It's Rough Being an Alaskan

It's Rough Being an Alaskan
King Crab stock with Kaffir Lime & Coriander for Thai Bisque

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The Joy of Comfort Food

Comfort food: who doesn't love it? Easy to inhale, non-figure-friendly, often cheesy, buttery, carb-laden, saucy, meaty--that's comfort food to me.  Lately on television and in foodie magazines the main focus has been heart-warming foods but not really heart-healthy foods, but let's not go there right now! You name it: Mac n' cheese, pot roast, pork chops, fried chicken, bbq brisket, banana pudding--the list goes on. Competitive cooking show winners do seem to score points on innovation but most frequently, foods that remind one of home.

When I close my eyes and think of my mom's cooking I remember the yeasty smell of fresh baked cinnamon rolls loaded with apples, raisins and walnuts and the warm heat clouding our windows from moose or chicken stews brewing away all day on our stove.  But I hated the acrid garlicky smell of beans cooking because we dined on plain pinto bean soup at least once a week. It tasted like pasty sludge in my mouth. To this day, I can barely tolerate bean soups unless they are "savvy" like Italian White Bean, Sausage and Kale!
I would say to my mother, "why can't I have a normal sandwich like the other kids?" as I grumpily stuffed my handmade hummus, cucumber and tomato sandwich on fresh whole-wheat bread into my bag. Oh, how I longed for a sandwich with packaged white bread, American cheese and soggy bologne slathered with greasy mayo. Huddling on the bench at lunch-hour, I would wolf the sandwich down as humanly fast as possible; it would be so embarrassing if my friends saw the offending matter!

Then at night after my parents lazily climbed into bed, my sister and I would creep downstairs like little black cats into the kitchen pantry and pull out our beloved secret stashes of M&Ms, Cheese Whiz on Ritz Crackers and Shrimp Cup o' Noodles.
I was such a horrible child. Who does that?

As an adult, who basically makes comfort food all the time for a living, and has learned the significance of mass appeal, I laugh inside. My Filipina-Chinese mother makes the best homey delicious food of all time, and I know that now! I look forward to her cooking like Pork Adobo, thick with soft onions, fragrant ginger, coconut vinegar, cloves, bay leaf and a whaft of cinnamon stick (no one knows this so I just spilled the "beans"), and dishes like her Chicken Curry with creamy potatoes, basil, lime juice and the ever present fish sauce, all served on a mountain of steamed Jasmine rice. This is our food.

Today, Chef Tony, told me he made Chicken and Dumplings for some clients, brimming with chunks of tender chicken, herbed gravy, and root vegetables. He said, "I saw it on 'Diner, Drive-ins and Dives!'" See what I mean? Warm, pillowy and cozy, I'm practically drooling just thinking about it. Every restaurant on Guy Fieri's show is based on their personal interpretation of comfort food no matter who they are or what country they're from.

We make a lot of dishes like such--chicken pot pie, braised beef and mushroom burgundy, chunks of cornbread lathered with honey butter, and they involve some serious eye-closing savoring moments. What's ironic is that Comfort Food is the simplest and honest food a person can make, yet the most craved.  No matter how fancy, trendy, modern or innovative we can be with our offerings, no one will ever get tired of Comfort Food.  I bet my gravy on that!

(Afternote: There are so many recipes out there valiantly trying to re-make your favorite childhood foods into low-fat, dairy-free or wheat-free. It will never taste the same as you remember. I would honesty just make something else that's sauteed, poached, roasted or steamed. Replace butter with a little olive-oil or grapeseed oil, and use the freshness of herbs, greens and vegetables to shine through. Just call it your "New Food" and save the "Comfort Food" as a treat for here and there.)


Always be Thankful for your Dishwashers

It's Sunday: clean-up day! And, it's my least favorite day to work. Sometimes we get it off, most often not. My husband and I start off our day with a big hearty breakfast, heavy on protein and carbs. This morning we had hash browns, pan-seared lamb sirloin with garlic and rosemary, over-easy eggs for him and pan-fried rockfish glistening with fresh lemon, sauteed mustard greens and sprigs of cilantro for me. We don't normally eat such heavy fare for breakfast, but I had to use them up before the proteins went bad! I snarfed down a crispy Braeburn apple, so I didn't feel so guilty. And, after watching some trashy television, swilling down a few mugs of coffee, off to work we go.

Not one, two but three of our vans are usually full of dirty dishes after a busy Saturday and loaded to the brim for our dishwasher's hard-working hands. Some people think catering is exciting, some think it's easy, but not really. Off-site catering (what we specialize in) is an immense amount of physical labor from days of prep in the kitchen to our caterers hauling vans of equipment to location and then back again. The glue that holds it all together (besides me barking at them of course) are the dishwashers who clean, load, fold laundry, sweep, mop, wipe, scrub, chop, and the list goes on. Catering is not for the faint of heart.
I get irritated with TV shows that promote culinary positions like it's some sort of glamorous career. It's physically exhausting, stressful and packed with long days standing on your feet, sweating. Some chefs I know have feet issues, cracked dry hands, tempers, weight issues, knife scars, burn marks and are severly over-worked. Oh dear, this is starting to sound scary! But of course, most chefs and bakers I know do it for the deep love, drive and passion of their trade. I really mean it!
Today is Joey's birthday one of our newer dishwashers--so of course, we bought him a case of the nasty yet addictive Rockstar beverage, his one "true love." I'm not sure what the correlation between kitchen staff and caffeine loaded beverages are, but it happens. I'm baking Joey some lava fudge filled chocolate-raspberry cupcakes, which I'm sure will be a big hit.
After I wander around the kitchen aimlessly today pretending to work and checking my email, and my husband enlists our main guy Damon his never-ending list of projects, we will enjoy a small part of Sunday over dinner. It's funny that food is what brings us all together, every single day of our lives.
I feel like we need a Roast Chicken Moment, so that's the menu for tonight with my one "true love," mashed potatoes with rich chicken jus gravy. I would probably choose mashed potatoes and gravy as my last meal on earth. Creamy, earthy, garlicky--as the Barefoot Contessa likes to say, "it doesn't get better than this!"

Restaurant Style Roasted Garlic Mashed Potatoes
Serves 4
2 Pounds Red Potatoes

Chop potatoes in medium dice with skin-on and place in heavy-bottom pot. Fill with cold water until just covered and add 2 tsp. kosher salt. I like the taste of the skins, but you can peel them if you desire. Bring to boil, stirring here and there and cook until the potatoes are extremely soft. Drain potatoes thoroughly and then put the pot back on the stove, cook for 2 minutes on very low heat until all the excess water is absorbed from bottom of pan.
Using your hand masher or ricer, mash the potatoes until they are super smooth and creamy.
Add in:
1/4 cup peeled garlic cloves roasted with 1/2 cup olive oil and sprig of thyme
(30 min in oven in small dish until soft and tender), drained and pureed until smooth. Save the garlic oil for making salad dressings, cooking steaks, brushing on bread, etc.
Pour in:
1 cup Heavy Cream heated until scalding with 6 tbs. Butter
Stir until absorbed and silky. Season to taste with fresh ground Pepper and Salt. For a little freshness add in 1 tbs. chopped chives or parsley.
If you are trying to be healthy or low-fat, don't bother even using this recipe and substituting items: it's not the same! I would recommend just enjoying some oven roasted potatoes instead.

Our very silly prep-cook, utility and do-it-all guy, Damon Kay
His shirt motto "It's funny how you think I'm listening!"


A White Wedding

We finished our last wedding of February today and it was definitely a White Wedding!  Everything is covered with wet heavy snow, and the winds are blowing so hard right now you can hear it whistling through our kitchen doors like a horror-house ghost.
Overall, the wedding was a successful and beautiful event with Filipina bridesmaids dressed in shiny turquoise and men in breezy ivory ruffled shirts. The guest tables sparkled with flowers and candles and a heavy whaft of our Thai and Asian fusion food filled the ballroom. Braised pork boneless ribs with fresh pineapple, red chilis and ginger so meltingly tender; longanisa sausage garlic fried rice; my mom's street style hoisin-lime bbq chicken--oh, yummy. The music was a little out-dated I must say, especially when I heard Celine Dion's "My Heart Will Go On" pounding through the room as we set up the deconstructed tiffany blue, sage green and white 4-tier style wedding cake (Vanilla Buttercream, Devil's Food and Vanilla Sourcream Cake).
Today what was funny is when we put the last lot of food into the van, I thought, "wow, that was easy!" But at the same time, "wow," that was boring!" I guess sometimes we get used to kitchen drama and constant, "situations," as I like to put it. For instance, this week we ran out of gas for the ovens right before a slew of events were due, and the same morning the fridge door popped open the night before and we lost a large amount of product and had to start from scratch, and lastly we had to pull off a 100 person event in less than 3 hours. Thankfully, our Head Chef, Tony, solved all the situations and everything was handled but there was a bit of panic and kitchen war-fare! Lesson of the day: don't ever under-estimate the power of an electric hot-plate and the wise kitchen tool of patience.
I'm ending my day with double dark chocolate-toasted walnut cookies, a glass of soy milk and tater-tots for dinner. I use 60% bittersweet chocolate jumbo chips, these cookies taste like a cross between a fudgy brownie and a cookie. They are so damn good! I make no apologies.

Chocolate Walnut Boulders


Cook's Day Off: To Eat or Not to Eat?

I have been reading way too many food magazines; they are making hungry for everything. This is getting really bad, because I start salivating over pictures and descriptions of food I see! When I have a day off (like today), the fridge and pantry receive much  investigating and debating on "what's for dinner!" I can't decide on a simple tomato and Italian sausage pasta or salmon with butter-parsley sauce or braised pork shoulder in red wine with dried cherries. I love cooking on my day's off; I must be crazy or something, but getting to cook without someone or something dictating what I have to prepare is simply the best!
Munching on a handful of unhealthy yet deliciously chewy Milk Duds, it's back to reading some more.

One hour late and looking out the window from my post on the very comfortable couch littered with foodie reading, I'm reminded again why I love Juneau, Alaska. On a clear, sunny day with the moutains stretching high and mighty and the clouds like marshmallow fluff there's no where else I would rather be cooking dinner.
Since, it's a cold and am a bit tired from the long week, I have decided it's pasta tonight.
My husband loves pasta, he could probably eat a pound himself, and it can be made in a quick "Rachel Ray" 30 minutes. I'm not sure why most people like to stew the death out of tomtato sauce; I enjoy a quick braise so you can tast the briny tomatoes and the sharp bite of herbs.
A few tips that make the best tomato sauce: use the Italian brand tomatos that are plum-shaped and chop them yourself because the flavor is so much better; stir in a lump of salted butter at the end of the pasta; and season with herbs in the beginning and finale of your sauce. A lot of people argue about keeping ingredients minimal in tomato sauce; I feel the vegetable's natural sweetness deeply enhances the flavor.

Tomato Fresca Sauce
Serves 2-4 depending on how hungry you are!

3 large cloves fresh garlic, chopped
1/2 of a sweet yellow onion, fine diced
1 small carrot, diced
1 rib of celery, diced
1 tsp. chopped fresh thyme
1 tsp. chopped fresh rosemary
1/2 tsp. red pepper flakes
salt and fresh ground pepper to taste
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil

Heat a medium heavy-bottom sauce pot with the olive oil to medium. Add in all the ingredients listed above and saute until the carrots and onions have begun to soften and turn golden. Season to taste gently with salt and pepper.
Pour in:
1 cup good red wine
Simmer for 5 minutes or until alchohol has evaporated
Stir in:
1 28 oz. can of Italian plum tomatoes in the their juice, finely chopped (or throw them in a food process and lightly puree)
1 tbs. brown sugar
1 bay leaf

Simmer for 20 minutes or until vegetables are soft and mellow.  Stir in 1/4 cup fresh chopped sweet basil and 2 tbs. salted butter. Remove the bay leaf and check seasonings, add additional salt, pepper, red pepper flakes if desired.

To serve with pasta: cook 1 pound of your favorite pasta until al dente in salted water, toss pasta and sauce together over low heat until pasta has absorbed the sauce and is well coated (1-2 minutes), you can also stir in a spoonful of the pasta cooking water if you want it extra saucy; garnish with fresh grated parmesan and an additional sprinkling of fresh basil.

Note: this sauce is excellent with grilled Italian Sausages, as a base for baked pasta dishes (i.e. lasagna, eggplant parmegiana, etc.), ravioli, on top of grilled chicken or vegetables, you get the jest of it!


Another Day Another Dollar

Wedding cake was a success, and I wasn't up all night with frosting smeared all over me. The best part of the whole experience was poking in the last rose bud today, and then handing it over to the eager twittering bridesmade.  And, I didn't trip in the piles of heavy snow on my way out to the clients car so that was a plus. Happy client, happy day.

We catered a final plated luncheon today at Centennial Hall for a large conference we've been slaving away on all week. Basically, I've learned that librarians like to drink a lot of orange juice and can put down gallons of homemade soup like no one's business. The plated luncheon was pretty low key, organized and not our usual hooplah. After all these plated events, I feel like we're really getting the hang of it and it's actually a fun, team-building and challenging experience!

I remember the first time we ever catered a plated dinner for 350 people (which in chef's numbers is like 1000 when you have never done one that large before), my heart was pounding so fast and my head had this buzzing sound reverberating around like an angry bee. "Oh, no what if we didn't make enough cognac sauce a for the shortribs nd oh, dear what if we run out of red pepper garnish?" keeps drumming through my brain. My husband, Tom, is yelling at the servers in the background to pay attention to their tables and tuck their shirts in, the dishwasher just ran out of soap, and oh, hell, we don't have enough plate covers to keep the food warm, so what do we do now? Everyone freezes. That's what a normal plated event is like.

I had an ephiphany when it came to my very late dinner last night: it is never too late for a toasted cheese sandwich. And, not the goopy yellow American cheese (which I used to like and have moved on to better things), but the real deal. I think the smell of butter browning and sputtering cheese is as good as wrapping yourself a warm towel fresh out of the dryer after a shower.
Number one rule: you have to have good bread, you must use salted butter and you must use really good melty cheese that has some personality.

The sandwich was made with a delicious spongy sourdough loaf with a crispy crust, Tillamook extra sharp white cheddar, mesquite smoked bacon, and the surprise--tart Granny Smith Apple. Biting into the sandwich and hearing that satifying crunch and then the rush of warm cheese melting into your mouth, you will be in love.

Midnight Toasted Cheese Sandwich
Serves 2

4 slices of sourdough bread, medium thin sliced (this is important, if it's too thick the cheese gets lost)
5 slices of extra sharp white cheddar
4 pieces of crisp cooked thick-cut Mesquite bacon
1 Granny smith apple, halved cored and thinly sliced
Fresh Coarse ground pepper
2 Tablespoons of softened salted butter

Smear butter on 1 side of each slice of bread, top with 2.5 slices of cheese, apple, then bacon. Sprinkle with a little ground black pepper. Press on the second buttered slice of bread and place both sandwiches into a preheated skillet on medium low. Put a lid on skillet and cook slowly until bread crisps to a deep golden brown, turning and doing the same on the second side, and inside is melted and goey.
Let rest 2 minutes, then cut in half and enjoy.
If you are one of those people who likes baked brie with apples, you will love this!


First Time Blogging!

Breakfast for 35, lunch for 150 and a reception for 130 guests that went out the door at 4:30 p.m., and our day hasn't ended.
I'm procrasting because I need to finish a wedding cake for tomorrow morning, a delicous concotion of warm spices, crunchy pecans, coconut studded carrot cake and lathered with cream cheese buttercream and vanilla colored fresh roses. Yes, people actually get married in the dead of blustery February.

Looking out the window the snow is falling fast, the radio has been broadcasting nonstop a storm warning of up to 10 inches tonight. Need to get going, but am savoring my dark chocolate cocoa with a chunk of cinnamon swirl sweetbread that our baker made today. She is getting way too good at her job!

Here's a recipe to try, so quick and easy you will never go for that pre-made junk again.

Deep Dark Hot Chocolate for a Snowy Night
Serves 2

2 cups whole milk
3 tbs. sweetened ground chocolate powder
*I use Ghirardelli
1/4 cup bittersweet chocolate, chopped
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
pinch of sea salt
pinch of ground ginger

Simmer in a saucepan until chocolate is melted and is simmering nicely.
For an extra kick pour in a shot of rum, I won't tell anyone!