Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Russian Potato Salad


The Wednesday, June 18th, 1997 food section of the San Francisco Chronicle has been tucked in with my cookbooks since I set it aside that day. The whole section, entitled the 'Summer Survival Guide', was interesting to me but the potato salad recipe written by Marlena Spieler has stuck around. It is excellent the "next day" making it perfect for all those times that you need to have some stuff ready ahead of time. It is a traditional, creamy potato salad with a strong undertone of garlic, dill and capers making it interesting. The name really is 'russian potato and salad' but I'm guessing the 'and' was a misprint. I don't think the recipe has any misprints though and it is a flexible recipe where the measurements can be moved in the direction to suite your tastes. These are mine which are not too far off from the original.

Russian Potato and Salad
(Barely) adapted from the San Francisco Chronicle
Serves 4

2 pounds small new potatoes (or any potato that will hold up in a potato salad will work)
8 green onions, thinly sliced
4 - 6 T chopped fresh dill
3 garlic cloves, chopped
1/3 cup mayonnaise
1/2 cup sour cream
4 T capers
Juice of a 1/2 to 1 lemon, depending
Salt and Pepper to taste

Boil the potatoes until just tender; drain well and let cool. You should be able to easily stick a fork in them but they shouldn't split when you do it.

Cut the potatoes into chunks and lightly toss with the green onions, 4 T dill, garlic, mayonnaise, sour cream, capers and half the lemon juice. Taste and add more lemon juice and dill if needed (I always do).

Season with salt and pepper.

Chill until ready to serve. Preferably at least 4 hours.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Skagit Valley Food Co-op



Skagit Valley Food Co-op can offer respite from the fast food options that follow most major highways. Organic salad bar with a cup of delicious soup on the side? Available five minutes off of I-5 in Mount Vernon, Washington. It is where we stop to eat on our way north to Vancouver, BC or Bellingham from our home in Seattle. The Co-op offers a full service grocery store, a large deli section and an upstairs eating area that is large enough to handle a substantial crowd.


The store has a large section of bulk foods and a beautiful produce section. Everything is labeled telling you if it was grown locally and whether or not it is organic. There is a big, long wine aisle (see above). The dry good section is well-stocked and they sell bulk herbs and spices. There is a gift store upstairs that has everything from toys to wallets. The weakest link, which is often true in co-ops, is the meat section. It is not bad but fairly minimal. A lot of meat items are missing. To me, that is like going to the produce section and not finding any apples. Why is it okay to be missing a common meat cut? And where is the butcher? Why not house something like Rain Shadow Meats within a co-op? 


Since I don't live in Skagit Valley, my main interaction with the Co-op is using it as a place to stop in for lunch or dinner while on the road. They have an impressive deli. They serve espresso. They have a great salad bar. They have a hot food 'bar' that rotates what it offers, also sold by the pound along with the salad bar. They have a big selection of deli items, from tamales to salmon to asian noodle salad. They make sandwiches to order. The sandwiches are fantastic, loaded with fresh vegies with a generous pile of meat and cheese. You fill out a little slip of paper saying exactly what you want and they deliver. It comes with chips and a pickle (pictured above). We always order at least one sandwich when we are there.


The salad (pictured above) was put together at the salad bar. The vegies were super fresh and the honey mustard vinaigrette was tangy and sweet. On another visit we easily fed our two young children from the salad/hot-food bar by loading up a plate with cooked spaghetti, black olives, cucumbers, garbanzo beans, peas and sprinkling parmesan everywhere. It is nice to have some vegetables to offer your kids on the road and the serve yourself bar allows you to buy a small amount of food that is just right for a young child. I love this store, if they were in Seattle I imagine we would be stopping in there regularly.
Skagit Valley Food Co-op Deli on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Homeless Garden Project


There is an organic farm near Natural Bridges that provides CSA boxes and u-pick strawberries. It is a beautiful place to visit and we went there to pick strawberries twice during our week long stay. Along with being an urban organic CSA farm, it provides job-training for the homeless or people at risk of being homeless. It is a place that bubbles over with optimism and evidence of good people in the world.



The CSA boxes come pre-packed for you or you can pick your own. There were a handful of people out filling their own CSA boxes alongside the workers and volunteers who were maintaining the fields and planting new crops. The garden seemed very organized yet still open to creativity and new ideas. At one end was a shed (pictured below) where people would check-in for the CSA boxes. At a table (also pictured below), workers were putting together bundles of flowers and herbs.



They rang the bell as we were leaving with our second round of strawberries. Everyone left where they were working to go sit down for a shared community meal. The meals are for all the workers and anyone volunteering in the fields that day. The Homeless Garden Project is twenty years old now and may eventually move to a new location but its current home is worth a visit.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

The Penny Ice Creamery


Ice cream sometimes leans too heavily on sugar as its selling point but that isn't the case at The Penny Ice Creamery. Instead they lean on their locally sourced organic dairy and their inventive flavors. You can almost hear the happy cows behind the walls eating grass in a large pasture. And while you can't see the cows, the ice cream making is open to public viewing.


On the day we were there they had a dozen or so flavors. They wander outside the norm offering inventive interesting flavors like earl grey. But they also keep you grounded (and make your children happy) by offering chocolate and vanilla. And if you are lactose intolerant, they offer sorbet. A daily list of flavors might include something along the lines of:

Brown Butter Spiced Pecan, Strawberry Sorbet, Chocolate Raspberry, Earl Grey, Strawberry Pink Peppercorn, Cardamom Pistachio with Chocolate Chips, Blueberry Lemon Verbena, Vanilla Bean, and Chocolate Sorbet

I love the balance of this list, there are a lot of interesting options but it is easy to be traditional if that is your whim. They also offer sundaes, various toppings, ice cream sandwiches and bon-bons.

The inside of the ice cream store is clean and modern without being cold or unwelcoming. The walls are painted a cool white and the tables made of a dark wood. There are a few interesting pieces of art on the wall but mainly you sit back, eat your ice cream and feel blissful.

The Penny Ice Creamery on Urbanspoon

Monday, July 4, 2011

A Bit of Family History


We went on vacation to the Bay Area for almost two weeks visiting friends and family. Our travels led us on numerous food-oriented activities; we tried a lot of different restaurants, visited farms, picked strawberries, shared meals with people we were visiting and did some cooking. We also visited my 93 year old grandmother. I am hoping that my children will retain some memories of her.

I love listening to her stories and this time she told me a small bit of 'culinary family history'. Her parents owned a grocery store when she was growing up. They both emigrated from Eastern Europe, came to this country and opened the store. Then he started making kielbasa and selling it. He would grind beef, pork and veal and fill a barrel with it. He would add salt, pepper, a forgotten list of spices, milk and cream.

"And lemons", she said.

"Lemon juice?", I asked.

"No, lemons", she said. "He would slice them up and put them in the kielbasa mixture".

Then the kids would mix that giant barrel worth of meat with their hands. "Better than using their feet",  my aunt piped in. I was trying to imagine sticking my arms all the way down into a barrel of ground meat. It sounded kind of interesting. I like working with ground meat, it is so pliable and we love bolognese and meatballs in this house.

After that they would feed it through a casing machine. Her sister (or brother) would hold the gut casing onto the machine and my grandmother would feed the mixture into the machine and turn the crank to push it through. They would make long kielbasa, almost a foot long. When they were done they took it out to a smokehouse her dad had built in the back yard. The smokehouse was made out of brick and he would burn the coals down to a red ash before filling putting kielbasa in and letting it smoke. I asked her if he made other types of sausages or deli meats.

"Just kielbasa, that was what he was good at", she said.

Her dad would advertise in the local paper and it was the most successful part of the store, they shipped kielbasa all over. People would call in and order large quantities for restaurants as well as just eating at home. I wish I could give it a try.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Cesar Espana


We walked through the 'gourmet ghetto' in Berkeley, stopping to look at the menu for Chez Panisse, the amazing line for pizza at the Cheeseboard (it really is amazing stuff) and passing up more than ten other restaurants. We ended up at a tapas place two doors down from Chez Panisse called Cesar Espana. It was crowded inside. There were just two tables still empty, one by the window that the waiter gestured us towards. He followed us there and dropped off a menu with tapas listed on one side and beverages on the other. He also dropped off two little dishes, one empty and one full of shiny mixed olives. The restaurant is fairly non-descriptive in calming way. There are large windows which seem like they might be opened up on warm nights, a long bar along one wall and fifteen or so tables in the restaurant.

We ordered four dishes and two cocktails and then watched the crowds of people on the median eating cheeseboard pizza below a sign that said, 'no sitting on the median'. The bartender brought our drinks over to us. He dropped them off pausing momentarily to make sure we didn't have any questions. The food came out in quick succession. Everything about the service was nicely executed in this very nonchalant way. The man seating us automatically gave us the nicer table without pause or thought, the bartender bringing the drinks over, the speedy food service and the polite, efficient waiter.

The mixed greens with manchego and nuts (above) was a beautiful display but didn't quite live up to its appearance. The lettuce was fresh, the cheese salty and the nuts were tasty but the vinaigrette needed more vinegar and more salt. Or more something, it just didn't have anything to say which was a shame because it was sitting on top of a great base.


The grilled asparagus (above) was topped with tapenade and a half of a hard-boiled egg. The asparagus had a nice grilled flavor to it and the tapenade was a nice contrast in flavor and texture.

The hanger steak with blue cheese, green olives, green beans and a tarragon vinaigrette (below) was seared on the outside and still red in in the center. It was tender meat that had been properly pounded into submission. The crumbled cheese was half melted on the meat. There were flavorful chopped green olives sprinkled on top. The green beans were cold and covered with a tasty tarragon vinaigrette that had minced tarragon in it along with scattered tarragon leaves. A bite delivered the tang of the olives, the melted cheese, seared perfectly cooked meat and fresh tarragon leaves. It was so good that we ordered a second serving.


C├ęsar on Urbanspoon