Sunday, November 12, 2006

See here's a sample menu...

Southern (Cuisine) North Of Birmingham
For Yankees by Yankees


Charleston She-Crab Bisque

Southern Style Oyster Stew


Crab & Spinach Fondue
Roasted Pepper Croustades

Smoked Shrimp Cocktail
Chipotle Cocktail Sauce

Duck Confit, Sausage and Wild Mushroom Ragout
Marsala Sauce, Big Fat Asiago Crouton

Plate o' Meats
Housemade Country Style Terrine, Grilled Andouille
Bentons Country Ham, Pickled Vidalia Onion & Charred
Corn Relish

Fried Stuff
(Pick one for..., or all three for...)
Dill Pickle Chips-Whole Grain Mustard Remoulade
Fried Mac & Cheese-anointed with Truffle Oil
Creamy Cheddar Grits Bombs-Pickled Okra & Tomatoes


Traditional Caesar
Housemade Dressing, Big Fat Asiago Croutons,
Spanish Anchovies

Baby Spinach and Brie Salad
Strawberries, Hazelnuts, Pickled Red
Onions, Country Ham, Squeak Creek Farms Honey &
Sherry Vinaigrette

Iceberg Lettuce Salad
Ewes Milk Bleu Cheese, Spiced Pecans
Green Goddess Dressing


Brined and Grilled Pork Porterhouse
Fried Mac & Cheese, Beer Braised Collard Greens
& Country Ham, Red Eye Demi

Seared Duck Breast
Smoked Gouda Grits, Red Cabbage & Apples
Espresso & BBQ Demi

Pan Roasted Lamb Porterhouse
County Meadows Chevre and Potato Tart,
Spinach, Arugula & Charred Onions, Roasted
Garlic & Red Wine Sauce

Coca Cola Braised Short Rib of Beef
Baked Beans, Glazed Carrots, Horseradish
Infused Natural Jus

Pan Roasted Chicken Breast
Brined & Lightly Smoked, County Meadows Cheddar Grit Cake
Grilled Asparagus, Herbed Chicken Jus

"CarpetBagger" Grilled Hanging Tenderloin
Sliced and Topped with a Fried Oyster and Stilton, Buttery
Whipped Potatoes, Spinach, Red Wine & Stilton Sauce

Charleston Style Shrimp & Grits
Creamy Cheddar Stone Ground Grits
Head On Shrimp, Andouille, Mushrooms and
Charred Onions

Barbecue Glazed Grouper
Shrimp & Whole Grain Mustard Sauce
CornBread Pudding

Sauteed Crab & Shrimp Cake
Corn, Yukon Potato & Mushroom Ragout, Sweet Corn Cream

Grilled Espresso Rubbed Tuna
Scallion & Country Ham Potato Cake
Collard Greens, Pommery Sauce

Dessert Possibilities
(need to think about these some more)

Individual Coca Cola Cake
Cherry Infused Chocolate Sauce

Southern Style Bread Pudding
Bourbon & Vanilla Bean Creme Anglaise

Buttermilk Pie
Pecan Pie
Vinegar Bars
Sweet Potato Pie
Fried Fruit Pies
Bourbon Cheesecake

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Slack doughs, like Focaccia

Joy made a comment on my last post about having made Focaccia that was too dense & without any nice air bubbles. So here's what I know about actually making Focaccia and how to get it airy & light. Focaccia, and Ciabatta are made from dough that had a lot more water than typical loaf breads. They're about half a step beyond batter and very loose to work with so you have to get used to a different kneading technique for developing gluten...the stretchy stuff that holds the air released by yeast fermentation and water evaporation. The more water you put into a dough, the more potential for a nice airy interior with the big bubbles like you normally find in Focaccia, Ciabatta and other slack doughs. I was thinking about trying to talk about baker's percentages and hydration, but that's pretty boring and I'd end up confusing myself for sure and probably everyone else too. If you're interested in trying this, read all the directions before proceeding. My cooks have royally screwed up recipes by not reading all the way through.

My Focaccia recipe starts with a Poolish. Poolish is a pre-ferment that adds a little tanginess like a sourdough starter, but doesn't take weeks to make like sourdough starter. You can do all this recipe in one day, including the Poolish. Although if you think ahead and let your Poolish do its thing overnight and bake the next day you'll notice a stronger flavor and a better rise.


.25 teaspoon instant yeast
2.5 Cups Bread Flour
1.5 Cups Water

1. Combine all ingredients in a bowl and mix until all the flour is incorporated. It should look like really thick pancake batter. Cover and ignore for at least 4 hours until it looks bubbly and foamy. If you thought ahead and are going to bake then next day, put it in the refrigerator. By the way, this is called "retarding" the dough because it almost puts the yeast back to sleep. Just give it an hour at room temp. before proceeding with the recipe so it can wake up again.


1 Recipe Poolish
2.66 Cups Bread Flour
2 teaspoons Salt
1.5 teaspoons Instant Yeast
6 Tablespoons Extra Virgin Olive Oil
.75 Cup Water
.5 Cup Herb oil --Sorry I forgot to tell you to make this earlier. Just take an assortment of your pantry herbs (thyme, oregano, basil, parsley, dehydrated onion, pepper, chile flakes, whatever you like) and warm them up in the oil until it smells nice.

1. Stir together the dry ingredients in a mixing bowl. A kitchen-aid makes this a lot easier, but you can do it by hand in a bowl with a rubber spatula or wooden spoon.
2. Add the dry ingredients and mix until everything is combined. If you're using a mixer, put it on medium speed for 7 minutes. If you're doing it by hand, stir it vigorously, reversing direction periodically, for 5 minutes until its smooth and pulls away from the sides of the bowl. I usually end up adding more flour up to about and extra half cup to get the dough to the pulling away from the sides of the bowl stage. It will still stick to the bottom. You will think that its too loose and you'll never be able to work with it. Remember, the higher the percentage of water, the better hole structure you'll get in the finished product.
3. Sprinkle enough flour on your counter to make about an 8 inch square. Scrape the dough out onto this floured area and dust the top, and your hands, with more flour. Let it rest for 5 minutes.
4. Gently pick up each end of the dough and stretch it until its length is doubled and fold it back on itself "letter style" (according to Peter Reinhart, bread god). Spray it with spray oil, dust it and cover it with plastic wrap for 30 minutes. Repeat this stretch and fold technique 3 times, each time resting the dough for 30 minutes.
5. After the third stretch & fold, allow the dough to ferment for 1 hour. By this time, you should see it swelling and some bubbles forming in the dough.
6. Take a 12x17inch baking pan, preferably non-stick and drizzle herb oil all over it liberally.
7. Carefully lift the dough onto the pan and using your fingers to dimple the dough, spread it out gently until it mostly fills the pan. If you want to top it with something that is likely to burn like nuts or peppers or sundried tomatoes this is the time to put those kinds of things on and dimple them into the dough a little. Cover loosely with wrap and let it ferment in the pan for about 2 hours or until it fills the pan. You should definitely see nice big bubbles by now.
8. Heat the oven to 500. Less fragile stuff like some meats, moist cheeses etc can go on now. Drizzle liberally with more herb oil.
9. Put it in the oven and reduce the temp to 450. Bake for 10 minutes. If you want to put on hard cheeses or similar, now is the time. Bake for 5 minutes more. Take a look. It will probably need another few minutes, but don't let it go beyond golden brown to burnt.
10. Take it out & transfer it immediately to a wire rack to cool for at least 20 minutes before eating it. It's still cooking during this time.

This seemed like a lot of directions, but I actually simplified it in comparison to Reinharts recipe. It's a lot easier than it looks if you get everything you need together before you start. It's worked for me every time. You can actually use this recipe for Ciabatta, but that takes a little more effort in forming the final dough and you need a baking stone. If you like making bread, Peter Reinharts books are the best I've found and he's thoroughly researched bread of all kinds. The only problem with his books is that his bake times are off and I think he probably based everything on convection oven times...a luxury I don't have.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Making Focaccia with Claire

Today I made Focaccia with Claire and Nathan. Focaccia is nice because it can all be done in one day without having to ferment dough overnight. They both helped me while I was scaling out and mixing the dough. Didn't get any pictures from that part of the process; floury hands & camera are not such a good combo. While Nathan and Amy went to a movie, Claire held down the fort and supervised while I formed and panned up the dough for baking. I have pictures of Claire in her supervisory/entertainer capacity, the raw dimpled and dressed dough right before it went into the oven, and the finished focaccia. I put Pine Nuts, homemade (in someone else's home) Peperoni, and Mozzarella on it and it came out pretty well. Lots of big bubbles that Amy likes.

And then we ate it. Cooking with the kids is interesting. Nathan likes to help measure, crack eggs, mix and taste. Claire likes to play with the ingredients and spread them around the house. Nathan insisted on tasting the dough straight out of the mixer even though I told him it wouldn't taste as good as the brownie batter and cookie dough that he's used to. I asked him how it was and he said "delicious" so I offered him the bowl to clean out but he wasn't very enthusiastic and lost interest a lot sooner than usual with the brownie batter. We had fun anyway and everybody seemed to like the end product.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

3 variables that affect a restaurants busy-ness.

1. Sending people home because it's 6:30 and it's dead.
2. Ordering food from another restaurant because you're bored with what you have there.
3. Firing up the MP3 player and trying to enjoy a quiet evening on the clock.

Each of these variables, when exercised, can bring on a rush of tickets that can sometimes last all night. Especially if one is underprepared. That's another thing; it is a time-tested fact that whatever item is short, got burned, or otherwise in danger of running out, is the one that everyone in the dining room is going to order. Good times!

Only two of those variables happened tonight so those of us that were left in the kitchen only got our asses moderately kicked. Although I was a little more reserved in my sending people home than my front of the house counterpart, Mary the extraordinary pain in the neck. So we got through the evening less painfully than waitstaff who were firmly in the weeds. Anyway, it's a lot more fun for me to have to run around and do lots of stuff at once. Gets the adrenaline and endorphins pumping.

This reminds me, one of the guys burned me a copy of Waiting. I've heard great things from the waitstaff and not so great things from the cooks. Any strong opinions? Maybe I'll watch it tomorrow.

All the Fish in the Sea...

...are now going to be gone by 2048?! Or at least any viable & flourishing species. Yeah, that's what some marine biologists are saying we have accomplished by our voracious over-fishing. Now I don't feel quite so good about my new menu with all that seafood on it. I could stop serving fish today and it would make absolutely no difference though, besides getting me fired! At times like this I feel like we're just locusts who are eventually going to eat, mine, pollute and drive our way right into extinction. Not exactly a great point of view for someone who makes his living cooking for lots of hungry locusts.

New Menu

This the dinner entree page of the new menu I put in 2 days ago at my restaurant. Well received so far, although people are tending to go for the cheap stuff as usual.
Grilled Hanger Steak 19
Gorgonzola Potato Tart, Sauteed Spinach
& Arugula, House Steak Sauce, Tobacco Onions

Grilled 14 oz. New York Strip 25
Buttery Whipped Potatoes,
Fried Oyster Mushroom, Spinach, Red Wine Demi

Grilled Pork Loin 20
Smoked Gouda Grits, Braised Red Cabbage &
Caramelized Onions, Espresso BBQ Demi

Braised Veal in the style of Osso Buco 19
Forest Mushroom filled Potato "Bone", Ragout of Olives,
Oven Dried Tomatoes and Green Beans

Sauteed Chicken "Saltimbocca" 19
Polenta & Goat Cheese Cake, Asparagus
Preserved Lemon Sauce, Sage Gremolata, Prosciutto Lardons

Pan Roasted Duck Breast 20
Caraway Potato Cake, Sauerkraut of Red Cabbage,
Cider Mustard Glaze

Maple Brined Seared Atlantic Salmon 19
Rosti Potatoes, Malone Salad,
Warm Bacon Vinaigrette

Olive Crusted Halibut 20
Herb Roasted Potatoes, Spinach & Tomato
Fondue, Warm Tomato-Saffron Vinaigrette

Seafood Linguine 17
a Saute of the Oceans bounty in a
Madeira-Herb Cream

San Francisco Style Cioppino 16
Shrimp, Scallops, Salmon, Halibut & Crab stewed
in a Vodka-Tomato Broth, Roasted Pepper Croustades

Grilled Eggplant "Steak" 15
County Meadows Feta, Goat Cheese
Polenta, Grilled Asparagus, Marinara, & a Buttery Ragout of Fall Mushrooms

Linguine Primavera 14
a Ragout of Fall Vegetables & Forest Mushrooms,
Oven Roasted Tomatoes and Herbs