Archive for the ‘Cooking classes’ Category


Did you miss the Condiment Circus?

Chef Julia

Chef Julia at the Tasting Bar

I had the opportunity last week to teach a seminar on the trade show floor of the largest specialized catering and events conference in the United States, held at Mirage Hotel in Las Vegas, and at the Las Vegas Convention Center.  Another chef was designated to teach this class, but was not available due to prior commitments, so I got the call.  It was a great opportunity to summarize some of the flavor profile trends we have been seeing out here in California, and how they can be applied to catering menus for large and small caterers across the country.

The first step in preparation was to Google this year’s food trends, though I was pretty confident that I knew what I would find.  Many “new” ideas for the rest of the country have been on our menus in California for a couple of years, due to our vibrant and innovative restaurant scene and a heavy focus on diversity and local and sustainable foods.  The usual things popped up, “farm-to-table”, small artisan producers, all the buzzwords.  But how to translate this to a seminar entitled “The Condiment Circus:  Three Rings of Flavor”?  I set down the laptop and headed to our pantry to see what was on the shelf.

In the pantry, I found Gochujang (Korean fermented chili paste), Mae Ploy Sweet Chili Sauce, gluten-free hoisin sauce from Wok Mei, a large bottle of Vietnamese fish sauce, salted Japanese dried plums (umeboshi), and a quart jar of preserved Meyer lemons that we use in preparing our vegetable tagine.  Digging further, I found all-natural liquid smoke and blackstrap molasses, which we use to approximate the flavor of bacon in vegan preparations, and an assortment of finishing salts.  On the counter were a full slate of Stella Cadente Olive Oil’s crushed flavored California oils, and more salts and salt blends.  A trip to the reach-in yielded our Korean BBQ sauce, house-made Romesco and a couple of jars of fruit mostarda that we prepared to accompany roast pork.  Now I had a basis for a seminar on condiments.

A list was assembled for the event organizers (all the condiments had to be readily available, either through foodservice distribution or via the internet, mostly from Amazon Prime).  Many of the caterers at this conference were rural and small market, like myself, and did not have access to the well-stocked ethnic grocers found in larger urban areas.  I dug through my recipe files, and came up with half a dozen recipes, complete with photos, of ways to integrate these condiments and flavor profiles without scaring our clients into the woods.  I included the recipe for the Korean BBQ sauce, plus a couple of recipes for appetizers using it.  A recipe for a baby chicory and beet salad with a robust vinaigrette pulled in the Blood orange olive oil and the sweet chili sauce.  Of course, the crowning glory would be our vegan eggplant “bacon”, a recipe inspired by a Pinterest find when researching vegan brunch ideas.  I added our recipe for Romesco, even though we would be tasting a retail version, and a couple more photos of dishes using some of the other items such as the finishing salts.

The main focus of the seminar was to have the attendees taste each of the condiments, then taste some of the foods derived from them.  This meant tons of little dishes and spoons that had to be laid out in order in the back of the house, set for 30-50 attendees.  Setup took me most of an hour and a half, but we were finally ready.  Up to the mike, assistants all set to pass out the tasting portions and off we go.

The first taste was the Gochujang, a fermented bean and chili paste from Korean that is as ubiquitous as catsup is in the United States.  It has a nice heat, balanced with the complexity of fermentation, and strong notes of umami.  It was accompanied by a taste of the Korean BBQ sauce, made based on the Gochujang.  The sauce also included brown sugar, tamari, toasted sesame oil and rice vinegar.  Everyone loved how the other sauce components tempered the heat and the resultant sauce could be used in a variety of ways.

The second taste was the Thai Mae Ploy Sweet Chili Sauce.  This was an easy one for most of the attendees, as it has a nice balance of sweetness, heat and acidity.  This was followed by the Vietnamese fish sauce, which can be used as a shelf stable substitute for anchovy in many recipes.  Next up was the Japanese salt-dried plum, which we use to flavor steamed sticky rice as a side dish for Asian inspired pork dishes.  While the plum itself is salty and astringent, the finished rice reflects the subtle fruitiness and aromatics of the plum.  The last Asian inspired taste was the hoisin, noted as a great way to bring Asian flavors to BBQ sauces.

On the same spoon as the hoisin, the attendees tasted blackstrap molasses, as a segue into the north American market basket.  They noted the similarities in the flavors, bitter plus sweet plus umami, and how each culture used these flavors in certain ways.  They then were given a tiny spoon of the liquid smoke.  We discussed the recognizable flavors in bacon and other preserved pork product (salty, sweet, bitter, smoky) and we presented a taste of the vegan “bacon”, thinly sliced eggplant painted with a mixture of the molasses, liquid smoke, maple syrup and tamari, then baked in a low oven until crisp.

We followed the bacon with the flavored olive oils, both the Blood orange and the basil, and discussed how these could not only be incorporated into dressings, but used as sauce replacements and in marinades.

We then moved to the old-world market basket, with hot harissa and the preserved lemons from Morocco, discussing the use of these condiments across the southern and eastern Mediterranean.  Everyone was struck by the influence of the Arabic world in even new world cuisines.  The next taste was traditional Mostarda di Frutta; whole baby fruit preserved in sugar syrup and hot mustard from northern Italy.  Noticing the likeness to chutney, the attendees were quick to grasp how this could be flexible enough to move from the cheese and charcuterie plate to the entrée, especially with roast meats such as chicken and pork.

The last tastes we enjoyed were the finishing salts.  We presented two Hawaiian salts, the dusty pink Ali’i and the black lava salt.  Both are great for garnishing, both with color and their earthy mineral flavors.  We love using the pink salt on a big basket tray of steamed edamame, and use the black salt in many of our passed appetizer where the color is a counterpoint to the ingredients presented.  The next salts tasted were our house-made duck salt and porcini mushroom salt, and we discussed using our spice grinder to prepare these from on-hand ingredients.  A very effective method to use when layering flavors.  Our example was a recipe for duck confit risotto; made with duck stock, shredded confit duck meat, sautéed in duck fat, and topped with a quenelle of duck foie gras.  The finishing touch was a sprinkling with duck salt (the rendered skin pulverized in the food processor then mixed with kosher salt).  The last salt tasted was SaltWork’s Salish alder-smoked sea salt.  We use this salt frequently to finish plates of roasted or grilled meats, especially beef, as it brings out the flavor of the cooking method in a subtle way.

Discussion ensued during the question and answer period about the differences and commonalities in the various cultures and their condiments.  Everyone left with new ideas and inspirations to take back to their own kitchens.  For presentation materials, see below.  Contact us via email at info@assaggiare.com for recipes.  For information about Catersource/Event Solutions conference and trade show, click here.

 

Condiment Circus

 

Gochujang:  Korean fermented hot pepper sauce (hot, fermented)

Thai Sweet Chili Sauce (Mae Ploy):  Southeast Asian chili pepper jam (hot, sweet)

Natural Liquid Smoke: (bitter, smokiness)

Blackstrap Molasses: (bitter, sweet)

Flavored Olive Oils (www.stellacadente.com): (umami, fruit notes, herb notes)

Romesco:  Spanish sauce of almonds, bread, tomato, paprika, peppers (umami)

Harissa (Mustapha’s):  Moroccan chili paste (heat)

Preserved Lemon (Mustapha’s):  Moroccan salt pickled whole sweet lemons (acid, salt fermented)

Fish Sauce:  Southeast Asian, made from fermented small fish (umami, fermented)

Umeboshi:  Japanese salt dried “pickled” plums (sour, sweet, salt)

Hoisin (Wok Mei is gluten free):  Chinese “BBQ” sauce, fermented beans with soy, rock sugar (umami, sweet)

Mostarda:  Northern Italian fruit preserved in syrup with mustard seed (sweet, hot)

Finishing Salts (www.seasalt.com):  smoked, meat flavored (duck), mushroom, herb (salt, various flavors)

All of these condiments can be used to layer flavors in a dish, bring out specific notes in the flavor profiles, replicate flavors from other types of foods, enhance specific elements of flavor such as umami, sweetness, astringency and acidity.

Condiments available on Amazon Prime unless otherwise noted.

 

Post by Julia Conway on March 22nd, 2016

The Wildest Mushrooms in Wine Country

Pile of Boletus

One of our favorite fall events is the Mendocino Wine and Mushroom Festival. This annual event is slated to occur during the height of our wild mushroom season. That is, of course, if the weather cooperates, which it manages to do about one in every three or so years. This year, early rains guaranteed a bounty of wild mushrooms, and thus, as successful festival.

White Chanterelle

My mushroom adventures started in earnest around the end of October. I took to wandering up and down our old logging roads with my shoulders slumped and my eyes on the ground, hoping for that flash of color amongst the forest duff. My first mushroom of the year was a 6” white Chanterelle, found at the side of the road just down the ravine from the house. Sliced and sautéed with butter and a little brandy, it made a wonderful topping for our Sunday pasta.

Assorted Mushrooms

The golden Chanterelles were the next to emerge. These are generally found in patches, in and around tan oak thickets. The trees are considered a weed in our largely fir and redwood forests, but provide the perfect environment for the mushrooms. While smaller and more colorful than the whites, many say that the flavor of the golden is superior. They command a hefty $17.00 per pound at our local market, so are a real treat when found in any numbers. The great thing about Chanterelles is that they seem to remain worm and grub free, even in the dampest weather.

Zeeler's Boletus

The next mushrooms to poke their heads from the ground were the Boletus, or porcini, as they are known in Italy. In our neighborhood, we see the giant King Bolete, the darker Queen Bolete, and a smaller, more colorful variety called the Zeller’s Bolete. These are the mushrooms most sought after by the commercial hunters, and often the most ridden with small worm holes unless found within hours of emergence. This year, I was lucky enough to receive a gift of a large box of gigantic King Boletus, some with caps measuring over 8” across. I was picking up my order of mushrooms for the cooking class, and my local purveyor offered them up to use as props for presentation, since they were far too large and wormy to be sold commercially. The upside of this arrangement was that, once we were finished with the class and the tasting event that followed, these could be cleaned, sliced and dried. The almost six pounds of mushrooms were reduced, the following weekend, to about twelve ounces of prime dried mushrooms and six half-pints of concentrated porcini stock for the freezer.

Frying Porcini Crusted Chicken

The Magic Mushroom cooking class we presented, and the food and wine pairing that followed, were the highlights of the week. Seven students arrived at the kitchen, ready to prepare six different mushroom appetizers. Aprons were assigned, hands were washed, and four hours later, a beautiful array of food was enjoyed, paired with a 2007 Paul Dolan Sauvignon Blanc and a 2003 McDowell Valley Vineyards Coro Mendocino.

Wild Mushroom Profiteroles

Wild Mushroom Gruyere Tart

After seeing the satisfied cooks on their way, we plated the balance of the appetizers and packed them off to The Beachcomber Motel for our ‘Shrooms and Sunset at the Beach, with Handley Cellars wines and some of the Mendocino coast’s best views. Mother Nature cooperated once again, and our guests were treated to a spectacular sunset, an amazing absence of wind, and a bounty of wonderful food and wine. Our guests were so amazed with the huge mushrooms scattered around the buffet that one of them even asked us to take his picture holding the giant boletus.

Sunset at the Beachcomber

Guest and Boletus

Back in the forest, the cooler weather continues to advance the cast of fungi making their appearances. Now we are seeing the Lactarius or “Milk Caps” named for their milky juices, the Russula, which are rosy pink on white, and an occasional white Matsutake, the famous full moon mushrooms of Japan. Later frosts will bring the Yellow Foot, also known as the Winter Chanterelle, and one of my personal favorites, the Candy Cap. The Candy Cap, when dried, smells and tastes just like maple syrup, and can be infused into milk or cream for the most decadent desserts. For grins, try the Candy Cap Ice Cream at Cowlick’s in Fort Bragg, available only during the mushroom season.

Post by Julia Conway on November 22nd, 2009