Seaweed

We are in the thick of summer by all standards, except if you live in Seattle as we do. But even though it rains a copious amount here, I think we appreciate a lackadaisical day filled with sunshine, puffy-clouds and blue-sky more than almost anyone else in the nation…maybe even the world.

So while shopping at Trader Joe’s today, I found a package ([package] which I normally avoid) of Seaweed.

I have a fondness for Seaweed, and wish I could manipulate it the way they do in Japan. It has amazing health qualities and it is one of those mysteries I want to break down.

But today, in the car, after shopping at Trader Joe’s, I just threw my molecular curiosity aside and ripped open the package to reveal these thin sheets of pressed Seaweed. After delicately placing a rectangle in my mouth, I passed a few sheets to my children, who exclaimed that these little green sheets of goodness were the only green items they considered edible, and more like candy than the Broccoli I make them eat once a week.

This was not how I viewed them though. When I gingerly took a bite of these tasty seaweed rectangles, my mind made a memory time travel to the sea.

I have the fondest memories of growing up in california. One of the best times I can remember is going to Huntington Beach several times each summer with my family. My grandfather napping under a palm and my cousins and me making sand sculptures. Driving home for an hour with sand everywhere and the heat of the sun still steaming off of my skin.

And while I never ate Seaweed, I remember it tangling itself around my heels as the waves made their retreat back into the ocean. I never considered actually eating it. That would come much later.

When you have children, they reveal this sense of responsibility you didn’t even know existed in your single, college-filled, safety-88 nights of wonder. But they come into your life, and once they start eating, you turn into this ultra-healthy super-kitchen-mama. Seaweed was one of my experiments.

It was a bomb. On Cypress Island in the San Juans, a form of Seaweed comes to the surface and swims onto the sand in an effort to find a reprieve from floating around aimlessly in Strawberry Bay. I decided to “harvest” this Seaweed and steam it. Long story short, it didn’t turn out.

So I’m stuck ordering it online: Wakame, Arame and the like. I believe it cured an upset stomach I had a few years ago.

But for now, I will continue to introduce Seaweed in doses, and not try to manipulate something that is so perfect in it’s natural form.

And you know…I’m going to do that with people too. If you are reading this right now, you are perfect just the way you are. Don’t let anyone manipulate you.

You are perfect!

Caprese Salad at Botero

Caprese Salad has got to be one of my favorite salads. If you read this blog, you know how much I love a ripe-from-the-sun Tomato. Botero at Encore in Las Vegas serves up their version sans extra carbs, like Crostini, and serves the ensemble with Buffalo Mozzarella, Basil oil and Balsamic Vinegar on the side. I would’ve licked the plate, had we not been eating poolside.
This summer I’m going to get my hands on some heirloom Tomatoes, and make Basil spheres using Molecular Gastronomy and serve with Balsamic Reduction. I’m salivating already. And this my friends is what summertime is all about ;-)

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Personality in a Triple Coconut Cream Puff

Prepare for a small rant.

Lastnight I watched Next Food Network Star. I felt embarrassed for the contestants, irritated by the judges, and left wanting more from the food.

A food show should be about the food. The beauty, history, culture, facts, and various ways it can be manipulated to achieve the desired result.

Maybe I just wasn’t in the right mind to watch NFNS, having just watched an interesting documentary on Paul Liebrandt of Corton, and his long rise to the top.

The hours it takes to become a professional chef is astounding. It seems they never sleep, and when they do they are dreaming of food. The kind of stars they are working toward are Michelin’s.

I’m also reading Herve’ This’ book, Building A Meal, about molecular gastronomy, intuitiveness, and cooking with love.

In addition to that, I’m reading a cookbook by Jacques Pepin. He even goes so far as to say that writing a recipe on paper “destroys the idea or essence of the recipe.”

I have to think that creating a show around the personality of the host instead of the food, does the same thing.

Do you see those Triple Coconut Cream Puffs in the photo. I ate two of those at a recent workshop I attended. They had a depth of personality one can only achieve with talent, creativeness and skill.

That is how I’m inspired. Show me the food.

By the way, you can eat these Triple Coconut Creampuffs at any of Tom Douglas restaurants in Seattle, and get inspired yourself.

The Confidence of Asparagus

Asparagus is one of those vegetables commanding respect in the grocery store. They stand upright in bunches boasting portly or svelte stalks (my favorite) with unique heads, that when looked at overhead resemble a type of berry.

They also challenge the novice cook to maximize flavor and reduce the “stalkiness” of texture, so people don’t feel like they’re flossing while eating.

In a word, they seem “unapproachable.” Onlookers take sideways glances, trying to figure out what to do with them.

Sometimes I think we do this with people. We see them from a distance and try to figure out the best way to approach them…wrapping ourselves up in our own insecurities, replete with a chocolate brown silk organza bow.

That’s why I like this photograph so much. The bunch I picked out to take pictures of at a recent workshop is imperfect, with a broken stalk in the lower corner. A good reminder that everyone lacks the sheen of perfection. So why do we stand on the outskirts of the pedestals we’ve created for everyone else?

We all have something to share, something to say. We all want validation, to be heard, to be noticed. And not everyone is as mysterious and complex as we think.

Asparagus, while seemingly complex, is actually straightforward and like putty in your hands when you pay a little attention to it. Trim the ends, peel the outer layer, steam, grill, blanch or saute, add a little Kosher or Sea Salt and a little pepper, some Olive Oil, and a bit of lemon juice before serving, and you’ve got what could possibly be your favorite vegetable.

If you have someone in your life that seems unapproachable, pay a little attention to them and you may discover they aren’t as complex as you think.

Sunsets in Snohomish

It was finally a glorious Saturday in the NW, filled with the usual springtime activities: bonfires, baseball and parties. After dropping the kids off at aBirthday party, I set out to do some shopping for this busy time of year, in my city, Snohomish, WA.

Snohomish is the antique capital of the Northwest with a bustling historic district. Think of a Thomas Kinkade painting of a small town replete with bakery, pie shop, laughing children and couples walking hand in hand.

And to my surprise, it was the first Sunsets in Snohomish event, showcasing six local wineries nestled in six different shops around the district. This was a perfect reason to slow down and partake in a casual stroll, sip wine, shop slowly and meet new friends.

Sunsets in Snohomish is a BYOG (bring your own glass) event, organized by Historic Downtown Snohomish. Since I was joining this stroll on a whim, I didn’t bring a glass. Luckily the nice guys at Mac Donald Distillery let me borrow a teeny cordial glass, if I promised to bring it back with friends. I chuckled when I saw a couple sipping out of Mason jars, the BYOG concept is a lot of fun.

The Speckled Hen and Dubindil Winery

My first stop was at The Speckled Hen Country Store where Dubindil Winery was featured. I tasted a delicious Syrah and learned that they set up shop on the west end of the city for wine tastings.

Bite Me Cupcakes and Lantz Cellars

Next I found myself at Bite Me Cupcakes. They did an amazing job offering wine-infused cupcakes and chocolate-dipped Strawberries using the wine that we would actually be tasting. Lantz Cellars offered a variety of wines to taste, but I settled on a Cabernet. It was delicious.

Faded Elegance and Northwest Totem Cellars

Off I went to Faded Elegance, one of my favorite shops in town. The picture at the top of the post was taken inside this beautiful shop, where they offer antiques, garden wares, home decor, and unique gifts. This is not your typical antique shop, and every time I walk in I feel mesmerized by the decor, and inspired to create.  Northwest Totem Cellars was featured here and I chose to taste a nice Merlot while taking pictures and searching for gifts.

Ruffles & Rust and Barrage Cellars

Ruffles & Rust Square was my next stop…again. I had been in earlier looking at some items for myself…ahem, even though I was supposed to be shopping for others. This usually happens though, doesn’t it.

The square offers an abundance of items from different sellers, but owner Timi and her team have done a great job of making it feel cohesive, and not like your typical multi-vendor shop.

Barrage Cellars was featured here.  They offered a variety of wines to taste, but I only had two tickets left, and I was saving the last one for my next stop. I’m so glad I got to try the soon-to-be released Trifecta Merlot. Love the name and the wine. Can’t wait until it gets released with a new label.

Catering for Ruffles & Rust was Table 9, who did a whimsical display. My kids would eat more veggies if I displayed them like this. The Charceuterie platter was equally gorgeous, and I look forward to recommending them for events in the future.

Le Gourmet Depot and Martedi Winery

My last stop, and the place where you could by all the featured wines, was Le Gourmet Depot. It is becoming a second home for me because I take cooking classes here, pop in to buy wine for certain meals, and join others on Farmer’s Market Thursday to find out what’s cooking.

I was thrilled to see that John Miglino of Martedi Winery was pouring here, because at my last cooking class I was introduced to their Tuesday Cellars No. 11 Red, a wine I enjoy with company on a casual weekend get-together. I used my last ticket to try their Syrah, and I just had to try the Sangiovese, which required a small fee of $1 since I was out of tickets. So worth it. I also purchased the 2007 Martedi Riserva, which John told me was To. Die. For. I don’t think I’m capable of hearing those words without taking action. I will serve this with a special Italian meal.

When I first got in to town, I could smell something amazing coming from Le Gourmet Depot, so I went in. It turns out that Chef Dana was smoking Halibut, which she turned into a delicious Smoked Halibut Torta by the time I ended up at her counter inside the shop. It looked and tasted amazing, alongside a beautiful Beet Hummus. I signed up for her next class, and I can’t wait to go.

GROW Washington and Alia Wines

Sadly, I missed Alia Wines at GROW Washington. I’m not sure how it happened, but I will not make this mistake next time, which happens to be July 9, August 13 and September 10, in case you want to make plans ahead of time. You can get tickets here.

I really enjoyed spending a casual evening in my city. Usually I am rushing in and out to pick up this or that on my way hither and yon. It was an event I’m looking forward to over the summer. Will you join me?

Helpful Hints

  • Buy your tickets early. You can purchase tickets at the shops the day of the event for $5 before 5:00pm, otherwise they are $8 at the event tent. You can also buy them online using the link above
  • BYOG and show off your personality
  • Bring some spending money. Many of the shops are open late, even if they aren’t hosting a winery, and you don’t want to miss out on all of the good stuff they have to offer
  • Bring an appetite. Not only do some of the shops offer nibbles and bites during the event, but many of the restaurants are offering dinner specials and staying open late
  • Bring some friends. I am inviting friends next time, now that I have the dates. It is a fun time!
  • Hours are from 5-8pm

The Shops Hosting Sips

The Wineries

The Chefs/Catering in specific shops

For More Information and to buy tickets, visit Historic Downtown Snohomish website

Roasted Rhubarb

When my husband and I moved into our first home as newlyweds, I set out to investigate the property to see what treasures lay beneath the layers of weeds, dirt and dead grass.

The plum tree rising above the neglected landscape was absolutely beautiful, the Grapevines growing over the fence from the neighbor’s yard were friendly. I didn’t fully appreciate these things then as I do now nearly 14 years later, but I still hold them in my heart.

And then there was the Rhubarb. We had the family over to our new home one spring evening, and as I was showing my husband’s grandmother around, she pointed out the large green leaves of what I would learn was Rhubarb.

The small canopy of leaves hid the long and arresting color of the Rhubarb so I didn’t even know what a treasure I had. She was excited to show me how to harvest them, and I set out to make a Rhubarb pie.

It turns out that I’m not a fan of the way Rhubarb tastes. It’s one of those visually appealing foods that I would just decorate with: in a vase wrapped with a brown strand of silk organza ribbon, in an elongated wooden bowl placed just right on the kitchen counter, chopped at the bottom of a glass vase to keep stems of a bouquet in place.

But alas, I’m part of Dorie Greenspan’s online cooking club, French Fridays with Dorie, and this week’s recipe was Roasted Rhubarb. The simplicity of the recipe made it easy to approach, and my husband enjoyed eating Roasted Rhubarb Tarts with Vanilla Ice Cream, a simple pleasure for him since I don’t usually serve him Rhubarb, one of his favorites. He thanks you Dorie!

I had some Rhubarb leftover, and as I was bouncing around on Twitter, one of the fellow foodies and people I follow, @LearnToPreserve made a Roasted Rhubarb Ketchup that sounded very intriguing. Here is a link to her recipe, which I can’t wait to try.

Join us for French Fridays with Dorie. Next week is a new combination for me: Mozzarella, Tomato, and Strawberry Salad. I’ve already got the ingredients for this and will probably make for Father’s Day. Have a great weekend!

Jam and Cola Short Ribs

I couldn’t wait to get started on Dorie Greenspan’s June recipe for Cola and Jam Spareribs. Not because my family loves ribs, or because I love to slow cook almost anything, or because I was hungry, but because of the name.

I’ve been taking a trip to ‘Nostalgia’ for a couple of weeks now, rediscovering photography and remembering the wonder of my childhood imagination. So when I read that we would be cooking with Jam and Cola, a flood of childhood memories entered my mind, and suddenly I’m thinking about carnivals and fairs, sunburns from laying on the beach too long and sand in places it shouldn’t be.

Growing up in Southern California we called Cola, Coke.  It didn’t matter if you were ordering a Sprite, Pepsi or Dr. Pepper (my usual), if someone was going to the vending machine, and asked if you wanted a Coke, the next question would be, “What kind do you want?”  

The combination made perfect sense to me after eating a summer diet of Peanut Butter and Jelly (Jam) sandwiches, and cracking open a can of Coke to wash it down in my youth. Combining those two ingredients with meat was like an a-ha moment, and I can’t wait to try it on other dishes.

Since I get our beef from Firsthand Food in bulk, I didn’t have the spareribs that the recipe called for, but it worked well on the Short Ribs. I was a little hasty in making these (if you call a two-hour cooking time hasty), but here is what I did:

  • Instead of Spareribs, I used Beef Short Ribs
  • Instead of Orange Juice, I used another blend (looking forward to juicing beets, greens and other veggies with one or two drops of liquid Stevia for sweetness on the next go around)
  • We make our own ‘Cola’ with a Soda Stream machine, so I’m not exactly sure which ‘Cola’ I grabbed out of the refrigerator - probably Root Beer

I browned my meat on the stove after marinating them overnight, this differs from the recipe, but this is one of my favorite cooking pleasures and I couldn’t let the oven do it for me. I carefully dried the meat first, and reserved the marinade for the baking portion of the recipe.

The Chives are just about to burst in all of their purple glory, and I couldn’t resist adding these to the finished product. I served them simply over a bed of Cabbage, and let the cooking liquid serve as a dressing.

The ability to adjust these recipes is one of the reasons I like cooking out of Dorie Greenspan’s book, Around My French Table. The techniques serve as a foundation, but your imagination serves as the catalyst to creating your own flavor profiles. I’m learning a lot from being a part of this online cooking group. You should sign up here.

Prosciutto-wrapped Halibut

It’s June gloom here in Seattle, but that doesn’t mean we can’t turn on the grill and get cooking.

The temperatures are warm, balmy even, so if the sun decides to stay hidden behind a cloche of grey…it’s really not the end of the world.

Last week I was feeling spontaneous and signed up for a cooking class at Pacific Culinary Studio in Everett, WA. If you ever get a chance to go to a class (time is running out for the season), you must. The venue is beautiful and comfortable, held in the culinary studio behind the store.

Lindalee McCandlis is co-owner with her husband, Dewey, and they are a fantastic and fun team to learn from. The witty banter, personal tales of travels and shop happenings, will keep you relaxed and feeling like you could kick off your shoes and get cozy.

On the menu that evening, was Prosciutto-wrapped Halibut. It was prepared simply, yet was elegant enough for a special dinner. I couldn’t wait to get my hands on some Halibut so I could recreate this at home.

A few days later I found myself surveying a vast supply of all things seafood when I came across a dismal platter of tail-end only filets of Halibut.

A woman approached the counter next to me, someone’s lovely foreign grandmother, I decided, with her nose to the glass peering in at the $19.99/lb. Halibut…tails.

Meanwhile, I ask the nice gentleman behind the counter, is this all the Halibut you have, he says, I don’t know, let me check in back.

Foreign grandmother elbows me and says, I’m not paying $19.99/lb. for the ends, and I, giving a little start, mumbled something in agreeance. Nice gentleman returns with a large pan of beautiful Halibut, locked down under inches of clear plastic wrap. Foreign grandmother elbows me again and says, see, he knew there was more in the back, they were just saving it for the weekend. I say, wow you really know what you’re doing, giggling on the inside at how cute she was. She says, oh, yes, I know what I’m doing. I was reminded of how much I love people two generations older than me.

I learned a lot from foreign grandmother about asking for what you want. This is a hard concept for me to grasp, but it seems to be a theme I’m running into lately. Jump at opportunities, ask for what you want, explain yourself clearly. Challenging ideas for a mom who has been home raising kids for ten years. What opportunities? What do I want? Explain myself (oh, dear).

So the yummy morsels to savor from this small tale are…take a class at Pacific Wine and Kitchen; if things don’t seem right, ask for what you want; and fire up your grill even though you might not get to wear your fancy sunglasses. Oh, and cook this easy recipe:

  • Halibut (adjust amount to your budget) (Brine for 10 minutes in water and salt if you like, so it won’t dry out)
  • Fresh Rosemary
  • Prosciutto
  • Kosher Salt
  • Cracked Pepper
  • Grill (sans sunglasses)

Method:

  • Coat Halibut with Olive Oil, S & P
  • Break off a sprig of Rosemary and place on top of your Halibut
  • Lay out a strip of Prosciutto, place Halibut on top, and roll (it doesn’t have to be perfect. I had my Prosciutto sliced super thin and it worked out great)
  • Grill for about 4-5 minutes on each side, let rest with a foil tent while you prepare table and sides

*Grilling note: I have a handy grilling tray with small round holes in it for grilling vegetables or fish. I put the fish on top of this tray, then put the tray on top of the grill. This is to prevent the fish or small veggies falling through. If you don’t have one of these you could poke holes in tin foil and use that as a modified ‘tray’ but the Prosciutto probably won’t get crispy. Halibut is thick and should stand up to cooking directly on the grill.

Thanks to LindaLee for this recipe!

Food Photography with Andrew Scrivani

As a child of a Filipino grandfather, I had the task of standing in front of a camera with my cousins for what seemed like hours, to get “just one more” shot. I can still see my grandfather donning a sheer muscle shirt, trousers and flip-flops. 

When I’m feeling nostalgic, my thoughts almost always return to my grandparent’s home in Southern California. It was my favorite place to be as an only child, because it meant I would get to see my cousins who were close in age and my aunt who was six years older, I would get to eat my grandmother’s Pepper Steak, we would eat bags full of candy from the corner market…and get away with things we could never do at home.

But it’s the sound of my grandfather’s flip-flops and the picture-taking that I hold dear. All at once in my mind’s eye, I’m quietly watching him set up his equipment, which back in the day, was large and a little bit cumbersome, especially when video came along…you can imagine. It was sweet the way he went about it all very methodically.

For some reason though, I didn’t grow up with his love for photography. I’m only rediscovering it now, after a long stint with point-and-shoot cameras, and more recently, the iPhone camera with Hipstamatic App.

So when I thought about signing up for Andrew Scrivani’s Seattle workshop, I felt a little timid. I even asked host, Seattle Bon Vivant, if it was only for professionals. Luckily she said I could attend with my beginner status, and away I went.

Looking at Andrew’s pictures reminded me of how hard photographers work. Before I had children, I was a marketing manager for an international manufacturer, which meant that I had to hire photographers, graphic designers and printing houses. It was a great job, but seeing Andrew’s photos, and hearing his explanations about the hours involved, the business of photography, carrying Q-Tips to wipe away annoying excesses, and whipping chopsticks out of his pocket like a gun-slinger, gave me a new respect for his craft…his art.

I can’t do justice to all that I experienced in those four short hours in downtown Seattle, but here are a few things we did: Listened to Andrew’s advice and got to see his photos, sampled amazing fare, were visited by special guest Pichet Ong of Coppelia’s in New York, and used all of that inspiration to photograph food. It was wonderful to watch groups working together, and Andrew giving advice. It was a relaxed atmosphere and beautiful venue. If you get a chance to come to Andrew’s next workshop (I hear there are plans in the works for fall!), I suggest you sign up quick.

Here are a few of the photos I took

The plaid shirt below is a joke for the class. Apparently Pichet has a penchant for plaid (say that ten times fast). Here is a short list of things I wrote down during Andrew’s presentation:

  • ~Jump at opportunities
  • ~Minimalism is a good thing
  • ~It’s not just food, it is still life art
  • ~Find your style
  • ~Create illusion
  • ~Push light
  • ~Play with effects
  • ~Be creative
  • ~Don’t dumb it down for your audience
  • ~Use what you have
  • ~Understand light
  • ~Talk about your work in a way in which people will understand your perspective
  • ~You won’t always fit certain molds
  • ~Play around with graphics
  • ~Use smaller props
  • ~Iron your linens!
  • ~If shooting white on white – shoot in dark-lighten in Photoshop
  • ~Master the drip (honey, syrup)
  • ~Use mature Spinach
  • ~Recognize beautiful light

And here is a list of some of the people who brought this together. A big thank you!

  • ~Myra Kohn (@bonnevivante) who was the consummate host
  • ~Andrew Scrivani (@andrewscrivani) great guy and awesome photographer
  • ~Taylor Shellfish/Kate Mcdermott (@taylorshellfish, @katemcdermott) for a spectacular Oyster presentation
  • ~Tom Douglas Co. (@TomDouglasCo) for catering (and Triple Coconut Cream Puffs that changed my life)
  • ~The Confectional (@Confectional) for Cheesecake inspiration
  • ~Blueacre Restaurant (@BlueacreSeafood) for showing us how to shuck Oysters

It was a great day in the city for this country gal. I learned a lot and think I’ll continue to have fun getting to know photography again. If you see me roaming the market donning muscle shirt, trousers and flip-flops, you’ll know I’m clicking my way through the past and enjoying a little nostalgia.

Saffron’s Exotic Lesson

Lately I’ve been pulled in by Saffron’s exotic beauty. I consider it a culinary masterpiece: it’s ability to dazzle the eyes in raw form, and then, all at once under the presence of heat, release it’s perfect bitterness and color to Spanish Paella and French Bouillabaisse.

The word “exotic” calls to mind the jingle-jangle of bangles, big smiles, fast talking, blue eyeshadow and foreign grandmothers. I sometimes crave being a young girl sitting on a wooden stool in the kitchen of a Spanish villa, with the sounds and sights of cooking: chop,whir,pound,sizzle, and chatter…in my childhood imagery there’s always chatter, smiling and laughter.

There is something comforting about cooking together. The pressure to produce something wonderful at your own hand is diminished,  there’s freedom to explore, and there is a carefree spirit about the whole process.

I often wish there was a cooking show without a “personality” or host. A show where you could just listen and watch the cooking process; the comforting sights and sounds of cooking.

Our American culture is a far cry from my childhood imagination. We are busy, and usually alone in the kitchen tasked with the sole purpose of filling empty stomachs, like a mama bird bringing worms to her young with beaks wide open.

Saffron reminds me to create, enjoy,  love the cooking process, and pass that love on to my children.

I believe I’m seeing a glimpse of this love of cooking. The other morning my oldest daughter set out to make pancakes for the family. She doubled the recipe, and since we were out of cooking oil, she used Olive Oil, which, “made the pancakes better, mom.” They were wonderful pancakes, I must say, and I can’t wait for what we’ll create together as they all get older.

So while I’m not a little girl anymore, and I’ve never been to Spain (in a villa no less), and I don’t where bangles, I’m vowing to create this “exotic” presence in the very real experience of my own children. I want us to have fun in the kitchen together, and one day, maybe my little granddaughter will be sitting on a wooden stool in the kitchen of our Spanish villa, watching us chop, whir, pound, sizzle and chatter.

I guess I’ll have to change my rule about bangles and wear one or two!

Get cooking together!

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