Monthly Archives: May 2011

Turbo Tart

My daughter, Monica, has a good friend who’s been battling a ruthless disease for many years now. It’s as if a harmful weed has taken up residence in his body and each time this weed is uprooted with another destructive treatment, the hope that it’s never to return is shattered when it rears its menacing head, yet again, on MRI films.

Last night Monica and her BFF visited with their ill friend, and tonight they’ve planned another visit with him.  Monica’s bringing her guitar so they can sing to him, and her BFF is bringing a book so they can read to him.  I’m just going to tag along for morale support and try not to sob.

Thankfully this family has tons of support from their friends and relatives, however, I don’t want to show up empty handed.  And besides, a snack to nosh on is seldom an unwelcome site. So when I returned home about an hour ago, I began combing through the pantry/refrigerator looking for something to put together.   The first thing to catch my eye was a frozen puff pastry sheet (it’s best if you make your own pastry dough but I don’t have two hours to spare!), then I spied a hunk of Maytag blue cheese, seven medjool dates, 1/2 a white onion, a whole red onion, and a bottle of balsamic vinegar.  I decided to make a tart.  Here’s the recipe for my turbo tart.

  • 1 puff pastry sheet
  • Seven chopped dates
  • Ghee or clarified butter
  • Sunflower or grapeseed oil (high smoke point)
  • One and a half onions julienned (whatever type of onion you wish to use will work)
  • Balsamic vinegar
  • Blue cheese (I happened to have Maytag on hand, which is a milder blue)
  • Herbes de Provence (optional)
  • 1 beaten egg to be used as an egg wash
Preheat your oven to 375.  Season your julienned onions with S/P and a pinch of sugar (you can also sprinkle some Herbes de Provence on the onions if you wish) . Integrate the seasonings on the onions. Put 1 T of clarified butter, along with a tsp of oil, into a saute pan.  Combine the melted butter with the oil and throw in the onions. Lower your heat to between med. and  med. low for gas ranges.  Don’t mess with your onions (!!!) until you see some browning happen, otherwise you’ll lose heat and they will not caramelize properly.  Once your onions are browned (not burnt!) remove them from the pan and deglaze the pan with 2 T of good balsamic vinegar and 1 T of water.  Let this reduce until it becomes syrupy.  Set the pan aside.  Shape your defrosted pastry sheet into a square. and fold over an edge, creating a “crust,” into the middle of the tart (see photo).  Add the chopped dates, the caramelized onions, small chunks of blue cheese, and drizzle your balsamic syrup over the top of the onions.  Brush the egg wash along the “crust” of the tart. Here’s a photo of the tart uncooked.

Remove the tart from the oven once it’s golden brown around the edges and the blue cheese has melted.  Mine was done by the time I finished typing this post…about 25minutes.  Sprinkle some fleur de sel over the top while it’s still warm.  Here’s a photo of the finished product.  
I sure do wish I was bringing this tart to their home for a happy occasion.  We’re still holding out for a miracle.
“It is not good for all our wishes to be filled; through sickness we recognize the value of health; through evil, the value of good; through hunger, the value of food; through exertion, the value of rest”
Dorothy Canfield Fisher

Tasting Menu

Last weekend we hosted a small dinner party for six. Twice in the past several months we’ve been entertained at one of our guest’s home and we enjoyed VERY formal dinners with an in-house chef and server. With this in mind, and because I’m the only “in-house chef (cook!)” we can afford here at 1074, I decided to pull out all of the stops and create a multi-course menu. I’ve done tasting menus before, however, this time I’d have no cooking help in the kitchen and two of our guests were accustomed to having their meals prepared by their very own private chef. I will admit that I initially had concerns, but once I got into the groove I began to relax and enjoy the process, and the challenge.

Two days before the dinner party I sat down with my pen and notebook and began to list what ingredients are in season during the month of May, and noodled with some presentation/preparation ideas. I prefer to shop seasonal, organic, and as local as possible. I know what you’re thinking. You live in California…what’s not in season? And you’d be mostly correct in assuming that we have a veritable bounty of produce all year long (living in a state that’s under the constant threat of earthquakes, fires, and mudslides at least we get one perk…well, maybe two: constant sunshine!), but believe it or not we still have seasons. Produce always tastes best when purchased during its heyday.

After my list of concepts was complete, I drove to Bristol Farms to take a gander at the meat and cheese department and see what looked best. Once I had finished poking, prodding, and smelling meats, fish, produce, and tasting cheese samples, I was ready to finalize my carte du jour. I sat down in the café area of Bristol Farms with a cappuccino and completed my grocery list.

For hors d’oeuvres I served smoked mozzarella wrapped with speck and topped with 1/2 a medjool date. These were baked until the cheese became soft and gooey. There were also parmesan “cookies” with mascarpone cheese between the two round crunchy parmesan tuiles, and complimented by a generous splash of a syrupy aged balsamic vinegar.

The first course was tuna tartare (it was super fresh!) with a tiny brunoise of Persian cucumber, a good splash of sake, and a dollop of avocado mousse on top. Each person was served approx. 2 oz of tuna. I added some fleur de sel and chopped chives for the finish.

Our second course was a silky smooth asparagus soup. When purchasing asparagus I prefer to look for very thin spears. In my experience thin spears roast/grill more evenly, do not need to be peeled, and they don’t become fibrous or stringy like fatter spears do. I purchased three large bundles of fresh thin speared asparagus, and prepared each bundle a different way so I could develop a more complex flavor profile. I took the first bundle and roasted it in the oven with EVOO and S/P; the second bundle was blanched for 2 minutes; and the third bundle was prepared in my sous vide machine with a bit of butter in the vacuum sealed bag. I reserved all of the blanching liquid and all of the liquid released from the spears during the sous-vide process. I chopped up the prepared asparagus and placed a third of the pile in my Vitamix Pro along with some of the reserved liquid. I repeated this process two more times until I had a rich and velvety soup without the use of cream. After seasoning with salt/pepper, the flavor of the soup was of pure unadulterated asparagus. The color was a vivid green and when I poured the finished soup it into a tureen, there were small rainbow colored bubbles floating on top of the soup…it was beautiful and tasty!

I should mention that I placed some sauteed fresh morel mushrooms (I could only find dehydrated morels in the markets so I had to have them shipped from a forager in California) and blanched asparagus tips in the bottom of each soup bowl for flavor and presentation purposes. The bowls were passed out containing just the mushrooms and tips to each guest. I then walked around the table and ladled the soup into each bowl.

The first entree I prepared was a large pan seared sea scallop on a bed of meyer lemon and ginger foam, topped with orange zest, wasabi powder, black Bolivian quinoa, and a light sauvignon sauce. I used my isi whipper to create the foam with some whipping cream, squeezed meyer lemons, minced ginger root that I squeezed through a tami, and salt/pepper. I mise en placed the quinoa (which I kept covered in my warming drawer), wasabi dust, and orange zest prior to the arrival of our guests. Once the soup plates had been cleared I began to sear the scallops on med to high heat (after seasoning of course) and finished them in the oven. When they had finished cooking, I removed them from the pan and deglazed my pan with some sauvignon blanc. I let the wine reduce for a few minutes and then I began to plate. The foam went down first and the scallop was placed in the middle. I sprinkled the wasabi powder, orange zest, and a spoonful of the quinoa over the top of the scallop. I then spooned the wine sauce over the top and finished it off with some fleur de sel, another dollop of foam, and a small fennel frond. The presentation was beautiful and it was a big hit.

The plates were cleared and a lemon granita was given to each guest as a palate cleanser. While the guests were enjoying the palate cleanser, the lamb loin chops were thrown on the grill in preparation for entree #2.

Entree #2 was a lamb loin chop with a morel mushroom duxelle, petite-syrah sauce, and fiddlehead ferns. I had blanched the ferns earlier in the day and placed them in a pan with EVOO and S/P for sauteeing when ready to plate. I also made my duxelle (morels don’t release much water, so you need to add another mushroom with a higher water content to help bind the duxelle together) that afternoon so all I had to do was give it a warming in a pan. The sauce was also made ahead of time with some shallots, 1 cup of reduced petite-syrah, two cups of quality demi-glace, and S/P. For plating I placed the duxelle slightly off center, and the sauce was spooned just south of this, then the grilled (and rested) chop was placed on top of the sauce and a corner of the chop rested on the mushrooms. A little bit more sauce was spooned over the top, and the entire dish was sprinkled with the ferns. All of the flavors came together perfectly!

The last course was a cheese course. I put together a cheese plate of Hoja Santa goat’s milk cheese, Andeerer Schmuggler cow’s milk cheese, and a Shropshire blue. In addition to the cheese there were muscatel grapes, water crackers, marcona almonds, and pear and apricot sauce. In my humble opinion, cheese is always the perfect ending to a meal.

After our guests departed and I had sat down with a glass of wine to reflect on the evening, I realized that time and time again the one item in my kitchen that proves itself indispensable is my warming drawer. I place all of my plates in the drawer and they stay nice and toasty, therefore, I don’t have the burden of flashing plates in the middle of a dinner party. Hallelujah for warming drawers!

Thank you to my daughter Monica, her friend Andrea, and my youngest son Greg for helping me with the serving, clearing, and washing of EVERYTHING. You were a HUGE help to me! Your assistance allowed me to sit and chat with our guests for most of the evening (I had everything mise en placed so the only really busy time for me was when I was plating or cooking the meat). I’ll definitely hire you for the next gig…in spite of all the silliness going on in the kitchen :))

“Nothing would be more tiresome than eating and drinking if God had not made them a pleasure as well as a necessity.” ~Voltaire


P.S.  Sorry there are not pics of the dishes!  I became so focused on getting the plates out that I forgot to take photos…duh!!!  I’ll remember next time.

Kelly Liken

For those of you who haven’t heard of chef Kelly Liken, she was featured in Bon Appetit’s 2008 “Women Chefs: The Next Generation” and she was a 2009 and 2010 James Beard Semi-Finalist for Best Chef Southwest. In addition to Kelly’s many accolades,  she co-owns Restaurant Kelly Liken in Vail, Colorado with her husband, Rick Colomitz. Kelly – of course – is the talented chef in the back-of-the-house operations while Rick oversees marketing responsibilities, training of the front-of-the-house staff, and building the restaurant’s wine inventory.  Kelly’s cuisine is seasonal American and she’s dedicated to serving locally sourced organic ingredients. It’s been rumored that Kelly’s passed up offers from celebrated chefs Charlie Trotter and Daniel Boulud (just to name a few) to stay in beautiful Colorado.

Though this may all seem like plenty to keep you and me busy, Kelly apparently didn’t think she had enough on her plate (no pun intended); therefore, she signed up for a spot on Top Chef season 7.  Kelly was a resilient competitor and she made it all the way to episode 13, season finale, part 1 before being eliminated.  For the elimination challenge Kelly was one of four remaining chefs who were instructed to work as a team and create a menu celebrating Singaporean cuisine for an event hosted by Food and Wine magazine. Since I’ve been a long-time fan of Kelly’s craft, naturally I watched all of season 7 and was devastated when she didn’t make it to part 2 of the season finale.  The elimination challenge was grueling with what appeared to be 100+ degree temperatures with 100% humidity, so all of the chefs were miserable and sweating profusely into their food. I wondered what the judges were thinking while they were watching buckets of perspiration pour off the chef’s faces and into the food that they were about to EAT (although, this wasn’t the first time I’ve witnessed a perspiration waterfall drop into a contestant’s completed creation).  Do you think the chefs take all of this into consideration and pull back on the seasoning of their final product?  I digress.

Let’s get to the meat of the matter: Our meal at Restaurant Kelly Liken!

When Roger and I eat out we generally order from the tasting menu – with pairings – and this is exactly what we did at Liken.  We chose the four savory, one sweet option (two appetizers, two entrees, and one dessert).

A Chef’s amuse of roasted cauliflower arrived was the first thing brought out to our table.  The soup was rich and creamy without being too thick.  So often this style of soup is closer to a pudding than a soup, therefore, I was VERY pleased with its brothiness.  There was also a pleasant peppery finish.

I enjoyed the elk carpaccio with bulgur taboulleh salad and whole grain mustard aioli as my first appetizer. The bulgur was a nice textural contrast to the smooth, thinly sliced elk slices.  The aioli could have benefited from a bit more mustard. It was fine standing alone, but the gamey quality of the elk obliterated the subtle mustard flavor.  With this dish I chose a glass of 2007 Sinskey POV and I felt the wine complimented the elk perfectly.  There were ripe plums, vanilla, and blueberries on the nose and ripe tannins on the palate.

A plate of tender young root vegetables, fines herbes, champagne vinaigrette, and crispy katafi crusted Haystack Mountain chèvre was my second choice.  I loved the crispy chevre presentation.  It was attractive and delicious.  The vegetables were also perfectly al-dente.  With this dish I chose the 2008 Chateau-Fuisse, Pouilly-Fousse.  I think something a little lighter like a sauvignon blanc or pinot gris would have been a better choice. Here’s a photo of the crispy chèvre bundle.  Don’t you just love how it twists up into the air and stands by itself?

My first entree was potato crusted trout filets with caramelized brussel sprout leaves, plum golden raisins, toasted pecans, and brandied beurre blanc.  This dish is one of Kelly’s signature items and the preparation is fabulous. The potatoes are remarkably crisp while the fish is perfectly cooked and not overdone.   The flavors of the sprouts, raisins, and pecans marry well too.  One of us always orders this dish when eating here…we just have to!  For this dish I chose a 2009 Domaine des Buissonnes, Sancerre, which was too light.  What I should have ordered was the 2008 Chateau Fuisse that I ordered with the root vegetable dish. Don’t know what I was thinking. Here’s a photo of the trout preparation.

The second entree was NY strip steak with sunchoke-potato cake, roasted sunchokes, crispy candied lardons, and fresh watercress.  The NY strip was done med. rare as specified and there was an excellent sear on the steak with a mild spicy rub.  The sunchoke cake was crisp and tasted mostly of potatoes.  Anyone who’s had sunchokes (also called Jerusalem artichokes) can confirm what I’m about to tell you: They’re bland.  Adding some potato with a crisp crust was a smart move.  The only criticism I had with this dish was that the lardons were done too far in advance; I speak from experience.  They were really tough and lacking some flavor.  With this dish I had the 2007 Peju, cabernet.  It tasted of black fruits and spice and was a decent choice.

For the grand finale we enjoyed another of Kelly’s signature dishes: The “can’t be missed” sticky bun sundae with bite sized pieces of cinnamon sticky bun, warm caramel, toasted pecans, and homemade vanilla bean ice cream.  It CANNOT be missed!  The warm gooey caramel contrasted with the cold vanilla bean ice cream is to die for.  The cinnamon bun pieces sit like little islands in the middle of a warm caramel pond.  The ice cream and pecans sit on top of the bun and it’s all kissed with warm caramel so the ice cream is just beginning to melt when it’s served to you. And that’s not all, there’s also a star sugar cookie with spun sugar extending out from the top.   I’m salivating just thinking about it.  You have to taste it for yourself…you must!  Here’s a photo.  Oh, I suggest you have a napkin handy before looking so you can wipe the off drool off of your lips.

“Tell me what you eat, and I will tell you what you are.” Antheime Brillat-Savarin