Monday, May 31, 2010

It's Fennel and High School Prom Season
Go ahead, make their day with a bouquet of fennel... or just make a salad with it :)

Will you be my date for the prom?? Ross Carrick, all dressed up for senior prom, contemplates giving his date a handful of pretty fennel stalks with feathery fronds. Instead Ross gave the fennel back to me and I made an egg salad with it! Fennel season corresponds with high school graduation. For a grad picnic, consider make egg salad using fennel instead of celery.

CELERY IS BORING- TRY FENNEL INSTEAD! I love how fresh fennel is... it imparts a slight licorice taste to things, but is so subtle, you can use it in place of celery.

You can eat every part of the fennel plant from the bulbous bottom, to the stalks to the feathery fronds.

Here's a recipe for fennel egg salad from I left out the Dijon mustard... I wanted to taste mostly the fennel.

8 large eggs
1 garlic clove
1/2 cup mayonnaise
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon grated lemon zest
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1/2 fennel bulb, finely chopped (1 cup), plus 1 tablespoon finely chopped fronds

Cover eggs with cold water in a medium saucepan. Cook eggs, uncovered, at a gentle boil 10 minutes. Pour off hot water. Shake pan gently so eggs bump one another (to crack shells). Run cold water into pan to stop cooking. Let eggs stand in cold water 15 minutes, adding more water to keep cold.

Mince and mash garlic to a paste with a pinch of salt. Whisk together with mayonnaise, lemon juice, zest, mustard, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and 1/4 teaspoon pepper.

Chop eggs and stir into dressing with fennel and fronds.

Monday, May 10, 2010

A Sybaris Spring
What Chef Matt Bennett is Cooking up this Spring on 1st Ave in Albany, Oregon

Warm salad of fried razor clams, pickled onion, grilled asparagus and Brindisi cheese stuffed piquillo peppers on spinach and arugula with lemon-chive dressing.

Guy Savoy artichoke soup with Oregon truffles and Vella Dry Jack cheese.

Super smooth chocolate cream pie made with coconut cream and dark artisan chocolate (a favorite for me, since I'm allergic to cow's milk!).

Sunday, May 02, 2010

The Culinary Heart of Albany, Oregon
Operation Sybaris is a family and community affair where locavores can discover the true taste of Willamette Valley

It’s 1 p.m., and Matt Bennett, Chef and co-owner of Sybaris restaurant on 1st street in Albany, has spent all morning meticulously stuffing beef and lamb into casings to make handmade sausage.

When I arrive in the afternoon, he's onto other tasks in the kitchen: pureeing asparagus for crab, asparagus ravioli. A pot of chicken stock and spring artichokes simmers on the stove. The smell of baking focaccia rises from the oven. Matt's caramelizing turbinado sugar in one pan, then adds heavy cream and salt, lowers the temp. and spoons up a glob of hard stringy caramel, which will slowly melt again into a sweet soup of amber cream whose next incarnation will be caramel sorbet. Matt Bennett is a chef that takes his time when cooking; he tends to his food like a doting father would care for a child.

Matt holding his daughter in the kitchen, with Mom, Janel, looking on.

Matt lifts the lid to a pot filled with broth and wedges of artichokes. He fills a pitcher with the broth, reaches into a brown paper bag full of white Oregon truffles, throws a few into the pitcher, then mixes the whole thing in a blender. He then pours it into a sieve and slowly stirs the soft green stuff with a wooden spoon until what remains is artichoke truffle soup as smooth as cream. The smells coming out of this kitchen are enough to make anyone want to stick around all day.

Matt spends all afternoon going back and forth between tasks, mixing here, blending there. His wife Janel shows up with their two daughters.

Someone calls on the phone and Matt laughs, telling me his dishwashers are on their way over-- high school seniors Jacob Garcia and Steven Hartman, who have asked Matt's permission to eat one of the ghost peppers he’s got on hand, one he uses to spice up an entire vat of sauce. But the boys plan to split the chili and down it raw. Why? “because it’s boring in Albany, and there's nothing else to do,” says Steven.

Steven, one of the dishwashers at Sybaris who decided spontaneously to show up and eat a ghost pepper after school one day.

There are many touches of family and community here: you can taste it in Matt's dishes, prepared with local produce from artisans and farmer friends at places like Spring Hill Organic Farm just over the bridge a block away. He’s an innovative chef who offers a completely different menu every month, based on what's in season. Your server might be Matt's wife, co-owner Janel Bennett.

Or you may hear echos of little girl footsteps in the restaurant from when Matt's daughters arrived earlier to visit Dad while he cooked.

Matt's family: Wife Janel and daughters sit together at Sybaris.

A couple share a glass of wine while waiting to be seated.