Friday, December 23, 2011

Lovefest 2011!

If there’s a recurring theme in my writings (other than food), it has to be the sharing of a meal around a communal table and how it brings people together in a very special way.

Last night, a group of our good, long-time friends got together because, by some miracle, we were all in town at the same time. We were all excited to get around a table to share some food and some memories.

Another part of the excitement was the place we planned on meeting. A new restaurant headed up by Chef Tamara Murphy called Terra Plata.

Seattlites dined on Chef Murphy’s food for several years at the now-defunct Brasa.
Well, those who loved Brasa should be very happy indeed that she is back.

There were about 15 of us (my mind is blurred, you see, from the fabulous food and drink, as well as the late night and the early morning that followed) seated around a long table in the middle of the room.

Our hostess and event organizer, our friend Sheila, had ordered several appetizers for us to munch while everyone arrived and got settled.

I had done a little research beforehand, so I was very excited to be able to dive in as soon as I got there.

On the table were plates of delicate potato chips, waffle-cut on a mandolin so they were thin and crisp. Sprinkled with truffle salt, they were mouth-wateringly good. At this moment, I am weeping because I don’t have a bucket of them next to me while I write. I barely got to the lovely, slightly tangy pecorino-chive cream that came with them because the chips were so delicious on their own.

Also waiting for us were some gorgeous cappelletti (stuffed pasta that look like little hats) stuffed with local winter squash and served very traditionally with hazelnuts and browned sage butter. The pasta was tender and the squash filling light and creamy. I couldn’t stop eating them.

To my left on the table was a bowl of mussels, which I didn’t give a second glance. I’m not much of a shellfish person. I have texture issues and mussels and clams in particular tend to be chewy, which, frankly, makes me want to gag.

However, after handing a few over to my partner, who loves them, and listening to someone who doesn’t like mussels say they liked these, I decided to try one. And it was good. Apparently the reason I haven’t liked them in the past is that they have been criminally overcooked.

These mussels were cooked perfectly, were tender and almost melted in my mouth. The broth was savory and subtly flavored and went to very good use as a dunking liquid for stray pieces of bread. :o) So maybe I’ll try them again someday.

The star of the starters, for me, anyway, was the roasted grapes, olives and walnuts served with a small wedge of bleu cheese. It was a surprising and heavenly blend of salty, sweet, smoky and bitter. I could have eaten a plate of that all by myself.

Thankfully, however, I did not do that. Because there were more wonders ahead!

Roasted potatoes with a gorgeously fresh-tasting remoulade. The tender potatoes and wonderfully eggy sauce made me wiggle with glee and roll my eyes heavenward. I nearly stole the ramekin of sauce. The only thing stopping me was that I didn’t have a spoon handy with which to eat the remoulade directly from the dish.

There were the roasted heirloom carrots that were just warmed through, retaining their delightful crunch. That plate of carrots was just gorgeous…they looked like they’d just been pulled out of the ground, washed, roasted and rushed to our table.

The one thing I couldn’t get myself to try was the marinated beets. But the beet-lovers near me said they were delicious. I will take their word for it. I’m not quite ready to try beets again. The presentation was striking though, with pale white ribbons of ricotta salata snaking their way over the top.

When it came time to order entrees, I was already pretty full, so I decided to go with one of the starters. How could I not when it’s country pork pate? Chef Murphy is very dedicated to her pork products, her roast pig is legendary, so how could I pass up the opportunity to have a rustic pork pate at her establishment?

I was not disappointed. It was everything I hoped it would be and more. This was a pate made with love. Served with the traditional cornichons, plus some sweet red pepper, some tiny olives and two kinds of mustard, it was an incredible plate of earthy, snacky goodness. It was lovely with the Graves Cellars ’06 Syrah that was being poured at the table.

A diner across from me had the lamb sirloin, which she very graciously shared with me. It was perfectly cooked, tender and succulent. I missed getting to taste the duck, so I’ll have to go back another time to try that one. There were quite a few of our party that had the water buffalo burger and a couple that had the tuna. Everyone was very pleased and satisfied with their meals. I didn’t hear from the burger eaters (they were on the other end of the table), but the tuna eaters said it was fabulous.

There were glasses of bubbly and red wine passed around the table, all of them very tasty. And then there were the cocktails. I got to taste the Pearsephone and the Blood Orange Martini. Both very nice drinks, though the martini was a little more grapefruity than blood orangey to me. But kudos to the establishment for the use of a local spirit, Dry Fly Gin, in the drink.

I had the Monk’s Robe, a concoction of Woodford Reserve bourbon, prosecco, Benedictine and fernet branca (an aromatic bitter liquor often served as a digestif). It was a very interesting cocktail and I would love to try it again with a clean palate so that I can try to ferret out the different flavors. I love a good bourbon, so I will definitely have that again.

And then there was dessert. Oh my. Dessert.

I had the chocolate hazelnut terrine with the cardamom crème anglaise. Oh, dear GODS, was it good! Surprisingly light and fluffy (unlike some I’ve had in the past), a phenomenal bite of chocolate with a little crunch of hazelnut, a hit of extra flavor thanks to the sprinkling of salt across the top. It was airy and rich at the same time, so amazingly flavorful (I love a little salt with my chocolate)…it just knocked my socks off. It’s a simple dish, but really phenomenal.

In and amongst all of this wonderful food was the unsurpassed company of so many friends I call family. And some new friends as well.

What could be more satisfying to both body and soul than an incredible meal with so many loved ones?

And soul is certainly abundant at Terra Plata. Chef Murphy and the whole crew are obviously laying their souls bare on plate after plate, night after night.

Really. You should go. It’s a beautiful room in which you can eat beautiful food.

Next time, a holiday recap. Until then, thanks for stopping by. Happy Holidays, everyone! Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, Blessed Yule!

Friday, November 25, 2011

Giving Thanks

This week, how could I write about anything else, really?

Yesterday was Thanksgiving, the Mother of all Food Holidays. Yes, there are other holidays with food associated with them, but few others are so focused on the Feast.

It really is my favorite holiday. I love cooking for other people. I love the turkey and stuffing and mashed potatoes and gravy (“Gravy, gravy uber alles”…everybody sing!) and sweet potatoes and green bean casserole and, yes, even the cranberry sauce.

There are other things, too, that can be part of the feast. My mom always put out a relish tray.

What, you say, is a relish tray?

At our house, it consisted of a tray (or two) of pickles (Dad’s dills, Mom’s 14-day sweets, sometimes bread and butter pickles or pickled beets or dilled green beans, all homemade, of course) and olives. As kids, we used to put the black olives on our fingers (like you didn’t…come on, admit it). I wouldn’t touch a green olive…hated them and their suspicious-looking red centers. I have since changed my tune and will eat almost anything that can be called an olive, especially when stuffed with things like pimiento or garlic.

Other families munch on things like smoked oysters and smoked clams. That’s great for them. I won’t deprive them of their joy.

And speaking of seafood, some really awesome sisters make shrimp ball, some of which is sitting in my fridge right now because I am too full to eat any. Shrimp, cream cheese, onions…oooooh…so tasty!!!

There are so many variations on the theme. Turkey wrapped in bacon. Chicken wrapped in duck wrapped in turkey. Turkey stuffed with herbs and aromatics. Turkey stuffed with stuffing (don’t listen to Alton Brown. Stuffing is not evil if you are careful. The best stuffing in the world is the stuffing that comes from the turkey.).

Then there’s the stuffing. Cornbread stuffing (my mom’s favorite), oyster stuffing, sausage stuffing, apple stuffing, plain old bread stuffing. Start with butter, onions and celery and go hog wild if you want. My favorite is plain old bread stuffing, but made with some good artisan bread, plus lots of fresh sage and extra turkey or chicken stock to get it nice and moist. I love getting Grand Central Bakery’s bags of stuffing bread. It’s their bread, already cubed and dried and ready. Oh, so good! And it supports a local business!

Some families have varieties of fermented fruit to drink with the meal (and before and after, too). One friend loves to have cranberry wine (and why not?). Some would say that one must serve white wine because it’s poultry, but a light red like a pinot noir is wonderful with turkey (as evidenced by last night’s bottle with dinner, Pinot Evil.). There are lots of fruit wines (in my basement) that would go well with Thanksgiving dinner. Or to go with dessert after dinner.

Oh, dessert. I nearly forgot.

Traditionalists would say pumpkin pie only. Truthfully, that would be enough for me. I would be very happy with a big slice of pumpkin pie with a mountain of whipped cream on top (no Cool Whip, please).

But there are other wonders of the pie form that would be equally appropriate and delicious. Apple pie, for example. Apple is a fall fruit and is wonderful in a pie, particularly the crumb-topped variety (like the one my niece made for yesterday’s dinner. The one we had to fight my brother-in-law to get a piece of. We just claimed it was for the 2 year old and got away with it.)

There are other forms of pumpkin dessert that can grace the table, too. One friend does not like piecrust, so she makes a pumpkin custard in ramekins and serves it like that. Or there is pumpkin cheesecake, like the one made by my other niece for yesterday’s dinner. With a little chocolate swirled in to make it sexy. :o) The 2-year-old like that one, too.

But for all the various forms the meal itself can take, one thing remains constant. The gathering of family, however you choose to define the word, to feast and give thanks.

It can make the absence of lost loved ones ache in your chest and your throat. But ultimately it creates joy and reminds us all what is truly important in life. Good food and the company of good friends and family to share it with.

I have said it before and will say it many, many times more. The most satisfying, humanizing, communal thing we can do is sit down and break bread with one another. It is nourishment not only for the body, but for the soul as well. And today, both body and soul are full up to here!

Happy Thanksgiving, Everyone!
Thanks for stopping by!

PS – And a Happy Birthday to my son, who is 2 years old today!

Friday, November 18, 2011

Good for what ails you

This week we decided to pull an old, cold weather staple out of the hat. Cold, rainy weather has always means soup to me. So we made garlic soup!

Mmmm…garlic soup. Let’s just enjoy that for a moment, shall we?

Even if you have never had it in your life, even if you have no idea what to expect, it sounds fabulously yummy, doesn’t it?

So what is this wonder that we call garlic soup? I’m sure you have your own version of it, but here’s mine. It comes from a cookbook my mom bought me years ago. I think it was called 365 Italian Recipes. I don’t even think I know where the cookbook is. I just know the recipe by heart. :o)

Garlic Soup (from 365 Italian Recipes)

Serves 4

2 tbsp butter

2 tbsp olive oil

12 cloves garlic, quartered

6 slices of Italian bread, cut into 1 inch cubes

6 cups chicken stock

½ cup dry red wine (and more for the chef, of course)

2 tbsp fresh Italian parsley

4 eggs

grated parmesan cheese

In a soup pot, heat the oil and butter until the butter is melted. Add the quartered garlic cloves and sauté for a minute or two. Do not brown garlic.

Add the cubed bread, tossing to coat it in the fat.

Stir in the stock, wine and parsley. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer, uncovered, for 20 minutes.

One by one, crack each egg into a small dish and slip it into the soup. When all four eggs are in, cover the pot and poach the eggs until the whites are solid and the yolks are still runny (3-5 minutes, depending on whether your eggs are room temp or refrigerated).

Serve with grated parmesan cheese.

* * * * *

It is such a simple soup to make. And the poached egg makes it so soul-satisfying. N and I always start to crave it when the weather turns chilly.

I know you’re probably wondering about all that garlic. Twelve cloves? Really?

Here’s the thing. You quarter them, not crush them, so there’s less of the oils released into the system. And the garlic kind of gets poached in the oil and then the stock, so it comes out very mellow. Not as sweet and decadent as roasted, but still nicely present but muted. It’s a great flavor. This is definitely one of those soups that is better the next day. If there’s any left, that is.

One warning – you will burn your mouth if you don’t wait for a couple of minutes after you’ve dished it up to start eating. All of that bread holds the heat, so it’s like eating napalm until it cools off a bit. So just to be safe, you might want to undercook your egg a little. Because there are few things in life more disappointing than a poached egg that doesn’t have a runny yolk. ;o)

Friday, November 11, 2011

No rats were harmed in the making of this blog

There are, in fact, no rats in ratatouille (as opposed to Ratatouille, which does contain rats…many of them).

Now I can’t speak to what the real thing is like. I don’t think I have the desire or the patience to cook each vegetable individually, cut each of them precisely the same size. It is, by all I’ve read, a very fussy dish to prepare.

There are those I know who wouldn’t even think of attempting to cook it because it has that vegetable of no nutritional value: eggplant.

That’s another reason I wouldn’t be likely to make it. I’m not a huge fan of eggplant. It has to be prepared just so for me to even be interested in trying it. And by just so, I mean with TONS of garlic.

I’m not really selling this, am I? I mean, you don’t even know why I’m writing about ratatouille this week.

We made it in the crock pot. Really. Nancy looked in Slow Cooker Revolution last weekend to find something for us to make this week. When she said, “What about ratatouille?” I took a look at the recipe and said, “Why the hell not?” We’d been wanting to eat more veg and, hell, I’ll try anything once.

It did take a lot of prep, though not as much as the classic preparation. I had to cube two eggplants and three zucchini, slice two onions, mince a few cloves of garlic, chop fresh thyme. But I had my good chef’s knife.

I also had to brown the veggies in batches, eggplant, then zucchini, then onions, garlic and herbs. But at high heat, it didn’t take long to get some brown on them and get them quickly into the crock pot.

According to the recipe, the browning is one of the big reasons it works. So how could I not, right? They haven’t steered me wrong yet.

I even remembered to turn the crock pot on the right temperature this week!

The suggested cooking time was 4-6 hours on Low. My plan was to cook it only 4 hours, but time got away from me a little bit and I ended up cooking it almost 5.

We didn’t eat it that first night…I started cooking in the late afternoon on a Sunday, so it wasn’t finished cooking until almost 9pm.

But even microwaved the next day, the vegetables, especially the zucchini, still had some crunch to them.

I topped the dish with some homemade pesto I’d taken out of the freezer.

I admit to some trepidation before I ate it the first night. I just couldn’t imagine it turning out tasty, even though it really did smell delicious. I was so afraid of slimy eggplant, I almost wasn’t able to make myself try it.

But it really was delicious. I tired of it by the third night, but it was a great way to get some tasty veg. We got a roasted chicken from the grocery store for our protein.

No rats. But now I want to watch the movie again. :o)

Happy Friday, y’all. Thanks for stopping by!

Friday, November 4, 2011

Oops, I did it again (or Always Have a Backup Plan)

So, this week, we picked another recipe from the Slow Cooker Revolution.

It’s called Bachelor Beef Stew…probably the lowest maintenance recipe in the book. Frozen peas, baby carrots, frozen potatoes. They do recommend using beef tips instead of stew meat, which means you would have to cut up the meat. But you even use frozen chopped onions, so no crying! Canned broth, tomato paste, a little soy sauce to deepen the flavors. And you thicken the gravy with a couple of tablespoons of tapioca. Brilliant!

Simple, right? No possible way to screw it up, right?

I’m sure you’re not surprised when I say “Wrong!!”

I did cut a couple of corners…I used stew meat and I didn’t microcook the onions before I put them in the crock pot. Nor did I add the fresh thyme it called for (because I forgot to get some).

But otherwise I followed the recipe pretty much to the letter.

it’s supposed to cook for 9-11 hours on LOW. So Monday morning I put everything in the pot, turned it on and went to work.

When I got home about 10 hours later, the house smelled pretty good, but it wasn’t as fragrant as I expected. I went to check the pot and the meat at the top looked oddly not brown. Usually the stuff at the top gets a bit brown, at least around the edges. And the sauce hadn’t thickened like I’d expected.

Apparently that doesn’t happen when you set the cooker to KEEP WARM!

I was in a hurry, wasn’t paying close attention, and didn’t turn the crock pot to the right temperature.

It could have been worse, for sure. I could have turned it on high and come home to an incinerated mess (or the fire department hosing down my dinner). This, at least, could be salvaged.

I turned the temp up to HIGH so it would get really hot and make sure everything was cooked through. But we sure didn’t have it for dinner that night.

Thank goodness for the rice I’d made that morning and the frozen gyoza from Costco.

And with all that, it still tasted pretty darn good. The next night I got home, put it in a soup pot and let it heat to bubbling on top of the stove. I added the frozen peas, microwaved the frozen potatoes, stirred it all together and voila!

The gravy was dark and thick, the peas were bright and green, the meat was fall-apart tender. It really was a delicious meal. And it lasted us the rest of the week.

I also made some pumpkin bread last weekend using the pumpkins I roasted a couple of weeks ago. Our friend Carolyn had given us two sets of mini loaf pans before Gideon was born with the thought that we could make some quick breads in these handy, single-serving sizes and freeze them so we would have them after her was born and we didn’t have the time or energy to cook.

They really are great. They're the perfect size! I made a double recipe of the pumpkin bread which made 12 mini loaves. We have half the dozen in the freezer and have consumed all but one of the other half dozen over the last week. G loves it, which is great, because he is being very fussy about what he eats lately.

But that’s another story that will have to wait until such time as I am not falling asleep at the keyboard. T.G.I.F!

Thanks for stopping by, y’all. Have a great weekend and cook something fabulous for yourself!

Friday, October 28, 2011

Nearly November already???

I’ve quite gotten out of the habit of reserving Friday nights for sitting and writing, so it feels good to head straight for the computer tonight.

Before I start in on the food, I want to give a shout out to my friends who are participating on NaNoWriMo, National Novel Writing Month. For those of you not familiar, the goal is to write a novel, or at least 50,000 words of one, in 30 days. That is an average of 1,667 words a day.

I have participated once, writing just under 30,000 words that year, and I will again someday. I’m shooting for next year, ladies. Just so you know. :o)

So here's to you!! Knock ‘em dead!! And have a donut for me when you go to Portland on Tuesday! :o)

And now, the food. Because that’s what I assume you are really here for!

With the advent of autumn, we have gotten back into the crock pot big time. After all, we have a whole cookbook of recipes to try out.

Yes, I am referring to what I think might be the crock pot bible, Slow Cooker Revolution from America’s Test Kitchen. We have now tried four recipes and they have all been fantastic.

Two weeks ago we made a white bean chicken chili. Hopefully since I am crediting them, I won’t get slapped for sharing the recipe here.

White Chicken Chili – from Slow Cooker Revolution by America’s Test Kitchen

3 cups low-sodium chicken broth
1 15-oz can white or yellow hominy, drained & rinsed
2 tbsp vegetable oil
2 onions, minced
4 jalapeno chiles, stemmed, seeded and minced
6 garlic cloves, minced
4 tsp ground cumin
2 tsp ground coriander
3 cans (15 oz) cannellini beans, drained & rinsed
3 lbs bone-in chicken thighs, skin removed, trimmed of fat
salt & pepper
2 tbsp minced jarred pickled jalapeno chiles
¼ c minced fresh cilantro
2 avocados, pitted and diced

Puree 2 cups broth with the hominy in a blender until smooth, about 1 minute. Transfer to slow cooker.
Heat oil in 12 inch skillet over medium high heat until shimmering. Add onions, jalapenos, garlic, cumin and coriander and cook until vegetables are softened and lightly browned, 8-10 minutes. Stir in remaining 1 cup broth, scraping up any browned bits. Transfer to slow cooker.
Stir beans into slow cooker. Season chicken with salt and pepper and nestle on top of vegetables. Cover and cook until chicken is tender, 4 to 6 hours on low.
Transfer chicken to cutting board, let cool slightly. Shred into bite sized pieces, discarding bones. Let chili set for about 5 minutes, then skim fat from the top.
Stir in shredded chicken and pickled jalapenos and let sit until heated through, about 5 minutes. Stir in cilantro, season with salt & pepper to taste, and serve with avocado.

* * *

Okay, I know what you’re thinking. FOUR jalapenos? Really?? I have to admit, I agreed. I was a wimp and decided to only include 3 because they were rather large. Turns out adding the fourth would have been fine. In the slow cooker, the chiles cook until they are very mellow. And since you don’t put in the seeds, really there’s nothing to worry about.

Where you control the heat of the dish is at the end, adding the pickled jalapenos. Those mothers still have the seeds in them. They’re very tart and hot and you can add extra to your own bowl of you want to. I was a little surprised at finding them in the recipe, but the add the acid you need to help brighten up the slow cooked stew, along with the cilantro (which, if you use it sparingly, does not taste like soap. Really.)

The addition of the avocado gave it creaminess and freshness without adding cheese. Avocados are such a luxurious food…creamy and decadent and really good for you. How can you argue with that??

If you wanted to add cheese? I’d say get some queso fresco or some cotija. Something light and white. But this really didn’t need it.

The only downside of making this is that I have been craving a margarita ever since.

Since we’re running a little long tonight, I’ll give you the quick low down on the Swiss steaks we made last week. Again from the Slow Cooker Revolution book, they were a little labor intensive, but totally worth the work.

It required a pound and a half of mushrooms until they were dry and browned…close to 15 minutes. Then cooking thinly sliced onions with thyme and paprika until the onions were very soft and starting to brown. Add a little flour and cook just long enough to get the floury taste out, then add broth and dry sherry to deglaze the pan.

I did all of that one evening after dinner. By bedtime, the house smelled glorious. But we had to wait two days before I was able to actually cook the dish.

You dump the veg into the slow cooker, add the steaks on top (6 6-8 oz blade steaks) and cook 9-11 hours on low. When they’re done, you remove the meat, skim the fat from the gravy, then stir in ¼ of heavy cream and some fresh parsley. Serve the steaks with the gravy.

I would highly recommend some mashed potatoes to go with this stuff.

Oddly, I realized as I was eating this that it was basically my old standby crock pot dish. Beef with cream of mushroom soup and onion soup mix. Sort of. It did bear a passing resemblance to that dish from cans and envelopes. But it was so much better.

Don’t get me wrong. If I am pressed for time, I will go back to the easy way. But if I have the time to invest, I will do this again. It was deep with flavor, the sherry gave it a nuttiness and the cream…well, I used sour cream because it’s what we had and man, did it make that dish.

You may be wondering, has something changed? These are not her perfect, no-fuss recipes here.

I have to say I’ve enjoyed taking the time to build these meals and cook them carefully. I get into a zone and just enjoy chopping and slicing and sautéing. I’ve even been reminded of the joys of cleaning as I go, so that when I’m done there’s no mess.

Perhaps it is the nip of Fall in the air. The cooler weather and more frequent rain always make me want to cook and bake. I even roasted pumpkins for the first time in my life. I’ll be making some pumpkin bread this weekend with the fresh pumpkin.

I guess that’s it. I just love this time of year. It’s Fall. Root vegetable season. :o)
Now if you’ll excuse me, I think I need some cocoa.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

The Magic of Chocolate

N asked tonight what I was going to write about this week. The first thing that came to mind was the cake I made this week. But then I remember, I made a kickin’ chicken chili, too.

Surely both deserve mention, but this week, it’s just going to be the cake.

There was a bake sale coming up at work. I knew I would make something…I always do. I love baking and homemade things make people happy. Normally I would consider trying something new, especially when we’re in the middle of a season of Top Chef: Just Desserts.

This time, however, I had a request to fulfill.

I’ve been making this Guinness chocolate cake for several years. It all started at my friend Sheila’s wedding. She asked me to make her cake and she told me about this cake she had at a local restaurant. So I found this recipe, and the rest, as they say, it history.

It is, hands down, the most requested cake I have ever made. I’ve made it for four weddings, several birthdays and other special occasions. The first few times I made it, I frosted it with white icing because it was for weddings.

The recipe, however, comes with it’s own icing. A chocolate ganache. And that’s what has become famous among my friends.

The cake is dense and rich and moist. And when you top it with a bittersweet ganache, it becomes mouthful after mouthful of rich, chocolately goodness. It’s not to sweet, exceedingly decadent.

The recipe makes a gigantic cake. Three deep layers of fudgy cake is a lot. So I usually serve only two layers when I take it somewhere. Especially when someone else is going to serve. It’s hard to cut and serve a cake that is probably eight or nine inches tall and three layers.

So, I did a two layer cake with the ganache on top for the bake sale at work and split the single layer (with my fantastic 14” cake splitter knife) and iced it with a simple buttercream for the birthday girl.

The birthday cake was a total hit. The Bunny loves cake and it was wonderful to be able to make her a cake for her birthday.

The bake sale cake…well, I’ve auctioned that cake off at work before, so it’s sort of legendary there. Which is why it was requested. :o) And now a whole new group of people have been introduced to it’s magic.

You may think I’m tooting my own horn quite a bit, but I’m really not. It’s such a great recipe and it’s not fussy at all. Not the cake, anyway. The only thing you really have to be careful of is making sure your cocoa, butter and beer mixture is cool enough before you add it to the eggs and sour cream. If it’s too hot, you could cook your eggs and that would be very bad.

The really nervewracking part of this cake is the ganache. Ganache is relatively simple on paper. You heat cream, pour it over chopped chocolate, stir until the chocolate melts, let it cool until it’s the consistency you need it for your recipe.

Do it right and you get a beautifully textured mixture that goes onto a cake so easily, then it solidifies to a point where you can make the corners and edges of your cake sharp as a knife’s edge.

No problem, right?


If you overheat the cream, it breaks down the fats in the chocolate and you get a lumpy, gross-looking mess that you can’t do anything with. It still tastes good, so you could eat it with a spoon. But you can’t serve it. Broken ganaches make the angels cry. Okay, maybe not the angels, but it makes me cry. It’s made me cry several times before. And say lots of bad words. Lots.

Under heat the cream and your chocolate doesn’t get melted all the way. Then you have to baby it either on the stove or in the microwave to get the chocolate just warm enough to melt without breaking. It’s very stressful.

But when everything goes right, when the cream is just hot enough to melt the chocolate, when you catch the chilling ganache at just the perfect moment when it is easy to spread and doesn’t immediately solidify on the cake, it is a wonder to behold.

You can make a pretty impressive, professional-looking cake with a minimum of fussing.

That precision fascinates me. I don’t consider myself a terribly precise person. I don’t weigh my baking ingredients. I tend to measure everything on the generous side. I don’t use cake flour even when a recipe specifically calls for it.

But riding that fine line, looking for that perfect moment when it’s time to move to the next step, watching the transformation of a liquid and a solid into this wonderous amalgam that allows you only minutes to work with it when it’s at that just right place. That is what really gets me jazzed about making this recipe.

Well, that, and the delighted faces of people eating what I’ve baked. Because ultimately it’s feeding people good food that makes me happy.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Birthday Celebrations, Part Deux

This week, we celebrated N’s birthday, which, of course, required cake.

Her favorite is yellow cake with chocolate frosting. Given our busy lives, she very kindly said, “If you want to use a mix, it’s okay with me.”

Let me give you a little background on that. I have probably used one cake mix in the last twenty years. It’s not that I think they’re bad. I grew up on cake mix cakes. My mom made wedding cakes with mixes and guests swore they were from scratch.

It’s just that I tend to not have a cake mix in the house when I want to bake a cake. But I usually have all the component ingredients. If you think about it, most people do. Flour, sugar, eggs, butter, vanilla, salt baking powder and milk.

When it came to baking night, I still had not gotten a cake mix, but I certainly had all those items in my kitchen. So scratch it was.

Since I don’t have a favorite yellow cake recipe, I went searching. I was very interested in the recipes that called for buttermilk, but I didn’t have that. Nor did I have sour cream. But I’ll be trying those cakes at a later date.

What I landed on was this.

Yes, Martha Stewart.

Say what you want…the woman knows her stuff.

The cake is simple. Butter and sugar creamed together. Eggs and vanilla beaten in. Flour, baking powder and salt added alternatively with milk. Thick batter poured into two 8” rounds and baked for 35 minutes.

So simple. So easy to screw up. :o)

I didn’t really totally screw it up. But because I’m currently in the middle of a season of Top Chef: Just Desserts, I’m a bit more critical of my baking right now.

The cake was a little bit dry. But it was totally my fault. It needed a couple of minutes less in the oven and it would have been perfect. But it did have that wonderful butter flavor, delicate and rich. I will definitely be using this one again.

Now, I do have a favorite chocolate frosting recipe. It’s in the old McCall’s cookbook that my mom had. The flavor of this chocolate frosting is really unparalled. But it is complicated. You have to melt the chocolate, let it cool, cream the butter and sugar, add the chocolate, add the egg (yes, I said egg), beat it over a bowl of ice water to get it to the right consistency. If you are in a hurry or not meticulous, you can fuck this mother up. This is not something the middle-aged mother of a toddler should attempt, especially on a school night .

So I went hunting again. And I found this from a food blog called Savory Sweet Life. You have to scroll to the bottom of the page to get to the recipe.

What intrigued me about this recipe was the salt. It’s a pretty basic chocolate frosting recipe, but then it had salt. I knew this would bring out the flavor of the cocoa, so I decided try it.

It is now my favorite chocolate frosting. It’s easy to make, it tastes wonderful. How can anyone argue with that combination?

There is an option to use either vanilla or almond extract. I used vanilla. I’m not all that fond of almond flavoring in things. It is so easy to over do. And it wasn’t the right application here. But I think I will try it at some point. This frosting was tasty enough that I think it would be fun to play around with. Some cinnamon and cayenne, maybe?

In the final analysis, however, what matters is not whether I used cake flour or all purpose, whether I used almond or vanilla extract. What matters is how it tastes.

Well, the birthday girl rated it “awesome”. And that’s what’s important to me. :o)

Friday, September 30, 2011

The Birthday Burger

I’ve often written here about food being integral to a celebration. For me and for many.

This, I believe, is most definitely true for birthdays. The celebration of another year past is always made better by a satisfying meal.

This week I celebrated a birthday. Not mine…my sister’s. She turned the big 5-0 on Wednesday. And she wanted to spend it with me, which honored me greatly.

It got me to thinking about the way we celebrated birthdays when we were kids. We got to pick our birthday dinner, which, for me, was always manicotti. It was my favorite thing.

Dad didn’t make it very often. It was a special occasion dish. So it made birthdays feel very special.

Before you ask, no, we’re not Italian. We’re mostly a mutt mixture from the British Isles. But for some reason, manicotti became soul food to me. :o)

Dad would make a filling of ricotta, spinach and ground beef, combining the two filling recipes that came on the box. Sauce was the Smith family recipe…a jar of prepared sauce, some tomato sauce, tomato paste, garlic and onion powder, dried herbs. He might or might not have started with some frozen leftovers.

When we were little he followed the instructions, boiling the noodles and filling them when they were soft. Such a pain! Then, before they started putting out the ‘ready to bake’ variety, he would stuff the shells uncooked, add water to the sauce to give the noodles something to soak up, and baked it. Easier by far!!

Of course, birthdays would not be complete without cake. That was mom’s territory. And there was always something spectacular. Winnie the Pooh, Holly Hobby, Marvin the Martian, a piano, books, 3-D dolls…you name it, my mom made it into a cake. And not only was it beautiful, it was damn tasty, too.

Well, there was no manicotti or beautiful cake this week for my sister’s birthday, but there was some really, really good food.

At my sissy’s request, we went to Red Mill Burgers on Phinney Ridge. It has always been high on my list of best burgers in Seattle. The Bleu Cheese and Bacon Burger is to die for. It’s so cool to order your burger and look over at the grill to see the wall of bacon waiting to be paired with a patty of beef.

This burger is just the right amount of juicy. It’s not too messy at first, but after three or four bites, you get past the point where the crispy edges of the toasted bun can no longer hold in the sloppy, melty blue cheese and the juice running from the perfectly meat.

They add tomato and lettuce, but don’t add mustard or ketchup. Those are on the table so you can dress your burger yourself. I appreciate that. I’m not a huge fan of ketchup. I like a little occasionally, but if I have a choice, I wouldn’t have it on my burger.

Oh…it was a heavenly lunch. My sister and I couldn’t even finish our burgers. Good thing we just shared the onion rings (which are apparently legendary…they were pretty fantastic).

We started the day with pedicures at Gene Juarez and ended our time together with coffees from Cloud City Coffee in Maple Leaf.

It was a short time, but it was great fun. We had some amazing food, had a lot of laughs, cried a little bit. And I’m sure Mom and Dad were around somewhere. They would never miss a birthday.

It was a privilege to share such a milestone day with her. And I’ve got six years to figure out what we’re going to do for my 50th!

I love you, Sissy. Happy Birthday!

Friday, September 16, 2011

The Modern Conveniences

Last time we met, I might have mentioned that our stove went out. The oven just crapped out while we were cooking a take-and-bake pizza a couple of Fridays ago.

Since we went through our home warranty service to get the repair done, it took a while for it to happen.

Finally yesterday someone came to fix our stove (Hurray!!). It was just a loose wire, thank goodness. Mr. Appliance (the real name of the repair company) was in and out in about 15 minutes and we had a working stove/oven again!!

But you know what? In this world of convenience food, it is pretty easy to live out of your microwave.

Thank goodness for Costco. They sell boxes of single-serving packets of vegetable yakisoba that are pretty darn tasty. And then there are the chicken nuggets. Which we are actually very fond of. They remind me of when Nancy was pregnant and couldn’t handle cooking smells. We ate a lot out of our microwave back then, too. :o)

Another bit of convenience we acquired because of the stove going out was an electric kettle. This is something I have always wanted, but could never quite bring myself to spend the money.

Now I don’t know how I ever lived without one. The water boils so fast and cleanup is dead easy. Bloody fantastic.

Sorry for going a bit Brit on you. Electric kettles remind me of our trip to the UK a few years ago. I’m pretty sure we had a kettle in every B&B we stayed.

Of course, being without certainly makes one appreciate things. I’m looking forward to making egg sandwiches for breakfast tomorrow. I might need to go get some bacon. Mmm…bacon.

But while we’re on the subject of easy meals, I have to mention what I ate while I was in Virginia on business.

I was lucky enough to visit friends in Richmond while I was there. They had me over to their house and we noshed on hot dips and chips for dinner.

I love hot dips. I used to make a parmesan artichoke dip for parties all the time. I have a hard time making it very often any more because it’s mostly mayonnaise. I can eat an whole recipe of it on my own and I really have a hard time justifying eating an entire cup of mayo at a sitting.

At our friends’ house, there was a very tasty spinach-artichoke dip and pita chips. This version had significantly less mayo and thus was (thankfully) not guilt-inducing. I got a lot of veggies that way!

And then there was my favorite…a simple layered dip of cream cheese, refried beans and shredded cheese.

I couldn’t stop eating it. It was so good. The beans were really well flavored (I think they were the Whole Foods store brand). And the best part? All you have to do is open packages, spread out the layers, and bake until bubbly. Now if that isn’t a great emergency party dish, I don’t know what is! Serve it with the scoop Fritos and you will not be able to pry people away from the dish until it is empty. I hurt myself on that stuff.

Alternately, you could use a can of chili instead of the refrieds. An old friend of mine used to do a quick dip that was cream cheese and chili. Put it in a bowl, get it hot in the microwave and you’re done.

Which brings us full circle, doesn’t it? We’re back at the microwave.

I wouldn’t want to use it as my main cooking appliance all the time. But it sure does come in handy sometimes.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Necessity: The Mother of the Crock Pot (or Thank God for Easy Mac)

This week we brought out the crock pot out of sheer desperation. You see, our stove decided to start crackling at us while we were baking a pizza last weekend, so we had to plan to do without it for a while.

Yes, we’ve called for repair, but the warranty company we have a policy through has turned out to be less than responsive. Combine that with a very hectic week at work, and suffice it to say I’m glad we have a crock pot and a microwave.

So we broke out the America’s Test Kitchen book again, this time to make some shredded beef filling for tacos or burritos.

Three pounds of chuck roast, some chili powder, a couple of onions and 9-11 hours yielded us some mighty tasty filling.

One interesting thing about this recipe is that it had me sweat the onions and garlic (along with the chili powder, cumin and coriander and a little vegetable oil) in the microwave for 5 minutes.

What did this do for the recipe? Well, it gave the flavor development a bit of a head start. It also created a little bit of liquid so that the meat ended up covered in this paste of aromatics and spice. It made the house smell wonderful!!

It definitely needed some salt and pepper. I didn’t season the meat very well. I was in a hurry and didn’t want to deal with proper sanitation, so I skipped the salt and pepper on the meat. I won’t make that mistake again.

So this is winner number two from Slow Cooker Revolution.

Once I added a little salt, the meat had great flavor. The chili powder I used was nice and smoky and the cumin added some smoke and zing as well. The finish of a squeeze of lime gave it the bright balance it needed.

We ate it in bowls with tortilla chips, some black bean and corn salsa, shredded cheese and some sour cream.

I think this would make a killer Mexican lasagna filling. Layers of the meat, lots of melty cheese and some good fresh tortillas. Oh yeah, baby. All I’d need is a shot of tequila and a wedge of lime to top it off.

To keep things lively, we also used our microwave a lot. Like I said in the title, thank god for Easy Mac. Little cups of mac and cheese that you cook in the microwave. G really likes them and it makes for easy cleanup as well. And hot dogs cook really well in the microwave, too. Round it out with some frozen veg and G was a happy camper for the whole week.

If I really think about it, we don’t really use our stove much during the week even when it’s working. Between the crock pot and the microwave, we don’t really have to.

Thanks for stopping by! Next week I’ll be traveling for business and will be dining with friends, so that installment will probably make its appearance on Saturday.

Have a great week and a fun Labor Day Weekend!

Friday, August 26, 2011

Summers Bounty, continued....

We love going to open air markets in the summer and have done so much more this year than any other.

G likes to look at all the people and listen to the buskers. We love looking at all the fresh flowers and fruits and vegetables. And eating crepes and cupcakes and other yummies.

What always surprises me (though I don’t really know why I find it surprising) are the other food vendors, particularly the folks selling eggs and meat.

At the Edmonds Market we have seen people selling pork, beef and lamb, chicken eggs, duck eggs, butter and cheese. While we have yet to be brave enough to buy meat from one of them, we have gotten eggs before. Nothing tastes quite like fresh eggs. I never thought there was a difference until I had one. It just tasted more ‘eggy’. More flavorful.

And then there’s the butter. A local dairy called Golden Glen Creamery makes delicious butter. We had discovered their plain salted butter a couple of years ago. There is another product where you can really taste the freshness. I could have eaten the butter straight out of the tub.

Then they came out with flavored butters. I’d seen them at Metropolitan Market, but had never tried them. And the last time we went to the Edmonds Market, they were there with their cheeses and their butters. Garlic and sea salt butter, Cinnamon Spice butter, dill butter…I think they even have a butter that has orange and chocolate in it. That, my friends, is true decadence.

Speaking of decadence, we recently picked up some product from Pasteria Lucchese. They sell fresh pastas and sauces as well as some desserts, all of which are made the day before market. They get up early in the morning and work until late at night making their delightful wares.

We couldn’t resist the Wild Boar Plin, a kind of ravioli-like pasta filled with a mixture of meat, tomato herbs and spices. We also couldn’t resist a sauce they make…I think it’s called norcina. It’s a cream sauce whose major flavor components are pork sausage, mushrooms and black truffle salt.

I took a whiff of that sauce and my eyes rolled back into my head. It smelled so GOOD. It was the earthy scent of truffle that won me over. I had to have it. Along with some spinach tagliatelle to eat it on.

That sauce still makes me a little teary thinking about it. The freshness of the cream, the delicate seasoning in the pork, the amazing dark richness of the mushroom and truffle.

The real beauty of it all was that from freezer to plate it took only about 8 minutes. Three minutes to boil the pasta and the other five to toss it in the warm sauce, plate it and pour the wine.

So, Seattle area foodies, if you go to Edmonds or Ballard Farmers’ Market, look for Pasteria Lucchese. Heck, look for them at other markets, too. Those are the two I know for sure where they sell.

Too bad the outdoor markets are only in the summer, huh?

Friday, August 19, 2011

The Bounty of Summer - The Elusive Apricot

Today was a beautiful summer day. The chilly marine layer of the morning burned off and revealed a hot, sunny afternoon. I passed a thermometer on the way home that said it was 82 degrees. In a car with no air conditioning, that’s hot. :o)

I had a little time, so I stopped at the Juanita Friday Market, one of the many outdoor farmers’ markets in the area. It’s small compared to the Edmonds Market or even the Lake Forest Park Market, but, thankfully, I was still able to find what I was looking for. Something I had been chasing for weeks.

Summer has always been and will always be synonymous with jam in my world. Summers growing up were filled with steaming jars, soup pots full of bubbling fruit and sugar and pectin, the distinctive POP of the tops sealing over the jewel-toned containers of jelly and jam.

A couple of years ago when I first attempted making jam myself, I made strawberry, apricot and raspberry. I decided at the time not to do blackberry because I was to lazy to deal with the seeds and most people get annoyed with jam that is full of seeds.

That year, my favorite was the apricot. It had turned out so good. Perfect balance of tart and sweet. Just delicious. It was, of course, the first thing we ran out of. Besides, it was my mother-in-law’s favorite. So I wanted to make sure I made some again this year.

But I seemed to be just missing the apricots. The first week we went to the Edmonds market, there were some there, but I knew I only had time for one fruit that weekend and it was the end of strawberry season.

The last time we went, there were no apricots. There were plenty of peaches which were not quite ready for jam making. But I thought maybe I was make peach instead of apricot. I’d go back in two weeks, when the vendor said the peaches would be right for jam.

I thought I had somehow missed the apricots this year. The growing seasons are so screwy because of our very cool spring and our lagging summer. So I resigned myself to go without apricot jam.

Then I went to the Kirkland Market this past Wednesday and saw them. Only one of the vendors had apricots, but she had them. With my dumb luck, however, I couldn’t actually buy them because they weren’t scheduled to open for another 45 minutes and I had to get back to work!

At that point I was determined. There were still apricots to be had and I was going to get them.

On the way to pick up G-man from daycare in the evenings, I would pass Juanita Beach Park. On Friday nights I would see the tents of the Juanita Friday Market. So today I decided to make a quick stop in to see if anyone happened to have apricots.

Lo and behold! One fruit vendor had apricots!!! And because it’s the end of the season, he was pretty desperate to get rid of them. After just missing the yummy little darlings for weeks, now I could get them for a dollar a pound if I wanted to buy a 22 pound box!

Let me tell you, it was tempting. But that’s like 9 or 10 batches of jam. There’s no way I have the time or the energy to make all that jam. So I settled for what was still a pretty good deal on six pounds and left it at that.

They tried to elude me, but I was triumphant!!

So I have enough ‘cots to make a couple of batches of jam and I got a flat of blackberries to boot! So it’s more jam making for me this weekend!

I can’t wait!!!

Friday, August 12, 2011

Summer, I love summer, give me that summertime!

I can’t believe it’s been three weeks since I posted last. In that time, I must have cooked a ton, right?

Well, no. Schedules have been incredibly weird and there have been lots of out-of-town visitors, so it’s been hard to get some quality keyboard time.

That’s not to say we didn’t get some good cooking done. Just not the regular stuff.

We did have a crock pot adventure last week. Pulled pork. Which is really not new. We’d tried a pulled pork recipe a while back that was really pretty underwhelming. But we recently purchased Slow Cooker Revolution by America’s Test Kitchen, the folks who bring you Cook’s Illustrated magazine.

I have really enjoyed reading this cookbook, mostly because at the beginning of every recipe is a paragraph called “Why this recipe works.”

The folks at the test kitchen did a major electrical overhaul so they could have racks upon racks of slow cookers so they could test and perfect meals for that appliance that is the savior of most suburban families. Bottom line: I trust them. And I also find them entertaining.

I won’t print the recipe here because it’s a new book and I don’t want to wake up and find a cease and desist in my inbox. But I will share some of their pointers.

First: you need a dry rub so you can start your flavor layering. Before you rub your pork shoulder, cut the roast into four sections and then put the dry rub on all sides of all four pieces, letting them sit a minimum of 8 but up to 24 hours.

Then all you have to do is put it in your slow cooker with a cup of your favorite barbecue sauce and cook it for 9-11 hours on low.

When the time is up, shred the pork, skim the fat off the sauce, combine the shredded meat with the pot sauce, adjust for seasonings (salt, pepper, vinegar and sugar). If I ever do this for a party, I'm making it a day or two ahead of time so I can put the sauce in the fridge and let the fat solidify on top. I hate skimming. I get impatient.

Et voila! Some pretty kick-ass pulled pork.

The dry rub is in the recipe. We used a rub that was made by our local market to make it easy. I discovered that I like my bbq on the tart side, adding more apple cider vinegar than I thought I would.

That’s what I loved most about this recipe. Once their part of it was done, they instructed the cook to adjust the flavors to their own preference.

Barbecue is a very personal, very regional thing. Some like it with more vinegar, some with more sugar, some with tomato, some with smoke. They didn’t mention liquid smoke, but if you like your barbecue smoky, you could certainly use a hickory or mesquite sauce or just put a drop or two of liquid smoke in there.

I love that they had the respect and knowledge to understand the personal nature of barbecue and put the reins in the hands of the cooks to finish the dish as they wished.

In other news, we’ve visited the Edmonds Farmer’s Market a couple of times in the last few weeks. One week we met friends and we bought a half flat of strawberries, which I promptly turned in to freezer jam, 16 half-pints worth.

Last weekend, we went again and spent a little more time just poking around and shopping. We got two bunches of gorgeous basil, which I turned into pesto. That also went into the freezer, 4 half-cup containers. Then we ate two this week. Half our efforts gone in the blink of an eye.

If we want pesto this winter, I think we’re going to have to get more basil. And I think we’re going to have to put it in the deep freeze in the basement so it’s not so easy to get to. Right now, it’s just too tempting.

We’re also thinking about going back to veggie bin delivery. G is getting more interested in veggies. And, frankly, we would eat more of them if they were delivered to us. So there may be a host of chard and kale recipes in our future, dear readers.

Thanks for stopping by. And thanks to everyone who's let me know they're reading. It's great to know you're there! Extra points for anyone who can identify the source of this week's title. (Hint: they're song lyrics)

Have a great weekend and I’ll see you next Friday!

Friday, July 22, 2011

Tales from a Saucy Wench

This week was a little challenging, food-wise. Last weekend, N and I both got sick. Thankfully, I didn’t get as sick as she did, so I didn’t have as far to recover.

Since her tummy was touchy and her appetite sparse, we were kind of limited to what sounded good to her. So we had grocery store fried chicken and boxed mac and cheese a couple of nights. G loved it. :o) And guiltily, so did I.

But finally, mid-week, she decided that spaghetti sounded good. So I decided to break out the family red sauce recipe, but make it in the crock put instead.

Now, before you get too excited, my family is not Italian. This is not a from scratch kind of recipe. This is a middle-American, doctored up kind of recipe. Which makes it great for the crock pot!

The Family Sauce Recipe
(or at least one version of it)

1 jar spaghetti sauce (Dad always used Ragu. This time I used Barilla Tomato & Basil)
1 14-oz can tomato sauce
a few dashes garlic powder
a few dashes onion powder
a small palm-ful of Italian seasoning (about ½ - 1 tsp)
1 lb ground beef, browned and drained of fat

Put all that in a crock pot; set it on low and let it cook till you come home. Boil one pound of spaghetti according to the package directions. Serve with grated parmesan cheese (lots! And from a can, of course).

Okay, so the ‘original recipe’ just gets simmered for an hour or two on the stove. But that was in the days when I started the sauce when I got home from school at 2 in the afternoon and dinner wasn’t until 5 or 6pm.

Other versions used a couple of small cans of tomato sauce plus a can of tomato paste. Usually there was a pint or so of ‘starter’ in the freezer (leftovers from the last time we had spaghetti) which, once thawed, dictated what we would add to the mix. There were also occasions where the protein addition was bulk pork sausage.

This time, since I’d seen several recipes for spaghetti sauce in my crock pot cookbooks, I decided, why not give this a shot?

And you know what? It turned out pretty good. I also added a package of Lawry’s spaghetti sauce seasoning mix, which I won’t do next time. The sauce was a little too salty for my taste and I think the packet was to blame.

But otherwise the sauce was rich, dark and flavorful.

And it was gone in two nights. We both have our appetites back now! :o)

Next time I want to add some red, orange, and/or yellow bell peppers and a good splash or three of red wine. And maybe some of my rosemary olive oil.

There was only one thing missing from dinner to make it perfect. Okay, really two things. A glass of red wine (all we have in the house is Pinot Grigio. It’s tasty, but not that exciting with a red sauce) and a big hunk of garlic bread to sop up the sauce.


Friday, July 15, 2011

Summer Vacation eating at home

The inception of this blog was prompted by a vacation to Las Vegas and the amazing food we had there.

Now, while we didn’t travel anywhere for our week of vacation this summer, that doesn’t mean we couldn’t or didn’t find a way to have some great culinary adventures in our own home town.

We started planning weeks ago to have lunch in places we couldn’t conveniently go with the Sprout in tow. We looked at food trucks, restaurants, sandwich places, anywhere we’d heard about but never been.

So in between working on shelving for our basement, we went out for lunch and had some great food.

The week began with lunch on Capital Hill in Seattle at Skillet Diner, the stationary location spawned by Skillet Street Food’s food truck. We’d had their food a few years ago at a Rat City Roller Girls bout at Magnuson Park. We’d seen them recently on a show called Eat Street, a show in the Cooking Channel devoted to food trucks all over the US. That’s where we learned about the Bacon Jam.

Bacon jam? Why, yes. Bacon jam.

Technically the jar says Bacon Spread. But they call it Bacon Jam. And we have a jar in our fridge waiting to be unleashed.

It was on the burger that day. Fresh, local beef, fresh baked roll from Macrina Bakery, gorgonzola, Bacon Jam and arugula. For an extra few bucks, you can upgrade your fries to poutine (fries with gravy and cheese).

This was the place that had been hyped the most, so I suppose it stands to reason it would fall the farthest in our estimation.

It wasn’t bad. The food was good. We could taste that the beef was fresh in our burger, but we didn’t expect the burger to be dry, which it was. The arugula was wonderfully peppery, which means it probably came from a small, organic farm. Most of the time if I have arugula at a restaurant, it doesn’t have the flavor I’m expecting. This bunch of greens did. The gorgonzola was tangy, the Bacon Jam smoky and sweet, the roll light and chewy.

It was a good burger. It wasn’t a great burger. And we were expecting a great burger.

The poutine was also very tasty. I wish I had been hungrier, because I thought it was delicious. I would have liked a little more gravy because I like my poutine a little wetter, but it was very good. For those Canadians reading, the cheese was cheddar and the brown gravy brightened with herbs. Not quite traditional, but a nice homage to the original.

My favorite part of the lunch ended up being my milkshake. I had a chocolate peanut butter, N had a chocolate malt. Both were generously endowed with the additional flavor. Since the shakes came well before our food, it was difficult not to down the whole drink before we even saw our burgers and fries. Maybe that’s why I didn’t have enough room for burger and poutine. :o)

All in all, it wasn’t a bad experience, but the food sat in our stomachs like rocks the rest of the afternoon and we had a hard time getting past the fact that our burgers were dry. For a patty that was supposed to be medium-rare, it was surprisingly devoid of juiciness and was barely pink.

Leaving Skillet hanging on the wall, the next day we went to another place we’d been anxious to try. This place had been recommended by a friend who’d recently dined there while in town from Utah (Hi, Jen!).

Tuesday, we went to Boom Noodle for lunch. After the heaviness of burgers and fries, we were craving some ramen. And we were not disappointed!

N had their miso ramen. I had their tonkotsu ramen (a slight misnomer because there wasn’t an actual fried pork cutlet involved). The miso ramen pleased the expert (N puts it on her list of comfort foods…if she liked it, it must be good). She would have liked the broth to be a little stronger, but that’s her personal preference. She said it was a lovely bowl of soup (to which she added a soft boiled egg, another level of comfort food).

The tonkatsu ramen was flat out the best bowl of soup I have ever had in my life. The broth defies description, but I’ll try anyway.

It’s a pork broth, simmered for 24 hours, bones and all. It’s rich and creamy (and by creamy, I mean it looks like it has cream in it, but it doesn’t), full of pork flavor. You could tell they used marrow bones, because the broth had that distinct, marrow-y flavor.

In the soup were some wonderful bits of roast pork, perfectly cooked noodles, soft boiled egg, green onion and pickled ginger. The pork had crispy bits on the edges and was delightfully tender inside. There were a couple of fatty pieces that I had to pick apart just because I have a weird issue with fresh pork fat (I have since I was a kid…I don’t get it…it makes me nauseous…maybe it’s a texture thing), but like N’s thing with the miso broth, it is a personal thing. It’s not anything to do with the quality of the food.

This soup was, in a word, heavenly. I felt transported by this dish. Like I told N, you can’t fake time. Not when it comes to broth like that.

We both had their yuzu lemonade to drink, which had a refreshing tartness to it thanks to some umeboshi plum. And we had a side of their kim chi, which was a little heavy on the sesame, but was delicious nonetheless.

Wednesday we ended up eating in because we had a sick little boy on our hands. Leftovers were our friend that day. But Thursday G went back to daycare, so we went to a local taqueria we’d been wanting to try for a long time.

It had been recommended by a friend at work whose brother used to go there all the time when he was working in the area. It also had location on its side. We felt like we were on borrowed time because we weren’t 100% sure our little boy was all better and we really wanted to get work in our basement finished. At least the work that required both of us that couldn’t really be done while he was at home napping.

Taqueria El Sabor is in Shoreline, just about 20 blocks from where we live. It is the real thing, authentic Mexican food. Their painted windows advertise current specials, including menudo (tripe soup) and pozole (pork and hominy stew).

We weren’t adventurous enough to try the soup, but N had the enchiladas mexicanas with chicken and I had the chile verde.

It was refreshing to get Mexican food that didn’t have a thick layer of melted cheddar cheese covering it. My food had no cheese at all, N’s had some cotija sprinkled over the enchiladas, which were only lightly sauced, not drowning.

We didn’t talk much, we just tucked into our lunches. My chile verde featured bits of pork shoulder braised in the sauce, which was to be eaten with their fresh, handmade corn tortillas.

It was delicious, homey food, not fussy. And not too much food like at most Americanized Mexican chain restaurants.

We will definitely be eating there again. I want to try their tacos! Not sure if I’m brave enough to try tacos de lengua (tongue). But I will be all over the carnitas!

Today, we were planning to go for either another burger experience or to get Cuban sandwiches, but since our boy was home sick again today, we had to change those plans a bit.

However, since his schedule was out of whack from sleeping until 8:30 (when his usual wakeup time is around 6:30), we decided to take in the first day of the Bite of Seattle, visiting The Alley (formerly Hinterberger’s Alley), where you get bites from seven restaurants for $10. It’s now being hosted by local restauranteur Tom Douglas, who features one of his restaurants each day of the Bite.

Today, the menu was:
Seatown – grilled flatiron steak with a blueberry corn relish (sliced and served by Tom Douglas himself. Delicious, and the chef looked like he was having a great time)
Seattle’s Little Italy – grilled Italian sausage with onions and peppers (yummy, moist homemade sausage, really nice people)
Gordon’s on Blueberry Hill – Watermelon salad with feta cheese, seared tiger prawn and a rhubarb lavender vinaigrette. (phenomenal. Loved drinking the vinaigrette after I ate the salad. I got a really great hit of lavender that made all the other flavors bloom in my mouth.)
Andaluca – Spicy calamari on bruschetta (very yummy, and that’s saying a lot because I don’t really care for squid. The calamari was tender, not overcooked and chewy. And their Chef Wayne Johnson is going to be on Iron Chef America on July 31st!)
Purple Café - Shaved beef sliders with caramelized onions and horseradish mustard on a pretzel bun (not terribly innovative, but well executed and mouth-watering. The food was not overly seasoned, so the salt on the bun didn’t make the dish too salty.)
Din Tai Fung – Vietnamese steamed pork dumplings filled with soup (yes, a soup filled dumpling. Popped in the mouth, the savoriness explodes. Delightful!)
PinkaBella Cupcakes – Triple Chocolate Cupcake (a lovely little morsel of chocolate, the cake was a little dry, but saved by the chocolate chips inside, the ganache on top was gooey and wonderful)

This has always been my favorite way to experience The Bite of Seattle. It has become an increasingly good deal. The price was $10 when I went the last time, which was probably 15 years ago and it’s still $10 today. And now, if you want, you can go sit in the wine tasting section, pay an additional $15 and get wines that were picked to go with the food on your plate. We didn’t do that this time, but we might next year.

N and I talked about making this an annual thing…taking the Friday of The Bite off work so we can go and do The Alley and not have to deal with the weekend crowds. She’d never gone to The Alley and really enjoyed it. I love it because you get a lot of tastes for your money, the money goes to a local charity (Food Lifeline) and it’s a lot mellower than the rest of the event.

It was also a lot of fun today because we shared a table with a couple from Arizona who visit Seattle frequently and claim to eat their way through town every time they come. The first time they ever went to the Bite, it was still at Greenlake. And there was a single woman at the table who has been to the Bite every year since it started. She said it was still fun, even after all those years.

So, our vacation is at an end. We have the weekend and then we’re back at work. But the fun isn’t over quite yet. We’re planning to get milkshakes from Molly Moon’s tomorrow. I’m going for the salted caramel, because the first sip always sets my eyes rolling back deliriously at the sweet, salty, fresh cream taste of it.

Who needs to leave town to have a great summer vacation?