Saturday, October 24, 2015

One More Dinner Before I Go

Chicken soup with thick egg noodles.
Impossible not to like.
Great for a fall. Great for the freezer. Great for James to heat up for dinner while I am gone.
I always start the same way, with a whole chicken and chicken parts, one onion (not peeled, sliced in half), 2 carrots, 2 stalks celery, a whole head of garlic sliced through the middle, 2 bay leaves, about 10 peppercorns and a handful of fresh thyme (or parsley if that's all I have) all covered in water. Sometimes if I am feeling adventurous or cleaning the fridge I might add in a turnip or asparagus stalks other trims but carrots, celery, onion and garlic are the basic go to list. I bring everything up to a boil and then simmer for about 90 minutes. That's great chicken stock with plenty of flavor.
I strain the stock and let the cooked chicken cool and start on the soup. Later I'll shred the chicken to add to the pot.
Today I decided on an old fashioned slightly thickened Southern style soup. I started with around 3 TB of butter and added in chopped celery, peeled and sliced carrots (about 2 cups each), and 1 chopped onion and let the vegetables cook until just soft. Then I tossed in two cloves of chopped garlic. After 30 seconds or so I added about 4 TB of flour and let it cook in the butter and coat the vegetables for about 2 minutes so it was just golden colored and the vegetables were coated. Then in goes the strained stock, a dash of hot sauce, a splash of worchestershire sauce, a bay leaf and S&P and everything comes up to a simmer for about 15 minutes. Sometimes I'll add chopped potatoes and let them simmer along with the stock.
If I am ready to serve James his soup I'll keep going and add in the chicken I deboned and shredded, plenty of chopped parsley and a package of egg noodles. I always add too many noodles and the soup become more of a stew but James never complains. After another 10 minutes I add in frozen peas (when I have them) or corn kernels because James loves them and a handful of chopped fresh dill. Though I am not usually a big dill fan it does something wonderful to perk up the flavor of chicken soup. 5-8 minutes later our soup is ready to ladle into bowls. Sometimes just before serving I'll squeeze in half a lemon for an extra note of brightness.
Homey supper for an early fall night.

Friday, October 23, 2015

Sunday Spaghetti on a Thursday

With just a few days at home I had some real kitchen business to get to right away. I put up a few jars of tomatoes and apples, stocked the shelves and freezer for James to eat while I am gone and took advantage of my day at home with some super slow family style cooking.
One of my favorite hang around the house recipes is an old fashion Neapolitan style ragú -- the kind of Sunday gravy Tony Soprano might favor.
First I use a combination of meats -- something flavorful with bones -- like short ribs (4), shanks (2) or meaty pork ribs (a half rack of baby backs cut horizontally into shorter pieces) combined with stewing veal (not today) or Italian sausage (2 links).
I sear the well seasoned meat (except for the sausage -- that goes in later) along with 1 chopped onion in hot olive oil until it's nice and brown. Then I toss in a couple cloves of chopped garlic and a pinch of dried chili flakes. Traditionally sauce in Naples is either onions or garlic, not both. But I can't resist a little garlic flavor, so that tradition goes out the window in favor of Italian American flavor. Next I pour in about a third of a bottle of red wine and cook everything down until the liquid is just about evaporated.
In goes two large 28 oz cans of crushed tomatoes, the sausage, and today since I've got a big pot going a large can of tomato purée or passata and bring everything up to a simmer. That's it. That's the hardest part. Then it's all over but the waiting. For the next 2-3 hours I stir about every 15 minutes, sometimes skimming a little of the fat off the top if it seems excessive.
The sauce cooks down to a rich meaty red. I toss some with butter, spaghetti, parmesan, and parsley for dinner and offer James the cooked meats as a "secondo." There is always meat left over which I pop in the freezer to grind for ravioli filling, meat pies or Northern Italian style meatballs made with cooked meat, mortadella, and plenty of flavorful breadcrumbs.
A dinner I can feel good about over and over again.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Remnants of the Fall Garden

Days are growing short. The last tomatoes hang on scraggly vines.
It's been dry and the garden is a melancholy shadow of years past.
And yet, I love the fall. I love the cool nights and afternoon breezes.
Battling away the pessimism of drought I plant a couple late season seeds and look forward to spinach and lettuce and even carrots when the rains come. 

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Belly and Snout: Filipino Stoner Treats

 I don't like hot dogs and I cannot under any circumstances tolerate American cheese. But still I couldn't resist the draw of the oddest of edible oddities, the bizarre fusion that is Belly and Snout. Obviously inspired by Korean taco master  Roy Choi, B&S doesn't exactly have the same kind of chef cred. None the less they are putting homemade Filipino style meats in tacos, on tater tots, and tucked into grilled cheese.
Longanisa grilled cheese combines house made sausage -- really tasty -- with plain old white bread, pickled vegetables and the dreaded bright orange American.  An immigrant sandwich.
First American cheese and then hot dogs. Topped with peanut braised oxtail, sisig (crisped pork flavored with bright vinegar), pork adobo (the beloved Filipino national stew), and plenty of bacon, garlic cream, and fried eggs the hot dogs themselves are inconsequential. They are the least interesting part of the hot dog combos but overall -- I don't know how -- it kind of works.
Though my friend loved the grilled cheese, more successful to me were the tacos. Truly delicious pork or chicken adobo topped with cilantro, onions, jalapeño slices, mayonnaise, sesame (peanuts on the pork) and radishes all wrapped up in a flour tortilla for $2. With one bite I could picture the lines of late night zombies counting their change for a late night snack.
I might have been in my elementary school cafeteria the last time I had a tater tot. Back then they just came with ketchup. At Belly and Snout they are topped -- just like the hot dogs with pork, pork, ad more pork -- including the excellent house made longanisa. The whole thing is crazy and somehow satisfying.

Sitting in the back eating area (I can't call it a dining room) with the TV blaring travel channel food shows I can't help but think if I were a drinker or stoner I'd probably see more of Belly and Snout instead of late night shame filled Del Taco runs popular in my reckless youth. As it is B&S is a curiosity I had to try once and might think of from time to time when caution take flight and fast food looms heavy.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Scallops At Home

I'm not sure if I try to make James something special dinner when I am home for a brief stop before another work trip because I love him or because I want him to miss me when I'm gone.
Today I came home from a mad Costco stop up run with a tray of beautiful wild scallops and just a couple hours later James was digging into a delicate gratin of butter sautéed mollusks topped with Beecher's handmade flagship cheese picked up at the cheese merchants airport store in Seattle (airport cheese store -- genius!).

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Beta 5: Bring Some Home From Vancouver

 Hidden away in a Vancouver industrial park is Beta 5. A strange and wonderful chocolate and pastry shop.
Co-Owner and pastry chef Adam Chandler served his time in luxury hotels and European capitols before taking the lessons he learned in Belgium and turning them into chocolates infused and filled with flavors like caramelized banana (spectacular), bay leaf (shockingly delicious), fisherman's friend (yes, the cough drop) and real farmer's market cherries.
Not content to fill small boxes with chocolate jewels Beta 5 branched out to ice creams, chocolate bars and a nothing less than kooky assortment of cream puffs in flavors like Vietnamese coffee, blueberry lavender and apple pie. Baked extra long the delicate shells have an almost cookie crumble exterior giving way to layers of dough and creamy filling. Wow.

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Cafe Medina

I like Cafe Medina. There is always a wait and yet when I am in Vancouver I make a point of going for breakfast. Not just because the vaguely Middle Eastern/ North African spiced dishes feature some of my favorite flavors (sumac, harissa, chili)  but because Cafe Medina is fun, just plain fun.
Despite the constant onslaught, the servers are cheerful and the bartender -- as a solo diner I almost always sit at the bar to eat -- perfectly chatty.
I don't generally reach across a table to meet new people but every time I've eaten at Cafe Medina the person next to me has struck up a conversation and turned out to be interesting, good company.
The menu is interesting too. You can get standard egg dishes or more elaborate concoctions like breakfast paella, boulettes (lamb meatballs and eggs in spicy tomato sauce), or their take on cassoulet with garlic sausage, smoked bacon, red wine and tomatoes. I've never even tried the signature waffles though they top just about every table.
I love the fresh juices and house made sodas (rose hip and bergamot, citrus buttermilk anyone?). The coffee is delicious (I don't even understand how it is so good).
Everything is good -- maybe not exceptional or nuanced but it doesn't matter. Cafe Medina might just be the perfect breakfast place. If I lived closer I'd be a regular.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Ask For Luigi

Ask just about anyone or read any magazine article or blog post and you are likely to hear "Ask For Luigi." What's a good new restaurant? Where is the best Italian? Where should we have dinner?
Even the name of the tiny restaurant, according to chef owner JC Poirier, is an answer. A guide to ask for a friend, knowing you will be treated well when you, essentially, know someone on the inside.
It's hard not to know people quickly at Ask for Luigi. The 34 seats are terminally full with a line waiting at the door. Seats are close and wait staff literally shimmies from table to table holding platters of fresh pasta, appetizers and wine.
Everyone feels happy and relieved by the time a table opens and it shows. The dining room is cheerful and loud and every plate is met with delight.
I'm always fascinated by places this small. The night I visited there was a man at the front of house (the manager I assume) and 4 waitresses. In the open kitchen I saw the Chef de Cuisine and 3 line cooks. A fifth cook was tucked away in a back space prepping for the next day's lunch. To make money with so few seats and so large a staff a restaurant has to be highly efficient and chose dishes wisely so food comes out quickly and tables turn over to bring in the next group of waiting diners.
Prep work is the star at Ask For Luigi. Fresh pastas are ready to boil, sauces are simple or made earlier in the service, meatballs are par-cooked and turned in tasty red sauce as they are ordered. These aren't dishes wrapped in chef's egos or elaborate technique. This is, as AFL's manager says "pasta for the people."
The food is inventive and somewhat unexpected (I had a dish of rye flour penne with guanciale, broccoli rabe and egg yolk) but in attitude Ask For Luigi may be the most authentic Italian restaurant I've dined in outside of Italy itself.
At heart, though crammed with tourists, dating couples, foodies and bloggers, this is a neighborhood trattoria. You can stop in for a quick bite (minus the waiting time) on any night. The food will be good, ingredients fresh, and the staff friendly.