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!