Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Sunday Part 1: Your Own Personal Taco Trailer

Amanda and I had such an eventful, food-filled Sunday that I have to split our adventures into two posts... and I have to wait for photos off of Robb's camera before indulging you in Part 2.

As you know from previous posts, my friend LeAnn is moving away and leaving us. To assist with the big move, LeAnn’s parents drove from South Dakota to Seattle, to help LeAnn and Brian move to Colorado. On Sunday, day before the big day, they were exhausted from traveling, the kitchen was all packed up, and there was a lot more packing and U-Haul loading to go. Amanda and I came to the rescue with a homemade lunch, to give the busy movers a burst of energy. We’re your own personal taco trailer.

LeAnn and Brian are vegetarians, but her parents are Mid-Westerners through and through, and were missing meat after only a few days in Seattle. Parent-pleasing-brown-nosers that we are, Amanda and I whipped up tacos, half with ground beef, half with black beans, all with our delicious guaco de gallo… or pico de guaco… a mix of avocados and our famous pico... (ok, so maybe it’s not famous, but Mel, Amanda, and I have all been making it for years, and we get rave reviews wherever we take it… and people sometimes say it’s the best pico they’ve EVER had…) To make guaco de gallo, mix together avocado, cabbage, tomatoes, onions, cilantro, jalepeno, olive oil, white or cider vinegar, salt, pepper, and cumin to taste... the secret is to make it primarily cabbage based, rather than tomato based.

Armed with trays of tacos, a bag of chips, and a bowl of pico de guaco, we walked over to LeAnn’s (right across the street from my apartment) and served up lunch to the moving crew. Once again, the pico was a HUGE hit, and the tacos were delicious and much appreciated (not to mention the mass kudos we got from LeAnn’s parents for bringing meat). Amanda and I enjoyed helping out a friend, and I’m so used to trying to up-level the taco that I forgot how satisfying a simple ground beef taco can be!

Following the tacos, we brought out the dessert… my second batch of homemade ice cream! Amanda and I made Espresso Caramel Swirl, a creamy coffee flavored ice cream with swirls of gooey butterscotch caramel. It was delicious, even better than the first batch!

After serving up a tasty lunch and dessert, Amanda and I said our goodbyes. Our plan was to spend the afternoon shopping, then head back to her place for dinner- grilled chicken salads- and season 2, disc 2 of Sex and the City...

Sunday, June 28, 2009

26 Miles for a Bowl of Ice Cream...

Did I ever mention how amazing my friends are? Yesterday Evan and I went to a BBQ at V & Tasha's place, to celebrate V running (and finishing) her first marathon! That's 26 miles... just so you know. How incredible is that!? Not only did she run and finish... she got 1st place in her division (18-24 yr old females), and 111th overall... did I mention that there were over 5,000 people in the full marathon!? Wow! Congrats V! While she was out performing an amazing feat of athletic and mental strength, I was at home preparing something to take to the BBQ... in my new ice cream maker!

What better to take to a BBQ celebrating running than fattening, sweet, creamy and delicious homemade ice cream? Mel & John got me the ice cream maker for my birthday, and I couldn't be happier! I've been coveting ice cream makers lately, and gazing longingly at all of the homemade ice cream recipes in my magazines. And thanks to V's amazing accomplishment, I had the perfect occasion to make my first batch!

with a bowl of fresh cherries in the fridge (also from the parents), there was no question as to what flavor I would experiment with first. Cherry dark chocolate chip, of course! I made a cherry puree (after hand pitting all of the cherries...), and a separate dish of chopped cherries... both of which I cooked down with a little sugar and threw in the fridge to cool overnight. Following the recipe for basic vanilla ice cream (from the manual that came with my ice cream maker), I mixed together 2 cups half n' half, 1 cup heavy cream, 1/3 cup sugar, and a splash of vanilla. I poured the mix into the maker and started churning. After it churned for about 15 minutes and started to freeze, I added the puree. Another 5 minutes, and I tossed in the cherry pieces and chopped dark chocolate chips. After a short 30 minutes, my ice cream was ready! I packed it up and headed out the door...

It was the perfect day for a marathon, a BBQ, and homemade cherry dark chocolate chip ice cream! The sun was shining, for the first day in a week the clouds had lifted, and some of my favorite people got together to celebrate. We congratulated, hugged, and high-fived over burgers, fresh chunky homemade salsa, Bree's Asian inspired salad, lemonade, cupcakes, beer, fresh fruit and veggies, and of course, my homemade ice cream. It was soft, creamy, and sweet, with just a hint of cherry flavor, and delish little bites of chewy cherries and dark chocolate. It was so creamy and smooth that it tasted almost like frozen whipped cream. My first attempt at ice cream was a big hit at V's marathon BBQ, and I can't wait until another one of my awesome, talented friends gives me a reason to share my delicious frozen treats (because until then, Evan and I will be eating a lot of ice cream on our own...)


Saturday, June 27, 2009

Queen of Tarts

It's a good thing I've taken up running, because lately I’ve been obsessed with tarts! I'm not just talking about fruit tarts… nor am I talking just savory tarts… I’m talkin’ buttery, cheesy, melt-in-your-mouth savory fruit tarts! I can’t stop thinking about them, dreaming about them, and making them (and then, of course, eating them)! The obsession began when a friend was on her way over for coffee, and requested snacks. With less than an hour until our coffee date, I frantically ripped open the cupboards looking for ‘snacks.’ No snacks were to be found. I took inventory of what I had, and decided to get creative. Strawberries. Cheese. A basil plant. To the average Joe it looked like it was going to be a fruit and cheese platter type of night. To me, it was the makings of a new creation!

I quickly got to work slicing strawberries, dicing red onion, mincing garlic, grating cheese, and plucking basil leaves off my basil plant (which gets very little sunlight but still seems to be thriving, unlike the purple plant, Barney, that I had to send to live with "aunt" Amanda). I mixed together the strawberries, red onion, garlic, and chopped basil, and added a splash of balsamic and olive oil. With that left to macerate, I pulled out my trusty Fannie Farmer. I whipped up the basic tart crust, and pressed it into a tart pan with a generous helping of grated parmesan cheese. I poured in the strawberry mixture, covered with a hearty layer of shredded jack, another handful of parm, and threw it in the oven, hoping for the best. To my surprise, it wasn’t half bad! To my guest’s surprise, it wasn’t just a bowl of chips or a fruit and cheese platter! With the first bite both of us were a little wary (strawberries and melty cheese!?) but by the end of the evening the tart was almost gone and I was pleased (she still seemed a little wary …).

All week I thought about the strawberry basil tart, with its simple buttery crust and fruit and cheese filling, and started to toss some new ideas around in my head... what if added bleu cheese, or maybe camembert? What would happen if I made a reduction with the vinegar? After awhile, my tart-dreams started to take off in wild tangents, and I wasn't even thinking strawberries anymore. A few ingredients kept popping up in my savory-fruit-tart fantasies. Brie, caramelized onions, and apples. I forgot about perfecting the strawberry basil tart, and set out to make a new savory fruit tart. I started out with the same basic Fannie Farmer tart crust… it’s so easy to make! Wanting to spice this diddy up a bit, I decided to break out the sausage. Evan recently bought an 800 pack (ok, so there are only 24…) of roasted garlic-gruyere sausages from Costco… shortly before he discovered that he no longer likes sausage due to a brat and hot dog overkill a few summers ago (I guess that’s what you get for eating bratwurst 3 times a day for 3 solid months… but hey, we all made our mistakes in college, right?)…needless to say, I have a freezer full of sausage. I combined the brie, caramelized onions, sausage, apples, and a honey-black pepper glaze to make a savory fruit tart good enough to write home about… or at least post here for you to enjoy!

Fannie Farmer’s Tart Crust
whisk together 1 cup flour with 1/4 teaspoon salt. Cut in 6 tablespoons of cold butter-cubed- with fingers or a pastry blender, until mixture resembles tiny peas. whisk 1 egg yolk with 2 tablespoons cold water, and mix in with flour mixture. blend until smooth dough forms. Pat into bottom and sides of un-greased pastry or pie pan.

Apple Onion Tart

Layer the following into the tart crust, and bake at 425 degrees for 15-20 minutes, or until cheese is melted and crust is golden.

1 sausage (any chicken sausage will work) - sliced paper thin
1 small wedge of brie- cut into small cubes or slices (enough to cover the sausage layer completely)
1 large yellow onion – sliced and caramelized (cook in skillet over medium heat with butter and olive oil until soft and brown- pour onions and drippings over brie layer)
1 medium sized granny smith apple – sliced thinly and neatly arranged on top

Let tart cool for 5 minutes. Mix 2 tablespoons of honey with a few drops of HOT water, until honey dissolves. Add a few twists of course ground black pepper, and brush over apples slices. Try to share with friends, or before you know it, the tart pan will be empty and you'll be squeezing into too-tight jeans come fall...

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Just to Tempt Your Tastebuds

I don't have a cute story, or a funny anecdote, or a thought-provoking byline about this one. Just some pictures of a really good breakfast I made with what little ingredients I had on hand. What can I say... life isn't always a hilarious wine induced 9 course dinner... but if you're lucky it can almost always be delicious!

I had very little food in the kitchen... about 4 limp asparagus spears in the fridge without much life left in them, 1 too soft tomato, 1 piece of wheat bread (the heel), a couple of eggs, a half block of parmesan cheese, and the remnants of a container of Trader Joe's pesto. I grilled the bread in a skillet of butter. Poached the eggs. Broiled the tomato slices and asparagus spears with a little olive oil and some thyme that I had dried from my parents garden. Made a Parmesan crisp by dumping a handful of grated parm into a hot skillet (I got the idea from Amanda, who once made parmesan crisp bowls for salads!) Stacked. Drizzled the whole thing with pesto (which I had to resuscitate with some extra olive oil and a little balsamic vinegar)...

and voila. Breakfast is served!


Monday, June 22, 2009

The Cake that Keeps on Giving

Even though I love cooking, I've never been crazy about baking. I find baking to be too regimented... my cooking style is more organic- it evolves naturally, without strict recipes or instructions. I'm more of a little-of-this, little-of-that, taste-as-I-go-then-adjust kind of gal, using recipes as basic guidelines for over-arching flavor and technique ideas, rather than as step-by-step directions. Baking will go terribly, terribly wrong if certain ingredients are omitted, or if too much of this, or too little of that is added... This I learned when I was about 10 years old and Amanda and I tried to make brownies following a recipe in a 'cookbook program' on our fancy new computer. She mixed ingredients in the kitchen while I'll called out measurements from where the computer was perched in the living room. Math was never my forte, and apparently I had not learned fractions yet, because for every 1 and 1/2 cup, I called out to Amanda to add 1/2 cup, for every 1 and 3/4 cup, I instructed her to add 1/4... and so on. Needless to say, the brownies were flavorless balls of dense dough, and the cookbook program on the computer was never used again, replaced with the Spider-Man Cartoon Maker program and the game "You Don't Know Jack."

While I've overcome my fraction-dyslexia, I never did regain the desire to be the next oven mitt wielding, goodie-baking-Betty Crocker. Because of the strict rules of baking, I'm more of an occasion baker, only baking when a special event calls, or when I'm feeling particularly patient (which isn't often). Recently, however, I decided to try to expand my baking horizons.

A few months ago, I put on my apron, pulled out my measuring cups, and I baked a cake. Following directions VERY closely, I made a lovely Orange Polenta Cake, from Gourmet Magazine. With ground almonds and polenta in the batter, the cake had a crumbly yet moist texture, and a buttery delicious flavor. With a dash of orange flower water and a handful of orange zest adding a special zing, and an upside-down style sliced orange caramelized topping, I knew this cake was a winner.

With my confidence renewed, I decided to try the cake again, but this time I would make it my own. For the first time ever (chocolate chip cookies aside), I would improvise on a baked good. Excited and scared, I went forth on my baking experiment, fully prepared for any outcome. I followed the basic instructions for the batter. You know... the flour, eggs, butter, polenta, baking soda... all of the essentials. Then, things got crazy. Instead of orange flower water, I added dark rum and Mexican vanilla. In place of orange zest, I added shredded coconut and lime zest. I replaced the original orange caramel topping with a pineapple-caramel-macadamia nut topping. I popped my creation in the oven, crossed my fingers, and hoped for the best.

I shared the finished product with some girl friends. I topped the beautiful cake with flaked coconut and a curl of lime zest. I nervously awaited the first bite... hoping it would taste as wonderful at is looked.

It must have... because five girls and less than five minutes later, the cake was demolished. Every last crumb. It was buttery and rummy, gooey on top, moist and crumbly in the middle.

Although delicious, the flavor was not as tropical as I had hoped, I think it needed more coconut, possibly even a splash of coconut milk. I have a feeling that I'll be making this cake again... and again and again. Maybe next time I'll add that extra coconut and throw in some ginger... or maybe I'll improvise with figs and brandy, or lemon and lavender? I learned that with this cake, the possibilities are endless, and that with a really good base recipe (and a little bit of patience), baking doesn't have to be tedious or disastrous.

Wait...There was a Dessert Course?

For Father's Day (and a late Mother's Day) my parents came up to Seattle for the weekend, and Amanda and I took them to Elemental @ Gasworks, an "eclectic culinary endeavor.' As a family of self-proclaimed gastronomes and wine lovers, we were excited for an evening of elegant yet simple cuisine, perfectly paired wine, and each other's company. However, as I sit down to write about our fantastic dining experience at Elemental, I realize that I can barely recall the beef course, the cheese course was a blur, and the dessert course was... wait... there was a dessert course? What caused this food amnesia and ensuing short term memory loss? It all started at 5 pm, Saturday night, at the end of Wallingford St, overlooking Gasworks Park...

We sat down in the dining room of Elemental, enamoured with the crisp white linens, simple decor, and bottles of wine stuffed in every nook and cranny. Phred, who owns and operates Elemental with his wife, head chef Laurie, delivered four filled shot glasses to our table, along with a carafe of fragrant cucumber water. Unsure of the contents of the glass, or the 'rules' of the restaurant, we gingerly sipped and nonchalantly looked around at the two other tables for guidance. Advised by Phred to 'try before we ask,' we finished our shot glass of...something like port... and ordered cocktails. In the mood for something new, we all asked Phred to surprise us- something bitter for John and myself, something fruity for Amanda and Mel. My cocktail was a deliciously bitter, slightly breathtaking concoction of white rum, dry vermouth, and Aperol-a bitter orange Italian aperitif. We sipped our cocktails, slower at first, and then faster once we saw Phred taking half full glasses away from other tables in order to deliver the first glass of wine. Waste not, want not.

Our first course, with a perfectly paired glass of white wine, was... popcorn! Flavored with truffle oil and a hint of garlic, this was certainly the fanciest (and most fantastic) popcorn any of us had ever experienced. Truffle is the richest, most distinct flavor I've ever encountered... more of a feeling than a taste, and combined with a simple bowl of popcorn it was pure heaven. We literally licked our bowls clean (when Phred wasn't looking, of course). Next, with another glass of wine, Phred brought out beet, pineapple, and goat cheese salad with a drizzle of olive oil and a sprinkling of chopped pistachios. While I generally never meet a food (especially a cheese) I don't like, I've never enjoyed goat cheese. Until now. The combination of flavors was so perfect, that I can't imagine eating the beet and pineapple salad with anything other than goat cheese. And beets and pineapple together... genius! Amanda and I can't wait to try to recreate this dish at home!

One 'shot,' one cocktail, one hour, and two glasses of wine down, our next course was delivered... with another glass of white wine. Shrimp in garlicky butter with peppered focaccia bread sticks. So simple, yet so elegant when paired with a perfectly matched glass of wine... which we knocked back with gusto so that Phred wouldn't take them away still full.

One shot, one cocktail, a long time, and 3 glasses of wine down, we started to take video of us describing the food- for historical records, of course. We also started to reminisce, giggle, and talk in a higher octave. Up next was one of John's favorite courses. With a glass of wine (of course), Phred brought out squid stuffed with a sausage and rice mixture (according to the video, we thought it was either chorizo or linguica). The squid was firm and slightly chewy, and added a briny, fresh sea flavor to the spicy stuffing. It was served over a garlicky Swiss chard. Mel wasn't crazy about the squid, but the rest of us loved this course, for it's unique flavor and fun presentation.

The next course, paired with another glass of wine, was spinach balls in a tangy tomato sauce with a slice of baguette and sweet, rich butter. Following the spinach balls, after one shot, one cocktail, 3.5 hours, and too many glasses of wine to count, we were served one of my favorite courses. Gougères (the savory equivalent of a profiterole...or cream puff) filled with chicken liver mousse and drizzled with a balsamic reduction, accompanied by red wine. I love liver. Mel, John, and I devoured the gougères and reminisced about when I was a kid and would beg them to make BBQ'd chicken livers, one of my favorite things to eat. Amanda didn't care for the liver cream puff, but she was never a fan of liver. I think I raved to Phred about the liver... I might have even told him that I was the liver-eatin'est-kid-around... but I'm not sure because this is about the time that my memory started become spotty.

With our next glass of wine, we were served ravioli in a cream sauce filled with a tapenade that we thought had olives and mushrooms. The pictures were starting to get a little blurry at this point. As were my taste buds. I sort of recall liking this dish.

For the next course, we were served a hearty red wine. And Phred started to make jokes about our tables' frequent trips to the restroom (I believe the exact statement was that John has the bladder of a 13 year old girl). Oh yeah, we were also served the beef course. I wish I could describe the the flavor of the tender, rare slices of beef, or the side of green beans and mushrooms. I would love to tell you, reader, of the way the wine and the beef were perfectly paired, or to examine each individual flavor in the vegetable side... yet I cannot. It's not that I didn't enjoy the beef course. According to historical video records of said course, I loved the beef. Unfortunately, my only memories of the beef course reside in wine induced, giggly, fragmented videos, and blurry photos.

I think that the cheese course came with two more glasses of wine. Rumor has it that we were served a dessert course, which was accompanied by more wine. Amanda tells me that Phred joked about not wanting to lose his liquor license...shortly before John took me outside for fresh air, and before I reportedly bear crawled up the sidewalk. The rest of the night is lost, living only in the minds of my dear parents and sister. From what I can remember, our evening at Elemental was amazing. Filled with 5 hours of amazing conversation and laughs with my family, inventive and delicious food that we are still raving about, and, of course... glass upon glass upon glass of perfectly paired wine.
Thank you Elemental for a wonderful culinary experience. I hope to be back soon so that I can tell my readers about the vast selection of cheeses and the fantastic desserts that I'm sure you serve. Next time, I'll let you take away my glass after each course, with wine still in it.

Monday, June 15, 2009

The End of an Era

This post is both tasty and tearful, all at once. A dear friend, LeAnn, is packing up and moving far away.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Sinfully Delicious

Last weekend I went to LAS VEGAS BABY for my birthday! A group of 15 friends and I headed down to sin city for a crazy weekend of gambling, booze, sun, fun, and of course…good food! While most of what happens in Vegas should stay in Vegas, I’m going to broadcast the juiciest of our sin city indulgences to the world…the deadly sins of the stomach.

Two words. Bobby. Flay. After a few nearly fatal whispered death-threats and fists-fights between Amanda and Jessica, we finally came to the consensus that we can ALL have a little bit of the lusciously delicious Bobby Flay…at his restaurant Mesa! The group headed to Mesa for brunch to get a little taste of the Iron Chef himself… or at least of his legendary food. We knew we were in for a treat when the bloody marys and the bread baskets arrived! Spicy, cheesy little jalapeño biscuits, Bobby’s famous blue corn muffins, and the best spicy bloody mary I’ve ever ingested. And then the food came…and the inappropriate, lustful moanings of delight that followed each bite… Iron Chef, indeed!

I ordered the Grilled Asparagus Salad with toasted pecans, maytag blue cheese, wild roasted mushrooms, and red chile-mustard vinaigrette. Not only was it beautifully plated, but the flavor combinations were just right.

V ordered the lamb salad. Until I tried Bobby Flay’s lamb, I thought I wasn’t a lamb eater. I’ve been converted. It was tender, juicy, and flavorful-without being overly gamey. Bree and Jessica ordered the tartar plate. The presentation was amazing, and the steak and salmon tartar served on spicy but sweet plantain chips lived up to its looks. Tasha ordered an amazing egg-tostada-plate-of-delight. I don’t even know what was on it, but it looked like Mexico, tasted like molé, and made us all very happy.

I didn’t get a good look at everyone else’s plates once Evan’s meal was served… I was in love. After a few too many Vegas indulgences the previous night, Evan was taking it easy, and ordered only a bowl of soup. The soup that gods eat, I think. Green Pea and Green Chile Soup with crispy serrano ham and mint cumin crema, to be exact. Sinner that I am, I coveted Evan’s soup through the entire meal… stealing glances and spoon licks at every possible moment. Had Evan not been the one with the heavenly soup in his possession, I may have left him then and there for Bobby Flay.

After a weekend of over indulging ourselves, Robb, Amanda, Mat and I headed to the most excessive of Vegas excesses… the buffet. How could we possibly say no when Robb was prancing about giddy like a five year old girl on Christmas morning? For a mere $25, we were led into the jaws of delicious hell… rows upon rows of food, food, and more food! Orange chicken, peppery beef, fried rice, dim sum, sushi, crab legs with drawn butter, prawns with cocktail sauce, crispy bacon and potatoes, prime rib with fresh, raw spicy horseradish, pizza, salad with a thousand toppings, egg flour and miso soup, hot-out-of-the-fryer-donuts, pastries, pulled pork, muscles in a spicy tomato sauce… and the list goes on. Oh, by the way… that’s just the list of the food on my first plate! After three plates (and several sweet, delicious, buttery, FRESH crab legs too many), I retired my fork. Robb, however, went for about 6 plates, 3 bowls, and a pitcher of mimosas. I generally detest buffets, but my final verdict on the gluttonous Vegas buffet… EXCELLENT! The selection was amazing, the food fresh and delicious, and the refills unlimited… if only they let you take in a few to-go containers…

As every Vegas visitor and Washington resident knows, In-N-Out is a must visit ‘restaurant’ whilst in the state of Nevada. The night of the Burlesque Hall of Fame show (we attended as patrons, not performers, of course), V, Tasha, and Bree decided to hoof it to In-N-Out, all the way at the other end of the strip, and across a freeway. However…being the sloths that we are, and classing it up Vegas style, the rest of took a limo. That’s right, we took a limo to a fast food joint. The most luxurious and classy way to eat an animal burger with cheese (the messiest burger around), is in a limo. Knowing this, the limo driver made us eat inside while he waited. Oh well, the greasy, saucy, melty animal style burger was well worth the minimal effort and extra cash we put in to getting there.

I was envious of others’ culinary delights several times through out the trip. In addition to my envious glances at Evan’s soup, across the table at Mesa, I experienced waves of jealousy at two other occasions during the Vegas trip. First: drinks at Rhumbar. I ordered a Pineapple Chipotle Margarita…clearly I’ve been on a chipotle kick. It was spicy and delicious…but compared to Bree’s drink…her drink was heaven. And I was envious. It was something orange, with muddled mandarins, mint leaves, and of course topped off with a tropical flower. My drink was topped off with a dried chipotle pepper that looked like... well, it looked like this:

I also experienced orderers-envy at BLT Burger, where I ordered a plain ol’ cheeseburger, and Amanda ordered THE BEST VEGGIE BURGER I’VE EVER TASTED. No joke. It was a falafel patty so full of spices and flavor that I instantly regretted my ordering decision. Damnit. However, I DID get to eat the deep fried pickles, which were everything I had hoped for… dilly, greasy, and tasting like deep fried…pickles.

While we surly committed the sins of wrath, pride, and most certainly greed during our culinary tour of Vegas, I’ll leave a little to the imagination… some things you have to just experience yourself…Viva Las Vegas!

Taking it to a Whole New Level

I'm The Next Food Network Star! Ok, so maybe I didn't participate in a Top Chef-style reality show, out-shining and out-cooking other contestants to win bragging rights and my own celebrity-chef cooking show, and maybe my blog didn't gain so much over-night popularity that it's being turned into a movie starring Meryl Streep...but I WAS on Food Network's 'Unwrapped' last night! Until my IMDB profile is updated with my professional television acting experience, I'll give you the low-down right here on Loves Food, Loves to Eat!

My dear friend and old college roommate, Bree, is the marketing genius at Seattle's very own DRY Soda Co. DRY Soda is 'a line of all-natural, lightly sweet sodas, flavored with fruit, flower or herb extracts, and sweetened with a small amount of pure cane sugar.' Several months back I received a call from Bree, informing me that Food Network's Unwrapped was going to be filming for an episode about fun drinks...right there at DRY... two blocks down from my office!

My (now ex-coworker) CK and I high-tailed it to the DRY tasting room, where we pretended to randomly stumble in on the taping of a popular Food Network television show (wow! and we just wanted to do a tasting!). We participated in a long, extensive DRY Soda tasting, where we tried all the delicious soda varieties, such as the newly released can't-believe-it's-not-booze juniper berry soda. We also spouted off insightful one-liners and provoking descriptions of the soda, as well as some high-class, pinky-in-the-air styled soda drinking...trying to land a brief cameo on the show...

And land a cameo we did! Not only were we featured several times, tasting and sipping and enjoying (the enjoying part was no act), I was also granted a speaking part in last night's performance. On my favorite television network-right there beside Florence, Flay, and Bourdain, in an ode to Cora, Batali, and Morimoto- I raised my glass of DRY Soda, and made my entrance into the Food Network hall of fame with "It really takes soda to a whole new level!

WHAT!? That's what I said? My big break and I come up with THAT!?! So long Batali, Bourdain, and dreams of grandeur...that cheesy quote is going to get me a seat next to Sandra Lee, Rachel Ray, and Paula Dean.

Oh well, at least I made it on tv. And I got to drink a lot of delicious, subtly sweet, slightly bubbly, and super fun soda.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

The Dish That Made Me Like Eggs

As long as I can remember, I've despised eggs. Not only would the thought of eating an egg (especially a runny egg) make me gag, but my dislike went even further. Just seeing (and smelling) people cook and eat eggs would make my stomach churn. Growing up with farm-fresh eggs straight from Mel & John's own clucking hens didn't make one bit of difference in turning me into an egg eater. Until now.

During a visit to Mel & John's about a year ago, I had the breakfast that made me like eggs. The breakfast that Mel built. Because of the deliciousness of this dish, I went from an egg-hater to an egg-lover, and now I can't get enough. The runnier the yoke the better. Now I poach, fry, scramble, boil, and bake with the best of them, and some of my favorite meals are centered around eggs. So what was this miracle dish that made me do a complete one-eighty!?

Mel calls them eggs nests. I call them absolutely amazing. During our recent weekend visit to the home of the 'rents, Amanda and I requested eggs nests for Sunday's brunch (please note, we provide Mel & John with a full menu of our meal requests during visits...because the food they cook SO damned good we dream about it). Mel first infuses olive oil with (home-grown) peppers and garlic, and brushes this peppery goodness all over hollowed out sourdough bread-bowls, then bakes them until golden and crispy. Into the bowl she piles fresh cooked crumbled bacon and spinach (we've had it with both fresh and steamed), and tops with two poached eggs, gathered that morning. The nest is then sprinkled with salt, pepper, and a generous amount of fresh grated Parmesan. The entire nest, from bacon to parm, is a bowl of wonderful goodness.

It could be because Mel finally forced me to try an egg after so many years of refusal, or it could be that this dish is really that good. Either way, I recommend trying this brunch for yourself... it could change your life.

One Fish, Two Fish...

If there's one thing I love but am not willing to pay insane prices for... it's salmon. I grew up in the Columbia River Gorge (not to be confused with the Gorge Amphitheater in George), and John and Mel have always been avid fishermen. Growing up, we never had a shortage of salmon. What we couldn't eat fresh off the grill (awww...not BBQ salmon AGAIN) went into salmon dip and jars and jars and jars of John's can't-be-beat smoked salmon. We were spoiled. When I moved to Seattle 6 years ago, I was amazed at the price of salmon... What!? People actually pay that much money for such tiny little pieces? We used to catch a full summer's worth for the price of a few fishing licenses! And the price was the least of my concerns... you should see how people up here cook salmon! Baby sized salmon steaks!? Boiled, baked and broiled!? Drenched in fancy sauces, frilly dressings, and other oddities covering up the fantastic flavor of the salmon itself!? I had never experienced such blasphemy. No one knows how to do salmon like John and Mel.

As time went on, and trips to John and Mel's became shorter and less frequent throughout the years, I started realizing how lucky we were with all that fresh, delicious salmon we had growing up. Now, with the ridiculous price of salmon, the small, sickly portions available at stores, and my lack of a charcoal grill, I'm salmon deprived. Amanda and I were both feeling a lack of salmon in our lives, so we gave the 'rents a call and said to pull a fish outta the freezer, because we were comin' home!

We headed down to the country last weekend, for a few days with John and Mel. Not only was it nice to get out of the city, but we also knew what we were in store for. BBQ salmon, done the way salmon should be done, prepared how we've had it our entire lives. Mel and John always grill up a whole fish. One side, 'for the grown ups' is rubbed down with spicy Jamaican jerk seasoning. The other side is slathered with an unlikely combo of mayo, seasoning salt, and lemon juice. John throws them on the old charcoal Weber (grilled with skin on, of course), and the results are pure magic.

Salmony, spicey, smokey, fresh, and delicious. Combined with a salad picked straight from Mel and John's garden, followed with homemade (hand picked) huckleberry ice cream and four-layer lemon cake, all consumed out on the deck with family and friends, fresh country air, and a killer view of the Columbia River and Mt. Hood. Heaven. With eats like this, Mel and John never have to worry about us not coming home to visit.

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