Thursday, June 30, 2011

Perfect Blueberry Muffins

On a recent lazy morning, with a Costco pack of blueberries burning a holes in my thoughts I needed a recipe astat, something reliable and perfect to cradle these perfect blue berries. There was no time to do a long and detailed search, I cut out the middle man and went straight to my stand-by. Deb had already located the perfect blueberry muffin recipe and even better, she had read my mind and had already halved the recipe and altered the recipe into a one bowl operation. I will attempt to make almost any muffin in one bowl because it works just as well, there is less clean up and you don't need to clear out quite as much space on the crowded counter top. Saving time and reducing the amount of time necessary to wait for gooey blueberries in cushions of perfect muffin batter. Once again, Deb came to the rescue. We quickly had enough muffins to feed four summer morning loungers a lovely summer breakfast. We smeared the muffins with some fresh butter and ate the rest of the blueberries by the handful.
Perfect Blueberry Muffins adapted from my-go-to Smitten Kitchen who halved the recipe from Cook's Illustrated

Makes 9 to 10 standard muffins

5 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
1/2 cup sugar
1 large egg
3/4 cup sour cream or plain yogurt
1/2 teaspoon grated lemon zest
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup blueberries, fresh or frozen (if frozen, don't defrost)

1. Preheat oven to 374 degrees fahrenheit. Line a muffin tin with 10 paper liners or grease the pan well with nonstick spray.
2. Beat butter and sugar with an electric mixer or by hand with a rubber spatula until light and fluffy. Add egg and beat well, then yogurt and zest.
3. Sprinkle flour over the batter, sprinkle with baking powder and baking soda. Stir the dry ingredients around a bit before evenly stirring them into the wet ingredients. Mix just until the flour disappears then gently fold in your blueberries. (The dough will the quite thick.)
4. Fill your muffin cups about 3/4 full. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, until tops are golden.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

June Portland Tour: Pine State Biscuits, The Meadow, Coava

When I am in Portland I always make at least one food tour of the city, attempting to check of as many places as I can from the must-see list that I have complied from afar. I grabbed my brother and an old friend and we had a serious afternoon of hipster biscuits, followed by artisan salts, ice cream and coffee. We started off at Pine State Biscuits on Alberta. Surrounded by a flock of Portland hipsters we settled into our picnic table with a beautiful array of southern inspired comfort food that has found quite a following in the Pacific Northwest. I got the world's tallest biscuit sandwich. There was fried chicken, fried green tomatoes, a wedge of iceberg lettuce and a phenomenal blue cheese dressing all sandwiched between two rich and flaky biscuit halves. It needed a skewer to stand up straight. My lovely eating cohorts let me snack on their biscuit topped- herb scented potpie, pulled pork biscuit sandwich and cornmeal battered Andoulle sausage corn dog served with honey and stone ground mustard. We ate, we savored, we were full full full and superbly satisfied with our indulgent meal. But when in Portland, one must see as much as possible, yessiry. We continued on to sample the extensive, copious, diverse selection of salts at The Meadow. I proceeded to geek out at not only the spectacular salts, chocolate, bitters and flowers but at the James Beard Award hanging on the bookshelf. Meadow owner Mark Bitterman received the award for his book Salted.
After sufficiently geeking out and asking way to many questions about cooking on salt blocks and the collection methods of salt we stopped by Ruby Jewel for some all natural, refreshing and dare we say palate cleansing, ice cream. Then we headed further south to Coava to experience the fanciest of all coffee operations, and this is coming from a current Seattelite, this place knows its coffee. We ordered our coffee from a menu that highlighted the tasting notes, you had two choices for espresso and two for drip coffee. I am hesitant to even call the drip coffee, drip coffee, because even though that is was it was, this is something so much fancier than what is implied by drip coffee. The coffee and water are perfect measured, moistened, poured and served for optimal flavor. Next to the barista counter, literally is the guy who roasted the coffee, in small batches all day long to ensure that the beans are perfectly roasted. Ohhh the perfection, ohhh the best coffee I have ever had. Thank you Portland, for yet again another great tour of phenomenal eating.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Black Pepper Chicken Thighs with Mango, Cashews and Cilantro

There has been a serious lack of housemate family style dinners around my place lately. As we all settle into new jobs, new summer class schedules and move around visiting friends and family in the early summer weeks, we are rarely in the same place at the same time. It is rare to have two or three of us home at the same time eating, which is thoroughly disappointing. As I reminisced with my childhood best friend over this last weekend, my thoughts moved to the bustling kitchen that we grew up in. Her home was always full of people; family, our friends, her brother's flock of older attractive friends and we were always eating, drinking, talking, laughing, dancing and having a grand old time over breakfast buffets, Kahlua pulled pork and summer barbecue feasts. This was one of those kitchens where we didn't just pepper our food, but we peppered our lives with great people, great food and great conversations. The nostalgia for this kitchen of my past hit especially hard this week. That kitchen was the support system for many of our young lives. A place to relax, a place to vent, a place to gather opinions about your latest decisions, ambitions, conflicts or doubts. Remembering this space has made me preemptively nostalgic for my current busy, chaotic, food and people filled kitchen. So I pulled whoever was around, still a small group but a great one nonetheless, and we ate black pepper chicken thighs with mango, cashews and cilantro with brown rice and perfectly roasted asparagus. We chased the whole thing with a fabulous chocolate pudding pie adorned with a single birthday candle. There is nothing better than sitting around this kitchen, with great music, great food and great people.
Black Pepper Chicken Thighs with Mango, Cashews and Cilantro adapted from Melissa Clark in the New York Times

1/2 teaspoon light brown sugar
1 1/2 teaspoon black pepper, separated
1/4 cup olive oil, separated
1/2 cup salted cashews
2 pounds, boneless skinless chicken thighs, cut into 2-inch chunks
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 cup finely chopped scallions
2 tablespoons chopped cilantro stems
1 large or 2 small mangoes, cut into 1/4-inch cubes
1 to 1 1/2 teaspoons cider vinegar
1/3 cup chopped fresh cilantro leaves

1. In a small bowl, stir together the brown sugar, 1/2 teaspoon black pepper and cayenne.
Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the cashews and sugar-spice mixture to the skillet; cook, stirring, until nuts are golden, 2 to 3 minutes. Scrape nuts into a bowl.
2. Add the remaining 3 tablespoons of oil. Season chicken all over with salt and remaining 1 teaspoon of pepper. Add scallions and cilantro stems to the pan. Add the chicken to the skillet, spreading them out as evenly as possible. Cook, stirring occasionally, until chicken is golden and cooked through, about 12 minutes. (If there is a lot of liquid in your pan, drain the majority of is before moving on to the next step.)
3. Remove pan from heat and immediately add nuts, mango vinegar and cilantro leaves. Stir, taste and adjust seasonings, if necessary.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Peach Golden Cake

It is the time of the year where I am constantly letting myself get led on and let down by Seattle summer weather and also by the season's first summer stone fruits. For starters, every year there is the first week of perfect, spectacular summer weather and I bury my raincoat in my closet, just to dig it out again when the rain reappears within the next 48 hours. I also cannot resist the opportunity to buy the first peaches that arrive on the shelves, that waft their perfumed fragrence in my direction. I snatch them right up hoping and wishing, against all of my best knowledge that they will ripen into juicy, soft, delectable summer fruit. But just like the rain never stays away during a Seattle spring, the first peaches of summer are never what you are looking for. However, high temperatures can do lovely things to even the most disappointing of summer fruits. This cake provides the perfect pillow-like base for peaches that need a little extra help.
Peach Golden Cake adapted from Maggie Ruggiero

1 cup all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup unsalted butter, (1 stick) softened
1/2 cup plus 1/2 tablespoon sugar, divided
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/8 teaspoon pure almond extract
2 peaches, pitted and cut into 1/4-inch-thick wedges
1/2 teaspoon grated nutmeg

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees fahrenheit. Lightly butter a 9-inch springform pan.
2. Whisk together flour, baking powder, and salt.
3. Beat butter and 1/2 cup sugar with an electric mixer or with a rubber spatula until pale an fluffy. Add eggs 1 at a time, beating well after each addition, then beat in extracts. Mix in the flour until just combined.
4. Spread batter evenly in pan, then place the peaches neatly over the top. Stir together nutmeg and 1/2 tablespoon sugar and sprinkle over top. Bake until cake it golden-brown, 45 to 50 minutes. (Cake may rise over fruit.) Allow cake to cool in pan before removing.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Boat Street Cafe

I graduated from the University of Washington last week and I am just now beginning to really process what this accomplishment means to me and in what direction I want to aim my life in now. But in recent reflection, my favorite part of the graduation weekend was celebrating with my family over a great meal. We ducked into the mystical, hidden French oasis that is the Boat Street Cafe for a celebratory dinner and it was the perfect place to enjoy the company of the most supportive people in my life. We ate a fabulous pate, sampled the fromage plate, savored the Boat Street Pickles, slowly sipped our wine, ate prime rib with spring artichokes and olives, halibut with fresh pesto sauce and rounded out the meal with chocolate ice cream and caramel pots de creme. The food was perfect and we continued to reminisce about it even over breakfast the next morning. And as we wrapped up a phenomenal meal, I wrapped up a chapter in my life and began to look forward to new adventures and the fabulous meals that loom on the horizon.
Boat Street Cafe on Urbanspoon

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Roasted Fennel and Green Beans with Orange and Almonds

While roasting vegetables is usually reserved for the winter months, as a way to stay warm and deepen the flavors of tired root vegetables, this quick roasted dish is perfect for summer. Especially for those cool summer days that don't really live up to our expectations. I love how fragrant the green beans and fennel hearts become when they are tossed with orange zest, fennel fronds and toasted almonds. The fennel is dense with with a light anise flavor, while the green beans remain crisp and flavorful. This dish retains a lightest reserved for summer food, with the comfort of heartier winter fare.
Roasted Fennel and Green Beans with Orange and Almonds adapted from Martha Stewart

Serves 8 as a side dish
Prep time 15 minutes
Total time 45 minutes

1 pound of green beans, trimmed
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 large fennel, trimmed and cut into 1/4-inch wedges, 1/4 cup fronds reserved
Coarse salt and pepper
Zest of 1/2 orange, thinly sliced, plus 3 tablespoons fresh orange juice
1/4 cup sliced blanched almonds, toasted

1. Preheat the oven to 450 degrees, with rack in the lower third.
2. In a medium bowl, toss green beans with 1 tablespoon of olive oil.
3. On a rimmed baking sheet, toss fennel wedges with remaining tablespoon oil and season with salt and pepper. Roast for 5 minutes, flip and add the green beans to the sheet. Roast until beans are crisp-tender, 12-15 minutes.
4. To serve, transfer to a serving platter, drizzle with orange juice, and top with almond, orange zest and fennel fronds.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Challah French Toast with Roasted Apricots and Honey-Vanilla Creme Fraiche

One of the joys, and sometimes pitfalls, of living with lots of people if never really knowing where furniture comes from or who it belongs to. Last week someone, still unidentified, acquired a dining room table which has taken up residence in our backyard. And let me tell you, as the weather gets better and better, we are making excellent use of this mystery table. Breakfast outside, is by far, the best way to start a day. Especially with a breakfast like this one. Luscious challah French toast, warm luxurious apricots all topped with sweet creme fraiche. We paired this mountain of extra special French toast with bacon, to really make it a particularly delicious breakfast. We basked in the sun, and basked in the glory of this epic breakfast. This is a great meal for a special occasion. Or even better, invite over some good friends, whip up some large plates of love and turn their regular day into an extra special day.
Challah French Toast with Roasted Apricots and Honey-Vanilla Creme Fraiche adapted from Ina Garten and Bon Appetit

Serves 6-8

6 large or 12 small apricots, halved, pitted
1/2 cup brown sugar
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, diced
1 8-ounce container creme fraiche or sour cream
1 1/2 tablespoons honey
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
6 extra-large eggs
1 1/2 cups whole milk
1 teaspoon grated orange zest
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 large loaf challah or brioche bread
unsalted butter for the pan

For the apricots and creme fraiche:
1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees fahrenheit.
2. Evenly sprinkle the brown sugar in a 11x7x2-inch glass backing dish. Add the apricots cut side up to the dish. Pour 1/4 cup water over the apricots and dot with butter.
3. Roast until the apricots are tender, occasionally basing with syrup in dish, 12 to 15 minutes.
4. Whisk creme fraiche, honey and vanilla in a small bowl, set aside.

For the French toast:
1. Slice eight 3/4-inch slices of challah.
2. In a shallow bowl or 11x7x2-inch glass backing dish whisk together the eggs, milk, orange zest and salt. Soak as many slices of challah as possible in the egg mixture for 3 minutes, turning once.
3. Heat two tablespoons in a large saute pan over medium heat. Add the soaked bread and cook for 2 to 3 minutes on each side, until nicely browned.

To serve: Place apricots on top of French toast. Drizzle with the apricot pan sauce and top with honey-vanilla creme fraiche.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Bravehorse Tavern

Tom Douglas was nominated for on Oustanding Restaurateur James Beard Award this year as he completed the opening of his three new restaurants in Seattle's South Lake Union neighborhood. Tom, already a Seattle legend, has been at the heart of the Seattle food scene for as long as I can remember. As South Lake Union, booms with new corporate offices and condos near the recently renovated waterfront, the restaurant scene is also picking up. I was afraid that he might be stretching himself thin with this triple opening endeavor, but I should not have been worried. My parents were in town and, as is true in any family, it is hard to find a place that will suite everyone's dinner preferences. The Bravehorse Tavern was a winner.
Tom Douglas always has a theme, and The Bravehorse Tavern whips up some mean pretzels, burgers bar snacks and other dressed up cowboy fare. Handmade pretzels came be served with a diverse variety of spreads or you can get a plain one and slather it with the custom mustards on your table. The apple-honey, super hot and porter mustard were all great, but the porter was our hands-down favorite. My mom will always choose seafood over a burger. She loved her seared albacore tuna burger and was particularly impressed that it was not even slightly over cooked. I stuck with the classic 100% chuck burger with caramelized onions and bacon. My dad chose the smokehouse pastrami. Three mustards to slather, three beers, three sandwiches, and three satisfied stomachs.
The bar is complete with an immense spread of local brews on tap and a wide variety of bottled beverages as well. The Bravehorse Tavern has impeccable food, and as always Tom has created a unique, tasteful and just thematic enough atmosphere. This is one of Tom's most causal restaurants, complete with some great shuffle board tables for some after dinner competition. So see what is new on tap, challenge someone to a shuffleboard battle, satisfy your stomach with a burger and get adventurous with something new from this new tavern.
Brave Horse Tavern on Urbanspoon

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Strawberry Rhubarb Sauce

Rhubarb is one of my favorite spring market finds. I have seen rhubarb in a few grocery stores but it is preventable at farmers markets this time of year. There is some debate over if rhubarb is a fruit or a vegetable. I believe that it is officially classified as a fruit for regulation purposes, but in reality I see it is a stalk. An edible, delicious stalk that is extremely sour but when paired with the right ingredients it has a spectacular and unique flavor. I made this sauce to go with a cake and I fell in love with it. Rhubarb and strawberries are simmered with sugar, lemon zest and orange juice until they collapse into a luscious sauce. Try it on ice cream, yogurt, English muffins, crumpets, cake or anything else that needs a drizzle of springtime.
Strawberry Rhubarb Sauce inspired by this and that.

3 cups of rhubarb
3/4 cup sugar
1 tsp lemon zest
1/2 cup orange juice
1 pound of strawberries, hulled and sliced

1. Cup the rhubarb into 1/2- inch rounds, peeling off the outer stringy rhubarb skin as you go.
2. Combine the rhubarb, sugar, lemon zest and orange juice in a sauce pan over medium heat. Let cook down until the rhubarb starts to fall apart.
3. Add the strawberries, stir. Remove from heat and let cool.
4. Using a blender combine all of the ingredients, add more orange juice a tablespoon at a time if needed.