Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Berry of the Month - June

Fresh-picked, red, ripe strawberries are one of my fondest memories of summers. They are also probably one of my most vivid childhood memories.

I think I've mentioned before that I come from a long line of berrry pickers. It's a Scandinavian thing. My parents would take us up to the Snohomish River Valley in June to pick strawberries, for my mom to make jam. My brother was eight years older than me, so he was probably more helpful. I would basically sit in the field and stuff my face full of berries. My parents have always joked that the farmers wanted to weigh me when we arrived and weigh me when I left. I ate that many berries.

We've had the driest and warmest June in Seattle that I can remember. The conditions have been perfect for strawberries.

Last weekend, my dad and I went for a drive up to Arlington to visit a strawberry farm. My mom still makes jam, and I sometimes do too. This year though, I've had my sights set on strawberry ice cream, strawberry fruit leather and fresh strawberries on poundcake. I needed a lot of berries.

Strawberries are tough little buggers to pick. I wasn't about to plop myself down in the field, like I did as a child, so we just bought two flats of berries.

Nothing really compares to just-picked strawberries on a sunny, summer afternoon. The heady smell, deep red flesh and incredible juiciness are such a treat. In the long, dark days of winter I am often tempted by the strawberries at the supermarket that have been trucked in from thousands of miles away. They are like the empty shell of themselves though - tough flesh that is still white around the core. Bland flavor. I always regret the purchase.

The last couple of days have been a blur of strawberry-stained cooking. Ice cream - check. Fruit leather - check. Poundcake with berries and cream - check. I probably should have weighed myself going. I've eaten THAT many berries.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Oven Baked Bacon

It's no secret that I love bacon. The smell of bacon in the morning is almost as good as fresh-brewed coffee. In my mind, weekend mornings are for frying bacon.

The thing is, I have decided that frying bacon on the stove top is a colossal pain. Especially since I've discovered how easy - and delicious - oven baked bacon is.

I've seen recipes for baking bacon that recommend placing the bacon on a wire rack, so the grease cooks off. I DO NOT RECOMMEND THIS METHOD. The fat is where the flavor is people. You want bacon to cook in its own fat. Bacon fat is to bacon what the egg yolk is the the egg white. Sure, the fat can be used separately to flavor vegetables just like egg yolks are key for custards. But - you would never eat a fried egg white, would you? Of course not. And, you should never eat bacon without its delicious fat.

Oven baked bacon is super easy and much easier than pan frying if you are cooking more than 3 or 4 pieces. And really, don't you always want to cook more than 3 or 4 pieces?

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Take a sheet pan and line it with foil. This will make for easy clean-up - once you have drained and reserved the fat. Space bacon slices and 1/2-inch or so apart. Once the oven is hot, put the pan of bacon in and set the timer for 10 minutes.

After 10 minutes, your bacon will be well on its way to being done. I buy thick-sliced bacon, so after the first 10 minutes, I remove the pan, flip all the slices and then return the pan to the oven for another 5-10 minutes. You kind of need to keep an eye on it, because the timing varies depending on how many slices of bacon you are cooking and how thick they are.

Once they are cooked to your desired crispness, remove the slices and place them on a plate lined with paper-towels. Now, you can move on to the eggs...

Feasting Friday: Lunch at Salumi

I'll be honest - this week's Feasting Friday was in fact, on Thursday. The meal far surpassed anything I had on Friday though, so it is really the only meal worth sharing with you.

Salumi is an institution in Seattle. Started by a retired Boeing engineer over a decade ago, it has been making divine cured meats and gut-busting sandwiches ever since. Armandino Batali (Mario's dad), 'retired' a few years ago and the operation is now run by his daughter and son-in-law. Their cured meats can be found on menus from coast-to-coast and the line outside their Seattle storefront often winds its way around the block.

You have to plan a trip to Salumi carefully. They are only open from 11-4 Tuesday-Friday. It doesn't usually work as a lunch spot for me, but since I have been working on lower Queen Anne I sure have been trying. This most recent visit didn't start off well. I had planned to meet my friend Anbrit there on Wednesday, but realized I had a conflict so moved it to Thursday. I left the office at noon and was weaving my way through downtown before I realized there was a 1:40 pm Mariners game that day. There was loads of traffic and parking was sure to be abysmal. I finally made it to the Pioneer Square though and surprisingly, found a primo parking spot straight away. I sent Anbrit a text and went to join the line.

The line. It was LONG. And packed with tourists. Don't get me wrong, I like tourists. I actually find it kind of surprising and charming that people spend their vacation in Seattle. It just means that places that are usually crowded are really crowded during the tourist season.

The line ended up being OK. Once Anbrit joined me, we were able to pass the time very easily while catching up. I haven't seen her for months and she always has fun stories about her family, travels and school.

The menu is - as you can imagine - heavy on meat. There are some pastas, a vegetarian sandwich, Muffaletta, various cold sandwiches and some hot sandwiches. I still order the same thing I have ordered since my first visit a few years ago though - the porchetta sandwich.

Porchetta is a roast pork dish from Tuscany. It is the source of all things delicious. An entire pig (or at least a shoulder) is stuffed with onions, herbs, fennel and loads of salt and pepper, then roasted for hours until it is melt in your mouth tender. In Italy, small mobile food carts set up at markets and town squares and serve sandwiches of the juicy meat piled high on crusty bread and topped with more salt.

At Salumi, they amp up the flavor by spreading some herb/onion/mayonnaise spread on the bread first and then topping the porchetta with roasted onions and peppers. It is well worth the wait.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Feasting Friday: Dinner AT the Movies

We decided to go local again for Feasting Friday last week. A new cinema opened in our neighborhood called Cinebarre. They took over for an old Regal cinemas that closed a few months ago.

The movie theater/restaurant has been catching on in the Seattle area in the last 10 years or so. I support the concept overall, but will admit that I am most excited at being able to order a beer or glass of wine at the movie above all else. The food is kind of secondary.

In the case of Cinebarre, the food is definitely secondary. They lean towards finger foods, so you don't need cutlery. Unfortunately, they lean towards mediocrity as well. On the plus side, the service and the fries were great. On the minus side, the burger was bone dry and they were kind of skimpy on the those delicious fries. I didn't have high expectations, but come on. A burger - it's not rocket science. If they applied the rules for theater popcorn to the burger (add salt, loads of butter and then more salt), things probably would have worked out fine.

Again, I was just as excited to order a glass of wine at the theater as I was to eat. Also on the plus side for Cinebarre is that they are 21 and older. That's right - no kids, no teenagers. It's not that I go to a lot of movies where there are kids, but still, it is nice to have an adult crowd. It's like the bar section of a restaurant - must be 21 and over to enter.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Feasting Friday: Diamond Knot Brewery

Sizzling hot stone + raw steak + great beer = the perfect Feasting Friday.

I had a night out with the girls on Friday - as we made out way up to Whidbey Island for Maria's 40th Birthday Extravaganza. Conveniently located at the Mukilteo ferry terminal is Diamond Knot Brewery, which I've been dying to try for forever.

Diamond Knot has something called 'Stone Grills.' They are basically a sizzling hot stone with a slab of raw meat or fish on top. You choose the meat and then cook it how you like it. The only other place I've tried this was at a restaurant in Copenhagen that I took my tour groups to for the last 10 years or so.

The deal with these stones is, they are granite (food grade) and heated to 750 degrees. The hot stone is set into a porcelain platter and your raw food is placed on top. They had various seafood options and cuts of steak, but once I saw a rib eye on the menu I knew what I would be ordering.
There is a little technique involved. First, you need to season the meat. They have not applied any salt nor pepper. Then, if you like your meat rare just keep the steak whole. The more well-done you like it, the smaller you cut the pieces. The stone stays hot for a good 20-30 minutes. The serving platter they use for the hot stone is rather ingenious. We moved the veggies to the side while the steak cooked. Then, once the steak was cooked we moved it to the side and put the veggies on the hot stone and enjoyed the perfectly cooked steak.

As much as I love a rib eye, I think the steak cooked too quickly to fully inject the meat with all that flavorful fat. It was delicious, but I think next time - and there will be a next time - I will order one of the other cuts.

The pub has a great vibe. There are lots of people coming and going, since many are commuting on the ferry. They serve bowls of peanuts, you just throw the shells on the floor. There is a handy flavor chart for their beers on the chalkboard - dark to light on one side and malty to hoppy on the other.Diamond Knot makes a great IPA - called their 'Industrial' IPA. It packs a punch though at 8.6% alcohol. I definitely had an industrial headache in the morning.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Aperol Spritz

ZOMG! I found Aperol. Aperol - the Italian bitter-orange based apertif. It is kind of like Campari, but less bitter. Don't get me wrong, I like bitters. Campari has never really appealed to me, but the first time I had Aperol I was hooked.

Last night I was out with my friend - and fellow 'retired' tour guide - Karoline. We met for happy hour and started talking about cocktails, imported spirits, etc. She mentioned Aperol and reminded me about how delicious it is.

That was just last night. Just 24 hours ago. TONIGHT...on my way home, I stopped by the liquor store for some vodka since I was making pie crust (more on that later). I stopped at the store in the Crown Hill neighborhood of Seattle and they had a great selection of imported liquors. I thought most of this stuff was only available by special order (case minimum), but I guess with the cocktail craze sweeping the city (and country) there is enough demand for it.

I first tried Aperol during a trip to Venice about six years ago. I had been to Venice plenty of times, but was spending a week there, on board a seven-day tour my friend Dave was leading. Dave is/was a splendid tour guide and mentor to me, but also a WSU grad and therefore quite a partier. We spent pretty much every night 'researching' ciccheti bars around the island. Ciccheti are bite-sized appetizers served at little bars all over Venice and that region of NE Italy. The bars serve all kinds of cocktails and wines, but the Aperol Spritz is a specialty of the area.

Aperol Spritz
1 1/2 ounces Aperol
2 ounces Prosecco or other sparkling wine
Splash of soda water

Pour the Aperol and Prosecco into a high-ball glass filled with ice. Top with a splash of soda water.

My favorite part is the odd, yet appealing garnish. A skewer with an orange wedge and a green olive. Most recipes I have been seeing online say to garnish with a lemon peel or an orange wedge, but no one mentions the olive. Don't underestimate the power of a green olive.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Proof a Poached Egg Improves Everything

I have a love/hate relationship with asparagus. I love it when someone else cooks it, but hate it whenever I cook it. A few weeks ago though, I heard about an asparagus preparation that just might prove successful if I tried it at home.

We had hot, summer-like weather in Seattle for the last week - a rarity for this time of year. We spent every evening out on our deck, only going inside for fresh reading material of more ice. I picked up our bi-weekly produce basket one day which included some fresh, local asparagus. It being so hot, I wasn't in the mood for a heavy meal so a light vegetable dish sounded perfect. I had all the other ingredients on hand to try out a new recipe.

Grilled Asparagus with Tarragon Vinaigrette and Poached Egg
1 serving

4-8 spears of asparagus, peeled
2 Tbsp vegetable oil
1 Tbsp minced shallot
1 Tbsp chopped fresh tarragon
2 Tbsp fresh lemon juice
Salt & pepper
1 egg

Start by breaking off the woody ends of the asparagus. I also peel the stalks lightly, since they always get stringy if I don't. What I mean by lightly is that I don't peel absolutely everything. I peel it 'lightly,' I can't really think of another way to describe that.

Make the vinaigrette: whisk together the lemon juice, tarragon, shallot and oil. Salt & pepper to taste.

Steam the asparagus spears for 2-3 minutes until they have softened. Then, put them into a soaking tub filled with the vinaigrette while you fire up the grill (at least 10 minutes; no more than one hour) and get the water boiling for the egg.

If you don't have a grill, I think you can just saute the spears at this point. There is a little tricky timing to make sure the asparagus is still hot when the poached egg is ready. I grilled the asparagus for about 5 minutes, just enough time to poach the egg.

To poach the egg:
Fill a saucepan with 3-4 inches of water and bring to a rolling boil. Crack in egg into a small cup. Remove the pan from the heat and gently pour the egg into the water. Cover and walk away. For 4 1/2 minutes. Gently lift the egg out of the pan with a slotted spoon. I poke and prod the egg at this point to make sure the white is fully cooked. I have had pretty good success with this timing though.

To serve:
Remove the asparagus from the grill and place on a serving plate. Spoon over a tablespoon or so of the vinaigrette. Place the poached egg on top and season generously with salt and pepper.

The beauty of this dish is that when you break into the egg yolk, it mixes with the vinaigrette to make a nice sauce. This may soon become my favorite way to prepare vegetables, as I think you could substitute anything for the asparagus...or even make a salad with a similar vinaigrette. A poached egg improves everything.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Feasting Fridays: Grinders

Given the less than stellar dining experience we had last week, we decided to try out another local restaurant this week.

Grinders Hot Sands set up shop in Shoreline a few years ago. I became a fan a couple years back, when I worked nearby, but it has taken me this long to talk Gavin into joining me. We weren't in the mood to cook, so we decided to get some take-out.

I have to admit that it is nice to let someone else do the cooking on Feasting Fridays. Unless I am on top of my game in terms of inspiration, ingredients and energy, by the end of the workday and week, I am beat.

Since today was National Doughnut Day, I didn't eat lunch because I had gorged myself on mini-donuts from the Pike Place Market this morning. By about 7pm tonight though, I was ready for dinner and Grinders is just a few miles away.

I am not an aficionado on 'grinders' as in the East coast variety, but I have it on good authority that the sandwiches at Grinders are the real thing. The owner looks like a total NJ wiseguy - thick neck and all. The sandwiches are big enough to feed two or more and are so loaded with meat and sauce that you pretty much need an entire roll of paper towels on hand when you tuck into one.

My favorite - so far - is "The Dipper." It is a gigantic ciabatta roll slathered with a horseradish/mayo mixture and melted Swiss cheese. They stuff it with obscene amounts of sliced roast beef, roasted red peppers, sliced portobellos and onions that have been swimming in a red wine bath for some time. Add some chopped fresh basil and dinner is served.

The grinder - at Grinders - is really a thing of beauty. We ordered out sandwiches at the height of their dinner rush and everything was on point. One thing that caught my attention was the bright green basil. They had obviously chopped it just for my sandwich because it hadn't even started browning on the edges by the time I got home. I love that.

I made it through half The Dipper (and half the roll of paper towels), before I had to walk away. Finishing the sandwich would no doubt be delicious, but given last night's pulled pork sandwich, I felt satisfied pretty quickly. It was a great meal though and a good reminder that we have some great dining options in pretty close vicinity to 'The Shire.'

National Doughnut Day

There was really only one place to go...

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Some Pig

I went to my first Seattle Food Bloggers' event tonight. Keren Brown of Frantic Foodie started the group and hosts monthly networking/eating/drinking events. Tonight's event began at Beecher's Cheese and continued - progressive dinner style - to their new food truck on 2nd and Pike St.
The food truck craze is in full effect in Seattle. The folks behind Beechers (and Bennetts, Pasta & Co., etc) just opened the pig mobile for business and it appears they already have the recipe for success: prime location + porkalicious food + affordable & efficient = Maximus Minimus.

The menu is simple, just two items: pulled pork sandwich or vegetarian sandwich (a combo of barley and veggies). You can order your sandwich mild (minimus) or spicy (maximus). Clever, huh? There are sides of coleslaw or chips and cold drinks available as well.

The whole operation is pretty slick. The person taking your order has a handheld device to send your order into the kitchen. The truck is outfitted with taps for the drinks. Evidently the lines the first two days have been pretty long, but I think they are prepared for how popular they will inevitably be. In fact, they'll be very, very popular because this shit is deeeee-lish-ious!

The pork is a shoulder cut that has been seasoned and grilled. Then, after a good amount of char is achieved it is braised for several hours. The bun was soft and mild (not too sweet) and held up really well under the weight of all that juicy pork.

So, how do you find the truck? For now they plan on staying at 2nd and Pike. I am not entirely sure about the hours, but I think they are planning to hit the lunchtime crowd on weekdays. It is pretty easy to spot the truck, since it is shaped like a pig. Check out their website for more details.

I met some nice folks at the event. At my table were Sara from Hungry Grrl, Lacey from Loving Local Food, Mary from Mary Eats and Ann & Abe from Tastefully Overcaramelized. Pretty good company, I must say.

And after looking at their blogs, I know I need to get to work on redesigning and renaming my own blog. We all lamented how hard it is to name your blog. Particularly since most clever domain names are already taken or worse, lorded over by cyber squatters. My top choices have been Fork It, Bittles, Wine and Swine and Satisfy the Craving. All our taken...so the search continues.