Porcine Party – Cochon 555 returns to Seattle

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Imagine a party. With a decadent and debaucherous vibe. A lively hum of conversation. All sorts of interesting people. Plenty of food and booze to revel with. And amongst the food, a focus on pork. And the people cooking are some of the best in the biz. The pigs they’re using to cook with are prized for unique fat and flavor. The booze has a local slant of buzzy wineries and distilleries that are so hot right now. Have that picture in your mind? Good. Because it’s real. And it is awesome. Cochon 555 makes its return to Seattle after a hiatus in 2012. The food lovers of Seattle couldn’t be happier.

We last touched on Cochon 555 in 2011. At that Cochon, the focus had the ‘555’ format; five chefs, five types of pork, and five wineries. I remember Ethan Stowell’s pork zeppole, Holly Smith’s maltagliatti, and John Sundstrom’s pork belly. And strips of bacon stuffed into Mason jars dotting every table as a snack. There were epic lines to each of the chef’s table. It was like Disneyland, but instead of waiting for Space Mountain, you waited for the swoon of pork fat. It was awesome and the Prince of Porc in 2011 was Chef John Sundstrom. And I couldn’t wait to the next Cochon 555.

Alas, it wasn’t to be as Cochon didn’t swing through Seattle in 2012. But the porky people at Cochon are returning to Seattle this weekend and they’re turning up the volume. They are referring to this year’s event as the 5th Anniversary Tour (pdf). This time there will be even more chefs featured; instead of the five of years past, there are no eight that’ll do their thing. They are:

A highlight of Cochon 555’s is to see what the chefs will do with their pigs. Be assured that each dish is unique from one another and taking it further; because of the various breeds of pigs, the flavor and texture will be different from one to the next. To get a gauge of the types of pork you’ll taste, check out what each chef is making and be mindful of the fat levels and richness from each one. Some pork will have a real milky fat, while others are very full and rich. God, I love pork.

Here is the breakdown of the event; it’s this Sunday, March 17th, with VIP starting at 4pm, and general admission at 5pm. The host for this pork gitdown is the Cedarbrook Lodge in South Seattle near Sea-Tac Airport. This page will give you all of the information you’ll need. And if pork isn’t your thing (impossible), there are a bunch of other things going on: butcher demo, bourbon tasting, mezcal tasting, a ton of wine, lots of beer, and so much more fun to celebrate with pork. In fact, if I was a playwright, I’d write a sequel to Die Fledermaus where pork is the source of all the fun.

Look forward to seeing you around the table, I’ll be the guy stuffing my face with crispy skin, pork fat, and trotters. Oh yeah.

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The 2013 Piglet: Food 52’s cookbook tournament of champions

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Cookbook nerds. We are everywhere. We frequent bookstores that only carry cookbooks. We think we have enough cookbooks. But we never have enough. We sometimes forget which ones we have and find ourselves doubling up on copies. And we love them. We love our cookbooks. Their stained pages. The stories they can tell. And like sports fans have March Madness, we have our tournament; The Piglet. There is even a bracket (PDF). From the fine folks at Food 52, this is their fourth annual cookbook tournament and it launches later this week. I heart the Piglet. You should too.

I wrote about the Piglet last year and touched on why I loved this series. The varying ‘judges’ that weigh in on the winners. The books that were the ‘competitors.’ Last year was particularly entertaining because of the championship round. On one side was the book of decadent indulgence from the Joe Beef crew from Montreal. On the other side, was the mad scientist baked goods book Momofuku Milk Bar. And it was judged by Alice Waters. Alice Waters. The chef that raised the bar for thoughtful, seasonal, and considered California cookery. The chef whose highbrow nature didn’t exactly jive with the debauchery of Joe Beef or the addled sweet tooth of Momofuku Milk Bar. The chef whose recap of the championship was dripping with disdain for the two books. Can there be a reluctant champion? Because that is the crown that Alice Waters bestowed Joe Beef.

As with any new year, things start anew and we are onto the next Piglet. Of the 16 books in this tournament, I have five of them. Of the judges, I’m only familiar with a handful of them. Which is a big reason why the Piglet showdown is entertaining. Different voices, different books. While I couldn’t fathom the bile Alice Waters had for last year’s finalists, at least she stayed on brand. And I’m curious to see how the judges insert themselves this year.

I’ll be sure to follow the tournament along. In fact, I’m betting on Canal House Cooks Everyday by Melissa Hamilton and Christopher Hirsheimer. It was one of my favorite books of the holiday season. We’ve been fans of the Canal House and their thematic food volumes for a few years. We were fortunate to have conversations with Melissa and Christopher on their recent visit to Seattle, where we got to hear their stories and how much fun they had with compiling all of their Canal House lunches. Which is the emphasis of Canal House Cooks Everyday. I particularly enjoyed the weather reports sidelining the recipes. Their writing has a way of welcoming us into their world. And now with the Piglet, cookbook nerds have the chance to feel a little closer to a bunch of new cookbooks, their recipes, and the chefs behind them.

Wine tasting with Stephen Tanzer – 2012 edition

I’ve had the good fortune of attending the annual wine tasting with the wine reviewer, Stephen Tanzer (of International Wine Cellar and Winophilia). This is the fifth year running where David Hamilton organizes the event, curates the wine with Steve, and invites us wine nerds to a decadent and entertaining night of drinking the best that our region offers. Every year, I have an idea of what to expect, and every year, I come away with something unexpected. The 2012 edition was no different.

What was once a small intimate gathering of like-minded wine drinkers has now opened up to include winemakers and a few more guests. Thankfully, it’s as intimate as a whisper, but as fun as a party. The attendance of winemakers over the years has made for an interesting dynamic; on one hand, you get insight into the style of wine and how they arrive at their bottle destination. On the other hand, there can be some awkwardness when their wine is voted on by those in the room as the most and least favorite. Even in ultra-polite Seattle, sometimes a local winemaker gets some tough love. But what’s great about having the winemakers attend is that you can speak to them as fellow wine drinkers, chat about what excites them, and hear inside information you wouldn’t get from visiting their tasting rooms or reading about their wines. We were fortunate to sit with Sean Boyd of Woodinville Wine Cellars and had a blast while talking about wine, eating good food from the Tom Douglas Restaurant team at the Palace Ballroom, and soaking in the conversation in the room that typifies this annual event. Continue reading

Food 52’s 2012 Piglet

Photo courtesy of food 52

We’re through the first week of the Piglet – Tournament of Cookbooks; Food52’s annual cookbook battle royale. For cookbook nerds like yours truly, the Piglet is great fun. It’s a tournament where the folks at the food community website Food52 take 16 cookbooks published over the last year, pit them against one another bracket-style and have the books judged by various food-loving celebrities. It could be someone like Mario Batali or Nora Ephron weighing in on a winner. Like anything involving a bracket and a chance to place your bets to a winner, The Piglet is a fun read into the biggest, baddest, and boldest cookbook in the land.

This is the third year of the Piglet. The first year’s winner was Seven Fires by Francis Mallman with Peter Kaminsky. I have this book and yes, it is awesome. I particularly like the recipe for cooking an entire cow. But my personal favorite that year was David Chang and Peter Meehan’s Momofuku. Year Two’s winner was Good to the Grain by Kim Boyce with Amy Scattergood. We’re now into the 2012 edition and I’m looking forward to seeing how this Piglet shakes down.

If the first two days of this Piglet is any indication, we’re in for a fun ride. Day One had the domestic goddess Nigella Lawson seducing us with her words. Day two had the delightful Celia Sack of San Francisco’s Omnivore Books weighing in. The third review by James and Caitlin Freemand of SF’s Blue Bottle Coffee, didn’t quite have the lushness of Lawson’s review or the perspective of Sack’s review. Conversely, the Freeman’s felt a bit stilted in my mind, and I couldn’t identify with their viewpoint. Reading these editorials often provides as much perspective about the cookbooks as the critics.

Which is one of the fun things about the Piglet. Because they have reviewers from various disciplines and industries; there will be unique and divergent opinions on cookbooks. Some might love the photographs, some might enjoy the clarity and detail in the recipes. One of my favorite reviews was from the 2010 Piglet when Grant Achatz’ review pitted Canal House Cooking Vol. 1 vs Real Cajun. What I enjoyed about the review was that Chef Achatz’ critiqued two books, each with recipes and styles radically different from his restaurants. His voice made for a great read. I loved it.

There are a few more weeks left in the Piglet, a bunch more reviews, and plenty of opportunities for some upsets. Like the glory of March Madness, we should be in for some surprises. Until then, visit Food52’s Piglet and stock up on those cookbooks. I’m at 336 and I’m getting a bit of an itch to go shopping.

How to make what I made at Will Bake for Food

Another great Will Bake for Food is in the books. With a donation total of over $2500 and a wagon full of donated goods, the two Jennys have created another fun community undertaking. From the army of food bloggers that showcased their wares to the throngs of giddy customers, we had a great time and enjoyed being involved with it. Thankfully, all of the festivities were to benefit the noble efforts of the Emergency Feeding Program of Seattle and King Country. And here is how to make the baked goods I brought to the hoedown.

  • Frank’s Granola

I’ve already shared my recipe on how to make my version of granola, so please visit the post. The key takeaway; granola is easy to make and your imagination can create any combination that you like. Feel free to add nuts, dried fruit, candy, or anything else to your mix. The important part is knowing the ratios and not adding too much bulk that it won’t brown. And keep an eye on the granola after 60 minutes; this is the moment where it’ll start turning golden brown, feel free to stir to distribute the granola.

  • Brown Butter Nordy Bars

Growing up in Seattle, shopping at Nordstrom is a rite of passage. As a kid, the opportunity of having a Nordy Bar from the Nordstrom Cafe was a highlight of these trips. It was a perfectly dense, slightly rich, and delicious sweet treat. A hybrid between a blondie and a cookie, this was one of my favorite things about Nordstrom visits.

A recent twitter chat with some friends brought the Nordy Bar back into my mindshare. Naturally, it was to be made for Will Bake for Food. I did a bit of research and landed on this recipe that seemed close. Wanting to elevate it a bit, I thought of browning the butter to add that distinct nuttiness that brown butter gives.

The Brown Butter Nordy Bars were excellent. But they weren’t exactly a Nordy Bar as I remember it. I think I’ll spend some time researching the Nordy Bar and tweaking the recipe to see if I can create that perfect snack that I had growing up. And maybe start a grassroots campaign to have Nordstrom bring it back. Stay tuned.

  • Compost Cookies

These cookies have been written ad nauseum on the blogosphere and I wanted to include my take on these delicious cookies for Will Bake for Food. Made famous by New York’s Momofuku Milk Bar, the chief baker, Christina Tosi used the notion of clearing out your pantry of various sweets and savory snacks to use in a cookie. It is awesome.

I’ve had the benefit of having the original cookie at the Upper East Side Milk Bar and through their online ordering system. But the recipe for making them at home hasn’t been crystal clear. Before the recipe was released in the Momofuku Milk Bar cookbook, plenty of bloggers offered their take on how to make it. Some were close, but weren’t quite there. Then, the Amateur Gourmet found the recipe on the Live! With Regis and Kelly website, which is oddly random in its own right. So the recipe was available for all. Still, they weren’t quite right; they were close, but they weren’t the perfect compost cookie. I made a few different batches after reading the comments in the Amateur Gourmet posts and noticed that others shared my issue; the cookies ran, the ratios were a bit off, etc.

Then the Momofuku Milk Bar cookbook came out this fall. Bakers rejoiced. I was able to see Christina Tosi recently at Seattle’s Book Larder to talk about the book and her history at Milk Bar. One of the chief takeaways that I had was her use of glucose in baked goods. This bit of food science was something she picked up from kitchen experience and cooking school and something I’ve never considered in baking (she’s a pro for a reason, folks). Glucose is an invert sugar syrup that aids in keeping the cookie crisper longer and add body and texture. I wouldn’t have known this without hearing Chef Tosi talk about her baking techniques. I now think I’ll work glucose into more of my baking.

Without further ado, here is how to make the version of Compost Cookies that I made for Will Bake For Food:

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Will Bake for Food this weekend

The 2nd Annual Will Bake for Food is this weekend. After having a great (and successful) time last year, the two Jennys, along with their food blogging friends, are back at it again to support the Emergency Feeding Program of Seattle and King County. Put on by the Jennys (Jenny Miller of Rainy Day Gal and Jenny Richards of Purple House Dirt), Will Bake for Food is an epic bake sale featuring a platoon of talented local food bloggers. It goes from 11am-2pm on Saturday, November 12 at the University Heights Center in the U-District neighborhood.

I’ll be helping out again and look forward to this year’s event. I have an idea of what to make and it should be tasty. Last year, I made Meyer Lemon Cookies from a recipe that my mom wanted to keep a secret. Until I posted it to the internet. Good food should be shared!

Be sure to join myself, the Jennys, and our blogging friends as we do our part to benefit the Emergency Feeding Program. Please bring non-perishable goods or monetary donations. And bring an appetite, I have a feeling my food-writing brethren will step up their game.

Washington Wine Tasting with Stephen Tanzer

This post first appeared on Seattlest.

Over the last few summers a wine event in Seattle has flown so far under the radar most wine fans don’t know it happens. And just a few weeks ago, it occurred yet again. Stephen Tanzer is one of the more renowned wine reviewers in the world. His International Wine Cellar newsletter (and Winophilia blog) is required reading for winos. In my opinion, he’s part of the big three with Jancis Robinson and Robert Parker. And he’s part of this wine event that happens the past few summers.

I’ve been fortunate to attend these wine tastings. The first was in 2008 at Art of the Table. The theme that year was the five best Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon, in Tanzer’s estimation, that Washington can produce. It was a great event which opened my eyes to the capability of our state’s wines. An added benefit was the opportunity to learn from Tanzer, which has been a bonus to every year’s tasting. In 2009, the event was moved to Tom Douglas’ Palace Ballroom. The theme followed suit, but Tanzer added the wrinkle of one of his favorite Syrahs and Cabs from other parts of the world as points of comparison. 2010 focused all Syrah, showcasing the very best that Washington can produce with this Rhone varietal. In attendance were some of the winemakers whose bottles were being poured that evening. A great night to be a wine nerd.

The theme for the 2011 tasting? To shine the light on 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon and Cab blends from Washington. That particular vintage was highlighted because of the class that it showed and also to have some wine with a touch more bottle age. Why Cabernet? To see what this noble grape can do in the vineyards of our state and in the hands of area winemakers. Speaking of those winemakers, they were again in attendance. Always interesting to see the give and take of what Steve tasted, what the winemakers discuss, and how the crowd responds to the wines – all at the same time.

I was familiar with most of the wines; regardless, all of them had me intrigued to see what Steve Tanzer and the event organizer, David Hamilton, had in store for us. What was exciting about the evening was to try all of these wines in an open format with one of the world’s pre-eminent wine critics shepherding us. This was the format of all the past tastings and it made for a rare wine night to learn and try some world class wines.

Here are the wines that were poured in 2011:

The folks that were at the event to represent their wineries were:

  • Bob Betz – Betz Family Winery
  • Chris Upchurch – DeLille Cellars
  • John Abbott – Abeja
  • David Larsen – Soos Creek Wine Cellars
  • Gilles Nicault – Long Shadows
  • Paul Mcbride – Grand Reve Vintners

In going through this horizontal tasting, the first two flights were red blends with a focus on Bordeaux varietals and how they leaned on Cabernet Sauvignon. The last two flights were almost all Cabernet Sauvignon. As we went through the flights we noted that though these wines did have some age, they were still relatively young. One wine in particular was noted as having life through 2030 in its tasting notes. A key to tasting any red wine is to pay attention to the tannins; are they chunky and harsh? Or fine-grained and supple? Tannins are one of the hallmarks of red wine and having a gauge of their context can help in the appreciation of what you’re drinking.

As we went through the flights, I thought back on last year. On Syrah and how this grape shows much promise in Washington. I remembered the high level wine nerd discussion that broke out when the subject of clonal differences came up; how this clone was better than that one. This year, the talk was a bit more straightforward, not quite as geeky, but still plenty nerdy. We discussed the essence of terroir. That magical French notion, where wine exhibits a sense of place and if it exists in Washington. While some of the winemakers say that yes, Washington does have it, but because many of the wines come from grapes across the best vineyards of Eastern Washington, the goal of the best wine is what they aim for.

We also spent time reminiscing on the 2005 vintage. Often considered one of the great recent vintages for Washington, it gave the winemakers grapes to make great wine.  And for most of the winemakers, they spoke fondly as to what Mother Nature gave them and how the conditions were ideal for growing Cabernet Sauvignon; the Indian summer that year attributed to the structure of the grapes. That 2005 was a vintage where a winemaker could let the grapes shine. One of the things that I consider when tasting wines, can you taste the winemaking? Can you notice the level of oak that went into the wine? As we embarked in tasting, my mind was swimming in how to taste just these components.

Of the wines we had, my personal favorite was the one from Soos Creek Wine Cellars. I didn’t know much about them going into the evening, but it was an elegant and beguiling Bordeaux-style blend of 46% Cabernet Sauvignon, 36% Merlot, and 18% Cabernet Franc. The tannins were like sand with a mid-palate of dried fruits and a rich and fulfilling finish. This wine was great. Even better was that it was unexpected. I’ll be keeping my eye on Soos Creek and the other offerings from David Larsen.

The other winethat stood out to me (note – all of the wines were very good, some just resonated with me that evening more than others) was the Betz ‘Le Parrain‘. We learned from Bob Betz that ‘Le Parrain’ means Godfather, and they don’t make it that often (once in the last 15 years) and this vintage fit the bill to make it. I also really enjoyed the offerings from Januik, Chateau Rollat and Leonetti Cellar. Who am I kidding? All were good.

One of my favorite moments of these dinners is learning about the up-and-coming wineries in Steve Tanzer’s estimation. It was at the event in 2008 where he told us about Corliss Estates. When he was telling us about Corliss Estates, most in the room never heard about it. Now wine nerds all know about this Walla Walla winery. Here are the wineries that Tanzer was particularly impressed by in his recent visit: Kerloo Cellars, Tulpen Cellars (for their Sangiovese), Saviah Cellars, Sleight of Hand Cellars (although their labels leave a lot to be desired), Den Hoed Wine Estates, Eight Bells Winery (particularly the Syrah), Obelisco Estate, Woodinville Wine Cellars, Efeste (white wines were showing particularly well), and Gorman Winery (their best vintage to date). I wonder what Steve’s thought is of Figgins, the new bottle from Figgins Family Wine?

What was exciting and exasperating about this tasting is the exclusivity and scarcity of these wines. It was an honor to be able to taste the high caliber of wines, and exasperating in that they are all probably impossible to get at retail. We’re probably setting sail into the world of wine auctions and the like on eBay, I have no idea how that will work out. So good luck finding any of these.

Key takeaways from that evening; we drank a lot of great wine. The 2005 vintage provides a barometer for how great Washington wines can be. The 2008 vintage is very exciting and quite good. The price and value of Washington wines is amazing. Soos Creek was my winner for the evening. But all of the wines were very good, and some a part of the status of Washington’s new cult wines. And now I’m looking forward to the 2012 edition of this epic wine tasting.

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