Japanese Food Wine Pairing -- Seasonal Flavors

In the '80s, the mini-series "Shogun" was a big hit. My father, who was Japanese, and Japanese friends had little regard for it due to the many inaccuracies and anachronisms it contained. Most glaring was the idea that a noblewoman could have fallen in love with one of the foreign men of that time. Cleanliness has always been a top priority for Japanese, they bathed every day and scrubbed their houses clean. Europeans in the 1500s rarely bathed, perhaps once a month if they were wealthy and once a year if they were poor. The streets in Europe ran with raw sewage and heavy perfume was used to mask body odor. The Japanese were horrified by the foreigners lack of hygiene and called them nanban: "barbarians".  Besides cleanliness, Japanese value visual harmony, artistry and simplicity; these values are reflected in their cuisine which is always presented as a feast for the eyes as well as the palate. Their art and culture revolve around the appreciation of nature and her seasons. Thus, the “haute cuisine” of Japan is kaiseki where the freshest possible seasonal vegetables, fruits and seafood are presented on exquisite dishes decorated with seasonal motifs in an elaborate service of multiple courses. If one has kaiseki in a traditional ryokan, one is served in one's room, a process that takes two to four hours. My daughter and I had the opportunity to sample kaiseki at the Hiiragiya Ryokan in Kyoto and the Kankaso Ryokan in Nara on a trip a couple of years ago which were highlights of the experience.

So, when I had the honor of having two chefs this weekend at my dining room table--Chef Skip and Chef Stephane Rapp of SBCC's Culinary Arts, I thought of making a Japanese-American version of kaiseki (non-traditional with homegrown and local ingredients).  I normally just drink green tea as it pairs perfectly with the traditional Japanese flavors and find sake' too sweet as there is already quite a bit of sweetness in most Japanese dishes. But, a grand occasion demanded fine wines. Fortunately, Paul Arganbright, president of Touring & Tasting brought a lovely bottle of the 2006 Bouchard Pere et Fils Corton-Charlemagne Grand Cru which we had learned about from the Henry Wine Group Trade Tasting. Its crisp, clean acidity was perfect with oysters on the half-shell with lemon/rice vinegar/green onion flavoring, dobin mushi (matsutake soup with black cod and kamaboko) and a seafood salad with crab claw, shrimp, tamago and red ginger and nasturtium flower.
A bottle of the 2006 Matthews Syrah, which had been a Touring & Tasting World Class wine club shipment, was perfect with the NY steak teriyaki, sake/citrus marinated grilled salmon, and white asparagus with roasted sesame/miso dressing. The Matthews Columbia Valley is a powerful blackberry and black currant Syrah with no rough edges. Japanese seasoning comes from the following five principle flavors: soy sauce, miso (a salty fermented bean paste), mirin (a sweet cooking sake), dashi (fish broth) and ginger. Soy sauce comes in different levels of saltiness and can be tempered with sugar for a softer flavor. Miso comes in two basic varieties—aka miso (red) and shiro miso (white), and is used for soups, sauces and marinades. Mirin is a sweet cooking sake usually used for teriyaki, sushi rice and salad dressing though the dryer drinking sake can be used for seasoning seafood. Dashi is used in all soups, including miso soup, and as the stock for boiling and braising. Ginger is minced to add spiciness to dishes or pickled for a salty/spicy relish. Secondary flavors are seawood—either wet or dry, sesame seed, and chili powder usually in a seven-spice chili mixture called togarashi. Aromatic white wines such as Viognier and blends with Semillion conflict with these flavors and oaked California Chardonnays are too "oily". The French white Burgundy was perfect with the fish dishes. If I have the opportunity in the future, I'd love to try it with sashimi! Strongly flavored dishes like teriyaki and ones flavored with aka miso need a smooth red; tannic wines like Cab clash. After tasting the Matthews Syrah with teriyaki, I would say it is the #1 wine pairing for all teriyaki dishes!
From St. Supery Winery, a family-owned estate winery in the heart of Napa Valley, recognized for outstanding Sauvignon Blanc, Cabernet Sauvignon and their Élu and Virtú blends:

3 tablespoons unsalted butter plus some to coat the ramekins
¾ cup Panko (Japanese breadcrumbs)
3 tablespoons all purpose flour
1 cup half and half
12 ounces fresh goat cheese
4 egg yolks
8 egg whites from large eggs
1 ½ teaspoons kosher salt
Pinch of white pepper
Preheat oven to 425 degrees and place the rack in the middle. Butter the bottom and sides of ten 4-ounce ramekins. Coat the ramekins with the Panko and tap out the excess.
Melt the butter in a medium saucepan, whisk in the flour and cook for 1 minute. Add the half & half, stir constantly, and cook for one minute or until the mixture thickens.
Place 9 ounces of the goat cheese in a large mixing bowl.
Pour the hot half/half mixture over and mix well. Stir in the egg yolks and season with salt and pepper.
Beat the egg whites to stiff peaks using a mixer. Gently fold the whites into the cheese mixture. Half fill the ramekins with the cheese mixture and divide the remaining 3 ounces of goat cheese equally among the ramekins.
Top with the remaining cheese mixture and sprinkle lightly with Panko.
Place the ramekins in a baking pan and fill with hot water to about half way up the sides of the ramekins. Bake for about 25 – 30 minutes or until the soufflés are golden brown. Makes 10 servings.

Pair with the 2006 St. Supery Virtu'.

In Colorado, where I grew up, we would have just planted our vegetable garden in May and tender plants would just be beginning to mature out of the tender baby shoot stage into vigourous "teen year" growth. In sunny Southern California, I planted my first summer vegetables in late April; tomatoes are already ripening. I gathered a precious harvest for yesterday's dinner. Minced onion mixed with goat cheese, panko and a bit of egg were wrapped in squash blossoms, coated with egg and fried in olive oil with onion and garlic flowers (the round white puffs left of the tomato in the photo), quartered artichoke and slivered green onion. The rest comprised a salad and the flowers decorated our table. Ahh, the joys of summer!


Tasty Tapas and Top Chefs Santa Barbara

I was seated next to beautiful young girl at last night's "Reaching For Stars" benefit for Noah's Anchorage, which provides support services for homeless and at-risk youth. It turned out she was the keynote speaker, having come from foster care to Noah's Anchorage. She is a remarkable young woman, poised and confident despite the hardships she had to endure on her way to Noah's Anchorage which currently houses and supports her in her quest to complete her GED and go on to nursing school. Our eyes were shiny with tears as the audience stood to applaud her courage and resilience. It was a wonderful evening, orchestrated by Chef Vincent Vanhecke, who assembled eighteen of the top chefs in Santa Barbara to donate their time creating a fabulous multi-course dinner (see full list of restaurants and caters represented). Chef Vincent downplayed the hard work he did to make it a sold-out success, saying "With so many chefs, there was a bit of friendly competition to see who could make the best dish, it was fun!" The chefs pulled out all the stops to wow the attendees, here's the menu :
Hors d'oeuvres 
Pollo Adobo Potstickers
Caprese Brochette
Arancini DiRiso Marinara
Italian Sausage and Grilled Artichoke Tart
 Lucas & Lewellen Brut Sparkling Wine
Brander Vineyards Sauvignon Blanc
Cottonwood Canyon Estate Chardonnay
Rusack Syrah
Chefs: Vincent Vanhecke, Don Skipworth, Mari Bartoli and Charlie Rushton

First Course

"Three Salmon Walked Into A Slaw" [three salmon/slaw interpretations]
Rusack Sauvignon Blanc
Fess Parker Chardonnay

Chefs: John Downey, Randy Bublitz, Alex Castillo
Second Course
Local Seafood Trio
Ridgeback Shrimp Ceviche with Tangerines, Limes and Micro Cilantro
Gazpacho with Halibut Tartar and Cerignola Olives
Grilled Sea Bass with Wild Arugula and Fennel Salad
Summerland Santa Barbara County Pinot Noir
Chefs: Brian Parks, Eric Widmer, John Trotta
Main Course

Braised Lamb Shoulder and Rosemary-Mint Char-Grilled Rack of Lamb
White Bean and Chard Ragout
[vegetarian option: a lovely, lemony risotto with micro-greens]
Zaca Mesa Syrah
Fess Parker Syrah
Lucas & Lewellen Merlot
Chefs: Brandon Hughes, John Pettitt, Jeff Magown
Trio of Desserts

Chocolate-Hazelnut Cake
Raspberry Dacquoise
Meyer Lemon Tart

Chefs: Christine Dahl-Hutchings, James Sly, Michael Hutchings

Honestly, ALL the dishes were delicious, but if I had to highlight a few I would say the salmon dish was a stand-out because of the way the three preparations of salmon and slaw were so different in flavor and texture, yet complimentary: one was a lightly battered soft salmon chunk on a crispy slice of toast, the next, a salmon ceviche spiced with chili and cilantro with cool, creamy, contrasting avocado, and the last, a spring roll with the salmon and slaw wrapped inside. The ingenious plating had a sheet of black nori as the base which (though my photo is not the best) made a dramatic contrast with the white plate and colorful food. The Rusack and Zaca Mesa Syrah were excellent and the Raspberry Dacquiose and Meyer Lemon Tart were divine--delicately flavored and light on the palate--a perfect end to an extraordinary meal. We had the chance to chat with Chef Stephane Rapp of the SBCC School of Culinary Arts and student Pegeen (winner of the SBCC "Edible Books") who were not credited on the menu, but came to give a hand in the kitchen. Kudos to all!

Wine Pairing Recipe
Eggplant Tapas:
4 small Japanese eggplant
3 Tbsp. olive oil
4 Tbsp. minced onion
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 tsp. cumin
1/2 tsp. chili flakes
4 Tbsp. minced red bell pepper
1 egg
1 lb. lean ground beef
1/4 cup dry bread crumbs
1/8 tsp. black pepper
spray olive oil
Select Japanese eggplants rather than the larger traditional eggplants as there size is better for tapas and their skin softer when cooked. Cut the ends off the eggplant and remove the core, using an apple corer. Hold a cored eggplant in the palm of one hand and sprinkle salt inside using the other hand. Cover the top end with your other palm and shake the salt inside to coat the interior of the eggplant. Shake out excess salt and put the eggplants on end on paper towels to drain for 20 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Sautee the onion, garlic, bell pepper, cumin and chili flakes in oil until the onion is translucent. Set aside to cool. In a mixing bowl, stir the egg, then mix in the ground beef, bread crumbs, black pepper and the onion/garlic mixture. With a sharp knife, make lengthwise slits in the eggplants, starting one inch from one end and ending an inch before the other. Carefully stuff 1/4 of the meat mixture into each eggplant. Place in an oiled baking dish. Spray the eggplants with oil, cover and bake for 35-45 minutes or until the internal temperature has reached 165 degrees and the meat is well-cooked.
Serves 4.

Tomato Sauce:
4 Tbsp. olive oil
1/2 cup chopped onion
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp. chili flakes
2 1/2 lbs. fresh tomatoes, peeled, seeded and chopped or 1 28 oz. can of crushed tomatoes
1 tsp. paprika
1/8 cup red wine
salt and pepper to taste
In a large saucepan, saute the onion, garlic and chili in the oil until the onion is translucent. Add the tomatoes, paprika and red wine and simmer over medium low heat for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Salt and pepper to taste.

Pair this tapas recipe with a rich red from Spain, such as the 2009 Tarima Monastrell or 2009 Venta Morales Tempranillo.


Visual pleasure! ... beautiful food shots

Whew! Finals are over and I'm free for the summer. Thanks to our teacher Chef Vincent van Hecke, who besides being a great instructor, also takes beautiful food shots. Here's a sample of his food photography of our "Modern Food: Style/Design/Theory" class:

This week's wine pairing recipe:
Give your pocketbook a break this week! Save money on wine with our half price wine sale  and with this week's wine pairing recipe. Tofu has 11 grams of protein per half cup serving but costs only around 40¢ per serving. Plus it's calcium-rich!

1/2 cup minced onion
2 Tbsp. butter
1 clove garlic, smashed or minced
1 Tbsp. tomato paste
1 tsp. paprika
1 cup broth (vegetable or chicken)
1/2 cup sour cream
1/2 tsp. flour
salt and white pepper
chopped parsley (optional)
1 cake firm tofu, cut into cubes (14 oz. container)
Saute' onion and garlic in butter until the onion is translucent. Add the paprika and tomato paste and cook another minute, stirring to mix. Stir in broth and bring to a boil. Mix the sour cream and flour in a separate bowl, then add to the sauce and cook for several minutes, stirring, until the sauce is thickened and smooth. Taste and add salt and white pepper if desired, to taste. Stir in the tofu and simmer for ten minutes or until the tofu is heated throughout. Spoon over dumplings and sprinkle with parsley if desired. Serves 4.
1 1/2 cups flour
1/2 cup water
3 tsp. salt + 2 Tbsp. salt
4 Tbsp. melted butter in two parts
Sift the flour and 3 tsp. salt together. In a separate bowl, mix 2 Tbsp. of the melted butter (at room temperature--not hot as it will cook the egg) and the egg. Mix in the water. Stir the dry ingredients into the liquid and mix until the dough just comes together. Do not beat or knead it. Set aside for one hour in a cool place, with a damp towel over the top of the bowl. Boil a large pot of water, salted with 2 Tbsp. of salt. With floured hands, pull off small pieces of dough--about the size of a nickel and drop into the boiling water. Cook until the dumplings rise to the top of the pot, about 10 - 15 minutes. Scoop out the dumplings as they are cooked and place them in a bowl with the remaining 2 Tbsp. of melted butter. Stir to coat the dumplings with butter and use as a base for the tofu paprika.

Enjoy this tofu dish with a glass of a white Rhone blend, such as the 2007 Edward Sellars Blanc du Rhone


Miraflores Zin and bouchon santa barbara

"When I see people relaxed, chatting, enjoying a great meal, that's when I'm happy", says Mitchell Sjerven, proprietor of bouchon santa barbara. He has been in the restaurant business all his life, first in the kitchen after he fudged on his age to begin working at 15, and later, in the front of the house, working his way up to manager and earning a degree from UCSB in International Relations on the way. After managing several restaurants, he started bouchon santa barbara, then opened Seagrass and more recently partnered in the re-opening of the venerable Wine Cask. Mitchell would like to erase the term "fine dining" from bouchon because it represents a stuffiness and pretense that goes against the convivial, relaxed atmosphere that he wants to create. He thinks times have changed and people are looking for a chance to unwind and feel at home when they dine out. He works hard to provide a welcoming environment, which is reflected in the top marks bouchon receives in sites like Yelp where customers extol his exemplary customer service. We're here for a specially prepared five course meal, thanks to his hospitality and our amazing Culinary Arts teacher Chef Vincent Van Hecke, who has been bringing his fourth  semester students here for a dozen years or more to celebrate their graduation. We were treated to an hour of personal time, hearing the ins and outs of setting up and running a restaurant. Some of the students hope to open their own one day, so it's a terrific opportunity to learn about the business from a very successful proprietor. Then Chef Brandon Hughes (a SBCC Culinary Arts graduate!) prepared a lavish meal. Bouchon sources locally, using fresh farmer's market produce, locally harvested seafood, locally raised meat and poultry and California wine, most from our own Santa Barbara county's Santa Ynez and Ojai.
An amuse bouche of ahi tuna and avocado dressed with ponzu sauce was followed by a first course of pan-seared sweetbreads or escargot with artichokes in a red wine reduction. The escargot were meaty and tender, nothing like the rubbery, garlic-y discs served in some places. Wine pairing: 2008 Peter Bruce Sauvignon Blanc and 2008 Cold Heaven Viognier which is aromatic and not too sweet, a good match for the escargot. The main course was tangerine-seared sea scallops with Ridgeback shrimp risotto plated with a lovely tarragon creme or a Kurobuta pork chop, nicely cooked and finished with a delicious Dijon emulsion. Wine pairing: 2006 Consilience Pinot Noir and the fruit-forward 2008 Beckman "Cuvee Le Bec", a well-balanced Rhone Ranger. The meal was capped with a chocolate molten lava cake with Brazilian coffee ice cream and bananas brûlée with white chocolate brownie, candied pistachios and strawberry ice cream. A big thanks from all of us!
On a sunny afternoon, we had the chance to sit out on the deck with friends and try some wines from Miraflores for the Touring & Tasting wine clubs. In the Sierra foothills, Miraflores creates handcrafted, artisanal, small-lot wines--Zinfandel, Syrah, Petite Sirah, Barbera, Viognier, Pinot Grigio, Muscat Canelli, Rosé and dessert wines. We tasted the 2007 Syrah, 2007 Zinfandel, 2009 Viognier and 2009 Rosé with this week's wine pairing recipe--the blackened salmon. I made the avocado and grapefruit salad with citrus dressing from the 4/14/10 post to accompany the salmon and a friend brought a rice, mushroom and Parmesan bake. We loved the wines, especially the Syrah (the 2005 received 92 points from Wine Enthusiast) and the Zinfandel--a smooth Zin redolent of blackberry, with the spicy, jammy intensity of the varietal and luscious and silky in the mouth. The Zin will be in upcoming Touring & Tasting wine clubs--take a look at their wine club specials this month and try this wine!
1 tsp. fennel seed
1 tsp. cumin seed
1 Tbsp. thyme
1 Tbsp. oregano
1 Tbsp. tarragon
1 Tbsp. paprika
1 tsp. turmeric
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. black pepper
1/2 tsp. white pepper
1/4 tsp. chili powder
1/4 tsp. powdered ginger
7 Tbsp. butter, in two parts
1 lb. wildcaught salmon fillet
1 quart salad greens of your choice, for example 2 cups arugula and 2 cups lettuce, chopped into bite-sized pieces
Vinagrette or Italian dressing to taste
Grind the fennel and cumin seed together, then grind in the rest of the spices. Put into a shallow bowl to be used later to coat the fish. Melt 3 Tbsp. of the butter in a shallow bowl. Pat the salmon dry with paper towels and slice into four equal strips. Dip each piece in the butter on all sides except the skin side, then into the bowl with the spices, coating all of the fish surface not covered with skin. Put the remaining 4 Tbsp. of butter into a heavy frying pan; a cast iron pan is best, and turn the heat on medium high. As soon as the butter melts, place the fillets in it skin-side up. Pour the remaining butter from the shallow dish over the top. Let the fish sizzle in the butter to cook until almost done through--adjust the heat so the butter doesn't burn. It should take just about 3 minutes for the fish to cook almost all the way through. Carefully turn with a spatula and cook skin-side down for another minute. Serve immediately by peeling off the skin and topping your salad with the salmon slices. Serves 4.


Reaching For Stars!

Imagine tasting the creations of sixteen of the top chefs of Santa Barbara in one evening--this is your chance. The foodie event of the season has to be the "Reaching The Stars' dinner organized by Chef Vincent Van Hecke of the Montecito Valley Club (and teacher extraordinaire at the SBCC School Of Culinary Arts). Here's the stellar line up of Chefs:
John Downey--Downey's
Brandon Hughes--bouchon
John Petitt--Seagrass
Jeff Magown--Winecask
Don Skipworthy (see my post on Chef Skip)--Private Chef
Mari Bartoli--Private Chef
Randy Bublitz--SBCC School Of Culinary Arts
Christine Dahl-Hutchings--Christine Dahl Pastries
Michael Hutchings--Michael's Catering
John Trotta--San Ysidro Ranch
Eric Widmer--La Cumbre Country Club
Brian Parks--Canary Hotel
James Sly--Sly's
Alex Castillo--El Paseo Restaurant
Vincent Van Hecke--The Valley Club of Montecito and SBCC
Tickets are $175 for dinner paired with fine wine. Call the YMCA at 569-1103 and ask for Lynn to purchase tickets. Proceeds benefit Noah's Anchorage which houses and counsels at risk youth.
I found out about it in the Food and Home magazine--here is a link to an article about the event in the Independent. Read my post on the menu and event.


SBCC Culinary Arts Graduating Chefs -- Awesome!

Last night was the Tour de Cuisine dinner put on by the graduating Spring 2010 Culinary Arts School students and it was awesome! This event is the culmination of their four semester studies. They plan and execute the event from designing the menu to ordering the food to cooking for a huge crowd. The unofficial count I heard mentioned by family and friends was over 300 guests. For just 17 students to prepare a six-course meal plus appetizers (with help from the catering crew) is a wonderful achievement. They should be as proud of themselves as we are with them! The theme was Roots--the food that inspires us and the menu was as follows:
Spring Greens
pea tendrils, nasturtium, pistachios & pickled cauliflower with a fresh garlic vinegarette
(nasturtium flowers are wonderful in salads, a bit peppery and easy to grow)

Seared Sea Scallops
Pacific rim vegetables with a ponzu tangerine reduction

Pan Roasted Seabass
braised fennel & baby artichokes with almond butter & pepper coulis

Leg Of Lamb Poelee
stuffed squash blossom, braised radicchio, blood orange demi glace

Cheese Plate
a selection of California cheeses
Point Reyes blue, Mt. Tam triple cream, and Seascape (a sheep/cow's milk combo)

S'mores Duo
an exploration of the classic combination of marshmallow, chocolate and graham crackers

This was particularly ingenious--a graham cracker cake on the right, topped with a dollop of melted marshmallow and an "oreo" of graham cracker with marshmallow filling, coated in chocolate.

I had to take the photos with my  iphone in dim light with my daughter holding her phone light over the food--not the best way to get good shots! I don't have any photos of the graduates...this looks like an impressionistic painting, but it's actually blurry students walking up to get their certificates:
The vineyards of Farnese in the Abruzzo hills, were established in 1582 when Princess Margarita of Austria (illegitimate daughter of Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor) married Ottavio Farnese and ordered the cultivation of vineyards and olive groves. This week's Online Grapevine wine sale is a sampling of their wines--the case price (12 bottles) is barely twice the price of just three bottles--a bargain at less than $10 a bottle with free shipping! I have volunteer mint popping up all around--and in--my garden boxes and have been putting mint into everything--salads, hot tea, rice pilaf and now bruschetta. The flavor of the mint in my recipe is slight, but it gives the bruschetta a lovely extra layer to the appetizing aroma:
Fresh Bruschetta With A Hint Of Mint:
1 loaf of crusty Italian bread or a baguette
3 large ripe tomatoes1/2 cup fresh basil, chopped
3 garlic cloves, minced
large sprig of fresh mint, minced
4 Tbsp. olive oil
4 Tbsp. balsamic vinegar
salt and pepper to taste
Parmesan (optional)
In a medium pot, bring enough water to a boil so the tomatoes will be covered when they are added. Slit one end of each tomato with a sharp knife, then add to boiling water and cook just until the skin begins to peel off. Put them in a glass (or non-reactive) bowl inside a larger bowl of ice to cool. Peel, seed and chop them, then return them to the glass bowl. Mix in the garlic, mint, oil, vinegar and salt and pepper to taste. Cut the bread into thin diagonal pieces and toast until golden brown. Spread the topping on the toasts, including the juice which will infuse the bread with flavor. You can sprinkle grated Parmesan on top if you like. Serves 6-8. Pair with this week's special wine: the 2008 Farnese Montepulciano d'Abruzzo.