Life, Death, and Moving On

“Hmmmm, what personal chef shall I get? Oh! Here’s one talking about death…perfect.”

Beat up ol’ faithful

Sometimes it’s time to move on and sometimes you should have already moved on. Such was the case in this Chef’s life. I have been cooking with the same set of $200 pans for at least 14 years. They’ve been reliable and tough, but the time has finally come to be out with the old(shown above) and in with the new.

The death of my old cookware was meaningful because of all the food it’s seen. But that was not the death I was speaking of in the title. We had actual death here on “the homestead.” Not my first time butchering, but my first time butchering chickens I raised. We altered our flock of laying hens by turning two chickens and a rooster into meat birds. Two of the chickens were no longer producing and always starting fights. The rooster, although cool, wore out his welcome and usefulness by crowing loud and early every morning. Not a surprise, as that’s what roosters do, but it was our first rooster. Plus we raised him from egg, so it was special.

His name was Duck. #kidsnamingpets

Rooster is delicious, don’t let anyone tell you different. I went mostly classic on this guy with coq au vin, but slightly altered by grilling instead of pan frying. Tasted like something between rabbit and turkey.

Grilled and ready to braise

Burn It Up Baby, It’s Summertime

Summertime is a season where we crave things bright, cold and crisp, like cold watermelon. It’s also a time people don’t want to heat up their kitchens, so we move out to the grill. A truly iconic smell and flavor of summer is that of the grill. It screams relaxed and ready to party.

Grilled flavor is a consistent point of interest in 98% of my dinner parties. On top of that, I also utilize charring on at least one item during a multi-course dinner. Charring is in essence, burning. It’s a calculated burn with the end result being a charred exterior and sweetened interior. Sometimes the interior stays uncooked, and sometimes it’s soft. Both have their respective places in the menu and each can be an unexpected flavor blast. If you don’t have me coming to cook for your gathering, try it yourself. Sugary things like, carrots, onions and beets all work great for charring. Blaze your grill on high until it’s raging hot. Place an un-oiled item on the hottest part of the grill until the outside(s) burn. Remove from the grill to cool, then rub off the loose char. That’s it, but it might take one or two tries to perfect, so start with carrots.

Below is a dish that could have totally stood up to and benefited from some char. Although the beans are grilled, the bittersweet flavors of charred onion would have been lovely with the heavy butter tones of the risotto.

Alaskan Halibut with artichoke risotto

Summer Harvest

Summer produce options always makes cooking a little easier. Especially when we get all the stone fruits in the market; dessert becomes a little easier to formulate.

What better produce to get then somewhere local offering high quality at a reasonable price. Jared’s Real Food farm in Lakeside has been our go to farm stand this year.

Earlier this summer I was cooking for groups of 2-6 quite often; as people were looking to celebrate in small groups at home. I even had a couple parties of 10. They rented a house in San Diego to party it up and be on vacation, without actually leaving the house. I being alone am a safer option than any dine in business at this point. The only drawback to my service, (compared to a restaurant), is fancy table ware. Restaurants usually have plates and bowls that are elegant or unique, while I serve with whatever the household supplies. Occasionally someone is set up with fancy pants dishes, but usually there are not enough of the cool ones to serve everyone.

Bellow are a couple luscious dishes that have quit a bit going on. First is a wild boar meatball with grilled and marinated baby eggplant, peeled cherry tomatoes and rutabaga noodles. (Yes, even if you don’t like eggplant or rutabaga…this is gooood). The second pic is a lovely, yet complicated salad of bitter endive, tart rhubarb, sweetened broccolini and peeled fresh loquats.

Masked and Ready For Business

I am currently entertaining small groups of wonderful people eating memorable food. Being masked up during parties is no fun, but it beats not being at the party.

Moving forward, we will continue to be healthy, vigilant and kind. We will keep some of our protocols as business returns to whatever the new normal is. June is looking great for me as I hope it is for you. Remember; the world is churning right now, but sometimes agitation gives you something magical…like butter. Below is a quick snap from an anniversary dinner for two awesome parents.

Big Eye tuna with caramelized cauliflower, chile and corn with soy dipping sauce and fresh turmeric oil

Aplomb About Plum

Lemon Plums have hit the market. A bright, happy version of the classic plum; this will put a twist into any springtime fruit situation you’ve got goin’ on.

Same relative size as a red or black plum

I’m a bit of a sucker for new flashy fruits or cute veggies of unusually small size. Plum cobbler is my favorite of all fruit cobblers. Coming across this stone fruit made my dessert planning an easy decision. Ingredients like this plum are a prime example of why planning menu details can be counter productive. Planning food around known ingredients can spoil the opportunity for surprise, creation and invention. Which in turn create excitement, which triggers emotion and helps us hold onto a memory.

While the base of this recipe is old, tried, true, and simple. As in all food, It still has to be done properly. This properly cooked cobbler was course 6 of 6. Served with butter roasted, salted cashews and brown sugar/vanilla whipped cream. It was a lovely end to an awesome dinner.

Perfect cobbler waiting for 6 lucky dinner guests

Life’s Just Beachy

A small group of friends at a Mission beach rental are in full vacation mode. Appetizers, with a beautiful sunset at cocktail hour are nice wherever you are. But there’s something special about beach sunsets that you just feel.

A good time was had by all this night; with the guests all interested in the goings on of the kitchen more then most. Cooking demo style, we worked through 4 courses and 2 appetizers. One of the client requests was crab cakes. I enjoy crab cakes but haven’t made ’em in awhile…which is great. I enjoy cooking requests and favorites.

The crab cakes where made simply, without much added flavor. Mirepoix with fresh thyme and garlic were there. But a crab cakes magic lies in being moist on the inside and crispy on the outside with minimal, to no bread crumb in the mixture. This version of crab was set with celery root slaw, citrus salad, turmeric oil, pickled Armenian cucumber and edible flowers. However, it took a keen eye and a lust for perfection, for the group to decide which plate up design was the best.

We have a winner!

Hunting Good BBQ

Wedding trip to Raleigh North Carolina took me to parts unknown. Alone in another city with nothing to do but explore and eat? Yes please.

Fried chicken, sausage gravy and pickled okra from Mecca

What to do with time to kill

Eating in any downtown can be fun, especially after walking 15 miles of it. There are always options for fun and food, the only question is: What do you want? Most people are satisfied with trendy places that have fancy whiskey drinks and a large assortment of craft beers. I veer toward history and proof of quality. On my recent trip to Raleigh I wanted ethereal BBQ and fried chicken. Most other things would take a side seat to finding those. Of course I branched out here and there. But nothing ever blew my mind, and I failed on some documentation.

The classics are what I seek

I referenced some life changing fried chicken here. With that in mind, I kept ordering fried chicken at places trying to chase that crispy tender dream. I also pride myself on a top quality biscuit, so when someone boasts best biscuit in the city…I gotta check it out. With all the food in Raleigh I had, nothing made me close my eyes and sigh…except the BBQ. This Eastern style whole hog BBQ chopped pork sandwich was everything I needed and wanted. This sandwich alone allowed me to get on my plane at peace with myself and the world. I ordered another one to-go before I left :-)

Almost perfect pickles…

The biggest ordering mistake I made were these fried pickles. I needed a salad at that point, but didn’t realize it till after I ordered. They were overly salty because the flour dredge was heavily seasoned for other items. With the salty pickles it was too much. However. I still got my answer to the quality of the place and the dish. Yes, over salting was a mistake, but the pickles themselves were either home made, or of very high quality and the cut was great. So overall they told me the place cared about small things. If I were to return and order the pickles. I would be very disappointed if they were salty again.

Overall, Raleigh was clean, safe, friendly and delicious. Cheers to a great town.

Summer Lovin’

Seared Alaskan halibut with sweet onion soubise, fresh corn polenta and peeled tomatoes and favas.

A party is a party. If you’re not having a good time…you’re at a lame party. Is it your fault? Maybe, but probably not. Everyone has a recipe for a good party. I like; great food, music and drinks. Add on some cool people and a tidy place, light some candles if the sun is down and good times are afoot. One thing I have found to be true over the years doing dinner parties everywhere in the county. Parties on the direct beach coastline, like Mission Beach, parts of PB and La Jolla. The hour before sunset is absolutley intoxicating, equaled only by grand mountain views.

Although my food is always moisture rich, I have been efforting sauces lately for photography’s sake. And while I am efforting sauce for pictures…what do I do? A brown sauce, with no shiney counterpoint…Oh well, I’ll keep working on it and will get a new camera soon :-)

Prime tri-tip with avocado mashed potatoes, smokey babaganoush, grilled carrots and parsley roasted broccolini

Vacation Is Medicine…If Taken Properly.

Ahhhh, the Pacific Northwest. Maybe I’m just always on vacation, doing what I love, with who I love; but it always feels right. My wife and I visited Seattle over Labor Day. A although we’ve been there a few times, we still keep missing Pikes Place Market for some reason. I guess that means another trip is in the future :-)

When traveling, I’m usually doing what I can to somehow “taste the region”. That could involve one bite at one place, or many bites at many places. Last time I went to Colorado, I was doing everything I could to find cool game meat. Which was great tearing down on some elk and rattlesnake. This year, I had a craving for NW mollusks that aren’t common in other areas. That meant NW oysters and geoduck. Not having had geoduck in years, it was a treat. But I wasn’t loving the salmon eggs scattered over everything. They dominated rather then played with the flavor. The turmeric oil was lovely and the clam was perfectly prepared.

Oysters can be frustrating because I don’t have them often enough to remember the correct names. There are distinct differences between oyster flavors, so it really matters what you order. We carefully enjoyed and articulated our oysters at Taylor Shellfish,. But alas, I forgot which were which, even though we took this reminder pic.

Working from the fatties on the right, to the left in pairs. The oyster selection was great, great, not good, ok, and amazing. Although I’m sure there are local favorites that Seattleites go to for seafood. I found Taylors searching online for geoduck and they had great Yelp reviews. Enjoyed ourselves so much that we ruined our time table to see Pikes Place. Oh well, at least there was time to blow my taste buds open with some salami from Salumi.

Back to Batalli’s

What used to be famous for being Mario Batalli’s Dad’s joint This place is now just a great old Seattle staple that doesn’t disappoint. As I’m typing this, I’m gnawing on a slice of the whole grain mustard salami pictured below that is just….drool. Although my current (and very temporary) diet disallows me chile flake. I still ordered the chile rolled coppa because I have a hard time controlling myself :-|

Summertime Parties

A 50th birthday, a 25th reunion and a vacationing big family BBQ were all wonderful parties this summer. Two at gorgeous Airbnb rentals and another on Mt Helix in La mesa; there was, as usual, an abundance of good laughs, great food and awesome people. This summer has me all around the county, from Chula Vista and Jamul, to The Elfin Forest in Escondido.

Celery root salad with pickled strawberries, cilantro and opal basil flowers for a party of 12
Happy 50th birthday cake