Saturday, September 22, 2012

Judging Pie

A couple of weeks ago, I was invited once again to be a judge at KCRW’s Pie Contest. I always accept the invitation with mixed feelings of excitement and panic. Panic because even though I’ve always taken pride in been able to digest rocks, I still shiver at the thought of tasting blindly massive quantities of pie made by complete strangers in their home kitchens. I did have some leverage this year though: this is my third year as a judge and I knew exactly what I was up against.

In recent years, I’ve made a conscious effort to eat healthily and exercise regularly. But even if you follow a well balanced diet, when it comes to pie judging intense preparation is the name of the game. Starting the Monday prior, I set out to follow 2 rules: eat 3 meals a day free of sugar or refined flour, and exercise at least 30 minutes every day of that week. I used a phone app to keep me on track.

Here’s my exercise and food log:

Work out: 3-mile run in the a.m. and afternoon hike up Beaudry Loop Trail
Breakfast: Coffee with soy milk, 2 scrambled eggs with mushrooms and onions, 1 banana and 2 teaspoons of chia seeds in my Emergen-C
Lunch: Chopped chicken salad and 1 cup of blueberries
Dinner: Bun-less cheeseburger with avocado and 1 gin tonic

Work out: 60 minutes classical pilates at Elevation Fitness
Breakfast: Coffee with soy milk, 2 scrambled eggs with onions and tomatoes, 1 Banana and 2 teaspoons of chia seeds in my Emergen-C
Lunch: Turkey wrapped in romaine with avocado and alfalfa sprouts and ¼ cup trail mix
Dinner: Hummus and raw veggies for dipping and 2 glasses of white wine

Work out: 3-mile brisk walk
Breakfast: Coffee with soy milk, 5 fresh figs, 2 tablespoons raw walnuts and 2 teaspoons of chia seeds in my Emergen-C
Lunch: Bibb lettuce salad with grilled chicken breast and 2 ounces of feta
Dinner: Fried brown rice with veggies with a small salad, 1 tablespoon raw almonds and 1 glass white wine

Work out: 3-mile run in the a.m. and 90 minutes hatha yoga
Breakfast: Coffee with soy milk, 2 scrambled eggs with tomatoes and cottage cheese and 2 teaspoons chia seeds in my Emergen-C.
Lunch: ½ cup granola with berries and soy milk and ¼ of an avocado
Dinner: Italian chopped salad with salame, gorgonzola, chick peas and pine nuts and 2 beers on the lighter side

Work out: 3-mile brisk walk
Breakfast: 2 scrambled eggs with mushrooms and onions, 1 banana and 2 teaspoons of chia seeds in my Emergen-C
Lunch: Kale salad with grilled chicken breast and 1 pear
Dinner: 4 ounces pork tenderloin, ½ cup lentils and grilled radicchio

SATURDAY – The Big Day
Work out: 2-mile run
Breakfast: Coffee with soy milk and 2 teaspoons of chia seeds in my Emergen-C
Lunch: Multiple bites of assorted pies
Dinner: staff meal at Cooks County (salad and pasta)

Would I do it again?

Heck yes! I normally don’t eat so many eggs and by the end of the week I was craving a piece of toast more than anything in the world but I would definitely do it again. I’m glad I was proactive though and I can say that all those salads, 3-mile runs, pilates and yoga paid off. I was able to have a bite out of every pie worth tasting and then went back to the restaurant and worked through service. I did get a tummy ache around 11 p.m. that night but let’s face it: you can’t put your digestive track thru that much pie and expect no consequences.

One last thing about pie…

It was encouraging to see that most of the entries at this year’s competition were pretty good, actually remarkably better than last year’s. And I found myself liking a good percentage of the pies in my category. But there seem to be two common pitfalls among pie bakers: under baked crust and oddball flavor combinations. Luckily both are very easy to troubleshoot. Here’s one unsolicited word of advice for future contestants: exercise restraint when picking your ingredients and bake those suckers until they’re done.

Michelle Mournian, who entered two pies and won in four categories (best savory, best fruit, best crust and best in show), definitely understood that a good pie begins and ends with a good crust, and her fillings were tasty and done with care. Michelle, if you’re ever looking for a job, do not hesitate to call us. Hope to see you all next year!

Peace, Love and Pie,

Roxana Jullapat

To read more KCRW's 4th Annual Pie Contest, visit the Good Food Blog at

Friday, September 14, 2012

Most Requested Recipe: Sweet Corn Soup

This soup is one of the recipes that our customers request the most
Sweet Corn Soup
We've been serving this soup for lunch all summer long, and despite the record high heat we almost can’t seem to make enough to supply the demand. It's a really good way to eat corn, other than grilling it and serving it on the cob or sautéing the kernels in succotash. We add jalapeño and cilantro because they're very friendly with corn even if this move takes the soup to a Tex-Mex kind of place, plus it's exactly what you need to compensate for the sweetness of the corn. Gloria from Tamai Farms gets all the credit for supplying the corn that has made this soup and other corn dishes possible at Cooks County this summer.   

Serves 8

8 ears of white corn, shucked

¼ cup olive oil

3 medium size leeks, washed and sliced in ¼-inch rounds

1 yellow onion, medium diced

2 celery ribs, medium diced

1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves

1 jalapeño, roasted in a preheated 400ºF oven for 10 minutes

½ cup cilantro, chopped, including stems, plus a few extra leaves for garnish

1 bay leaf
1 tablespoon of kosher salt

1 avocado, diced and season with kosher salt (optional)


Carefully cut the corn off of the cobs by holding it straight on a cutting board while you shave off the kernels with a knife. Reserve the corn.
Place the cobs in a large non-reactive pot, cover with 12 cups of water and bring up to a boil at high heat. Reduce temperature to medium and let simmer for 45 minutes. Then strain the liquid into a large container using a colander. You should end up with about 8 cups of corn stock. Discard the cobs.
Heat up a separate pot, add the oil and sweat the leeks, onion and celery with the thyme until soft. Add the reserved corn, cilantro and jalapeño (remove the stem but leave the seeds). Stir to combine, and sauté briefly until the corn is a bit tender, about 5 minutes. Pour over the reserved corn stock. Season with the salt, add the bay leaf and simmer for 30 minutes.
Remove from heat and carefully purée the soup in a high-speed blender. Keep in mind that you may have to work in batches. For a silkier soup, strain through a fine mesh strainer, although we do not.
Place the puréed soup back in the pot. Check the consistency; if the soup seems too thick, add a cup or two of water to thin it out. Finally, taste and add additional kosher salt if necessary. Serve in soup bowls and garnish with cilantro leaves. If you wish, top each bowl with a few dices of avocado. Enjoy!

Daniel Mattern, Chef/Owner

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Stir-Fry Fridays

Stir-Fry Fridays

We learned as young cooks that if you wanted to keep your crew happy, or mostly happy, one little thing you could do for them is cook them lunch or dinner before their shift starts. Known in the industry as “staff meal” or “family meal,” we believe in feeding ourselves something yummy, substantial and healthy. And while we try to keep it cost effective and utilize as many leftovers and trimmings as possible (we are a business after all), we insist on using ingredients of the same quality that we feed our guests. We even take requests and use staff meal as the time to celebrate birthdays, going aways and good reviews. Ask anybody on our payroll, and they’ll be glad to tell you that we serve the best staff meal in town. And we aim to please; one of our servers went vegan for a couple of months and she had little to no complaints. I mean, if I didn’t work here, I would try to casually stop by to say hi around 5 p.m. a couple times a week.

Our staff meals tend to be somewhat thematic. “Taco nights” score very high and same goes for “Breakfast for dinner,” but without a doubt our most popular is “Stir Fry Fridays” brought to us by none other than our Sous Chef extraordinaire Manuel Mendoza. Manuelito, as we like to call him, trained for many years under Chef Kazuto Matsusaka of Beacon Café fame, and it was under his tutelage that he mastered some pretty mad knife skills as well as a range of tasty Asian dishes we’re lucky to enjoy from time to time. The one thing I learned from watching Manuelito make stir-fry is how little soy sauce is needed to make a tasty dish. As he points out, “A little bit goes a long way and too much can make the whole thing bitter. Plus, only people that don’t know how to cook use too much sauce…" Words to live by!

Here’s the recipe for last Friday’s stir-fry which happened to include tofu, a staple we don’t commonly keep at the restaurant but that I bought on sale at Bangkok Market a few days before, along with some crazy hot Thai chilies. This recipe makes a batch large enough for 15 people. Instead of a wok, we use two large cast-iron skillets. If you’re swift with the knife, you’ll be able to whip this up from start to finish in 20 minutes. We recommended serving on top of rice noodles or with steamed rice.

Manuel’s Tofu and Veggie Stir Fry


½ cup olive oil
2 thumb-size pieces fresh ginger, peeled and sliced thinly
8 cloves garlic, sliced thinly
4 spicy chilies, minced
3 onions, sliced
1 cabbage, quarter and then chop coarsely
2 cups carrots, sliced on a bias
2 cups lipstick peppers, sliced
2 cups celery, sliced on a bias
2 cups summer squash, cut into large chunks
2 cups cauliflower, cut into large chunks
2 cups broccoli, blanched and cut into large chunks
2 cups green beans, blanched and cut into 2-inch sticks
¼ cup soy sauce
2 tablespoons honey (optional)
Kosher salt to taste

Stir-Fry Mise en Place

Heat up 2 large skillets over very high heat. Divide olive oil between the 2 skillets, about 2 tablespoons on each one. Make sure to divide the rest of the ingredients in between the 2 skillets somewhat evenly.
Manuel separates ingredients evenly between two large skillets

Wait a minute for the oil to heat up. Start with the ginger, garlic, chilies and onions and sauté while tossing assertively to prevent the garlic from burning. You might feel tempted to lower the heat, but it’s important to stop yourself. The secret to a good stir-fry is screaming hot pans. Add the carrots, cabbage, peppers, celery, squash and cauliflower, and sauté for 2 to 3 minutes or until the carrots start to feel tender yet crisp. Then add the broccoli and green beans and continue to toss. Add the tofu and toss one last time.
Manuel tosses the stir-fry

Finish with the soy sauce and, if you choose to use it, the honey (Manuel recommends to use honey only if you want to compensate for the heat of the chilies). Season with salt to taste and serve immediately.

~ Roxana Jullapat with Manuel Mendoza

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Intelligentsia @Cooks County

Intelligentsia Coffee Debuts 

at Cooks County

We’re very thrilled to announce that Cooks County will now proudly serve Intelligentsia Coffee. We’re excited about this new development for many reasons, the most important being that Intelligentsia holds their growers in the same esteem as Daniel & Roxana hold the farmers and ranchers who provide our restaurant with top quality meats and produce. The raw ingredients are the star of the show.

When we asked the folks at Intelligentsia to tell us about this commitment they explained that as coffee roasters there was a limit to how much impact they could have on quality. “This is something that most accomplished chefs learn from day one of culinary school.” It’s the quality of the raw ingredients that defines the quality ceiling of what is ultimately produced. Potential is limited by the quality of the green coffees used, not by the roast style or blending expertise or any other clever processing technique. While these things are of course critical in allowing a coffee to reach its true quality potential, the quality of the ingredient will always be the limiting factor. “It is easy to destroy a great coffee through poor roasting, yet it is impossible to make a poor coffee great through excellent roasting.”

Partner Roxana Jullapat says, "Access to good coffee is a basic human right, just like access to drinkable water and freedom of expression." So, as you can see (pictured below) uur staff is very happy with this new development.We hope you will be too!

To find out more fascinating facts about Intelligentsia Coffee we highly recommend watching some of their videos. To find out how delicious their coffee is, we highly recommend coming in to Cooks County and trying some!

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Recipes from The Taste!

Fruity Snack Bread
Fruity Hand Pies
Slow-Roasted Fruit

(Makes one 10-inch snack bread)


For the dough:
1 ½ cups bread flour
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/8 teaspoon dry active yeast
1 cup cold water

For the garnish:
2 cups of roasted figs (see recipe below) or 2 cups fresh grapes
3 to 4 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons savory leaves
Coarse salt such as Maldon or Fleur de Sel to taste

1. In a small mixing bowl, stir together the flour, salt, and yeast. Add the water and mix by hand until you have a wet, sticky dough, about 30 seconds. Transfer to a clean bowl and wrap with plastic film. Let sit at room temperature for 12 hours.

2. Half an hour before baking, preheat the oven to 450° F and place the oven rack to the middle position. Place a cast iron skillet (about 12 inches in diameter) in the center of the rack.

3. Transfer the risen dough to a plate (about 11 to 12 inches in diameter) previously brushed with olive oil. Gently stretch with your fingers to cover the entire surface of the plate. Let rest for 10 minutes.

4.Using potholders, carefully remove the preheated skillet from the oven. Brush generously with olive oil. Transfer the dough to the hot skillet and gently stretch the dough with your fingers trying to cover the entire skillet (handle the dough only with your fingertips, barely touching the surface of the dough).

5. Working quickly, brush the dough with additional olive oil, arrange the fruit* on top, sprinkle with coarse salt and savory leaves and put in the oven. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes or until the dough acquires a rich golden color and the fruit looks nice and roasted. *If using grapes, remove from stem, toss in a bit of olive oil and season them lightly with a pinch of salt and granulated sugar.

6. Remove from the oven. Transfer carefully to a cooling rack. Let sit for 10 minutes. Slice and serve.

(Makes about 8 hand pies)


For the dough:
1 ¼ cup all-purpose flour
¼ cup powdered sugar
½ teaspoon baking powder
pinch of kosher salt
4 ounces unsalted butter, cold, cut into small cubes
4 ounces cream cheese, cold, cut into small cubes
1 egg yolk
1 tablespoon iced water

To assemble the pies:
2 cups roasted peaches or pears
1 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
2 tablespoons heavy cream (only for baked hand pies)


1. To make the dough, combine flour, powdered sugar, baking powder and salt in a mixing bowl. Using a pastry cutter or your fingertips, work the pieces of butter and cream cheese into the dry ingredients until they resemble pebbles the size of peas. Make a well in the center. Place the egg yolk and the iced water in the well of ingredients and mix gently with your hands until it comes together in a ball. Transfer the dough to a lightly floured surface and knead briefly. Flatten into a disc, wrap with plastic film and refrigerate for at least one hour and up 2 days.

2. To assemble the pies: flour a working surface generously. Using a rolling pin, stretch the refrigerated dough into a rough rectangle about ¼-inch thick. Cut 8 circles about 5 to 6 inches in diameter with a pairing knife using a small plate as a guide. Brush the edges of the circles lightly with a wet brush, fill each circle with about ¼ cup of roasted peaches or pears, fold the circle in half like you would an empanada or a turnover and seal by pinching the edges together with a fork or alternatively crimping the edges like you would a molded pie. Transfer the formed pies to a tray and refrigerate for at least one hour and up to 24 hours.

3. Combine the sugar and cinnamon in a small bowl and reserve.

4. To bake the hand pies: 20 minutes before baking, preheat the oven to 350ºF and set the oven rack in the middle position. Transfer the pies to a cookie sheet, placing them at least 2 inches apart from each other. Paint each tart with a pastry brush dipped in the heavy cream and sprinkle generously with the cinnamon sugar. With a pairing knife, score a ½-inch slit on top of each pie. Bake for 30 minutes or until nice and golden. Let cool completely. Enjoy right away or store in an airtight container to enjoy later.

5. To fry the hand pies: preheat a counter top fryer to 375ºF (or alternatively fill a heavy non-reactive pot halfway with vegetable oil. Heat up over medium heat, using a fryer thermometer to determine when the oil has reached 375ºF). Fry the pies about 3 minutes on each side or until nice and golden all around. Transfer the fried pies to a platter lined with paper towels to drain the oil and while still warm toss in the cinnamon sugar. Serve shortly thereafter.


(Makes enough to fill 8 hand pies)

8 medium-sized peaches, ripe
1 vanilla bean
2 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons honey

  1. Preheat the oven to 300ºF and place the oven rack in the middle position.
  2. Bring a large pot of water up to a boil. Score an “X” on each of the peaches. Blanch the peaches in the boiling water for 30 seconds to one minute. Remove and transfer to a colander. Let them cool for a minute. Gently peel the skins off the peaches, which should come right off.
  3. On a cutting board, cut the peaches in half, remove the pits and fit the fruits cut side up snuggly in a baking dish about 8 x 13 inches.
  4. Split the vanilla bean lengthwise with a pairing knife, scrape out the pulp with the back of the knife, and put the pulp and pod in baking dish with the peaches.
  5. Sprinkle the sugar over the peaches and then drizzle them with the honey.
  6. Roast for one hour.

(Makes enough to fill 8 hand pies)

8 medium-sized pears, ripe
1 vanilla bean
½ cup sugar


  1. Preheat the oven to 300ºF and place the oven rack in the middle position.
  2. Peel the pears with a vegetable peeler. On a cutting board, quarter the pears and gently remove the core and seeds at their centers. Arrange the fruit cut side up snuggly in a baking dish about 8 x 13 inches.
  3. Split the vanilla bean lengthwise with a pairing knife, scrape out the pulp with the back of the knife, and put the pulp and pod in baking dish with the pears.
  4. Sprinkle the sugar over the pears.
  5. Roast for one hour.

(Makes enough to make one snack bread)

1 pound ripe figs
1 vanilla bean
2 tablespoons dark brown sugar
2 tablespoons honey

  1. Preheat the oven to 300ºF and place the oven rack in the middle position.
  2. On a cutting board, remove the stems off the figs and cut the fruit in half. Arrange the figs cut side up snuggly in a baking dish about 8 x 13 inches.
  3. Split the vanilla bean lengthwise with a pairing knife, scrape out the pulp with the back of the knife, and put the pulp and pod in baking dish with the figs.
  4. Sprinkle the sugar over the figs and then drizzle them with the honey.
  5. Roast for one hour.

Write us and tell us how you do!

~ Roxana Jullapat, Pastry Chef/Partner Cooks County