Monday, March 26, 2007

No white foods? The hunter-gatherer diet for a while

Okay, maybe not that extreme. But for now I am cutting out white sugar, white flour (and most all things made with it), potatoes, and white rice from my diet as well as corn products. Most sugars are gone for a while, but some will sneak in with marinades where the percentage will be very low. Some fruits, like berries, are okay but no tropical fruits. And unlike my last run at a low-carb diet, I'm cutting back some on saturated fats, too. So instead of a tuna salad full of mayo, I'm cutting the mayo with half low-fat plain yogurt. I kind of like the tang it gives, anyway. So this is the hunter-gatherer diet. Only whole grains, including barley, brown rice, and maybe a little whole wheat. Plenty of proteins like fish, and lots of veg. I'm really trying to find a diet, in the broad sense of the word, that I can live with. I was very successful with a low-carb diet while I was on it, since it seems to suit my metabolism. But I couldn't quite live with it (and neither could Dave). This new strategy, well, we'll see. I can't be slavishly committed to it and keep taking cooking classes, I think, but as long as that is the exception rather than the rule I hope it will be okay. I just won't take any baking classes for a while!

Playing with the new wok

We love fried rice. But all that white rice blows me up like a balloon. Last night we tried fried rice with brown rice instead, and it wasn't bad at all. All of my memories of brown rice were pretty negative, so this was a pleasant surprise. Made it in the new wok, whose seasoning is working out pretty well. I had made some char sui pork this weekend (a Martin Yan recipe, quite yummy) and so that went in with slices of asparagus and chopped onion and carrot. I used low-sodium soy sauce, which I am finding is not so great for seasoning, as the salt level is just too low in the finished dish. So we're going to save that for table use, I guess. Did prove my guess that even though I am allergic to peanuts I can have peanut oil. I had heard that it's the proteins in peanuts that cause the allergy and they aren't in the oil. I didn't have any reaction to using peanut oil in the fried rice.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Dinner for friends: going organic

After seeing the Thanksgiving menu, one of my clients asked if I would please cook dinner for them. Of course, that would be my pleasure. For for three guests, I pulled together dinner. But there was a twist -- one of them is not supposed to eat dairy, sugar, or wheat. And two of them mostly opt for organic foods. So I decided to try out a couple of things: - Make a dinner of things I want to cook and am happy to serve without using dairy, wheat, or refined white sugar - To the furthest extent possible and practical, use organic foods - See how much more if costs (if any) to eat organic The menu was: Salad/starter (wine: sparkling rose) Ahi tartare with preserved lemons, mixed greens and black olive tapenade Homemade sourdough baguette Entree (wine: Washington State Syrah) Moroccan spiced lamb shanks Barley pilaf Roasted carrots and zucchini Dessert (green tea) Rosemary-scented compote of apples and pears with oatmeal granola topping The only place where wheat came into play was in the bread, and of course anyone not wanting wheat can opt out of that. The ahi tartare and lamb sharks are tried-and-true recipes of mine, so the only risk areas were the bread, the barley pilaf, and the dessert. For the bread, I used the Malgieri recipe I've been working with, since my starter is nice and sour now. And I made it into baguettes using the nice new baguette pan. I have to say that this was the best bread I've ever made, in terms of texture and crumb. I think it could have used just a little more salt but by and large it was really great. The barley pilaf was something I had to make up, since I wanted something that could go into the oven and finish while the lamb shanks reheated. I went with 1/2 red onion and 1 cup of barley, sauteed in a couple of teaspoons of olive oil until the barley was toasty, then about a clove of minced garlic. Added three cups of chicken broth and a cup of water. I should note that all of these ingredients were organic. Simmered for about 45 minutes, then put a lid on and put into the oven. It fluffed up nicely and held in there for a couple of hours. The dessert took a little thinking, and I settled on organic brown rice syrup for the sweetener. Simmered that with about a tablespoon of roughly chopped rosemary. The "scent" was nearly overwhelmed by the taste of the brown rice syrup, but it was there. Found organic oat granola with nuts and maple syrup sweetener at the market. I roasted three granny smith apples and three Bartlett pears at 225 for a few hours while I ran out to take care of something else. When I pulled them out they were just barely tender, so I was able to cut them up and just peel off the apple skin with my fingers. The pear skins were nice and tender so I left them on. Tossed the syrup with the fruit, piled it into an 8" square baking dish, and covered the top with the granola. Drizzled more syrup on top, then put into a 350 degree oven for 45 minutes until it was bubbly. Came out pretty good, and it was 100% organic as well. For the lamb, I couldn't find organic, but got them from a good natural producer. Rubbed with spices on Saturday, braised on Sunday, rested on Monday, served on Tuesday. They were really good, as usual. Going organic wasn't terribly difficult, as long as you don't mind spending *a lot* more money. I think this meal cost 50% more because of the cost of not only all the organic produce, but things like olive oil, tomato paste, chicken broth, etc. At least when you buy wild fish (like the ahi) you don't have to worry if it is organic or not. But with wine, the ingredients for that dinner for four cost over $30/person. Personally, I'm going to study that "top ten" list of the produce with the highest levels of pesticides etc and maybe focus on that for going organic in the short term.

Friday, March 09, 2007

Best crabcakes in Seattle, best gumbo too

We first dropped into Steelhead Diner, at the Pike Place Market, last weekend for lunch. They have a counter at the kitchen, which was like magic for me because "I like to watch." Dave is a sucker for gumbo, and so since it was on the menu, he went for that in a flash. I like to evaluate a restaurant by how well they fry things, so I ordered the fish and chips. First, though, we had a crabcake appetizer. WOW. Was that ever good. It was more like a crab salad fried up golden brown, with the poblano peppers and onions in the mix retaining some of their crunchy texture. Absolutely the best crabcake I've had here, and Dave agreed. Dave loved his gumbo, made with a nice dark roux. The fish and chips were light and crispy, with the fish perfectly cooked. And *finally* I've found fries that I like, crisp on the outside but cooked through inside. I don't see anything wrong with using frozen product for fries if you can turn out something great on the plate with them. My problem with "hand-cut" fries is that while the concept is good, the fries usually aren't. It was fun to watch Chef Kevin running the kitchen, and he was nice enough to chat with us some while we were there. This place is a labor of love for him, and it is so great to see his face light up when he talks about his food. Now I understand what Dave means when he says I "glow" when I talk about cooking, because I saw it in this chef too. On a return visit today, I tried the roasted pork sandwich. This is in a po'boy style, which means usually a knife and fork, because this baby was dressed to the nines. Chef Kevin roasts a pork leg for this, studded with serranos and garlic. By using the leg, you get a nice mixture of textures and different levels of chew. A couple of cool surprises, too -- chef handed me a place of fried smelt as kind of an amuse bouche, and I'd never had smelt before. He seemed pretty tickled that he fed me something new. They were very crisp and he served them with a sweet-hot mustard viniagrette. He also shared some fresh divinity with me -- great taste, so sweet it made my teeth hurt, though. He's doing a very good job of making me feel like family. Guess I'll have to take up some of my cured meats to share when they are done, and I told him I'd bring pickles later this summer when I put up some new ones.

Playing with ice cream

We have one of those fancy refrigerated units for making ice cream (but not as fancy as the Simac!). While we've made some good stuff, we're always looking for how to make it creamier. I forgot how we got on the topic, but I realized that I have some vegetable gum powders from my low-carb diet days. It's a combination of guar, acacia, and xanthan gums, and that's what's used in commercial ice cream as an emulsifier. So I thought, why not try it? For a Philadephia-style ice cream (no eggs, not a custard) I used: 1 cup milk 2 cups cream 1 t vanilla 1/3 cup superfine sugar mixed with 1 1/2 t vegetable gum powder You need to mix the sugar with the gum powder or it will clump. Then whisk everything together and dump it in the freezer (according to maker's directions, of course). The result was like soft-serve when it first came out, then after several hours of hardening in the freezer, it was really creamy and just perfect. Very good on some homemade waffles with fresh strawberries, and homemade bacon on the side. Not the healthiest brunch, but we sure did enjoy it!

A rum tasting dinner

Something completely different tonight! Despite all the fun things I like to cook, we do like to go out to dinner occasionally :) On this occasion, Elliott's Oyster House here on the waterfront in Seattle had a special dinner to match rum with seafood. Well, being a salty sailor, that was an invitation I just could not resist! Plus, I was interested in how they were going to balance the alcohol of rum, consumed straight, with food. That can be a real challenge, just as matching high-alcohol wines to food can be. (Oh, and there was the small detail that I learned to drink rum 30 years ago this summer, drinking Mount Gay Rum in Barbados, and the Mount Gay rep was due to be at the event....).

First, they matched a dry-cured sugared salmon with Mount Gay Extra Old. There was a lot of spice in the salmon, which while subtle when you just ate the salmon, blew you away when you took a sip of the rum. It was like the sweetness in the rum just cancelled out any sweetness in the salmon, and you were just left with the heat. The texture on the fish was great, but I am not sure that leaving all the flavor for the heat when you drink the rum was the best thing. But it was an interesting experience.

I should say right now that I did not take pictures, but a well-known food blogger, Ronald Holden, was there, and he did, and he will have his own take on this event. That would be at He will probably have a much more thorough review than I do, as it's something he does for a living. But he was kind enough to share some of his photos of the event with me, so the photos you see here are courtesy of Ronald Holden. In fact, I should digress and say that the diners gathered for this event were fun, and from all over the map. Of course that is part of the fun of things like this!

Second course was scallops topped with what they said was a Bajan (from Barbados) pigeon pea soup seasoned with coconut. While it did not remind me of anything I ate when I was in Barbados for five weeks, it was quite tasty. But it was odd to have a "soup" used as a topping - it was more like a thick sauce. I can say that the Appleton Estate Extra Jamaican Rum served alongside was a nice accompaniment.

The third course is the one I am most conflicted about. They served an eight-year-old Bacardi with seared ahi. The Bacardi was very high in alcohol and so wasn't really a match for any food. I understand that the hosts were trying to progress from younger rums to older, but I could have done without having to deal with a mainstream producer like Bacardi who brought nothing to the party. (Personally, I would have preferred Bacardi Black to the Reserva.) However, the ahi dish was beautiful and I enjoyed the flavors of the rice-stuffed cabbage seasoned with sugarcane that came with it, it was a nice contrast to the jerk seasoning.

Course four was where we got an real winner: Pecan-crusted mahi-mahi with a banana/habanero chutney. Wow, this was incredible. Fish cooked perfectly, chutney a great match. The rum served alongside, a Pyrat XO Reserve-Planters Gold was great, almost a cognac. We loved that rum. However, the hosts talked about the next course before we sere served this one and mentioned that the Whaler's Original Dark Rum we would be served with the next course had a lot of banana flavor. So I ran off to the side and asked for some of that, thinking that it would be good to taste it with the complimentary banana flavors in the salsa. Boy, was I right. That was a marriage made in heaven!

Fifth course, running out of steam a little. Mako Shark Vindaloo. The shark was a little dry, done as a grilled filet slice instead of as a stew. But the flavor was nice. I didn't care for the texture of the grilled plantains -- they didn't seem to have been parcooked before grilling, so the starch seemed a little underdone. But who in Seattle is supposed to know how to cook plantains?

Finally, dessert. A Cafe Diablo with Sailor Jerry rum. Flavors are good, but the drink suffers from trying to serve 22 people at once, and it's not quite hot enough. The "Tropical Paradise" -- a "rum-soaked dacquoise layered with raspberry blood orange fruit mousse, white peach mousse, and apricot rum glaze" is very tasty and light enough to follow all of the the previous courses. I clean my plate...yum, yum.

Well, after all that food and rum I need to go to sleep. (In fact, after all that rum I'm surprised I can even type!) Back tomorrow with some more adventures, like tomorrow night is our first "couples" cooking class. In the meantime, wishing you all tasty dreams....

Italian Beef - did it work?

Yes, I think the final verdict on the beef is that it is very close. However, it has required some tinkering that I need to quantify so I can post it. Bottom line is that I almost followed the recipe on but messed with it a bit. I rubbed the beef with the seasonings, and then basted it with beef broth, and I really should have just followed the recipe straight up. What I ended up doing was having a base that I still had to add all of the ingredients to, and then it still needed more marjoram and oregano, as well as red chile flake and beef base, to make it taste right. But then it really did taste right. The dicey thing is the balance of the Worcestershire sauce. I had one question about adding fennel, but the recipe did not include fennel and I didn't see that flavor missing. For now, refer to the forum and look in the Recipe section under the thread "LF Italian Beef" and you'll see what I've been working from. In the next few days I will quantify what I have done and get it written down here accurately.

Friday, March 02, 2007

ISO genuine Italian Beef at home

When I was in Chicago a year ago with Dave (who is from Chicago) one of my discoveries was how much I loved Italian beef sandwiches. Portilo's (I think that's the spelling) was one of my favorites. Since then, I've been trying to find a recipe that will at least approximate the gravy -- which I would call jus -- on those sandwiches, since I've accepted that I won't find a bread that is the same. I think I've finally got one, from a posting I made on the forums. I hang out in the forum quite a bit these days, and am having some fun with that. But back to the task at hand... As I said I think I have a recipe, at this point it's not done because the big ol' roast has to cool so I can slice it down, and marinate it in the jus. But it smells right, so I have high hopes.