Friday, November 02, 2007

Cooking with Jerry Traunfeld

Well, maybe not cooking exactly, as this was a demonstration class. Rather, it was having Chef Traunfeld, known for his 17 years running the kitchen at The Herbfarm, prepare a meal for 14 people while we watched, listened, and learned. The class was at Dish it Up!, a local kitchen store that has a very nice facility for cooking classes.

I've eaten at The Herbfarm several times, and meals there are always memorable. I loved standing at the counter where they plate the courses to talk to the chef about what he was doing (that kept me from drinking too much of the great wines Ron Zimmerman serves). Chef's last night there was last weekend, and he's getting ready to open his own place in Seattle, hopefully by the middle of next year. He does already have a name picked out: "Poppy," after his mother.

Anyway, the theme in this class was local and seasonal -- and around here that means lots of wild mushrooms and crab, among other things. Chef had some beautiful matsutake mushrooms, a huge cauliflower mushroom, immaculate porcinis, and the usual chanterelles and other fungi. He made a crab flan with a roasted slice of matsutake and greens that was delicate and delicious.

A great demo was making strudel dough for a lentil and goat cheese strudel. It actually looks like I can do it, and I plan to give it a try. And the strudel was good, I think that filling would be really good doing vegetables farcis, too.

This wild mushroom and farro risotto, I swear, had $100 worth of mushrooms in it. I don't think I'd had farro before, which is a pretty ancient grain. It's nutty flavor and chewiness was a good match for all those 'shrooms.

We ended the class with a fresh huckleberry cobbler with rose geranium ice cream. And espresso. I get so excited when I get to watch someone with Traunfeld's passion work. It was very inspiring. Definitely looking forward to his new place!

Wine dinner at Elliott's Oyster House

Last week we had an incredible dinner at Elliott's Oyster House when they brought in wines from Terra Blanca (Washington State) and let Chef Jeremy loose on matching seafood with them.

We started with oysters on the half shell (duh) but a real treat was having the tiny Olympia oysters, the only ones truly native to the Northwest. The first course was a white prawn and grilled stone fruit Napoleon with a pomegranate beurre blanc, paired with a 2005 Yakima Valley viognier. Yummy!

But it got better. I'm not much of a chardonnay person, and especially not with a salad. But that's what we got, and it was heavenly. Actually, it was a lobster and wild mushroom tart served with frisee. (2004 Red Mountain Chardonnay)

Next came two courses of "surf and turf." The first was a seared scallop with oxtail, on a slice of seared butternut squash with veal jus. This was paired with a merlot (2002 Red Mountain), which had just the right level of fruitiness to compliment the sweetness of the scallop and squash.

The second surf and turf was just off the map -- the chef used some body meat of the king crab that is actually shaped like a pocket, and inserted a seared beef filet into it. I've never seen anything like it -- sort of like a reverse steak Oscar, served with a classic Bearnaise sauce. Of course for this you have to have a rich red, and we had a 2002 Onyx, a Bordeaux-style blend.

And after all this? Apple fritters (made from choux paste) for dessert with a 2005 late harvest Riesling.

After all that wine, we were really glad we only had a short walk to get home!

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

A beautiful Tarte Tatin of my very own

Baking class last Saturday, focus on layered doughs (croissant, puff pastry, pate a choux). We made a tarte tatin in class, and it was very nice. So I decided to try my hand at it with a mass of puff pastry that still needed its "turns" and so needed to be rolled and folded six times.

Cooking the apples is interesting, in that you have to take a couple of leaps of faith: first that the skillet you've just put a stick of butter, a cup of sugar, and six sliced apples can really hold it all. It did - barely at first, then just right as the apples cooked down. Then also faith that boiling all this stuff on high heat isn't going to create a burnt sugar mess. It didn't. As you can see, it turned out beautifully! I did not do the concentric layout of the apple slices -- I didn't see any like that when I was in Paris, and you can get more apples in if you let them settle themselves into position.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

A twist on eggs benedict

What do you do when you have Dungeness crab meat, tarragon, and puff pastry just begging to be used? I don't know what you do, but I made a nice brunch dish today:

Made puff pastry shells, and a "real" Bearnaise sauce out of Peterson's Sauces. Moistened the crab meat with a little sauce, put it on the shell, topped with poached eggs, sauce all over, asparagus on the side. Yum...a little Champagne never hurts, either...

The Bearnaise was the challenging part, as I had to whisk the egg yolks and 1T water per yolk over simmering water until it turned into a very thick foam (a sabayon). The nice thing about doing the sabayon, though, is that you don't have to worry about the sauce breaking when you put in the clarified butter, so you don't have to dribble it in, just pour in slowly and stir gently with the whisk off heat. Then add the seasoning reduction and salt to taste. I'm glad it turned out well.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Homemade Mexican - one of my labors of love

I've always loved Mexican and Southwestern food. I've been cooking from "Feast of Santa Fe" by Huntley Dent for more than twenty years. Homemade tortillas and tamales and refried beans are just so incredibly different from the stuff in cans and most of what you get at "Mexican" restaurants. I haven't made these things in ages, and got a hankering for some of that this week. It was triggered by the nice meaty pork spareribs I bought on sale -- all I could think about was marinating them in mojo, cooking them low and slow, and shredding the meat. Shredded pork has so many yummy applications. First, soft tacos. Homemade tortillas, homemade red chile sauce (basically a Rick Bayless recipe), and guacamole. There's nothing like a freshly made tortilla! Except homemade tamales are even better. Take the shredded pork, add some red chile, some raisins, cinnamon, cumin, and toasted chopped almonds. Make the masa (with real lard, not shortening) and beat it until it's really fluffy. That's how you get really light tamales, not those heavy concrete ones that sometimes show up on my plate in a Mexican restaurant. Now, this is not a quick-prep meal. Making 16 tamales is time-consuming, then you need to steam them for about 90 minutes. I also put pinto beans on this morning, and while the tamales steamed I seasoned and mashed them up for frijoles refritos. During that time I also finished the chile sauce for the tamales -- red chile paste, tomato puree, some guajillo chile powder (for more heat), and simmer until the raw flavors are gone. Shred up some lettuce and jack cheese, slice a few radishes, and you've got one heck of a meal. Best thing about homemade tamales? They keep and reheat wonderfully. So I can look forward to some more tomorrow! I'm sorry about no photos today, we ate everything up before I even thought about taking a picture ;-) P.S. The weather is nowhere as nice today -- cold wind, rain, thunderstorms, and hail. And the soups turned out really well. Added diced red pepper to the beef barley, since Dave likes that and it's for his lunch. He says it's really good. (I can't eat bell peppers, even though I can eat chiles.)

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

It's a beautiful day in the neighborhood

End of September already. And it's a gorgeous day -- 65 degrees, not a cloud in the sky. The sun is sparkling off of the bay across the street, and sailboats are drifting by. This is the view from my home office:

So much for my budding dreams of hearty winter soups, at least for now. I was contemplating some borscht, maybe some beef barley. But for a few more days, we'll stick with salads and grilling while we still can.

I will make the borscht this weekend anyway, as I have the beets already cooked. I used some of them diced in a salad with diced carrots and red onion, with a little lime juice. It was surprisingly good. All the leftovers from that are a perfect base for the borscht. I've got a big slice of beef shank to make the broth, which I'll end up using for the barley soup as well (along with the meat from the shank).

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Beautiful buns

Baking, especially bread, has never been my strong suit. But I am steadily working at correcting my deficiencies in that area. A few days ago Dave wanted hamburgers for dinner. I had ground beef in the freezer, but no buns. I didn't want to go out, so I decided to try once again to make soft white bread from scratch. At 1pm, no less.

I did find a recipe for a milk bread, and for once I had milk. It was a simple recipe, really, and even without taking any shortcuts I had hamburger buns before 4pm:

Beautiful fine crumb, not chewy but robust enough to stand up to a burger and all the trimmings. Yippee!!!

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

The mystery of gumbo

Until yesterday, I'd never eaten gumbo. Nor had I made it. I think I haven't eaten it because my aversion and allergy to bell peppers puts a lot of cajun cooking out of reach for me.

But it is Dave's birthday, and he loves gumbo. And I did just see it prepared on "Good Eats." And I had a quart of crab stock in the freezer, and okra is in season around here. I reasoned that I could use a poblano chile in place of green bell pepper, and get a passable facsimile of gumbo. So I decided it was worth a try.

One thing I do when cooking something new or using a new ingredient is a literature search. I comb through my cookbook collection and the Internet for a set of recipes that seem to be what I'm try to get to. With gumbo I discovered that there are as many different gumbos as grains of rice in the pot! Lots of recipes that don't use okra, but since "gumbo" is derived from the West African word for okra, I decided that okra needed to be part of my recipe. So that narrowed things down some.

For the roux, the oven method seemed the most foolproof, and it worked perfectly. For the sausage, I had made some andouille-flavored sausage (using smoked paprika for the smokiness) and cooked it in small balls the day before, and I used that. The seafood was frozen large shrimp.

I didn't want slimy okra, and I found a technique that calls for sauteing the sliced okra until the slime is all gone. So I did that and just added the cooked okra to my pot. The file powder went in at the end, and it sat for a few minutes to make sure all the flavors were melded.

One challenge when you're cooking something that you've never eaten is that you don't have a taste memory to compare with. So since Dave has eaten a lot of gumbo, I used him a lot. Eventually he proclaimed it good, and we wolfed it down with steamed white rice.

Not bad for a first try, even if I do say so myself!

Later today we tackle foie gras...yum....

An amazing birthday dinner

Dave is celebrating a "significant" birthday this month. I'm spending most of the week cooking many things that he enjoys, but on Sunday we decided to go out to dinner. But not any dinner -- Chef Celinda at 94 Stewart (and her sous chef Jeff) planned and prepared this one especially for us. She seems to have had a pretty good time taking the budget I gave her and putting together a five-course meal with paired wines.

We started off with figs with an ale-washed cheese and balsamic. The wine, which was quite sweet, paired really well with it, even with the balsamic.

I think my favorite course may have been the "soup" -- a red and yellow tomato gazpacho with Dungeness crab and fresh horseradish. It was both beautiful and tasty. The Graves we had, which tasted of a lot of wood initially, harmonized perfectly with it, and the play between the tangyness of the tomato, the spice of jalapeno, and the sweetness of the crab was just plain fun.

Next we had two different meat courses -- veal medallions with poached pear and wild muchroom risotto, and moulard duck breast rubbed with pistachio and spices. The risotto was subtly scented with allspice, and it all went with a 2001 Chatea Ste. Michelle Cold Creek Merlot. With the duck (which you can see was cooked perfectly) we had an Australian Shiraz.

Finally, we closed with a dense vanilla cheesecake topped with a Colheita port caramel sauce, and a glass of the same 1980 port alongside it. Overall, we had a great time and a great meal, and I think Chef had about as much fun as we did.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Sauteed ling cod

The fish turned out perfect, nicely crisp and not at all oily, and the beurre blanc had a nice acid note.

Oddly, harder than it should have been

I've fileted more than a few fish. So why would this one be harder than any other? Technically, it wasn't. But it just feels so weird to filet a fish I caught -- it makes me queasy, sad. The filets are just fine, and I'll do a nice saute with them, probably with a saffron beurre blanc. However, I have a feeling I will also be sad when it comes time to eat. I guess that's the cost of being an aware omnivore.

Monday, September 03, 2007

It's not always about the food -- but somehow it comes back to it

I love thunderstorms. They always make me feel so cozy; that's the best way I can think of to describe it. In Seattle, we very seldom get thunderstorms. But we have one tonight. More than two hours ago we started watching flashes, and discovered they were 60 miles away. But they marched toward us, and I was fascinated. What a rare treat. When the thunder rolls on for ten seconds, it can seem like forever. Then a few minutes ago I realized that exactly a week ago I was staying up late to watch a total lunar eclipse. Yet another occurrence that is so powerful, yet untouched by the hand of man. Indeed, thunderstorms and eclipses are pretty much oblivious to us, except that we do give lightning some attractive targets -- but it would find a target with or without us. Another thing that happened today also reminded me of my place -- I caught a fish. Not a big fish, but one that will make a decent meal for two. And I felt bad, because I was killing the fish, and sad. That poor fish was oblivious to me, until I tricked it into eating something it shouldn't. But I also felt fulfilled, satisfied somehow, using my own skills (or those of my husband, probably) to provide a meal for us. And I was reminded of something very basic -- I always need to be mindful of where my food comes from and not take it for granted. Anyway...ling cod for dinner tomorrow!

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Potatoes on the balcony

Last spring we had a small mesh bag of fingerling potatoes, and forgot about the last six or so in the pantry. By the time I found them, they had sprouted. For a kick, I planted them in one of the pots on the balcony (much as I did with an overripe tomato two years ago). Well, this afternoon I harvested enough new potatoes for dinner tonight! Purple, pink, and yellow potatoes. I'm just going to steam them and have them with lots of butter. Yum. Entree tonight is a very small beef filet roast rubbed with salt, pepper, herbs de provence, shallots, and olive oil. And some roasted zucchini, because the nice little ones are all over the farmers markets right now.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Summer tomatoes

I don't think I ever knew how different heirloom tomatoes taste until today. The local supermarket had a special on heirlooms, and I couldn't resist picking up a few:

They make a really pretty display, don't they? I tasted them and all have different flavor profiles, acid, sugar, and "tomatoey-ness" are pretty distinct. The ones that look orange, in the bottom left, are my favorites. They are really varigated orange, red and yellow. These are going to be served with a side of a vinaigrette made with fresh basil oil and sherry vinegar. But I think I'm just going to have them with a pinch of fleur de sel.


I ended up using the basil oil to make a basil lemon mayonnaise to go with the tomatoes, and it was absolutely perfect with them (if I do say so myself). Put two egg yolks, juice and zest of one lemon, and a big pinch of salt in the blender, then dribble in about 1 cup of basil oil while the blender runs. Taste for seasoning. (The basil oil was one cup of loosely packed basil blended with about a cup of olive oil (not EVOO) and strained.)

If I'm going to eat something sweet...

...these days, it's got to be incredible. The dried peach and pistachio baklava we made in "Peachy-Peachy Quack-Quack" class absolutely fell into that category. The theme of the class was combining duck and peaches in a full-course dinner. So for the baklava, we brushed the phyllo sheets with duck fat instead of butter, and duck stock formed the base for the sweet syrup that you pour over the baklava. Absolutely irresistible! I brought a piece home for Dave to try, and he seems to ask every day when I'm going to make it. Unfortunately, I won't make that unless we've got a crowd coming, because I know we'd eat it all and that's just not good for us, even if we weren't cutting out sugar and wheat. Maybe I'll have to add that to the Thanksgiving menu...

Chili on a low-carb diet?

Of course -- beans are very high in fiber, and have a low glycemic index (which means that they don't have a big effect on your blood sugar levels). I made the chili with black and white beans, with a high proportion of meat (nice lean sirloin, cut in 1/2" cubes). For those of you who say "real chili doesn't have beans," well, not all of us believe that :) I do believe that chili needs to have plenty of chiles, though. Fresh green chiles, dried red ancho chile powder, soaked New Mexico dried chiles blended to a puree -- I like a nice smorgasbord of flavors there, to mix culinary metaphors. I have quit thickening my chili with masa, because that is a no-no on our diet. And with the lean sirloin, and only a tablespoon or so of olive oil to saute the onions and other aromatics, it ends up being low-fat, too.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Another nice low-carb meal on the grill

Last night we grilled almost our entire dinner - grilled romaine (split a head in half, brush with olive oil, sprinkle with salt, three minutes on a side), shrimp (brine, skewer, and grill 2 min/side), and thin filet mignon (3/4 in steak, rub with olive oil and salt, grill for 3 min/side). I also filled hollowed tomatoes with chopped pickled radishes, cucumbers, and onion. With a glass of iced tea, a nice evening up on the deck on a gorgeous Seattle summer evening. (Yes, we are fully back on the diet wagon...didn't do too much damage last week.)

How my weekend went a little "Sideways"

Got a chance to miss all the rain in Seattle last week by heading down to the Santa Barbara area for a few days. I've never been there, and it was quite a nice break. Great food and some fun wine tasting, as well as a sunburn (yes, I know, the sunscreen goes on *before* you go out in the sun, not after!). I'll apologize in advance for no pictures, don't quite know how that happened but we didn't take many. When I found out we were headed south, I went into research mode to see what restaurants they had down there. I wanted to be sure to try "Santa Maria" style barbecue, had heard a lot about it. Steaks grilled over red oak on a hanging grill. So I made reservations at the Hitching Post. No, I had forgotten they were the restaurant in "Sideways." And I felt like a silly tourist when I discovered that. But I was assured by locals that it really was a great place to eat. And it was. We enjoyed our duck, ribs, and filet quite a bit, thank you very much. I really wanted to try the Almond Joy tart but restrained myself. (An aside here -- yes, we did break some diet rules this week. But it wasn't bad, and we survived. And we did it fully knowing what we were doing, and didn't do silly things like eat all the bread in the basket!) Ah, but the highlight was Mexican food. At El Super-Rica, praised by the late great Julia Child, I had an amazing tamal de verduras, a vegetarian tamale that had chayote, corn, squash, and other goodies. And a taco with a homemade tortilla, zucchini, and pork that was heavenly. Everything there confirmed that the long line to eat at a bit of a "hole in the wall" was completely worth the wait. I still drool thinking about it. Then there was El Paseo. Normally I steer clear of places that do a lot of advertising in the local tourist guides, but I have a weakness for anyplace that makes their own tortillas. And on our first visit, for lunch on Friday, I didn't even eat any tortillas! Fridays are the one day a week that they serve lunch there, and it turned out to be a buffet. Oh, but not just any buffet. This one was good! There was an ethereal chicken tamale, rich pork carnitas, handmade guacamole, fresh beans, chile verde with fish (halibut I think), chile colorado -- all of it incredibly great. In fact we loved it so much that we went back for Sunday brunch, also normally a no-no. But not at El Paseo. On Sunday I did try two tortillas -- corn and flour. They were both great. Another very good meal: Emilio's, for Italian (they had a mash of artichokes and potatoes that was silky and just irresistable, chef says it was one part artichoke puree to three parts potatoes). So-so was Brophy's, where the chowder was great but the fish was uniformly overcooked. At the Harbor House, it took three prime rib portions to finally get one that was medium-rare, but their calamari strips were very good and the manager did come out to apologize for the problems with the prime rib. Wine tasting was fun, too. Went to Solvang, where you probably know a lot of "Sideways" took place. Cute little town, might have to go back and stay there sometime. Winery just west of town, Shoestring, was probably our favorite. We liked everything we tasted there. My biggest problem with tasting was that every winery charged quite a bit, and included a tasting glass. We did learn the strategy of sharing one tasting, and in the end did end up with six crystal tasting glasses and got them home successfully. I just chalked it up to buying Riedel glasses at $10 a pop.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Opening up The Chocolate Box

Yum. That's mostly what I have to say after attending the opening of The Chocolate Box in downtown Seattle. As someone said to me at the event, "This place seems so much more New York or Chicago than Seattle." Right. And it's about time we had some more upscale places like this downtown. Chocolates, it's got. They are working with some of the top chocolatiers in the Seattle area -- Fiori Chocolatiers, Fran's, Theo's Chocolates -- and have also put together a great menu of other treats (like the grown-up rice krispie treats and pastries to the right), gelatos and assorted beverages.

I will have to admit to some bias here, because one of the chocolatiers featured at The Chocolate Box did the incredible truffles for my wedding reception a couple of years ago. Lee Johnson, of Fiori Chocolatiers, is quickly making a name for himself and his chocolates -- I think someday I'll be very glad I "knew him when." Below, he's hobnobbing with some of the other folks who attended the opening party.

Friday, June 22, 2007

More thoughts on a diet I can live with

I wrote a while back about considering a "hunter-gatherer" diet. I successfully lost 100 pounds on Atkins a couple of years ago. But I didn't stay on it -- and I have a million excuses. So the weight came back, because I just can't eat white bread, and potatoes, and sugar, and everything else, and not get fat. Actually, the term is "morbidly obese." Hate to admit that but it is true. So here I am again, thinking that if I want to live a long and happy life with my dear husband, this weight absolutely must come off. And he needs to take this trip along with me. I think that Atkins is a little too extreme, but I am in tune with South Beach. I'm laying that against research on glycemic index and glycemic load, and building an eating plan for us around that. Pizza and beer definitely isn't on the list, at least for now! But lots of lean proteins, legumes, cheese, vegetables, some fruits, and even wine are okay. Most white foods are still not there -- rice, potatoes, sugar, wheat flour, etc. - though milk products are on the list. So far, so good. Lost eight pounds this week, and good food. Duck (grilled breast and confit leg, with cucumber salad and grilled bok choy). Beef, Swiss steak without potatoes. Beef, grilled slices with poblanos, jalapenos, tomatoes, cilantro, and onions. Thai beef salad (yum neua). Grilled Italian sausage with onions and peppers. Grilled pork cutlets. Bouillabaisse-style stew with lobster stock, calamari, crab, clams, and mussels. All good, all working. And all homemade. This week I'll use spaghetti squash with bolognese sauce I have in the freezer. I'm also going to roast and stuff some poblanos with shrimp, onions, cauliflower, and cheese. Probably some beef burgundy, with a thinner sauce of course but lots of mushrooms to soak it up. Enough ruminating -- time to go figure out what's for dinner!

Reining in extremists-in-training

This is a weird one. I was shopping at my local national supermarket chain today, and scored some lovely beef on sale. While checking out, the courtesy clerk (a young man who looked about 19) commented: "Wow, this beef is really red!" and I replied "The meat guy cut and wrapped it for me fresh." Then he says, "Do you usually buy dead cows?" I laughed, and said yes, and dead pigs, and chickens, and ducks. He said "Really?" and I said "Yes, but I am willing to look them in the eye and acknowledge what I am eating." He replied, "That's why I'm a vegetarian." Implying of course that he doesn't have the cojones to face the reality of being an omnivore. Initially, I just thought it was an interesting exchange, and took my groceries out to the car. But I started thinking: where does this young know-nothing get off commenting on my choice of edibles? He's just a kid, and when I thought more on it I decided that a courtesy clerk needs to learn that it's not his place to make political commentary on the customers' purchases. So I went back in and very nicely told his supervisor that while I did not mind having a dialog with this kid about it, some other customers might be offended. I'm still not sure if I did the right thing, but I wasn't in the mood for playing mother to the kid and taking him aside for a talking-to. And it wasn't my place. Just a weird day at the grocery store :)

Thursday, May 31, 2007

Bread and chocolate

Yep, we're getting lessons in both this week.

First, we visited Joel Durand, one of the best chocolatiers in France. Apparently quite a privilege and very interesting.

We start with Joel demonstrating how to chop chocolate to make the filling for truffles, then we try it ourselves. Finally, after making the truffle centers, we get to use his enrobing machine to make them beautifully coated. Way cool!

The next excursion is to a boulangerie to learn about bread and cookies. I require remedial training in shaping navettes.

This guy can really move! And we got to carry away the loaves we made ourselves.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Le Mistral

I'd heard of the Mistral, of course, but didn't understand how fierce this wind roaring from the north can be in Provence. The sky is crystal clear but it is blowing about 40 miles an hour out there.

Bonjour from France!

Whew! Hard to believe we've been on the road for ten days. Paris was lovely and sunny but also quite humid. We stuck to cafes for meals in Paris, as there were of course many of them right around our hotel, which was just a block from the Arc de Triomphe. Since I think most of you who read my blog have not been to Paris I will describe some things that will be old hat to others. In Paris, the cafes are pretty much what you see in the movies -- tables on the sidewalk, lots of cigarettes, plenty of wine and beer. What you don't know is that the price of drinking and eating at the tables on the sidewalk is significantly higher than sitting inside at a table or at the bar. While I might pay 8 euros (more than $10) for a glass of wine out on the sidewalk, that same glass of wine is 4 euros at an inside table and 2.70 at the bar. So you pay for the privilege of seeing and being seen. Which is lovely, except when the weather gets frightful. Which it did on our last evening in Paris -- one of the biggest thunderstorms I've seen outside of Florida. We went from sunny to raining rivers in the street within 15 minutes. Luckily, Dave and I had opted already for the cheapest drinking option, at the bar. So we had seats when everyone from the sidewalk came running in :) I do have lots of photos, including of great duck confit and potatoes I ate, and the Venus de Milo, and Rodin sculptures, etc. But I am using a borrowed computer and haven't downloaded them yet and reduce the size to something that can be up online.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Off to France!

We're about to embark on an adventure. In two days we leave for France for three weeks. I've been to France on a business trip but never vacationed there, and Dave's never been. So we're quite excited about it. We are approaching this trip with the assumption that we will be back, so we don't have to see *everything* all at once. The itinerary is first week in Paris, unstructured, staying at a hotel at the Arc de Triomphe. Second week is a cooking experience with Chef Gabriel from Culinary Communion, at an estate outside of Avignon. Third week is in Nice, in an apartment in old town near the farmers market and the beach. I am hoping to get a few postings up, though if I e-mail them in then there won't be photos because Blogger doesn't support that. We'll see how that goes. But we are expecting to have a marvelous time, and quite the experience!!!

Interesting treatment of halibut

We had dinner at Elliott's last night. Usually we go there for oysters because they have some of the best in town, but we had a discount certificate so did the dinner thing. I ordered grilled halibut with a strawberry and avocado salad. It was very pretty, and quite tasty. I'm not a big fan of escarole, and I think they overdid that somewhat, but the fish was cooked nicely and the salad was a really nice contrast.

Pig anatomy 101

This is chapter two of the great pig chase, I guess. This one, with all it's skin, was christened "Babe." Though I think it's the wrong breed for that. This is just one half of it, a 246 pound pig.

The venue for this was interesting as it was over at the Seattle Art Institute, so it was a session for the culinary students there. Everyone except me was attired in chef jackets, and I felt very under dressed!

Chef Gabriel used one half of the pig to show off the anatomy and demonstrate taking it apart, then let some of the students work on the other half.

Chef removed the hams with the sirloins attached to do Serrano-style hams, sort of like prosciutto but Spanish. Also of course the pork bellies (seen above with the loin still attached) will make beautiful bacon. After all was said and done, there were about 25 pounds of bones for stock, and about six pounds of other "usable trim" including ears and tail (also for the stock).

Finally all of the pieces got vacuum-bagged, so they can be frozen and then get processed when Chef returns from France next month. Oh, yeah, I'm going to France too...see next blog entry for a little about this imminent adventure!

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Duck pasta

I've been experimenting with duck confit as part of pasta dishes. A few weeks ago, I had some leftovers: Brussels sprouts leaves, duck confit, and fresh pasta sheets. I shredded the leaves, sauteed them in duck fat with shallots and fresh sage, and added shredded confit. Cut the pasta sheets into pappardelle (wide ribbons) and cooked it, then tossed it with the duck "sauce." It was really good. But a bit heavy for spring -- though that day was one of those cold rainy days that pass for spring here in Seattle much of the time.

Took another try at it this week, as I had just confited some duck and once again had fresh pasta sheets. This time the veg on hand was asparagus, and the herbs were the blossoms of chive and sage out on my deck. I sliced the asparagus very thin on the diagonal and gave it a quick saute with the duck, added a couple of spoonfuls of duck glace (can you tell I was cooking with duck a lot last week?) and then added the pasta, this time cut into 1/2 inch ribbons. After giving that a toss, I added the whole blossoms and a little bit of minced chives. Finally, topped it with some asparagus tips and a sauteed round of goat cheese (my thinking here was that the tanginess of the goat cheese would offset the richness of the confit).

It was very pretty and very good. As I mentioned, I went through another one of my ducky stages last week. The duck who gave its legs for this confit also contributed to this seared duck breast plate, where I deglazed the pan with maple syrup and hot pepper sauce, and served it with a puree of sweet potato and a green salad with blue cheese:

Lunch with Patricia Wells

Well, me and about 40 other people :)

Patricia Wells is on tour promoting her new book, "Vegetable Harvest" and I was able to snag a seat at a luncheon at the Boat St. Cafe. Triple bonus for me: always wanted to eat there, always love to meet someone with passion for food, and I collect autographed cookbooks. Ms. Wells is a lovely woman, and meeting her was very nice. I already had her "Paris Cookbook" and have referred to it often. I didn't know she just completed the Paris marathon -- very impressive!

Lunch was really good. We started with a chilled cucumber-yogurt soup with mint and dill, and the entree was poached salmon with a fennel, radish, and parsley salad. The salmon was perfectly cooked. Dessert was panna cotta with a compote of rhubarb, raspberry, and grenadine. The compote was nice and tangy, and offset the creaminess of the panna cotta very well.

Being alone for this trip, I got seated at a communal table and met some really nice people, which made the whole thing even better. It's so comforting to be in a place where being a food geek is an okay thing!

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Vagabond dinner

Another month, another Vagabond dinner. Vagabond is (sort of) a movable restaurant, though it seems to have settled in Portalis, a local wine bar with a teensy kitchen. Visiting chefs create "sexy one-pot meals" as part of what's usually a three-course dinner.

Last night's chef was JJ Johnson. Oddly enough I'd never heard of him, but he's been around Seattle for quite some time. Looks like his next gigs are cooking at Il Bistro and Matt's in the Market.

The menu was what got me to decide we had to be there -- a roasted asparagus salad, seafood stew, and chocolate-dried cherry bread pudding. And boy am I glad we went! As usual it was an eclectic mix of folks sharing the repast, some we knew from cooking classes and others who were having their first Vagabond experience. I heard a lot of smacking lips and happy eaters, that's for sure.

The meal started with a rosemary foccacia that was very good, and went over the top with homemade butter seasoned with fleur de sel. And then the salad: roasted asparagus and thin chips of jerusalem artichokes, tossed with pancetta and a sherry vinaigrette and topped with soft-cooked egg. Wow. The vinaigrette used a special sherry vinegar (Solera 77) that had an incredible nuttiness that was perfect with the other elements in the salad. I've got to get some of that vinegar!

The main course was served in an interesting way -- escarole with kalamata olives (very subtle) and bits of peppadews were passed with an assortment of seafood (halibut cheeks, monkfish, mussels) which we put into bowls. The chef then came around and ladled broth over and put a dollop of aioli on top. The broth was a ling cod base, very rich in itself, with white beans. The white beans added a body and creaminess that reminded me of the gelatin you get in a good meat stock. I cleaned my plate -- as did everyone else I could see around me.

I love dried cherries and chocolate, so the bread pudding couldn't go wrong in my book.
Overall great food, great drink, great company. Just what Vagabond is supposed to be about.

Monday, May 07, 2007

We love fritattas

One of our favorite things around here for a late weekend breakfast is a fritatta. During the week I try to cook extra of some things that might be good for the weekend. This week it was some Italian sausage and sauteed mushrooms. Sauteed some sweet onion and tossed in the other stuff, along with a half-dozen eggs, and put it in the oven at 350. Cleaned some asparagus, pulled out the frittata and covered to let it finish cooking while roasting the asparagus at 400 degrees for 20 minutes. Makes a really nice meal!

My first All-Clad

Some people remember their first kiss as a seminal moment in their lives. I do remember my first kiss, but prefer to remember the moment today when I first held my very own All-Clad cookware. Yes, it may be silly, but it was cool. Got 2- and 3-qt sauciers and a 12" fry pan, all the MC line with the really gorgeous brushed exteriors. Now I'm all verklempt. Also got a Windsor pan, Cuisinart, for Dave to cook sugar in. He's very happy and is smiling right now because he has the right tool for making candy now.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Persian cooking class

I've been looking forward to this class for quite a while. Since I enjoy Moroccan and Indian food so much, I thought it would be nice to branch out a little in that general part of the world. Persian cuisine is very old, maybe the second oldest after Chinese. It is very regional, and if you look at the ingredients, like the use of ghee instead of olive oil, you see how dairy-dependent it is. It also uses a lot of saffron and lime.

We made lots of good things -- lamb kebabs, eggplant koresh (an eggplant and chicken stew), rice with favas and dill, rice pudding, peppers stuffed with rice and beef, walnut and feta spread, pistachio soup. We grilled the lamb over charcoal, and it was wonderful -- marinated in lime, saffron, and onions.

The eggplant koresh (photo at right) was an interesting preparation. First you saute a lot of onions, then add chicken and garlic and get it all nice and golden. Then while you simmer that with pureed tomatoes and spices, you fry quartered eggplant that you've first brushed with egg while so it doesn't absorb as much butter (because remember, you're using ghee, not olive oil). Then it all goes into the oven for a while. I really liked it, but I'd probably use chicken thighs instead of breasts if I make it, since I think that would be a little richer in flavor. The limes for garnish and flavor are a really nice touch.

In this picture of the rice "polow" (pilau or pilaf) you can see bits of the nice golden crust that forms at the bottom of the pot. In Persian cooking, this is the best part :)

Overall the class was pretty intense in terms of the menu -- many of the recipes had quite a bit of prep work, then they needed 45 minutes in an oven or on the stove. The lamb needed prep, then marinating time, then grilling. Once we sat down to dinner, I felt like I'd been running for a couple of hours. But as usual, it was a "good" tired. Some of the dishes didn't have quite the seasoning complexity of Indian or Moroccan food, but others (like the stuffing for the peppers) had all of that and more. So maybe in some ways there is more variety in seasoning intensity than what I've encountered in those other cuisines. But of course I've only had a limited exposure to all of these rich and ancient traditional cuisines, so I'm arriving at conclusions from a less-than-fully-informed basis. Oh, darn, that sounds like I need to do more research :)

Monday, April 30, 2007

Stuffed pork chops

Must have been the close encounter with the pig -- but I was hungry for pork. We picked up some nice thick boneless loin chops at Costco yesterday, and Dave asked for stuffed chops with Canadian bacon. I happened to have some Canadian bacon in the freezer, so I was game.

First, I brined the chops in my usual 1/4 c salt, 1/4 c sugar, 1 qt. water solution for an hour.

While they brined, I made the stuffing mixture: about 2T each minced onion and minced celery, four leaves of fresh sage, chiffonade, sauteed in a little butter. Stirred in about 2 T of dried breadcrumbs and eight slices of Canadian bacon, minced. A little salt and pepper and set aside to cool.

Then cut nice big pockets in the pork chops and filled them up with the cooled stuffing.

Browned them for about 4 minutes/side and put them in a 350 degree oven for ten minutes while we sauteed some romaine and finished a mushroom cream sauce for the chops. Not a bad dinner for making it up at the market!