Thursday, December 29, 2011

Smoked Turkey

This post was heavily edited by the husband.

We were in beautiful San Diego over winter break visiting family. It was in the 70s during the day and we got our feet sandy on multiple occasions. Happiness. Prior to our arrival, my husband's step-mom had suggested we try smoking a turkey for Christmas dinner. It was something we hadn't done before and I love trying new things so we readily agreed.

This was the view from the patio that led us to outdoor cooking. How could we not?

Instead of a recipe, it started with a page of notes that my husband's step-mom had jotted down while talking to one of her brothers. She has four brothers and they all seem talented at smoking turkeys and more generally, any meat-meets-fire cooking venture.

Then a second brother was located and another long conversation took place. I'm not sure if it was the passed-down knowledge but that turkey was amazing, and my husband made it look so easy. He did admit it was a little stressful cooking something for the first time for such an important meal, but it was worth it; smoked turkey is fantastic!

The turkey was done on a regular Weber 22-inch kettle grill using indirect heat. It took three hours and my husband fed the fire 10 new coals (5 on each side) and handful of wet hickory chips every thirty minutes. The the skin was a beautiful dark golden color when it was done and the breast meat was still juicy and so flavorful, infused with hickory smoke.

It is definitely a different kind of turkey and I need to think more about the perfectly matched meal. We did a fairly traditional Thanksgiving-themed meal: apricot and sausage stuffing, mashed potatoes, shallot gravy, green beans and chocolate pudding. My husband's step-mom added a delicious pumpkin pie. It came together well, but I am thinking you could really mix it up by pairing the smoked turkey with a spicy gravy and tangy cranberries as a starting point. If you love turkey, or even if you feel ambivalent about traditional turkey, you might give this a try.

Smoked Turkey

1 ~16 lb turkey
oil (canola or vegetable)

charcoal chimney
charcoal rails
charcoal briquettes
hickory chips
charcoal grill
drip pan
an oven safe thermometer (preferable) or an instant read thermometer
aluminum foil

Put the hickory chips in a bowl and let soak with water at least 30 minutes prior to use. You should have enough so that you can throw on a handful every 30 minutes while the turkey is cooking.

Put 2 sheets of newspaper loosely crumpled newspaper in the bottom of your charcoal chimney starter and fill the top with briquettes (my husband found inspiration from this video, if you've never done this before). Light the paper and let sit until the coals turn grey (this takes about 30 minutes). Make sure it starts to smoke, otherwise it means that it didn't take and you will need to add more paper to get it going. My husband had to add one more crumpled up piece of newspaper about 15 minutes into the process.

Rub oil all over the turkey and sprinkle (very) generously with salt and pepper. If you have leave-in thermometers, place them in the thickest section of the thigh. This explains the process very clearly. We had two thermometers so we did one on each side. It's helpful to have two so that you can be sure that both sides are cooking evenly.

When the coals are ready, make two even piles on either side of the charcoal grate (the lower one) with a large drip pan separating the piles (see the "indirect method" on Weber's page). It is helpful to have charcoal rails (make sure they're as close to the sides as will fit). Immediately add about 4 more coals to each side, as the chimney won't have had enough coals in it. Spread out the coals evenly with tongs. The pan will catch the fat drippings, hence the name. Feed a handful of hickory chips across both side. Now put in the cooking grate (the top grate). Place the turkey in the center and place the lid over the grill. Make sure the bottom and top vents are all open.

Every thirty minutes or so, add 10 coals the burning piles (5 to each side), and throw on a handful of hickory chips. Every hour, jiggle the bottom vent cover to get excess ash out.

Watch the thigh and legs, if they start to darken too much, cover them with aluminum foil.

Cook for approximately three hours or 10 minutes per pound. When the thigh temperature reads 180, remove from the grill. Let sit for 15 minutes and carve.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Lentil Fritters with Chilli, Ginger and Cilantro and Mango Chutney

I own a lot of cookbooks but I am always interested in acquiring and reading new ones. I recently checked out Great Indian Feasts from the library and found a recipe I knew I would love, Lentil fritters with chilli, ginger and curry leaves.

My pantry already contained all of the ingredients except for the curry leaves, which I assumed would be available at one of our many local stores. I started by calling our local coop, the central coop. After being transfered, I was told by a nice woman in produce that they are unable to source it organically so they don't carry it. I hung up and called our neighborhood QFC who didn't have it. Then I called Whole Foods who I knew would stock it. They didn't.

Finally, I called the place that absolutely would have it, Uwajimaya, the enormous Asian grocery store down in the International District. They probably stock 25 different kinds of miso and at least twenty vegetables and fruits that you might have never heard of. They didn't have it. I asked the nice man on the phone where he thought I could get it. He said that there were two other Asian grocery stores in the area, "but honestly, if Uwajimaya doesn't have it, neither do they". He said they tried to stock it but the quality was so bad they halted shipments and were waiting for their distributor to tell them when the quality was up to par again.

At this point I whipped out the internet to find out what I could substitute, but apparently, there isn't anything that you can substitute curry leaves for. Even dried curry leaves, while being the closest substitute, are nothing like the real thing (baby).  So I decided that instead of trying to fake it out in an unsatisfying way, that I would use fresh cilantro instead. I loved this recipe, the crispy, slightly spicy, green flecked fritters were delicious with the tangy spicy mango chutney.

Lentil Fritters with Chilli, Ginger and Cilantro
Adapted from Great Indian Feasts
Makes about 20 fritters

10 oz mixed lentils (a mix is great, I used a mix of yellow dal and french lentils)
2 inch piece root ginger, peeled and roughly chopped
5 dried red chillies, stems removed and roughly chopped (keep the seeds in the chopped mix)
1 large red onion, peeled and roughly chopped
1/2 bunch of fresh cilantro leaves, washed and chopped
Canola Oil

Wash the lentils and soak them overnight or for at least a couple of hours.  Rinse and drain well.

Add the lentils, chillies, ginger, onion and cilantro to a food processor. Sprinkle in a generous portion of salt, around 2 tsp. Run the processor, stopping to scrape down the sides, until everything is blended together and minced, but the texture still remains coarse.

Make small patties out of the mixture, around 1/2 inch thick and 2 inches wide. The size that you choose to make them is flexible depending on how you are going to serve them, so do what works best for your use.

Add enough oil to a pan placed over medium heat so that the fritters will either be completely submerged when you put them in or the oil will come up half way. When the oil is hot, place in as many fritters as will comfortably fit without crowding them, leaving enough room for you to flip them over. Cook for 2 - 3 minutes and turn over. Cook for 2 - 3 more minutes more until they are golden brown and remove from the oil placing on paper towels. Continue cooking the remaining fritters in batches until they are all cooked. Serve with mango chutney (recipe below).

Mango Chutney
Adapted from the classic 1000 indian recipes

2 mangos, peeled, seeded and chopped into small chunks (1/2 inch in diameter)
1 cup white wine vinegar
1.5 cup sugar
4 green cardamom pods
1/2 tsp cloves
1/2 tsp black peppercorns
2 inch piece of ginger, peeled and loosely chopped
4 cloves of garlic, peeled and loosely chopped
2 tsp salt

In a food processor puree the ginger and garlic with 3 T of the vinegar.

Using a mortar and pestle or spice grinder, ground the cardamom pods, cloves and peppercorns to a paste.

In a large heavy stockpot, mix the sugar and water and bring to a boil. Stir until the sugar has dissolved. Add the rest of the ingredients and lower the heat. Simmer until the sauce has thickened and the mango is soft. Cool and transfer to a container.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Hoiday Gift Guide

The holidays are upon us and I have started accumulating gifts for my friends and family. Some years buying gifts is easy and other years I struggle with it. My own list of wants usually contains 90% cooking items and then a few other random things. I have received a lot of wonderful gifts over the years from friends and family and wanted to share some items that might make great gifts for the foodies in your life.

One year I received this book which is a fabulous, unique, interesting book for anyone who likes to learn about food and who likes to read. It discusses all the different regions of France and what food and wine originates from each one. There are wonderful pictures and it is one of those coffee table books that will actually get read. It comes in hardback or paperback.

If your friend drinks, a high quality muddler may inspire drink creativity. The obvious upside being that when you visit them, there is a higher likelihood that you will have a mojito served to you.

A salt pig. A friend sent me a salt pig as a house warming present. I must admit I wasn't sure I would use it but it sits next to my stove full of kosher salt and I love it and use it several times a day.

Specialty salt. I know some chefs believe you should choose one type of salt, get used to it and use it religiously in the kitchen. I just can't adhere to that. I love the huge, pink flakes of my murray river salt. It looks like pink snow and a light sprinkle gives amazing flavor bursts.

Individual serving pans, especially this time of year, would make any chef happy. My collection of different sized dishes have been expanding. I use them all without fail for chicken pot pies, creme brulee, french onion soup and other things. 
And last but not least, anything you made yourself. I have received jars of pickles and jam, cookies and crackers, bread and chocolates. If your friend loves food, they will revel in a homemade gift! 

Happy Holidays!

Friday, December 2, 2011

Randy's Restaurant and Ice Cream

I love exploring restaurants and specialty food shops in and around the cities we visit. Most places have at least one strength, something to get excited about, but Phoenix is a big city and they have a lot going on so you can find almost anything you are looking for. Specialty cheese shops, small butchers that I would buy my meat from if I lived there and gluten free bakeries. They have a lot more big eating experiences than what you see in Seattle, big, fancy restaurants run by celebrity chefs. We were looking for something a little different, a classic diner, as they aren't very prevalent in Seattle. Not that I'm complaining, there is great breakfast to be found in Seattle but there is something so comforting about a good old fashioned diner and Randy's Restaurant and Ice Cream beckoned us.

We stopped in for breakfast on a busy Sunday morning and I had to stifle a laugh as we walked in. In our hometown of Seattle we live in a neighborhood where a lot of restaurants are beyond hip. Wood and exposed beams everywhere, urging us to order the local, organic, sustainable food off the menu. Randy's was the polar opposite. A busy, crowded diner without an indication anywhere that the food is organic and every surface that wasn't a table was covered with Santa Claus dolls. I felt like I had been transported to a Goodwill holiday gift shop.

Our waitress took our drink order as soon as we sat down and was back a couple of minutes later to find out what we wanted to eat. I wasn't ready as the menu is amazingly long. They have every combination you could ever want for breakfast, short stack with an egg, short stack with sausage and eggs, waffle with eggs, the list went on. And on. I told her I wasn't ready and it was no problem, 'it's a lot to look through, I'll be back in a few', and she was. I bravely ordered a veggie eggs benedict (didn't I learn anything from Kitchen Confidential?), my husband ordered a chorizo and egg breakfast, eggs, bacon and toast for my son and cereal with bananas for my daughter. The food was out in less than five minutes. I don't think it was waiting around, it really just seems like they are good at fast turnover. The eggs benedict took about two minutes longer than everything else and the delayed dish was brought over by Randy (I believe) with an apology for its tardiness.

The chorizo and eggs looked like a mistake to me but my husband assured me it was good. I'm not sure this is the place to venture out. If I lived nearby, I think I would come by for a straightforward breakfast but leave it at that. The veggie eggs benedict was served with freshly sliced tomatoes and avocado on an english muffin. The tomato and avocado were nice and cold and must have been pulled from a cooler. They sat underneath a hot egg and creamy hollandaise sauce and were served with a side of homefries.

Our coffee cups were refilled multiple times while we sat there and we were in and out of there in less than thirty minutes which is nice with kids. It is just what it claims to be, a straightforward diner, cheap prices and fast service.

Randy's Restaurant & Ice Cream on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Pumpkin Pie

We sat down for our Thanksgiving dinner early this year. The menu plan was a small turkey, spiced cranberries, sausage cornbread stuffing, gravy, mashed potatoes, green beans and pumpkin pie.

While I was cooking, my daughter asked for biscuits to be on the menu too, and my son and husband seconded the request. I pointed out that we already had two starch products on the menu, mashed potatoes and stuffing, but my family continued to stare at me with a zombie death stare until I relented and said we could add some biscuits to the menu. The pie was already done by then which is all I was really interested in this year.

I do not have a single thing that I love more than anything else at Thanksgiving. Some years I am excited about the stuffing. Other years it is the salad (we usually have salad but not this year) or the mashed potatoes. This year I felt excited about the pie. My daughter and I made the crust while my husband and son went out to acquisition a turkey.

After we had the pumpkin puree in a bowl, I started pulling cookbooks off the shelf to determine what recipe to make. I decided to try Alice Waters recipe from The Art of Simple Food. She goes really light on the sugar so I added a little extra since it was the only sweet we were having, as well as some nutmeg because I love the way it smells. I left out the freshly ground black pepper which sounded delicious but was just not what I was in the mood for.

Pumpkin Pie
Barely adapted from The Art of Simple Food
Yields 1 pie

2 cups flour
1 T sugar
1/2 tsp salt
12 T cold unsalted butter, cut into 1 T pieces
6 - 8 T ice cold water

1 sugar pumpkin or a 15 oz can of pumpkin puree
3 eggs

1 cup cream
2 tsp flour

1/4 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground cloves
1/4 tsp ground ginger
1/4 tsp freshly ground nutmeg
1/2 tsp salt

Pre-heat the oven to 375.

Preparing the pumpkin (skip this if you are using canned pumpkin):

Cut the pumpkin in half, scoop out the seeds and pulp and place it in a roasting pan. Pour in 1/2 cup of water and place in the oven. Roast for approximately one hour and a half (or less), depending on the size, adding more water if it gets too low. The pumpkin should be soft when pierced with a fork. Remove from the oven and let cool. Scoop out the flesh and mash (using a masher or a food processor). I just used a potato masher which worked well.

Preparing the pie crust:

Whisk the flour, sugar and salt together in a large bowl. Sprinkle the butter over the mixture and using your fingers, mash the butter into the flour mixture, until it resembles corn meal. Sprinkle the water over the mixture and using a wooden spoon, mix and press the mixture together. Form a ball, adding more water if needed, until it holds together. Form the dough into a disc, wrap in saran wrap and put in the refrigerator for at least one hour. Reheat the oven to 375, if you turned it off.

Roll out the dough and transfer to a pie dish. Crimp the edges and pierce the bottom with a few fork stabs so it doesn't balloon up. Cover with aluminum foil, pressing gently against the sides to hold them up, and weigh it down with pie weights or beans or rice. Bake for fifteen minutes, remove the aluminum foil and weights and bake for another 5 - 6 minutes. Remove from the oven and set aside.

Preparing the pie filling:

In a small saucepan, whisk 1/4 cup cream with 2 tsp flour. Place over medium low heat until it comes to a boil and thickens. Slowly whisk in the remaining 3/4 cup cream. Continue whisking and bring back to a boil (still over medium low heat). Remove from the heat.

In a bowl, whisk together 1.5 cups of pumpkin puree (15 ounces) and 3 eggs.

In a small bowl, whisk together the sugars, cinnamon, cloves, ginger, salt and nutmeg.

Add the cream mixture and sugar/spice mixture to the pumpkin, and mix together. Transfer to the pie shell and bake for 45 minutes until it is almost set but the center is still jiggles a little bit (i.e. it should not be cracked and dry looking, take it out before it reaches that point).

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Braised Short Ribs with Tomatoes and Beer

I made a rookie mistake the other night when I was making short ribs from my favorite butcher. I was making a braising liquid for some short ribs and in went a bad bottle of wine. This was after I had sauteed the onions, celery and some other root vegetables, added tomato paste, some broth and herbs. Then I noticed it smelled odd and so after bringing it to a simmer, I tasted it and cringed. I smelled the bottle, now empty and it was subtle but the flavor was sour.

The short ribs were already seared and sitting on a plate waiting patiently for me to muddle through this mess I had walked myself into. So I dumped the entire contents of that braising liquid in a giant bowl for disposal and started over.

Braising short ribs is not a precise science. The important steps are applying salt and pepper to the short ribs, searing them and cooking them until they are fork tender in a flavorful liquid. Whatever that might be. Into the liquid can go a lot of different things. In my opinion, nothing is off limits as long as it comes together to form a nice savory broth that will taste great as a backdrop to the short ribs and on top of the starch that you must, must serve them with. Like freshly baked biscuits or mashed potatoes or crusty french bread.

Since I was slightly turned off by wine after my mishap, I went a different route and popped open a bottle of dark beer. This second round of braising liquid smelled good and tasted great, so in went those patient short ribs for three hours in the oven.

Braised Short Ribs with Tomatoes and Beer
Serves 6

6 large short ribs (or 12 if they are on the small side - mine were almost a pound a piece)
2 T olive oil
salt and freshly ground pepper

2 T flour
2 T tomato paste
2 tsp dried thyme
2 onions, chopped
2 celery stalks, chopped
10 cloves garlic, loosely chopped

28 oz crushed tomatoes
1 cup dark beer, like a porter
2 cups water and a bouillon cube or 2 cups vegetable stock
salt and freshly ground pepper

Preheat the oven to 375.

Sprinkle the short ribs generously with salt and pepper. In a large dutch oven, heat 2 T olive oil until shimmering over medium to medium-high heat. Add the short ribs, searing each side until they are browned. This will probably take two batches depending on the size of your pan.

Remove the short ribs and set aside. Drain off all but 1 - 2 T of the fat. Add the onion and celery to the pan and stir until the onion starts to look translucent, a couple of minutes. Add the garlic and cook for another couple of minutes. Add the flour and stir for two minutes and then the tomato paste, blending it into the mix. Add the beer, water, crushed tomatoes and thyme. Bring to a simmer, scoop out a small cup of the broth and dissolve the bouillon cube in it. Add it back to the mix. Taste and adjust seasonings, adding more salt and pepper as desired. Bring the liquid to a simmer and submerge the short ribs in the pot, spooning liquid over them. The short ribs should be almost covered. If the liquid is too low, add some more water.

Place in the oven and cook for three hours. Turn the short ribs about half way through the cooking time, checking to see if you need to add more liquid. Check the short ribs by stabbing them with a fork, it should slide in easily and the meat should feel tender. 

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Bread and Ocean

We were down in Manzanita for a perfect windy, rainy, Oregon coast style winter weekend. We stayed inside most of the time and peered out at the thrashing trees and falling rain but we got out on the beach the first day. It wasn't raining and it was breathtakingly beautiful.

I did a moderate amount of cooking over the weekend. I made creme brulee and a few meals including pancakes and sausage for dinner one night, but we picked up take out for several meals, including an order of sandwiches from the much touted Bread and Ocean Bakery and Deli. It came highly recommended by the owner of our vacation home and seems to be well loved place.

I ordered their veggie sandwich but may I digress? Why don't vegetarian sandwiches have names in the way that meat sandwiches so frequently do? Meat, sauerkraut and swiss? You have a reuben. Turkey, bacon, lettuce and tomato? It is a club. Even when a meat sandwich is specific to a shop, they frequently give it a great name, like the dagwood at Bread and Ocean. Would there be more vegetarian sandwiches on the menu if they had exciting names?

This veggie sandwich came with herbed cream cheese, avocado, pickled red onions, cucumbers, radishes, red pepper mayo, greens on organic multigrain. It was a great sandwich. I love (and prefer) vegetarian sandwiches despite my meat eating ways. This sandwich was not a salad in a sandwich but a true sandwich with flavorful cream cheese and fresh, complimentary but not overwhelming amount and mix of vegetables.

They made a plain turkey sandwich for our kids which was devoured on sight. We should have gotten two. For my husband, the dagwood. Fra'mani smoked ham, finochiona salami, roasted red peppers, gruyere, fresh mozzarella, pepperoncinis, olive mayo on a baguette. I could smell its deliciousness from across the table and he handed it to me to verify it was as amazing as it smelled.

On the side of my sandwich came a small lentil soup that was creamy and tangy. And just to prove they are as nice and friendly as they seem, they threw in a bunch of extra cookies because they had extras.

Bread and Ocean on Urbanspoon

Friday, November 11, 2011

Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Capers

When I was a child, my mother served us piles of fruits and vegetables, especially vegetables. We ate salads almost every night and all different kinds of fruits and vegetables. I don't know if she had a master strategy but I still love salad and almost all vegetables. So being from the bay area, we also ate our fair share of brussels sprouts. I liked them but they were kind of an afterthought, usually served boiled or steamed with some butter on top. I never envisioned eating them any other way.

Fly forward to my twenties. I was living in Oakland and working at PGEC (which, if you are interested, is the plant gene expression center). We went to this great restaurant in San Francisco, a group of people including a woman that ended up being one of my prime inspirations in the kitchen. She is a fantastic cook, seemingly unphased by almost any challenge presented to her in the kitchen. Among other things she loved scrabble but wished there was a version that only allowed food terminology.

She thought we should order the brussels sprouts at this fancy restaurant despite all the amazing options on the menu. I remember feeling skeptical that this was a smart move but she was the food expert and we deferred to her. They came to the table, crispy and salty and covered with capers. They were delicious and it is my favorite way to eat my brussels sprouts.

Roasted Brussels Sprout with Capers

1 lb brussels sprouts, washed and trimmed (and halved if they are big)
2 - 3 T Olive Oil
3 - 4 T capers
Salt and Pepper

Pre-heat the oven to 425.

Place the brussels sprouts in a saucepan and cover with cold water and a little salt. Bring to a boil and let simmer for 2 - 5 minutes, depending on their size. They should be cooked through but still firm. Drain in a colander and shake to remove most of the water. If roasting immediately, pat the brussels sprouts dry with paper towels, otherwise leave them to dry out a bit, shaking the colander occasionally.

Toss the brussels sprouts with the Olive Oil and sprinkle liberally with salt and pepper. Mix in the capers and spread on a baking sheet or roasting pan. Use a pan that is large enough so they have space around them, otherwise they will steam instead of roast.

Roast for 15 - 20 minutes, shaking once or twice, until they start to look brown and crispy. Remove from the oven, taste and add more salt, if needed.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Blueberry Scones

I love cake like substances that are disguised as breakfast food. It allows for cake eating while still putting across the illusion that you are eating a proper breakfast. Cinnamon rolls, morning buns, muffins and scones are regular visitor to our kitchen on weekend mornings.

I love to hear my family wake up and wander down the stairs to the smell of a delicious breakfast pastry, just coming out of the oven.

This morning there was a bowl of fruit, some bacon and flaky, buttery scones with blueberries and lemon zest mixed in. The scones came out perfect but the lemon flavor didn't really come through. I might add a small amount of lemon juice next time to see if that brings it out.

The key to making flaky, tender scones is to not overwork the butter when blending it into the flour mixture. Similarly, try not to overwork the dough after adding the cream.

(Not so Lemony) Blueberry Scones
Adapted From The Best New Recipe Cookbook
Makes 8 scones

2 cups flour plus a little extra for pressing out the dough
1 T baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
3 T sugar
6 T unsalted butter, cut into 1/2 T pieces
1 cup cream plus 2 T for brushing on top
1/2 cup dried blueberries
1 tsp lemon zest

Pre-heat the oven to 425.

In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, salt and sugar.

Using your fingers, blend the butter with the flour mixture, until it resembles a coarse meal. Don't overwork it, there should be visible lumps of butter the size of small raisins.

Pour in the cream and using a wooden spoon, mix the wet and dry ingredients together.

Dust your hands with some flour and knead the dough against the side of the bowl, just until the dough holds together.

Transfer to a lightly floured surface and press out into a circle, about 3/4 inch high (see above). Cut into 8 triangles and transfer to an ungreased cookie sheet. Brush the tops of the scones with cream.

Bake in the oven for 12 - 15 minutes until the tops are starting to turn golden brown.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Helsing Junction Farm

We did a CSA with Helsing Junction Farm this summer, a farm about an hour and half south of Seattle in Rochester, Washington. They send us nice emails every week describing what is going on at the farm and what we should expect to see in our boxes. It is an organic farm in a growing farm community (I read that on their website, it is an informative place). I pick up the boxes on Thursdays, one packed full of vegetables and one with fruit.

My son and daughter pepper me with questions about the contents of the boxes, the farmers, why we care where our food comes from and how it is grown. On the way there, I inevitably get drilled on what will be in the boxes, 'will there be pluots this week?' My daughter's favorite. Last week I handed my son an apple from the fruit box. He ate the whole thing, asked for a second one and declared them the best apples he has ever eaten. I love to hold a carrot in front of them and explain how it probably came out of the ground less than twenty four hours prior to its arrival in our home.

The variety is more than I thought it would be. Things show up for a couple of weeks and then disappear. Sometimes I am not ready to see them go, but they are always replaced with something new and interesting. The diversity makes it obvious that the farmers of Helsing Junction Farm did some very well thought out planning to provide a nice rotation of food for us. The corn, tomatillos, eggplants, lettuce, strawberries, apples, bok choy, radishes, tomatoes and lemon cucumbers were a few of my favorites.

The price seems competitive (I know this because I am the kind of person who occasionally runs price comparisons and I did it with my vegetable box one week) and they provide recipes for the contents of the box. They offer an early sign up discount, if you sign up before December, you get a free week and they offer several different sizes based on the needs of your household.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Walnut Avenue Cafe

I have eaten at the Walnut Avenue Cafe dozens of times, though not as much recently as Santa Cruz is no longer my hometown. It is one of the places I try to eat at whenever I am back there for a visit. Last time I was there a waitress recognized me, even though I hadn't been in for over a year.

It isn't anything fancy or trendy or cutting edge, it is similar to a diner but with a little more variety than most offer. They are packed for breakfast on the weekends.

They have a great set of scrambles, combinations like feta, tomato and basil or green chiles and cheese, all served with homefries and toast. The create your own omelets are fluffy eggs surrounding a pile of the fillings of your choice. The huevos rancheros, flavor and just the right amount of everything, delicious black beans and tortillas. For a sweeter dish, the beautiful golden waffle topped with strawberries and whipped cream is delicious and satisfying.

It is a really popular restaurant so service can slow down when it is packed. Getting there on a Saturday morning around nine will require a wait for a table and for your food. The place has faded a little, not the people or the food or the delicious cold ice tea or the happy customers, but the tables and chairs. It was like going back to see a friend I hadn't seen in a while and seeing a few new wrinkles.

On that last visit (in early summer) we had lunch and I ordered the shrimp, tomato and red onion caesar (pictured above) with a spicy dressing that was tasty but not so spicy. The cajun chicken sandwich on a onion kaiser roll was generous and flavorful. On the side was a mixed green salad with a great vinaigrette, the kind that makes the salad an equal opportunity player in the meal. I liked lunch but it will always be one of my favorite breakfast spots.

Walnut Avenue Cafe on Urbanspoon

Monday, October 17, 2011

Eggplant Sliders with Haloumi

We are the couple that grows silent when football comes up. The Seahawks were in the superbowl a couple of years ago and during a conversation we had to admit we didn't even know who they were playing. We were kind of busy with our son who was just 2 at the time (and I was pregnant with our daughter). Okay, and we just don't like football, and we don't really follow professional sports.

Soccer is probably the one exception as we have a soccer obsessed son and it is, well, cool.

But we do have that professional football team (the one that went to the superbowl and played some other team), and we see signs warning us that we shall die a perilous death if we go near the UW stadium between 3 and 7 on certain saturdays, due to the college games. And irrespective of my disinterest in football, I do think about the food that goes along with it, hence these vegetarian sliders.

In my head it seems too late in the season for eggplant, due to the gray skies and rain that hung around all summer and fall (today being an amazing exception!), but my farm box is not giving in.

The last couple of weeks there has been corn! And tomatoes! And those eggplants! It is nice to have local, organic produce delivering summer to us, in direct violation of Seattle's mood, which seems to be grudgingly making up for the summer that never came by giving us a few glorious fall days. So we take it how we can get it. We grill and we make eggplant sandwiches, or sliders in this case, in honor of football soccer (Kasey Keller did an amazing set of saves last night).

Eggplant Sliders with Haloumi
Makes 6 sliders


6 slider buns, lightly toasted
3 T olive oil
18 thin (1/4 - 1/3 inch) slices of eggplant (preferably from an eggplant with a 2 - 3 inch diameter not a 10 inch diameter -- so they will fit on the buns without any other trimming necessary)
18 thin slices haloumi
salt and pepper
1/2 avocado, cut into 12 slices


6 T ketchup mixed with 3 tsp chili garlic sauce
6 T mayo mixed with 2 tsp minced sun-dried tomatoes

In a large skillet, heat the olive oil over medium heat. When it is shimmering (but not smoking), place the eggplant slices in the pan and sprinkle them with salt and pepper. Fry until golden brown, about 10 minutes (flipping them half way through). Remove from the pan and place the cheese in the same pan cooking until lightly brown, just a couple of minutes. Watch the cheese carefully, it cooks quickly and usually needs to be flipped over in about a minute with a total cooking time of 2 - 3 minutes depending on how hot your pan is.

Layer the eggplant and haloumi on the sliders topping with the avocado. Serve with the mayo and ketchup mixtures on the side.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

The Essential Baking Company - Madison Cafe

I love picking up a couple of pastries when I am at a bakery and bringing them home for a surprise dessert. We split each one four ways. Tonight featured a pear croissant, a brown butter pear pastry and a lemon brioche from the Essential Baking Company. The brioche and croissant are made by the Essential Baking Company but the brown butter pear pastry (and the other desserts at the Essential Bakery) are made by Parisian Star Desserts. They supply the pastries and cakes to Metropolitan Market as well, and they make great cakes, we pick them up for birthday parties sometimes.

I was the only one who liked the brown butter pear pastry. It is made with almond cream and it was, I will admit, heavily saturated, flavored and brimming with almond flavor. The cake part of the pastry had a beautiful grainy, nutty appearance and was sweet with nuts while the top was covered with pears and a glaze. The other three members of my household did not even finish their quarter portions of the brown butter pear pastry.

The lemon brioche has a creamy lemon filling inside that surprises you, surrounded by a soft cake texture with just the right amount of tartness. Everyone liked this one. The pear croissant sat in the middle, not loved by anyone but not hated like that brown butter pear pastry. My bar for croissants is insanely high, because every single one that I eat I compare to croissants I ate in Paris on my honeymoon and on two other trips there. So the pear croissant was not bad but just not flakey and light (enough) which is how I like my croissants.

Along with an array of pastries made by the essential bakery and desserts made by Parisian Star Desserts, they also serve breakfast, lunch and dinner (with dinner being the lunch menu). It is a place you can bring a book or newspaper to and sit comfortably while you eat your meal.

And it is easy to order too much food at there. Their half sized salad servings are enough to split with another person if you are getting a sandwich or bowl of soup as well. The sandwiches are served with a generous scoop of potato salad or coleslaw. Picture above is their pastrami sandwich, served on rye bread with red cabbage sauerkraut, pastrami and swiss cheese along with that scoop of potato salad. I also had a cup of black bean vegetable soup.

The sandwich was a solid sandwich, a good size, tender meat and cheese with a nice sauerkraut. The potato salad was smooth and creamy with nice herbs, though the flavor could have used a little more kick, the predominant herb seemed to be parsley. The black bean soup was in a very plain broth without enough flavor but full of soft vegetables and beans. It is a good place for kids but the service can be hit or miss, sometimes I go and it is great, other times they have lost tickets and seem a little disorganized. But they are always friendly and the food is comforting, so we will keep going back.

Essential Bakery Cafe on Urbanspoon

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Kale or Spinach Dip

The spinach dip I've been making lately took a spin as a kale dip, on the part of a lovely bunch that showed up in our farm box. I like both variations. The kale is dense and adds a consistency that is more robust, the spinach is smoother and less meaty. 

This was originally intended as an appetizer, but it ended up being part of our dinner. We ate it straight with french bread and as an accompaniment to meatball sandwiches, using leftover marinara and meatballs which was a pretty spectacular combination. Kale, meatballs, two cheeses, crusty french bread, dripping in marinara sauce. 

Kale or Spinach Dip
Serves 4 as an appetizer

1 T Olive Oil
1 cup grated jack cheese
1 cup grated comte
2 - 3 cups loosely packed kale or 3 cups tightly packed spinach leaves
2 - 3 shallots, finely chopped
1 T dried bread crumbs (optional, it firms it up a little if you prefer it less loose)
1/2 tsp salt
freshly ground black pepper

Pre-heat the oven to 400.

Loosely chop the kale.

Heat the olive oil in a skillet over medium heat. Cook the shallot until it is translucent. Transfer to a bowl. Wilt the kale in the same skillet and transfer to the same bowl.

Add both cheeses, the bread crumbs (is you are using them), the salt and pepper to the bowl and mix well. Transfer to a small dish and bake for 15 minutes, until bubbling and the top is golden brown.

Serve with crusty french bread.