Spring Soup by Anne Livingston

Why is it so hard to get—and stay—healthy with food in this day & time (& place)? It’s a question I ponder almost daily. Our country is so bizarre when it comes to food. How do we navigate all the pyramids, diets, charts, supplements, and plans? How do we do it cheaply, quickly, without too much thought? I guess we can’t, that’s the thing. But sometimes, we can.

When Andrew Dornenburg and Karen Page said at IFBC last year that one of the hottest food trends in the U.S. is vegetables, I was optimistic. No chart or diet or plan will disagree: vegetables are where it’s at, man. Of course, they always have been, but making them sexy to the general public could lead to some interesting culinary developments. I can’t wait to see what happens in the next few years in restaurants, cookbooks, and grocery stores. Let’s watch it develop together.

So meanwhile, vegetables! There’s never a bad time to eat them, but now that it’s spring, it’s an especially good time. According to both Traditional Chinese Medicine and Ayurvedic principles, now’s the time to be extra nice to your liver and gall bladder after a long winter of heavy comfort foods and hibernating. I have been studying Chinese 5 Elements and nutrition, so I’m starting to understand some ways to support those parts of the body.  Right now we need to focus on foods that are:

  • GREEN  all the green vegetables. Leafy greens, such as spinach, chard, kale, and fresh herbs
  • RISING QUICKLY – If it grows quickly or shoots up as it grows, it’s great for spring. Asparagus, bamboo shoots, and radishes
  • ACIDIC/SOUR – citrus, vinegars, pickles, kimchi
  • YOUNG – young shoots or roots, such as mung bean sprouts, baby carrots or beets

All this sounds like a chance to pull out the blender and make a green smoothie, right? Yes, if you live in southern California or Arizona, where it’s already hot. But if you are like me and live in cooler climes, our bodies need it warm and cooked until the weather warms up some more.  This will ease our digestion and ultimately give us more energy. We need something like a green smoothie in our regular rotation, but cooked. And delicious, of course.

This “recipe” is easy, quick, and has interchangeable ingredients. I’ve mixed and matched several soups and have loved them all. I also throw in a few young (unsprayed!!) dandelion leaves from the front yard. Being a wild food, dandelions are beyond ridiculously good for you in the spring, although they’re also intensely bitter, so be sparing if you have a sensitive palate. Shiitakes or other mushrooms also enrich this soup as a garnish. The soup pictured above is asparagus, with a few sauteed shiitakes sprinkled in at the last minute.

I also have some edible flowers growing in the garden, so I use them for festive garnishes. In case you didn’t know, dandelion petals are edible! It takes no money to be fancy around here.

SPRING SOUP

Serves 4 | Start to finish: 15 minutes

INGREDIENTS:

  • About 1 pound green vegetables, such as trimmed asparagus, spinach, chard, or broccoli
  • 1/4 cup chopped onion, scallion, or shallot
  • 2 cups stock, preferably homemade
  • 1 cup assorted herbs, such as parsley, chives, dill, mint, and a few dandelion leaves
  • 1/4 cup cream
  • 1/4 cup yogurt or crème fraîche, plus more for garnish
  • Sea salt, to taste

DIRECTIONS:

  1. Cook the vegetables and onion with the stock for about 10 minutes over medium heat, or until just cooked and still bright green.
  2. Place the fresh herbs, cream, and yogurt into a blender, and pour the stock and vegetables over the top. Place the lid on the blender, remove the inner “plug” to allow steam to escape during blending, and cover the hole with a kitchen towel to avoid splattering. Blend until completely smooth.
  3. Pour into bowls and garnish with edible flowers and more yogurt or crème fraîche. 

Living an Authentic Life by Anne Livingston

An authentic life includes sexy snacks like this one.

An authentic life includes sexy snacks like this one.

Karen Page and Andrew Dornenburg, the keynote speakers of IFBC, rocked me to my core yet again.  

The authors of The Flavor Bible, my most-used cooking reference, talked about the number of rejection letters they received before they published their first book, Becoming A Chef. The letters most often said something like, “Too specialized. The general public won’t be interested in this.” And so they heard this 40 times, from 40 people. But then they heard from someone who said, “We can’t do this, but have you considered this one publisher?” And they wound up following this advice and getting published. And the book became highly successful, even in non-specialized groups. This specialized book has reached the general public after all. And about 8 more books followed it.

Karen and Andrew urged us in the audience: Stay true to yourself. Do your thing, even if it seems weird or fringe-y. Don’t chase trends. Start them. You will find your audience.  

HOLY CRAP. This message hit me at the exact right time, and it blew my mind. Don’t chase trends. Start them.

I have been thinking quite a bit lately about my own interests—not just the recipes that I tend to post on my blog, which I post with other people in mind. I think of those as more public recipes/cooking ideas. What I’m usually doing at home or cooking in my kitchen…this is what I’ve been thinking about lately. Sometimes it seems like I play some of my cards close to my chest. Why is that?

 I think, “This is something I like, something that excites ME, but it might be too weird for sharing.” Am I being true to myself when I hide those parts? Or am I hiding tidbits that some people out there would also be interested in and/or would like to taste? I feel like a new chapter is about to begin in my life: one in which I do what feels right to me, regardless of its status as crowd-pleasing or as odd. It’s scary but right. I’m the type of person who thinks in terms of community, but striking a path that is true to you—well, that’s more of an individual journey. Community can be part of it, but it might be more of that “If you build it, they will come” kind of scenario. Risky!

All of this reflection is reminding me of my first interaction with Karen and Andrew, another pivotal moment in my culinary life.

I just checked the calendar, and almost 6 years ago (6 years and 1 day!), Karen and Andrew came to Seattle and spoke at The Corson Building when The Flavor Bible first came out. It was a Kim Ricketts event and included an intimate, family-style dinner cooked by Chef Matt Dillon.

It was an intense night for me. I was a new mom, and just going out by myself without my baby was an aching, awful thrill. But on top of that, to eat a multi-course meal by one of our city’s best new chefs, in his new restaurant, and to get a copy of this new book I'd been anticipating, and to meet the authors, right around the time I was getting serious about deciding to go to culinary school… it was almost too good to bear. I was trembling with excitement and post-partum anxiety on the drive down to dinner.

After dinner, when I approached Karen and Andrew to have my copy of the book signed, I mentioned my interest in culinary school. They were quite friendly with me but indicated that they knew people who had gone the path of changing from another profession to a culinary one, and lots of people had had a tough go of it. Just moving from a well-paying job to the restaurant industry…well, the pay cut alone was challenging.

They weren’t telling me NOT to go to culinary school, exactly, but there was this vibe of a gentle reality-check in their advice.

Of course I went to culinary school anyway.  I knew I was on my path to do so, for whatever reason. And it was the absolutely the right move. Was it hard? Yep. Was it crazy to go to culinary school when I had a 2 year old daughter? Probably. And of course I didn’t become a cook at a sexy Seattle restaurant. I didn’t ever think that I would in the first place. But I will always feel grateful that I did follow my dream and go to Seattle Culinary Academy.

Karen and Andrew did not encourage me to go this route, but didn’t discourage me either. Their cautionary words were helpful to me as I refined my reasons for where I was headed.

Karen and Andrew have impacted—and continue to impact—my life in profound ways, from their books (including their new one, The Vegetarian Flavor Bible! Hooray!), to their talks, to their leadership by example. Inspired by them, I want to maintain the courage and clear vision to live authentically, both personally and professionally. 

Aneto Broth from Spain by Anne Livingston

Aneto Chicken Broth

Aneto Chicken Broth

Have I ever been in love with a boxed broth before this?

The International Food Bloggers' Conference brings food lovers, writers and photographers together with products we might like, and hopefully, share. Being a jaded consumer who generally prefers whole foods, I have to admit that many packaged foods are lost on me.

And yet, here I was on Friday night, tasting Aneto's pre-made, boxed chicken broth on a spoon and not believing my mouth. One savory spoonful led to another, and another. I checked the package for MSG. Nope. Just really well-made chicken broth--from Spain.

Then I tasted their rich paella base, which contains all the ingredients needed for a traditional, Valencian paella. We're talking rabbit, duck, ferraura beans, garrofon beans, snails(!), saffron, rosemary... this is the real deal. Only natural ingredients, made in thoughtful batches by this small company in Barcelona.

These two yellow broth boxes were like bars of gold in my fridge. 

I had to go talk with the folks at Aneto, feeling curious about this small company that decided to reach out to us here in the states. I met Josep, Anna, and Núria and chatted with them about what it's like to work for Aneto.

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A family-owned company that originally focused on producing Serrano ham, Aneto has been around since 1963. They decided to start making ham broth a few years ago, and that went so well that they turned to other flavors as well, such as chicken, vegetable, fish, and a number of bases for stews and paellas. Josep, Anna, and Núria all agreed that this small company of only 74 employees feels like family to them. 

All three also regularly use the broth themselves. I asked each of them what their favorite broth is and how they liked to use it. 

Núria's favorite is the chicken broth. She likes to use it to make Sopa Torrada, a Catalan bread soup with meatballs. She also just drinks the broth while cooking dinner or serves it on its own as part of dinner.

Anna, the avid cook of the group, suggested making a cream of courgette (zucchini) soup by sauteeing onion and zucchini together, pouring enough chicken broth to cover, and then pureeing it with an immersion blender. 

Josep admitted that he does not cook very much, but told me that he used the paella base on a first date. "And she is my girlfriend still, so..." he shrugged. This cracked me up. The power of paella. Anyway, it seemed to me that these three charming people not only enjoyed their work at Aneto, but they like the broth as much as I do. Those lucky ducks, they have regular access to it.

I asked them a little more about the paella base. I wondered what the popular opinion of it was. You know? I was curious if, to Spaniards, a paella base would be the Spanish equivalent to a box of mac & cheese or, I don't know, Hamburger Helper. Anna said, for people who have paella 2 or 3 times a week, it's really helpful to have the base on hand. She explained that the base was a combination of two products, really. There was the broth itself and the sofrito, which is a whole process to make in and of itself. Oh yeah, good point! When I've made paella at home, it is a bit of a production. I start with that sofrito, which is often a combination of tomato, garlic, onion, and olive oil. This cooks down for awhile until it's almost burgundy in color. Having this step removed, along with having the broth already made, makes the paella base quite valuable.

But it's only valuable if it's delicious, right? Last night I made the quickest paella of my life.

Because I was way behind on dinner last night, I reached for that box of Spain in my fridge. Might as well try it now, right? In 25 minutes (mostly hands off) I had a pretty authentic-tasting paella. Was it as complex and smoky as the more labor intensive version with your own sofrito and all the little details of love you can put into a paella? No. However, it was absolutely impossible to stop eating. I was able to achieve a bit of soccorat, the caramelized bits at the base of the pan, but not as much as when I've made it from scratch.

No matter! I must get my hands on more of this broth and paella base. They absolutely have a place in my pantry, especially when I'm in a hurry. If you're curious to try it, La Tienda carries it, and if you live in Seattle, The Spanish Table carries all of their products, even the squid ink paella base. Sweet! I'm feeling really glad that Aneto decided to come on over to Seattle for a spell.


Parfait Ice Cream by Anne Livingston

In my mind, Parfait Ice Cream is THE place to get ice cream in Seattle. Intense, fresh flavors of the small-batch ice creams and sorbets would be reason enough to keep coming back. But when I think about how much thought Adria Shimada, Parfait's owner, puts into the quality of ingredients and the sustainability of her business, it just excites the heck out of me.

She uses local, organic produce and dairy products from sustainable farms nearby. For ingredients like sugar and chocolate, she only chooses fair trade, organic products. I'm blown away by the level of work and attention it must take to ensure that each ingredient is a) of the finest quality and b) has good karma. 

Adria also pays similar close attention to flavor. One time I came in to buy yet another of their addictive macaron ice cream sandwiches, and Adria was there, perfecting her hot fudge recipe. She said that she adds honey, specifically to bring just the right amount of tackiness to the sauce so that the fudge stays on the ice cream when poured over the top.

The attention to detail is what makes this place special. They make each cone by hand, with a small press. It's a time-consuming task, but well worth the effort to make exquisite, crisp cones with French flair.

Speaking of perfect recipes, two of my favorite macaron ice cream sandwich flavors make the most of the Pacific Northwest's local produce: The honey-lavender and the raspberry ripple. 

In particular, I cannot get enough of the honey-lavender one. It takes me to a field of flowers every time. I generally don't like lavender-flavored products, but here it seems to support the particularly floral quality of Ballard Bee Company's honey in the ice cream. Neither flavor dominates. Each bite makes me think about why bees love flowers so much.

Parfait's push up pops, my daughter's favorite choice at the shop, are made with care by hand, with the thoughtfulness found in a fine French patisserie.

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These push up pops have just entered a new level of amazing. She's layering flavors now, and using summer ingredients. Holy cow.

Pictured here--clockwise from top right--are blueberry sherbet, raspberry creamsicle, nectarines & cream, cacao nib with cherry ripple, and fudgesicle. I've also seen apricot sorbet, probably using these gems from Tonnemaker Farm:

My greatest challenge has been choosing what to order. The best solution has been to return, repeatedly and frequently, until I have tried it all. Then the season changes. It's the best problem to have, really.

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Taco Salad in a Jar by Anne Livingston

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I'm such a fan of the "Salad in a Jar" trick. Get all the prep completed at once, layer in some delectable ingredients, and there's a week's worth of self-pampering waiting in the fridge. Pure brilliance! Who first thought of this? Well, thank you, good person. There are many great blogs out there with salad layering ideas. If I find some especially good ones, I'll share with you. If you find ones that you like, please let me know, also! I'm all over it.

If you are unfamiliar with the whole salad in a jar phenomenon/technique, I'll break it down for you briefly here. The salad is layered according to ingredients' varying degrees of density/durability (with the dressing, dense, and durable on bottom) to keep the ingredients at optimal freshness for as long as possible, up to about five days.

Putting ingredients in the jar might go in this order:

  • Layer 1 - dressing.
  • Layer 2 - heavy/dense ingredients, such as meat, beans, carrot. Shredded carrot or chopped celery can be nice at or near the bottom because they soak up dressing in a pleasant way once the salad is tossed. It just depends on what you like. Same goes for onion. If raw onion can be too intense for you, layer it in the bottom with the dressing, where the acid can mellow it out a bit. I also like cherry tomatoes near the bottom because they give off so much juice, they can add to the dressing.
  • Layer 3 - medium-dense vegetables, such as peppers, fruit, corn, cucumber.
  • Layer 4 - Cheese or nuts, if used.  This best separates these ingredients from the liquid of the dressing. However, if you are hoping to make salad with, say, blue cheese and you want the blue cheese to distribute nicely throughout the salad, it might be fun to experiment with adding blue cheese next to the dressing.
  • Layer 5 - The top layer consists of the lightest ingredients: tender greens, herbs, and sprouts. These are also the ingredients most likely to go bad. On the off chance the greens/herbs become too tired to go on anymore, you can put them out of their misery (pull them out and compost them), and replace them with fresh greens, if need be.

Other Salad-in-a-Jar Layering Tips:

  • Keep the jar upright to keep the ingredients separated and ensure the lasting freshness of the salad.
  • When it's time to eat the salad, turn the jar upside-down. Shake gently, if desired, or pour it directly into a large bowl or plate. The dressing that had been on bottom is now poured out over the salad.
  • Don't make more than 5 days' worth of salads. After that, the pre-cut greens can start to get a bit too wilt-y or browned.

Pictured above is a Taco Salad in a Jar. I loved the dressing I made for it--it was inspired by a cilantro aioli served on some huevos rancheros we had the other day at First Street Haven in Port Angeles. I'll share with you my dressing recipe below. Actually, the whole salad was a major winner. Even my 6 year old was chowing down on it tonight, and we are looking forward to lunch tomorrow! Good sign.

Is it the magic of the jar? The dressing? Who knows? Who cares? I just plan to keep that magic alive by recording what happened.

Taco Salad in a Jar

For each jar, add the ingredients in the following order:

  • 3 tablespoons Creamy Garlic Cilantro Dressing (recipe below)
  • 2 ounces poached, shredded chicken (about 1/2 cup)
  • 2 tablespoons chopped celery
  • 2 tablespoons cooked or roasted(!) corn
  • 1/4 cup cherry tomatoes (sungold pictured here)
  • 1/4 cup black beans (these could have been in the bottom layer)
  • 2 tablespoons chopped red pepper
  • 1 tablespoon red onion
  • a handful of tender greens, to fill the rest of the jar
  • a few sprigs of cilantro

Close jar lid tightly and refrigerate until ready for use.

I forgot to add shredded cheese and chopped avocado to this salad as it is pictured, so I sprinkled those on at the end. Next time I will put the avocado in the bottom with the dressing (so that the acid of the dressing would keep it from browning, even though the avocado is delicate) and the cheese right below the greens.

Enjoy this salad with a few tortilla chips and hot sauce, if desired.

Creamy Garlic Cilantro Dressing

Ingredients:

  • 1/4 cup yogurt
  • 3 tablespoons mayonnaise
  • 1/4 cup cilantro, minced finely
  • 1 clove garlic, minced finely or pressed
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • Juice of 2 small limes
  • Salt, to taste

Directions:

Whisk all the ingredients together or blend in a blender. 

 

Art of the Pie...and Life by Anne Livingston

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If you would like to know how to make the best pie on the planet, the kind that makes chefs cry out with joy, there is a pie class for you. It’s called Art of the Pie, and it’s taught by the warm and delightful Kate McDermott.

Yesterday I went to Kate’s Pie Cottage in Port Angeles and took this class. She keeps her groups tiny so that each of us students can have her full attention when we need it. The intimate nature of the class also helps us feel relaxed, which is important, because her Pastry Tip #1 states, “Keep everything chilled…especially yourself.”

When I was a kid, I first made a pie using a recipe from a cookbook. I had no pastry cutter and used two knives to cut the flour into the butter to make those pea-sized nuggets. Even that first step filled me with angst, worrying I wasn’t doing it right. I was the antithesis of “chilled.” So was my butter, by the time I was through with it.

Remembering my first pie-making moments and then watching Kate in action was a truly freeing experience. She tossed ingredients in, measuring with her hands, laughing and chatting with us. “Every pie is different,” she told us. She showed us how to measure ingredients by eyeballing it.

My inner kid, anxiously trying to get everything right, just relaxed and went along for the ride in her presence. We made pie, and we were chilled. I was actually a little overheated with excitement, but at least I wasn’t filled with angst.

In case you haven’t figured this out yet (I didn’t, at first), her pastry tips are also life tips. Her other two tips are just as vital to an awesome pie--and life.

Kate's Pastry Tip #2: Keep your boundaries.

Kate's Pastry Tip #3: Vent!

Kate showed us how to make these three Pastry Tips a reality. I think my "boundaries" were a little iffy (my pie dripped a bit in the oven), and this class helped me understand how to work on that, at least with my pies. I wonder if working on pie boundaries will help me with boundaries in life. I could see how making pie is a great activity for life meditation. 

This particular class was actually a gluten-free pie class. She teaches the gluten-free ones every once in a while. Making pie without gluten requires a different set of approaches and techniques. For example, using plastic wrap between yourself and your dough is key to working with it.

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It also helps to use two different rolling pins: a roller with handles works best for rolling out, and the more slender French rod makes it easiest to transport the dough to the pie plate.

Since I’ve only made pies with wheat flour before, it was especially fun to learn gluten-free pie strategies. Gluten-free baking is a relatively new field, and I felt like a baking pioneer working with these techniques. One of the women in my class experimented with different flours. I was impressed with her baking bravery! Just realizing yesterday how many flours and starches are available to us gives me a sense of many possible adventures with piemaking.

My husband, not a pie-lover, tasted some of this pie and, surprisingly, loved it. Remember, this is gluten-free pie, too. As for myself, many times I have enjoyed a slice of pie, only to leave the crust on the plate. I figured I was not a big fan of pie crust. However, this pie? While eating a slice, I would cut a forkful from the tip, then take a bite of that flavorful crust from the edge. At that rate, the crust was gone before the filling. What magic was happening, here?

If you want to know, I recommend learning with Kate. In addition to her classes at Pie Cottage, she also teaches pie camp! There’s one coming up on Whidbey Island this November in case you want to become a complete pie ninja and, you know, have a transformative life experience. Thank you, Kate!



Tomato Fried Eggs: A Chinese Comfort Food by Anne Livingston

How much comfort can you get from a different culture’s comfort foods? I wondered this when I started cooking at a girls’ international boarding house a couple of years ago. I distributed questionnaires to the girls and chatted with them about their favorite “homesick” foods. 

With the Chinese girls in particular, I was impressed by the depth of our culinary differences in their answers. Chicken feet! Preserved duck eggs! Fish balls! Beans for dessert! So many wonderful things they listed were beyond what I’d even heard of. Although I had trouble wrapping my mind around preparing a couple of dishes (prepping the chicken feet the first time was difficult), I loved almost every new dish I tried cooking, with the help of the girls’ advice, YouTube videos, and the kindness of a couple of Chinese women. I never fully mastered any one dish.  At least, however, I developed an appreciation and respect for real Chinese food, as elusive as it still is to me.

One of the dishes that came up in conversations and questionnaires was something called “tomato eggs.” I looked it up online, but as simple as the recipe sounded, I wanted real-life help. The school’s Mandarin teacher graciously came in to show me how to cook it while she was in between classes. Thanks to her and a few practice runs with good response from the girls, I feel like I have the hang of at least one authentic Chinese comfort food recipe, using ingredients found in many American kitchens.

And how is it as a comfort food? Oh, it hits the spot just right. Luxurious texture. Bold flavors. And yet the simple preparation and the short ingredient list make it as comforting as a plate of mac & cheese. You’ve got to try this if you like tomatoes and eggs. When prepared properly, the sum is so much greater than its parts.  Give it a whirl sometime this summer when you have extra tomatoes and want to try something new for breakfast (or lunch! Or dinner!). I feel like making it again, right now.

Tomato Fried Eggs

Serves 3

Ingredients:

  • 6 eggs
  • 1 tablespoon soy sauce or tamari
  • 1/4 teaspoon white pepper
  • 1 teaspoon cornstarch
  • 1/4 cup high heat oil, such as canola or sunflower
  • 2 scallions, sliced thinly
  • 3 or 4 roma tomatoes, or 2 larger tomatoes, chopped in large chunks, about 3/4”
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon sugar

 Directions:

  1. Beat the eggs with the soy sauce and the white pepper. In another small bowl, whisk the cornstarch in with 2 tablespoons of water.
  2. Heat a wok or large skillet over medium-high heat and add 2 tablespoons of the oil to the pan. When the oil shimmers, add the scallions and the eggs. Stir the eggs and scallions around quickly with a spatula, until almost completely cooked. Remove the eggs to a plate.
  3. Wipe out the wok or skillet, return it to the burner, and add the remainder of the oil. Add the tomatoes and sprinkle the salt and sugar over them. Cook for 1 minute, stirring with the spatula. Stir in the cornstarch slurry to thicken the juices, about 30 seconds.
  4. Return the eggs back to the pan, gently stir them in with the tomatoes, and serve immediately.

Hummingbird - A Juice Joint by Anne Livingston

It’s probably a good sign for a new restaurant when people cry tears of joy upon entering the place. That is what is happening over at Hummingbird – A Juice Joint. Let me back up a bit and give you some context.

Back around the 90’s, there was a place on Capitol Hill (and another in Belltown) called Gravity Bar. Here’s what was going on there: Ultra modern atmosphere. Super-happening clientele, meeting for lunch, first dates, or just checking out the scene. Sexy, badass women & men hustling to whip up healthy plates of food.  Vegetables, fruits and wheatgrass running at a constant whir through industrial juicers, yielding mysterious day-glow elixers that looked jewels and tasted like the sun. I had my first shot of wheatgrass juice there. And they had this other juice shot called “The Dragonslayer”: Lemon, ginger, garlic and cayenne. It was the perfect defense against an oncoming cold or a waning hangover. Gravity Bar made healthy food seem so much cooler than any other place I had been before. The food was delicious and made you feel good.

It was a sad day in Seattle when Gravity Bar closed its doors. People lamented online, looking for other places that could fill that spot in their hearts. Where could we get a fresh juice and simple, steamed vegetables with brown rice and tahini sauce, all while enveloped in a beautiful, kind-of-edgy atmosphere? There have certainly been some amazing places like that around town since Gravity Bar, and I love them, but nothing in Ballard.  

How can that be, anyway? Lots of healthy people live over here, and lots of cool people too. There’s been all kinds of Red Rover between Capitol Hill and Ballard in recent years, with successful places from one neighborhood popping up in the other. Sometimes people call Ballard a place where Capitol Hill people go to buy a house and have a kid (ahem). Anyway I think that our neighborhood has the potential to support an uber-healthy place that is also hip.

So finally, here we are! I was walking by on Market Street with my daughter and her friend and there it was: Hummingbird – A Juice Joint. They piped KEXP outside, so folks in outdoor seating could enjoy the music. Inside was spacious, airy, bright. Beautiful and friendly people greeted us, made us some perfect juice, joked around with us.

Wheatgrass grew near the juicer, ready for healing action.

Turns out the owner used to work at Gravity Bar. Of course! That is why the vibe has that familiar–yet its own unique–vibe. When I perused the menu and saw that the “Dragonslayer” shot was available (now called “Tiny Thunder”), that’s when the emotions became too much for me. I was, quite embarrassingly, getting choked up. One of the women who works there mentioned that someone else came in and started crying. I totally get it.

Since yesterday I’ve gone back for lunch and enjoyed a lightly dressed Kale Niçoise.

I’m looking forward to trying many items on the menu, such as the Rainbow Wrap (you can choose between whole wheat tortilla or collard green to do the wrapping) 

or the Strawberry Fields salad. As I sat there enjoying the music, the food, and the pleasant, breezy atmosphere, I saw a steady stream of people come in—a musician, a biker, lots of healthy people, lots of hipness and lots of realness. It was delightful! I can’t believe my luck. After I ate my lunch and enjoyed my vegetable juice I felt refreshed, satisfied, and--most definitely--sexier.

A few things that Hummingbird has that even Gravity Bar did not: potentially family friendly atmosphere, almost all organic ingredients, and wi-fi(!). Something tells me I’m going to be a regular there. 

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Chèvre and Fruit-Filled Puff Pastry by Anne Livingston

This week, I was telling my friend Heather about a fun recipe idea, and we had a misunderstanding about what I was describing.  But then we both decided that what she thought I meant, a chèvre-filled pastry, had potential for crazy deliciousness.  So, why not? I went ahead and made our miscommunicated recipe, and delivered it to her doorstep.   It was a winner at her house, hands down.  The added bonus? It’s so easy compared to how impressive it might appear.  These filled pastries would make a welcome addition to brunch, afternoon tea, or a potluck.      

Chèvre and Fruit-Filled Puff Pastry

Ingredients:

  • 1 package frozen puff pastry
  • 2/3 cup fresh chèvre
  • 1/3 cup red fruit jelly (I used Bon Maman’s Redcurrant Jelly)
  • 1/3 cup dried cranberries
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tsp. water

Directions:

  1. Preheat the oven to 350°.
  2. Remove puff pastry from the package and unfold it. Lay it on the worktable to thaw for 45 minutes. 
  3. Slice the pieces into a total of 18 squares (the natural folds of the puff pastry dough will create natural lines to create 2 sets of 9 squares).
  4. For 9 of the pieces, spoon about 1 T chèvre in the middle of each square, then top the chèvre with about a tsp. of the jelly and a few cranberries. 
  5. Brush a bit of water around a square, top it with an undecorated square, and seal it shut with your fingers.  You can also crimp the edges with a fork or crimper.  Repeat for all 9 pastries.
  6. Crack the egg into a small bowl and whisk it with 1 tsp. water.  Brush this egg wash on all the pastries and place them on a parchment-lined sheet pan.
  7. Bake until browned and cooked through, about 20 minutes.  Serve hot or at room temperature.

Winter Jeweled Meringues by Anne Livingston


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These crisp and bright cookies are simple to make.  My friend’s grandma calls these “forgotten cookies,” because in dry climates, you can throw them into a pre-warmed oven, turn the oven off, and forget about them overnight.  This is Seattle, however, so a wee bit of remembering is necessary after a couple of hours in a low oven in order to dry them to a perfect crunch.   Decorating the cookies with toasted nuts and zesty dried fruits makes a wintertime treat that tastes fantastic with tea.  They taste best on the day they are made, but they keep fairly well for about a week.


Ingredients:

  • 3 eggs
  • ¾ cup superfine sugar (you can make this by whizzing sugar in a food processor for 1 minute)
  • ½ tsp cream of tartar
  • Dash of salt
  • ½ tsp vanilla
  • 1/4 tsp ground cardamom
  •  2 T each of assorted nuts and dried fruits, (such as hazelnuts, pumpkin seeds, dried sour cherries, dried cranberries, candied ginger, and candied citrus peel)

Instructions:

  1. Separate refrigerator-cold eggs, setting aside the egg yolks in the fridge for another use, and letting the egg whites sit at room temperature while working on the rest of the preparations. 
  2. Line two cookie sheets with parchment. Preheat oven to 200°.
  3. Chop the dried fruits into about 1/4 inch pieces, keeping them separate if you want to arrange the "jewels," or mixing them together in a bowl if you plan on sprinkling them randomly. 
  4. If using hazelnuts, toast them in a skillet over medium heat for 3-5 minutes, moving the nuts constantly in the pan, until the toasted aroma wafts from the pan.  Watch carefully to avoid burning the hazelnuts.  Pour the nuts onto an unfolded dishtowel, then gather them together in the towel into a bundle, twisting at the top.  Then squeeze and twist the towel's contents  to rub and coax the hazelnut skins off.   Open the towel, and dust off the nuts.  Chop them until they are about the same size as the fruits. 
  5. If using pumpkin seeds, leave them whole.
  6. To make meringue:
  7. Using a hand mixer or a stand mixer, whip egg whites with cream of tartar and salt on medium-high speed, until they reach the soft peak stage, about 3 minutes. 
  8. Still whipping at medium-high, begin adding the sugar, a slow spoonful at a time, until all the sugar is incorporated into the whites. 
  9. Continue to whip egg whites until they reach the stiff peak stage.  You can determine this if you lift the beater whisk out of the bowl and turn it upside-down, and the egg whites stand straight up. 
  10. Add the cardamom and briefly whip it into the egg whites.
  11. Drop the meringue by the teaspoonful onto the cookie sheets, briefly swirling them smooth and into round cookie shapes.  Placement can be close together, because the cookies will not spread.  
  12. Either carefully arrange or randomly scatter the fruits and nuts all over the cookies to your liking.
  13. Put the cookie sheets into the oven, and bake for 2 hours, moving the cookie sheets to trade positions on the oven shelves after an hour.  At this point, after cooling a cookie and testing for crispness, you can turn the oven off and leave them on their cookie sheets for hours (or days!).  They can also be stored in an airtight container. If they become less crisp, they can be re-dried a bit in a 200° oven for 10 minutes, or until crispness is restored.


Easy Sexy Garlic Quinoa by Anne

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If you're an avid quinoa lover, you might know how it's almost nutritionally perfect--a vegetarian source of complete protein.  In ancient times the Incas regarded quinoa to be sacred, using it as an offering to the sun god, Inti.  Some Incans even worshipped quinoa itself.  So I sure do feel like an a-hole when I get bored eating it.

This is more of an idea than a recipe, but it blows my mind every time.   My 5 year old kid even loves it, and that's saying something.  When I eat this luscious, full-bodied version of quinoa, there is no boredom, only love.  Make it even better by adding some minced veggies, fried egg, or even leftovers to have some fried-rice-style goodness.

Ingredients (amounts vary depending on your taste. Don't be shy with that garlic) :

  • Quinoa
  • Olive oil
  • Garlic
  • Water
  • Salt

Directions:

  1. Cook up a batch of quinoa (or use leftovers).  
  2. Warm some olive oil in a skillet over medium-high heat.  
  3. Briefly cook several cloves of minced garlic in the pan until the seductive aroma of garlic fills the room (no more than 15 seconds--DO NOT LET IT BROWN).  
  4. Immediately dump in the quinoa.   Pour in a few tablespoons of water or stock to avoid scorching, and stir completely.  Adding a small amount of water is very important and adds a surprising feeling of luxury to the texture.  
  5. Allow water to evaporate and soak in, about 1 minute.  
  6. Sprinkle with Maldon's sea salt (or other flaky salt).  
  7. Enjoy thoroughly.  Thank ancient Andean peoples.

Love Notes to Culinary School by Anne

I've had almost a year post-graduation to reflect on my experience of culinary school, and it's almost been enough time to clear the weird post-school haze out of my brain. There was so much focus, angst, passion, apathy, tomfoolery, testosterone, and Sriracha sauce behind the scenes.   Soon I hope to share useful or interesting info and ideas from school that I learned along the way but was too harried to sit down and jot out, let alone photograph.

But meanwhile, for today, here are a few pictures.  I've had the joy of being "allowed" around campus with my camera.  I hoped to give a sense of what life is like at Seattle Culinary Academy when people are in the zone.  It's a great school--in my opinion, the best one around here.   I love the fact that we didn't just learn traditional French cookery, although that was one component.  Where else in the world would I have an intense, high speed opportunity to learn about and cook different cuisines around the world, from Japanese to Oaxacan to Middle Eastern?

Then, of course, there was the sustainability component.  At school they had classes on sustainability in the world of food.  This focus ranged from farm to restaurant to policy-building.  The classes--and the instructors' passion--were key to the quality of the program, in my opinion.  They were inspiring and motivating.  There were farm visits, growing our own greens in the campus greenhouse, and practicing nose-to-tail butchery (using the whole animal).

We learned fundamentals, such as making a good stock, sauces, and how to season properly.

bakeshop.spreading
bakeshop.spreading

I know less of the pastry side of things because the program is separated so that you select culinary or pastry for your focus.  I did have several rotations in the bakeshop (or as the culinary students called, it, Bakation. It really does have a balmy, dreamy vibe in there).  However, my friends in the program liked it as well.  It's just a completely different experience, the two programs-within-a-program.

One thing that impressed me about the chef instructors is their desire to see us succeed beyond the program.  In other words, if people needed a job they would definitely look to the instructors, who would help them find leads using their own connections in the industry.  They weren't just great teachers, they were mentors.  People sort of gravitated towards their favorites.  One of mine is pictured below, preparing for a modernist cuisine lesson.

It wasn't my favorite part of the program, but we also did "Front of House" training (i.e., serving the guests/customers in the two restaurants the school runs).  I used to wait tables, and how in the heck did I do it?  I must have changed.  Some people really do an amazing job of it, making it look effortless--they appear gracious, friendly, and thoughtful.  I only hope that I appeared that way, but inside I felt awkward, physically uncomfortable, and grumpy.  There is a real psychic toll that it takes, and I don't even know why.  Guests would be perfectly nice, and yet by the end of the shift I would be gasping to get out of my uniform like it was made out of lead.  Anyway, I have a true respect for waiters that I only thought I had before.  In my opinion, being in the kitchen was better, but front of house workers can make or break a restaurant.

One of my favorite parts of school, that I wish I could keep doing forever, was experimenting and recipe developing.  What a fun job it would be to create new, delicious dishes out of a given palate of flavors.   It would be a bonus if I could do this with healthy, sustainably grown, beautiful food.  I've had a little bit of a chance to do that out of school for my various jobs, so that feeds me, so to speak. 

The Tin Table by Anne

This weekend is special for my friend Hallie Kuperman.  She owns the Century Ballroom, and Friday kicks off  The Century's 15th anniversary party, which this year will be a weekend-long celebration. You are invited.  Have you ever seen this place?  It's upstairs in the Oddfellows Hall on Capitol Hill.  Shiny wood, swirling dancers, vintage details...it is a timeless place that sends music out of the open windows and into the world, intriguing passersby outside.  Those inside feel lucky to be there. In fact, I remember dancing at The Century's first anniversary party--how can it already be 14 year ago?--and thinking how amazing it was to be part of such a magical place.  I still do.  A few years ago Hallie extended that magic right across the hall by creating the restaurant The Tin Table.  It's named after a giant tin fire door they found inside a wall during remodeling.  It now proudly welcomes guests into the heart of the dining room, repurposed as a majestic table.  I love that they reclaimed this treasure that was stuck, hidden behind walls, and they brought it out into the open for people to sit at and celebrate around.

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Recently Hallie asked me to take some shots of The Tin Table's latest menu for their website.   Chef Travis Chase has such a natural and elegant style!  He just makes it all look effortless.

Chick Pea Fritters.  Honey Yogurt, Frisée, Cucumber, Chive Oil,  Preserved Lemon

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Sturgeon. Shaved Fennel, Red Onion, Red Pepper, Scallion, Harissa Vinaigrette

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Braised Beef Short Rib.  Creamy Parsnip Purée, Braised Greens, Rapini, Smoked Port Reduction

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Cassoulet . Pork Belly, Lamb Leg, Flageolet Beans, Herb Brioche Crumbs

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 Warm Pear Tart. Cream Cheese Crust, Pears, Praline Ice Cream, Goat Caramel

If you come out to The Tin Table, I hope you enjoy one of these beautiful dishes.  Or maybe try the egg noodle tagliatelle with rabbit ragu and black trumpet mushrooms.  It's the soul-feeding kind of dish that makes you feel like your dearest one lovingly prepared it for you after a long day.  Especially if your dearest one has a sense of elegance, style, and beautifully balanced flavors.

Whether you come out this weekend to dance and drink a toast to the Century, or you visit another day to sample some of Chef Travis' creations, I think you'll find yourself deliciously transported into a place that could be your second (fabulous) home.

Making Sole Meunière by Anne

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sole.meuniere

Filet of Sole Meunière

Fat, buttery snowflakes are plopping on the front yard, and I'm not even glad.  Why?  Because I want to go to school tomorrow--to have the opportunity to make braised sweetbreads.  As in, cow's thymus gland.  I didn't think I'd be excited about it, but today I put them into water to soak overnight, and once I had my hands on them, I was very intrigued by their complete oddity.  My classmate told me today that getting the membranes off is a pain in the neck.  The curiosity has taken over.  What will it be like?  Also, how will it taste after braising a couple hours in a sauce?

Today I cooked up some Filet of Sole Meunière at school (24 times).  You can look up the recipe for this just about anywhere, but I'd like to share with you some of the techniques, guidelines, and tricks taught to me by Chef KG and also by Steve, a 5th Quarter who was helping in the kitchen today.

Sole Meunière is a simple and intensely tasty way to eat your butter.  It's fried in butter, then served with a lemony butter sauce.

Heat your pan over medium-high to high heat, without adding fat yet.  Sprinkle your fish with salt and pepper.

After the pan is hot (no need to use a non-stick if you do this right), add clarified butter.  As you let the butter heat up, dredge the fish in flour.  Only do this at the last minute or the flour will get gummy.

The fish is then fried in the hot clarified butter, on both sides. Using clarified butter for this is great because it has a higher smoke point.  Your fish is so thin that you'll want to use high heat to get a nice, crusty finish on each side before that sucker is all cooked through.  It only takes a couple of minutes.

It's a delicate fish.  Flip once.  Start with presentation side down (flesh side, not skin side--even if the skin is off) on the pan.

After removing the sole and arranging it on your serving plate, you add some (not-clarified) butter to the pan and brown it, making "beurre noisette."  Noisette means hazelnut.  The milk solids in butter become brown and nutty in appearance and aroma.

After you finish browning your butter--hence adding more complex flavors to the sauce you're building in the pan, you add some lemon juice.

Here's a trick Steve taught me today with that lemon juice.  Tilt the pan over your heat so that all the butter is at the bottom.  Add the lemon juice from the top, so it runs down the super-hot pan to finally reach the butter at the bottom.  By doing this, you reduce the lemon juice briefly, in its trip down.  I have no idea how much reduction you get by doing that, but it sure is fun.

After the lemon juice, add chopped parsley to your sauce.  Quickly swirl, then pour over the fish on the plate(s).  Garnish with lemon slices and more parsley (if desired).

Lots of Hustle by Anne

2.1.11.phad thai
2.1.11.phad thai

 I was doing so well with a weekly update of school.   Then the last four weeks happened.   It's been hard to reflect this quarter.  My days at school have gone something like: "Then we made this thing.  Then we made this other thing. Then we did that.  Then we did another thing." Go, go, go, a go-go. No wonder I'm so dang tired right now.  There's been a big heaping of hustle-your-bustle this quarter.  I really get what people meant about 2nd Quarter showing you what you're really made of.  Yep.  I definitely am seeing the stuff I'm made of.   Just not a lot of time to think about it.

One of my classmates has been cooking in commercial kitchens for 15 years, since he was 16.  Another was the head of a kitchen for many many years.   They are not as challenged as the rest of us.  But as for the rest of us... whew.

In order, the four last weeks' stations were:

1. Sous Chef (My partner and I did the leading thing for the rest of the class that week)

2. Breakfast/Asian Station (Two days of making breakfast-for-lunch, then two days for making the assigned Asian dishes)

3. Butchery (We fabricated meats needed by our classmates for their dishes, plus we make our own entrée for Student Lunch)

4. Sushi/Stocks, Sauces & Soups (Two days of sushi, one day of stocks & sauces, then one day in the Bistro kitchen making soup for the actual Public At Large)

These were intense weeks.  Sous Chef was alright, actually.  I activated my inner Sixth Grade Teacher and got organized.  It felt like a successful week, and I received good feedback from people about how the kitchen was "run."

Even so, it was exhausting.  At times I had some misanthropic feelings, especially towards folks who acted ungracious when we served them lunch.  There were not many of them, but they sucked.  As they say, the only people complaining about student lunch are the people who are not making student lunch.

I didn't complain last quarter, and I sure as hell will not complain in quarters to come.  On principle.  Even if they serve me crap-on-a-plate.  I'll just eat salad.  I've seen it from the front lines: people are doing their best.

Breakfast and Asian Station were fun but took longer than I would have expected.  My favorite parts of that week were making phad thai with an industrial wok (the dish pictured above was my practice run of that dish), and the shirred eggs and "overnight" waffles with yeast.  A pastry student from the program asked me for the recipe for the waffles.  Waffle awesomeness!

Butchery was a station that I expected to love but then didn't.  I left school every day feeling frustrated and raw.  I liked the actual butchery part, but I think there were some ways that the station was set up that weren't conducive to our learning.  Here's some meat!  Go! 

Even so, I had some good experiences that week. My partner and I deboned chickens while still intact (remember when Chef showed us earlier in the quarter? Now we can do it, too!!)  and made a "ballotine" by rolling it with a stuffing, cinnamon-roll-style, then serving it with a Madeira sauce.  I also got to make a smoked pork roast that I deboned myself.  In the near future I need to continue to work on chicken fabrication, because our end-of-quarter knife competency will be cutting up chickens in different ways, in a certain number of minutes.

This week my sushi rotation went well, although slow.  Anyone in the sushi station has to decide: perfect and beautiful sushi, or get 'er out there?  I, and the helpers that were assigned to me, tried to make mostly beautiful sushi.   So I wouldn't call us early.  Anyway, I'm glad we got it out without Chef KG saying, "Where's the sushi?"  (Which he will do, if you're too, too late).  One thing I felt proud of in this station was my mis en place (how all my ingredients were set up before I got started).  Things were organized and neat.  This felt good, especially with a project that has so many ingredients.  Also especially because my mis en place outside of school is more like "Holy crap, where's the baking soda?!?"

Soup station yesterday was a wonderful moment in time.  I was in the 3rd Quarter kitchen, and it was one of the most relaxed days I've had in the kitchen so far.   There wasn't much to do, and everyone was relatively chilled out.  After making some salmon chowder and cleaning & steaming some mussels, I had a chance to taste eight or nine dishes from the 5th quarter "COD (Chef of the Day)" project.  This was inspiring and fascinating.  3 students' menus were being presented that day, so plate after beautiful plate was being sent back to the kitchen for Chef Vicky to grade.

After she finished tasting and rating a plate, she would put it on the counter, which happened to be at my station, for the students to try.  People would come over with spoons to taste, reflect, and react.  I was ladling up stock into containers to freeze, so I just went through a soothing process of taste, ladle, reflect, taste, ladle,  reflect.  Having the time to ponder on  different flavor combinations was so different from the rest of this action-packed quarter.  It felt collegial, magical.  Everyone passing by was interested and had a different, personal reaction to what they tried.

It was also cool to listen to the chefs' reactions.  The beets gratin from an Eastern Bloc menu, which I particularly loved, were also exciting to Chef Vicky.  She pointed out that the crisp part at the bottom was particularly delicious.  A few minutes later I passed through Chef KG's (our) kitchen and saw the same dish sitting there at a table.  I commented to Chef KG that I loved that gratin, and he said, "Yeah.  A little overcooked,though."  Really?  I went to taste it again, from the dish in his kitchen, and sure enough, that plate's gratin had a little tougher consistency than the one in 3rd quarter kitchen.  I wonder what happened to make the two gratins turn out so differently.  I also wonder what it will be like in just a few quarters when I'm making my own COD project.

There have been some other glimmers of excitement and culinary inspiration:  Yesterday morning Chef KG showed us some fun cuts and garnishes, including making cherry blossoms (and plum blossoms) from carrots, and carving a ball inside a cage with a potato.  Who cares if you never cook with that potato? It is so dang cool.  I will definitely carve another one and take a pic for your amusement.

Also, there's a tapas competition coming up at school.  The two winners will then go to Spain to compete with people around the world with their tapas.  I'm going to submit some ideas to Chef Karen (which is what we're supposed to do to see if we qualify for the next round).  So my mind is constantly mumbling to itself about flavor ideas right now.  It's a good feeling.

Anyway, I'm tired.  I feel compelled, for posterity's sake, to record what I "produced" in these last 16 school days:

Breakfast:

  • Shirred eggs with gruyere and cayenne
  • Eggs Benedict with shaved ham
  • Omelets with shallots, mushrooms, and fresh thyme
  • Eggs over easy
  • Light & fluffy pancakes
  • Overnight waffles (with yeast)
  • Hash browns
  • Sausage

Asian Station

  • Tenshin Don (Rice bowl with crab omelet, peas, and sauce)
  • Phad Thai

Butchery

  • Chicken Ballotine with Madeira Sauce
  • Smoked Pork Shoulder
  • Roasted Chicken au Jus Lié

Sushi

  • Nigiri:
    • Ebi (shrimp)
    • Atsuyaki Tamago (omelet)
    • Unagi (freshwater eel)
    • Hosomaki (small rolls with nori on outside of roll):
      • Kampyo (dried, rehydrated gourd) roll
      • Tekuwan (pickled daikon radish) roll
      • Kappa Maki (cucumber roll)
      • California roll
      • Futomaki ("Fat" roll with tamago, kampyo, spinach, mushroom, and denbu--pink fish flakes)

Stocks and Sauces:

  • Espagnole sauce
  • Brown roux
  • Halibut fumet

Soups

  • Salmon chowder

Gifts by Anne

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IMG_9761

The picture above--of my daughter and me enjoying a creation that took patience and several days to create, has nothing to do with the cooking I've been doing this week.  That picture would be a blur. Second Quarter's Practicum--our main class--is called "Quantity Cooking."  As I've said before, we're cooking for all the culinary students at our school.  Before knowing anything about the school, I assumed it would be more like banquet-style--creating enormous vats of food and spooning portions from chafing dishes over sterno flames.  This is not the case.

Instead, if you're making entrées, you need to time it so that you churn out several at a time, because the students come at anytime between 11 and 12:30.  Is there a regularity to their arrival?  Not really.  It's all based on what's going on in that class's reality that day.  Sometimes they come in for lunch in waves, and other times they trickle in like a leaky faucet.  Sometimes we have too many plates available to be picked up, sometimes not enough.

This makes it more of a challenge to feed them fresh, hot food.  You should see how quickly a plate of perfect pasta can dry out under the lamp.

Swedish Meatballs were a perfect first-day item to serve.  Now there's some banquet food.  If I had to, I could have cooked them all at the same time and served them in a hotel pan over the course of an  hour and a half, no problem.  The Mediterranean-Style Quinoa Wraps were also a great make-ahead, and they seemed to go fast, too.

The Fusilli with Italian Sausage, Roasted Tomatos and Braising Greens? Not as easy, because there was last-minute sautéeing involved.  The Salmon en Papillote was another toughie.  Sharing ovens with other people can get tricky, especially with fish.  Especially if people change the oven temp for their own dish--while your fish is cooking in there--and you don't know it.  Especially if your papillote (parchment envelope) is the size of the Goodyear Blimp and your portion of salmon is just shy of 4 ounces.  Note: if you make that recipe, make sure you make an envelope that is proportioned to the fillings, otherwise it will dry out (or leak)!

Anyway, not a single dish I made ended up tasting as good as when I make it at home.  Big surprise!  Actually, it was a big surprise.  But the other big surprise is the positive feedback I got for dishes anyway.   People liked each of those menu items, and took the time to tell me so.   I had to battle with myself to keep from blurting, "Really?!" or "It's usually waaaay better."   A few times, with some of my friends, I did admit that it's usually better when I make it at home.

BUT!

Julia Child's wisdom, to never apologize for your cooking, is great advice.   At bare minimum, you diminish their enjoyment of the food by criticizing it.   So most of the time, when someone said they liked my (dry, but on-other-occasions tender and juicy) salmon, I would try to just smile and say, "Thank you."  Because just as my food was a (hastily wrapped) gift to them, their kind words were a gift to me.  So I should just take the valentine and smile.

Today's the last day I'm on the "student entree" rotation, which means the food I'll cook for the rest of the quarter will usually be recipes assigned to me, rather than ones I bring myself.  Today I'll have another chance to be gracious and grateful.  My goal today? No apologies or explanations.  Only thanks.

Watch out for Flying Eggs by Anne

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eggs

This morning before class started, my classmate turned around and warned us, "The substitute teacher today is supposed to be really strict, you guys.  He used to teach here."  We straightened up and tried to contain ourselves a little better.  We'd been noisy and laughing up until then. When class started, though, and the substitute started talking, it became clear that this guy was quite funny, himself.  Also, chatty.  The powerpoint slide from the lesson plan was cued up for "eggs - sunny side up", but somehow he started telling us about this enormous (hot-tub sized!) antique cast-iron pot in his collection--for picnics needing a lot of corn on the cob. 

There were plenty other tidbits, too.  He talked about a severe boss he had a long time ago (in the 60's) who would throw his tray of lunch down the hall if it was cooked incorrectly.  So basically this chef/substitute was telling us jokes, and they were funny, but we were caught up on the idea that he was supposed to be this hard-nosed guy.  On his end, he must have been thinking of us, "Geez, tough crowd!" It took awhile for us to loosen up, and we were also wondering a bit if we would learn the lesson plan for eggs.  

Class was nearing an end, and he had a hard-cooked egg and a raw egg in each hand.  "How can you tell when an egg is cooked on the inside or not?" he asked us.

 I answered something about rolling the two eggs, and the less wobbly one was cooked. Then he demonstrated the spinning trick.  If you spin a cooked egg, it really spins.  The raw egg sort of peters out after a few go 'rounds.  I commented, "Wow, that works a lot better than my idea.  Less likely for eggs to break." 

"What?" he asked.

"I said, it's less likely for the egg to break-"

And that's when he threw the egg at me.

I think he was tossing it to me to scare the crap out of me, which he did. But his throw was a bit short, so it hit the floor on the far side of the table where I sat.  It smashed on the floor and people shrieked and laughed with surprise.  It was so funny, but I'm also slightly confused.  Was that part of the lesson plan? Has he pulled that trick for years, each year, for each class? Or was he feeling especially jolly and egg-tossy today? Anyway, he's subbing for us again tomorrow and I'll have my catcher's mitt ready this time.

Tonight I practiced an upcoming task that awaits me in second quarter kitchen in a few weeks: Eggs Benedict.   Happily, they were a great success.   My husband commented, "This sauce tastes light and airy! What's the main ingredient in it besides butter?"  Mmmm....not much.  Oh, and lemon and egg yolks. Completely delectable and equally unphotographable.  Trust me, you don't want to see the quick shots I took before dinner.  It will probably be on my to-do list now: photographing hollandaise sauce without making it look absurdly viscous and gross.

But!  If you find yourself making Eggs Benedict, I've got a wine pairing idea for you:  Rioja!  If you're a big red wine fan and wish to have it with every meal possible, go with Rioja for your Eggs Benedict dinner.  Wine stewards and pairing books will tell you about some amazing whites and also some bubblies that will pair amazingly with this dish, but Spain is nothing if not a ham-obsessed country.  They also love their eggs, baby.  Bold rioja tastes so good with the big, bright flavors of the ham and hollandaise.  The egg is a gentle balance and the toasted muffin adds mildly sweet crunch.

Well, it's been an eggy day, and tomorrow promises more of the same with omelette practice.  Can't wait to see what the teacher throws at us this time--literally.

Pots, Wraps, and Chix by Anne

mediterranean quinoaThis week began with a bang: The banging of pots, that is.  Although our class begins production this week and cooks for the rest of the culinary and pastry students, my own rotation this week is not even in the kitchen, it's in the dish pit. This is a great thing, though. I have an enthusiastic, almost unnatural love of the dish pit.   It's a big, fast, messy game to me to get the dishes cleaned.  The faster, the better.  I always think of dishwashers (in restaurants) as the drummers of the place.  Not subtle mellow jazz drummers, though.  More like that wacky Animal on the Muppet Show.  At least the dishwashers I like.  The ones that yell, "Bring it on!" and pace around their soapy domains like caged tigers.  So this week I embrace my inner muppet drummer, I guess you could say.  LET'S GO!

Meanwhile, next week my partner and I have "Student Entree" as our station, which means we're coming up with menu items to serve.  This is one of the creativity portions of the quarter.  Anyway, one of the days I'm assigned to do a vegetarian dish.  Looking through a couple cookbooks for inspiration, I saw a recipe entitled "Mediterranean Quinoa."  This both inspired me and led me on a real culinary wild goose chase.

The actual recipe didn't excite me, but suddenly Mediterranean Quinoa was the only thing on earth, apparently, that would do for the menu.  Sometimes I get stuck on an idea and can't let it go.  So I made quinoa and made it into a salad:  artichoke hearts, kalamata olives, mint, red bell peppers, onion, feta cheese, lemon juice, olive oil, you know. All the good things in life.    However, as a quinoa salad it fell flat.  Actually, it fell quite sharp--as in, tart, bright, and no depth.

To bring full, round flavors I added garbanzo beans, and then to make it more creamy I made some tzatziki, thanks to the great recipe provided by Kristen.  I tasted all this together, and it still just was wrong, wrong wrong.  Too much goo and not enough crunch.  Then it occurred to me: why not make this into a sandwich, or better yet, a wrap?  1/4 cup of tzatziki plus a cup of the quinoa salad, topped with lettuce and onions and wrapped in a whole wheat tortilla.  Hot dang!  We have a great vegetarian item for next week.

This whole figuring-out process caused me lots of angst, I have to say.  You know when you wake up in the morning and then are filled with dread because you remembered that last night you: wrecked your car, lost that important letter, said something hideously stupid at a party?  Well, I had that dread when I was in the midst of working on the quinoa salad situation.  Usually it's not so dire, but I suppose it is homework, after all. And I'm a good little student.  A quinoa-wrappin' kind of student.  What a huge relief to get that figured out.  Once the recipe is really, really finalized I'll post it.

Today Chef KG showed us some snazzy ways to fabricate (as in, cut up) chicken.  We made various types of boneless chicken breast ("airline" and "supreme" and "frenched"), and we also learned how to remove the bone from a chicken leg.  For the grand finale, Chef showed us how to de-bone a chicken...without taking it apart.  Can you believe it?

By the end of the demo, he had a large, chicken-meat rectangle, free of bones.  I was stunned by how easy he made it look.  With this meat slab, you can smooth it over with a filling and roll it up into a ballantine--when you slice the roll up, you get a spiral of chicken that includes both dark meat and light meat, as well as the filling.  So dreamy! I can't believe that I'm going to be making those chicken rectangles...and soon.  Better get crackin' (bones.  Sorry, vegetarians.  But I have a great wrap for you).

Why a Rice Cooker Is Smarter than Me by Anne

riceIIOne time last quarter I turned the rice cooker off at 15 or 20 minutes, because I was following some instructions in a recipe packet.  When I opened the lid, guess what?  Rice soup.  I turned the cooker back on, panicked that I had “re-set” the rice cooker and was afraid that it wouldn’t stop by itself before making rice crust.  However, it did stop, at the perfect time.  How does this work?

I learned today from Chef KG how a rice cooker is so smart.  Inside the cooker itself, right under where you put the bowl insert (where the rice goes), there is a flat disk that makes contact with the bottom of the bowl insert.  It senses the temperature of the insert itself.  When water is heated, it can only reach a certain temperature before it starts to boil, hence keeping the temperature at a level 212˚.  The boiling water keeps the temperature of the insert constant, as well. 

As the water begins to both evaporate and soak into the rice, there is no longer any water to keep the insert at around 212˚, so it starts to heat up.  The sensor notices this and switches from “cook” to “warm.”  Brilliant!  Much more brilliant than me, the packet-reading instruction follower.

Another tidbit I learned today:  Shiitake mushrooms--are silly.  Yes, that’s like saying salsa sauce.  Shiitake means “shii mushroom.”   This is the department of redundancy department ordering a pound of shii mushroom mushrooms, please, for the department. 

Tidbits taken care of now, I want to reflect on this, the first day of second quarter.  First I’m really seeing how we were coddled last quarter.  It was important to do that.  We needed to focus on knife skills.  We needed to get a sense of what the school was all about.  We needed to pass sanitation and math classes.  Now we’re really getting down to it.  No more Mr. Nice Chefs--although our main teacher, Chef KG, is wonderful.  He’ll push us to greatness with tough love, I hope, but he’s also really funny and personable. 

Second quarter’s first day brings a rumbling of approaching new experiences.  Makes me think of the roaring-train sound that Oklahoma tornadoes make when they’re heading your direction.  Throughout the day they told us everything we’ll be doing in the next 12 weeks.  It’s a lot to process.  Of course, once we get started, it will be one day at a time.  Nothing beyond what any of us can do. 

Even though I’m sure of my work ethic and my proudly earned organization skills, even though I think I know how to “hustle” in the kitchen fairly well, let’s face it.  I am nervous!  At least I’ve got these smarty-pants rice cookers on my side.

Shrimp Beignets, Take One by Anne

shrimp.beignets "Looks good--what are these?" I asked, as usual, at Student Lunch a few weeks ago.  Of course they looked good--they were deep fried.  Anyway, turns out they were "tempura" vegetables with a beignet batter.   They were light, crisp, faintly sweet, and insanely compelling to eat.  I was sitting across the table from Chris, a 2nd quarter student, who had his plate piled high with them.  "Aren't these awesome?" I said to him--though with my mouth full, it was more like, "Ammt veev awffm?" 

"I made 'em!" he said.  Chris cooks at Barking Frog in Woodinville, and making beignet batter is one of his regular tasks.  Since it was near the end of school, he whipped this out, one of his default recipes.  Personally, I'm looking at it as a secret weapon.  I continued to rave about them, but he was pretty humble.  He complained that they had too much baking soda in them.  I can only imagine what they taste like when they are perfect. 

Anyway, they've been on my mind, so I looked up "Barking Frog Beignets" to see what they actually use the batter for.  Apparently they serve crab beignets, with an herbed crab concoction hidden inside.  Sounds dreamy! 

Today I picked up some shrimp at the store and decided to take the plunge for dinner tonight.   I'll call this round a pleasant first stab at seafood beignets--definitely no award-winner.  My batter was simple, with flour, salt, sugar, baking soda, and sparkling water.  In other words, not a beignet.  From what I have read in the last hour, this is definitely not a traditional beignet recipe.  Sometimes you've just gotta slap it up there and see what happens.  I will say, though, that my family gobbled them up. 

In case you haven't already sneaked off to Wikipedia,  I'll sum up: beignets are basically french doughnuts.  It's a term that refers to fried dough or batter. It can be made with yeasty batter or a basic Pâte à choux (butter, eggs, flour, and water).  Definitely not the recipe I was using.

Looks like I'll be heading over to Barking Frog soon to taste savory beignets again.  Or asking Chris for some beignet words of wisdom.  Or both.  If you've got a good beignet recipe at your house, I'd love to hear about it.