Monday, December 13, 2010

Vineyard Table Secret Supper Club

"Dining partners, regardless of gender, social standing, or the years they've lived, should be chosen for their ability to eat - and drink! - with the right mixture of abandon and restraint. They should enjoy food, and look upon its preparation and its degustation as one of the human arts."-MFK Fisher

A cheerful bunch sitting around the original Vineyard Table Oct. 25th 2010 -Photo by Kevin Fry
 If you asked me what I love doing more than anything else, it's eating really good food and drinking great wine with fantastic company. I think most of us find those opportunities on the top of our list as "some of the best times we have ever had." Even if you handed me a box of 2010 chablis from Safeway Select and paired it with some horrific Kraft singles, I could find joy in it depending on the company I was dining with. 

Of course if you handed me a slice of homemade pie from your great, great grandmother's recipe that she smuggled out of an Armenian bakery's secret recipe box in her brassier, I might find more satisfaction in that slice of pie.  At the end of the day, it's the overall experience, each component coming together: the music, the wine, the lighting, food and of course your dining partners all help make an unforgettable meal. 

On the contrary, I've had just as unforgettable dining moments when music, lighting and other components were truly out of my hands and thankfully so! All I would gladly replicate if given the chance; a simple meal of clams dug out of the sand on a beach in Thailand, a bottle of wine, a hunk of cheese and a baguette while overlooking the vineyards in San Gimignano, Italy, or eating elk and venison sausage, freshly-cold smoked over applewood in the snow, courtesy of my cousins who hunt.

Therefore, when the opportunity to throw a couple special secret suppers at The Vineyard Table during its last remaining weeks before it got packed up into storage came up, I didn't want to offer just any old dinner party. On Monday, October 25th and again on November 21st, we hosted 22 people at the Vineyard Table for a plated Secret Supper Club.  Below are some images, courtesy of photographer Kevin Fry from the first supper club on October 25th.

The Vineyard Table from above

Me prepping sliced pears
Gorgeous golden beets
Jason Driscoll slicing into the slow roasted beef shank
Caramelizing onions
Some of the lovely guests, Sarah, Lucas and Meagan enjoying proscecco with appetizers before dinner
Plating the main course with Hilary and Jason

The Vineyard Table Secret Supper Club Menu
October 25th 2010
Blue Cheese On Apple Slices
Avocado Toast with Sardines and Sherry Vinaigrette  

Amuse Bouche
Apricots with Vanilla and Star Anise Simple Syrup, Burrata Mozzarella and Smoked Sea Salt

Sweet Corn Soup with Dungeness Crab and Tarragon Oil
Bread with Butter and Sea Salt

Red and Golden Roasted Beets with Mache and Herbed Goat Cheese and Pistachio Vinaigrette
Flying Dreams Sauvignon Blanc

Elsom Cellars 2010 Malbec and Cab Granita

Braised Beef Shanks with Slow Roasted Cherry Tomatoes, Chorizo, Caramelized Fennel and Onion Confit in a Sun Dried Tomato Fennel Broth

Dessert with Coffee
Red and Golden Roasted Beets with Mache and Herbed Goat Cheese and Pistachio Vinaigrette
Braised Beef Shanks with Slow Roasted Cherry Tomatoes, Chorizo, Caramelized Fennel and Onion Confit in a Sun Dried Tomato Fennel Broth
Kevin Fry caught a nice pic of me smiling in my element- cooking away

I'm looking forward to many more secret supper clubs. Even though the next dinner will be at a new location, it only makes it that much more exciting. I started a blog on the Vineyard Table website to document my search, but I haven't gotten too far on the blog itself. My time these days is spent physically searching and calling on new spaces, organizing Elsom Cellar details, catering and just recently, packing up the Vineyard Table. I know we will do a couple supper clubs at Elsom Cellars winery in the interim: can't you just see it the Vineyard Table lit by candles with wine barrels stained with dripping juice as a backdrop? Yes, I think it's going to be a delicious experiment.

Want to be a part of it? Stay tuned for details! Or email me!

All Photos by Kevin Fry:

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

A little inspiration

There is something so incredibly mysterious and gritty about this image. I instantly think it must belong in a hidden kitchen in Japan, accessed only after crossing several bridges and winding through narrow, shadowed reason this image should conjure up scenes from Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon, but why does my mind go there?
From the book Japanese Kitchen Knives

It seems almost redundant to say that I have learned a tremendous amount about myself this year. I've lived through a mini life crisis at 32, okay who am I kidding, it's been a major life crisis and it's not over yet.  Death happens, cancer happens, jobs come and go and life goes on. And so should I. Being unemployed and searching for several months can be a great thing- at least that is what I hear. I on the other hand make a horrible unemployed person, just ask my husband, my family or any of my very close friends. I'm the kind of person who likes having multiple jobs. "I relax in other ways," I tell people when they ask why I can't sit still. I love being busy.

Thank goodness for change and opportunity. Recently, as in four months ago, I reconnected with Jody Elsom of Elsom Cellars and the Vineyard Table. Jody is an amazing woman winemaker who specializes in small-batch, handcrafted red wines. Her specialties are cab and malbec. She recently got an 89 for her peppery, leathery 2007 malbec! It is completely deserved and I can only imagine what that feels like!

So, a while back, Jody informed me that the Vineyard Table has to be relocated by December because of the viaduct tunnel project, and would I want to take the project on. Not just finding the new space, but helping to re-build it. Oy! So, I am taking the plunge! I am taking over all the events at the Vineyard Table and Elsom Cellars Tasting room private events and the new Vineyard Table- where ever that will be. The hunt for the new space is proving to be an entire job in itself. (an entire post on that is in draft form to be posted soon). Let's just say, I'm learning the commercial broker game, the costs of this kind of project and am now able to tell you how much per square foot every Seattle neighborhood commercial space is going for.
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I recently went to Marjorie for dinner with a really good friend of mine, chef Kristen Shumacher and immediately fell in love with the use of kitchen space. It was open, homey and so inspiring. The cozy and unpretentious feel is exactly to how I would want the new Vineyard Table kitchen to be like. I also love the feel of the kitchen at the new Sitka and SpruceWalrus and the Carpenter, this number or even this sexy new place that I can't wait to visit:  the Book Bindery ... The exact opposite of granite counters and glitzy chandeliers.
Photo taken by Allecia of All-Consuming Blog
Obviously, there is a lot  that needs to happen between now and official.  Jody and I have decided to move the Vineyard Table into storage while we find the right "place." Wouldn't a garden be lovely? Should we move Eastside or Westside? oh the decisions. All I know is that life is short. Someone recently asked me what I really love in life? And I thought for a moment, and said, "I love giving people original experiences through good food." At the end of the day do I want to be exhausted because of excel spread sheets or because I made too many appetizers?

I want to be tired from this:

Photo: Peter Frank Edwards

Monday, October 18, 2010

Jubilee Farm Dinner with Kristen Schumacher

Several weeks ago,  Kristen Schumacher asked if I would like to help her cater a dinner that eight guests had won at a Children's Hospital auction. Jubilee Farms would supply the produce and Kristen would offer her chef skills and talent in the kitchen. I love working with Kristen so of course I jumped at the chance to join her at the farm and in the kitchen. Below are photos from the farm and the dinner. Her gorgeous photos and post about the dinner can be found here.
Jubilee Farm, located in Carnation, WA

One of several different varieties of heirloom peppers

Kristen hunting for strawberries
Feeling nostalgic picking strawberries
Inspired by celeriac root! I had forgotten about this vegetable until I saw it busting through the soil.
The potato room
St. Jude albacore tuna, avocado aioli, grilled pineapple salsa on rice crackers
Jubilee Farm Asian greens, soft-boiled duck egg, fennel salted crouton, shaved pecorino, sherry vinaigrette
Sweet corn soup, Dungeness crab, tarragon oil
Watermelon granita, mint borage flowers
Crispy pork belly
Kristen of Heirloom adds the finishing sauce to the pork belly
Crispy pork belly, farro risotto, Jubilee farms roasted beets and sauteed chard
Jubilee Farm's strawberry, blackberry and hazelnut crisp with cinnamon scented marscapone

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

So much ahead

You know what is exciting? Holding an unread novel in your hands and knowing that you have an adventure awaiting you. That is finally what I am recognizing after several long months of living through some heavy stuff. 

I am not publishing a novel, but I have been living like I am reading from a script written by someone else. I'm  making amends with this passed year- a passed script that was written for me and am eagerly awaiting the new author of 2011. Fortunately I was given the first chapter to review and I like what I am reading.

It's been five months since my dad passed away and I feel like an entirely different person. It's not just because he isn't in my life any more and the pain that comes with that, it's in addition to everything else that has happened this year. Moving, new job, new job, new job. I realize that the job doesn't make the person, but what happens when you make the job? What happens then? Who makes the person then?

A little bit of inspiration is in order.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Moving on

Been on the road catering with the Skillet crew for a couple days. Tons of projects in the works and it feels great to be in a creative space. Tons of stories to share, including new characters that I have met along the way. I think it could be a couple days before I am back on the blog as I am working on opening up an event space with Elsom Cellars and volunteering for the International Food Bloggers Conference this weekend. I was also recently asked to be on the board of Slow Food Seattle, and I am pretty tickled pink about it all.

More soon...

Monday, August 16, 2010

Slicing Pineapple- Sometimes it's just nice to have a visual

Months ago I got my hands on a perfectly ripe pineapple. You could walk in the kitchen and inhale its candy sweet perfume. While traveling in Thailand, I gorged myself on fresh pineapple. Street vendors would use unnecessarily large knives to split the pineapple into perfect columns and sell three chilly columns in a sandwich bag for fifty cents. I tried to write down everything we ate while on our four-month S.E. Asia adventure back in 2003, and according to my notes, I  must have eaten a half a pineapple a day. 

I almost feel guilty when I buy pineapple in Seattle. It has traveled such a great distance to get to me. Though I can't always buy local and organic produce, I do try my best to stay local. So pineapple is considered a treat to me or super guilty pleasure- is there a difference? We grilled it and put it in a Thai Beef Salad (recipe post on that soon), I made a salsa out of it and of course we ate it raw.

Slicing into a pineapple can be damn intimidating. Not only does it have a sexy, skin-tight, reptile outfit on, pineapples also wear an obnoxious leafy hat! So instead of writing descriptive details on how to easily slice a pineapple, I've demonstrated through photos.
After ripping off the leafy-green top, I like to use a bread knife or the equivalent to slice off the outer skin. The main trick that is hard to master when slicing pineapple, is to remove as much of the peeling as possible without sacrificing fruit. I'm still working on mastering that. 
After discarding the leafy top, next slice off the top and bottom. Then, like slicing melon, you work your knife gently around the pineapple until it's clean. You can then make pineapple rounds (which will still contain a core) or you can split the pineapple in quarters and slice off the fibrous core from each quarter.
There are many ways to slice pineapple- since I was using it in multiple dishes, I kept it simple. For true inspiration for slicing pineapple, look up Thai fruit carving- it will blow your mind. Pineapple sliced into butterflies? Of course!

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Asian-Style Salmon Head Soup

It's not what you think.
Salmon Head Soup? you: "It sure seems like what it sounds like."
Well, not exactly. At least it's not at all what I expected when I found this recipe. Remember when Mark went on that fishing trip and all he came back with were sardines? Well, he also came back with some fish heads and tails. Gross right? Quite the opposite actually.

So I am a huge fan of Langdon Cook, a forager, blogger and author of Fat of the Land. When I saw that he had a recipe for salmon head soup, I was certain that it was his recipe that I was going to use for the presents that Mark brought home. Plus, it included udon noodles and other Asian ingredients that I'm obsessed with.

I only made slight changes to the recipe because I didn't have Chinese wine, (by the way, if any of you know what this is, I was looking all over for it) and I also used a dark Asian green instead of cabbage and lastly, I doubled the fish sauce.

What's so funny about me making this dish is that in culinary school they explicitly tell you not to make stock out of salmon because salmon is too oily and rich and the strong flavor of salmon will completely overwhelm any soup made with it. I think this dish works because the Asian-style flavors added to this dish are stronger or just as strong as the stock itself. I've been avoiding salmon stock for years. Sometimes it feels so good to break the classic culinary rules. The results can be delicious.

Salmon Head Soup- By Langdon Cook
2-3 salmon heads, cut in half
2 tbsp peanut or vegetable oil
1 tsp sesame oil (optional)
1 3-inch thumb of ginger, peeled and sliced
2 leeks, tops discarded, chopped
4 green onions, chopped
4-5 cloves garlic, chopped
2 Thai red peppers, thinly sliced
Chinese cooking wine- I used white wine
2 tbsp fish sauce (optional)- I doubled it
rice vinegar (optional)
aji-mirin (optional)
1 can Szechuan prepared vegetable (optional)- I didn’t have this, so I used fresh Thai chilies
1 can bamboo shoots- did not use
1/2 head Napa cabbage, shredded- I used Gai lan (Chinese broccoli)
1 handful cilantro for garnish, stemmed, with stems reserved
1 package Asian noodles (e.g., udon, soba, ramen)- I used Udon

1. Over medium-high heat, brown fish heads and ginger in oil for a few minutes, turning at least once. De-glaze pot with a splash of wine and add chopped leeks, garlic, and half the green onions and red peppers. Saute together for several minutes.

2. De-glaze pot again with another splash of wine, then add 8 cups of water and optional fish sauce. Bring to a light boil, reduce heat, and simmer for 30 minutes.

3. Strain contents, picking and reserving as much salmon meat as possible. Return soup to simmer. Adjust for salt. Add half the remaining green onion and the cilantro stems. (Optional seasoning: Add a tablespoon of each: Chinese wine, rice vinegar, aji-mirin; add a few heaping tablespoons of Szechuan prepared vegetables.) Simmer another 15-30 minutes.

4. Strain soup a second time and return to low heat to keep warm. Dole out reserved salmon meat into bowls, along with noodles, a handful of shredded cabbage, and spoonfuls of both Szechuan prepared vegetables (optional) and bamboo shoots. Ladle soup. Garnish with green onion, cilantro, and Thai red pepper. Serves 4.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Breaking Rules with Cherry Mango Salsa

You know when you are invited to a potluck and the host says, "why don't you bring some chips and salsa?" It's a crowd pleaser and it seems like most people can't get enough of chips and salsa. I think I am the minority in this. I like chips and salsa, but I don't love it. It's kind of like me and peanut butter- for the most part I could take it or leave it. But remember how I said I was obsessed with cherries? Yeah, they're pretty amazing. And a salsa with cherries in it? Now that is a salsa I can get behind.

Not too long ago I had the most perfect pineapple in my house. I ate it raw, grilled it and simply stared at it with adoration, as it sat on my wooden counter top. When I had the opportunity to pair some of the pineapple with a lovely wild salmon fillet, I knew the cherries would be jealous if they were not included. Suddenly I was inspired and a new potluck salsa was born.

You know what's great about making your own salsa? There are no rules. I think that is why I tend to yawn over store-bought salsa. Tomatoes, onions, peppers.... it's what you always expect. Nothing surprises me. So when you get a chance to make your own salsa, that's when your mind should open a bit. It's like a salad- what can you NOT put in it? For your homemade salsa, use sun dried tomatoes instead of raw tomatoes. Grill the peppers first! Caramelize the onions- or pickle some shallots first! MMmmmmmmmm the possibilities.
 Two tips I learned when cooking fish. 1) Always sear fish flesh side down to start 2) Fish will usually tell you when it is ready to flip. You know when you are grilling/searing a gorgeous fish and you try to turn it and half the meat is still sticking to the pan/grill? Such disappointment! If your pan/grill is hot enough and oiled enough, the fish should easily come off the pan/grill when the flesh has caramelized and is ready to turn. This is a really good rule of thumb for cooking all proteins. One word of caution though- fish cooks fast and can be easily over-cooked, AND it will continue to cook once you have taken it off the heat.
What's nice about not having rules about making salsa? Not having to put it on salmon!  Yes! That's right. This salsa and any other salsa that you make can go on chicken, pork, white fish, scallops or even eaten alone. I bet tofu under the right marinade would even benefit! (okay that may be going a bit far, but why not?)
Salmon and cherries are a perfect pairing though- especially with an Oregon pinot noir- oh wow. Suddenly your mouth is jaw dropping instead of yawning at another same-old salsa. Seriously, ditch the pre-made salsa and make your own already!

Grilled Salmon with Cherry, Pineapple, Mango Salsa
(Makes approximately 3 cups salsa)

1 mango, diced
1 cup fresh pineapple, diced
1 peach, peeled and diced
1 1/2 cups cherries, pitted, diced
1/2 cup Anaheim peppers, seeded, diced
1 small shallot, minced
1 clove garlic, minced
2 tablespoons fresh basil, chiffonade
1 teaspoon fresh mint, chiffonade
1 lime, zested and juiced (keep zest and juice)
2 small splashes olive oil
salt and pepper to taste
8-12 ounces salmon fillet

Combine all the above ingredients except the olive oil and salmon into a mixing bowl. Stir gently. Add one splash of olive oil and taste for seasoning. Cover and refrigerate until ready to use.

Lightly oil and season a salmon fillet with a splash of olive oil and salt and pepper. Place flesh side down on a cleaned and oiled grill or pan. Cook for 2-4 minutes depending on the thickness. Flip and cook for another 2-4 minutes. Salmon will be cooked when the flesh is no longer opaque. I tend to like it pretty rare, but it's your salmon- cook it how you want it!

Top salmon with salsa and serve!

Grilled Salmon With Cherry, Pineapple, Mango Salsa