Friday, July 29, 2011

Green Papaya Salad (Som Tam) and Pop

Seven years ago our family had the pleasure of hosting our first exchange student from Thailand (we have since hosted students from Norway, Germany and Saudi Arabia). Her name is Pop and she was a junior in high school at the time. In addition to being a sweet, lovely girl, she is an outstanding cook. Her parents own a restaurant in Bangkok and she truly spoiled us with all she had learned from them.

Prior to Pop living with us, we enjoyed what we thought was spicy food ... that changed after we marveled at Pop’s spice level! Sam and Isaac fondly recall watching in amazement as Pop would cover her pizza slice with a solid layer of crushed red chili peppers. We all increased our love for hot chili peppers, but none of us could ever match Pop!

These days, it's rather hard for us to eat out in Thai restaurants due to the memory of Pop's incredible home cooking. She was a patient, gracious teacher and shared an amazing array of recipes with me. We are fortunate to have some terrific Asian grocery stores in Seattle, and shopping with Pop was quite a fun adventure. And what better way to learn Thai cooking than to watch firsthand in your own kitchen!

My favorite Thai salad that Pop prepared for us is Green Papaya Salad (Som Tam). It is bright, refreshing, spicy and perfect for a warm summer day. If green papaya is unavailable (do not use the yellow/orange sweet fruit papaya), shredded carrots can be substituted. Feel free to increase or decrease the amount of Thai chili peppers to your taste.

Green Papaya Salad (Som Tam)
Adapted from Pop’s notes
Serves 6-8

1 medium sized green papaya (roughly 2 pounds), peeled, seeded and shredded
1 medium carrot, shredded
10 cloves garlic
10 small, Thai chili peppers
1/2 cup fresh lime juice
3 tablespoons fish sauce
1 tablespoon palm or brown sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 pound fresh green beans, ends snipped off and cut in 1 inch lengths
2 medium tomatoes, cut into wedges
1 cup unsalted peanuts, roughly chopped
1 lime, cut into wedges

Combine shredded green papaya and carrot in a medium sized mixing bowl (you can shred with a hand grater or with a food processor).

With a mortar and pestle, pound the chilis and garlic together until soft. Scrape into a small bowl and stir in the lime juice, fish sauce, sugar and salt until well mixed. If desired, you can process in a food processor until smooth. Pour into the green papaya and carrot mix and toss well.

With the mortar and pestle, gently pound the green beans until they are bruised and slightly smushed. Add to the papaya mixture. Sprinkle in about 3/4 cup of the peanuts and toss.

Mound the salad on a serving platter and surround with the tomato and lime wedges to serve. Scatter reserved peanuts on top. Enjoy with a chilled glass of Singha.

Monday, July 25, 2011

The Arrowleaf Bistro (an Escape to the Methow Valley)

Summer getaways are so much fun! Bob and I are sans children for a week (Sam and Isaac are being spoiled by their grandparents in Boston) so we took a few days and slipped out of town to explore the Methow Valley. Our destination was the picturesque town of Winthrop, a four hour drive from Seattle on the eastern side of the beautiful Cascade Mountains. A close friend of ours has a house in Winthrop, so the plan was to meet up and spend some time together.

I was instantly smitten by Winthrop’s wooden sidewalks and old Western-style facades on the storefronts. The town is nestled at the base of snow-capped mountains along a river and offers stunning views in every direction you turn. After checking into the Sun Mountain Lodge (a lovely oasis!), we met our friends at the Arrowleaf Bistro for dinner. A charming wood frame house is the setting for this delightful restaurant sitting on the river’s edge. Arrowleaf Bistro is known for its creative, seasonally inspired cuisine and Chef Jon did not disappoint. Such a joy to discover a talented young chef putting his heart into this small community by serving quality, locally grown food! It’s no surprise that the Arrowleaf Bistro is popular with tourists and town residents alike.

We began our meal with hand cut fries and roasted garlic aioli plus a plate of local cheeses served with Fallot Dijon mustard (must locate some of this!) and homemade fruit preserves. Bob and I savored a wild mushroom and bleu cheese strudel drizzled with a balsamic honey glaze and a roasted beet salad with feta and fresh local greens. I’d like to recreate this strudel at home and will let you know if I succeed. The quinoa linguine we ordered was tossed with broccoli raab, crisp snap peas, toasted pecans, sundried tomatoes, chilies and house made pesto. The combination was unique and full of flavor. Exceptionally delicious food and big sighs of happiness from me! The meal paired quite well with a white wine from the Saint Laurent Winery in the nearby Wenatchee Valley. As always, it is special to share a meal with people you enjoy. What a pleasure!

Our time in Winthrop was filled with relaxing breakfasts at the Sun Mountain Lodge, gazing at the majestic mountains, exploring the town’s cute shops (bookstore, bakery, ice cream and fudge, pottery, glass blowing), walking in the gorgeous hills and sitting outside under millions of stars around an open fire. We also rafted down the Methow River towards the next town of Twisp (isn’t that a marvelous name?). For three hours we floated around the river bends, past mellow folks fly fishing, curious deer and camping families. Bob and I marveled at the abundance of wildlife (including marmots which are new to me), and the air was filled with the songs of a variety of birds. I felt so connected to the land and nature.

I look forward to returning to the Methow Valley and soaking up more of its magical beauty. (Lest I forget, it warmed my heart to see all the chickens, cows and horses, too. Again, my fantasy of a small farm emerged. Perhaps someday ... who knows what excitement the future holds?). In any case, I'm sure it holds another visit to the Arrowleaf Bistro!

Friday, July 22, 2011

Mushroom Ragout with Poached Eggs and a New Love In My Kitchen

I am in love... with a cookbook. Have you ever had that feeling? Discovering a new cookbook is always such a thrill. What kind of relationship will you have with it? Will it be a “go to” resource with its pages spattered over the years, a lovely read sitting by the fireplace with beautiful photos, a family heirloom to be passed down, or a cookbook for special events to be pulled off the shelf when you are searching for a unique dish to make. No matter what category they fall into, I find cookbooks are always valuable in some way and evoke strong memories of different times in my life, rather like a journal. Judging from the stack at my bedside and overflowing book shelves, I would classify myself as a cookbook junkie and I’m sure I’m not alone here (ahem...remember those built-in bookcases I said we are building?).

The moment I opened Yotam Ottolenghi’s Plenty, I knew I’d found a treasure and had the urge to cook every recipe he shares. Really, I can close my eyes, open the book, point to a recipe and be confident I’ll want to eat it. This is a vegetarian cookbook but the author is not a vegetarian himself. His London restaurant, Ottolenghi, is well-known for its creative use of fresh vegetables and grains. In Plenty, you will find dishes using produce such as kohlrabies, figs, artichokes, pomegranates, cucumbers, mangoes, cauliflower or tomatoes combined with a wide variety of spices, herbs, nuts, cheeses and legumes. Limitless possibilities! And did I mention the tantalizing photos? A true feast for your eyes.

Now, the difficult decision of where to begin! So much of what we eat depends upon our mood, and I am in the mood for mushrooms. Dishes using a variety of wild mushrooms offer so much flavor and texture and are always a favorite. Plus, something you should know about me, I can’t say no to anything with a poached egg. So when I spotted Mushroom Ragout with Poached Duck Egg, well...say no more.

The recipes are well-written with precise instructions. An added bonus of this yummy mushroom recipe is I learned a fool-proof method to poach eggs which I will share with you here. You fill a small, shallow saucepan with enough water to cover one egg. Add a splash of vinegar and bring to a boil. Break your egg into a small dish and gently pour it into the boiling water. Immediately remove the pan from the heat and set it aside for six minutes. Voila, you have a perfectly poached egg! Where has this technique been all my life? If you are making more than one egg, place the poached egg in a bowl of warm water until you are done.

Mushroom Ragout with Poached Duck Egg
Serves 4
From Plenty
By Yotam Ottolenghi

1/2 ounce dried porcini mushrooms
2 1/2 cups water
1 1/4 pounds mixed fresh mushrooms (I used oyster, cremini and shiitake)
3/4 pound sourdough bread, crusts removed
6 1/2 tablespoons olive oil
2 garlic cloves, crushed
1 medium onion, sliced
1 medium carrot, peeled and sliced
3 celery stalks, sliced
1/2 cup white wine
3 thyme sprigs
4 duck eggs (I used eggs from our hens)
Vinegar for poaching
1/2 cup sour cream
2 tablespoons chopped tarragon
2 tablespoons chopped parsley
Black pepper
Truffle or olive oil for serving

Before you start, put the dried porcini to soak in 1 cup of the water for 30 minutes. Brush your mushrooms to remove any soil, then cut up large ones or divide into clusters so you have a selection of whole mushrooms and large chunks. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Cut the bread into 1-inch cubes. Toss them with 2 tablespoons of the oil, the garlic and salt. Spread out on a baking sheet and toast in the oven for 15 minutes, or until brown.

Next, pour 1 tablespoon of oil into a medium-sized heavy pan and heat well over medium-high heat. Add some of the fresh mushrooms and leave for 1 to 2 minutes, without stirring. Don’t crowd the mushrooms in the pan. Once lightly browned, turn them over to cook for another minute. Remove from the pan and continue with more batches, adding oil as needed. Once all the mushrooms have been removed from the pan, add another tablespoon of oil and throw in the onion, carrot and celery. Saute on medium heat for 5 minutes without browning. Add the wine and let it bubble away for a minute.

Lift the porcini out of the soaking liquid, squeezing out the excess liquid. Add the soaking liquid to the pan, leaving behind any grit in the bowl. Add the remaining 1 1/2 cups of water, the thyme and a little salt, then simmer gently for about 20 minutes until you are left with about 1 cup liquid. Strain this stock and discard the vegetables (I chose to keep the veggies in since I like the color and texture they add). Return the stock to the pan and set aside.

Poach the 4 eggs (as I described above), keeping the eggs in a bowl of warm water until done.

While you are poaching the final egg, heat up the stock and add all the mushrooms, the sour cream, most of the chopped herbs (reserving some for garnish) and salt and pepper to taste. A soon as the mushrooms are hot, place 1/4 of the croutons in each serving dish and top with mushrooms. Add an egg, the remaining herbs, a drizzle of truffle or olive oil and some black pepper.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Blueberry-Raspberry Pound Cake, Tomato Soup and Staying Connected

My lovely friend, Christine, celebrated her birthday last month. She and I met in high school and have not lived in the same city since then, but all these years have maintained a special friendship that I cherish. As a birthday gift I gave her Molly Wizenberg’s delicious memoir, A Homemade Life. I have been a fan of Molly’s food blog, Orangette, for quite some time and when her book appeared a couple of years ago I naturally devoured it (in more ways than one!). Thinking of Christine and her love of good food and essays, my thoughts turned to A Homemade Life so I pulled my copy off the shelf to read again. Lounging with the book, I felt like I was spending the afternoon visiting with a friend hearing heartfelt stories from her life and sharing recipes.

The connection between food, friends and family is just beautiful, isn’t it? Food (the cooking, eating and discussing of it) is one of many ways Christine and I stay connected. We are on opposite sides of the country, but sharing about what we feed our families gives us another opportunity to feel like we are just down the road from each other.

Christine loved A Homemade Life, as I knew she would. We started cooking, baking and comparing notes on the recipes, she in Boston and me in Seattle. Two recipes that stand out are the Blueberry-Raspberry Pound Cake and Tomato Soup with Two Fennels. It’s berry season now, so pick up a luscious flat at your farmer’s market and don’t delay in baking this moist, rich cake. Perfect to enjoy in the shade of a tree! And for those of you experiencing a heat wave at the moment (not the case in Seattle...please send some warm sunshine our way!) the tomato soup is quick to make and marvelous to slurp chilled. The licorice undertone is pleasing and refreshing.

Cooking my way through A Homemade Life is a delightful way to celebrate friendship!

Blueberry-Raspberry Pound Cake
Serves 10-12
From A Homemade Life
By Molly Wizenberg

2 cups plus 8 tablespoons cake flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
5 large eggs
1 2/3 cups sugar
2 1/2 sticks (10 ounces) unsalted butter, diced, at room temperature
2 tablespoons kirsch (I didn’t have kirsch and used Chambord)
1 cup blueberries
1 cup raspberries

Preheat the oven to 300 degrees. Butter a standard –sized 9-cup Bundt pan and dust it with flour, shaking out any excess.

In a medium bowl, whisk together 2 cups plus 6 tablespoons flour, the baking powder and salt.

In the bowl of a food processor, blend the eggs and sugar until thick and pale yellow, about 1 minute. Add the butter and kirsch and blend until the mixture is fluffy, about 1 minute, stopping once to scrape down the sides of the bowl. If the mixture looks curdled, don’t worry. Add the dry ingredients and process to just combine. Do not overmix. The batter should be thick and very smooth.

In a large bowl, toss the berries with the remaining 2 tablespoons flour. Pour the batter over the berries, and, using a rubber spatula, gently fold to combine, taking care that all the flour is absorbed. Pour the batter into the prepared pan, spreading it evenly across the top. Bake until a toothpick inserted in the cake’s center comes out clean, 1 hour to 1 1/4 hours. (My cake was finished at about 1 hour.)

Transfer the cake to a rack and cool in the pan for 5 minutes. Carefully invert the cake out of the pan onto the rack and cool for at least 20 minutes before slicing. Serve slightly warm or at room temperature.

Tomato Soup with Two Fennels
Serves 6-8
From A Homemade Life
By Molly Wizenberg

3 tablespoons olive oil
1 large yellow onion, quartered and thinly sliced
2 medium fennel bulbs (about 1 1/4 pounds), trimmed, quartered from root to stalk, and thinly sliced
4 medium cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme leaves
2 teaspoons fennel seeds
2-28 ounce cans whole peeled tomatoes
3/4 teaspoon salt, or to taste
Sugar, to taste
Red wine vinegar, to taste

In a large (5 quart) pot or Dutch oven, warm the oil over medium heat. Add the onion and fennel and cook, stirring occasionally, until the onion just starts to soften, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and cook, stirring frequently-garlic has a tendency to burn-until the onion is translucent and very soft, 5 to 8 minutes more. Add the thyme and fennel seeds and cook until fragrant, about 2 minutes.

Using your hand to hold back the tomatoes, pour the liquid from the tomato cans into the pot. Stir well. Crush the tomatoes in their cans, using your hands or a potato masher to tear and mash them into small chunks. Add the tomatoes to the pot. Then fill 1 empty tomato can with cold water and pour it in, too. Bring to a boil. Then adjust the heat to maintain a gentle simmer and cook, uncovered, for about 45 minutes.

The soup is ready when the fennel is very tender and a spoonful of the tomatoey broth tastes like a good, full-bodied soup. (If it hasn’t cooked long enough, it will taste watery and raw, like tomatoes straight from the can.) Add the salt. Taste and adjust as needed. If the tomatoes need a little sweetness, add a pinch or two of sugar. If the soup tastes a little bland, add a small splash of vinegar. Serve hot (or as I mentioned, chilled is quite good, too).

Monday, July 18, 2011

Grilled Pizza (A Summer Staple)

During the summer, our family’s favorite way to prepare pizza is to grill it on the barbecue. The first time Bob and I heard about this we immediately gave it a go and loved the results. I’ve contemplated building a brick oven in the backyard to bake bread and pizza in, but it’s not likely to appear on the “home project to-do list” very soon, if ever (built-in bookcases are our next project). So the barbecue is the next best thing! Charred, crispy crust pizza paired with a chilled glass of Pinot Grigio in the backyard equals extreme happiness for me.

While at Hood Canal this past week, grilled pizza was the dinner choice one evening. As I mentioned previously, we were there visiting close friends and their extended family. Making pizza is a marvelous family activity and everyone can get involved. Cheryl, Chris, Lucy and I headed into town for supplies, dropping Carly and Sam off to run along the Wetlands Trail while we shopped. Since we had a large group to make pizza for, we hoped to find fresh, pre-made dough.

After searching two grocery stores and coming up with only three bags of frozen dough, we ventured into the local pizza place and asked about buying dough. Not only did they have fresh dough for us to purchase, but they offered to stretch the dough for us, too. Chris and I gave an enthusiastic “yes!” since we were getting enough for seven pizzas. The owner also gave us a tutorial on the proper chilling and freezing of the dough, how long to let it sit and rise, and the best method to push out the dough.

Back at the cabin, we popped some bubbly and the prep team began chopping. Judy, Peg and Cheryl assembled platters of sliced tomatoes, baby spinach, sliced mushrooms, sautéed onions, fresh basil, sliced fresh mozzarella and grated Parmesan. This is a terrific way to use up bits of leftover veggies in the fridge!

Chris and Bob got the two barbecues heating and the pizza grilling began. Barbecues vary in their temperatures, so it took a couple of pizzas to get the time and heat mastered. We blackened the bottom of our first pie, but it was still tasty and devoured.

A delectable variety of pizzas came off the grill...classic cheese, mushroom and onion, spinach and tomato with basil and more. My absolute favorite topping, though? Eggs! We cracked eggs laid by Peg and Mike’s backyard hens and let them cook on top of the pizza until the whites just set. When sliced, the vibrant yolks spread around the crust and mixed with the Parmesan, tomatoes and basil beautifully. Big, satisfied sighs! A marvelous team effort resulted in a fun, delicious evening.

Grilled Pizza
Makes 2-14 inch pizzas (or 4-6 smaller pizzas if you prefer individual ones)

2 pounds store bought fresh pizza dough or homemade dough (recipe follows)
10 ounces prepared pizza sauce or homemade sauce (recipe follows)
8 ounces fresh mozzarella, thinly sliced
Olive oil for brushing grill

Topping suggestions (let your creativity flow!):
Baby spinach
Sliced tomatoes
Sliced onions (raw or sautéed)
Fresh herbs such as basil or oregano
Parmesan cheese

Homemade Pizza Dough

1 1/2 cups warm water
1 tablespoon sugar
2 teaspoons active dry yeast
1 3/4 teaspoons salt
4 - 4 1/2 cups all-purpose flour (or sub whole wheat flour for half of the all-purpose flour), plus more for kneading
3 tablespoons olive oil

In a medium mixing bowl, combine the water, sugar and yeast and let sit until foamy and bubbles appear, about 5 minutes. Add salt, 4 cups of flour and olive oil. Stir until smooth. While stirring, gradually add remaining 1/2 cup flour until dough pulls away from the side of the bowl (you may not need all of the flour).

On a floured surface, knead the dough until elastic and smooth, about 5 minutes. This will give you a bit of a workout! Dust with additional flour if needed to keep from getting sticky. Place dough in a large bowl and cover with a kitchen towel. Let rise in a warm spot for about 1 1/2 hours. You can also cover the bowl with plastic wrap and pop it into the refrigerator overnight. Just be sure to remove it in time for the dough to return to room temperature.

Divide the dough in half and knead lightly. Stretch and roll each piece of dough until it forms a rough circle or rectangle, about 14 inches across (ours are always quite rustic and free form). Transfer to a lightly floured baking sheet to transport to the barbecue. If you prefer individual pizzas, divide the dough into smaller portions and press out.

Quick Tomato Pizza Sauce
From Cook’s Illustrated
Makes about 1 1/2 cups (you will have extra sauce leftover)

1 can (14.5 ounces) crushed tomatoes
1 large garlic clove, minced
1 tablespoon olive oil
Salt and freshly ground pepper

In a food processor, whiz the crushed tomatoes until smooth.

Heat garlic and oil in medium saucepan over medium heat until garlic is sizzling, about 40 seconds. Stir in the tomatoes, bring to simmer and cook, uncovered, until sauce thickens enough to coat wooden spoon, about 15 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Heat your barbecue on high. When ready to start the pizzas, lower the heat to medium. Brush the barbecue with olive oil (using a scrunched up paper towel held with tongs) and lay the pizza dough on the grill for about 4-5 minutes to lightly cook that side. Check frequently to make sure it isn’t burning. It should have grill marks and be lightly golden. If it’s browning too quickly, turn your heat down a bit.

When ready, use tongs to flip the dough. Brush on a thin layer of sauce and add the toppings of your choice. Be sure to thinly scatter the toppings to avoid your pizza being too soft and heavy. Close the cover and let cook until cheese is melted and the bottom is golden brown, another 5 minutes or so.

Slide onto a cutting board, slice and serve. You’ve got yourself a pizza party!

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Apricot, Plum and Strawberry Slab Pie at Hood Canal

We are currently enjoying a marvelous visit at Hood Canal (an hour and half southwest of Seattle) with our dear friends from Australia, Chris and Cheryl, and their amazing kids Nick, Carly and Lucy. Originally from Seattle, our friends have a lovely cabin on the water and every July they come back to visit family and friends here. I can’t remember how many years our families have been gathering here... at least twelve or thirteen? Our children have grown up together visiting the canal house and every summer we can’t wait for this time together.

Our days are spent boating, water skiing, wake boarding, shooting BB guns, swimming, lounging in the sun, inner tubing, shooting baskets, paddling in the kayoo (half kayak, half canoe), reading trashy magazines and chatting about the past year. There is always so much to catch up on! Seals pop up to cautiously watch us, folks wave from their boats as they float by, and a generally lazy atmosphere takes over as the day progresses. Late afternoons involve cocktails and nibbles, and this leads into delicious dinners on the barbecue, bottles of wine and more talking and laughing. We spend evenings around the fire pit, roasting s’mores and watching the sun set over the mountains. Sometimes we watch a movie on an outdoor screen, with the canal and disappearing sun as our backdrop.

While the sun is dropping behind the mountains, we start thinking about pie and ice cream. Every year I bake a couple of pies to bring with us, and at this point I don’t think we’d be allowed down the driveway if we didn’t come bearing pies! This year we have a fun crowd at the canal with Chris and Cheryl’s extended family and an 88th birthday to be celebrated, which means lots of pie and special memories.

Knowing we have a big group for dessert, I think about the slab pies I’ve been seeing lately. These are pies baked on a rimmed baking sheet that can feed a larger crowd than one baked in a traditional pie plate. Now, what kind of pie to make? Ah, deciding this is one of summer’s joys when we can choose from peaches, cherries, plums, apricots, berries and more. My kitchen is filled with the scent of strawberries from our berry stand and plums and apricots from the farmer’s market. I see a pie forming!

Apricot, Plum and Strawberry Slab Pie
Serves 24
Adapted from Martha Stewart’s Everyday Food

5 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon kosher salt
2 tablespoons sugar
2 cups (4 sticks) unsalted butter, chilled
2/3 cups ice water

2 pounds fresh apricots, sliced into eighths
2 pounds plums, sliced into eighths
2 pints strawberries, hulled and sliced into halves or quarters depending upon their size
3/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup cornstarch
Cream for brushing on crust

Cover the bottom and sides of a 10x15 inch rimmed baking sheet with foil. In a food processor, pulse the flour, salt and sugar together to combine. Cut one stick of butter into tablespoon sizes and add to the mix. Pulse until just incorporated. Repeat with remaining three sticks of butter. The mixture should resemble a coarse meal. With the machine running, add 2/3 cup ice water. Pulse until the dough is crumbly and holds together when squeezed. If necessary, add more ice water one tablespoon at a time. Do not overmix.

Turn the dough out onto a floured surface and knead lightly to make a smooth dough. Divide in half. On a sheet of parchment paper, roll the first ball of dough into a rectangle just larger than the baking sheet. Transfer the dough to the baking sheet by lifting and flipping the parchment paper onto the pan and peel off the paper. Press dough into the bottom and sides of the pan. Place the baking sheet in the refrigerator to chill until ready to use. On another sheet of parchment paper, roll out the second ball of dough. Place this in the refrigerator to chill (can lay on top of the baking pan).

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. In a large mixing bowl, combine the fruit, sugar and cornstarch. Let sit for 15 minutes. Remove the sheet pan from the refrigerator and spoon the fruit and juices onto the bottom crust and spread evenly. Flip the top crust onto the top and peel off the paper. Press the edges of the top and bottom crust together and crimp. Brush the top of the pie with cream and cut slits on the top of the pie to vent. Place the pan in the oven on top of two pieces of foil spread out (to catch any drips) and reduce oven temperature to 375 degrees. Bake for about 45-50 minutes, until the top is a bit golden and the juices are bubbling thickly through the steam vents. Cool for one hour before serving.

Monday, July 11, 2011

A Dinner Party at the Pantry

Photo taken by The Pantry at Delancey

I am so excited to tell you about a beautiful dinner party I attended at the Pantry at Delancey in Seattle!  The idea for the Pantry originated with Brandi Henderson (the pastry chef for Delancey and a food blogger) and Olaiya Land (a chef, caterer and cooking instructor).   I’ve been following their progress as they built an inviting space that is “not quite a restaurant but not quite a traditional cooking class and this past weekend they hosted their first two dinner parties.  Let me tell you, they have succeeded in their goal to create a beautiful area for the community to gather around food.

Twenty guests sat around a 16 foot black walnut table in an inviting open kitchen with exposed white beams, French blue chairs, Mason jars filled with poppies, shelves of cookbooks and a subway tile backsplash.  All of the food was served family style on platters, which added to the feeling we were hanging out in our friend’s homey (amazing) kitchen.  All the guests were very enjoyable to share a meal with and get to know.   

We began our meal with an elderflower and vermouth cocktail (served in champagne coupes--must get some of these glasses for summer drinks) and platters of softly boiled eggs.  We moved on to a salad of chicken confit on butter lettuce with Dijon vinaigrette and pistachios.  Since I don’t eat chicken, our hosts graciously served my salad with goat cheese.  Oh my, this Dijon vinaigrette is the best I’ve ever had!  It will be my mission to try to recreate it this summer.  The salad was so perfectly fresh and delicious I would have been happy eating it all evening.  But more dishes to enjoy … lucky me!

Our glasses were filled with a lovely Viognier while platters of beautiful pink beet ravioli were placed on the table.  The ravioli was filled with goat cheese and ricotta and dressed in brown butter with fresh mint and roasted baby beets.  Heavenly!  If you make your own pasta, I highly recommend including beets.  They add a sweet flavor and the pink color is so pretty for summer.

While we savored our ravioli, Olaiya and Brandi seared thick halibut fillets at the stove and served the fish with a tarragon herb slurry and fresh sunflower tendrils.  The halibut was moist with a crisp skin and fell apart in soft flakes.  Bowls of sautéed fresh peas, roasted radishes and baby turnips were served alongside.  A Pinot Noir was poured and it paired perfectly with the fish.

After a relaxing interlude, a plated dessert was placed before each of us and French press carafes and pitchers of cream set out for coffee.  Get ready for this one!  Cocoa nib shortbread tucked into a pillow of buttermilk mousse with macerated strawberries and raspberries.  Absolute bliss! Sigh, something else to aspire to replicate.  I do appreciate inspiring food!

I look forward to returning to the Pantry for another family dinner or to try a cooking class.  It was a marvelous evening with attentive service, a warm ambiance, welcoming hosts, new friends and incredible food.  Cheers to the Pantry!

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Salad Days: Kale Herb, Broccoli Tomato Feta and Carrot Zucchini with Seeds

Are you getting amazing vegetables in your CSA boxes (community sustained agriculture) or at your farmer’s markets?  I am loving the bounty in the box I pick up each week.  Oxbow Farm, located about 30 miles east of Seattle, grows the veggies and our CSA is organized through JHarvest at the UW Hillel.    

Last year, my younger son, Isaac, volunteered with our CSA as part of his Bar Mitzvah project.  On the pick-up days, he arrived early to set up the tables, write the signs identifying produce and lay out the veggies for pick up.  It was a terrific way for him to be more involved in locally sustained agriculture, which was a theme of his d’var (talk) he gave at his Bar Mitzvah. 

This week in my CSA box, I have Lacinato kale (aka blue kale!), broccoli, a variety of lettuces, beets, parsley, spring garlic, cabbage, spinach and rainbow chard.  It’s always fun to create new ideas for serving seasonal veggies. Here are some salads I played around with and want to share with you.  They can be made last minute and they do not require any cooking (other than quickly steaming the broccoli).  The salads travel well for picnics and, if you happen to have an abundance of lettuce in your CSA box, can be served on a bed of Jericho romaine or red butterhead.

 Kale Herb Salad
Adapted from Courtney Savin
Serves 6-8

The inspiration for this salad comes from my friend, Courtney. It looks similar to a tabbouleh salad but combines kale, herbs and nuts. I've made it numerous times, adding different fresh herbs I have on hand, and have found that mint is the key herb to always include. The bright freshness of the mint plays well with the kale. Leftovers make a tasty breakfast topped with a poached egg and a sprinkle of Parmesan.

1 large bunch kale (I prefer Lacinato but curly works well, too)
1 clove garlic
2 cups nuts of your choice, toasted (I've used walnuts, almonds and macadamias)
1 bunch Italian parsley, roughly chopped (dill is also nice)
2 cups fresh mint leaves, roughly chopped
2 teaspoons salt
2 lemons, juiced (or more to taste)
3 tablespoons olive oil (or more if it seems dry)
A dash of crushed red pepper flakes (optional)

Remove the tough stems of the kale and roughly chop. In a food processor, pulse the garlic and nuts together about 12 times. Scrape out into a large bowl. Add the kale to the food processor (may need to do this in 2 batches) with 1 tablespoon olive oil (divide if doing 2 batches) and pulse until chopped finely. Scrape down sides once while pulsing. Add to the nuts and garlic. 

Place the herbs in the food processor with 1 tablespoon olive oil and pulse until finely chopped. Scrape down sides once. Add to the kale mix. 

Stir in the lemon juice, salt and remaining olive oil. Taste for seasoning and add more lemon, salt or oil if needed. If you want to spice it up, add the crushed red pepper flakes. This salad does well if made ahead and can be served room temperature.

Broccoli Feta Tomato Salad
Serves 4

This salad combines some of my favorite tastes and looks pretty with the green, white and red (or yellow or orange, depending upon your tomatoes).

1 pound broccoli florets, cut into bite sized pieces
7 ounces feta cheese, cubed
1 pint cherry or baby heirloom tomatoes, halved
4 ounces hazelnuts, toasted and chopped
1 tablespoon canola oil
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
1 clove garlic, minced
1 teaspoon agave nectar
1 tablespoon whole grain mustard
Salt and pepper to taste

Steam the broccoli florets lightly and run under cold water to cool. You want to soften them a bit but make sure they still have some crunch. 

Combine broccoli, feta, tomatoes and hazelnuts in a serving bowl. 

Whisk or shake the oils, vinegar, garlic, agave nectar, mustard, salt and pepper until emulsified.  Toss salad with dressing and serve. If taking on a picnic, bring dressing in a little jar and toss before serving.

Carrot and Zucchini with Seeds
Serves 4

When you are looking for yet another way to use your abundance of zucchini, this pantry staple salad will be sure to please. It is a dish you can pull together quickly and serve at a summer lunch. The pumpkin and poppy seeds add crunch and flavor. You can substitute other grated veggies such as jicama or yellow squash, just make sure you are getting some color contrast.

3 carrots, grated
3 zucchini, grated
1/4 cup pumpkin seeds, toasted
2 tablespoons poppy seeds
1 lemon, juiced
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon olive oil

Mix the carrots, zucchini and seeds together. Whisk the lemon juice, salt and olive oil together. Toss the dressing with the salad and serve. The salad can be transported to a picnic already dressed.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Blueberry Pie and Raspberry Chevre Tart for Pie Day!

What can I say, I love pie!  And what better way to celebrate pie than with a Pie Day!  A spontaneous thought from Shauna Ahern, the Gluten-Free Girl, turned into a virtual pie party.  In over a thousand kitchens today, pies are being baked for Pie Day.  That’s one party I don’t want to miss!

I grew up eating a lot of pie.  My mom baked pies, lots of pies.  Apple, pumpkin, chocolate cream, rhubarb custard, banana cream, blueberry …we had an incredible year-round selection.  She made crusts to perfection (as I’ve mentioned before), rolling the dough out on our kitchen table to precise measurements, always creating a light, flaky crust.  I really can’t say what my favorite kind of pie is, but after years of pie eating, I think I can finally narrow the choices to summer fruit pies.  And it’s summer now!  So let the pie baking begin.

In my opinion, blueberries are just the best berry around, with raspberries a close second.  For Pie Day, I could bake a mixed berry pie, which is always delicious, but decide instead to be a purist with the berries and highlight each one.  Which means two pies!  Taking that thought a step further, why not a sweet pie and savory tart?  You never know what will emerge when you start thinking this way …

I played around with my blueberry pie filling I’ve made over the years by increasing the blueberries and adding some blueberry jam to enhance the blueberry flavor.  A slice of this pie made the 4th of  July complete!

Blueberry Pie
Serves 8
Adapted from The Joy of Cooking by Irma S. Rombauer, Marion Rombauer and Ethan Becker

3 cups all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup (2 sticks) cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2 pieces
1/2 cup ice cold water

In a food processor, pulse the flour, sugar and salt together a few times.  Add the cold butter pieces and pulse only until it looks like coarse meal.  Gradually add the 1/2 cup of water, stopping to scrape sides if needed.   Pulse until the dough just comes together (don’t let it form a ball because this will overwork the dough).  If the dough is dry and won’t stick when a piece is pinched together, add a little more cold water a tablespoon at a time.

Lightly dust a surface with flour and put the dough on it.  Roll into a ball and cut in half.  Roll out one piece of dough to about a 13 inch round.  Gently roll up the dough onto the rolling pin and unroll into your pie plate.  Press the dough into the bottom and sides of the pan and refrigerate until ready to use.  Roll out the second ball of dough into a 13 inch round.  Lay it on a parchment lined baking sheet and refrigerate.

6 cups fresh blueberries
1/2 cup sugar
1 cup blueberry jam
4 tablespoons cornstarch
Juice of 1 lemon
Pinch of kosher salt
Milk for brushing
Turbinado sugar for sprinkling
Vanilla ice cream or whipped cream for serving.

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.  Combine the blueberries, sugar, jam, cornstarch, lemon juice and salt in a mixing bowl. 

Pour the mixture into the bottom crust.  Brush the overhanging edge with cold water.  Place the flat piece of dough on top, seal the edges together and crimp or flute.  Cut a small hole in the middle of the pie to vent.  Brush the top of the pie with a little milk and sprinkle on some turbinado sugar.

Bake the pie on a baking sheet for 25 minutes.  Reduce the oven temperature to 350 degrees and bake until the thick juices bubble through the center vent, about 25-30 minutes more.  Let the pie cool before serving.   Dollop slices with ice cream or whipped cream and enjoy!

I always enjoy fruit on a cheese plate.   In general, I’m not a big fan of grapes, though (surprising since I love wine, and Bob is just the opposite in that he loves grapes and not wine …but I digress).  Depending upon what cheeses are being served, I prefer berries, sliced apples or pears, or sliced stone fruit.  Since I want to spotlight raspberries and I think berries and chevre are a lovely combination on a cheese platter, I set out to bake a savory tart using both.  Sort of like a cheese plate in a crust (the cracker?).  Serve this tart to jazz up a cheese course or as a light lunch with a simple green salad.

Raspberry Chevre Tart with Poppyseed Shortcrust
Serves 8-10

3 ounces whole wheat flour
3 ounces all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon poppyseeds
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
4 ounces cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2 inch pieces
1 egg, lightly beaten

In a food processor, pulse the flours, poppyseeds and salt together.  Add the butter and pulse until a course meal forms.  Add the egg and pulse to combine.  

Pour the crust mixture into a tart pan with removable bottom.  Using your fingers, lightly press the mixture into the sides and bottom of the pan.  Do this quickly, otherwise the crust will begin to stick to your fingers.  If needed, use a piece of wax paper to press.  Refrigerate the crust for about 15 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Place a piece of parchment paper on the bottom of the crust and layer with pie weights or dry beans.  Bake for 15 minutes, remove the paper and weights or beans, and continue baking for another 10 minutes until slightly golden.  Cool crust completely.

8 ounces soft chevre
8 ounces fresh ricotta
1 tablespoon olive oil
3 tablespoons honey, divided
1/2 tablespoon flaky sea salt
A few grinds of fresh black pepper or grains of paradise
16 ounces fresh raspberries

Mix the cheeses, olive oil, 1 tablespoon honey, salt and pepper until well blended.  Spoon the mixture into the cooled crust and smooth.  Place the raspberries in concentric circles on top of the cheese mixture until surface is covered.  Refrigerate for 1 hour and up to 6 hours. 

Before serving, drizzle the remaining 2 tablespoons of honey on top of the raspberries.  Cut into slices and enjoy with a chilled glass of sauvignon blanc.  Cheers!  

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Good Friends and Good Food at Cantinetta

Meeting friends for dinner is one of life’s more special pleasures. Meeting them in a cozy, elegant neighborhood spot elevates the experience to marvelous. Bob and I recently had such an evening at Cantinetta in the Wallingford neighborhood of Seattle. In a small brick building tucked into a residential area, Cantinetta is a down to earth gem serving delicious Northern Italian food. I immediately loved the ambiance with wood beams, chandeliers and wine bottles stowed up along the beams. Our group of six was offered a large table in the back where it was quieter so we could all chat.

Our server was friendly and attentive (and wearing a totally cute top, I might add). We began with cocktails, Prosecco and Laphroaig and by sharing a selection of antipasti and contorni. One of my favorites, the avocado with grapefruit, oil cured olives and chilis, at first sounded like an odd combination, but turned out to be a beautiful dish with sour, salty and spicy flavors. We also enjoyed caciocavallo with a housemade rhubarb jam and crostini, baby lettuce with favas, egg yolk and anchovies, roasted cauliflower with balsamic (another favorite) and eggplant with tomato fonduta and provolone.

Bob and I shared the goat cheese agnolotti with morels and sugar snap peas and the Copper River salmon with Swiss chard and corn. The agnolotti were like little raviolis and floated in a broth with the morels and peas. Really a delicious combination! The salmon was cooked perfectly and I particularly liked the crispy skin.

Our lovely dining companions, Karen, Rob, Deb and Steve shared delicious reviews of their meals. Karen and Rob also had the agnotlotti and enjoyed the steak served with Walla Walla onions. Deb and Steve favored the pork loin with apricots and baby turnips plus a dish of farfalle, peas, prosciutto cotto and pea vines.

Wait until you hear about dessert, though … zeppole with Nutella mascarpone and ginger sugar - warm doughnuts that explode with a rich liquid sauce when you break into them. I wish I could show you a photo but they were pounced on immediately! We also had to try the special of the evening, a strawberry balsamic panna cotta. Velvety and fresh in its berry taste, it could not compete with the zeppole (you’ll be licking your plate to get the last of the Nutella mascarpone). I’ll be back for more!