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YOLO COUNTY NEWS
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Field to fork: El Macero’s chef offers spring tastes

By
From page A8 | April 23, 2014 |

0423 Kennedy chef photoW

Chef Rachael Levine with her three spring offerings: parsley chimichurri on grilled beef; prawn, carrot and watermelon radish salad; and a gin and mint cooler. Courtesy photo

Sometimes it just seems right to talk about the chef before talking about the food. And so we shall. It’s an account of an individual who worked her way up from the bottom, becoming a master in her field.

Fresh out of high school in Woodland in 1992, the young Rachael Levine had to plead her way into a dishwasher’s job at Woodland’s Dead Cat Alley brewery.

She calculated, successfully, that she could parlay this into a cook’s job. Six months later, she did indeed get to cook. Now she was truly taking step one to becoming an accomplished chef.

Today, two decades later, Levine is the executive chef at the El Macero Country Club. May is her third anniversary there. She was brought on for her skills, yes, and her devotion to fresh, local ingredients fit the new direction sought by the club’s management.

After the brewery, she put in some years for Morrison’s downstairs deli in Woodland. Her catering and kitchen skills there led to a nine-year experience as executive chef at R.H. Phillips Winery in Dunnigan Hills. She put in a kitchen garden, bought local produce and staged wine dinners, among other duties.

A three-year stint as corporate executive chef for Nugget Markets followed, requiring oversight of the ready-to-eat offerings in the refrigerated deli cases, recipe generation for clientele and more. Then a sales management position at a wine and spirits superstore in Roseville deepened her knowledge in that arena before she signed on with El Macero.

Cooking at a country club can be challenging. “You need to be all things to everyone, with a very broad spectrum,” Levine explains. Her varied background comes in handy.

There’s the demand for long-time favorites. At El Macero, examples include clam chowder, Cobb salads, and prime rib dinners on Friday night. The lunch menu is fairly traditional as well.

But dinner specials, such as a little-known fish offering, escalon, with a spicy green papaya slaw, appeal to members with venturesome palates. A creative salad with baby kale was tucked into the lunch menu for a time, beside the standard Caesar salad, and a new Cuban sandwich is popular now. Capay Organic and Produce Express keep her kitchen stocked with whatever’s fresh and local.

El Macero’s dinner service, which had been open just three evenings a week, now operates five nights a week. It’s far, far busier. And Rachael takes satisfaction in management. “It’s great to see people come together,” she says of her kitchen team.

Late April is a great season to feature fresh herbs, in Levine’s view. Winter called for aromatics—thyme, rosemary, and so on, used in substantial dishes. Often they flavor a stew or a braised dish and are discarded before serving. The lighter spring herbs, such as mint and basil, are usually added at or near the end of food preparation.

Below, she provides two recipes that feature herbs, as well as instructions for a new “patio drink,” a cooler aimed at those who love fresh mint. “It’s bright, refreshing and a little Asian,” Levine explains.

— Dan Kennedy, a Davis resident, has a long history with the bounty of gardens and small farms. Reach him at [email protected]

The recipes:
Parsley Chimichurri
(for grilled beef, pork or chicken)
Yield: 1 cup; Prep time: 10 minutes

The ingredients:
3 cloves garlic, coarsely chopped
1 bay leaf, torn
1 jalapeño, de-seeded
2 teaspoons sea salt
1 cup packed flat-leaf parsley
2 tablespoons fresh oregano leaves
2 tablespoons rice vinegar
¼ cup extra virgin olive oil

Putting it together:
Combine ingredients in a food processor or use a hand-mixer and process until smooth. Chimichurri will keep for up to 2 days.

Prawn, Carrot & Watermelon Radish Salad
Serves 4; Prep time: 20-30 minutes

The ingredients:
1 pound gulf prawns, peeled and deveined
½ lemon
1 bay leaf
¼ cup Thai basil* leaves, chiffonade
3 tablespoons cilantro leaves, chiffonade
½ jalapeno pepper, de-seeded, finely diced
¼ cup mirin (Japanese cooking wine)
2 tablespoons rice vinegar
2 tablespoons lime juice
Hefty pinch of sea salt
1 medium-sized carrot, peeled and julienned
1 watermelon radish* (about the size of a large egg), peeled and julienned
½ fennel bulb, julienned

Putting it together:
Make an ice and water bath in a separate bowl (to quickly cool prawns). Bring 6 cups lightly salted water, lemon and bay leaf to a boil, remove from heat. Stir in prawns and let sit for 3 to 4 minutes until they just turn pink. Remove from pot and plunge into ice bath. Let cool for approximately 10 minutes.

While prawns are cooling, combine herbs, jalapeno, mirin, vinegar, lime juice and salt together. Strain prawns, add to herb mixture. Refrigerate. Julienne carrot, watermelon radish and fennel bulb; toss together with prawns. Let salad marinate together for about 20 minutes before serving.

*Opal basil or standard green basil may be substituted for Thai basil. Daikon radish may be substituted for watermelon radish.

Gin & Mint Cooler

The ingredients:
1 ½ ounces Beefeater Gin
4 to 5 large mint leaves
1 to 1½ tablespoons honey
1 ounce fresh lemon juice
1½ to 2 teaspoons Pernod*
Ice
Soda water
Mint sprigs for garnish

Putting it together:
Place mint leaves and honey in a cocktail shaker; gently muddle together. Add gin and lemon, then fill shaker two-thirds of the way with ice. Shake vigorously for 15 seconds. Fill chimney glass or rocks glass with fresh ice. Pour gin mixture through a fine strainer over the ice. Add Pernod; top off glass with soda water then garnish with mint sprig.

*Pernod is an anise-flavored liqueur produced by Pernod Ricard. It is traditionally consumed over ice with water. Its distinctive yellow color turns milky when combined with water.

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