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 CafĂ© - 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?

Friday, July 8, 2011

Slow Cooking: Moroccan Style

Just so you know, I have the theme from Love: American Style going through my head right now. I thought I should share, if for no other reason than to see who actually remembers that show. Besides my sister, that is. ;o)

But on to the food!

This week we tried a Moroccan chicken stew. It started out in the recipe book as Moroccan Beef Stew, but after the summer fruit attack from the previous week, I wasn’t sure I was ready for beef quite yet.

The recipe is from a Prevention Guide cookbook we got at the grocery store. The same book that gave us the beef carnitas we love so much.

Moroccan Chicken Stew
Adapted from the Prevention Guide Cookbook

6 boneless, skinless chicken thighs
4 parsnips, diced
4 carrots, diced
2 small onions, diced
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 tbsp cumin seed
2 tsp coriander seed
1 cinnamon stick
½ tsp cracked peppercorns
1 can diced tomatoes, 28 oz.
1 tbsp tomato paste
1 cup beef broth
½ cup dry red wine
2 tbsp flour
1 tbsp lemon juice
½ tsp ground red pepper (cayenne)

In a large, dry non-stick skillet, toast the cumin and coriander seeds until fragrant. Grind the toasted spices and put into crock pot.
Spray the skillet with cooking spray, then brown the chicken thighs on all sides. Add to crock pot.
Spray the skillet again with cooking spray, then sauté the vegetables until slightly soft. Add the tomatoes, broth, wine, tomato paste and flour. Bring to a boil and let thicken slightly. Add to crock pot. Stir to combine. Tuck the cinnamon stick in the crock.
Cook in crock pot on Low for 8 hours.
Turn heat to Warm, then add lemon juice and cayenne. Serve within 4 hours. Serves 6.

Done reading the recipe? Good. Think I did all of that? HAHAHA!!! NO! Of course not! It’s me we’re talking, remember? :o)

You know me; my ‘method’ was to toss it all in the crock pot, set it to Low and let it cook while I was at work. Turn it down to Keep Warm when I get home, add the lemon and cayenne (only ¼ tsp for me. ½ tsp just seemed like too much). Much easier and way less time consuming!

So how did it turn out? It was pretty darn delicious, actually. Even without the beef broth (I used water instead). It was the only thing I’d forgotten about. I’d purchased all the ingredients two weeks before, but then couldn’t face spicy food that week, so the chicken went in the freezer and the veg stayed in the crisper drawer until I thought I could handle it. Thankfully everything held up well in the fridge.

The only thing I was really skeptical about what whether the flour would actually thicken the sauce at all. It wasn’t going to ever truly boil, so I didn’t think it would make a difference.

I was wrong.

It gave the sauce enough body to make it really feel like a stew rather than a hearty soup.

Do you have to toast the spices, brown the meat and simmer the sauce? No. Would it taste better if you did? Most assuredly. I would love to try this again sometime when I have the time and energy to follow the instructions as well as the ingredients.

It was very tasty using my slap-dash method. It would be that much more yummy if I took the time to build and layer the flavors. Browned and toasty bits are my favorite part of just about anything. I love eating the cracklings from the fry pan after I fry bacon. Mmmm…bacon.

By the way, this stuff was just crying out for a loaf of crusty bread to go with it. We ate it with a nice spelt bread, which was surprisingly good. The bread was a little sweet and had a thin spread of butter on top. And of course everything is better with butter.

Oh, and this? Is only 4 PointsPlus on the Weight Watchers program. Which is great because I had a horrible case of the munchies all week. :o)

Not sure what’s in store for us this week. We’re on vacation, so we would probably have more time to cook, but we’re cleaning the basement, so we probably won’t have the energy. Maybe something new!

Thanks for dropping by, y’all! Have a great week and I’ll see you next Friday!

Saturday, July 2, 2011

The Great Cherry Debacle

This week there will be no new crock pot recipe, nor will there be a fabulously quick and easy soup or skillet recipe.

You might ask, “Why?”

And, of course, that is the subject of this week’s entry.

Nothing is more hedonistic in the summer than diving into the bounty of local summer fruits. We have, in Washington State, on both sides of the mountains, orchards and fields full of gorgeous examples of glorious summer eating.

In the Puyallup Valley there are berry fields and cherry orchards (not to be confused with The Cherry Orchard, which is a play). I remember as a kid going to the u-pick farms in the valley to pick strawberries and to the Duris Farm to pick cherries.

Back then, we would, every once in a while, sneak a snack straight from the berry bushes. Not so much the cherry trees, because we were mostly picking sour pie cherries. I love tart, but that’s a bit much for me.

I remember taking a berry from the stem, wiping the dirt off with my hand and popping the sweet treasure in my mouth, the berry still warm from the sun. That’s a moment that, even as a kid, makes you close your eyes because you know it’s something divine and transcendent.

Did I ever get sick from doing that? Not once.

This week, however, I’ve been nursing my cranky tummy back to health after a big mistake the prior week. I ate bing cherries I got from the grocery store without rinsing them off first. (I know…I can hear you all now…I have learned my lesson…trust me.)

I really wasn’t sure what was causing my gastric distress. A virus maybe? Or a food allergy? I had been consuming more dairy and wheat on a regular basis. I’d had some high fat content ice cream recently…could be gallbladder. Or IBS. I’d eaten some raw scallion with the carnitas and hadn’t had raw onion in a long time.

The internet was no help in diagnosing my problem, but it did give me a lot to ponder while I burped and farted.

I spent about 5 or 6 days with the worst gas cramps imaginable. I was certain there was something seriously wrong. But I had a doctor’s visit scheduled for this past Wednesday, and I seemed to be gradually improving every day. So I decided to stick it out.

When I described my symptoms to my doctor, she looked at me and said, “Food poisoning, probably from unwashed fruit.” As I thought back to the previous week, I remembered having just a few of those cherries before I washed them.

I shook my head. What an idiot. I never do that! I always wash stuff I get from the grocery store before I eat it. What was I thinking??

Well, I was thinking about the summers when I was a kid getting berries from the small local farms where I picked the fruit myself. I wanted to be a kid again and live a little dangerously. But my over 40-year-old stomach wasn’t having any of that adventure.

So, the moral of the story? Wash your fruit. And you can’t go home again.

Look! Two morals for the price of one. :o)

At least it’s finally summer fruit season around here. The local strawberries are in. Which means I need to hit a farmers’ market and then make some jam!!

Next week, I’m hoping to make some Moroccan crock pot chicken. I think my tummy is up for the spices now.

Happy Independence Day to all! Enjoy your summer favorites this weekend. And remember, we continue to fight so that everyone in the US has the same freedoms!