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Tuesday, July 21, 2009

A creature of habit
Perhaps Katie knows it better (and suffers from it more) than anyone, but I have an almost limitless capacity to eat the same dish at the same restaurant, week after week. When we feel like going out for dinner, we frequently have the following conversation:

Shan: How about the Ale House?
Katie: We just went there last week. And really, there are only so many things on the menu that I like to eat. I just can't have turkey and swiss on a baguette every week.
Shan: But why not?

The truth is that the only thing that varies in my trips to the Ale House is what kind of soup accompanies my barbeque burger, well done please, no lettuce necessary because I'll just shove it to the side, with bleu cheese crumbles and a side of tartar sauce. And the even sadder truth is that I could, wallet allowing, happily eat this once a week. At least.

You can get almost anything you want to eat in Seattle. But as much as I love her pantheon of restaurants, once I fall for a venue or a dish, I tend to fall hard, and I am very loyal -- sometimes to the chagrin of my dining companions. I order the same tomato, avocado, and ridiculous amounts of feta omelet at Leena's; the same potato chana masala at Cedars; the same Park Chop Salad at Volunteer Park Café. I'd be willing to bet that as soon as Delancey opens up, it'll be one pizza and one only for me.

Predictably, my food fixations have followed me into my own kitchen. Sometimes I'll get stuck on a recipe and make it for weeks. This year, I ate cheese grits all winter and corn salad all spring, and I made macaroni and cheese every time Joe came to visit. But my standby for years -- ever since I moved to Seattle -- has been an overstuffed quesadilla.

I do vary the ingredients from time to time, but I always follow the same formula, and my quesadillas never fail to come out of the pan too hot to hold, with fetching bits of burned cheese creeping out of the sides. The constancy is comforting. I like knowing that I'll burn my tongue on the first bite, and that the crispy edges of the tortilla will crunch under my teeth, and that I definitely added too much Sriracha, but the giant dollop of sour cream on the side will cool things off in short order.

Lately I've been making these for two, and despite the lack of surprise in our dinner menus, Joe has complimented me on every single one. Further evidence that he is a keeper! And it's a good thing, because let's face it, I don't see the quesadillas leaving the rotation anytime soon.

Dinner quesadilla

This is barely a recipe, but here's the formula. My quesadillas always include beans, but they don't have to be the refried ones from the can. They could be whole black or pinto beans. Or, the adventurous among us (you know who you are) can refry their own. Similarly, the cheese varies based on what's chillin in the fridge, and I usually add a gob of an interesting sauce or condiment (lately I've been experimenting with jalapeno hummus in addition to Sriracha). One more suggestion: if you have any leftover mashed potatoes lying around, add some just after the bean layer. It's fantastic.

Two tortillas (I usually use white flour, but whole wheat are good too)
About 1/4 can of refried beans, or 1/3 can of whole beans
As much cheese as you want (pepper Jack, regular Jack, and cheddar are good -- I bet cottage cheese would be interesting, too)
Dried minced onion, to taste
Sriracha or other hot sauce, to taste
Hummus, salsa, or any other sauce or dip that sounds good to you
Sour cream

Place one tortilla in a frying pan. Spread beans over entire tortilla. If using hummus or sauce, add it now. Top with cheese, minced onion, and a few shakes of hot sauce, in that order. (If I'm using only beans and cheese, I'll sometimes add a dash of thyme in place of the minced onion, which gives the whole operation quite a different flavor. This would be extra good with the abovementioned mashed potato variation.) Complete the quesadilla with the remaining tortilla and cook over medium heat, flipping occasionally, until the cheese sizzles and the tortilla turns an appealing shade of brown.

Cut in half for convenient eating and serve with lots of sour cream.

posted by shan at 10:42 PM; 0 comments



Monday, October 30, 2006

Another Weekend, Another Wedding
A play by play would take years, so here it is for your consumption.

While it appears to be ten courses, you should know that dessert actually involved three dishes served in succession: sweet red bean soup, then sesame balls, and finally, the wedding cake. Also, the pork platter featured deep fried jelly fish, sesame beef and some very slippery little squids.

We were there for five hours, eating nonstop for about four.

posted by Robin at 8:48 AM; 1 comments



Sunday, October 29, 2006

Cupcakes
Shannon and I woke up on the morning of October 21st and walked to the grocery store for last minute ingredients. It was foggy when we started out but the sun had broken through by the time we had our vanilla and chocolate chips, revealing a sparkly fall day for a wedding.

Before we could enjoy the festivities, we got to work. Shannon's recipe was Chocolate Ricotta and mine was Blackberry Buttermilk (v Martha Stewart).










(Shannon washing her hands; Shannon dispensing batter with Katie for company)

Hours after Martha would have finished, I pulled from the oven my modest contribution to Lauren's wedding day feast:













Blackberry Buttermilk Cupcakes

2 2/3 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for tossing berries
1 tablespoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoons salt
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1 cup unsalted butter, softened
1 3/4 cups sugar
2/3 tablespoons pure vanilla extract
4 large eggs
1/2 cups buttermilk
1 and 1/4 cups blackberries - frozen were fine (sorry Martha)


1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Sift together flour, baking powder, salt, and baking soda in a large bowl; set aside.


2. Put butter and sugar into the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment; mix on medium speed until fluffy, about 12 minutes (12 minutes is a long time; I got bored after about five but it seemed to work out okay). Mix in vanilla. Add eggs, 1 at a time, mixing well after each addition. Add flour mixture in two batches, alternating with the buttermilk. Divide batter among prepared pans. Toss berries in flour to coat completely, and gently press into batter. I found that each cupcake could accomodate three or four berries.


3. Bake until a cake tester inserted in centers comes out clean, 25-30 minutes. After allowing cupcakes to cool slightly, transfer to wire racks. According to Martha, these can be wrapped in plastic and stored up to a day.

The cupcakes were served unadorned so that we could each frost our own with toppings prepared by Lauren, Garth and Marika. Shannon's Chocolate Ricotta disappeared too quickly for me so I got to review the fruits of my own labor with Blackberry Buttermilk and chocolate ganache. It was delish!

Great wedding, Lauren!

posted by Robin at 5:43 PM; 0 comments



Monday, August 07, 2006

whole foods bastards
I think Whole Foods skimps on the cheese samples when I go on Saturday morning. They don't care about the idle shopper who treats them like a playground--going in for bulk herbs and staying for an hour to sample the Asian pears and Kashi scattered through the Le Creuset displays and the $80 wine. They reserve the big guns for the Monday-after-work crowd: hungry, on a mission, weak. I went in for a piece of beef and came out with this:


It's called Cotswold and it's amazing. I speared cube after cube until a small crowd gathered, jostling to find out what could keep a person at one sample table for so long. I grabbed the biggest wedge and resumed my original errand. In the car, I wanted to open the plastic wrapping and start nibbling but I concentrated on the radio. Twenty minutes later I was home, where this happened:


They aren't really bastards, but I am their fantasy customer.

posted by Robin at 7:16 PM; 2 comments



Sunday, August 06, 2006

vine ripened
I am in a produce frenzy. My vacation to the Yucatan was a lovely reprieve from regular life, but I sorely missed filling my refrigerator with the spoils from my Sunday morning visits to the market down the street. When I returned, summer fruit had reached its peak. My first weekend home I made up for two weeks without nectarines, plums and peaches with heavy purchases of all three on trips to two separate markets.

A favorite stand at the market also boasted little melons, just the right size to tuck under one's arm for an awkward walk home with two canvas bags slung over both shoulders. The farmer said it was too early in the season for him to look at the rind and tell me if my melon was red or yellow on the inside. This one turned out to be red. I ate half of it with a spoon straight from the rind and froze the other half for granita, the perfect relief on a 100 degree day.

For days it was too hot to cook anything. After a market visit a few Sundays ago, I dumped these green beans on the counter and just ate them raw, listlessly passing by the pile ever few hours until they were gone. Subsequent green bean purchases have been steamed and chilled with vinaigrette and sesame dressings.

Since the temperature returned to tolerable and turning on the stove has been possible, I have been contemplating the disappearance of all this abundance. Today I marched to the farmer's market for tomatoes, garlic, basil and parsley. It's tomato sauce time.













Last summer the bumper crops of tomatoes were $.35 a pound. At $.45 this year, six pounds of luscious red tomatoes came in at just under $3. My garlic guy just took these heads off the drying rack and I commiserated at length with the man who sold me my parsley about the virtues of Italian flatleaf versus the overly peppery curly variety. The above ingredients, plus basil, white wine, olive oil, salt and pepper will simmer in the crock pot all night before I eat a little and divide the rest into small containers for freezing. Last year, I waited until November to break into this stash. We'll see how long I last this year.

posted by Robin at 9:08 PM; 1 comments



Thursday, July 13, 2006

Bye bye, Broadway
This is it, Capitol Hill. It's about to be over, but we had a pretty good two years, didn't we? Remember all those imaginary boyfriends? (Funny how they all worked in food service.) Remember Mojito Mondays and trivial Tuesdays, Sunday mornings at Top Pot and lazy brunches at the B&O? Sure, I'll miss the pointy library and the walk to downtown, Sunday nights at St. Mark's and the confluence of Bellevue-Bellevue-Bellevue. I'll miss the sound of the 14 screeching to a halt every 20 minutes in the mornings, and the way it sounds like the rain is actually happening in our apartment. I'll miss those things, but it's the food that reminds me and the food that'll bring me back.

There's a food memory lurking around every corner of this neighborhood. Toscana pizza on the couch with Evgenia, spicy crab cake sandwiches at the De Luxe with Katie, sweet potato ravioli at the Broadway Grill with Alison, Piecora's Green Machine with Lauren and Garth, La Puerta's mole enchiladas with Nic and Noella and John. I went to Pho Cyclo with Aaron and Than Brothers with everyone else. There was a farewell dinner with Evgenia and Erin at Café Septieme, and then, because we just couldn't let go, a farewell breakfast at the B&O the following morning. When Marissa came to town, we ventured out to Bleu Bistro and discovered the horseradish grilled cheese. If I think hard enough about it, I can almost taste the squishy-salty duo of Via Tribunali's prosciutto and mozzarella.

And then of course there was all that food we made ourselves. The Tuscan grape cake Erin and I made one lazy Sunday, from which our oven has never quite recovered. Evgenia's adventures in Greek cookery. Erin's crepe dinner and the pizza party we threw for Katie's birthday. Ginger muffins during the Pride Parade. Meg always getting stuck with the stirring. An evening of strawberries and cheese and Hugh Laurie, and many many evenings of sitting on the couch with a historical romance novel and a bowl of lentil-couscous salad, a gob of polenta, or a fat, drippy quesadilla.

A few weeks ago, Katie and I took a deep breath, handed over our Social Security numbers and salary information, and chose Wedgwood. Afterward, we felt like going out to dinner to celebrate, and as soon as I mentioned the B&O we both knew what we wanted. We walked over in the rain and sat in the window seat. When the servers came by, we both ordered Chinese noodles, tossed with sesame seeds, shredded carrots and scallion and topped with slices of gingery chicken, and we started planning. There's no way we're giving up brunch at the B&O or mojitos on Monday. But we'll have to make some doughnut boyfriends at a new Top Pot, try the Mongolian beef at Snappy Dragon, and search high and low until we find our local pub. It's not easy, but it feels like a good time to start new.

Sometimes it's hard to believe I'm really leaving. But then I remember: I can hop on a bus, and half an hour later, I'll be back on Broadway, fogging my glasses over a bowl of pho or weaseling a free vanilla americano out of a cute coffee guy. And the air will still smell like rain and cigarettes.

Peppery goat cheese polenta

I thought for a while about a recipe that would say something about the last two years, and here it is. If I've developed a culinary specialty, it's got to be comfort food, and this is the perfect example. It's easy (five ingredients, a few minutes of stirring) and delicious (who doesn't love goat cheese?), and just as good a weekend breakfast as a late-evening dinner. When the going gets tough, the tough should try this polenta.

Ingredients:
4 cups milk (skim works fine)
1/2 cup whipping cream
1 cup cornmeal (coarse or medium, not finely ground)
Black pepper
Crumbled goat cheese (one 4- or 6-oz. tub) or equal amount of gorgonzola

Combine milk and cream in a saucepan over medium heat; bring to a boil, stirring occasionally. Slowly whisk in the cornmeal. Reduce heat to medium low and cook, stirring frequently, for about twenty minutes. Toward the end of the cooking process, stir in as much freshly ground black pepper as you can stand (I grind it to an almost alarming degree of coarseness). Once the cooking is done, remove polenta from heat and stir in the goat cheese. Gorgonzola works well too, but the flavor can be a bit overpowering and it doesn't melt as well. This polenta is approximately the consistency of a very thick oatmeal, but it firms up quite a bit after chilling. If it doesn't taste good cold as well as warm, it's not comfort food in my book, and this one passes the test with flying colors.

(By the way, much as I'd love to be able to take credit for the strawberry photo, I can't. It's by Katie.)

posted by shan at 8:17 PM; 7 comments



Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Potlucky
Sometimes I forget how lucky I am to have coworkers that I sincerely like. Most people get along with their 9-to-5 buddies just fine, but I spend my workdays surrounded by people I'd actually choose to hang out with. And, even better, most of them are just as enamored of food as I am. Every Monday, film archivist Hannah and I give each other The Food Report, a rundown of everything memorable we consumed over the weekend. We all swap recipes and links to food blogs, descend en masse upon the vegetarian buffet at Flowers, and even poll the room for suggestions on what to have for lunch or whip up for a dinner party.

The only thing better than having awesome coworkers who love to talk about food is discovering that all of them can actually cook, too. When Hannah came up with the idea for a potluck to thank all of our coworkers for ruining their poor eyes matching negatives to contact prints, cleaning film until they nearly keeled over from the fumes, and just generally slaving away on our various projects, we had no clue what delightful dishes awaited us.


The King and Queen of the Grill fixed up grilled summer veggies, flank steak, and sockeye salmon from the mini-mart fishmongers. We piled our plates high with slices of vegetarian quiche, dollops of cold rice salad with olives and artichoke hearts (a hit even with the younger members of our party), and gobs of corn-avocado-black-bean salad (my first willing corn consumption in years).


The devilled eggs were gobbled up before I had a chance to take a picture. And then there were the desserts -- lemon yogurt cake with real whipped cream, blueberry cobbler, homemade brownies, fruit-and-yogurt parfait, and my own cheating contribution, an assortment of Top Pot doughnuts.

We stuffed ourselves until we couldn't eat another bite, and then we left Hannah with the leftovers. The next day, she turned them into a dinner party, and, true to form, came in on Monday and told us all about it.

posted by shan at 11:14 PM; 0 comments



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A creature of habit
Another Weekend, Another Wedding
Cupcakes
whole foods bastards
vine ripened
Bye bye, Broadway
Potlucky
Pretty in pink
Pesto dreams
Girl meets steak

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