Sunday, September 29, 2013

Rare Seared Tuna

I have a laundry list of first world problems to unload.

     the lap pool has multiple leaks, many patches, more leaks, no good. I do however, posses the largest  terrarium this side of the Blue Ridge
     my Thermadore Range is out, not great for baking
     the land line phone ( yeah we have one ) is fried in the old part of the house
     my computer is still groggie from the roundhouse a virus hit it with last week
     direct TV (they blow) is down for fourteen days, ( that's two weeks no football/breaking bad)
     and the plastic shell of my otter box is ripped

How do I cope? For starters. I've formed my own group therapy BAMA ( Bitch and Moan Anonymous), plus I've taken up Sloga ( a kind combination of yoga and sleep, actually, it's a lot of sleeping) and I have to say it's helping me.

So, I take what lemons life tosses towards me now and cook stove top. Thankfully, the exhaust fan works.

 Folks, I'm going to show you how easy it is to cook a beautiful piece of rare seared Tuna.  However, you must have a large cast iron skillet, if you don't, then scroll through some of the other blog entries, I don't know, bake some scones or something ( You can, I can't, remember? ).  It must be cooked on a white hot cast iron skillet like this


Looks like the milky way.

Maybe, but this galaxy is orbiting at about 600 degrees and there is not another pan in your cupboard that can hold that kind of  heat.  It takes about 30 minutes on high  to get to this point so turn it on and get busy preparing the rest of the meal.

I did this. A little onion and garlic, sweated and then  add tomato, mushroom and haricot verts (pre blanched).

Back to the Tuna.  This is the second most important step, seasoning.  Rub some oil (Canola or Peanut, no olive) on the flesh then shower with salt and fresh ground pepper.

See that?  No pinching here, if you want yours to taste like mine then you need to make it rain with the seasoning.  Also, do this right before you intend to cook it.  Don't season and then go shoot off a couple emails..  Salt draws moisture and moisture is bad for searing.  Now slap those babies on the skillet.

Oh yeah, your exhaust fan needs to be on high right now.  If you don't have one, then open some windows and disengage the smoke detectors because it's about to get smoky.

You should hear a smack as the tuna hits that heat, and if it whistles a bit, you know it's hot.  Let them sear about 30 seconds or so, then flip

See the sear and just how little of the tuna we've actually cooked? That's what we're looking for.  Another 30 seconds or so and pull them out.  The rest of your dinner should be ready because we want to eat these guys right now.  With a sharp knife, slice the tuna

Perfect.  Lay this beauty on top of whatever else you cooked and we're talking first class cuisine.


Monday, September 23, 2013

Advertisement 5

I must walk around looking like a guy who knows where he’s going.  I say this because I always get asked directions. It’s as if I put out a vibe “Lost? I can help.”

So it came as little surprise when a white van slowed next to me as I walked towards the mall towards Bizou. The driver, thick headed with a shneck ( big shoulders, no neck) the size of a wheel barrow tire sporting a heart shaped tattoo on this shneck with the name Tina bannered across it asked me where the closest lingerie store was. 

As I tried to shake the image of a half naked Tina who would be with such an animal  from my noggin, I heard the side door wahrroosh open as I was thrown into the back. Seconds later I am pinned to the floor board with a rolling pin pressed across my throat.

“Sandwiches eh?  Very cute says a second thug.  You act like you represent Bodos and not the Space.”

“Um, technically, Bodos does Bagels, and I was simply demonstrating a Panini s…….”

“Shaddupt!!  Boss is not happy and you better get back to promoting the Space Downtown. You got that?  Blog the Space, or else.”

“Isn't that my rolling pin you have across my throat?”

“Shaddupt!! or else it goes upside your head next time!”


 They tossed me out right in front the Space, like a Sunday morning paper. I dusted myself off, knowing full well I would have to go buy another rolling pin, and began this entry, just to keep the brass happy.

 So happy we were last Sunday doing a fundraiser for the Local Food Hub.  I can't think of a better group of folks. Simply put, they gather goods from all the local farmers in the area, and act as the distributor to restaurants and such throughout the area.  What a niche they are filling for our town, I can't say enough about them.  

 So here was the deal.  They give us product, we create. Perfect marriage. 

 They give us stone ground grits from Woodsons Mill and some local Shiitakes, we did this 

Those bits were juicy.  They give us Kale, fresh black-eyed peas and sausage from the Rock Barn, we did this 

They give us figs and berkshire bacon, we add Caramount Boursin 

They gave us quail eggs and Serrano Ham, we did "Ham and eggs". 

They gave us Fresh Pork Belly (again from the Rock Barn) and Macintosh Apples ( Good night they were tasty) and we did this

They gave us red and yellow beets, we made Sushi

Are you starting to get the picture(s).  Let us go, and we create beautiful food.  This was such a great event at the Space Downtown.  There were many others platters I didn't get pictures of:   The Caramount Cheese Board ( Gail is a rock star), a baked goat's cheese station with crostinis and organic strawberries.   A salad of local asian pears, cherry tomatoes, watercress, sesame, and olive oil ( show stopper!), and  from the feedback we get

I think we are on to something.


Tuesday, September 17, 2013


Couple years ago I'm hulled up in a ski condo and the only thing between me and finishing my Black Bean Chile was this thing

I mention this because the other day someone asked me what my favorite home kitchen gadget was.  While I took a few minutes to ponder the question, that thing pictured above is the gadget most likely to meet the same fate as the fax machine in Office Space.  Invented in the latter part of the Hoover administration, it ranks a close second to the worst calamity of his term.  No wonder he wasn't re-elected.

Needless to say, it was no small task for me to open a couple cans of beans.  It makes no sense. There's the magnate thing, and the little catch thing, and I'm cussing and the thing is humming and nothing is getting opened.  Uggh!

I will tell you who is climbing on Santa's good list, it's this guy.

The Panini maker.  This blog is less about cooking and more of assemblage. The fact I ate this sandwich 3 lunches in a row should tell you something, so I will share it with you.  First, have these condiments around.

Top to bottom we have Dijon Mustard, Tapenade, and Sliced Dill Pickles.  Yes, I make my own Tapenade at work, this is lunch at home folks.  Next, you'll need a Ciabatta Roll, sliced turkey, salami, and some purple basil ( green works, too. As does Arugula or even Kale).

Then, coat one side with mustard, the other with tapenade

Pickles on the mustard, Salami on the pickles, turkey on the tapenade

Basil in the middle ( we want it to get the least heat )

Put these together and place on the Panini Press

Close the lid, locate your electric can opener ( if you have one ), take it outside and bludgeon it with the dull side of an ax ( I really don't like them )  and in about five minutes you are in business.


Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Black-eyed Peas

The way I see it, either you are an Apple or a PC person. I, unfortunately, seem to be the latter.  That explains why I am a day late and now a couple hundred bucks short ( nasty virus, I'll spare you the details ). So this blog was supposed to launch yesterday, September 10 commemorating a rather special day.

You see, twenty five years ago on that day, my partner, Vincent began his career in Charlottesville at the Galarie Restaurant.  For those of you not around ( or alive ) at that time, it's the bombed out looking structure on the corner of 250 and 240 as you head towards Crozet.  I too, began work the same day at the Silver Thatch Inn just north of town.

We wouldn't meet until the next April, when I moved across town to the Galarie and, well, the rest is a bit of history.  We had planned on doing a Pop Up dinner to celebrate the day, but as I mentioned a a few weeks ago, the ABC isn't really thrilled with the idea.  Oh the horrors! We do have a pretty cool event happening this Sunday. It's a fund raiser for the Local Food Hub.   Basically, they are giving us a ton of raw ingredients including meats, vegetable, quail eggs and grains and we turn them into a series of small apps.

We'll be doing something with black-eyed peas, what at this moment I do not know. I did take the liberty to cook a handful last night, so I thought I share a recipe with you.  Most of you recognize them dried, but here they are fresh.

Gorgeous aren't they.  First we need to shell them.  Just split them in half with your fingers, and peel back one side.

See the green color, those are nice and fresh.  Once you have shelled them, bring a pot of salted water to boil.  We are going to blanch them for 30-40 seconds.

They should still have a bite to them, don't overcook them.  Drain and set aside.

Now, in keeping with the season, I've got three types of tomatoes, basil, and eggplant, all from the garden.  Also a little chopped shallots and garlic.

This couldn't be simpler.  Sweat the garlic and shallots in olive oil.  Then add the eggplant and let it brown slightly.  Finally, add the chopped tomatoes and let them give up some liquid, then the basil and finally the peas.

Give the pan a shake or two

This by itself is a nice light dinner.  I ended up topping mine with a seared piece of Grouper ( not pictured)


Wednesday, September 4, 2013

I scream, you scream

This is a chapter from my book "In the Weeds". the story of the Metropolitain.  I am currently editing.  

With just a month of business under our belts, we were due for our first inspection  from our friends from hell at the Health Department.  Surprise attacks from those guys were as welcome as the thought of a root canal on Christmas day.  We had the misfortune of opening the Metropolitain at a time coinciding with the local Health Department being overhauled by a highly motivated woman with a seemingly enormous Gaufrette chip on her shoulder.  Her name was Csar, and she would become the most dreaded, most feared sight for any chef in town.

Csar wielded incredible power, especially in the opening of the restaurant.  When she laid out the hoops for the opening  we did our best to jump straight through them, offering her the same respect we had for our elementary school principle who ruled with an old piece of oak.

“Yes, ma’am  , no ma’am , what ever the hell you want ma’am can we please
open the restaurant NOW!!” 

We never said that, we sure thought it, though.  After finally securing the CO, or certificate of operation, from her, we went straight to work ignoring her promise to return within a month to see if we were being good little kitchen boys.  That first visit was okay, despite a laundry list of demerits for lack of paper towels at one hand sink,  the bartender handling cash then cutting bread,  Vincent using his hand towel to wipe his hand,  using a regular glass to drink from ( who dreams this stuff up?) plus some other minor things.  We received a score of 72, a C where I come from, considering the silliness of some of the infractions, we were happy with the passing grade.. 
We never understood their pickiness, the policies from left field, the constant probing.  It wasn’t like were picking up stray cats using them in the pate, Vincent and I were professionals cooking our hearts out and the quality and freshness of our food was without question priority one.   The last thing I wanted to hear was of some customer spending the night praying to the porcelain god after dining on our Roasted Veal shoulder with Lemon Vanilla sauce.

Her second visit could not have come at a worse time.  We were facing our first graduation weekend, an annual invasion of mothers, fathers, grandparents and Uncle Charlies of every graduating senior from the University.  During these weekends, the town would swell with an additional sixteen thousand people all looking to dear ole dad to shell out a couple hundred bucks on a night on dinner for the clan.  The fathers didn’t seem to mind, given the fact that junior was finally finished with college and more or less out of Dad’s wallet. We were prepared for our share of the onslaught and by Thursday night, our small set of refrigerators were stuffed every which way with extra amounts of salad greens, Veal cuts, Tuna, prepared desserts, duck breast, fish.  There was no organization, only squeezing the various shapes as to somehow fit in order to stay cold. All we needed was for Friday night’s service to arrive so as to dent the massive inventory back to a manageable level.

Csar arrived Friday afternoon.

After picking apart our incredibly busy lunch service just as she had the month prior, she preceded to the back to find our overstuffed coolers.  The look at her face was as if she had discovered Holocaust evidence.

“We have some serious issues here.”

The serious issues were raw duck breast stored in a pan on a shelf above the salad greens which were securely in plastic bags.  I knew we were guilty, but it wasn’t like the duck was sitting on top of the arugula dripping its purpleness all over the place. I couldn’t argue, she was technically in the right, not to mention really pissed and I suddenly had visions of her erecting a Closed sign in the front window, ending our dream right then and there.

Oh!  Did I mention that my wife had just given birth to our second child two days prior?  Never mind.

She sat us down and thoroughly went over each and every infraction as we desperately “Yes ma’am No ma’am” our asses off.  She gave us a stern warning and promised to return in seven days!  We didn’t care if she wanted to return the seven hour of the seventh day for the next seven years, we had survived, we were still in business, still cooking and awaiting what would surely be out busiest weekend to date.  We did the weekend, although it wasn’t nearly as busy as we had hoped, returned the kitchen to a normal state of affairs, and awaited the next Friday’s inspection with a crew-cut corporal type of seriousness.   All other matters of business became secondary, there would be no new food creations for that week, no whole animal carcasses, fancy dessert attempts, nothing.  The general was coming and we needed to spit shine our kitchen or else.

            For some strange reason, Csar actually smiled during that next inspection, she left the normal picking alone, and bothering to only inspect the refrigerators.  She enjoyed the power, the outpouring of respect and the ass kissing we bestowed upon her.   She was there for barely twenty minutes, and we would not see Csar again for six months, at which time she would discover another major bone to pick with us.

To say we opened on a shoestring would be an understatement; most of our tattered equipment was either left over from Fat City or bought from a failed restaurant slash bookstore we raided upon its funeral.   Our grill was had for fifty bucks, the Hobart mixer $250, the Garland range, $200.  The manager of the failed establishment had sold us a mountain of small wares including pots, hotel pans, utensils, spices, knives, chocolate white and dark, and cast iron skillets still roaming the kitchen of Bizou today for a cool one hundred.   Our frugal ways coupled with the lack of kitchen payroll outside of the dishwashers hastened our business firmly in the black from the get go.

So it would seem logical that the argument as to whether or not to purchase a new piece of equipment costing in excess of six grand would be a lengthy one.  Vincent had developed a love affair while working with this particular machine in France, and was steadfast in believing we needed it.  I was more than just skeptical, seeing how this machine was going to cost the equivalent of 1/6 our entire initial capital outlay to buy and open the restaurant.  Furthermore, this piece of equipment was not mega sized refrigerator or freezer, high end range or oven, or even a new hood system.  It was not a new HVAC, a company truck, commercial water heater, dishwasher or even keg cooler.  The machine in question was a single purpose R2D2 look alike.

It was an ice cream maker.  A six thousand dollar ice cream maker.

The official name of this guy was Ott-Swiss, a European freezer compressor surrounding a stainless 3 quart chamber containing a Cuisinart type blade that spun some many hundred times a minute. Vincent swore this baby would make us money in the long run, saving time over the cheap electric very whiny ass plastic disposable model constantly grinding away frozen custard were currently using.

I was less than convinced.

After three months of seven day a week nagging, my partner wore my stubbornness down to the point I actually watched a demonstration of the machine and soon was writing that check for slightly more than $5500 (we got a deal!). 

We also made a large improvement to our dessert menu as the ice creams became creamier, the sorbets dreamier.  If you ever had the opportunity to taste a cantaloupe, peach, melon or any other sorbet which had a natural mealy pulp from our Ott Swiss, than you had tasted a piece of pure heaven.   The internal sharp spinning blades pulverized the fruit while it blended it with the small amount of sugar syrup used to sweeten.   It didn’t take long for me to forget about my initial reservations on the purchase and realize Vincent was right in lobbying for the purchase of this machine.


“What is this?’   Csar inquired fifteen minutes into her first inspection since the fiasco of graduation weekend.  It was Wednesday, a mellow afternoon and a full 45 minutes after lunch service.   The wait staff was gone, so we would not be busted for them picking their noses, the coolers were ¾ full and well organized, and frankly it seemed Csar was having a hard time finding faults in our kitchen this inspection.

“That’s an ice cream machine!” I proudly declared.

“What are you putting in here?”  She quizzed, obviously puzzled by the sight of this machine, something no one else within a 150 mile radius owned.

“Custard, you know, we make the custard and then pour it into this ice cream machine and it freezes it.” 

“Really?”  was her first response, and the she gathered herself.

“You realize of course, its illegal.”  Csar informed us. “Its illegal to prepare you own ice cream in the state of Virginia.”

Vincent and I stood silent, stunned.  Surely she was kidding but it was hard to imagine Csar  ever laughing or joking about anything, aside from the closing of a restaurant.

“Illegal?”  I returned.

Now, killing your landlord, robbing a bank, molesting 10 year olds, seemed illegal.  Even here in Virginia, in 1990,  slavery was illegal, punching someone in the face, embezzling church cash platters,  possessing pot, driving under the influence, spitting on the downtown mall cop,  trespassing,  urinating in public, exposing yourself at your father in-laws’ company picnic, all illegal.  But making ice cream? What fucking genius dreamed up this law? 

I could just envision the debate on the state delegate floor, a heated one where opposite sides fiercely debated the merits of their arguments, filibusters lasting deep into the night, open, half eaten melted containers of Ben and Jerry’s on the speaker’s pulpit, sticky white plastic spoons everywhere,  sugar buzzed  grown balding men slurring arguments through their southern gentlemen accents.  Finally the verdict, no restaurants can make their own ice creams from scratch, they must purchase the watery ice milk mix from the state subsidized dairy and freeze the dairy mart’s quality crap and call it ice cream.

Oh boy, that’ll set our desserts apart from the competition. I was envisioning our desserts having the same qualities as those churned out by a half baked seventeen year old with his ball cap positioned sideways on his head while working the slop machine at the local Dairy King.


There would be no “Yes Ma’am” on this count.  Vincent and I dropped our heads in defiance and kept on cooking.  Csar could stick her instant read thermometer anywhere she wanted; she could write us for as many silly infractions as she pleased as long as we were still cooking dinner that night.  She could lecture us on the dangers of bacteria until the mad cows came home, but one thing she could not do is tamper with the quality of our food.   She knew by our reaction we were not rolling over on this one, she would need reinforcements.

A few days later the big guy arrived, or at least he was introduced as the head of state board of health from Richmond, the capital.  He didn’t look so official, an open collared plaid shirt and khakis, worn loafers placed him placed him in as a local retiree in some small town coffee shop rather than at the helm of state health Gestapo.  But there he was, sporting his very own instant read thermometer clipped to his breast pocket, manual in hand, descending upon us with the official code, the word of god according to these bacteria nerds. 

“Chapter 10, Section G, page 14….”    Psalam 12  blah blah blah

“…restaurants are not allowed to manufacture ice creams from raw dairy products.”

Done. Finished. 

Score health czars one, young talented entrepreneur chefs zero.  The chief had spoken.  Csar and her hero had left, mission accomplished.  They had saved Charlottesville from the horrible possibility of eating homemade vanilla bean, caramel, rum raisin, green tea, banana nut, toasted pecan, mint chocolate chip, banana coconut, anise, milk chocolate,  or any other lovable concoction of ice cream Vincent and I would dream up. 

No sooner had the latex gloved duo left the restaurant Vincent was on the phone with the local dairy ordering a case of vanilla ice cream mix.  Upon its arrival, we opened the case, retrieved one of the four cartons and emptied half it contents deservedly down the drain of our 3 bay sink.  We returned this carton to the shelf in the fridge and placed it in front of another unopened one.  The other two were tossed in the dumpster.  Vincent pinned the receipt to the bulletin board in a can’t miss location and returned the kitchen.

“Sure looks to me like we’re using that product.”

We would repeat this drill once a month, all the while making our ice creams to the delight of our customers.  A year later we found a local farmer producing the most luscious free range eggs which turned our honey laced vanilla bean ice cream a rich pale yellow.  In the twelve years following the visit from Csar and her hero, not once did she or any of the other health inspectors touch, taste, or inquire as to the contents of our ice cream.

Score the culinary free world 2, heath inspectors 1.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Butterscotch and Currant Scones

I am not materialistic.

My truck and my mountain bike are my prized possessions.  Then there’s the vintage 57 Teal T-bird, his and her wave runners, 72 in HDTV, Kurt Geiger Chelseas, and Prada Sunglasses.

Just kidding; I only have the first two.  There is another treasure in my life, (no not her) and it’s pictured here.

My coffee thermos.

I’m not sure when I made the transition from mug to thermos, but once it took hold, there was no going back. In fact, I’m surprised they still make mugs. I find them completely useless except maybe for holding pens on your desk.  My wife still drinks out of a mug, using the term loosely, more like  inhales from one. When I bring her coffee (yes, I bring her coffee, we alternate. She does Tuesday through Sundays, I do Monday), no sooner do I turn around then her arm is extended asking for seconds.

It’s no wonder I went into a full-fledged panic attach the night I emptied the dish washer and dropped my precious on the floor. The cap separated into three pieces. I thought for sure it was a goner, but I got it back together (thank god).  Otherwise, I would have retired to bed devastated to face a morning of mugged coffee.

I’m also into volume, so that rules out espresso and/or the rocket fuel know as Cuban coffee. Geez.  If you ever want to fly to the moon, find a small café window in Little Havana and get yourself one (or in my experience two) of those nuggets and you’ll understand what I’m talking about.  I took a break from class one day with two of my friends (native Miamians who knew better) and we went for coffee.  They each ordered “un café”.  I took one look at that tiny paper cups and (see above regarding quantity), and ordered “dos”. Sure enough, in no time I was as jittery as a single hen at a fox festival.

I can’t reveal the brand of coffee I drink.  We have great local roasters in town like Shenandoah  Joe’s, Tragger Brothers and Mud House, so signaling one would not be fair. So I will name this mythical coffee brand Tartrucks.  They are headquartered in the mythical city of Ceattle.  There, that should get me off the hook.

So with thermos in hand and coffee in thermos, it’s time to make some scones. This inspiration came to me one morning when I went to make scones and saw that we had currants and butterscotch chips and not much else. Don't be put off by the amount of salt, it works beautifully with the sweetness of the butterscotch and currants.

3 c cups flour
1 T baking powder
1 T salt1 t baking soda
1/3 c brown sugar
6 oz butter
2/3 cup of buttermilk
1 egg

Here's the lineup:

 There you have it. Clockwise from 11 you have the baking powder/ baking soda, brown sugar, butterscotch chips, currants, and butter all surrounding the flour.

Sift together the flour, salt, baking powder and soda.  Then add the brown sugar.  Cut the butter in until it resembles course sand

Add the butterscotch chips and currants.

Mix the egg and buttermilk together, than add to the mix.  It should be a little wet, that's what we want. Flour your work surface liberally, your hands as well and lightly knead the dough a couple times.

Pat together like this

Instead of a roller, pat the dough with your hands ( keep them floured )

Cut into shapes, then bake at 375 for 12-15 minutes

When done, they should be a nice light brown in color

Looks like they are cuddling.  Cuddle yourself next to your coffee and have some of this

Light and flaky.  Nice

Happy Labor Day!!