Thursday, May 27, 2010

burgers and potato salad

Hey, what happened to spring in Ess Eff? We wait for April and May the whole year, those are our only good months with sunny, warm weather. We missed it? And isn't Memorial Day the beginning of summer or at least the time when we set up our appointments for the tanning booth, go out to buy strappy sandals, get out the grilling recipes and make plans to get OUT of the cold, foggy City.

Anticipating summer, I was reading the NY Times food section yesterday and liked the pork burgers Mark Bittman wrote about. Kind of in the shu mai direction, shu mai being one of my favorite dim sum (thanks Becky)... The recipe appealed to me.

Burgers are so hot right now. Remember when burgers were made with just beef and called hamburgers? Soon we'll be ordering burgers like we order coffee... " Grass fed, 92% lean, aged, double, no foam!" And honestly, no person whould be caught dead saying "I'll have a hamburger!" Save that for your grandfather. They're "burgers" now! We got smart, there's no ham in them anyway!

I was in LA last week working and as soon as I got off the plane, I went my usual direction, directly to Gjelina in Venice. I always make that place my first stop. It's right on the way to wherever I'm going. Don't you have places like that? Charlotte and I shared a pork burger. Get this... Juicy ground pork shoulder topped with grilled radicchio and Iberico cheese and slathered with mustard aioli. And I love the homemade pickles. It was a tough call for me since I usually order the lamb burger drenched with spicy harissa aioli, topped with roasted tomatoes and arugula. No withdrawals, the pork burger spoke to me!

The next day, I went to Santa Monica Seafood for lunch. When I see all that fish, it makes me want to strap my Wolf range to my back, I want to cook so badly. I ordered a salmon burger and it was good but nothing like the one I did in my "Weir Cooking in the City" book.

Jeremiah Tower had the burger bug years before anyone else when he made the most delicious lamb burgers topped with caramelized garlic, mint and tomatoes at Santa Fe Cafe in Berkeley. It's been years and I still remember the flavors.

With burgers, you have to have some kind of potato salad to round the whole thing out. I've eaten my mother's potato salad my whole life and when I got big enough to come up with my own, I did. Don't get me wrong, I loved my mother's potato salad all doctored up with mayonnaise and mustard. As a kid, when I tasted anyone else's Mom's potato salad, it just didn't measure up. And though she's made it the same way her whole life, if today I asked her how she made it, she'd just sloth it off and say, "Oh, you know!?" And I'd say, "No, I don't know." Why do mother's just think that you should know everything they did all their lives by osmosis?

Oh yeah, so I was telling you that a couple years ago I decided to come up with my own potato salad. I wrote a story all about it for Fine Cooking. I called it "Not Your Mama's Potato Salad" and they called it a "Grilled Potato Salad." Either way, you roast some new potatoes. Cool thing, you can get them done a day ahead of time. When they're cool, cut them in half, dip the cut- side in olive oil and throw them on the grill, BAMMM (just kidding, I wanted to see if you were reading this) and cook until golden. Take them off the grill and toss in anything from Nicoise or Kalamata olives, shaved parmesan, chopped fresh oregano, slivers of sun-baked tomatoes. Delish! You can even grill the potatoes ahead of time and at the last minute, warm them up again in the oven and toss in the fixin's.

And then in Australia a month ago, the last night of our culinary journey, friend Chef Mark McNamara of Appellation Restaurant, made us the best hoity-toity potato salad that tasted like it was born someplace between India and Morocco. All the students on the trip were begging me to get the recipe from Mark. I got it a few days ago, tested it, reworked it, retested it and happily have been eating it ever since. Voila, "Not Your Papa's Potato Salad" either! Thanks Mark!


½ cup mayonnaise
1 clove garlic, minced
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 tablespoon wasabi powder
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
½ cup olive oil
6 salmon fillets, about 4 to 6 ounces each, skinned and boned
6 excellent quality rolls, halved
6 large slices fresh beefsteak tomatoes
2 cups peppercress or arugula

Place the mayonnaise, garlic, lemon juice and wasabi in a bowl. Mix well and season with salt and pepper.

Place the oil in a heavy non-stick frying pan large enough to hold the salmon. Place the pan over medium high heat. When the oil is hot and almost rippling, add the salmon and cook until golden and crispy on one side, 3 to 4 minutes total. Turn the salmon and continue to cook until golden and crispy on the other sides, another 3 to 4 minutes. Grill the cut side of the rolls until golden.

Spread with wasabi mayonnaise, distributing evenly. To construct the burgers, place the bottom part of the roll on a serving plate. Top with a piece on salmon. Top each piece of salmon with a slice of tomato and peppercress or arugula. Place the roll on top. Serve immediately.

Serves 6


1 teaspoon mild curry powder
2 teaspoons ground cumin powder
7 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
4 cups sweet potatoes, ¾-inch dice, about 2 pounds
¼ cup whole almonds with skin, coarsely chopped
1/3 cup pumpkin seeds
1 ½ tablespoons cumin seeds
¼ cup red wine vinegar
1 large clove garlic, minced
1 large tomato, peeled, seeded and diced
½ cup chopped cilantro stems
4 green onions, white and green, thinly sliced
3 cups cilantro leaves and sprigs

Preheat an oven to 375 F.

Mix the curry powder, ground cumin and 1 ½ teaspoons salt. Toss half of the spice mixture with 1 tablespoon of the olive oil and sweet potatoes and roast until tender, 30 minutes.

In the meantime, toss the almonds and pumpkin seeds with the remaining spice mixture and 1 tablespoon of the olive oil, place on a baking sheet and toast in the oven until the almonds and pumpkins seeds are golden, 10 to 12 minutes. Set aside.

For the dressing, place the cumin seeds in a dry frying pan over medium high heat and toss until they are aromatic and begin to crackle, 30 to 40 seconds. Remove from the heat, place in a bowl. Add the vinegar, garlic, and remaining 5 tablespoons olive oil.

When the potatoes are done, add the almonds, pumpkin seeds, tomato, green onion, chopped cilantro and half of the dressing. Place in the center of a serving plate. Drizzle the remaining dressing around plate and scatter with cilantro leaves.

Serves 6

Friday, May 14, 2010

i love you guys

I was feeling melancholy the last day of our culinary journey together in South Australia. This group of 13 that I'd assembled were so simpatico that I felt moved, almost transformed, by our time together. Over the years, I’ve taught many weeklong classes, but there was something special, almost magical, about this group. You never have control over the dynamics of a group, it just doesn’t work like that. And as much as I wanted to take credit, this week fell into place like a soft leather glove on the perfect-sized hand.

Everyone was really rested that last morning as we met over breakfast. What a night off and a good night’s sleep with lofty down pillows and mold-to-your-body heavenly beds can do! But wake up! Spinifix Winery brought their tasting to us!

As we tasted I could see nostalgia creeping in. Photos were snapping as everyone tried to capture the last moments in digital frames. Kind of like the last day of high school or a family reunion when reality sets in that soon we’d be going our own ways.

We left The Louise and headed towards my dear friend, Maggie Beer's Farm Shop in Nuriootpa, for a picnic lunch. I’ve known Maggie for years when she used to come to the classes I taught at Yalumba. I’ve always described her as the Alice Waters of Australia (without the hat and the Edible Schoolyard.) But those were the old days! Now Maggie is a true Australian icon without a minute to spare. She's constantly on the road these days so she was only there in spirit. I’m happy for her success but sad I missed her bubbly personality and spirited laugh this trip.

But hold on, we're not done yet. I've got another friend just down the road that I promised I'd visit. We need to make one more stop on our culinary journey, - Rockford Vineyards, owned by my old friend, Rocky O’ Callaghan.
We hit it just right, they were in the middle of harvest. There was lots of activity in the rustic courtyard - trucks unloading freshly picked Shiraz grapes, pumping over and crushing the grapes in his famous basket press. We went into the tasting room for a VIP tasting of at least 10 wines.
Rockford is legendary for their sparkling black Shiraz, one of my personal favorite, and a basket-pressed Shiraz that’s big and gutsy like ink! These were amongst the group.

By now, some of the group was suffering palate fatigue. Could I blame them? And just as we all thought we were finished tasting, we got invited to sample the freshly pressed juice, bright purple-colored and dense, directly from the basket press. Delicious, but now we all needed a nap so we'd be rested for tonight's farewell dinner.

Dressed to kill and ready to die of consumption, we met at Appellation, the signature restaurant associated with our hotel, The Louis, for our last night together around the table. Course after course was cooked by my chef friend, Mark McNamara, who made us an unforgettable dinner for us. I'm still dreaming of the caramelized kombocha squash with Moroccan spices. (Oh that's right, Mark, you promised me that recipe!)

As I handed out the diplomas, I thanked everyone for trusting me enough to travel half way around the world to spend a week in a place I love beyond my wildest dreams. As we said our goodbyes, there were stars in everyone's eyes and joy in their hearts. I’d helped to form those stars and to make that joy a reality. I had a small tear as I gave everyone a hug and a kiss that came directly from my heart.

Until next time, g'day mate!