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Monthly Archives: April 2011

A Party Fit for the Queen

This guy's ready, are you?

Get your pinky fingers ready, cause Will and Kate are gettin’ hitched!  Since the occasion probably won’t be a rowdy good time like most weddings are (they’ve even banned beer from the occasion), us here in the States must compensate by doing what we do best:  turn a mildly festive occasion into a reason to gorge ourselves on fatty foods and booze.  How, do you ask?  By staying up tomorrow night to watch the first hours of the live wedding coverage, fueled entirely on scones and tea-infused alcoholic beverages.  I’ll show you how.

While the English aren’t known for their delicious food, they do know how to serve a proper tea.  The best part of high tea is the scones.  Who doesn’t love a good scone?  The problem is, here in the States, our scones are total rubbish.  If you’re planning to eat a scone sold in a coffee shop, make sure to have a Nalgene full of water on hand to help you choke down the dry, hard chunks of overly sweet dough.  Homemade scones are fresh, moist, and very simple to put together.  With some basic baking ingredients and a half an hour, you can make your own supremely satisfying scones.  Below is my tried-and-true recipe for scones, adapted from Alton Brown’s recipe:

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups flour, plus ¼ cup for rolling out dough
  • 4 teaspoons baking powder
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 4 tablespoons COLD butter (temperature is critical here)
  • 2 tablespoons shortening
  • 3/4 cup cream
  • 1 egg
  • 1 teaspoon of vanilla or almond extract
  • Handful dried currants or dried cranberries
  • Handful of toasted nuts or mini chocolate chips

Directions:

1. Heat oven to 375 degrees.

2.  In a large mixing bowl, combine flour, baking powder, salt and sugar and mix well with a wire whisk.

3.  Cut in butter and shortening using a pastry cutter or a fork. The resulting mixture will be dry and crumbly.  Don’t overmix at this point!  Doing so will result in tough dough and a premature melting of the butter.

Don't have a row if your butter and flour mixture looks like this.

4.  In a separate bowl, beat the egg.  Add the cream and extract.  Slowly add the egg mixture to the flour mixture until all of the ingredients create a single mass.  If there are remaining dry ingredients in the bottom of the bowl that will not adhere to the mass, gently and scarcely push the dough into the remaining dry mixture until it combines.  Quickly and gently massage in the dried fruit, nuts, and/or chocolate chips. Push dough into the shape of a square on a floured surface.

5.  Cut the dough into rounds using the rim of a water glass, or cut the dough into triangles. On a cookie sheet, bake for 15 minutes, or until tops are light golden brown.

6.  Pat your scones with a little more butter, and slather with your favorite jam.  Try to be nice and share with others.

Now, on to the tea-infused alcoholic beverages.  There are two ways to achieve this part of your royal wedding experience, One avenue to tea cocktails is to purchase tea-infused or tea-flavored liquor.  If you haven’t yet had the pleasure, now would be a great time to try the new trend of sweet tea-flavored vodkas and whiskeys.  You can find them at any liquor store (or if you no longer live in a prohibition state such as Washington, a grocery store).  Go ahead and mix your flavored tea with brewed iced teas or lemonade.  Or, if you’re feeling sassy, pour it on the rocks.

A second avenue to tea cocktails is to mix your non-flavored alcohols with brewed tea. You’ll have to be a little bit better at mixing drinks for this technique and have a fair amount of tea on hand, but then again, you won’t have to make a trip to the store to buy a flavored tea.  Here are some simple tea cocktail ideas to get your creative juices flowing.  After a few drinks, I’m sure you’ll think of more fantastic concoctions with which to salute the Queen.

Now that you have your food and drink in order, call your family and friends to come over to join your royal wedding viewing party.  As long as your tea choice is caffeinated, you shouldn’t have any problem keeping the party going through the rambling processions and asinine commentary.  If things get dull, consider checking out some royal wedding drinking games to raise your spirits (no pun intended).

I hope I’ve given you some ideas on how to make this royal wedding memorable (or hazy, depending on how much you like the tea cocktails).  If things get too out of hand, at least you’ll have a proper breakfast of tea and scones ready to go to take the edge of that morning-after headache.  Cheers!

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“Deep Dish” on Southern Cookin’

What happens when two budding Southern cooking show hosts attempt to be the Cooking Channel’s next big star?  A food fight.  In Mary Kay Andrews’ book, Deep Dish, Regina Foxton is the host of a Georgia public television food show called Fresh Start, focusing on fresh, healthier versions of classic Southern dishes.   Tate Moody, is a regulation hottie who hosts Vittles, a kill-it-and-grill-it show on the Southern Outdoors Network.  When a big-shot producer comes down to Atlanta to take a look at the on-site filming of both shows, he can’t decide which one he wants to sign on to his network.  Instead of choosing for himself, he lets the viewers of the Cooking Channel decide by hosting the network’s first-ever Food Fight.  Similar to the setup on shows like Top Chef or Chopped, Regina and Tate are sent to a remote island off the coast of Georgia to battle it out in a series of culinary challenges.  As the two opponents move closer toward the prize of their own show on the Cooking Channel, they also grow closer to each other.  All and all, Deep Dish is a book filled with food, humor and romance; the perfect combination of ingredients for a romantic foodie like myself.  Let’s just say I devoured this book (and the descriptions of Tate Moody without his shirt on).

My favorite part of the book?  Learning about Southern cuisine.  Mary Kay Andrews goes to great lengths to carefully describe the ingredients and methods used by both chefs.  At one point in the story, Regina and Tate are given a box of everyday pantry items from the average American home and asked to create a meal.  The box contains Frosted Flakes, parts of a frying chicken, confectioner’s sugar, mayonnaise, and a whole slew of other boring and unrelated cooking items.  While the “Tatester” fails miserably at the challenge, Regina dives deep into her childhood memories of cooking from her mother’s cookbooks.  She whips up a feast of oven-fried cornflake chicken, tomato soup cake, and vinegar pie, amongst other classic Southern dishes.

While most people cringe at the thought of southern dishes like Snickers salad or Sprite cake, the people I know who were born and raised on these dishes swear by them.  Which got me thinking:  when have I ever tried making Southern food?  With the help of a few recipes in the back of Deep Dish, I decided to make my own down-home, Southern feast.

First, I researched online to find a recipe for cornflake chicken.  Surprisingly, (to me at least), lots of people use cornflakes with oven-fried chicken to replicate the crunchiness that results in deep-frying battered chicken.  I decided to use this recipe for “Best Chicken Ever” after it received rave reviews from fellow cooks on www.allrecipes.com.  First, I dipped my chicken pieces in sour cream (I used light sour cream and added cayenne pepper and hot sauce for kick).  Then, I rolled my chicken in crushed cornflakes.  A second dash of seasonings and a drizzle of butter, and I popped them in the oven.

Based on my research, it seems like many people use the cornflake oven-fried cooking method as a healthier alternative to deep-fried chicken.  If you are trying replace the crispy, buttery hot goodness of a piece of deep fried chicken for dietary purposes or from a lack of a deep fryer, you will be sorely disappointed by cornflake chicken.  While nothing was wrong with the taste of the final product, I spent the entire meal thinking about how much better a piece of authentic fried chicken would be than the impostor on the plate in front of me.  If you must try cornflake chicken, don’t be shy with the use of cayenne powder and hot sauce to add heat to whatever wet ingredient you are washing the chicken in.

While collard greens would have been the ideal vegetable side dish for the chicken, I don’t care for them.  I’ve tried them over and over again, hoping to taste a delicious version of greens, but I am left in disappointment (and a mouth full of salt and pork fat).  I went for the healthier alternative of steamed green beans with a little garlic and butter.

Now for the grand finale of my Southern meal:  Regina Foxton’s “Simply Sinful Tomato Soup Chocolate Cake,” as written in the back of Deep Dish.  I can’t share the exact recipe with you because of copyright law.  But I can tell you that yes, indeed, the recipe has a can of condensed tomato soup, along with conventional cake ingredients like flour, sugar, butter, and cocoa powder. Here is one of the public recipes for tomato soup cake that I found online.

willing myself to put tomato soup into my cake batter

With much hesitation and conflicting inner dialogue, (“you just put WHAT in that batter?!”), I got the cake made and put in the oven.  The cake was easy to put together, and baked without incident.  After the cake was cooled, I threw some of Martha Stewart’s cream cheese frosting on it, and dug in.  It didn’t taste anything like tomato soup, but it didn’t make me want to “slap my momma“* either.  It tasted like a run-of-the-mill devil’s food cake.  That being said, my boyfriend claims the cake goes “PERFECTLY” with ice cream (was he just trying to be nice?).

After much research and attention to culinary detail, I feel like I’ve failed to produce a satisfying Southern meal.  I don’t know what Regina Foxton and Tate Moody did to get all their Southern cooking know-how, but I am definitely in the dark.  Maybe with the help of some serious Southern family recipes, a Fry Daddy, and a generous pour of SoCo, my next attempt at a Southern feast will be a success.  Until then, I’ll be tearing my way through more of Mary Kay Andrews’ delicious stories.

*NOTE:  No mommas were harmed in the making of this meal.

Cuisine to Invoke a Perfect Weekend

 
 

After getting off work 30 minutes early yesterday afternoon, I raced back to my apartment, grabbed my car, and sped down (and at times, crawled down) I-5 south.  I rarely visit my boyfriend in Tacoma for the weekend, but because of his local Easter Sunday gigs, we decided it would be best to stay in his neck of the woods for a few days.  With a warm and sunny forecast to get me pumped for the weekend, I blasted my favorite Glee singles from my car stereo, belting them out at full volume.

courtesy of: http://www.boulderdowntown.com

Tacoma is not the most desirable place in the universe, but it has its allure at times.  There’s not much to do,, so I spend most of my time reading, happy houring at 208 Garfield and Farelli’s, or enjoying the great outdoors in Bresemann Forest.  But my favorite thing to do while I’m there is to spend time in the kitchen.  Ryan’s kitchen is rather primitive compared to mine.  There are no electric mixers, no fancy pans or utensils, and only the most basic of cooking and baking ingredients.  This forces me to not only get creative in the kitchen, but to also use very simple preparations and flavors.  It’s a welcomed challenge that almost always brings a satisfying result.

On my way over to Tacoma, I called Ryan to ask him what we should do for dinner.  In true guy form, he said steak and potatoes.  He added that I should get “something green,” since he knows I’m all about getting my daily servings of vegetables.  At QFC, I found New York bone-in top sirloin for ridiculously cheap at about $6.  I then grabbed a few sweet potatoes ($.99/lb.), and a bunch of organic broccoli (my favorite), for an unreal $.99.  I had originally bought a bottle of cheap merlot, but after a few glasses, I found my well-hidden stash of wine my parents had brought over from Eastern Washington. 

 Ryan, my friend Dylan and I cracked open a bottle of Robert Karl, made by the Gunselman family in Spokane.  We sipped the delicious blend and enjoyed the last few minutes of sun while our sweet potatoes baked.  Ryan worked his grill magic with the steaks, and I finished steaming the broccoli on the stove. 

Ryan and Dylan

As the sun set behind the neighbor’s house, we sat outside at our rickety picnic table and enjoyed the very simple and cheap, yet divine meal we had prepared.  After dinner, the weather quickly returned to chilly temperatures, and our brief glimpse of the joys of summer faded away.  But it’s just around the corner.  Until summer is here in full swing, we will have to keep invoking it like we always do in the Northwest:  through the heavy reliance on outdoor grills and fleece jackets.

Monsoon: A Wedding of Asian Flavor

My review of Seattle Restaurant Week went out with a storm at Monsoon.  Tucked away at the far reaches of Capitol Hill, away from the sarcastic facial hair and unisex skinny jeans of the Pike/Pine corridor, you might not have ever heard of it.  Have no fear; I am bringing the experience to you!  But don’t take my word for it.  Get in your car, your silly moped (for all you Seattle hipsters), or hoof it up to 19th and Roy and taste this crazy good food for yourself.

When you go, make sure you don’t accidentally pass it.  The restaurant sign is rather understated (just like the ambiance and the food), and it only has about 15 tables.  While the Seattle standard of minimalistic décor usually leaves me feeling cold, the warm wood tones and romantic candlelight made me feel right at home at Monsoon.  After fifteen minutes of taking in my surroundings, I even started to feel like it was sexy (or maybe it was the tattooed couple next to me who had their hands and lips all over each other).

I usually don’t comment on my wine selections, but I have to comment on the great glass of j. laurens cremant de Limoux ($10) I enjoyed with dinner.  This lovely champagne was uncommonly balanced between syrupy sweet and puckering tart.  The bubbles weren’t overpowering me with the constant urge to snort them up.  And, just like my server assured me, it went with everything I ate.

My first course was the barbecued Carlton Farms pork spare ribs with ginger, hoisin, and five spice.  I’m a sucker for ribs (pardon the expression), and when they are on a menu, you know that’s what I’m getting.  Needless to say, I’ve had my share of ribs.  I was expecting three or four delicate ribs to be brought out, but I had enough to share from the pile of about eight ribs that were set in front of me.  I was glad for the extra chances to indulge.  The meat was incredibly tender and abundant on the bone, tasting more like a baby back rib.  The sauce was refreshing, and not overpoweringly smoky or sweet like some other Asian-style ribs I’ve tried.

After much indecision, I chose the sautéed white prawns with lemongrass, spicy yellow curry, roasted peanuts, and ngo om.  The prawns were mild and sweet, while the generous pool of sauce made a wonderful, warm combination of lemongrass and coconut milk.  I kept finding myself laying down fresh beds of jasmine rice on my plate just to have a chance to eat more sauce!  After my spare rib feast, I had to take some of my shrimp home with me.  I’ll be having the leftovers with plenty of rice to sop up all the sauce I can possibly scrape out of the box.

To finish off, I had the coconut crème caramel.  The appearance and consistency was halfway between flan and crème brulée.  The coconut flavors were more of an essence, as the eggs, cream, and vanilla already held their own.  The slight bitterness of the thin caramel sauce helped to balance out the richness of every savored bite.

Overall, Monsoon is a Seattle gem.  The understated yet impeccable Asian dishes let the flavors of the proteins and the spices stand on their own.  Even though the excitement (and credit card bills) of Seattle Restaurant Week are now over, I will definitely be heading back to Monsoon soon to share my new-found treasure with others.

10 Kitchen Products You Don’t Need

I’m amazed sometimes when I go to other people’s places see all the kitchen gadgets they have.  Do they ever really use them?  Are you single-handedly prepping for your city’s berry festival with your strawberry huller?  Do you host a melon ball soirée on a monthly basis?  But alas, these gadgets and others are still tucked away deep in the bowels of kitchen drawers, taking up space and killing hard-earned dollars.  Here is my list of the top ten most commonly bought kitchen gadgets that you really don’t need, and how to do without them.

Items 1-5 on my list have to do with knife skills.  If you cook with any regularity, you should get yourself a quality pair of knives and learn some blade proficiency.  I can say with entire confidence that the best culinary purchase I have ever made was my set of Four Star Henkels.  Scope the sales, sign up for a in-store credit card with your purchase, and buddy up with the sales associate who is making commission off the sale, and you might be able to score yourself a set of high quality knives at deep discount.

Once you have your knives, you don’t have to go to Le Cordon Bleu to learn how to wield them.  If you have a friend who has worked in a kitchen, have them show you the ropes.  Watch the Food Channel to see how the pros do it.  If you are really jazzed up, go on YouTube to check out some sweet knife moves.  You will save yourself time in prepping and money buy not having to buy stupid kitchen gadgets or buying expensive pre-cut foods.   The more you can perfect your cutting, the more easy, fun, and satisfying your kitchen experiences will be.

Now that we’ve cleared that up, here’s the list:

  1. Apple slicer:  Pairing knives or bird’s beak knives work great as shown here.
  2. Pizza cutter:  If you are eating pizza often enough to necessitate a pizza cutter, you should consider backing off.  Plus, as long as you have a large, sharp knife, there should be no problem cutting up your pizza.
  3. Avocado slicer:  Slicing an avocado is not as intuitive a process as the other items listed.  Check out this video to find the easiest, fastest way to slice an avocado.
  4. Bagel slicer:  If you know basic knife safety, you can slice a bagel with confidence.
  5. Hard Egg slicer:  Really?!?
  6. Teakettle:

    Buying Stuff You Don't Need Never Looked So Cool

    While a teakettle may be a good way to decorate an unused kitchen stove, a working kitchen should have all burners open for pots or pans, or to receive hot items straight from the oven.  Plus, if you have a pot for hot water, why do you need a kettle?  Filling a pot with as much water as you need for tea and putting it on the stove is a lot quicker than a teakettle because the water isn’t as deep.  Extra points for pot that has a lip on it for easy pouring

  7. Panini grill:  How often do you make a frickin’ Panini?!  Personally, it never has happened.  Ever.  Why?  Because using a regular pan to crisp the outside of a sandwich works just fine.  If you really do care about the uniformed crispy ridges and the smushed effect of using a Panini grill, get a grill pan and push down on the top of the sandwich as it cooks.  Then you can use your grill pan to cook burgers, salmon, chicken, you name it.
  8. Salad tongs:  We used to use salad tongs at my parent’s house when I didn’t have maturity to make sure my hands were clean before eating dinner.  After age 10, we used our hands.  You really only touch your own salad, so what’s the big deal?  If you’re still grossed out by hand-to-food contact, just use two wooden spoons or other big utensils you already own and use regularly.
  9. Salad spinner:  Huge waste of space.  If you have a strainer of some sort, and a kitchen towel or paper towels, you can just rinse your salad and lay it out to dry.
  10. Magic Bullet You’d be surprised how many people I’ve seen with this thing.  Yes, the infomercials are jolly good fun, but the product really sucks.  There’s a weak motor, not very good liquid volume, and again, it takes up space if you already have a full-sized blender or food processor.  If you really are determined to make each one of your party guests their own customized frozen blended beverage (I didn’t think so), you can rinse out your blender between drinks.

Andaluca Does not Equal Andalucía

Maybe I’m still riding the high of my Tom Douglas experience last night, but I wasn’t too hot on yesterday’s visit to Andaluca.  As a part of my Seattle Restaurant Week tour, I decided to continue my Mediterranean adventures with a three-course lunch.  I was excited to step back into some of the delicious food I experienced when I lived in Andalucía, Spain, but was left unmoved.

Tuscan Tomato Soup

I started things off with the Tuscan tomato bread soup, which would later prove to be my favorite part of the meal.  The soup was decidedly more tangy and less sweet than most.  The basil crème fraiche (insert your South Park- related giggles here) made the zing all the more pronounced.  I might be back for another cup if this lovely weather decides to turn back around towards winter.

Mushroom Chevre Risotto

Second, I had two of the “pintxos”: the mushroom and chevre risotto, and the mini crab tower.  The texture of the risotto rice was good, but the flavor of the strong cheese overpowered the delicate earthiness of the mushroom.

Mini Crab Tower

The mini crab tower did little for me.  There was little seasoning to the crab to make a contrast with the creamy avocado at the bottom of the tower.  I was glad they served the tower with slices of grapefruit to wake up my taste buds.

Cabrales Cheesecake

For dessert, I had the cabrales cheesecake, made of a tangy Spanish blue cheese, apricot fig jelly, a red wine and honey reduction, graham cracker hazelnut crust, and a hazelnut tuile.  That’s a lot of words for a cheesecake that in the end was bland and uninspiring.

I listened to the server talk to another group in detail about the house sangria.  I was tempted to get a glass, then realized that doing so after my previous glass of wine would put me half in the bag at 2 p.m. on a Monday afternoon.  I regret not trying a glass, but they do have the recipe online, so maybe I’ll make my own.

My biggest dissatisfaction with my experience at Andaluca was actually not the food, but the ambiance.  The fake flower arrangements, bad lighting fixtures, weird patterned booths and walls, all wrapped together with cheesy easy-listening flamenco tracks made me feel like I was in a mildly hip mid 90s eatery.  It’s really a shame, too, because the actual space of the restaurant is impressive, with huge inviting bay windows in the front and plenty of space to accommodate guests.

Overall, Andaluca will need to update their menu and their atmosphere to keep up with the competition of all the original and up-and-coming restaurants in Seattle.  With more interesting flavor profiles and a facelift, Andaluca could maximize its potential and rise to the top.

Her Name Was Lola, She Was Delicious

My Seattle Restaurant week review continues with a Seattle imperative:  Tom Douglas.  I originally wanted to go to Madison Valley Café last night, but silly Jordan didn’t realize they didn’t do Sunday night dinner service (or Monday night for that matter).  My brother, Adam, is a hardcore Seattle foodie, and immediately had a list of five alternatives to Madison Valley Café.  After watching the leg of lamb Iron Chef America battle the night before, I immediately decided on Lola, Tom Douglas’ Greek spot.  And how Greek (and delectable) it was.

Jackie's Greek Salad

Jackie's Greek Salad

I started off with Jackie’s Greek salad with barrel-aged feta.  I’m usually not a fan of Greek salad due to the tendency for feta overload, but this salad, named after Douglas’ wife, was very tame in the feta flavor department.  As you can see from the photo, the feta came as a single block of crumbly goodness so I could choose how much feta went into each bite of the mixture of raw red onion slices, cucumber bites, and juicy cherry tomato.  After all was said and done, the robustly flavored yet slightly muted feta was definitely the star of the dish.

My drink of the night was the Downtown Mai Tai ($10), a seductively sweet yet complex cocktail made with Lola’s house-made spiced rum.  I could have eaten a whole bowl of the port-soaked cherries that my glass was garnished with.

Leg of Lamb

Leg of Lamb

Second came a generous portion of the slow roasted leg of lamb with fennel and olive.  While the flavor of lamb is always delicious, it tends to get and little too chewy for me.  The lamb at Lola was so tender and juicy that it basically melted in my mouth.  I tasted fennel, sage, dill, and maybe even a little cumin in the mix of succulent spices used to season the meat.  The wilted greens that were served family-style at my table we not my favorite, however.  Maybe I’m not a cooked greens type of girl, but I had to opt out after my first bite on account of the bitterness.  Adam loves greens and was in heaven though, so I guess they were on to something after all.

What I loved more than even the lamb, however, was the bowl of smashed potatoes brought out to my table.  Often times I opt out of potato sides, as they usually lack the texture or flavor to be worth the calories.  But I think I ate more potatoes than lamb at this meal!  The smashed potatoes were cooked then literally individually smashed into a thick disc.  As foodies, of course, we had to ask our server to verify the preparation process of the potatoes.  As Adam had guessed, they are cooled; letting the potatoes sweeten up by letting the starches turn to sugars. Lastly, they are flash fried for crispiness.  Somewhere in all of that, bits of garlicky, salty goodness are added to the outside of the potato.  The finished product is a sweet, salty, and crispy nugget that I couldn’t leave alone.

Coconut Pie, Meet your Maker

Coconut Pie, Meet your Maker!

While not on the original menu, I ordered the triple layer coconut cream pie.  This piece of notorious Dahlia Bakery pie was of monstrous proportions, and I shared it with both of my dinner partners.  Unlike many other coconut cream pies, the coconut flavor wasn’t overbearing, nor was it fake tasting.  The solid custard base stood on its own, and wasn’t buried in the mounds of whipped cream you sometimes get with other cream pies.  Kudos to Dahlia Bakery, that just so happens to be another Tom Douglass spot (Coincidence?  I think not).

While I cannot complain in the least about the food, I do have to say that I wish the comfort reflected in the menu was also reflected in the ambiance of the restaurant.  There was minimal continuity to the theme of the décor, or maybe I didn’t ‘get it,’ like so many other artistic expressions in Seattle.  The overuse of drab shades of brown and industrial metal details did not do much to make me feel relaxed while I was eating.  I feel that a more rustic, welcoming atmosphere would greatly increase the overall dining experience, as well as reflect the earthy flavors of the menu.