Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Campsite Fajitas and Grilled Corn

Last week was our first camping trip in more than five years and I managed to forget flashlights and a can opener. Since we were glamping at Lakedale Resort on San Juan Island though, we just walked over to the store to pick up our missing items. Along with flashlights, the store also sells ice cream and rents boats.

There are two small lakes surrounding the campground, one with a beach that we managed to spend several hours at. The trip was so successful we came home and made reservations at another camping site, a couple weeks from now. Next time we won't be glamping though, it will be real camping without a store.

It was my first time cooking on a camp stove in a long, long time. I had planned on fajitas for the first night, pancakes and bacon for breakfast, sandwiches for lunch and of course, the mandatory weenie roast for our second night. 

Fajitas are great camping food. Depending on your level of organization, you can throw your meat into a ziploc bag spiced up with oil, lime, cumin, chili powder, salt and pepper right before you leave, and it will be ready to grill when you get to your campsite. Or if you have a long trek and are buying your meat closer to the site, it is easy to bring the marinade pre-mixed in a small tupperware.

I want to try that next time. I wasn't quite that organized this time so I did it at the campground and it wasn't as flavorful as it should have been. To go along with the fajitas, we had avocado and grilled red onions with grilled corn on the side. 

For breakfast I learned the idiosyncrasies of my stove. Burning hot in the center, lukewarm on the edges, leading my first round of bacon to start to burn  in the middle with raw outer edges. Yuck. For my second batch I cut the bacon in half which made it easy to rotate around the pan for even cooking. The pancakes were super straightforward. Served with fruit, it was a great breakfast.

For dinner the second night we went for a classic. Baked beans, roasted hot dogs and some Roma Beans that I cooked in my skillet with olive oil and diced up garlic.  Roma beans are a lot like green beans but a little more tender. We have been getting them in our CSA box this summer.  They were great but I think next time I will pre-boil potatoes, stash them in a tupperware and throw together an easy potato salad to go along with the baked beans and hot dogs.

One thing about camping food though, is everyone is so happy to get a warm meal. Or any meal. Camping outdoors seems to burn off a lot of fuel.

For dessert, or course, we did s'mores. 

Campfire Fajitas and Grilled Corn
Serves 4

1.5 pounds flank steak
2 tsp ground cumin
2 tsp chili powder
1 lime, juiced
1/3 cup olive oil
salt and pepper
2 avocados
2 red onions
1/2 cup sour cream, optional
Hot Sauce, like Cholula Sauce
8 pack of flour tortillas

4 ears of corn, husks on
4 - 6 T butter
salt and pepper

Whisk together the olive oil, lime juice, chili powder and ground cumin. Slice the red onion into 3/4 inch thick slices.

Liberally apply salt and pepper to the flank steak and red onion. Place the flank steak in a ziploc bag and the red onion in a second ziplock bag. Pour 3/4 of the marinade over the meat and the rest over the red onion. Seal the bags and throw them in your cooler on the way out the door!

Once you arrive at your beautiful campsite, light your coals and let them burn down to a gray ash. 

Place the corn, meat and red onions on the grill**.  Let the corn cook for 12 - 15 minutes, rotating frequently. Grill the meat for 10 - 14 minutes, flipping half way through. Cook the red onion over the grills until charred, 5 minutes per side.

Slice up the avocados.

Warm a skillet over the coals or your cook stove and warm the tortillas.

Husk the corn and slather with butter, salt and pepper.

Slice the flank steak and serve the warm tortillas with steak, avocado, red onions, sour cream and hot sauce.

** You might need to rotate items if your grill surface isn't big enough. If so, throw the corn on and let it cook for 10 minutes. Then move it to outer edge (or off, if you have to) and cook the meat and onions. Take the meat off and let sit for 5 minutes while you let the corn finish cooking.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Raspberry Peach Pie

We went blueberry picking out at Blue Dog Farm yesterday. Chloe, my three year old daughter, wanted to stop and discuss each blueberry and its merits before picking and dropping it in her bucket.

We ended up with just over five pounds, a nice little stash of delicious summer fruit. When we finished she asked if we could go peach picking. I wish we could!

Peach pie seems like a late summer bliss and with all the super sweet, ripe peaches going through our kitchen, I have been craving one for a while. We had a twelve ounce package of raspberries, so I decided to mix those in too. The raspberries broke down in the pie while the peaches stayed whole, creating an interesting texture contrast.

Whisk the flour, salt and sugar together and then drop the butter and shortening into the flour. The butter was cold but the shortening was at room temperature. Some people recommend cold shortening as well.

Blend the shortening, butter and flour mixture together; it should end up looking like cornmeal.

In my experience, you don't want the dough to congeal together too easily when adding water. It should be a little bit of a struggle to keep it together, so add just enough water to form a ball.

Slice up the peaches and wash the raspberries. Some people like to peel their peaches. I don't mind peach skins but you could drop them in a pot of boiling water just for ten seconds or so, lift them out and then the skins should slip off (just like tomatoes).

 Mix the sugar, cinnamon and vanilla into the peaches.

 Give it an occasional stir.

After a while this 'sweat' will form in the bottom of the peach bowl. Wait about an hour and then strain it off into a saucepan.

Boil the liquid down to a thick syrup. In a moment of brilliance, I threw this in the freezer to quickly cool it down, but instead of cooled syrup, I ended up with a taffy textured candy. I put it back on the stove to re-liquify it.

 Mix the syrup in with the peaches and add the raspberries. Then add the cornstarch.

Roll out your pie crust.

Fill the crust with the fruit filling and cover it up with the second pie crust.

Bake it at 425 for ten minutes. Then turn it down to 350 for another 40 - 50 minutes. Watch the edge of the crust which might start to burn. If it does you can cover it with tinfoil.

To easily cover the outer rim of your pie, take out a square sheet of tinfoil the size of your pie. Fold it in half and cut out a circle in the center, about 6 or 7 inches in diameter. Unfold it and place it over your pie, carefully crimping down the foil to cover the pie edges.

Raspberry Peach Pie

2 1/2 cups flour
1 stick cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
1/2 cup vegetable shortening
1 tsp salt
1 T sugar
6 T ice cold water

5 - 6 ripe (but not overly so) peaches
12 oz raspberries
1 cup sugar
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp vanilla
3 - 4 T cornstarch

The crust

Whisk the flour, sugar and salt together in a large bowl. Drop the butter into the bowl, along with the shortening. Cut in the butter and shortening until it resembles cornmeal using your fingers or two forks. Sprinkle the cold water over the dough and mix it together with a fork and then your hands. Form it into two discs, cover them with plastic and put in the refrigerator for 2 hours (or you can leave it there longer if you are preparing the crust a day early).

The filling

Pre-heat the oven to 425.

Wash and slice the peaches into 1/2 inch thick slices. Mix the sugar, cinnamon, vanilla and peaches together in a large bowl. Let sit for an hour, stirring occasionally.

Drain the liquid that formed at the bottom of the bowl of peaches into a small saucepan and simmer until the liquid is reduced to 1/4 of the amount that you started with. Let cool.

Mix the reduced syrup, raspberries and peaches together gently in a bowl. Add the cornstarch, stirring well.

Putting it together

Take out the two discs of dough and roll them out on a lightly floured surface. Gently lift up one disc of crust and line the bottom of the pie dish, pile in the filling in and cover with the second disc. Trim the crust that is hanging over to about 1 inch, if necessary. Crimp the edges together and put three small slits in the top as a vent. Place in the oven for 10 minutes. Turn the oven down to 350 and cook for another 40 - 50 minutes, until the fruit is bubbling and the crust is golden brown.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Ba Bar

A meal at Ba Bar can mean a bowl of pho and a beer, or a completely different beast, dumplings for an appetizer, a cold, tart cocktail and chocolate pudding to go with your main course. The dining room isn't fancy but it isn't casual either with its clean, modern look, large windows covering the front and a wall of cocktails covering the back. They set votives on each table as the light fades away.

The menu is interesting, with great Vietnamese options and some alternative options, like steak frites and vanilla pot de creme (so creamy and smooth), along with three or four daily specials.

On a recent visit we ordered pho and a Moscow Mule, a drink made of ginger beer, lime and vodka, served over ice. They bring it out to our table and my husband points out the copper cup it was served in. I raise my eyebrows. He proceeds to tell me that Moscow Mules are traditionally served in a copper cup. And that there is no specific reason for it, it was simply decided by the inventors of the drink that it should be served in a copper cup. So Ba Bar hired bartenders who knew this and purchased the proper stemware. Details like this are what make a restaurant great.

The Pho has a mild broth with delicious meat from a local, sustainable source. It is served with two dishes of sauce to make it more tangy, should you want it so, along with the usual suspects of basil, bean sprouts, jalapenos and lime wedges. It is a very generous bowl.

The combo Vermicelli Bowl (pictured above) is equally enticing. A large bowl filled to the top, a multitude of beautiful colors, loaded with noodles, a crispy imperial roll, grilled white prawn, beef bò mỡ chài, cucumber and rau thơm. They each offer different textures, the roll fried, the beef bò mỡ chài, a tasty, fatty beef meatball and the prawn grilled. They add contrast to the cold noodles and sauce poured over the top and all the different components make each bite delicious and interesting in its own way .

The combo Vermicelli bowl is my favorite dish in recent memory and besides already enjoying it and the Pho, I want to try almost everything else on the menu. The Spicy Berkshire Pork Belly and that enticing sounding Steak Frites, served with Washington grass-fed New York Steak. It is extremely unusual to be able to get food this good at one o'clock in the morning but you can at Ba Bar, they are open until 2 am during the week and 4 am on Fridays and Saturdays. Late night dining is a definite void in Seattle and having it filled by Eric Banh, one of Seattle's most innovative restaurant owners, is amazing.
Ba Bar on Urbanspoon

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Dark Victory Brownies

Sometimes I wish that I could capture all the aromas that drift through our home, storing them as a memory book. Just this last friday the whole house smelled like chicken pot pie, then caesar salad and finally blueberry strawberry crumble.  I was making dinner for some family friends who just had a beautiful baby boy. Saturday was two pans of brownies for a girls night outing I was going to. This morning it is chicken stock.

When I come back after going out for a while, it is to whatever was last made in our home, reminding me of the last shared meal or friends that came over or food that I brought somewhere to share. My husband walks home from work and I imagine the smells drifting out to the alley, to welcome him home. I was never really a baker until the last year or so. But standing over the sweet smell of melting butter and chocolate or a big bowl of cookie dough or cinnamon bread is such a happy, soothing experience. It makes the house feel even happier.

The definition of a brownie from Webster's Dictionary, "...sliced from a type of dense, rich chocolate cake, which is, in texture, like a cross between a cake and a cookie", is not exactly what I envision. I think I would have said, 'a cross between a cake and chocolate fudge.' I prefer a brownie that abandons its cake heritage and border perilously close to the edge of being fudge but doesn't quite take that final step. This recipe is adapted from Tish Boyle's, The Good Cookie, 'Dark Victory Brownies' recipe, which is my current favorite brownie recipe. They seem to taste best the day after baking so try not to eat them all on the day you make them so you can taste how they change after having a day to sit.

Put the butter and chocolate into a bowl that will sit on a barely simmering pan of water. Stir until the mixture is smooth. I prefer to use a bowl that is big enough to finish the recipe instead of transferring the contents, as she suggests.

Remove the pan from the heat and mix in the sugar and cocoa powder, stirring, until smooth.

Mix in the eggs, one at at time. The texture change between before and adding the eggs is very interesting.

Mix in the sour cream and vanilla and finally, the flour and salt. Optionally you can add nuts. Transfer to a square pan and bake.

Dark Victory Brownies
Adapated from Tish Boyle's Dark Victory Brownies Recipe
Makes 16 brownies

3.5 oz semi-sweet chocolate, chopped
14 T unsalted butter, cut into Tablespoons
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
3 large eggs
1/2 cup sour cream
2 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/8 tsp salt
1 cup coarsely chopped nuts (optional)

Pre-heat the oven to 350 degrees. Butter or spray a square pan with non-stick spray. 

Melt the semi-sweet chocolate and butter over a pan of barely simmering water, stirring until smooth.

Remove the bowl from the stove and mix in, until smooth, the sugar and cocoa powder.

Mix in the eggs, one at a time, until full blended.

Mix in the sour cream and vanilla.

Stir in the flour and salt, until just blended.

Add the nuts if you are using them. 

Cook for 40 minutes, until a toothpick comes out with just a few crumbs still clinging to it.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Alegio Chocolaté

There is something magical about people who decide their life's work will be making the most amazing chocolates that they can come up with. Like the great chocolate shop in North Berkeley, Alegio Chocolaté that we visited earlier in the summer. They are chocolate makers, not chocolatiers (the difference nicely explained by David Lebovitz here, along with an entertaining blog post to read about chocolate).

Alegio Chocolaté is surrounded by good food, including Lush Gelato and a Picoso Taqueria (a taqueria that gets adequate reviews in Berkeley, but that would be packed if it lived in Seattle). Gelato is lovely and Taqueria's have a special place in my heart but a chocolate shop is like a trip to Paris for me. A tiny shop, where they are selling all these beautiful chocolates that so much thought, care, love and precision went into, all in order to provide someone with a moment of bliss.

The store is small and enchanting, the display boxes are colorful, the chocolates are beautiful and the whole effect is calming. Buying artisan chocolates should always be like this. Like visiting Fran's Chocolates, in Seattle, where they offer you samples and are the poster child of good customer service. It feels decadent just to be in a shop like Fran's and Alegio Chocolaté, and it is.

I bought some chocolates to give away but they never made it to their unnamed recipients. The milk chocolate was, possibly, the best milk chocolate I have ever eaten. I am usually more in the dark chocolate camp but my husband loves milk chocolate and he has slowly been trying to win me over by bringing me absurdly delicious milk chocolate. This milk chocolate would make anyone swoon. It has everything that is wonderful about milk chocolate and nothing that is bad. Sweet, without being too sweet and super creamy. I think there is a lot of low quality milk chocolate out there, which unfairly gives it a bad name.  Shops like Alegio Chocolate are giving milk chocolate a good name again. This is a gem of a shop, perfect for purchasing a small gift or a small treat for yourself.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Geraldine's Counter

Geraldine's Counter in Columbia City looks like a happy, easy place to get a bite to eat and it is. They don't put up any false promises with their outside appearance. There are big windows along the front and it sits on a corner, on the same block but the opposite side of the street from the Columbia City Bakery. They are the quintessential neighborhood restaurant and with good food, open for breakfast (served all day), lunch and dinner.

The breakfast menu offers a lot of delicious sounding options, both sweet and savory but without the typical make your own omelette or scramble section. Instead they stick to the classics with a few interesting options thrown in. The Avocado and Pepperjack Omelet was fantastic. The egg layer wasn't too thick, complementing but not overwhelming the contents of the omelet. The generous dollop of salsa fresca and sour cream on top adds that wonderful contrast that comes from mixing fresh, creamy and cooked in one delicious bite. It comes with classic hashbrowns and a thick slab of delicious toast.

The pancakes were thick and fluffy and a beautiful golden brown. They had a nice sweet flavor to them and a soft, airy texture. They are sprinkled with powdered sugar and served with the classic silver container of syrup. These are comfortable, soothing, happy pancakes.

Their Sweet White Corn, Havarti & Herb Scramble is also served with hash browns and toast. The hash browns and toast were fantastic but the scramble seemed a little flat. All three ingredients were so mild that it blended together into a dish that didn't have much to say. There was an herb added to it, dried thyme (it seemed), but it came across as an afterthought trying to fill in for the lacking dish. The ice tea (pictured above) was flavorful, a beautiful color and served in a giant glass that they keep refilling until you leave.

The service has always shown itself to be consistently friendly and prompt. We were always seated as soon as walking in the door and they would bring crayons and paper for my kids when they were along. The ice tea or coffee was refilled with enough regularity that they never reached a half empty state. And the food came out fast but not so fast that you worried stuff was pre-cooked. It is a busy diner, so I imagine the food and service will sometimes falter, like we all do on occasion, but I found enough consistency in the food, service and ambience to wish it was within walking distance from my home in Capitol Hill. 

Geraldine's Counter on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Potato Salad with Mustard Vinaigrette and Bacon

I just posted an entry on potato salad and here I am with another one. This one lies at the opposite end of the spectrum from the Russian Potato Salad. But, it is summer and I am on vacation as I write this. We are on our annual Lake House trip. This involves going out in a boat, coming back and eating. Going out for a swim, coming back and eating. Going out in a different boat and coming back and eating. I always cook a lot when we are on our lake house vacation. Sometimes I wish I had more people to feed so I needed to cook more than I actually do. When I run out of hungry stomachs, I am forced to stop.

This salad has bright red tomatoes and green parsley contrasting nicely to offer a cheerful visual display. And it stays on the lighter side (no mayo). It also differs from a salad I made today where I substituted the tomatoes for black olives and omitted the parsley but I think I prefer the cheeriness of the bright red tomatoes in this rendition.

Potato Salad with Mustard Vinaigrette and Bacon
Serves 4 - 6

2 lbs baby potatoes (or any non-starchy potato will do)
1 pt cherry tomatoes, halved
3 green onions, finely chopped
1/3 bunch of parsley, minced
4 pieces of bacon
1 T cider vinegar
2 T olive oil
1 1/2 tsp dijon mustard
1 T sour cream (optional)
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp ground black pepper

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Drop the potatoes in and boil until cooked through but still firm, 10 - 14 minutes. This can be done the day before. Store the cooked potatoes covered in the refrigerator.

Fry the bacon in a skillet until it is crispy. Remove the bacon, drain on paper towels and then chop. 

Chop the potatoes into bite sized chunks.

Mix the potatoes, tomatoes, green onions, parsley and chopped bacon in a large bowl. 

Whisk together the olive oil, vinegar, dijon, salt and pepper in a small bowl. If you want a little creaminess, whisk in the sour cream. Add the salt and pepper and whisk until blended. Transfer to the mixing bowl, toss and serve.