Brothers Matt and Jeff Nichols weren't in the kitchen, and their popular restaurant, Brothers at Mattei's Tavern in Los Olivos, was closed on a recent Sunday afternoon. Then why was it full of people eating great food and drinking local wines?
Because a private party was taking place. The brothers were launching their cookbook, Brothers Cuisine, Recipes from Santa Barbara, California Wine Country. Instead of manning the kitchen, they signed books nonstop for the duration of the party.
The food was nonstop too, all from the book -- the proof of the pudding, so to speak, although the closest thing to a pudding was crusty Tahitian vanilla bean crème brulée in a spoon.
There were mini Kobe beef burgers with caramelized onions in house-made buns; miniature filet mignon crispy tacos scented with cumin; paper cones of spicy fried calamari with chipotle mayonnaise; and spring lamb lollipops with creamy mint sauce.
Kabocha squash soup with crème fraiche was perfect for the cool, rainy afternoon. In addition to oyster shooters and oysters on the half shell, servers passed spoons of risotto, each with a generous chunk of lobster on top.
In the book, the brothers tell how to make a risotto base in advance, a technique they use at the restaurant. Try that for a holiday party.
Their guests also got to taste sweet potato cheesecake frosted with marshmallow fluff and all the cookies that are in the book: Jeff's favorite oatmeal chocolate chip cookies, Matt's favorite burnt sugar cookies, their mom's chocolate cookies and coconut macaroons.
One of the wines poured was a 2007 Syrah from Andrew Murray Vineyards, symbolic because the brothers got their start in the area cooking wine dinners there. The first Brothers Restaurant opened in 1996 in Solvang. In 2002, they moved into Mattei's Tavern.
The cookbook took a year of work, with family, friends and customers testing the recipes to make sure they would work in home kitchens. The brothers published the book themselves. It's no budget job, but a glossy production that required three photographers, one for food, another for lifestyle photos and a third for vineyard photos.
If you're in the area, you can pick up a copy at Brothers Restaurant at Mattei's Tavern, 2350 Railway Ave., Los Olivos. (805) 688-4820. Or you can order it through the restaurant web site. The price is $34.95.
Filet Mignon Crispy Tacos
From: Brothers Cuisine, Recipes from Santa Barbara, California Wine Country, by Matt and Jeff Nichols.
Makes: 12 tacos
1 (7-ounce) can chipotle chiles
½ cup water
1 ½ pounds filet mignon, cut into ¼-inch dice
1 ½ teaspoons kosher salt
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon black pepper
2 tablespoons corn oil
2 tablespoons chipotle puree
½ medium yellow onion, diced
1 jalapeño, diced
Fresh tomato salsa:
8 Roma tomatoes, diced
½ yellow onion, diced
1 bunch cilantro, finely chopped
Juice of 1 lemon
Juice of 3 limes
½ head Napa cabbage, thinly sliced
1 bunch green onions, finely sliced on a bias
Whole leaves from 1 bunch cilantro
12 crisp taco shells or soft corn tortillas
Grated aged white Cheddar cheese
Bottled hot sauce
1. To make the chipotle puree, in a blender puree the chiles with the water until smooth.
2. To make the taco meat, combine the filet mignon, salt, coriander, cumin and pepper in a bowl and mix well to coat the beef. Heat the corn oil in a large sauté pan over medium high heat. When hot, spread the seasoned beef in the pan and do not move. This will sear one side of the meat. After 1 minute, toss the meat to brown and cook the other sides. Mix in 2 tablespoons or more of the chipotle puree and toss to coat. Remove from the heat and place in a bowl.
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3. In the same pan over medium heat, sauté the onion and jalapeño until softened, about 2 to 3 minutes. Add the onion mixture to the meat and mix until well combined. Set aside.
4. To make the tomato salsa, mix the tomatoes, onion, cilantro, lemon juice and lime juice in a bowl. Season with salt and white pepper. Refrigerate.
5. To make the taco slaw, mix the cabbage, green onions and cilantro leaves in a bowl. Set aside.
6. To serve, reheat the taco meat. Spoon the meat into warm crisp taco shells or warm soft corn tortillas. Sprinkle the grated white Cheddar over the beef. Top with the cabbage slaw and tomato salsa. Serve with your favorite hot sauce.