Friday, December 28, 2012

Storm Clouds and Rainbows



Matsutake


Matsutake Mushrooms are some of the most expensive mushrooms in the world, with prices upward of two hundred dollars per pound for perfect specimens.  The Japanese are connoisseurs of these mushrooms and consume far more than the limited local harvest.  While the matsutakes that are harvested in Kyoto below the Japanese red pines are the most prized, the nation relies largely on mushrooms imported from Korea, Canada and the Pacific Northwest.   Here in California the price of Matsutake start at fifty dollars per pound and then drop drastically in December when the Japanese market starts to slow.  In October and November it is almost impossible to get #1 grade Matsutake because they are almost exclusively exported.  Were were fortunate to get a small basket of perfect #1 Matsutake in this week.  A true #1 grade has a cap that is still fully closed with the thin membrane over the gills still intact.  These mushrooms have a mild flavor with a refined pine aroma.   They can be shaved raw, as we will do for tonight's scallop dish, or be quickly grilled or steamed. 

Sea Urchin


  Sea Urchin could quite possibly be one of the most fragile ingredients I have ever worked with.   From the time the roe (or technically gonads) are removed from the urchin, they begin to break down, sometimes becoming mush in a matter of hours.  This is why whenever I order sea urchin at a sushi bar without looking at the little wooden tray of urchin in the the display, if they appear soft, or are surrounded by orange liquid, I won't order them.   You should only order, and serve, urchin that has a defined shape and firm texture.  
    Most urchin is shucked at the source and carefully lined up on small wooden trays with plastic lids before being shipped around the world.   Unfortunately this never improves the quality of the urchin and even the most elaborate packaging can do little to protect the delicate roe.  Some rare urchin from Japan is packed in sea water, which seems to be the best method for transporting the fragile product.                                                      
You rarely see fresh urchins available for sale.  This is due largely to the difficulty required in cleaning them.   I prefer getting in the live urchin and cleaning them because there is simply no comparison in quality.  There are several methods for cleaning urchins and even a couple of special tools designed for the job, but all you really need is a small serrated knife and spoon. 
 
video
video
1. Pick heavy urchins with the spines still firmly attached.  (these spines can be painful, but are not poisonous)
2. Wearing gloves, hold the urchin in a towel with the domed side of the shell facing outward.
3. Using the serrated knife cut away the curved portion of the shell, avoid cutting into the roe just below the shell.
4.  Chip away the shell to expose the five orange gonads.
5. Use a small spoon to gently loosen the gonads from their membrane.
6. Shake the roe into a container filled with salted water.  (water and sea salt)
7. Transfer the roe into another container with salted water and repeat until water is clear and no fragments of spine are left.
 


Tonight we are pairing hand harvested sea urchin with Nantucket Bay scallops.   I used a classic Japanese custard, Chawanmushi, for inspiration.   My preparation does not have the traditional ingredients, Lily root and ginkgo nut, but is simply an egg custard made with fresh dashi and sea urchin.  I finish the custard with togarashi and young red shiso leaves.  The bay scallops are served lightly seared and raw with shaved matsutake mushroom and candied yuzu rind.  

Friday, December 21, 2012

Scallop Lunch Special

Today's lunch special- Nantucket Bay Scallops with Cauliflower, Leeks and Caviar Mousseline

 

Mayan Apocolypse Devastates Post Ranch Garden!

  This morning the entire garden was covered in a layer of thick frost.  By nine am the temperature was still in the mid thirties, and given the darkness that accompanies winter solstice, not likely to warm much.  Red mustard plants drooped against the frozen ground, the borage plant was devoid of flowers and turning black and the tiny red oxalis leaves had all been burnt by the freezing temperatures. Luckily we are on the cusp of longer days and the garden will once again be filled with tender leaves and flowers.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

December Bounty

The shorter days have left the garden and hillsides looking pretty bare - fortunately with a little persistence, there are still some edible treasures waiting to be found.  Last week we collected:
 
- The first chanterelles of the season - Still hidden below a blanket of pine needles and oak Leaves
- Anise Hyssop Shoots
- Sugar Snap Pea Blossoms
- Bronze Fennel Fronds
- Red Oxalis Leaves
- Society Garlic Blossoms
- Rosemary Flowers
- Mint Flowers
- Pineapple Sage Flowers
- Rose Geranium Blossoms
- Nasturtium Pads
- Sweet Alyssum

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Stinging Nettles

Stinging Nettles are frequently harvested in the spring when the rains have stopped and days begin to get longer.  Big Sur does not always comply with conventional wisdom and its unique micro climate is constantly throwing us seasonal curve balls.  About two weeks ago we noticed a small patch of nettles sprouting from by the redwood fence in our garden.  As of today the plants are about a foot tall with small tender leaves - perfect for cooking.  Even though their appearance this time of year is unexpected, they have inspired me to cook sformato, a dish that is perfect for this dreary December weather.

As the name implies, stinging nettles can in fact cause quite a bit of discomfort if brushed with bare skin.  Some veteran foragers, with calloused hands and the knowledge of which direction the spines grow, can handle nettles with little concern.  Personally I prefer the added precaution of wearing gloves when harvesting the prickly leaves and stems.  Once the nettles have been cooked, their spines disappear and the plant is rendered harmless.  The flavor is reminiscent of spinach with a more earthly flavor and vibrant green color.  Nettles can be found around the world and are alleged to have numerous medicinal properties, but for me their flavor alone makes them a worthwhile pursuit.


Sformato, a classic Italian dish,  is a cross between a savory custard and soufflé.  There are numerous variations including: potato, dandelion and spinach, but I have found that Stinging Nettles give the dish both an incredible flavor and appealing color.  Once the batter is prepared I add a puree of stinging nettles and some freshly grated, aged goat cheese from Sweetwater Dairy just down the road.  The dish is finished with pickled cauliflower, crispy cauliflower mushroom and a fondue of Sweetwater Dairy cheeses.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Yucca Blossom Update

It’s been a little over a month since I harvested my first Yucca blossoms.  Since then, these cactus blossoms have become a bit of an obsession - I see the dead remnants of flowering stems as I pass by yards and see perfect blossoms just out of reach.  Just the other day I had to resist snatching a cluster of purple-tipped yucca blossoms from a historic public garden in Monterey - and could barely contain myself when I saw a six-foot long horn of tiny green edible flowers protruding from a foxtail agave. 

I don’t know what makes these flowers so intriguing - is it the striking look of the five petal blossoms, their bitter-sweet flavor, their crisp bite or simply the idea that this is the grand finale of a plant that is known to live for decades and then die shortly after blossoming?  No matter what the reason, I guard two of my three bags of pickled yucca blossoms with the same dedication most chefs give their tin of saffron or bag of truffles.  Unlike these other “exotic” ingredients, there is no telling when I might get my hands on more fresh yucca blossoms.  I have reserved the pickled blossoms for the first course of my Taste of Big Sur Menu - paired with a Venison Jerky that has been cured with wild berries and then dried over smoldering oak.  

Monday, December 10, 2012

Ancient Ohlone "Vinaigrette"

Last week we debuted the Taste of Big Sur menu at Sierra Mar.   My goal was to create a menu that was directly inspired by the Post Ranch Inn’s dramatic surroundings, while using as many ingredients sourced from the property as possible.  In preparing for this menu, I did extensive research into the Native Californian culture and unearthed some interesting stories in the process.  One I found most fascinating was practiced by the Ohlone tribe.  They would collect miner’s lettuce and other wild greens and pile them on ant hills while they foraged.  The ants would then season the greens with a faint trail of formic acid.  I have often heard about cultures from Central America to Southeast Asia incorporating ants into their diet, but had never heard of this approach. 

Miner’s lettuce is not in season, so I collected a few nasturtium leaves and laid them on top of an ant hill in front of my house on the coastal ridge.  The ants did not seem terribly interested, but a few did find their way across the leaves. After a day had passed I shook off a leaf and took a discreet bite.  The flavor was very mild and the taste of nasturtium almost completely overpowered the faint hint of acidity left behind by the ants.  While the flavor was barely perceptible to me, I suspect that Native Californians had far more acute senses and were unaccustomed to heavily seasoned foods.  

For my next experiment, I dabbed a jar with some local honey and waited to collect a few dozen ants.  I shook the ants into a mortar and ground them with olive oil and sea salt until they become a smooth-emulsified dressing.  The dressing was still mild, but did have a nice level of acidity and completely unfamiliar flavor.  Next, the dressing was drained through a coffee filter and put into an atomizer.  I could then take the atomizer and spray a lite mist over wild herbs and flowers.  

Today when I was walking through the back part of the ranch in search of chanterelles, I happened upon a large rock that had several cylindrical mortars carved into the top.  Aside from a few acorns, the property did not yield much this rainy afternoon and I can only imagine how challenging finding dinner might have been a thousand years ago.

For the Taste of Big Sur Menu I combine a number of herbs from our garden and wild herbs in a small arrangement and then spritz them with the ant “vinaigrette”.  Each herb has a distinct flavor, sweet hysopp, spicy mustard, floral nasturtium, refreshing pea shoot, tart wild strawberry and brassica like Alyssum - each complimented by the mild acidic base of the ant vinaigrette.  The course is served midway through the nine course meal and acts as both a refreshing palate cleanser and a small glimpse into a forgotten chapter of local history.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Persimmon Harvest


We have two persimmon trees that grow in the meadow by our kitchen garden.   Over the last few weeks we have watched the leaves turn warm autumn colors and the fruits begin to ripen.  The storm this week blew most of the leaves to the ground, leaving the bright orange orbs fully exposed, a not so subtle reminder that harvest time is here.   A few weeks ago I made the mistake of pulling one of the seemingly ripe persimmons off the tree and taking a big bite- immediately my mouth was dry and my lips puckered as thought I had just taken a giant mouth full of dry cotton.   Our persimmons look deceivingly round, like a Fuyu, but they must  be the Hachiya variety.  Unlike the sweet- firm fuyu, Hachiya Persimmons are full of tannins, which give them their mouth puckering astringency, similar to the skin of some grapes.

  There are several ways to enjoy Hachiya  Persimmons without getting a mouth full of cotton.  The easiest way is to simply wait until you think they are fully ripe, then wait another week, until the persimmon feels like a bag of gel wrapped in a thin skin, with no discernible firmness.  At this point you can cut the persimmon in half and eat it like  custard with a spoon.  Another method is to keep the persimmon frozen for a few days until the tannins dissipate.   You can also deprive the fruit of air by wrapping it tightly in plastic or cryovacing it for a day.   This makes the fruit produce acetaldehyde which neutralizes the tannins.

  You might wonder why you should bother with Hachiya persimmons when the Fuyu variety is so common and can simply be eaten like an apple.  I love persimmons, and Fuyu are delicious, but the Hachiya have a higher level of sweetness and overall complexity of flavor.  A few years ago I stumbled upon my favorite way of working with the Hachiya Persimmon- called Hoshigaki.   This is the ancient Japanese tradition of air drying the peeled persimmons and then gently massaging them to extract the sugars, creating a powdery white coating that forms on the outside.  During the fall strands of drying persimmons can be seen hanging from the porches of traditional Japanese homes.   This ancient recipe was brought to California by Japanese Farmers generations ago, but the final product is rarely commercially available due to the time consuming process.  When finished, the Hoshigaki aren’t much to look at, shriveled and white, emaciated versions of the fresh fruit.   Inside the flesh is dense and sticky, with a concentrated flavor from weeks of drying.  The sugar bloom on the outside is delicate and sweet, providing the perfect crust for the intense filling.    




  Today we are hanging our first strands of persimmons from the kitchen ceiling.   Hopefully in a month or two I will have some pictures of the final product!

Monday, November 26, 2012

Silkie Chicken and Khoresht Fesenjan

Silkie Chicken is a breed that is commonly found in China and Southeast Asia.  Unlike most chickens, the silkies have feathers that resemble long fur, making them look like a cross between a long-haired cat and a cartoon chicken.  However, it isn’t until the feathers are removed that things start getting really weird.  The skin of the chicken is inky purple verging on black from the beak all the way down to the talons.  Despite the chicken’s bizarre look it has a flavor very similar to its Western counterparts, mild, but with the depth of flavor as you would expect from a pasture-raised bird.

This week I was inspired by a classic Persian dish called khoresht fesenjan خورشت فسنجان.   They say people eat with their eyes first - which is too bad because this dish is ugly!  It is little more than a bowl filled with chunky brown slop.  Once you get past the initial disappointment and take a bite, you experience a surprising contrast of flavors and textures, earthy – tannic walnut accented with the bright acidity of pomegranate, smooth and rich, yet at the same time crunchy and delicate.  The second I tried it I knew I wanted to create my own version - a version that would preserve the integrity of the original while boosting its aesthetic appeal.  My understanding is that this dish would often be served with tah-dig, the crispy layer that forms on the bottom of the pot when making pilaf.  It might also be accompanied by fresh herbs and other side dishes.

To start I created a stock using the black chicken bones - then sautéed local walnuts and pomegranate seeds with olive oil and onion until they were caramelized.  I let the walnut-pomegranate mix slowly simmer in chicken stock until everything was tender and it could be blended into a smooth puree.    Instead of trying to replicate the tah-dig, we cooked short-grained rice with saffron, then blended it and dried a thin layer onto a silicon mat.  The resulting translucent rice crisps were then dropped into hot rice-oil where they puffed up into vibrant yellow crackers.


Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Chanterelles

Chanterelles are moving south along the coast with the winter rains.  Big Sur had a good rain last week and with more expected throughout the month, we should be harvesting fresh chanterelles any day now. Ten years ago, when I first lived at Post Ranch, my roommate and I would find baskets of chanterelles below a grove of oak trees above where the solar panels are now located.  The thought of fresh chanterelles always made a rainy weekend much more bearable.  Many things have changed at Post Ranch since 2001, but I suspect the chanterelles will be where I left them and I am looking forward to hitting the muddy trails in search of them soon.

We celebrate the beginning of chanterelle season with a dish inspired by the landscape.   Pickled chanterelles, roasted chanterelles, chanterelle-almond crumbs, chanterelle-pine meringue, pistachio and red sorrel with a few crumbles of Cypress Grove Truffle Tremor.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Sierra Mar's New Lunch Menu

On Saturday we debuted our new lunch menu.  I’m really excited about this line up of dishes - and at $40 for three courses, I don’t think you can find a better value anywhere.  From the housemade goose prosciutto with Post Ranch Quince-Rose Membrillo, to the Butterscotch Cremeux, the menu is filled with exciting, seasonal preparations and fun twists on classic flavor combinations.  Here is a picture of the Yellowfin Tuna with Watercress and Citrus that we featured today as a special.  The entire menu can be viewed below.


COURSE ONE
STEELHEAD TROUT TARTARE
Trout Skin “Chicharrón”, Guajillo Chile, Cilantro

PACIFIC OYSTERS
Cucumber, Lemon Verbena, Basil Seeds

HOUSE-CURED GOOSE PROSCIUTTO
Quince, Rose Petal, Winter Chicories

CARAMELIZED ONION AND BRIOCHE SOUP
Apple, Licorice

HEIRLOOM BEET SALAD
Raspberries, Pistachios, Blue Cheese

COURSE TWO
FENNEL CRUSTED YELLOWFIN TUNA
Watercress, Puffed Wild Rice, Buddha’s Hand, Endive, Mandarin Orange

LONE MOUNTAIN RANCH WAGYU STEAK
Carmelized Sunchoke Hash, Asparagus, Sauce Valois

PINEAPPLE SAGE BRAISED PORK CHEEKS
Guajillo-Guava Sauce, Pink Pepper, Avocado, Charred Pineapple

BIG SUR CHANTERELLE RISOTTO
Frisée, Truffle, Parmesan, Chives, Crispy Shallots

WAGYU BURGER
Smoked Bacon, Vermont White Cheddar, Tomato, Onion, Garden Lettuce

COURSE THREE
BUTTERSCOTCH CRÉMEUX
Poached Apples, Speculoos Crumble, Sweetened Mascarpone Cream, Cranberry “Meringue”

CARAMELIA CHOCOLATE BROWNIE
Cocoa Streusel, Bourbon Ice Cream, Brown Sugar Tuile, Chocolate Sauce

CABRA BLANCA AGED SEMI-SOFT GOAT CHEESE

AVALANCHE CHEESE COMPANY, BASALT, CO
Huckleberry Compote, Toasted Pecan-Raisin Bread

Friday, November 9, 2012

Big Sur Food and Wine

Chef David Kinch
 This year's Big Sur Food and Wine Weekend was a great success.  The Post Ranch Inn was buzzing with dozens of wineries and chefs.  .

Lexus Grand Tasting Booth
Dungeness Crab and Pink Pearl Apple for The Lexus Grand Tasting
  There were many great events- but for me the highlites included the collaborative dinner with Chef David Kinch from Manresa in Los Gatos,  The Lexus Grand Tasting and The Tour de France. 
  Chef Kinch and his team were wonderful to work with - and as expected his food was quite inspiring.  Seeing the choreography of sending a six course dinner for ninety people out of the Sierra Mar Kitchen was also exciting.
Yulanda's Croquembouche
  I owe a huge thanks to the Sierra Mar team and a handful of volunteers who made everthing happen. 
  Unfortunately I was so busy most of the weekend that I forgot to take many pictures - so if anyone has photos they would like to share it would be much appreciated.   (thanks to James Anderson and Amber Kirpes for two of the photos posted here)

 
 

Calm Before The Storm for Saturday Night Kinch Dinner

Yulanda Admires a Pheasant for Friday Night  Tour de France





Thursday, November 8, 2012

California Bay Laurel



  As you drive past the gate, into Post Ranch, the right side of the road is flanked by tall California bay laurel trees.  This time of year they produce a small green fruit, called a bay nut, which turns red and purple as it ripens.  The California bay laurel had many historical uses, including: using the leaves to treat headaches and digestive issues, eating the roasted nut pits-which were believed to be a stimulant, eating the ripened fruit and using the leaves to keep insects away from stores or acorns and other food.   Today the trees are largely forgotten aside from the pleasant aroma they provide along local hiking trails.
  One reason many chefs shy away from our indigenous bay laurel is because it is quite strong.   I have heard the local bay laurel contains ten times the phenolic compounds of a true European Bay Leaf.   I have found that the tender young leaves are more similar in potency to a European bay leaf while the larger leaves have a strong flavor and spicy-tannic bite, which explains why they are said to have been used by early Spanish explorers as a dried condiment for roasted meats in place of black pepper.

  The season for fresh bay nuts is very short and I want to take advantage of them while I can.  Tonight we prepared wild boar tenderloins brined overnight with fresh bay laurel leaves and maple syrup.  We prepared a sauce by blanching the ripened bay-nut fruit and blending it with sea salt and local olive oil to create a bright green – aromatic puree.   The seeds from the fruit were roasted at 300 degrees until dark brown- then grated with cocoa butter, brown sugar, smoked salt and guajillo chile.  The resulting powder had the refreshing menthol quality of fresh bay- with the toasted-musky aroma of the roasted nut; it is a great compliment for the roasted boar.   Quickly charred fuyu persimmon and swiss chard from our garden with pumpkin seed goat cheese finished the dish.

  The customer is always right… unless they are wrong.

   This week we had a guest return his steelhead trout to the kitchen swearing it was salmon.    The server politely explained the fish that we use, but the customer refused to believe that the fish he was served was a trout.  This is not the first time a customer has questioned the authenticity of steelhead trout, a mistake that is understandable given the thick dark-orange filets with abundant marbling that resemble king salmon.   In the past it has never bothered me, but recently there have been accounts of markets and restaurants misrepresenting the fish they serve.  Several sushi restaurants have been caught serving farm raised tilapia as wild sashimi grade snapper and  serving farmed Atlantic salmon in place of wild king salmon.   I take a great amount of pride in the quality of ingredients we serve and in the integrity of our menu- so the fact that someone would doubt its accuracy– and leave believing they were served the wrong fish- did not sit well with me.

  After a few minutes of internal debate I went to our walkin and pulled a fresh steelhead trout from the ice.  I wiped the fish off, grabbed it with a towel, and proceeded to the dining room.   Apparently it is not common for chefs to walk through the dining room with a twenty pound fish- and several tables watched with great interest as I made my way through the dining room and directly in front of the gentleman who had returned his lunch.   

  “I understand you have a question about our steelhead trout, and I understand your confusion.  Steelhead is actually an anadromous rainbow trout that is born in fresh water and later migrates to the ocean.  Unlike a salmon steelhead are able to return to their spawning grounds without dying.  The easiest way to tell this trout from a salmon is to look at its mouth.”  Holding the trout with one hand I pry open its stiff mouth revealing a tiny row of sharp teen protruding from ivory gums.  “The inside of the steelhead’s mouth is white as opposed to salmon that have black mouths.”  I shifted the fish and pulled the fin below the trout taut.  “Another way to tell is by looking at the anal fin – on a steelhead you will find 8-12 vertical rays and on  a salmon you typically find 15-19.  It’s one of my favorite fish.”         “How was your pork?” 



    The man sat back in his chair silently listening to my dissertation.  He thanked me for coming out and said his pork was delicious and that he was really enjoying his meal.    I can't blame him for being skeptical, and I wish more people would question the ingredients they are served (preferably at another restaurant).    At least this time, not only did the customer get the right fish- he also got a great story to tell about his lunch at Post Ranch. 

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Willy Ono

The culinary talent in our kitchen continues to grow with the addition of Willy Ono.  Most recently Willy was in Europe working at such iconic restaurants as Mugaritz and Noma (both listed in the top 50 restaurants in the world) as well as up and coming restaurants like Relae in Denmark.  Prior to his work in Europe he was a sous chef at the Mandarin Oriental in New York.  When it comes to having a refined international palate, Willy had a bit of a head start, growing up with a Japanese father and Columbian mother.  He has a passion for exploring new cultures, ingredients and techniques.  I think he is the perfect person to work with Jacob and I on developing new menus and accomplishing our ambitious goals.   It is my pleasure to welcome him and his family to Big Sur.


Monday, October 29, 2012

Monterey Bay Sardines

There was a time not so long ago when millions of pounds of fresh sardines were caught and processed in Monterey.  During the 1940’s, a combination of over-fishing, pollution and climate change plummeted the sardine population, shuttering dozens of canneries and putting thousands of people out of work.  Over the last few years the sardine population has started to recover and commercial boats can once again be seen fishing for them in the bay.  Sadly most of the locally caught sardines are destined to be shipped overseas where most will be processed into fish-oil, pet food and other fish-based products.  A few high-grade sardines will be packed and canned - some even making their way back here to the Central Coast.  These tiny fish are so labor intensive that practically none are sold fresh in the US.

 Sardines have a rich-red meat that is covered in an iridescent skin so fragile it will tear with even the most gentle touch.  Due partly to their high fat content, the sardines do not last long and must be eaten immediately after they are caught.  A fresh sardine cannot be compared to a canned sardine- any more than a can of tuna can be compared with a sashimi grade tuna loin.  Fresh sardines have a firm texture with a buttery, mouth feel and a clean-refined flavor, perfect for eating raw or lightly cured.

We received some fresh sardines and decided to showcase them on the dinner menu.  We fileted the sardines, carefully removing the tiny bones before dusting them with local sea salt.  After fifteen minutes we rinsed the filets and patted them dry.  The filets were then brushed with a meyer lemon-fennel pickling liquid.  We cleaned the spine and fried it until crisp (my favorite part of eating sardines).  A few pickled-carrot chips and local olive oil finished the plate.  The dish is reminiscent of a traditional Spanish escabeche with our own Big Sur twist.


Friday, October 26, 2012

Yucca Blossoms

This week brought the first good rain of the season.  I was woken up at 3 a.m. on Tuesday morning to a spattering of raindrops against my bedroom window and a cold wind whipping up the coastal ridge and through my open window.  With the rain comes the inevitable inconveniences of fall - the sliding rocks, muddy roads, power outages, downed trees and other events that make us slow down and remember that Big Sur is further from town than we sometimes think.  The rain also signals a change in season and the promise of new and exciting ingredients.  Hillsides that have been covered in dry - golden grass will soon be bright with new growth, tiny chanterelles will begin growing from spores hidden below fallen oak leaves and wild watercress will flourish in seasonal streams.  When the sun had finally risen, I looked out my window to see a beautiful yucca in full bloom.

Yucca is a temperamental plant, only blooming sporadically under ideal conditions.  They require just the right amount of warmth, coupled with a good rain and a well-timed hatching of yucca moths to pollinate the flowers.  For these reasons you cannot predict when or if these mysterious plants will produce blossoms.  The yucca blossom is in fact so rare, that while it is the state flower of New Mexico, where I was raised, I don’t ever remember seeing them flower.  This was a great way to start my day - and I took a moment to enjoy the majestic plant framed by the coastal sunrise.....before getting a machete and hacking it off.  What can I say - I’m a chef, not a florist, and this rare flower was destined for the kitchen.

The beautiful white blossoms are similar in flavor and texture to Belgian endive and lend themselves to being marinated, sautéed or quickly fried in a lite tempura batter.  I created a lunch special with sautéed yucca petals and tempura yucca blossoms accompanying seared rare tuna.  The rest of the blossoms are going to be pickled this evening and used later in the month.  This week I hope to make a drive down the arid south coast to see if other plants are in bloom. 




Thursday, October 25, 2012

Butternut Squash Agnolotti


If you have been reading this blog you may have the impression that we only work with exotic ingredients and challenging techniques.  Receiving rare ingredients and experimenting with new techniques is always fun, but most of our dishes are actually classically-based and rely upon easily accessible, seasonal ingredients.   The butternut squash agnolotti, currently on our lunch menu, is a great example of how a classic recipe is sometimes hard to improve upon.  

Agnolotti is an ancient pasta shape that originated in Piedmont, Northern Italy.  There are numerous variations - but we practice the “agnolotti al plin” which is slightly rectangular and gently pinched to form smooth pillows that work perfectly for trapping sauce.  I've included the recipe below along with a few preparation videos.


Pasta Dough
  • 1 lb. Flour
  • 12 Egg Yolks 
  • 2 Whole Eggs 
  • 1 tbs Olive Oil 
  • 1 tbs Milk 

Filling
  • 1 ea 2# Butternut Squash
  • 2 tbs Sea Salt
  • 1 tsp Fresh Ground Black Pepper
  • 3 tbs Butter
  • 1 tbs Ras El Hanout (Moroccan Spice Blend)
  • 1 cup Mascarpone Cheese
  • 1 tsp Lemon Zest from Micro Plane

For Finishing
  • 8oz Butter - Cooked over low heat until very brown.
  • 2 tbs Lemon Zest
  • 1 tbs Salt
  • 2 tbs Chopped Sage

Preparation Instructions
To make the pasta dough, combine all of the ingredients into a mixing bowl.  Mix by hand until it forms into a smooth, elastic dough.  Roll the pasta into thin sheets using a pasta machine or rolling pin.

For the filling, take fresh butternut squash, cut it in half and season it with freshly ground ras el hanout, sea salt, black pepper and butter.  The halves are then roasted in the oven until soft.  Scoop them from their shells, place them into a mixer and combine with mascarpone cheese and lemon zest.  Mix until they are smooth.  Adjust final seasoning to taste.

Lay a sheet of pasta lengthwise in front of you on a well-floured surface. Put the filling into a piping bag and pipe a line along the front edge of the sheet.  Brush the sheet with egg and egg wash.  Fold the sheet over the filling and use your fingers to make indentations every inch to form small pouches.  Fold the pasta over again and use a cutting wheel to remove any extra dough and then cut between pouches. 

To finish the pasta cook in boiling salted water for 2 minutes and then sauté quickly in brown butter with pecans, sea salt , chopped sage and lemon zest. 



video


video

Friday, October 19, 2012

Introducing Our New Chef de Cuisine - Jacob Pilarski

I am excited to announce a new addition to our team!  After spending several years as sous chef for David Kinch at the acclaimed restaurant - Manresa, Jacob Pilarski will be joining Sierra Mar as my Chef de Cuisine.  Jacob is a graduate of New England Culinary Institute and has a diverse culinary background with strong fine-dining credentials, training in chemistry and a passion for cooking and local ingredients.  It is my pleasure to welcome Jacob into the kitchen - and I can’t wait to begin our culinary collaboration.


Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Phelps 40th Harvest Celebration

This past weekend I was invited to cook dinner at the Joseph Phelps Vineyard in Napa Valley.  The Phelps family invited 60 lucky members of their wine club to be guests at an exclusive dinner held in one of the barrel rooms.  Giant oval wooden barrels that had been imported from Germany for aging Riesling in the early 1970’s lined one side of the room.  On the other side, picture windows overlooked acres vineyard stretching down to a historic green schoolhouse at the lower end of the estate.  The kitchen was simple, but functional, and is said to have been designed in part by Alice Waters and Jeremiah Towers - the focal point being a long butcher block table made from thick slabs of oak, worn smooth from years of use.  Dominique and I worked on creating a menu that would accentuate the incredible line-up of wines that the family had selected from their library.  There were a number of great bottles - but the two that stood out to me were the 1989 Backus Cab and the 1973 Late Harvest Riesling, that had likely been aged in the now retired wooden barrels that lined the dining room, and over the years had turned from golden to dark amber.  Several members of my culinary team: Yulanda (Pastry Chef), Jacob (Chef de Cuisine), Amber and Maya helped make the event a great success.  Here's the menu and wine pairings:

 
Phelps Preferred 40th Harvest Dinner
October 12, 2012

Hosted By
Bill Phelps, Damian Parker, Mike McEvoy, Duane Harris
Chef John Cox, Sierra Mar at Post Ranch Inn

Local Abalone
Brown Butter, Heirloom Tomato and Capers
Joseph Phelps Chardonnay, Pastorale Vineyard, Sonoma Coast 2009

Squab Rillet
Black Currant, Dried Fruit Brioche and Toasted Hazelnut Milk
Joseph Phelps Pinot Noir, Quarter Moon Vineyard, Sonoma Coast 2009

Dandelion Marinated Elk Tenderloin
Beemster Polenta and Caramelized Quince
Joseph Phelps Insignia, Napa Valley 1999
Joseph Phelps Insignia, Napa Valley 2009
Joseph Phelps Cabernet Sauvignon, Backus Vineyard Oakville, Napa Valley 1989

Snowy Mountain Strawberry Peak
Pickled Chanterelles, Hay Roasted Onion
Joseph Phelps Syrah, Napa Valley 1999

Honey Cremeux
Pear and Almonds
Joseph Phelps Late Harvest Riesling, Napa Valley 1973





Thursday, October 11, 2012

Picking Fresh Herbs

The kitchen will sometimes unexpectedly run out of herbs mid-way through our dinner service.  This time of year that typically happens around 7:45 and I will have to momentarily abandon my post at the front of the line to go replenish our stock of wild herbs and blossoms from our living roof.   Whether this is a case of poor planning or perfect timing I will never say.