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


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.