Monday, August 31, 2009

End of Summer: UPDATED


View a beautiful original animated work by Jeff Scher called "Summer Retreat"

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Can I get a witness?

Julie's Scones

My wife makes the most delicious and satisfying scones ever.  It's a simple recipe with only five main ingredients, and butter is not one of them.  HA!  Heavy cream is the secret, however, and just about anything you put in them is wonderful.  The best ones (for me) are a toss up between the chocolate chip and the butterscotch pecan.  This is also one recipe where it makes sense to freeze them, both for storage, and for quality.  Warm your oven to 400 and they're done in about 25 minutes from a frozen state.  Just enough time (if you do it first) to get a pot of coffee on, read your email, put on some music and get the house going.  When Julie makes these for school, people get into fist fights to get one.  They want to know where she bought them. 

Chocolate Chip Cream Scones:
 3 Cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup sugar
2 tablespoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon of salt
2 cups heavy cream, cold
1 1/2 cups of chocolate chips

For topping:
2 tablespoons of milk
3 tablespoons of coarse sugar

1. Sift the dry ingredients together in a bowl.  Make a well in the center.
2. Add the cream to the center and stir until the by hand until the batter is evenly moistened.  Stir in the chips until just incorporated.

3. Place the dough onto some parchment paper and press into an even layer.  Using a spatula, create a rectangle by shaping the sides with your hand and the spatula.  Cover with another sheet of parchment and freeze until firm, about 2 hours.
4.  Turn the dough back out the counter and let thaw about 10 minutes.  Using a sharp knife, cut the scones into desired size triangles.  
 5. Place on a baking pan or sil-pat, brush with milk and sprinkle the sugar.  Bake at 350 degrees F until GBD (golden brown delicious!).  Let cool slightly, but serve warm.

The Sunday Playlist

My "holy" day has always been, and always will be Sunday.  I live in a world that doesn't observe a traditional seven day week.  You know, a beginning and an end?  So, when Sunday arrives, I really would rather not play restaurant, and take a few steps back and behave (however naive) as a civilian.  

Rituals are ok, mind you.  I'm not that OCD to freak if I don't get all my goodies.  But, if we're gonna go there, I need my NYT and from the moment I rise, there needs to be music.  It matters not what else is going on- just keep it playing.  


I'm partial to Beatles early in the day, because of my attachment to Brunch with the Beatles on 98 WOGL.  But, I'm also sentimental for Syd Marks' Sinatra show.  And then from my days of working brunch at the Virginia in Cape May, I love the sounds of Donald Fagan and Steely Dan, as well as VH1 faves like Annie Lennox and The Cowboy Junkies.  I love the early radio sounds of Ella Fitzgerald.  I dig 80s ballads from artists like Aimee Mann from Til Tuesday and Bryan Ferry.  
The requisite for making it to the ever growing Sunday playlist is songs that make you NOT want to leave your chair.  I may hit the "genius" button every once and awhile on the Itunes, but I've been accumulating a play list for Sundays that allows the likes of Autour de Lucie to mingle with the likes of Tony Bennett and Herbie Hancock.  

Bagels or muffins?  French toast or pancakes?  Bacon or sausage?  Is there a wrong answer?  No.  They are all just variations on a wonderful theme.  Six hours of bliss.  It's the only time when it's legal to walk around in your PJs at 2pm or eat eggs as your first meal at 1pm.  How about just stumbling outside to garden with not a care if the phone rings or if the front door is locked? 

What are your Sunday rituals?  What fills your soul on a Sunday morning?  And, lay it on me- what's in YOUR Sunday playlist?

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Cow on a Hot Tin Roof

Swing has always had a special place in my musical line up.  It doesn't seem to matter how old, how new or how many instruments are involved, you can't beat the beat that gives a treat.  
The Hot Club of France gains credit for popularizing the swinging gypsy sound in the 30's throughout the cafes and cabarets of Paris.  Led by Django Rheinhardt and Stephane Grappelli, it's a style with prominent stand-up bass, wild fiddle and a bouncing, plucky guitar.  It's a hoedown looking for a barn full of people.  And it doesn't matter what language the songs are sung in, it still doesn't mean a thing unless it's got that swing.  Take for example, on the Putumayo Label, Swing Around the World.  Roughly 10 different countries take a crack at the classic sound.  It's a great CD for cooking and sitting around drinking.  I think everyone in my family has a copy.
Within the last few years, I realized there are several talented bands who directly borrowed their names from the original Hot Club, and they jam with all the enthusiasm and spirit as their predecessors.  The Hot Club of San Francisco has a more minimal sound, while Hot Club Sandwich (love that name!) has a rowdier approach.   The Hot Club of Detroit has a tinge of klezmer, with prominent accordion and clarinet, but the ever present holy trinity of bass, fiddle and guitar are still there.

The Hot Club of Cowtown is a band I just discovered, but they are by no means a new band.  This trio has just released a new album, Wishful Thinking, and is keeping the spirit of hot jazz and western swing alive.  This excerpt from their website gives you a bit more insight:


Lauded on NPR, darlings of international stages from Japan's Fuji Rock Festival to Stagecoach and all points in between, HCCT began as a combustible trio playing traditional music but began to develop its own sound through invitations to collaborate, tour with, and work alongside more contemporary artists.  The trio was hired (and survived) tours with Bob Dylan and Willie Nelson, first opening for them then playing with them: Elana, a classically trained violinist and the legitimate heir to the great tradition of Western swing which she learned firsthand horse wrangling and working with Texas fiddle masters (and a few stolen encounters with traveling Romany fiddlers), became the first dedicated female instrumentalist to tour in Bob Dylan's band in over 30 years.


An invitation from Bryan Ferry for HCCT to reinterpret his material coaxed the band into the modern mainstream. Rachel Ray put them in her cookbook!  Their appearances at mega-festivals from Byron Bay (Australia) to Fuji Rock (Japan) to Glastonbury (UK), and performances on Jools Holland's TV show, "Later," have brought the band international acclaim and a little closer to the millions waiting to fall in love with their music.  HCCT has taken a traditional idiom, dusted it off, transfigured it, and reinterpreted it on its own terms. The music is blazing, modern, and has more energy than ever."
Yeehaw. 
Couldn't have said it better (and didn't want to).  My favorite tracks include The Long Way Home, which Norah Jones did recently and Elana James' breathy, almost Jessica Rabbit rendition of Someone to Watch Over Me.  
Get it, share it and support the band and other musicians like them.
R

Friday, August 28, 2009

Once in a Blue Moon...


Once in a great while, an opportunity arises for foodies.  A chance to sit down with good friends, drink great wines, eat wonderful foods and enjoy an evening you'll remember for years to come.  Except, if you happen to cook, and you also get to cook with those friends, AND sit down for the dinner- it's an even bigger blast, as anyone who has done it can tell you. 


Nine years ago, fellow chefs, wine guys, foodies and friends (12 in all) got together to experience a generous gift of wine bequeathed to one of our friends from a colleague.  It was a collection of 8 or 9 bottles, including first growth bordeaux from stellar vintages, like 1982 and 1985 & 86.  There was 1966 la Tache burgundy and cult cabernet from California I didn't even know existed (Maya).  And, the mother of them all:  Chateau d'Yquem Sauternes.  
We wrote a menu around the wines, throwing in a couple others to fill in some holes (like Sauzet Montrachets and Grand Cru Champagnes).  We used extravagant, expensive ingredients, but simply, so as to complement these beauties, not kill them.  It was 7 or 8 courses, and it was a once in a lifetime dinner.  Or so we thought.


This past May, the core group assembled again with our benefactor and an entire case of wines that would make any enthusiast weak in the knees.  Then came the news:  among more great 1st growth bordeaux, Chateau d'Yquem, gorgeous white burgundies and Taylor Port from 1963, there would be a bottle of 1919 Chateau Haut Brion.  *Whimper & Sigh* *Jaw drops*



Again, writing the menu around the wines, filling in the blanks with equally remarkable wines and vintages, we met several times before to discuss pairings, view tasting notes and discuss the progression of the meal.  If you've never written a menu of multiple courses or paired wine for them, many factors are considered when doing so.  Building in intensity of flavors, while not losing your navigation is one of these factors.  Throw in ambition, truffles, foie gras, caviar and a previous wine dinner that shook our world, and you've got quite a bit of anticipation, not to mention some healthy anxiety.
It didn't seem possible to have out-done the previous dinner, but it was so. 
Reception- Champagne
Amuse Bouche- Smoked Salmon Cheesecake- with fine herb crème fraîche, Kentucky paddlefish caviar
1st Course- Pan-Seared Canadian Halibut- over melted baby leeks with crisp pancetta
2000 Chevalier Montrachet, Leflaive
2000 Chevalier Montrachet,  V.Giradin
2nd Course- Pan-Roasted Rabbit Loin with sage, Kennett Square mushrooms and olives
2006 Chambolle Musigny F.Mugnier
2001 Charmes Chambertin C.Dugat
1986 Charmes Chambertin
3rd Course- Raviolo filled with Braised Piedmontese Beef Cheeks, Black Truffle and Taleggio; natural braising jus
1996 Chambertin, Jadot
1988 Charmes Chambertin, Roty
4th Course- Spice Rubbed and Grilled Wild Boar Loin with a “reserve” of braised pork belly, cipollini, rosemary and balsamico
1990 Chateau Latour, Pomerol
1990 Chateau Lafite Rothschild, Paulliac
5th Course- Confit of Lamb Leg over roasted beets, braised beet greens with local feta cheese and natural lamb reduction
1990 Chateau Haut Brion, Graves
1919 Chateau Haut Brion, Graves
6th Course- Epoisses with pumpernickel, roasted nuts, blueberry jam and honey
1963 Taylor Oporto
7th Course- A study in Chateau d’Yquem- Seared foie gras over toasted brioche, blue cheese, peach brulée
1975  Chateau d'Yquem, Sauternes
The Cookie- Citrus and Lemon Thyme Shortbread

Once You Go Black...

I know one thing people hate about blogs is when someone pops the lid open on a hidden gem of a restaurant, the last few bottles of a J.L. Columbo Cotes du Rhone in Delaware (you can't get him here anymore) or where to find the best tomatoes (aint tellin').  But this one I have to share.  Black Lab Breads, in the former DiFonzo's Bakery on Union at Howland Street (ahem) makes what has to be the best pumpernickel bread I've ever eaten.  Yes- yes, we know- they make other great breads; but this one is only made on Saturdays, folks.  And when it's gone, it's gone.  The thing is, it's never gone, because people don't know how good it is.  Among other ingredients, it's made with chocolate and coffee.  Yeah, I know.
Take one home.  Let him sit out awhile.  Tap it gently until it starts to sound a little hollow- then- go to work!  Get out the mustard, the sausages, or go the other route and toast it with some delicious whole butter or jam.  It's BANGIN' with chili.  Skip the bagel and slather some cream cheese and lox with capers, red onion and August tomatoes (don't forget the cracked black pepper), and you're livin' large.  I guar-on-TEE.  It's just as great the next day, even left out.  And it freezes nicely; but, if you don't eat it within a week, don't bother getting one. 

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Feeling Kinda Amish


As a chef, one of the biggest challenges we face is educating ourselves continually about food, wine, trends, and the latest in new ideas or burgeoning cuisines.  If we don't, we get stale.  So, one of the more interesting trends for me is the idea that "less is more", when it comes to cooking.  Certainly, using quality ingredients and treating them with a deft hand and respect (don't muscle or mute them) allows you to appreciate flavors as they were meant to be experienced.  It's a common theme among the most respected dining establishments and food gurus.  The French chefs, in particular, Christian Delouvrier, formerly of les Celebrites and author of Mastering Simplicity, do it best.  But what about locally?  


The Pennsylvania Dutch and Amish communities throughout the Mid-Atlantic and North East are all about simplicity.  So much so, that they've continued for generations without losing their identity to the information and technology age.  
(If you don't count Rumspringa; and I'll get to that in another post)




I know their obvious beliefs.  And I've been shopping and eating from local farmer's markets for decades.  But, what kind of food would you eat if you sat at the table of an Amish family for supper?  Supper is their dinner, btw; dinner is their lunch, and it's usually a small meal.


When we were looking for a September wine dinner theme at Union City Grille, I wanted to feature local foods.  I wanted to get the full bounty of late summer and I wanted it to be fun and culturally relevant.  Wine dinner themes can get a little tired after awhile.


My eyes have been opened to something that's been right in front of me my whole life.  And I've become a little obsessed with learning more about their way of life.


The Amish raise and produce only what they need.  They are efficient growers and storers of food, and the most dedicated laborers.  They are the ideal locavores.  We owe a debt of gratitude to this culture, simply because we directly benefit from their hard work.  Standing in line at the farmer's market butcher 20 years ago, no one asked "if the sausage is organic".  It just was.  As were the vegetables, home-baked pies, jams, preserves and other food products they sold.  And it's the same today.  No elaborate, trendy packaging, fresh as it gets, priced to sell.  So, why aren't chefs shopping the Amish markets more?  Getting a hold of great ingredients is always an inspiration in itself, but what if you are looking to replicate and even experience a true Amish meal?



The Amish Cook is a remarkably down-to-earth cookbook with traditional recipes, lovely photos, cultural references and clever anecdotes from an old order Amish family.  Elizabeth Coblentz was one of the first Amish women to capture the essence of meals and life in a traditional Amish family.  She passed away in 2002, and her daughter, Lovina Eicher took up the pen and carried on her column, The Amish Cook, and later penned a follow-up cookbook, The Amish Cook at Home.  Both of these books are full of super recipes and ideas for eating locally and seasonally.  They're laid out according to the four seasons and the meal periods of the day (respectively).  And my favorite part: you'll actually read these books.  So many cookbooks are coffee table fodder or have beautiful covers with not much practical material in between.  They're personal by way of the voice they're given.  And the true test of a great cookbook?  It makes you hungry just turning the pages.



Stop back soon for a glimpse of the final menu for the September 23rd wine dinner, A Tribute to Amish Heritage, at UCG...






So, should you stumble across this blog, be kind- it's my first attempt.  I'll be posting all kinds of garbage to see what it looks like, sounds like and smells like.


If there are other blogs you think I should check out, lemme know!  Joy, if you're reading this, your "one year ago" post inspired me to get started.  I hope next year I'll also be hosting a virtual rooftop picnic with followers from around THE GLOBE! You rock!


Robear
Day 763 trapped on this island. Running out of food. And wine. Must build raft to get back to mainland if I am to survive.

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