Sunday, August 30, 2009
After a long break, I'm back to blogging - this time about the thriving food scene in the Southern Oregon's Rogue Valley!
Check out my latest post on Rogue Creamery! Just click-on-over to my new blog at http://www.thewaywardchef.com/
And don't forget to update your rss feed to http://blog.thewaywardchef.com!
It's a work-in-progress, so bare with me while I work my way through learning WordPress...
~The Wayward Chef
There are a lot of adjustments and sacrifices a food “enthusiast” makes when bidding adieu to life in the big city. When I said goodbye to New York to jump on a yacht sailing down to the Caribbean, I also said goodbye to my favorite butcher, fishmonger, ethnic markets, gourmet stores and most difficult of all, the cheese counter at Murray’s Cheese in Greenwich Village. Granted, I traded those places for white sandy beaches, and bartering with Rasta’s over the price of breadfruit and mangoes, so who am I to complain? But, even in a tropical paradise, I pined for a good butcher and a respectable cheese counter.
So here I am, once again, “officially” bidding farewell to one world and jumping into another. I’ve turned down several offers aboard yachts, instead opting for life on land in a quiet, little community in Southern Oregon’s Rogue Valley. As I’ve made my home here over the past few months, there are adjustments and sacrifices too. No white sand beaches, I have yet to find a good butcher, and I have lamented for months the lack of a “real” cheese counter here as I’ve pawed through the pre-cut, shrink-wrapped wedges of pepper jack, brie and blue in the cheese section of my local food co-op. I've missed the experience of smelling, sampling and ordering – and that warm, fuzzy feeling knowing that each wedge was being cut fresh from a big wheel, just for me. But today, my luck changed. As I lamented the sorry state of those poor, cryogenically sealed delicacies a message comes across my iPhone, “Rogue Creamery has Burrata and fresh buffalo mozzerella!” Fresh Burrata? Reason enough play hooky from work and drive out to the creamery in Central Point. I’ve been meaning to check that place out…
I thought I was taking another step in my new world, in my new life, as I pushed through the doors of Rogue Creamery, but instead it was just like a taste of my old life again. There, behind a gorgeous cheese counter, with his cheese shirt and baseball cap, glasses pushed up on his nose, and a big, cheese-loving smile spread across his face, was my old friend, Tom Van Voorhees, the leading, ACS award winning cheesemonger in the US (and formerly of the aforementioned Murray’s Cheese, Fairway, and Tuller Premium Food). A basket of heirloom tomatoes and a sampling of Burrata, that amazing cream-filled Italian mozzerella, sat on a small tasting table in front of the cheese case. I’ve had Burrata before, but couldn’t help but sample it again. It was so fresh tasting, I asked Tom if it had just been flown in from Italy. “Nope, it’s handmade in Southern California by Gioia Cheese Company” What? No way, Burrata this good cannot be from the United States. I didn’t believe him. “It is”, Tom said, “and half its shelf life isn’t gone by the time we receive it here, like it would be with Burrata from Italy”. Oh my god, my prayers have been answered. Who needs New York City when you have Rogue Creamery?
I perused the cheese selection and am happy to report that not only does Rogue Creamery carry it’s full line of award winning blue cheeses, curds, and fresh-churned butter, but they also have probably one of the finest selections of American made, artisan cheeses I’ve ever seen (and tasted) – this side of the Mississippi. Edelweiss Emanthaler raw milk aged swiss and Pleasant Ridge Reserve, both from Wisconsin. Pholia Farms raw farmstead goat cheese from Rogue River; Cyrpus Grove; Tumalo Farms from Bend; “Up In Smoke” chevre from River’s Edge on the Oregon Coast. And, a few essential European cheeses, for good measure. “Yeah, we pretty much don’t carry any boring, mass-produced cheese” Tom told me, in his usual matter-of-fact manner, as he handed me a golden, crystal-flecked shard of a 4-year aged Gouda.
So, I traded my cheesemonger in New York for the Rasta’s in the Caribbean. But now, my little piece of New York is here. Perhaps my sacrifice is trading back the Rasta’s in the Caribbean for my cheesemonger. That’s a faire enough trade-off to me. And heaven knows - if I really need a dose of
trustafarians Rastafarians, all I have to do is go for a walk through downtown Ashland. In the meantime, I’ll be sampling my way through Rogue Creamery and weighing whether the sacrifice is worth it…
311 North Front Street
Central Point, Or 97502
Cheese shop hours:
M-F 9am to 5pm
Sat 9am to 6pm
Sun 11am to 5pm
Thursday, July 30, 2009
When people think of clay pot cooking, most often, they think of grandma’s ceramic casserole or crock-pot. But for those in the know, clay pot cooking invokes impassioned responses and cult-like zeal. “I found my first clay pot, a French triperie, [for cooking tripe], at a shop in New York City years ago. I didn’t even know what tripe was!” exclaimed iconic food writer, Paula Wolfert. The Sonoma, California resident and self-proclaimed clay pot “junkie” has been collecting clay pots from her travels around the world for over fifty years. “It’s a personal sickness” she confessed, “I have hundreds of clay pots”.
The history of clay pot cooking runs as rich and deep as civilization itself, from ancient times to present day and from Indonesia to Egypt. Even the United States has its own history with earthenware. ‘Boston’ Baked Beans, originally a native American dish, were cooked in earthen bean pots. Traditional micacious pots of the American Southwest Indians have a cult status all their own. But clay pot cooking is getting a renewed look as of late as chefs such as Deborah Madison and Richard Olney extol the virtues of these earthen wonders in their cookbooks. Steve Sando, founder of Rancho Gordo Heirloom Beans in Napa, readily admits to his obsession. He’ll use any one of his eighty-plus bean pots on a daily basis. Tom Wirt, of Clay Coyote, recently launched a line of clay cookware and believes that as people make more conscious food choices, they’ll want cookware with a conscience too. On a recent walk through Sonoma, Paula Wolfert quipped “of all the gin joints, in all the towns, in all the world…” upon stumbling upon the new store, Bram. Bram, the Egyptian word for a clay pot, is dedicated entirely to clay pot cookware from around the world. The timing and location couldn’t be more auspicious as Wolfert’s latest cookbook, Mediterranean Clay Pot Cooking, (Wiley, 2009), is due out this fall.
What fuels such an emphatic following? Enthusiasts claim that clay pots lend a taste of the earth to whatever is cooked in them; a “fingerprint” of the clay, Wolfert calls it. La Chamba, the jet-black earthenware from Columbia, is smoked in rice husks, imparting a smoky flavor into the pot’s contents. Mineral qualities are said to infuse into the dishes cooked in the clay pots from Egypt, Morocco and Mexico. Micacious clay pots are said to lend a “sweet” or “balanced” quality to whatever is cooked in them. As well, clay distributes heat evenly and then holds its temperature making it ideal for cooking low, and slow, and developing flavor; whereas, cast-iron or steel pots continue to heat up unless they’re moved away from their heat source. Enthusiasts often describe feeling an almost ‘primal connection’ to their food when they cook with clay. Although Wolfert is quick to dismiss the notion that clay pot cooking is anything more than a niche market for an impassioned group of cooks, some might beg to differ…
Tuesday, July 21, 2009
I admit, I'm a slacker blogger! But, if you're really jonesing for me - you can read my latest article from The Crew Report on the Top 10 Kitchen Gadgets every chef needs! It's posted over at my new blog (which is still mid-rebuild)...
Tuesday, June 09, 2009
Since leaving the yachting world, I feel that my blog has been left adrift, without the wind to guide it. I just can’t write about what I cook and eat on a daily basis. Without the element of adventure, I'm feeling a bit lost. It’s not that I don’t have great fun in my kitchen - on the contrary - but there are a million blogs out there talking about what so-and-so has cooked up in their kitchen today… In yachting, everyday brought something different – like a massive storm, or the arrival of a famous guest just when all of my galley equipment decided to stop working, or the chance to shop in some crazy, local market. Some days were scary, some were frustrating, and many were insanely fun! But, I’ve grown accustomed to sleeping in my own bed at night, and not having nine roommates, and I don’t plan on returning to the yachting world again anytime soon. So, time to look for a new adventure, wouldn’t ya’ say?
I’ve been a complete recluse for the past four months writing a proposal and converting my Caribbean adventures into a book. The proposal writing process is a project in and of itself! It’s coming along – and I have a very persistent editor needling me and making sure that I don’t sit on it for yet another year and a half. But, it’s time to earn an income again and seek out some new inspiration! Some chefs find inspiration in manipulating food with machinery and chemicals, alla Grant Achatz or Hester Blumenthal; creating bubble gum flavored smoke, or peanut butter and jelly flavored spheres of indefinable ooze. That’s cool, but it’s never been what gets me excited when I’m playing in the kitchen. I draw a lot of inspiration from my environment - cooking on a yacht, perusing foreign markets, building a kitchen in a warehouse, or out in a vineyard, or even on a safari (which always sounded like grand fun to me and which I haven’t done – yet). I like the factor of unpredictability. It keeps me on my toes.
So where to next? That is the question…
Tuesday, May 19, 2009
My Bottarga arrived! With the patience of a five-year-old on Christmas morning, I ripped the package right open. There, before me, was a gorgeous, soft, amber cake of salted, pressed mullet roe. It smelled divine, like the ocean: briny, slightly fishy, reminding me of salted anchovies. Never having eaten Bottarga before, this was not to be just another average day - this was an occasion!
In Sardinian cooking Bottarga is traditionally cooked in, or grated on top of, pasta. In Lebanon the Bottarga is sliced thin, drizzled with olive oil, garnished with a slice of garlic, and then eaten with soft triangles of pita bread. But, I decided to go with the Sardinian preparation – with fresh made pasta, of course.
I rolled, cut, and cooked about a half-pound of fresh linguine, minced a few cloves of garlic, a handful of parsley, and finely diced about two tablespoons of the Bottarga. Then, I poured a generous amount of good quality olive oil into my pan, added the garlic and about a half teaspoon of red pepper flakes and let that cook to infuse the oil. Once the aroma of garlic filled the kitchen, I added in the Bottarga and let it sizzle just long enough to release its flavor. My salivary glands were just beginning to get happy in anticipation. I added the cooked linguini and enough of the pasta cooking water to marry with the infused olive oil, tossing it well to create a light sauce. With its subtle, briny, oceany, and stinky funk, fresh grated Pecorino seemed like a winning choice to compliment the Bottarga.
Now, don't think me greedy. Although I could've been quite content keeping this little treasure to myself, I did invite a few girlfriends over for lunch...
Finally sitting to eat, I twisted the long tendrils of linguini around my fork, making sure each ribbon of pasta was sufficiently speckled with Bottarga. I took my first bite. Heaven. The Bottarga was much more subtle than I had imagined. It lent the perfect hint of briny-saltiness to the pasta, and melted in my mouth.
Lingering over the platter of pasta, working our way through a few bottles of vin gris, chatting about life, and gardening, and food, it was a perfect meal and a perfect day. Oh, and for dessert, we did what I would assume any proper Italian would. We tore apart big, crusty pieces of peasant bread and dragged them through the salty, Bottarga and garlic infused oil from the bottom of the pot and ate that too.
Mmmm, if life were only this sweet every day (I'd never fit into my pants again)...
Wednesday, May 06, 2009
Every year, for the past 5 years, I've gotten this asinine idea in my head that I’m going to fast. How healthy of me, right? Last year, I tried fasting at a special “cleansing” resort in Thailand. Even surrounded by dozens of other fasters, I broke down after three days and gave into my desire for solid food. Why, I asked myself, would I come all the way to Thailand and not eat? Good question. And why, again, when I am in a beautiful location with a bounty of incredible produce and ingredients at my fingertips would I willingly choose to abstain from eating? I honestly don’t know. My nutritionist tells me that my hunger is a monster that I need to let die. But, I want food! Asking a chef not to eat is like a asking a racecar driver to slow down on the racetrack. Not possible.
I’ve tried distracting myself from thoughts of food. I fertilized and cultivated the patch in the backyard where my vegetable garden will soon be. But, vegetables = food. I go on walks: past my favorite coffee shop, past my favorite restaurant. I read books - about food. Even the Internet is not safe! Last night, I’d punched in my credit card number and clicked “purchase” before I even realized what I was doing. And now, as I slurp my way through veggie broths and green juices, easing myself back into the world of solid food, I eagerly await a shipment of Sardinian Bottarga di Muggine. I think I’m going to put this whole fasting notion to rest, once and for all. I sense a plate of Spaghetti alla Bottarga in my future…