Monthly Archives: April 2015

SEATTLE AND THE OLYMPIC PENINSULA

We have been spending the last several days in downtown Seattle and in Olympic National Park on the Peninsula.

Of course, we enjoyed Seattle. It is one of the most beautiful and vibrant of American cities. The water, huge trees, mountains in every direction, and rhododendrons in bloom are gorgeous. But the people and the activity make it very exciting. When one realizes that Boeing, Microsoft, Amazon, REI outdoor supplier, Costco, and – yes – Starbucks all call this home or have a major presence, it becomes clear that this is one of the major engines of our current American economy.

Not surprisingly, all of that wealth and activity also mean that Seattle is a place for food. The first night, we ate at the restaurant in our hotel. The name is Tulio, and it definitely does not disappoint. We had drinks at the bar. We ordered the Bees Knees because they donated some of the proceeds to the Save the Bees Foundation fund-raiser. (is that Seattle or what?) The bar tender was very pleasant and clearly an expert mixologist. He said that his particular area of interest and focus was on Old Fashioneds, Manhattans, and their variants. So, of course, we had to try one of each. They were delicious.

Then it was on to the dining room where there were many choices. I selected the gnocchi. I always choose gnocchi when they are on the menu. Sometimes I am pleased. Sometimes I am disappointed. This time I was not disappointed. The little morsels were made of sweet potato, browned to be crispy, and bathed in brown butter. Smoked salmon ravioli were very Northwest, a little too heavy on the smoke, but delicious.

The next day we had a late lunch after strolling around the Pike Place Market, a must-do touristy thing if you are in downtown Seattle. The Sazerac, as you might guess, features food from New Orleans, but we had hamburgers because of the lateness of the lunch.

We saved our big meal for RockCreek in the Fremont neighborhood. Even though you think of Seattle as the epicenter of salmon and halibut, RockCreek makes a point of bringing in fish from all over the country/world. The menu changes daily, so you just have to wait and see what the offerings might be. The chef has been nominated for a James Beard award.

Oysters are local, but there is a good selection by micro-region. Three of us each got two from three different places, and they were outstanding served with a refreshing shallot mignonette.

Rhode Island Dory came with local morels. The Florida Amberjack came with a coulis made of fresh local green peas. Local Neah Bay Black Cod was done in the Provencal style. All were excellent.

The desserts were original and delicious – re-imagined Key lime pie and de-constructed s’mores. They were too sweet for my humble sweet tooth, but not for the dessert junky.

Then it was on to the real purpose of our trip: the Olympic Peninsula. The ferry ride was spectacular with the snow-covered Olympic Mountains looming over the waterway.

Our first stop was Port Townsend. This fascinating little town is filled with four- and five-story granite buildings, a giant courthouse, and many Victorian mansions built when the town was thought to be the impending “New York of the West Coast.” That was not to be; Seattle had other plans.

We made a real find. The Alchemy Bistro and Wine Bar on a side street away from the touristy main street was serving their Sunday brunch. “Bottomless mimosas” attracted a good crowd, but the fairly extensive wine list held our interest. The menu included one whole page of egg dishes and another page of soups, salads, and sandwiches.

Susan got a big bowl of oyster stew along with a plate of freshly baked scones and fresh fruit. I ordered the wild crab hash with poached eggs and Hollandaise. Neither of us went away disappointed or hungry. My hash was filled with huge chunks of fresh crab, so unlike crab dishes in lots of restaurants.

Finally we made it to the lodge where we have stayed for several days, the Lake Quinault Lodge (not to be confused with the Lake Quinault Resort on the other side of the lake where we first went.

The lodge is a classic National Park lodge, built in 1926. It has been modernized but still retains much of the rusticity of ninety years ago.

The big surprise was the Roosevelt Dining Room, named after Franklin D. Roosevelt who visited in 1937 and is credited by many for his support of the conversion of what was then a National Monument into a National Park.

Food in the dining room, whether it is breakfast, lunch, or dinner, is remarkably sophisticated, well-prepared, and beautifully presented. The wait staff is a bit uneven. Some are real professionals; some are high school students who are struggling – or maybe not – to learn the skills of good wait staff.

When we have not been eating, we have been sight-seeing. The rock formations in the surf of the Pacific Ocean are breathtaking. With modest hikes you can see the world’s largest Douglas Fir, Sitka Spruce, Western Hemlock, etc. Though I confess that once I saw one of the world’s largest [fill in the blank] I had had enough. The temperate rain forests were far more interesting. It is amazing to hear rain but for it not to make it to your level yet still have damp ground all around you. The ferns, mosses, and other plants fill the entire landscape. It is totally different from our dry Santa Fe.

This has been a wonderful escape. Now back to Seattle by way of the Bainbridge Island ferry, a good night’s sleep, seafood at the Athenian, made famous in “Sleepless in Seattle”, and then on to the next part of this adventure. The Athenian is a must although the seafood turned out to be a disappointment. Still, the perfect end to the day was a trip back to the wine tasting at our hotel.

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FRIED GOAT-CHEESE-STUFFED GREEN OLIVES

The other night we dropped by the bar at Staab House in La Posada Resort and Spa. That was where we had the reception for our younger daughter’s wedding some years ago, so we went back for a bit of nostalgia. It was Happy Hour, so we got their house cocktails. I got Julia’s Manhattan. The drink is named after the resident ghost of the Staab House. (Doesn’t very bar of any age have its own ghost?) and the drink included elderberry liqueur. It was delicious.

We also got some of their bar foods. A standout was the fried green olives stuffed with goat cheese and served with fried Marcona almonds. The olives were so delicious and so unique, that I determined to try them at home. I found some giant olives at the store along with goat cheese. I just bought things off the shelf, but you could get fancy and use olives from the olive bar and artisanal goat cheese.  The major challenge was to figure out how to get the breadcrumbs to stick to the olives. The bread crumbs on the original looked like panko, so that was a place to start.

I tried xanthan gum as the glue, but all I got was a sticky blob of clumped xanthan. Then I tried egg wash made from egg white diluted with a little water. That didn’t work any better than the xanthan gum. I checked my cookbooks to no avail, so I was finally forced to turn to the internet. There, mirabile dictu, were at least ten recipes for fried olives stuffed with all sorts of things including Italian sausage. They all described the dish as “easy”. What was the secret of all of these recipes? The answer seemed to be using classic breading technique – dry the olives, dredge them in flour, coat them in egg, and then dip them in bread crumbs. Regular bread crumbs work, but if you want to use panko, you need to grind them a little finer in a spice mill or with a rolling pin. I tried these suggestions and wound up with this recipe. After all my scouting efforts, I opened my new (May, 2015) cop of Saveur magazine to find yet another recipe for olives stuffed with ground beef and pork (page 57)

Shamelessly, I am posting my own recipe in the face of all of that professional competition. It might be easier just to go back to the Staab House.

RECIPE

Fried Goat-Cheese-Stuffed Green Olives

Ingredients

  • 24 colossal pitted green olives
  • 4 ounces mild goat cheese, softened at room temperature
  • all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • ½ teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 1 egg, beaten until smooth
  • 2 tablespoons water
  • dry bread crumbs or crushed panko
  • peanut oil for frying

Method

  1. Drain and dry the olives
  2. Place the softened goat cheese in a pastry sleeve fitted with a ½ inch plain tip. ( Alternatively, you can use a 1/8 teaspoon measuring spoon or your fingers to stuff the olives._
  3. Fill the pitted olives with the goat cheese.
  4. In a pie plate, mix the flour and salt. In a small bowl, combine the beaten egg and water. Sprinkle bread crumbs in a second pie plate.
  5. Dredge the filled olives in a shallow dish filled with flour mixture. Individually, toss the olives in your open hand to remove any extra flour.
  6. Dip the floured olives one by one in the bowl with the beaten egg mixture. Transfer to the pie plate of bread crumbs and toss lightly to coat the olives with bread crumbs. Make sure the cheese stuffing is well-coated.
  7. Dry the olives for 30 minutes on a rack. You can prepare the olives ahead up to this point.
  8. When you are ready to fry the olives, heat enough of the peanut oil in a heavy, high-sided pan to submerge the olives. Heat the oil to 350°F. Use a thermometer to check the temperature.. In batches, fry the olives for just a few minutes, turning occasionally until the crust is golden brown. Drain on layers of paper towels. Keep warm until all of the olives are fried.
  9. Serve while still warm.

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SAUTÉED ASPARAGUS AND SUGAR SNAP PEAS

We just returned from a visit with family in Texas, Susan’s sister and her husband. My sister-in-law has quit cooking because of some health problems, and my brother-in-law doesn’t like or know how to cook. For a while they have been living on frozen dinners and things you can make with a can opener.

During our visit, I was assigned the responsibility of preparing meals. I chose to make old family favorites and some new comfort foods. A new dish for them was spaghetti all’Amatriciana from a cookbook by one of my blogging friends, La Tavola Italiana by Dianne Darrow and her husband, Tom Maresca. The meal was a big hit. Other favorites included shepherd’s pie and sautéed ham, Southern style. The vegetable dish that scored was asparagus sautéed with sugar snap peas. The best dessert was an apple pie whipped up by Susan, the family pie baker.

There is not much to sautéed asparagus and snap peas, but since both vegetables are in season – or almost so – throughout the USA, the dish might make a good addition to your springtime repertoire.

Sautéed asparagus and sugar snap peas

Sautéed asparagus and sugar snap peas

Susan's apple pie

Susan’s apple pie

RECIPE

Sautéed Asparagus and Sugar Snap Peas

Ingredients

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1 pound fresh asparagus
  • 1 pound sugar snap peas
  • salt and pepper
  • ½ cup grated fresh Parmesan cheese

Method

  1. Trim the asparagus by cutting off the woody ends and, if the stalks are thick, peeling the root ends with a vegetable peeler
  2. In a large skillet over medium-high heat, warm the oil and butter until melted and shimmering
  3. Add the asparagus and sauté for a few minutes until the stalks are nearly cooked through but still bright green
  4. Stir in the sugar snap peas and continue to sauté until the peas are softened, about 5 minutes. A little bit of char is nice.
  5. Adjust seasoning with salt and pepper, and then transfer the vegetables to a serving dish.
  6. Sprinkle with grated Parmesan and serve immediately.

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ELOISA – A NEW RESTAURANT STAR IN SANTA FE

For many years, our local hospital was housed in a 1920s-1930s style building just off the Plaza and directly behind the cathedral. It had fallen on hard times, and most Santa Feans preferred driving to Albuquerque for their hospital care. Some time ago, the hospital relocated to a beautiful facility near the outskirts of the city. The old building fell into continuing disrepair and decline. From time to time some venture – like an oxygen bar where you could get a quick puff of pure oxygen to pick you up – rented some of the space. Mostly, though, the very large building became increasingly derelict until Drury Hotels bought the property. They have spent years renovating the building so that now it is a handsome addition to the landscape and a very desirable place to stay.

Locals wondered and hoped that the hotel would have a restaurant, but until recently there was no certainty about that.

The wait and wonder are behind us now as Chef John Rivera Sedlar has opened the restaurant, Eloisa, named after his grandmother who gave him his first cooking lessons.  Since then, Rivera has received many recognitions for his cooking, and  he has cooked in Spain, France, the Bay Area, and most recently in Los Angeles. In LA, he opened several popular restaurants including his acclaimed Rivers, which he will close as he moves back to his home town of Santa Fe.

Eloisa is still in its shake-down cruise, having been open only a few days. But it seems to have arrived under full sail.. We went the other night and saw practically every noteworthy local chef at one or another table. As well, the place was packed. Reservations are definitely recommended.

The space is beautiful with huge windows and contemporary touches that are completely new to the local restaurant scene.  One wall is filled with video screens that exhibit a constantly changing series of lovely light pictures. It is hard to take your eyes away from the display.  There is a gorgeous bar and an attractive fireplace. In the warmer months, there is an inviting patio. The open kitchen is enormous with gleaming equipment of every description and an army of cooks and kitchen assistants.

But the food is the star. The menu is divided into small plates and large plates; both sections are reasonably priced.  The night we were there, the small plates included Tortillas Florales, tortillas made from nixtamalized corn and set with an array of edible flowers along with Indian butter, a creamy, beautifully seasoned avocado spread; Maize Budino was a smooth corn pudding set in a corn husk boat and topped with corn, black quinoa, and red amaranth. Next to it was a whimsical replica of an ancient pictograph done in paprika; Pastrami Taco, blue corn tortillas, pastrami, sauerkraut, pickled serranos, and ballpark mustard; Nopal Paillard,  grilled cactus pad with mushroom stuffing. You get the idea.

The large plates were every bit as creative. I ordered Duck Enfrijolada, duck confit snuggled with crema between blue corn tortillas and napped with a mole-like cabernet chile sauce. Susan ordered the Salmon Painted Desert. The salmon was perfectly prepared, but the highlight of the dish was a delicate tamal filled with a light-as-air salmon mousse.

It was hard to choose dessert, but we settled on white chocolate with piñon nuts and dark chocolate with mescal. I must admit that I am not a fan of the flavor of mescal, but it is a trendy beverage, and the dish was beautifully prepared.

My final report: The meal was very special, and this new kid on the block is definitely worth more visits.

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ROAST PORK AND A HAPPY BIRTHDAY

I celebrated my 77th birthday the other day. For some reason it seemed momentous even though it wasn’t one of those that we all remember – 21st, 30th, 40th, and 65th. I guess by this time, I’m just glad to be celebrating yet another. Susan came up with some nice gifts: cooking classes the next time we get to the Bay Area and pickles from our local Barrio Brinery (I wonder if she was trying to tell me something about my disposition?) All of the children gave me a telephone call, so it was a complete and special day.

But after a big breakfast at one of our favorite French bistros, Clafoutis, an outing in town, and shopping for the fixings, including duck fat,  for a birthday dinner, we didn’t feel like eating.

We – I – finally got around to cooking the other night and had a great menu of roasted pork tenderloin, oven-roasted potatoes, asparagus, and Hollandaise sauce. It was all fairly easy, and it wound up being tasty.

RECIPES

Rosemary-Crusted Roast Pork Tenderloin

It is getting harder and harder to find a traditional bone-in pork roast or a boneless pork roast. Most commonly one finds pre-packaged pork tenderloins. They have several advantages: they cook quickly and they are very tender. The main disadvantage is that they have little or no fat, so if you want to make pork gravy, you have to add some extra fat. I chose to use duck fat, which you can often buy frozen in a little bucket at a well supplied butcher shop, but you can use your favorite.

Ingredients

  • whole pork tenderloin (about 2½ pounds)
  • duck fat
  • salt and pepper
  • rosemary powder
  • 3 stalks celery, cut in half with half diced
  • large carrot, diced
  • ½ large onion, diced
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • chicken stock
  • dry white wine
  • 1 tablespoon corn starch

Method

  1. Dry the tenderloin and tie it with several lengths of butcher’s twine so that it holds its shape
  2. With a basting brush, coat the tenderloin with duck fat and sprinkle it generously with salt, pepper, and rosemary powder
  3. Arrange the three halved celery stocks as a sort of rack in the bottom of a roasting pan just large enough to hold the tenderloin without crowding
  4. Combine the remaining diced celery, carrot, onion, and minced garlic as a mirepoix. Set aside.
  5. Place the tenderloin on the roasting pan in the middle of the oven pre-heated to 425°F.
  6. Roast for 15 minutes. Remove from the oven and add the mirepoix and enough chicken stock to fill the bottom of the roasting pan to about ½ inches. At this point you may also wish to baste the tenderloin with more duck fat. Lower the temperature of the oven to 350°F and return the roasting pan to the oven for about 40 minutes. Put the potatoes (see below) in the oven at the same time. .
  7. When the tenderloin is roasted (145°F with an instant-read thermometer), remove from the oven. Transfer to a cutting board. Cover with aluminum foil, and let rest while you complete the rest of the meal. The temperature will continue to rise a few degrees while the meat rests.
  8. Remove the vegetables from the roasting pan with a slotted spoon. Deglaze the pan over a medium flame with the white wine.
  9. Combine the corn starch with about 2 cups of chicken stock and add to the pan, stirring constantly until you bring it to the boil and the sauce begins to thicken. Correct the seasoning with salt and pepper. Remove from the heat and keep warm until ready to serve.

Oven-Roasted Potatoes

You can use any oil or fat that you prefer to roast the potatoes. A flavorless cooking oil with high smoke point, like canola would work , as would clarified butter. But duck fat gives a very nice flavor.

Ingredients

  • 3-4 3-inch Yukon gold potatoes for each diner
  • salt and pepper
  • duck fat

Method

  1. Wash and dry the potatoes.
  2. Heat about 3 tablespoons of duck fat in a cast iron frying pan just large enough to hold the potatoes. Add the potatoes. Season with salt and pepper. Pour more duck fat over the potatoes, and place in the oven with the pork roast for the last 40 minutes of cooking. During roasting, shake the pan from time to time to keep the potatoes coated with fat.
  3. After about 40 minutes, test the potatoes for doneness with a kitchen fork. When they are cooked, remove from the oven and from the cast iron pan. Keep warm until ready to serve.

Grilled Asparagus with Hollandaise Sauce

Probably everyone has a recipe for fool-proof, quick Hollandaise made in a blender. There are a couple of pointers that get left out of most recipes. First, the butter is very important. It should be unsalted rather than salted, and you should take your time in clarifying it. Most recipes just tell you to melt the butter and skim off the foam and pour off the liquid at the bottom. Remember that the foam is actually milk solids and the liquid at the bottom is water (fat is lighter than water, so water and stuff dissolved in the water sink to the bottom). If you heat the melted butter over a very low heat for an hour or so, the foamy milk solids will become firmer and more granular so that it is easy to skim them off, in contrast to the foam that has not yet become denatured.. Second, the sauce will be thicker if you make the emulsion with egg yolks and clarified butter and then add the lemon juice, rather than adding the lemon juice at the beginning.

Ingredients

  • 1 bunch fresh asparagus
  • olive oil
  • 3 large egg yolks
  • salt
  • pinch of cayenne pepper
  • 1 stick (¼ cup) unsalted butter, melted over very low heat for 1 hour or until the milk solids have firmed up and can be removed with a small spoon
  • juice of ½ lemon

Method

  1. Wash the asparagus and remove the woody ends
  2. Sauté for about 5 minutes in a hot pan drizzled with olive oil. Turn frequently to make sure that all spears cook. Be careful not to overcook
  3. In the meantime, place the egg yolks, salt to taste, and cayenne in the bowl of a blender. Blend. Then, with the blender still running, gradually pour in the warm – not hot – clarified butter, being careful not to pour in the water at the bottom. Add the butter through the smaller stopper in the lid rather without the lid, as the butter will splatter.
  4. Blend in the lemon juice. Adjust the seasoning if you wish.

Final Assembly

  • Slice the pork roast in half-inch slices. Arrange on the serving plates and top with a tablespoon or so of the gravy.
  • Add the potatoes to the plate.
  • Place asparagus spears on the plate. Nap with Hollandaise, and serve immediately.

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FOLLOWING FAMILY ADVENTURES

Over the years, I have often written about the food adventures of my various family members. In particular, you have read about our daughter and son-in-law, Sarah and Evan Rich, as they have gone from working in the restaurants of others to trying out a pop-up in a borrowed restaurant, Radius, in the Folsom Street area of San Francisco, to opening their own restaurant, not knowing if anyone would show up.

Since then Sarah and Evan and their restaurant, Rich Table have become successful. The restaurant is busy, and Sarah and Evan have had the opportunity to create some delicious food like their sardine chips, porcini donuts, deconstructed ice box pies, and tagliatelle with strawberry-braised pork Bolognese.

Along the way, they have been recognized by the San Francisco food scene along with Star Chefs magazine, Food and Wine, the James Beard Foundation and others. They have been invited to cook in New York, Chicago, Dallas, Shreveport, Louisiana, Mumbai, Hawaii, Mexico, and Yosemite.

If you watch Top Chef, Iron Chef, or Chopped, you know that professional cooking has become a competitive sport. Not surprisingly, Sarah and Evan are in the competition. Right now, they are competing in Food and Wine magazine’s annual competition, in contention for People’s Choice for Best New Chef, 2015. If you want to read about the contenders (or even vote) check out the web site. Voting ends April 8.

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