Friday, January 21, 2011

Fromage Friday: Rouge Creamery Smokey Blue Cheese

The Rouge Creamery has a long history among American cheese makers. The creamery started in Sonoma and moved to a large scale production in Oregon during World War II in close conjunction with J.L. Kraft. After the war they began focusing on smaller artisan style cheeses. The Rouge Creamery "Oregon Blue" was the first blue cheese produced on the west coast. The Smokey Blue I am reviewing today was subsequently the first blue cheese smoked on the west coast.

I love a sharp bite blue Stilton and have found it to be a utilitarian cheese in the right hands. I have used in dishes as varied as melted a top rib-eyed steak or burger, in poultry stuffing, or in a sauce on top of a fish dish. I am planning on using it in ice cream to go with a pear tart this summer, or if I get around to it later this month. The Smokey Blue Cheese is not nearly as sharp as most Stiltons. The flavor is mild and builds to a bite  towards the end of the taste. The smoke adds several levels of nutty flavor that aid in mellowing the normally sharp flavors of blue cheese. It has a distinct notes of almond and some mild fresh grass flavors. Their is a sweetness to the cheese coming in large part from the cold smoke process involving hazelnut shells.

Rouge Creamery Smokey Blue
Oregon, USA
Cow's Milk
The cheese is great for people who may not usually like a blue cheese because of its sharp flavors or those looking for a sweeter blue cheese to offer as a dessert course. I paired it with Honey Crisp Apples (two weeks in a row now I have done that) and fresh blueberries. It would go well with strawberries, apricots or bell peppers. A wine paring would be a milder more dry Riesling like the Eroica  Columbia Valley, Washington or Sangiovese like the Antinori Toscana Rosa Tuscany, Italy.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Tokai Sushi 4U

I should start by saying when it comes to sushi I prefer sashimi (hunk of raw fish on rice) to makizushi (sometimes raw fish rolled with seaweed). There are few things better in this world than a piece of tako (octopus) a bed of sticky flavorful sushi rice. That being said, I can not pass up the deal that Tokai Sushi 4U offers on their rolls. The happy hour at Tokai offers a two for one special on all of their rolls. The rolls are all large, fresh tasting, well constructed and beautifully presented. I will review each of the rolls we ordered individually here.* 

The Spider Roll
Inside: Fried Soft Shelled Crab, Crab Meat, Gobo, Radish Sprout and Avocado
Outside: Flying Fish Roe

Spider Roll
The Spider Roll is one of my two must have orders at Tokai. The soft shelled crab is crisp and lightly battered to not over shine the crab meat. The gobo gave the roll a mild pungent flavor that went well with the crab's natural sweetness. The avocado in the roll excellent creamy consistency. The flying fish roe (tobiko) was a beautiful garnish, but the added salty flavor was not needed.

Shrimp Killer
Inside: Shrimp Tempura, Crab Meat and Avocado
Outside: Shrimp and Avocado

Shrimp Killer
The Shrimp Killer had a slight sweet flavor from shrimp and avocado, which again brought a creamy fatty goodness to the roll. The Shrimp Killer is not complex by any one's assertion, but for a shrimp lover it is a great roll. The contrasting textures and flavors the tempura shrimp on the interior and the raw exterior shrimp provide excellent balance and show case the versatility of the crustacean.

Black Crunch Roll
Inside: Shrimp Tempura, Crab Meat and Avocado
Outside: Eel
Black Crunch Roll
This is the second of my must orders at Tokai. The sweet interior of the roll coming from the shrimp tempura and crab meat balanced with the smokey salty flavor the eel makes for an amazing meal. The the divergent textures from inside and out give the roll a deeper complexity than some of the other items we had that night.

Spicy Crab
Inside: Spicy Crab, Cucumber and Avocado

The Spicy Crab Roll is behind the Adam Roll, none of the Spicy Crab turned out well
Several at our table found this roll to hot to handle, I did not. The spicy crab had a creamy texture that I think helped neutralize the burn from the horseradish and peppers that were making the crab so spicy. The burn was a slow crescendo starting out slow and building to fire near the end of the tasting. It dissipated quickly in large part to the creamy avocado and the cooling cucumber. The major complaint against this roll is that the crab flavor is non-existent. It is entirely overshadowed by the heat and avocado.

Adam Roll
Inside: Shrimp Tempura, Eel, and Crab Meat
Outside: Avocado and Tobiko

Adam' Roll
The interior of the Adam roll gives the eater an abundance of flavors and textures. The crunchy tempura shrimp and crab meat with its sweet notes meet with the salty savory flavor of the rich dense eel endow this roll with fantastic balance. The avocado and tobiko provide a new level of texture to the bite, with added salt from the roe.

Tempura Banana
One of Tokai's greatest treats is that at the end of each meal you are awarded with tempura fried bananas topped with whipped cream, strawberry and chocolate sauce. The crispy tempura batter gives way to the soft caramelizing sugars of the hidden plantain providing the perfect sweet end to a filling Japanese meal.

*It should be noted that one of our dining party is pregnant and that limited our ordering ability. On subsequent post birth visits I promise we will be more adventurous and try some of the incredibly well named rolls like the Viagra Roll, Utah Roll, Spicy Pizza Roll, Dragon Roll, Caterpillar Roll and Play Boy Roll.

Tokai Sushi 4U on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Granny Smith's Fajitas

There are few meals that are easier to construct than the fajita. It is simple, flavorful, generally healthy, and allows for great improvisation. I also had plenty of the ingredients on hand, which made for a quick market run.

We had not had a hard day. We were both off for the holiday and spent the day going to the movies (I mean this literally. We saw The King's Speech walked out of the theater turned around and went back and saw Black Swan). This meant that lunch consisted of popcorn and chocolate, and that meant that our stomachs were in dire need of real food by the end of the day the kind of gnawing aching your stomach creates when it is just crying out for a vegetable not covered in faux butter and salt. I could not be content with the simple classic of peppers, onion, and protein with out a few touches of the unique.

Part One: The Ingredients

-Steak-Top sirloin, cut into strips and dusted with Kosher salt, white pepper, smoked paprika and chili powder
-Pineapple-I used canned chunks, because the fresh ones looked lousy and I was feeling lazy. Dust it with a little brown sugar and cinnamon
-Peppers and Onions-Sliced
-Garlic-Everything needs garlic, minced into the pan with the onions.
-Granny Smith Apple-Sliced
-Chorizo-I would have preferred a link sausage to the ground, but you work with what you have available and I really wanted the Chorizo flavor more than I wanted the hunks of sausage meet.
-Cotija Cheese- This is a crumbly dry Mexican cow's milk cheese.
-Corn Tortillas-I should not have to list this.

Part Two: The Process
-Saute the onions with the garlic in a little bit of oil (I used safflower).
-As the onions become translucent add the sausage.
-After a few minutes of cooking add the steak.
-After a few more minutes add the peppers and pineapple 
-Sprinkle with kosher salt and fresh ground pepper to taste.
-Lastly add the sliced Granny Smith Apple.
-Dish the fajita filling onto warm tortillas and top with the Cotija cheese.

I did not add any additional spices to the meal because I had seasoned Chorizo and had seasoned the steak. It could have been aided with the addition of a oregano and some ground cumin.

Part Three: The Service

The meal was really light a flavorful. The pineapple gave the spicy meal some much needed sweetness with a bright summery taste. The apple added an interesting texture more than anything. I think if I were to do it again I would them even later in the cooking the process and dust them with brown sugar and cinnamon as well in hopes of better maintaining their crisp clean tart flavor. It certainly added to the meal and took the familiar fajita to an extra level complexity.

The Chorizo added heat and flavor to the meal, but did not form big enough chunks for you to know you had bitten into the sausage. I orginally thought that this is what I wanted, but on eating I was wrong. I wanted big chunks of sasuasge. The steak was tender, flavorful and extremely lean.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

O' Falafel

I am pretty sure the morning crew thinks they are under FBI surveillance
after the way I did a drive by photo with a large telephoto lens
It is now January, the most not fun month of winter. There is no Christmas on the horizon, New Year's has had its fleeting moment of joy and spring seems a lifetime away. January snow is annoying, December snow is seasonal and fitting, February snow makes you nostalgic because you know that the sun will be melting it shortly into disgusting brown puddles. The petite copine was working late, I didn't want to cook and I wanted something to make me feel warm, tropical, exotic. It is 86 degrees in Aden, Yemen I need lamb and falafel.

Flafel is the type of meal that can benefit from being in shopping center and sharing a wall with a beauty supply store. The type of place that the wrong kind of foodie would turn their nose at, but those who who know good street food know shopping centers can hold culinary treasure.  As I pulled to back entrance of the restaurant I was greeted by a Persian man smoking a cigarette talking to me about how the early snow and the cold weather. I ordered lamb kabob and a side of the namesake falafel.

I took my seat and listened to the middle eastern music at it took me to a warm desert filled with sand and Peter O'Toole blowing up railroad tracks. The eyes of a beautiful women peered down on me from the mural (she seemed as annoyed by the grad student trying to impress his date by reciting facts about James Joyce as I was). Two men at the table behind me were drinking Turkish coffee and speaking in Farsi entitling the place to a greater level of credibility.

When the falafel arrived it was crisp on the outside and soft on the inside. The buttery nature of the chickpea and the bright clean flavor the cilantro provided a wonderful contrast of flavors. The side of yogurt provided a sour creamy layer of texture and flavor the signature food.

Oh Falafel
Disassembled Lamb Kabob
When the lamb kabob came it was disassembled on a bed of yellow rice garnished with fresh parsley and a side of tzatziki.  The presentation was colorful and gave elegance to what I had anticipated as a counter food. The rice was bright and clean, but dry. The vegetables melted in my mouth. The peppers were fruity, sweet and bright notes of citrus.  The onions were sweet with the char giving it wonderful smokey flavor.

The lamb was spiced so as not to cover up the lamb's natural sweetness and earth tones, but to enhance it. It was and crisp well defined grill marks on its surface and a tender moist interior. The tzatziki was filled with crunch and pungent sharp flavor. The dill and lemon juice gave aromatic flavor and blended well with the lamb. The aforementioned dry yellow rice benefited greatly from the tzatziki.

I enjoyed my night in the desert and felt like I was not in a freezing city high in the mountains watching the snow fall and trying to warm up. I was a world away enjoying exotic food and music.

O' Falafel on Urbanspoon

Friday, January 14, 2011

Fromage Friday: Cablanca Goat Cheese Gouda

Cablanca Goat Gouda
Goat's Milk
Every holiday we have a selection of cheeses. This year at the farewell dinner we had several cheeses left from the Christmas Eve cheese course. The consensus favorite was Cablanca Goat Gouda. I personally love goat cheese. The hardier and more pungent the better. If it is sharp and "goaty" I am there. Not everyone feels the same way, but nearly everyone could enjoy the Cablanca Goat Gouda. It is mild with smooth creamy texture; like most traditional Goudas which are made from cow's milk.  The flavor was sweet and buttery with caramel tones and bitter coffee like finish. 

The rind on this cheese is a beautiful Blue Willow pattern
that is uniquely Dutch
I had it with a piece of fresh from the oven crusty artisan bread. However, the cheese could be used in a fresh spinach salad, eaten with fresh Honey Crisp Apples and would pair well with fruity Pinot Noirs, buttery Chardonnays or a Dutch beer with a malty-barley flavor and light hops like Grolsch Premium Lager. 

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Music to Cook By: The Buena Vista Social Club

I find that music is an integral part of the kitchen experience. When I worked in professional kitchens music was a constant during the prep and breakdown hours. The music was replaced with sounds of cooking and yelling during the rush, but was always a welcome sign that the day was ending at the close of a long shift. It was usually a mix determined by whoever got to the grease and flour covered boom-box first. This could result in anything from Nordic Death Metal to Mexican Rap and Mariachi to Indie and Classic Rock (but not the f@#*ing Eagles{the petite copine wants the kitchen talk in check for the kiddies reading}). If you are having trouble grasping this concept picture Anthony Bourdaine with out the influence of The Ramones.

Now cooking at home I tend to vary the type of music to what I am making, the pace I am doing it at and who the guests are going to be that evening. Over the course of this blogs life I plan to submit some of my favorite music along with the type of food that it goes well with.

The Buena Vista Social Club was a night club in Havana, Cuba that was a local congregating place for musicians during the Havana nightclub scene of the 1940s and 1950s. 50 years later American guitarist Ry Cooder and Cuban musician Juan de Marcos Gonzalez made a record featuring music of the period and featuring musicians that had performed at the club. The record became an international success, spawning an Academy Award Nominated documentary and several concert appearances.

The music is a wonderful fusion of jazz, Spanish guitar, dance music of the 40s and 50s, and folk echo the swank nightclub life. It creates images of men in white dinner jackets with red gardenias in their lapels, pomade in their hair and pencil thin mustaches. A more elegant time. It creates at once a calm and lively mood to create food too. When you're not in "in the weeds". It can move seamlessly from kitchen creation music to the perfect dining music.

I love Cuban food and normally use this soundtrack when I am making Ropas Viejas (dirty laundry) and a citrus risotto(recipe and images to come in later blog posts). However, The Buena Vista Social Club has become more than a soundtrack for Caribbean, Spanish, Latin or soul food. It is my go-to album. It fills the air with creativity and a sense of adventure that all chefs seek. It can be both omnipresent and perfect back ground music.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

There is no Rabbit in Rarebit.

Cheese as a main course is a good idea. When one of the best food blogs posted a recipe for Welsh rarebit dinner for Tuesday night was decided. I wont go into great detail about the recipe because you can easily find it through the link. Consider this a review rather than a how to.

The ease of the meal was perfect for a work night where my petite copine had to hurry out the door to book group. It took about an hour from start to finish with minimal clean up. I had most of the ingredients on hand and only needed to pick up the Brussels sprouts. I made the bread from scratch the day before and had the dough ready to go in the fridge so I called ahead and had the my petite copine pull it out and let it begin proofing on my way home from work.

The results were an excellent and simple dinner. The rarebit was sharp and pungent. The fresh from the oven, made from scratch artisan bread provided crunch to accompany the soft slightly bitter flavor from the rarebit. The ability to vary the recipes is one of rarebit's great features. I could easily see me using different Cheddars, spices or beers(cider would offer a sweeter version) to make the dish all of which would alter the flavor.The Brussels sprouts were tender and fresh. The required no more seasoning than some Kosher salt and some of the residual rarebit. The natural flavor of the sprout provided a clean refresher in between the sharp heady flavor of the rarebit, while its normal bitter flavor made it fit with the over all taste of the meal. If time were not an option I might have used olive oil, rather than safflower oil, and roasted the sprouts lower and slower with garlic and/or fennel to provide a more complex side dish.

Over all the meal was filling and incredibly satisfying. It makes for the a perfect work night meal. A simple meal that fulfills winter's need for comfort food.

Zombie Meal*: Halusky and Lamb Stew

The weekend saw the last of our holiday house guests depart. FEMA would be required to return my home to a state of human habitation. Knowing of the mountains of work needed to clean my domicile what was the weekend spent doing? Nothing. There was a primal need to relax. My petite copine spent the bulk of her weekend on the couch and working through a back log of Instant-Cue Netflix itmes. I relaxed the way I know best, with food.

The icebox needed to be consolidated after having fed far more than its normal capacity. Chinese left over from New Year's Eve, fondue from Festivus, Halusky from the last night of family dinner and the slowly decaying remnants of a dozen meals past, present and future. Stew was the answer...lamb stew.

Part One: The Ingredients
-Lamb from the Fondue Party-Already cubed and ready for the pot.
-Tomato (chopped)-Sandwich remnants that were quickly becoming unusable
-Garlic (3 cloves) & Onion (chopped)-Not a left over, but I am never with out it.
-Halusky-Is a Halusky is a cabbage and noodle dish native to Eastern Europe.
-Red Stripe Beer-Lager style Jamaican beer.
-Celery (2-3 stalks chopped) -That had lost its crunch and was looking for a graceful way to die.
-Sweet Potato (cubed)-Also, always on hand.
-Vegetable Broth-I used a powdered one.

Part Two: The Process
1) Brown the lamb in a large skillet with a little bit of Canola oil, Kosher salt and black pepper.
2) Place the onion, garlic, tomato, celery and sweet potato in the bottom of a slow cooker.
3) Once the lamb has browned nicely add it to the slow cooker pot.
4) Deglaze the browning skillet with the Red Stripe and the add that to the slow cooker.
5) Add two cups of the vegetable broth the slow cooker pot.
6) Cook on very low heat for 6-8 hours.

Note: You can add an combination of seasonings to this you like. I used ground fennel seeds, a bay leaf and crushed mint.

Part Three: The Service
Serve stew over the top of the left over Halusky. The cabbage and noodles mixed with thick meaty stew make an excellent winter time meal. The earthy flavor of the lamb mixed with the hoppy herbal flavor from the lager great an amazing balance of flavor that tastes like comfort. The haluski provides texture and crunch to balance the tender salty lamb.

*Zom-bee Meel:(N) A meal where you resurrect dead ingredients in your kitchen.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Why Food Matters

One of the defining characteristics of a civilization is the art it creates. Art generally appeals to one out of three of the 5 senses (sight, sound or touch). Food is the only time when all of the five senses are used simultaneously. We see the food's colors matched with the aroma hanging between the heat and our nostrils. We hear the crackle, crunch, or squish as we bite down and feel the texture of the spoon, fork or handful when we chew. Then we taste. We assault our senses with salty, sweet, dry, moist, earthy or spicy and we enjoy. Great food is meant to be savored, to linger on the tongue and even longer on the memory.

Over the course of this blog's life there will be many topics discussed all relating to food in some way. From finding the best pizza, inside stories of the restuarant industry, food in film, failed home experiments with food etc.

Please submit story suggestions or articles to the email address