Monday, May 31, 2010

Miso Tasty: Miso Glaze - Good on Anything!

This post is for my dad. A few weeks back, he commented that lately he'd been enjoying quite a few meals out that featured "miso glaze" on this and that. He has a tendency - as do I - to frequent Asian restaurants, and was finding that he was really liking this miso thing; he wanted to know how to make it at home. Turns out, miso glaze is one of my favorite and super simple ways to jazz up a meal... so, a dinner party was born.

Over this glorious, rain-free (!) Memorial Day weekend, we got together à chez moi and grilled up a storm (grilling=requirement for the holiday, correct?). Chicken, veggies, and my favorite - salmon - all went on the grill, and although it tastes great when brushed on any of the above, the miso glaze was reserved for the fish this time around.

There's not much to it - you whisk together just a couple of ingredients, brush it on during the last stages of grilling or broiling, and voila - dinner done tasty. You don't need to season the fish, chicken or veggies with anything other than the glaze - it's got enough salt and flavor within the sauce to do the trick nicely all on its own.

As mentioned, salmon is my hands-down favorite miso glazed variation (the picture above is broiled wild Alaskan sockeye salmon with miso glaze, served with quinoa and spicy garlic fava beans... I could have that every night of the week!). But it's great on chicken and even steak as well. If you're going the veggie route, I suggest eggplant, asparagus, zucchini and portobello mushrooms - they all work beautifully. Whatever the case, it's easy and it's good.

So here you go dad - miso glaze. And thanks again for such a great time spent together - the best part of the meal!

Miso Glaze
  • 1/4 cup miso paste (red or white - it doesn't matter)
  • 1 tablespoon fish sauce
  • 1 tablespoon sesame oil
  • 1 tablespoon rice wine vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon honey (you could also use brown sugar)
Whisk all ingredients together; go forth and glaze!

Sunday, May 23, 2010

The French Laundry (Enough Said!)

Well, I can check that one off my list. Dining at The French Laundry, that is. You heard right - I recently was TREATED to an incredible meal at one of the world's best restaurants. I'd been to all of Thomas Keller's other Napa Valley establishments many times, and have been working my way through the Bay Area's four-star restaurant list, but THE FRENCH LAUNDRY! That was just a far-off goal for the bucket list, an excursion to be saved for when I won the lottery and quit my job in order to have: A) - the disposable income to plunk down for the full-blown French Laundry extravaganza, wine pairings and all, and B) - the time to stalk the reservations line with my undivided, neurotic attention. But thanks to my dear friend Carolyn, my culinary tick list just got a bit shorter.

Carolyn generously invited me to join a party of six she put together for a group of close friends. I am honored to have been included in the "inner circle" - she's got so many friends and admirers who would clamor for that sixth seat. So officially, Thank You Carolyn, for pulling my name out of the hat, or however it came to be that you chose me.

At any rate, it really did feel like the chance of a lifetime. I pulled up to the restaurant, and there was a chef out plucking fresh herbs from the expansive French Laundry garden right across the street. I took that as a fantastic sign for a splendid afternoon.

The Meal
I don't want this to be yet another gushing love letter to Thomas Keller - there are plenty of those out there (ok - maybe just a tiny bit of gushing) - but the meal was fantastic, exquisite, amazing... basically, insert any superlative adjective here: _______ , and it will apply. There were nine official courses (with options between two different offerings in a couple of instances), as well as several amuse bouche and bonus courses. However, it truly was a tasting menu - two, three or four bites perhaps of any given thing. I left the meal perfectly satisfied, but not overly stuffed. Since everything defies description, I'll just let the menu speak for itself.

Note: apologies for the pretty crappy photos, but I decided that I wouldn't lug my big old conspicuous camera into such a distinguished locale; I opted to try and be stealth with my little point-and-shoot. Turns out, I should have brought the big guns. The woman at the next table was armed with an outrageous DSLR, and our server ran down the French Laundry's photography guidelines (no flash). Apparently I'm not the only one who brings their inner geek to the table.

So here it is, my French Laundry meal, in full detail:

Chef's Tasting Menu

Gruyère Cheese Gougères
Cone of Salmon Tartar

Cauliflower "Panna Cotta"
with Island Creek Oyster Glaze and California Sturgeon Caviar
Salad of Hawaiian Hearts of Peach Palm
Field Rhubarb, Granny Smith Apple, English Walnut Sable, Watercress and Verbena "Aigre-Doux"or, my choice:
Moulard Duck "Foie Gras Au Torchon"
Brooks Cherries, Endive Relish, Green Almonds, Celery Branch and Lychee-Black Tea "Gelée"
Sea of Japan Big Fin Squid
Hen-of-the-Woods Mushroom, Lily Bulb, Kumquat, Red Radish, and Cilantro Shoots

or, my choice:
Grilled Japanese Bluefin Tuna
Globe Artichoke, Tomato Confit, Niçoise Olive, Arugula and Green Garlic Velouté
New Bedford Sea Scallop "Poellée"
English Peas, French Laundry Garden Carrots, Braised Brisket Marmalade
Four Story Hill Farm "Cuisse de Poularde"
Ruby Beets, Spring Onions, Tarragon "Jus"
"Chateaubriand" of Marcho Farms Nature-Fed Veal
Sacramento Delta Asparagus, Pickled Ramps, Tokyo Turnips and Dijon Mustardor, my choice:
"Dégustation" of Bellweather Farm Spring Lamb
Chickpea "Croquette," Japanese Cucumber, Jingle Bell Peppers,
Adante Dairy Yogurt, Parsley and Harissa

Chorizo, Fennel Bulb, Fava Beans, Pine Nuts
and Spanish Caper Vinaigrette

Coconut Milk Sorbet
Vanilla-Roasted Maui Gold Pineapple, Medjool Dates,
Cashew Nuts and Candied Ginger

"Crémeux aux Fruits de la Passion"
Dried Pistachio "Pain de Gene," Silverado Trail Strawberries
and White Chocolate Sorbet
or, my choice:
"Savarin au Citron"
Citrus "Vierge," Per Mio Figlio Olive Oil
and Straus Dairy "Crème Glacée"

Pecan Tart

House-made truffles

Candy-Coated Macadamia Nuts

The Details
It's gotta be obvious that the food was amazing, crappy photos and all, right? But if you think the menu sounds over the top, the attention paid to even the tiniest of details was astounding.

I went into the meal hearing the words of a friend and French Laundry veteran ringing in my head: "The French Laundry - the only place in the world where they replace your fresh brioche if your current fresh brioche cools off too much." And she wasn't kidding. The foie gras course was served with fresh, warm, toasty brioche... and before you could even get in bite 2.5 of your 4-bite tasting, they whisked away the old and replaced it with new, because "there is an optimal temperature to serve the brioche to affect the melting point of the foie gras" (direct quote). I'll have to keep that in mind the next time I serve foie gras at home. (That's a joke, people.)

But between the warm toast, the two different types of butters from different dairies (one, unsalted an quenelled on a plate; the other, salted and set in a crock at perfect room temperature); the three different types of salt, if you so felt the urge to salt the perfectly seasoned fare (a French grey fleur de sel, a Moroccan salt, and a Montana salt made from the remains of an ancient sea); and the servers appearing miraculously at your elbow to replenish, clear, pour or explain, the experience as a whole merits all of the accolades that get heaped on the place. It IS that good.

The Wines
To drink, we started off with a sparkling wine, some sort of Demi Sec (I have no idea what it was specifically - somehow I was not paying attention - what a slacker!). Not a conventional choice, since a Demi Sec is on the sweeter side and you normally see it paired with desserts. But it was the ideal match to kick off the first several courses of the meal. It was light, airy, perfectly spritzed with tiny bubbles - a festive beginning to a festive day.

We moved on to a white wine somewhere around the fish courses. I got the job of choosing that wine, and I think I did ok. I selected a 2007 Araujo Estate Eisele Vineyard Viognier. It was very fruit-forward, and had a beautiful floral bouquet. Again, nice and light - a stunning accompaniment to the delicate food. It was nice that our first couple of wines were light and crisp, because we rounded out the meal with a powerhouse of a wine.

I happened to have in my possession a magnum of 2005 Casa Dalla Valle Napa Valley Red Wine. This is a wine I had no business owning, and yet, there it was, sitting in my little wine cellar just begging for the *perfect* opportunity to be uncorked (the wine was a gift to me from a generous philanthropist). If you don't know about Dalla Valle, just google it - it's a Napa Valley cult wine darling. Dalla Valle's most famous wine, "Maya," is on the French Laundry's wine list starting at $1,500 per bottle. So if there was ever a *perfect* time to enjoy and share my little wine windfall, this was most certainly it. It turns out that the wine itself was new to the French Laundry staff - they'd never seen it before. What? It's true - I was asked a couple of times, by both our server and the sommelier, where I had gotten it. I stumped the French Laundry sommelier - wow. A little sleuthing turned up the following info about the wine:

Ripe and juicy, black cherry and blackberry fruit, is fleshy and well-centered, intense, full-bodied and concentrated. Firms up nicely on the finish, with tight tannins and rich dark fruit. Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc. Best from 2010 through 2017. 400 cases made.

So, it was made in limited quantity, which is the only reason I can surmise why it wouldn't be on the French Laundry's radar. It's not as exclusive as Maya, or the Dalla Valle Cabernet Sauvignon, but still - it was a pretty special wine, IMHO. I was so happy to have such an amazing venue in which to share it.

Parting Thoughts
Was dining at the French Laundry amazing? Of course. I feel very fortunate that I was able to experience it, and I certainly hope to go back. But at the end of the day, the best part of the whole thing was sharing quality time with some amazing people. With food being so central to our lives, it's astonishing to me that the nourishment I take away isn't always with what is being served, but rather, with whom I am sharing the meal. Be it foie gras at The French Laundry or a peanut butter sandwich on the hiking trail, the best meals of our lives are inevitably shared with others. It's the very reason Fare to Remember even exists. So again, I thank Carolyn for such a special experience and all the great new memories that came along with it. I look forward to oh-so-many more!

Monday, May 10, 2010

The Happiest Place On Earth? Home, with Radishes!

I just got back from spending several days in The Happiest Place On Earth. The Most Magical Place On Earth. The Magic Kingdom... you know the place: Disneyland.

Happy and magical, sure; healthy and nutritious, not so much. This is what a typical meal of ours looked like in the park:

And this is what a typical meal of ours looked like outside the park:

So between the fast food and the adult libations, I was not the picture of health on this little adventure. Sure, I was able to throw a salad or two in the mix over the course of four days, had a lovely meal of grilled blackened salmon at The House of Blues in Downtown Disney, and God love em - Disney really tried to step up the health quotient at its concessions (sliced apples were available as an alternative side to french fries, and fresh fruit stands were abundant... problem was, none of it tasted any good. Preservatives are preservatives.) So, the birthday boy Randall and I indulged in way more carnival concoctions than I care to admit. There may have been a corn dog involved. Possibly a churro. And I had anxiety about it the entire time. I am not one to shrug it off as "guilt-free vacation behavior" - I seriously was on edge until... well, now.

To the rescue, my friend Aerial. She showed up at my cubicle bright and early this morning, my first day back from the Anaheim fat farm, with a shopping bag bursting with fresh goodies straight from her garden: delicate lettuces, still specked with earth, and a fistful of stunning French breakfast radishes, lacy green tops still intact. I might just survive after all!

I spent the day envisioning my dinner. A simple salad - the lettuces dressed only with a splash of good olive oil, a squeeze of lemon, a crack of fresh pepper and a sprinkling of sea salt. You can't beat Mother Nature - why try? But the radishes - oh the radishes! I had something crunchy and flavorful and aromatic and spicy in mind for them.

I whipped up what I'll call a Radish Chop Salad, and it was everything I had daydreamed of and more. Even Randall (not quite so guilt-ridden over the junk food consumption as I) enjoyed it with gusto. It's got an Asian flair, and would make an awesome side dish in lieu of coleslaw. But tonight, this salad was my main meal, and I think I've managed to crunch my way out of my food funk. It's good to be back!

Radish Chop Salad
All ingredient quantities can be adjusted - just use what you have in a combination that you like, but here are some guidelines for enough to feed two:
  • 1 cup radishes, finely diced
  • 1/2 cup baby carrots, finely diced
  • 1/2 cup celery, finely diced
  • 1/2 cup cooked and shelled edamame
  • 1/2 cup dry roasted or raw almonds, chopped
  • 3 tablespoons sesame oil
  • 2 tablespoons nam plah (fish sauce)
  • The juice of one large lemon
  • 2 teaspoons sugar
  • 2 teaspoons soy sauce
Combine all of the chopped ingredients in a salad bowl. In a separate bowl, whisk all dressing ingredients together; adjust individual ingredients to taste (these measurements are approximate - you know me, I just throw stuff in there and play with it until it tastes right). Toss the salad ingredients with the dressing and let sit for a minimum of 30 minutes for the flavors to meld. Great make-ahead dish; the textures will hold up in the fridge for a good 24 hours, and the flavors will continue to develop (can you say left-overs?).

This salad would taste amazing with the addition of some fresh chopped cilantro; I just didn't have any on hand.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

An Investment That Will Really Grow: Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds

Gardeners beware. Or maybe I should say "be aware." But there is a place in Petaluma that is so scary cool, that any of you out there with green thumbs and a passion for extreme veggies, will find very, very dangerous.

I'm talking about the Baker Creek Heirloom Seed store, or as it's affectionately known around these parts, The Seed Bank.

I say dangerous because there's only so many plants one can realistically cultivate, especially if you're like me and mostly stick to raised beds or container gardening. But you walk in to Baker Creek, housed in an old, ornate bank building on the corner of Petaluma Boulevard and Bolinas Highway, and "Ahhh" (cue celestial music), you are greeted with row after row of seed packets of the craziest, strangest, most colorful, non-GMO fruits, veggies, herbs and flowers that you ever will see. Even for me, who fully realizes my limitations both as a gardener and as a land baron, immediately had visions of running off and starting a farm. 430 gajillion varieties of eggplants? Sign me up.The Seed Bank came to Petaluma last Spring, but it took me a year to get there to explore. It was a place I saved to visit for when my mom came to town; I had a feeling it was somewhere she would find interesting as well. Well, I kick myself for not going sooner, but glad that this place is on my radar screen now.

A little homework on Baker Creek turned up that it's owned by "Jere and Emilee Gettle - a couple of 20-something homeschooled traditionalists from the Ozarks. [They] offer a mind-expanding array of 1,400 fruit and vegetable varieties, many of them collected by Jere on his travels in Southeast Asia and Central America." (O Magazine).

Ok - so once I got past the fact that these 20-something adorable kids (google them - you'll see) are doing amazing things while I am doing nothing even remotely as cool in comparison and my life is passing me by (not bitter - really - just staring 40 in the face) - I got over it and bought some seeds.
I couldn't possibly narrow down my desires in the tomato section alone (check out the photo above!), so rather than walk out of there with more vegetable seeds that I could ever possibly plant, I stuck with herbs and greens. I got two kinds of basil (lemon and lime), plus some wild zaatar oregano. I also got two packets of a European mesclun salad blend, a tangy combo of radicchio, arugula, endive, orach, mizuna, kale, mustard, corn salad and more. I'm already looking forward to big colorful bowls of spicy, zingy salads, which I will be sure to share with you. At least here on the blog, that is (the greens themselves are all mine)!

In addition to all the seeds, Baker Creek's shop also carried a fun array of locally-made products like sauces and spice mixes; handmade cards (displayed in a grapevine card rack that I plan to reproduce for myself someday); gardening tools, and tons and tons of resource books.

Anyhow, super cool place if you like to geek out over food plants as much as I do. But for all of you out there that can't make it to the Petaluma shop or Baker Creek's headquarters in Bakersfield, Missouri, you're in luck: they have an online catalog! So, as The Seed Bank has painted on its windows, "Invest in your garden!" That's money in the bank for sure.