Sunday, August 30, 2009

Meet Your Meat

Nearly all the meat I eat at home comes from Skagit River Ranch, so I went to their Meet Your Meat event today at their farm out in Sedro Woolley, about 2 hours north of Seattle on the Skagit River. Driving down their dirt driveway, I had to be carefull not to run over any of their beautiful free-running chickens and I parked next to some young heritage turkeys. Farmer George gave a tour explaining their intense commitment to sustainability and health (his definition of sustainability is that when he writes a check, there's money in the bank to cover it). They do liver biopsies on their chickens frequently to determine what nutrients they are lacking because our environment alone does not provide everything to make a healthy robust chicken. He usually has to end up supplementing minerals such as iodine, selenium, and copper; all of which are important for an immune system. They get these supplements into their chickens by adding it to the soil that grows their feed grain (usually wheat) - the grains need these minerals to grow strong, then when they are fed to the chickens they get the minerals, and when we eat their eggs or chicken meat the beneficial minerals are passed along to us. This is the methodology used for all their animals (cattle, goats, pigs, mules, horses) and even in their own family garden. Healthy dynamic soil produces nutrient rich vegetables that greatly benefit the animals that eat them and ultimately eliminate, or at least drastically reduce the need for medicine. George said they use absolutely no pharmaceuticals or chemicals on any of their animals or vegetables. And I must say, their animals and their family are absolutely gorgeous and vibrant.

A quick panel discussion between George, Maria Hines of Tilth, Craig Hetherington of TASTE, and author Greg Atkinson addressed some of the issues of sustainability in our industry and the world. In a world where food is empty calories and chemicals, we are warriors in a revolution to create a world of nutrient rich food that is created through sustainable practices that can be maintained indefinately. Our bodies are our greatest asset and we are what we eat. But we've heard this all before, so what's it gonna take to bring down the seven corporations that control 75% of food in this country? Studies in Europe and China showed that rats are not viable after 5 generations of eating genetically modified foods (why Europe has banned US GMO's). George's theory on the bee crisis is that we've been feeding our nations bees genetically modied pollen for decades and it's no wonder they've finally started dying off - may be a forshadowing of the future for the human race. The slow food movement is slowly growing, and as George put it, "any crowd that gets large enough, a politican will jump in front and say 'Follow Me!'"

George also gave us a tour of his new Biodiesel operation that he uses to fuel the tractors and what not on the farm. I love these people.

At the Skagit River Ranch store, I picked up some Camelina oil and seeds to play with. They're from Lentz Spelt Farms in Marlin, WA. Camelina is an ancient grain that was first cultivated by the Celtics and its still used throughout Europe. The Camelina oil is very flavorful, rich in Vitamin E, and probably contains the highest concentration of Omega-3's out of any other food (cold pressed Camelina oil tests at 30.5% Omega-3). So why have I never heard of it before? -it can't be hydrogenated, so mainstream oil producers have little incentive to grow it. Yet another example of how our current food infrastructure does not produce the food we need to be healthy.

George fondling some fine compost made largely from the unusable parts of their cattle (there's some live cows grazing near the trees in the background). You wouldn't believe how good that dirt smelled.

Birthday Berries and Bacon

My friend Justin loves fruit and local food, so for his birthday I made him a 7-berry cake. The cake part is a genoise with local eggs from The Creamery, Blue Bird Grain Farms Soft White Cake Flour, Cremerie Butter from Oregon, and some very not local sugar from the Co-op. The frosting is a butterscotch-cardamom whipped cream made with Golden Glen cream. I tossed together a mixture of the seven berries with some sugar and spread that between two layers of the genoise before coating it in whipped cream and making the berry design on top. The seven berries from Jessie's Berries in Mt. Vernon were: Marrionberry, Loganberry, Blueberry, Blackberry, Huckleberry, Raspberry, and Boysenberry.
Right after Justin's birthday is Alex's, for which I made Bacon Cake. I began with a pancake, spread chocolate whipped cream on top, sprinkled it with Skagit River Ranch bacon, then put another pancake on top of that and repeated the process and topped it all off with a third pancake. The outer layer of frosting started out as a standard cream cheese frosting that I added maple syrup and bacon grease to - This frosting turned out to far exceed my expectations! It's fantastic! Anyway, here are a few quick pictures of the infamous bacon cake:

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Foie Gras is my Anti-Drug

Wednesday night I took Alex to Lark for his birthday. I've been saving up for this occasion since a few months ago when a foie gras protest outside Quinn's caused us to stop everything we were doing, go inside Quinn's, and order a plate of foie gras (10% of profits went to NARN as a thank you for increasing their foie gras business!). At Quinn's we found out NARN (Northwest Animal Rights Network) was also protesting Lark. It's become clear to me that these NARN people have never tasted foie gras, because if they had, surely they would not be protesting it. But I'm getting ahead of myself, Lark was magnificent.

We got some cheese and sparkling wine to nibble on while we browsed the menu. Unfortunately I don't remember what the cheeses were, but one in particular changed the way I feel about blue cheese. I've never really been a huge fan of blue cheese although I can respect its culinary importance. But this blue cheese was a deep blue, almost a dark greenish blue and had a delectably complex flavor that was sweet and tangy.

Next we had Blue Bird Grain Farms Farro with Romano Beans and Lobster Mushrooms along with Chilled Tomato and Huckleberry Soup. The farro was in cream, making it a very satisfying dish and the lobster mushrooms were sauteed to perfection. The Tomato Huckleberry soup was simple, light, and wonderfully refreshing.

We discovered pretty quick that Lark's "small plates" contain relatively large portions and we were beginning to feel full. So, we decided to cut to the chase and order both preparations of foie gras at once paired with a Muscat wine. The first plate was a foie gras terrine with mini toasts and slices of vanilla poached peaches and the second plate was seared foie gras with pecans, blackberries, and a caramelized onion crepe. The experience of eating both these preparations was absolutely spiritual. Placing a bite of this foie gras in my mouth, gently chewing it, and ultimately swallowing it made my insides vibrate with sheer joy, slowly seeping euphoria into every inch of my body. I found myself rubbing my lips together as if I had just put on the most divine lip gloss. The world around me vanished and when I closed my eyes I swear I was flying blissfully through the stars. I think I might have gotten high off foie gras. If reincarnation exists, I would like to be reincarnated as a foie gras duck; what could be better than to live life in a food coma, have a quick death, and have your liver go on to give humans an experience like this!

An Hierloom Melon Salad with Frisee, Yogurt, Lime and Mint began to bring us back to reality and refresh our palates before dessert. Dessert was a Mission Fig Tarte Tatin with Caramel Goat Cheese Sorbet along with a Summer Pudding with Brioche, Raspberries, Blueberries, and Whipped Cream. A beautiful way to end a phenomenal meal.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

My Personal Garde Manger

Alex has been whipping up some incredible food lately, making me feel like all I have to do is sit down at the dining table in the middle of our kitchen for a 4-star meal. First off, his salads continually amaze me with sheer creativity. The salad pictured below reminded me a lot of ceviche, but with fresh peaches instead raw fish and we ate it immediately instead of letting it marinate for hours. He says he's been experimenting with using spices instead of a vinaigrette, which when using juicy fruits and tomatoes, a vinaigrette is not really needed for moisture; I think it's brilliant!
Next is the pork in which Alex discovered umami. Umami (unfortunately defined as MSG) is that inexplicable 5th taste, that is actually a proven taste along with sweet, salty, bitter, and sour. Umami is present in all meats, cheeses, fermented products, tomatoes, mushrooms...the list goes on. Asian cuisine has thoroughly explored the concept of umami and western chefs use it to add a fifth level of complexity to their food. Well, Alex did just that, he made a marinated pork that was so complex and so well balanced I wanted to savor and contemplate the deep meaning behind every bite I took of the finished prduct. The picture below shows how he marinated it. Looks like whole cloves, star anise, Bragg's liquid aminos, Bragg's apple cider vinegar, Larupin barbeque sauce, Woodring's rainier cherry chutney, Four Seasons raspberry vinaiger, cinnamon, a local sweet pepper, a local spicy pepper, and some local peach. He fried the pork chops with the chunky parts of the marinade on top and then poured the rest of marinade into the pan to cook with the pork. Fantastic!

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Apricot Fennel Pork

This was a moment of cleaning-out-the-fridge inspiration. I had no idea if it was even going to be edible, but I had a feeling I might be on to something. I seared two pork chops until good and brown, then moved them to the edge of the pan and threw equal parts of sliced onions and sliced fennel into the center of the pan and sauteed them until they began to caramelize. Then I added some dice apricots, cooked them down till they started to stick a bit, deglazed with a tiny bit of water, and lastly seasoned with just salt. The Apricot-Fennel combination is something I have to recommend. I cant quite put it into words, but the two strong flavors meld together into a whole new, absolutely fascinating flavor! We played with spices at the table, a hefty sprinkle of alspice transformed it into a barbeque-smokey-tomato-ish flavor reminiscent of Jamaican jerk.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Purple Cookie Dough!

I have to thank my brother for the inspiration on this one. When I first went to visit him at college (I was still in elementary school) he impressed me with his culinary skills and magically created purple cream of wheat for breakfast one day. I believe this is the root of my obsession with purple foods. Not to mention a more general love of colorful foods, and purple is a good color to take advantage of when preparing a colorful dish. Once again, it's too hot to cook, so I made cookie dough instead of cookies and threw some of last years frozen blueberries into the mix. It's like ice cream! And it's even better with fresh raspberries on top.

Saturday, August 1, 2009


I made ceviche Thursday night. I bought some halibut from the enthusiastic fisherman with neon colored signs at the farmers market. It had never been frozen and was caught the day before - I love the farmers market! The farmers market also provided me with yellow and red tomatoes, ivory and green bell peppers, jalepenos, banana peppers, and red onions. Sadly, I had to go across the street to QFC for limes, an orange, and some cilantro. I set up a cutting board on our balcony (it's way too hot to be indoors) and sliced, diced, minced, or zested all the above ingredients, threw them in a bowl and tossed it all together with plenty of lime juice and salt. Then I put it in the fridge to "cook" for 24 hours. Both acid (lime juice) and salt are capable of denaturing proteins which does two things: it destroys most pathogens (why salt is used in preservation), and this is also what we know as cooking. Heat denatures proteins in essentially the same way acid or salt can. What a brilliant discovery for a hot day - cooking without heat!

The ceviche was delicious, however the 24 hours of marination made all the veggies lose their umph and the flavors melded together more so than I was hoping. Next time I think I'll marinate the fish overnight and then combine it with all the vegetables just before serving. This way it will taste even fresher and more refreshing!