L’Shana Tovah and Happy Shakshouka Season

A glass of wine, thick, crunchy bread and a pot full of shakshouka is all a girl needs to get through fall. I hadn’t timed my serving of this Israeli (breakfast) stew to match with the Jewish new year, the holiday of Rosh Hashannah, but perhaps it was all on my mind, so I’ll embrace the timing as I tell you the story of this delectable stew.

Shakshouka is a soul warming dish, a centerpiece to a table around which strangers or family can gather and dip their bread together. One of those dishes that can call people to dine with aroma alone, as it wafts from the kitchen. The weather was decidedly fall like and B’s mom was in town, our vegetables from the garden were going gangbusters. It is shakshouka season.

I make no claim on the authenticity of my shakshouka, I simply know how I make it and my own love for this recipe. I learned it from a pair of Israeli girls in a beach town in southern Ecuador during the national holiday there. I had taken a mini-break from my job and traveled to the beach, planning to spend a few nights in Puerto Lopez, then move south to Montanitas. In Puerto Lopez I was told I’d be crazy to think I could get a hotel room in Montanitas, so I traveled south a day early to make arrangements for the next night. Truly, there was not a room in the town, but this pair of Israeli ladies heard me bargaining with the hotel owner (he was trying to charge me an obscene price to sleep on the couch in the lobby, with nowhere to lock my stuff). They had an extra bed in their room, I could stay there. Arrangements were made with the hotel owner and I left, to return the next day to my room.

It was a different town the following night. For months in Ecuador I had seen no sign of wealth, Americanization or western fashion, suddenly the town was filled with Ecuadorians in Prada, Gucci, driving BMWs, it was a surreal world. Restaurants were packed, offering dinners at five times the normal cost. The Israeli girls and I were joined by a Canadian gal and we wandered the street in search of a reasonably priced dinner. None was to be had. Passing a random, somewhat sorry, vegetable stand, the girls declared that they would cook for us. We picked up a few ingredients and within 15 minutes, these ladies had turned about a dollar’s worth of ingredients into one of the most delicious things I’ve ever had.

At its absolute simplest, Shakshouka involves this:

5 medium sized tomatoes, in chunks
1 Onion, sliced
Olive oil
Garlic
Salt and Pepper
2 Eggs
Bread

(Serves 2)
You simply saute the onions and garlic in the olive oil, season with salt and pepper (lots of pepper–its the main flavoring here), add the tomatoes, stirring until soft, simmering for a few minutes, then break the eggs over the top, allowing them to poach in the liquid. When the whites are no longer translucent, pull the dish off the stove and serve with crusty bread, breaking the bread off and picking up stew and eggs with it.

That was the version (I think we may have added a few bell peppers) that I ate that night in Ecuador. I have made a grand variety of versions since then, for large groups of hungry college students, for picky eating children, for anyone, and it is always a hit. Last night was the most extravagant version I’ve ever made.

(Serves 4)

4 medium sized tomatoes, in chunks
1 zucchini or summer squash
2 carrots
6 cloves of garlic
1 pound ground lamb
a handful of various types of hot and sweet peppers
1 teaspoon of cumin seed
1 small can of tomato paste
1 Onion, sliced
Olive oil
Salt and Pepper
4 Eggs
Bread

This version is made in much the same way as the basic version. Saute the peppers, onions, garlic, tomato paste and cumin seed in olive oil, add the tomatoes, lamb, carrots and squash, season with salt and a lot of pepper, let the whole thing simmer for about ten minutes, then add the eggs to poach, serving with crusty bread.

An Event, A Thought on Cheese, A Product and A Recipe

There is a back log of things I want to post on and I’m just going to let them all go right here, for your enjoyment: a fun event this weekend, murmurs of what is being called a ‘burrata crawl’, a new product I love and the recipe for a dish that I’ve eaten for 4 straight meals.

Farm to Table Food for Thought

The Kitsap public library was kind enough to invite me out for this ‘gourmet picnic’ and I’m actually really excited about it. In addition to talks by a number of local food writers (Molly of Orangette, Shauna aka Gluten-Free Girl and Lorna Yee of Cookbook Chronicles), there will be food provided by Monica Downen of Monica’s Waterfront Bakery and Cafe, local wineries and breweries and Kitsap food chain information. Tickets are $50 from here. We are going to walk onto the Southworth ferry with our little puppy because this is a dog friendly event! Oh, hey, did I mention I got a puppy?

A Thought-a on Burrata

I love burrata and have loved this creamy, delicious cheese since I first tried it at Cowgirl Creamery in San Francisco. I used to bring it back with me, unable to find it here. It has since become available all over the place, though only Delancy serves the brand that I like from California. Metropolitan Market carries some expensive Italian stuff, and it just is not fresh enough. Calf and Kid (which I love!) carries a kind that I find doesn’t mix the outer mozzarella portion with the inner mascarpone part, meaning it seems to have a skin.

In the last few weeks I’ve heard that Lark is making their own burrata and that Marjorie also has burrata on the menu. Where else carries it? I’m hoping to organize a taste test of all of them so I can establish a regular source around here! Leave me any burrata knowledge in the comments.

Korean Pancakes EVERYDAY!

I recently have discovered a product called, fittingly “Korean Pancake mix”. I had to put a picture up so you can see, that is really its only name in English. I got it at Uwajimaya and this stuff is awesome. You just mix with water and it really tastes like the Korean pancakes you get in restaurants. I’ve mixed all kinds of things in: squid, shrimp, chives, chard, kimchi, asparagus, you name it. I love a quick easy meal that can have meat, veg or be adaptable and ready in minutes, I’ve eaten these savory pancakes for breakfast, lunch or dinner. I know this little tidbit is ridiculous, but I’m really excited about the product. I swear they aren’t paying me or giving me product or anything. Seriously, this stuff is good.

Chili Crab Recipe

Speaking of things I’ve eaten for breakfast, lunch and dinner, we caught a full limit each (6 a piece) of red rock crabs on Sunday and I made a crab each into chili crab. We were only able to eat half a crab each because they were so big and rich! I then proceeded to eat leftover chili crab for all three meals yesterday, including as chili crab fried rice (in the wok with rice and egg). I did not get any pictures, but I thought I’d share the recipe in case you have a hankering! Or so I can go back and look after I next go crabbing.

There are no amounts, but it is a very forgiving recipe, so don’t worry about it!

You’ll need:

Garlic
Ginger
Hot peppers of some type (I used dried local cayenne, because it was what I had)
Soy Sauce
Chicken or other stock
Chili black bean paste
Sesame oil
Tapioca flour (or cornstarch if you prefer)

Steam the crabs for about 5 minutes, so they are almost entirely cooked, then break them down: pull off the top, let all the juices and innards run into a bowl. You can save the top for presentation, or throw it away. Pull off the dull grey gills from the body and discard. Cut the body in half and set aside. Do this for however many crabs you have.

Heat a bit of sesame oil in a wok and add the minced garlic and ginger and thinly sliced peppers, letting them get fragrant and release their flavors before adding the chili black bean paste–which you can get at any Asian market. I had a Sichuan kind that had about two tablespoons left in the jar, so I used that much. Another minute or so on the heat and add about half the stock (I used a can, it’s not super important here), bringing it to a slight boil. Add back in both the crabs and the reserved crab liquid and innards. Also add just a dolop of soy sauce–it’s only there for some salt content. Add the rest of the chicken stock, but you only need enough to cover the crabs. Let this simmer for two minutes or so, getting the flavor into the crabs. Sift about a quarter cup of tapioca flour or cornstarch over so the sauce thickens and sticks to the crab, then serve!

A note on tapioca flour: It is very important to sift it in, if you don’t it will congeal and form balls and instead of crab sauce you will have crab bubble tea!

Double the Fun: Corn Soup, Corn Fritters

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Corn fritters may not sound like the most exciting thing on earth, but they were delicious and they were twice as exciting because they were made from what otherwise would have been thrown in the trash.

Backing up, I had five beautiful ears of corn. Gorgeous specimens, the epitome of late summer embodied in tiny, yellow toothed fabulosity. Yet, somehow, in the week I had had them, I had yet to use them in anything! It was a crime against fresh produce, an evil act upon the tasty treats. Teetering on the edge of no longer being good, I lunged to save them from the oncoming grasp of the twin terrors, mold and shriveling. Just in time, I put together a great corn soup. When I finished the soup, I did something I rarely do, partially because I’m lazy and partially because I like to leave my soups rustic, with something to bite into: I strained it. This created the effect of a beautiful, creamy, silken soup. It also left me with a mash of ingredients that hadn’t made it through the straining. Everything was edible, and I knew there was a way to use it, I just hadn’t figured it out yet.

When I have this kind of cooker’s block, I open the fridge, I contemplate it and I probably snack on some olives while I think, but I didn’t even get that far. Adding in flour, baking soda and an egg, I rolled the mash/dough into little balls, squished them flat and pan fried them, gleefully giddy as I watched them puff up into hybrid biscuit/pancakes/fritters. Damn they were good.
Summer is fun, and the corn is plentiful, but it is just that much better when you get to double your fun and use it all twice!

Corn Soup
5 Ears of corn, cut off the cob
2 Cloves of Garlic, peeled
3 Tablespoons Olive Oil
1 Small Serrano Pepper
3 Cups Chicken Stock
Salt, to taste

When I began this soup, I planned to add more spices, but in the end, this turns out to be so simple and beautiful, that I left it alone. Heat the oil and fry the garlic, pepper and corn for a few minutes. When it smells good and delicious (about 5 minutes) add the chicken stock, bring to a boil, then lower to a simmer. Let simmer for about an hour–more if you’d like, then blend (I used an immersion blender). I strained mine through a small mesh strainer, though I think cheesecloth in a colander would work just as well. Be sure to really squeeze all the liquid out. The soup is then ready to go. Save that mash of corn, garlic and pepper bits though, for…

Corn Fritters
Mash from above
About 1.5 cups whole wheat flour
1.5 teaspoons baking powder
1 egg
Olive oil
Salt

Add the egg and the baking powder to the mash, then start adding flour. This is a bit of a judgment call on how much to add, just keep going until you have a thick dough–more like cookie dough than pancake batter. Roll the dough into individual balls–smaller than a golf ball. If you keep your hands moist, they won’t stick to you as much. Heat the olive oil, just enough to cover the bottom of the pan. Press each ball flat as you place it into the oil–doesn’t need to be completely flat, just one squish. When they begin to brown (about a minute or two), flip them. When they’re done, place on paper towels and salt.

The Meat and the Moose

It all added up to me having no desire to go there. I didn’t need another “Mexican” breakfast that involved American style egg dishes dressed up in sombrero and sarapi, or their edible equivalents. Sometimes I hear so much about restaurants that I begin to resent them, to make assumptions about them and the people who like them, so much that they cease to have any draw for me. Señor Moose in Ballard was one of those places. For a time it seemed like everyone wanted to know, had I been there? Did I know how wonderful their Huevos Ahogados were? Why hadn’t I been seen standing in the hour plus waits for the a seat in the tiny place.

The hubbub has died down now. Lines have shortened, its fallen off the radar a bit. Starving, coming from the Ballard farmer’s market on a sunny Sunday morning, all of a sudden, I saw it in a different light–that being it as the only reasonably good sit down, non-American brunch restaurant in my near vicinity. The wait was short–not even the 15 minutes we were told upon entering.

The heat of the day had crawled inside, even at this early hour, and despite being seated next to the only functional air conditioner, we spent the meal sweating onto the muy autentico oilcloth table cover.

Nothing to worry about, however, as our immediately ordered Mango Mimosas were quickly served to our tables in over-sized wine glasses. Just the right antidote to the stifling Seattle heat. For our brunch, I perused the menu, surprised by some of the options and by the great variety of regions represented, finally choosing two dishes I loved, but had not heard anyone rave about. Rebellion at every level, you know.

And yet, as hard as I seemed to be trying to keep myself from liking the place, the Moose turned out some of the most delicious, authentic, meaty amazingness that I’ve had in Seattle. As we ate I tried to remember why I had resisted for so long coming here. Drawing blanks, I stopped trying to think in this heat and went back to enjoying my food.

First up was Machaca con Huevos. I immediately discounted the factory made tortillas, but it wasn’t a good move, since once I had wrapped the silky black beans with cooling, salty cotija cheese and a bite of the light, fluffy eggs, studded with tiny pieces of shredded beef, I probably could have wrapped it in paper and it would be equally fantastic. I always wonder why certain Mexican dishes rose to the top and are everywhere and a flavorful, simple classic like machaca disappeared into the depths. This was perfectly prepared and the pairing within that tortilla was all that was needed to quell our impending starvation.

Having shoveled a serving of Machaca in, I moved on to our other dish. Pork rinds as we generally see them in America, in their snack food form, like tasty pig part potato chips are certainly nothing I would ever complain about. However, I also would never complain watching a little abuelita drench mine in a fabulous tomato salsa with just a hint of heat. The Chicharron en Salsa Roja at Moose fits that description perfectly. The steaming bowl, like a soup, almost, with rich, pork infused broth, tempting me to eat it far before it would cool to no longer mouth scortching temperatures. I fished a piece of the pork skin out from the sauce and let it cool on the side. With just a smidge of remaing crunch, it is like a sticky  and slightly al dente noodle, yet with the distinct texture, almost like tiny bubbles, that is unique to the great creation that is a deep fried pork rind. Both the pork and sauce it came in were delicious, rustic, simple and prepared like I would expect it to be if I ordered it in Oaxaca.

Portion sizes were far more reasonable than most Mexican places in this part of the world, but I was pleased to still have enough chicharron and sauce to take home and eat for breakfast the next day with a fried egg on top.

Senor Moose on Superpages.com

Barrio at Brunchtime

When Barrio invited me to come to lunch with B, for free, I paused and then wrote them a quick letter saying I would go but I wouldn’t guarantee anything written and if I did I didn’t promise to be nice, etc, etc. Then I went to brunch. I kind of hoped it would be bad and I could brush off the whole experience and never think about it again. But it wasn’t. It was quite good and fit a very specific niche that B and I need in our lunch world.

We walked in the heavy doors at about 9:59 for a 10am reservation (B had biking to do). “We don’t open until 10” a hostess told us, rather bluntly. I think I must have looked somewhat confused because she continued “You guys are here too early. If you want you can sit there and wait” Aw jeez, I thought, thinking bat to the mediocre service at my dinner visit, which I had chalked up to first week jitters. It wasn’t ghastly, but she did make us feel like shitheels for being one minute early for a reservation. So punctual, in fact, that by the time I looked at my cell phone when this conversation ended, it was 10:01.

Luckily everyone else at Barrio seemed to have learned something since I was last there, as a second hostess swooped in a minute later, apologizing for them being a little behind and cheerfully seating us at one of the heavy wood tables. Before I even had time to adjust the giant chairs (very difficult to move around), our extremely good and very friendly server arrived bearing water and offering coffee. Ah, yes, this is what brunch is about.

Once B ordered his coffee and me my Barrio Michelada, we turned to our menus. The michelada was good, spicy and fresh tasting, like bloody mary light. I liked it. I mean, if I’m going to be drinking at 10am, this is an excellent option. The menu had antojitos (small bites) and then full meal options, as well as a few sides and kids’ meals. We each chose a side dish, an antojito and a meal so that we could check out the variety (remember, it was free!). The best idea we had in the whole meal was ordering my side of fresh fruit to come out first thing. Why? Because when they brought out my bowl of perfectly sized chunks of watermelon, cantaloupe and honeydew, they also brought out a hot sauce, lime and salt plate that I think might have been to go with B’s tortitas, but which, when applied to the fruit was not only just what I wanted at 10am, or maybe always, and also reminded me of the street fruit in Latin America, sold with chili, salt and lime on it.

Next up were our antojitos: I had the sea scallop ceviche and B the pozole made from pork cheeks. The pozole had great flavor, the meat could have been a little more tender and it could have used a bit more hominy, but really, I’m being picky. It was good pozole and I think the full portion (he had the half) would have been an awesome little hangover cure–hot, spice, meaty, amazing. Speaking of hangover cures when I lived in Ecuador there was a ceviche stand on my way to work called “Saca la Resaca” translation: take out the hangover. Yup, ceviche, and in peru, the tiger’s milk byproduct of making  ceviche, is widely considered a hangover cure. These sea scallops may have been a little too mild to saca my resaca, but they were tasty, basically just pure scallop sweetness. This dish, unlike the pozole, I think would have been a bit small for a whole meal.

After a short break for digestion, our ‘entrees’ came out. B had the trio of tortitas and a side of the chorizo bacon, which I heard was fabulous. It wasn’t. I don’t know the exact reason, but it tasted metallic, like perhaps they hadn’t rendered enough of the fat out, or something. We couldn’t get past that enough to really get a ton of chorizo flavoring. Putting that aside, we dug into the tortitas, little mini breakfast tortas, or sandwiches. The first, chorizo and scrambled egg, was very one note and we both agreed was the least good. The other two were quite good. B preferred the pork with almonds and raisins and while I don’t remember what was on the chicken one, I liked it. Cabbage and something.

And then there was my Chipotle cured Salmon tostada. It was awesome. As soon as the waiter described it as ‘our take on bagels with cream cheese and lox’ I knew I would like it. I didn’t get a ton of chipotle flavor on the salmon, but it was atop a salad with pickled onions, deep fried capers (how cool!) and queso fresco, all in a fried tortilla bowl. It was a little embarrassing when I tried to get pieces of the tostada off and things went flying across the room, but the flavors were all there and I really liked the whole thing.

So back to what I said about this filling a niche that B and I really wanted. I won’t eat traditional breakfast food out. It’s a long story and involves a certain 2 year stint at a certain large Seattle restaurant group, where I loved my job but was not the biggest fan of the food. Meanwhile, we sometime host people, like, say B’s brother, who don’t understand the draw of dim sum or driving to Greenwood for barbacoa. This bridges that gap. We can go and order good food, eat our tasty tacos for breakfast, order up some chilaquiles, and whoever wants bacon and eggs can have those. And did I mention it’s like 5 blocks from my house? Excellent.

Barrio on Superpages.com

A Fabulous Northwest Weekend

It was raining slightly on my run this morning, but now the bright sun is shining through my office window. It is so typical Seattle, and I just love it. Like I love so many things about my city, including so much of my weekend.

This was my first weekend not coaching ski racing, my first days off in many months (since the snow started falling) and I was eager to get outside and enjoy the many things that are on offer here. It was such a fabulous collection of awesome activities that I’m posting here so you can remember how great where we live is…

First thing Saturday morning, we sauntered up the street for brunch at Barrio. I enjoyed my first vist, so when they invited me to be their guest for brunch, I took them up. Look for a review to come.

From there, I hopped on my bike, with one quick stop to make before heading to the University District Farmer’s Market–a big issue with working on weekends in the winter is I absolutely never get to go to Farmer’s Markets! My friend K had called me on Friday from a field of nettles–“Do you want some? What should I pick?” She asked. “Yes, and the babies!” I answered. Biked by her place and picked up the giant bag, threw them in the pack and headed to the market. Came home with a small but delicious haul that I started using right away.

While my bread, made from Hard Red Whole Wheat flour from Bluebird Grains, proofed, I cleaned my fridge. While it baked, I took the nettles, combined them with some mint from the market and made a delicious, thick, almost more dip like than sauce like pesto. When these were done, I packed them both, along with a little pate from Sea Breeze farms into a bag and they served as dinner, while we sat on the edge of our seats, watching the Seattle Sounders take down the San Jose Earthquakes.

Sunday morning the alarm went off bright and early, and I packed up the car and headed to the coast for a few good hours of Razor clam digging! Expect a tasty, clammerific post to come on those puppies. Returning at mid-day, I had just enough time for a much needed shower and quick power nap before heading to Puget Soundkeepers Alliance’s wonderful, amazing and delicious Oyster Roast! With Xinh making coleslaw and cheerfully shucking raw oysters for the masses, we knew we were getting fed well before I even wandered outside to run into Jon Rowley manning the grills!

What a perfect weekend! Spring in the Northwest is here and I hope to have many more like this to come.

Brunch at Bouchon (Vegas)

Before I being my complaint (yup, it is coming) I want to put it out there that I loved my meal at Bouchon and would return in a heart beat and would recommend it to anyone.

Of all the places I wanted to hit in Las Vegas, Bouchon stood out. I couldn’t wait to go–we settled on brunch to keep it more affordable. As fancy well known chef restaurants go, Bouchon is very reasonably priced and at lunch one could get away with under easily under $20 for a meal, tax and tip inclusive. I say one could, because I for one did not. But it is plausible.

So my complaint? The service was… mediocre. In a town full of restaurants, I was shocked that my brunch waiter was so incompetently unfamiliar with the menu and unable to deliver proper customer service. He was, I will mention, charming and adorable, truly a sweet person, so I felt bad, but not too bad. 

At the table an order of chicken and waffles floored a friend of mine, especially the accompanying sauce with bits of bacon in it. The Croque Madame across from me came with a mountain of fries (note to those paying attention, mountain #1 at a small four top table) and J declared it the most beautifully cooked egg she’d ever seen. She sighed as she dug in. I had a taste of both dishes, they were definitely sigh worthy. But the best was yet to come. K, as the other serious eater at the table, and I agreed to split three dishes. The Salmon rilletes were good, but nothing so amazing that we were floored. The Steak Frites (note, mountain of fries #2) were flooringly good. The fries were above average, but the steak was absolutely unlike any steak that I have ever had a bite of before. On the advice of our waiter, we switched from a rare steak to medium rare. I’m not sure if it would have been any different rare, but it was perfectly wonderful at medium rare.

It was our third dish where the problems came. “The Fruits de Mer Mussels” I requested when I ordered, being sure to sound all French when I pronounced “fruits”. “With the mustard wine sauce?” Our waiter asked, “no,” I explained, pointing to the menu where the $7 mussels I had requested were. So, needless to say, I was not super excited when the $25 mussels in broth arrived. I politely pointed out the mistake and was both surprised and pleased when he asked “I’ll get your mussels right away, but would you like to keep these ones on the table to share?” Well, isn’t that lovely, I thought as we agreed to keep them, along with the third enormous pile of French fries. We looked like a family of obese children at McDonald’s with our table full of fries. But that is beside the point. We enjoyed our meal very much, though the crowd pleasing favorite was almost with out a doubt the Fruits de Mer Mussels. At $7 a pop (12 mussels in a pop, if you care) these may well be the very best meal on the strip. In fact, if we had gotten these right away, we may well have ordered another set, they were so good. 

The problem arose when the bill came. If I had my druthers, I would have wanted the mussels taken off the bill, as they did not arrive with the rest of the meal. However, to my complete shock, not only were we charged for the mussels we ordered, but for the $25 batch that we had not even wanted! I replayed everything I’d said in my head to see if I could think of anything I’d done wrong. Then I flagged my waiter down and further surprising me, he was not immediate and swift about removing it. “That is why I asked you if you wanted to keep them for the table” he tells me of the extra mussels. I was absolutely flabbergasted. I work in the restaurant industry, I know how these work, and this is not it. I laid a firm line down and though he claimed not to have the power to change it, he did seek out a manager and the extra mussels were removed from the bill. Had I not been on vacation with a plane to catch and a day to enjoy, I may well have requested to speak with said manager to ask what they were thinking. But I didn’t. I was full of amazing food and still basking in the glorious taste of the mussels I had ordered.

That doesn’t mean each time I think about it, I don’t get so very annoyed at the incident. But not annoyed enough to ruin the fabulous meal!

Bouchon (Venetian) on Urbanspoon