Monday, February 28, 2011

Cook's World - Homemade Pasta Workshop

The Homemade Pasta Workshop at Cook's World is taught by the executive chef of Serafina, Dylan Giordan. The class is not hands on in the sense of having your own station; the chef stands at the kitchen counter with a mirror on the ceiling allowing you a side and top level view of what he is doing. Students sit at several small tables directly in front of the counter. They serve wine and you can get as involved as you want, asking questions and volunteering. There is some class participation, with one or two (sometimes three) people going up to the front of the room to knead dough, roll out gnocchi or help out in other ways. Or if you don't want to be involved you can just sit and drink wine and absorb the lesson. We made goat cheese ravioli, gnocchi and fettucine alla carbonara.

Dylan talked about the importance of salting your food at each step of the cooking process, not just at the beginning and not just at the end. He said you will end up with food that tastes like there is a single layer of salt in the food if you apply a single application. And why salt the pasta water? "The salted water infuses the pasta and the Italians say the water should be salty like the sea," he quoted. He is going back to Italy in the late spring and he said, "he hopes to get in some kitchens."

The gnocchi we made was soft and had a good texture and flavor. It was served with a marinara sauce. There were a lot of complaints about gnocchi preparation from the students and the final dough product that he produced (before cooking) was pretty sticky. Surprisingly sticky. Gnocchi can suffer from too much flour mixed in which will result in hard pellets or not enough flour, which results in watery, falling apart gnocchi. My experiences with gnocchi have suffered from the latter. When you are rolling out the gnocchi with your hands little scraps will end up separating from your dough and he recommends trashing them. If you work them in, he said, they aren't the same as the incorporated dough and will end up tearing the gnocchi. And when you roll the gnocchi out to cut it (this was one task I participated in), you don't push down very much, instead you kind of stretch and roll until it is the right shape.

The ravioli lesson was inspiring as I was really able to get a feel for how easy it is to make up your own ravioli recipes. He said the filling of ravioli can be almost anything. He suggested braised meat or chocolate fillings. For the chocolate he recommended frying the raviolis instead of boiling them. The filling needs to be something that really just needs to be warmed through, anything that needs to be cooked should already be cooked before it is put in the ravioli. The fresh goat cheese ravioli we made were light and delicious. They were also very salty but not in a bad way, in a way that shows how multiple applications of salt does work.

The best part of the night was the part where we ate food prepared by the executive chef of Serafina (with some help from the minions). The delicious fettucine alla carbonara, the goat cheese with sage stuffed ravioli with sage browned butter and gnocchi in a sweet marinara sauce. He was very generous with a giant chunk of parmigiano-reggiano that he grated over the food. He touted it as the best cheese ever, "I had a huge block of it in my fridge for two years one time, it almost never goes bad due to the low water content." He described specials that he had prepared at Serafina and his home cooking adventures as well. The descriptions of the interworkings of his home cooking were just as interesting as what went on in Serafina, more immediately applicable to our own cooking and entertaining too.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Hi-Spot Cafe

Hi-Spot in Madrona is the original restaurant in an old house. When you walk in you are greeted by the (other) iconic Seattle image, a small friendly coffee shop. You can stop right there and get some espresso, pastries and/or food to go. On a late afternoon, right before closing the barista made me a decaf Americano that was the beautiful color of ink with the telltale foam on top that lets you know it will be a good one before you even take a sip. If you want to sit down and eat at a table you can venture over to the bottom of the stairs and the host or hostess will seat you in the main eating area up on the second level. The space feels a little awkward, kind of like they stuffed a bunch of tables into an old house which is what they did. But for Hi-Spot it somehow works. Once tucked into your little table the service will be fast and efficient.

For brunch I ordered a custom omelet with mushrooms, tomatoes and cheddar cheese. The omelet contained perfectly cooked mushrooms, cut up chunks of tomatoes and tasty cheddar cheese with perfect proportions of everything. The insides didn't overwhelm the egg and the egg wasn't too thick and didn't overwhelm the omelet fillings. The potatoes were good but weren't spectacular. They just tasted like classic breakfast potatoes with some burnt pieces that took away from their glamour. On the plate were two little dishes, one filled with raspberry jam and one with ketchup. The English muffin was dry (no butter!) and when I asked the waitress she said the butter should be on the table but was not. She said this apologetically and rushed off to get some butter but the English muffin was no longer warm at this point so the effect of melted foaming butter on a hot English muffin was lost. This is the second breakfast place that I have eaten at recently that doesn't butter the bread in the kitchen. I don't believe in this. Buttering of the bread should occur when the bread is hot.

The blackberry scone that day had a dense cake texture on the inside with delicious blackberries mixed in. It has been sprinkled very generously with sugar before being baked, adding a lightly caramelized crust on the outside. This created that perfect golden sugary crust that you can break off and chew on. On another visit the blackberry scone had less caramelized crust. I prefer the sugared exterior but the scone was still soft ]with a moist berry topping (pictured above). They have a cinnamon roll that has crunchy sweet nuts with oozing cinnamon sugar. We brought one home and split it up for dessert after dinner.

The Cobb Salad (also pictured above) comes with big chunks of chicken, tomatoes, hard-boiled egg, blue cheese, delicious fresh lettuce and chunks of avocado. The Cobb Salad has everything right. Fresh, well-balanced, with a creamy dressing with just the right amount of each item added to the salad. It is easy to pick up a single bite with multiple components and the right amount of dressing. You are not left with too much lettuce or an overwhelming amount of one item that ends up pushed to the side because consuming it would fade the other components to the background. It is one of the better Cobb Salads I have eaten.

Hi-Spot Cafe on Urbanspoon

Monday, February 21, 2011

Fremont Wine Warehouse

The Fremont Wine Warehouse is full of reasonably priced delicious wines from all over the world.  It is on Fremont Avenue North near the original Homegrown and the general wonderfulness that is Fremont. This is a small shop so there are fewer choices than what you would find at Esquin but it is a happy wine store with great choices and a wonderful manager. The wines are displayed for easy browsing with descriptions and recommendations of some of the wines posted above the bottles. Last Saturday morning happy jazz played on the sound system and the manager, Michael Cawdrey, greeted me as I wandered in the door. After I declined help saying I just wanted to browse he went back to prepping for a tasting until I asked for assistance.

There are a lot of reasons to stop by the Fremont Wine Warehouse but the single most important reason (outside of buying wine...) is so you can talk to Michael Cawdrey. He is extremely knowledgeable and will happily share as much or as little of his wine smarts with you as you want. He is very friendly without offering any sales pressure and cares about wine and happy customers. Most of the bottles in the shop are between 9 and 25 dollars with a small section of sparkling wines and champagne and another (smaller) section with dessert wines. On my last visit I picked up a case taking advantage of the 15% discount that is offered for any 12 bottles, they also offer a 10% discount on 6 bottles.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Mud Bay Coffee Co

We were in Olympia for the weekend because we love to explore and I had never been to our state's capitol. Also, we had read about a Taco Truck and to be perfectly honest that was the primary motivator of the trip. There are a lot of malls and chain stores in Olympia; at every turn I saw another Starbucks. Mud Bay Coffee is in a small strip mall but as soon as I walked in I felt more calm.

The walls are a nice green and there is a lovely little case of delicious looking pastries beckoning you to the counter. There are signs directing proper refuse disposal for compostables and recyclables. I peered into the pastry case trying to determine if the pastries were as good as they looked. I order a latte, a frosted cookie, a chocolate chip cookie and a bag of beans. The man helping me looked like a throwback to the grunge era of the 90s and was friendly without being overly so. He is a barista after all, those perky Starbucks Baristas should give you the first clue that you are not about to get a good cup of espresso.

I asked where the pastries came from and was told Main Street Cookie Company and San Francisco Street Bakery. They are both names that I recognized from looking online at the local eateries. I knew they had good reputations and the reviews were right, the cookies were great. Soft and thick and chewy with still firm but slightly softened chocolate chips. Their lattes are creamy steamed milk infiltrated with wonderful tasting espresso. It stood up to my ridiculously high coffee standards. I have thrown full lattes and drip coffees into the trash because they have that burnt or bitter coffee taste. I hate bad espresso. Since it was almost Valentine's Day the barista took an extra moment trying to add a few hearts to the top of my latte but they were a little abstract. The other barista came over and peered in and they both commented on the failed art but the latte was not a failed attempt; it was a really great latte. And the beans we brought home have been giving us great drip all week.
Mud Bay Coffee Co on Urbanspoon

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Columbia City Bakery

The super chocolate chip cookies from Columbia City Bakery are soft and chewy with an amazing amount of chocolate chips. We picked up a bag that lasted about two days and they had good lasting power, the quality stayed high even on the second day. The bakery serves several lunch options, delicious breads, pastries, cookies, espresso and there is a wall of goodies to take home like granola and jams. Their cinnamon twist (center picture) has a flaky cinnamon sugar coating that sprinkles down with each crunchy sweet bite. The chocolate chip cookies are delicious but the cinnamon twist feels like a special occasion treat. 

If you love pretzels they have classic pretzels, pretzel knots and pretzel dogs which are smooth with a beautiful dark golden chewy exterior and soft bready interior. Our family is familiar with the pretzel as it is also available next to the cash register at Rain Shadow Meats. They make a pear danish which melts in your mouth with a delicate croissant pastry, creamy and lightly tangy cheese filling and two soft pear slices on top. The first time I had the pear danish it was sweet and delicious but the second time it was amazing. I'm not sure where the quality difference came from but the pastry was even more delicate and the cheese and pears more soft and succulent on second try. They make many other delicious pastries like their  lovely chocolate croissant, with nice strong dark chocolate in the middle of a classic croissant.

Their seeded baguettes are loaded with a variety of seeds including fennel which adds an interesting and unexpected flavor. Their quiche lately has featured chevre. The chevre didn't meld with the quiche, it almost seemed like someone had made a nice quiche and then applied a thick layer of chevre on top. It wasn't my favorite but there are so many other delicious options available. It is a beautiful little bakery with light golden wood everywhere and beautiful pastries on display. Usually when we go in we order some things, eat them and then order one or two more because we notice something that we can't pass up.
Columbia City Bakery on Urbanspoon

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Green Leaf Vietnamese Restaurant


Dinner at Green Leaf Vietnamese restaurant brought us the Grilled Chicken Skewer, Fried Flour Cake (pan-fried w/egg and green onion), Vermicilli with Grilled Beef in Lop Leaf, Stir-Fried Mixed Vegetables and Salted Pepper Tofu along with a generous serving of rice. The Grilled Chicken Skewer was adorned with grilled onions, green onions and jicama and carrots sticks which showed up on several dishes. The chicken skewer was well prepared but was a bit bland without any strong flavor or spice to it. The Fried Flour Cake tasted like compacted rice noodles, breaded and deep fried. It was served sprinkled with egg, green onions and the jicama and carrot sticks along with an overly sweetened soy sauce for dipping. This dish earned mixed reviews. I loved it, but admittedly it is a congealed, breaded, fried mass of rice noodles with a gummy bear type texture. It is not for everyone and after reading my description, I'm not sure why I liked it but somehow I did. The sauce was the weakest link, it would be so easy to serve a better sauce, perhaps something slightly thicker and made with chilis. 

The Vermicilli with Grilled Beef in Lop Leaf was sweeter than expected and the dish suffered because of it. The beef mixture inside the Lop Leaf was tangy and sweet with the Lop Leaf adding an interesting texture bite to the ground meat inside. The beef was the best part of the dish as the rest was overwhelmed by the (in my opinion) too sweet sauce. The Mixed Vegetables were great, bright green, still crunchy with a light sauce coating them. The Salted Pepper Tofu was made of large soft chunks of tofu wrapped in a coating that lived up to its name, peppery and salty. The exterior was not crunchy but had a slightly more chewy texture than the soft tofu it encased. This was the best dish in the mix and had great flavor and texture that was enhanced by the fried vegetables mixed into the dish.
Green Leaf on Urbanspoon