27 July 2009

If You Can't Take the Heat...

Stay out of the kitchen! That's the old adage, which I plan to highly subscribe to this week as temps soar above the 90s in Seattle for 5+ days. We're not a city known for our heat, which means we are not prepared (A/C is more scarce here than sunshine in January). No cooking will be done in this retro-throwback cocina this week.

Fortunately, Nate's fabu sister, ElFab, is visiting this week. She's my partner in crime when it comes to dallying about town, scouring for great dining and deals. I've already got a list going of the places we'll go and see. Now, how to cram this many meals into the week?

Molly Moon's
Red Mango
Cafe Flora
Rancho Bravo
Duke's Chowder House
15th Ave. Coffee & Tea
Theo Chocolate
Update! Just learned that Brandon Pettit's Delancey pizzeria may open very, very, very soon! Definitely added to the list!

If we get wacky, we may even make some Tipsy Mud Pie...no cooking needed for that one.

21 July 2009

Salmon Patties: Not Just for Burgers

I made a visit to the wallet-emptier store this weekend (no, not Target...though anytime I enter that haven, I come out $50 lighter). This time I mean Costco. I walked in hungry -- never a smart move.

I walked out with many random (yet tasty) treats, including a 12-pack of salmon burgers. This is actually the only item I went in searching for. I've had them many a time on a bun, and boy howdy! They are delicious.

On Monday night, I was looking for another way to wolf one of these bad boys down, but I didn't want another burger. Instead, I used the salmon patty as the basis for a simple pesto pasta. The result was wonderful!

I'd made some basil pesto late last week, which needed to be used. So I cooked up some rotini and tossed with with the pesto. Simultaneously, I sauteed a salmon burger, then sliced it into 1/2-inch strips and layered it atop the pasta. Voila!

17 July 2009

Cupcake Royale v 2.0: The Verdict

Sitting here at the Ballard Cupcake Royale and happy to report that Sue McCown's revamped cake recipe is indeed a success! This little baby cake (strawberry shortcake) is indeed moister, tastier, and much happier than previous versions of the cake. I guess now I can't refer to Royale as "the other cupcake place in town" anymore.

13 July 2009

Fresh Oregon Berry Pie

This weekend was all about the berries. Loads and loads of them, in fact. My dear college friend Becky was in town and had graciously offered to pick up Oregon berries on her way out of town for all of us living one state north. I placed my order for a flat of marionberries, anxiously anticipating a pie's worth. What I got was two pies' worth, stained fingers, and a couple of bellyaches from overindulgence.

When Beck arrived with the berries, I thought surely she was mistaken -- I had expected only about half the amount. She had also anticipated my error, and rather than bringing a full flat of marionberries, she picked out a half-flat of marions plus a variety for the other half, including delicate blueberries, mondo blackberries, sweeter-than-sweet raspberries, and unusual tayberries. Behold:

My eyes ogled the heaps of fruit. What in Martha Stewart's name was I going to *do* with all this fruit? I gingerly transported my loot home, spilling only a half-pint of blackberries in the open trunk of my SUV (I think a few may still be rolling around...), and I got to work. Plopped on the couch with a stack of vintage pie cookbooks, Joy of Cooking, and my binder of family recipes, I scoured through the listings for ideas.

What emerged from the pack was the simplest recipe - simple both in flavor as well as execution; perhaps the origin of the phrase "easy as pie." It's a blissfully benign mixture of a pre-baked pie shell mounded with fresh berries and a couple thin layers of cooked berry puree/sugar/cornstarch to act as the glue. Joy of Cooking dubs this "Fresh Strawberry (Or Raspberry) Pie" but I think you could substitute any fresh berry (or a combo) depending on what you have on hand. As Joy says, "This is only as good as the berries you start with."

It was so good, I made another this morning before I started my workday -- I'll take it to Family Dinner Night tonight in honor of Shelby's and my mom's July birthdays. It was also so good, I had a slice for breakfast...

Fresh Berry Pie - adapted from Joy of Cooking:
9" baked pie shell (see below)
6 c. unrinsed fresh berries, picked over (I used approx 5 c. marionberries + 1 c. raspberries; a few tayberries thrown in for kicks)
1 c. organic sugar
1/4 c. cornstarch
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 c. water
2 Tbsp. fresh lemon juice
2 Tbs. salted butter, cut into slivers

-Do not wash marion-, rasp-, or tayberries. The excess water will mar the final outcome of your pie, rendering it soupy.
-Measure 4 c. of berries and set aside.
-Puree the remaining 2 c. of berries (a food processor works wonders); set aside.
-In a medium saucepan (under no heat just yet!), whisk together the sugar, cornstarch, and salt until blended.
-Now whisk in the water, and then stir in the pureed berries.
-Turn on the heat, medium to start. Stir in the lemon juice and slivers of butter.
-Whisk constantly, and bring the mixture to a simmer (medium heat). Really, keep stirring! You don't want the jammy mixture to cook too soon, scorching the bottom layer. You also don't want to have the heat up too high, or it'll bubble up and possibly burn you. Cook for 1 minute until thickened. The consistency is like a pliable, pourable jam.
-Gently shake half of the reserved fresh berries into the pie pan, arranging a uniform layer. Pour half the hot berry jam atop; shake the pie pan ever-so-gently to let the jam slip into the cracks. Cover with remaining berries and pour/spoon the remaining jam atop to cover and coat evenly.
-Place the steaming-hot pie into the fridge for at least 4 hours to set. Serve cold the day it's made with a nice steaming cup of coffee. Breakfast is the best time for this, in my opinion.

Easy-as-Pie Crust (aka Incredible Pie Crust!) - from mom. (Makes 2 8" crusts; can be stretched to make 2 9" crusts)
2 c. flour
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. baking powder
scant 2/3 c. vegetable oil
1/3 c. cold water
medium-sized Tupperware-type bowl with lid

Place the flour, salt, and baking powder into the bowl; stir to blend. Add the oil and water. Put on the lid (tightly!) and shake 5-6 times. You want to shake the bowl with a floor-to-ceiling motion. Remove the lid, and like magic the dough is ready to roll. (You may want to stir a few more times using your hands to pick up any remaining crumbs that didn't form into the ball of dough.)

Divide the dough in 2 pieces. Place each one before layers of waxed paper (cut to 9" square) and roll to size. Gently peel back the top layer of waxed paper; flip (dough-side down) over the top of a pie pin and let the dough fill the pan. Gently peel back the waxed paper. Along the rim of the pie pan, gently roll the dough under itself to hide any ragged edges.

Artfully "flute" the pie crust edges with your fingers. Use left hand's index and middle fingers to form an upside down "v"; press these fingers into the dough/side of the pan to make an indentation. Now, "v" still in place, take the right hand's index finger and insert it to the base of the "v" and gently tug dough away from the pie pan's side to flute the edges.

Too much work? Just plop the dough into the pan, letting it fall as it may, and label it "rustic"!

To bake: Preheat oven to 425. Prick the bottom and sides of your dough thoroughly with a fork (about 40 times; that is thoroughly!). This prevents shrinkage/puffing up. Bake 10-15 minutes or until just golden. Let cool.

06 July 2009

Mobile post - feta/tomato salad

Just had a divinely simple yet tasty warm tomato/feta salad -- and Nate cooked! Will post recipe stat!

Salmon + Feta/Caper/Tomato salad

I was already thinking about dinner and it was still hours away... Actually, I'd been thinking about this meal since I embarked on a recipe-organizing project a few weeks ago and stumbled across an old favorite.

(As an aside, take my mother's sage advice about 'organizing' recipes. Actually, for this, and numerous other, reasons - mothers have the best advice! Back to the recipes: If you ever decide it's time to re-categorize or re-file your stash of recipes, think again. My mother did this a few years ago, and swears she should have stuck to her old filing method because she's never been able to locate old standby recipes under the new system. I feel a similar pain whenever I take my favorite recipes out of the heap of paper that sits in my kitchen and try to file them in notebooks...otherwise known as the great black hole.)

The recipe, which came from my friend Allison way back in 2003, oozes with simplicity and big, boisterous flavors -- a perfect combo, in my book. It starts with a simple yet well seasoned slab of fish. Choose your favorite. We made salmon last night, but halibut would also go nicely. Season it up with dabs of butter and a heavy-hand of lemon pepper (my go-to ingredient of choice. I use it on everything!). Lay it on a foil-lined baking sheet and bake at 425 until cooked to your preference. Approx 8-10 mins. for every 1" of thickness of your fish.

The side "salad" is the part I'm really excited about. It was even better because it was made for me last night - Nate cooked!!! It starts with a tangy hunk of feta (not the crumbled kind), sliced into individual serving sizes (think the size of a large pink eraser - another of my faves!). Bread and saute that up and lay the melted gooey goodness atop the already-assembled mix of blanched green beans, thyme-seasoned sliced tomatoes, and baby greens. Drizzle with a lemon/pepper/olive oil/caper dressing and you're good to go.

Enjoy - perhaps with a glass of Pinot Noir (I recommend Castle Rock -- we had it at our wedding!) or Rose (This summer, I fell absolutely in love with this Sleight of Hand vintage; get your hands on a bottle if you still can)!

Full recipe:
Pan-Grilled Tomato and Feta Salad with Lemon Caper Dressing - serves 6
For the dressing:
5 Tbsp olive oil
2 Tbsp fresh lemon juice
1 heaping tsp capers, rinsed
1 Tbsp chopped fresh parsley

Combine oil/juice in a jar and shake vigorously (or whisk it in a small bowl, as I'm prone to do). Stir in capers and parsley and set aside.

For the "salad":
3/4 lb green beans, trimmed
1 4-oz hunk of Feta (not crumbled); you could also use Fontina here
3 large slicing tomatoes, cut into 3/4" thick slices
1 Tbsp fresh thyme or 1 tsp dried thyme
1 tsp salt
ground pepper to taste
1 bunch arugula or 1 bag mixed greens
1/4 c. dry bread crumbs
2 tsp olive oil

-First, clean and blanch your beans. (Boil a pot of water, perhaps with some salt added; drop in the green beans to cook until just tender but still a verdant green -- probably about 5 minutes. They should still have a bit of crispness to them when you taste a sample. Drain and rinse with cold water, or plunge in an ice bath, to stop the cooking.) Set aside.
-Cut up the feta into 4 slices; drain on paper towels.
-Heat a nonstick skillet over medium. Sprinkle tomato slices with thyme, salt, and pepper; place in skillet and cook until lightly browned on each side (about a minute per side).
-Arrange your greens on a plate. Place tomato slices on each plate along with green beans. Get creative with your design.
-Now comes the trickiest part -- coat the feta in bread crumbs, add oil to the skillet, and brown the cheese on both sides. It should be approx 2 mins per side. I say this is the tricky part because in my experience the cheese has never truly stayed intact as a slab... it usually turns into a gooey/crispy pile of browned cheese. I never worry about this because it tastes delicious - but be prepared. Perfection is probably not possible here. :)
-Add the cheese to your salad plates, perhaps alongside or atop the vegetables depending on your feeling for 'wilted greens.' Drizzle with dressing and serve.