Thursday, November 29, 2007

Eating Vicariously: Allen & Delancey

Sometimes I really really miss New York.

And reading this, from the chef at Allen & Delancey, well, this is one of those times.

Potatoes: We slice them very thinly, then layer them, brushing each slice with some rendered bacon fat....

Oh my God. Yes. Do want!

[where: 10002]

Eating Seattle: Villa Victoria

Try this: Bring up the fact that Villa Victoria’s back open, selling those addictive homemade tamales, and you’ll know the real-deal food obsessives from the fakers. A happy light will come into their eyes, a smile will creep up, and before you know it they’ll be telling you all about the good old days, when Naomi Andrade Smith would pop open the window of her Madrona catering kitchen and dish out Seattle’s best tamales. Then they’ll start asking for directions.

she's back

Six years ago, chef Naomi Andrade Smith earned herself a cult following for her banana leaf-wrapped tamales, made with the most tender, moist masa imaginable. They tasted better than any you could get anywhere, including much of Mexico. But, just as Smith was planning to open a real store-front take-out shop to keep up with increasing demand, she fell ill. And Seattle went into withdrawal.

The good news is that she’s back in good health. The other good news is that she’s, well, back. Back with fried plantains that you can buy by the pound. With whole roast chicken adobo, ready to take home. Back with some of the best guacamole in the world (which you can pass off as your own—she won’t tell). And back selling those perfect tamales, filled with Oaxacan mole and chicken, beef with red mole, and cheese and jalapeno. The burritos are back as well: chile-marinated whitefish and lime, tofu in adobo, carne asada. All served out of a sunny, colorful storefront just off the main-drag in Columbia City.

Showing her Seattle roots, Smith’s roasting her own coffee, too. Sip a cup of her Café Mocambo brew as you browse the case, salivating over her spicy Mexican rice and homemade black beans, or the dreamy orange rind-flecked wedding cookies. There’s no doubt about it: The good old days are back. Get there and eat.

Villa Victoria in Seattle

[where: 98118]

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Food News: Restaurants opening all over town

Seattle's going through a growth spurt. There are restaurants opening every week (almost every day) right now, and not just the forgettable sort. These are really exciting restaurant openings.

I just drove by Lola's South City Bakery which opened in early November just south of Columbia City in Hillman City, on Rainier. It's a darling space and, so far, is getting raves on Yelp.

Then there's Txori, the much anticipated offspring of Madison Valley fave Harvest Vine.
image via Txori

The exciting part is that this is a true Tapas bar (not "small plates," a concept that is really starting to drive me nuts). And that means prices that aren't impossible to afford, like $2.50 bites of chorizo with chocolate (not exactly an original idea, but delicious nonetheless). I can't wait to go.

Of course that leaves Ethan Stowell's How to Cook A Wolf, the "is it or isn't it open?" restaurant of the group. Turns out it isn't, quite yet. I stopped by yesterday and the windows are still papered. I'll keep you posted. Early word is a menu that concentrates on seafood and (yep, you guessed it) small plates.

Also open (actually reopened) is Villa Victoria in Columbia City. Yep, the Madrona tamale lady is back! Watch for more on that soon.

Then there's the crop that've opened in the last few weeks: Quinn's, which is earning raves from everyone I've talked to; Joule, ditto; and Artemis, again, raves all around.

Then there's Kappo Chiso, the omakase-only experience above Chiso in Fremont.

A "kappo," as its known in Japan, is meant to be a personal experience for the diner, an intimate opportunity to talk to the chef while you are enjoying your meal.

I had the unimaginable opportunity to dine at Masa , the ultimate omakase experience, in NYC. I dined there alone (a girl's expense account can only afford one $450/per person sushi meal. No, really, it costs that much) and had the best time imagineable, talking and joking with Chef Masa Takayama. It was magic. And that's why it's so disappointing to hear that Kappo Chiso isn't all that special. This city is sorely in need of a remarkable omakase experience.

Did I miss anything? Have you been to these new places?

PS--You've got til Thursday to enjoy 30 for $30.

[where: 98101]

Monday, November 26, 2007

Eating In: Butter pecan ice cream

It's a tie.

The incredibly delicious turkey we bought from Tom at Meadow Wood Organic Farm was the best turkey I've ever tasted. By far. I did a simple sage-salt-pepper butter under the skin and we basted her pretty often, but there's no way any of that made a difference. The heritage turkey just plain tastes turkier.

But the addictive, insanely rich homemade butter pecan ice cream I made to go with Dad's apple pie? I guess we'll have to call it even.

I hardly ever follow a recipe to a T, and this time is no different. I meant to follow it, but we didn't have enough pecans (yeah yeah, I know, who makes butter pecan without pecans?) But you know what? I'm not sure I'd bother adding them next time since this ice cream--sans nuts--is pure rich maple-y goodness. It's a wow. Here's the recipe. Oh, and for the original, check out Leite's Culinaria.

Butter Pecan Ice Cream
3 large egg yolks
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 cup brown sugar
1 cup milk
3/4 cup light cream
3/4 cup heavy cream
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Whisk egg yolks in a medium heat-safe bowl until pale yellow and set aside.

In a medium heavy-bottomed saucepan over medium heat, melt butter until it begins to brown and smell nutty, stirring constantly. Add brown sugar and stir until melted. This can take up to 5 minutes, so be patient.

Reduce heat to low, very slowly add milk and light cream while whisking, and bring to a simmer. Do not boil! Be patient--this step can take a few minutes.

Drizzle half the milk mixture into the egg yolks very slowly and whisk until blended.

Whisk the egg yolk mixture into the remaining milk and cook over low heat, stirring constantly, until the mixture is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon, 5+ minutes. Be careful not to overheat; if you do so you will curdle the egg yolks and you'll have to start over. If testing with a candy thermometer, do not heat past 170°F [76C].)

Strain the batter into a clean, large heat-safe bowl. Stir in heavy cream and vanilla extract. Cover and refrigerate the batter until completely cold, preferably overnight.

Stir the batter gently and freeze in an ice cream maker according to manufacturer's instructions. Remove the ice cream with a spatula and store in a plastic container in the freezer.

[where: 98118]

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Good Read: Ruhlman on how to make turkey stock

Watcha doin' during Apple Cup?

Nope, I'm not talking about drinking beer. Nah, not eating Velveeta chili dip either. That's all fine and dandy, but what I'm talking about will change your life in no small way.

Friends, today you're making turkey stock! That turkey carcas you keep thinking you're going to do something else with but never will? That carcas is going to avoid getting tossed this year. This year you'll use its delicious broth for weeks or months to come.

And Ruhlman's going to tell you just how incredibly easy it is to make.

...By the end of Thursday, tens of millions of households will have the most miraculous ingredients for stock right at hand--turkey bones that have been lovingly roasted. And most of these households will have three more days of holiday to put them to use. That roasted turkey carcass, will make an extraordinary rich delicious poultry broth. Far superior to chicken stock. Infinitely versatile. Health-giving! Yea, verily, I say unto you!

Find the full piece (and so-easy-a-baby-could-do-it directions) here.


Monday, November 19, 2007

Good Read: Michèle Gentille on cheffing in Antarctica

A Brooklyn chef and cookbook writer (she co-authored the new Laurent Tourandel cookbook) moves to Antarctica to cook. And blogs about it.
Think you're adventurous? Read this and then we'll talk.

A taste:

It’s still early in the summer, more like early spring, so temperatures are not at hat-shedding levels yet, and many of these folks spend their days in 40 to 90 degrees below zero, engaged in physical labor of some sort. After only one week of arduous outdoor work, the carpenters, cargo haulers, and mechanical geniuses that keep things working bought up all the superglue—there is a tiny shop here, open an hour a day-- to patch up their cracking fingers.

Thanks to Andrea Strong for the link.

Thanksgiving Bonus!

The word "awesome" has lost much of its oomph from years of abuse by potheads and valleygirls. But Paul McCartney making mashed potatoes while dressed somewhat like a sprocket? Awesome.

Thanksgiving, ho!

You picked a fine time to leave your phone in a Renton hockey rink, Lucille! Yes, friends, your fearless eater, after making a list of all the cooking, cleaning, prepping, cleaning, grocery shopping, Costco-ing and general Thanksgiving-ing yet to be done this week, decided, hey! You know what'd be fun? Driving down to Renton to pick up a friggin' cell phone just for sh*ts and giggles. Road trip!

Actually, the strangest part is that I was already planning a trip to Enumclaw tomorrow (and Renton's on the way).

You see, I'm going to pick up my heritage turkey! OK, I know, driving 40 minutes both ways to pick up a turkey kinda puts a dent in the old "eating local, sustainable food" thing, right? Yep. But you know what? Tough.

You see, I get to see where our turkey lived, ate, walked and played. I also get to meet Tom, the farmer who raised our Thanksgiving turkey on his farm, Meadow Wood Organics. And his dog, Asha, who's incredibly good looking, don't you think?

He's no Callie-dog, but come on, that's setting the bar pretty high.

They also raise goats at Meadow Wood, so I'm planning on talking to Tom about goat meat too (we love lamb, so goat is the next frontier for us).

Anyways, here's what else we've got cooking for the holiday.

Baked Oysters --anyone have a recipe for this? I'm thinking something warm, oystery and creamy, maybe with bread crumbs on top, for eating with soft French bread
Wild Mushroom Pate --Um, yeah, not usually a big Emeril fan, but I made this last year and it is fantastic (and can be made a day in advance)

Roasted heritage turkey with sage butter --Wish us luck!
Ed's mom's stuffing --classic stuffing with some sausage in there
Caramelized Shallot and Sage Mashed Potatoes --this has become Ed's signature potato recipe
Roasted pearl onions and brussels sprouts --yum.
Mom's layered salad --yep, the one with grated cheese, frozen peas, mayo, bacon and shredded lettuce. Sounds strange, tastes pretty good.
Candied yams with marshmallows --An odd Thanksgiving invention, but they are always the first thing to go.

Pumpkin Cheesecake --My recipe. Grandma's favorite. Gotta make Grannie happy.
Apple Pie --Dad's baking one from scratch! which is a huge deal. I'm considering making some maple ice cream to go with.

What are you having?

[where: 98118]

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Food News: How to Cook a Wolf thisclose to opening

I can tell: You've been waiting for this one, too. And with good reason! Ethan Stowell has opened two of the city's best and most popular restaurants, Union and Tavolata. And now he's on the verge of opening a 20-seater atop Queen Anne? Named after an MFK Fisher book? It's enough to have foodies stopping by, cupping their hands and pressing their noses against the windows just to get a peak inside.

image via Seattle Times

The good news is: How to Cook a Wolf is opening next week! Shhh, don't go telling everyone. There are only 20 seats, after all. We really can't spare any.

And yes, I know you've read conficting reports--they'll open any day! they're not even close to opening!

But trust me on this. Just trust me.

[where: 98119]

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

King Corn debuts Friday at Grand Illusion

Just a quick note: King Corn (which we wrote about a month ago) makes its Seattle debut this Friday at the Grand Illusion.

And get this: director Aaron Woolf will be in town to do two Q&As, during both the Friday and Saturday 7pm showings.

RELATED: King Corn: Documentary on the corning of America

[where: 98105]

Eating Seattle: Buckley's redux

I love love seeing Buckley's awesome bacon-cheeseburger getting praise today on Seattle Weekly's food blog, Voracious.

Somebody in this kitchen is taking extra care. I feel like I've had this burger a million times, just not done nearly as well. The bun ”” more than a canvas for the beef, is light, delicious ”” is actually toasted, with the edges tastefully charred. The cheddar's perfectly melted, and the veggie toppings are fresh (crispy lettuce!). The patty? One of the few that I've had lately that wasn't either still moving or could be used by the NHL.

image via Voracious

Not to be too "we told you so" about it, but, well, we pointed you toward their great burgers a couple of months ago.

The burger rocked. Have you noticed how many restaurants fail to season their burger meat? I don't get it--there's nothing more disappointing than an undersalted piece of beef. Buckley's doesn't make this mistake: Their burgers--8oz of nicely seasoned beef cooked medium--rock. The bacon was great too, and the brioche bun doesn't hurt matters either.

Seriously, just go and wolf one down.

[where: 98119]

Monday, November 12, 2007

Eating In: Seafood in saffron sauce with calamari linguini

After picking up a bunch of goodies at Pike Place Market we had all the ingredients for a great seafood pasta, but we didn't have a sauce recipe in mind. So I did a little searching and found this recipe for seafood pasta on Waitrose (yep, Food Illustrated has a website!). We used this recipe as a jumping-off point.

I had saffron on hand, and we figured we could tweak or leave out the other things we didn't have (like courgettes, aka zucchini). I imagined the black "calamari" linguini from Pappardelle's would be beautiful against the pink prawns and yellow saffron sauce. And it was. Absolutely beautiful.

This was one of the tastiest seafood pasta dishes I've ever had. Perfect for having guests over because it's fairly quick and, again, so pretty on the plate.

Any combo of seafood would work here; as you'll see, the recipe is very basic, so grilled or seared salmon, mussels, or whatever combo of seafood you want to use would be fine. Think in terms of color, though--salmon would be pretty against the saffron yellow sauce, as would the dark color of mussels.

Seafood in Saffron Sauce with Calamari Linguini

1 cup chicken or vegetable broth
1 cup dry white wine
3/4 tsp saffron threads
3 T butter
1 large shallot, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
2/3 c half-n-half
1 lb prawns, peeled and deveined, reserving all shells
1/2 lb calamari, cut into thick rings or strips
2 T chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
1lb calamari linguini or squid-ink pasta (you can usually find these darkly colored pastas at specialty stores or in Asian supermarkets)

Place the broth, wine, saffron and prawn shells into a medium saucepan over medium heat and cook until reduced by half, about 20 minutes. Remove from heat.

Drop pasta into boiling water to cook.

While pasta is cooking, melt 2 tablespoons butter to a large saute pan over medium heat, then add the shallot and garlic. Cook (but do not brown) and soften shallot-garlic mixture for about five minutes, then add the prawns. Cook just until prawns are starting to turn completely pink. Remove prawns to a plate (they should be slightly underdone).

Once the pasta is done cooking, drain pasta and leave in colander. Working quickly, cook the calamari for 1 minute, then pour the saffron sauce through a fine strainer (to remove shells) into the saute pan.

Immediately add the pasta and cook for medium heat for 1 or 2 minutes. Add the prawns and parsley into the pan and immediately pour the entire pasta/seafood/sauce mixture into a serving bowl.

Serve hot with crusty bread and a nice Chardonnay.

[where: 98118]

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Saturday at Pike Place Market, plus food news

Yesterday we got going too late to hit the U-District Farmers Market, so we decided to go down to the big kahuna, Pike Place. It was sunny, blue, chilly fall weather and it felt like the perfect thing to do. We even had good parking karma.

First stop was Sur la Table. I just love the hustle-and-bustle of that store during the holiday season. And it doesn't hurt that some of my favorite people still work there, ten years after I worked there with them.

Sur la Table image via Seattle Bon Vivant

We grabbed some calamari linguini from Pappardelle's, a pound of prawns and a half-pound of calamari for what turned out to be a fantastic dinner (more about that coming soon) and a loaf of Le Panier's seriously delicious onion bread, which I hadn't had in years. The bread has all these little bits of toasted onion through it. Amazing.

I also used to work there (yeah, yeah, where didn't I work in Pike Place, right?), and I remember making garlic bread (crushed garlic, butter, a little salt) using the onion bread. You either split the loaf in half, spread the garlic butter on it and broil it, or you slap the two buttered sides back together, wrap it in foil and bake it for 20-25 minutes at 350. I'm telling you, it's the best garlic bread you can make.

Of course we all shared a bbq pork hom bow (Ruby loves hom bows--smart kid), a sable chocolate from Le Panier (with big pieces of toasted hazelnut and dark chocolate slivers), and a terrific bratwurst from Taxi Dogs (my first time eating one). Damn, great brat--it literally popped with juice every bite we took.

Now for the food news: On our way to the car we walked by the Virginia Inn, which is expanding! They're taking over the space between Le Pichet and their current space, which used to be, um, what exactly? I don't remember.

There's a sign in the window that says Virginia Inn is building a new kitchen. Does this mean that one of Seattle's classic taverns (opened in 1903!) will be putting a little extra work into their food? I love the Virginia Inn--great space and a refreshing throw-back. I'll be keeping an eye on this one.

[where: 98101]

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Good Read: NY Times on how Hebberoy screwed Portland

By now you've likely seen the NY Times article on how new-to-Seattle indie restaurant guy Michael Hebberoy screwed over chefs, investors and, presumably, his (now ex) wife down in Portland before moving here. If not, it's definitely worth a read.

The Hebberoy story is interesting for a number of reasons, the main one being the hard-to-resist intrigue of "underground" restaurants. Seems like going to these off-the-grid dinners is, to many a foodie, like being invited to hang with the uber-cool kids. Hebberoy became the poster-boy for the trend, even garnering Food & Wine features during his reign.

But then, well, he just took off, leaving others to pick up the pieces of his broken businesses. And that's the even more interesting side of the story.

Now he's here. For the last year or so Hebberoy's been living in Seattle, hosting One Pot dinners and getting lots of love from local media. Imagine the egg on our face when the NY Times airs the dirty laundry on this guy. You see, anyone who has ever lived in NYC knows that the NY Times isn't known for breaking food stories, especially when it comes to food stories in cities outside of New York. In other words, Hebberoy's exploits aren't news. And anyone who googled him would've known it.

In fact, Dan Savage says so himself in a mea culpa about the Stranger's own coverage of One Pot. Very worth reading (if only for the vitriolic comments--always fun).

Also check out Willamette Week's coverage of the Hebberoy debacle here.

Seattle foodies talk about it a little on Chowhound and Portland foodies on the Food Dude's site.

For a little history, read Naomi Hebberoy's official statement on the topic on Portland Mercury.

PS: Hebberoy, in classic narcissist fashion, has decided to embrace his newly public "bad guy" status. From One Pot's website:

in honor of james abbott mcneill whistler and my new found prestige as public villain - one pot announces a new series - an inquiry into creating animosity - the table has such a generative way of bringing people together, so then, why not use it to discover what tears us apart… stay tuned. the first dinner is imminent…

Oy. When this tanks, where do you think he'll move next?

[where: 98118]

Sunday, November 4, 2007

Good Read: How to cook a heritage bird

My friend Jane's got me worrying. She mentioned in one of her comments that cooking a heritage breed turkey is different (and more difficult) than cooking the usual chubby-wubby Tom. Course she didn't say how we should cook the turkey.

I've been a little nervous about it ever since. It's our first Thanksgiving, after all. And it's our first heritage turkey. I decided a little research was in order.

image via Lifehacker

Prepare for a shock, friends: When it comes to cooking turkey, there's no consensus! Take a look at the Heritage Foods website. There are recipes from, among others, Dan Barber and Zac Pellacio, two great chefs whose food I've enjoyed at their NY restaurants. Barber suggests cooking the bird at 475F (!!), then turning it down to 350F. Pellacio says 300F for the long haul. And that's just the beginning.

Some say to remove the legs and thighs and cook them longer (I guess while the rest of the bird sits on the counter?), and almost all the recipes call for a huge mess of butter.

Then I found this article by a man named William Rubel, a "specialist in traditional cooking." He writes in a semi-goofy, formal voice, but anyone who advises cooking meat less than those stupid USDA guidelines has my vote. As any good cook knows, if you follow those store-bought meat thermometers you'll have medium to medium-well meat every time. That swoony med-rare steak you had at the fancy steakhouse? It was definitely not cooked to 140F.

Anyways, Rubel says to cook the bird at a hot temperature for less time, as you would a duck. And he says cooking turkey until its 180F is a very bad idea, and instead to cook it until its around 140F.

A note on the cooking temperature: The USDA recommendation of 180F in the deepest part of the thigh, and 160F in the stuffing is based on the government's need to provide a simple general rule that will cover all health and safety eventualities. Heritage turkeys, as of this writing in the fall of 2003, are being raised in small groups and are being carefully slaughtered, packed, and distributed. These are not mass market birds. My recommendation is based on the assumption that these birds are being carefully handled. The exterior of the bird, which is where most dangerous pathogens are found, will far exceed 180F and will be sterilized through the high-heat baking. Cooking to 140F will not kill pathogens that might have contaminated the inside of the bird -- but you must keep in mind that there are many foods that can harbor food-born pathogens including lettuce and bean sprouts. One of the reasons to know something about where your food comes from is to then have some basis on which to calculate the risk involved in any given food preparation.

Amen, brother.

[where: 98118]

Friday, November 2, 2007

Eating Seattle: Squid & Ink

I found out about Squid & Ink while doing research for a project I'm working on. The project involves searching for a good (hopefully great) Monte Cristo sandwich in Seattle. Squid & Ink serves a Monte Cristo. Thing is, it's vegan. A vegan Monte Cristo.

To be honest, having never made one from scratch and having probably not eaten one in half a decade, and now reading that it was possible to create a vegan one, I suddenly wasn't sure if I even knew what a Monte Cristo sandwich was. Isn't it that eggy sandwich thing my mom ordered ten years ago when we went to the sit-down restaurant in Nordstroms? Hmmm.

I looked it up.

According to Wikepedia, a Monte Cristo has a bunch of lunch meat--turkey, ham--and Swiss cheese either sandwiched between egg-battered bread (aka French Toast), or the whole sandwich is battered in egg and then fried (like stuffed French Toast). Then it's sometimes served with jam and/or syrup and dusted with powdered sugar.

After a quick count of the things that would not be vegan-friendly in this sandwich, I came up with four (egg, cheese, ham, turkey). Then I counted the vegan-friendly ingredients: one (bread). This oughtta be interesting.

So I hit the road and went down to Georgetown to try it. I found Squid & Ink pretty easily; it's on Albro, so you pretty much can't miss it as long as you don't turn too soon. When we came in, RATT was blasting from the stereo and a very tattooed and pierced guy said hi. He ran to grab Ruby a highchair and I took a look at the menu.

In case you hadn't figured it out yet, I'm not a vegan. I was a vegetarian for a year and a half in high school on a dare, but then I started losing my hair because of severe anemia. Nowadays it's rare if I go a week without sucking on a lamb bone.

I'm telling you this because, as I was reading the menu, I kept having to remind myself that none of the dishes listed were going to taste like their "normal" (read: meat-filled) counterparts. Quiche? No eggs, just tofu stuff baked until egg-like. Steak wrap? It's made with seiten. I'm not trying to be a jerk, but what the hell is seiten? Also, I kinda figured vegans were not into eating meat. I mean, what meat-lover thinks becoming a vegan is a solid long-term plan? So again I was confused: why does everything on the menu include faux meat? What am I missing?

I was getting distracted from the mission at hand: A vegan Monte Cristo. I ordered Ruby a "ham and cheese" sandwich and myself the main attraction. Then we sat and looked around.

Have you ever been to your favorite rock club during the day? It's kind of off-putting. You'd never noticed that the walls were painted weirdly, the floors were really really dirty, the bathrooms...I mean, it all looks fine with little or no lighting and three PBRs in the gullet, but in the light of day? Well, that's what this place looks like: A rock club, during daylight hours. Walls are painted a bright blue, the booths are low to the ground and look like they're broken, and the music's friggin' loud. And it's death-metal. Not what you'd call a "pretty" place to eat lunch. But I will say, every vegan in there was friendly beyond belief, even going so far as to jump up and down to make Ruby smile.

Our food arrived. Ruby's "ham and cheese" looked like it was coated in the nacho cheese from 7-11. It didn't taste like that, but that's what the cheese looked like. The faux-ham (I started calling it fam) was round--I guess vegan ham comes in a round loaf that is then sliced. I took the fam off the bread and cut pieces up for Ruby. She liked it. I gave her some of the "cheese" bread. She didn't really care for it.

I might've eaten this today

The Monte Cristo came with a big glob of what would've been butter (if vegans ate butter) melting on top. I don't know what it was, but whenever I'm served anything with a pile of butter melting on it (you know, like pancakes or whatever) I wipe a good hunk of it off. So I did. Then I dug in.

Same faux-ham as Ruby's fam-n-cheese piled inside, plus what looked like cottage cheese except less cottage-y. To be totally honest I was very confused while tasting this. Shouldn't there be faux Swiss cheese? This was more like faux ricotta. And the bread itself tasted like French Toast with cinnamon. Dammit, nobody said anything about cinnamon belonging in a Monte Cristo! It was very distracting. This was clearly a case of corner-cutting in the kitchen (using the cinnamon faux-egg batter for both the French Toast and the Monte Cristo).

The sandwich was just strange, and no, it wasn't good. It might succeed on dare status--I mean, it's a great vegan stunt. But delicious? No. Then again, my experience with vegan stunt food is limited, to say the least.

So speak up, vegans, have you tried this? What did you think?

Squid & Ink in Seattle

[where: 98108]

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Eating In: Tarragon roasted chicken with russet-Gouda gratin

We were having guests for Halloween, and since I knew there'd be knocking and trick-or-treat-ing and lots of interruptions, I figured an easy, just-stick-it-in-the-oven dinner would be a good idea. Roasted chicken thighs are always good--they pretty much cook themselves into deliciousness with little/no help needed. And I was thinking a simple but yummy potato salad would be good--a no-fuss crowd-pleaser I could make ahead of time.

But a mysterious, four-days-late Mexican hangover must've overtaken me at the grocery store because I bought russet potatoes instead of reds. Sure, you can make potato salad with russets, but it gets all grainy and mushy--not what I had in mind.

So I decided to make a gratin. It's one of those dishes that seems complicated and time-consuming, and that's because it is. Or rather, it is if you don't have a food processor. I would guess it'd take close to an hour (or longer) to slice the potatoes and grate the 2+ cups of cheese by hand, and if you've got a 10 month old swimming in the dog's water dish you'll need to add an extra hour for general policing. So, not happening. But with a food processor, the cheese grating and potato slicing took about 3 minutes total. Oy, what a slave I am to the kitchen.

I used Gouda and Romano in the gratin because that's what I had big chunks of. Not to let the cat out of the bag or disappoint you, but most of my cooking isn't planned days in advance. It's "oops, bought the wrong potatoes, now what?" more often than not. In fact, not only did I use Gouda (instead of Gruyere or some other gratin-appropo cheese), I also had to be a trickster when it came to the "cream" part of the recipe. Maybe some of you regularly have heavy cream and whole milk in the house. We do not, so I had wing it. I ended up using nonfat milk mixed with full-fat plain yogurt to make a fattier cream/milk substitute. And it worked!

We had a giant Costco hunk-o-Gouda in the fridge, which is all melty and mild, and with a little Romano for sharpness, nuttiness and depth, it was a surprisingly great combo. But my guess is that most cheeses would work well here. It's not an exact science; dishes with tons of cheese and potatoes tend to be pretty forgiving. But mixing a milder, softer cheese with a stronger, hard cheese worked well.

Russet Potato Gratin with Gouda and Romano
4 large or 5-6 medium russet potatoes, peeled and sliced to about 1/8" thick (not the thinnest blade on the food processor, the thicker one)
2 medium yellow onions, sliced medium
6oz grated Gouda (using large holes on grater)
2oz grated Romano (using large holes on grater)
1 c milk
1 c whole-milk plain yogurt
3 T chopped fresh parsley
3 T chopped fresh chives
1 1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp fresh ground pepper
3 T butter

Preheat oven to 375F. Lightly oil a 9"x13" baking dish (you can use any shallow pan here--we used a larger one so the gratin would be thinner and crustier).

In a skillet over medium heat, heat 1 tablespoon of butter and 1 tablespoon of olive oil. Add onions and cook, without browning, until soft, about 7 minutes. Take pan off heat and allow to cool somewhat (the onions can be warm but shouldn't be hot to the touch).

While onions are cooking, whisk milk, yogurt, herbs, salt and pepper in a bowl until yogurt and milk are combined. Set aside.

Using food processor attachments, grate both cheeses. Empty cheeses into a bowl, wipe processor bowl and use large slicing blade to slice potatoes. Set potatoes aside in processor bowl.

Add potatoes in a single layer, slightly overlapping.
Add half onions, scattering over potatoes. Add half of the cheese mixture.

Repeat with potatoes, onions and cheese mixture. Add herbed yogurt-milk mixture last, drizzling over the potatoes to evenly distribute the herbs.

Use your hands to press down onto the potatoes. The milk mixture should not cover the potatoes completely, but it should be a close call.

Cover with foil and bake for 1 hour. Remove foil and bake for another 20-30 minutes until very golden and bubbly. Allow to sit for ten minutes before serving.

Tarragon Roasted Chicken
Ed called this "bearnaise chicken" because it has the same ingredients as bearnaise sauce. It's seriously easy and requires very little prep. Just promise me you'll use fresh tarragon. When you're talking about a five-ingredient dish, every ingredient matters.

1 1/2 T chopped fresh tarragon
1 or 2 cloves garlic, minced
juice of 1/2 lemon
3 T butter, melted
8 chicken thighs, half with skin and half with skin removed (or you can leave skin on all of them if you prefer)

Preheat oven to 375F
Mix melted butter, lemon juice, garlic and tarragon in a small bowl.

Season chicken thighs with salt and freshly ground pepper.

Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in a large, deep saute pan over medium-high heat until hot but not smoking. Add chicken thighs skin (or flesh) side down and leave to brown in the pan. Do not fuss with them or you will tear the skin and flesh. Cook for about 3-4 minutes. Dot bits of lemon-tarragon butter on the pieces and then, once you've peeked and can see that the chicken is nicely browned, turn pieces over (skin side up). If the chicken sticks there's a good chance it hasn't seared yet.

Using a spoon and knife, gently lift the skin and slide a little flavored butter under the skin, or just dab some of the butter onto the skinless thighs.

Once you've added the butter, place the saute pan into the oven and roast, uncovered, for 30 minutes. Top with any remaining butter and roast for another couple minutes. Serve immediately.

[where: 98118]