and it is all mass produced. No wonder we have so many recalls on meat!

After I started writing this post I made one more attempt at finding someone who had caul fat. I looked at and I could buy 10 pounds for almost $50 before shipping. What am I going to do with 10 pounds of this stuff?  Thank goodness I didn't have to resort to that because I found a place in Chino with the product. Hallelujah! Hottinger Family Meats is my life saver. Now I get to play around with the product.

Caul fat wrapped chicken breast
What am I going to do with caul fat? I decided to wrap it around stuffed chicken breast. The product is pretty easy to work with. My mistake was after assembling the rolls I put them back in the refrigerator. This made the meat and caul fat too cold so I didn't get the sear and color I wanted on the finished product. What it did do was add some wonderful flavor and moisture to a meat that can dry out quickly.

The finished product with mushroom risotto
Should you try using caul fat? If you can get it the answer is YES! Why not experiment and learn something new. Failure comes from not trying and expanding your knowledge in anything. To those of you who try this product I wish you luck and tasty eats.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Pressure Test

For years I have been fascinated by the much feared pressure cooker. I had never used one and I don't think my family had one when I was growing up.  All I knew about them were the stories of how they would blow up if you weren't careful. Careful? Yikes what does that mean? Can you leave it alone for 5 minutes or do you have to watch it and hold your breath hoping that nothing goes wrong? Pressure cookers have been around since the late 17th century so that can't be that bad can they?

One day last year I happened to be watching HSN and what comes on? A pressure cooker of course. This one wasn't the one like your grandmother had that was used on the stove top and you had to watch the temp and make sure it wasn't rattling too much on that stove top. No, this one was electric. Well I watched and learned all the things you could do with this machine. I decided I was in and ordered it. Now I had to wait for it to be delivered.

When the pressure arrived I couldn't wait to use it, but at the same time I was a little scared. Why was I scared? I have no idea other than having those horrible exploding stories in my mind. It took me a few days, but I was ready to use my new toy.  What to make? Something braised of course. A little secret to pressure cooker is you have to use liquid in it so making something braised or a soup is going to be the way to go unless you are using it to boil items.

My electric pressure cooker has a browning setting so it can get really hot and you don't have to start items in a separate pan on the stove. When you braise meat 9 times out of 10 the directions will tell you to brown the meat. Browning caramelizes the sugars in the meat and makes the dish taste all that much better.  Tonight's meat was oxtail and all I had to do was set it to browning add a little oil and it was time to brown the seasoned meat. Wow that was easy. I added my veggies and started putting in the liquids I was going to braise the oxtails in. For me that was red wine and some beef stock.

Now that all my ingredients were in the pressure cooker now was the real test, setting the pressure. My pressure cooker comes with two pressure settings, high and low. I was going to use high. I put the lid on, locked it, and set it to high. I have a timer on the pressure cooker and I set it to 45 minutes. Usually ox tail takes hours to become tender and fall off the bone, but with pressure you reduce your time. With the cooker being electric it was very quiet. It did make some noise at first when it was reaching the right pressure, but other than that nothing. That is until the timer went off.

When the timer went off the machine didn't turn off, it went to keep warm. Now I know that is not an option on stove top pressure cookers. I could be out of the room and not worry of any explosions. This was great. While it's on keep warm the pressure slowly releases, but it does have a steam relief valve if you don't want to wait. Time to eat.

I won't go into too many details, but the meat was juicy and tender. The flavors went through the meat and wasn't just in the liquid. The pressure pushes those flavors into the meat. To put it simply dinner was down right tasty. What did I have to fear? My kitchen was clean and I didn't have dinner splattered all over the kitchen like I feared. Did the pressure cooker pass the test? Did I? I think we both did with flying colors. The new electric pressure cookers are not the ones from grandma's day.

If you are asking what advantages are there for having a pressure cooker to braising on the stove or oven? Time and flavor are both advantages. You can take a frozen piece of chicken and have a wonderful flavorful fully cooked piece in 45 minutes compared to the time it would take to defrost and then cook the chicken.  Next time you question whether or not you should get a pressure cooker, go for it. You and your family will be pleasantly surprised.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

A Fish Tale

My husband challenged me to recreate a dish we order just about every time we go to Caprice in Redlands, the brook trout. I accepted the challenge and went off to the grocery store to hunt down the ingredients. My local store didn't have brook trout but had its cousin rainbow trout so that had to do for this challenge. I returned home with two lovely whole trout. Now what to do?

Here is where the real challenge began. What did I know about trout? Nothing other than it has A LOT of bones. So now I was faced with the task of filleting the fish I bought. I have never filleted a whole fish before. I had some ideas how to do it, but I wanted to make sure I did it right the first time and I didn't leave more fish on the bones than I did on the fillets I intended to create. Where does one go to read about filleting a whole trout?  Why the internet of course. I found a couple of videos, but one was just what I was looking for and it showed me the simplest way to do it.

With my new found knowledge I was armed with I was ready to proceed. What do you need to fillet a fish? A sharp boning knife and a good large cutting board. With that at hand I was ready. Having a whole fish can feel a little intimidating. For a majority of Americans our food usually does not come to our homes with their heads on. But for this girl tonight's dinner had a head and I had to do something about that. So in Marie Antoinette's famous words, "Off with their heads!" And off they went.

Heads off, check. Now onto the filleting. This was a bit more labor intensive, but it is actually pretty easy with having the right tools. I said having a sharp boning knife was important and this is where it came in. Boning knives are narrow and very flexible and make making cuts very close to bones rather easy.I removed the spine and then I followed the rib bones like I saw in the video and they came off for the most part in one piece. Once I got one side done I proceeded to the other. It wasn't perfect, but I did succeed in getting almost no meat on the bones I was removing. Also, one side wasn't as pretty as the other. I knew in the end it wasn't going to matter once the meal was complete.

Trout Fillets
Think I was finished? Nope, by no means was I done. Now for the simple yet very important job of removing the pin bones. These are the inter-muscular bones in many fish and are actually floating bones not connected to the skeleton. These are the pesky bones that make eating fish not pleasurable if they are not removed. They are simple to remove, all you need is a fish plier or a very clean needle nose plier that you have pilfered from the tool box. You just feel along the flesh and you will feel these bones poking out. You just pluck them out. Be careful not to dig too much into the flesh. Once all the bones are out it is time to trim off the fat and clean up the fillet.

Time to cook dinner. Thankfully the trout Gods were on my side and nothing stuck when I was cooking the fillets in a stainless steel skillet. I wanted a crunchy skin and this was the best way to do it. Once the fillets were cooked I let them rest for a few minutes while I made a brown butter sauce in the same pan. When the sauce was done I topped the fish with haricot verts (thin green beans) and toasted sliced almonds and drizzled it with the brown butter sauce and finished it with a sprinkle of Maldon salt. Ta-Da! Time to eat.

Trout Almondine
Did I succeed in the challenge? Yes I did! It wasn't exactly like the dish we love at Caprice, but it was darn near close. I also succeeded in this challenge by learning how to work with an ingredient I had never worked with before. It was a great lesson. I learn by watching and doing. I think I also succeeded in finding a way to have something my husband and I both enjoy for a fraction of the price. Next challenge of this dish is now to make it for friends who also like fish.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Comfort Food

What is comfort food?  Is it is something that is sentimental or nostalgic? Is it something that take us back to a time when we were young? Is is something that reminds us of someone? Or is it something that makes us feel good? It can be all of the above.

Is comfort food one kind of food or is it many kinds of food? I believe it depends on the person. I have several comfort foods and they all have different memories for me. Can I name one as my favorite? No I cannot, because they all hold something special and to name one as the favorite is impossible.

I do have some comfort foods that top my list though. Homemade macaroni and cheese and tuna casserole the way my grandmother made them.  My mother's fried chicken. Those are my top three. I have others, but these are my favorites. Why these three? I am not really sure other than the fact is that they are simple to make, are flavorful and downright tasty, and they all taste surprisingly well cold.

Tonight I made the simple yet flavorful tuna noodle casserole. I changed up the recipe than how my grandmother made it. Her recipe is so simple, a can of cream of mushroom soup, one cup of milk,a can of tuna, and a pound of egg noodles. That's it 4 simple ingredients before the must have salt and pepper. Nothing to it right? Nothing fancy, but for some reason I love it and so does my daughter. My husband doesn't understand our love of this meal and doesn't share it with it. That is fine since he's not home tonight to share in my new take of this classic.

What I did tonight is leave the can of cream of mushroom soup in the cupboard and make homemade cream of mushroom soup. Now this was easy. I sauteed shallots and chopped crimini mushrooms in butter and set aside. Then I made a bechamel sauce with butter, flour, and milk. I added salt, pepper, a teaspoon of chopped fresh thyme, a touch of cayenne, and a pinch of nutmeg to this. Tossed back in the mushroom mixture and let it blend together while the noodles boiled.

Once the noodles were done I drained them, added them to the sauce and combined all the ingredients together. I placed everything in a baking dish and topped with some panko bread crumbs and off into a 350° oven to bake for 30 minutes.  Let this sit a few minutes before you serve since this can be extremely hot and unless you have a mouth made out of asbestos you will burn yourself.

Even though I put my own spin on this dish tonight it was still very comforting. It reminds me of the time I spent with my grandmother making this when I was a kid. It is yet one of those recipes that don't need to be written down since the ingredients and preparation are so simple. My 12 year old daughter can make this and the macaroni and cheese on her own. She's even shown one of her grandmother's the we way this mac & cheese is made and loves that she can share this recipe I learned as a kid.

I think in the end comfort food reminds of us of home. It doesn't matter when we make it or if we put a spin on it. No matter how many years it has been for some reason it still tastes the same as when we had it all those years ago. Comfort food is something we share with those we love as it was shared with us and that makes it remind you of home.

Please share with me some of your favorite comfort foods in the comments. Thank you.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Farmers Market

James Beard once said, "Food is our common ground, a universal experience." and how true is that we all need it to survive and it serves as a representation as to who we are as a nation, where we live within that nation, and sometimes even down to the neighborhood. What you find in each and every one of those areas is the farmers market. 

For thousands of years farmers have taken their excess fruit, vegetables, and proteins to a central location to sell or trade their goods. As time has gone by governments began to regulate these public markets. Public markets were established to protect people from price gauging and their health. These markets then slowly turned into what we know as grocery stores. What the stores carried varied as transportation and refrigeration improved.

In California, farmers markets have had a resurgence that began in the 1970's and is really hitting its stride today. People are looking for a healthy and local alternative to what you find in the grocery stores. There are even restaurants that are based on local seasonal produce. Are we going back to a time where we ate only what was in season and locally grown? In Redlands, the answer is yes.

The first farmers market was established in 1988 and continues to run. It is a part of Redlands Market Night held every Thursday on State Street from 6-9. It is one of the most successful certified farmers markets in Southern California. From that success a second farmers market was born about four years ago. Held every Saturday morning this market brought in other farmers and vendors that did not sell at the Thursday night market.

This is when I started to religiously attend the market. At that time it was only open April to the end of September. I became a huge fan on Three Sisters Farm. Abby & Jason Harned grow some of the most beautiful and loved organic produce. I had fun getting their sampler basket that would give me an assortment of vegetable from what they had harvested that week. I was able to challenge myself and learn new ways to cook  these new vegetables.

About two years ago, Three Sisters Farm and a few other farmers splintered off from the Saturday market in downtown Redlands and began a new market held on the grounds of The Grove School. This market is held year-round, rain or shine.  At this certified farmers market a percentage of the farmers earnings goes to the school. The Grove school also has its own stall where they sell fresh eggs and vegetables that are grown at the school.

The Grove farmers market offers something the other market in Redlands doesn't offer, meat. Once a month New Frontier Family Farm come to the market and bring their free-range chicken. This chicken is fantastic as it is very fresh. They are now offering beer and lamb also. They also have different groups come in a make breakfast. You can shop and enjoy a great meal.

What I love about the farmers market is that you can be inspired by what is offered there. Try new things and find something you love. This weekend I spotted beautiful plums and knew I had to make something from them. Along with some chiles I purchased a spicy plum sauce was made for last nights dinner. I am not a plum eater, but I wanted to try something new and as I said I ended up finding something I love now and I will try plums in other ways.

 Please go out and support your local farmers markets. Take your kids and show them how wonderful fresh fruits and vegetables can be. It is a win win situation, you buy local, support your community, and you get something healthy and tasty in return.

Three Sisters Farm Facebook Page

New Frontier Family Farm website

The Grove School website and Facebook Page

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Offal Good

When I was growing up I always got a little treat when my mom was frying chicken, she would fry up the heart and gizzard that came with the chicken. Many consider these tasty internal organs, offal, or icky bits something disgusting and nasty. Not for me, there was something about eating these that was so good. Was it getting a little taste of the chicken that was to come or was there something more?

Today, when I fry chicken I still eat those lovely icky bits that came from the bird. I get very excited when I find two hearts in the bird. I believe these small lovely gifts from the chicken became my gateway drug into offal.

My next step in eating offal was another beautiful item from the chicken and that is its liver. Southern fried these gems are so good. I love to make that 1950's cocktail party appetizer Rumaki from time to time. I can't get my husband to eat chicken liver, though he has tried it, he just hasn't become a fan. I can't give him a hard time about it because I have yet to become a fan of calf's or beef liver. It is probably from a lack of trying since you can't buy the liver in a small amount and I'm not going to make all that liver for myself and also you don't see it on too many menus anymore so it makes it a little harder to try.

Cow tongue, now that is something incredible. I first had that at Centro Basco in Chino, CA. They serve it sliced thin with some of the most incredible cheese. The meat just melts in you mouth. I continue to enjoy lingua at a local restaurant where they serve it in tacos. Thankfully I have been able to get my husband and daughter to enjoy this wonderful muscle from the cow.

I am a person who will try anything once and I seek the weird and unusual in food. I must be related to Andrew Zimmern of Bizarre Foods somehow. Is offal really that bizarre or is it making a comeback? When you look back in history who ate the internal organs and unwanted cuts of meat? It was the people who couldn't afford to have meat everyday and used these pieces for the little protein they could get for survival. And they were in a time where nothing went to waste. They had to find ways to make these icky bits edible and taste good.

I am happy for the resurgence of offal as it gives me something new to try. I already mentioned I grew up eating the innards of chicken and thinking back I ate tripe in the menudo we would have when we visited friends. Offal cuts are not that easy to find in markets in the area I live in and you have to sometimes search them out, but they are out there. I have found a couple of places that I can buy beef cheek. I braise those just like a pot roast and you can't tell that it came from the face of a cow. It's still a muscle and doesn't look any different so don't be afraid of its name and give it a try.

Sweetbreads are a delightful organ that I have eaten a couple of times. I have been hesitant on making this as I am the only one in the house to eat them and they come in larger packages. If it looks like a muscle it will be eaten without hesitation by the others in the house, it's the odd looking items that give the others reason to stand back and avoid it at all costs.

Foie Gras from Caprice
Probably the most known or famous internal organ is that of the duck or goose, Foie Gras. Foie Gras is French for fat liver.  This liver is sumptuous and has a creamy texture. It is usually seared on both sides and served with toast and a sweet condiment on the side. It is also found in pate's and terrines. I have been lucky to have enjoyed this treat cooked to its finest at a Michelin Star restaurant, Gary Danko in San Francisco in November 2011.

Sadly the legislatures in California have banned Foie Gras from being produced and sold in the state. The ban went into effect July 1, 2012 and I was among many that celebrated this classic and wonderful dish at a Goodbye Foie Gras event on June 30, 2012 at Paxton's Cellar, a local wine bar in Redlands. The event was a successful collaboration with next door restaurant Caprice. The place was packed and the foie gras sold out quickly.

I still have a long way to go in eating offal and trying the different organs. Finding where the items are served is half the battle. I am always on the look out and ready to go when I hear of a place that is serving something I want to try. I hope some of you test yourselves and try something new when you are out. You might surprise yourself and find something that is Offal Good.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

The Perfect Pairing

In food and wine is there a perfect pairing or is it just something we imagine? I believe the quest for finding the perfect pairing is worth the journey. It brings you to try new and different food and wine in ways you may never have suspected.

I have a thirst for learning all I can about food and wine and enjoy trying surprising combinations. I think I may have found a book that can help achieve that perfect pairing that I as well as many others seek. Taste Buds and Molecules: The Art of Food, Wine, and Flavor by Francois Chartier brings me all that much closer.  I discovered this book one day reading Food and Wine and finding an article by Ray Isle, "Getting Pairing Down to a Science". This article brought some new ideas to me that I had a craving to learn more. So off to I went and ordered Francois Chartier's book and had to patiently wait for it to be delivered.

When I opened that highly expected box from Amazon I couldn't wait get reading. Keep in mind this book is not a recipe book, though there are recipes and it's not a simple wine pairing book. It goes into a scientific detail that can make your head spin as you try to wrap your brain around different flavor molecules that are in varieties of food and wine. But it's something not to give up on. If you are serious about food this book is something for you. It's not just for food and wine pairing it works for finding food and food combinations. Taste Buds and Molecules has something for everyone that enjoys food.

Several short chapters into the book I find the first wine Sauvignon Blanc. The chapter is titled Mint and Sauvignon Blanc, An Open Door Into the World of Anise-Flavored Foods and Wines. The title intrigued me and so I read on and discovered that foods with volatile compounds and aromas of anise would pair nicely with Sauvignon Blanc, Verdejo, and Albarino's. Did you know mint, dill, yellow beets, and celery all have an anise flavor? Those are just a few with that flavor molecule the list goes on.

While reading this chapter I was inspired to test the theory. Francois Chartier mentions salmon confit with parsley, fennel, mint, and root vegetables so I was game to try. I made parsley oil to slow cook the salmon in, then used celery root puree for the starch, and finally I thinly sliced a fennel bulb and fried the slices until they were crispy. When everything was read to plate I placed the celery root puree down, laid the salmon over the puree, garnished the salmon with  crispy fennel and fennel frond, and to finish I drizzled the plate with some of the parsley oil.  We enjoyed a 2010 Hogue Sauvignon Blanc with this meal and oh my goodness did it work. You could taste the anise flavor in every thing we ate and drank. It wasn't overwhelming, everything had a different level of anise flavor. Some items were stronger than others, but it all worked in harmony. You still got some of the citrus flavors and acid from the wine and that worked well with the fattiness of the salmon and the cream used in the celery root puree.

That wasn't the end of testing out other food and wine pairings with the anise compound. Next was Verdejo and mussels with chorizo. We discovered the 2011 Rey Santo Verdejo at a local wine bar and when we tasted it we knew we wanted mussels to go with it. Little did I know then I was going to put the two to a more scientific taste test.

The test came last night when I cooked up mussels and chorizo in a wine broth along with onions, tomatoes and at the end a handful of fresh parsley. To soak up all that wonderful broth I toasted a baguette, rubbed a clove of raw garlic on each piece, and finished it off with fresh thyme & pepper. Did this pairing work? It did on several levels. The flavor of the parsley hit on those anise notes in the Verdejo. The broth, chorizo and mussels worked well with the acid in the wine, due in part to the fat from the chorizo.

Were either of these the perfect pairing I referred to earlier?  To some yes, to some no. For me I have to say no, only because if this is perfection I have no reason to continue my search. There are so many variables to each dish, not all wines taste the same with the same food. Each wine has its own characteristics that may stand out or be hidden by the dish you are eating. With that knowledge the search continues.

Read the same article from Food & Wine that inspired me

Getting Pairing Down to a Science by Ray Isle

Learn more about Francois Chartier by visiting his web site

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Cupcakes and Beer

We live a few miles from a local micro brewery that is making big strides as they grow. Hangar 24 has been in Redlands, California since June 2008. They sit right across from Redlands Airport. In their quest to make unique and tasty craft beer they source local produce to make some of their specialty limited release beers and some of their main beers. Their Orange Wheat is made with local oranges and believe it or not you can actually taste the oranges.

In July 2012 Hangar 24 started having Formation Flight Night. During these events they offer their beers paired with food that is handcrafted and from small business'.  My husband and I happen to be apart of their inaugural event on July 23, 2012 where they teamed with 3rd generation sausage makers from Schriner's Fine Sausage with a sausage pairing. Schriner's is located in Glendale, CA. In short the pairings were wonderful and we were very happy to be in the limited group of 50 people who got to enjoy this night. At the end of the night they told us what the next Formation Flight Night would be cupcakes from Suite 106 Cupcakery. When we heard that my husband and I looked at each other, shook our heads and said we have to be there for that one.

That leads us to last night, August 27, 2012, and the weird combination of cupcakes and beer. We had no idea how this was going to play out, but we were game as were 48 other brave souls. The owners of Suite 106 Cupcakery, Rebecca and Christy were there to guide us through their cupcakes and Hangar 24's Head Brewer Kevin Wright discussed the beer and they both told us how each item should pair.

We received 6 mini-cupcakes once we were seated and we had to show self-control and not dig into those tasty treats before the beer came out and we got started. The first beer was Orange Wheat paired with an Almond Orange cupcake. I tasted the beer first then a bite of the cupcake and yet another taste of beer. I sat there stunned how in the world was that so freaking good? So of course another bite and another drink came and it was still so good. If this is how the night started we knew we were in for a great night.

I won't bore you with all the details on each cupcake,  how they tasted and our experiences but here is the beer and the cupcake pairings we enjoyed.

1. Orange Wheat paired with an Almond Orange Cupcake
Almond orange cake filled with hand whipped cream infused with an orange wheat reduction then topped with a fluffy orange frosting.
2. Alt-Bier Ale paired with a Pancakes N' Bacon Cupcake
Buttermilk spice cake with shipped buttercream infused with light gourmet spices and Applewood smoked bacon, topped with more crispy bacon then drizzled with rich buttery maple syrup.
3. Polycot (apricot infused beer) paired with a Spicy Apricot Honey Cupcake
Light cinnamon spice blend and apricot cake topped with vanilla honey buttercream.
4. Chocolate Porter paired with a Hazelnut Belgian Chocolate Cheesecake Cupcake
French chocolate cake filled with hazelnut Belgian chocolate cheesecake, topped with Belgian chocolate cream cheese frosting and edged in a hazelnut praline topping.
5. Columbus IPA & Double IPA paired with a Pear Walnut Bleu Cheese Crumble Cupcake
Madagascar vanilla cake stuffed with sliced pears, topped with a whipped buttercream then sprinkled with a walnut bleu cheese crumble.
6. Hammerhead paired with a Chocolate Bourbon Toffee Cupcake
French chocolate cake filled with a bourbon butterscotch panna cotta and topped with a caramel frosting then rolled in Belgian toffee flakes.

I do have to say the last cupcake paired with the Hammerhead was worth the price of admission. There was something about the notes in the Hammerhead that reminded me of a good port and went fantastic with the cupcake. This was my favorite of the night. I don't like bitter beers and the last 3 all are in that category and I loved them paired with the correct item. My husband is not a cupcake person and he loved everything, but he also favored the Hammerhead pairing.

I have to applaud Hangar 24 and Suite 106 for their time and work they put into our evening last night. They did a beautiful job of finding the right beer/cupcake for each pairing. Thank you for all your hard work. The love and care you put in each product really showed.

If you are in the Redlands or Rancho Cucamonga areas please stop by Hangar 24 and Suite 106 Cupcakery and try their specialties. I need to add that Rebecca and Christy were on Food Network's show Cupcake Wars in 2010 and won their episode and were invited back in 2012 for Cupcake Wars Champions and won that competition.

Please visit their web sites:
Hangar 24          Suite 106 Cupcakery

Or follow them on Twitter
@Hangar24Brewery       @ste106cupcakery

Monday, August 27, 2012

The Original Celebrity Chefs

As I mentioned in my last posting I spent much time watching The Frugal Gourmet and Julia Child during the 80's. I continued to do so into the 90's and I am thrilled when I can find one of their episodes on PBS today. When you look back to where Julia started on TV she was the first celebrity chef from television. Yes she didn't run a restaurant and would have told you she was a cook and not a chef, but no matter what you call her she was the first. Everyone on Food Network, The Cooking Channel, and others have her to thank.

My first celebrity chef where I actively sought out his cooking was Wolfgang Puck. He didn't start out with a show on TV, that came later, but he revolutionized the restaurant industry where people made his place a destination and a list of the who's who dined. You wanted to be there and one eating this incredible food. For many years Wolfgang's restaurant Spago was the place to be. He held after Oscar parties hosted by agent to the stars Lefty Lazar for many years. If you were invited to that party you knew you were in.

I am by no means on the list of who's who, but at the age of 19 I had to go there. I wanted to experience this restaurant first hand. I made the reservations and dragged my boyfriend at the time to Spago. Poor thing he was so out of his element, but I thrived eating in the same place as all those faces I have seen on the big screen. Just being there made you feel like you were on that who's who list. The night we went it was pretty quiet and I didn't see many familiar faces, but I was there. I believe I had a lobster dish and was presented with a finger bowl to wash my finger tips after the lobster. They way you were served and treated, this was no Black Angus. I was hooked on fine dining.

Two years later in September 1991 I took my friend Leanne (who was visiting from Australia) and my best friend then Jeanette to Spago. I wanted my friend to have a real Hollywood experience. Lucky for her we were able to see Steven Segal and his then wife Kelly Lebrock. The food was magnificent then as it was the first time and it hadn't lost its shine. That was the last time I ventured to Spago and they have since moved from their Sunset location to Beverly Hills.

This wasn't the last of me and Wolfgang by any means. He opened Wolfgang Puck Express Cafe so everyone could enjoy his food without breaking the bank. Thankfully there was one in Ontario, CA not to far from where I lived so we visited frequently.  Wolfgang also opened Chinois in Beverly Hills, this was an Asian fusion restaurant that made the most incredible tuna. My husband and I visited Chinois several times. In 2006 I took our daughter to his 20 21 restaurant at the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis. He didn't disappoint then either and another foodie was born in my daughter.

I continue to follow Wolfgang and enjoy watching repeats of his shows and to see what he has cooking when he is on HSN. He has come a long way from his days of the Oscar parties at Spago and has been the chef for the Governor's Ball that occurs immediately after the Oscars. While we don't go to Spago, Chinois, and the Express Cafe near us closed many years ago, we still find it a treat to go to his remaining Cafe at Universal City Walk when we are there.  Wolfgang will always have a special place in me as he was my first celebrity chef. You never forget your first.

And so it begins...

I have been in love with food for all my life. It is what you need to sustain life, but I go beyond that. Some of my earliest memories are standing on a kitchen chair at the counter with my grandmother  turning the crank on the hand grinder making stuffing for Thanksgiving or Christmas dinner. I cherish that memory. It wasn't only time with my grandmother, but it was learning a family recipe that was my grandfather's. When I say learning I mean memorizing since I have never have written it down. It is just something I know. A part of me.

Some of the other parts of me I remember as a child were making homemade salad dressing consisting of mayonnaise, red wine vinegar, salt, and pepper.  I haven't made it in years, but I can still taste that creamy tangy concoction on my tongue. I fried eggs at 6 years and made my first Thanksgiving dinner at 11. I look back at those times and discover this is where I learned that cooking and feeding someone can make them happy and yourself as well.

I remember my mom not afraid to make something new for us. She got this red electric wok in the 70's and set out making beef teriyaki. Boy was that stuff good!  She would also make won tons, fish cakes that were potato pancakes with tuna in them, a beef wellington that I hated, but she tried. She liked to explore and try something new. I know I got that adventurous spirit from her, but mine is on steroids sometimes.

The 1980's were a time when I was a teenager. I know I was a handful, but here I learned more about food and how it made me and others feel. I would watch PBS on the weekends and learn from Jeff Smith "The Frugal Gourmet" and Julia Child. Along with my mother and grandmother these two taught me how to cook. I studied Jeff Smith and Julia Child like they were my teachers in school. I still have yet to make that Peking Duck that The Frugal Gourmet used a bicycle pump to separate the skin from the meat. And I haven't made the bouillabaisse Julia once demonstrated, but I will someday. I love to see the faces of my friends and family when I make something that makes them smile and feel good and try something new.

I am currently on a kick for all things offal. There is something about the "icky bits" that is incredible. I think some of that is knowing that these internal organs were not eaten because they tasted great, but because it was all that a family could afford and the cook did their best to make that valuable protein the best it could be. For me it's not just the offal, but some of the cheaper lesser cuts that most people would never try and making them the best they can be.

I look at cooking as a way to show how much I care. I also see it as a way to challenge myself and tackle those recipes that are feared. I love to pair food with wine and wine with food, I will get more in detail on that subject later. I don't always succeed in all my efforts, but I try. I hope that your the reader can see some of yourself in my triumphs and failures. Just remember to err is human and some of the results turn out better for it. Happy Cooking!