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Santa Barbara -- Reaching For Stars

Once again, Chef Vincent Vanhecke did an amazing job putting together the fabulous 5-course dinner for the "Reaching For Stars" benefit for the Youth and Family Services YMCA. The Youth and Family Services runs four programs: Outreach to homeless youths--providing a sleeping bag and rain-wear, food for the hungry, a professional who cares, and a bus ticket home; the Isla Vista Teen Center--a drop-in center away from gangs, alcohol and drugs; My Home at Artisan Court--transitional housing and counseling services to youth ages 18-21 who age out of foster care and are facing homelessness; and Noah's Anchorage--a shelter for foster children, runaway and homeless youth ages 10-17.

Once again, (read the post) we were seated at the table with the keynote speaker, a lovely and friendly young girl who plans on attending Cal State Northridge and going into public relations. She was scribbling notes for her speech during the meal and started off speaking bravely about the challenges of growing up without a family to support and encourage her, how it felt to be the only one at school without a stable home, and how she asked only for a miniature Christmas tree when she moved into the Family Services housing at the holidays because it was something she hadn't had...and then she broke down. Many of us in the audience were in tears also. It's heart-rending to hear the stories of the kids that have had foster families that were only in it for the money, of abusive homes they had to escape, of living without a roof over their heads. It's a wonderful thing that the YMCA and the Santa Barbara Housing Authority plus generous donors have created services to help these kids that otherwise would truly be alone.

Also commendable are the chefs, particularly Chef Vanhecke, who donated their expertise to help raise money for these services. This year, there were even more top chefs, compared with two years ago (read about the 2010 Reaching For Stars dinner) and the students from the School of Culinary Arts at SBCC had a bigger role to play. I talked a bit with Chef Vanhecke after the dinner and he said that the students helped prepare some of the components and created the luscious appetizers that were served at the beginning of the evening when we had the chance to play some casino style games. I mistakenly left my iphone at home, so had to borrow a phone. These poor quality photos don't do justice to the food.

Appetizers: Vincent Vanhecke (The Valley Club of Montecito),  Randy Bublitz, Stephane Rapp and students (School of Culinary Arts SBCC)
Gary and Paul (right) Arganbright, President Touring & Tasting
First Course: Alessandro Cartumini (Four Seasons Biltmore), Charlie Rushton (Four Seasons Biltmore), Michael Blackwell (Montecito Country Club)
House Cured Duck Prosciutto with a Citrus Watercress Salad
Royal Trumpet Mushroom Salad with Celery, San Joaquin Gold, Walnut Vinaigrette
Cold Smoked Duck Breast
Won Ton Cup, Goat Cheese Cream, Roasted Yellow Beets, Micro Greens, Basil Oil,
Fleur De Sel, Kalamata Olives

Second Course: Micheal Hutchings (Micheals Catering),  James Sly (Sly's), Mossin Sugish (Blush)
Cultured Cocktail Abalone Baked with a Gremolata Butter
Salmon "Soufflé" Auberge de l'île
Cauliflower Horseradish Chaud-Froid, topped with a Paddle Fish Caviar
Entrée: Greg Murphy (bouchon), Brandon Hughes (Wine Cask), Charlie Fredericks and students (The Restaurant at SBCC)
Wagyu New York
Braised Short Ribs
Crispy Sweetbreads
Cheese Course: Don Skipworth. (Private Chef), Mari Bartoli (Private Chef), Brian Parks (Private Chef)
Salade Tropical
Chèvre Medallions with Orange and Cherimoya,
Hollandia Butter Lettuce and Lilikoi Citrus Dressing with Pistachio Garnis
Dessert Course: Christine Dahl (Christine Dahl Pastries),  Eric Widmer (La Cumbre Country Club), Jamie West (Private Chef)
 Warm Raspberry Phyllo Cheesecake Triangle
Chilled Raspberry Soufflé
Raspberry Tea Infused Chocolate Mousse Crunch Cake
Wines Donated by: Gainey, Cottonwood Canyon, Deep Sea, Fess Parker Winery, Jordano's, Lucas & Lewellen, Melville, Oreana, Roblar and Zaca Mesa.

MY NEW BLOG: http://winepairingrecipes.blogspot.com/
for all my blog posts after June 2010 and all my NEW posts after April 2012.


When Bigger Is Better

Some people, including many connoisseurs more expert than I, hold the opinion that French wine is the most superior in the world --witness the astronomical $1,000 plus price per bottle for Grand Cru Bordeaux. But, while I appreciate the finesse and complexity of French Bordeaux and Rhone blends, I learned to love wine by drinking our California reds such as Napa Cabs, Russian River Pinots, Paso Robles Rhone Rangers, Santa Barbara Pinots and Syrahs.
IMHO, Old World French wine tends to be softer and earthier, whereas New World wines encompass a wider range of flavor and structure profiles and tend to be bolder. They can be "hot"--over 14% alcohol--and fruit-forward, with firm tannins--wines that make a confident statement, without going over the top. I will declare, (I assume the persona of Mae West when I say this): I like my red wine like I like my men--big, bold and hot!
Three Wines The other evening, I made pasta all'uovo from scratch and a fully flavored marinara sauce with handfuls of fresh herbs from my garden and half a head of garlic. We needed a hearty red wine to pair with this meal, so we sampled three wines from the Touring & Tasting cellar: the 2008 Eberle Cote-du-Robles from Paso Robles, the 2007 Pietra Santa Zinfandel from the Cienega Valley 25 miles east of Monterey Bay, and the Argentinian 2010 Tinto Negro Malbec.
The Eberle Cote-du-Robles is the equivalent of the cultured, educated man who will wow you with his depth and intensity. He has tales to tell and universes to open to you. Be mesmerized as you enjoy a long, leisurely dinner of foods slow cooked with many flavors, like meat braised in wine or vegetable tagine spiced with curry. Slowly savor each delicious sip.
Malbec can be so tannic that it's like a mouthful of vine; but not the Tinto Negro Malbec--it is rich with fruit. The tasting notes for this wine says: "Surprising light for a Malbec, this wine is approachable and delicious". But, make no mistake, this is not a light wine. It is a muscular, proud Argentinian with flashing eyes that dare you to live life to the fullest. This Malbec will grip you with strong arms and whirl you around the dance floor with fearless tenderness. Serve with grilled steak--preferably on the wild, grassy hills of the Argentinian Pampas.
Zinfandel was long considered "America's vine and wine", a true American product. Zinfandel has concentrated flavors because the grapes ripen unevenly and are often berry selected for this reason. The "old vine" Zins have very low yields, leading to more extraction.  Because the fruit ripens fairly early and produces juice with high sugar levels, the alcohol content is often over 14%, sometimes over 15%. I love it because the deep fruit flavors of berries and plum are complemented with spicy and peppery notes. Zinfandel is like my California man, big, tall and self-assured. I see him golden from the sun, like a luscious grape ripened to perfection. He's not afraid to get his hands dirty with hard work, but the same strong hands have the gentleness to harvest a cornucopia of pleasures from the fertile soil. The Pietra Santa Zinfandel , handcrafted from estate grapes cultivated to express the land, was the perfect pairing for a meal made from a Southern California kitchen garden.


Tempting Tempranillo--A Blind Tasting

Paul, Touring & Tasting president (left), and Dorothy Schuler

Paul Arganbright, Touring & Tasting president, and I attended the Santa Barbara chapter of the American Wine Society (AWS) last week. The AWS includes wine lovers from novice to expert, amateur and professional winemakers, and people in all aspects of the wine trade. This meeting was a blind tasting of five Tempranillos--two from Spain, one from Argentina, and two from the USA--and featured Dorothy Schuler, president of the Tempranillo Advocates Produces and Amigos Society (TAPAS) and winemaker at Bodegas Paso Robles.

Tempranillo grapes have a thick skin which contribute tannins and color, but little acidity--something that can be rectified when they are grown in areas where the nighttime temperatures plunge, like Paso Robles. Tempranillo doesn't oxidize quickly, so it ages well. It's a refined wine, especially compared to other ones made from hot climate  grapes, and goes well with one of the main ingredients in Spanish food: olive oil.

Embarrassingly, I did not guess one wine's origin correctly. Fittingly, as he selects all the wines for our wine clubs, Paul not only correctly identified each wine's origin, but also determined that the two American wines were from Paso Robles and probably from Bodegas Paso Robles--which they were. A win for Paul!

We nibbled on crisp cucumber topped with beets (my favorite!), Manchego cheese in olive oil, endive stuffed with herbed grain, cucumber shots, and other treats. I believe this was the fifth meeting of the newly formed Santa Barbara chapter. Join here


Wesley and Donna Anderegg--ceramic artists and winemakers

by Wesley Anderegg
Cindy with a work of culinary art
Here's a great food/wine pairing: a young, light bodied Pinot Noir served with three-cheese quesadillas, corn salsa and spicy red pepper sauce--here shown by artist and friend Cindy Hoffman. We had this lunch in the adobe house of Wesley and Donna Anderegg: ceramic artists who also happen to be gourmet cooks and home winemakers. They produce around two barrels of Pinot on their farm which is in the windswept rolling hills of the Sta. Rita AVA, wine that is not for sale, but for personal consumption. The lunch was just one of the delights of a ceramic workshop in their huge, light-filled studio. Wesley's work is in numerous museums around the country; he makes sometimes whimsical, sometimes macabre but always visually arresting sculptures and paintings. Donna throws, paints and carves beautiful dinnerware.

Wesley and his charmingly helpful daughter Izzy showed us how he hollows out the basic head and body forms, then adds the features and appendages. He uses his own blend of clay that is low fire, but smooth, without the rough grog often found in earthenware clays. He blends it to be very moist; the clay is supple and smooth to the touch--easy to mold but requiring some delicacy in the handling. He formed this hand in just a couple of minutes, deftly adding the details like knuckle wrinkles and finger nails--he made it look so easy!

Before the workshop, he had made a delicious apple galette and we had the lunch described above, with the Anderegg Pinot Noir. We had the chance to pet their goats, marvel at the rambling adobe house and breathe the fresh spring air blowing across the verdant hills.

The Sta. Rita AVA is unique in the transverse (meaning east-to-west, rather than north-south) mountain ranges that funnel ocean air into the sunny interior of Santa Barbara County. Locals call it the "maritime throat" as it blows cooling fog, combining with the rocky soil to make perfect conditions for growing Pinot Noir, as evidenced by the high scores and acclaim won by many wineries such as Sanford, Longoria and Sea Smoke.

One of the pioneers in viticulture was Richard Sanford who planted the first Pinot Noir vineyard in the area in 1970. Armed with a degree in Geography, he researched land and climate across the state and discovered the Santa Rita Hills had similar terroir as Burgundy, France. He and his wife founded the eponymous winery and produced award-winning wines for 27 years before leaving Sanford to their partners and creating Alma Rosa winery in the same AVA. The Sanfords were instrumental in establishing the tiny (about 100 acre) AVA. Current majority partners in Sanford Winery, Anthony Terlato and his sons Bill and John, continue the legacy of producing highly-rated wines: Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc, in addition to Pinot Noir. Sanford Winery is on the picturesque Santa Rita Hills wine trail. Stop in and taste wines in their showcase tasting room and winery, built mostly from recycled materials, including 15,000 handmade adobe bricks.

Wesley Demo
You may wonder why the proper name for the AVA is "Sta. Rita" instead of "Santa Rita" when the location is the Santa Rita Hills. This came about because a Chilean wine producer, Viña Santa Rita, which has been making wine in that country for 130 years, filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Treasury (which overses the Bureau of Tobacco, Alcohol, Firearms and Explosives, and threatened to sue any winery that used the Santa Rita name. Richard Sanford met with the Chilean producer and was able to work out a compromise. The abbreviation "Sta." is historically accurate, since it was used for Mexican land grants in California's early years.


A Mediterranean lunch on a rainy afternoon

My "baking buddy" Lila from the Culinary School came over yesterday to bake ciabatta, focaccia and small plates to go with the breads. Lila had a catering company in the Bay Area before moving to Santa Barbara and has attended culinary school in Turkey and Italy--and maybe other schools in her amazing world travels. She brought the cookbook Purple Citrus & Sweet Perfume by Silvena Rowe to make an artichoke/squid salad and sweet-and-sour eggplant caponata--now two of my favorite recipes. I made the cucumber/shrimp salad with the addition of fresh fennel bulb and leaves, and tuna mousse (recipe). We washed it down happily with the perfect pairing of a ribolla gialla wine from the Friuli region that Lila brought: the La Viarte, which was light and nicely acidic.

Lila showed me how to clean squid:
1. Cut off the tentacles and set aside.
2. Use the back of your chef's knife to scrape the skin from the outside--moving from the tail towards the head. At the same time, the insides will be squeezed out.
3. Pull out the transparent bone. You should be left with a hollow tube of white squid meat.

Tama's Shrimp and Cucumber Salad:

1 Japanese or English cucumber with thin, edible skin, about 2 cups sliced
1/4 cup sesame oil
1 tablespoon rice vinegar
1 tablespoon white vinegar
1 teaspoon Mirin (Japanese cooking sake) or 1 teaspoon sugar
*optional 1/2 fennel bulb, sliced thinly
*optional sprinkle of fennel leaves
8 oz. cooked shrimp, cut into small pieces or 8 oz. bay shrimp
Slice the cucumber very thinly and place into a colander, sprinkling each layer with salt. Put the colander inside a larger bowl, cover and put into the refrigerator for half an hour. The salt will draw some of the moisture from the cucumber, making it crunchier. Whisk together the sesame oil, vinegar, soy, and sugar in a bowl. Adjust seasonings to taste--it should be slightly salty and vinegary but not unpleasantly so. Stir into the drained cucumber and shrimp.


Birthday Cake With Marzipan Strawberries

I made my first marzipan today--a cup of almond paste mixed with 1/4 cup corn syrup with the paddle attachment of my mixer, then with a cup of powdered sugar added in. I used colored gel instead of liquid food coloring which helped keep the marzipan the right consistency. It could have been a bit drier--next time I would cut the corn syrup a bit. I used the Joy Of Cooking recipe for boiled frosting--it's super thick and difficult to spread. I ended up wetting my hands and using my palms to smooth the frosting on.

I'm trying some cake decorating in preparation for entering the Edible Book Contest this year. Last year's contest was fun, but I think I'll try a cake this year...


A Toast To Antonio Gardella

Last week, Touring & Tasting's president Paul Arganbright and I had the chance to catch up with Antonio Gardella. If you're in the wine business in this town, you know Antonio and love him for his passionate enthusiasm for wine. He is a walking encyclopedia of wine knowledge and in particular, the history of winemakers and winemaking in Santa Barbara county, having been involved in the wine business since the 1980's when many of our iconic wineries and restaurants were developing. One of the first books on winemaking was written by local Ralph Auf der Heide, who founded the Wine Cask, which for years was the top venue for tasting and purchasing wine. Antonio attended Auf der Heide's classes, held in his home wine cellar. Antonio also found books on Napa, Sonoma and the Central Coast, visiting every winery listed during his vacations. He and a group of "cellar rats" met often to taste wines, with the group including Jim Clendenen of Au Bon Climat, Bob Lindquist of Qupé and Doug Margerum, of Margerum Wines who bought the Wine Cask in 1981 and developed the restaurant that became one of 74 restaurants in the world to win the Wine Spectator Grand Award.

Antonio was at the first meeting of the American Institute of Wine and Food with Julia Child and Robert Mondavi and was on the Board of Directors for the local chapter. He helped initiate the Grape Harvest Festival in 1986 which has morphed into the annual Harvest Festival at Ranch Sisquoc. To further his knowledge, Antonio worked in the vineyards at harvest, picking grapes at Babcock vineyards starting in 1983 and staying up all night with fellow wine enthusiasts and winemakers tasting and talking about wine. For five years, he worked as the maitre d' at Piatti, an upscale Montecito restaurant, hosting and suggesting wine pairing, then he sold wine for the distributor J. Eberle Wines. He then worked for Pearson & Hawkins, which was bought by Henry Wine Group, and has been one of the company's top sellers for the last 19 years. In fact, the Henry Wine Group renamed their Most Valuable Player award the Gardella Award. His work with Henry Wine Group has led him to travel in France, Italy, Spain, Chile and Australia, tasting wines and attending international wine events such as Vinitaly.

In addition, in 1985 Antonio founded the Companeros with Sid Ackert, Art Morel and Luis Goena, using grapes from the finest California vineyards and producing wines at Sid's expansive Gubernador Canyon property. Companeros wines have garnered hundreds of gold medals, but none of the wines have been sold. They have been given to friends and used to raise more than $100,000 for charities. Paul and I had the opportunity to visit the winery some years ago--it was a little piece of Italy in Santa Barbara. A quaint, picturesque spot complete with an arbor-covered patio looking out at the wildly beautiful canyon. Sadly, the winery burned during the terrible Jesusita fire in 2010. We were fortunate to taste Antonio's Companeros "Sid's Blend" Pinot Noir as well as the Donum 2008 Russian River Valley Pinot Noir that he brought to enjoy with our dinner--smoked salmon appetizer and a seafood stew with some of my garden greens, tomato, saffron, clams, scallops, shrimps and cod.  I will keep the Companeros bottle, as a memento of California winemaking history, and as a reminder of good times with friends. As Antonio says, the friendships that wine brings are even more important than the wine. Coming from someone who has devoted his life to wine, that says a lot about the depth of his friendships. A toast to Antonio Gardella!
Tama's Seafood Stew With Fresh Garden Greens
4 tablespoons olive oil
8 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 cup onion, small dice
1/2 cup shallot, small dice
1/4 cup celery, deveined, small dice
1/3 cup carrot, small dice
1 quart chicken or vegetable stock
1/2 tablespoon thyme
1 bay leaf
2 cups loosely packed collard greens, chiffonade*
8 oz jar clam juice
1/4 cup good red wine
750 gm (about 26 oz) good quality strained tomato, I used Pomi Italian brand
pinch of saffron
1/8 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup fresh basil, chiffonade*
2 teaspoon salt
Heat the oil in heavy saucepan over medium low heat. Sweat (cook without browning) the garlic, onion and shallot until the onion is translucent. Add the celery, carrot, stock, thyme, and bay leaf and simmer for 20 minutes. Stir in the clam juice, red wine, tomato, saffron, pepper, marjoram, basil, salt and collard greens. Simmer for another 30 - 60 minutes (longer enriches the flavor), turning the heat to low if necessary so the broth doesn't bubble. The broth should reduce to 2/3 of the original volume. Add a bit more stock if necessary if it has reduced more than this. Stir in the clams, shrimp, fish and scallops. Cover and simmer another ten minutes or until the seafood is cooked and the clams have opened. Serve over rice or pasta. Enjoy with a nice glass of Pinot Noir!
*To chiffonade: roll the greens or basil into a roll and slice very thinly.


A Simple Soup

Snow, hail and hurricanes on the East Coast--here in California, it's another perfect day. I harvested a few tomatoes from last year's plants and the collard greens then pulled up the plants, turned the soil and started my spring planting: tomatoes, carrots, onions, garlic, beans, potatoes and chard. A second crop was ready of the English peas planted at the beginning of January--so what to do with the collard greens and peas? I made this simple soup with quinoa, and wanting some protein, stirred in an egg. Delicious!
Soup With Quinoa, Green and Fresh English Peas:

1 tablespoon butter
1/4 cup quinoa
1 stalk celery, deveined and sliced
1 quart vegetable (or chicken) broth
about 2 cups of chiffonaded* collard greens
1 bay leaf
1 teaspoon ground sage
1 teaspoon garlic powder
juice of 1/2 lemon
salt and fresh ground pepper to taste
1 egg, stirred together
Melt the butter in a soup pot over low heat and stir in the quinoa and celery.  Add the broth and bay leaf, turn up the heat to bring the broth almost to a boil, then turn back down to low, cover and simmer for 20 minutes or until the greens are tender. Add the sage, garlic powder, lemon juice and salt and pepper to taste (I used about 1 teaspoon salt and 1/2 teaspoon pepper). When the soup is seasoned to your liking, stir in the egg. Cook and stir gently for a minute until the egg is cooked.


Foodies' Delight

Hyatt Century CityThe gleaming Hyatt Regency Century Plaza in Century City has hosted kings, queens, prime ministers, celebrities and every US President since Lyndon Johnson. In fact, President Reagan spent so much time in the hotel that the press called it "The Western White House". Last Wednesday, the 18th, it was the site of the 2012 Herzog International Food & Wine Festival. The preliminary trade event is THE place to be for Kosher wine buyers with makers from Israel, France, Spain, Australia, Portugal, Italy, Chile, Argentina, New Zealand and the USA, with two booths needed for the wide variety of wines made by Herzog Cellars. The consumer portion is an opportunity to taste wines and spirits often not widely available, not just for those that keep Kosher, but for those of us who are not Jewish but like to taste wines from around the world.
Food at Herzog International Food and Wine FestivalLast year, the Festival was at Herzog's state-of-the-art 77,000 square foot facility in Oxnard, CA. Incongruously set in an industrial park in a city not known for gourmet dining, the facility houses the extraordinary Tierra Sur restaurant, the highest Zagat-rated restaurant in Ventura Country. Chef Aarons has long and varied international resume, including Savoy in New York, Zuni Café in San Francisco and Restaurante Da Delfina in Tuscany, Italy. Chef Aarons creates exotic and mouthwatering cuisine with a Mediterranean flair, from fresh local seasonal produce. At last year's festival he had his own kitchen as the event was at Herzog Cellars. This year, he had to build his own kitchen at the Hyatt location. He looked a bit harried and called the experience "like a Restaurant Impossible" but one would never have guessed at any hinderance to his culinary creation because the food was delicious and beautifully presented.
AppetizersI spent so much of my time sampling the fabulous hors d'oevres that I didn't taste as many wines as I should have. But who could resist the lavish spread with multiple offerings such as hot smoked salmon with black garlic sauce, black cod ceviche in Lapsong tea marinade with Mandarin orange and cucumber, tuna tartar with Za'atar spice (Middle Eastern herbs with sesame seed) pickled eggplant and microcelery, cold smoked hamachi with baby beets and Myer lemon aioli, and Jerusalem artichoke tortillas with salmon roe and black bowfin caviar? To top it off, I had the huckleberry compote and sips of two delicious dessert drinks: the Walders Vodka & Vanilla mixed with pineapple juice and the limoncello from the Israeli winery Binyamina.
Herzog International Food & Wine FestivalAs for the wines, I had the Chateau Leoville Poyferre stuck in my mind from the 2011 Herzog Festival----so I made a beeline to their booth to try the Bordeaux. I tasted the 94 point 2004 last year and thought the 93 point 2005 just as luxuriously complex, smoky and rich. Next stop was Capçanes, made by the eponymous village in the Priorato hills of Spain where the grape growers formed a cooperative, producing about 2% of their wines under Kosher conditions. They have become world renown, garnering high ratings of 90+ points. Touring & Tasting had the Mas Donis Barrica at one time--a spicy, fruit-forward Garnacha with a bit of Syrah. I enjoyed the 95 Point Peraj Ha'abib which is a powerful blend of Garnacha, Carinena and Cabernet Sauvignon. The name Peraj Ha'abib was a fortunate mistake--a rabbi translated spring flower erroneously as Peraj Ha'abib, instead of Peraj Ha'aviv. But Ha'abib means is a term of endearment, so it gives the wine a loving touch. Other highlights: Herzog's dense and chocolately 2008 Chalk Hill Cab, the Domain Netofa 2009 Latour Red blend of Syrah and Mourvedre, and the Chilean Alfasi 2011 Cabernet Sauvignon.
Herzog International Food & Wine FestivalWe scooted out of the trade tasting just in time as motorcycle cops were starting to line the Avenue of the Stars in advance of President Obama's motorcade. I'll be keeping a lookout on the Herzog website for upcoming food and wine pairing events at their restaurant to taste more of Chef Aarons tasty treats and sample more of the Herzog wines--some only available at the winery. I haven't been to one of their wine and food pairing evenings, but see on their events calendar that past tastings are just $15--worth making the drive to Oxnard!
Photos by Shannon Jordan Photography.


Authentic Teriyaki

Restaurant teriyaki is usually made (I've never seen otherwise) by grilling meat and pouring sauce over it. This authentic recipe uses the pan juice from the meat to flavor the teriyaki and is infinitely better. You can use chicken or salmon as well--the chicken must be cooked through and not rare inside and the salmon just barely cooked in the center (it will continue cooking after it is taken from the heat).
Tama's Steak Teriyaki:
1 teaspoon minced ginger
1 teaspoon garlic
2 tablespoons Mirin* (Japanese cooking wine)
1 tablespoon packed brown sugar
2 tablespoons. soy sauce
2 tablespoons sesame oil
1 steak
4 tablespoons saké*
*Note: Mirin and saké are not the same--Mirin is sweet with just a touch of alcohol, saké is very dry and has a high alcohol content)
Mix the ginger, garlic, Mirin, sugar and soy sauce in a small bowl. Heat oil in a large frying pan (cast iron works best) over medium heat until oil is hot but not smoking.

Add steak and sear on both side. Add the sake (there may be quite a bit of smoke/steam) and let cook for half a minutes as the alcohol burns off. Remove the steak and let sit. Add the soy sauce mixture and evaporate by half, scraping up any browned bits into the sauce. When the sauce is thickened, turn the heat to low and cook the steak another 2-3 minutes, turning several times to coat it on all sides. The steak should be seared on the outside and rare in the center. Let the meat sit for 2 minutes to redistribute the internal juices, then slice into 1/2" slices. Spoon the remaining sauce over the top.

I've been so busy uploading recipes to Touring and Tasting' new website, after being named Food Editor (yay!) and posting to their blog that I haven't had time to enter anything here.

I like having a food blog because I have so many of my recipes on it and can access it via smartphone or computer if I need.

There's so much to learning about baking--scaling, proper proofing, benching, rounding, use of steam...I hope to have to to blog about it this week. In our last class, we made monkey bread--easy to make and it was appreciated at the Touring and Tasting office when I brought it in the next day. It's basically round, sweet rolls covered in brown sugar and cinnamon and baked until the sugar is caramelized. Next time I make it, I will add walnuts to the coating.

Monkey Bread:
4 3/4 cups bread flour
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1/4 cup powdered milk
31/4 tablespoons sugar
2 1/2 teaspoons active yeast
1 large egg, slightly beaten
3 1/4 tablespoons butter, melted
1 1/2 cups to 1 3/4 cup cold water
1 cup or more sugar
1/2 cup or more cinnamon
Mix the flour, salt, powdered milk, sugar and yeast in a mixer bowl.  Add the egg, butter and 1 1/2 cups water and mix with the paddle attachment of your mixer or with a large spoon until the flour is absorbed and the dough forms a ball. Add water in bits only if the dough doesn't come together. The dough should be soft and moist.
Replace the paddle with a dough hook and knead until the dough is smooth and elastic (or knead by hand on a lightly floured board). The dough should clear the sides of the mixture but stick just a bit on the bottom of the bowl. It should pass the "windowpane test" where it a small portion can be stretched to where one can see shapes behind it, without the dough tearing.
Oil the bowl and turn the dough around in it to coat with oil. Let proof for 1 1/2 to 2 hours in warm area or until it doubles in size.

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Mix the sugar and cinnamon in a bowl. Using a scale, scale out 2 oz portions. Always cut the dough with a bench scraper or chef's knife--do not tear apart. Round each portion into a ball and roll in melted butter, then in the sugar mixture. Put into an ungreased savarin or angel food cake pan. The portions will form a ring when proofed and baked, but each will be easy to pull off. Let the monkey bread rise for another 45 minutes, then bake in the oven for about 30 minutes or until the bread is cooked through and the outside is nicely browned. Let sit a few minutes too cool as the sugar will be hot--it will be hard to let them sit, because they will smell wonderful!


WEEK #2 Culinary School -- Principles of Baking

I never knew that salt is the most important ingredient in baking after the flour. It controls fermentation of the yeast and contributes to the quality and color of the crust. Proper proportion is essential to obtain the texture and flavor desired. I'm learning all the basics of baking in my spring semester class at the School of Culinary Arts at SBCC with Chef Sandra Allain.

I'm hoping to learn how to make top notch pie crusts, ciabatta, flaky croissants and more! The first two classes were spent going over the prelimary chapters in our textbook: Professional Baking by Wayne Gisslen. I can't wait for next week when we get into the kitchen to bake--plus my "baking buddy" lived in Florence, Italy for three years, so I hope to practice my rusty Italian!


Creamy Polenta Tamale Casserole

What do you make when you have homemade chile sauce already made and your heart set on enchiladas, but you open your frig and find you have no tortillas? I made this casserole with creamy polenta and it was delish. We had a couple of Napa wines to try: Rocca Family Vineyards 2007 Merlot and the 2008 Vespera. Both were good. I preferred the fruitiness of the Merlot with the spiciness of this dish, but the Vespera's chocolately smoothness would be my preferred sipping wine.

Creamy Polenta Tamale Casserole: 
Ingredients:4 Tbsp. butter
2 Tbsp. flour
2 cup milk
1 cup cornmeal
2 Tbsp. olive oil
1 shallot, minced about 1/2 cup
4 cloves garlic, minced
4 sausages, sliced--either vegetarian or pork sausage
1 cup corn kernels, fresh or canned
1 stalk celery, finely chopped
1 red bell pepper, finely chopped
2 cups red chile sauce or red enchilada sauce
2 cups grated sharp cheddar
*optional: finely minced parsley

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Melt butter, add flour and cook over low heat for a couple of minutes. Do not let it brown. Add the milk and cornmeal and cook until thickened, stirring occasionally. Set aside. Coat the bottom of a saucepan with oil and sweat (cook without browning) the shallot and garlic over low heat. Add the sausage, corn, celery, and bell pepper. Continue cooking for another five minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the red chile sauce, stir, then pour into the bottom of an 8" round casserole. Using a spatula, spread the mixture evenly across the bottom of the dish. Stir the cornmeal, if it is not liquid enough to pour easily, add enough water, mixing thoroughly to make it pourable without being runny. Pour over the vegetable mixture and smooth with the spatula. Sprinkle with the cheese and bake for 40 minutes. Sprinkle each portion with parsley, if desired. Serves 4.


Smoking Your Own Fish And Smoked Whitefish Spread

The alluring aroma of hickory smoke curled around my neighborhood last week prompting my neighbors to track down the source and to let me know me that they LOVE smoked fish. Santa brought me a Brickman smoker/roaster/steamer/grill for Christmas and I had my first two forays into the world of smoking. The Brickman has a fire pan at the bottom for the coals and aromatic hardwood, a water pan in the middle that can be filled with beer or herb infused water, and two grills--one directly above the water pan for a steaming and one at the top for conventional smoking. Doesn't their description sound tempting? "Here's how it works: 
The liquid in the pan absorbs the heat from the firs pan. This keeps cooking heat low, moist and even. The water reaches simmering temperatures and steams slightly. The simmering water evaporates and combines with smoke from aromatic woods smoldering in the fire pan. This fragrant moisture condenses on the food, then drips into the liquid pan. As the cycle is repeated, the moisture becomes more deliciously flavored with wood tenderness." Yes, it does!

I found fatwood starters and oak charcoal at Ralph's without any chemicals (I hate the aroma of starter fluid) and used the hickory chunks that came with the smoker. I wrapped both the fire and water pans with aluminum foil and put a sheet under the smoker to catch any ash that came out of the vent hole on the bottom. Clean up was a snap. I tried different sizes of fish--the smallest ones (size of a kebob chunk) were nearly as dry as jerky and the larger fillet pieces had plenty of surface area to capture the smoky flavor, but enough thickness to be moist. I would say 2" would be the thinnest one would want a piece to be, unless you're looking for jerky.

The helpful seafood monger at Whole Foods sold me salmon and whitefish and recommended 1 cup rock salt: 1 cup brown sugar: 1 quart water as a 24 hour brine for the fish. Unfortunately, the first batch made this way way to salty, so I used the whitefish in the spread recipe below. The cream cheese and sour cream diluted the saltiness so the spread was delicious with a French baguette at a recent winetasting of Pinot Noir at work.

The second day, I made my own brine with 1/4 cup rock salt: 1/4 cup brown sugar: 1/4 cup maple syrup: 1 tsp. fresh thyme and brined the fish for about 2 hours. We tried it at the same Pinot Noir tasting--the fish was excellent, but perhaps the smoky flavor a bit overwhelming for the more delicate Pinots.

A note: marinated fish and meat need to sit out in the air after being removed from the brine or marinade. When the air can contact all sides, it dries out the surface and develops a pellicule which is a thin layer of tackiness that the smoke adheres to--I simply placed the fish on a rack for half an hour. In the same smoking, I smoked a pork loin marinaded in red chile sauce that was devoured by my carnivorous family. Next time: smoked oysters and smoked chuckwagon beans!

8 ounces whipped cream cheese
1/2 cup sour cream
1/2 pound. smoked whitefish, skinned, boned and flaked
1/4 cup finely chopped red bell pepper
2 tablespoons fresh dill
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon. horseradish

With a spatula, combine cream cheese and sour cream in a mixing bowl until well blended. Stir in the fish and favorings, then spoon into a serving dish. Refrigerate for an hour or longer, serve with sliced bread or crackers. Makes about 2 cups of spread. Pair with a strong Pinot Noir or a Chardonnay.