Monthly Archives: February 2007

A trio of verrines that you can make at home

If you thought I was done with my last silly topic, you’re wrong. The subject of verrines has me thinking.

Usually I’m all for a good trend, regardless of whether it’s really original. Cupcakes? So done, but I still love them. Foams and sous vide? Sure, why not. I can’t do either at home, or I’m too lazy. But regardless of whether the verrine trend spreads across the nation, I don’t buy it. As a general rule, I’ll pay money for almost anything someone makes in a restaurant with equipment I don’t have or can’t afford (usually both), but in this case, I refuse to believe verrines are anything special. They’re parfaits, but there’s nothing parfait about them.

To prove it, dear reader, I tried three of them. I have a unique recipe for you today, this last day of February.

To make a verrine:

1. Think of a food that normally has multiple components. Sandwiches, salads, pasta, soups, and desserts are all wonderful options. The more normal, the better.

2. Gather all the ingredients required. Massage each of the ingredients with a piece of kitchen equipment until they have a slightly different texture than usual. Be sure to spend lots of time chopping, focusing on practicing your brunoise dice (really small and perfect). Puree what goes down the hatch just fine without being pureed, and squish or otherwise manhandle things that are normally poofy, like bread.

3. Grab a juice glass, and layer the ingredients in an eye-catching way, paying attention to different colors and textures. (Oooh, but make sure you have plenty of extra everything.) Dump the glass out, clean the glass, and reassemble in a more pleasing fashion. Repeat as necessary, until the verrine makes you swoon.

There. That’s a verrine. It’s something you’ve already eaten, just composed using considerably more manpower and eaten with more frustration. The possibilities are as broad as those for putting food on a plate, especially if you have access to snazzy glassware or an inordinate number of cool shot glasses, which means you, the diner, will be paying more for the same food presented slightly differently.

My first attempt involved my morning snack, which I have on days like today when snow pulls me out of my chair and into the kitchen for a good stare into the yard. Here’s Greek yogurt, bananas, walnuts, and honey reborn as a verrine:

Yogurt Verrine

Pretty, huh? Here’s the secret: it tastes exactly the same as when I pile it into a bowl. That one was the best, though, becuase I could actually eat it out of the glass.

Then for lunch, I made a salad with beets, goat cheese, and tomatoes, which came out like this:

Salad Verrine 2

Of course, I should have pureed the beets, and suspended something on a paper-thin toast wafer between two other layers, for a magical floating effect. And there should have been a single hollowed-out tomato balanced on the top to hold the vinaigrette, but hey, I’m no verrine professional, so you can’t depend on me for that sort of creativity (read: effort). This makes for a nice-looking glass of salad, but I had to dump it out onto a plate before I could even think about approaching it with a fork. And in three bites, it was gone.

I then created what I thought would be my chef d’oeuvre, a taco parfait. Into the glass went pureed salsa, shredded lettuce, leftover pulled pork, finely shredded cheddar, avocado, and sour cream:

Taco Parfait

Not the masterpiece I anticipated. I dumped this one out also . . .

Taco Parfait, Deconstructed

. . .then changed my mind and transferred it into a tortilla and ate it like a burrito, because one can only have so many salads in the same hour.

There is a future for the verrine, and it’s not at Alinea(where I’ll be going, sqquuueeeallll, in April). It’s in research kitchens for places like Chili’s and Applebee’s, where recycling flavors and selling them as new ideas is a great way to make money. And it’s in homes with kids who like to be creative in the kitchen.

Tell your babysitter to try a PB&J verrine: spoon 1 tablespoon peanut butter into the bottom of a shot glass (don’t get the sides dirty!). Carefully chop toasted Wonder bread into 1/4″ cubes, and put a tablespoon of them on the peanut butter, using tweezers to align them in perfect rows around the inside of the glass. Top with a tablespoon of raspberry jam that’s been pureed, strained, stabilized, and formed so that it falls almost all the way into the glass but actually hovers a hair’s breadth above the bread, just for effect. Top the jam puck with finely slivered roasted peanuts, and pack carefully for lunch.

The last bit of the article related the verrine’s arrival on American soil to a sort of restaurant-focused fashion trend. Fashion? I guess it’s not such a surprise that I’m not interested.

But, on the plus side, it would help control portion size. No wonder the piece was printed in the LA Times.

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How about a nice parfait?

This morning’s LA Times had a piece on verrines, which defines them as follows:

A verrine is an appetizer or dessert that consists of a number of components layered artfully in a small glass. (The word verrine refers to the glass itself; literally it means “protective glass.”)

I haven’t seen this trend yet in Seattle, but I guess I haven’t been looking.

But tell me: isn’t this just a savory parfait? And as Donkey says, everybody likes a nice parfait.

I can see the trend trickling down: first Whole Foods will offer sweet verrines for take-out, then McDonalds will offer some gross variation, then Taco Bell will make a Border Verrino with beef, cheese, sour cream, and bad salsa.

Hey wait, a taco parfait sounds great to me. Except the Taco Bell part.

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Verboten

The guy from Sea Breeze Farm was talking up his buttermilk at the farmer’s market this weekend. He said it was real buttermilk, not the contrived kind the supermarket sells. According to the Food Lover’s Dictionary:

Buttermilk of times past was the liquid left after butter was churned. Today it is made commercially by adding special bacteria to nonfat or lowfat milk, giving it a slightly thickened texture and tangy flavor. Some manufacturers add flecks of butter to give it an authentic look.

So his was the real kind; he probably didn’t add extra flecks of butter. I bought some, hoping I could find a way to use it that actually highlighted the taste of the buttermilk.

I made rice pudding using the buttermilk and forbidden rice, which turns a lovely shade of deep royal purple when cooked. The pudding was lovely to look at, but it turns out I’m not a huge fan of buttermilk when its flavor is put on stage. But my husband (whose approach to any flavor is usually “the stronger, the better”) liked it much more than the coconut-scented black rice pudding I made a few years ago, which he found too sweet, even though I added tons of ginger. Anyway, see for yourself.

Buttermilk Rice Pudding 2

Recipe for Buttermilk Rice Pudding
Recipe 58 of 365

I first used forbidden rice to make rice pudding when I came across a recipe for Black Rice Pudding in Gourmet Magazine (December 2005). I followed their general guidelines for this recipe.

Look for forbidden rice in compact packages in the health food section of your local grocery store. If you can’t find it, you can substitute short-grained brown rice.

TIME: 10 minutes active time, plus 1 1/2 hours cooking time
MAKES: 8 (1/2 cup) servings

1 cup forbidden (black) rice
3 cups water
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup sugar
2 cups buttermilk
1 teaspoon vanilla

Combine the rice, water, and salt in a large saucepan with a tight-fitting lid. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to low and simmer for 45 minutes.

Stir in the sugar, buttermilk, and vanilla, and bring to a boil again over high heat. Reduce heat to low and simmer again (this time without the lid on) for another 30 minutes, stirring two or three times during cooking. The rice should be al dente and still a little liquidy.

Allow the pudding to cool for about 10 minutes, stirring frequently. Divide it between 8 (1/2 cup) ramekins or small bowls, and serve warm or room temperature. The pudding can be cooled, covered, and refrigerated for up to 5 days.

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Persimmon popsicles, and other new things

Yesterday my husband returned from wandering Seattle with his parents with a smile on his face. He said he had something for me, and he held my hand like a child’s and lead me out of the office, where I’d been typing away. We walked out into the early afternoon rain, and there on the grass landing strip across the sidewalk from our house was a Meader persimmon tree.

I’ve been on the hunt for the perfect tree for a few weeks. More accurately, I’ve been dreaming about the perfect tree, because I haven’t actually made it to a nursery yet. But I’d been thinking along the lines of a semi-dwarf apple tree that produced crisp, tart specimens that hold onto the tree well and store successfully. Wade Bennet, the cider master at Rockridge Cidery (who supplies me with warming cider when, like on Saturday, it’s pouring and freezing at the University District farmer’s market), suggested I find a Buckley Giant, an apple tree whose huge, green, basement-friendly fruits usually weigh in at over a pound each.

But this persimmon tree arrived literally on my doorstep, with a man who volunteered to plant it. So we put it in. I don’t know whether it requires special attention of any kind; I don’t even know how to tell when a persimmon’s ripe on a tree. (I know some ripen to a softish state, and I think the Meader is one of those, but I haven’t done my research yet.) In any case, someone at The Nursery told my husband that she’d been trying to get her hands on this particular variety of persimmon for months, so he hopped on the bandwagon and now it’s the five of us, my husband and the dog and the cat and me and the Persimmon tree.

I’d send a photo of Miss Persimmon, but there’s nothing to see. She just looks like a three-foot stick planted in the ground right now. She does seem beautifully planted, though, thanks to my in-home arborist.

The description I found on a random nursery website says to make persimmon popsicles. I’ll have to try that, in a few years, when the tree starts to bear fruit. The whole experience reminded me just how many ingredients I’m unfamiliar with – I’ve put persimmon in salads and a cake or two, and I’ve eaten them raw, but I’m a complete persimmon novice when it comes to baking, canning, and storing.

So, in anticipation of my need to try new cooking things with less familiar ingredients (like persimmons), I’m going on a New Things Kick. Not promising a whole week of new things, just acknowledging an effort to look deeper into my kitchen. I think I’ll find plenty in my pantry, which is filled with things like adzuki beans, nigella seeds, and vaccuum-packed shelf-stable baby clams from Japan (eek), none of which I’ve ever touched.

I bought dried fresh cranberry beans at the market on Saturday, a first for me. They were creamy white with purple flecks in their container, but cooked up to a gorgeous pinto hue that looked so . . . natural. Here’s the result, which I served with its liquid as a bed for yesterday’s halibut:

Cranberry Beans with Bacon and Brussels Sprouts

Recipe for Cranberry Beans with Bacon and Brussels Sprouts
Recipe 57 of 365

My husband’s tuna dish at The Stumbling Goat the other night inspired these beans – I’m not sure what was on his plate, but it struck me that I rarely serve fish in a bowl, over beans with a little light, snappy broth. And why not? These beans make the perfect bed for small piece of protein.

I used cranberry beans, but I’m sure fresh dried cannelini beans would also be delicious. As a warning, I doubt many kids would go for this, but I’m already planning to make it again.

TIME: 30 minutes, plus 45 minutes to cook the beans
MAKES: 6 servings

8 ounces dried fresh cranberry beans, rinsed and picked
2 cups chicken broth
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 thick (or 6 regular) slices good-quality bacon, diced
1/2 pound small Brussels sprouts, washed and trimmed
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1/4 cup red wine vinegar

Place the beans in a soup pot, and add the chicken broth, salt, and 2 cups water. Bring to a boil over high heat, reduce to a simmer and cook, stirring occasionally, for 30 to 45 minutes, or until the beans are just barely al dente. Set aside.

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees.

Begin cooking the bacon pieces over medium heat in a large ovenproof skillet. Halve any sprouts bigger than 1 inch in diameter. When the bacon is almost crispy, add the sprouts, season with salt and pepper, and cook for about 5 minutes more, or until the sprouts begin to lose their bright color. Increase heat to high, add the beans (with any remaining cooking liquid) and the vinegar, season with salt and pepper, and cook another minute or so, stirring. Add 2 cups water (the water should almost cover the beans), and carefully transfer the skillet to the bottom rack of the oven. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes, or until about half the water has evaporated and the sprouts are entirely cooked through. Serve immediately: spoon the beans into bowls, and pour the extra liquid on top.

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Filed under farmer's market, husband, pork, recipe, Seattle, side dish

Scattered

Did it ever strike you as odd that in The Dave Matthews Band song “So Much to Say,” he repeats the refrain over and over, when he could be expounding on whatever it is he so badly needs to get out? Of course, that’s the point of the song, I guess. He just can’t get it out. But still, there’s a lesson to be learned.

I’m feeling scattered, with so much to say, and reports of eating experiences bouncing around willy-nilly in my head. Here are some topics I want to touch on in more detail at some point:

– There’s a great response to the documentary Super Size Me in this week’s Seattle Weekly called Organicize Me. If nothing else (and there was a lot else), it reminded me of the term “foodgasm,” which should be used more regularly.

– Recent blog postings regarding how kids should be fed have been interesting to read. See Chow.com’s entry from last week.

– A non-food note to high school students: if applying to an institution of higher education across the country, and are interested in an alumni interview, please decide whether you’re actually applying to said college BEFORE you apply, then stick with your decision. A Middlebury College applicant recently turned down my offer to interview her (the college had called me regarding her application, which she’d already turned in), saying she’d decided against going there. Then she called me back the other day, three full weeks later (and after the interview deadline, I might add), saying she’d changed her mind and would I please interview her right then. Not the way it works, honey. I said no and referred her to the admissions office.

– A new cooking technique to share. We had some day-old pastries to reheat the other day, and when I stumbled into the kitchen for my coffee, my husband was heating them like this:

(Sorry, not a great shot.)

Reheating Pastries

Hey, whatever works.

Okay, now that I’ve shaken those thoughts out of my brain, I can share what I made for dinner last night with the in-laws (my mother-in-law took recipe notes for me) and our friend Jeff. I completely overcooked the halibut (too scattered to remember to think about it before putting it in the oven), but no one seemed to mind too much. Remember that so-called Canadian Rule of fish: 10 minutes per inch of thickness.

Roasted Halibut with Walnut-Panko Crust

Recipe for Roasted Halibut with Walnut-Panko Crust
Recipe 56 of 365

This recipe serves six, but to cook for fewer people, you could buy half the fish and reserve half the walnut-panko topping for another use (you could pat it onto anything you want to roast, really – try a different fish, or a rack of lamb, or chicken breasts). It freezes well, cooled and stored in small Ziploc bags.

Panko are flat Japanese breadcrumbs; you can usually find them in the Asian section of most decent-sized grocery stores.

TIME: about 30 minutes
MAKES: 6 servings

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 small onion, finely chopped
1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh rosemary
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1 cup finely chopped walnuts (the walnut baking pieces from Trader Joe’s work fine)
1/2 cup dry white wine
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
3/4 cup panko breadcrumbs
2 pounds flat-cut halibut (not steaks), cut into six pieces

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees, and arrange a rack in the middle of the oven.

Preheat a large skillet over medium heat. When hot, add the oil, then the onion and rosemary, and season with salt and pepper. Cook for about 5 minutes, or until the onions are soft and beginning to brown, stirring occasionally. Add the walnuts, and cook 1 minute. Increase the heat to high, add the wine, and simmer for about a minute, or until almost all the liquid has evaporated. Remove the pan from the heat, add the mustard and the panko, and stir to combine. Season to taste with additional salt and pepper, if necessary.

Season the halibut filets with salt and pepper, and transfer them to a baking sheet lined with parchment paper or a silicon baking mat. Pat about a sixth of the topping onto each of the fish pieces in an even layer. Roast the fish for 10 to 15 minutes (or even less, if you have thin filets like I did), depending on the thickness of your fish, or until the topping is brown and the fish is cooked through. Serve hot.

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Let’s eat cake

Sour cream and buttermilk get all the attention. How about a creme fraiche cake?

Creme fraiche is essentially thickened, soured cream – if you can’t find it, it’s easy to make your own.

I bought some at Sea Breeze Farm‘s booth at the UD farmer’s market, and it cried out to be used in place of buttermilk in one of my favorite cakes. Blood oranges give its glaze a fabulous pinkish color.

Creme fraiche cake with blood orange glaze

Recipe for Creme Fraiche Cake with Blood Orange Glaze
Recipe 55 of 365

Adapted from Kathy Gunst’s recipe for Lemon Cake with Lemon-Vanilla Glaze from Stonewall Kitchen Favorites, which is made with buttermilk, this cake relies on crème fraiche for acidity and moisture. It’s simple to make (no mixer required), and excellent both right out of the oven and a few days after it’s made.

For a fancier dessert, double the recipe and make two cakes, and fill and top them with an orange buttercream, such as the one in The Gourmet Cookbook, made with blood oranges.

TIME: 10 minutes, plus baking
MAKES: 10 servings

Vegetable oil spray
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups sugar, divided
1 cup crème fraiche
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
3 blood oranges, zested and juiced
1/2 cup vegetable oil

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Spray a 9” cake pan with the vegetable oil spray and set aside.

Sift the flour, baking powder, and salt together into a mixing bowl and set aside.

In another mixing bowl, whisk 1 cup of the sugar, crème fraiche, eggs, and vanilla together until blended. Stir in about 2/3 of the blood orange zest, add the oil, and gently fold the oil into the batter until combined.

Pour the batter into the pan and bake the cake on the middle rack for 30 to 45 minutes, rotating the pan once during baking, or until the cake is lightly browned at the edges and just barely beginning to crack in the center (the toothpick test is appropriate for this cake).

When the cake is done, let it cool for about 10 minutes. Meanwhile, combine the remaining 1/2 cup sugar, the remaining blood orange zest, and the blood orange juice in a small saucepan, and bring to a simmer over medium heat. Reduce the heat to low and simmer 2 to 3 minutes, or until slightly thickened.

Using oven mitts, place a cooling rack on top of the cake pan and flip the cake and the rack together. Remove the cake pan, so the cake is upside-down on the rack. Place a serving plate upside-down on the bottom of the cake, and flip the plate and the rack together, so the cake is now right side-up on the serving plate.

Spoon half the glaze on top of the cake, using the spoon or a brush to spread the glaze evenly over the cake, and let sit for about 5 minutes. (Some glaze may spill over the side, that’s okay.) Spoon the remaining glaze over the cake. Cut and serve warm or at room temperature.

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Filed under Cakes, farmer's market, recipe

This goat can run

As promised, we returned to The Stumbling Goat Bistro tonight, and with great relief and excitement I can report that the salty, stumbling Goat we met last month has shown us a most delightful gait.

We’ve been on a major eating-out binge, and this morning my mouth woke up tired. I bought a donut for breakfast at PCC and only ate half of it. I ordered Caesar salad for lunch, for chrissake, and we’re not talking appetizers. Even by the time we showed up for our 7 p.m. reservation, I wasn’t really in the mood for food. Please, I know what you’re thinking. I’m always hungry.

I ordered the wagyu beef tenderloin, served simply and effortlessly with roasted baby carrots, parsnips, turnips, and potatoes. No muss, no fuss, just a killer cut of beef with a nice (salted, but not overly salted) crust on the outside and satiny strands of animal on the inside that fell apart like pulled pork in my mouth. My husband’s albacore was seared just so, still cold to the touch in the center the way he likes it (he always touches it first), with an intriguing, slightly chunky pecan-arugula pesto.

We split the “lover’s cheesecake,” a 4″ round cheesecake for two based on chef Seth Caswell’s New York grandmother’s recipe, for dessert. (It should probably count as tomorrow’s breakfast, too.) It had the consistency of whipped cream cheese lightened with shower cream (I told you so), and because there was a significant amount of shower cream in the batter, it didn’t have the cloying aftertaste that makes me regret most cheesecakes for hours afterwards. Some people say cheesecake can be light, but until tonight I felt strongly that light cheesecakes were either a) made with lite ingredients or b) served in small portions. This is the cheesecake you have room for.

And now, after weeks of casting furtive glances in the Goat’s direction as I wait in the construction traffic across the street, hoping that our second encounter would overshadow our first unfortunate experience, I can finally drive by and announce that The Stumbling Goat Bistro is our neighborhood restaurant.

Stumbling Goat Bistro in Seattle

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Incredible News, and Lunch for One

This is gonna be quick, but the incredible news is that I’ve found what has to be the best hat in the entire world:

Sushi hat!

Yes, it’s covered in sushi. It’s made by Sugoi (which happens to be the term for “incredible” in Japanese), an athletic company out of Vancouver, and I found it at REI yesterday on a requisite stop in the Seattle tour with the in-laws.

Here’s a quick lunch idea, from when I made myself a fancy lunch for one the other day: boil up a cup of orecchiette pasta. Save about 2 tablespoons of its water, and when the pasta is done, mix it with the water, 2 ounces crumbled fresh goat cheese, a handful of toasted walnuts, 2 tablespoons julienned sundried tomatoes, and a big scoop of that amazing lemony sorrel pesto (or whatever you have on hand).

So that’s it, recipe 54 of 365, the perfect antidote to those days when it’s cold and cranky outside and you want a lunch that’s quick but still satisfying.

Orecchiette with Walnuts, Sundried Tomatoes, Goat Cheese, and Sorrel Pesto:

Orecchiette with Walnuts, Sundried Tomatoes, Goat Cheese, and Pesto

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Krrrrisp Kraut

A few weeks ago, my mother-in-law requested a recipe for pork chops with sauerkraut and apples. My experience with sauerkraut is pretty limited, but I do know that whenever I get a bratwurst, there never seems to be enough of the stuff – I’m always rationing the sauerkraut as I eat, lest I find myself with one bite to go and no kraut available.

I’d looked for chilled sauerkraut without much success at a few of my usual stores (I didn’t think I’d have any trouble, but apparently you can’t trust Trader Joe for everything), and eventually relied on my neighbor to grab me some when she was at a different market. She came home with this, which cracked me up:

Krrrrisp Kraut

Why doesn’t it say “Barrel Kured?”

So I broke into my Skagit River Ranch stash and set out to make pork chops positively swimming in sauerkraut. After searing the herbed chops, I sauteed tart apples and added sauerkraut with some of its liquid, apple cider vinegar, and Dijon mustard to make a lip-smaking topping that reminded us of salt and vinegar potato chips. You can serve the chops with the kraut topping as is, or make a not-so-healthy entire meal out of it (was I the one talking about eating more greens?) by piling the whole shebang onto a thick slab of toasted, buttered bread. This is what we did; my in-laws’ flight was early and we were in a bit of a hurry. The bread soaks up the extra vinegar quite nicely.

My husband and I hadn’t really touched base all day, and while we ate I was trying to figure out whether he had arranged to meet his parents at a certain place, whether he’d spoken to them that day, etc. He got very agitated when I found out he hadn’t told them we’d be waiting in Sea-Tac’s cell phone waiting lot. I released the anti-cell phone monster.

Him: You’ve got to get over this cell phone thing. People made plans and carried them out successfully long before the invention of the cell phone.

Me: Fine. But you don’t have to be so condescending about it, Mr. Cell Phone . . .(at this point I tried to think of a clever way of pointing out that he caved in and started using a cell phone when we moved to Seattle, but found myself at a loss).

Him: I’m not being condescending. I’m being indignant, which is different. It means I hold the whole world in disdain. Not just you.

Ohhhh. So that’s the difference.

Salt-and-Vinegar Pork Chops with Sauerkraut

Recipe for Salt-and-Vinegar Pork Chops with Sauerkraut
Recipe 53 of 365

Sauerkraut is like pickles – the refrigerated kind almost always beats the kind you find on the shelf. This recipe makes more than enough vinegar-kicked sauerkraut and granny smith apple topping for two big pork chops, but unless (like me) you insist on a high kraut-to-chop ratio, you could probably stretch it over four pork chops without any complaints.

I used half thyme and half sage for the herbs. You could substitute 1 teaspoon dried herbs (such as rubbed sage), if you prefer.

TIME: 15 minutes
MAKES: 2 big servings

2 pork loin chops
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme, sage, rosemary, or a combination of herbs
2 teaspoons olive oil
1 granny smith apple, chopped
1 packed cup sauerkraut (with about 1/2 cup of its juice)
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar

Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat. Season the pork chops with salt and pepper, and rub the herbs into the pork chops on both sides. When the pan is hot, add the oil and swirl the pan to coat, then add the chops, and cook for 3 to 5 minutes per side (depending on the thickness of the chops), or until browned and cooked through. Transfer the chops to a plate and tent with foil to keep warm.

Add the apples to the pan, and cook for about a minute, stirring. Add the sauerkraut (with juices), mustard, and vinegar, and season with salt and pepper. Cook for a few minutes, stirring, or until most of the liquid has evaporated. Serve the chops with the sauerkraut mixture piled on top.

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Playing pretends

I was doing a pretty good job pretending all of the inn’s amenities were part of my regular life, but the hairdryer got me. The extension cord was wrapped so neatly around the thing; beginning at the base of the handle, it was impeccably wound around and around in the kind of perfectly flat, compact coil only someone with severe OCD determined to make a hairdryer look really nice could achieve. This is not what my hairdryer looks like at home. My cord would never behave that way.

But I’m not at home. I’m sitting in a corner room at the Inn at El Gaucho in Belltown, where my husband and I decided to celebrate Valentine’s Day a little late, pretending to be far away. I’ve never spent the night in a hotel in my own city before, and it really is a fabulous idea. The sounds and the light are so different from my the ones in my neighborhood, and despite the fact that I’ll just jump on the #5 bus to get home, and that I’m sitting here typing on my laptop with my work files on the floor next to me, I feel so far from home. There are no dishes. Someone else made the coffee. And whether it’s the connection here or my as-of-yet unpersonalized new hard drive, I can’t seem to get the wireless to work, so it’s just me and the coffee and the seagulls and the sunlight streaming through the wooden blinds onto the dark chocolate-colored leather couch. I’ve been here for 12 hours now, pretending this is my real life. Pretending that when I get home every day, the first thing I do is take my shoes off, throw my coat over a chair, flop onto a giant leather couch, and watch my husband pour me some champagne. I’m lucky if I get through the shoes part before I start doing something else. This morning I pretended I always drink coffee in bed with my head, back, neck, and arms comfortably propped up on fifteen million pillows.

We still don’t own a television. Which means that the first thing my husband did when we got here last night (after he poured the champagne) was pick up the remote, not because there was something he so wanted to watch, but because a 3 1/2 x 1 1/2 foot piece of spanky-new electronics fastened to the wall represents a challenge to him. He picks up a remote the same way most of you might pick up an iPhone – with awe, curiosity, and maybe a little trepidation.

While I was inspecting El Gaucho’s plush white chenille bathrobes, my husband had an epiphany. “Hey, guess what?” he said. “There’s more than one channel for all those channels now.” Hmm. Okay. I looked at him quizzically. “You know, like HBO and stuff. There’s more than one HBO channel.” Sometime in the last 5 years I’d picked up on this fact, even without a cable bill to review, but he’d missed it entirely. Oh, the novelty of television.

But where were we? Oh yes, playing pretends. It turns out that the Inn at El Gaucho is the place to spend the night if you have housewares fantasies. Like if you’ve ever stood in the bathroom fixture section at Restoration Hardware, willing yourself to remember how much you like the wannabe retro maybe-stainless-maybe-not shower fittings your home’s previous owners got at Home Depot, but really secretly wishing that the giant discoid shower head you’re staring at would just jump into your arms, screaming “take me home, baby!” The Good Shower Head lives at this inn. Or say you’re the type that’s tactile by nature, and maybe you might have once (in a big department store, where no one notices) run your hands along a tall stack of big soft-yet-absorbent white couture towels, thinking how cool and wasteful and somehow thrilling it would be to spend $200 on a friggin’ bath towel. Not that I’m a towel-toucher. But if you are, you’ll like the towels here. Oh, and a first for me: feather bed. Ahhhh.

In Mrs. Hanson’s 7th grade accelerated English class (or was it still Language Arts then?), we read this poem called Almost Perfect, by Shel Silverstein, which outlined a pompous, bratty little girl’s take on the things that weren’t perfect about everything. Here are my Mary Hume comments:

Our breakfast arrived with steaming hot strong coffee, the perfect brew for a Seattle visitor, but the only available additives were Splenda, Sweet-n-Low, and CoffeeMate (The Original). Sacrilege. I mean really, shouldn’t a place that offers “shower cream” from L’Occitane – which, as an aside, will be my new permanent name for sour cream, as in “please pass the shower cream” – be able to muster up a cold pitcher of real half and half for the breakfast tray?

The pastries from Macrina Bakery, which I’d never had, were superfresh and delicious, but to my horror the filling from one leapt quietly, deftly to the sleeve of my snowy robe, and then spread like a pink-spotted plague across my entire body until I noticed ten minutes later that I’d been attacked by a raspberry scone. They should really train their pastries better. I might have to buy the robe.

My in-laws arrive today, and I’m sort of regretting not putting them up here. It’s really convenient to the 99 and it’s boutique-y enough that I feel like I’m in someone’s very well-appointed guest bedroom rather than in a hotel. No fake plants. No doilies. No teal, just rich, warm tones and a photograph of Marilyn Monroe bench-pressing barbells next to the bed.

There’s no way I’ll get that damn cord back the way it was. I just tried, and despite my own strong OCD-tendencies, and I failed. Sigh. Guess it’s time to check out.

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Filed under commentary, review, Seattle

Let the pestos begin

There is a single, perfect rhododendron blossom on the bush outside our front door, and I am thrilled. Early spring blooms have begun in earnest in Seattle, with ornamental cherries, daffodils, crocuses, and lots of things I’ve never seen before sprouting forth hope for a long, hot summer. I know, I know, this doesn’t mean sun is coming to Seattle – but it does mean that the earthy scent of fecundity and warming soil, a springtime smell known collectively in our household as “plant sex,” is in the air.

Unfortunately, the farmer’s market is still really slim pickins. On Sunday I walked away with a whole bunch of dairy products, some potatoes, and a fistful of sorrel. By the time today rolled around, there were little rips in the tips of each of the little sorrel leaves where I’d picked some off to verify that its uniquely lemony flavor was yes, still there.

I made a little batch of pesto, the first in what’s usually a six month-long obsession with grinding herbs and nuts and adding oil and cheese. We slathered it on some local salmon, also from the market, but you could also use it in pasta salads, on chicken, or as a spread on sandwiches.

Salmon with Sorrel-Pistachio Pesto

And by the way, when I sear salmon, I cook it on the first side until the fish is cooked about halfway up the sides of the filets, which lookes like this:

Searing Salmon

Recipe for Sorrel-Pistachio Pesto
Recipe 52 of 365

Sorrel looks like little elongated spinach leaves, only its flavor is much brighter – most people describe it as lemony. Sorrel is actually a member of the buckwheat family.

If you have to buy sorrel in those little 3/4-ounce clamshell packages at the grocery store, you’ll need four of them – but you could also substitute basil, parsley, or cilantro for the sorrel. Pesto is infinitely flexible.

TIME: 10 minutes
MAKES: about 1 cup

1 large clove garlic, crushed
1/4 cup toasted pistachios
1/4 teaspoon salt
Freshly ground black pepper
2 1/2 ounces fresh sorrel leaves
1 teaspoon freshly-squeezed lemon juice
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/4 cup (lightly packed) freshly grated Parmesan, Romano or Grana Padano cheese

In a small food processor, whirl the garlic, pistachios, and salt together until very finely chopped. Add a grinding or two of pepper and the sorrel, and process to make a thick green paste. Add the lemon juice and olive oil, and process again until completely blended.

Transfer the pesto to a bowl and stir in the cheese by hand. Season to taste with salt and pepper, if necessary.

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Filed under farmer's market, recipe, Seattle, side dish, vegetables

A penny for your thoughts

Someone producing a very corporate online food-related vlog contacted me recently and asked me to “review” their videocast on hogwash. I was stunned. I know I’m a little slow on the uptake on all things bloggy, but it never occurred to me that people would actually ask to be published on my little page. I didn’t really like their stuff, so I decided not to mention it, but it brought up a question I’ve been avoiding since I started hogwash.

In case you haven’t noticed, I don’t put any advertising on my blog. Yet. I’m investigating the pros and cons of giving up some space (c’mon! look at all that red on the right!) in exchange for what will probably be not so many pennies, but at least a few. Some bloggers do this quite successfully without being obnoxious in any way (some advertisement is basically unnoticeable), some are sort of annoying to read through but really acceptable to me, and some are downright embarrassing pleas for money that really affect how the blog looks. I’ve also seen blogs where the author chooses to put a PayPal money-requesting link on their site, which allows readers to just click and chip in for the creative process if they get the urge. And, of course, there’s the Amazon “my store” process, which would enable me, the blogger, to earn money when you, the reader, buy products from Amazon that I recommend by clicking through to them on my blog, like this (scroll down on the sidebar on the left side).

I’m having ethical issues. On one hand, I think blogs should be an extension of people’s lives, meant for sharing but not necessarily for money-making, and that it’s totally tacky to use them to make money, because it basically amounts to pimping your life experiences out. (In this same vein, my husband asks that I limit stories about him to one per week, lest he become a subject of daily abuse from which he receives no real benefit.) On the other hand, hasn’t writing always been, on some level, about pimping oneself out? And in my case, cooking and writing recipes does take more than a negligible amount of time and cash, so why shouldn’t I be remunerated in some way for my effort? Or more to the point, why shouldn’t income from my blog, in whatever form, pay for the macro lens I want for my camera, which I will then use to take better photos for my blog?

Part of what I like about hogwash is how purely unprofessional it can be at times. The recipes work, but I’m a total technology hack with no real HTML experience or coding skill, which means my links don’t always work, my images are never the right size for this or that, etc. Part of my hesitation lies in the imagined fact that taking advertising implies a larger commitment to this site than maybe I’m ready for.

“It’s not you, it’s me. I’m just not ready for commitment.”

So my question to you: Would taking advertising be tacky or savvy? Do you think I should accept advertising on my blog, and if so in what form(s)? Do you think it’s more appropriate for some blogs than for others?

(Not-so-subtle hint: Here’s the part where you can comment below, so that everyone sees your thoughts.)

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Filed under commentary

Peter, Peter, Cauliflower Eater

About this time last year, when we were still living in Woods Hole, I made a silky-smooth cauliflower soup spiked with coconut milk and green Thai chili paste (which I’ve always called chili paste, but which actually reads “green curry paste” on the label, I just discovered). At first, my husband turned up his nose at the concept of cauliflower soup, but our friend Peter, who is less discriminating when it comes to plain-tasting foods, liked it. Together we convinced my husband that cauliflower isn’t the horribly boring brainy vegetable it poses as on the produce shelf. I promised Peter I’d teach him to make it before we left, but summer came and soups disappeared from our kitchen vocabulary, and we never made it again.

Today is Peter’s birthday, so last night I bought some cauliflower, thinking I’d write up the recipe for him. (As a side note, what do you think supermarket checkers think when a woman buys just a head of cauliflower? I mean, just milk or just bagels is one thing, but I think as a checker I might create elaborate, misguided suspicions if a person bought just a head of cauliflower. What might I be suspicious of, though? It’s not as if cauliflower is a weapon. I guess I’m just self-conscious of my newfound love of cauliflower.)

Anyway, when I picked up my pen to sketch out the recipe, I was instantly overwhelmed by the amount of green curry paste in my life, and couldn’t do it. So here’s a different version of cauliflower soup, smooth and creamy because it’s well-pureed, not because it’s high-fat. Real buttermilk from Sea Breeze Farm (found at the University District farmer’s market) gives it a nice tang.

If you want to make Peter’s soup, substitute a can of coconut milk and about a teaspoon of green curry paste for the buttermilk.

Silky Cauliflower Soup with Lemon Thyme

Recipe for Silky Cauliflower Soup with Buttermilk
Recipe 51 of 365

When I lived in Paris, my host mother, Mme Jacqueau, almost always started the evening meal with a thick, simple soup. Though she was Catholic to the bone, the way she urged the three Americans living with her to take second helpings of her soups would have made her a good candidate for a pushy Jewish mother. The soups were always simple, like this one, with just enough je ne sais quoi to make them interesting.

Use real, fresh buttermilk and tangy, raw goat’s milk cheese from a farmer’s market, if you can find it. You could also substitute regular milk, heavy cream, or coconut milk for the buttermilk.

TIME: 15 minutes active cooking time
MAKES: 8 smallish servings

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 small onion, chopped
Salt and freshly ground pepper (use white pepper if you have it)
1 (2 1/2-pound) head cauliflower, leaves removed and rinsed
1 quart low-sodium chicken broth
1 1/2 cups real buttermilk
Crumbled goat cheese and chopped fresh herbs for garnish (optional)

Heat a large soup pot over medium heat. When hot, add the oil, then the onions, and season with salt and pepper. Cook, stirring frequently, until the onions begin to soften, about 5 minutes. (Do not let the onions brown).

Meanwhile, cut the florets away from the cauliflower’s core, discard the core, and cut the cauliflower into 1” pieces.

Add the cauliflower and the broth to the onions. Season again with salt and pepper, increase heat to high, and bring the soup to a boil. Reduce to a simmer, cover, and cook until the cauliflower is completely soft, about 10 to 12 minutes. Remove the soup from the heat and stir in the buttermilk.

Carefully puree the soup in small batches in a food processor or blender. Return the soup to the (cleaned) pot, season to taste with salt and pepper, and gently reheat, if necessary. Serve hot in small bowls, garnished with goat cheese and herbs, if desired.

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Filed under farmer's market, husband, recipe, soup, vegetables

Brothers and sisters

Yesterday we drove to Mt. Hood Meadows ski resort to watch my sister race giant slalom. She did really well, despite the blizzard conditions, bringing home a trophy (or two?) for the weekend.

On our way home, we stopped at Grandma’s house in Portland for dinner. When she announced she was making curry, I imagined her throwing spices pell-mell into the pan, without any regard for their age or character. But curry for her meant simmering onions, carrots, and chicken in some broth and adding a sauce made from bouillon-style cubes of curry paste. It was to traditional Indian curry what Kraft Mac’n’Cheese is to the homemade kind – perhaps not the most gourmet, but certainly tasty enough and just the right amount of cooking for her.

The whole experience reminded me of my survey from a few months ago. Many respondents mentioned that as much as they’d like to make gourmet ethnic food every night, they just can’t be bothered to buy all the right ingredients. Sometimes pre-fab foreign flavors are they way to go. My brother, who falls into the chasm of cooks caught between laziness and grad school poverty, insists that there should be a need-based guide to seldom-used pantry ingredients like allspice and walnut oil, so that when your recipe calls for, say, rice wine vinegar, you could look up rice wine vinegar in the guide and decide whether buying it will actually prove cost-effective in the long run and really change the flavor of your foods or whether you should just skip it.

Anyway, with my grandmother and my brother (and questions about how to use the Thai chili paste I put in a recipe last week) in mind, I made a dinner that’s pretty cheap, pretty simple, and spicy enough to make you sweat a little.

Simple Thai Chicken & Rice

Recipe for Simple Thai Chicken and Rice
Recipe 50 of 365

Here’s a quick, simple approach to “Thai” food, made with prefab chili paste and not too much else.

As an alternative to mixing the sauce into the rice, you could stir-fry vegetables, mix them with the sauce, and serve them with the chicken over plain white rice.

TIME: 30 minutes, including rice-cooking time
MAKES: 4 servings

1 cup long-grain white rice, such as basmati or jasmine
4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts (about 1 1/2 pounds)
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 (14-ounce) can light coconut milk
1 teaspoon green or red Thai chili paste
2 packed tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro
4 scallions (green and white parts), thinly sliced

Begin cooking the rice according to package instructions. About 20 minutes before the rice is done cooking, begin cooking the chicken.

Season the chicken breasts on both sides with salt and pepper. Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat. When hot, add the oil, and swirl to coat the pan. Add the chicken breasts and cook undisturbed for 4 to 5 minutes, or until the chicken releases from the pan easily. Flip the chicken over, turn the heat down to medium, and cook another 5 minutes or so on the second side, or until the breasts are well browned and cooked through. Transfer the chicken to a plate and tent with foil to keep warm.

Add the coconut milk and the chili paste to the pan, whisk until the chili paste has completely dissolved, and increase the heat to high. Simmer the mixture for 3 minutes, then stir in the cilantro and scallions. Return the chicken to the pan, turn to coat with the sauce, and skooch the chicken over to one side of the pan. Use a big spoon to scoop as much of the spicy coconut sauce as possible out of the chicken pan and into the rice. Stir the rice to distribute the sauce. Pile the rice onto a serving dish, put the chicken on top, and scrape any remaining sauce on top of the chicken. Serve immediately.

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Filed under chicken, recipe, Thai

Sunday morning trivia

One evening in Hawaii we had dinner at our hosts’ house. It was the sort of throw-together meal we all need now and then, using all that stuff a kitchen has that magically turns from “new produce from the farmer’s market” to “produce on its deathbed” in a matter of milliseconds, it seems. I envisioned a sort of combination between salsa, guacamole, and fruit salad for our salmon burgers, starring fresh mango and papaya and the giant avocado John had found on a bike ride a few days earlier. I had this image of a light, zippy salad, but their rental didn’t come equipped with the condiments I was looking for, so we ended up dressing it with juice from these tiny orange-skinned limes they bought at the Hanapepe farmer’s market and a little sriracha. It was better than it sounds.

But yesterday morning I made the version I’d imagined, with inferior fruit but plenty of fresh cilantro, sea salt, and black pepper. We piled it onto huevos rancheros and ate the leftovers straight from the bowl.

A little trivia, for your learning pleasure: the word for avocado (which is a fruit, by the way) comes from the Nahuatl word for “testicle,” for (now) obvious reasons. Imagine having two of those.

Hawaiian Fruit Salad

Recipe for Hawaiian Fruit Salad
Recipe 49 of 365

This is delicious as is (at any time of day), but would also be great for chips (in which case finely chopping the fruit would be best) or grilled fish. Add a squirt of sriracha, if you’d like.

TIME: 15 minutes
MAKES: 4 servings

1 large avocado
1 large mango
1 small papaya
1 packed tablespoon finely chopped fresh cilantro
Juice of 1 large lime
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
Salt and freshly ground pepper

Peel, pit, and chop all the fruit. Place it in a mixing bowl, stir in the cilantro, lime juice, and olive oil, and season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve immediately.

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Filed under Breakfast, mexican, recipe, salad, vegetables

I’d make a pretty good cupcake

I’m not a particularly athletic person. I’ve done my fair share of sporty pursuits, but I learned long ago that there’s a difference between being athletically gifted and being athletically challenged, and I tend strongly toward the latter.

It’s not for lack of trying. And there are some sports, like skiing, that I’ve spent enough time doing to look like a natural, if not like a pro. I can’t think of any others besides skiing, but I’m sure there are one or two things. Probably just one.

But for all the good it’s done me (my husband swears my 198 cm skis were what nailed me the spot in his little black book in 1996), in-bounds skiing has also taught me that the joy derived from going down something very fast does not necessarily need to be preceeded by huffing up something first. Herego, my mental approach to anything that requires effort in one direction (or, God forbid, both directions) is a little skewed.

This morning was unusually warm and sunny, and some friends invited us on the first bike ride of the season. (Yes, you eastie beasties, there are daffodils blooming in Seattle.) They mentioned a place called Seward Park on Lake Washington, and said it was a pretty flat ride. But there was no mention of the fact that we live 14 miles from said park, and in my early-season exuberance and idealism I blithely donned my bike gear and started pedaling.

Somewhere around mile 20, when it was just getting unfun for me, my riding partners started discussing their upcoming participation in the Chilly Hilly, a 33-mile bike loop event around Bainbridge Island taking place next weekend. They were saying they wanted Cupcake Royale to sponsor them, despite their relative lack of racing experience, and it occurred to me that if, as an athlete, I were to have to be a food, I’d make a pretty good cupcake. I dress up nice on the outside, but I’m really just soft on the inside. I’m great going down(hill), even if I regret it afterwards. (Though I hope I’ll be able to make it to Seward Park again in the future.)

In the middle of my identification with the cupcake, I realized we’d be passing Trophy Cupcakes, Seattle’s newest cupcake house, on the way home, and we planned a stop. My pedal strokes seemed easier (not faster, just less mentally challenging).

I had a green tea cupcake, and it was everything I wanted after 25 miles. “Cupcakes are back,” cheered my buttercream-phobic husband. It was undeniably fresh (with a perfectly airy crumb), and the matcha-flavored cake and buttercream made a combo that was less sweet than I anticipated. I decided I could be the leader of a group of equally wussy road riders, and we could call ourselves the Cupcake Club and revel in the fact that we’d gain all motivation from each ride’s imminent cake and frosting binge. As I trudged up 73rd to the top of Phinney Ridge, I still cursed, but less loudly than I might have. The cupcake had given me strength.

Once home, I made a great smoothie using this ginger juice my friend in Hawaii dreamed up. I mixed a cup of frozen raspberries, 1/2 cup yogurt, 1/2 cup orange juice, a banana, and 1/4 cup of the ginger juice in a blender until nicely pureed, and it gave me the strength to sit down and write this. But now I must get to know the couch a little better.

Beth's Ginger Juice

Recipe for Beth’s Ginger Juice
Recipe 48 of 365

This is the ideal pick-me-up for ginger lovers. Beth gave me general guidelines for how she makes it when we visited in Hawaii. She puts it in Sprite, but I’ve had great success adding it to plain seltzer water (about 1 part juice to 3 parts seltzer), cocktails, and smoothies. I bet it would make a great base for ginger sorbet.

Since the whole mess gets strained, don’t worry about peeling the ginger too obsessively.

TIME: 5 minutes, plus 15 minutes soaking
MAKES: about 1 quart juice

8 ounces (1/2 pound) ginger, peeled and chopped
3 cups boiling water
Juice of 1 lime
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons sugar, plus more to taste
Pinch cayenne pepper, plus more to taste

Place the chopped ginger in the blender, pour the hot water over the ginger, and let sit for about 15 minutes. Add the lime juice, salt, sugar, and cayenne pepper, and blend until completely smooth. (Careful! It will probably test your blender’s capacity.) Strain the juice through a fine-mesh strainer into a mixing bowl, pressing on the solids to extract as much liquid as possible. Season the juice to taste with additional sugar or cayenne (I added 2 more tablespoons sugar), remembering that this juice is a mixer; you probably won’t drink it straight.

Transfer the juice to an airtight container and refrigerate, up to 2 weeks.

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Filed under Breakfast, dessert, products, recipe, Seattle

Steeled for something worse

I took this photo when we were here in Seattle last spring, me for the IACP conference and my husband for his UW interview:

The old view of the coffee cup

How trite it seemed. How usual. But this picture can be taken no longer, because there’s now a bigger, flashier sign right above the cup for Steelhead Diner, which opened quietly on February 1st (right on time!).

I’ll admit I was hesitant to eat at Steelhead. Its killer location overlooking the market and the sound sort of guarantees it a spot in tourists’ hearts. I steeled myself for uninventive fish-focused fare and loud midwesterners. But when I went for lunch yesterday, I was pleasantly surprised.

First and foremost, Steelhead has captured the “upscale diner” atmosphere quite successfully. There are three long eating counters (one at a bar) with appropriately chrome-trimmed barstools, sure enough, but they’re sleek and black and I don’t think they’re pleather. Cool ocean tones, tons of natural light, and a big collage of soothing photographs that whispers sweet nothings about how much the place values local, sustainable agriculture really work in the big second floor space.

Sure, Steelhead offers enough of the tried-and-true tourist menu items like fish and chips to satisfy the masses, but it also gives a few wink-winks to Seattle that only local foodies will understand, putting it many notches above tourist traps (with admittedly nice views) like the Athenian Inn. And when they say local, they mean local – the menu is full of ingredients from Beecher’s, Chukar Cherries, and Uli’s Sausages, all within spitting distance of the front door.

There are a few requisite diner items on the menu – a double chocolate sundae, for one – but other than the Alaskan King salmon and the crabcake, there really aren’t too many items that I’d call boring, which is what I feared. Even the Caesar salad (which they call a Brutus Salad) seems to have gotten a face lift with a roasted pine nut gremolata. Must go back and taste it.

We started with crispy chicken spring rolls. I hate most euphemisms, but using “crispy chicken” in place of “fried chicken” is okay with me, because sometimes it’s best to sneak fried food into people’s diets (ahem, please excuse what I was saying yesterday). With the clean, fresh taste of spring roll wrappers and the deep, satisfying flavor of fried chicken, they were the ultimate Asian roll compromise. But here the menu stopped corresponding to the food that hit the table. The “whirred ginger vinaigrette” sent as a dipping sauce for the rolls was more of a pungent wasabi vinaigrette (with only a very little taste of ginger), the “green papaya salad” that came along for the ride looked to us like a fennel and red cabbage slaw. We asked the waitress for an explanation, and she said the green papaya wasn’t actually big enough to taste. So, you mean, it’s, like, in sauce form? She assured us it was in there. But when our Wagyu beef burger came accented with the same slaw, we decided that there was in fact a green papaya salad available somewhere; it just didn’t make it onto the spring roll plate. Too bad.

I was so excited to see Armandino’s air cured beef bresaola (how DO you pronounce that?) on the menu; I tried almost everything Salumi sells once when I was interviewing him for a piece for the Cape Cod Times but didn’t get to try the bresaola. The beef itself was great, and the apple/hazelnut salad on top was appropriately lemony and crunchy, but the whole thing had been so drowned in olive oil that my dining companion resorted to blotting the beef off on her (cloth) napkin before eating it.

We split the burger (which was identified on the menu as S.R.F. beef, hey maybe S.R.F. is the next E.V.O.O., go Idaho!), a perfectly grilled patty served with plenty of Beecher’s Flagship cheddar and nestled into fresh baguette halves. All of Steelhead’s sandwiches are served on these baguettes, but somehow they’ve avoided the baguette sandwich problem, where the sandwich looks appealing and the bread is tasty, but the sheer volume and crunchy texture of the bread makes the sandwich a) impossible to get the thing in your mouth and b) scrape against the roof of your mouth every time you take a bite, leaving you to wonder whether you’re drooling blood by the time you’re finished eating. Repeat, no baguette sandwich problems here. Next time I’m going for the Dungeness crab roll, which flirted with me when it walked by on its way to someone else’s stomach: “Jess,” it said. “You haven’t eaten Dungeness crab yet in Seattle.”

Anyway, we also ordered smothered collard greens as a side, which were appropriately smoky and just a bit spicier than I make them, which I appreciated. I’m hankering after their hominy cakes even though I’ve never tried them, just becuase I’m on this hominy kick (I think), so those’ll have to happen soon, too.

Anyway. It wasn’t perfect. But the rest of the menu at Steelhead Diner looks fabulous, and although there were some major inconsistencies between what was on the menu and what came to our table, I was happy enough with my meal to plan a return.

And the bresaola did turn out to be a good thing. I took home our leftovers, and fitted the bresaola slices into muffin cups, as my lunch companion had so cleverly suggested.

Bresaola Cup 2

To make bresaola cups:

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Arrange 12 thin bresaola slices (available at Trader Joe’s, I think) on a cuttting board, and spray them on both sides with a little olive oil spray. Fit them into each of a muffin tin’s 12 cups, using your fingers to gently press the beef into the corners of the cups. Bake for 8 to 10 minutes, or until the beef is browned and crispy, and drain on paper towels.

Fill them with cruncy stuff for appetizers or salad centerpieces: I made a quick mixture of chopped granny smith apple, chopped toasted pistachios, feta, lemon juice, and olive oil. How about fennel, parmesan, arugula, and parsley? Or even better: tomatoes, olives, capers, and goat cheese? Go crazy.

Apologies for the lack of links. I’m not sure why, but each time I enter them and save the post they seem to be erased automatically . . .


Steelhead Diner on Urbanspoon

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Filed under appetizers, Beef, recipe, review, Seattle

“Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.”

In Hawaii I finally got a chance to read Michael Pollan‘s latest upsetter in The New York Times Magazine, entitled Unhappy Meals.

I’m a little late – it was published a few weeks ago. Hopefully you read the piece, which started with these three loaded phrases: “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.”

Pollan’s latest piece is required reading for anyone who cares about what they put in their body, anyone who has dieted, anyone who buys Snackwell’s or related products claiming to help you lose weight, and anyone who thinks cooking is a curse God puts on those who only view food as fuel. If you’re busy, just read the first few paragraphs. C’mon. For me.

Pollan’s point is well made: as a society, we’ve made the leap from seeing food as food to seeing food as stacks of nutrients. Instead of learning to limit our general intake, we’ve found cell-sized culprits to blame for our fatty deposits. We’ve been brainwashed by scientists and journalists by an ideology Pollan digs out called “nutritionism,” which has lead us to eat foods humans might never eat if it weren’t for corporate food product giants and their pesky health claims. (Ever resorted to diet shakes?) He challenges us to redefine the word “food.”

I think his directive is spot-on. I should eat more food. Buttercream frosting is food; it’s made with butter and sugar. Canned frosting is not, it’s made with high-fructose corn syrup and many other things I’ve never seen growing and my body was not meant to digest. Steak is food. Packaged, frozen, chemicalized, low-fat salisbury steak is not. But I shouldn’t eat much buttercream or steak, even if it is real food. I should eat more plants, less meat, etc.

Oh, but you say THIS IS NOT NEWS. But it is. Pollan’s called out the diet industry, and I love it. He explains why foreigners’ waist sizes explode when they move to the US, and talks about a clinical trial that concluded that no, low-fat diets don’t necessarily allow people to live longer.

Oh, gosh, I was so worked up about this for about 5 days, and now all I can say is read it. It seems now that everything item I pass in the grocery store capitalizes on America’s dependence on nutritionism to sell more stuff. Even Trader Joe’s, that most revered of stores, sells two types of on-the-vine baby roma tomatoes: the regular kind ($3.19), and the “high-lycopene” kind ($3.99). Yes, the more expensive ones look more red. And yes, lycopene is the agent that makes many foods (tomatoes and watermelon among them) red. But I have to wonder: how much more lycopene does one need? I have been brainwashed into thinking I can’t get what my body needs from regular tomatoes.

So more leaves for us. (Mache and blood oranges are cheap right now at Trader Joe’s.)

Mache, Avocado, and Blood Orange Salad

Recipe for Mache, Avocado, and Blood Orange Salad
Recipe 46 of 365

Segmenting an orange is easier than it seems (of course, if you’re really not in the mood to do it, you can just put orange slices on the sides of the salad plate, diner-style). But if you’re feeling adventuresome, here’s how to segment: using a small sharp knife, cut both ends of an orange off, revealing the (in this case, red) flesh. Place the fruit one flat side-down and use the knife to carve the peel off, working in a semi-circular motion right under the innermost layer of white pith. Discard the peel, and use the knife to cut the individual orange segments out from between the layers of skin (like you do when you eat a grapefruit), leaving only the skin skeleton behind.

Almonds or walnuts would also be great on this salad.

TIME: 15 minutes
MAKES: 4 to 6 servings

1 4-ounce bag mache (lamb’s lettuce), watercress, or arugula
1 large avocado, sliced
2 scallions, thinly sliced
3 blood oranges, segmented
1/2 cup crumbled feta or goat cheese
Ginger Vinaigrette (recipe follows)

Place the mache, avocado, scallions, oranges, and feta in a salad bowl. Drizzle with the vinaigrette, and serve immediately.

Ginger Vinaigrette

1 tablespoon freshly grated ginger
1 tablespoon rice wine vinegar
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 tablespoon honey
1 teaspoon dark sesame oil
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil

In a small bowl, whisk the ginger, rice wine vinegar, soy, honey, sesame oil, and a little salt and pepper together until well blended. Add the oil in a slow, steady stream while whisking, until all the oil has been incorporated. Stir again before using.

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Chemistry Lessons

Here is the definition of titrate:

titrate
verb (used with object), verb (used without object), -trat·ed, -trat·ing. Chemistry.
to ascertain the quantity of a given constituent by adding a liquid reagent of known strength and measuring the volume necessary to convert the constituent to another form.

Last night I made Nutella brownies for my sweetheart. At least, I meant to make Nutella brownies. What I got was a huge, deep batch of arguably the best brownies I’ve ever made, which filled the kitchen with that heady hazelnut-infused melty Nutella scent, even though the final product didn’t really taste like Nutella. No matter.

In any case, I’ll be making them again, because they represent the outrageously successful completion of a chemistry experiment I didn’t know I was involved in.

Remember titration from chemistry class? It was that theory you studied to figure out how much of one thing you could put in a second thing until the first thing combined with the second thing to make a third new thing. Sort of like learning how much Tom Waits I can take before I turn into a monster (except I don’t turn pink like the stuff we always used in chemistry class, I just yell).

So my experiment asked this question: how much butter can you possibly put in a pan of brownies before you have chocolate butter, not brownies?

I found the edge, but I didn’t go over. I didn’t find the third thing, I found the ultimate balance. (I can hear all you chemistry buffs screaming, “then you didn’t complete the titration!”) I didn’t. And the results taste divine. I don’t know whether the Nutella, with its partially-hydrogenated peanut oil, is what did the trick, or maybe the full pound of chocolate (I used Trader Joe’s semisweet), but I don’t particularly care. Not today, at least.

Butter-Titrated Brownies

Happy Valentine’s Day, Mr. Butter. I love you. You put me in a good mood:

Happy Eggs

Recipe for Butter-Titrated Brownies
Recipe 45 of 365

There is nothing healthy about these brownies, so don’t even try to find their good points. They are for your eating pleasure. They will showcase your neighborly love and earn you endless brownie points (har har), and in my case they’ve already encouraged friends to offer favors I didn’t ask of them. But they will not make you thinner or healthier.

There’s nothing like a hot brownie, but the texture of these actually improves when you refrigerate them overnight. (Kathy Gunst taught me this technique; it helps achieve the great chewy texture you get with boxed brownies.)

TIME: 30 minutes, plus baking
MAKES: 24 brownies

Nonstick baking spray (the kind with flour in it), or butter and flour for the pan
1 pound (16 ounces) bittersweet chocolate
1 pound unsalted butter (4 sticks)
1 cup Nutella
2 cups sugar
6 large eggs
1 tablespoon real vanilla
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 cups all-purpose flour

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Spray a 9- x 13-inch cake pan with the spray, or butter and flour the pan, and set aside.

Chop the chocolate into small pieces with a large serrated knife, and transfer it to a heatproof mixing bowl. Melt the butter in a small saucepan over medium heat until bubbly. Remove the pan from the heat and let rest for 2 minutes, then pour the butter over the chocolate, and stir with a whisk until completely smooth. Add the Nutella, and whisk again until smooth.

Meanwhile, in the work bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the sugar and the eggs together on medium speed until thick and light, about 3 minutes. Scrape down the sides of the bowl, add the vanilla and salt, and stir again to combine. With the mixer on low, add the melted chocolate/butter mixture in a slow, steady stream, mixing until uniform in color.

Remove the bowl from the mixer, sift the flour on top of the batter, and fold the flour in by hand until no white streaks remain. (The batter will be thick.) Scoop the batter into the prepared pan and spread it into as even a layer as possible.

Bake the brownies for 45 minutes to 1 hour, or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out with a few moist crumbs attached (it shouldn’t come out completely clean). Cool to room temperature, cover loosely with foil, and refrigerate overnight. Store brownies you don’t eat the first day or so in an airtight container (or well-wrapped), uncut, if possible.

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NPR Quote of the Day

This morning my husband reported the quote of the day – it’s apparently not a new catchphrase, but it was new to me, and appropriate considering it was used in (I think) the congressional hearings today re: adding more troops:

“What the administration doesn’t understand is that you can’t unscramble an omelet.”

But I can’t seem to find who said it . . .

I think I’ll make bumper stickers that say “No More Eggs in Our Omelet.”

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