Sunday, September 27, 2009

Our Trip to New York - Seasonal Restaurant

Our first restaurant of this trip to visit Sid and Miranda in New York was a new upscale Austrian called Seasonal in Manhattan. Sid and Miranda discovered in via friends who work for the German government and the United Nations and were blown away by how good it was. We heartily concur.

Seasonal just opened ten months ago. The chef/owners have been running a successful catering business as well as doing the food for the German Embassy in NYC.

I think most folks either have no idea what Austrian food is or think it is sausages, dumplings, and other heavy stuff. In reality this is really refined cooking, a very sleek ambiance, and a very "Continental" experience at super good prices for the experience.

We started with a bottle of Austrian Greuner Veltliner white wine and a nice little amuse bouche followed by some great appetisers.

Cindy ordered:
Foie Gras, Caramelized Onions,
Pickled Cherries, Brioche
The most delicious, refined Torchon beautifully presented. As good as any we have had anywhere - and that is a lot to say.

Sid Enjoyed:
Pork Belly, Sauerkraut,
Fennel, Lemon Verbena Jus
A very nice piece of melt in the mouth, meaty pork belly confit again beautifully garnitured and presented. Interesting a different (the other also delicious) version of the same menu item description he had tried on a previous visit.

Miranda had a goat cheese salad that was wonderful.

Steve had an ethereal sweetbread app that was generous, beautiful and very tasty. I will admit that Austrains know how to do refined fried food - just would not want this restaurant stereotyped as fried food place.

Our main courses were as follows:
Veal Cutlet, Potato, Cucumber, Lingonberry
2 large cutlets in a airy, light breading - a top choice, if a little stereotypical

Beef Strip Loin, Cipollini,
Shallots, Potato
Beautiful, refined steak presentation.

Veal Cheeks, Paprika, Peppers, Spätzle
Melt in your mouth braise.

Flat Iron, Oxtail Consommé,
Apple - Horseradish, Spinach, Rösti
Very refined braise served in a wonderful broth with many interesting side dish's.

We shared several desserts all of which where wonderful.

Quark Mousse, Raspberry - Champagne Sauce, Seasonal Fruits

Dark Chocolate - Hazelnut Soufflee, Vanilla Ice Cream

Caramelized Pancakes, Broken into Pieces, black Plum Compote
All yummy - especially the Quark mousse.

My advice if you are in NYC is to definitely try this restaurant for it food, atmosphere, and prices. In fact, I would suggest you have 2-3 appetisers and a dessert instead of the traditional app, main course, dessert as I feel the apps are the real gems of this restaurant.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Seattle Chef's Dinner Series - Cafe Juanita

Yesterday Jeff, Amy, Cindy and I attended the 5th Seattle Chef's dinner held at Cafe Juanita. I was struck by two things : 1) How much these 6 chefs appear to enjoy working together in the kitchen and at their ease afterwards - it is really a nice thing to see. These are the most gracious, friendly people and I feel like this series has given me a chance to get to know this firsthand. 2) What fun it is to enjoy a dinner in the company of folks you have never met before, but, who share a love of great, quality food, cooking, wine, and the whole cultural world view that seems to go with that.

Now to the event:

Hors d’Oeuvres and Champagne
CAFE JUANITA – Holly Smith - The sparkling wine was an excellent foil for the great set of apps that Holly presented in the back garden. gougres, foie gras on toast, soft boiled quail eggs, deep fried pork confit, a yummy tomato soup were all wonderful and plentiful.

CRUSH – Jason Wilson
A beautiful and very tasty Napoleon of the most wonderful tomato's, tuna tartare, cucumber, and herbs melted on the palate. This continued Jason's unbroken streak of inspired preparations and presentations in this series.

Thierry Rautureau, The Chef In The Hat!!!
I think one of Thierry's best presentations in this series. A Seafood and mushroom bisque that you would swear was cream based but was really just a super wonderful reduction of the essence of the ingredients. a wonderful and beautiful array of seafood - salmon, halibut, prawn, clams, scallops presented bare in a flat soup bowl with the bisque poured over them from a pitcher by the server. Great flavors and textures - made with love!

TILTH – Maria Hines
Maria was out with a bad back but her offering was one of the best she has done in this series.: Sous Vide Sablefish, heirloom tomato, sorrel. Delicious.

HARVEST VINE – Joseba Jiménez de Jiménez
the Roasted Quail over Navarran pocha beans and an onion broth was very much in Joseba's style. It actually reinforced to me that each of these chefs and restaurants has such a distinctive approach, touch, and style that their offering , I think, would be instantly recognized in a blind tasting by knowledgeable Seattle diners even if the same dish was presented by each of these chefs.

LARK – John Sundstrom
Grilled Painted Hills coulotte steak, chanterelles, rocket and sweet onion vinaigrette
In my opinion, by far these best offering that the very talented Chef Sundstrum has presented in this series. It will definitely inspire my own cooking - especially the use of a wonderful fresh herb competing and combining so successfully with a wonderful small serving of meat. I would rate this the best effort of the evening although several of these Chefs were at the top of their game.

CAFE JUANITA – Holly Smith
In order to catch the ferry Cindy and I has to take desert to go - it was a wonderful combination of clear seemingly simple (the true sign to Holly's mastery) flavors of huckleberry in a sauce, lemon in a ethereal cake, and creme fraise in a sherbet. Yum - gone before we ever got on the ferry even though we had no utensil other than our fingers - which were licked pretty darn clean.

Another fun evening - one more to go with Crush hosting next month.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

What I Learned at Cooking School

I've always suspected that I'm just about the luckiest girl in the world, but now I know that it's true.

A few weeks ago, my dad invited "On Rue Tatin's" Susan Hermann Loomis to come and give french cooking lessons at our home on Vashon Island, and she agreed. Then he graciously invited me to be one of the lucky participants.

(Photo of Susan and Steve -- still smiling after three busy days!)

So, for three days I not only sliced, diced, poached, and sauteed, but I also helped set-up, break-down, and organize cooking classes. Being on both sides of the cooking school experience was fascinating (if not a *little* tiring), and I learned a few things that I thought I'd share with our readers.

LESSON 1: Mis en place matters.

(a shot of a mis en place set-up):

I have always understood that mis en place (or "putting in place") is a cornerstone of professional cooking, but have frankly always considered it too much effort to fully incorporate into my home kitchen. For those unfamiliar with the concept, mis en place basically refers to:

** first, as a pre-req. to mis en place, you must read the recipe through completely from beginning to end before you do anything else (or, if you are not using a recipe, thinking through all of the ingredients and steps you will follow)

** assembling everything you will need in advance, including tools and ingredients. This means that if the recipe calls for 2 tsp of minced garlic, you set out two cloves of garlic and a good knife for mincing; if it calls for 1 lb of chicken breasts, you get your chicken breasts out, rinse and pat dry, and set them aside on the counter to come to temperature. Essentially, once you are ready to actually begin cooking, everything is ready and at hand. There is no digging through the gadget drawer and cursing because you can't find your peeler. It is already waiting for you, sitting ready next to whatever needs peeling.

Susan prepares for every class by creating stations for each recipe with the mis en place completed, and -- as hosts -- we helped her with set-up. Doing so was sort of a revelation for me. This practice conditions you mentally to cook, refreshing your memory on each step you will take and in what order they should be completed. It also gets you set up to create minimal mess (something I personally struggle with), as everything is ready to go and you won't make the mistake of realizing you need a bigger bowl, another knife, etc.

LESSON 2: Use a small bowl for collecting detritus; keep a side towel tucked into your apron.

Here's a photo of Cindy modeling her side towel (see how handy!):

This wasn't a totally new lesson for me, either, but it also wasn't one I was good about following. And it makes SUCH a big difference. Having a small bowl on the counter to place your onion peels, garlic skins, fruit pits, and so forth not only cuts down on mess on the counter, but also eliminates messy handles on the door to the garbage bin :)

The same goes for the side towel. Now, rather than hunting for something to wipe messy fingers on, you've got a towel strapped to your apron. Ditto with hunting around for pot holders; as long as your side towel is relatively dry, you can use it to grab hot pan handles and lids. It also makes a great place to wipe off dirty knives.

LESSON 3: Flavor does not have to mean fat. French food does not have to mean butter.

Okay, this one was new for me. I am a big proponent of cooking with butter, cream, butter, cream, butter, cream (you get the idea). Most of the dishes Susan had us prepare, however, were pretty damn healthy. But they were also really flavorful. This was, I think, due to the proper and creative use of ingredients like radishes, fennel, lime zest, mustard, and vinegars.

She also used a lot of oils that I had previously admired and wondered about on the grocery shelves, but never used. Almond oil dressed up steamed green beans, walnut oil and pumpkin seed oil gave richness and flavor to salad dressings. She also achieved a lot of flavor through the use of more flavorful meats - such as gamier birds and animals like Guinea Hen and Rabbit.

LESSON 4: Use whatever you can from your own garden, even if that garden is just a few pots on the window sill.

In particular, fresh lettuces -- even quite small bunches of them -- taste a thousand times better than what you get at the store and will (if properly thinned) grow and grow all summer. Herbs, many of which you can continue to grow into winter indoors, provide much brighter flavors when picked fresh and used immediately (another great tip from Susan: don't mince the herbs until *just* before you plan to use them or they will lose all their flavor).

So, those were a few seemingly little lessons with big, beautiful consequences in the kitchen that I learned at cooking school.

I hope you find them useful.

Here is a parting shot of one of the groups of cooking class participants:

Bon Appetit!