The Cider Challenge!

August 31, 2008

A hard-cider taste-off pitted 32 bottles from around the Pacific Northwest.

My September 21 article for Pacific Northwest, The Seattle Times Sunday magazine, is tentatively titled, “The Cider House Rules,” and it features an interview with Drew Zimmerman, co-owner of Red Barn Cider in the Skagit Valley.

A few weeks after the interview, ably assisted by beer experts Charles and Rose Ann Finkel (owners of The Pike Brewing Company) and by my hubby Spencer Johnson, we gathered 31 Northwest ciders (and one hailing from England) and held an informal cider taste-off. 

Here we are in the heat of the challenge, swirling, sniffing, and dissecting the ciders that came from as far north as Vancouver Island, British Columbia, and as far south as Salem, Oregon. 

Caviar Pie, Oh My!

August 29, 2008

Caviar Pie with all the fixin\'s is a fave appetizer (that serves four!) at Steelhead Diner in the Pike Place Market.

You may think I write about Steelhead Diner, in the Pike Place Market, too much. But Spencer and just enjoy eating there so much. Here’s the glorious multi-hued Caviar Pie, which is a bargain at just $14.95 a slice. It easily feeds four small appetites or two big appetites (such as ours).

Pink Door’s Mussels and Clams

August 27, 2008

A simple appetizer of steamed mussels and clams fits the bill at The Pink Door in the Pike Place Market.

Over a bottle of gracefully aging Giuseppe 2001 Amarone, we enjoyed the Pink Door’s Clams and Mussels appetizer. While I always love plump, Northwest-grown, Mediterranean mussels for their earthy flavor and tender flesh, I often find Manila clams to be overcooked, tough, and practically flavorless, more like boiled rubber bands than sublime shellfish. 

Not so at Pink Door, where exec chef Steve Szrinski, formerly head chef at Flying Fish, shows his prowess with seafood by making his tomato-sauced clams alternately juicy, sweet, and lush. 

Outstanding as well was the Whole Fish of the Day–Branzino with Pesto Sauce and Big Italian Beans the evening we were there–and the Northwest Fish of the Day–a gorgeous slab o’ seared swordfish with a rainbow ragu of seasonal veggies and a spicy red-pepper sauce.

Our favorite summertime dessert at the Pink Door, Lavender Panna Cotta, came with three sauces. I loved the Hibiscus (tangy-sweet), while Spencer preferred the deeply textured chocolate. The third offering was strawberry.

Braiden’s Latest Salmon Dish

August 25, 2008

Lately Braiden has been playing around with a salmon recipe that includes mint or walnut oil, aged balsamic vinegar, and chopped mint and walnuts.

Lately, I’ve been testing a new salmon recipe that I think (and hope) will be part of a new Pike Place Market-themed cookbook that will be published in the next couple of years. Here’s a photo of Recipe Test #2 for Balsamic-Minted Salmon with Walnuts, a hearty-healthy, Mediterranean-leaning riff that works best on a thinner fillet of salmon such as sockeye, coho, or keta (chum), rather than my usual favorite, king or Chinook.

The Oystercatcher

August 23, 2008

Lamb Chops with English Peas and Fava Beans, paired with a bottle of the difficult-to-find Merry Edwards Pinot Noir from the Sonoma Valley, captured our hearts at The Oystercatcher in Coupeville, Washington, during a recent weekend getaway to Whidbey Island.

Lamb Chops and English Peas at The Oystercatcher.

Pacific Northwest Wining & Dining in the Sierra Sun

August 22, 2008

Here’s a very nice review of Pacific Northwest Wining & Dining that was in yesterday’s Sierra Sun, which is published five times a week (Tuesday through Saturday) in the Lake Tahoe, California, region. 

“What a beautiful book. This book tempted me to hop on a plane and go see these places and experience the seafood, produce and fruits of the vine in person yet again. This area of the country has had a significant influence on our culinary palettes and style in the past several years and this book gives a well-written documentation, presentation and temptation of the best the Pacific Northwest has to offer. This would make a fabulous gift for any cook or lover of this part of the country.”

Queen Anne’s Pretty Portage

August 21, 2008

A Saturday evening at Portage, located in Seattle’s Upper Queen Anne, cater-corner from Opal and directly across the street from How to Cook a Wolf, proved a very pleasant evening as the small (30 seats), jewel-box restaurant offered pretty plates and pleasing price points in a oasis of calm, yellow-tinged walls punctuated by bird-themed artwork. 

An appetizer of Diver Scallops, Wild Mushrooms, and Sweet-Corn Truffle Salad offered perfectly seared, still rare-in-the-middle scallops in a rich brown mushroom sauce with top notes of sweet local corn. The Heirloom Tomato, Ash-Crusted Goat Cheese, and Fava Beans salad included thinly sliced tomatoes with goat cheese crumbles and not-quite-as-many favas as I craved.

A perfectly frenched rack of lamb chops graces the plate at Portage on upper Queen Anne near downtown Seattle.

The Stuffed Lamb Chop with Parsley Mousse was a beautifully frenched stack of three chops, while the Côte de Beouf with Périgueux Sauce, a lovely pile of medium-rare slices, would please any beef-eater.

Bouillabaisse offered mussels, clams, salmon, and white fish (lingcod and halibut, perhaps) in a subtly saffron-y/tomato broth mellowed with just enough butter and a rouille-brushed crostini. 

Desserts ran the gamut from a rich Vanilla Pot de Crème with an airy-light tuile cookie to Snoqualmie Creamery Pistachio and Double Chocolate ice cream of Strawberry-Champagne and Peach sorbet to Peach Tarte Tatin with Peach, rather than the promised, Crème Fraîche Ice Cream. 

The wine list skews French, but with some well-known and -loved Northwest bottles such as Patricia Green Cellars Four  Winds Chardonnay (Oregon), Whitman Cellars Narcissa Red Wine (Walla Walla Valley), and Owen Roe Abbott’s Table (Columbia Valley). 


PNWD One of Best Washington Wine Books

August 20, 2008

My seventh book, Pacific Northwest Wining & Dining, was one of five books mentioned in the August edition of Seattle magazine as one of the top books on Washington wine. Here’s the lovely review in its entirety:

Pacific Northwest Wining & Dining
By Braiden Rex-Johnson (John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 2007, $34.95)
“’Red or white?’ is the quintessential question. Everyone’s taste is different, but if you crave the Cliff’s Notes to pairing wine with Northwest cuisine, look no farther than this book, new from the author of the Pike Place Market Cookbook. Lavish photographs honor our region as a gastronomic destination and illustrate many of the 88 recipes (with suggested wine pairings) adapted from local restaurants, such as Canlis Classic Prawns and Walla Walla Sweet Onion Frittata from 26brix. The locally sourced dinner party (not to mention the esteem of your foodie friends) just got easier to come by.”

Cafe Campagne Prix-Fixe Dinners

August 19, 2008

Sockeye Salmon with Braised Artichoke Hearts is one of the courses on the special three-course, prix-fixe menu at Cafe Campagne in August.

This month, you can enjoy a Loire-Valley-inspired, three-course dinner at Cafe Campagne for just $34 per person. I particularly like this month’s offering, which includes Crispy Frogs’ Legs with Parsley and Garlic, Sockeye Salmon with Braised Artichoke Hearts, and White-Wine-Poached Peaches with Strawberry Cream. Here is the perfectly pink, perfectly cooked sockeye salmon, its skin perfectly seared and surrounded by a light sauce swimming with sliced baby fingerlings and artichoke hearts. A bottle of 2005 Chateauneuf-du-Pape paired nicely with the earthy flavors in the fish and buttery sauce.

Ode to New Orleans

August 17, 2008

We were lucky enough to travel to New Orleans for the International Association of Culinary Professionals conference in April where we experienced some unique local foods that I’d like to showcase in this post.

Our first dining experience took place at the world-famous Acme Oyster House. After standing outside in line for about 15 minutes, we were ushered into the casual restaurant and snagged one of the front tables. Here are a few of the dishes we had, none of which was particularly inspired. Founded in 1910, perhaps Acme is resting on its laurels and catering to tourists more than locals?

Here’s the gumbo. We like Chef Kevin Davis’s version at Steelhead Diner in the Pike Place Market better.

A cuppa gumbo at world-famous Acme Oyster House.

And here’s a honkin’ huge heap o’ seafood and fries. In the background, note the Chargrilled Oysters, which were more burned than carefully broiled. 

A heap o\' fried seafood at world-famous Acme Oyster House in New Orleans.

Interestingly, we had a much better experience with Charbroiled Oysters at Drago’s Seafood Restaurant, which was in the host hotel, the Hilton New Orleans Riverside. I ate at Drago’s three times; Spencer twice, it was so good. Here are the Fried Crab Claws, which I’d never tasted before. You put the mini crab claw between your teeth and pull the meat (and delicious fried crust) into your mouth. Yum! The huge Crab Salad with a winning Greek vinaigrette was also a winner. 

Mini crab claws expertly fried fill the bill at Drago\'s in New Orleans.

Our best meal took place when five of us maneuvered out way to Frank Brigtsen’s long-running restaurant, Brigtsen’s Restaurant, in the University District, about 30 minutes outside of the tourist district/French Quarter. Here’s the Seafood Combo plate, a.k.a. “the Shell Beach Diet,” that bowled all of us over, not to mention the homemade breads and wonderful appetizers.

Fried, sauced, and battered, the Seafood Platter at Brigtsen\'s was a standout.

But not all the news is good. Since Katrina, the wild shrimp fishers have really struggled to maintain their fishery, according to a workshop I attended hosted by Southern cooking expert Nathalie Dupree. Here is a photo of the wild shrimp species we sampled. Don’t forget to buy Wild American Shrimp as a sustainable seafood source. 

A plate of wild shrimp we sampled during a workshop at IACP in New Orleans.


Newer Posts »