Monday, September 28, 2009

You Know it's Autumn When...

I love living in Washington because we get to experience all four distinct seasons... and every time the next season rolls around its exciting and I'm ready for the change. One of my favorite seasonal transitions is from summer to autumn. I love the crispness in the air, the orange and red leaves, and the feeling that it's a new beginning... a little tingle I still get, even though I no longer have a 'first day of school.' Mostly, I love finally eating warm and cozy comfort foods and snuggling up for the start of Grey's Anatomy.

I know it's fall when Amanda whips out her very best recipes. That girl was made for autumn cookin'. For the series premier of Grey's, she was in full force, welcoming fall with open arms and an amazing fall meal premier.

To start the season out right, we had wild mushroom risotto- creamy and flavorful, with sautéed chanterelles, shitakes, button mushrooms, oyster mushrooms, and shallots, a splash of truffle oil, and ooey gooey melted parmesan.

Along with the risotto, Amanda made an amazing roasted pepper and tomato soup, garlic Gouda crostinis, fall apple and walnut salad with bleu cheese and yogurt dressing, and lots of red wine. After dinner, we snuggled up on the couch with hot, fresh baked huckleberry apple crumble, and the season premier of Grey's Anatomy.

I know it's fall when I start looking forward to Thursdays at the beginning of the week.

Wild Mushroom Risotto
(Adapted from Anthony Bourdain and Gourmet Magazine)

6 cups low-sodium chicken broth
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 stick unsalted butter
1/4 lb fresh wild mushrooms (chanterelles, shitakes, button, oyster) trimmed and chopped
1/3 cup finely chopped shallots
1 1/2 cups Arborio rice
A splash of white truffle oil
1 cup finely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano

Bring broth to a simmer in a large pot and keep warm

Heat oil with 1 tablespoon butter in a heavy saucepan (we use a wok…works for everything!) over medium-high heat until, then sauté mushrooms. Season with salt and pepper, set aside.

Cook shallots in 2 tablespoons butter in same saucepan, stirring, until softened, about 3 minutes. Add rice and cook, stirring, 1 minute.

Ladle in 1 cup simmering broth and cook, stirring, until absorbed. Continue simmering and adding broth, about 1/2 cup at a time, stirring frequently and letting each addition be absorbed before adding next, until rice is tender and creamy-looking, 16 to 18 minutes.

Remove from heat and stir in remaining tablespoon butter, sautéed mushrooms, truffle oil to taste, cheese, salt and fresh ground pepper to taste.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

For the Love of Sandwiches!

I love sandwiches. I don’t just mean I like them sort of… I’m talkin’ the real deal… hearts with arrows through them, wedding ceremony with white doves, 2.5 kids, shared burial plots… (Ok… maybe Evan and I are watching a little too much Six Feet Under lately, but it’s sooo good! We’re almost finished with the series, I don’t know what I’m going to do with myself when we’re done).

Anyway, I digress--back to sandwiches. I think my love affair maybe started when I was a kid, and John would sandwich everything on his plate... wrapping his mashed potatoes and green beans up in a bread roll, folding his pizza in half so that the cheesy fillings were squished between two easy-to-grab layers of crust, smashing his rice between two pieces of chicken and folding that up in his garlic bread, and so on. Maybe I love sandwiches because they can be consumed quickly and easily, in one fell swoop- without the messy interruption of forks and knives. Or maybe I just love the combination of bread and filling, and the magic that happens when the two mix and mingle in perfect proportions. Regardless of why, I’m utterly and hopelessly in love with sandwiches.

If pulled pork and cuban pork had a baby, and that baby had a baby with a cheese steak, it would be this poorly photographed sandwich that Evan and I made a few months ago...

While I love a good restaurant or café sandwich (my latest obsession is Blue Dog), I also find great joy in being able to serve a restaurant style sandwich at home. While some things are always better homemade, sandwiches are one of those hit or miss items. I find that most homemade sandwiches are of the boring Oscar Mayer variety. You know: sliced bread, processed lunch meat, mustard, mayo, slice of cheese…it’s really quite sad to see the state of home sandwichery reduced to this.

In an effort to put an end to the typical lunchbox sandwich, I regularly make tasty, fun, gourmet quality sandwiches at home, for dinner- from pulled pork to caprese, panini to cheese steak (my daydream is to one day own a café with a menu full of delicious specialty sandwiches). Recently, I realized that there was one sandwich variety that Evan and I both love, but have never attempted to recreate in our own kitchen: the bánh mì.

Bánh mì, or Vietnamese sandwiches, are served up all over Seattle (my favorite is Monkey Bridge). Usually consisting of pork, chicken, or tofu, pâté, spicy aioli-like sauce, jalapenos, cilantro, cucumbers, and pickled carrots and daikon on a Vietnamese style baguette (also called bánh mì), bánh mì is bursting with unique flavors. To make it easy and fresh, I skipped the pâté and pickling, and still ended up with a damn good sandwich.

Fresh Chicken Bánh mì for Two
(This is of a general idea than a recipe- tweak as you like!)
Chicken: Marinate bite size pieces of chicken breast in soy sauce, garlic, vinegar, and honey- grill (or bake or sauté)

Aioli: mix together mayo, lime juice, sriracha

Veggies: cut carrot and daikon (radish or jicama will work as well) into matchsticks and toss with olive oil, cider vinegar, salt, and pepper. Slice jalapenos, cukes, and red and green onions.

Assembly: Cut baguette in half (to serve 2 people) and halve lengthwise. Broil with cut side up til golden. Spread both sides with aioli. Pile high with cilantro (lots of it), chicken, and veggies.

Enjoy, and don't let yourself fall into the sorry-sandwich routine!

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Back to Normal

Is it really over!?

I'm talking about Brit's wedding, in case you're wondering. After only 2 months of wedding planning (what!?) Brit and Art tied the knot yesterday in a beautiful ceremony overlooking the sound. Seriously, I feel like I just got married or something! Brit was the first of my friends to get hitched, and it truly made me understand why some brides become Bridezillas (Brit was not one of these brides). I feel like a bridesmaid-zilla here, and I wasn't even the right-hand-gal (M.O.H.-Amanda).

For the past month and a half everything has been wedding, wedding, wedding as we helped Brit prepare for her special day... From an amazing Bridal Shower Amanda put together, to a crazy blow-up doll filled bachelorette party, to a bridal luncheon, rehearsal dinner, and finally wedding day, things around here have been non-stop wedding.

And lovely and fun as it was...having a Sunday with zero plans felt AMAZING. As the newly weds took off for a honeymoon in the Bahamas, Evan and I slept in and lolly gagged around the house in our pjs, walked to Blue Dog for brunch, strolled through the farmer's market, took naps and watched movies, and had an all around laid back Sunday. To celebrate having time to play in my still-new kitchen (but still wanting to take it easy and relax), I made 5-mushroom burgers, a green salad with juicy garden tomatoes (from Mel) and bleu cheese dressing, and sliced pears.

For the burgers (portobello burgers, to be exact) I grilled up 2 big meaty 'bellos with a little olive oil, salt/pepper, and teriyaki sauce. I topped those with a 4-mushroom sauté consisting of shitakes, chanterelles, lobster mushrooms, and oyster mushrooms- all sautéed up in butter to a golden chewy brown.
The burgers got a layer of melty Swiss before being sandwiched between toasted onion buns, the teriyaki and buttery sauces dripping with every bite. MMmm, that's my kinda Sunday.


Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Everything Tastes (and is) Better Camping

For Labor Day weekend, I went camping with a group of friends- Evan's guys plus their girlfriends (and a few stragglers). Prior to heading out for our weekend expedition to Fort Flagler, I was a little concerned about two things: the weather and the food. The forecast called for rain, rain, rain all weekend. And the food... not that I was dreading it or anything, but I've known these guys for a long time. BBQs at their house in college were always BYOF: Bring Your Own Food, and like Evan, they all think Chipotle and McDonalds are gourmet. Needless to say, I was slightly concerned.

The morning of our departure, I packed up all the food Evan and I prepared- everything we needed to survive if no one else brought supplies- secretly hoping to impress the group (and by impress, I mean bring the best food and get oohs and ahhs from everyone, of course). I brought LeAnn's Spinach Dip with crackers, chocolate chip cookies, and the fixin's for one of Evan's favorite meals (and a camping must-have) Girl Scout Packets. We grabbed the ice chest (also heavily laden with beer), and headed out into the rainiest day Seattle had seen in months.

I was expecting nothing but hot dogs and downpours. As usual, I was proven wrong. Other than a brief spurt of rain Sunday afternoon, we had blue skies and sunshine. And the food...not only did we have more than enough food, with everyone bringing loads and loads of supplies, but we also ate like we were in a five-star restaurant. Ok, not really (not at all), but everything tastes better when you're camping.

We started out Saturday with a lunch of campfire-steamed whole crab with garlic butter (courtesy of Dave and Nadia), which we ate standing over the picnic table, butter and juices running down our arms (camping brings out the heathen in all of us). We snacked on dip and chips, fresh veggies, two kinds of cookies, and of course, hot dogs. For night one's dinner, Mike and Mark took the helm at the cook stove, preparing a meal I would normally feed to the dog when no one was looking: Hamburger (and hot dog) Helper. I don't know what it is about camping, but I have to say it... that was some damn good Helper (I'm just happy it was dark so we couldn't see the neon orange colored sauce that we scraped off the pot the next morning). For breakfast Sunday, we made a sausage-egg scramble, with extra bacon and sausage on the side, washed down with French-press coffee and cream.

For lunch, we were treated to rain, and a surprise from Kyle. Little did I know, Kyle's mom used to own and operate her own Filipino restaurant in Port Orchard, and he worked in the kitchen for years. He had intended to make chicken skewers, but the brief rain shower put a stop to that, and instead we just had chicken cooked on the cook stove. Good enough for me!

Kyle's chicken was marinated in a soy/pineapple/garlic blend, and he cooked it up to gooey, crispy perfection on the Coleman. I think the whole campground was jealous of the delicious scents wafting out of our campsite!

After a long hike and exploration of the old (scary) barracks at Fort Flagler, I prepared the Girl Scout Packets. Girl Scout Packets are something I made years (and years and years) ago in Girl scouts, and have since made for Evan in our oven. The basic gist is to wrap meat and veggies in foil, and cook over the fire until everything is soft and almost stew-like in its juices. Our packets had ground beef, carrots, potatoes, onions, butter, and seasoning salt, double wrapped in foil. That simple.

The packets were delicious, with a smokiness you can only get cooking over an open campfire. We ate them straight out of the foil, with a side of fire-roasted garlic bread, followed by Chelsea's homemade apple pie. Such basic food, but for some reason, everything is always better camping.

LeAnn's Spinach Dip

This is a pretty basic, pretty delish dip! Mix together the following:

1 packet of dry ranch dressing mix
Equal parts mayo and sour cream (about 1 to 1.5 cups of each, can vary depending on your tastes)
1 can water chestnuts, chopped
1 box frozen spinach- thawed, drained, and chopped (be sure to wring out and get rid of excess liquid)


Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Lunch Break

(Photos courtesy of Brian's iPhone)

My company's office happens to be located directly above the legendary Salumi Artisan Cured Meats- a mouthwatering Italian style Salumeria created by none other than Armandino Batali... the father of Iron Chef Mario Batali. I've always heard great things about the salami at Salumi. I've seen the lunchtime lines stretching around the block. I've gazed longingly at the cured meats hanging in the window... but I had never actually tried Salumi... until today.

I happen to share an office with several avid and adventurous young foodies such as myself, and today two of them- Brian and Rose- suggested lunch at Salumi (last time we went to Skillet, where I had the out-of-this-world rockfish tacos!) Being mid week, a short holiday week, and given the crazy construction on the street outside Salumi's storefront door (which also makes for a noisy workday), we figured the line wouldn't be too bad. I don't know if we were right, or we lucked out and got there just in time, but we only waited in line about 20 minutes. And boy was it worth it.

I originally wanted the daily special- Pork Cheeks Sandwich. But the closer I got to ordering, more and more salami came into view, throwing me into a tailspin. Rose got the Muffa. Brian flip flopped between the meatball and the porchetta- finally landing on the porhcetta sandwich-essentially an Italian pulled pork. I don't really even remember ordering, I was in such a daze by the time my turn finally arrived. But, with the help of the sandwich-maker-extraordinaire, I ended up with a Salami sandwich, made with the mole salami (spiced and cured with chocolate, cinnamon, peppers). The thin sliced, rich, flavorful salami was layered onto chewy ciabatta bread that was slathered with 2 delicious sauces- one oily and garlicky, the other creamy with flecks of parsley. The salami was topped with fresh pulled mozzarella and tender grilled onions and peppers. I devoured it. I licked the paper wrapping clean... had I not been at work, I probably would have tired to eat that too...

It. was. amazing. Believe what they say... it's all true. I know, you're saying 'but it's just a salami sandwich...' Well, think again, my friend. It will rock your world. All day I thought about the sandwich- with the peppery, smokey salami and the bread that soaked up the sauces just enough to be incredibly chewy and soft, yet still hold up to the fillings. Next time I want to try the meatball, made with Salumi's special recipe pork meatballs. Or maybe the grilled lamb, topped with roasted red pepper. Although... once I get in there and see the salami hanging in the case, there's no telling what I'll end up with, but at least I know it will be fantastic and well worth the wait.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Sgt. Clafoutis

Our hero has returned!

My dear friend (and Evan's past roommate), Mike, has returned to Seattle... from over a year on tour with the US Army in Iraq. We missed Mike like crazy during his time abroad, and have been waiting impatiently for him to come home. Leading up to Mike's return, we were informed that he had a few requests: fried chicken at Ezell's and a 12 egg omelet at Beth's Cafe... not to mention he had been reading Loves Food, Loves to Eat, and was expecting something delicious from my oven. Instead of going out on the town with the guys on Mike's first night back, I took off my heels, put on an apron, and hit the kitchen.

What does one make for a returning soldier, someone who was without homemade treats for so long, someone who hasn't hugged his mom or kissed a girl for a year, someone who's been living off of nothing but bland military rations and crude male humor since 2007? A clafoutis, of course!

Not only is clafoutis fun to say, it also represents all the things Mike has been living without...fruity, chocolaty, custardy, and feminine- a perfect welcome home treat! I had never actually made a clafoutis, and turned to my trusty Gourmet magazine for inspiration. Tweaking a Chocolate Raspberry Clafoutis recipe to make use of the bag of cherries on my counter, I got to work making a very 'girly' sounding dessert for a very manly man- chocolate cherry clafoutis.

Having never even tasted clafoutis before, I decided there was absolutely no way I was serving this new dessert to friends without first tasting it myself. I thought Mike wouldn't mind if I ate one little sliver of the custardy cake. On my first slice, I was pleasantly surprised by the creamy custard center, and in love with the crispy chocolaty edges. On my second slice, I savored the sweet, juicy cherries. On my fifth slice, I marveled at how the chocolate chunks on top melted into a perfect rich glaze. By my eighth slice, some of the chocolate topping had hardened, creating a not-to-sweet chocolaty crunch that contrasted amazingly with the silky smooth custard... Before I knew it, I had devoured half of Mike's welcome home clafoutis.

The next morning, after the boys had their big night out, the wait at Beth's Cafe was too long, and Ezell's was too far away. Lucky for Mike, he had (less than) half a clafoutis waiting for him, chocolaty and rich, gooey and fruity, the perfect dessert for a great friend. Next time, I'll try to make Mike a full clafoutis... but we'll see how far that gets me.

Chocolate Cherry Clafoutis
(Adapted from Gourmet Magazine)

2-3 cups pitted & halved dark cherries
1 T sugar
1 cup whole milk
1/2 stick unsalted butter, melted
3 large eggs
1/2 cup packed dark brown sugar
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
2 T unsweetened cocoa powder
1/4 t salt
1/2-3/4 cup coarsely chopped dark or bittersweet chocolate

Preheat oven to 400°F
Butter a shallow baking dish or tart pan
Toss berries with granulated sugar and let stand 15 minutes.
Blend milk, butter, eggs, brown sugar, flour, cocoa, and salt in a blender until smooth.
Scatter berries (with juices) evenly in baking dish, then pour batter over top.
Bake on center rack until slightly puffed and firm to the touch, about 35 minutes.
Remove from oven and immediately sprinkle with chopped chocolate. Cool to warm, about 20 minutes. Serve warm or at room temperature... with a friend... or by yourself.
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