30 November 2009

Thanksgiving 2009

Our Thanksgiving was lovely in a variety of ways.  This year we were fortunate to fill our table not only with wonderful food but with dear friends as well as my sister, Becky.  Another thing that made it special was that we ate our meal on Wedgwood china that belonged to Byron's mother, which made us think of her, now 13 years gone.

In true form, I made everyone at the table share something they were particularly thankful for.  Suffice it to say that in doing so we were reminded of the rewarding and happy lives that we lead and of how much we have to be grateful for this year.  Always a valuable exercise.

Special thanks to our guests, who, in addition to being lovely people, are also fine chefs who prepared and sourced several of the items on our menu despite their busy lives.  We used organic, locally-sourced foods wherever possible. 

Here's what we consumed from 5 'till 9 p.m.

Thanksgiving Menu 2009

Pt. Townsend Creamery Camembert with toasts
Homemade pickled peppers with shallots and thyme
Pickled raisins and fresh walnuts

First Course
Cauliflower and Romanesco bisque with walnut oil and toasted hazelnuts
Homemade herb butterflake rolls

 Main Course
Vegetarian smoked turkey filled and buttermilk cornbread dressing
Accompaniments:  fresh cranberry-orange relish, apple-cranberry stuffing
and mushroom gravy

Buttermilk mashed potatoes -- a medley of Maris Pipers, Yukon gold, and red potatoes
Roasted Tonda pumpkin wedges with butter, homegrown chilies, and honey
Creamed leeks -- baby leeks, cream, Dijon mustard, and fines herb
Apricot-glazed roasted baby carrots and parsnips
Brussels sprouts braised in garlicky broth
Radicchio and Boston lettuce salad with fennel, apple, hazelnuts, and cider vinaigrette 

Bosc pears poached in red wine and honey with mascarpone filling
Pumpkin Squares -- pumpkin custard with praline crumbles and whipped cream

A view of our table all aglow.

29 November 2009

Weekend Coffee: Week 2

This week we went to Mighty-O Donuts in the Wallingford neighborhood for organic coffee and vegan donuts.

We liked the coffee, but the donuts could have been better.  They are nothing like Top Pot.  That said, the donuts are very environmentally responsible and healthy to the extent they are organic and contain no cholesterol. 

We tried the yellow cake donut with cinnamon sugar, a chocolate cake mini, yellow cake with chocolate glaze and coconut, and the plain glazed raised donut.  Of all of them, the yellow cake with chocolate and coconut was the yummiest.  The raised donut was a bit tough and chewy.

Although I've heard that the lemon poppy seed donut is great, we forgot to try that one.

I can't say that I didn't miss the eggs and butter that would have produced a tender crumb, but that omission certainly didn't stop us from cleaning our plates!

Pirates seem to be the theme, so if you go you might want to bring your eye patch and sword. The kids we saw devouring Mighty-os were definitely "argh-ing" it up.

Mighty O Donuts
2110 North 55th Street
Seattle, WA 98103

23 November 2009

A Competitive Thanksgiving

Contests are generally not my thing, but this one is right up my alley.
I'm participating in the "Thank-Your-Farmers Harvest Feast" contest  and will be entering my Thanksgiving dinner in the contest.  The best and most direct-from-the-market Thanksgiving meal wins!

It'll take a bit of photo-taking, documentation, and planning but it sounds like fun.  We'll see if they have the nerve to select a vegetarian meal as a winner. 

I'll post my entry here once I submit it.  Wish me luck.

20 November 2009

Puzzler in Training

Based on my blog, it seems like all I do is eat.

In truth, I think about food a lot.  And I really enjoy meal planning and cooking for others.  But I have managed to fit a few things besides eating into my schedule.

Now that I'm living this life of leisure (yeah, right . . . why is it that I feel so busy without a job?), I have the time to learn new things.  At least I hope I can learn something new.

Although I had never completed even one, I let it slip one day last month day that I'd like to be good at crossword puzzles.  This seems like a good life goal, right?  Plus, down the road it's sure to have health benefits.

Shortly thereafter (actually, I think it was within hours of my utterance), I was kindly surprised with a 185-page book of "easy" crossword puzzles.  Now I had to give them try.

The first puzzle took me two days.  I was motivated.  And Byron, a bit of a crossword whiz, graciously helped out a bit.  Then, puzzle two took me three weeks.  Not too impressive, huh?  That said, I'm now working on puzzle four, and I think it's getting a tad easier.

People say you develop crossword skills -- whatever those are.  Mostly, this new hobby has shown me what skills I'm missing.  First, I'm not much of a speller, and this turns out to be a bit of problem in the world of crosswords.  Second, much like my inability to get jokes, crossword clues seem to wash over me without effect.  Byron says getting the clues is all about being literal-minded.  Whatever.

Taking up crosswords has brought back all the frustrations associated with learning something new.  But the flip side of this learning curve is the happy feeling of satisfaction that comes with finishing one.  And then I start another.

Complaints aside, I enjoy the workout my brain is getting doing these puzzles -- that is, when I'm not cheating by looking up the answers in the back of the book.  I'm not a puzzler yet.  But I will be.

My first completed crossword puzzle!

19 November 2009

Weekend Coffee: Week 1

In a city known for great coffee it would be a shame not to take full advantage.  So, when the dreary winter days begin in earnest, our weekend coffee adventures do too.  Here's how it works: each winter weekend we seek out a coffee shop or bakery that we have never tried.  Not surprisingly, we have yet to run out of options.

We kicked off our winter coffee adventures last weekend with a visit to Honoré Artisan Bakery in Ballard.  There was a line coming out the door when we arrived.  A good sign.

We really like the coffee, but let's be honest, these excursions are equally about the pastries.  Unfortunately for you, I devoured mine before photographing them.  Hopefully, my description will do them justice.

It's my belief that the true measure of a bakery is its croissant.  Thus, I started with the butter croissant, to which I give high marks.  I am not exaggerating when I say that it looked and tasted like something you'd find in a boulangerie in Paris. The puff pastry was moist inside but dark and crunchy outside with just a touch of melted butter brushed on top to give it shine.  It was so flaky that much of it ended up on my sweater -- at least until I ate the crumbs off my chest.

My other pastry choice (yes, I had two) was the anise coffee cake.  I know what you're thinking . . . but it was phenomenal.  Moist with a very tender crumb and a slightly crunch top under its dusting of powdered sugar.  It contained large amounts of butter, of that I am certain.  Julia Child would have loved it too.  As for the anise (I was a bit skeptical myself) it was subtle and perfumey, but not too strong or licoricey.  Absolutely perfect.

Hard as it was to pass up the wild huckleberry and mascarpone danish or the onion-gruyere-thyme tart, I held the line at two pastries.

Byron chose the ham and cheese croissant and chausson aux pomme.  Suffice it to say he was highly impressed by both. Honoré has set a high bar.  We'll see what next week holds.

Epilogue:  Because of my fondness for incorporating photographs in my posts, I stopped by Honoré again today to take some photos.  While they didn't have all the pastries we enjoyed last weekend, you get the idea.

Their macaroons are so pretty and Laduree-like.

And the canneles . . . well, I can't think of anything to say except: tiny baked custards. 

It was a dangerous photo shoot because this time I couldn't resist the onion-gruyere-thyme tart (it was lunch time, what can I say).

Honoré Artisan Bakery
1413 NW 70th Street

18 November 2009

Homemade Microwave Popcorn

I'm probably the last person on the planet to figure this out, but I just learned how to make regular popcorn in the microwave.  This method eliminates the greasy stove-top pan and inevitable panic that sets in when the popped corn starts coming out the top while the corn is still popping on the bottom.  And you don't need a one-purpose appliance like a popcorn popper.

Plus, it's cheaper and can be healthier than store-bought microwave popcorn--assuming you don't drench it in melted butter, that is.  Here are the instructions I followed.

16 November 2009

A Peck of Pickled Peppers

I've been pickling peppers this fall, inspired by the great variety of shapes and sizes of peppers sold by Alvarez Farms at my farmer's market.  Here's the recipe that's turned out best for me.  I found it in Bon Appetit this fall.  These pickles are very simple and make beautiful, tasty, and low calorie snacks.

Because I made a double batch, I marinated them in a thin layer on a half-sheet pan, which worked fine.

We've been eating them on pizza, with cheese and crackers, with toast and soup, grilled in panini . . . . They're great.  I'm making one more batch before all the peppers are gone for the season.  I'll try sealing and processing this batch so they can sit on the shelf all winter long.  We'll see how that works.

11 November 2009

Pumpkins and Pumpkin Squares

Without doubt, Thanksgiving is one of my favorite holidays.  And to make up for the fact that all the stores seem to just skip over Thanksgiving once Halloween is over, I feel a unique responsibility to decorate, cook, and enjoy this harvest-y time of year all the more.

I think I've gone a tad overboard with the decorating, however.  Swanson's, one of my favorite local nurseries, had a terrific selection of pumpkins this year.  For a flat price you could get as many as could fit in a wagon.  And on top of that, I had a coupon.  As you can see, I got my money's worth. (And yes, I could move the wagon, albeit very slowly.)  Even Swanson's staff members were impressed by my well-balanced load.

In addition to decorating with them, we've been eating a lot of squash lately.  Mostly, I just halve the squash lengthwise (striped delicata is a good choice), scrape out the seeds, and roast it in a 400 degree oven with a little butter, salt and pepper, and agave syrup in the "boat."

But let's be honest, savory squash recipes aside, this wouldn't be November without pumpkin squares.  If you haven't had pumpkin squares, it is time you tried them.  They are easier than pumpkin pie and even more delicious!  Thanks to my dear friend Di, who shared this recipe with me in 1989, these have become a fall tradition for us.

Pumpkin Squares
The crust:
Crumble the following ingredients together and press into the bottom of a 9x13 pan.  Bake at 350 degrees for 15 minutes.
1 cup flour
1/2 cup quick rolled oats (regular oats work okay too)
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1/2 cup butter

The custard filling:
While the crust bakes, mix the following ingredients together by hand or in the bowl of an electric mixer with the paddle attachment.  Pour this mixture over the crust and bake at 350 degrees for about 30 minutes. 
4 eggs
1 large can pumpkin
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 tsp. salt
2 tsp. ground cinnamon
1 tsp. ground dry ginger
1/2 tsp. ground cloves
2 cans evaporated milk

The topping: 
While the squares bake, mix together the crumble topping.  You can double it if you like lots.
1/2 cup chopped pecans
1/2 cup brown sugar
2 Tbs. cold butter

After baking the squares for about 30 minutes, carefully sprinkle the topping over the squares while they are still in the oven.  Some of the topping will sink in a bit.  After adding the topping, bake for an additional 15 minutes, or just until set.

Serve at room temperature with lightly sweetened whipped cream.

08 November 2009

What a Friend We Have in Cheeses

I have come upon an amazing cheese and I must evangelize. On Friday, I made a trip to DeLaurenti's to visit one of the most enjoyable cheese counters in Seattle. A very helpful cheese man put me on to Adelle.  That's a cheese, not a person.


I had never before heard of Ancient Heritage Dairy of Scio, Oregon -- the cheese maker.  But I was curious and liked the idea of a Northwest cheese, so I went for it.  According to its label, this petite cheese was made on their farm with cow and sheep milk on October 13, 2009.

In addition to the Adelle, I picked up a slice of Humbolt Fog, a perennial favorite made with goat milk and containing a distinctive line of vegetable ash.

I also tried a French tomme-type cheese called Forme de Rochefort made from cow's milk.  Turns out, people used to pay their property taxes with this cheese back in the 18th century.  How civilized.

Last night, with the addition of a loaf of campagne and some ripe fall pears, we made a dinner out of our cheeses.  In the spirit of comparing things, we also sliced three types of pears: a bartlett, bosc, and concord to go along.

The review:

The Adelle was perfectly ripe, creamy nearer to the rind and a bit like crumbly butter at the center.  Its flavor is slightly sweet and tangy.  Not a pungent cheese at all.  Plus, it's very cute.  Reminds one a bit of La Tur, also a mixed milk cheese.  It went nicely with everything we ate it with -- savory flavors like olives and pickled peppers or sweet crisp bread with dried fruit.  Pretty delicious.

As for the Rochefort, it had a great texture, a nutty-salty flavor, and tasted great on the rustic bread.  We liked it, but it doesn't stand out as one of the best cheeses ever.  Nor was it as remarkable as our new friend, Adelle.

The Humbolt Fog was the chevre you expect it to be.  Smooth and tangy, with a nice aged flavor and flavorful rind.  Can't ever go wrong with that one.

As for the fruit, the concord pear came in first on the taste test, followed by the bosc and then the bartlett.

In all, the perfect dinner for a rainy Seattle night.

05 November 2009

A Day of Homemade Doughnuts

Making doughnuts and sharing them with friends has come to be something of a fall tradition for us.  Last Saturday, a crisp and surprisingly dry fall day here in Seattle, we made a day of it.

Every year we make "our doughnuts," (that's what Byron's mother titled the recipe) now a third-generation family recipe for plain raised doughnuts.  This year, we cut them into bars and offered them with a choice of maple glaze or chocolate frosting (sprinkles optional, of course).

We also made apple spice doughnuts tossed in maple sugar and gingerbread doughnuts with cinnamon sugar.   Thanks to our friends Darcy and Ryan who packed their suitcases with sugar after visiting friends in New England, we enjoyed authentic Vermont maple sugar.

We had amazing help in cutting, frying, and serving the doughnuts from Darcy and Ryan.  For maybe the third year running, Ryan has manned the vats of boiling oil for us and Darcy has rolled and cut hundreds of doughnuts!

This year we also benefitted from the expert help of friends Sarah and Alex who taught Byron how to brew brown ale, which goes nicely with doughnuts, and who also served as top notch doughnut facilitators during the festivities.


And thanks to Chelle, no hot doughnut got away without a good shaking the appropriate sugar bag.

It was a memorable day filled with friends and delicious fried dough.