Archive for the ‘Chef Rico Mandel’ Category

Braised Spare Ribs

Beer Braised Spare Ribs

I heard about the opportunity to create a recipe for New Belgium Brewing through FoodBuzz.So I figured I’d sign up and see if I was one of the lucky ones that would be chosen. I got the email and then it was time to think what I would make. First check out their website. The only beer they make that I was familiar with was Fat Tire. I check out their site and was blown away with the variety of beers they have to offer. So many styles of beer I just wanted to do a marathon tasting of all of them, but, alas that was not possible. The next best thing was to see if I’d be able to find a location that carried all their beers, well no such luck. At least not around me. So I went to the local BevMo and worked with their selection. I picked out 3 for my recipe.

New Belgium Beers

New Belgian Brewing Beers used in recipe and for pairing

Their Enlightened Black Ale 1554, the Ranger IPA and their Organic wheat beer Mothership Wit. I knew the IPA would have a bit of a bitter flavor and that the 1554 would be more coffee/chocolate like. After reading the description on the bottle I knew it would work well for the flavors that I was thinking of, since it was a bit on the sweet side and not too bitter. The Wheat beer I thought would be a good pairing for my recipe because of it’s citrus and sour flavors  that would balance with the deep rich spice, cocoa and sweet flavor of the ribs.  I decided on beer braised spare ribs and with a beer reduction sauce. I got some wonderful meaty spare ribs and then began my process.


1 Rack of Spare ribs about 3 pounds

24 oz Ranger IPA

24 oz 1554

2 generous Tblsp Cocoa Powder

1 Tblsp ground Cinnamon

1 C brown Sugar – 3/4 for liquid and 1/4 to adjust sauce if needed

1 tsp ground Cumin

1tsp chili flakes or 1/2 tsp for less spice

Salt & Pepper to taste

1 medium onion diced

8 large cloves of garlic roughly chopped

1 6oz can of tomato paste

Begin by combining all the dry ingredients in a

Ingredients for marinade in Bowl

Ingredients for marinade in Bowl

large bowl and mix well so there are no large chunks of brown sugar, then add chopped onion and garlic salt & pepper at least 1 Tblsp each. Add in beer and mix ingredients well. Lightly trim some fat from the ribs and place in large baking pan bone side up. You may need to cut the rack into 2 or 3 sections to fit in your baking pan. Pour in marinade and make sure the ribs are mostly covered. Cover pan with aluminum foil or plastic wrap and place in refrigerator for at least 4 hours overnight would be better.

After marinating is finished remove from refrigerator

Ribs cut in sections placed meat side down in roasting pan

Ribs cut in sections placed meat side down in roasting pan

and remove cover. Turn ribs meat side up and season with salt & pepper then cover with aluminum foil and put on middle rack in 275º oven for about 4 hours. Check the ribs after 3.5 hrs to see how they are cooking. The meat should be tender when they are done. Times may vary depending on your oven.

Once they are finished remove racks and let stand. If you will be serving them immediately then cover with aluminum foil till you are ready. Pour the braising liquid from the baking pan into a sauce pan through a sieve. If you want to use

Ribs with marinade in the pan before and after braising

Ribs with marinade in the pan before and after braising

cheesecloth in the sieve or strainer that would be even better. The finer the stainer the better.  Add the can of tomato paste and whisk it into the braising liquid. Put burner on high and bring to a boil let the sauce boil till it is reduced by half to 2/3. When it gets close to half reduction taste the sauce and adjust the seasoning with salt and pepper to taste and if needed some more brown sugar.

Stages of reducing Braising liquid into sauce

Stages of reducing Braising liquid into sauce from left to right strained braising liquid, boiling to reduce by half to 1/3, finished sauce

Finished ribs before cutting

Finished ribs before cutting - Brushed with sauce and Broiled for final caramelization

When the sauce is finished place ribs under the broiler or on a hot grill to warm and add color to the meat. Then brush with sauce and place back under the broiler or on the grill till carmelized. It’s all about personal preference at that point.

When done slice ribs along the bone to separate into individual ribs and serve with sauce.

I paired the ribs with the Mothership Wit beer and it went perfectly with them. Also you can serve with asian slaw and

Plate full of ribs

Plate Full of ribs with corn and potatoes paired with New Belgian Mothership Wit

mashed potatoes or mac and cheese or roasted/grilled vegetables.

All I can say is these ribs are amazingly good. The sauce is rich with many flavor layers sweet, a bit spicy, and chocolate caramel from the beer and a slight tang. One word describes it best… Amazing!!


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So I made it to round two of the Project Food Blog competition for the next food blog star. There are 400 of us left and after this round we’ll be down to 200. You can cast your vote for me right above the blog post for the readers’ choice in this week’s challenge.
Challenge #2 was Classics, I had to pick a classic dish from another country/culture that I wasn’t familiar with so, loving Indian food I picked Chicken Biyarni. It was a fun dish to make. Project Food Blog - Entry I’m pumped for this competition and look forward to advancing all the way through, one vote at a time, with your help.

You can also  see how each of the bloggers interpreted the challenge and then you can cast your vote for your favorites!

For this week’s challenge, 200 contestants out of 400 will advance, so I need your help to vote for me to advance to the next challenge.

Thank you for your support!


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Having 2 daughters one who is a pesco vegetarian and the other being vegan I have become sensitive to the needs of the non-carnivore for quite some. A trained chef myself it pained me to watch as my younger daughter go from eating everything to cutting out pork then beef then chicken and finally lamb and all other land creatures. I breathed a sigh of relief when she stopped there and I was able to at least cook a plethora of seafood for her. My older daughter had played with becoming a vegetarian off an on for the past 4 years and now has gone over to the other side and become a vegan. It pains my heart but if it makes her feel better, then that’s all that matters to me. So that’s the background. Now to the meat (pun intended) of the matter, don’t despair there are not only interesting BBQ options for the grill but also good wine pairings to boot.

For the pesco-vegetarians of the world there are always the 2 standbys grilled salmon and shrimp. For the salmon, get salmon with the skin on, it keeps it together and makes for easier grilling.  I like just some olive oil salt and pepper on mine and then put it on a nice hot clean grill, hot and clean being the operative words to prevent sticking, skin side up and let it cook for a bit. Look at the sides of the fish to see how far up it has cooked, try about 1/3 of the way up before flipping over. I like to use tongs for this so I don’t damage the fish.  Then finish the cooking on the skin side. Serve with lemon or a dill yogurt sauce. Grilled shrimp is great just marinated in olive oil, chili flakes, salt, pepper and some garlic for about an hour. Pull them out and squeeze on some fresh lemon, lime or for a twist orange and mix until it is all blended. Put the shrimp on skewers, if using wooden soak in water for about 30 minutes before using, then put on the grill using the same rules as with the salmon. With shrimp once they are reddish/pink on both sides then they are done. Don’t over cook them or they will turn to rubber.

For the Vegans out there you can make grilled tofu which tastes great. Use firm or extra firm tofu and cut in 1/2 inch slices. Marinate slices in a mixture of soy sauce, brown sugar, chili flakes and garlic for about 30 mins to an hour or you can use your favorite marinade from the store. The key is to let the marinade soak into the tofu. Once ready to grill, get the grill hot and clean and brush tofu with olive oil on each side and place on hot grill and let it do its thing. It won’t take long for it to warm through and create grill marks, flip over with spatula and apply your favorite BBQ sauce to the top then eat it like a burger or on top of a bed of mixed greens with a citrus dressing. You could also add some grilled spring onions to it for a bit of a kick.

Then there are always the standard Garden or Boca burgers. I prefer the Boca’s since they grill best. Trader Joes also has some great vegetarian/vegan sausages that are good such as the Italian blend and andouille both vegetarian and tasty.

Now what to serve with these delicacies well I asked Jon Troutman from the Cork’d blog to help me out and he recommended either a “Sauvignon Blanc or a Chenin Blanc and as he puts it two grapes that are food friendly with high acid levels and clean flavors that play well with vegetables, salads and cheeses.” I would also say that you might be able to go to a light Pinot Noir if you are grilling using BBQ sauces.

So there you have it my homage to the vegetarians out there. If you want more info please drop me a line at chefphotographervip@fineculinaryexperience.com and I’ll be happy to answer your food questions.

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It was an evening to be remembered. I was asked by my friend Jeff Silverman and his wife Stefanie to create an Italian evening cooking class and demonstration for a fundraiser for

Jeff & Stefanie

Jeff & Stefanie Silverman

Wilbur elementary school. As we considered the evening we had to come up with a menu that would work both for a large crowd and offer both teaching as well as demonstration possibilities. Of course there is the entertainment value of the event and that’s where I come in. We met and began to plan out the menu. Using several cookbooks as references along with my own experience to come up the a menu that would satisfy and satiate all who attended. Jeff likes meat and of course as he puts it swine.

Rico & Porterhouse

2" thick prime porterhouse steaks yum!

Jeff and my love of meat was something that was evident in the final menu. The highlight being Bisteca a la Fiorentina which is a 2″ to 3″ thick Porterhouse steak marinated in olive oil and herbs then charred on the grill to a perfect medium rare on the inside. But let me not get too far ahead of myself. I got the message from Jeff that we were going to have a huge menu without restrictions. On my own I researched some more recipes and recalled several things from my travels to Italy and settled on a final menu for the evening.Prep began at 9:00am the day of the event. Jeff was so kind as to regale us with one of his famous fritatta’s which he likes to make with pasta and meat products of many varieties. My prep crew consisted of Elio and Oscar and then Angel came in to relieve Oscar at around 4:00PM. The prep went smoothly as the day progressed and we got closer and closer to show time. We actually began our cooking at around 7:00PM. The show opening up with toasts to our hosts and guests and making sure that glasses were filled.

rico Focaccia

Getting Focaccia into Oven

Suppli – Risotto Balls filled with mozzarella cheese and breaded and deep-fried

2 types of Crostini – one with wild mushrooms the other with black kale and prosciutto

Focaccia with Arugula and Sun Dried Tomatoes – This dish I demonstrated. We had the focaccia premade so I taught how to make an alfredo sauce from scratch and then had some of the participants put the alfredo sauce on the focaccia and then top it with arugula, sun-dried tomatoes and mozzarella cheese, throw that in the oven for about 10 minutes and you have a delicious goodness coaxing your taste buds moments later.

cutting tomatoes

Making Arugula & fava bean salad

We then made the Arugula and fava bean salad where the participants learned how to make orange supremes, then cut tomatoes and onions and assemble the salad.

When it comes to roast potatoes the Patate al forno – Roast Potatoes with garlic cloves is the best. The potatoes need to be blanched in water for 2-3 minutes before baking then set aside. With audience participation we had the guys take care of the seasoning and tossing of the potatoes, which was a lot of fun to see who could toss the best and highest.

Of course wine was flowing throughout the evenings festivities as glasses were refilled in a timely manner.

Earlier in the day we had put the Chicken Vin Cotto (sweet wine)  into the oven to cook since it is a bit complicated and we already had enough things going on. It came out wonderfully as one might expect.

potato toss

The Guys get into the act with the potato toss

The potatoes went in the oven and then it was time to blanch the broccoli rabe and get it ready for the 2 styles of final preparation. One with sausage the other with black olives and garlic. While one person manned the sausage cooking another was in charge of blanching all the broccoli rabe. Another glass was filled and it was time to go

Rico Teaching

It's all about the ingredients and the wine

out to the grill and cook up some meat.

The first thing to go on was the Bisteca a la Fiorentina, followed by the Uccelletti Scappati

– Skirt steak rolled with prosciutto and sage then placed on a skewer with pancetta in-between.  It was a feast for the eyes to see all this fantastic prime beef going on the grill and to bear witness to it all with awe-inspiring. Then to finish everything the rack of lamb went on and was the perfect punctuation to the meat portion of the evening.

While that was going on outside I needed to get back in to make sure that Elio was taking proper care with the dessert prep in which there were three – Cannoli, Roasted Pears with Chocolate and Strawberries in balsamic vinegar. What a trio. We had participants making the pears, cutting the strawberries and filling cannoli’s. At the same time I was teaching the making of Polenta with wild mushrooms, having one participant searing the mushrooms while the other made the polenta.  And last but not least I took care of the Pasta Carbonara as the final punctuation to end the cooking portion of the evening.


Slicing up Rack of Lamb

Once everything was ready and the meat had properly rested then we were ready to put out the buffet and cut the meat. Part of the fun when cutting large quantities of meat is to feed those around you, who are looking on, tidbits from the meat as a precursor to the meal that is about to come.  Ahh the fun of cooking and feeding people. To watch as everyone lined up to eat the meal that we just prepared warmed my heart.  I had a blast cooking and entertaining the entire group of around 35. It was time for a scotch and a walk about to see how everyone was enjoying their meal. It was fun to see and hear the comments and talk to some of them as they enjoyed everything that we had prepared in a scant 2.5 hours. A good time was had by all. It’s something that I love doing and can do for you and your friends if you’re interested.  It was like having my own TV show.

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This week was an amazing week. On Wednesday I worked at the Saddle Peak Lodge deboning rabbits, making stuffing and helping to make the roulades. I’ll be doing a post on that in more detail. On Thursday I held a cooking class for some of the people from my mastermind group. It was a great success. We made a variety of things that included Escargot, Salade Bergere, my take on Moroccan cornish hens with roasted pears, greens and sunchokes, handmade pappardelle pasta with wild mushrooms, chillies, capers, tomatoes garlic and basil and then for dessert we made Alton Brown’s cocoa brownies and I added the raspberry sauce, ice cream and cocoa nibs what a great feast we had. If you want a copy of the recipes then go to Click here http://bit.ly/85uHMC

One of the students made a video of the class here’s the link http://bit.ly/6EtrLP

It was a lot of fun cooking all that wonderful stuff.

In addition this week I was interviewed on LifeStyle Buzz and internet radio program hosted by Orlando Burgos. In it he interviews people from all walks of live who are doing unique and interesting things. I was on his show on Saturday January 23, 2010. We had a great time talking about photography, cooking and travel. To hear the show Click Here http://bit.ly/8CvP5F

More posts to come. I hope you have a fabulous week.

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What an experience. It is rare now a days that I come across an ingredient that I am not familiar with.  I have always been curious about Kohlrabi but never got around to working with it until now.  So I do a bit of research on the web to see what it is like and the comments are it’s like a turnip, no kinda like broccoli, no more like a turnip with broccoli over tones and the descriptions go on and on and on. So now that I am not too much further along than I was before I decide to go get some and start to play with it.  I pick up a few proteins to go with it since I’m not quite sure what to expect.  I get home, peel the stuff and taste it  and it is has a sweet flavor with the texture of a turnip and the finish of broccoli.

Time to experiment with it, slice it thin, fry it puree it etc… and see what works well with it and then I settled on creating this recipe which I think uses the vegetable in a variety of ways along with the flavor of rosemary.  And the flavor combination well that was something wonderful. I like kohlrabi and look forward to using it more often.

Pan Seared Opah with Kohlrabi 3 ways – orange braised greens, rosemary roasted and heirloom tomato triangles with a rosemary aiolirico-1732-13

Recipe yield 2 mid sized entree portions

Roasted Rosemary Kohlrabi sticks

2 kohlrabi bulbs

2 tsp rosemary

1/4 cup olive oil

salt & pepper


Kohlrabi sticks coated with olive oil, rosemary salt & Pepper

Heat oven to 350º and place empty sheet pan in oven. Peel two kohlrabi bulb and cut off both ends. Putting the kohlrabi buld flat on your cutting board cut one edge off to make it flat on one side. Put that side on the cutting board and slice into 3/8″ thick slices. You can slice them to your desired thickness. Cut each slice into 3/8″ wide sticks. Put into bowl with olive oil, rosemary, salt and pepper and mix well so all the sticks are well coated. Once oven is heated wait 10 minutes then put sticks on hot sheet pan and put back  in the oven. set the timer for 30 minutes.  Check the sticks after 20 minutes and turn sticks over to allow to brown on the other side. Check again after 30 mins and if the other sides are not brown then leave in the over until they are or you are happy with them.  Taste them when you pull them out and if needed add more salt to taste.

Orange Braised Kohlrabi Greens

1.5 cups of Kohlrabi greens

1 tsp garlic

2 tsp rosemary

1.5 c water

1/4 cup orange juice from concentrate

Olive oil

Salt and pepper

Wash kohlrabi greens and separate leaves from stems discarding the stems. Chop into small pieces. Finely chop rosemary and garlic. Heat pan and add a bit of olive oil to coat. Once the pan is hot add kohlrabi greens salt and pepper and saute for about a minute. Next add all other ingredients and mix.

Beginning Braise            End braise just a bit of moisture

Beginning Braise End braise just a bit of moisture

Let the greens simmer on medium heat until liquid has pretty much evaporated. Adjust seasoning to taste.

Heirloom Tomato Kohlrabi triangles

1/2 medium sized heirloom Tomato

1/4 kohlrabi bulb

1/4 tsp finely chopped rosemary


Fleur de cel or flakey salt

truffle oil or really good olive oil


Mandoline ready to slice Slices Ready to assemble

Peel kohlrabi and slice off ends. Using a mandolin slice kohlrabi into 1/16″ thick slices. Finely chop rosemary. Slice heirloom tomato into 1/4″ slices. Place one slice of kohlrabi down on cutting board and sprinkle a bit of rosemary, fleur de cel and pepper on one side. Center tomato slice over the kohlrabi and top with a second slice of kohlrabi. Carefully cut into 4 equal triangles. Finish on plate with truffle oil or really good olive oil and a bit of fleur de cel

Rosemary Aioli

Ingredients ready to mix and add oil

Ingredients ready to mix and add oil

Zest one lemon and then juice. Place egg yolk, rosemary, garlic, lemon juice, honey and dijon mustard in food processor and turn on to allow all ingredients to mix together.

Next slowly add oil a bit at a time until it is all in.  Mix for another 30 seconds and taste the aioli.  Adjust seasoning to taste.

Pan seared rosemary Opah

Trim bloodline from Opah. Cut filet into 4 ounce pieces for appetizer or first course and 6 to 8 ounce pieces for entree portion.  Make sure that the cuts are square so it will stand up on all 6 sides in the pan. In a bowl mix olive oil, rosemary, salt and pepper to taste. Place Opah in bowl and coat completely.

Coated Opah Ready to sear

Coated Opah Ready to sear

Heat pan and coat lightly with oil. Make sure it is very hot but not smoking. Place opah filet in pan and sear. You can see it cooking by looking at the ends of the fish. Once it begins to cook about 1/4 inch on a 1 to 1.5″ thick piece then turn it to the next side until all 6 sides have been seared.


Searing evenly on all sides

Be sure not to leave the Opah searing too long or it will dry out.  Once it is done it can be anywhere from medium rare (similar to seared Ahi) to Medium.  Both are very nice.


Place kohlrabi tomato triangles on plate on opposite side stack the kohlrabi sticks, put aioli on plate and braised greens next to it and top with the opah. Put a bit of aioli on top of opah and garnish with lemon zest.

The flavor combination is wonderful. The delicate flavor of he Opah works beautifully with the rosemary aioli. The greens have an nice balance of slight bitterness which is offset by the citrus and complimented by the garlic and rosemary. When combining all the flavors on the plate you get a wonderful symphony of flavors that work beautifully together on the palate.  I hope you enjoy this recipe.

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A couple of years ago my wife Karen and I  were with some friends talking about food and wine when the idea was put forth to do our own tasting dinner. I would cook and everyone would split the expenses for the dinner including kitchen help. My first task was to create the menu and recipes, and  my friends Alex, Pearl, Natalie and Serge agreed to do the wine pairings.”

On the  night of the dinner I was nervous because one of the guests was a chef who had cooked for presidents and celebrities.  What would he think of my food?  Would I be able to live up to his standards?  Well, in the end the dinner went very well and everyone had a great time, including the chef, who was more than appreciative of  my efforts and loved the food.

In fact, the event was so successful that we decided to do another dinner.  Coordinating the schedules of 16 people was a bit of a chore but luckily I had help from Pearl and Alex who are very good at organizing events and staying on top of the details.  Between the three of us we were able to coordinate the scheduling and rescheduling of the dinner which happened on June 20th.  Alex, who helped coordinate the dinner and Brad are two wine enthusiasts who took charge of the wine pairings for the evening.  Each couple brought 2 to 3 bottles of their choice of wine to pair with a specific course.  Since there were 8 courses, we decided to go with light pours.

In the weeks before the event I spent a bit of time working on the menu.  Some of the proteins I pretty much had already decided on early such as a pork belly dish and Korean style ribeye. I also new that I wanted to do a lobster dish.  The rest was up in the air.  I thought about different proteins, including sweetbreads, thai snapper and quail.  Then there was a matter of the budget: since everyone was chipping in for the dinner expenses I wanted to keep the costs reasonable and at the same time create a great dining experience.

Another ingredient that went into the mix was the location.

Pearl setting table - Photo Alex Kaliakin

Pearl setting table - Photo Alex Kaliakin

We had a beautiful al fresco dining experience on a patio overlooking a dry creek bed nestled under a canopy of oak trees.  One long table and a string of lights overhead and the setting was complete.  Like being in Tuscany, enjoying a feast for the senses.

I began prepping for the meal on Friday Morning a little after 9:00 am when Elio. my sous chef. showed up.  I had done most of my shopping the previous day and had enough to work on.–8 live lobsters, a 6-pound section of rib eye roast, 4 pounds of pork belly, and black mussels. along with many of the items used to make the braising liquid, sauces, purees, etc… Elio began work on the poached pears and I on the lobster stock, needing it for the pana cotta and at that time lobster gelee.  The lobster stock was made using the bodies from the lobsters along with mirepoix (onion, carrot & celery), some brandy and aromatics.  I broke up the bodies in the food processor to extract the maximum flavor, then put them in a hot stock pot with oil and sauteed them till fragrant, deglazed with brandy, added mirepoix, aromatics and cold water, and let it do its thing for a couple of hours.  Next was a court boullion for the lobster claws and tails.  We tied the tails to wooden spoons to prevent them from curling up and cooked them in two batches in the court boullion till done.  Next, in went the claws.  They were set aside to cool before we took them out of the shells.  During this time I seared off the pork belly and made a braising liquid out of chicken stock(made the previous week and frozen for the dinner), star anise, ancho chili, cocoa powder, cinnamon, mirepoix, cloves, garlic, tomato paste, red wine and aromatics. Into the 275-degree oven it went for about 6 hours.

Next was the Korean marinade for the ribeye, ade from asian pears, soy sauce, green onion, brown sugar, sesame oil, sesame seeds, mirin, rice vinegar, chili flakes, Sprite soda and salt & pepper, then whisked together.  I portioned out the ribeyes into steaks a bit over an inch thick, dunked them in the marinade, placed them in ziploc bags filled with the marinade, and into the fridge they went to marinate for about 36 hours.

The cauliflower, curry saffron puree was next. I had Elio cut the cauliflower into small pieces roughly the same size, for even cooking, then placed them in salted water to simmer until tender. I made a curry saffron cream and reduced it. Once the cauliflower was finished I mixed it in a food processor adding the curry saffron cream, then passed it through a tamis to give it an extra smooth finish.

We spent the rest of the day prepping the  porcini mushrooms for the risotto, cutting the yukon gold potatoes for the pommes fondant and working on the lobster dish and pear dessert. I had to make a run to the Saddle Peak Lodge to pick up the mussels and some other items that needed to be prepped. Elio worked on making pear chips, which were having some difficulty.  Fruit chips can be very temperamental regarding the heat of the oven etc. Usually it is best to leave them in an oven with just the pilot light on overnight, which dries them out, giving them a nice crispness and keeps the color light.  My oven has an electric pilot light, so there went that idea.  We managed to produce a batch that were good, but the color was too dark.  Time to shelve it till the morning.

Meanwhile, the original lobster dish was to be composed of a lobster gelee encased in a lobster chive panna cotta.  Once my lobster stock had finally cooled I worked on clarifying the stock using a raft method (composed of eggwhites, carrots, tomato, parsley etc…).  The clarification process took a little over an hour.  We removed the stock from the pot being careful not to damage the raft. We ended up with a stock that was still a bit cloudy and not well clarified enough for a lobster gelee.  So now it was time for PlanB.  This is always a good thing to have.  One thing I have learned over the years is that sometimes because of time constraints and the fact that the human body does need sleep to function, we need to be flexible enough to change things midstream. It would take too long to try to clarify the stock to the point that I would be happy with it, so we decided to make a lobster panna cotta with a lobster meat center. Redesign the plate and make it work and move on.  So we made the panna cottas, one layer at a time, allowing each layer to set in the fridge before going on to the next.  It was getting late: 10:00pm turned into 11pm, then midnight.  We used the time to solve the panna cotta issue, prep the sardines and other miscellaneous things, and make a plan for the next day.

The next morning saw me going to Trader Joe’s to pick up some miscellaneous items and back by 10:00 to continue to prep. The pear poaching liquid was reducing and I was making the Moules marinier essentially to get the broth.  Once the mussels were done I removed them from the shells and gave them to my daughter Olivia to enjoy.  We tried to make the pear chips again on a lower temperature while we continued to prep. While I made the risotto, using a porcini mushroom stock that I had made the previous week and frozen. I had Elio begin organizing each element of each course to take to the location where the dinner was being held.  The risotto was finished to 80% donness, spread out on a sheet tray and put in the fridge to cool.  I assisted Elio to get everything together for the event.

Rico starting to get things going - Photo Alex Kaliakin

Rico starting to get things going - Photo Alex Kaliakin

After a quick shower I helped Elio load up the cars to get to the location.  We left a bit after 2:00pm.  I had to make 3 stops on the way, one to get cigars for the evening and the other to pick up the caviar. The final stop was to pick up the soft shell crab and New Zealand Green mussels from the Saddle Peak Lodge.  Elio went ahead to the location to unload and get everything ready to finish the prep.  I arrived about 3:30 and began by getting the braising liquid reducing and making the dressing for the lobster dish.  Brad, one of the hosts who loves to cook, finished up what he was doing and came in to help with the final prep.  I had him pick watercress, dill, and mache leaves.  Pearl arrived with our dishwasher assistant, Adela, a bit after 4:00 pm. Adela helped with the prep and clean up to keep things clean while we cooked.  Prep was going well, sauces were being finished and every detail of each dish was being completed one at a time.  Alex walked in shortly after 5:00pm in a very excited mood.  Things were coming together  and the energy level was rising.  Alex –assembled everything  for the cocktails, which were manhattans and cosmopolitans.

Champagne for the first course - Photo Alex Kaliakin

Champagne for the first course - Photo Alex Kaliakin

I had some leftover duck paté, made by John Stewart, who is a master salumist of Zazu and Bovolo fame, which I had brought back from an event in No Cal 2 days before.  I made some quick canapés with it and continued to prepare the first course.  My wife, Karen, was the last to show up, since she had come directily from work. When she arrived at the door she looked stunning.

It was about 7:15pm when we sent out the first course.
I am always a bit anxious before I start serving. (Will they like it? I shoulda done… the finish on… could’ve been better etc.)..  In addition this time I had let my daughters taste the panna cotta at home and neither one liked it.  They are pretty tough critics, and yet I had tried it and thought the flavors were wonderful.  I also know that the texture may have thrown them off.  So of course this made me a bit more nervous than usual.

Lobster Panna Cotta

Lobster Panna Cotta - Photo Rico Mandel

First Course – Lobster Panna Cotta with American Caviar and Herb Mustard Vinaigrette

We began plating the panna cottas and the dish was looking very elegant.  Now I was getting excited at how my vision was coming together. The colors on the plate were wonderful and the lobster layer showed through beautifully. It was truly an elegant dish.  We served it to the table with Elio and Brad’s help.  As the plates went down I started to feel some releif, at least for the first course.  This was paired with a Moët Chandon Champagne Imperial or White Star that went perfectly with the dish. Once the eating commenced and the compliments started I felt at ease.

Second Course – Moules Marinier Redux

Moules Marinier Redux - Photo Rico Mandel

Moules Marinier Redux - Photo Rico Mandel

This dish got its inspiration from a discussion I was having with my friend Chef Adam Horton. He was telling me how much he loved Moules Marinier, but since he was going for a Michelin star,he couldn’t put it on the menu.  We talked about ways to possibly turn it into a fine dining menu item.  Well this set up a challenge for me.

Elio Plating Mussels - Photo Alex Kaliakin

Elio Plating Mussels - Photo Alex Kaliakin

Adam was supposed to be at the dinner but unfortunately he was sick and couldn’t make it.  This dish was in his honor.  The broth made earlier that morning from black mussels was reducing on the stove and keeping warm. I got up from eating the first course and put the green mussels,in the shell, on the grill to cook. I removed them being careful not to lose the liquor from the inside of the shell. Elio brought me the bread to be grilled while I finished cooking the mussels.

A toast to mussels and great beer

A toast to mussels and great beer - Photo Rico Mandel

I brought them inside where I cut the bread while the mussels were being removed from their shells.  The bowls were out and waiting.  We stacked 4 mussels in the center of each dish and I poured the hot broth over the mussels and topped them with flying-fish roe and a chiffonade of mint along with some chopped chives to garnish the broth.  We whisked the dish out and it was served with Estrella Damm Inedit, the beer made by Fernan Adria of El Bulli fame.  The beer was silky smooth with a wonderful complex yet refreshing flavor that complemented the mussels wonderfully.

Third course – Grilled Sardines on a Zucchini & Black Pig Bacon Gallette with an Avocado Mousse and Heirloom Tomato, Avocado and Cantaloupe Relish finished with Curry Oil

Sardines - Photo Rico Mandel

Sardines - Photo Rico Mandel

The inspiration for this dish came from chef Zoi Antonitsas, the Chef de Cuisine at Zazu, in Santa Rosa, California.  I love sardines and when I was up working for a day in the kitchen at Zazu I saw a grilled sardine dish they had that was served with chunks of avocado on grilled bread with a potpourri of greens from their garden. It looked wonderful. Unfortunately I didn’t get a chance to taste it because they sold the last 2 orders before service was over.

Plating Sardines - Photo Alex Kaliakin

Plating Sardines - Photo Alex Kaliakin

While I was finishing the second course Elio was finishing up the zucchini & black pig bacon gallettes.  I got up and made sure that everything was going well in the kitchen.  Plates in the oven to warm up, the relish ready to mix with lemon and olive oil.  We brushed the sardines with olive oil and placed them on a wire rack on the grill. Once they were done, plating began. Plates down, gallettes on each plate, the mousse was pipped out of a piping bag onto each gallette and sardines placed on top, relish down and a zigzag of curry oil over the sardine. Out the plates went and it was served with a Kenwood Reserve sauvignon blanc.

Fourth Course – Softshell Crab with a Cauliflower Saffron Curry Puree and a Noissette Sauce

Soft Shell Crab - Photo Rico Mandel

Soft Shell Crab - Photo Rico Mandel

I love softshell crab and since they are in season it was a perfect time to put them on the menu. I wanted to keep the dish simple and make the crabs without a heavy batter.  I like to see the crab when I’m eating it.  The puree had been heating and was ready the only thing to do was to fry the crabs and make the noissette.

Rico about to document the dish - Photo Alex Kaliakin

Rico about to document the dish - Photo Alex Kaliakin

We dredged the crabs in seasoned flour and fried them to perfection 3 at a time.  About half way through the process I made the noissette sauce, which is essentially a brown butter sauce with capers, parsley and lemon.  The plates came out of the oven and we put the puree down as a comet streak with a salad of pea and radish sprouts with lemon and olive oil and the noissette over that. We served it to the table and it was paired with an Italian white:  2008 La Soraia, Gavi, a white wine from the Piedmont region of Italy.

Fifth course – Braised Pork Belly with Porcini Mushroom Risotto

Braised Pork Belly W/Porcini Mushroom Risotto - Photo Rico Mandel

Braised Pork Belly W/Porcini Mushroom Risotto - Photo Rico Mandel

What’s not to like about this dish? Pork belly, one of those wonderful cuts of meat that has a lot of flavor and braises to a melt-in-your-mouth goodness.  Take this and deep fry it to crisp up the outside, and that is heaven on a plate.

Rico & Elio - Photo Alex Kaliakin

Rico & Elio finishing pork belly & sauce - Photo Alex Kaliakin

Once I had finished the last course I went in to finish the risotto.  I had sauteed the porcinis earlier and already had the mushroom stock heated.  I put some butter in the pot,  added my parcooked risotto, and began adding stock to finish it.  While stirring constantly I added butter and ladle after ladle of stock until it had a rich creamy texture. A few minutes before it was done I added the mushrooms and parmesan cheese and adjusted the seasoning. Meanwhile Elio was frying the pork belly and heating the bowls.  We put down the bowls and spooned out the risotto.  For this dish I reduced the braising liquid to a glaze. I dipped the top of each piece of pork belly into the glaze and set it on top of the risotto. I placed some nice full slices of porcini mushroom that I had baked earlier and reheated on top of the risotto. A thyme sprig garnish was placed on top of the pork belly and the plates were served. For this course Alex and Brad decided to have a wine duel, so first Brad Served a 2000 Barolo, Falletto Di Bruno Giacosa as a short pour then it was followed up with Alex’s 2000 Spanish wine, Castillo Ygay Rioja, gran Reserva Especial Cosecha 2000.  Both were excellent and went well with the pork belly.

Sixth course – Korean Style Ribeye with Pommes Fondant and Asian Slaw

Grilled Korean Style Ribeye - Photo Rico Mandel

Grilled Korean Style Ribeye - Photo Rico Mandel

Have I told you that ribeye is one of my favorite cuts of beef?  In addition I love Korean short ribs. I like the combination of sweet, soy and a bit of heat that goes into the marinade. So why not combine this wonderful cut of meat with one of my favorite marinades? I did this entree for a wedding several years ago and I liked the way it turned out so I made some modifications to make it work for this tasting menu.  The pommes fondant is a variation of Chef Ludovic Lefebvre recipe from his book Crave.

Elio Basting Potatoes - Photo Alex Kaliakin

Elio Basting Potatoes - Photo Alex Kaliakin

Earlier I took the steaks out of the fridge to allow them to come up to room temperature.  This makes the cooking more even and shortens the cooking time.  I grilled the steaks on high heat to a medium rare and set them aside to rest for about 5 minutes.  Everything was ready to go once I got into the kitchen.  We dressed the slaw with an Asian dressing I had made earlier.

Old Sparkey with Spanish wine for pork belly - Photo Alex Kaliakin

Old Sparkey with Spanish wine for pork belly - Photo Alex Kaliakin

Rico Grilling - Photo Alex Kaliakin

Rico Grilling - Photo Alex Kaliakin

The slaw had red cabbage, fennel, cucumbers, red onion and almonds in it. I had Elio cut them on the mandoline to give a nice thin elegant appearance when served.

Earlier I had strained the marinade and reduced it to use  as the sauce. The meat was cut and the elements placed as we served the 6th course around midnight.  This was served with a 2006 Schrader, “Old Sparky” Cabernet Sauvignon which got a 100pt rating by Robert Parker in the Wine Advocate.

Seventh course – Cheese Plate with Fumaison, Two Sisters Gouda and Bohemian Creamery Capriago Cheese

Cheese Plate - Photo Rico mandel

Cheese Plate - Photo Rico mandel

On a recent trip to Healdsburg with my mother,  I went into the Healdsburg Cheese Shop and we discovered a cornucopia of wonderful cheeses. It was like being a kid in a candy store: Where to start? What looks good? What do I want to try first? The woman behind the counter was a big help, we asked about certain cheeses that caught our eye and tasted a large variety of cheeses.  Mom bought several to take back to my brother’s house while I was concentrating on the upcoming dinner and what interesting cheeses I could serve.  I chose a French smoked sheep’s milk cheese called Fumaison, which had a rich smooth texture with a hint of smokiness at the finish. Next I settled on a younger cow’s milk gouda called Two Sisters, which is aged 2 years. It has a semi hard texture with a creamy finish with a pastoral essence.  The last cheese was a northern California goat’s milk cheese called Capriago made by Bohemian Creamery in Sebastapol.  It was a semi hard cheese with a milky white color and a smooth, complex flavor. Elio arranged the cheese plates beautifully with orange supremes, grapes, hazelnut bread, and Marcona almonds. It was a beautiful sight. The photo speaks for itself. It was served with a Baumard Carte D’Or 2004 Coteaux Du Layon Chenin Blanc to go with it that was wonderfully light.

The Eighth course – Wine & Cardamom Poached Pears Dipped in Chocolate with Vanilla Ice Cream

Chocolate Dipped Poached Pear - Photo Rico Mandel

Chocolate Dipped Poached Pear - Photo Rico Mandel

I was looking for a light dessert to finish off this wonderful meal,  thinking about a fruit dessert that would be elegant yet light on the palate.  I like wine-poached pears; the wine gives the fruit a rich flavor and deep red color.  Elio had made poached pears for a wine tasting dinner when he was working at the Saddle Peak Lodge. The poaching liquid consisted of red wine, dried apricots and cherries, orange slices, star anise, sugar, cloves, cinnamon, and cardamom.

Sous Chef Elio Serving Dessert - Photo Alex Kaliakin

Sous Chef Elio Serving Dessert - Photo Alex Kaliakin

We poached the pears and let them cool overnight in the poaching liquid to give them a rich red color and allow the poaching process to finish.  We strained the liquid and reduced it to a syrupy consistency.  Next Elio separated some of the dried fruit to be used both as a garnish and also to make a puree for the plate.  We dipped the pears in chocolate on-site  and let them cool. Elio plated the dessert and we served it to our anxiously awaiting guests.  The chocolate was a great complement to the soft poached pear. It was served with a 2006 Ben Ryé (Ben Ree-ā), a Sicillian wine fron the Island of Pantellaria.

Elio, Rico, Donna, Tony and Lisa enjoying the fire after the meal - Photo Alex Kaliakin

Elio, Rico, Donna, Tony and Lisa enjoying the fire after the meal - Photo Alex Kaliakin

The evening turned out to be a great success.  A wonderful group of friends, great food, fabulous wines brought by the guests, a dreamlike setting, and, for those of us who partake, a good cigar to cap off the evening. We started at 7:15pm and ended with the final course around 1:00am. A leisurely, decadent feast for all who came.

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