Friday, November 20, 2009

Thai Steak Salad




What I feel like eating is usually pretty clear to me, but last night I was fresh out of ideas. Absolutely nothing sounded good, or at least not enough to justify the effort. I was tired and uninspired. So before giving up, I shot Tristan a text and was surprised when he answered in record time with the words “Thai Steak Salad.” Hey, that sounded pretty good to me, too!

This is yet another recipe inspired by my food hero Cynthia Lair. It involves crispy salad greens, thinly sliced flank steak, cilantro and a zesty lime juice dressing – a spectacular combination. As a matter of fact, it’s so tasty that it was the very first meal I made for Tristan 3 ½ years ago. Maybe that’s why we’re still together….

Thai Steak Salad

If you’re trying to impress but don’t want the hassle, this recipe is for you. Feel free to double the dressing and, before adding the sugar, pour half of it over the flank steak to marinate for 2 - 24 hours (then add the sugar to the dressing for the salad). Just remove flank steak from marinade, pat dry and broil as usual. This salad also tastes really good with cucumber and red onion. Crispy egg rolls are a dynamite accompaniment.


Serves 2 as an entree. 

Dressing:  
4 tablespoons lime juice
4 tablespoons olive oil
1 large clove garlic, minced

1/2 teaspoon Sriracha hot sauce (or hot pepper oil)
2 teaspoons sugar
1/4 cup packed fresh cilantro, chopped 

1 pound flank steak
Salt & pepper

1 small head lettuce, washed well and spun dry
4 red radishes, sliced thin 
1 avocado, sliced into strips 

Preheat broiler to high and place oven rack about 6 inches below the broiler. 

In the bottom of a large salad bowl, whisk together all dressing ingredients. Set aside.

Season flank steak on both sides with salt and pepper. Transfer to a baking sheet/pan and place under the broiler. Broil about 7 minutes per side for medium. Remove from oven, transfer to cutting board and let rest while you assemble the salad.

Place washed and dried salad greens into the bowl with the dressing. Add sliced radishes and toss well. Divide salad among plates (2 large servings if this is the entree) and fan avocado slices around the outside. Slice flank steak against the grain into thin strips. Place slices on top of salad and dig in.


Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Beer Can Chicken




I had a good time with this one. As a matter of fact, I still chuckle every time I picture it coming out of the oven. But more on that in a minute.

Sunday. It’s one of the only days of the week when things slow down enough to have a nice, leisurely dinner. And when I think Sunday dinner, I think roast chicken. Now I have to admit, my classic roast chicken is pretty fine but it has gotten a bit predictable. Then the idea of finally trying the beer can method hit me. It seems to be a popular barbecue novelty but many an internet review promised good results from the oven, too.

So I tucked loads of whole garlic cloves underneath the skin (a habit from my classic preparation) and rubbed the chicken with a simple dry rub. Then the magic part. I popped a can of lager, took a few healthy swigs (*only because it needs to be half full) and, well, positioned the chicken over the can so that it was snugly between the legs and inside the cavity. (Ouch)

Less than 2 hours later, it was a sight to behold: a crispy-skinned, delicious-smelling bird… still sitting in a compromised position. All I could think was that he must’ve been awfully naughty for karma to come back like this.

The rub makes the skin even more delicious than usual and the meat… so tender and juicy from the beer. If you haven’t tried it, do so. Asap.




Beer Can Chicken 
A wonderful change from your classic Sunday favorite.

1 whole roasting chicken, about 4 pounds
10 whole garlic cloves, skins removed
Vegetable oil
 

Dry Rub:
1 tablespoon kosher salt
1 tablespoon brown sugar
1 tablespoon paprika
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
 

1 12-oz can beer

Preheat oven to 375°F. Remove any innards from the chicken cavity and dry the outside using paper towels. Tuck whole garlic cloves all over under skin (and a few in the cavity for luck). Drizzle a little oil over the chicken and rub all over.
 

In a small bowl, mix dry rub ingredients. Rub mixture all over chicken, being sure to coat all surfaces evenly, leaving about 1 teaspoon of mixture in bowl.
 
Open beer can and pour out or drink a few glugs so that it's just over half full. Using a bottle opener, punch a few extra holes in the top of the can. Pour remaining spice mixture into beer -- be careful, it will probably foam up at this point.

 
Place beer can in a roasting pan and place chicken over it so that it fits snugly into the cavity and sits upright. Transfer to oven and bake until the outside is crispy, the juices run clear and the internal temperature reaches 180°, up to 1 ½ hours.

 
Remove from oven and let rest for 15 minutes, mainly so that everyone can have a good laugh. Recruit an extra set of hands to carefully lift the chicken off the can. Carve up and serve!

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Soba Noodles with Coconut Peanut Sauce and Boiled Greens




I'm sad to report that we've entered the dark and rainy season in Seattle. Besides feeling covetous toward my neighbors to the south, these atmospheric changes have made something quite evident: my food moods are entirely dictated by the weather. 

Of course this is nothing new. I have a hard time getting enough Caprese salad during the hot summer months, or roast chicken and polenta in the winter, or pea vines in Spring. Really, who needs a weathervane when we have our stomachs! And this week was no exception. 

It's been very, very wet, and coupled with the fact that we’ve had lots of social obligations without much time to cook, we were craving something warm and comforting yet healthy. I knew exactly what to pull from the old repertoire: soba noodles with coconut peanut sauce and boiled greens.

The inspiration for this dish goes back to grad school where I was a teaching assistant for my friend and mentor, Cynthia Lair (of Cookus Interruptus), in her popular Whole Foods Production class at Bastyr University. Her version uses marinated, pan-fried tofu and a sauce made with peanut butter, ginger and coconut milk. Since I prefer a little spice, this version includes a heaping spoonful of red curry paste. And wow, is it good!

Despite this being the wet socks and soggy jeans season, it's pretty incredible that I can curl up on the sofa with a hot bowl of this stuff and actually not want to be anywhere else. 




Soba Noodles with Coconut Peanut Sauce and Boiled Greens
This dish is incredibly versatile. Leave out the tofu altogether or replace it with chicken. Whatever greens are in season will work beautifully.

Marinade:

4 cloves garlic, sliced
6-8 slices (1/8-inch thick) fresh gingerroot
1 cup water
2 tablespoons rice vinegar
2 tablespoons toasted sesame oil
1/3 cup tamari or soy sauce

1 pound firm tofu or skinless, boneless chicken (thighs and/or breasts)
2 tablespoons high heat oil, such as safflower or peanut oil

1 package (8.8 oz) Japanese soba noodles
 
1 bunch greens, such as Swiss chard, collard greens, spinach or beet greens
½ teaspoon apple cider vinegar


Coconut Peanut Sauce:
1 heaping tablespoon red curry paste (or to taste)
¼ cup peanut butter
1 tablespoon maple syrup
2 tablespoons tamari or soy sauce
1 tablespoon rice vinegar
½ 14-oz can (7 oz total) coconut milk


In a wide, flat bowl or baking pan, combine all marinade ingredients. Cut tofu into ½-inch slices; then cut each slice diagonally into 2 triangles. Put tofu (or chicken pieces) into marinade and let sit for at least 30 minutes.

For tofu: In a large skillet, heat oil on high. Remove tofu pieces from marinade; using paper towels, pat completely dry. Place triangles in hot skillet and brown on both sides, 6-8 minutes total. Remove to paper towels to drain.
 

For chicken: In a large skillet, heat oil over medium-high heat. Remove chicken pieces from marinade and pat dry. Place chicken in skillet at cook on both sides until browned and the insides are no longer pink when cut, about 10 minutes total. Remove to cutting board and let sit, covered with foil, until ready to plate. When ready, slice chicken diagonally.

Prepare soba noodles according to package directions (they're the same as boiling spaghetti). Drain and toss with a teaspoon or two of oil to prevent sticking.

In a large pot, bring 2 inches of water to a boil. Add cleaned greens (if using chard or collards, be sure to strip off stems first), cover and simmer until tender, about 4 minutes. Drain well, squeezing out any extra water. Transfer to cutting board and roughly chop. Sprinkle with apple cider vinegar and toss.


In a small saucepan over medium-low heat, whisk all sauce ingredients together until smooth and warm. Add a bit of water or coconut milk to get desired consistency. Adjust seasoning to taste.
 

To assemble: Place a pile of hot soba noodles onto each plate. Top with tofu/chicken slices and drizzle with coconut peanut sauce. Place boiled greens on either side of the noodles. Serve hot!

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Rustic Apple Tart



I admit, my mind is still on that raclette dinner we had a few nights ago. Something about it is just so… intoxicating. But I’m here to talk about one of my favorite desserts, the rustic apple tart, which, incidentally, was served that very night.  

After a decadent dinner of cheese and potatoes, the last thing I wanted to dish up was a slice of chocolate sludge or caramel stickiness. Enter the apple tart. It’s not too heavy (it’s fruit based, for goodness sake) and autumnally warming. And it pleases even the most finicky palates, especially when topped with a dollop of vanilla bean ice cream.

I frequently use this recipe to make 6 individual tartlets but time didn’t permit, so one large rustic tart it was! The crust (adopted from America’s Test Kitchen) includes both cream cheese and butter, plus a bit of sugar and some fresh lemon juice. It’s tender, flaky and absolutely scrumptious. And don’t worry about making it perfectly shaped – irregular is just another word for rustic.   




Rustic Apple Tart 
This tart is a great finish to almost any meal.   

Tart Dough:
1 ¼ cups all purpose flour
2 tablespoons sugar
¼ teaspoon salt
8 tablespoons (1 stick) cold butter, cut into ½-inch chunks
4 ounces cold cream cheese, cut into ½-inch chunks
2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
2-3 tablespoons ice water

Filling:
2 large or 3 medium Granny Smith apples
2 large or 3 medium sweet variety apples (McIntosh, Fuji, etc)
2 tablespoons lemon juice
¼ cup sugar
1 tablespoon sugar
¼ teaspoon cinnamon
1 egg white, lightly beaten

In a food processor, pulse flour, sugar and salt to combine. Add butter and cream cheese; pulse until mixture resembles small peas (at this point, it will not form a cohesive ball). Pour into a medium bowl. Sprinkle with lemon juice and 1 tablespoon ice water. Using a fork, lightly mix until liquid is evenly distributed and a small portion of dough holds together when squeezed in your hand, adding up to 2 tablespoons more ice water if necessary. Note: mixture will still look a bit dry.

Turn dough onto a clean work surface and gather into a cohesive ball. Flatten into a 6-inch disk and wrap in plastic wrap. Transfer to refrigerator and let chill until firm, about 30 minutes.

Preheat oven to 375°F. Remove dough from refrigerator (if it was refrigerated longer than 30 minutes, let it stand at room temperature until it’s malleable). On a lightly floured surface, roll dough with a floured rolling pin into a 15-inch circle. Transfer to a baking sheet. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate while making apple filling.

Peel, core and slice apples into ¼-inch slices. In a medium bowl, toss apples with lemon juice, ¼ cup sugar and cinnamon.

To Assemble, arrange apple slices in a circular, overlapping pattern around pastry, thick edges out, leaving a 3-inch border. Continue concentric, overlapping circles until you reach the middle. Fold dough border over the outside of filling, pleating it to fit snugly over the apples. When finished, gently press down to reinforce the shape.

Bake on the middle of oven for 30 minutes (tart will be pale golden at this point). Brush crust with beaten egg white and sprinkle with remaining tablespoon of sugar. You may also want to place tart pan onto a second baking sheet of the same size to ensure that bottom of crust doesn’t get too brown. Return to oven and bake until apples are tender and crust is a deep golden brown, about 30 more minutes. Cool for at least 10 minutes. Slice and serve slightly warm with a scoop of vanilla bean ice cream.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Raclette


I’ll never forget the first time I had raclette.  We were introduced to this interactive meal (involving individual pans, wooden scrapers and melted cheese) years ago while visiting family in Switzerland. I also remember declaring on the spot that it was my favorite dish ever.
 

Since then, I’ve enjoyed raclette a million times over. While the novelty has worn off, the deliciousness hasn’t. 
 
Raclette, pronounced rah-KLEHT, refers to both a type of cheese and a traditional Swiss dish that features said cheese. It originated in the Swiss canton of Valais where, as legend has it, the Alpine herdsmen set up camp for the night and when some cheese got too close to the fire, it melted onto a rock. Not wanting to waste (the Swiss are incredibly resourceful), they scraped it up (hence the French root word “racler,” meaning “to scrape”) and declared it delicious. 

 
If you go to a Swiss street festival today, you’ll see raclette being served in a close-to-traditional fashion. A huge half-wheel is heated, cut side up, under an electric heat source until it melts and bubbles, after which it is scraped off over tiny boiled potatoes or bread. But most Swiss homes have a raclette grill. In the same spirit as fondue, diners sit in a circle around the grill, armed with little individual pans. In goes a slice of raclette (along with any desired fixins’ – I love sliced pineapple) and under the grill it goes. When it’s ready, wooden scrapers are used to ensure that every bit makes it to your plate. And if that weren't enough, the top of the unit is equipped with a flat, open grill -- perfect for grilling sausages, prosciutto, veggies or baguette slices. Along with small, boiled potatoes, this cheesy dish is eaten alongside cornichons and pickled onions for digestion.


So the other night we decided to have a spontaneous, mid-week, semi-celebratory dinner party in honor of our good friend Nick, who was moving to Bogota, Colombia to do legal work for a year. Raclette seemed the natural choice. Not only is it interactive, easily assembled AND delicious, it’s one of the few dishes that makes you slow down, take your time and enjoy the experience.
 

Followed by a fresh green salad and a rustic apple tart, our friends were sent home with content bellies. It’s easy to see why this 700+-year-old tradition lives on.




Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Cookie Swap



Julia Usher, author of the new book Cookie Swap, was in town this week as part of her whirlwind book tour. I saw her speak at a private food blogging event at the recently unveiled Sur la Table at The Bravern in Bellevue. (It’s really beautiful, by the way. Lots of space to move, unlike its sister at Pike Place Market). 
 
The book itself is impressive with over 50 charming recipes, gorgeous color photographs and loads of how-to’s from party themes to decorating tips. But even more impressive was her story.
 

As a Yale graduate, Julia worked for years in the math and sciences as a mechanical engineer. Despite her analytical, problem-solving personality, her true love was something she had cherished since childhood: baking. She grew up in a household where eggs were gathered, herbs were cut and everything was made from scratch - I’m talking no store-bought cookies in sight. And in this day and age of 30 minute meals, her mantra remains “the more time spent in the kitchen, the better!” 
 
She eventually decided to turn her passion into a career by enlisting in the Cambridge School of Culinary Arts. She went on to open a bakery where the wedding cakes tasted as delicious as they looked. It was a hit, but Julia kept moving. Not only is she now a food writer and stylist, she just added “first-time author” to her list of accomplishments. 


I love when the moral of the story is to follow your bliss.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Really Good Banana Bread



It never crosses my mind to make banana bread, probably because I’m not the world’s biggest fan of cake-y things. But how many time-tested ways are there to use almost rotten bananas? Slim pickins as far as I’m concerned. So when I noticed 4 very brown bananas on the counter this weekend, I knew that Tristan (who has a real soft spot for banana bread) would appreciate a loaf.

Banana/zucchini breads, muffins and things of that nature usually strike me as too sweet, too floury, too busy or too dry. If I were going to indulge my sweet tooth, they wouldn’t make it into my top 10, or top 20 for that matter. But I was determined to find a simple, good recipe without too many embellishments. 

This version, which I adapted from Simply Recipes, is ultra moist with a spice content that’s not too overpowering. Plus it’s made with half whole wheat pastry flour, which you’d never guess by the taste. Surprisingly, I loved it. So much so that I can't wait for the next batch of bananas to go bad.


Really Good Banana Bread
This recipe only requires a mixing bowl and a wooden spoon. Spices can be bumped up or nuts added if desired. Adapted from Simply Recipes.

4 ripe bananas, smashed
1/3 cup melted butter
Scant 3/4 cup brown sugar
1 egg, beaten
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup all-purpose flour

3/4 cup whole wheat pastry flour

Preheat oven to 350°F; butter a parchment-lined 4x8 inch loaf pan.
 

In a large mixing bowl, mix bananas and melted butter. Add sugar, egg and vanilla; mix well. Sprinkle baking soda, salt and spices over the top and stir well. Add the flours last; stir to incorporate. Pour into prepared pan and bake for about 50 minutes or until golden brown and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. 

Cool on a rack. Remove from pan and serve slightly warm slathered with salty butter (my personal favorite).

Monday, October 12, 2009

Beer and Chocolate Braised Short Ribs




I went to the farmers’ market on Saturday with a specific purpose: fresh, raw cream. Unfortunately, my love of leisurely weekend mornings got the better of me… again. La Boucherie was sold out by 10am. Damn! Next weekend calls for an alarm.

So I walked around for a bit, determined to go home with something delicious. And that’s when the sign from The Beef Shop caught my eye: grass-fed beef short ribs. This was semi-new to me; dare I splurge on such uncharted territory? If I remember correctly, I once made some slow-cooked BBQ pork ribs for a dinner party and they were delicious. I guess anything that simmers for hours in a tasty sauce has favorable chances. So I bought a few pounds and headed home to figure out what to do with them.



After consulting some reliable sources, I landed upon a this recipe by Dave Lebovitz, which was adapted from one by Dave Lieberman. Not only did it call for ginger, garlic, beer and hoisin sauce, he kicked it up a notch with chocolate and chili powder. This was clearly worth a try.



After the 4-hour process of seasoning, searing, simmering and baking (all while my stomach growled), I can confidently say that it was worth the wait. The sauce was ultra indulgent – chocolaty and rich - and the ribs were fall-off-the-bone tender. But I couldn’t shake the feeling that the tiniest pinch of orange zest would help cut through the richness and cause a true flavor explosion. Next time. For sure.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Baba Ganoush




As I’ve mentioned before, whipping up some homemade Baba ganoush, or Eggplant Caviar, has been on my to-do list for quite some time. Ever since discovering Zoey Catering's Melitzanosalata at Madison Market -- so creamy with whole roasted cloves of garlic -- I’ve had a one-track mind. Unfortunately, my good intentions haven’t lead to anything other than the discovery of rotten eggplants in the back of my refrigerator. Well no more, my friends!  

I have nothing against hummus but a girl can only eat so much (and it's absolutely ubiquitous!). This dip, on the other hand, has a distinct smoky flavor and a much softer texture. The eggplants do require roasting, which makes it more time-consuming than the dump-and-blend method of hummus, but it’s so worth it. And now that those beautifully purple eggplants are spilling over at the farmers’ markets, there’s really no excuse.

Baba Ganoush
This recipe can be easily adjusted to suite personal taste... a pinch of cumin, perhaps?

2 medium eggplants
2 heads garlic
Olive oil
1/3 cup sesame tahini
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 teaspoon salt
Freshly chopped parsley or mint

Preheat oven to 400°F. Pierce eggplants in several places with the tines of a fork.

If you have a gas stove, char the outside of the eggplants directly over the flame, turning often until evenly blackened. If you don’t have a gas stove, you can char them under the broiler or over a hot grill. If none of the above methods are available, skip this step altogether.

Slice 1/3 to a 1/2-inch off the tops of each garlic head, enough to expose most cloves. Place each head on a square of foil; drizzle each with one or two teaspoons of olive oil. Wrap loosely with foil.

Place garlic packets and eggplants on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Roast in the oven until eggplants are completely soft and have collapsed in on themselves, about 30 minutes. The garlic should be done around the same time (you want it to be completely soft when pressed). Remove from the oven and cool.

Squeeze whole cloves out of garlic heads; set aside.

Slice eggplants lengthwise and scrape out the pulp; place in a food processor. Add tahini, lemon juice, 5 or 6 roasted garlic cloves and salt; process until smooth (or leave a bit chunky if that’s how you like it). Adjust seasoning to taste.

Pour into serving bowl. Add remaining whole garlic cloves and stir to incorporate. Baba ganoush tastes best if it's able to chill for a few hours. Before serving, garnish with a drizzle of olive oil and freshly chopped parsley or mint. Serve with toasted pita chips, olives and feta cheese.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Strawberry Cream Tart




Our good friends Casey and Jen, who have the most adorable little boy Phineas, invited us over for dinner the other night. Even though I’m not a baker, I somehow always get assigned dessert duty, which is surprising since the last time we were there, I brought a complicated, from-scratch butterscotch pudding that was so über-sweet, our teeth practically fell out. I saw this as a chance to redeem myself.

When I think dessert, I rarely think cake. Instead, I have a total penchant for fruit tarts and custards. There were to be six of us at dinner so a tart seemed fitting. Since I wouldn’t have time to make it the following night after work, my mission was to find a recipe that could be made ahead of time and assembled the day of. And in my opinion, Deb of Smitten Kitchen is the dessert queen.

The Strawberry Tart -- whose crust and pastry filling can be made the night before -- caught my attention for obvious reasons. Plus the Pate Sucre with ground almonds and the pastry cream with real vanilla bean promised exquisite results (not to mention that it gave me the perfect excuse to snatch up the last of the season's strawberries).

Not only did we gobble up the entire tart, even little Phineas wanted seconds.


*Note: While it is wonderful as is, a simple fruit glaze (made by melting down fruit jelly and then brushing over the strawberries) would make this tart even prettier.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Broiled Eggplant Sandwiches





Before delving into remembrances of vacations past, I’d like to share this sandwich with you. After weeks of European indulgences, Tristan and I were in the mood for veggies. Something no-fuss but warm. So before heading off to the University District Farmers’ Market, we frantically flipped through 2 back issues of Gourmet for inspiration. The Grilled Eggplant Parmigiana Heros started waving and hollering at us immediately.

So we high-tailed it over to the market and picked up 2 beautifully purple eggplants (one for the sandwiches and one for the Baba Ghanoush
I’ve been hankering to make). With the addition of colorful Heirloom tomatoes, a fresh bunch of basil, a baguette and some provolone, we were cruising toward sandwich bliss.

This recipe could easily be made quicker by subbing in a prepared tomato sauce, but what fun is that? So minus the scratch sauce-making, this veggie sandwich is remarkably simple and finger-licking good.

Broiled Eggplant Sandwiches
My take on the Grilled Eggplant Parmigiana Heros in the September 2009 edition of Gourmet. Since we don’t have an outside grill, we used that trusted but underused oven function.. the broiler.

Makes 2 large or 3 regular sandwiches.

1 lb fresh tomatoes
2 tablespoons olive oil plus more for brushing eggplant slices

1 shallot or ½ small onion

Salt and pepper to taste

1 eggplant, cut into ½-inch thick slices

Crusty rolls, split

Thinly sliced provolone or fresh mozzarella
½ cup fresh basil leaves

Roughly chop the tomatoes and toss into a blender; puree until smooth.

Heat oil in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add shallot/onion and sauté until translucent, about 5 minutes. Pour in pureed tomatoes and simmer, stirring occasionally, until thickened, about 25 minutes. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Preheat broiler on high. Place eggplant slices on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Brush both sides with olive oil and lightly sprinkle with salt and pepper. Place pan 6-inches below broiler and broil until soft and lightly browned, 3-5 minutes. Turn slices over and repeat on opposite side. Remove from oven.

Toast split rolls/baguette under broiler until just toasty (insides only). Remove from oven and spread sauce on the bottoms and top with broiled eggplant and sliced cheese. Return to broiler until cheese begins to melt. Top with fresh basil and additional sauce.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Brunch at Tilth


While I've been back from my vacation for over a week, I left little slivers of my heart in each place we visited. For over a month, my biggest questions involved what to eat, whether to go swimming and red or white. Needless to say, the transition back to the real world was inevitable bus nonetheless challenging.

In an attempt to lessen the blow, we treated ourselves to brunch at Tilth, an organically certified restaurant in Seattle's Wallingford neighborhood serving New American cuisine out of a renovated craftsman home. Maria Hines, the executive chef and owner, not only received a 2009 James Beard award, her restaurant has been the recipient of national attention (Tilth was named one of the top 10 best new restaurants in the country by the New York Times).

I hadn't been t
o Tilth in quite some time and was eager to check out the ever-changing seasonal menu. From past experience, I knew that the Croque Monsieur -- served with a side of baby lettuces -- was divine, but the Russet Potato "Risotto," Dungeness Crab Fritatta and the Slow Cooked St. Judes Albacor Tuna were also entirely alluring. This is when our server came to the rescue. She answered all questions honestly, described each dish knowledgably and offered graceful suggestions. With her help, I knew that the Baked Dutch Blueberry Pancake with blueberry compote and farmer's cheese had my name all over it.

Typically, I am not one to order anything sweet in the morning (pancakes, french to
ast, waffles, scones... no thank you) but this concoction was extraordinary. The pancake itself, which puffs during baking and quickly settles into custardy goodness, was creamy and eggy in the middle and thin and crispy around the edges. The blueberry compote was beyond typical - it was almost buttery with the slightest tang of lemon. If there were one thing I could change, it would be to receive a heftier dollop of that smooth, creamy farmer's cheese. What a perfectly-matched compliment. (On a side note, even their drip coffee tastes uncommonly good -- the secret lies in local Caffe Vita blends).

A warm, welcoming atmosphere plus graceful service plus carefully prepared, thoughtful food.... life back in the real world isn't so bad after all.



Monday, August 24, 2009

On the Road

I would like to let my lovely readers know that NudeFood will be on sabbatical until late September. In about 1 hour, I will be en route to the airport to take a flight to my paternal homeland, Switzerland, where I will see lots of family and eat loads of delicious food. Tristan and I will also spend time traveling through Slovenia, Croatia and France. I promise to take copious amounts of photos and come back with food stories galore. And when possible, I will post from the road. Until then...


Saturday, August 15, 2009

Friday Fish Fry


I apologize for being incommunicado but I've been on the road. Before embarking on a 4-week European adventure, I went back to upstate New York to spend some time with my family. By and large, these annual visits take place during December when it's cold and snowy so it was a complete treat to experience a hot, humid New York summer again.

I can't write about this leg of my journey without paying tribute to some of the delicious local
specialties I happily devoured. First, Hofman hot dogs and coneys from Syracuse, New York. They've been around since the 1870s so you know they're doing something right. We ate their franks and snappys grilled alongside Caprese salad (the tomatoes and basil were still warm from the garden sun), Italian green beans (also freshly picked), French potato salad and local sweet corn. And for dessert, (I have to take a big breath), the most delicious rhubarb bar with meringue and coconut. It deserves a post of its own so I promise to get the recipe and share it with you.

There were plenty of other noteworthy hometown specialties (Basilio's Buda Sausage and Central New York salt potatoes) but my flight to Zurich leaves in a mere 2 hours so I best move on to the subject at hand: Friday fish fries.

Anyone from New York or the surrounding areas knows about the Roman Catholic observance of eating fish on Friday (which, on a side note, happened to be the impetus behind McDonald's Filet-O-Fish sandwich). While filing through the cafeteria line to get the same old fish every Friday for years became tiring, the local fish fries were anything but. So on my first Friday home, my parents took me down to Johnny's Pier 31 to get a crispy haddock sandwich. It's not my intention to sound hyperbolic but words cannot describe that first bite - such a thin, crispy batter surrounding perfectly juicy fish - it always blows my socks off.

I think I might need to get back more often.


Thursday, August 6, 2009

Creamy Rice Pudding


As you know, I had a run-in with some greasy Tex-Mex the other night. While it was tasty enough, my stomach revolted. I can't blame it solely on those enchiladas though. We've been doing a lot of heavy, celebratory eating and I think it simply added up.

When I have agida (Italian-American slang for indigestion), I crave poached eggs with buttered toast and, oftentimes, rice pudding. Well, last tonight called for both.

I always have a bag of Arborio rice handy for quick risottos and thought it would be just perfect for pudding. After all, those fat little grains are experts at releasing starch to create a pot of creamy goodness. I didn't have a vanilla bean on hand but that would have certainly taken this comfort food up a notch.

Barely warm, mild and creamy rice pudding should always be eaten the day after a gut bomb.


Creamy Rice Pudding
This recipe can easily be made without the egg but I really enjoy the custard-y results.

1/3 cup Arborio rice
3 cups whole milk
1/4 cup sugar
Pinch of salt
1/2 vanilla bean, split (or 1 teaspoon vanilla extract if a vanilla bean isn't handy)
1 egg, beaten

Garnish ideas:
A dusting of cinnamon or nutmeg
Fresh berries
Fruit compote
A dollop of jam
Caramel or chocolate sauce

Place rice, milk, sugar and salt in medium saucepan. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a gentle simmer and cook, stirring frequently, until rice is tender and pudding is thick, about 30 minutes.

Place beaten egg in a small bowl. Whisking constantly, add a few tablespoons of hot rice mixture to the egg. Continue whisking and adding warm pudding until a cup or so has been added. Pour all egg mixture back into the saucepan with the pudding; stir well. Continue cooking for another minute.

Remove pudding from heat and stir in vanilla extract, if using. If you're feeling especially decadant, a teaspoon or two of butter can also be swirled in at this time. Pour into serving bowls and garnish as desired. Serve just-warm.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Mama's Mexican Kitchen

I'm originally from upstate New York, meaning that my idea of Mexican food was somewhat limited to chain restaurants serving cheesy, greasy, gooey glop with sour cream on top. It never sat well and, for most of my life, I thought Mexican food and I just didn't mix.

Of course now I know better after having experienced the fresh, citrusy Mexican dishes of the west coast. My favorite joint in Seattle is La Carta de Oaxaca in Ballard, hands-down. To start, they offer just-fried warm and salty tortilla chips along with a bar of fresh salsas. And their small plates! The chicken mole is implausibly good, and the halibut tacos with lime wedges and crunchy slaw on soft, homemade corn tortillas are a far cry from the heavy, oily dishes of yore.

However, there is a time and a place for some stick-to-your-ribs Tex-Mex. So last night, before heading to the Big Picture Cinema, we stopped at one of Seattle's oldest Mexican joints, Mama's Mexican Kitchen. Awarded the Best Enchilada medal for good-bad Mexican food by The Stranger. I had to try it for myself.

I ordered 2 chicken enchiladas served with Mexican rice and refried beans. The review was pretty much spot-on: greasy, cheesy and very saucy. The plate arrived with a crescent of rice on the left and a thickly-blanketed, cheese-covered mess on the right. If there's one thing I can't stand, it's not having enough sauce. But Mama's fared pretty well in this department. An ample supply of red enchilada sauce kept the tortilla and chicken filling nice and moist... and the copious pools of grease acted as back-up.

Overall, my dish was much too mild (I would have preferred a little kick) but it did the job. I don't think I'll ever convert over to the heavy, greasy, cheesy camp but as far as good-bad Mexican is concerned, Mama's delivers.


Monday, August 3, 2009

The Herbfarm


There are places like Chez Panisse and The French Laundry that I only dream of patronizing. They're not simply restaurants but events for which one saves and plans. And The Herbfarm in Woodinville, Washington is no exception.

A few months ago we were informed that Tristan's godfather, who lives and works in Switzerland, would be visiting and, in honor of the big law school graduation, planned to treat a select group of us to The Herbfarm experience. I'll never forget the moment I heard the news. Tristan hung up the phone and looked at me deadpan. "Bill is taking us to The Herbfarm on August 2nd." My jaw hit the floor and remained there for a good 5 minutes. Then the excitement set in.

In case you're not familiar, The Herbfarm, in a nutshell, began as a roadside herb stand in 1974 and evolved into a garage restaurant serving 6-course meals. Renovations occurred, a tragic fire struck and after 4 years in a temporary location, the new and current establishment was unveiled. Now considered one of the nation's most-celebrated dining events, The Herbfarm showcases local, seasonal 9-course dinners exceptionally paired with Pacific Northwest wine. As a matter of fact, much of what is served is harvested directly from the kitchen gardens or their nearby farm, not to mention that their warm, crusty bread is baked in a homemade oven out back. And the cherry on top? They churn their herbed butter on-site. Of course they do!

We arrived nice and early in order to take full advantage of the pre-dinner Wine Cellar Open House (they actually have wine from the 1700s!) followed by a hosted garden tour. Carrie Van Dyck had us nibbling leaves, eating flowers and smelling cinnamon basil. The restaurant's two lucky pigs, Basil and Borage, live in the midst of paradise and serve as the recycling/composting unit.

The theme of our meal was The Great Basil Banquet. Tasting the many ways this amazing herb was tucked into each and every dish was astoundingly delicious. Thank you, Bill!

Note: Due to the dimly lit atmosphere, most of the following pictures required a flash and ended up a bit shadowy. My apologies (but you'll get the gist).

Clockwise from left: Wood-grilled Local Sardine with Lemon Basil & Semi-Dried Cherry Tomatoes; Today's Herbfarm Egg, Soft-Scrambled with Dungeness Crab, Lemon Thyme & Paddlefish Caviar (my personal favorite); Puget Sound Quilcene Oyster & Genovese Basil Po'Boy


Marinated Wood-Roasted Summer Squash with Roasted Tomatoes, Blossom Stuffed with House-Made Chevre and Sweet-Basil-and-Nasturtium-Leaf Pesto


Spicy-Basil Coho Salmon Crudo with Garden Peas, Fennel and Cucumber
(look at that miniature cucumber!!)


Steamed Rabbit & Housemade-Mangalista Bacon Dumpling with Opal Basil-Scented Blackberry Hoisin


Honey-Glazed Duckling Breast with its Confit, "Fog Drip" Chanterelles, New Potatoes, Summer Vegetables and Thai Basil


Housemade Prosciutto & Ruffled Basil Wrapped Fig with Basil-Scented Fall City Ricotta & BC Balsamico


Herbfarm Cinnamon Basil Ice Cream Cone with Candied Cinnamon Basil


White Chocolate Enrobed Sweet Basil and Yogurt Semi-freddo with Anise Hyssop Poached Stone Fruit, Lime Basil & Raspberry Consomme


Fennel & Basil Dark Chocolate Elixir, Thai Curry White Chocolate Foil, Basil Seed & Rose Petit Four, Madronna Tree Bark & Coffee Macaroon, Raspberry & Peach Pate a Fruits




Sunday, August 2, 2009

Maximilien

Last Friday was the first day in, I don't know, MONTHS, that Tristan and I had to ourselves. No studying, no work, no visitors, just us. So we set off for downtown to have a leisurely lunch, walk around in the sunshine and shop.

As expected, Pike Place Market was bursting at the seams with tourists. We considered grabbing lunch at one of the popular stands (for me, a falafel from Mr. D's Greek Delicacies, and for Tristan, a thick pastrami sandwich from the I Love New York Deli) but were too lackadaisical to brave the crowds. Instead we acknowledged this much-needed respite by treating ourselves to an indulgent lunch at the very French, very lovely, Maximilien.

Besides the delicious food, the primary reason we chose this particular spot was their coveted outdoor patio, which is a real commodity here in Seattle. It overlooks the Puget Sound and the Olympic Mountains - an unbeatable way to eat lunch!

Everything on the menu looked enticing - Croque Madame, Tarte Flambee Paysanne, Dungeness Crab Cake, Steamed Mussels, Salade Nicoise - but we both settled on the special: a thick filet of sole in a saffron cream sauce with fingerling potatoes, asparagus and carrots. Along with a Kir Royal for me and an iced Lillet Blanc for Tristan, our lunch at Maximilien was the perfect way to celebrate nothing in particular.





Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Asian Broccoli Chicken Salad

I asked Tristan what he would like for dinner after the first day of the monstrous BAR exam. Without a moment's hesitation he answered, "broccoli and chicken salad with an Asian dressing." He was a bit cloudy on the details but was clearly craving some clean-tasting brain food.
What began as a fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants experiment lead to fortuitous results: crunchy, bright green broccoli, roasted chicken, red peppers, cilantro, noodles and toasted sesame seeds tossed in a light soy sauce dressing. Cool, nutritious and very satisfying.

Note: since it has been uncommonly hot, I took a short-cut and picked up a rotisserie chicken on the way home from work, which saved a bunch of time and energy. But any type of leftover chicken can be used here, or just poach a few thighs.


Asian Broccoli and Chicken Salad
Shrimp may be substituted for the chicken.

1 large head of broccoli, cut into florets (for aesthetics, cut florets to have long, thin stems)

1/2 package (8 oz) brown rice spaghetti or soba noodles
2 tablespoons sesame seeds
1 red pepper, julienned
2 cups cubed or shredded cooked chicken
Big handful of fresh cilantro, chopped

Dressing:
1 clove garlic, minced
2T soy sauce
2 T rice vinegar
1 T sesame oil
1 T chili oil
1 T honey

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add broccoli florets and cook until bright green and crisp tender, about 4 minutes. Remove with a slotted spoon and plunge into ice water to halt the cooking process. Bring water back up to a boil. Add noodles and cook according to package directions or until just al dente. Drain and set aside.

In a small skillet over medium heat, dry toast the sesame seeds, stirring constantly, until lightly golden and nutty smelling, about 5 minutes. Transfer to a small dish/paper towel and let cool.

In a large salad bowl, mix all dressing ingredients with a whisk. Add chilled broccoli, noodles, red pepper, chicken and cilantro. Toss well to incorporate. Sprinkle with toasted sesame seeds and toss again.



Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Heirloom Panzanella


I know I sound like a broken record but man, it's hot in Seattle! To the point where even when hungry, it's too much of a bother to eat. The most I feel like attempting is opening a bag of tortilla chips and dumping my favorite salsa into a bowl. But the BAR exam has begun and Tristan needs to be well-nourished.

So I decided to make Panzanella, the perfect hot weather food. It's a Tuscan bread salad which gainfully employs leftover, stale or day-old bread. I've actually always been fascinated by the way different cultures use stale bread, from French toast, fondue and gazpacho to fattoush, bread pudding and nutty olive oil dips. In the Mediterranean, stale bread is actually viewed as a pantry staple. And if you think about it, it makes perfect sense. Fresh bread has a lot of moisture and can only absorb so much. Dry bread, on the other hand, is much more versatile and can take on loads of flavor.

Basic Panzanella consists of bread, tomatoes, basil, olive oil, vinegar and salt & pepper. Depending on personal taste, onions, cucumbers, olives and cheese can also be added. There is, however, some controversy over its proper preparation. Traditionalists insist that the bread be soaked and then drained and crumbled, while the unconventional cube and toast it. I love tradition but I have to admit, I favor the toasted.

I would guess that the average American throws bread out once it becomes stale, or perhaps turns it into bread crumbs at best. There are so many alternatives out there, and Panzanella is one of the finest.


Heirloom Panzanella
This is a delicious way to use up day-old or stale bread. Feel free to experiment - the addition of cucumbers, olives or feta add a different dimension.

1/2 baguette, cut into 1-inch pieces
7 tablespoons olive oil, divided
Salt
1/4 small red onion, thinly sliced
1 garlic clove
3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
Freshly ground black pepper
8 oz fresh mozzarella, sliced into bite-sized chunks (or leave pearl-style whole)
2 lbs heirloom tomatoes, cut into wedges
Fresh basil leaves

Heat oven to 350° F. Place bread cubes onto a parchment-lined baking sheet. Drizzle with about 3 tablespoons of olive oil; toss well. Sprinkle lightly with kosher salt; toss again. Spread into a single layer and toast in oven, stirring once or twice, until dry and golden, 15-20 minutes. Remove from oven and let cool.

In a small bowl, cover red onion with cool water; set aside.

Rub the inside of a large salad bowl with cut garlic clove. Pass garlic through a press and add to bowl. Add remaining 4 tablespoons olive oil, red wine vinegar and salt and pepper. Add mozzarella and drained red onion.

About 15 minutes before serving, add dry bread and tomatoes to bowl. Roughly tear basil leaves and add to salad; toss well.