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Friday, April 30, 2010

in praise of our seattle restaurant week meal at stumbling goat bistro

yesterday wrapped up 10 days of seattle restaurant week during which more than 100 restaurants served up 3 courses for $25. this is a better deal at some restaurants than at others, but to me it's just a great excuse to get out to new places and see what wonderful things are happening in their kitchens. 

on wednesday, we went to stumbling goat bistro. i knew about them because they are mentioned in the book i talked about in a january post, having attended the quillisascut farm school for the domestic arts. their style is right up my alley, pacific northwest cooking using high-quality seasonal ingredients. this was a spectacular meal! (though, admittedly, they had me at "attended the quillisascut farm school for the domestic arts"...)

before we even got to our three courses, we started with some fresh crusty bread and a duo of delicious spreads. one was tomato based, the other olive. 

my starter was steamed mussels in a warm champagne curry broth, and they were wonderful. i'm not certain, but i think that's fennel in there, too. usually rob and i share a starter, and he's really not into shellfish, so having my own bowl of steamed clams kinda rocked.

rob had the puree of stinging nettle soup. stinging nettles don't sound like they would make for good eats, but despite their attempts at self defense, cooking removes their sting and they become, for example, a delicious puree with tarragon, folded into a potato and leek soup base. this is nettle foraging season, and i may just gather up the courage to buy some from foraged and found edibles at the farmers market and give some soup a try, now that i tried this one and confirmed that it was as painless as it was super tasty. 

my main course was roasted idaho rainbow trout with pancetta, peas, and roasted pearl onions. i picked the trout because, believe it or not, i've been able to sift through the "okay to eat/avoid avoid avoid" seafood information long enough that i've retained a thing or two. and one thing i've learned is that farmed trout is on the list you can feel good about. 

this dish was flawless, if you ask me.  the trout was fully deboned and perfectly cooked with a nice, crispy skin. the peas were fresh and sweet, and the seasoning was just right, between the salty pancetta, the sweet roasted onions, and the lemony, buttery sauce. i ate the whole thing, and it's rare that i don't save some for leftovers when we go out. 

rob's dish was described as the "dark horse" of the menu. he had pork and beans. seriously. the dish was a cassoulet* of at least three different heirloom beans with smoked mushrooms served over kale, topped with a melt-in-your-mouth pork confit*. but the really cool part to me was that it actually maintained the flavor of the pork and beans we all know and (used to) love! the familiarity was in  the slightly sweet, light tomato-y sauce. this is what pork n' beans becomes after it grows up and gets a high-paying job and starts wearing fancy shoes. if only i could put this in a can and take it camping! (not a bad idea! stumbling goat, you listening?)

oy, dessert. rob had the pot de creme*. their menu describes it as an orange-infused milk chocolate custard with almond toffee. spectacular. but i didn't spend a lot of time with his because look what i had...

this was a dessert special, and frankly i can't even remember everything they told me about it. it was a chocolate terrine* with layers of chocolate ganache* and some other chocolate stuff and a ribbon of pistachio with a raspberry coulis. OMG! i admit, it was an odd choice after 2 courses of seafood, but i feel certain i made the right decision. if i'm only having a dessert craving once every 4 months, i want it to be a good one. and this was out of this world!

thanks for a great meal, stumbling goat!

*no, as a matter of fact, i really don't entirely know what this means... :)

Monday, April 26, 2010

southern spring flowers and seattle garden report

i just looked at the date on the short rib ragu post and realized it's been two full weeks since i've updated! i feel so negligent. i've been traveling-- first to south georgia to visit my fabulous family, and then to portland to visit some dear friends. meanwhile, i've barely even stepped into a kitchen! i'm looking forward to some cooking this week, so hopefully a couple of food posts are on the way! here are a few garden pics to pass the time until then. 

i arrived in my hometown just in time for peak azalea season. my parents' yard is FULL of azaleas and other flowers that they dug out of the yards of each of their parents, and they were gorgeous! just perfect. spring is wonderful anywhere, but in the south, it's absolute magic. 

the couple of iris in the back were spectacular. i love this color combination, the two purples with the yellow accent. so pretty. 

as an unexpected treat, my favorite aunt brought me a stack of old issues of bon appetit and gourmet! i've already started my list of recipes to try from the april and may issues. can't wait to get started!

back to seattle... one nice thing about leaving town for a week is that the progress made in the garden is so apparent when you return. here are our broccoli and cauliflower plants, and our long row of peas along the back. the ones going nuts on the far right are called "golden sweet edible pod." so far they are winning the race with the other climbing varieties, but we'll see who the real performers are when they start blooming and making peas. (i hope they all take me up on the offer to climb the sage sticks i gave them today instead of throttling the poor cauliflower starts...)

not all of the broccolis are doing as well, but the "italian green sprouting calabrese" is looking great. this variety supposedly makes a big broccoli head, like the ones in the grocery, so fingers crossed. i'd love to eat some big ol' broccoli from the backyard!

the salad bowl is going CRAZY. yeah, rob and i better get used to eating some serious salad, beginning tonight. might even need to have a giant salad party just to stay on top of this thing! 

alrighty, so that's about all i have to report for now. pretty flowers. climbing peas. promising brassicas. major-league salad greens. and since you're still here, another shot from my parents' garden-- an absolutely stunning dutch iris. 

Monday, April 12, 2010

slow-cooked beef short rib ragu with homemade pasta

okay, so it's not exactly a springy meal, but the weather was fairly wintry last week, and the short ribs in the freezer needed to be cooked. i read countless short rib recipes last week, but ultimately decided to try a short rib ragu from bobby flay. (i may have mentioned, we really really like a good ragu.)

i stewed the ribs in vegetables, wine, and stock for about 3 hours on the stove, as i don't yet own a good ovenproof braising pot (sorry, le creuset, the hundreds of dollars it will take to make you mine continue to evade me!), and served over homemade pappardelle pasta with a generous amount of chopped parsley and grated cheese. bobby's recipe called for tomato paste, which i substituted with some garden tomatoes from the freezer. i figured the stovetop preparation would benefit from a little more liquid in the pot. it was totally delicious, and made for some amazing leftovers!

short rib ragu
from bobby flay's short rib ragu with pappardelle and pecorino romano 

2 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 pounds short ribs
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1 dried bay leaf
1 sprig fresh rosemary
3 sprigs fresh thyme
2 small carrots, diced
1 stalk celery, diced
1/2 medium onion, diced
2 medium shallots, diced
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
2 cups diced tomatoes (or 1 15-oz can)
1/4 cup tawny port
1 cup red wine, such as cabernet
3 cloves garlic, peeled and smashed
2 cups homemade beef stock
2 cups homemade chicken stock
1/2 pound pappardelle or other long, flat pasta
chopped parsley
grated pecorino romano or parmesan cheese

tie bay leaf, rosemary, and thyme together in a pouch made of cheesecloth.

heat oil in a large, heavy bottom pot over medium heat. season short ribs with salt and fresh cracked pepper. working in batches if necessary, brown the ribs on all sides. (one thing i've learned from watching tyler florence on the food network is "color equals flavor," so let them sear long enough that they develop some good golden brown color, 5 or so minutes each side.) 
remove from pot and set aside. 

add carrots, celery, onion, and shallots to pot and cook over medium heat until softened, about 10 minutes. add flour and cook, stirring, about one minute. add port and wine and deglaze, scraping up any browned bits on the bottom of the pan. simmer until wine is reduced by about half. add pouch with herbs (bouquet garni), garlic, and beef and chicken stocks. 

return ribs to the pot and bring to a simmer. cover and lower heat to low and cook until very tender, stirring occasionally, 3 hours. (the mixture should cook at a low, easy simmer-- if it gets too rowdy, turn down the heat. when done, the meat should be almost falling off the bone.)

remove and discard the herb pouch (bouquet garni). remove the ribs from the pot and shred the beef from the bones. meanwhile, with the ribs out of the pot, use an immersion blender in the sauce to blend the solid vegetables and to thicken it. (optional.) add shredded beef to pot, bring to a simmer and cook uncovered to reduce and thicken the sauce, about 20 minutes or more. (cook to desired thickness.)

serve over hot pasta with chopped parsley and grated cheese. 

delicious, grass- and potato-fed beef short ribs from olsen farms 

Friday, April 9, 2010

simple strawberry rhubarb cobbler

here's a little bonbon for your friday afternoon-- a super easy and absolutely swoon-worthy rhubarb and strawberry cobbler. 

i've never cooked with rhubarb. i've known all along it's the stuff that looks like red celery that you can make into a pie, but until last week i'd never even tasted it. i was looking forward to its availability this spring, though, precisely because i had no idea what to do with it, and i like to learn new tricks in the kitchen. 

i chopped it up and took a bite and said out loud (to myself as i was home alone), "whoa, REALLY?" it was so tart! i couldn't imagine it becoming a delicious dessert, but after following the muscat rhubarb cobbler recipe from edible seattle, that's exactly what it did.  

rhubarb muscat cobbler 
edible seattle
serves 4

for the filling:

3 Tablespoons unsalted butter
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup Muscat wine (i used sweet vermouth, but i think about any dessert wine would work)
1 Tablespoons lemon juice
3 cups diced rhubarb
3 cups quartered strawberries, from about a quart of berries (
i used strawberries i'd frozen after a u-pick adventure last summer.)

for the topping:

1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup (packed) brown sugar
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 stick (4 Tablespoons) unsalted butter, cut into 1/2” cubes

heat oven to 400 degrees.
filling: melt butter in large skillet over medium heat. add sugar, muscat, and lemon juice and cook, stirring, to dissolve sugar. bring to a simmer and add fruit, stirring to coat. cook, stirring occasionally, until fruit softens and gives up some of its liquid, about 8 minutes. increase heat and cook for another 5 minutes, until mixture is thickened and reduced. divide mixture amongst individual ramekins (or souffle molds, or other ovenproof bowls) and make topping.

topping: add all ingredients to food processor and pulse 30-40 times until it has the texture of coarse gravel. (may need to add a little more butter if it seems too loose and dry.) spoon generously over the filling. 

bake 15-20 minutes until filling is bubbling and top is golden brown.

rhubarb from stoney plains organic farm

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

meyer lemon fest part 3: salmon with lemons and creamy leeks

after preserving lemons and using them to flavor vodka, i had a couple leftover. i'd bought a 1lb fillet of wild caught (not farmed!) pink salmon from loki fish company at the farmers market and thought my lemons would compliment the fish nicely. pink salmon is milder in flavor and a lighter color than the more robust-flavored, dark pink to almost red-colored coho or sockeye. still, it's a delicate and delicious fish, with gorgeous light pink flesh. it's also cheaper than the other two which, truth be told, is its main appeal for me!

i found a recipe for an almond-crusted salmon with creamy leeks, but i didn't want to encase the fresh salmon flavor in nuts-- i like a really simple preparation, so took the leeks idea and scrapped the rest. the bright and creamy sauce made it a nice transition dish, easing from winter into spring. here's how it went...

pink salmon with lemons and creamy leeks
serves 2

1 1lb boneless salmon fillet
1 whole lemon (i used meyer)
olive oil, kosher salt and fresh ground black pepper
2 Tbsp butter
2 leeks, cleaned and sliced thin
3 Tbsp lemon juice
3/4 cup whipping cream (or half and half)
salt and pepper

for creamy leeks:

heat the butter over medium heat in a saucepan. add cleaned and sliced leeks and cook, stirring, about 3 minutes. reduce heat to low and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 15 minutes. increase heat to medium and stir in lemon juice; cook, stirring, for about a minute or until it evaporates. stir in cream and cook until it reduces slightly, just a few minutes. (note: when i added the cream to the mixture, it curdled. i'm not sure if it was because i hadn't let the lemon juice reduce completely, or if it would curdle regardless. either way, the blender took care of it.) cool slightly, transfer mixture to blender and blend until smooth. season to taste with salt and pepper.

for salmon:

preheat oven to 400 degrees.

prepare baking dish large enough for the fish by lightly coating bottom with olive oil. pat fish dry and put in baking dish (skin-side down, if skin on) and sprinkle with salt and cracked pepper. slice one of the lemons and arrange slices along the fish. drizzle liberally with olive oil. bake salmon about 20-25 minutes. check after 15 and every 5 minutes after that-- cooking time will depend on the thickness of the fillet. the thinner ends will cook faster than the center.

serve salmon either topped with the cream, or put cream on the plate and serve salmon on top.

and thus went meyer lemon fest 2010. 

Thursday, April 1, 2010

meyer lemon fest part 2: vodka infusions

i suspect that when the woman at true value hardware asked "what's your project?" as i paid for a box of half-gallon ball jars, she hoped the answer would be "preserving pears for the church" or something like it. when i answered "vodka infusions," she was visibly let down. but despite true-value lady's disapproval, this is a totally worthwhile project. for one, there's something that feels alchemic about it, putting simple ingredients together that will become so much more than the sum of their parts. second, though it takes a few days, there's precious little effort that goes into it. and third, following the transformation of flavor and color is exciting, even if, like me, you're not really into flavored vodkas!

i've been watching a lot of alton brown's show "good eats" on food network. several weeks ago i saw him make a tomato vodka that looked out of this world, and it got me thinking about some infusions of my own. and since meyer lemons and blood oranges were in season (ahem, in cailfornia... shhhh...), my flavors were practically picked out for me. 

first was meyer lemon with rosemary. i trimmed and thin sliced 3 lemons and tossed them in the jar, then cut the zest (yellow part only) from the ends i'd trimmed off and added it to the lemons. next went in a 6-inch piece of fresh rosemary i'd picked from down the street. (somehow, we live in the only house in seattle without a giant, ancient rosemary bush in the yard.) 

at the liquor store they'd told me that finlandia is the best vodka for making infusions, and i took their word for it. topped off the jar, tightened the lid, and stored away from direct sunlight for 4 days. 

i tasted each day, and each day the lemon flavor became a little stronger and the vodka flavor mellowed considerably. (save some of the original vodka and do comparison taste tests each day-- it's really cool!) i didn't want to let it sit too long, afraid that the pith would begin to infuse a bitter flavor, so on day 4 i strained everything out through 4 layers of cheesecloth. 

the lemon flavor was subtle and light, but the rosemary hadn't had enough time. i added another sprig of rosemary, this time smashing the needles a bit to bruise them so they would release more of their oils. the jar sat for another couple of days before i became impatient and strained the mixture into a clean glass bottle. the rosemary flavor is only enough to give the lemon a little dimension. i'll continue to experiment with woody herbs and get an idea of how long it really takes to get serious flavor from them.

for the blood orange infusion, i followed a similar formula. this time i peeled 2 oranges completely, removing all of the white pith. then sliced (really, the segments fell apart, so they weren't quite "sliced") and tossed in the jar. i removed the zest (again, only the orange part-- no white) from a third orange and added to the jar.

this time, i only filled the jar halfway with the vodka and let it sit for 10 days. again, i tasted every day until the flavor was what i wanted. the orange flavor is much stronger than the lemon, and is good for sippin'. i haven't tried mixing it into a cocktail yet, but i imagine it would be good in lots of recipes, including just served with a spritz of club soda and a twist. and it's just a lovely shade of magenta!

when summer comes, i totally want to try making a tomato infusion, and use cucumber to flavor both vodka and gin. other ingredients, just off the top of my head-- basil, mint, pepper, plum... i don't know, would strawberry or cherry be awful? in the fall, apple and pear would be totally yummy. but worry not-- i'm not looking to gulp down 30 gallons of vodka! no, instead, i think these will make excellent gifts. 

some good info at this link: