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Santa Barbara, CA, United States
I enjoy creating original wine-pairing recipes that are healthful and delicious. I work for Touring & Tasting a Santa Barbara based wine club and national magazine as Food Editor. However, I am not paid for this blog and the opinions expressed here are strictly my own. I received my Personal Chef Skills Competency Award from the SBCC's School Of Culinary Arts. In 2012, I started Inside Wine - Santa Barbara with pal Lila Brown which features wine tastings with winery owners and winemakers. I also serve on the Board of the Santa Barbara Culinary Arts group, which had Julia Child as one of the founding members and funds scholarships for SBCC culinary students in her name.

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Friday, December 30, 2011

What To Expect From The French Laundry Napa Valley and Wine Pairing

Synopsis: World renown 5 star restaurant is a once in a lifetime experience--around 14 courses of exquisitely prepared miniature dishes that please the eye and palate. Pair light wines like champagne or Pinot as the flavors are delicate.
The French Laundry
Once a laundry, saloon and brothel, now a world-renown restaurant, The French Laundry was founded in 1994 by Chef Thomas Keller in Yountville, Napa Valley. Chef Keller was named "America's Best Chef" by Time magazine and "Chef of the Year" by the Culinary Institute of America plus he won consecutive "Best Chef" awards from the James Beard Foundation. Naturally, The French Laundry is at the top of any foodie's "bucket" list, so I was thrilled that we had reservations after several years of trying to obtain one without success. I must not have been the only first time customer apprehensive about what to expect at this venerable establishment, since The French Laundry website even has a page entitled "What To Expect" where they say "...that's how we try to welcome you--as a guest in a home we love".
Salmon Tartare
Indeed, the place looks more like a home that a famous building, with their sign nearly hidden in the foliage in front. We were early for our 5:30 reservation, so we peeked into the kitchen while we waited for the front door to open. A bevy of chefs were prepping in an immaculate but not ostentatious kitchen. We were welcomed into the restaurant, which continued the theme of modesty with its simple decor. The room was lit with candles and soft light, with comfortable chairs and quality place settings and stemware, but there is nothing pretentious or stuffy about the atmosphere. The feeling is one of warmth and welcome.
We had downloaded and perused the wine list prior to arriving and had decided that wines by the glass would give us a more affordable way to try a number of different selections. The French Laundry wines by the HALF bottle range from $45 to $1,285. We found wine by the glass that fit our more modest budget: the Weegmüller "Haardter Herzog" Kabinett Riesling and the Pierre-Yves Colin-Morey "Les Vireuils" white Burgundy which we thought had an off-taste and exchanged for the HdV "Hyde Vineyard" Chardonnay from Carneros. One can choose between the regular Chef's Tasting Menu and the Tasting Of Vegetables--we had one of each.
Salad Of Hachiya Persimmon
Prior to our first course, we were brought two tiny (about 1" wide) warm gougeres filled with melted cheese--fantastic! Then, two tiny "ice cream cones" of salmon tartare. I unobtrusively took photos at our corner table with my iphone--the light was dim, so the photos are not the best. The salmon cones look large--but they were about 2" tall--just a bite of salmon with a cream interior and crispy shell. Our first courses of the menu were Baked Sierra Beauty Apple for me--reminiscent of an apple betty--and "Oysters and Pearls" for Paul, which was a creamy mixture of tapioca, caviar and oysters--one of the evening's best dishes.
Celeric "Gratin"
Next on the vegetable tasting for me was the Salad of Hachiya Persimmon with heirloom beets and petite greens. The greens were precious--one tiny sprig was the size of half my pinkie fingernail. I liked the sweet persimmon, but the beet slivers were about the size of a slivered almond, so it was difficult to taste their natural rich flavor. Paul's salad was the Salsify "En Feuille de Brick", also with the tiniest bits of salsify, Asian pear, radicchio, walnuts and radicchio. The flavors were lovely but delicate and would have been better with a brut champagne or dry sparkling wine, even though I loved the nectar-like aromatics of the Riesling.
"Caesar Salad"
We switched to a glass of the Maume Gevrey-Chambertin "En Pallud" from Burgundy (a Pinot Noir) and a glass of the Hirsch "San Andreas" Pinot Noir from Sonoma Coast to go with the Celeriac "Gratin", which had a nice creamy sauce that went well with the chestnuts in the dish, and the Sautéed Fillet of New Zealand Medai which had chorizo and piquillo peppers spicing it.
Garnet Yams "En Cocotte"
Paul's next course was a deconstructed "Caesar Salad" with tender lobster "mitts" and a few wisps of romaine. The photo make it look large, but it was in fact a gem-like square about 2" wide plated in the middle of a very large white plate. It comprised a tasty two bites of lobster with a hint of garlic and butter.
Salmon Creek Farm Pork Belly
I had the Garnet Yams "En Cocotte" --a vegetable lover's delight. I was thrilled to see the humble yam given formal tableside service usually reserved for fish or meat. A cart was wheeled to our table with several covered silver dishes. One was opened to reveal Savoy cabbage chiffonaded and gently cooked. It was carefully spooned into the serving dish. Another silver lid was lifted to reveal the yams that had been baking in maple syrup--they were placed on the cabbage, topped with tiny Candy Cap mushrooms, then soaked with the bourbon maple syrup sauce. This was another of the evening's top dishes and paired perfectly with Pinot Noir.
"Calotte De Boeuf Grillée"
Paul's next two meat courses were the Salmon Creek Farm Pork Belly and Snake River Farms "Calotte De Boeuf Grillée" which he declared delicious. My Niçoise Olive "Garganelli" had tubular pasta made from special eggs flown in from Japan. Unfortunately, I could not taste the difference and it seemed a shame to have spent the money for such an expensive ingredient when a locally raised organic egg surely would have made an excellent pasta. I also thought the pasta was a little too "al dente" and this was the only non-dessert dish I was served that I did not devour in its entirety.

"St Nectaire"
The "St Nectaire" was a carefully composed combination of wilted radicchio, truffled bread bits and a prune puree that had less flavor than I would have expected from the name and the listing of ingredients.
"Pecan Pie"
However, the next four courses were the gastronomic equivalent of the end of a fireworks show when all guns are fired for a grand finale. Despite the tiny servings, the number of dishes we had already consumed had already sated us--but the desserts were irresistible. Sorbets were served to cleanse our palate--sour cherry or buttermilk. My buttermilk sorbet was just a spoon's worth, but it was all that was needed. Imagine the brightest, cleanest, freshest taste of dairy hitting your mouth with a flash of cold, then melting away instantly like a snowflake!
Buttermilk Sorbet
The "Pecan Pie" With Verjus-Poached Honey Pears was the perfect amount of sweetness loaded with pecan flavor. Our dessert course was quickly followed by extra treats--warm, fresh miniature donuts, macadamia nuts rolled in chocolate, chocolate truffles with various fillings and an unbelievably delicious "caffe fredo" which was a tiny cup with frozen coffee cream topped with an airy mixture that looked like steamed milk but must have been the lightest foam of meringue. We had been asked about any allergies at the beginning of the meal and I mentioned that I didn't eat chocolate, so I wasn't served the chocolate soufflé--there was no need at this point as I could not have had another bite, no matter how delicious.
For wines to pair with the dessert courses, we chose the Oremus Tokaji Aszú 5 Puttonyos and the D'Oliveira Verdelho "Reserva" Madeira--two types of wines we had never tried. I remember my wine class teacher in Culinary School Antonio Gardella rhapsodizing over Hungarian wines and saying that though they are rare in the US, they historically have been considered in Europe as being on a par with French grand cru, so I was very interested in trying the Tokaji Aszú. The grapes are allowed to contract Botrytis cinerea or "noble rot" which concentrates the flavor. The Tokai was lusciously sweet and aromatic as nectar. The Madeira was smoky and woody and did not pair as well with the desserts. Overall, if I could redo our wine choices, I think I would choose a dry champagne for the savory dishes since the flavors were so delicate. Some of the ingredients are served in such tiny amounts, that their flavors were diminished. The sauces were exquisite, but none were strongly flavored. Even the meat dishes would not pair well with a powerful red like a Cabernet Sauvignon as the decisively tasty meat portions were around 2" long and the other parts of the dish prepared with a light touch. I think the Pinot Noir we had paired was as strong a red wine as could be paired successfully with the meal we had. The one exception was the yam dish which was the most powerfully flavored dish and was perfect with our Pinot.
Besides the beautifully prepared food, the French Laundry experience was remarkable for the service. The servers silently and unobtrusively place and remove utensils and plates. We witnessed the graceful choreography as they served all the diners at the adjoining table of eight simultaneously without any fanfare or superfluous movements. Our waiter was knowlegeable and affable, happy to answer our many questions, plus he gave us a copy of the day's menu which is below, plus little bags of yummy shortbread cookies.
However, The French Laundry will have to be third on the list of the best dining experiences in my life behind the two kaiseki meals I had in ryokans in Japan: the Hiiragiya Ryokan in Kyoto and the Kankaso Ryokan in Nara. Multiple courses are served to you in your room, each presented on a priceless dish--an heirloom pottery bowl, a gilt enameled plate, a gorgeous natural stone, an elaborate laquered tray hundreds of years old--and the composition of the food creates a piece of art that complements the serving dish and reflects the season of the year. The tastes are carefully orchestrated to encompass all varieties of cooking techniques, textures, flavors and colors creating an amazing variety in the dining experience. Obviously, the quality of ingredients and technique at The French Laundry are the very best, but the texture of the dozens of ingredients in the savory dishes tended to be the same softness as if everything had been cooked sous vide. The fresh greens that garnished many dishes were so miniature that their texture was barely discernible. That note aside, we had a wonderful meal (which took around three hours to experience) and a once-in-a-lifetime taste of the virtuosity of one of the world's best Chefs.
c h e f ’ s t a s t i n g m e n u | 2 8 De c e m b e r 2 0 1 1
6640 WASHINGTON STREET, YOUNTVILLE CA 94599 707.944.2380
“Sabayon” of Pearl Tapioca with Point Reyes Oysters and White Sturgeon Caviar
Maine Sea Urchin, White Truffle, Sicilian Pistachio and “Sablé”
( 50.00 supplement )
Asian Pear, Tardivo Radicchio, Black Walnuts and Mizuna
Honey-Glazed Cranberries, Pecans, Oxalis and Black Winter Truffle
( 30.00 supplement )
Chorizo, Littleneck Clams, Piquillo Peppers, Spanish Capers and Saffron “Nuage”
Petite Onions, Nantes Carrots, Tokyo Turnips and “Sauce Bordelaise” ( serves two )
Sweet Butter-Poached Maine Lobster “Mitts,” Caramelized Romaine Lettuce, Garlic Melba and “Bottarga di Muggine”
Young Fennel, Ruby Red Grapefruit, Sunchokes and Niçoise Olives
French Laundry Garden Cabbage, Pomegranate, K&J Orchard Chestnut and Black Truffle
“Pommes Darphines,” Chanterelle Mushrooms, Petite Radish, Red Ribbon Sorrel and Green Peppercorn Sauce
Baby Beets, Celery Root and Piedmont Hazelnuts
Coconut “Petit Beurre” and Vanilla “Soda”
Spice Pudding, “Panna Cotta,” Fuyu Persimmon and Marcona Almond “Glacée”
Funnel Cake, “Pruneaux d’Agen,” Rum “Anglaise”
and Salted Caramel Ice Cream

t a s t i n g o f v e g e t a b l e s | 2 8 D e c e m b e r 2 0 1 1
6640 WASHINGTON STREET, YOUNTVILLE CA 94599 707.944.2380
Granola, Garden Blossoms and Yogurt Mousse
Heirloom Beets, Petite Greens and Spice “Gastrique”
French Laundry Garden Celery, K&J Orchard Chestnuts, Gingerbread and Honey-Poached Cranberries
Poached Quail Egg, Piedmont Hazelnuts, Mizuna and Périgourd Truffles
Maine Lobster “Mitts,” Creamed Hearts of Romaine and Black Winter Truffle
Candy Cap Mushrooms, Savoy Cabbage, Red Walnuts and Bourbon Maple Syrup
Cavolo Nero, Jingle Bell Peppers, Spanish Capers, Pine Nuts and Garlic Confit
Hobbs’ Bacon, Nantes Carrots, Shallots,
Scallion Salad and Port Wine Reduction
Black Truffle “Pain Perdu,” Tardivo Radicchio, “Pruneaux d’Agen” and Sicilian Pistachios
Cabot “Clothbound Cheddar,” Cauliflower Florets and Bitter Ale Béchamel
Oregon Huckleberries and Marcona Almond “Waffle”
Banana Ice Cream and Burnt Lemon-Caramel Sauce
Verjus-Poached Honey Pears, Maple-Brown Butter “Gastrique” and Grains of Paradise Ice Cream

Sunday, December 18, 2011

To Die For Pavlova With Raspberry Coulis

A double win as I made this dessert twice recently and everyone raved about it! One friend said it was the best dessert he'd ever had--pretty big words!

Raspberry Pavlova With Raspberry Coulis and Fresh Fruit
Chef's Notes:
Your mixing bowl and whisk must be very clean, dry and grease-free to make proper meringue. Also, the whites will not whip up properly if there is even a speck of yolk in them.
Ingredients For Meringue:
    •    6 egg whites
    •    1/2 tsp. cream of tartar
    •    1/2 tsp. cornstarch
    •    2  cups superfine or castor sugar
    •    1 tsp. lemon juice
    •    1 tsp. vanilla extract
Directions For Meringue Shell:
Preheat the oven to 200 degrees. Put egg whites, cream of tartar and cornstarch into a very clean, dry mixing bowl and whip on high speed until peaks just start to form. Turn the speed to medium and slowly add the superfine sugar. Add the lemon juice and 1 tsp. vanilla and continue mixing until the meringue is smooth and glossy. Do not over beat the meringue, but make sure the it is not gritty--that would indicate the sugar is not fully mixed in.
Line a baking pan with parchment and draw a large circle in the middle with pencil if making one large Pavlova--you can invert a large bowl on top and trace the outline. Alternatively, use a 4" wide bowl to make individual Pavlovas. Put four little drops under the four corners of the parchment paper so it will stick to the baking sheet. Using a pastry bag, pipe the meringue into a circle, starting in the center and making concentric rings. Finish by piping a decorative border around each circle. Bake until the meringue is set, about 1-1/2 to 2 hours. The meringue should be firm but not brown. Turn off the oven, leave the door ajar and let the meringue in the oven to finish drying for about an hour.

Ingredients for Raspberry Coulis:
    •    2 10 oz. packages frozen raspberries
    •    1/2 tsp. vanilla for puree
    •    1 cup sugar
Direcions For Raspberry Coulis:
While the meringue is cooking, put 1/2 cup water, raspberries and cup of granulated sugar into a saucepan and bring to a boil. Turn the heat down and simmer the sauce for 10 minutes or until the sauce thickens by a third. Set aside to cool enough to strain through a china cap or cheesecloth to remove the seeds. Put into a glass container and chill in the refrigerator.
Other Ingredients:
    •    1 pint whipping cream
    •    1 pint of fresh fruit of your choice: raspberries, blueberries, sliced strawberries or blackberries
    •    1/2 cup slivered and toasted almonds
Directions For Whipped Cream:
Put the whipping cream into a clean mixer bowl and whip until soft peaks form.

To Assemble The Pavlova:

Plate the meringue shell(s), fill with whipped cream and drizzle with raspberry puree, Decorate with fresh fruit, sprinkle with toasted almonds and serve immediately.

BTW, I discovered something delicious to drink: tonic water with lemon made with Tom's homemade tonic syrup. The taste is so much better than store bought tonic--it's slightly sweet and pleasantly bitter. Lovely on ice with my homegrown Meyer lemons!
Find it here.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Elegant Salmon Cakes

Less expensive than crab cakes, but just as elegant, salmon cakes with Hollandaise sauce pair beautifully with a Pinot Noir.

Salmon Cakes With Hollandaise Sauce:
Ingredients for salmon cakes:
3 small waxy potatoes, such as red or Yukon Gold, to make 1/2 cup
1 egg
1 6 oz. can salmon
1 tsp. minced fresh dill
2 Tbsp. fresh minced parsley
pinch freshly ground black pepper
1/4 tsp. salt
1 1/2 cups, approximate, panko bread crumbs
3 Tbsp. ghee or clarified butter

Directions for salmon cakes:
Peel and slice the potatoes, place into a pot, cover with water and bring to a boil. Cook around 10 minutes or until the potatoes are softened but not mushy. Drain, let cool, and cut into a small dice--cubes about 1/8" on each side. In a mixing bowl, stir the egg with a fork until well mixed, add the salmon and flake it apart with the fork. Add the dill, parsley, pepper and salt and stir until mixed. Pour the bread crumbs into a shallow bowl. Divide the salmon mixture into four parts and form each one into a ball, then pat into a patty. Carefully place in the panko, turn and coat the other side. Heat the clarified butter in a large frying pan (see here on instructions on making clarified butter) over medium heat and add the cakes. Turn the heat to low and cook for about 10 minutes or until the cakes are browned on the bottom. Flip and cook 5 more minutes or until browned on the second side. Cover to keep warm as you make the Hollandaise.

Ingredients for Hollandaise:
1/4 ghee or clarified butter
2 egg yolks
3+ Tbsp. warm water
juice of 1 lemon, about 1/8 cup juice
dash Tabasco sauce
1/2 tsp. salt
dash white pepper
Directions for Hollandaise:
Warm the butter and pour into a measuring cup (you can microwave the butter in the cup for 20 seconds). Use a bain marie or double boiler--bring the water in the bottom pot to a low boil. In the top pot, whisk the egg yolks with 3 tbsp. water. Slowly drizzle the butter into the egg yolks, whisking continuously. Drizzle in the lemon juice, whisking continuously, then add the Tabasco, salt and pepper. Continue cooking and whisking until the sauce thickens enough to coat the back of a spoon. If it becomes too thick, whisk in more water until you have the right consistency.
Serves 2.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Culinary Class Final -- The Perfect Egg


Eggs are the easiest ingredient to cook because they are so versatile and cook easily at a low heat. Obversely, they are one of the most difficult to cook well for two reasons: because they become leathery when overcooked (at temperatures above 180 degrees), and because the egg yolks solidify (cook through) at 149-158 degrees whereas the whites solidify at 144-149 degrees--meaning that theoretically, the temperature should be exactly 149 to cook the entire egg evenly. (read the Discover article on the perfect boiled egg). Incidently, if you see green around the yolk of a boiled egg, it was cooked either at too high a temperature or too long. The green is from hydrogen sulfide in the white interacting with iron in the yolk and will give off a "rotten egg" smell.
So, no wonder our culinary class final was to make a French rolled omelette, cooked through evenly, with no browning on the surface and seasoned well--a measure of our pan control and seasoning ability. We also had to demonstrate our knife skills with brunoise, julienne and dice. The most difficult is the large dice. Try making several 3/4" cubes from a carrot with perfect 90 degree angles and identical size! For those who are interested, here's the method to make the perfect French omelette (no browning or crispiness on the outside as many American omelettes are made): whisk 2 eggs with a tablespoon of water (not milk or cream as the fat inhibits the protein in the egg from encasing water in the omelette--which gives the moistness to the finished product), adding salt and pepper (and herbs if desired). Coat the bottom of your pan with oil and pour off any excess, heat it so the eggs will sizzle when added--no sizzle means the eggs will stick, stir the eggs with a heat resistant spatula and fold the edges in towards the middle. When the eggs are starting to set but still moist, "paint" the eggs across the bottom of the pan so the layer is even, then cook carefully--taking the pan off the flame and putting it back on to maintain a low temperature until the egg is almost set through. Lift one edge of the omelette and roll it up and onto a plate. Let it sit for a minute to complete cooking. When sliced in half, their should be a pinwheel pattern of the rolled eggs and the eggs should be moist but cooked thoroughly.
Thanksgiving leftovers are delicious! Wrap them up in dough, bake and serve with a rich Syrah.
Empanadas with Thanksgiving Leftovers:
Pastry for Empanadas:
1 egg plus 1 egg yolk
1 1/2 cups flour
1/2 tsp. salt
1 stick cold butter
1/4 cup cold water
In a small bowl, mix the egg and extra yolk slightly, using a fork. In a mixing bowl, mix the flour and salt. Using a pastry blender or two dinner knives (cross the blades so they act like scissors), cut the butter into the flour until the butter bits are less than 1/4" across. Mix in the egg with half of the water, mixing quickly with the fork until the dough just comes together, adding the rest of the water as necessary.  Knead quickly on a floured board, only to incorporate all the ingredients. Wrap the dough in plastic and refrigerate for at least an hour.
Making Empanadas:
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Unwrap the dough. Spread out the plastic wrap and pat the dough flat. Put another piece of plastic wrap on top, then roll out the dough to 1/8" thickness. Cut into 6" circles using a cookie cutter or lid. Put leftover turkey, dressing, gravy and/or cranberry sauce in the middle, leaving 1/2" border of dough around the edges. You can also use a good melting cheese instead of gravy--like cheddar or Gruyere. Fold the dough in half and press the edges together to seal. If the dough is not sticking together, paint a bit of water or milk in the seam, then seal. Bake for 15-20 minutes until pastry is golden brown. Serves 4.