Feeding Frenzy

A professional gastronaut feeds the blogosphere with tales of his culinary adventures - sometimes on-the-job, sometimes just-for-the-hell-of-it.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Emmer ("Farro") Polenta

A couple weeks ago we got in some organic emmer (the Italians call it “Farro”) and spelt products from Lentz Farms in Eastern Washington. We got whole emmer and spelt berries and rolled emmer and spelt. We also got a nice cracked emmer cereal that I immediately knew I wanted to play with. I was also on orders from the boss to start creating recipes using Castelmagno (a fairly rare cheese from the north of Italy).

What I did was to make polenta with the emmer cereal and it turned out beautifully.

First, I made a porcini mushroom broth (yes, we carry dried porcini at PFI). I made it simply by simmering the porcini with garlic, chopped onion and salt to make a dark, coffee-colored broth. You could add typical stock vegetables to this – and you could roast those vegetables first. I didn’t and was happy with the results for my use, but roasting the vegetables first (until they’re dark).

Once I had my broth, I slowly cooked the cereal with it (3 cups of broth to each cup of cereal) until the mixture was quite thick, even stiff. At that point I grated some of the Castelmagno (about 2 ounces of the grated cheese for each cup of cereal) into the cooked cereal and stirred it well. I also added a few dried oregano leaves to the mixture. At this point you would salt and (white) pepper the “polenta” to taste.

You could, at this point, just serve it hot as a side dish for ragouts or meats. Or you could move onto the next step in our game. The choice is yours.

The next step:

Spread the mixture into a sort of cake about 3/4” thick onto a plate or cookie sheet and cover with plastic wrap. Cool in the refrigerator until cold.

When the mixture is cold, remove it from the refrigerator and cut it into squares or diamonds or whatever shapes make you happy. It’s easiest if the shapes fit comfortably on your food-turner (spatula). Chill the shapes again briefly.

Remove them once again from the refrigerator and brush them with a good, grassy extra virgin olive oil. Grill them over a quick hot fire, until nicely marked and heated through. About 4 minutes per side should do the trick. We like to grill over rosemary wood (it’s plentiful in our yard).

You may serve these hot as side dishes or you may let them cool (on a rack and not in the refrigerator or you’ll lose your nice crispy bits) and use them as bases for canapé-style appetizers. Again, the choice is yours.

Black Chick Peas

One of the benefits of working at Big John’s PFI is the opportunity to play with ingredients in the name of product-based recipe development for our website. It’s particularly fun when the ingredients are novel in some way. Just such an opportunity presented itself recently in the form of the Black Kabuli chick peas from Timeless Natural Foods. Black chick peas.

These guys are pretty much what you look for in chick peas (garbanzo beans) – nutty and buttery. They’re a little richer than regular chick peas and a little chewier. Delicious. They’re not black all the way through, but have black skins and dark tan flesh inside.

The first thing I thought of when I saw them in the store was hummous. I mean, come on. Of course I thought of hummous. The recipe that follows is different in a few ways from a normal hummous recipe. Aside from the fact that the chick peas are black, I also added lemon zest and Aleppo pepper (my current spice obsession) to the mix. You could, of course, use regular chick peas.

Black Chick Pea Hummous

14 ounce package of Black Kabuli Chick Peas, from Timeless Natural Foods
1/2 to 1 ounce of raw, peeled garlic
1 tablespoon fresh lemon zest
2 – 3 teaspoons salt (to taste)
1 tablespoon Aleppo pepper
3/4 cup Moomtaz Koura Extra Virgin Olive Oil (you could use any olive oil but this is the one rocking my world at the moment – a Lebanese oil that’s as buttery as the Lebanese usually are but just a little peppery in the finish)
juice of two lemons, freshly squeezed
1 cup tahina

Wash and pick through the chick peas thoroughly. Place them in a pan with at least 5 cups of water. Bring to a boil and then lower the flame. Simmer for at least 2 hours. I found that three and a half hours was about right for hummous. There is no need to soak beans. Certainly don’t do it here.

Drain the chick peas, reserving about a cup of the bean liquor (the water the beans were cooked in – just in case). Cool completely – in the refrigerator to speed things up, if you like.

In the bowl of a food processor, using the metal blade, pulse the chick peas, the garlic, the lemon zest, the salt and the Aleppo pepper until they resemble the texture of coarse corn meal. With the food processor running, add the olive oil and the lemon juice. Then, with the food processor still running, add the tahina. At this point, if the hummous is too thick, you may add, tablespoon at a time, the bean liquor until the hummous achieves the desired consistency.

Serve at room temperature, garnished with olive oil and sliced cucumber, with warm pita bread, feta cheese and olives.

The yield is approximately 5 cups, depending upon how much liquid you add. I usually like my hummous chucky, but I made this one smoother (but thicker) figuring that the more of the dark skin was dispersed through the mixture, the better the color. I was right.

So the next thing I tried with the black chick peas was a Mezze chick pea salad I quite like. This worked beautifully. The color was gorgeous and the chewiness of the beans gave it a nice mouth-feel.

This isn’t so much a recipe as a guide. The dressing is absolutely a “to taste” sort of thing. I like citrus, so I have a heavier hand with the lemon.

Black Chick Pea “Mezze Salad”

This is the base of the salad

1 14 ounce Timeless Natural Food Black Kabuli TM Chick Peas
2 1/2 cups medium bulgar wheat
Lemon Juice
Extra virgin olive oil
Garlic, peeled and minced very fine
lemon zest
1 cup well-chopped fresh mint leaves

Rinse and pick through the chick peas. Combine the chick peas in a pan large enough to hold them with 4 ½ cups of water. Bring to a boil and then reduce the heat and simmer the beans for about 2 hours, or until tender, but not yet soft. Drain and cool in the refrigerator.

In a large bowl, combine the bulgar wheat with 4 - 5 cups (depending upon how chewy you want it) of salty hot water. Set aside. The bulgar will absorb all the liquid in a fairly short time and it won’t get at all pasty. Perfect for salad.

Once the bulgar has absorbed all the water, add the chick peas to the bowl.
Make a dressing with lemon juice, a good, buttery olive oil (I used Koura again), minced garlic to taste, lemon zest, salt & pepper to taste. The proportions I use for the dressing is about 1:1 juice/oil, but your tastes may very. If you want less oil but don’t want a more intense lemon flavor you could add a little water to the dressing.

Add the dressing to the salad. It’s okay if this makes the ingredients pretty wet. The bulgar will absorb any excess and will only be improved in this way. Adjust seasonings again. Add the mint leaves now.

This is where the fun starts. You can add pretty much anything to this salad and it will just make it better. I added pitted calamata olives, sliced cucumber, diced sweet red pepper, chopped scallions and sliced yellow crookneck squash to my salad and it was lovely. Heres a list of suggested additions:

• Pitted olives
• Cucumber
• Peppers (sweet or hot, pickled or roasted)
• Yellow crookneck or zucchini squash
• Scallions
• Fresh figs
• Dried cranberries
• Crumbled Feta Cheese
• Fresh peas
• Pine nuts or almonds
• Persimmons
• Roughly cut spinach
• Pickled shallots
• Capers
• Cherry tomatoes
• Shaved Kefalotyri cheese
• Grilled beets
• Grilled fennel
• Flat-leaf parsley
• Fresh oregano or basil leaves
• Dill weed

Don’t let that be a limiting list. Use your imagination here. It would be hard to fail this salad.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Cheese Crunchies

When we were kids, my best friend Bob Meyer and I created a snack by frying Rice Chex with our parents’ best cheddar. We called the snack “Cheese Crunchies”. Bob’s mom said we couldn’t make it at their house anymore. The smell drove her crazy and it made horrible mess out of her sauté pan. Also, she was probably annoyed that we used so much of her good cheddar. My parents were pretty used to me making messes in the kitchen by this time so we made it at my house after that.

I still love crunchy cheesy things and I’m pretty sure I’m not alone. Both of these recipes came from Feeding Frenzy.

The first one, Cheddar Straws, is a variation of a snack I first had in Davenport, Iowa. My ex-wife’s grandmother Kate used to make these things. This isn’t her recipe. It’s an adaptation of an adaptation of one I found in the back of a Gourmet magazine in the 80s.

Kate never used a food processor. I never watched her make these, but she’d have cut the butter and cheese into the flour with a pair of knives – or perhaps a pastry blender.

Feeding Frenzy customers often said, as they stuffed these into their mouths by the handful, that they were like the best Cheez-its ever. I’m pretty sure that this was intended to be a compliment.

These things are a lot of work. They’re worth the effort.

Cheddar Straws

2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 pound of the best, sharpest cheddar cheese you can find, grated
4 ounces unsalted butter, cut in 1/4" pieces cubes, COLD
dash chipotle powder or piccante Spanish paprika
5 tablespoons ice water

In a food processor, process the first 5 ingredients together with the metal blade until the mixture has the consistency of bread crumbs.

With the food processor running, add the ice water and process just until it forms a dough that holds together. Add more water only if necessary. In fact, if you don’t need to add the full 5 tablespoons of water to get the dough to hold together, don’t.

Turn dough out onto a board. Working quickly, tear off a chunk of dough about the size of your fist. Flatten it and set it between two good-sized sheets of wax paper. Through the wax paper, roll the dough out fairly thin – as thin as you can without the dough tearing or becoming translucent. Leave the rolled-out dough in the wax paper. Repeat the process until you’ve done this with all the dough.

When you’re done with the rolling-out, wrap the dough (wax paper and all) in plastic cling wrap and refrigerate it overnight, if possible – but at least for 2 hours.

After the dough has thoroughly chilled and rested, get it out of the refrigerator and remove the cling film.

Again, you have to work quickly here. Set one piece of rolled-out dough on a cutting board, remove the top sheet of wax paper and using a pizza cutter or a pastry cutter (or a sharp knife if that’s all you have), cut the dough into 1” strips.

Transfer the dough strips from the bottom sheet of wax paper to a COLD, greased cookie sheet. You can put them fairly close together on the cookie sheet because there won’t be much spreading as the cheddar straws bake. Repeat this until you’ve used all your sheets of dough (or until you’ve run out of cold cookie sheets). Return the filled cookie sheets to the refrigerator until you’re done with this process.

If you don’t have enough cookie sheets to transfer all the dough strips at once, you’re going to have to bake them as you go. In that case, cut only as much dough as you are ready to bake at a time and return the remainder to the refrigerator. You’ll have to wait to cut and transfer more dough strips until your cookie sheets have had a chance to cool completely – COMPLETELY. Cool them in the refrigerator, if possible.

It’s important to keep the dough and the cookie sheets cold until they go into the oven. If they aren’t kept cold, the cheddar straws won’t be crisp and that will be hideously disappointing.

Bake the strips, one or at most two pans at a time for 10 minutes in a 400 degree oven or until golden brown. If you bake two pans at once, switch them halfway through baking to ensure even browning.

When the cheddar straws are done, remove them from the oven and transfer them (carefully – a fine metal offset spatula is good for this) to a rack to cool completely. It’s important that they cool completely before you store them, otherwise they will lose all that precious crispness you worked so hard to achieve. Store these in an airtight container. I suggest you make these no more than a day in advance – if possible, bake them the day you intend to use them.

As I’ve written elsewhere here, when I first came up with the idea for Gorgonzola Shortbread, I thought an original idea. Then about 10 minutes later, I Googled the name and found a page of entries discounting my claim of originality. Whatever.

We used to serve these with a sun-dried tomato relish. Fabulous. The yield is roughly 72 shortbreads if you use a 1.5” cutter.

Gorgonzola Shortbread

1 pound gorgonzola cheese, crumbled (use Gorgonzola Piccante or domestic Gorgonzola for this. Gorgonzola Dolce is too creamy)
4 ounces cold unsalted butter, cut into 1" cubes
1/2 teaspoon salt
pinch chipotle powder
3 cups all-purpose flour

Combine the above in the bowl of a food processor. Pulse until roughly the consistency of bread crumbs. Alternately you can cut the ingredients together with two knives or a pastry blender. Either way, the end product should have that bread crumb consistency.

Add just enough ice water (without the ice) by tablespoons until the dough can be gathered together. The more water you add the longer you’ll have to bake them.

At this point, the dough will be a depressing greenish grey. Don’t be discouraged. This is still a good idea.

Pat the dough out to a 1/4” thickness and cut with a round 1.5” cookie cutter. Transfer shortbreads to an ungreased cookie sheet.

Bake at 225 degrees for an hour and a half (or even longer - until they're fairly dry). You bake them at this temperature to dry them out without browning them too quickly. This achieves the lovely shortbread texture that we’re looking for.

When the shortbreads are nice and dry and just a little brown, transfer them to a rack to cool completely before storing in an airtight container. Again, it’s a good idea to wait to bake these off until you’re ready to use them, but you may bake them the day before without losing too much of that lovely dry, shortbread-y texture.

Thursday, August 06, 2009

Hot Dish Macaroni and Cheese

Margaret McGlothlen (my mother) took eleven years off from working at the bank to raise me through what she and dad figured would be my formative years. During this time she forced herself to cook. She hated it and she wasn’t very good at it. In fact, she was a pretty bad cook. She was usually comfortable with how bad a cook she was except when she felt she had to entertain guests with food. When that happened, she was at once frightened and cranky.

One of a handful of dishes she could make infallibly and without a recipe was Welsh Rarebit. If you’ve made that dish then you know how weird it is that a non-cook would have success with it above all others because Welsh Rarebit breaks* easily. It breaks so easily that hardly anybody makes it anymore. Hers never broke. Ever. And she made it traditionally, which is to say that hers was only stabilized with a bit of egg yolk and contained no starch.

Welsh Rarebit (hers anyway) is a beer-flavored cheddar sauce served over toast points, crisp strips of bacon and tomato slices. That’s the way she made it and it still gives me pleasurable goose-bumps to think about it.

Well. She was and is my angel. I miss her and I love to talk about her. This dish is one of the ways I talk about her. When I was creating the formula for Hot Dish, I did it with her in mind: I added beer to the cheese sauce in tribute to her Rarebit.

On a more, you know, self-aggrandizing note, Rebecca Denn of the Seattle PI named Hot Dish’s Macaroni and Cheese the best in Seattle. This was in an article about the state of Mac and Cheese in our area restaurants, which she generally deplored as either too fussy or too bland. She loved ours. That was a pretty exciting day around the shop. I wish I could have found that article online but no luck.

Hot Dish Macaroni and Cheese

-for Margaret

1 pound penne pasta
½ cup unsalted butter
½ cup flour
2 cups whole milk
¾ teaspoon salt
1 teaspoons Spanish Paprika (smoked, “piccante”)
1 pound extra sharp cheddar cheese, freshly shredded
½ cup beer (pale ale)
½ cup bread crumbs
¼ cup parmesan cheese, freshly shredded
½ teaspoon Spanish Paprika (smoked, “piccante”)
1 tablespoon olive oil

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Cook pasta in plenty of rapidly boiling, salted water until al dente. Set aside.

Melt butter over low-to-medium heat. Add flour. Cook flour and butter to make a blond roux. I like to cook roux for 5 – 8 minutes, so this is done slowly. It shouldn’t get brown, only tan. It’s important to cook the roux thoroughly, though, so as to minimize the flour taste in the sauce.

Whisk the salt and paprika in a little bit of the milk until the seasonings are well-dissolved. Stir this into the rest of the milk and add this resulting mixture to the cooked roux. Raise the flame to medium heat and cook as for a very thick, smooth béchamel (white sauce, n'est-ce pas?).

Add the cheese in small portions, whisking thoroughly after each addition. Add the beer.

Combine the cheese sauce and pasta. Smooth this mixture into a greased casserole dish.

Combine the final four ingredients. I like to use home made bread crumbs for this now, but at Hot Dish we used store bought (yes, the stuff in the big cardboard tube). Sprinkle this mixture over the macaroni and cheese.

Bake for about half an hour or until golden brown on top. Don’t over-bake it. It’s possible that the cheese sauce will break* if you do that. Really.

If you truly want to honor my mother, get yourself a bag of miniature chocolate bars – the size you give away at Halloween. Milky Way or Mars Bar. Take one of the bars out of the bag and cut it into fourths. Wrap three of those pieces of candy bar individually in cling wrap and store them in the refrigerator. Eat the fourth piece for dessert. That’s what Margaret would have done. Usually while playing solitaire at the kitchen table.

* A cheese sauce is said to break when the fats and solids in the sauce separate and leave a gloppy mess.

Sunday, August 02, 2009

What's For Breakfast (part two)

Feeding Frenzy In The Morning

Breakfast food cookery came slowly and of necessity to Feeding Frenzy. It wasn’t a specialty in the beginning. In fact, at first I didn’t think much about breakfast foods but the demand grew and over time we got pretty good at it. We had lots of regular breakfast business clients. Some of them continued to call literally years after Feeding Frenzy ceased operations as a catering company.

There were a few Feeding Frenzy dishes that found their way onto the Hot Dish menu: the olive oil carrot cake, the rice-and-cheese balls (actually called “bolinhos de arroz” and we served those at Brasil, too), the tomato soup, the hummous and, of course, Bob Dip. But probably the most useful Feeding Frenzy item to find a home at Hot Dish was the cream scone.

We sold a fair number of scones at Hot Dish, but mostly we used them as pacifiers. On Saturday and Sunday mornings, the length of time that customers spent waiting (for seats, for orders) could be pretty awful. But a grumpy family could be placated with a plateful of free scones as if by magic.

We got this recipe from Bernard Clayton’s lovely book “Complete Book of Small Breads” (1998). The job of making Feeding Frenzy scones somehow always fell to Craig and he can make them in his sleep now. The instructions here are basically his – and clearer, I think, than the original. The addition of orange zest was a Hot Dish elaboration. I’m not sure who suggested it first but it was a brilliant idea, although these are pretty amazing without it as well.

My final admonition before diving in is this: don’t overcook the scones. Soft and even a little doughy is better. These are cakier than the scones you're probably used to.

Cream Scones

2 cups all-Purpose flour
½ cup cake flour (“Softasilk”)
½ cup sugar
2 teaspoons salt (fine sea salt preferably)
1 tablespoon baking powder
2 tablespoons orange zest
8 ounces butter, unsalted, cut into cubes
3/4 cup heavy cream, chilled
1/4 cup milk, chilled
3/4 cup currants
1 egg, beaten with 1 teaspoon cream, to glaze

Craig always does this in the food processor. The mixture must be done in quick, short bursts to keep the particles intact, not blended into a solid mass. You can also cutting the butter into the dry ingredients by hand (which is a neat trick involving two knives). Once you’ve done that, you can finish mixing the scones by hand or with a mixer. But these directions are for the food processor which makes the whole thing quite easy.

Measure the dry ingredients into the work bowl of the food processor. Pulse to blend.

Scatter butter cubes over the flour mixture. Pulse until it all has the consistency of bread crumbs.

Pour the liquids through the feeder tube while pulsing the processor. Stop immediately when the dough forms a ball and cleans the sides of the bowl. Immediately. Craig says “immediately” and he MEANS immediately. If you go past this point you'll have what our lovely friend Mara used to call "scookies".

Do not knead. Dough will be soft and moist. Place on floured work surface.

Spread the currants over the dough and work in by hand. Flatten the dough into a 1" thick sheet by hand or with a rolling pin.

Use a floured dough cutter to cut out the scones and place them onto a greased cookie sheet.

Brush with egg wash. Cover the scones on the cookie sheet with plastic wrap, making sure not to leave any scone-y surface exposed to air. Refrigerate them overnight (or at least two hours) to allow the dough to relax.

Remove plastic and re-apply egg wash.

Bake at 400 degrees for 20-25 minutes.

When they're done, which is to say golden on top and a little darker on the bottom, take them out of the oven and place them on a rack to cool. Scones are VERY FRAGILE when hot.

My favorite egg dish is a Tapas dish and is called Tortilla Espanola. It’s often served in the afternoon, but I love it for breakfast. Basically it’s a sort of potato frittata.

The ingredients are simple:

2 pounds of waxy potatoes such as Yukon gold potatoes
2 tablespoons of finely chopped onion
Olive oil
6 eggs
Salt to taste.

The instructions are tricky. Slice the potatoes into really thin coins – 1/16” thick. Use your mandoline if you have one.

The next step is to cook the potatoes. I usually sauté/fry them with the onion in olive oil until they’re golden brown. Recently, though, I read an old Spanish recipe that called for deep-frying the potatoes instead. Genius. That would be perfect. My potato coins would be uniformly brown and crisp.

If I did deep fry them, I’d sauté the onions separately and add them to the potatoes later (after the potatoes are fried, obviously).

Either way, drain the potatoes and onions well. You can reserve the olive oil. Let them cool a bit (but they don’t have to be cold for the next step).

In a bowl, beat the eggs with enough salt (somewhere between a teaspoon and a teaspoon and a half is right for me). Add the potatoes and onions and mix well.

Fire up a clean 8-or-9-inch frying pan (a heavy-bottomed one with rounded sides works best) with some of the reserved olive oil – enough to coat the pan. You want it fairly hot but not smoking.

Add the eggs and potatoes to the pan. It should sizzle – a lot. If it doesn’t sizzle this won’t work. Now that you’ve got the eggs in the pan, it’s almost as though you’re making an omelet. Shake the pan to keep the eggs from sticking. Keep the eggs moving and not sticking. You can run a rubber spatula (actually a high-temp silicone spatula) around the edges, lifting a bit. Do not STIR the eggs.

When the tortilla is golden brown on the first side, take it off the heat. Place a nice, big plate (with a larger diameter than the pan) on top of the frying pan and invert the contents onto the plate. The less-cooked side should be face down on the plate. Now add a little more olive oil if needed and slide the less-cooked side back into the pan, still face down. This can be a messy step. Be careful.

Cook that side until it's golden brown, too. Serve it warm. Serve it cold. Serve it room temperature. A little fresh ground pepper over it. Serve it any way you like but serve it to me, okay?

Torta 42nd Street

This is an invention of mine. It’s a rustic torta. I didn’t invent rustic tortas but I invented this one. What’s a rustic torta? It’s sort of like a composed quiche. VERY simple. Incredibly popular dish from Feeding Frenzy. I made it at a party recently and as usual it disappeared.


Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

3 Granny Smith or other tart baking apples – core, peel and slice them into 1/8” rings.

1 sweet onion. Peel and slice this into 1/8” rings as well.

½ pound or more of a crumbly gorgonzola cheese – preferably real Italian Gorgonzola Piccante, but we used to use domestic for business and people loved it anyway.

3 eggs, a cup of heavy cream and salt and pepper to taste. Whisk these together in a bowl. Beat them until frothy.


Line a well-greased 9” tart or pie pan with puff pastry. I use store bought puff pastry. Don’t be a hero. Be like me. Use the store bought. I get mine at work. Good stuff. Leave it on the counter for a few minutes and it will be thawed enough to work with. When lining the pan, the edges of the pastry don’t have to be smooth or fluted or anything. With puff pastry, ragged edges look cool and handmade. By the way, the one in the photograph was made using a pie plate. I inevitably use a tart pan instead now. Much prettier.

Into the lined tart shell, layer half the apples, half the onion and then half the cheese. Repeat. It’s nice if you can do the layering in a pretty, tartlike way, but don’t sweat it. At the end of the layering process you should have a nice, tall mound.

Now, carefully and slowly, pour the egg mixture over and into the layered ingredients. Carefully and slowly because it's so easy for all the egg mixture to end up all over your counter. Let the egg mixture find all the cracks and crevices. If you need to, lift some of the top layer of filling up a little bit to allow it to distribute more evenly.

Bake in the preheated oven until golden brown and well-set – it can take 40 to 45 minutes, depending upon your oven.

I like this best at room temperature. Craig likes it best hot out of the oven.

The basic template (lined tart or pie pan filled with stuff and bound with beaten egg) can be used for almost anything to good effect. Use your imagination.

And don’t forget about breakfast. Most important meal of the day. Until lunchtime.

Monday, July 27, 2009

What's For Breakfast? (Part One)

Hot Dish began life, conceptually, as a breakfast joint. And there’s an argument to be made that it’s what we did best - except for everything else we did. Anyway, it seems only right to start these articles of recipes from my professional cooking life with breakfast foods from Hot Dish. An article will follow that will explore the same subject as approached by Feeding Frenzy (by the way – that’s where the scone recipe properly belongs even though we served them at Hot Dish). And so:

Breakfast At Hot Dish

The Good Stuff

First of all, as much as I’d love to take full credit for what went right at Hot Dish a lot of the credit fell squarely on the shoulders of the ingredients we used (while I was there). I’ll take a moment to mention a few of the more interesting breakfast ingredients now.

We used 100% maple syrup. After I left in July, 2007 that changed. They started using Mrs. Butterworth’s syrup. Hand to God. Mrs. Butterworth’s syrup. If you don’t think that people can tell the difference between the real thing and the fake thing – well, you’re wrong. Don’t cut corners on this stuff. Use Mrs. Butterworth’s if you honestly prefer it, but don’t pretend to yourself that it’s as good as maple syrup. My partner Craig is from New Hampshire. I thought he was going to have an aneurysm when we discovered they’d made this particular change. He’s okay now. A couple years of therapy, a few glasses of wine – he’s right as rain.

We served Greek-style yoghurt. It was alive with flavor. I mean really, literally alive. And it lit up your mouth. The one we used was Greek God’s honey yoghurt, which is a local brand. But there are all kinds of brands, including ones imported from Greece. Everybody has their favorite.

We cracked every egg we used. Fresh that morning. Go ahead -go ask your typical egg house line cook if they do that. Not even many of the old-timers do it anymore. We did. We had to jump through some hoops to do it, though. The King County Public Health department tried to end the practice but we switched to pasteurized whole eggs and they gave us a variance. Crisis averted. Thank god. I can taste the difference between a fresh egg (even a pasteurized one) and liquid eggs out of a carton and I'll bet you can, too.

We served our vanilla-glazed grilled smoked pork chop at both breakfast and dinner. We cut the chops from kasslers (smoked pork loins) that we got from Bavarian Meat Company. This is a wonderful pork loin. Just the right amount of fat. Just the right amount of smoke. We made a vanilla simple syrup and we dropped the chops into that and let them soak for, oh, a day or so at least. Then we grilled the chops to order – for grill-marks, mostly, and to heat them through - basting them frequently with butter. Were they good? Are you kidding me?

The recipe for simple syrup goes like this: equal parts sugar and water. Combine these in a saucepan and heat, stirring all the while, until the sugar is completely dissolved and the water is absolutely clear again. Add vanilla extract to taste. Use enough vanilla extract to turn the syrup the color of fairly strong tea. Don't boil it. Let it cool completely before adding the meat to it. Refridgerate the loins while they soak.

By the way: you get the chance, try the bacon from Bavarian Meats. Tom Douglas is using it, I hear. It's amazing. I tried to get it on our menu but was over-ruled.

One of my favorite breakfasts at Hot Dish was the Greek omelet. This is how we made it:

We made a folded omelet in the usual way. Just before folding it we spread it with hummous and then filled it with fresh spinach (not cooked – not even wilted), feta cheese and sliced kalamata olives. Fold. Serve with fruit and potatoes. Or not.

I added the hummous to the mix when I was typing out the original menu. I sat here in front of the same computer I’m sitting at now wanting to separate our Greek omelet from everyone else’s without making it fusion-y – and the inspiration just fell into place. The hummous was like a missing link. By the way, my recipe for hummous is right here.

Since leaving Hot Dish, I’ve discovered Ajvar (an Indo-European pepper and eggplant spread). I spread that onto my Greek omelets along with the hummous now and the results are spectacular. I use hot Ajvar, but mild Ajvar would work just as well. By the way, you can get Ajvar at PFI. As I sit here, I realize that I want to squeeze a little fresh lemon juice over the fillings just before I fold the omelet. You try that at home. Lemme know how it goes.

And then there was Oatmeal.

Rebecca Denn said in her review of Hot Dish that we really should have called the oatmeal something else. It had transcended its essential oatmealiness and needed a new name. Never mind. It was oatmeal. I'll admit it was pretty over-the top. This is how you make it:

Use 1 part steel cut oats to four parts very lightly salted water (1/2 teaspoon of salt for every quart of water).

Combine these ingredients in a saucepan. Bring to a boil, stirring occasionally. Reduce to medium heat. Simmer for 30 minutes or so, again stirring occasionally. When it’s a nice, thick oatmeal consistency, spread it no more than an inch thick onto a shallow baking pan. A jelly roll pan will work. Cool the oats completely in the refridgerator. So far this is something like making polenta for grilling, right?

Now bear with me while I digress slightly. This is what’s in my lemon curd: 12 large egg yolks, 2 1/4 cups granulated sugar, 6 ounces unsalted butter (very soft), a pinch of salt, 9 fluid ounces lemon juice and 2 tablespoons lemon zest (finely grated). I can’t emphasize enough that the eggs should be fresh, the butter should be sweet and unsalted and the lemon juice should be squeezed just before you make the curd.

Here are the instructions for the curd: in a saucepan, cream together the eggs, the butter and the sugar. When I say “cream together”, I mean that I want you to mix them together until they form an homogenous and smooth glob. Do not beat air into the mixture. You want use the sugar and butter to protect the eggs from the cooking action of the lemon juice, which you add only once the creaming together of the first three ingredients is done. When you add the lemon juice, also add your pinch of salt.

Slowly, patiently heat the pan, stirring all the while and using a candy thermometer to gauge the curd’s progress. Stir deeply into the corners with a heat-resistant “rubber” spatula (I think most of these are actually silicone now). Keep stirring until the thermometer reads about 205 – 210 degrees. Don’t let the curd turn into scrambled eggs. Don’t beat air into the curd. Stir it gently but thoroughly and for goodness sake don’t let it get too hot too fast.

When you’re done it should be thick enough to coat the spatula – and a lovely translucent yellow.

This is the point at which you add the lemon zest. If you add it before you cook the curd, it will turn orange and you don’t want that. It looks funny. Add the zest at the end. But don't forget the zest.

Pour your curd into a nice shallow dish and let it cool in the fridge. Once it was cold we stored our curd in a squeeze bottle. That worked pretty well.

So now we’re ready to make Hot Dish Oatmeal. You take yourself an 8 or 12 ounce ceramic gratin dish. Or whatever nice, ovenproof individual serving bowl you have handy. Line it with a generous puddle of lemon curd. How big the puddle should be is your call. If you’re trying to duplicate Hot Dish Oatmeal, just use your best judgement as to how much lemon curd to use. Then add about 50% more.

Now cut your chunk (or slab) of steel cut oats. Our oat chunks were in the neighborhood of 3” wide by 5” long by not quite 1” tall. Whatever size your oatslab is, set it tenderly onto your lemon curd pool. Bake it like that until it’s warmed through. It takes about 10 or 15 minutes in a conventional oven at about 350 degrees. It takes much less time in the microwave oven and it’s very nearly as good – just wrap it in cling wrap prior to heating it if you use the microwave oven.

Once it’s hot, take it out of the oven and sprinkle it with dried cranberries (plenty of them – this is a Hot Dish breakfast you’re making) and then drizzle the whole works liberally with crème fraiche (which you can purchase from most higher-end grocery stores now). If you don’t have crème fraiche you can use good yoghurt (see above) or sweetened sour cream. But get the crème fraiche.

A final note: you might like your oatmeal a little chewier. I do. In that case, use three parts water to one part steel cut oats. Otherwise the instructions are the same.

Gingerbread Pancakes

These guys were rock stars. They really were. None of the reviews mentioned them, but they had a huge fan base among our guests. And when I mentioned on my Facebook page that I planned to post Hot Dish recipes, the Gingerbread Pancakes recipe was requested almost at once. So here it is.

But before I give the ingredients, I think it’s fair to mention that it’s a better dish if you use fresh ginger in place of the dried ground ginger. Fresh ginger lends the dish a nice citrus/spice bite that it just doesn’t quite have with the stuff in the jar. We used the stuff in the jar at the restaurant, though. You decide: do you stick with authenticity or do you improve the dish? If you use fresh-grated ginger, remember that it is actually milder in some ways than dried. You can increase the amount used up to (and even more than, if you like) 4 to 1, fresh over dried. It will change the end product, so you might want to experiment with it a little first.

Anyway: Gingerbread Pancakes

3 eggs
1/4 cup brown sugar, firmly packed
1/2 cup buttermilk
1/2 cup water
2 tablespoons molasses
1/4 cup brewed coffee
1 3/4 cups flour (the precise conversion we used was 1 5/6 cups but who measures like that?)
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 teaspoon ground clove
2 teaspoons cinnamon
4 teaspoons ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 cup butter, melted
1 or 2 tablespoons milk

Cream together the eggs and brown sugar. Add the buttermilk, water, molasses, and coffee, and stir until smooth. Set aside.

In another bowl, combine the remaining dry ingredients and whisk until thoroughly mixed.

Combine wet and dry ingredients with the melted butter. Add just enough milk to make a pourable batter – if necessary. Make these just exactly the way you would ordinarily make pancakes. Use a nice, hot, well-oiled cooking surface. At home we use a cast iron griddle that Craig seasoned with rendered fat from Prosciutto di Parma and that's what I suggest you use, too.

Serve with custard sauce (crème Anglaise – see below) in a cruet on the side. People will ask for maple syrup, too. Go ahead and give it to them - in a cruet on the side. Real maple syrup though, or Craig will jump all over your case about it and you want no part of that. Oh - and while you're at it, use real butter, will you?

Custard Sauce (crème Anglaise)

3/4 cup half and half
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 tablespoons sugar
2 each large egg yolks
dash salt

Combine ingredients in a saucepan. Whisk over medium heat, scraping the pan occasionally, until somewhat thickened. Cool.

I'll take our attention from breakfast for the moment and focus it on dessert long enough to talk about Ginger Poofs. The affable, frankly adorable juvenile delinquent who practically lived at Hot Dish – sometimes as a server, sometimes as a dishwasher, sometimes as a carpenter – came up with the genius idea of dropping the batter for Gingerbread Pancakes into deep fat and cooking them as fritters. HOT deep fat is necessary (at least 350 degrees F) and the whole thing would work a little better if the batter was just a little drier. So back off the liquid ingredients just a little if you make the fritter version of this recipe.

The results, called Ginger Poofs, are ridiculously good. We dusted them in confectioners sugar (although I think I’d have preferred superfine baker’s sugar instead) and served them with Whipped Cream. They’d have been great with berries. They’d have been great with a little lemon curd. They’d have been great with ice cream.

If you don’t mind the mess, try them at home. Serve them hot.

This would be a good time to acknowledge the suggestions and creativity of many of the Hot Dish staff. Their contributions were invaluable.

One final note? This isn't diet food. But that’s between you and your cardiologist.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

A New Direction

I've decided to post some of the recipes I've developed or adapted in my professional life in the food industry. I've decided to do it here. I'm hoping that this will, among other things, jumpstart some serious "research and development" time in the kitchen as well as give new life to my food writing.

For those of you who don't know me well, I have co-owned two restaurants and a catering company. The first restaurant was a Brazilian restaurant - the first in Seattle. It was called Brasil. This was in the latter half of the nineteen eighties. The food was as authentic as we knew how to make it. My partner in business and life at the time was the late Romilson Medeiros who was originally from Rio de Janeiro. It was his taste that guided us. There were other chefs in that kitchen, from the US and from Brazil, but mostly it was Romi who was the arbiter of what was representative of his Brazil and what was not.

My role, predominantly, was to adapt Romi's vision of "Brazilian-ness" for the commercial kitchen in the United States with the ingredients I was able to cobble together - some of which we imported ourselves. We made relatively few concessions to American tastes - but were well-recieved by the Seattle food press (who knew little of Brazilian cookery at the time). I still have Brasil's "recipe book" and will quote from that. I also have a fairly large collection of both historic and modern Brazilian cookbooks in Portuguese and in English. I expect that I will be sharing some experiments from these as well.

We also served some Portuguese cuisine at Brasil (Caldo Verde, Bacalhau a Gomes de Sa, Coxinhos de Galinha). My experience with this cuisine, though, was mostly informed by the fact that I lived in Portugal for some time right at the close of the eighties. I will certainly be sharing some Portuguese recipes here.

My other restaurant was called Hot Dish. I was executive chef there from April, 2006 (we opened in May, 2006) until July 2007. This was a different kettle of fish entirely. Our intention with Hot Dish was to create accessible, middle-American comfort food with the best possible ingredients. I created the menu and the recipes that we opened with myself. I tested the dishes on my friends and at "soft open" events. We got some pretty good press - but the important part is that I was (and am) proud of the food we created there. I have the Hot Dish "book" as well. I'll be quoting liberally from that. I'll also be presenting some adaptations of Hot Dish recipes that I've had rattling around in my head for some time.

By the way, Hot Dish closed in December, 2007 - five months after I left. In those last months, the recipes I created for the restaurant were significantly altered for cost-and-labor-saving reasons. Those changes will obviously not be reflected here.

Finally, I'll be posting recipes from the Feeding Frenzy files. Feeding Frenzy was the catering company I started with Craig (my life partner for the last 15 years) in 1999. Together we ran it (with me as chef and Craig as "project manager") until we were offered partnership in Hot Dish in 2006.

Feeding Frenzy was a dream project in many ways. It was just Craig and I doing the work so we never worried about labor costs. We heavily promoted small dish foods from all over the world - tapas, mezze, antipasti, salgadinhos - even dim sum. Samosas and pakora. Nibbles of all kinds. These are all notoriously labor-intense preparations but, as I say, we didn't care about that much. We also did a huge amount of big entree work (because you have to do big entree work if you're a caterer) and most of those recipes just fell out of my head as we were working the jobs. It was a high-wire act a lot of the time and that made it a delightful experience.

Anyway. Stay tuned. This should be fun. I won't say I'm not nervous about posting this but I've decided that the fun of sharing recipes far outstrips their value as intellectual property. I hope to hear from you as you try things out. Or perhaps you have some special requests? Give me a shout.

Friday, September 28, 2007

Grilled Corn and Poblano Pepper Soup

I love soup. So does Craig.

Tonight we had a soup I devised while shopping at the Columbia City Farmer's Market.

It worked like this:

Husk and clean 6 ears of sweet corn. Grill them, basting them all the way with melted butter. When they are well-browned, cut the kernels off the ears and into a large soup pan.

Wash and then grill about two or two-and-a-half pounds of poblano peppers until well-blistered. Remove and discard the stems and seeds from the peppers. Completely puree the cleaned peppers in the blender with two cups of half and half. Add this mixture to the soup pan with another two cups of half and half.

Bring to a low simmer. Season with salt, cumin and oregano (preferably Mexican oregano). Simmer for 10 or 15 minutes until flavors are well combined. Serve with croutons (see below) and fresh, chopped tomatoes - ours tonight were Amish Paste tomatoes. Very rich.


I made the croutons from bread I'd made last night specifically for this purpose. The bread was a wheaten cornmeal/rosemary bread that I'd seasoned liberally with cumin, oregano and hot Spanish Paprika (yes - the smoked kind). I toasted and then cut the bread into smallish cubes, and tossed these in a hot, oily pan with a lot of crumbled Kotija cheese. Kotija doesn't melt but it does brown and stick somewhat to the bread. I scraped all the brown crumbs of cheese from the pan and served those as well.

There was heat from the peppers; sweetness from the corn and tomatoes; crunch from the bread and corn; richness from the half and half and the brown butter made in the corn-grilling process; a sort of salty sponginess from the cheese. As a dish, it was earthy and vegetative - mostly it was green. It was caramel and spice. It was hearty.

For dessert we're having fresh raspberries and vanilla ice cream.


It's a frantic, hungry world.
We're feeding it -
one party at a time.

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