Sunday, June 21, 2009

Garlic Scape Omelet

When I saw the first bunches of garlic scapes this year, I quickly thought of all the wonderful things I couldn't wait to make. I knew the season was short so I'd have to act fast. But life got really busy and time whizzed by. I was crestfallen when I realized that the window had closed and I'd have to wait another year for those garlicky shoots with that asparagus crunch.

Or so I thought. There was a farmer at the Saturday University District farmers' market selling the last of his scape crop. I expressed my relief as I quickly paid for a bunch. When he asked how I planned to prepare them, I didn't hesitate: omelets.

I first became familiar with cooking garlic scapes in the Basque Country of Spain, where they often eat them with eggs. What a perfect combination: creamy, velvety eggs wrapped a
round crunchy, savory stalks. So delicious. But I thought that the addition of soft goat cheese would hit it out of the ballpark... and I was right.

Garlic Scape Omelet
Just a few simple ingredients are needed for this fulfilling dish. This recipe yields a large, two-to-three-person omelet.

1 tablespoon lard or butter
1 bunch garlic scapes (3-4 stalks), washed and cut into bite-sized pieces
6 eggs
Splash cold water (about 2 tablespoons)
Pinch Salt
Freshly ground black pepper
Soft goat cheese
Fresh herbs (parsley or chives work best), chopped

In a large cast iron skillet, melt lard/butter over medium heat. Add scapes and cook, stirring occasionally, until tender crisp, about 5 minutes. Remove to paper towels and set aside.

In a small bowl, whip eggs, cold water, salt, pepper and some chopped herbs wit
h a fork until well mixed. Heat the same skillet over medium heat, adding a bit more lard/butter if necessary. Pour egg mixture into skillet and let cook until the bottom layer firms. Sprinkle cooked scapes evenly over the eggs along with small dollops of goat cheese. Cover briefly until most of the eggs have cooked, about 4 minutes. Using a wide spatula, loosen omelet edges and fold one half over the other. Remove from pan and serve sprinkled with freshly chopped herbs.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Shrimp and Avocado Spring Rolls

Since moving to Seattle, I've come to appreciate (and crave) a wide array of Asian cuisines. There aren't many other cities offering first-rate Laotian, Indonesian and Malaysian food within a 1 mile radius, not to mention hole-in-the-wall Thai restaurants and Vietnamese Pho shops on just about every corner. So when I get a hankering for crispy fried egg rolls, I don't have to go far. And when it's hot outside, fresh spring rolls are just the ticket... which brings me to the subject at hand.

The other day I was watching one of my favorite programs, Simply Ming, on PBS. He dedicated an entire show to rolls, both fried and fresh. My mouth watered as I mentally penciled them into the upcoming week's menu. But somehow those delicious plans slipped through the cracks...

Roughly a week later, my good friend Christie, coincidentally, told me about her recent spring roll kick with pan-fried tempeh, carrot, zucchini and avocado. I got really excited and told her all about Ming's show and my good intentions. I knew it was time.

So after an especially gluttonous week (Tristan graduated from law school, meaning many celebratory dinners of foie gras, oysters, gougeres, truffles, lemon bars, champagne, wine, cheese... you get the picture), I was ready for some fresh, clean food. I made a batch containing delicately poached shrimp, fresh produce, bean thread noodles and crushed peanuts, all wrapped inside ultra-thin rice papers. Not only did I get the roughage and antioxidants I so desperately needed, but the Asian flavor I craved.

Shrimp and Avocado Spring Rolls
The coconut peanut sauce can be replaced with a lighter dipping sauce made of fish sauce, lime juice and a pinch of sugar.

Round rice papers (about 8-inches across)
Poached shrimp
Sliced avocado
Julienned carrots
Julienned cucumbers
Cilantro sprigs
Cooked bean thread noodles
Crushed peanuts

Pour a layer of hot water in the bottom of a pie plate. Submerge one rice paper under the water and let stand until softened, about 30 seconds. Remove from water and place on a clean kitchen towel. Just a bit below the middle, place a few shrimp in a horizontal row, about 4-inches across, depending on how large you'd like your rolls. Top with sliced avocado, carrot, cucumber, cilantro sprigs, a small mound of noodles and a sprinkling of peanuts. Roll in the same fashion as a burrito by first folding in the sides, then, starting at the bottom, begin rolling upwards. When finished, cover with a wet paper towel while the remaining rolls are assembled.

Coconut Peanut Sauce
1/3 cup peanut butter
2 teaspoons maple syrup
2 tablespoon tamari
1 1/2 tablespoons rice vinegar
2 teaspoons hot pepper oil
1/2 cup + coconut milk

Place all ingredients in a small saucepan and whisk, over low heat, until smooth and warm. If sauce becomes too thick, add extra coconut milk to thin. Serve warm with spring rolls.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Chez Shea

Last weekend marked a momentous occasion: Tristan graduated from law school (and perhaps even more momentous, I survived three years of Tristan being in law school). Despite the fact that it's not quite over -- he has about a month and a half to prepare for the dreaded BAR exam -- we stopped everything and took the weekend to celebrate. And what better way than a luxurious dinner (thanks to very generous parents) at Chez Shea.

Chez Shea is a romantic French restaurant located in Seattle's historic Pike Place Market. With colossal half moon windows overlooking the market, white linen tables and glowing candlelight, it's an exceptional place to mark a cornerstone. Since it was a splurging sort of night, our table indulged in the Tasting Menu: seven carefully prepared, locally inspired French dishes paired with the perfect wine accompaniment.

A dinner like this made the past three years
of law school lunacy fade away. I suppose it was similar to childbirth - going through it was hell but the payoff was so sweet. The foie gras course alone made me wish Tristan were graduating from law school more often.

Westcott Bay Oysters on the Half Shell

Organic Asparagus Soup with Tomato Oil

Artisan Sonoma Foie Gras Two Ways
(Foie Gras Terrine & Seared Foie Gras, Poached Apricot, Brioche Toast)

Alaskan Black Cod
(Black Rice, Broccolini & Saffron Tomato Sauce)

Painted Hills Natural Tenderloin of Beef
(Baby Carrots, Green Beans, Mashed Potatoes, Morel Butter & Demi Glace)

(Roquefort, Saint
Andre & Petit Agour

Mango Sorbet

Monday, June 8, 2009

Whipped Cauliflower and Watercress with Goat Cheese

I recently finished the book Julie and Julia, a wacky tale of an unsatisfied secretary who, in an attempt to bring meaning back to her life, vows to cook all 524 recipes in julia Child's Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Volume 1, in one year's time. As you can imagine, the book is chock-full of buttery, creamy dishes, not to mention the occassional eggs/chicken in aspic. But one recipe in particular stuck with me: a cauliflower watercress puree with bechamel sauce and cheese. A bit heavy, yes. But I really liked the idea.

So a few days ago, when we finally decided to pull that thick New York strip steak out of the freezer, I thought a lighter version of the puree would be an excellent accompaniment. Instead of a creamy white sauce and melted cheese, a few dollops of fresh goat cheese were stirred into a lightly steamed vegetable puree. The results were certainly not as indulgent as Julia Child intended but delicious nonetheless.

Whipped Cauliflower and Watercress with Goat Cheese

A fantastic sidekick to roasted or grilled meats.

1 head cauliflower, washed and chopped into florets
1 bunch watercress, washed well
3 cloves garlic, crushed

Whole milk
Notch of butter
1/3 cup fresh goat cheese

Salt and peper to taste

In a large pot with 2 inches of boiling, salted water, cook cauliflower florets and crushed garlic cloves until cauliflower is just tender, about 8 miutes. Add watercress and continue cooking, covered, until greens have wilted, about 2 minute
s. Drain and transfer to a food processor. Blend, adding milk as needed, until desired consistency is reached.

Transfer back to pan and heat gently over low heat. Swirl in but
ter and goat cheese; season with salt and pepper. Serve warm.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

French Baked Eggs

If you want to get my goat, tell me that you have egg substitute in your refrigerator. Just writing it makes me shake my head in despair. Why on earth would anyone choose colored, preserved egg whites from a carton over nature's most perfect food? Are we that obsessed with cholesterol points? Have we forgotten that mother nature is a crafty engineer and put some lecithin in the yolks to neutralize the cholesterol?

Sorry, I'll get off my soap box.

But I do love eggs. They would easily make it on my list of top 5 edible must-haves on a deserted island (along with greens, cheese, garlic and bread). Fluffy scrambled, buttery fried, poached with oozing yolks...

Today is Sunday, and Sundays are perfect for making leisurely breakfasts.
Since I had a bit of cream left over from Thursday's panna cotta, I immediately thought of French baked eggs. They're easy as pie to make, plus they look and taste luxurious. A drizzle of cream, a notch of butter, some fresh herbs and garlic and you've got yourself one of Sunday's finest.

French Baked Eggs
Serve with buttered toast and fresh fruit.
Serves 2

2 cloves garlic
Handful of fresh herbs (I like chives and parsley)

2 teaspoons butter
4 teaspoons cream
4 eggs
Salt and pepper

Preheat broiler on high and place oven rack 6 inches below heat source.

Mince garlic and herbs; toss together.

Place two individual gratin dishes on a baking sheet. Drizzle 2 teaspoons cream and place 1 teaspoon butter into each. Place under broiler for 2 minutes or until hot and bubbly. Carefully sprinkle half the garlic herb mixture over the bottom of gratin dishes. Return to broiler for 1-2 minutes or until fragrant. Crack 2 eggs into each dish, being careful not to break the yolks; sprinkle with remaining garlic herb mixture. Season with salt and pepper. Return to broiler and cook for about 5 minutes or until whites are firm and yolks are soft. Serve hot with buttered toast.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Country Paté

I can't remember the first time I had paté or foie gras, but it seems that I've always loved it. That smooth, moussey texture with an intense mineral-rich taste. Then last year at Cremant, a French restaurant in Seattle's Madrona neighborhood, I had the opportunity to try a much more rustic, courser paté: Paté de Campagne, or Country Paté. To me, it seemed like the perfect picnic food, meant to be spread on hunks of crusty bread, eaten alongside cornichons and cheese, all while barefoot in the sun.

The weather didn't exactly cooperate so last night we had an indoor picnic. Earlier in the day I picked up a thick slice of Country Paté with Black Pepper, a blend of pork, pork liver, eggs, onion and spices, from Whole Foods Market. Served with 2 types of cheese, artisan bread, pickles, mustard, lightly blanched asparagus and glasses of red, we enjoyed a simple, delicious meal that any Frenchman could appreciate.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Panna Cotta with Rhubarb Coulis

"Pudding" is one of my least favorite words, especially when the "g" is dropped. Such an awful mixture of letters for such a delightful concoction. Regardless, I'd take custard or pudding over cake any day, even on my birthday. And panna cotta! That just might be my absolute favorite.

I remember the very first time I had it. It was summertime in Switzerland and I was at a friend's house for dinner. After the main meal and salad, they pulled a ceramic dish containing a thick layer of vanilla bean panna cotta out of the refrigerator. We each received a creamy scoop topped with a simple strawberry coulis.


So when I opened my refrigerator and saw two large, exasperated stalks of rhubarb looking back at me, I knew what to do. It was much too hot to bake, and I've served Tristan strawberry rhubarb compote perhaps one time too many. This occasion called for panna cotta with rhubarb coulis.

Despite its elegant appearance, panna cotta is actually a cinch to make. It means "cooked cream" in Italian and requires a simple simmering of milk, cream and sugar, followed by the addition of gelatin and time to set. It's mind boggling how a dessert consisting of half heavy cream can be so light and refreshing, but it is. And the tartness of the pretty pink sauce goes extraordinarily well with the sweet, eggless custard.

Vanilla Bean Panna Cotta
1 1/2 cups whole milk
1 1/2 teaspoons unflavored powdered gelatin
1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise
1/4 cup sugar
3/4 cup heavy cream
Pour milk into medium saucepan; sprinkle surface evenly with gelatin and let stand 5 minutes to hydrate gelatin. With paring knife, split vanilla pod lengthwise and scrape vanilla seeds out of each half; place seeds and pod in saucepan with milk. Add sugar.

Wisk milk mixture over high heat, stirring constantly, until gelatin is dissolved, about 2 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in cream.

Remove vanilla pods. Ladle cream mixture evenly into 4 ramekins (I often use mismatched jam jars
, ramekins and mise en place dishes. Champagne glasses work well, too). Refrigerate, covered, until set, at least 4 hours or overnight.

Rhubarb Coulis
2 large stalks rhubarb, cleaned, trimmed and cut into 1/3-inch pieces
3 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons water

In a medium saucepan, combine rhubarb, sugar and water. Cook, covered, over medium-low heat, stirring often, for about 15 minutes or until rhubarb is fall-apart tender. For a smoother sauce, either cook longer or transfer mixture to a blender and pulse until smooth. Refrigerate until ready to use.

Serve panna cotta in their ramekins topped with a layer of rhubarb coulis. Alternately, panna cotta can be unmolded onto a plate and drizzled with coulis. In this case, be sure to rinse ramekins with cool water --do not dry-- before ladling in the cream.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Tea and Crumpets

We had company this weekend. Tristan's cousin Kate flew up from Oakland to check out Evergreen State College in Olympia, WA and then made her way north to hang out with us. It was a fabulous night with dinner, drinks and good conversation until the wee hours. She was leaving the next day and after very little thought, we knew just where to take her for breakfast: The Crumpet Shop, located in Seattle's historic Pike Place Market.

Their airy, soft crumpets are made on-site in a little bakery, which can be viewed from inside through a large glass window. Toasted crumpets are served hot and butt
ered with your choice of sweet or savory toppings, ranging from orange marmalade, boysenberry jam, nutella, and ricotta, almonds & honey to green eggs, ham & cheese, and our personal favorite, pesto, tomato & English cheddar.

The Market's Crumpet Shop is properly British and offers bottomless cups of whole leaf, pre-steeped teas. And lucky for us, they sell crumpet six-packs to tide us over on those days we can't make it downtown.