Thursday, October 27, 2011

Fall Flavors at Lunch

This week I was called upon to cook a special lunch for the owner of Willamette Valley Vineyards.  It seems that the relationship between the catering company I work for and the Winery has become a bit tenuous and some derision had been cast in our direction regarding the quality of the food we had been serving there.  And that was where I came in; new chef, new guy, new ideas, new food.

I have been creating a few seasonal menus for Jean, the owner of Willabys, and she in turn has been sending them out to prospective clients.  And so it was with restrained joy that when the menu for the aforementioned luncheon came into my hands it was one that spoke particularly and directly to my affinity for the flavors of Fall.

The salad was not such a seasonal choice, but still a good one:
 Grilled and Chilled Hearts of Romaine w/Shaved Asiago, Toasted Almonds and Green Goddess Dressing

  I first saw romaine hearts grilled in Berkeley by Chef Daniel Malzhan at the Dakota Grill in the late 80's and have hung on to it as an effective treatment of the oft boring crisp head of romaine for lo, these many years.

  The head is cleaned, halved, brushed with olive oil and simply grilled, cut side down, until the innermost leaves brown and wilt slightly.  It can then be rechilled until serving.  I love shaving rather that shredding the cheese; the long sheets of Asiago lend a fine architectural and dimensional look to the salad.  The sliced, skin-on almonds get toasted for crunch and texture and then there is the Green Goddess Dressing.  While none of that is the essence of "Fall-ish", at least if felt like Fall when I went outside, fired up the grill put the proper markings on the lettuce halves and the leaves swirled.

Green Goddess is a dressing on the rebound these days.  It was devised in San Francisco in the 20's by Chef Philip Roemer to celebrate a play that was passing through the City, named, appropriately, The Green Goddess.  It is mayonnaise based, which may explain it having fallen from fashion for a time, but it is, when laden with the proper and fresh green herbs wonderfully zesty.

The classic recipe calls for a mince of chervil, chives, tarragon, black pepper and the all important capers and anchovy to be blended to the (presumably) homemade mayonnaise, but turns and twists on the original can be taken.  I like to add both parsley and green onions (chives not being as readily available on a daily basis in our part of the world) and I occasionally have been known to substitute basil for the tarragon.  In any case, the blend is lovely; rich, green and creamy, particularly with the addition of a bit of sour cream to take the denseness out of the mayonnaise.

The rest of the menu said nearly everything about Fall that I like:
Roast Cider Marinated Pork Tenderloin with Pear Chutney.
Fall Squash Gratin, and,
Braised Greens

I had seen some locally made cider vinegars that had some unusual flavorings, and I thought this might be a nice time to try one out.  I had already made the chutney (see previous blog entry for the recipe) with a fair amount of ginger so I decided to use the one that was ginger flavored to carry through on a theme.  These are vinegars meant for consumption (as a digestif, or health aid, I can only presume), but I figured it would work wonderfully as a marinade, if used half and half with some local apple cider.  I added some shallots, grated ginger and a splash of oil, and poured it over the pork.  I let that sit for 24 hours.

I also wanted to serve the pork with a stock based sauce to both moisten it and make it so the chutney was not the sole flavoring agent.  I had trimmed fat, silver skin and a little meat from the tenderloin before it went into the marinade, and these I browned with some cooked chunks of bacon (I wanted a little smoky/salty thing going on).  Once the meat was brown and the bacon had rendered a small amount of fat, I deglazed the pan with another good splash of the ginger-flavored vinegar and then put in a cup of veal stock.  This I allowed to come to a boil and then I dropped the heat to let it reduce slowly and cooked it down to about half a cup.

The second part of the menu, the gratin, would be fun.  I love making (and eating!) gratins and I hadn't made one with fall/winter squash in some time.  I chose butternut, as it's grown right near us at Lake Labish by Schlechter Farms and has just come off the vine; nothing could be more local or seasonal.

  The first thing I did, naturally, was peel and cube the squash (3/4" if you're measuring) and toss the cubes in a bowl with some olive oil and S&P.  I roasted if for about 20 minutes at 350, just to soften a bit, with some whole cloves of garlic and a dice of onion.  When that came out of the oven, I tossed it with just a bit of heavy cream and some crumbled goat cheese and put it into the casserole.  I made a topping of garlicky bread crumbs, toasted hazelnuts and parmesan and sprinkled it over the top.

My greens selection was a bit limited, Oregon not being a hotbed of Southern cooking, but chard is in season here and I was able to get red and white.  A simple tearing of the leaves off the spines got it ready to cook.  I was ready to come back the next day and take everything to the winery for some "a la minute" cooking.

 The next day the wind was howling through the Willamette Valley and the winery, perched up on top of the ridge overlooking the Valley was a chilly, chilly place.  The first thing I did upon arriving was crank up the convection oven to get some heat in their open drafty kitchen and popped the gratin in the oven.

I heated a heavy saute pan on the burners with a bit of oil and once it was good and hot I dried off the pork tenderloin and plopped it into the pan, not just to brown, but to caramelize some of that marinade.  When it was nice and crisp on one side I turned it and put it into the 400 degree oven to join the gratin.

I plated the salad, that was easy; I halved the romaine half so it was a quarter, spooned the Green Goddess over and around it, propped the shavings of Asiago up in strategic places and sprinkled the toasted almonds over the top and then put the crostini off to one side.  Nice. That was easy.

While the pork t-loin and the gratin were cooking I heated olive oil in a medium sized sauce pan, added some garlic and when it was just cooked, added the wet (from washing) torn chard leaves.  I sprinkled in a bit of salt and pepper, lowered the heat and covered the pan.  Keeping it simple.

I took the foil top off the gratin to allow the top to brown and took the pork loin out of the oven, covered it with foil and allowed it to "repose".  I deglazed the pork roasting pan with yet a bit more of the ginger-flavored cider vinegar and added the reduction I had made the previous day.  It smelled so good mixing with the caramelized flavors from the pork loin.  And at this point I took the salads to the dining room, introduced myself and served the first course.

Back in the kitchen the chard was nicely wilted and the gratin was bubbling under its crisp topping.  All the was left was to plate it all.  The a nice rectangular slice of the gratin, topping intact, went at the top of the plate and the drained greens in the middle.  I sliced the pork loin into nine nice medallions and arranged them on the three plates in an overlapping curve around the greens.  A dollop of the pear chutney went on the top of the middle medallion and a gentle pour of the rich reduced sauce went around and over and under.  Yes, it was lunchtime.

The table got kind of quiet when I served the entrees, except for one hushed, "Beautiful".  While they ate I returned to the kitchen and plated my All Oregon dessert; half a peeled and sliced (perfectly ripe!) Bosc pair, a sprinkling of Oregon Blue cheese, candied Oregon hazelnuts, and a squirt or two of locally made Oregon blackberry honey.  Such a lovely combination.

When I went back out the plates were clean and I delivered the simple dessert.  That was it, no hanging around.  I packed it up and hied back to the kitchen.  I had to come back that same evening with dinner for 30, but that was another meal and a story for another time.  (And by the way, I heard later that the bigwigs at the winery had LOVED the lunch.)

Friday, October 21, 2011


Pear season in Oregon; treasured fruit from cultures both past and present. Sensual in ways both culinary and visual; pears are crunchy and suave, juicy and fragrant, luxurious yet simple. They have been prized and cultivated by Northern cultures, primarily because they are one of the few tree-born (apples, of course being the other) fruits that thrive in cooler climates. From Scandanavia, through Northern China (the People's Republic of China is the largest producer of pears in the world) and Japan and across into the Northern states of the US, pears are grown and loved for their versatility.

Although I have grown to love pears, it is something that has happened mostly in the second half of my life, a bit like beets. When I was very young pears meant that either I was hiding from friends in the pear orchards near where I grew up, dodging the rotting, sweetly pungent, yellow-jacket covered fruit as it lay on the ground; or, my mother was serving them from a can, alongside cottage cheese, as an alternative to a green salad next to our dinner. Neither of those experiences did a lot to enhance a childhood love of pears. The part of the East Bay in Northern California in which I spent my youth, the Lafayette-Moraga area, was a prime pear growing region up into the 1950's, shipping thousands of pounds of pears a year back to the East Coast, but property and houses proved far more lucrative. Where there were once thousands of pear trees, there are now hundreds of million dollar-plus homes.

Here in Oregon, the pear is the State Fruit, and while the two main growing regions are Hood River to the north and the Rogue River Valley to the south, here in the Willamette Valley they do produce quite a large crop of the Pear that Oregon is known for, the Bartlett. It is red and green and irresistibly juicy. The Bartlett is a huge canning pear and the one that you see in those Harry and David fruit ads where they advertise "pears so juicy you can eat them with a spoon", or something like that. Fewer, but also wonderful are my favorite, Bosc's; brownish-gold skinned, firm, flavorful, and elegant. The Bartlett has the juice, but the Bosc has the crunch.

It was clear that in doing what I do I would connect with pears on one level or another and it was when I first tasted an ethereal pear-almond tart at Chez Panisse that I realized what I had been missing. And I credit Mark Miller when I worked with him at the 4th St. Grill in Berkeley for showing me the wonders of the Comice pear. But pears remained mostly a pastry item in my world, despite my working with chefs like Bob Kinkead at the Harvest in Massachusetts who introduced me to those damn tiny tasteless Seckel pears that he made us peel and serve with pork.

I finally reached an understanding of how pears could work in savory dishes when I began grilling and roasting them to serve in both salads and alongside meats and poultry. As with almost any fruit of vegetable, the grill serves to concentrate the flavors and/or sugars in pears and kicks their flavor to another level, one that can stand up to the rich flavors in reduction sauces. One of the dishes I created was a Roasted Guinea Fowl Breast with Roasted Pears and Thyme that I served with a rich Sauvignon Blanc-poultry stock reduction sauce with braised greens and soft polenta. The flavors of the pear proved so complimentary to the bird and the roasted stock and really helped to make the dish.

Pears had been off my radar for quite some time while I was in Costa Rica (go figure), although one does see pears from Chile in the markets occasionally. It wasn't until I got a care package from Kathy last winter just before Christmas that had several bags of dried pears in it that I had even thought of them. What a revelation! They were like candy; sweet and chewy, with just enough of that elusive minerally tang that the fruit is famous for.

So this Fall, at my urging (and because her entire family loves them) she has become the Queen of Dried Pears yet again. She has already peeled, sliced and dried an entire lug (42#) of Bartletts and is working her way through a lug of Boscs. I loved the Bartletts last year, but this year realize that the Boscs seem to have even a richer, deeper concentration of flavor. When Kathy gets bored with the drying process she has been vacuum packing and freezing fresh wedges of peeled pear after dipping them in a bit of sweetened acidulated water.

I, on the other hand, am working on my pear chutney recipes, trying roasted, poached and grilled pears for different flavor and texture feels and flavors. I have a tasting this week for a prospective catering client and am going to serve he and his party a cider-marinated pork tenderloin topped with pear chutney. This is the recipe I will use:


6 Bosc Pears, peeled and cut in 1/2" cubes; tossed in lemon juice and sugar;

1 Red Onion, peeled and cut in 1/4" dice
I Red Bell Pepper, cut in 1/4" dice
1 1" piece fresh Ginger; peeled and grated
1/4 Jalapeno Chile, seeded and cut in very fine dice
1/4 Cup Golden Raisins (or for the holiday, Dried Cranberries) plumped in white wine
1 Cinnamon Stick
4 Whole Cloves
Pinch of freshly ground Cumin
Pinch of freshly ground Nutmeg;
1/2 Cup White Wine Vinegar
1/2 Cup Brown Sugar
Juice of 1 Lemon

Bring vinegar, brown sugar and lemon juice to a boil (this chutney base is called a "gastrique") and add all ingredients except the pears. Cook for five minutes, or until the vegetables have softened but not lost their color. Turn off the heat and stir in the cubed pears. Let cool and pack in glass jars. This chutney will hold in the refrigerator for several weeks and is delicious on pork or roast fowl and also on turkey sandwiches (!).


And as no writing about pears would be complete without a recipe for a pear tart, here is one that my sister, Barbara, has used over the years. It originally appeared in Cook's Illustrated.
I am particularly fond of this recipe as it combines pears with one of their most natural and traditional complimentary flavors, almonds. This recipe although lengthy, is actually quite simple and so very, very delicious.

Not all pear tart recipes begin by poaching the pears, but a significant number of them do. You can decide for yourself what you like, but here is a basic poaching recipe for pears for this and other desserts. These pears sliced, by themselves, are delicious over ice cream, and the poaching liquid, if reduced to syrupy consistency is, as well.


6 Peeled, halved and cored pears; Bosc or Bartlett;

1 Bottle of White Wine (I like Sauvignon Blanc)
1 Cinnamon Stick
4 Whole Cloves
2/3 Cup White Sugar
1" Segment of Vanilla Bean, split and seeds scraped into liquid
10-12 Black Peppercorns
Pinch Salt
Juice+Zest of 2 Lemons

Add all ingredients to a non-corrosive sauce pan and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to a simmer and cook for 10-15 minutes. Place pears gently into poaching liquid and return heat to just short of a boil. Reduce yet again, and simmer pears until the can be pierced easily with a wooden skewer, but are not falling apart. Turn the heat off under the pan and allow the pears to cool in the poaching liquid.

This recipe calls for a classic Pate Sucree, or Pastry Dough, that incorporates egg, cream and sugar into a basic flour and butter mixture.


1 Large Egg Yolk
2 TBS Heavy Cream
1/2 Tsp Good Quality Vanilla Extract
1 1/2 Cups All Purpose Flour
3/4 Cup Powdered Sugar
Pinch of Salt
1 1/4 Cubes of Unsalted Butter, very cold, cut into 1/2" cubes

Whisk together the egg yolk, cream and vanilla. Place dry ingredients in food processor and pulse briefly to bring together. Scatter the butter chunks over the mixed dry ingredients and pulse the processor several times (up to 20) to incorporate the butter into the mix. With the motor running pour in the wet ingredients and run machine for 12 seconds. Turn the dough out on to plastic wrap, form into a disc, cover and refrigerate for at least an hour (or more if necessary).


4 Oz. Blanched Slivered Almonds
1/2 Cup Granulated Sugar
Pinch Salt
1 Egg
1 Egg White
1/2 Tsp Good Vanilla Extract
1/2 Tsp Almond Extract
6 TBS Unsalted Butter, cut into 6 pieces, at room temperature

Pulse the almonds, sugar and salt in a food processor until powdered. Add the egg and egg yolk and the extracts and process. Add the butter in chunks and process until smooth. Scrape out into a bowl. Refrigerate if you are not going to use immediately.


Remove pastry from refrigerator and roll out to about 12 inches. Lay over the top of a fluted tart pan and press the pastry down into it. Cover the filled tart pan with clear wrap and freeze for 30 minutes. Spray a sheet of foil with "non-stick" food spray, or brush it with cooking oil and lay it over the pastry. Fill the foil with rice or dried beans and bake at 375 for 20 minutes, rotating once. Remove from oven to cooling rack, gently remove foil and weights and allow to cool for 30 minutes.

If you have refrigerated your Frangipane, remove it from the refrigerator and whisk it a few times to soften it. Using a palette knife or a small plastic spatula, spread the Frangipane evenly and gently over the bottom of the tart shell.

Remove the pears from their poaching liquid and dry them very well on paper towels. Either slice them and lay them in a nice pattern on top of the tart; or, lay the whole pears on the filling, slice them and gently press them into place on top of the tart.

Lower the over temperature to 350 and put the tart in the oven on a baking sheet. Bake for about 45 minutes or until the crust is puffed, brown and crisp to the touch. Allow to cool on the baking sheet. If you wish to glaze the tart, heat about a 1/4 cup of a clear jam like apple until it liquifies and brush it gently over the top of the pears.

Allow the tart to cool for two hours. If you have used a ringed tart pan, remove the outer ring at this point, cut the tart into wedges and serve.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011


We are in the process, at our house, of (nearly) desperately trying to capture lightning in a bottle. Or, more realistically, preserve some of the tastes and memories of a summer that wasn't nearly long enough. Same thing, I guess. In any case, we are filling our freezer and cupboards with stacks and stacks of bags (thank God for zip-locks) filled with goodies that will help us to get through a long and rainy winter of tasteless vegetables and virtually no, good fresh fruit.

I have never really been a preserving, canning, drying, jarring (well, I can be a bit jarring) kind of guy. I've always worked in restaurants and being in that position can easily create the illusion of plenty. Sure there are no more asparagus, but we're going into green bean/snap pea/hell, brussells sprout season. Or, what, no peaches? Okay, we'll change that recipe up and do it with pears, or mangoes, or papayas or something. This is just the way it is in the restaurant biz, particularly when one is working in, or is close to an urban center (or better yet, living in the tropics where things just GROW).

But now things are different, far different. Kathy and I live at the Eastern edge of the Willamette Valley, nearly 25 miles from Salem, the nearest "large" city, and hardly an urban center. Even the "good" grocery stores here are not exactly hotbeds of produce bargains and while during the harvest season it is possible to eat locally, most of the food here comes from far, far away. Our summer here lasted about six weeks and we are at the tail end of a growing season that gave us late season tomatoes and squashes, but now is down to apples, pears, cauliflower and cabbage.

When I got here at the end of last winter I saw green beans for sale in the local supermarket for as high as $3.49/#, and the cheapest thing around was broccoli at $1.99/# and oh boy, did we ever get tired of broccoli. So our answer was to blanch and freeze as many of the green things as we could and we've now got bags and bags of our own homegrown beans and peas flash blanched and safe in the freezer. Sadly, I've got to admit, we absolutely BLEW through our own homegrown broccoli; what a difference!!

When it came to tomatoes we were of two schools of thought. Kathy is a dryer and she is the undisputed Queen of the Dehydrator (more about that later). As a result, we have several bags of dried tomatoes ready to contribute their concentrated flavors to everything from salad dressing to pesto to sauces.

I, on the other hand, am a freezer, and to me this means getting those tomatoes into a frozen state so that they are ready to contribute flavor immediately. I like roasting halved tomatoes in a hot oven (425 or so) along with sliced onions and whole garlic cloves on sheet pans in olive oil until everything is just taking on the edge of caramelization. The cooled and concentrated product is then rough-chopped and stored, flat, in ziplock bags. And we now have 12 large ziplocks filled with roasted concentrated tomatoes in the outside freezer. I will use these in braises, bean dishes, soups and any number of other applications. The only caveat is if we lose power and the freezer goes down.

Also helping to fill up the outside freezer are 20# of frozen local blueberries, 12# of frozen local raspberries and a couple of ziplocks each of peeled and chunked peaches and nectarines. And yes, the Willamette Valley does surprisingly well in the peach and nectarine department. I pretend that some of these fruits will end up in pies or crisps or cobblers, but truth be told, they lay in wait for several months worth of my morning smoothies. I use bananas and yogurt as a base, but the real flavor comes from the berries. My mornings are not complete without them.

Right now the previously mentioned dehydrator (and I can here it doing its slow turns right now) is filled with thin slices of Willamette Valley Bartlett pears, doing their drying out thing. Kathy brought home a 42# lug of the beautiful ripe fruit and she is doing her utmost to make sure that we have at least the taste, if not the whole effect, of those sweet pears all winter long. Her regimen involves peeling, coring and slicing and is indeed a labor of love. Last winter while I was still in Costa Rica she sent me several bags and I fell in love with their minerally and slightly grainy texture and their sweet expression of pure pear flavor. And now that the Bartletts are done, dried and in their bags, we're going out for a lug of Bosc. One can really never have too many dried pears.

Our last mission in the process of putting food by will be the last harvested vegetable in this valley, cauliflower. These too, will be flash blanched in boiling salted water and frozen. Fortunately I've found a woman who loves cauliflower as much as I do and we've both been watching the fields right near our house with great anticipation of the harvest.

I made the Fall's first cauliflower gratin early this week and it was wonderful, but even more, I love simply tossing big chunks of florets (1/4-1/6 head or so) in olive oil and sea salt and simply roasting them in the oven. I never, ever got passionate about cauliflower until I ate it this way. It is an amazing expression of pure cauliflower goodness, but if you feel like sprinkling a little grated Reggiano Parmesano over it just as it comes out of the oven, I certainly couldn't fault you for it.

And as much as I would like to think that this frozen and dried bounty is going to take us through the winter, I know better. Sadly, most of this will be eaten within the next three months leaving us, somewhere in the middle of January or so wandering the aisles of the supermarkets eying over-priced and underloved produce from far away. Kathy will hate me for saying this, but we'll just have to make the garden bigger next year.

As much as I would love for this frozen and

Sunday, October 9, 2011

So Many Years of Sausage

In recent days I have become reacquainted with a kitchen passion of mine, sausage making. After a bit of cajoling from their new Chef (me), the owners of Willabys have bought the grinder head we needed to complete our Hobart mixer and I am in business. Not only is owning a grinder a good move financially, it opens up a whole new arena for charcuterie on our catering menus.

There is nothing difficult about making sausage. Oh yeah, you do need the right equipment; grinder, stuffing cone, a few different sized dyes (they determine the size of the grind), and a smoker should you so desire. And you do need the right supplies; meat, fat, spices and the casings. Naturally, and lastly, it goes without saying, you need the interest, the desire and ultimately the passion for doing it right.

Sausage making doesn't convey the art of so many other parts of the culinary world. It is essentially taking the bits of meat that aren't wanted for anything else, grinding them up and shoving them tightly into a pig's intestine. There are jokes about how one doesn't want to see sausages being made and other unkind and untoward remarks on the subject. However, when you place a wonderfully made and perfectly cooked sausage in front of most people, the level of happiness and satisfaction is unrivaled. Sausages are simple yet remarkably flavorful and represent the one of the most basic and joyful relation people can have with food.

Thirty years or so ago, I was one of those cooks who had never seen sausage being made and I gazed, no gaped, in wonderment as we actually ground our own meat and stuffed into casings our very own selves at the 4th St. Grill in Berkeley. And not only that, we made two types which we affectionately called (in the kitchen, anyway), red dogs and white dogs. The red dogs were all pork with a mix of dried red chiles and the white doggies were pork and chicken seasoned in a southwesterly (as my Indian friend Anthony used to call it) direction with fresh green chiles and cilantro. It was here in Mark Miller's kitchen that I first grasped the concept and the technique for making sausages and it remained with me, although somewhat deeply imbedded.

I made a few stabs at sausage making up in the Napa Valley and even turned out what was a pretty decent Moroccan spiced lamb sausage while working for the California Cafe Corp. I went down to LA to help a friend of a friend open a restaurant called Gilliland's in the summer of '84 and I ran into the Venice Beach sausage king, Jody Maroni. He had been content vending sausages he was buying, the usual Coney Island, Kielbasa, etc, and over a grinding machine at his uncle's butcher shop and a small payoff, I showed him a number of different styles of making fresh sausage. He now has a sausage kingdom.

I moved back up to the Bay Area and became Executive Chef at Tourelle in Lafayette, CA, where we made a few different types of sausage, but the one I remember best was the Duck Pepperoni. I ended up on Cape Cod for a summer season shortly after Tourelle closed for major renovations and representing the Ocean Edge Resort, we knocked the socks off a tasting event on the Cape with a variety of sausages, including Duck with Roasted Garlic and another version of the Moroccan Lamb Sausage (with plump currants and plenty of cumin).

In 1990 I found myself as the Chef at an unlikely and very early champion of "American Regional Cuisine" called the Mackinaw Inn in North Lake Tahoe. We were way ahead of our time and most of Tahoe was still stuck in the Steak and Lobster phenomenon of the 70's, but we forged ahead nonetheless, with a kitchen built around a mesquite grill, a giant wood-burning rotisserie and a wood-burning pizza oven.

At the Mackinaw we cut and cured our own hams (and this was 1990, remember, way before it was hip to do "whole animal butchery"), roasted whole chickens, lamb legs and the hams over the rotisserie in front of the dining room and made yes, countless sausages and even our own hot dogs (for the bar menu). I couldn't have done any of this without my friend and sous-chef Jim Miller wielding his razor sharp butcher knives, and we nearly drove ourselves crazy trying to keep up with making game sausages by boning out pheasant hind-quarters, a fat-free chicken sausage and three or four different kinds of pork sausages, utilizing the by-products which the pig so generously gives. And oh yes, we perfected the hot dog.

Tahoe was not for me, nor was I for Tahoe, and I returned to San Francisco to try to make some headway into what was, for me, the Mecca of restaurant life. I started off as a sous chef at Embarko, a brilliant shooting star on the Embarcadero that flared out far too early, and after a couple of low level Chefs jobs, found myself, in 1994, at San Francisco's bastion of Creole/Cajun cuisine, The Elite Cafe. The Elite was still packing them in by blackening redfish, filets and anything else they could find, but the allure was running thin. I was hired, essentially, to drag the place kicking and screaming into the 90's and to give it some kind of connection with the direction food in San Francisco was going.

We didn't muss and fuss with the menu all that much, but instead added specials; lots of them. And one that I added that became a hit and got me back into my sausage making ways was a "fat-free" spicy smoked chicken sausage that we made right there in that tiny little kitchen. The recipe was delightfully simple: boneless chicken legs, skin and all; heaping piles of thrice (yes thrice) blanched garlic, mustard seeds and red chile flakes; all ground together and stuffed into a casing. And that was it. The garlic served as the binder and the only fat in the dish was the not insignificant amount contained in the chicken skin.

We stuffed the sausages on a grinder that was crammed into a back corner of the kitchen at the end of a narrow aisle-way that was the only path to the downstairs (where most everything was stored) and somehow managed to find the time and space to crank out about 200 "bird dogs" a week. We also devised a method of smoking them which involved turning off the oven pilots, setting wood chips afire over the stove burners in saute pans, and heaving the smoking pans into the ovens where the sausages had been placed on racks. It was madness and it was, in its own funny way, brilliant. We served two of the grilled smoked "bird dogs" over creamy polenta topped with a roasted tomato-mushroom ragout.

I left the Elite after nearly three and a half years, my longest tenure ever as a Chef anywhere, for another position in another Creole/Cajun style kitchen. This time, however, rather than inheriting an operation that had been up and running for 14 years (and found change to be uncomfortable) I would be writing my own menu, creating my own recipes and even naming the place myself. The owners of Cobb's Comedy Club, passionate New Orleans diners had made me an offer too good to refuse and I jumped.

Jumping along with me to Belle Roux (the name I'd suggested that was adopted) was my recipe for the "bird dogs", but now I had the opportunity to do something I had wanted to try all along, which was create a smoked Creole "style" sausage of my own. I had been quite happy using Hobb's venerable Andouille sausage for all of my "red" pork sausage needs (jambalaya, gumbo, etc...), but I wanted to make my own, to see what I could come up with creating my own recipe. Frankly, it was a huge success. Both of the subsequent reviews of Belle Roux mentioned the rich spicy smokiness of this sausage and I even posed for the photos accompanying one of the reviews with garlands of sausages wrapped around my neck and arms.

It was here, at Belle Roux, where I had reached my highest peak yet with sausage. I was making over 150#'s a week of two sausages, both my own recipes; I was featuring the two of them in our best selling appetizer, a sausage "sampler" and I was using the Creole style pork sausage successfully in both our jambalaya and our gumbo, as well as featuring it, grilled, over red beans and rice. Best of all, Hobbs Shore, a man I considered a "guru" of sausage and meat curing had even asked me for my chicken sausage recipe. Hot dog!!

But the restaurant business is a funny animal, and I found myself moving along again and leaving my passion for sausage making behind until now, at this most recent (and hopefully long term) stop at Willabys Catering. It seemed to me that in this Pacific Northwest environment homemade sausages as both an appetizer and in pastas would be a winner.

Additionally, it seems that no one in our Salem/Willamette area is doing anything remotely like this and the potential exists for us to perhaps take our dogs to the public and see if we can generate some interest. I do hope so. My excitement for sausages has been re-kindled after having been kenneled for so long and I can see that it may be something that brings us acclaim above and beyond our catering.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011


Chefs Night Out

This Sunday past was the Chefs Night Out benefit for the Polk and Marion county Foodbanks at Willamette Valley Vineyards, just outside of Salem. As any of you who have attended one of these events know, a donation is made, a wine glass and plastic plate are offered and the feeding and drinking frenzy is on. This particular rainy afternoon we shared the main tasting room (and outside tent in our case) with 17 other restaurants/caterers and 18 wineries.

The general battle plan for a company such as ours is to prepare a massive amount of "bites" or "tastes" (in our case 850) which can be easily transported and assembled on site. In the past I have tried to do more ambitious productions and it has never ceased to cause complications. Simple is better; simple and good is best.

Since we are just at the tail end of a great season of local sweet corn, I decided to feature Willamette Valley corn, grilled and made into little corn pancakes. Our topping would be a bit of corn (grilled again) and black bean salsa and we would top it all off with a dollop of roasted poblano chile/cilantro sour cream. Simple enough, but still no simple operations when one is trying to run a busy catering kitchen around putting together 850 hor's d'oeuvres.

The Saturday before the event we had two lunches that needed to be delivered along with buffet dinners for 66 and 125 that evening which were, fortunately at the same location, the aforementioned Willamette Valley Vineyards. Naturally there was a whirlwind of prep going on for the Saturday events and there were stacks of produce boxes, rolling racks, plastic-wrapped platters and prep tables heaving with veggies, meat and chicken all being prepped. Despite all that, we did manage to set up the propane grill out in the parking lot and grill off the three donated cases of corn, 144 ears. When you passed by you could hear them popping merrily on the grill grates.

When we loaded our two vans Saturday afternoon and set off to serve our dinners we felt as if we were in good shape for Sunday's event. The corn was grilled and a plan was set. Now we just had to serve dinner to 200 or so.

Pedro, Adam and I straggled back in Sunday morning after our long Saturday and while I started cutting the kernels off the 144 grilled ears of corn, the two of them put together yet another two parties that were to go out by noon; ahhh, catering.

My plan was to first put together the salsa, a simple concoction of the grilled corn kernels, cooked black beans, roasted red pepper and a couple of handfuls of chopped cilantro in an orange/chipotle/cumin dressing. Simple enough yes, although one does forget how long it takes to strip the ears of their tasty kernels. I tend to favor laying the cob down on the table to cut rather than standing it on end as it seems to leave the cut parts of the corn on the cutting board, rather than firing them around the room.

Once the salsa (almost a salad) was assembled it was time for the pancake batter. I used a recipe I like that incorporates the corn into a mix of cornmeal, cumin (again), finely minced jalapeno and a bit of green onion. Into that dry mix goes a wet solution of Greek yogurt, egg yolks and olive oil. The final step is whipping the separated egg whites and then folding them into the entire mixture. This gives the pancakes a nice little "rise" when they hit the griddle.


1/2 Cup fine grind cornmeal
1 1/4 cup Cooked corn kernels
3 Green onions, sliced as thinly as you can
1 Jalapeno, chopped fine
1/2 Tsp Cumin (seeds toasted, then ground)

3/4 Cup Greek yogurt (I prefer the full fat rather than the low fat)
3 Egg yolks
1 1/2 TBS Olive oil

3 Whites separated and whipped to light peaks

Mix dry ingredients together and mix wet ingredients (omitting the egg whites) in separate bowls. Mix the wet into the dry and then fold the whipped egg whites in, just to incorporate.

Heat a skillet and lightly brush with oil. When it is just short of smoking, drop the pancakes onto the skillet off the end of a teaspoon into small circles; pat down into pancake shape. Fry on one side and then turn.

Mixing the batter in large quantities was, of course, a bit messier than I'd intended, but the batter came out nicely. It always seems a bit denser than I expect, but that is from the quantity of fresh corn that I use (I tend to err on the side of using more than less corn). I found that by multiplying this recipe eight times, I got just over 400 pancakes from it (not counting the ones that didn't quite make it in the pan due to bad flipping technique).

Since, sadly, we do not have a flat grill, which would have made this child's play, I hauled down our big cast iron skillet and heated it up. This particular skillet is on the thin side so the heat needs to be constantly adjusted, another caveat I had failed to factor in. And so the production began. It took me about an hour on my own, then Pedro joined me, using a smaller pan, and we stood and panfried our 850 corn pancakes in just over two hours. We laid the cooked cakes out onto sheet pans and then re-heated them in the oven just prior to leaving. We packed them into smaller pans and put them into a Cambro, an insulated plastic box.

Adam had packed the salad/salsa for us and had put together the sour cream sauce by pureeing the roasted chiles and two bunches of cilantro in the Cuisinart with a couple of cups of sour cream. The van was packed with the Cambro, the salad and the salsa and we were ready. Pedro and I had our black chef's coats, a big stack of business cards, plenty of bottled water and miraculously we were on time and off to "Chefs Night Out".

We'd heard a rumor that we were going to be stuck in the satellite tent outside the main room and sure enough, that was the case. Our table had been decorated quite nicely by Sue, who does a lot of our event staging and all we had to do was haul in our Cambro, the beautiful copper platters we'd chosen and a few bowls. This was the point where I was ever-so-glad we had decided to go simple. I watched other caterers struggling with chafing dishes, lighting sterno and hunching over cutting boards in frenzied last minute prepping; ugh. Not for us; no way, no how.

Pedro and I put on our coats, assembled a couple of trays of the pancakes and stepped back. We were in a corner of the tent between two wineries and that was just fine. It was a bit misty outside and chilly, but the main room was going to get packed and stifling. This was better.

The first wave of guests had VIP passes and got to arrive an hour earlier than the teeming masses. It was all quite civilized and there was time to chat a bit with our visitors. People were leaving their cars in a big parking lot at the bottom of the hill (the winery sits atop a beautiful peak that looks out over the Willamette Valley) and being shuttled up which allowed for a good flow of guests, at least early on.

After the first hour the crush set in and the feeding and drinking began in earnest. There is a certain type of person who comes to events such as these to see just how much he can slug down his throat and cram into his mouth and there were plenty of these guests in the second wave. The tent filled, the musicians turned up and the volume swelled. Blessedly, this is when the time seems to fly and Pedro and I concentrated on traying, topping and saucing our little cakes.

The two middle hours flew by and we went through our product in a fairly predictable way. I was relieved to see that we were definitely going to have enough and not suffer the indignity of running out early. The final hour of events like this are, unfortunately, generally dominated by those who just can't bear to leave, need to have just one more (or three more) glasses of wine and who tend to stand in clusters and shriek and scream. This is the point of the festivities when the wineries start pouring larger and larger glasses (generally due to customer demand) and the drinkers seem to dominate the proceedings.

Pedro and I packed up as best we could, gritted our teeth through our painted on smiles and kept replenishing the trays, although not much eating was being done at this point. As the blessed hour of 7:00 drew closer, we packed up everything we could and began to plan our escape. I sent Pedro for the van about quarter of the hour and it was, nearly over. It had been a success, we had garnered much praise for our little pancakes and had gone through nearly all our product. The day was long, but the getting was good and we splashed down the winding winery driveway through the raindrops and puddles, tired and ready for the barn. I was quite glad that we were a few minutes ahead of the final drinkers who would hit the roads all too soon...

Wednesday May 13, 2009 La Cusinga and Me

This words below are from our website describing La Cusinga.  The story, however is much deeper and much richer than these introductory words can describe.  La Cusinga represents a noble and successful effort to preserve this section of unspoiled coast and to keep it alive as a model of what true ecology can accomplish.  The dreams and visions of John Tresemer, the owner of La Cusinga and the Finca Tres Hermanas that surrounds it, have been realized here in what is a true example for all who would preserve and protect what remains of this, or any natural wonder. 

La Cusinga 
La Cusinga Lodge is a coastal rainforest eco lodge dedicated to marine and terrestrial conservation and environmental education. Its location on the southern Pacific coast provides guests with sweeping ocean views and a relaxing beach vacation. In addition La Cusinga is part of a private nature reserve that supplies the visitor with an unparalleled look at Costa Rican wildlife and rainforest. The reserve consists primarily of 250 hectares of virgin rainforest that borders thousands of more acres of privately protected forest. On Costa Rica’s still wild south-western Pacific coast, La Cusinga Lodge borders Ballena Marine National Park which was developed to protect the humpback whales that frequent the coast. La Cusinga Lodge was established in order to share the unique site with Costa Ricans as well as international visitors. Besides getting exposure to rural Costa Rican culture and beautiful vistas, visitors have access to highly prolific areas of primary tropical rainforest and unspoiled coast, all conveniently accessible. 

i returned to La Cusinga this past January, 2009, with a dream in mind.  I wanted to create a cuisine for our guests that would bridge the gap between what La Cusinga offered physically and spiritually, and what they were putting in their bodies when they ate here.  I knew from having previously lived in Costa Rica for over two years that there were organic farmers and that sustainable agriculture was being practiced, but at that time it had been limited in its scope as well as its distribution.  

My first steps upon returning were toward the local Feria to seek out and communicate my ideas with the growers and vendors who could provide me with a local, organic and sustainable product.  The fertile valleys of San Isidro that lie over the coastal mountains and to the Northeast of our Pacific location are rich and productive but are only now exploring the potential that they hold.  

I had in mind a vision that would support local farmers, fishermen and food artisans and one that would recreate (or perhaps, create) a new cuisine of Coastal Costa Rica.  I visit the markets each week to talk with growers and to develop the  relationships that I believe will be mutually beneficial as Costa Rica experiences its rapid growth on an international level
Organic farming is a new and not heavily supported concept in our part of Costa Rica.  It is a brave step for farmers to make, as local communities of both growers and consumers have never placed, or not known to place, an importance on farming organically and sustainably.  I feel a responsibility as a Chef here to be at the forefront of those encouraging and supporting these pioneers  

I came to La Cusinga almost three years ago not knowing what to expect.  My first time through here was characterized by a lack of understanding and appreciation on my part as well as an inability to recognize or connect with the local "flavor" that would make for a coherent package for out guests.  I now feel as if I have made a "connect" with the property and the vision.  I am not completely satisfied and hopefully, never will be, until we are able to produce, right here at La Cusinga, the greater share of the produce we serve.  However, the groundwork has been laid with local farmers and the availability and quality of organic produce is impressive.

Now at La Cusinga I serve a variety of organic lettuces and braising greens.  My salads include wedges or slices of rich red tomatoes as well as sweet !00 and yellow pear cherry tomatoes.  I roast organic beets and marinate them in balsamic vinegar to be served alongside the lettuces and topped with a locally made organic goat cheese.

My soups are made from roasted and steamed local organic vegetables and tiny organic yellow creamer potatoes have found their way onto my plates, nestled against filets of locally caught fish.
I am now using a local organic cocoa powder that still contains the nuggets of cocoa butter unlike the fined cocoa powder in the markets.

And better still, I am able to use palmito (hearts of palm), ginger, cilantro and its sawtooth leafed cousin culantro coyote, mangoes, hot and sweet chiles, mandarina limes and yucca root from our own Finca Tres Hermanas to serve in my dining room at La Cusinga.   The connection from jungle and farm to table is evolving.  May it continue to grow.