Save the Cheese! Help Estrella Family Creamery

There are very few brands I am passionate enough about to devote a blog post to, and even fewer that, upon receiving an email about saving, I will hop out of bed and compose a blog post about at 6:45 in the morning. The cheese from Estrella Family, however, does inspire such things. Estrella Family Creamery makes my favorite cheese(s) in the world.

As many of you know, the FDA is working hard to shut Estrella Family Creamery down and they have been unable to sell their cheese for quite some time. This is tragic, not only because I have to live without the incomparable Caldwell Crik Chevrette, but because it is indicative of what government agencies are attempting to do to great cheese-makers around the country. Washington has already lost too many great cheeses to ridiculous regulations, and I refuse to let the best cheese I’ve ever had go down to government regulations to. So people, I implore you, please help me and help Estrella to SAVE THE CHEESE!

How? Well, funny you should ask. First and most, attend their Small Farms: Saving our National Treasures event on February 26th, from 11-4, in Woodinville. For more info, click here. This is a free event, with raffles and auctions to support the farm, as well as speakers leading a discussion in the hopes to solve the issues plaguing Estrella and so many other farms.

If you aren’t local, I still hope that at some point you’ve been able to taste Estrella’s magical cheese, and if so (or not) and you’d like to help, Donations to aid the Estrella family can be made at Donations are not tax-deductible for federal or state tax purposes.

If you’d like more information about Estrella and what has happened with them, see this blog, set up by a friend of theirs.



One Burner Bitch

One Burner Bitch is the theoretical name I came up with for my imaginary blog about the week I’ve had without a stove. This little guy in the picture above has been my only heat source, and I tell you what: It has made me bitchy.

So first, the situation as it stands now:

I would show the ‘before’ picture but it made me cry, so I don’t want to have it hanging around the blog. Long story short? I dropped my KitchenAid mixer onto the glass top stove. It was ugly. I had bread in the oven and let that finish baking, but once we removed the broken glass, we unplugged the whole thing to avoid electrical hazards. And no, we don’t own a microwave. So the little hot pot burner was all we’ve had to cook on for the last week. And the grill–which has been nice.

What can I say? I know in a lot of parts of the world they’re not fortunate enough to have ovens and four burner stoves but I do most of my cooking on the stove and I missed it!

Want pasta? Have to boil the water, cook the pasta, then make the sauce, while the pasta gets cold. That doesn’t fly with me, so I’ve been doing a lot of one pot meals. Or just eating cold food.

No, it wasn’t the end of the world, but it was challenging. Now that I’ve gotten over the shock and have calmed down about the cost of a replacement glass top, I can look at it as a learning experience.

As a lover of not only food, but also the art of cooking, In a way I relished the twist, like a little Top Chef game. Cool dishes, new ideas and me eating a lot of salad all came out of it. Perhaps I can look on the bright side after all. I’ll be the One Burner semi-bitch.

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:

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!

The One Person Pantry: 20 Essentials for Single Cooking

When I posted my love letter to cooking for one, my friend Misty asked an intriguing question: What foods/staples do you keep in your pantry to be able to make a variety of meals? Misty is an amazing person and a great lady to have a meal with and I should have known that a thoughtful question from her would quickly outgrow the comments section of this blog, and I would need to make it a full post! It was a hard decision, but I’ve narrowed it down to twenty items that I like to keep around.

This is my list—it caters to my tastes, meaning it lacks spices that you might use every day that wither away in my cupboard, but includes oddballs that I use often which you might never have heard of—see the inclusion of berebere and the decided lack of black pepper.

I’ll try to say a little about each item and how I use it, though I think some are self-explanatory and all are in no particular order. I’d love to hear from other people about what is essential to them! Leave links/answers in the comments below.

My Pantry Essentials:

1)    Rice: Easy to make and very versatile. If I have rice for dinner one night I’ll probably end up with fried rice, congee (porridge) and onigiri (rice balls) in my future. A simple stir-fry over rice is one of the easiest and most forgiving meals to make for one, though if pressed, I’d have to admit I’ve made a number of meals simply from rice and hot sauce (see #2)!

2)    Yank Sing’s Delightfully Hot Sauce: My life is not complete without this hot sauce. I just love it. As mentioned above, it can make a meal from rice. It can also fix botched flavors on any soup, stir-fry or even salad—a dollop in the dressing covers a myriad of sins, including the ‘maybe I left the lettuce a few days too long in the fridge’ one. Not that I’ve ever done that…

3)    Chickpeas: I’ve always got a can around, whether I’m pureeing them for hummus, using with onions and parsley in a salad (add feta!) or making an amazing Tanzanian stew with tomatoes and coconut milk (#17). With the chickpeas already cooked, most meals that use them are ready in a matter of minutes.

4)    Peanut Butter: Often employed to dress up dull fruits and veggies (apples, celery, etc.) I also use it to add oomph (defined here as calories, texture and flavor) to curries and stir-fries, or to make dipping sauces for, well, anything dip-able: just add soy sauce (#19), coconut milk (#17) and adjust to your taste/viscosity preference)

5)    Canned Sardines or other seafood: Right now I’ve got sardines and smoked oysters, but mussels and clams are also out there. These seafoods are sustainable and shelf-stable so they are always around. Either eaten on crackers (maybe with mustard?) or added to a dish (dress up pasta sauce in seconds), they are savory and delicious. Alton Brown recommends a sandwich that, while it sounds ridiculous, I’ve been known to enjoy: Spread mashed avocado on bread, top with sardines from can, drizzle with olive oil and balsamic (or sherry!) vinegar, salt, pepper.

6)    IQF Frozen Shrimp: I usually get the big bag from Costco because these suckers can go straight from the freezer to the frying pan and you can adjust the portion each time. Grab five shrimp, toss them in a stir-fry or just sizzle them in a little sauce to go over rice. If you’re feeling fancy you can boil them in water with a little butter in it, then cool them off and dip in a cocktail sauce (or peanut sauce from #4!)

7)    Potatoes: I’m sure I don’t need to tell anyone about the myriad of ways to use a potato, but I think my favorite meal for one is making them into curry.

8)    Thai Curry Paste: Yeah, it’s pre-made, but whatever, it’s quick and easy and I can rub it on the shrimp before I fry them, add it to a curry or flavor a sauce with it. Very versatile. I use any of the ones in the big plastic tubs, usually the red flavor. The easiest curry I make is just this and coconut milk (#17) with

9)    Garlic: Because I need my dishes to taste good! And it keeps for long periods of time in a cool, dark space with air around it.

10) Sesame oil: my most versatile oil, I use it in most of my salad dressings, to do all of my stir-frying with it and use to finish many of my dishes with a hit of flavor.

11) Butter: When making anything with a stew-y texture, be it stew or curry, I always start with butter for a little extra richness. Also, when finishing off a soup or dish that needs a little something extra, a butter pat is often that icing on the cake.

12) Lentils: Red lentils cook relatively quickly and can make for a great stew or easy soup. This is something I’ll make at the beginning of a week, spending 45 minutes prepping on a Sunday evening, then eat for breakfast and/or lunch for the rest of the week.

13) Berebere: There aren’t many spices on this list, because in general I use just garlic and salt and let my ingredients talk. But berebere is a unique spice mix from Ethiopia that I buy in large quantities from Ethiopian markets here in Seattle. I use it to add depth to those lentils in #12 or to season my shrimp (#6) or potatoes (#7). It has a hint of spice, but is mild enough for using as a major flavor component in most dishes.

14) Salt: Obvi.

15) Eggs: Aside from numerous egg based dishes that are great one person meals (omelets, scrambles, poach and serve over vegetables, fry and dip toast in), egg can provide the protein for a curry (either hard-boiled or scrambled), a stir-fry, fried rice, a simple soup (egg drop soup can come in a number of forms, from Chinese to Greek), or even a salad (hard-boiled).

16) Frozen Stock Cubes: I’m an ardent user of homemade stock. I keep cans of stock in the house just in case, but I almost always use homemade. I do this without devoting barely anytime: I make the stock once a year, using my parents’ and anyone else’s turkey carcass I can round up after Thanksgiving, let it boil away in big pots on my stove, then reduce it to a super rich, thick broth and freeze it into ice cube trays. When frozen, I transfer them to giant Ziploc bags and use them through out the year. I use this stock as the base to all my soups and stews and to add extra flavor to basically any dish—just add the cube and let the water evaporate, leaving the flavor.

17) Coconut Milk: So I mentioned the stew in #3 and dipping sauce in #4, but there are also the many Thai curries and various soups that this figures into. You can even make ice cream for it. Pretty much one of my favorite ingredients to add to something, with its unique texture and flavor. A hard one to substitute for!

18) Flour: With the eggs already mentioned, you can run away with this category: breading vegetables or meats, making pasta (a major staple around here), any sort of baking, etc. Whatever style you cook, having flour around will open up a million meals for you. One of the easiest recipes for a quick bread is scallion pancake: 2 cups of flour, .5 cup warm water, 2 scallions, chopped (or your filling of choice, I often change it up, using Sichuan peppercorns or garlic), salt and oil. Mix the most of the water and the flour (I do it in my KitchenAid), adding water until it is pliable and coming off the bowl, a little bit sticky. Cover with a wet towel for 30 minutes, then split into six pieces, rolling each out flat to a ten inch circle, brush with oil, add scallions, roll up like a cigar, then into a spiral, roll it out flat again. Griddle and serve.

19) Soy Sauce: Add to anything for salt with a punch. Great in marinades, dipping sauces, stir-fries, over rice, in a soup, basically great as long as it is hiding in the background. It gets overwhelming if you try to bring it to the front of a dish—I know people who can have rice just with soy sauce, but for me that’s a little much. Unless it is really good soy sauce, which is not the type I’m referring to for the pantry staple.

20) Tortillas: Either make a bunch from masa ahead of time or just buy a package. Freeze them in packs of ten. On their own, they aren’t the greatest, these previously frozen specimens, but when torn up and fried to a crisp you can’t tell the difference. Or mix in with your scrambled eggs and top with salsa, for a delicacy known as “Mexican Eggs” growing up in the Gastrognome household. Okay, by salsa I may sometimes mean ketchup. If you’ve got cheese around a quesadilla always pleases everyone!

A little side note: I know for lots of people what’s missing are ketchup, mustard and mayo. I rarely use these, but I do have a few mustards and Kewpie Japanese mayo. Kewpie and hot sauce is an amazing dipping sauce. If you do keep ketchup around and want the easiest stir-fry sauce ever, mix with soy sauce. It was a college staple of mine and another treasure from my mother (See Mexican Eggs in #20).

So there you have it: My 20 pantry essentials. What did I forget? What would you add?

Free Tickets to Seattle Food and Wine Experience and a rant

UPDATE: Thanks for playing! Sean has won the tickets. I hope you all make it to the event regardless, you’ll have a great time!

As I have done once before, I must again combat the evil things on the internet with wonderful things. So in response to being criticized for taking free stuff, I am giving away a pair free tickets to the Seattle Food and Wine Experience.

I get offered a ton of free stuff in the course of writing this blog. They fall into three main categories: free tangible things (such as cookbooks, products etc.), free meals or event tickets that come from the restaurant or their representative) and lastly what are called ‘media passes’ which are free tickets that are through a third party (usually the ticketing company). And yes, on my blog you can find all three types accepted: a coobook, a meal from a restaurant, and an event I went to on a media pass. What similarity do you find in all three of them? I declare immediately, before passing any judgement, that I took this item for free and exactly who gave it to me.

As I get my name dragged through the mud for accepting free things, I must pause and double check my ethics. When someone offers me a free item, they receive a letter in return explaining that I will accept it but that I do not promise to write about it and if I do I do not promise to write anything particularly good. In reality, if I thought something free was horrible, I would simply not write about it. Things you haven’t read about on this site include a number of horrific events, meals, food products I won’t even begin to try to describe and cookbooks that do not deserve to have been published. If I do write about it, you can assume it is because I liked it. This blog, for the most part, is about things I like.

So despite what’s being said, I stand by my ethics and I will continue to accept free things and tell you about them, including this lovely pair of tickets I accepted to the  Seattle Food and Wine Experience, but will now not be able to use. I went last year (as a freelancer, with a media pass from that employer, since you didn’t ask), and you can read about it here.

Ok, how do you get the tickets? Leave a comment below and I’ll draw comment numbers on February 5th to decide the winner. You can comment on whatever you’d like, but if you need inspiration, tell me about your favorite food or wine moment from a recent event.

Also, want to double your chances of wining? Rebekah Denn of Eat All About It is also giving a way a pair here.

The Top Six Dishes I ate in Seattle this year

I’ll be honest, this started out as a top 5 list, but I had six dishes that truly stood out in my mind that I ate this year. I eat out a decent amount and I don’t always write about them–especially if the rest of the meal was distinctly underwhelming, as was the case in at least one of them. I like just picking a dish because I’m not judging the whole restaurant experience (another of these dishes was served with a side of horrifically bad service), nor am I needing to make extensive commentary. The only point of this is to give props to the creativity and skills of the chefs and restaurants around the city. They tend to lean towards newer restaurants, if for no other reason then that’s where I found innovative, taste-bud shocking (in the best way possible) flavors.

6. The pork belly I had at the wine dinner at Monsoon. This is the only one I have a picture of, but given that it stared out from my blog for altogether too long when it was first posted, I’m not going to add it over here as well. Scroll down to the bottom and read the description of my desire to swim in cabernet grape reduction to fully understand the lusciousness of this dish.

5. The Lamb’s Tongue Salad at Bastille. I noted this when I went as unbelievable. I clearly remembered it a month ago when I started this list. And still, as I try to jog my memory with other ingredients, what stands out is the surprisingly tender, beautiful meat, not generally what shines in a salad. This lamb tongue was delightful, great flavor, I could have eaten it as part of a much heavier main, yet the genius of the dish was that it was surrounded with a green, I believe dandelion, tiny chanterelle mushroom buttons and a few other lovely, light ingredients.

4. Springhill’s Smoked Oysters–okay, technically on the menu I believe the dish was under charcuterie and is titled “Sorpressata,” but while the sausage is lovely, it is not the star of the dish. No, the house-made sausage is clearly well made and delicious, but let’s talk about the true star of the show, the house alder smoked oysters. You know the smoked oysters that come in the can? I love those, but this is like comparing a Funyun to a beautifully crisp, freshly fried piece of shallot, like you’d get atop a fine French salad. The plate is rounded out with potato cracklins–which truly do conjure up the middle ground between fried pig skin and a potato chip. The red pepper sauce is the weakest individual component of the plate, but the whole dish works well together and each component matches the others so well. This dish, on its own, has brought me back to Springhill over and over.

3. Kimchi Quesadilla at Marination Mobile. After much deliberation, I chose the Kimchi Quesadilla as the dish I’d use form Marination. Really this Hawaiian taco truck has a few things I’d consider putting on this list, but the quesadilla was the first dish I had there and the one that blew my mind–after that first bite, I expected the unexpected and delicious. But the first time I saw the pinkish squiggles of sauce over my flour tortillas and bit in to the tangy bite of kimchi combined with tender soft pork, that was when I knew that this was something different. The Spam sliders might have changed my mind on a whole type of food, the spam musubi cemented that, but it was the kimchi quesadilla that floored me with possibilities.

2. Sometimes I think that hoping for new and innovative dim sum dishes in Seattle is a little like hoping for the Mariner’s to be in the World Series–Ain’t never gonna happen. So imagine my surprise when, in conversation with one of the men at Tea Garden, he mentioned that in addition to the pork stuffed taro balls, they also had ones with scallops inside. The first time we had this dish they were fresh out of the frier, and the scallop so perfectly cooked that it very nearly melted, spreading its sweet flavor throughout the crispy outside, the soft taro, one huge, delicious, if searingly hot bite. We returned and were able to order them a second time, but have since struck out twice and had them served less well prepared once. Was this moment of amazingness but a dim sum mirage? Here’s to hoping not!

1. Speaking of dishes that sometimes seem like a mirage, given the speed that B and I can demolish it, the not-on-the-menu (but nearly always available) Hamachi Collar with Bagna Cauda at Anchovies and Olives certainly qualifies. We were first offered this after two of the five dishes we asked for were sold out, but from then on we knew to ask for it by name every time. I get heartbroken when they’ve sold out of them for the evening. Collar is one of those cuts that Americans stay away from, most likely for its difficulty to eat. But when this chunk of fish lands on your table, you’ll abandon niceties and soon dig in with your fingers, if for no reason than after that flaky, tender fish is long gone, you can lick the anchovy and garlic spiked oil from your fingers and reminisce about the dish.

Food as Memories, Photos as Tokens

When my camera was stolen from my bag in Northern Peru, I remember consoling myself that I was a writer and that if I were worth my salt, I would be capable of describing scenes as well as if I had taken pictures. When I started food blogging, this came to the forefront as I dimly clicked away, armed with a C minus in high school photography and a camera I bought more for the relationship between its waterproofness and my klutziness than for the quality of the pictures. I began to write a food blog because of its perfect location at the intersection of culinary pleasure and the art of sharing experiences with others through the written word.

Two and a half years later, as I wander about, restaurant to restaurant, party to party enjoying my time amongst the Fooderati, I eat meal after meal where I try to dive in head first and am gently reminded to wait until the click, click, click has finished its logging of the meal. It doesn’t bother me–I’m not of the mind that my food will be any less good for the two extra minutes it has sat. And yet, I get defensive when people ask me why I don’t take pictures myself. My reasoning is simple, no picture will record the experience, the pleasure, to breathe in the smells, to admire each color, to trap that taste in the mouth for long enough to take that mental picture. Not a two dimensional one, but one that is three, four, even five dimensions as I describe the layers of flavor, the hint of spice on the tip of my tongue, how I feel about corn off the cob–and how that feeling changes as I put a second bite into my mouth.

Unfortunately over the course of this blog, I have faced the realities of food blogging and realized that my words alone are not keeping readers, and as I cook at home I have taken pictures. They have greatly improved (God help the sucker who looks at my early photos in the archives), as I learned about lighting and light boxes, angles, props and white balancing. I am not, though, and never will be, a photographer. I will continue to make the most vivid pictures of food in my readers brain through the words that I write, by bringing them on a trip through the brain as it eats, what makes that bite so good, this one so bad, an experience so transcendent. I may not be a photographer, but there is nothing I love more than creating a post that burns an image into the mind.

The single photograph that remains most vivid in my brain from that trip to Peru is not from the photos I had saved before the theft, nor from the camera I bought months later at a black market. Rather, it is the picture I most mourned the loss of with the loss of my camera: Jaimie, a juggling unicyclist who I had met in the hallways of my jail-like hostel. He told me of his dream to attend circus school in Arizona and told me I could take a picture if I promised to send it to him via e-mail. For ten minutes he struggled to stay atop the unicycle in that cold, gray hallway, finally, he did it, just long enough for me to snap the perfect picture, a triumphant smile on his face as his eyes followed the juggling balls into the air.