Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Chili for Christmas

Or sort of. Since Dave and I are off to Hawaii for Christmas this year, we're having a family get-together before we leave, and I'm making a pot of chili. I don't use ground meat in my chili. Instead I'm using a mix of meats for different textures -- chuck that will break down and shred, so I cut that in 1/2" pieces, and round for a little chew, cut into 1/4" dice. I do put beans in my chili, and cook them right in the stew without soaking. Since I want to cook it for several hours, there's plenty of time for the beans to get done, even with the salt and acid in the pot. And in fact they hold together better this way. I also use tomato, in the form of sauce and crushed tomatoes. This is a big batch, with 7 pounds of meat, six cups of onion, and a pound of dried beans. But I'm serving 12-14 with it. The good thing is that I get to ask everyone else to provide all the side dishes and garnishes, so I'm done with chopping after I get done with the chili. I'm making it today so we can reheat it tomorrow, always better the day after of course! Which reminds me, I'm taking a break from my computer for the entire time we're in Hawaii, so you won't see another entry here for about three weeks. But when I come back I'll have lots to say about what ingredients I found and how I used them, since we'll be in a condo and I get to keep cooking. Happy holidays to whoever out there reads this!

Monday, December 18, 2006

Using Tom Kha soup as a poaching liquid

Wanted to poach some snapper yesterday and had a hankering for some Thai flavor. One of my pantry staples is tom kha soup base, and I had a little coconut cream left over from making that Whiskey Crab Bisque. So I chopped up some red onion, some carrot, some boiling potatoes hanging around in the fridge (still trying to clean out some before vacation) and a sweet potato. Sauteed the veggies, then added a couple of tablespoons of tom kha paste, a cup of coconut cream, a can of chicken broth, and a can of water as well as the zest from a lime. Simmered about 15 minutes until the sweet potato was about done. Turned the heat to very low and laid the fish fillets on top, covered and let them sit about 15 minutes. Served with rice, it was very nice.

Fondue is fun

I made cheese fondue again this year for my wine groups' annual Champagne tasting. The tasting was fun this year partly because we had magnums, seemed to make it even more festive. Proportions for fondue are pretty simple, after reviewing 6 or 8 different recipies there wasn't much variance from 1 cup of white wine to 1 pound of cheese. I like tossing the cheese with a couple of tablespoons of cornstarch, I think flour ends up tasting too pasty. I've learned to be patient in stirring in the cheese, even though it starts out looking awful it works just fine in the end, especially if you remember to add a tablespoon of lemon juice since the additional acidity seems to help keep the cheese from clumping (I know, it has to do with denaturing the proteins in the cheese, right?). Final addition is a little kirsch mixed with some dry mustard and a grating of nutmeg. Seemed to go over well with the group, and makes me feel justified in having purchased a fondue pot a few years ago :)

Creamy soup with corn...not

Lesson learned the other day. Was using up some turban squash in soup, wanted a nice smooth puree. Also was just trying to clean out the fridge before leaving on vacation, so thought some fresh corn I had would be a nice addition. Taste-wise, it was. Used that along with some ground coriander, fresh ginger, and lemon. Blended it with a stick blender. But there's just no way to blend it enough to get rid of the bits of skin from the corn kernels. Have to use a fine disk on the food mill or a chinoise, way more trouble than I was planning. At least it tasted really good!

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Looks like I'll have more artichokes

Last summer I wrote about my one lone little artichoke, harvested after tending a big pot of plants for two years out on our balcony. I thought that was the end of the story, and I gave up on artichokes. Just not much of an ROI! But... I had Dave clean out the pot, pull out all the dead leaves and such, a couple of months ago. I figured to dig out the dead roots and plant some herbs in there next spring. But, lo and behold, the roots are not dead. I now have five 4" tall artichoke plants growing in there. If they can make it through the winter with little or no attention from me, I guess I'll give it another go. I'm still leery, since I haven't figured out how to deal with the biggest pest problem, thousands of little black flying gnats or something that suck the leaves and kill them. Maybe that just means I need to do a little research.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Update to my ahi tartare recipe

I did the ahi tartare thing again this past weekend for a holiday party. Added some minced shallot to the mix, as my chives were looking pretty sad. And served it with cucumber slices, which I have to say was brilliant. Went great with the citrus tang of the preserved lemon, and the texture was a perfect match with the softness of the tartare. Yum. For about 12 oz of minced ahi, I added 1/2 of a preserved lemon, minced, and 1 T minced shallot, salt, and olive oil.

Cooking science is cool

I've always loved to understand how things work, so I guess my semi-addiction to "Good Eats" is really not a surprise. But what I like better, now, is reading Harold McGee, and Shirley Corriher, and "What Einstein Told His Cook." This last book, on loan from Gabe, is a good read because it's essentially a series of short essays answering "why" questions on a bunch of different topics. Usually that means I can pick it up and put it down with ease, but I kept reading last night until nearly 2am. Not good for me, but I was enjoying the education. Now I find that Harold McGee has a relatively new blog (www.curiouscook.blogspot.com) so I guess I have to keep an eye on that, too.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Using preserved lemons

A bit of a hitch in the cooking plans this week. I got really sick so only liquids for a few days. So a hold on the whiskey crab bisque, which is finally cooking today and smells incredible. It has corn and coconut milk in it, a wonderful combination. Recipe comes from cooking class so I can't really republish here, but suffice to say it has bacon, crab stock, coconut milk, onions, garlic, corn (and I added corn cobs to the broth, too), whiskey (I'm using Maker's Mark), and of course crab meat. Since it is a bisque, it's smooth before you add the crab meat. I think Dave is going to love it even if I might not be able to eat any until tomorrow. Anyway, I made preserved lemons a couple of months ago. I love them just plain, I was kind of raised on salty/sour stuff so I like that (so did my mom, when she tasted them at Thanksgiving she just swooned). But traditional recipes only use the peel. And I hate to have waste. With this liquid diet thing, I've discovered two ways to use the salty juice: - in chicken broth. Just a teaspoon or two in a 14 oz can of low-salt broth really perks up the flavor. Add some rice and cook for a while and you have a nice gruel for the bed-ridden! - in low-sodium vegetable juice (V-8). That was icky to me until I put in a fair amount of the lemon juice. Makes me think that when I get to really "drink" again I will have to try this stuff in a bloody mary!

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Soup again

I think it must have been the weather. After raining every day except one during the month, we got quite the snowstorm right after Thanksgiving. And now I'm in a soup frame of mind. It started quite naturally with wanting to use up leftovers. That meant the fresh potatoes, leeks, and fennel I had in the pantry went into a nice potato soup. Then I added some of the smoked cured turkey breast from the week before, kind of a smoked turkey chowder. That was really good. Some of that now in the freezer. Then we get to the turkey stock, the first version. First I had to cook down the carcass from T-giving dinner, and made consomme out of that. Because I had spiced the turkey, and some of the skin was in the pot, it has an interesting aroma. Very nice. I took some of that and steeped a prune in it, and served it with homemade preserved-lemon tortellini. This was a riff on the duck/peach consomme with the same tortellini that we had at a Gypsy dinner. We really enjoyed that. Dave wasn't expecting the preserved lemon, so his mouth was pleasantly surprised. And the prune essence was nicely floral. The rest of the consomme is in the freezer for later. Then the second version of turkey stock. This was was because of those 2 $4 turkeys I got (about 19 lbs each!) that I took apart last Monday to cure the legs and breasts for more smoked turkey. I roasted the carcass and the wings and tossed it all into the pot overnight. That stock got onions and celery, and got strained. Then I made vegetable noodle soup with that. Good option for Dave's lunch all next week. Tomorrow, since Dungeness Crab is in season, I'm getting a bunch of it and making a Whiskey Crab Bisque. We made it in class a couple of weeks ago and it was great. So I am looking forward to doing that again.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Of course I have to talk about Thanksgiving dinner

First, though, I apologize for not writing recently. (Some members of my family pointed that out yesterday.) It's not, of course, that I'm not cooking. I've just been kind of busy. Partly because I committed to do T-giving dinner for the family and I don't do much for that that isn't completely from scratch. So this entry will kind of fill you in on some of the cooking adventures over the past couple of weeks that led to the end result. Like: instead of using commercial bacon in my green beans and in the brussels sprouts, I made my own pancetta-style bacon. Cured and roasted to 150 degrees, not dried or smoked. This was my first adventure in curing. It was great. Only did three pounds of pork belly, and it really was on a whim. We were in an Asian market (99 Ranch) and they had great looking pork belly. I'd worked with it last summer in my Preserving class, so figured I'd give it a try. Like: for the dressing, I baked my own seasoned bread. Put extra salt, thyme, rosemary, minced parsley flower heads, and sage in it (does that make it "Scarborough Fair" dressing??). I also used some of the homemade sausage I made a few weeks ago. Like: I made "Le Bete Noire" (see previous post from September 13th). Like: I got a free turkey two weeks before thanksgiving and so I took off the breasts and cured them, too, and then hot smoked them. Boy is that good! I roasted the legs and the carcass and made a couple of gallons of very rich turkey stock, and then reduced it to 2 quarts so I could just take a quart when I needed it and make a gallon of stock for the gravy etc. That worked out great. Like: I tried the Cooks' Illustrated method for salting the turkey instead of brining it. But I combined that recipe with the spice rubbed turkey from the November Bon Appetit, sort of. So I loosened the skin from the entire turkey, and combined some of the spice rub (coriander, cinnamon, cumin, smoked pimenton) with the salt for the rub and put that under the skin for 36 hours. Then I washed it all out and rubbed the skin with more of the spice, refrigerated overnight and so the skin got nice and dry. Turned out very crispy with great juicy meat in all places. And it was beautiful. Like: I made an ahi tartare with minced preserved lemon and some tapenade as accompaniments to the salad, which was baby greens with shaved fennel and red onion dressed with lemon viniagrette. Garnished with supremes of orange. The overall combination tasted great together and the platter was gorgeous. I taught my brother how to make little quenelles of the ahi and he put it together very nicely.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Lobster ravioli

We had an event that called for some over-the-top celebration, just the two of us. So first, we got some caviar. And some very good champagne. And some oysters. But Dave also wanted lobster -- who am I to argue? So I got two 2-1/2 pound lobsters (at only $10.99/lb, it wasn't that outrageous). With that much meat, we wanted to do more than just eat it with butter. So I decided on lobster ravioli. After doing my usual search online, I settled on a couple of starting points for ravioli and sauce. Made a lobster mousse and folded in fresh tarragon and the body meat (yes, these lobsters were big enough that picking the body meat was worthwhile). The lobster mousse was just leg and claw meat (mostly the rubbery stuff) processed to a paste, then cream drizzled in and seasoned. Used wonton skins for the pasta. Then the sauce was reduced wine, chicken stock, and cream enriched with butter and white truffle paste. Used a little lemon juice to balance the flavors. Garnish was caviar and chives. Boy, was that yummy! But filling, what with the oysters and some caviar service. So we saved the rest of the lobster for the next day :) Definitely over the top, but a lot less money to do it at home (and in many ways lots more fun) than going out to a restaurant!

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

The Oxtail Project concludes

My encounter with oxtails is nearly over. My conclusion? They are a pain in the neck (literally!). Saturday of course I started the broth (has to be called broth since meat was included, stock is only bones as I understand it). Saturday night I pulled out the oxtails and cleaned off the meat, that was the pain in the neck. Tedious. Very tedious. Then I put all the bones and cartilage back in the pot and simmered it overnight. Sunday I did the first level of straining, put the meat back in and put the pot in the fridge so the fat could rise and harden (including off of the meat). Monday was consomme day. I skimmed the broth, strained it again, then reduced it until it was tasty. Then I strained it again, let it cool some, and tackled the "raft" to clarify it. We'd done that in class last week so I hoped that I could pull it off successfully (as I never had before). With Dave carefully documenting every step with photos, I got a real raft and -- perfectly crystal clear consomme! I also turned the oxtail meat into "sunday supper oxtail patties" that I would use in the soup I was planning. Tuesday, last night, we finally ate an oxtail-based dish. I blanched leaves of Savoy cabbage (nice and mild) and wrapped the oxtail patties in them. Put those in a 300-degree oven for 20 minutes. Heated a few cups of the (now jellied) consomme. Cut some carrots into a few tablespoons of brunoise and nuked them for about a minute until tender. Cut some leek into fine julienne and fried it for frizzled leeks. Then the assembly: - wrapped oxtail bundle into the bottom of a white soup plate - ladle consomme around it, not covering it - sprinkle carrot on top of bundle and in consomme - pile frizzled leeks on top of bundle - serve What would I do differently if I were ever to do this again? Make the bundles bite-sized, as cutting up the 1x3" bundle in a bowl of soup was kind of awkward. But it tasted great -- not quite like the dish I had 15 years ago that I was trying to recreate, but good and visually impressive as well.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Soups, stock, and oxtails

Class this past week was on "sexy soups." I do happen to think that soups can be very sexy when they are full of flavor. I think Dave does, too, because he really pays attention when I make soup. This week I had roasted chicken frames so I made chicken stock. And, since I had kale in the fridge, and dried beans in the pantry, and homemade garlic sausage in the freezer, well, that means soup. Yummy soup, with lots of garlic since I cooked the cranberry beans first with lots of fresh sage, garlic, and parsley and then added the chicken stock, kale, and sausage. And of course some habanero chile sauce for a kick. Went over pretty well, and the leftovers will make Dave's lunches this next week far more interesting. One thing we learned this week was doing a raft to clarify consomme. So I am now trying to recreate one of the most memorable soups I've ever had, an oxtail consomme with an oxtail patty wrapped in savoy cabbage. So today we are making the basic oxtail stock -- interesting in that the recipe I am using also includes some fresh cranberries and orange peel. Tomorrow we will tackle making a raft to get a crystal clear consomme. Will let you know how that goes. Right now, it's time to go make shrimp dumplings for dinner :-)

Monday, October 30, 2006

The White Dinner

I have no idea how this notion got into my head: create a meal out of foods that are white, and serve on white china. But not just white: white with intense flavors so that you don't notice the absence of color, only the abundance of flavor. It was very interesting! Here's the menu: Moet et Chandon White Star Creamy cauliflower soup with white truffle oil (served in white soup plate) Steamed white asparagus with sour cream viniagrette (served standing up in individual souffle dishes with sauce in center) Lehman Semillon White chanterelle risotto with Forme d'Ambert (blue cheese) mornay sauce Seared sea scallops with cider beurre blanc (both courses served together on large oval chop plates) Vanilla panna cotta One thing that was very interesting was the interplay of the mornay and the beurre blanc on the plate -- because of course blue cheese and apples are a great match, and so were the sauces with those flavors. I'll get photos later this week and post them. I'm pretty tickled about actually executing this off the wall notion!

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Vagabond dinner

Monday night we had our first experience with a "legal" underground restaurant, Vagabond. It's gotten some media coverage that unfortunately made it look like an elitist party, which it certainly was not. It was a fine experience, good company and good food. I'd call it a mix of "elite attitude" and "jus' folks" so I was reasonably comfortable. Having dinner in a wine shop (Portalis), with anything available at retail and no corkage, was a great thing. And we were able to share tastes with each other (and the chef). Seating was all over the place -- crammed into corners, up at the bar, a little on the cozy side overall. But since they were planning on family-style service, that wasn't as much of an issue except for us lefties. Regarding the food, the goal is to do sexy one-pot cooking, with a salad and a dessert course. No plate changes between salad and main course, by the way. Salad was almost a side dish: warm pumpkin cubes with roasted cranberries, gorgonzola, and candied pumpkin seeds with a sage viniagrette. The contrast of salty and sweet with the pumpkin was very nice. The poulet au cidre, with Normandy cider, pearl onions, turnips, and chanterelles, was done perfectly. Nice whole-grain bread to sop up the juices and a little braised swiss chard with pine nuts and golden raisins on the side. Dessert was an apple and olive tart, with ginger ice cream. The filling was interesting, as I've never had kalamata olives in my dessert before, but quite good. Unfortunately, the thyme pate brisee crust on my slice was undercooked. But my husband's crust was fine and he enjoyed it. I think there was some challenge with the kitchen as there were only two burners (yes, I know many people do service every night with two burners!). And it didn't look much bigger than an airplane galley. All in all, it was a great evening with great company, and time and opportunity to talk to the people preparing our meal as well as the others enjoying it. I know there are already a number of other prominent Seattle-based chefs who are interested in cooking for the monthly get-together. I'll be very interested in how it evolves.

Thoughts on celebrity chefs

In the past few days I've gotten involved in the Chef2Chef forum. Partly because I ran across it while looking for the menu for Monday's Vagabond dinner. While there I posted my thoughts to a culinary student writing a paper on celeb chefs for a hospitality class. Thought I'd capture those here, since I appear to have an opinion (and when don't I?). I think that there are two levels of celebrity chefs (maybe 3): local, national, and maybe international. All have different effects on food trends and consumer behaviors. In our area, we have a few local celebrity chefs who seem to be happy being local, and of course others who aspire, with varying degrees of success, to share the national or international stage. One thing that seems to distinguish many of the aspirants is a "publish or perish" attitude. You're nobody unless somebody has published your cookbook. The local aspirants can be good for the culinary community as long as they don't forget where they came from. We have a few around here who are doing an excellent job of self-promotion while stepping on every toe they can. I mean, really, is it that hard to be polite instead of a prima donna? Some times it sure seems to be. Time will tell if they get out of the local celebrity and get to the next level. Another thing to look at, btw, are "foodies" looking to be celebrities. Do a google on Michael Hebberoy to see the rise and decline of someone who aspired to change things. Some things he did (and is doing) are very good, but he took his eye off the ball and instead of running the very good and very high profile business he had, decided to write a book, develop a line of gin, ... Now he's going through a divorce and two of the three restaurants in his business have closed. I met him the other day, and he reminds me of those young turks in the dot com craziness who were sure they were going to get rich if only everyone would listen. I think there is a trap there also for celebrity chefs who try too soon to expand their "brand" and lose sight of their foundation. And then there is dear old David Rosengarten, who seems to be trying to expand into selling all his favorite foods at outrageous prices to other foodies who want to be like him. I used to like his newsletter, but now half of it is trying to sell yet another food club of the month...

Lip-smacking lamb shanks

Always wanted to cook lamb shanks, and when Dave found some for $4/lb I had him pick up a couple. Then of course the challenge was how to cook them. I took some cues from the new CIA cookbook "One Dish Meals." Made a paste of spices, including coriander, fennel, cinnamon, pepper, allspice, caraway, curry powder, cayenne, and some salt and rubbed it into the shanks. Refrigerated for six hours. Chopped some dried apricots and raisins and soaked them in brandy. Browned the shanks in some olive oil in a cast iron dutch oven. Took them out and put in a couple of sliced onions, cooked those until they were starting to brown and added a couple of cloves of minced garlic. Stirred for about a minute, then added a couple tablespoons of tomato paste and stirred until it began to brown. Put shanks and juices back in, added a couple of cans of chicken broth and the fruit and brandy. Put a lid on, put it in the oven at 300 degrees for three hours. Served with mashed potatoes. YUMM! One of the best things I've ever made.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Easy fish

I was reminded this week how easy it can be to cook great fish fast. I was at a client offsite and we were fixing our own dinner. Not surprisingly, I volunteered to cook the entree. They had four-pound chunks of halibut and salmon. Many different dietary restrictions in the group, but fortunately absolutely fat-free isn't one of them. So I made a marinade of lemon zest, pepper, and grated ginger in olive oil, skinned the fish, and brushed on the oil. Found some broccoli stems, celery, and red onion. Set the oven to 425. Peeled the broccoli and then julienned all the veggies, tossed them with a little of the flavored oil, and spread them on a baking sheet. Put the fish on top, sprinkled the fish with salt, and roasted it for 25 minutes. Turned out just perfect, nice topping for the green salad with lemon-dijon dressing that others made.

Monday, October 16, 2006

I can't believe I ate the whole thing!

Another Gypsy Dinner last night. Four chefs and TWENTY COURSES!!! Truly, more than a little overkill. It was great, and some incredible flavors. But by the time we got to the end, I could barely eat the interesting and intriguing desserts (bacon baklava, anyone?). An incredible cured scallop carpaccio with a Thai-style cucumber salad. A corn agnolotti with chanterlles that I could bathe in happily. Wagyu beef tenderloin, slow roasted with butternut squash. Some things were a little too complicated ("too many notes," said Dave, quoting from Amadeus). But others were a symphony of combined flavors and textures, like the suckling pork chope with a clam and house-made fresh chorizo, seared off and slow roasted -- so incredibly juicy I would have sworn it was brined, but it wasn't. Duck eggs scrambled with black truffles, served in an eggshell -- the ultimate aphrodesiac, if you ask me. Mussels in cider with smoky bacon, one of absolute favorite things of the night. There were many times where I was just giggling in joy over the flavors, over the combination of wine and food, over the surfeit of incredble stuff and interactions with such great chefs. Now, to be realistic, this was an exorbitantly priced meal -- nearly $600 with tip for two. But a once-in-a-lifetime chance to get farm-fresh inspriations from some of the best chefs in Seattle, and learn how their minds work in pulling them together. Oh, and the most interesting challenge to get my mouth around? Black truffle ice cream. Loved it, I think, but way different. Not Dave's favorite.

Monday, October 09, 2006

Beef with wild mushrooms

My favorite butcher in Pike Place Market, Don and Joe's, sells trimmings from steaks and roasts for about $7/lb. Mostly these are tenderloin trimmings, so when I see a nice little pile of them in the back of the case I ask for them. Last week I got 14 oz of mostly tenderloin trimmings. Figured that since it's getting to be mushroom season (it's a little late, really, since we've had practically no rain) I'd try a little braise with some wild mushrooms. Picked up 3/4 lb of white chanterelles, hedgehog, and lobster mushrooms and 1/2 lb of fat white mushrooms (vendor was selling for $1/lb, thought they'd carry the flavors nicely which they did). Cut the beef and the mushrooms into 3/4" cubes. Tossed the beef with a couple of tablespoons of minced shallot, pepper and some kosher salt and let it sit for a few hours. Then I slow-cooked the mushrooms in a couple of tablespoons of butter with a little salt, pepper, and a sprig of thyme until they were well-cooked, about 30 min. Set the mushrooms aside (removing the thyme) and sauteed the beef and shallots, deglazed the pan with some Pinot Noir, and put the 'shrooms back in. Sprinked a couple of teaspoons of flour over it and stirred it in, then added another half cup of wine. Simmered for about 20 minutes while I cooked some radiatore pasta. (Garofalo brand is great, I finally found a pasta that is worth eating naked because the flavor is so good. And Costco carries it!) Served the beef over the pasta, with a quick gratin of some thin-sliced zucchini and tomatoes roasted for 20 minutes sprinked with some grated aged Gouda. Dave says I can make this meal anytime :)

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Smoking turkey

Dave picked up half a bone-in turkey breast on sale last weekend. I brined it for 7 hours in 1 qt water with 1/4c kosher salt and 1/4c sugar. Then I rubbed it with a spice mixture (cayenne, paprika, cinnamon, cumin). Wrapped 1 cup of soaked mesquite chips in a foil pouch and poked holes in it. Put the left side of the gas grill on high and put the chips on that side (under the grate). Kept the right side off, and when the chips started to smoke put the turkey on the other side. Left it on there for about two hours, until the internal temp was 160F. Nice and juicy! It's great sliced for sandwiches or rollups (sliced up turkey and apples, put in warmed tortilla with lettuce leaves, a little shredded mozz, and a little mayo). Today I chopped some up along with some pears and gorgonzola, mixed with some butter lettuce and raspberry vinaigrette. Made a nice lunch.

Monday, September 25, 2006

Pizza on a gas grill

We bought a fancy pizza stone a couple of months ago. It sits on our gas grill and does a very nice job of cooking pizzas, even though it doesn't do 800-degree cooking. However, I've had a hard time finding just the right dough for pizzas. Pita dough is okay but not quite right. Neapolitan dough is okay, but ends up too tough on the bottom due to the longer cooking time at the lower temp, and it's way too salty. Finally, yesterday I think I got the right thing. It involves Caputo 00 flour, which I picked up at PFI. I did a lot of searching to do a survey of recipes, and this is what I came up with: Pizza dough for four indiviual or two large pizzas 211 g water 430 g flour (Caputo 00 flour, or bread flour) 5 g salt 32 g starter (I use the same starter I use for my bread, which is 50/50 flour and water) 1 g dry yeast Mix 300 g of flour with the rest of the ingredients until just blended. Cover and let rest for 20 minutes. In mixer (I use a KitchenAid), mix with dough hook on low speed for 5 minutes, then gradually add rest of flour and mix for another three minutes. Scrape down bowl as necessary. Put dough into oiled bowl, cover and let rise for about two hours. Divide into two or four portions. For four portions, I put them into 16-oz plastic containers and cover them, set them aside for an hour. Now they are ready to stretch into crusts. Bake on a hot stone, either in your oven heated as high as it will go or in a gas grill. Instead of using cornmeal on my pizza peel, I use Wondra flour. It's nice and granular and I prefer the texture.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Dim sum

Boy, do I love dim sum. The ultimate appetizer meal, I think. So of course I took a class on them last week. I've made steamed hom bow before, but nothing else. I really wanted to learn some of the wrapping techniques, like how you get all the little pleats in the ha gao (shrimp balls). I did, and it was fun. We also made baked shrimp toast, sticky rice in lotus leaves, shu mai, potstickers (but we steamed them, so I guess they weren't really potstickers!) and a few other things. Fun but hot and hard work. The sticky rice packets are also some of my favorites, so I was happy to get a chance to try those. We used fresh lotus leaves and soaked them in hot water, but I think you should use dried, pre-cooked leaves and then soak them. The leaves just disintegrated when we tried to fold them around the rice and meat filling. Also, I think the rice needs to steam a lot longer, either before or after putting it in the leaf. Only 15 minutes wasn't enough to get the nice sticky texture and get the flavor of the leaf infused into the rice. Good things to learn. Other thing I learned was that I had some shrimp toast topping left over and I put in into a couple of potsticker skins and put them into the steamer -- it was great. So great, in fact, that I made that at home last weekend for dinner, along with some pork potstickers using filling left over from class. We really enjoyed them. Turns out that Dave is really really good at shaping the potstickers with very even little pleats. I still rush too much so mine aren't nearly as precise. But then, I've never been a real patient cook, one of the things I fight in myself all the time.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Birthday dinner

Dave celebrated a birthday last weekend. He doesn't really "celebrate" per se, but he does like me to cook some of his favorite things and I am more than happy to oblige. This year that meant seared duck breast with Gorgonzola polenta. The duck is easy, I brine it in a brine seasoned with juniper, allspice, and garlic. For the polenta, I am a firm believer in the microwave oven as a great way to make polenta. I've seen some purists sneer at me about this, but you just can't argue with the results. I learned the technique and proportions from "Microwave Cooking" by Barbara Kafka and have since of course put a few spins on the recipe. I use medium grain polenta; you really can just use cornmeal (called for in the original recipe) but the texture isn't as interesting. Gorgonzola Rosemary Polenta 3/4 C polenta 4 C water 1 t minced fresh rosemary 1 t minced fresh thyme 1-2 T minced shallot 2 t salt 3 T butter 1/3 C Gorgonzola cheese, crumbled (or more if you really like it) Mix everything but the butter and cheese in a 2-qt. microwave-safe dish. Cook, uncovered, on high power for eight minutes. Stir and cook for another six minutes. Remove from oven and stir in butter and cheese. (Note: if you use regular cornmeal, only cook it the first time for six minutes.) The "birthday cake" was "La Bete Noire," the cover recipe from the September issue of Bon Appetit. Wow. Another in a string of flourless chocolate cakes, it got additional creaminess by using sugar syrup instead of granulated sugar. Better be sure you have quite a few people to feed, though, since it serves about 16 and it is really rich! Dave wanted it served with flaming cherries, but I decided that would not be a good idea since it would melt the ganache and it would run all over the place.

Friday, September 08, 2006

Date night -- Brasserie Margaux and 94 Stewart

We haven't been out to eat at restaurants much lately, so decided that last night was time (as Dave noted, I've been "cooking a lot of good stuff lately" so no need to go out...). We had a really nice dinner at Brasserie Margaux a couple of months ago, and since at that time everything on the menu looked good, we thought we'd see if we could confirm our initial impressions. We were a little disappointed. Service, while friendly, was pretty slow and forgetful. They did comp a couple of glasses of wine to make up for some of the service issues, which was quite kind. Dave's pork chop had nice flavor but was overcooked (we prefer them medium, this was cooked well-done and was somewhat dry). The prime rib from the carving station was okay, but medium instead of medium rare. I love the truffled risotto with parmesan, but they forgot to bring it to me and so for a while I had to gaze longingly at my dish of risotto sitting in the kitchen. Overall, okay meal but not "over the moon." What was fun was dropping into 94 Stewart for a post-dinner glass of wine. It just feels good to stop in somewhere where they know you. The restaurant was slammed, so we sat at the counter and hung out watching the kitchen until Lindsay, the sommelier, had a chance to chat with us. In the meantime I got plenty of time to exchange ideas with Jeff, the sous chef, as he stood at the stove. Watched him slice off a beautiful strip steak from a loin he was dry-aging himself, about 14 days. It was mouthwatering (and we weren't hungry!). It got us talking about meat curing in general. He also dropped off a spoonful of the red wine-port-shallot reduction he was using on the tenderloin. It was great, both in flavor and in texture. When Lindsay finally had time to catch her breath (she was serving as well last night) she let Dave try both Pinot Noirs she had by the glass so he could pick the one he liked better, always a nice touch. He picked the "funkier" of the two, demonstrating his continuing adaptation and appreciation of the nuances of Pinot. As for me, I tried the "Brown Bag" special where I had to guess what I was drinking. It was easy for me to tell what it wasn't, and Lindsay's hint that it was Old World but not French finally helped me narrow it down to Tempranillo from the Ribiera del Duero, a very nice wine (and quite a bargain at $8/glass). Jeff and I talked more about charcuterie and he shared his current favorite book on the topic, when skimming it I realized that Gabe was using the same book as the source for many of the recipes in the charcuterie part of the Preserving classes I took. I have to get a copy of that book...Jeff brought out some foie gras they are in the process of turning into a torchon -- I felt a little ungracious after I blurted out that frankly I thought it was too salty. But I think he took the comment in the spirit of frank and hopefully helpful commentary. Dave seemed to get a real kick out of watching me interact with Jeff and "talk shop." I know I sure enjoyed it, it was worth spending $40 on wine there for that nice social experience. We've got to get back there to eat more often! (and so should you, if you're reading this...)

Wednesday, September 06, 2006


We got a paella pan as a wedding gift last year, and I finally got around to using it this weekend. I've had paella in Spain, and on several other occasions in restaurants and made by people who specialize in it, so I knew what I was looking for in terms of flavor and texture. Did a survey of assorted paella recipes, and decided I (sort of) liked the recipe on spanishtable.com best. What's good about that one is that it gives measurements for each serving, so you can customize it to what you need. I did it for four, and it filled my 15" paella pan all the way to the brim. So I might make three portions next time. I substituted a blend of fish and shrimp stock for the chicken stock, and used calamari, clams, and shrimp for the seafood. Also changed around some of the seasonings etc. You don't have to use a paella pan, of course -- a big saute pan will work just fine but isn't as aesthetic. So here is my version: Per person: 1 chicken thigh, skinned and boned, cut into bite-size pieces 3 medium shrimp, shelled (tail on) and deveined 4 small clams (manila) 1 calamari tube, cleaned and sliced into rings 5 saffron threads 1/2 C valencia rice (or other short to medium grained rice) (Do not rinse!) 1 C chicken or seafood broth 1/4 C peeled, seeded, and chopped tomato 1/2 t smoked sweet paprika 1 soft Spanish chorizo, 1/3" slices 1/4 C chopped onion 1 garlic clove, minced 1/8 C frozen peas Optional: green beans (1" pieces), canned artichoke hearts, halved Per pan: 1/2 C dry white wine 2 T olive oil Heat wine and put saffron in it to steep. Heat oil in pan over medium high heat and saute chicken until browned. Add onion and garlic, stir until translucent. Add sausage and stir for about five minutes. Add rice and stir until the rice is beginning to turn milky. Add tomatoes and paprika, stir, then add broth, wine/saffron mixture, and peas as well as optional vegetables. Stir just to distribute ingredients evenly, and bring to a low boil. Don't stir any more -- a crust is supposed to form on the bottom. Simmer for five minutes, then distribute clams evenly around the pan. simmer for another five minutes, turn the clams over, and distribute the calamari and shrimp evenly over the top. After another five minutes, turn the shrimp over. Let simmer about another five minutes, and discard any clams that have not opened. Serve immediately. A green salad with a caper viniagrette is a nice side dish.

Monday, September 04, 2006

Cooking radishes

Until the other day, I'd only ever eaten radishes raw. But Dave thought we should try cooking some. Since we had a bunch of them from our CSA basket, I decided to give it a try. Looking for recipes didn't give me a lot of help but there was some guidance. So I decided to braise/glaze them. Halved the radishes, put them in a saute pan with some butter, salt, and a little water. Browned them a little on the cut side, flipped them over to cook a little more, then turned back when the water had evaporated to glaze them. They were really good, and held their color well (some of ours were purple). Nice side dish with meats.

Thursday, August 31, 2006

Onion jam

Lately the focus is on preserving things so that they don't all spoil before I get to eat them! I had four HUGE sweet onions in my pantry and as you know, they just don't keep. Thus, the onion jam experiment. This stuff is killer on bread with a little stinky cheese or goat cheese, or tossed into pasta with some capers. The hardware: 1 big saute pan (I used nonstick) and a wooden spoon The software: 4 lbs sweet onions, quartered and medium sliced 2 T sugar 1/2 C white wine vinegar 2 sprigs fresh thyme 1 T salt 1 t oil Put oil in pan, pile onions on top and sprinkle with salt. Sweat them over medium heat until the pile is reduced some so you can stir them around without them flying out on the stovetop. Stir in the sugar and about a tablespoon of the vinegar. Reduce heat and cook for about 15 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the onions start to carmelize and stick. Stir in a couple more tablespoons vinegar to deglaze, and the thyme. Keep cooking and stirring until the onions are very thick and the mixute is a pale beige. Taste and add more vinegar (and salt) for balance if the sweetness is too cloying, and cook a few minutes longer to blend the flavors. The onions should not be browned, because you're stirring in any carmelization and redissolving it into the mixture. Take out the thyme sprigs (there should only be stems left, the leaves will be in the jam). Let cool, then put into a container. Keeps for a couple of weeks in the fridge.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Market basket caponata

I was faced with a fridge and counter full of vegetables this week -- not quite keeping up with our CSA basket. So, after taking stock of the stock, so to speak, I decided to try my hand at caponata today. Everything was in the the pantry or the fridge. I am allergic to bell peppers, so I don't use them. But you could roast and peel a couple of green and red peppers, chop them and add to the pot with the rest of the ingredients. Dave always complains that I don't write things down when I cook good stuff, so honey, if you're out there somewhere reading this, this one's for you :) Market Basket Caponata 2 C eggplant in 1" cubes, unpeeled if skin is tender 2 C zucchini in 1" cubes Kosher salt 1 1/2 C carrots, 1/4" slices 1 C onion, rough chopped 1 C celery, chopped 5 cloves garlic, sliced thin 2 T raisins, soaked in hot water and drained 2 T small capers, drained and rinsed 2 T pine nuts 1/2 C peeled, seeded, and chopped chiles (like Anaheim or sweet Italian peppers) 1/2 C sun dried tomatoes, julienned (not oil-packed) 1/2 C black olives, pitted and chopped (I used Nicoise because I had them) 1 14-oz can diced tomatoes in juice 1/4 C red wine 1/4 C red wine vinegar 1/4 C balsamic vinegar 2 T honey 1/2 C chopped fresh basil 1/2 C water 2 T olive oil Salt and pepper to taste Put eggplant and zucchini in colander and toss with salt. Let drain while you're prepping the other ingredients. Then rinse with cool water and drain. Heat the olive oil in a pot or dutch oven, and brown the eggplant and zucchini. Add the onions, carrots, and celery and cook until onion is translucent. Add garlic and stir for a couple of minutes more. Then add all the rest of the ingredients except the water. Bring to a simmer, cover and simmer for 30 min. Check it -- it should be saucy, add some water if it is not. Cover and simmer another 30 minutes, or until the carrots are tender and the flavors have melded. It should be a little spicy, a little tangy, a little sweet with good texture from the vegetables. Serve with just about anything -- pasta, meats, bruschetta, fish steaks. Will keep for about a week, or you can freeze it for longer storage.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Fridge: finally ALL DONE

The repairman just finished replacing the nicked handle on the new fridge, and Whirlpool called me today to apologize for sending the check to the wrong address and assure me they were sending it out today. So I think the saga of the fridge is over. The trauma, of course, still lives on. I check the temp way too often, and actually have nightmares about the whole thing. But I don't think you can sue an appliance mfg for mental cruelty, so I'm just going to have to take the time to get over it. Bless Dave's heart, he came home this afternoon to supervise the handle replacement so I didn't have to worry about it -- because, as I was sure would happen, the tech got here and had never replaced a handle on this model. Sigh. But I went and hid at my computer while they got the whole thing sorted out. The funny thing was that this was the same tech who had come to "repair" the fridge in the first place, so I got the pleasure of telling him that his repair lasted all of 48 hours and then I made them replace it. Dave told him that under the circumstances, he hopes we never have to meet again! Let's hope now that Fridge and I have a long and happy life together :)

Gypsy Dinner

We got to attend our first Gypsy dinner last weekend. What a great experience! (What's a Gypsy dinner, you ask? I can't really tell you, but a Google search might help...) Peche, Peche, Quack, Quack was the theme -- all about peaches and duck. Well, who can argue with that? A couple of memorable dishes, including a duck taco with spicy peach taco sauce, which matched marvelously with a nice spicy Argyle Pinot Noir. (Now I think I'm going to serve Pinot with tortilla chips and fruit salsa, just to confirm that the toasted corn goes as well with it as I thought that night.) The first course -- a peach-scented consomme with a poached quail egg, a couple of little cubes of smoked duck, and a preserved-lemon tortellini -- was a marvel of textures and tastes. It was fun to watch the faces of diners who were unfamiliar with preserved lemon. Boy, were their mouths surprised! I knew what to expect but it was still such a great counterpoint to the quail egg. And the wine pairing, a Scheurebe, was very interesting. With all the different tastes going on, the wine seemed to be different with every sip. Too bad these dinners are seemingly always oversubscribed -- I sure hope we're able to get in on another one. It was so great to be at a communal table where everyone else cared about food as much as I do.

Monday, August 21, 2006

Cuban food and whacking your bread (flour on my face)

Another excellent Culinary Communion class this past weekend: five hours of intensive immersion in Cuban cuisine. Including roasting a whole pig -- I guess you could say we went whole hog on this one, couldn't you ;-) A couple of really good things: ropa vieja ("old rags") made with flank steak instead of some of the other cuts I've seen for this dish. Really flavorful, and great with the Cuban white rice, which was made in a manner I'd never tried before, boiling oil and water together with the rice, not sauteeing it first for nice fluffy grains. And an incredible lamb picadillo stuffed into empanaditas, using puff pastry for the dough and then deep frying them. The pastry was a little greasy for me, but that picadillo was great! Which brings me to the Pan Cubano (Cuban bread). It was made with a different kneading technique: "whacking" the dough on the counter by picking it up in one hand, swinging it over your shoulder, and slamming it down on the counter. Fold it in half, give it a quarter turn, and do it again. Takes about 12 minutes to knead the bread, and takes out a few agressions to boot! HOWEVER!!!! It is very important to manage your bench flour carefully. I decided to bake bread today because I have starter that needed to be refreshed. So I tried the whacking method. Needless to say, I had a light dusting of flour pretty much every where in the kitchen and on me after doing this. Good thing my counters are pretty slick and I could cut down on bench flour. But still, a bit of a mess. Sure did turn out pretty though.

Friday, August 18, 2006

Simple things for summer

Maybe my favorite thing about this time of year is that there are so many good things that can be simple: - really fresh corn - a fresh peach sliced over cottage cheese - tiny new potatoes roasted with olive oil and a little garlic - grilled shrimp with baby zucchini - just-picked cherry tomatoes, pop them in your mouth before you get in the house - beet greens shredded into chicken stock with fresh green beans, carrots, and zucchini - greens sauteed with a little duck confit (okay, maybe not so simple unless duck confit is almost always on hand like it is in my kitchen!) - just-grilled sliced bread rubbed with a cut garlic clove and a cut tomato, with a little coarse salt All of which I've eaten in the past week or so.

Monday, August 07, 2006

Yogurt cheese and tomatoes

I'd drained some Greek yogurt for several days and was trying to decide what to do with it. Minced some fresh dill, added some shredded lemon zest and lemon juice, some salt, and voila! Lemon-dill yogurt cheese. It's really good on top of tomato slices. I'm sure of course that it will be a good topper for fish, too.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

I could eat corn every day

At least at this time of year! Just lightly cooked, on the cob. Sometimes naked, sometimes with basil butter, sometimes with a squeeze of lime. And swiss chard, with balsamic vinegar and garlic. Think I'm making a dinner of that tonite. Dave will want meat, of course, so probably some grilled shrimp. Mmmmm.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Back to cooking again!

Funny how you don't know how much you need some things until you can't have them. I learned over the past month that the title of this blog is more than a little true. Last weekend I finally got to start cooking again -- new working fridge and a little trust in it meant I got things restocked and could cook again. It felt like someone took a huge weight off my shoulders when I started puttering again. Nothing really significant, some great meatloaf (notes below), stone-grilled pita bread, tandoori chicken breasts, roasted cod with greek sauce, bean soup...well, maybe I did cook a lot! Meatloaf can be humdrum and I really think that putting an egg in it dries it out (and that's kind of why the egg holds it together). So I tried instead making about a cup of mixed ground carrots, celery, onions, zucchini, and garlic and adding that plus 3/4 cup of fresh breadcrumbs, a tablespoon of worcestershire, and 1/4 cup of water to 1.5 lbs of regular ground beef. It made a nice tender, not quite crumbly loaf. Glazed it with a mixture of ketchup, brown sugar, worcestershire sauce to be a little traditional. I roast my meatloaf on a broiler pan so all the fat drains down, which I prefer to get a firmer but not fatty loaf. The pita bread was so good on Saturday that I made it again on Sunday. Easy enough recipe: 1T yeast, 1t sugar, 1.5c water, 1t salt, 1t oil, and 3.5-4.5c of bread flour. But it is just amazing that it really does puff up! I put a baking stone up on our gas grill and baked the breads on it (heated to about 550 degrees). It was fun and very rewarding. Stuffed with that tandoori chicken and yogurt sauce it made a very nice dinner that went well with a bottle of Spanish tempranillo rose.

Friday, July 28, 2006

Ode to my little artichoke

In spring 2005, I planted some artichoke seeds in a pot on the deck. Those seeds came back with me from Hawaii in about 2003. So I had little hope that anything was going to happen. And it didn't, for a rather long time. Finally, some plants came pushing up. Hoping against all odds that I'd get something edible, I tended those plants lovingly. However, so did a lot of bugs (they like artichokes, too!). Insecticidal soap didn't make the artichokes any happier than the bugs, so I resorted to tomato leaf tea to get rid of aphids and gave in to the fruit flies (or at least that's what they looked like). All 2005, nothing but leaves. Several plants died. But two held on over the winter, still teasing me with the potential of producing my first artichoke. Finally, in about May, one plant got a little bud. Glory be!!! If I could save it from the critters, I might have something there. Keep in mind, we have a small balcony and so this much time (and real estate, it is a big pot) is a pretty big investment when I could be doing something like banging my head against a wall trying to grow tomatoes. (More on that later.) Anyway, today the artichoke, still only about 3" across, started behaving like the flower it is and looked like it was about to bloom. Time for harvest! Simple preparation here -- make sure all the critters are gone and steam it in the microwave for about 2.5 minutes. Usually, I use artichokes as an excuse to eat rich sauces -- I love them with mayo, or hollandaise, or melted butter. But today, nothing was getting between me and my produce! It was very nice, and all I did was put a little bit of salt on the heart. Of course, ten minutes of artichoke ecstasy is a rather meager return on an investment of 18 months :) But sometimes I can be persistent.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Florida seafood and the best meal

Sure was toasty down in Florida. As they say, it's not the heat, it's the humidity. Tried amberjack for the first time. It was very good. Place called Rick's Crab Shack. They grilled it, and it was done perfectly. Just as good were the fried shrimp -- just lightly coated in flour and fried, so no bulky breading. Later in the week I went back there and tried their grouper nuggets with hush puppies. Also perfectly cooked, and a huge portion for lunch. More grouper at RumRunners. One of the best pieces of fish I've ever eaten. Coated in ground pecans and coconut and sauteed. Nice and firm, with a lobster-like texture, but not rubbery or dry. Served with a beurre blanc. I was in heaven. AJ's in Destin claims to have originated chargrilled amberjack. It was okay, a little dry. But still a nice assertive flavor without being fishy. Also had assorted fried fish sandwiches, and a grilled striped bass sandwich. The latter was served as two big chunks of fish, which I kind of had to mash up to make it a sandwich. That was a little fishy for me but not bad. My biggest complaint about the grouper sandwiches was that the grouper filets were too thin, so there was as much breading as fish. But my best meal down there wasn't seafood, it was prime rib. And really prime. A place called Callahan's in Destin, where they have a butcher shop and a bunch of plastic picnic tables (with umbrellas!) inside the shop. You choose your steak from the case, or in my case choose to have a (massive) slice of medium rare prime rib. That was one of the best pieces of meat I've eaten in a long time. Beefy, very velvety, none of that graininess that can show up. Perfectly seasoned, it had no need of the au jus or horseradish that came with it. Strange little place, but one I'd go back to if I'm ever in Destin again.

Refrigerator postscript

New fridge got delivered on Monday -- seems to work. But they gouged the new kitchen paint in the process, and the door handle is scratched. So we're not quite past this one yet. And...they sent us yet another compressor! That makes three compressors and assorted refrigerator parts sitting in my dining room. I know that Whirlpool would like them back, but we are having a hard time getting the dealer to pick them up and I'm certainly not going to go through the hassle of packaging them up and shipping them out. Come to think of it, we never did get that check from Whirlpool, either. Guess there's more to this story.

Saturday, July 15, 2006

Reflections on my last day of class (for now)

Last day of the preserving class series. Chef Gabe told us today that over the course of the class we made 38 different things. Wow! Ranging from pancetta and bacon and ham to mustard, ketchup, sauerkraut, and foie gras and confit. A very strange thing happened today. When we went around the room to talk about what our favorite part of the class was, I got all teary-eyed. Felt pretty silly about that, but not really embarassed. It was honest emotion. This has been in many ways a life-changing experience for me. I feel more comfortable with knowing what I do know, and not knowing what I don't. And it has confirmed how much passion I have for cooking. Maybe I'm also sad for the years (and maybe career) lost when I didn't know that this was where my passion and skills were. Ah, but better late than never. As I said when I started the class, I felt kind of like an outsider. But by today I didn't. At least I felt comfortable talking about what I might do with certain ingredients without being afraid that Chef would think I was an idiot -- in fact, I was able to talk that way without the little voice in the back of my head telling me to shut up. That's when I knew that my confidence has expanded. Today's agenda was fresh sausages. I got to work with caul fat today, something I've always wanted to do (It's funny how many things in this class dealt specifically with things I've always wanted to learn more about: foie gras, caul fat, terrines, cured meats...). Anyway, the caul fat went around some very lean greek lamb sausage. They were just plain great. All the sausages were great. So the meal today was a buffet of most everything we made. Scary huge table of food. I was so tired I really couldn't eat a plate of food, but I did sample most all of the sausages. Including trying the blood sausage, another of those things that I really really didn't want to eat. So that list goes like: blood sausage, gizzard confit, sweetbreads, raw foie gras. Not bad to get past all of those taboos for me. Can't say I liked everything but at least I tried! Our cured sausages were yummy, and cooking the collards with the cured pork shank was quite great. The Camembert got kind of funky, and the rind got very bitter. But it looked kind of neat. I won't be posting for a while, since I'm off to join Dave in Florida for a week. Gotta go eat grouper and amberjack, and try to forget the refrigerator trauma :)

Friday, July 14, 2006

%&(*#!! Refrigerator

Well, I thought it was fixed. But it died again last night, leaving me to schlepp frozen food to a borrowed freezer at 12:30am. AAAAARRRRRGGGGHHHH!!!! So I sent a heavily-edited flame mail to my dealer, and v-mail directly to Whirlpool (Whirlpool makes KitchenAid, in case you didn't know -- I didn't). I explained that they were going to replace the appliance, no further debate on the subject allowed. By 9am this morning they were all marching to my drum. Of course, I'm leaving town tomorrow night and not returning for a week, so the new one doesn't get delivered for a week. But I've re-purposed the wine coolers for the condiments, and I have an electric "cooler" that now has my undying loyalty. Have pressed that back into service to keep the duck confit, pork rillets, and cheeses fresh until we have the real thing again. This has been an amazingly stressful experience, I think because I felt completely out of control of events. But defective units leave manufacturing facilities all the time, I just lost the "lemon lottery" this time.

Dontcha just love potatoes and onions this time of year?

New potatoes -- the skin is so tender you can rub it off with your fingers. They are so darn sweet if you cook them simply. I'm talking 1/2" dice, parboil them until they are nearly done, then browning them in butter or olive oil. A little bit of minced rosemary can't hurt, or a little tarragon, or thyme... But pair them with the wonderful sweet onions you get this time of year, Walla Walla or Vidalia, then it gets really special. In fact, the contract of the sauteed potatoes with some diced raw sweet onion is great, or you can put the onion in at the beginning of the saute to get some nice caramel notes from all that sugar in them. Finally, to gild the lily, pour a few beaten eggs over them and make a Spanish torilla, or an Italian fritatta. Today, I added a little blanched and chopped mizuna -- the mixture toned down the bite of the mizuna and it stayed really bright. Yummy.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Heidi's Tasting Project

At the last minute last Saturday we got invited to an "event" at Culinary Communion (did I mention that's where I'm taking these classes?). Heidi, Gabe's wife, has an interesting project going on about how we think foods should taste and how they actually taste, over time. Like do in-season tomatoes really taste better, and if so, how? I took Dave along with me because I wanted him to meet Gabe and Heidi as he decides if he's willing to do the Provence trip with me (I really want him to). I thought it was fun though challenging. Dave discovered I think that he doesn't think about how food is supposed to taste, and what his vision of the "perfect" tomato or orange or asparagus is. So I think in the end, while it was kind of hard for him, that he was intrigued and wants to do it again (Heidi's intention is to do this monthly). I think it's a creative idea and it will be interesting to see where it leads for Heidi. Hardest thing for me about the evening was that I was there in class all day, got home after 5 and had to make something to take to the party at 7. Oh, yes, that was intimidating! Had some very new potatoes, fresh summer squash, and freshly shelled peas that I needed to use anyway (remember, I didn't have a much of a fridge!). So I steamed them all and tossed them with a vinaigrette and some fresh onions. Only problem? I didn't have any ice to chill the veggies with (no freezer at all!), and the vinaigrette sort of separated as the whole thing cooled. Rather, the veggies sucked up all the vinaigrette except for some of the oil -- curious thing, I'm working to understand why that happened. But the freshness of everything was great, so in the end it was fine since the oil I used was a very nice peppery EVOO. Another step of faith off of a cliff for me.

More cooking class thoughts

In all of my stress over the impending demise of my fridge (now repaired, finally, incidentally) I haven't talked about the latest coolness of my cooking class series. Last week, I learned how to bone a duck thigh as part of making confit. That was cool, because although I've made plenty of confit, I have not learned boning. So I am very happy about that, and because I then boned five hindquarters, I got to get some reinforcement of the learning. I also made tasso -- or at least did the curing and spicing of it before Gabe put it on the smoker. But because I went to an event there the same evening (more on that in my next post) Gabe had smoked it and we (Dave and I) got to try it the same day. Boy was it yummy -- thanks in much part of course to Gabe's recipe, which included allspice and marjoram in addition to cayenne and white pepper. But I was thrilled to have done the prep on this one. In fact, I just get very excited seeing the results of the things I've worked on in this class, since for the most part they are things I would never do/get to do in the normal course of life at home. I mean, making Camembert? Only in class. And it really looks like Camembert! And the prosciutto -- where would I have room to hang an entire ham? But there, oh, it's a thing of beauty. This weekend we will make some fresh sausages, and then eat all the stuff we've made in what seems to me to be an embarassment of riches :) and a surfeit of pork fat...YUM!!! What this cooking class series has done for me, though, is much deeper than just getting to make things I've never made. It has made me more confident in my knowledge, or at least made me aware that a lot of knowledge is living up in my head that I draw on instinctively. It's also made me (sometimes painfully) aware of what I don't know, and of how I am still lacking in confidence. But I'm going to continue on this journey, I've already signed up for another class and I think we're going to go to Provence with these guys next spring. I think Gabe has a lot to teach me, and I appreciate that he has the formal education that I don't and that he has a passion for sharing it. The first step was the hardest, now I have to keep myself from over-indulging in this.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

AARGH!! Fridge meltdown

For the past two weeks I have been dealing with a steadily declining fridge. That's right, the oh-so-wonderful built in isn't so wonderful anymore. Finally tomorrow they are supposed to come and replace pretty much everything. Don't know why they don't just replace the whole unit. In the meantime, I've been struggling to keep things cold enough for health, and keep meat frozen. Today I'm going to have to reboil all of my stocks from the freezer and make more duck stock, even though it's not time to. Luckily there is a freezer in our rec room here at the condos so today I moved all the frozen food there, and then put the refer side of the food into my freezer since the refer side has completely stopped working. Not very fun. Funny how the dealer just doesn't want to know you anymore when things aren't going well...

Monday, June 26, 2006

What I learned in cooking class this week

This week was cheesemaking. Lots of pots of milk on the stove! I worked on making Camembert, simple enough as long as you are paying attention to the details. But the devil is in those details -- as we saw with some of the other cheeses, you get careless with proportions and things get messed up in a hurry. One person put in only half the milk needed for the mozzarella curd, and the full amount of citric acid. What we got was a grainy tangy mess that would not melt into the soft mass we needed to pull it into shape. So had to start over on that one. But we didn't toss the first batch -- I chopped up some fresh herbs and we mixed them with that, some cream, and some olive oil. Tasted good -- then we tossed it into a pasta salad with tomatoes, kalamata olives, and other good things. What I learned was more about the progression of proteins through denaturing and recombining, and what happens at each of those stages. That learning had an interesting effect on my breadmaking the next day -- I didn't have bread flour so we were using AP, and I could understand how to compensate for the lower protein content of the AP flour and not freak out when my dough needed more flour and more attention to get the result I wanted (which I did, see earlier post about the challah buns for lamb burgers). Also took the next step on our prosciutto. Washed off all of the salt, dried it nicely with towels. Coated it in lard, keeps it from drying out when we hang it. Then a coating of ground black pepper on all the flesh areas, keeps the flies away and gives more flavor. Wrap it all up in a couple of layers of cheesecloth, and then hung it in the garage. That will now take about five months, I guess, for it to finish drying. The other sausages are looking good -- can't wait to try them in another three weeks.

Lamb and sweet potatoes (again)

One of the interesting things for me about blogging is that I can begin to see patterns in what I am cooking and paying attention to. For example, back in mid-May I made lamb meatballs and was eating sweet potato fries. And... ...yesterday I grilled lamb burgers and sweet potato slices. Different mix than for my meatballs: the usual 3/4 lb ground lamb to 1/4 pound regular ground beef, but left the onion finely chopped and mixed everything by hand. Two cloves of garlic minced into a paste with 1/2 t of salt, 1T olive oil, 1T chopped fresh oregano, 1T chopped fresh mint, pepper. I make four relatively thin patties out of this mixture. On the grill for about 8-10 minutes. Served them on homemade buns, used the challah recipe in "Joy of Cooking" since it makes dough with a nice texture and flavor for the lamb. Toss on a little tzatziki, a slice of tomato, and a couple of torn mint leaves and it makes a great sandwich! For the sweet potatoes, I peeled and sliced one into about 1/3" slices, tossed with olive oil and salt. They went on the grill for five min on one side, then turned and brushed with honey/lime/mint glaze (2T honey, juice of one lime, about 1/8t lime zest, 1t chopped fresh mint leaves. Boy, were those good. Once again, we served a rose. Nice with all those flavors going on, and it was a scorcher of a day around here so quite refreshing.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Duck redux

Well, as I was saying, I made duck confit last month. After four weeks, it was time to try it out. So I heated an iron skillet in the oven at 450 degrees and put four legs in there to crisp up. Then I put them aside, drained off some of the fat that had melted off the legs, and put in two bunches of chopped arugula with half a chopped sweet onion. Let the heat of the pan cook it, and finished it with a little sherry vinegar. (Not an original idea -- a riff on one from Alton Brown.) The bitter/sour of the greens were a great offset to the richness of the duck. And the duck -- ohmygawd. I could eat that every day! Beside the word "savory" in the dictionary is a picture of that duck. I am SO pleased with how that turned out. Juicy, seasonings just right, my mouth waters again to think on it. Drank a 1999 Milestone Merlot from Columbia Winery. Not something we'd been fond of last year when we tasted it before, but an extra year really softened it up and it was a great match. Still dancing around the chaos in the kitchen and the rest of the condo, but another day of touch-up painting and I can pretty much move everything back into the kitchen and go back to normal life in there. However --- now I don't have a bedroom for a couple of days because the paint we're using in there requires three coats+ to cover (it's a dark wine red). So the chaos continues for a while longer. Our painter just called me in to see the master bath, it's now rose pink and it's beautiful. Before it was sort of the color of a flesh-colored crayon. Now -- it pops.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Kitchen remodeling continues, and it's count the cookbooks time

New countertops installed last Friday. They are made of something called Swanstone, sort of like Corian but harder. And you can set a pot right off the stove or out of the oven on them. That's going to take getting used to, after being so careful with the Formica we had. They are purple. Actually the color name is Purple Sage, and they go very nicely with the lilac and olive paint in the kitchen. I like the integrated sink. By Sunday I had a working sink (and disposal) again so other than touch up paint, the first stage of the kitchen stuff is done. Next thing is getting the cupboards built-in around the fridge. But that doesn't keep me from using the kitchen, and we can now move most things back in. We discovered that due to all the dust we have to wash pretty much everything, and wipe out all the cupboards. So the dishwasher has been doing extra duty the past few days. Of course, getting the kitchen finished isn't the end of it, now we starting having the master bedroom and bath painted. So everything gets moved out of there into other rooms. Feels like we're playing musical chairs with everything. Gotta move all the cookbooks out of the bedroom so we can move the bookcases away from the walls. No small effort, since there are 375 of them in there! There are more than 100 in other places, so the cookbook count these days is about 500.

Making up for 20 years? Thai cooking and other classes

Four cooking classes in the span of eight days. Having always denied myself the pleasure of taking those kinds of classes, it seems I'm trying to make up for lost time all at once. But it really wasn't intentional. One of the classes was more demonstration and book-signing reception, for Tom Douglas' new book on crab cakes. He made five different ones, and they were all interesting. But the crab foo yung was my favorite. I'd signed up to go to this a couple of months ago, and it got postponed. So it landed on the 14th. While I was at the cookware shop where it was hosted, I looked at their schedule of classes and noticed there was a five-hour class on Thai cooking the next day. (One of those advantages of being a consultant, you get to do some interesting things in the middle of the day.) The cool thing about the Thai class was that first we went shopping. So I got introduced to a great hole-in-the-wall market in the International District that even has free parking. And incredible prices on great produce as well as an amazing selection of Asian ingredients. Lots less expensive than Uwajimaya, which is everyone's go-to place for such things. I can't wait to take Dave there to shop with me. The class was fun -- practical stuff I'll use again, and learned more about how to deal with fresh rice noodles, which I love. My second week of the Culinary Communion preservation series was mostly about preserves (duh!). As a class we made a lot of recipes; I took responsibility for making a poblano ketchup, which was great. Though the batch of poblanos was pretty spicy -- you know how they can vary so much -- so the end result had quite a kick. Would be great with a chunk of halibut or deep-fried zucchini. We also did some followup work on the cured things we did the week before. So I removed the skin from the cured pork belly and rolled it very tight to continue the process of making pancetta. That was hard work! We cooked (smoked) some of the bacon we made last week and had it with our lunch, it was quite yummy. Oh, and lunch was pork vindaloo, rice, and fava bean puree. I'm feeling a little more comfortable with the group but still a little disoriented. It's fine though. Next Saturday we're making cheese -- mozzarella, Camembert, cheddar, goat's milk cottage cheese, chevre, and maybe some paneer. Mmmmmm.

Monday, June 12, 2006

My first cooking class!

Geez, you'd think someone like me would have been taking cooking classes all along. For some reason, I just haven't made the time. But I am now! I signed up for a six week course on "preserving." That means sausages, smoking, pickles, cheeses, jams, etc. The first class was on Saturday, and we were making sausages for smoking/drying. Eight students, and an entire pig! It had already been broken down, but we were using incredibly fresh, organic pork to make saucisson sec, spanish chorizo, salted air-dried ham, molasses-cured ham, lamb bresaola, and duck prosciutto (among other things). I was elbow-deep in pork fat for quite some time. It was a blast, though because everyone else had taken classes with Culinary Communion before, I felt a little outside the circle. I'm sure that will change over the course of the course. What surprised me the most was that as part of the five-hour session, we also cooked ourselves lunch -- roasted leg of lamb with a honey/garlic/cream sauce, braised artichokes, blanched asparagus and garlic curls, with pre-prepped ratatouille and mushroom/fennel/artichoke salad. So after about five hours of sausage talking and making, we all sat down to a substantial meal. Wow! It was energizing and exhausting.

Rose and sweet potatoes?

Sorry I've been remiss in keeping this up. Time for a little catch-up (catsup??). Grilled pork chops -- salted with a nice dry rub for two days since they were over an inch thick. Sweet potato puree, and a Chinook Rose of Cab Franc. What a combination! Everything tasted better together. And I've gotten into roasting/grilling heads of romaine lately. Very nice just rubbed with olive oil and salt, then drizzled with a good balsamic vinegar. They go great with almost anything, rack of lamb last Friday. Wrapped some asparagus in foil with some sliced baby Walla Walla sweet onions to go with both, and it was a pretty quick dinner based on stuff that was already sitting in the fridge. (Yes, I do consider a rack of lamb a pantry staple sometimes :) Two things we are really liking this time of year are those baby Walla Wallas and fresh garlic. With the garlic, you don't have to peel it, just chop up the whole thing. That's what I used in the eggs I talked about last week. Also great with some shrimp and capers for a quick picatta sauce over angel hair pasta.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Scrambling eggs

I'm currently reading Julia Child's memoirs, and something in there about scrambling eggs made me do it twice (Sunday and today). I've got lots of fresh herbs begging to be used out on the balcony, so I made "Scarborough Fair" eggs. Parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme, of course, and a teaspoon of chopped fresh young garlic (you use the whole head, no skins to remove), and a couple of tablespoons of sweet spring onions for six eggs. This time of year is just the best when the brand new Walla Walla sweet onions come in, with the tops still attached. Anyway, sweat the garlic and onion over low heat in some clarified butter in a nonstick pan. Whisk the eggs gently with a fork. Add a couple of tablespoons of heavy cream and a couple of tablespoons of the chopped mixed herbs to the eggs along with salt and pepper (I prefer to use white pepper in this). Add the eggs to the pan and patiently cook them very gently, using a spatula to move them around until they are in soft curds and as firm as you like them. With some steamed asparagus and a couple of slices of tomato, it's a very nice brunch for two.

Monday, May 29, 2006

Adjustments required

All this new kitchen gear is requiring some adjustment... As I said, cooking a chicken in the advantium is a major mess. Not quite what I expected. Have to get used to the concept of cleaning out the entire oven interior like it's a pan. Sigh. And loading the dishwasher is going to take a while to "get." The racks are somewhat smaller and they are configured quite a bit differently from what we have known. Heard some frustration from Dave last night over that one. It just takes time (I hope!). The range will take some adjusting too, cleaning the cooktop is a little more extensive since with the continuous top, everything gets messy every time I cook. I'm just going to try to be patient. Not my strong suit but a good exercise for me.

Ducking again...

So I had one duck liver in the freezer, and two more from the ducks this week. So I tried Jacque's recipe for a quick duck liver pate: http://www.epicurious.com/recipes/recipe_views/views/105586 Dang, that was easy and yummy. Had the other duck breasts last night. No cherry sauce this time, unadorned was very very good. Got the confit cooked and packed away to age for a couple of weeks. Initial reviews are positive :) Today, we're having lamb burgers for dinner. But before that I am trying to roast a whole chicken in the advantium. It is kind of messy, you have to accept that it's going to splatter all over the oven then you have to wash it out. I need to figure out a solution for that.

Friday, May 26, 2006


Tomorrow the remodeling guys will be painting in the kitchen, so I have to get my cooking in today. Went and bought two fresh ducks this morning. Broke them down into leg-thighs, wings, and breasts. With the legs and wings from another duck in the freezer, I have enough to merit making confit. http://www.epicurious.com/recipes/recipe_views/views/102313 seems to be a good recipe, I've tried a few. But I'm of course as usual not leaving well enough alone. I'm subbing herbs de Provence for just thyme, and instead of curing it in a single layer in a dish I'm putting it all in a ziplock bag. So that's in the fridge until Sunday morning. Good thing I have about five pounds of duck fat already in the freezer for this one. Now for the duck breasts. Tonite two of them will be duck with cherry sauce. I'm using the recipe from Epicurious as a starting point http://www.epicurious.com/recipes/recipe_views/views/232306, but using my home-brandied cherries instead of fresh cherries and red wine. I've made the sauce already, and it's interesting. We'll have polenta with gorgonzola and asparagus with it. The other two breasts we'll have on the grill on Sunday, if the weather cooperates. All four of them are in a light salt/herb cure for a couple of hours right now. Guess I'd better go find a nice Pinot to go with tonite's dinner!

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Copper River Salmon -- yum

I've never really fallen for the marketing of Copper River salmon. Nor the sky-high prices. But I was up at the Market yesterday (Pike Place Market, the local farmer's market) and one of my fish guys had some Copper River chinook for only $13.99/lb. So I got a nice piece to try for my lunch. It took all of FOUR MINUTES in the Advantium, and it was really great. Moist, great flavor. I only seasoned it with some lemon avocado oil and sea salt. A little fresh asparagus and I had a great lunch for about $7 -- would have paid at least $25 in a restaurant.

I can't hear my dishwasher

I didn't think a dishwasher could be this quiet. What a wonderful thing! At this point I can recommend a Miele -- though you'll need to ask me again in a couple of months after I've really broken it in. The interior dimensions seem a little smaller than the last one, so the baskets aren't as large. But with the extra cutlery tray, there's isn't that stupid silverware basket taking up space in the bottom. I like that, though it's going to take getting used to new patterns of loading dishes.

Friday, May 19, 2006

Lamb meatballs

Had to come up with a nosh for a pinot nior wine tasting. Decided lamb of course made sense, so: 1/2 onion 1 clove garlic drop both into food processor and whirl until finely chopped. Add: 1/2 lb ground beef 1 lb ground lamb 2 t. cumin 2 t. salt 1/2 t. allspice 1/8 t. cayenne pepper Whirl to combine, add 1/2 c dried breadcrumbs and one egg. Whirl again, just until it comes together. Chill at least an hour. Form into 1" meatballs. Convection roast at 350 degrees for 15 minutes. Served with some tzatziki, yogurt with shredded cucumber, cumin, salt, and a little mashed garlic to taste. They seemed to go over well, and did match nicely with the pinots we were tasting. Discovered that the dairy kind of smoothed out those that were a little high in alcohol.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Sweet potato fries

I seem to be on a quest to find truly great sweet potato fries around Seattle. I've made them myself, but with only two of us it's kind of not worth going through all the mess. I had some really interesting ones today at Palisade. They weren't what I would call crisp, but the outsides were somewhat caramelized, and the insides were really creamy. Well-seasoned, too. I had some at Pig Iron BBQ two weeks ago that were good but totally different, crisper. But what I'd like to find is crisp outside, creamy inside, without overcooking. I wonder if dredging them in cornstarch, they way some folks recommend doing french fries, would do the trick. I suspect I'm about to embark on a set of Cooks Illustrated-like experiments to see what works best. I hope my neighbors like sweet potato fries :-)

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Advantium pork chops

Cooked a couple of 1 1/2" thick boneless pork chops in the Advantium last night. I'd put on a rub of salt, brown sugar, and ground ginger the night before, so they were nicely cured. Used the built-in program for pork chops, but of course had to modify it since it only had up to 1" thick as an option. Took about 2 minutes longer. They got nice grill marks on them, which was a surprise. Another surprise was the amount of smoke that got generated and how much of that ended up in the room instead of vented out of the oven. It was a lot. But the outcome was good. Cleaning up the grill pan that comes with the oven was something of a chore, and I was also surprised at all the splatters I had to wipe up. But the cleanup was less than from broiling and the outcome was just as good.

Monday, May 15, 2006

Three down, one to go

We got three of the four appliances installed. That means I'm still without a dishwasher. Looks like we're going to have to re-do some plumbing to pull that one off. Another sigh. But, the fridge is lovely and so nice and roomy! I so love being able to see everything. Getting the Advantium oven up and installed with the two of us was quite the adventure. Suffice to say that I shed a few tears of hysteria but we got it up there and securely fastened. I think I need some kind of a different degree to operate it, though the principles are pretty clear to me. I'm going to try a nice thick pork chop tonite. Sugar cookies the other night were kind of weird, best to not leave them in little balls but squash them some. One challenge is that it cooks so fast that you can go from done to burned in less than a minute. So it will require lots of practice. When you're using just microwaves you have to change to a different turntable and that's going to be a little annoying sometimes I think. But something I'll get used to once I resolve the storage issues for the different pieces. With no dishwasher, and a husband away on business, I'm not going all out with fully using the range. But just the luxury of five burners, including one oblong one that will be ideal for deglazing a roasting pan, makes me all warm and happy inside :) One thing I'm looking forward to is using the lower oven, which can be set as low as 150 degrees, to do some oven dried tomatoes and maybe some jerky. Workers are back tomorrow to work on some other areas, so back to more noise and dust. One thing about living in a condo, you find out all kinds of weird ways things got put together when you start pulling off drywall. Spaghetti electrical, things that look structural but really aren't, jury-rigged infrastructure. Makes it all a little hard because we never know what the next stage will bring in terms of expanded work to be done. At least when we started this we didn't attempt to redline our budget from the beginning, so as the task grows we're not freaking out about going over budget. Yet.

1985 Columbia Cabernet Sauvignon, Red Willow Vinyard

I told you I'd let you know how the '85 was when we opened a bottle for my son's 21st birthday. He wasn't drinking much yesterday afternoon, as he was dreadfully hung over from that ritual of going out to start drinking right at midnight when you turn 21. But I did make him take a sip -- guess we're glad he didn't really want it since it left more for the rest of us :) Because it was incredible. Started out harsh and sharp. Left in the glass for about 20 minutes, it became just like velvet. Soft and smooth, with firm cherry and tobacco aromas and flavors. Good to the last drop. A great match for the rotisserie rib roast we had. And since it was Mother's Day, a nice treat for me 21 years after delivering the best thing I've ever done. I have one more bottle and will drink it very soon, since it is definitely ready.

Friday, May 12, 2006

More restaurants: Andy's Diner & Etta's

Well, Andy's was retro before retro was in. It was the kind of place where I felt I had to order a glass of the house red wine, if you know what I mean, and it seems most of the people there were regulars. Really good onion rings, and great housemade clam chowder. Service was really rushed, we got our soup/salad while we were eating the o-rings, and the entrees showed up when we were halfway through the soup/salad. The steaks are good, and reasonably priced. I had a 10-oz "prime steak" which is what I think is a very rare skirt steak with barbeque sauce. It's good; the hashbrowns that came with it were underdone. The prime rib was fine, nothing extraordinary but at $16.95 for a 12-oz slab, you can't really ask for more. With that we had pasta Alfredo, which while good is *really* garlic-y. Hubby was happy because they have Alaskan Amber on tap. Passed on dessert -- evidently they get their pies at the beginning of the week and by Friday all that was left was cherry and banana cream. I wanted the coconut cream...wanted to compare it to the Tom Douglas' restaurants version I had for lunch yesterday. Oh, well. Another day. Speaking of Tom Douglas restaurants, we had lunch at Etta's yesterday. The day boat scallops were incredible -- about as sweet as I've ever tasted. My halibut was nicely crusted, and I really liked the lemon couscous under it and the harissa viniagrette on top. The coconut cream pie was as good as I remember from several years ago. The chocolate pistachio cake was good enough, but I'm not wild about the almond extract flavor it had. And, unfortunately, there were several pieces of pistachio shell in the cake. Those are really hard, we're glad no teeth were sacrified. Long lunch, expensive lunch ($75) but really really tasty. Server shared that Douglas is in the planning stages of opening a pizza parlor...interesting!

Thursday, May 11, 2006

They're here! They're here!

Okay, maybe it's just not natural to get so excited about new appliances. But, as I told the delivery guy (who looked about 15 years old, by the way, but was incredibly competent) I've been wanting a professional-grade fridge for most of my adult life and so today is kind of a milestone in that sense. I'm all verklempt...give me a minute... Oh, they aren't installed yet, though the fridge is plugged in. But the sad thing is that until I get the water connected and the fridge pushed back into its retaining bracket, I can't even open the doors to look inside. Delayed gratification, I guess. Hubby will be home from work early to help me get all the connections made for that and for the new range. Tomorrow we'll tackle the dishwasher and the Advantium microwave. Dang, that fridge is HUGE! Seven feet tall, three and a half feet wide. One rather imposing expanse of stainless steel in my not that big kitchen. It (and the other appliances) really brighten it up, though, with all the reflecting of the light. I haven't cooked a meal in almost two weeks now. Feels like withdrawal to me. I'll cook on Sunday at mom's, we're going to christen their new BBQ rotisserie with a standing rib roast. That ought to be interesting. Just a simple salad and roasted new potatoes and asparagus on the side. And a big chocolate cake for dessert :) Since we're celebrating my recent birthday and my son's 21st birthday. I'm hoping that a highlight will be a couple of bottles of 1985 Columbia Red Willow Cab (my son was born in 85, natch). Will of course let you know how that turns out.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Hooked on a microwave?

Doing this kitchen remodel has brought one thing home to me -- I'm addicted to using a microwave oven. Actually, my family was a fairly early adopter of the appliance, I remember having one when I was in high school. In those days, we used it for defrosting and heating water, mostly. But now? I make risotto and polenta in it, heat up my lunch, steam vegetables, do the water heating thing, and on, and on...but there's one catch: Right now, I don't have a microwave oven! I will again in a few days but have been going through withdrawal since Saturday. I didn't realize how important it was to the rhythm of my cooking. Sort of like the food processor, for making fine purees. Sometimes you just get used to doing things a certain way. (And, by the way, if you've never made risotto in a microwave oven, boy is it the best tool for that job!)

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Notes on a couple of well-known Seattle restaurants

While we're remodeling the kitchen, we're eating out a lot more. And since one of us just celebrated a birthday we took the opportunity to go a little more luxe than usual. That meant dinner at Daniel's Broiler on Lake Washington this week, for starters. Daniel's has a great view, even if it is raining (which it wasn't). The steaks, while quite expensive, are very good. My filet was "like buttah" as a prime steak should be. And my husband couldn't finish the porterhouse (but it made great steak salad the next day). The creamed spinach is about the best we've had at a steakhouse, and they do a good job of keeping it a nice bright green. The yukon gold mashed potatoes are a good choice for potato, not a puree or too drippy, with some nice lumps for texture. I would not recommend getting the tomato and onion salad unless tomatoes are really in season; while the server told me they had "great" tomatoes, it was still obvious they were out of season beefsteaks. Go for the mixed green salad instead, hubby thought it was great. Sunday is the best day to go, since every bottle under $100 on their wine list is half-price. Be forewarned that there aren't that many bottles under $100, but there are some good ones. Second "pull out the stops" dinner was at Salty's on Alki. It was a beautiful day (two in a row!) so the window table we had gave us a great view of downtown Seattle. The king salmon was fresh so I had it roasted on top of a potato/chorizo fritter. I thought the fish was a little overdone but still tasty, and the fritter was about 3" across with the fish served on top of it. It was together a nice texture and flavor combination, and went really well with the Laeticia pinot noir I had. The fruitiness cut through some of the fat of the fish and stood up well to the spiciness in the chorizo. But the star of dinner, as it always is at Salty's, is pastry chef Jane Gibbons' white chocolate mousse cake. You get a free piece on your birthday, too :) It is incredibly light and really rich at the same time. We had a whole cake made for our wedding reception last year and it was the hit of the party. Worth it sometimes just to stop in there for dessert. Off to someplace else tonite. I can't wait for our new kitchen to be finished, but the eating out is kind of a treat, at least for a little while...I'll get some new ideas to try when I'm back at the stove.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Pickled eggs and using the beets

Restarted an old family tradition of making pickled eggs this time of year. Our recipe doesn't include pickling spices -- just canned beets, vinegar, and salt. Boy, I sure do like them. My husband seems to think they are okay, too. What was kind of cool though was what I did with the beets after they were pickled. I used whole small beets, and shredded them in the food processor, tossed them with sour cream. Sort of a riff on borscht. Even better though was turning that into a slaw by mixing them with shredded cabbage that I salted and drained for about an hour. It was surprisingly good, and a great side dish for some smoked pork chops I did in the stovetop smoker.

Eating in the Midwest

Lots of travel the past couple of weeks, one weekend in Chicago, the next in Ft. Wayne. It's trips like these that I realize how regional our eating is. I have fallen madly in love with Italian beef sandwiches, and am at a loss to recreate the "gravy" they dip them in. So I'll be experimenting with that for quite some time until I get it right. Then of course there is getting the right bread. Not sure where to get that in Seattle. In Ft. Wayne, I tried to find out what "traditional" food everyone eats. Seems the closest I got was sausage rolls, which is sort of a rolled up calzone. Wish we'd been there when the corn was coming in, now that's the kind of food I can get into!

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Restaurant observations

Since as I said the baseball season is getting in the way of dinner this week, we went to McCormack & Schmicks' on 1st Ave tonite after the late afternoon game. I don't normally order salmon in a restaurant, assuming that I can do it as well at home. But the line chef (Eric was out tonite) told me he'd do their crab/shrimp/brie stuffing in a piece of king salmon for me, and I was sold. (By the way, I highly recommend sitting at the kitchen counter, it's fun and you get to watch, and you can ask questions of the cooking staff.) They cook it for about 12 minutes in their 500 degree convection oven (yeah! I'll have one soon!) and it is just wonderful. I don't recommend the beet and goat cheese salad. It used to be great, but now they are coating goat cheese rounds in dried herbs and not only do they have no flavor but the texture is lousy too. The french onion soup is better, but be prepared for chicken stock, not the usual beef stock.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Cooking for family

This is kind of a "catch-up" post since I wasn't really blogging when this happened. But in January I had my mom and her husband (C and J) over for the weekend. They live about an hour away, and other than cooking at their home for family dinners, I really haven't cooked dinner for them. J has a really good palate, and besides is a cool guy. It was important to share my cooking passion with them. That's sort of an annoying feeling in some ways, because I don't want to feel pressure (self-imposed or otherwise) when I'm cooking. But, I settled on rack of lamb, roasted asparagus, and roasted new potatoes for dinner, with a molten chocolate cake for dessert (the guys both really like chocolate). It's a very reliable menu, one I can almost do in my sleep. Went with a logical Pinot Noir for wine, partly because I'm slowly but surely getting my husband to enjoy a good Pinot. He's not wild about the ones with a barnyardy aroma and flavor (usually due to Brettanomyces, for those of you who know or care about that). But he's open to trying them and expanding his palate -- just one of the many things I adore about him. Anyway, turns out C and J had never had rack of lamb before! And they loved it. We had a lovely dinner. It was great to introduce them to something new, and my husband enjoyed that experience as much as I did. Saturday morning we made waffles and bacon for them. That's mostly noteworthy because they were yeast-raised Belgian waffles. We got this waffle iron that rotates to ensure more even cooking -- it's the kind you see in some motels that have "serve yourself" breakfasts. Works great, and the waffle recipe is just yummy. It's from Joy of Cooking. The waffle iron isn't easy to store, but it seems to be earning its keep.

Slow week for cooking

It's going to be a slow week for any original cooking. Baseball season started this week (in case you're hibernating someplace) and, since we have season tickets, we're living in the diamond world right now. Yesterday's opening day game started mid-afternoon, which meant lunch at the ballpark and nibbing all the way home. Did have something interesting at a new place down on 1st Ave. by Safeco Field. It was a kimchee pancake, with a red pepper sauce drizzled over the top. Quite spicy, went well with a Sapporo. Also some potstickers that had apple in the in addition to the pork, nice contrast. Might have to try recreating those at home sometime.

Saturday, April 01, 2006

A different corned beef and cabbage

My husband has sworn that he doesn't like corned beef and cabbage.  Though he loves corned beef sandwiches.  But the corned beef I cooked this week (simmered, rather than baked) was really dry and kind of tasteless.  So I diced it and stir-fried it with shredded green cabbage and julienned carrots, a little bacon fat and some allspice. Perked it right up, and my husband loved it.  Quite good with some horseradish, too.  From now on, I'll go back to slow-baking my corned beef in a covered casserole; it just turns out juicier and more flavorful.

Friday, March 31, 2006

New appliances!

Seems my life is all about food right now. We just ordered new appliances for a partial kitchen remodel. I am so excited, I will finally have a nice built-in fridge (KitchenAid, in case you are wondering -- had the best repair record). And one of those Advantium ovens that cook with microwaves and light. That should be very fun to play with. The dishwasher is the brand-new top end model from Miele, with a rack in the top for silver instead of that dumb basket. All in stainless; even though I know it shows fingerprints yadda yadda yadda it will look cool and in fact I think brighten the kitchen nicely. The new range is GE and has two ovens, one that can warm at 150 degrees but also goes up to 450 degrees. The main oven has convection cooking, and the cooktop has five gas burners with a continuous grate that will be much friendlier than what we currently have. Unfortunately it will be a few weeks before the electrical and cabinet work are done so we can have all the neat new stuff installed, but knowing that we made the leap and bought them is a great step. After that, new countertops! No more formica for me, we're going to Swanstone because I can put a 450 degree pot on it without insulation. In this really cool sage and violet pattern, will go great with the sage green walls in the kitchen. Backsplash is going to be metal, one that works with magnets so I can put all my spices in cans and stick them to the backsplash over my work counter. Can't wait...

Me and Jacques (sort of)

The IACP conference is here in Seattle this week. Wish I'd known about it sooner. Guess I'd better join, even though I'm not really a "professional" (yet). But, I got to volunteer at the "birthday party" for Jacques Pepin last night. In case you're wondering, he's 70. But he looks about 55! And that's my point -- I got to talk to him briefly last evening, and took his picture. Actually I talked to him twice, but once was to yell across a corridor to him that he should not go up the escalator, because he was going to the wrong place (in my role of crowd herder). But a little later I was working at the registration table and it turns out his coat was on the chair beside me. He walked up to get something out of it and I told him hello, it was nice to see him here and he said hello, how are you in that adorable French accent of his...yeah I know, it's not much but it was something, and I was thrilled. He stopped in front of me and I whipped out my little digital camera (in my pocket for just such an event) and I got a quick snapshot. Rick Bayless was there too, but I didn't talk to him. He looks really great since he's lost all that weight, I guess he is now into yoga. Anyway, the IACP people ought to be thrilled because the weather in Seattle this week has been glorious.