Monday, October 31, 2011

Everything Good

That's a pumpkin. It's stuffed with everything good. But before we get into that, are you ready for some heartbreaking news? Are you sitting down? Here it is...I bailed on Halloween.

Amanda and I are kinda legends in these parts when it comes to Halloween, and we both skipped it this year… much to the shock and dismay of everyone in Seattle. Ok, so maybe we're not that big of a deal, but for reals… we're really, really good at Halloween. We put together amazing costumes (not to brag or anything, but I mean, prizes have been won). We don't mess around with the store bought costumes or the slutty pandas.

No, we spend hours making our costumes...and the gnarlier, the better. Read: zombie 1950s housewife, roadkill, Bonnie & Clyde after getting shot up (with a cameo appearance by Evan), and the gal from The Birds after the bird attack. We also aim for total realism, because we're real serious about Halloween like that. Last year I was Mrs. Lovett (with meat pies), and I guess everyone hadn't seen Tim Burton's Sweeney Todd, but everyone did say "let me guess… you're Helena Bonham Carter?" And Amanda was Edward Scissorhands. I don't mean she dressed like him… I mean, I think she really was him. She may have actually been JD's stunt double (and trust me, I know Johnny Depp, I was writing the man love letters in crayon on Lisa Frank stationary back in the Cry Baby days). She looked so much like him, that I almost had a crush on her that night. Is that weird to say? 

This year, however, we chose to skip it. This is my first weekend home since… August? And Amanda has grad school midterms coming up. We're exhausted. In our 20s, and no energy for the best holiday of the year. I'm tellin' ya, it's a fat shame. Instead of lazily pulling together half-assed costumes, we stayed in. When it comes to Halloween, we go big or we don't go at all. So this year, as swarms of inquiries about our costumes came in, we had to tell the disappointed masses "sorry, we're not doing Halloween this year." Rob Zombie himself may have shed a tear over the news. 

We ended up having our own Halloween party, and dressed up like couch potatoes (read: stayed in, cooked, watched a movie… and wore sweat pants). Costumery aside, we had a great night…with lots of pumpkin. We cooked a very unbalanced meal of really heavy pumpkin dishes, for just the two of us. Including something geniously named "Pumpkin Stuffed with Everything Good."

I like pumpkins, and I like "everything good" so it was a given that I would jump all over a recipe for Pumpkin Stuffed with Everything Good. How could you not fall head over heels for a dish with a name like that!? Oh man. Dorie Greenspan isn't lying… her pumpkin really is stuffed with everything good: bacon, cheese, bread, and cream. The filling bakes up like a gooey stuffing, and the pumpkin gets all soft and delicious, and practically melts into the filling. And it looks pretty impressive.

It's also fun, because you can adapt it any way you like. Want sausage instead of bacon? Do it. Have a hankering for sautéed mushrooms? Stuff 'em in there. Want to go sweet instead of savory? Get it, girl! Amanda and I even talked about goin' all southwest on our pumpkin, and using rice, ground beef, tomatoes, and peppers. Go wild, people! Stuff that pumpkin! 

Dorie's recipe can be found at Epicurious. But you should also buy her book… it's full of everything good—page after page of everything good.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Restaurant Week and Cacio e Pepe

Seattle just wrapped up another successful (for me, at least) restaurant week. Restaurant week—actually spanning 2 weeks—is when tons of local restaurants offer 3 course menus for $30. I happen to love restaurant week, although, I read in Seattle Met that a lot of local chefs don't feel so hot about it, and basically think they have to dumb down their food for cheapskates. It's really too bad they feel that way, because a bad restaurant week experience can tarnish my opinion of a restaurant from that point forward. And I throw down on good food… I just don't usually do it 3 times in two weeks. With restaurant week, I can try out a lot of spendier joints, so that I know where I want to go back to for nice dinners, and what places I want to recommend to friends.  If I get a dumbed down, half-assed meal during restaurant week… well, sorry, you may have lost one future diner. And a lot of her friends…who also like to throw down on good food. 

After last week's "try-outs," I'll definitely be going back to Andaluca and How to Cook a Wolf—two restaurants owned by Seattle 'celeb chefs.' The kitchen of one local celeb chef, however, delivered a pretty…underwhelming experience. I hate to say it, because the guy is pretty much a god among men in these parts, but sorry Tom Douglas, my meal at Dahlia wasn't too impressive. I loved my cocktail, a rosemary/blueberry shrub, and of course TD's famous coconut cream pie was amazing, but the entrees were bland, and came out so fast that it was almost like they had a line of restaurant week plates stacked up and ready to go, a la Micky D's. The whole thing felt rushed, something I don't want to feel at a nice restaurant, no matter how much I'm paying. I'm not giving up on Tom just yet (he has about 6 restaurants in Seattle), but I doubt I'll be doing dinner at Dahlia again. Andaluca and How to Cook a Wolf made up for it though. 

Andaluca's executive chef, Wayne Johnson, competed on Iron Chef…and makes a mean bowl of clams. The restaurant is a mediterranean-spanish-northwest-tapas type place, and seriously had the best clams I've maybe ever had. And I've had a lot of clams. Clams are one of my go-to dishes. Andaluca's were swimming in a bright orange, slightly creamy, garlicky bath of white wine and harissa butter, and were surrounded by big, salty, spicy chunks of chorizo, and topped with cilantro. They were salty and spicy, and seriously amazing. The sherry-almond scallops were also incredible, and weren't dry or overcooked, like a lot of restaurant scallops I've had. Aside from how delicious everything was, it was just a great experience. We were served a ton of food (which isn't typical with restaurant week), and the waiter was super nice, even though we did have a loud party of 10 that shut the place down. 

How to Cook a Wolf is one of Ethan Stowell's restaurants. Ethan is another big-deal chef around here, with a lot of big-time restaurants under his belt (don't tell him, but I may have stalked him at Burning Beast, just a little bit). How to Cook a Wold (named after MFK Fisher's book) is a fun, small space in Queen Anne, with simple, rustic Italian-style food, meant to be shared. Everything was delicious, from the burrata with grape mostarda, to the beef carpaccio, to the simple but fabulous pasta dishes. My favorite dish was the semolina gnocchi with pork sugo. The gnocchi were almost like big, fluffy polenta cakes, but made with semolina, and were covered in cheese, and sitting atop a salty, savory tomato sauce with shredded pork. To. Die. For. And, if the amazing meal wasn't enough, they sent us home with little bags of fresh-raw pasta. 

I wanted to do something simple with the pasta, so I played homage to another local celeb chef of sorts, and made Mario Batali's pasta with cacio e pepe (Batali is from Washington, and his family owns Salumi, the unbelievable salumeria in Pioneer Square (right below my office)! Cacio e Pepe (cheese and pepper) is just that—pasta tossed with cracked pepper, butter and oil, and nutty parmesan cheese. That's it! And it's so good! You don't really need to follow a recipe—boil pasta in salty water, and in a separate pot, toast cracked black pepper, and melt in equal parts butter and olive oil, then mix that with pasta water, the pasta, and a hearty amount of grated cheese. There you have it. A dinner for far less than $30, that's sure to impress. 

PS. I'm not a restaurant critic or even a "restaurant blogger," and the reviews above are strictly my opinion... though you should really get the clams at Andaluca, just sayin'. 

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Wordless Wednesday: Apples!

I spent last weekend at my parent's house, to celebrate Mel's big 5-0. She wasn't the only one who got presents... I came home with a giant box of apples, fresh picked from her friend Elaine's orchard! 

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Sausage, Kale, and Sweet Potato Soup

It’s been rainy, windy, stormy, and cold in Seattle! It’s most definitely fall, and I couldn’t be happier about it. While I am sad to see the sun go away (not that it really ever showed up this year), I’m stoked out of my mind for stews, baked goods, soups, pumpkins, apple cider, apple cider cake (I made it, yum!), soups, Halloween, boots and scarves, soups, Thanksgiving, mulled wine, and lots and lots of soup. Oh, did I mention soup?!

Guess what?!?! I love soup! I think it’s souper. Get it, soup…er? Ok, so maybe that was overkill, but I really do love soup of all kinds. Brothy soup, veggie soup, hot soup, cold soup, meaty soup, chunky soup, noodle soup, and extra hearty soup, like this one, with sausage, potatoes, and kale.

I wanted to add something leafy to my typical potato soup, but I knew Evan wouldn’t go for the green unless I countered it with something spicy and made of animal. So, in addition to russet potatoes, onions, and carrots, this soup is chock full of kale, spicy-smokey Andouille sausage, garlic, and sweet, buttery chunks of sweet potato (I just couldn’t pass it up at the grocery store!). It ended up being nothing like my normal potato soup (I also didn't add milk or cream), but it’s so good and hearty that it will definitely be on the soup rotation from here on out.

PS. Evan claims to hate kale, but ate every last leafy green bit in his bowl.

Sausage, Kale, and Potato Soup

Olive oil
1 T butter
1 large yellow onion, diced
2 large garlic cloves, minced
2 carrots, chopped
4 fully cooked smoked sausage links (like spicy Andouille), sliced
2 large russet potatoes, peeled and cubed
1 large sweet potato, peeled and cubed (I used the orange variety, sometimes referred to as a yam)
Salt, pepper
Pinch of rosemary (fresh or dried)
Red pepper flakes (to taste, a used a hearty pinch)
1 bunch/head of kale, washed, ribs/stems removed, and chopped
8 cups of chicken broth

Add a few pours of olive oil and the butter to a stock pot or Dutch oven, heat on medium. Add onion, and cook until translucent. Add garlic and carrots, and cook until fragrant, but don’t let garlic burn or brown too much. Add salt, pepper, rosemary, and red pepper flakes to taste. Add sausage, and cook until slightly crisp on the edges—we want it to really meld with the flavor of the onions and garlic, and to release some of it’s fat into the pot. Next, add russet potatoes and cook for a minute or two, just long enough for the potatoes to start sticking to the bottom of the pot, but not enough to burn. Add broth, and bring to a boil, scraping cooked bits off the bottom of the pot. Boil for a few minutes, then add the sweet potatoes. Taste, and add more salt/pepper/flakes, if needed. Turn heat to medium/low, cover, and simmer. When potatoes are soft and starting to break apart (you’ll have to start checking after about 10 minutes), add kale. Cook for a few more minutes, until kale has reduced, and serve (with crusty French bread on a blustery fall night).

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Wordless Wednesday: Plum Torte

Late summer/early fall plum tart! Thanks to Barbara for the giant box of amazing Italian prune plums, to Amanda for the use of her sunny, light-filled kitchen, and to the New York Times for the classic recipe. PS. I swapped a tad of the flour with almond meal, and added a splash of almond extract.
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