Saturday, October 1, 2011

Balsamic Mustard Fish Sauce

This is just a quick little post before I head out the door to buy my knives (!) for school. A full-on school-focused post should be up a bit later...not sure yet if it will be "later" in the tonight sense or the before-class-on-Tuesday sense.

I haven't been making extravagant meals or desserts at home lately. I guess it's because I've been busy with going to school, reading for school, and planning for school. But, of course, with anything I do end up making, I have to make it interesting somehow. No ho-hum food creation is allowed in my kitchen. Or, rather, I'm never satisfied with just ho-hum if I'm the one making and eating it. So when I decided to fry a piece of frozen fish for my late-morning protein needs, of course I had to come up with some sort of tasty thing to go with it. And, thus, Balsamic Mustard Fish Sauce was born.

I was craving something sweet and complex, a little spicy, and a little savory. None of the condiments (pre-packaged or otherwise) in my fridge fit this description. So I took some balsamic reduction I had on hand (sweet & complex), added some whole-grain mustard (spice and texture), and dashed in some fish sauce (savory/umami). The fact that the "fish" in the name of this sauce is a double entendre (fish, referring to the fish sauce ingredient & fish, referring to the thing I put it on) was just a bonus.

Monday, September 26, 2011

And so it begins...

Tomorrow marks the first day of my 'official' culinary journey. It's my first day of cooking school! I'm not fully prepared, technically speaking. I'm still waiting on my books to arrive in the mail, and I haven't purchased my knives yet. But otherwise...I'm so ready. I started planning this a year ago, and amidst all the mind-changing...deciding not to move to NYC after all, then planning to go to Seattle Central starting Fall, then thinking I would have to wait because I didn't have enough money, then finding out with less than a week until classes start that I received a financial aid grant...I've at least known this whole time that I'm going to start this.

Maybe I'll quit halfway through and decide to work my way through the kitchen ranks (as if I won't have to do that anyway), perhaps I'll decide that I don't want to cook for a living, after all...but I'm doing *this* right now. And that small fulfilled commitment to myself is enough to keep me going through this quarter, at least. Anything more than 3 months ahead is too far in the future to plan for, anyway.
So I have this idea that I'll blog about my culinary school experience, for general entertainment and for prospective wannabe-chefs...but I can't guarantee that I'll be doing any sort of regular documentation. My overall online blogger presence has been pretty sporadic, even this last month that I've been unemployed. I can, however, guarantee that I'll write at least once this week...and at least a handful more posts in the future, whenever the urge strikes me. That's the best I can do right now, and I'm ok with it.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

The Sour Cherry Pie Journey, Part One: The Pits

The above photo is documentation of an event which rarely occurs in the greater Seattle area (or, at least, it's rare in my experience).

I've read and heard about sour cherries enough over the last few months that as soon as I saw the first local cherries at the market, I started scouring every fruit hawker's stand for a glimpse of these fine specimen. Before this year, I had no idea that sour cherries were anything notably different than just...cherries...which happened to be kinda sour. But oh, was I wrong.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Brandied Cherries

It's cherry season! And actually, it has been for a (proverbial) minute now. The first thing I decided to do with fresh local cherries (besides get some and eat them right away) was preserve them in alcohol for use in cocktails. Though I'm sure I'll find many other tasty uses as I make my way through the jar in my fridge.

This recipe/how-to mentioned a few different kinds of alcohol one could use for a homemade version of maraschino cherries. I thought brandy might be nice. But when I was at the liquor store, I saw only expensive and unappealing bottles on the brandy shelf.

Enter: tuaca. Pax brought it home from the liquor store a little while back, and it's now a staple in our home bar. It's nice and vanilla-y, and not uncomfortably sweet, compared to other liqueurs. Since it's brandy-based AND delicious, I decided to use it.

To make it, I heated a pot on the stove with water, raw cane sugar, a few whole cloves, and some cracked cardamom pods. Once the sugar was dissolved, I took it off the heat, added the liqueur, then poured the solution (spices included) over the cherries I had ready in a mason jar.

And that's it! Yummy boozy cherries for cocktails/desserts/whatever!

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Thursday, July 21, 2011

'Gus Soup

...His name, as I ought to have told you before,
is really Asparagus, but that's such a fuss
to pronounce that we usually call him just "Gus"

I happened to have a lonely bunch of asparagus and a few other odd bits of veggies and herbs on hand last night, so I made this soup for dinner. It may seem odd that I made a soup in the middle of July, but Seattle is currently the only place in the country, it seems, that is *not* experiencing a drought/heat-wave/hell-on-earth.

This was an entirely vegetarian soup, not just a veggie-centric one. I think it was the first time that I've made a vegetable soup without a meat stock base. And I came to realize last night that it's really not that difficult to make a mouth-gasm-inducing vegetarian soup. All it takes is a shitload of veggies, and a bit of time.

I started out by boiling the tough, woody ends of asparagus, plus the frozen veggie & herb bits I had in some water. I let that simmer for a good hour or so, while I chopped up some onion, minced some garlic, did some laundry, and cut a portobello mushroom and the rest of the asparagus into pieces. Then I sauteed the onion & garlic in some oil and butter for a minute or two, and added the asparagus and mushroom. I strained the solids out of the simmering stock (to which I'd added a couple big pinches of salt and a crack or two of black pepper), then added the sauteed veggies and some crushed up dried rosemary. While the soup continued to simmer, I deglazed my sauteeing pan with some balsamic vinegar, let it reduce a bit, and poured it into a little bowl.

Once the veggies were soft enough (which only took a few minutes), I took the pot off the heat, and pureed the contents with my immersion blender. The last time I tried my hand at an asparagus soup, I overestimated the power of my blender and left the tough, woody end bits in the soup instead of straining them out. Even though that soup was cooking on the stove for several hours, the end product still had stringy fibers in it (bleh!). But not this time! Oh no! This soup had a perfect texture. And with all the leftover veggies in it, plus some rosemary for a bit of herbal focus, the flavor was spectacular! Much more complex than it would have been with just asparagus.

I garnished it with some goat cheese, the asparagus tips I reserved, and a drizzle of the balsamic reduction sauce. We had a last-minute dinner guest last night, and after the first bite, she looked at me with wide eyes and asked with sincere urgency, "What is in this?!" I love that a meal comprised of leftover vegetables can be so satisfying.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Spring Hill in West Seattle

Wherein I experience one of the best burgers of my life, and eat certain organs of a baby cow for the first time.

Inspired by this Serious Eats post, Pax and I decided to end our wonderful anniversary-ish day (spent mostly on a lazy sunshiney picnic at Green Lake) with what was claimed to be the "Best Burger in Seattle".

First up, here's our appetizer spread:

(Please excuse the horrible was dark...and this was taken on an iPhone...please don't shoot me...)

Cheese and baguette with apple butter pâté and honey-caramelized hazelnuts.

This was a very well-put together cheese plate. Only one kind of cheese (Dinah's Cheese from Kurtwood Farms), and it was a good one. Tasted like a very mild brie, and it was very creamy and spreadable. The combination of everything on the baguette worked beautifully. I noticed that the same plate was also offered on the dessert menu. If I were the chef (and this is just a matter of preference), I would have done the caramelized hazelnuts on the dessert version, and only spiced them for the appetizer.

Fried oysters with harissa-spiced mayo & salmon roe.

These were pretty perfect, if a little pricey, in my (admittedly seafood-novice) opinion ($12 for an order of 4). The presentation was lovely - they were served on a bed of sea salt. And I loved the little pop of brine each of the salmon eggs provided. :D

Fried veal sweetbreads with 3 house-made dips

This was the first time in my life that I'd ever eaten an organ of an animal other than liver. At the time, I was under the impression that sweetbreads were the brains. Pax had told me about his experience of eating goat brains at a bar once, and while I admired his audacity, I was still pretty skeeved out by the idea of consuming brains. However, after a cocktail or two, I surprised myself by 1) being open to trying them, and 2) actually liking them. It probably also helped that they were fried.

Of course, I've since learned that sweetbreads are not in fact brains, but, rather, they're either the thymus or the pancreas of an animal. Either way, they were delicious. They tasted like pâté, but with a more solid texture, like the fattiest, most tender meat ever. I don't know if I'll ever try brains in the future, but I'm at least more open to it now that I've tried these.

Now, about the dips...they were probably my favorite thing about the entire meal. There was a honey mustard, a barbecue, and a ranch. The honey mustard was very delicious (as it always is), though not particularly inspired. The barbecue was very smokey and quite sweet...not very tomato-y at all. I really liked it, and, for the record, the Texan sitting across the table from me approved wholeheartedly as well. The ranch! Ohhhhhmygoodnessgracious, the ranch! As someone who was repulsed by salad dressings (and pretty much every other condiment) her entire youth, only branching out to try simple dressings around age 18, and only very recently creamy & mayonnaise-based dressings...this sauce was better than I ever thought ranch dressing could be. It's what I've always wanted ranch to be! So fresh tasting! The dill! The tangy yogurty creaminess! I don't know if homemade ranch is always that good, but by god, I'm going to try to make some myself before the end of the summer! Thank you, Spring Hill, for showing me that the world really can be a magical place.

Right...ahem...well, on to the burger!

It was kind of hard to cut it in half (neither Pax nor I were prepared for a full burger & order of fries each, so we split it), and it was pretty messy, overall. But no matter. It was spectacular.

According to the post on Serious Eats, the cheese is a combination of a couple different kinds, and I don't remember which cheeses, nor do I care, because it was EFFING DELICIOUS AND PERFECT.

The beef was crumbly and moist and very, very tasty. The house-cured bacon was "HOLY FUCKING SHIT ON A STICK!" according to my drunken notes I scribbled down before PTFO-ing once we got home. The bun was the only thing that could have been improved, I think. It was pleasantly chewy, but it wasn't nearly big enough or sturdy enough to keep all those moist bits together. But I'm not even sure I'd want to change it. I really think there's something to be said for a messy burger once in a while. It makes me feel all primal, with meat juice running down my wrist like that. And anyway, the best way a burger can command your attention is to not allow you to put it down without risking total sandwich destruction, so the burger totally won on that one.

And as for the fries?

Well, they were fried in beef fat. And the ketchup (homemade blended san marzano tomatoes with apple cider vinegar) was another condiment revelation to me.

What more is there to say?

Spring Hill is officially a win, in my book.

They even boxed our oyster shells up all nice! How sweet is that?!

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Cheap Dining in Rome

Whoa.(3-scoop gelato+panna on a white-choco cone @Giolitti)

I posted this as a reply to someone in the Serious Eats talk forums, asking for advice on good (but inexpensive) eating in Italy. This is mostly focused on my experiences in Rome, but the coffee and pizza bits can be applied to other areas as well.

If you're a coffee drinker, get ready for some straight up espresso goodness. The coffee bars here don't substitue milk and don't do flavorings. This is where you need to get just an espresso, a cappuccino, or (my favorite) an espresso macchiato, which is an espresso with a spot of milk on top. If you'd like a pastry as well, "cornetto" is what they call a croissant. In my experience, coffee+pastry was never more than 5 euro (and it was usually no more than 2 or 3).

There are about a bazillian little pizza al taglio places in Rome (which are not the sit-down kind of pizzerias, though there are at least a bazillian of those there, too) that give you however much pizza you want (I've found that gesturing is a useful communication tool), and it's priced by weight. Pricing pizza by weight like this makes soooo much more sense than the by-the-slice way we do it here in the states, and it usually ends up cheaper than you'd expect it to. I highly recommend doing that for lunch or dinner at least half the time you're there (not all pizza places will be open late, but with Rome's lively bar scene, you're sure to find some).

Some places offer an item called "suppli" which are these ORGASMIC little balls of fried rice with mozzarella and a bit of tomato sauce inside, and they're usually 1 euro a piece. If you find some, try it, and love it, you'll need to take a trip to the Trastevere neighborhood, just outside of the main city center. There's a place just off Viale di Trastevere called Sisini Venanzio, though the nondescript little sign above the entrance just says "i suppli." Depending on the time you get there, there will be a line (more like a mob, actually) of Italians spilling out the doors. Almost the entire 3 months I was studying in Rome--and living around the corner, mind you--I walked passed this place every day without realizing what it was. My last day in the city, I finally noticed the sign, went in, and was blown away. They have all different kinds of suppli, and they're all huge, and they might be more than 1 euro each, but not more than 2. Even if you're not on a quest to find more suppli, I highly recommend venturing down to this neighborhood. The food is usually better and more affordable than the bulk of the fare you'll find next to major monuments and tourist attractions.

That said, my favorite little lunch place is in the Campo de' Fiori. During the day, the piazza is a wonderful outdoor market (with produce and other things), full of locals AND tourists (as opposed to just tourists). On the northwestern end of the campo, opposite the Cinema Farnese, there's an amazing little bakery (with Italian pastries, deli sandwiches, and pizza) called Forno. While I was in school over there (my school was housed in a building just off the Campo), I'd eat here often after class. At the time, I thought that the little store across the ally from it (on the left if you're facing the storefront) was also a part of it, but, looking at their website, I can't tell if that's actually the case. Anyway, right under the big "FORNO" sign is the entrance. You can order pizza al taglio at the counter directly on your right when you walk in, or you can go to the back, where I think they have sandwiches and pastries. My recommendation is to get some of the pizza rossa (that's pizza with just red sauce), because it's the best pizza rossa I've ever had in my life. They might ask you (or motion, if you're obviously a foreigner who doesn't speak English) if you want your designated portion folded into a sandwich, and you should say "Si!" because this is the way to eat it.

The storefront on the left (whether or not it's actually part of Forno) sells reasonably priced sandwiches (REAL Italian sandwiches--not these silly American "panini") and various pastries. If I remember correctly, they'll heat sandwiches up for you if you ask (though I definitely can't remember how to ask for that in italiano...). Many of the sandwiches are made with fresh mozzarella di bufala and various veggies. If you see one with a strange-looking floppy orange thing in the middle, get it. This is "fiore di zucca," literally "flower of squash," and it's very subtle in it's taste, but very popular amongst Italians. The sandwiches run a few euro each. Also, if you'd like something sweet to round out your lunch, this place makes a pastry filled with ricotta in one end and chocolate in the other. I'm pretty sure they're called "ravioli di ricotta" (don't be confused, though--it's a sweet pastry, not pasta). If you're lucky, you'll get one that's still warm, and you'll be able to experience the miracle of chocolate and ricotta cheese oozing together in the middle of a soft buttery pastry shell. They're about the size of a croissant, but not made with flakey pastry's some kind of soft, slightly breadier (but sweet!) pastry...

And as for gelato, you'll probably be good with whatever hole-in-the-wall place you find. If you want to do a gelato-splurge, Giolitti is the most well-known and the most extravagant, in my experience. And even for their ginormous 3-scoop white-chocolate-dipped cone with fresh panna (whipped cream) on top, it's less than 10 euro. Possibly less than 5, but don't quote me on that. Just please, pleeeeeaaaaase do not go to Blue Ice. It's a CHAIN store, and it's NOT a good one. The flavors are colored with insane amounts of dye to make them as eye-catching as possible for tourists. (And on that note, if you enjoy the more natural route of food-making, San Crispino is a good gelateria with less traditional flavors that are made with all-natural ingredients. I've only been to the one near the Trevi Fountain, but according to the website, there are other locations as well. It is a bit on the pricier side of gelato, though.)

And most importantly, do some exploring! You're bound to find some amazing little places for yourself, just by walking around aimlessly. Put that tourist map away for a little bit and let yourself get lost! ;)

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Lunch Today

Huuuuge colorful mishmash of a salad, created with tasty things from the Whole Foods self-serve deli. ^_^

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Homemade Gnocchi!

Tiny pillowy goodness!

I swear, SRW posts will be coming up soon. Gotta get all those pics organized first.

SO, in the meantime, GNOCCHI!!!


One of my favorite Italian foods. Which is saying something, because I love pretty much all Italian foods.

And it's surprisingly simple. Of course, way back when I first tried gnocchi, I still had practically no concept of how to turn raw ingredients into cooked food, so my awe may have been a bit skewed.


It's a dough made of flour, an egg or two, and some baked potato, all mixed together. If I were Italian, or had an Italian grandmother, I'd probably be able to talk for hours about the little techniques and tricks that are necessary to make perfect gnocchi...but as this was my first time (and I haven't had enough experience to talk for hours about my own thoughts on the matter), this is all you get. (Be glad!)

You take a hunk of your dough, roll it into a rope of your desired thickness, and slice it into individual dumplings. Then, to get those cute little ridges, take 2 forks, and make them spoon (wait...fork?) with one of the gnocchi in between them.


A single, gentle (but firm!) roll along the fork prongs is all it needs. And, actually, I found that all I needed to do was sort of squish it down a bit on the sticky sides (where it was cut from the dough) and that made enough of a ribbed definition for me.

(Aside: reading over that paragraph, I'm realizing how silly writing cooking instructions can be. I like to think that I have strong writing skills, but it's so much more effective to actually show someone how to cook something.)


Hopefully, there's enough detail for you to see on there. I'm still scrubbin' it, photography-wise, so for now, I'm stuck with editing the shit out of Pax's iphone pictures. Le sigh.

I swear, though, this is way better than the original photo. Now you can actually see the horribly unflattering yellow cast of our kitchen when it's dark outside! Instead of just seeing...dark blurs. I know, it's a very exciting improvement.


Right, so once you have your gnocchi, you can do whatever you'd like with it! I decided to pan-fry mine in butter, because that's how I roll.

Then I toasted some walnuts...


...and made a cream sauce, tossing in some fresh chopped parsley at the end.



Mmmm...cream sauce.

(Please forgive the slight blur...again, these are iphone photos.)


In retrospect, I could have pan-fried the gnocchi for less time, then let them simmer in the sauce to finish cooking. More of a time-management issue than a technical/textural one, though.


And then, if you want to be super gluttonous (and I always do), after your very substantial bowl of hearty potato dumplings, you can sneak back to the kitchen, see that there's just a few spoonfulls of (very tasty) sauce in the pan, and rationalize to yourself what your about to do, for the sake of not wasting good food.


So, you're going to crisp up some (butter-slathered) bread under the broiler.

Then, do this:


And this:


And bask in the glory of hedonism. Quickly, though, before your digestive system realizes what you're shoving its way!

Wednesday, April 6, 2011


Firmly state your demands Ask, and ye shall receive.

After a less-than-enjoyable sort of Wednesday, I came home to a package from Amazon on my doorstep. Upon finding that said package was addressed to me, my mind proceeded to think this specific succession of thoughts:

"I don't remember ordering anything..."

"No, I definitely didn't order anything. This must be a sweet surprise or something!"

"...or did I order something...? And then forget about it?"

"Have I unknowingly consumed some drug recently which caused me to go on an unconscious online shopping spree?!"


And then I opened it. And found this book. And all manner of unhappy thoughts magically vanished from my being. For this is the book after which I've been actively pining for the last week and a half. ^_^

Of course, then my mind ran through all the different possible senders of this gift, ranging from my mother to some random kind-hearted blog-stalker halfway across the country who somehow got a hold of my address.

But, alas! It was Pax. My wonderfully sweet and amazing and wonderful and loving and handsome and wonderful lover-man. I am winning SO HARD at life!

Speaking of which, I'm about to have 2 weeks of EPIC winning in the realm of eating out! Seattle Restaurant Week starts next Sunday, and Pax and I are planning a fairly concentrated spree of nomming $28 three-course meals at some AMAZING restaurants. Our working list of possible fine eateries to sample:

How to Cook a Wolf
Palace Kitchen
Cafe Flora

Some restaurants will be serving $15 three-course lunches as well, which I'll need to take upon myself to investigate, I think. ;) I'll make sure to take pictures of our food so I can post about our experiences. ^_^

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Fruit-Topped Cheesecake


I've been slacking off lately with regards to taking photos of the food I make and eat. I could give a multitude of reasons for that, but it won't make up for a more-wordy-than-pretty blog post. The fact of the matter is that most of my recent creations and dining experiences haven't been visually documented, which means that it's time for me to catch up on all of the yet un-blogged photos in my Flickr account.

Like this cheesecake, which I made back in September for my friend Tessa's birthday! It was the first REAL cheesecake (I've done the no-bake kind a couple of times) that I've baked entirely on my own, and it turned out way better than I expected it to.

When I asked Tessa what kind of cake she wanted for her birthday, she said "CHEESECAKE!" And when I asked her what kind of cheesecake, she said something along the lines of "regular, but with a pretty array of various fruit on top, like a fruit tart." Since I don't like doing simple things, I decided to go ahead and switch up the standard graham cracker crust. Instead of graham crackers, I used gingersnap cookies.

I don't remember where I got the recipe that I ended up using, but the person who posted it claimed that it was a modified version of some famous restaurant's cheesecake. I don't know. It's good, that's all that matters.


See? Good. No cracks, and I didn't even do the water bath thing. Win!

It was super fun arranging all the fruit, too. I got to combine my OCD and my creative skills to make it purrty and purrfect. ^_^


And thank you to the lovely Caitlin Rose, who took the photos at the party (1st and 3rd ones in this post).

See, if I had a decent camera, I'd be way more into taking photos, since I'd know they wouldn't suck. Or at least, they wouldn't be blurry like the ones I take on my phone...sigh.