Saturday, February 27, 2010


A couple of years ago I read a fairly in depth article about how soba noodles are made in Japan. Like seemingly everything in that country, there seems to be a very long drawn out apprenticeship, followed by a lifetime of perfecting a craft. Is this a case of someone making a mountain out of a molehill? A noodle, is a noodle, is a noodle, right? Or so I thought.

We arrived in Honolulu just in time for lunch. With Regina’s penchant for all things Japanese and my fascination with the handmade, we made a beeline for Matsugen near Waikiki. I was warned this was going to be Japanese Japanese. Oh really? What exactly is “Japanese Japanese”? Is there a difference between that and regular old Japanese? I was intrigued and a little scared at the same time.

The Soba Station

As we walked into the restaurant I noticed that, like most things Japanese, it was very small. The main dining area was to your left with lacquered tabletops, simple place settings, and minimalist décor. The room was well lit, with a glassed-in work station surrounded by a bar and stools. Every morning they make fresh soba noodles by hand. While I wanted to see them actually make the noodles, the day’s noodles had already been made.

I decided to go with the cold soba noodles with “goma-dare” sesame sauce. In the past I’ve had these noodles where they are so horribly bad I couldn’t even eat half of the bowl. The buckwheat in the noodles can be gritty and overpowering in taste. I could have easily eaten two bowls of these silken artistic beauties.

Regina ordered the Butterfish and avocado tempura. The perfectly cooked butter fish came apart in perfect flavorful bite sized slabs. Our chopsticks slowly reduced the fish down to an empty plate with a spent lemon rind. High marks for this dish. The creaminess of the avocado was counterbalanced by the light tempura crunch.


The menu had a number of interesting options and it’s clear from the patrons that this place is popular. Our biggest obstacle was a lack of exposure and understanding of the Japanese items on the menu. My wife scribbled down many of the dishes she wasn’t familiar with. Next time she plans to do some research ahead of time, so that we can make informed decisions. The food is very well crafted and is worth at least a lunch if you find yourself on the edge of Waikiki Beach.

255 Beach Walk
Honolulu, HI 96815
(808) 926-0255

Matsugen on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

The Last Vegetable Dish

I was reading an article on Roger Ebert’s struggle with cancer of the jaw. After being diagnosed with the disease a few years ago his course of treatment led to the eventual removal of his lower jaw bone. Ebert has not been able to speak, drink, or eat solid food since operation.

I can’t imagine how lonely it must feel to not be able share dinner with family and friends, let alone not be able to speak. For me dinner is a major highlight of my day. While I enjoy great food, I find that even good or mediocre food is made so much better with great conversation and laughter. Hell, if you give me good enough drink I’ll spend the night laughing with friends and making fun of bad food. While I think one can be good independent of the other, when you get both it can be so much fun.

In the article they ask Mr. Ebert what his last meal was; after thinking for a little while he said he really didn’t remember. I can imagine the amount of pain in his jaw limited him considerably in what he could eat. As a food fanatic I think I can safely say that if it were me I would be (to use a Jersey Shore reference), creepin’ on the most memorable dish I was able to comfortably consume.

I can say that any last meal for me would have to include the Pea Soup with Parmesan Foam from Jean Georges. My memory of the whole thing is pretty vivid even to this day. (I won’t bore you with the details but if you really want to read about the best lunch in New York City read here.) When you taste a dish like this, it’s a sensory experience that seems to indelibly burn itself on your memory forever.

Chef's Garden Carrots

The folks at The Culinary Vegetable Institute have generously offered two seats at this Saturday’s February Earth to Table Dinner with Beej Flamholz and Erica Wides, valued at $55 a person. If you haven’t been to the CVI you’re in for a real treat (see here). What do you have to do to win these prized seats? In the comment section I want you to tell me what your favorite vegetable dish from a restaurant is. Unless your grandmother or mother owns a restaurant, I don’t want to here about it. Hopefully the restaurant is still open so we can all sample it for ourselves, but if it’s not that’s okay, too. The winner will be picked randomly on Wednesday night (giving you enough time to line up a babysitter). Good Luck!

Make sure you check out next month's Mangalitsa Pork dinner. Half of the tables are already sold for what will surely be a steel cage match between a very rare breed of pig and equally high end Chef's Garden vegetable.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Maple Budino

Maple Budino with Sea Salt and Almond Tuile

My wife made a special Valentine's Day request for Karen DeMasco's Maple Budino from Locanda Verde (a very thorough review from Bite Buff here). Buried in my nearly one hundred unfinished posts is my review of this restaurant in NYC that is cranking out some awesome food (by not one, but two James Beard award winning native Clevelanders chef Andrew Carmellini and pastry chef Karen DeMasco). Ironically enough, I also making the pork chops from Carmellini's recipe in The Niman Ranch Cookbook, for dinner (recipe here).

So here it is Valentine's Day and I've already been given my marching orders on the Maple Budino . It seemed like fate when I opened up the Plain Dealer I saw an article on Cleveland native. In the article the dessert is actually referenced. How crazy is that?

This isn't just a plate of pudding. The New York Times' Sam Sifton voted this sterling dessert as one of his "eleven most memorable dishes of 2009".One would think that making a dessert as good as this would have a certain amount of difficulty, but this is about as easy as it gets. You can make them a couple of days in advance without fear of any degradation. While the original at the restaurant comes with candied pecans, I opted to sprinkle a little Hawaiian sea salt on top and add an almond tuile. My wife's friend described it as french toast without the bread.

This recipe is not from Karen's new cookbook Craft of Baking, but I highly recommend checking it out. Many of her recipes encourage the reader to freestyle and create their own twist on the recipe.

Maple Budino by Karen DeMasco
(makes 6 servings)

  • 1 cup maple syrup (preferably grade B)
  • 4 cups heavy cream
  • 3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 large egg
  • 7 large egg yolks
  • 1/3 cup dark brown sugar

1. Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Fill a kettle with water and place over high heat to bring to a boil. In a 4 to 6 quart saucepan, bring maple syrup to a boil and cook over medium heat until thickened and reduced by about half, about 5 minutes. Remove from heat and whisk in cream, salt and vanilla.

2. In a medium bowl, whisk together egg, yolks and brown sugar. Add about a third of the cream mixture, and whisk to blend. Pour into remaining cream mixture and whisk until well blended. Strain through a fine-mesh strainer. Divide evenly among six 8-ounce ramekins, and place in a deep metal baking or roasting pan (using a glass or ceramic pan may increase baking time). Carefully add enough boiling water to pan to come halfway up sides of ramekins. Cover pan securely with foil to seal it closed.

3. Bake for 20 minutes, then rotate pan, release steam by lifting foil cover and replace foil securely. Continue baking — rotating pan, releasing steam and re-covering every 15 to 20 minutes — until custards are completely set around edges and slightly loose in centers, about an hour more.

4. Remove pan from oven, remove foil and allow custards to come to room temperature in water bath. Remove from pan, cover each custard with plastic wrap (not touching surface) or a small plate and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes or up to 2 days before serving.

Almond Tuile by Johnny Iuzzini from Dessert Fourplay
  • 4 teaspoon (22g) water
  • generous tablespoon (22g) honey
  • 2 tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons (37g) unsalted butter
  • scant 1/2 cup (75g) confectioners' sugar
  • 2 Tablespoons (15g) all-purpose flour
  • 5-1/2 ounces (150g) sliced almonds, chopped
  1. Heat the oven to 350 degrees F or 325 degrees F on convection. Line a baking sheet with a Silpat or use a nonstick baking sheet.
  2. Put the water, honey, and butter in a small saucepan and cook over low heat until the butter is melted.
  3. Whisk the confectioners' sugar and flour together. Pour in the wet ingredients and stir until smooth. Stir in the nuts.
  4. Use a small ice cream scoop (1-tablespoon capacity) to scoop up 1 tablespoon of the batter. Level off the top and drop onto the Silpat, leaving about 2 inches between each tuile (you should fit 6 on the baking sheet). Bake in batches until golden, about 14 minutes, rotating the pan halfway through baking. Let cool completely on the Silpat.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Crawfish Étouffeé

Hey, I thought we were friends!

When I worked at Muirfield Village Golf Club, there was a creek in front of the third green that had flooded after a heavy rainfall. As a couple of coworkers cleaned silt off of the green there was a call over the radio stating that there was a live scorpion on the green. Needless to say, they don't have scorpions in Columbus, OH, but they do have, what we call crayfish, though not as large (or plentiful) as those down in Louisiana.

Imagine how stoked I was when I got an email from Bay Lobsters announcing a shipment of live crawfish. Since I live in Ohio, any étouffeé I've ever had has been made with shrimp. So I was very excited to get my hands and these little guys, since it isn't something that you can just drive down to the grocery store and buy. While Bay Lobsters does carry the frozen already peeled crawfish tails, everything I've ever read on the subject says that the live critters are the only way to go.

As I drove back home with my 2 1/2 pounds worth of my temporary pets, I could hear them "clacking" away on the floor of the car (in a bag). I have to say that I was dreading the idea of boiling these lively little guys. It was going to be murder on a grand scale. As I heated up the water the crawfish kept climbing out of the bowl and falling onto the floor. While unpleasant at first, the boiling of the mud bugs wasn't as bad as I thought it would be.

I used John Besh's My New Orleans for the recipe. I think the cool thing about this book is that Besh gives a lot of the building blocks of the New Orleans favorites while also offering some recipes from his French culinary background. There is a lot of nuanced information that you don't seem to get with some of the traditional books.This recipe calls for an entire pound of crawfish tails, but he also has a franco-centric dish that calls for just ten tails. I haven't cooked out of this book that much because it isn't very seasonal for this time of year, but when the strawberries come out this thing will be getting a work out.

The étouffeé was very good, especially the next day. I don't know what it was, but when I do it again I will definitely make it the day before. The spice (which is present but restrained), seems to incorporate itself into the tail meat when it sits overnight. Biting into one of these tails doesn't dispense an immediate and overpowering spice, but a slow crescendo that seems to sneak up on your tongue after you've swallowed the bite. When I ate right after making it, there seemed to be two separate flavors: tail meat and then the other stuff. If you make it let me know which way you prefer it.

Chicken Stock
¼ cup canola oil
1 onion, coarsely chopped

1 stalk celery, coarsely chopped

1 carrot, peeled and coarsely chopped

1 leek, white part, coarsely chopped

4 cloves of garlic, crushed

1 pound roasted chicken bones and carcasses
(Substitute 1 pound of shells from shrimp, blue crab, crawfish, or lobster for Shellfish Stock)
1 bay leaf

1 sprig fresh thyme

1 teaspoon black peppercorns

1. Heat the canola oil in a large pot over moderate heat. Cook the onions, celery, carrots, leeks, and garlic, stirring often, until they are soft but not brown, about 3 minutes.

2. Add the shells, the bay leaf, thyme, peppercorns, and 3 quarts water. Increase the heat to high and bring to a boil. Immediately reduce the heat to low and gently simmer, skimming any foam that rises to the surface, until the stock has reduced by half, about 2 hours.

3. Strain through a fine sieve into a container with a cover. Allow the stock to cool, cover and refrigerate, then skim off the fat. Freeze the stock in batches to use later.

Besh suggests putting the stock in an ice cup tray

Basic Louisiana White Rice (Makes about 4 cups)
1 tablespoon chicken fat, extra-virgin olive oil, or butter

1 small onion, minced

1-1/2 cups Louisiana long-grain white rice

3 cups Basic Chicken Stock (see above recipe)

1 bay leaf

1-2 pinches salt

1. Put the fat, oil, or butter and the onions into a medium saucepan and sweat the onions over moderate heat until they are translucent, about 5 minutes. Pour the rice into the pan and stir for 2 minutes. Then add the chicken stock and bring to a boil. Add the bay leaf and salt.

2. Cover the pan with a lid, reduce the heat to low, and cook for 18 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat, fluff the rice with a fork, and serve.

Crawfish Étouffeé with Louisiana White Rice

Crawfish Étouffeé (serves 6)
3 tablespoons canola oil

3 tablespoons flour

1 small onion, diced

1 stalk celery, diced

Half a red bell pepper, diced

2 cloves garlic, minced

Leaves from two sprigs of fresh thyme

¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
1 small tomato, peeled, seeded, and diced

1 quart Basic Shellfish Stock (see above recipe)

3 tablespoons butter

1 pound peeled crawfish tails (from 2 ½ pounds live)

2 green onions, chopped

2 dashes Worchestershire

2 dashes Tabasco
Salt Freshly ground black pepper
3 cups cooked Basic Louisiana Rice
(see above recipe)

1. Heat the oil in a large saucepan over medium-high heat. Whisk the flour into the very hot oil. It will immediately begin to sizzle and fizz. Keep whisking and reduce the heat to moderate. Continue whisking until the roux takes on a gorgeous dark brown color, about 15 minutes. *I don’t know if I screwed something up but mine only took about half that time* Add the onions, reduce the heat, and cook until the onions caramelize. If you add all the vegetables at the same time, the water that results will boil the onions and their sugars won’t caramelize.

2. When the onions have turned the roux shiny and dark, add the celery, bell peppers, garlic, thyme, cayenne, and paprika. Cook for 5 minutes. Now add the tomatoes and the Shellfish Stock and increase the heat to high.

3. Once the sauce has come to a boil, reduce the heat to moderate and let simmer 5-7 minutes, stirring often. Be careful not to let it burn or stick to the bottom of the pan.

4. Reduce the heat to low and stir in the butter. Add the crawfish tails and green onions. Season with Worcestershire, Tabasco, salt, and black pepper. Once the crawfish tails have heated through, remove the saucepan from the heat.

5. Serve in individual bowl over rice.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

CVI Earth to Table Dinner with Craig Deihl

A few weeks ago I received an invitation from the folks at Culinary Vegetable Institute to attend their January “Earth to Table” dinner featuring Chef Craig Deihl (as in “The Real Deihl” of Cypress Lowcountry Grille, in Charleston, SC. If you read this blog with any regularity then you’re probably well aware of my affection for southern food.

Since I was allowed to bring a guest, and my wife was unavailable, I brought Stuart Spivack along (both dinners were graciously provided by CVI). From the east side of Cleveland, it takes about an hour or so to make it out to the compound.

The Culinary Vegetable Institute is an impressive place in its own right. The 11,000 sq ft facility houses an incredible two story kitchen (it even has an Anti-Griddle), a dining room with 22’ ceilings and a lodge-like atmosphere (seats 90), accommodations for visiting chefs and their teams, a culinary library, a root cellar, and a wine cellar. Just outside the impressive structure are experimental vegetable, forest, and herb gardens. (I’m not sure what a forest garden is, but I’ll make sure I ask the next time I’m there.) In all honesty, this is probably the most impressive thing I’ve seen since I was at Stonebarns, in Pocantico Hills, NY. (If you’re ever in the NYC area anytime other than winter, it’s a must see.)

As we walked into the CVI, were immediately greeted by both Lee and Mary Jones. Once we checked in they encouraged us to take a look at what was going on in the kitchen. I’m guessing I made three or four steps before it hit me – a pungent smell of cured meat. People were painstakingly loading up a table covered with plates filled with charcuterie that had been brought up from their own “Salami Room” which I’m assuming is at Cypress. (Video of Chef Diehl and his sous chef making salami, here.)

Here are my highlights for the dinner:

Candied Lamb Bacon with gnocchi
For me this was a serious punch of flavor to start the dinner. This was actually my favorite item of the night. This was salty and sweet at its finest. Stuart said that Doug Katz at Fire used to have this on the menu. In talking to Chef Deihl, this is just a throw away cut of meat. It's one thing to do something with nothing, but do this with nothing was just awesome. I absolutely loved this dish.

Ice Spinach with Maytag blue cheese
Ice spinach? What's ice spinach? It's actually a patented Chef's Garden process that is very similar to that of ice wine. While I didn't eat enough of it to be able to say exactly what it was that made it so different, I can say that the dressing, blue cheese, and spinach epitomized the word harmony. Deihl will be getting a recipe request from me, and The Chef's Garden can count on a call about a more detailed explanation on this curious process. (I smell a future post.)

Cumin and Orange with Pecorino Tortufo

There wasn't anything outrageously clever about this dish; it just tasted really, really good. You know a vegetable dish is good when people have their eye on what's left in the carrot bowl, with a plate of short ribs and chuck still sitting on the table. I singled this one out, but believe me when I say every single one of the vegetable bowls left the table empty.

Chocolate Beet Brownie with Homemade Ice Cream, Candied Ginger Jam
Chef Deihl actually used something like five pounds of beets as the "sugar" in the brownie batter. A little skeptical at first, I was pleasantly surprised that the beets hadn't been totally masked by the chocolate. When you bit into the brownie you could feel small bits of beets in your mouth. I thought this was a very creative way to incorporate a vegetable. (Also pictured is the Goat Cheesecake with Lemon-Fennel Confit and Anise Hyssop.)

I can’t tell you enough how much I enjoyed this dinner. What made it such a special event was that the chef did such job of putting his signature on the each and every dish, while not overshadowing the tremendous quality of the Chef's Garden vegetables. If the drive out to CVI is discouraging you, just know that at the end of that trek awaits a very special dinner.

For information on upcoming dinners, click here. I have already booked our spot at the Mosefund Mangalitsa dinner on March 27 with Chopped winner Chef James Briscionne.

Earth to Table Dinner with Chef Craig Deihl complete menu:

  • Chef's Garden Ice Root Spinach Salad with House Smoked Bacon, Maytag Blue Cheese
  • House Cured Salami, Mixed Root Vegetable Salad
  • Ricotta Gnocchi, Tomato-Mint Jam, Candied Lamb Bacon
  • Ham and Bean Soup with Mixed Winter Kale
  • Duo of Certified Angus Natural Chuck Eye and Braised Short Ribs
Chef's Garden Vegetables
  • Cumin and Orange Glazed Carrots
  • Sweet Potato Gratin with Glazed Carrots
  • Sweet Potato Gratin with Pecorino Tortufo
  • Confit Potatoes
  • Celery Root Infused Anson Mills Grits
  • Braised Collard Greens
  • Goat Cheesecake with Lemon-Fennel Confit, Anise Hyssop
  • Chocolate Beet Brownie with Homemade Ice Cream, Candied Ginger Jam