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!