Sunday, December 28, 2008

Saturday, December 27, 2008


I'll be honest - I kind of hate the saying'staycation.' It is a little contrived and a bit too cutesy for me. 'Steakcation' however, I can endorse wholeheartedly.

When we decided to make the most of our cancelled vacation though, we figured let's make the most of it and enjoy some of the sites, sounds, smells, and tastes in our own backyard. We love to dine out - but we often fall back on the practicality of cooking at home instead. When we travel however, we never cook. We may picnic now and again but we prefer to research, plan and enjoy the culinary landscape of every destination.

My list of restaurants to try in Seattle is long and frequently updated. Great new restaurants seem to open every week. When it comes to a splurge meal though, I like to look to places that have provided the trifecta restaurant experience for me in the past: food + service + quality ingredients.

I've been to 'The Met' a couple of times and it delivers on all three components of the "trifecta" in spades. All the beef is dry-aged for 28 days, there is the requisite sommelier, captain, server & 3-4 bussers that make up what I consider to be exemplary service and they have great bread/salads/wine to round out the menu offerings. It isn't cheap, but dollar for dollar I think you get your money's worth here.

Gavin and I decided to go to The Met earlier this week. We have been making a list of activities and restaurants to enjoy during our vacation and wanted to pick a couple of splurge meals that we only treat ourselves to once in awhile. We went the The Met in June and had a fantastic meal. Then, when we were in Chicago in November we experienced a great steakhouse dinner there at Gibsons.

There is something inherently comforting about the bustling steakhouse dining experience. I have had some great steaks around Seattle at Betty, Cremant, Canlis, Saltoro and Cafe Presse. Nothing quite compares though to the gluttony and excess of a good steakhouse. I love the waitstaff in their white lab coats, the rich, dark wood paneling, the mirrors and the sommeliers and captains in their tuxedos. I love the valet, the coat check and the meat display case.

Well, once we made the reservation for tonight we started stalking the menu online. We had pretty much decided on what we'd order by the time we walked in the door. Our server only confirmed what we already knew: the American Wagyu "Long-bone" Rib-eye was the way to go. Sweet Jesus, this was a big steak! The guys delivering our platters started humming the theme-song to The Flintstones. Yikes! What did we get ourselves into?! 36-ounces including bone and fat. If the picture above doesn't give you enough 'to-scale' comparison, allow me to compare my steak to a tube of lip gloss:

Good GAWD did these steaks deliver on the flavor! We ordered some Béarnaise and steak sauces on the side, but pretty much turned our noses up at them because all you really need are the juice and fat drippings on the plate to dip the steak into.
The bitter reality is that we each only ate about half our steaks (we were too proud and stubborn to consider sharing). We'll fry up the leftovers with some eggs for breakfast this time, but have agreed that we can enjoy this indulgence again in the near future by sharing one steak.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Consolation Prize

Although our dreams of a Mexican Christmas were dashed, I have to say that a small part of me was thankful to be home for some Scandinavian traditions.

We managed to make it over to my parents house for Christmas Eve dinner - a feast with all the Swedish and Norwegian specialties. We got to take home some leftovers and some tasty cookies, but my favorite was some of the cooking broth leftover from cooking the Christmas ham.

One of the traditional Swedish dishes is Julskinka (Christmas ham). Nowadays you can purchase the ham finished, but traditionally it took several days cure it in salt. On the day before Christmas Eve, the ham is boiled for several hours. The ham is then left in the broth overnight in the fridge. On Christmas Eve, the ham is dried, painted with a coating of egg and mustard, sprinkled with bread crumbs and baked.

The salty, flavorful broth does not go to waste however. After skimming off the fat, you warm the broth and everyone gathers around with bread to dopp i grytan (dip in the kettle). Traditionally, this was done on Christmas Eve. My mom has always saved the broth until Christmas morning (or any other morning, since the broth can be stored in the freezer for several months). You warm the broth and simmer the Swedish crispbread for a minute or two until it is soft. Then, pull it out with a slotted spoon and serve it slathered in butter.

As the snow started falling again this afternoon, I poured myself the last from our beer reserves and made myself up a plate of tasty, salty, hammy comfort food.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Feliz Navidad

This is not the photo I was hoping to share with you today. You should be seeing a photo of a warm, sandy beach, a margarita or perhaps a taco. Why? Because we are supposed to be in Mexico right now through the new year.

Alas, we aren't in Mexico. Thanks to WINTER STORM 2008, our flight on Monday was cancelled. The next available flight was not until December 30th. The lady at Alaska Air said, "Sorry, but these flights were booked many months ago." Um, yeah I know. I booked our tickets in February. So, we threw in the towel, got our money and mileage refunded and are going to make the most of it. Can you say "staycation?"

I can't stop thinking about that saying, "When life gives you lemons, make lemonade." We went out to brunch, ordered margaritas, then came home and made spiked hot ciders and made a snowman. When your vacation is cancelled due to snow...make a snowman.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Baked Brie en Croûte

I've said it before and I'll say it again...the only thing better than cheese is hot cheese.

We had an early Christmas celebration with our families and among other cheesy/porky delights, I made my go-to appetizer - Baked Brie en Croûte. The recipe is alarmingly simple, plus you can prep it in advance. I highly recommend adding it to your repetoire as well.

Baked Brie en Croûte
One 9-by-9 1/2-inch sheet frozen puff pastry, thawed
1 large egg, lightly beaten
One 8-16 ounce wheel firm Brie cheese
1/4 cup apricot preserves

1. Roll the puff pastry into a 12-inch square on a lightly floured counter. Using a pie plate or other round guide, trim the pastry to a 9-inch circle with a paring knife. Brush the edges lightly with the beaten egg. Place the Brie in the center of the pastry circle and wrap it in the pastry (see Note). Brush the exterior of the pastry with beaten egg and transfer to a parchment-lined baking sheet. Freeze for 20 minutes.

2. Adjust an oven rack to the middle position and heat the oven to 425°F. Bake the cheese until the exterior is a deep golden brown, 20 to 25 minutes.

3. Transfer to a wire rack. Spoon the jelly into the exposed center of the Brie. Cool for about 30 minutes. Serve with crackers or bread.

Note: To wrap the Brie, lift the pastry up over the cheese, pleating it at even intervals and leaving an opening in the center where the Brie will be exposed. Press the pleated edge of pastry up into a rim, which will later be filled with preserves or jelly.

To Make Ahead: You can complete step 1 (but do not freeze) and refrigerated, wrapped tightly in plastic wrap, for up to 24 hours. Freeze fr 20 minutes before continuing with step 2.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Cure for the Common Cold

I'm sick. I'm @#$*! SICK?! I haven't been sick in over 5 years, yet this week - of all weeks, the week I leave my place of employment for the last 12 years and start a new job - I am sick.

Bourbon and I are old friends - it's seen me through some dark times. I am a firm believer in its medicinal qualities as well. I discovered a long time ago that a simple hot toddy kicks ass over Theraflu any day. The soothing warmth of honey combined with a citrus kick and the sinus-opening, throat clearing 80 Proof Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey is the cure for what ails you.

Hot Toddy
1 ounce Bourbon
2 teaspoons honey
1/4 lemon wedge, squeezed and added to the glass
4-5 ounces hot water.

Stir to combine, drink and repeat.

On a side note - the Bourbon I use for hot toddys (and Whiskey Sours for that matter) is Rebel Yell. I have hosted a couple of Bourbon tastings and this inexpensive ($15) Bourbon got high marks. It isn't one I would drink neat nor in a Manhattan, but mixed with honey and lemon it tastes mighty fine.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Bacon and Eggs...for Dinner

You have to love an email that says, "...We have 1000 pounds of organic, heirloom Berkshire hog bacon for sale." An email two weeks ago from the good folks at Swinery Meats (AKA Culinary Communion) said just that. Well, I picked up my bacon last week and let me tell's divine.

I am no stranger to good bacon, but I am pretty content with thick-cut bacon from Hemplers that I usually pick-up. This fancy-pants bacon is great stuff though. The fat is almost buttery. It isn't smoked as much as typical bacon either, so it has a nice mild sweetness to it.

The next day, I fried up some bacon before work to use for a lunchtime BLT. Yes, some managed to get eaten straight away, before I even left the house for the office. Other than using bacon for weekend breakfasts, we probably use bacon the most in Pasta Carbonara.

Describing this dish doesn't really do it justice - it's just pasta tossed with bacon and eggs. The trick is to slowly temper the egg mixture into the hot pasta so that rather than scrambled eggs you get a thick, velvety, custard-like sauce coating the eggs.

We made Pasta Carbonara with our friends Jason & Dana when we visited them in Chicago over Thanksgiving. They loved it and were happy to learn how quick and easy it is to make. I likened it to that old adage, "teach a man to fish, feed him for a day...," because once you learn this dish you'll eat well for many years to come.

You start with a few simple, quality ingredients: pasta, parmigiano, eggs, cream and bacon. The better the ingredients the better the end result, so get good bacon, good quality eggs and real parmigiano.
Pasta Carbonara
Serves 2

1/2 pound pasta (we prefer Barilla Linguine)
4 slices bacon (cut into 1/2 inch pieces)
1 clove of garlic, sliced thick
2 tsp olive oil
1/4 cup dry vermouth
2 eggs
1/4 cup of heavy cream
1/2 cup grated parmigiano
Salt & fresh ground pepper

Bring 4-5 quarts of salted water to a boil. While the water is heating, heat olive oil in a non-stick skillet on medium-high heat. Add the bacon and garlic and brown. Be careful not to burn the garlic. Once the garlic is browned, remove it and discard. Allow the bacon to brown until nearly crisp, then add the vermouth. Simmer until the vermouth is reduced by about half. Remove the skillet from the heat.

In a small mixing bowl, gently whisk the eggs, cream and about 1/4 cup of the parmigiano until just combined. Add about 1/4 teaspoon of salt and 1/2 teaspoon of fresh ground pepper.

Once the pasta is cooked to al dente, drain and stir the hot pasta into the skillet with the garlicky-bacon mixture. Toss to cool off the pasta just slightly. Add in the egg/cream mixture and toss to coat. Season to taste (go wild with the pepper, it makes the dish). Serve topped with more freshly grated parmigiano.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Weekend Hangover Cure

Hangover courtesy of Rick Steves' company Christmas party. Hangover cure, courtesy of Lunchbox Laboratory

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Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Hot and Fresh

I can't even begin to say how exciting this development is to me! A tortilleria is coming to Shoreline. I've only experienced these east of the mountains and you have no idea how amazing hot & fresh tortillas really, truly are. Soon, very soon, it looks like these will be available in my own backyard.

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Sunday, December 7, 2008

Give it a Rest

Chocolate chip cookies are probably the #1 reason I learned how to bake. The double whammy of tasty dough and tasty cookies was added incentive. I remember being about 10 years old and making chocolate chip cookie dough (yeah, just the dough) with my childhood friend Kristi. We ate nearly the entire bowl and made ourselves so sick we couldn't eat the dough again for...well, probably only days.

The thing is, even with all the great cookies I love to bake there is something special about chocolate chip cookies. The standby recipe on the bag of Nestle chips is fine, but every few months or years someone tries to make chocolate chip cookies even more perfect than they already are.

This past summer The New York Times had a great piece on the CCC. I'll be honest - I don't read the NYT daily. I read it religiously on Wednesdays though - along with many other daily newspapers - because that is the day the food section runs.

The conclusion they came to - along with using half AP and half cake flour - was to rest the dough overnight. At least 24 hours. They also made large cookies - 3 1/2 ounces - which makes them particularly decadent. Then, they gilded the lily by sprinkling sea salt on the tops of the cookies. Welcome to flavor country.
The beauty of this recipe is that you can make the dough one night and then bake them off the next night. It spreads the work over two nights and you can serve your guests (or yourself) warm cookies out of the oven.

Chocolate Chip Cookies

2 cups minus 2 tablespoons (8 1/2 ounces) cake flour
1 2/3 cups (8 1/2 ounces) all purpose flour
1 1/4 teaspoons baking soda
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
2 1/2 sticks (1 1/4 cups) unsalted butter
1 1/4 cups (10 ounces) light brown sugar
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons (8 ounces) granulated sugar
2 large eggs
2 teaspoons natural vanilla extract
1 1/4 pounds bittersweet chocolate chips (I like Ghirardelli)

Sea salt (Try Fleur de Sel, you won't regret it)
  1. Sift flours, baking soda, baking powder and salt into a bowl. Set aside.

  2. Using a mixer fitted with paddle attachment, cream butter and sugars together until very light, about 5 minutes. Add eggs, one at a time, mixing well after each addition. Stir in the vanilla. Reduce speed to low, add dry ingredients and mix until just combined, 5 to 10 seconds. Drop chocolate pieces in and incorporate them without breaking them. Press plastic wrap against dough and refrigerate for 24 to 36 hours. Dough may be used in batches, and can be refrigerated for up to 72 hours.

  3. When ready to bake, preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a nonstick baking mat. Set aside.

  4. Scoop 6 3 1/2-ounce mounds of dough (the size of generous golf balls) onto baking sheet, making sure to turn horizontally any chocolate pieces that are poking up; it will make for a more attractive cookie. Sprinkle lightly with sea salt and bake until golden brown but still soft, 18 to 20 minutes. Transfer sheet to a wire rack for 10 minutes, then slip cookies onto another rack to cool a bit more. Repeat with remaining dough, or reserve dough, refrigerated, for baking remaining batches the next day. Eat warm, with a big napkin.

Allow Me to Reintroduce Myself

Hi, my name is Sonja and I like to cook. That's right, it is time to get back to the regularly scheduled program: COOKING.

Tonight's challenge - potato chips.

My friend Rhonda recently told me she has been making homemade potato chips. I was intrigued. I had never considered making potato chips at home, even though I go through periods of absolute obsession with chips. She said they were simple - slice them thin, coat with oil and put them in a hot oven.

I know what you're thinking, "Um, my idea of simple potato chips is 1) buy a bag, 2) open the bag and 3) eat them." I'm sorry, I really have been away from the kitchen too long. You don't remember me do you? I don't really do 'simple.'

Don't get me wrong, I love a bag of potato chips as much as the next person. That is why I try not to buy them though. I will devour the ENTIRE bag. In a matter of minutes.

Well, I've had a bowl of potatoes in the fridge that have been staring at me for several weeks. I can almost hear them, "cook me, cook me, cook me." So this weekend I finally found the time and inspiration to tie on my apron and give homemade potato chips a try.

I trusted Rhonda's simple method, but did a little online recon as well (on-con? re-line?). There were loads of recipes, but I tried to not overthink it and just go for the baking approach. The results were...meh, but I couldn't stop thinking about one method I read about over at - potato chips made in the microwave.

Yeah - the microwave. Deal with it. I am not one of those no-TV watching, no microwave using Seattlites. The microwave has its place in the kitchen right there with V-slicer. And those are the only two things you need to make crunchy, tasty potato chips in about 10 minutes.

You can use any type of potato, heck maybe even sweet potatoes. I tried both russets and yukon golds. The yukons are a little bit sweeter whereas the russets are quite earthy. The trick is to slice them as thinly and as evenly as possible. Unless you have mad knife skills, buy a v-slicer (you don't need a fancy French mandoline, just one of the plastic ones like this). Don't be afraid when they get quite brown, that is what makes them super crispy. Cool them for as long as you can stand it, then salt and eat.

Potato Chips

1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 potato, sliced as thin as possible
1/2 teaspoon salt, or to taste

Pour the vegetable oil into a plastic bag (a produce bag works well). Add the potato slices, and shake to coat. Coat a large dinner plate lightly with oil or cooking spray. Arrange potato slices in a single layer on the dish. Cook in the microwave for 3 to 5 minutes, or until lightly browned (if not browned, they will not become crisp). Times will vary depending on the power of your microwave. Remove chips from plate, and toss with salt. Let cool. Repeat process with the remaining potato slices. You will not need to keep oiling the plate.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Comfort Captain

How can anyone concentrate on anything other than the election right now? I've been totally caught up in it and can't wait for November 4th. I feel like I have been 'involved' because I've donated to the Obama campaign and attended a fundraiser. My friend Jen is super involved though - she was even a delegate for Washington State and went to the convention in Denver (read more here). Her dedication - and the dedication of thousands of others like her - is truly inspiring.

When Jen told me about her plans for November 4th, I was floored - hundreds of volunteers are heading out in droves Tuesday to make sure everyone registered makes it to the polls. Flyers, phone calls, knocking on doors, the works. Then, she mentioned that people were volunteering to be 'comfort captains.' Tell me more. Turns out they need people to bring them food throughout Monday and Tuesday to keep all those volunteers fed and hydrated. Sign me up.

How perfect is this? Finally, I feel like I can contribute in a way that is near and dear to my heart. Feeding people. So, Sunday is being spent making soup to be delivered Monday night and on Monday I will make cookies to deliver on Tuesday night.

Hopefully, we'll ALL be delivered an Obama presidency.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Changing Leaves = Changing Priorities

You may be wondering where I've been. We returned from our NYC vacation only to be slapped back into reality by our ugly, unfinished front yard.

We started overhauling our yard back in May. My dad led the project of tearing out all the old, mossy lawn, the crumbling herb beds and the prolific St. John's wort. Then, I left for 7 weeks. Gavin was busy working his full-time job in addition to finishing a side project. Needless to say, the yard project got pushed to the back burner.

We planned our NYC trip this fall thinking that the yard would be done and we could sail into winter. We were pretty much 100% wrong. I also signed up for a 5-week intensive Spanish course in late September that is two nights a week for 3 hours a night. Oh, and I've had some top secret meetings in Redmond that have required a lot of prep time. I can't talk about that quite yet though...

I've been BUSY. When people have asked me before how I find time to blog, I was suprised. Now I know what you people do all the time. House projects are time consuming!

So, back to the yard. We knew we couldn't waste time, what with the leaves & temperatures dropping and 6 months of cold, dark and wet weather ahead of us. We pushed into high gear. You see that 'before' picture above, now check out the 'after' picture below:

We brought in nearly 25 cubic yards of soil, 5 tons of Columbia Basalt boulders, 2 trees, 6 ferns, wood for the raised beds and some herbs. It is not nearly complete, but at least it's a start.

I am most excited about my herb beds. In fact I have already snipped some chives to top a simple baked-potato supper. I'll get back to more cooking soon, but until then you'll be hearing more about my many other distractions these days.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

$17 Burger - Worth Every Penny

We went to The Spotted Pig on our second to last day in the Big Apple. It was high on our list of places to try and did not disappoint.

The Spotted Pig is known as a "gastropub" - basically a pub with highbrow food. OK, I'll just say right now that I am not a big fan of the word gastropub. It ranks up there with foodie, mouthfeel, and housemade in my opinion.

The word 'gastropub' has creeped into the lexicon of the Seattle restaurant scene recently. Quinn was probably the first to be referred to as a gastropub, though more by local food writers than by the restaurant itself. A new place in Belltown - Spur - just opened that includes gastropub in its name. Tell me if I'm wrong, but it seems like if you have to tell people you are a gastropub, you aren't doing something right.

OK - back to The Spotted Pig. We went there for an early lunch. It is located smack in the middle of Greenwich Village - on a street lined with trees and cute brownstones. The restaurant itself is pretty much a pub, but has an eclectic interior with lots of pig paraphernalia, potted herbs, mirrors, vintage beer and pub signs etc.

The burgers at TSP are highly regarded as some of the best burgers in Manhattan, so we knew that is what we wanted. We probably could have split one - because they were 1/2 pound patties, but we were on vacation and were feeling gluttonous.

Oh juicy, meaty gluttony indeed! The burger was served plain, other than the massive pile of roquefort cheese and mountain of shoestring fries. I considered asking for some lettuce, tomato and onion, but once I had a bite decided against it. This was pure simple burger pleasuredom. The buns were brioche and had a slight char to them. The meat was super juicy and flavorful and the cheese added just the right amount of tang. We were in a massive food coma the rest of the day, but it was worth every bite.

Italian with a Rock 'n' Roll Soundtrack

Our NYC trip was timed with our fourth wedding anniversary. Gavin and I decided when got married to never give anniversary gifts, but rather to have a trip be our gift to each other every year. We promised to always spend our anniversary away from home. We don't always go far even though our first anniversary was spent in Norway. Our second was on Orcas Island and the third was at Cave B Winery.

In planning our NYC trip, we wanted to go someplace special for dinner on the night of our anniversary. Some advance planning was necessary, because most restaurants begin taking reservations a month in advance and popular places are booked pretty quickly. We decided on Italian food - because Italian in Seattle is good, but the reputation of Italian in NYC is much better. We decided on Babbo.

Gavin is a big fan of Mario Batali's show and we are both fans of Batali's dad's Salumi. We'd heard mixed reports of Babbo recently, but we had to try it for ourselves. It was definitely something we couldn't experience in Seattle.

The front of the restaurant houses the bar and the maître d' station. It was crowded and kind of loud, but a hostess spotted us and greeted us right away. As she walked us past the throngs and the maître d' (a bespectacled older Italian man), he turned our way and said, "Welcome to Babbo - enjoy your evening." It wasn't much, but I have to say that I found it really charming. It definitely set the tone for our evening.

The dining room is on two levels in an old 5-five story building. We were seated upstairs, which provided more intimacy than the bustling downstairs scene. The 'captain' greeted us immediately and offered us cocktails.

OK - can I just say that I love a restaurant with a 'captain.' As far as I understand restaurant service - the captain isn't a waiter, but more of a manager that makes sure everything is running smoothly and that nothing falls through the cracks. A captain may bus dishes, refill wine, suggest menu items, etc. I am a sucker for good service and a restaurant that has a captain takes service seriously.

More about service in a moment - let me tell you about the food. I'm sorry there are no pictures, but some places just aren't appropriate for whipping out your camera and that is the case for most restaurants.

They had house-cured Culatello on the menu that night, which was highly recommended. It was served thinly sliced with some melon. We had to try that along with a Caprese salad (it being tomato season and all). Both were great. Culatello is similar to prociutto, but I think the cut is a little different. It was more pink and had a little more spice and wine flavor.

The server was great at recommending the number of courses to get. The pastas he said, were large. Some people share a pasta and then each get a second course. We weren't wild about any of the second courses but each found a pasta we had to have. Gavin had chianti-stained pappardelle with wild boar ragù and I had gnocchi with braised oxtail. When the pastas were served, they came by with hunks of cheese and a grater. They said, "the chef recommends pecorino romano for yours ma'am," and proceded to grate a pile of cheese over the top of my dish. They repeated the process for Gavin but with a different cheese.

The pastas were great. Gavin's was perfect. The wild boar ragù was perfectly seasoned. I will admit that I've had better braised oxtail (the version at Quinn's haunts my dreams). What really made this meal special - and memorable - was the entire experience: the food, the service, the atmosphere, etc.

The decor was charming, but what we noticed from the beginning was the music. I think it was the Talking Heads that caught our attention, but we kept noticing throughout the evening that the music was like nothing else we'd heard in a fine-dining establishment - the Pixies, Green Day, Led Zepellin, some Rolling Stones. We loved it! My aunt reminded me the next day that a New York Times review a few years back commented - negatively - on the soundtrack:
Bucatini with the Black Crowes? ("Their second album!" a waiter proudly informed us.) Linguine with Led Zeppelin?

"That soundtrack, the strangely deliberate fruit of Mr. Batali's own iPod, was jarring, as were a few other aspects of the ambience."
We counted at least eight staff members tending our table through the evening: the captain, our server and the sommelier. Two people that brought out our dishes. The guy grating the cheese (is that a formaggier?) and two - or maybe three - bussers.

Can I just tell you what a turn-on that kind of service is!? I always say that I go out to eat for the service and the experience. I can cook and feed myself just fine. Bad service irks me to no end, but good service makes me swoon. I reward good service with a great tip, or as my friend Jen would say, "tipping like a Sultan on vacation." Babbo made us feel like just that - Sultans on vacation.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Coal Fired Pizza

I went to New York pretty naive about "New York" pizza. I figured it was just like Neapolitan pizza and the antithesis of thick Chicago-style pizza.

I just assumed that NY pizza would be wood-fired, cracker-thin and soggy in the center like it is in Naples. Don't get me wrong, I love VPN, i.e. Vero Pizza Neapolitana. Move over Luigi - I think I've found a new love.
There are two key differences between thin-crust NY-style pizza and Neapolitan pizza. 1.) The water. Evidently the tap water in NYC is a key factor in making the crust so chewy, yet crisp. 2.) The coal-fired oven. OK - coal is just wood, right? But this seemed super-heated and added such a nice char to the bottom and sides of the crust.

These two differences help NY-style pizza do what it does best. Behold - the Manhattan Fold....

We ordered the basic pizza - tomato sauce, fresh basil and fresh mozzarella. Combined with a couple of cold beers - it was the perfect lunch.

We were dining at Lombardi's - a venerable pizza joint in the heart of Little Italy. After passing up up row upon row of sausage and pepper sandwiches out on the street we made out way to Lombardi's because we'd heard it was "the best" and "the oldest." NY shops and restaurants throw this out at any and every opportunity. I thought Lombardi's was being pretty honest actually. This was the best pizza of our trip. I couldn't get this "coal-fired oven" out of my head, though. I asked if it would be possible to see the oven - or if it was back it the kitchen. The server said - no, it is just over there. And pointed me in the right direction.

There it is - 1905 - tiled right onto the outside of the oven. I took a couple of snaps when the guys behind the counter said, "No, you have to get in close and look inside." That is how I got the cool shot above of the burning coals.

My favorite picture though, has to be this one:

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Dinner out at Prune

We did a lot of reading and research when deciding which restaurants to try in New York. We also asked around for recommendations. We got a solid rec for a place named Prune, in the East Village. I did some online research to back it up and then made a reservation about a month before our trip.

Many restaurants - especially the ones that are popular or well-known - book up quickly. They only allow reservations one month in advance however, so some advanced planning was needed. Some only reserve by phone but lots you can book online at This was great for us because the reservations would open up one month prior at midnight EST, which was only 9pm in Seattle.

Prune is precious and matchbox-sized. It obviously has quite a following because on a Monday night - it was packed. The service was great, the menu stellar and the kitchen was open for us to watch the chefs in action. One of them looked just like the kid in Ratatouille, so I asked Gavin to pretend I was taking his picture so I could sneak one of the chef. Doesn't it make you want to ask him to take off his hat?!

They had marrow bones on the menu, which are such a rich and indulgent guilty pleasure. Since those are the new darlings on Seattle restaurant menus - we knew we could live without them. Plus, they had a grilled ribeye for two that sounded perfect, and well, marrow and steak would be a little indulgent donchathink?

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Little Italy

This week is the Feast of San Gennaro, so we ventured down to Little Italy where a massive street fair was taking place.
The whole way there, we joked that we were going to walk along the rooftops and "follow the black hand." The Little Italy of 2008 however, is much different than the Little Italy of the early 1900s portrayed by Scorsese.This being a street fair, there were the usual stalls - carnie-types at the game stalls, stalls selling trinkets and cheap t-shirts and lots of deep fried food. The place was crawling with Italian-Americans - wise-guy types and women dripping with cheap costume jewelery.

Lots of stalls were selling zeppole - deep-fried balls of dough covered in powdered sugar and sometimes filled with custard or jelly (think mini donuts). They were also selling funnel cakes, which I don't think are particularly Italian (in fact, where did they come from?!). I suppose the logic is that if you have a vat of hot oil, you might as well fry up a bunch of other shit too. Every one of these stalls were selling deep-fried Oreos too. I walked past probably a dozen of these before I couldn't take it anymore. I had to try one. It was equally disturbing and delicious. The batter softened the cookie and the hot oil warmed the entire thing and made for a crispy exterior.
A lot of stands were selling "Sausage & Peppers" too. These looked - and smelled - great. We had out heart set on more pizza however, so that is exactly what we had. More on that...later.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Sunday, September 14, 2008

In Search of NY's Best Pizza

If you know me at all, you know I consider pizza one of the four food groups (bacon, bourbon, and beer being the other three). Not just any pizza of course, but good thin-sliced Neapolitan pizza. We have some great pizzas in Seattle these days, but outside of Naples, Italy - NYC is supposed to have the best pizza anywhere.

We have a few pizza places on our list to try during our week in La Grande Miele - Lombardi's, Una Pizzeria Neapolitana and Otto. During our explorations of our home base neighborhood today though, we passed Patsy's Pizzeria. It looked great and got great reviews on Yelp, so it was added to the list.
Sunday afternoon we met up with our Seattle friends Sam & Cameron who happen to be in NYC this week too. We met them and their baby boy Henry at the Museum of Natural History (just for the A/C and dinosaur replicas in the free foyer). We all decided a late lunch and some cold beers were in order - and being on 81st, it was just a short walk to Patsy's on 74th.

The menu at Patsy's has lots of choices for calzones and pastas. The pizzas however, are listed in two flavors: pizza and white pizza. Gavin and I clued into this immediately. Pizza - must mean pizza margherita, pure unadulterated pizza. Nothing more than sauce, mozzarella and basil. This was exactly what we had in mind.
It was great - Patsy's was a gem. They had Bass Ale on tap (albeit at $6/mug), plenty of seating and pretty good prices. The sauce had a nice sweetness to it and there was just enough cheese and basil to round out the flavors.


I love visiting food shops - even grocery stores - wherever I travel. Near Gunny & John's apartment are two of the greatest food shops in the world. Fairway and Zabar's. We stopped into Zabar's after breakfast this morning just to browse around. The main floor is food and the upper floor is kitchenwares. Even though we had just eaten, I got hungry again. There must be 500 kinds of cheese here and loads of prepared foods, an olive bar and huge smokes fish counter, fresh knishes and plenty more.

The crowds in these stores are amazing. People watching and listening to people is hilarious. Definitely a different pace from the west coast. We are loving every minute of it!

Eggs and Bennie

We are so happy to have the entire week off! It was such a relief to wake up this morning and not have to face house/yard projects. It is Sunday, so naturally brunch was in order. The popular brunch spots in the neighborhood were packed, so we returned to a little diner we ate at five years ago - the last time we were here. Five YEARS - I can't belief it has taken us this long to return to New York.

We love going out for breakfast, but hadn't really worked it into our eating itinerary (more on that later). But today, we are just going with the flow, since it is our first day. I had planned on going light on breakfasts on this trip - since there are lots of lunch and dinner spots we want to hit. I was able to justify a big fat Eggs Benedict breakfast today though, since I think it will help stretch and prepare my stomach for the rest of the week.

I can't say "Bennie" without thinking of the "super" at Gunny & John's building, because his name is Bennie. He is supposed to be a great guy and quite a character. My parents LOVE him - and of course have partied with him. We have yet to see him or meet him, but I have to admit that I am a little anxious. The only thing I know about supers is that they can be quite the characters. I know that this is 100% a result of an episode of This American Life - episode #323 called "The Super." If you haven't listened to it, you must. It is probably my favorite episode.

Late Night Arrival in Manhattan

We arrived late Saturday night into Manhattan. My aunt and uncle are in NYC visiting their new granddaughter (AKA - thecutestdamnbabyever), so we have keys to their sweet apartment on the Upper West Side. They'll be back on Tuesday, but until then we have the place to ourselves.

We are on W 78th - between Broadway and Amsterdam. Total foodie heaven - with lots of restaurants and cafes nearby not to mention Fairway Market, Zabar's and H&H Bagels. It was midnight though, so we weren't up for a big meal. A mere snack was what we needed. Late night + snack + NYC + UWS = Gray's Papaya Hot Dogs!

This place is somewhat of an institution as far as I know. I love hot dogs and take advantage of eating them anytime I can. These are no polse, but washed down with a papaya drink - they totally hit the spot.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Airport Seating

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SeaTac airport is about as stylish as any airport - but they do have some of the greatest seating around. These are Herman Miller and have matching benches as well. I covet these so much that I would probably trade in every chair in my house to get them.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Eat Pancakes - Support the MS Society

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My company has a team each year that participates in the MS 150 Bike Ride to raise money and awareness for the MS Society. They have been doing lots of fundraisers, but I think my favorite so far is the "all-you-can-eat pancake breakfast" they did this morning. Tom made wicked pancakes with cinnamon and vanilla in the batter and there was blueberry compote, fresh fruit and sausage. The whole office smelled heavenly and the best part was that for for $5 I got a belly full of pancakes and made a donation towards a worthy cause.

You can check out the team's page and make a donation.

Tom's MS Society Pancakes
2/3 C Flour
1 ½ t Baking Powder
2 ½ t Sugar
¼ t salt
Cinnamon to taste

½ C milk
2 Eggs
½ t Vanilla
1 T Vegetable oil

Sift together dry ingredients. Mix wet ingredients in another bowl and add to the dry. Mix until just blended - the batter may be slightly lumpy. Cook on a lightly oiled hot griddle (about 350 degrees) until bubbles form and then flip! Enjoy with your choice of toppings. Donate to MS Society.

Makes about 4 - 4” pancakes. Multiply by 16 to feed staff.