Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Tuesdays with Dorie--Birthday Surprise

This baking experience is going to come at you in two installments. That's because this particular recipe from page 48 requires a couple of days to prepare. And...because it's a birthday surprise for my mom who is coming over for birthday dinner at my house tomorrow. (She's a spry 35--isn't that amazing?? Haha, don't worry mom, I've got your back.)

Page 48 required many basic ingredients like sugar, salt, flour, butter, eggs, etc. But there were a couple of special things in there like some whole milk and yeast (which is special in my baking because it doesn't happen too often!). Oh, did I mention there are 3 eggs and--get this--3 sticks of butter! You know it's going to be good. My kitchen smelled amazing in the particular region above the mixing bowl.

Have you ever used a dough hook on your Kitchenaid? I don't very often. During the 10 minutes of Medium-High mixing, I thought my mixer was going to dance right off the counter. I had to keep pushing it back and even tried holding it down at the base. By the time the 10 minutes were up, the bowl had tightened into the base extensively and I had to use all the muscles of my right arm (my left one was already filled and burning with the weight of my 4 month old) to get that bowl loose!

P.S. Thank you to my lovely friend from Redeemer for bustin' my chops about baking. She kindly pointed out that throwing a few things in a paper bag (see last weeks posts) does not count. I'll try to do better (or the baking police are going to take me to jail!). Smiles to Julia.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Trellis Restaurant Review

Friday night was great--we actually went out on a date. Albeit, we were home in time to put the kids to bed, but still, we got to eat a great dinner without being interrupted by anyone needing to nurse, go to the bathroom, or get more milk.

And, the best part is, we finally got to try the most famous new restaurant in Kirkland. Trellis. I've read a few reviews of the place and they all talked about how the chef likes to make very seasonal, local fare--that he even grows a lot of the food in his own garden plot down at the fabulous South 47 Farm off the Redmond-Woodinville Road.

It was a beautiful evening and there were many diners enjoying the patio tables. We opted to sit inside to avoid the late September cool nights. The decor is very earthy with rich but muted colors. The chairs even had a leaf motif embroidered on the back rests. The beautiful bar is overlaid in a pinky-orange marble slab.

Our server was great right off the bat. She knew the menu well and had great wine suggestions. We ordered straight from the specials menu, starting with a grilled peach salad stacked with caramelized onions, wilted arugula (obviously elitist, so naturally it was good), some fresh sliced figs surrounding the stack and drizzled with a truffle oil. Yeah, it was fabulous especially pared with a great pinot gris from a local winery.

Next to arrive was the cheese plate, served on a long wooden paddle. All local cheeses, we had a great white cheddar pared with quince paste, a triple cream with a tomato-peach jam, and a tangy bleu pared with a fall fruit jam and roasted hazelnuts. There was hot fresh steaming pita bread. But the best part-our smart server suggested champagne to accompany the cheeses. Genius! It was a great bright contrast to those substantial cheeses.

So far, we were ready to hand out 5 stars. Then, our entrees arrived. And they were good, but not 5 stars--maybe even just 3.5 stars. I ordered the lamb T-bone with braised swiss chard and a medley of berries (huckleberries, blackberries, and golden raspberries). Those flavors were all great together, but the sauce (which I think was a balsamic reduction) was much too salty. It tasted strongly of what I thought to be soy sauce and not really any balsamic flavor came through. It was in serious need of an acid (like more vinegar!).

My hubby ordered the wild boar cassoulet, which if you're not familiar with the dish, comes with beans and braised duck. Again, the flavors were good, but the boar was noticeably under-seasoned. We did have a couple of nice Syrahs with our meals adding their spicy goodness to the flavor mix.

Stuffed as we were, we just had to try dessert. The server was pushing for the lemon flan with thyme syrup (the chef's specialty), but as much as I like thyme, I think it should stay towards the entree portion of dinner. I went for the peach-raspberry cobbler served with ice cream and my husband ordered his favorite standby--apple pie. His slice of apple pie was garnished with a caramel sauce, cinnamon-caramel ice cream topped with apple shavings. It was really much better than my cobbler which had altogether too much cobbler and not enough fruit. Plus...it was barely warm! This has been our plight at many many great restaurants--dinner is great, but dessert seems like the afterthought. Please, make sure it's at least properly heated! So I think dessert gets about 3.5 stars.

Overall, the ambience and service is excellent. We loved the appetizers and liked dinner and dessert fairly well. We had a great time and would definitely try it again. It would be an ideal spot for amazing appetizers and good wine. Maybe we'll sit at that marble bar next time around.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Green Tomatoes

Nights are getting colder and the rains have returned to Western Washington. Since the summer wasn't all that hot, my two heirloom tomato plants took their sweet time ripening the beautiful fruit hanging from their vines. Like all tomato gardeners, the weather made me fear those nasty splits that happen to tomatoes in a rainstorm.

So, I made a decision and picked them all! Some of you may be thinking I've got a lot of fried green tomatoes on the menu, but I'm counting on my super cool brown bag trick to ripen some of them.

I took a medium size brown paper bag and put in the green tomatoes with a fairly ripe apple. The apple releases a gas that helps the tomatoes ripen. Roll the bag a bit to "seal" it and a couple of days later, one of the tomatoes is already ripe! I love it when things work out like that. Caprese salad, here I come.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Birthday Treats

You'll have to forgive me if this is a bit incoherent. It's almost 10 p.m. and I've been up since 6 o'clock this morning. Since this is my husband's night for class, I was a single mom tonight. After reading numerous Dr. Seuss books in my bed with all three kiddos (I could hardly talk by the end!), I put the kiddies to bed and decided that I'd better get cracking on my daughter's birthday cupcakes for her kindergarten class. Tomorrow's the big day for her.

With all the bad luck I've had in baking cakes from scratch, I decided to consult my friend Kasey for some advice. See, every time Kasey makes a dessert that we've eaten, my husband starts lavishing the complements on her. So I've been trying to strive for the "Kasey baking ideal" for quite some time now.

This last summer we went to her daughter's birthday party where she baked these amazingly delicious cupcakes. These were what I was aiming to take. Her secret? A box of yellow cake mix and a small box of instant vanilla pudding. Mix them together, along with the oil, eggs, and water and get ready for the most luscious velvety cupcake of your life.

I frosted them with my vanilla buttercream tinted pink, of course. I really wanted to decorate them with red jelly bellys, but my daughter walked in and said she doesn't like jelly beans. "Yes, you do," I told her, "try one--they're cherry." Unfortunately, she did not get a cherry one, but a cinnamon flavored jelly bean. And if you know my daughter, the teensiest bit of "spicyness" sends her right over the edge. No jelly beans...

That got me to be a little more creative, though. I used a scrap piece of photo paper and cut out a star using an Xacto knife. Then, using it as a stencil, made red sprinkle stars on the cupcakes. So cute! Now, I know some of you out there are actually really amazing at the cake/cupcake decoration, but this type of cake success doesn't happen for me too often, so I'm celebrating this small victory (did anyone see my Transformers "Cube" cake last year??? Not so happy...).

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Harvest Rush

Harvest time has always been a waiting game for farmers. Should I pick that tomato now or give it one more day? Will we have a surprise frost that will ruin all my hard work? What if it suddenly pours down rain and all my tomatoes split open? But once the decision is made to harvest the crops, it's time to work if you want to enjoy the summer's labors. Because you can't actually eat hundreds of pounds of tomatoes at once--or 500 ears of corn. And it's precisely toward the end of September when you see tomato plants with rotting fruits still on the vine that no one could stomach another bite of.

I had such high hopes for this summer, especially after I took the canning class and then fortuitously stumbled upon my Grandma's ancient canner in my Dad's garage. But, aside from the brief burst of strawberry jam that launched this blog, I've found myself with little time or produce to make preserves.

Until last weekend...thank goodness that my Dad took his annual pilgrimage to Fish Lake this year because that means that as he makes his way home, he gets a little phone call begging for some sweet peaches from the sunny part of Washington! What goes for $3.99 a pound in the store is a mere $7.50 for a 20+ pound box!

This year, good ol' Dad was sweet enough to pick up a box of peaches, tomatoes and new crop apples! So I went from wishing that I had a little something to can, to being tied to the stove for nearly a whole day. There was tomato-peach chutney, peach jam, and then jars of canned peaches. I still had enough to make wonderful caprese salad and I'm still hoping to get a peach tart in!

Sit, sit, sit--then work, work, work. Such is the way of harvest. Because good things come to those who hurry up at can that produce!

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

And the winner is...

I've been searching for quite some time and I think I have finally found it...

A great homemade pizza dough recipe!

Don't you hate it when homemade pizza dough just seems like bread? How do you get it to be light and chewy and a bit crisp?

There have been many incarnations of pizza dough at my house. From white flour to whole wheat flour, olive oil to sugar and even honey...I've tried it all, each missing the mark a bit (or a lot!).

A few weeks back, we were spontaneously invited over to my friend Julia's house for some fun and games on a Sunday afternoon. Who can resist an afternoon of Settlers of Catan (I'm sure I've spelled that wrong)---the deal was sweetened when we found out she was cooking!

We were a mere hour into my maiden game, when the table champion (Julia's husband) was called away to make some pizza dough. He spent several minutes in the kitchen adjacent to all the Settling Action when Julia went to check on him and promptly took over his efforts. Well, thank goodness for that, because for the rest of the evening, Julia was cranking out fantastic homemade pizzas covered in a variety of yummy toppings like ricotta and spinach. But, what was even more amazing was...the crust! It was good! A homemade pizza crust worth eating.

Of course, I immediately asked for the recipe. Tonight I tested it out in my own kitchen. Although I lack a pizza stone (I've gotta get one!), I improvised using my two cast iron skillets. The pizzas turned out great. Thank you, Julia!!

1 2/3 cups of warm water
2 TB olive oil
2 TB sugar
2 tsp salt
4 1/2 cups flour
2 tsp dry yeast (I used one packet which is 2 1/4 tsp)

In a bowl, combine the warm water, oil, sugar, and yeast. Set aside.

In a large bowl, combine the flour and the salt. Make a well in the center. Add half of the liquid and incorporate with a fork without breaking the well. Add the remaining liquid, stirring in all the flour. When the dough is firm enough to handle, turn it out onto a floured surface and knead for 5-10 minutes until the dough is smooth and elastic.

Lightly oil a bowl. Put the dough in the bowl, lightly oil the top and cover with a clean damp towel. Allow dough to rise until doubled--about an hour.

Preheat your oven to at least 450 degrees (preheat your stone or skillet, too). Divide the dough into 2-4 pieces. Press out all the air bubbles and stretch the dough to your desired shape. Throw a little cornmeal into the bottom of your skillet and transfer a dough crust to the pan. Add your favorite toppings and bake until the crust is golden and crisp--don't remove it too early or it will not be crisp!

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Hello Lamb Chops!

I had one of those idyllic sounding childhoods with lots of fresh air, exercise, and pets. My mom stayed home with us and baked bread often. My sister and I enjoyed making our own forts in the woods on our 10 acres of land. We picked blackberries in summer time and watched the deer silently sneak up to my mom's plants after a light snow. We bought live Christmas trees, planting them near the house each winter after the holidays. Scrambled eggs were a gift from our own hens. And it seemed that we had a kitten factory some years (much to my dad's chagrin). Some neighbors owned a horse or two.

To get to the bus stop each day, we walked down a gravel road roughly a quarter of a mile long, passing a field of sheep along the way. Mr. Williams raised sheep the whole time that I was growing up. Occasionally, he had a ram or two. Once, as my friend and I made our way to the bus for afternoon kindergarten, one of the rams began butting the fence with his horns. We were sure that he was going to knock it down and trample us to death. Never have two girls run a quarter mile that fast! Unfortunately, my aunt (who was babysitting that day) thought we were just playing hooky and refused to wake up her sleeping baby to take us to school. Imagine skipping school in kindergarten! I still remember the paddling I got! (thanks a lot auntie!)

For me, lambs were the animals down the road born in the spring near a muddy field. They grew up to be dirty, wooly sheep given a yearly haircut. We certainly didn't eat them! Easter dinner was usually ham, never lamb. And shouldn't lamb be a traditional fall food--surely no one is eating newborn spring lamb! (Sorry, Gretchen, you probably aren't liking this post).

A couple of year back I decided to be more hip and serve a lamb roast for Easter instead of a ham. I had found a recipe that served lamb with an Argentine chimichuri sauce. I can't say that it was very popular except with my husband. I found myself actually afraid to take a bite--like a kid who just knows they aren't going to like it and will probably gag. But it seemed that every time we went out, my husband ordered lamb if it was available--lamb in mole sauce at Mexican restaurants, and especially those brilliant lamb chops at the Dahlia Lounge in Seattle. He always offered me a bite or two and I began to actually like it!

Finally, I ripped out a recipe from one of my food magazines for lamb chops marinated in cumin, honey, and mint. By golly, I was determined to try this myself. During my grocery trip to my favorite natural food store P.C.C., I shyly inquired if they carried lamb chops in the meat department. See, I was afraid that lamb might be under the same frowned-upon umbrella as veal (what I can only refer to as Tortured Baby Cow thanks to the one Southpark episode I've seen). But, as it turns out, lamb is an acceptable meat at P.C.C. and, dare I say, the preferred protein of every Top Chef-type cooking competition.

These chops turned out fabulous! I found myself truly enjoying their rich flavor and texture. My kids were totally convinced that we were eating steak, so similar was it, but more tender and flavorful to my adult palate. So, even if you're scared of or new to the world of lamb chops, this recipe will surely win you over. Try it, you might just like it Sam I Am.

1/4 cup chopped fresh mint
1 TB balsamic vinegar
2 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp dry mustard
2 tsp honey
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
8 (4 oz.) lamb loin chops, about an inch thick, trimmed

Combine first 7 ingredients in a small bowl, stirring well. Place lamb in a single layer in a shallow dish; rub spice mixture evenly over both sides of lamb. Cover and refrigerate for 4 hours.

Prepare grill. Place lamb on a grill rack coated with oil or cooking spray. Grill 4 minutes on each side. Serve immediately (4 servings).

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Tuesdays with Dorie--Tarte Tatin

There I was...the night before my oldest child begins kindergarten...switching around 56 loads of laundry, cooking dinner, grocery shopping, trying to find some sneakers at the store on Labor Day weekend, fitting in a game of bowling with my family...suddenly it dawned on me---tomorrow is Tuesday. As in Tuesdays with Dorie. And there is the bowl of apples, given to me by my friend Julia from church from her apple tree--a week ago. Word is getting out...Julie has to bake on Tuesdays! I meant to get around to those apples last week, but totally missed making or posting anything on Tuesday (which didn't go unnoticed--I received a phone call wondering what I was making that night!).

Well, I didn't want to get kicked off Dorie's friend list, so on top of all that craziness going on last night I upped the ante and added in a new baking project. How about an apple tart? The recipe said I could use store-bought puff pastry dough. But when I saw the cost (and ingredient list) I just couldn't bring myself to buy it. My miserly mind thought, "I can always make some pie dough way more cheaply!"

In fact, the Tarte Tatin recipe said I could also use pie dough or sweet tart dough from another page in the book. Sweet tart dough sounds tastier to me (I'm not a big pie crust lover), so I worked on that. "Blend flour, sugar, ground nuts, and salt in your food processor." Dang...no food processor in my cupboard. So now what do I do?

Well....how about my teeny tiny chopper (food processor wannabe)? Good idea, Julie. The dry ingredients fit (barely), then I added the bits of frozen butter and the egg yolk. Whew, it all fit, but I had to hold my hand over the lid to keep the flour from flying out!

But wait, my dough was not crumbly or pebbly...It was like fine sand. Hmmm...maybe my chopper had more guts than I thought. I could hardly keep together. I tried pressing it, but it kept falling apart. There was no way I was going to "gently knead" it into a ball. So I got out my springform cake pan, lined it with parchment, and pressed the dough into the bottom. Then I threw it into the fridge (my freezer was full from my recent grocery shopping trip).

Later that night, post dinner/running kid's bath/nursing baby, I madly peeled those homegrown apples. I didn't have the patience to neatly core and quarter them. Chopping them off the core seemed easier.

"Melt the butter in a cast iron skillet, sprinkle on the sugar." Oops...somehow I always think that if you want something caramelized in the end that you must start with brown sugar. The recipe called for white sugar, but mine used brown.

"Make beautiful concentric circle with the apple quarters on top of the sugar." Yeah, I got a utilitarian version of beautiful going on. After cooking it for about 15 minutes, I gently slid my tart dough on top (yes, it all crumbled apart--but it baked back together). "Bake 30-40 minutes." Okay. "Place a rimmed plate over the skillet and flip all in one motion." Actually, it worked!

All in all, it tasted good. The apples might have been slightly (or severely!) overcooked. They were more like applesauce than fruit in a tart. But that crust tasted great with all the caramelization on it! Not so pretty, though--especially the next day.

Ah, I've got to take my oatmeal recipe advice and not try to do new baking things during hectic times! But I hope you all enjoy my struggles---no phone calls from friends wondering if I've done my homework tonight!!!
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