Wednesday, February 25, 2009

***A Cooking Class Event***

Hello faithful readers! I want to announce an upcoming cooking class event at my house.

The theme will be:

"Wild and Crazy Salads"

Friday the 13th (of March)

6:30-8:30 p.m. ($10)

Are you tired of the same old romaine or frizee? Are your carrots tired of being paired with tomatoes? Maybe you're looking for a little more nutrition.

Learn how to prepare the South American grain called Quinoa. Packed with protein and resembling cous cous or rice in texture, quinoa is delicious in a Lemon Garlic Quinoa Salad.

Move beyond taco salad for Mexican flavor. Instead, try a sweet and juicy Orange Jicama Salad spiced with some chili pepper.

Pasta salad can be more than just macaroni noodles, chunks of cheese, and oil. What about the rice shaped orzo pasta mixed with wilted spinach, garlic and parmesan?

If you're interested in this event, please respond asap. Space is very limited! If necessary, I may add a second night or an entirely different set of salads for another event (Winter Farro? Tomato Fennel? Slaw? The list goes on).

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

A little box of chocolates

I just received my March 2009 issue of Seattle Metropolitan magazine entitled "Top Sweets" today. It suddenly hit me that I still haven't written up a little review of my Valentine's treats.

Valentine's Day has never been a very successful holiday for us. It's not that my husband isn't sweet or romantic, because he is quite a thoughtful gift giver. But we've never been able to make a date and go out on this holiday. Maybe it is the proximity it shares with Christmas, and therefore the Christmas bills. Or those crazy high energy bills of December and January. Perhaps it also has to do with kids and babies and the like.

Whatever the reason, I've just put on hold the notion of going out on a romantic date for Valentine's Day until we're past being broke with babies. Honestly, I'm (almost) just as happy with a box of chocolates. That's all I ask for. Flowers are great, too. But, what I really want is a whole box of chocolates just for me. I especially like the caramels and nuts and toffee types; I can totally live without creamy fruit fillings (especially orange!).

This year's pick, though small in quantity, boasted a delicious flavor new to me...actually, it's all the rage right now (I've even seen it at Starbucks). Salted dark chocolate caramels.

Some may think that salt is a strange choice for sweet. But you're totally missing need to try it! Salt is the great enhancer of flavors. My grandfather regularly salted his watermelon. My in-laws salt their cantaloupe. All cakes, cookies, and ice cream require salt to avoid tasting flat.

So next time you're standing in the check out lane of your favorite gourmet grocery store, pick up a box of Fran's Gray Salt Caramels. Support your local candy maker to ensure more confectionery genius melting in your mouth.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Tre-licious Trellis

Guess what! Last night I got to go out on an actual date with my husband!

They are, understandably, few and far between at this particular moment in life. But, on a whim my honey called me up during the day and asked me to arrange a little baby-sitting (thank you mom!). Seeing as how the baby still needs mama to put her to bed, we opted for a dessert date later on. Now, I know that 8 p.m. is the average date time of any New Yorker in the movies, but it was definitely a late date for us Eastside Seattle Suburb dwellers.

Possibilities ranges from some pie company in West Seattle (yeah, I'm not driving to West Seattle for pie, hon) to the Cheesecake Factory in Bellevue (not my first or even sixth choice) to the Dahlia Lounge in Seattle for their famous coconut cream pie. But as I was applying my smoky (read: date) eye shadow I was struck with a bolt of inspiration. Why not stay local and hit up the Trellis in Kirkland?

Last time we went to Trellis, I wrote about how lovely the appetizers, drinks, and service were, but how the entrees faltered, slightly. Let's see how they fared the second time around.

With no reservations at 8 p.m. on a Friday night, we had to wait for a few minutes. But that was fine with us considering our wait was in the cozy lobby of the Heathman Hotel complete with a fire and some pretty great art to adorn the modern but homey walls. In fact, there were a few diners taking their meal right in the lobby!

We decided to take the table in the "Lounge" (the tiny bar, but not actually at that pink marble counter). Being tucked against the wall made us feel less guilty for not ordering an entree. However, once we started looking at the appetizer menu we felt the strange sensation of hunger tickling our stomachs. Maybe we could go for just a little something before dessert.

I've been dreaming about the Trellis Cheese Selection plate for a while now. We were definitely getting that! I opted for a spicy Walla Walla Syrah when we settled on our second app--the Grilled Ellensburg Lamb chop (you'll notice that the location of the lamb's short life is an important indication on a "farm to table" menu). This deliciously cooked chop was set atop a bed of greens and a celery root fondue (celeriac mixed with mascarpone cheese), and garnished with a trio of salts ranging from the red clay salt, to white French sea salt, to a black smoked salt. The final "garnish" were three slices of black truffles.

Before I get to the truffles, let me say a word or two about the celery root fondue. Some might discard this part of the dish as less than the main attraction. And, for good reason considering the lamb and the truffles. But, this fondue was absolutely delicious! If you've never tried celery root, you need to go down to the market and pick some up today! It's an ugly brown knobby root vegetable (and if you haven't caught on, it is the root of the celery plant). It needs peeled and chopped, but then can be roasted with a chicken and some potatoes. Or, if you're so inspired like the Trellis chef, try mashing with some mascarpone cheese. Wow, you have to try this dish!!

Okay, now onto the truffles...drum roll please...this was my first truffle experience. I was really looking forward to trying the famed fungi since it is supposed to be up there with caviar and oysters and chocolate. I even decided to taste it all by itself, unadorned with the lamb. Now, I hesitate to type in my response for fear of foodie disdain the world over...but it actually tasted like nothing. I tried very hard to conjure up some euphoric visceral response...waited for the flavor fireworks. It was a bit disappointing, really. Oh well, I guess I know that I don't need to pay the big bucks for the taste of truffles (The Emperor's New Clothes comes to mind!).

Let me revisit that cheese plate, though. A white cheddar topped with quince jam, a Sea Stack triple cream with a side of sweet tomato jam, and a Point Reyes Blue cheese paired with a surprisingly wonderful thyme red onion marmalade and toasted hazelnuts. And then came the pita. The warm chewy house made pita. Oh, there's that euphoric visceral reaction!

Why, yes, we will look at the dessert menu. Last time we were slightly disappointed with our apple pie and seasonal raspberry cobbler. On the opposite end of the spectrum, we ordered the ubiquitous warm chocolate cake with the runny chocolate center (plus ice cream and a cookie) and, what I considered the better dessert, the Hazelnut Brown Butter Cake with poached pears and Chatilly cream. This was the recommended choice coming from our waiter (who, although nice, was much less knowledgeable than our last experience here--she had to keep asking the kitchen for the answers to our questions and she forgot our shoestring fries).

European on the sweetness scale (as in, not too sweet), the crunchy cake grew on me until I found myself loving it. Especially when eaten in combination with the poached pear pieces (this pear was poached in a vanilla simple syrup as opposed to the dessert featuring a pear poached in Chartreuse). A perfect finale to the night. And I stand by my earlier conviction that one need not order an entree at Trellis to achieve great satisfaction!

Monday, February 9, 2009

A Blueberry-Lemon Myocardial Infarction

Tonight I was inspired to do a little baking. There have been a few lemons in my kitchen for about a week now. It's always handy to have a lemon or two around. I just hadn't been moved by the lemon spirit...until my mom came over with a pint of blueberries. My kids have been gobbling them up for a couple of days and there were a few left just begging for a date with these really hot lemons.

I don't yet own a favorite go-to blueberry/lemon recipe, so I searched around online for one that fit my current ingredients. I quickly ruled out most of them as they called for sour cream or buttermilk, of which I had none. Finally I came across one that was labeled "low-fat" on account of that it called for fat-free milk (check) and very little butter. The butter was apparently replaced by almond paste, which I was, um, fresh out of.

Well, I thought, I'll just swap the almond paste back out and use butter instead. Let's see...1/3 cup of butter (for that 1/3 cup of almond paste) plus the 2 TB of butter it actually called for...that's around 1/2 cup of butter. Problem solved.

I got to work, zesting the lemon...placating the baby...glancing at the recipe...whipping the butter and sugar...listening to my son talk endlessly about a Wii game...

Sifting some flour and baking powder...yes, yes, I'm not good at the bubble game either, son...juicing the lemon...get those Shrek ears off the baby!...where was I?

Okay, all the ingredients were coming together as I folded in the zest and the blueberries. I snuck a little lick off the beater. Mmm...hmmm, that's a little buttery, isn't it? Spoon that batter into the greased 9x9 pan. Wow, really thick stuff! Thinking, thinking, the wheels are churning. Was that a 1/2 cup of butter that I put in or a 1/2 pound.

Doh! My eyes widened. Two sticks was a 1/2 pound! Oh for the love of Pete...I know this stuff. What is wrong with me? No, wait...what is wrong with the stupid recipes that prey upon tired housewives with their 1/2 cup? Why not say "one stick"? I mean, we're not chefs in big kitchens who buy butter by the carton load. We use sticks! Why not save us some confusion and just tell me how many sticks to use?

This thought process all took place as I slid the coffee cake into the oven and was dutifully licking the bowl (yes, I know you're not supposed to eat raw egg batter...). As my mistake dawned on my frazzled brain, I felt my arteries literally filling up with golden yellow butter. A giant leap forward towards my seemingly inevitable future bypass surgery (does anyone know a good cardiologist??).

So, I know baking is a delicate chemistry experiment. How would doubling the butter affect the egg/baking powder ratio? Would it rise? Not to mention the small amount of flour to butter. Would there be a big puddle of butter on the bottom of the dish? Maybe I would discover a whole new way of baking...doubling all butter in future recipes!

As I write, the fate of the coffeecake is yet unknown. The timer went off, and, yes, it needed some more baking time. Looks a little greasy. Oh, there goes the next buzzer....I'll go check. Well, the toothpick came out less than clean and I did notice a small pool of butter in one of the top cracks. Should coffee cake really be making a sizzling sound? How about another 5 minutes?

It firmed up enough after a mere 48 minutes in the oven. Did I let it cool off? No, I immediately cut into it in order to gauge just how this fattening concoction would taste.

First taste...certainly no moisture problem! And did you know that blueberries straight out of the oven are blazing hot? Now you do. It was alright, but for the first time in my life I'm wishing for less butter. Perhaps the lemon flavor would be more pronounced with the proper amount of butter as well.

Oh well, I'm sure we'll eat it anyways. Sorry, honey, I'm not intentionally sabotaging your chances at winning the employee's Biggest Loser award. But times are hard and it seems a crime to waste that much butter!

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Where the Challah has all the time gone?

Once upon a time, Julie B. from Seattle met Julia B. from Portland. They were both navigating their freshman year of college in sunny California. Neither knew the other existed until the famed freshman art retreat. Julia B. was a bit quiet and their paths may not have collided had she not worn her very special Alice In Chains t-shirt that day.

From across the room Julie B. spotted the shirt and knew she was about to make a friend. Their bond ran deep, for they shared a name, initials, college majors, and a favorite grunge band. Soon they would also share a room in a crummy dorm, where they could watch hours and hours of TV shows recorded to VHS (courtesy of Julia B.).

Seemingly vast amounts of money were spent at the biggest dive of a thrift store (Action Thrift, oh yeah). Ear drums rang from the heavy metal tapes in Julia's sweet Volvo cassette player. Stomach's swelled after Saturday morning brunch at the "Caf".

And then Julie met the Yoko that would break up the dynamic duo of JBsquared. After graduation, Julie and her husband fled the country for the spicy countryside of Sichuan, China. Julia, however, moved back to her hometown where she began her multi-faceted career as an artist-entrepreneur-florist-fashion designer-dealer (antiques, that is). Their paths crossed occasionally, but they kept in touch as best they could.

They both spread wide their creative petals. One poured it into her young (and numerous!) family...the other into the greater art collective and her community. One made fur hats, the other made dinner. One changed watch faces to showcase tiny shells, the other changed diapers.

The contrast between artist-entrepreneur and that other awful hyphenated title (stay-at-home-mom) seems stark. Certainly the world of breast-feeding and naps has the potential to suck (pun not intended) the creative streak from even the most manic of artists. But Julie B. threw off this mounting despair (okay, so she has to throw it off quite regularly) and decided that her new canvas would be tonight's chicken with lemon-herb-butter for paint. Instead of sculpting clay, she'd sculpt some bread.

Cooking beautiful and nutritious meals was living art. Art that had the power to both bring a family together and nourish their bodies. (Well, yeah, that's a little cheesy and over the top, but remember that mounting despair for the tortured artist I could have been? I've got to tell myself something to get me through the day!)

But this weekend, the stars aligned. Julie and Julia were reunited and shared one common make some bread. Julie had been dabbling in bread-making for a while and was itching to try some other recipes in her new cookbook. Julia wanted to learn how to make bread to serve for communion.

Enter Challah recipe. Page 180 from Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day: The Discovery That Revolutionizes Home Baking The two friends rejoiced in their common purpose, mixing and braiding that dough into the familiar shape of Challah. The dough baked and then cooled, ready for its ultimate purpose the next morning...Challah French Toast. Mmmm...communion just got a lot tastier. And the friends of JBsquared enjoyed some long-delayed time together around the table.

Another relational success story brought to you by BYOB.
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