Monday, October 31, 2011

October Photo Dump

We celebrated the beautiful late summer harvest of peppers from the Wallingford Farmers Market for an amazing build-your-own taco night.
Pumpkin chocolate chip muffins were the perfect treat at an appreciation party thrown for a friend.
My favorite part about carving pumpkins is roasting up the seeds with lots of sea salt. Delicious with a warm mug of apple cider.
I ate almost an entire meal of chocolate samples at the The Northwest Chocolate Festival.
Winter squash was the theme of a huge dinner party hosted at my house. Pumpkin curry in homemade bread bowls, acorn squash stuffed with sausage and Honeycrisp apples. Baked apples topped with vanilla ice cream and cinnamon were served for dessert.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Chocolate Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting

I believe that on your birthday you get any homemade treat you would like. This most often falls under the category of cake. Last year I made a health conscious apple quinoa cake for a roommate of mine. We did step out of the box and made a tower of rice crispy treats for another roommate who was not a fan of cake. But regardless the treat, on your birthday you get one. This chocolate cake was made as a birthday request on my recent trip to California and it was a major hit.
This is not just a store bought chocolate cake. Those suck. They are not even worth nibbling at, and the give chocolate cake a bad reputation. This cake is an Alice Waters recipe, that steps up chocolate cake. High quality dark chocolate, cocoa powder and brown sugar make up the base of the cake. Buttermilk adds some tang. And I don't know the purpose of the boiling water but this cake turned out amazing, so there is really no need to question it. We used almond extract instead of vanilla and were delighted with the results. Once the whole thing was slathered in cream cheese frosting, it was undeniably a crowd-pleaser and just what the birthday girl wanted.
Chocolate Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting adapted from Alice Waters via NPR and Martha Stewart

Chocolate Cake

Makes 12 generous servings

3 ounces unsweetened chocolate, chopped
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
6 tablespoons cocoa powder
8 tablespoons (1 stick) butter, softened
2 1/2 cups dark brown sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla or almond extract
3 large eggs, room temperature
1/2 cup buttermilk
1 1/4 cups boiling water

1. Butter a 9-inch cake pan.
2. Melt the chocolate. Set aside.
3. Sift the flour, baking soda, salt and cocoa powder together.
4. In a large bowl, cream butter with an electric mixer. Add the brown sugar and vanilla, and mix until combined. Add the eggs one at a time and mix well to incorporate.
5. Stir in melted chocolate. Add half the dry ingredients and combine. Add the buttermilk and the rest of the dry ingredients and combine. Add the boiling water on low speed until just incorporated.
6. Pour batter into pan and bake for 30-35 minutes until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

Cream Cheese Frosting

Makes about 2 cups

8 ounces cream cheese, room temperature
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, cut into pieces, room temperature
1 cup confectioners sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla or almond extract

1. Place cream cheese in a medium mixing bowl. Using an electric mixer, soften cream cheese. Gradually add butter, and beat until smooth and well blended. Add confectioners sugar and beat until smooth. Add vanilla or almond extract and stir to combine.

Once cake is cool, spread the frosting evenly over the cake.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Harvest Meals from Bloom Grade 2011

Bloom Grade farm produce was the basis of all of the meals that we ate during the Bloom Grade Crush 2011. The Lyon's household was overflowing with food from the farm. Huge bowls of tomatoes. Herbs and garlic drying from the ceiling. Platters of eggplants, peppers, cucumbers and figs. Canned tomatoes, dried beans and dried mushroom in the cabinet. Pickled rhubarb jam and salsa filled the refrigerator.
We harvested some tiny, tiny brussel sprouts that were probably the cutest vegetable I have seen ever. I roasted these sprouts with apples from the farm and tossed the whole pan in a brown butter and balsamic vinegar sauce with whole grain Dijon mustard and honey. And this was not just any honey. It was from Bloom Grade bees and it was dark brown, so dark it was impossible to see through the glass jar. It was the Guinness of honey. It had a much stronger and deeper honey flavor that it's lighter compatriots.
After harvesting the grapes we settled down for an hour or so to enjoy a phenomenal brunch before crushing our bounty. Scarlet Runner beans had been slow cooked the day before with peppers from the farm. We piled our tortillas high with the beans, guacamole, scrambled eggs, cheddar cheese and rice with slow roasted Bloom Grade tomatoes. We used one of the canned jars of bright yellow and red tomato salsa, seasoned with cilantro and garlic.
We made a huge caprese pasta salad to utilize the copious amounts of tomatoes that made their way down the mountain. Tiny yellow tomatoes were tossed in whole. Pear shaped yellows were sliced in half. Green and red pepper were added for color. And fresh Bloom Grade basil seasoned the pasta and mozzarella cheese.
We ate a huge harvest feast outdoors in the still warm Northern California air, by candlelight. Wild, barbecued salmon accompanied the harvest bounty. It was the perfect way to celebrate the harvest and the end of the growing season. We enjoyed great company with a feast of fresh, locally grown produce after crushing beautiful Pinot noir grapes and getting them set up to become wine over the next months.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Bloom Grade Crush 2011

This weekend I learned about making wine. A great friend of mine invited me to come to her parent's new family farm/vineyard in the Santa Cruz mountains for the first annual wine crushing. I have been hearing about the progress at Bloom Grade for years now and I jumped on the opportunity to visit the property and participating in the wine crushing.
They started with 180 vines of Pinot Noir grapes and while there was a harvest last year, the grapes were to young to yield much fruit. Even this year a few rows were out of production. The fruit was removed early so that the vines could grow larger during the growing season and produce more fruit next year.
We had a group of seven people who harvested 350 pounds of grapes in about an hour and a half. We were proud, even though we learned later the professionals collect three times as many grapes in 9 minutes. Oh well, we enjoyed the experience and appreciated the work that has gone into the grapes for the last few years. We also spent time had to spend some time chasing the dogs away from the delicious sweet berries, they apparently enjoy fresh wine grapes just like we do. Wine grape have almost no flesh inside the skins like grocery store grapes do. These grapes had thick skins that were full of liquid and several seeds.
We took the grapes back to Menlo Park and crushed them with a rented machine in the driveway. The crushing machine pops all of the grapes, releasing their sweet juices, and separates the grapes from the stems, shooting them both out of different sides of the contraption. Switching out crushed grapes with new ones and dumping the pulverized grapes into a large stainless steel container. The skins, seeds and remaining tiny stems go in with the liquid and are removed later in the wine making process. The current volume is around 35 gallons.
The neighbors all stopped by to investigate what all of the commotion in the driveway was and we gladly explained the process and let them try some of the juice. The juice for the record, tasted a lot like apple cider, but from grapes. Fresh, bright, very sweet and vaguely spiced. We topped off this day of harvest with a huge, homegrown, harvest feast with produce grown next to the grapes. But that my friends, is another story.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Volunteer Park Cafe

Sun streaming through huge windows. Flowers on the tables. Wooden farmhouse tables and chairs.
Cookies, cakes, scones, pastries, daily quiches and more. All with their own individual, fabulous, antique/vintage/typewriter like signs.
Beautiful grilled sandwiches with fresh arugula, ovendried tomatoes, mozzarella, chicken and basil aioli. Eggplant gratins with cheese, bread crumbs and roasted tomato sauce.
Giant cookies over cups of coffee, make the best end to a lovely sunny, Sunday morning brunch.
Volunteer Park Cafe and Marketplace on Urbanspoon

Friday, October 7, 2011

Miniature Soft Pretzels

As an Oktoberfest dinner party potluck approached, I tossed the idea of trying to transport hot bubbly beer & cheese fondue and moved on to tackling pretzels. I have never made these wonderful snacks from scratch, but I buy them every opportunity I can. I have had my fair share of disappointing pretzels. Sad, soft, way to squishy things that I can't even bring myself to finish. However as a friend of mine put it, "these actually taste like what they should." Even though these miniature pretzels are stinking cute, I think next time I will make large ones. I like the distinct loops of the large pretzels that can be ripped off and nibbled on individually. However, if you are bringing them to a party like I did, you get twice as many, and nobody has to miss out on having their own pretzel to dunk in grainy mustard.
Using yeast is one of those simple kitchen things that has got me scared. I am always worried that my dough won't rise properly, that I did something wrong. This is when it is very helpful to me to have someone else in the kitchen with me that will put up with my fretting and tell me to stop worrying so much. Because in general, and especially in this case, things worked out. The dough rose beautifully both times. However, because my kitchen is often a bit below average room temperature I did preheat my oven to 250, turn it off and then let the dough rise in there. But once the dough was in pretzel form it rose quickly on the counter. From there a tag team of poaching, egg washing, salting and popping in the oven occurred until all 30ish beautiful miniature pretzels were cooling on my kitchen table.
Miniature Soft Pretzels adapted from Smitten Kitchen, who adapted from Martha Stewart who has a great photo on how to twist up the pretzels.

Makes 16 full-sized or 31 miniature

2 cups warm water (100 to 110 degrees fahrenheit)
1 tablespoon + 2 tablespoons sugar
1 packet active dry yeast
5 to 6 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
1 tablespoon salt
2 teaspoons vegetable oil
1/4 cup baking soda
1 egg
Coarse of pretzel salt

1. Pour warm water and 1 tablespoon sugar into a large glass mixing bowl. Stir with a wooden spoon to combine. Sprinkle with yeast, and let sit 10 minutes; yeast should be foamy.
2. Add 1 cup flour to yeast, use wooden spoon to combine. Add salt and 4 cups more flour, and mix until combined. When dough pulls away from sides of bowl, add another 1/2 cup flour, and knead until combined. If dough it still wet and sticky, add 1/2 cup more flour; knead until combined. Transfer to a lightly floured board, and knead about ten more times, or until smooth.
3. Pour oil into a large bowl. (You can rinse out the one you were using before and reuse it.) Transfer dough to bowl, turning dough to completely cover all sides. Cover with a kitchen towel, and leave in a warm spot for 1 hour, or until dough has doubled in size.
4. Heat oven to 450 degrees fahrenheit. Line three large baking sheets with parchment paper. Set aside.
5. Punch down dough to remove bubble. Transfer to a lightly floured board. Knead once or twice, divide into 16 or 32 pieces, for large or miniature pretzels.
6. Moving quickly so that the dough doesn't dry out, roll out your dough into long strands. (About 18 inches for large pretzels, 9 inches for minis. Also Deb and I found it easier to roll out the dough on an unfloured board, but see what works for you). Twist pretzels into shape; transfer to prepared baking sheets. Cover with a clean kitchen towels, and allow to rise slightly for about 15 minutes.
7. Meanwhile, fill large, shallow pot with 2 inches of water. Bring to a boil. Add baking soda. It foams up quickly so step back. Add remaining two tablespoons sugar. Reduce to a simmer; transfer as many pretzels that fit comfortably into the pot. Poach 1 minute on each side. Use slotted spoon to transfer pretzels to baking sheet. Continue until all pretzels are poached.
7. Beat egg with 1 tablespoon water, brush pretzels with egg glaze. Sprinkle with salt. Bake until golden brown, 12 to 15 minutes. Let cool, or eat warm. Pretzels are best eaten the same day, but will keep at room temp, uncovered for two days.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Mobile Chowdown VI

The Mobile Chowdown VI swarmed the West Seattle Junction this weekend and I was enthralled to be one in the crowd that shut down two entire city blocks to feed the masses with delicious treats from Seattle's best street trucks. Not only did I get to eat amazing food, but many fabulous carts had huge days for sales, as well at publicity and the popularity of the event really proves that Seattle loves their street carts. Hopefully all of this popular energy can be transferred into creating permanent homes for some of these trucks.
I couldn't resist and ordered two dishes from Snout and Co. a new truck I have been eyeing that specializes in soul food from Cuba to South Carolina. I got the Cuban sandwich with mojo pork, ham, pickles, mustard and cheese. As well as the Picadillo, a Cuban style hash with spiced ground beef, olives, raisins over rice and topped with salsa, salsa verde and a fried plantain. If I could have brought myself to order a third dish I would have loved to try the habanero honey sauce on the South Carolina Style BBQ Pork Sandwich. However, both of my eating compatriots gotRaney Brothers BBQ, so I got my fair share of bites from their delicious pulled pork and chicken sandwiches.

The carts were staged down the middle of California Ave SW, facing alternate directions so that their lines could creep down the street and still leave room for foot traffic. No doubt, there were lines at this event. But it was great to be able to walk down the street and see all of the trucks. To read the menus, smell the smells, watch others comparing their hauls and enjoy a great meal of your own. To add more enjoyment to the afternoon, all proceeds from the Pyramid beer garden were being donated to a local food bank. How could we resist supporting that?
We wrapped up the day with one last lap around the trucks with beautiful ice cream cones fromParfait. This amazing artisan ice cream has become a ritual dessert for me. I sampled the amazing summery peach sorbet earlier this Fall and have frequented the truck at previous food festivals. Whenever I see this truck, I just can't resist getting a scoop. I had meyer lemon, raspberry and the freshest mint stracciatella. I do believe I will continue to round my meals with these beautifully designed cones, until I work my way through Ballard bee honey, cinnamon stick and whatever ends up on the menu next.