Spicy-Red Mussels

October 31, 2011

Spicy-Red Mussels

Wine Varietal: Cabernet Franc

Serves 8 to 12 as an appetizer

Found the world over and grown commercially in the Pacific Northwest, mussels are plentiful, inexpensive, versatile, and easy to cook. Local Penn Cove and Mediterranean mussels are especially appealing.

2 pounds mussels, scrubbed and debearded just before cooking

1/2 cup dry white wine or water

2 bay leaves

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

1/4 cup minced shallots

1 teaspoon minced jalapeño pepper or 1/2 teaspoon hot red pepper flakes, crumbled

2 cloves garlic, minced

1/2 cup minced plum tomatoes

1/4 cup firmly packed unseasoned soft bread crumbs (See Cook’s Hint, below)

2 tablespoons freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano or Parmesan cheese

1/4 cup minced flat-leaf parsley, plus extra parsley sprigs for garnish

1. In a large stockpot or Dutch oven with a lid, combine the mussels, water, and bay leaves. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, cover, and cook until the mussels open, 5 to 7 minutes. Shake the pan occasionally during cooking to redistribute the mussels. With a slotted spoon, remove the mussels that have opened, and continue cooking the remaining mussels 1 to 2 minutes longer. Remove the open mussels and discard any that do not open.

2. If desired, strain the mussel liquid through several thicknesses of dampened cheesecloth and save for use in another recipe. When the mussels are cool enough to handle, remove the meat from the shells and reserve. Break each shell into two half shells and save a fourth of the shells, choosing the largest and most attractive ones. Evenly space the shells on a baking sheet, and arrange two mussels in each half shell. Set aside the baking sheet while preparing the filling. Preheat the broiler and arrange the oven rack so that it is 3 to 4 inches from the heat source.

3. In a medium skillet, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat. Add the shallots, jalapeño, and garlic and cook, stirring constantly, 1 to 2 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the tomatoes, bread crumbs, cheese, and parsley. Divide the stuffing among the mussels, pressing down so that it forms a layer over the shellfish. Broil until the filling is warmed through and lightly browned, 2 to 4 minutes.

4. To serve, place the mussels on a large communal platter or divide among individual plates. Garnish with parsley sprigs.

Cook’s Hint: To make unseasoned soft bread crumbs, tear a slice of white or whole wheat bread into chunks, place in a food processor, and process until crumbs form. The crumbs can be stored in the refrigerator for up to a week; in the freezer, tightly wrapped, they keep for about six months.

Recipe from Braiden Rex-Johnson’s private collection.

Blue Cheese (Mussels), Please. . .

October 27, 2011

We are so happy to revisit these amazing Blue Mussels served at Voilà Bistro in Madison Valley.

The Blue Cheese Mussels at Voilà Bistrot never fail to please.

The Blue Cheese Mussels at Voilà Bistrot in Seattle’s Madison Valley neighborhood never fail to please, especially when paired with a hearty California Zin. Here’s the before dish (above).

Nothing is left of the Blue Cheese Mussels but artfully arranged shells at Voilà Bistrot.

And the after. . .nothing is left but artfully arranged shells! You’ll find the recipe for Blue Cheese Mussels in Pacific Northwest Wining & Dining, where Voilà Bistrot chef/owner Laurent Gabrel suggests pairing them with a good-quality Washington-State Merlot.

Reveling in Revel

October 24, 2011

Here’s another repost of one of my favorite blogs from the last couple of years. I love the Hipstamatic app and Rachel and Sief’s food, so this is a match made in heaven.

Here’s how I use the Hipstamatic app in food photography. . .

We were out in the car and so finally had the opportunity to try Rachel Yang and Seif Chirchi’s new place in Fremont, Revel, a few Sundays ago.

It was around 7 p.m. and the place wasn’t yet packed (around 8 p.m., the tasting bar was packed and the place was hoppin’) so, even without a reservation, we were lucky enough to snag a table for two.

With a vivid painting of Michael Jackson peering down from above, we quickly ordered a glass of  nonvintage Vinho Verde, a delightful Portuguese Rosé with more than a touch of frizzante (me) and a microbrew (SJ) as those two offerings seemed like the perfect pairing for the resto’s upscale street food.

Now you know I love to shoot with my iPhone4, using both the phone’s default camera and the cool Hipstamatic app, which mimics the old plastic cameras from the 1960s, and ’70s.

So above is the regular shot of the yummy condiments that came with out first dish, the amazing Shrimp, Edamame, and Mint Pancake.

And here’s the Hipstamatic–much more dramatic–even the bamboo tabletop is an important element in the photo’s composition.

Here’s the yummy cake normally. . .

And through the eye of one of the Hipstamatic lenses, the Kadot.

The Albacore Tuna, Fennel Kimchi, and Escarole Rice Bowl shot with the iPhone4 camera. . .

And with the Hipstamatic. Note how this app jumps around the field of vision, so that even my knee and the menu come into view.

Spencer’s Short-Rib, Shallot, and Scallion Dumplings with a normal lens. . .

And Hipstamatic style.

For dessert? Revel’s yummy Ginger Jujube Cake with Cardamom Buttercream and Salt+Pepper Caramel regular. . .

And looking slightly sinister (like a gaping smile) using the Hipstamatic.

Happy to report the food was as much fun to eat as it was to photograph. Price points are amazingly low for the quality and quantity of the food. Our total bill with two glasses of wine, two beers, the above-mentioned dishes, plus tip was $88.

Leftovers made welcome additions to a once-in-a-lifetime seafood stew the next day.

The Red Tablecloth Experience at Il Fornaio

October 21, 2011

While we’re taking a little break, this is a reprint of one of our favorite blog posts from prior years of Northwest Notes. Enjoy!

Three years ago (and totally under the radar), Il Fornaio, the popular Italian restaurant in Pacific Place shopping center in downtown Seattle, started an intriguing program in its main dining room that involves a red tablecloth and special freebies for one lucky couple each evening.

According to an e-mail from general manager Ross Lincoff, “The Italian term is ‘Tavolo d’Onore,’ which translates as, ‘Table of Honor.’ We started it about three years ago, with the idea of making it a focal point of the dining room—so people would look at the tablecloth color [red versus white in the rest of the dining room] and wonder, ‘What is that?’

“We see it as a way to really ‘wow’ the guest from a pure surprise perspective, something special and unexpected to make their dining experience more memorable,” Lincoff continued. “Sometimes we determine the winning couple by special occasions like birthdays or anniversaries, and sometimes it’s more of a spur-of-the-moment thing. It could be regulars that show up and are surprised, or people who strike up a conversation with the host who may seem like they’d enjoy a little extra attention.”

According to Lincoff, the Table of Honor has been an overwhelming success, and something that he feels is crucial, especially in these tough economic times. “We really believe that people are looking for a great experience, overwhelming value, and to be recognized more then ever. This is a GREAT way to accomplish all those things!”

So on a recent weekday night, during the height of our remodel and after two rounds of physical therapy that afternoon (one for my neck and the other for Spencer’s sprained ankle), we were lucky enough to be chosen to sit at the red-tablecloth table in the center of the busy dining room.

At first I figured we were “outed,” since we often eat in the main dining room of Il Fornaio or the more casual Risotteria down the winding stairs. Or perhaps because we live downtown and often shop or go to movies at Pacific Place. Or because I write about food and wine so much.

But we quickly realized that this happy and welcome coincidence was more likely because we fit pretty squarely into the category of “people who strike up a conversation with the host who may seem like they’d enjoy a little extra attention.”

And extra attention was certainly what we got from the moment the perky young hostess spotted us; whisked us to the aforementioned, dramatically draped, circular table in the center of the busy dining room; and introduced us to our very capable and knowledgable server, Luke L.

Il Fornaio Wine

Luke quickly delivered our first freebie of the evening—a bottle of La Verde still (or we could have had sparkling) mineral water from the Italian Alps. Next we ordered a bottle of Domaine Drouhin 2006 Pinot Noir to sip during supper.

Il Fornaio  Antipasti Plate

We quickly scarfed down the tasty (not to mention complimentary) antipasti plate that included chunks of Grana Padano cheese, toothsome olives, salami slices, bruschetta, and crostini with tapenade.

And our second complimentary course—two yummy pasta purses (Funny Hats, in Italian) filled with butternut squash and ricotta, napped by brown butter, and sprinkled with crunchy pumpkin seeds—were so nummy and were eaten up so quickly, we failed to snap a shot. Oh, well. All work and not play, etc.

Il Fornaio Pumpkin Pasta
Next up came our entrées (which we gladly paid for). Salmoncino Franciacorta—Wild Coho Salmon Filet with Sautéed Red Grapes, Shallots, and Franciacorta Sparkling Wine and served with Mache Salad and Roasted Yukon Golds—was one of three entrées offered on the special Festa Regionale menu that changes monthly and highlights a particular region in Italy. During the first two weeks in March, the highlighted region was Lombardia—Lombardy—the birthplace of Il Fornaio.
Il Fornaio Chicken
And Spencer’s favorite Pollo Toscano—Roasted Chicken with mashers and sautéed veggies.
Il Fornaio Zabaglione

For dessert, we shared a lovely, light, spring-y Lemon Zabaglione with fresh citrus segments, cherries, and blackberries. It was the final (and complimentary) course to a perfectly served and much enjoyed and appreciated meal.

The Cascina Spinasse Experience

October 18, 2011

While we’re taking a little break, this is a reprint of one of our favorite blog posts from prior years of Northwest Notes. Enjoy!

Tajarin burro e salvia (Fine, hand-cut egg pasta with butter and sage)

We’re probably some of the last people in Seattle who hadn’t, until recently, hoisted ourselves up to Capitol Hill to try the simple and incredible goodness that is Cascina Spinasse.

The place has already garnered rather staggering acclaim for its entire menu, but especially the handmade pasta. The Tajarin–very finely cut egg noodles with either meat ragù or butter and sage–is easily one of the best things we’ve ever put into our mouths. One super-savvy foodie and wine-expert friend of ours who just happened to be celebrating a special anniversary with her hubby at the next table when we showed up described it as “the best Tajarin I’ve ever had outside of Italy.”

In addition to chef/owner Jason Stratton’s boatload of honors, he won one of Food & Wine magazine’s coveted Best New Chef awards for 2010. Only 10 young chefs were so honored and he was the only one from Seattle.

Ravioli di Melanzane (Eggplant Ravioli)

That same amazing evening, in addition to enjoying every bite of antipasti such as Marinated Zucchini with Mint and Apricot; an unforgettable Beet Salad with Crushed Egg, Breadcrumbs, and Spicy Greens; and Fried Duck Egg with Sweet Peppers and Peaches, we had to try the Eggplant Ravioli, paper-thin pasta draping an almost meaty-tasting eggplant filling. If memory serves, it simply dusted with nutmeg and Parmesan. Simple perfection.

And here’s the gorgeous Braised Duck Caramelle in Brodo–duck confit artfully encased in paper-thin pasta sheets and wrapped like little packages!

Stracotto di Maiale con Fagioli Borlotti (Braised Pork Shoulder with Fresh Borlotti Beans)

My meat-lovin’ guy enjoyed his Braised Pork Shoulder with Fresh Borlotti Beans. I tasted the beans and can attest they were rich, good, and perfectly cooked to creamy but still a bit toothsome.

The carefully selected and reasonably priced wine list is entirely Italian except for Cavatappi Non-Vintage Barbera from Washington state ($40) and Cavatappi’s lovely 2004 Nebbiolo ($48), a consistently delicious wine that pairs so well with soulful Italian food.

As the four forks at our table fought for every last bite of the Mousse di Formaggio di Capra–Sweet Goat Cheese Mousse with Fresh Peaches and Caramelized Puff Pastry–I vowed not to eat again for the foreseeable future, or at least until we could dine again at Cascina Spinasse.

Lofty Limoncello

October 14, 2011

While we’re taking a little break, this is a reprint of one of our favorite blog posts from prior years of Northwest Notes. Enjoy!

Last month, while dining at Canaletto, the complimentary, family-style Italian restaurant on Holland America Line’s M.S. Veendam, I ordered a lovely Limoncello Creme dessert.

Big surprise was a shot of the luscious lemon-y liqueur on top of the tart, tempting pudding.

Lofty Limoncello

This would be an easy, and elegant, way to bump up any pudding-based dessert, especially an English Trifle. Imagine the possibilities of Limoncello-soaked sponge cake layered with summer stone fruits (juicy peaches, apricots, or cherries) or berries (straw or blue) or winter citrus (oranges or satsumas) plus slightly sweetened whipped heavy cream!

Living the High-Roller Life

October 11, 2011

While we’re taking a little break, this is a reprint of one of our favorite blog posts from prior years of Northwest Notes. Enjoy!

Last month, we had the honor of staying at the new Tulalip Resort Casino in the Tulalip Suite, the resort’s largest room (actually, a series of rooms!) on the top (12th) floor with views of the Cascade Mountains. Here’s a view through the living room.

The Tulalip Suite at Tulalip Resort Casino was bigger-than-life, yet still tasteful.

And here’s a view of the dining room and bar area with a complete kitchen (hidden) off to the right.

The Tulalip Suite at Tulalip Resort Casino.

Here’s a shot of the bedroom.

Our bedroom at Tulalip Resort Casino in Marysville, Washington.

And here the massive bathroom with a 12-by-12-foot shower with dual shower heads!

Our bathroom at Our bedroom at Tulalip Resort Casino in Marysville, Washington.

While the room was massive in scope, it was thoughtful in attention to small details, such as the tasteful Indian artwork and plantings that were interspersed throughout the 2,500-square-foot suite.

Details such as this inset area for a flower arrangement set the tone at Our bedroom at Tulalip Resort Casino in Marysville, Washington.

In an upcoming post we’ll review two of the dining options at Tulalip Resort Casino, starting with appetizers at seafood-centric Blackfish and moving next door to the white-tablecloth restaurant, Tulalip Bay.

Food (and Wine and Sweet Peas) as Restorer

October 7, 2011

As mentioned in my October 1 post, I am taking a little time off from my Northwest Notes blog this month and reprinting a few of our favorite posts from the past.

This is the reprint of a post that first appeared in July 2007. Hope you enjoy it!

On July Fourth, my husband Spencer and I celebrated in our usual way—out to dinner and with a good bottle of wine. You’ll be reading about that amazing evening at Steelhead Diner in a future post.

After dinner, we found a special spot to watch the Fourth of Jul-Ivar’s firework display along the Waterfront. When we got back to our condo, we noticed water coming in around our washer/dryer and figured the washer hose had sprung a leak. After mopping up the mess, we went to bed.

The next morning, our elderly next-door neighbor called to say he had left the plug in his kitchen sink, turned the water on to do the dishes, forgotten about the water, and gone to see the fireworks display.

Two hours of gushing water later, the damage was done to our condo, his condo, and two other condos below us. The Servpro reclamation team (experts in water damage who did a lot of work during Hurricane Katrina) arrived early Saturday morning to assess the damage and put up their equipment–huge wind blowers and a dehumidifier that now dominate our bathroom and bedroom. Spencer left Saturday afternoon for a week in the Middle East, and so for the past several days I’ve been living with the blowers and dehumidifier to try to dry out and save our maple floors and drywall.

I have been alternatively angry and depressed by this total turning upside down of my life, especially since I not only live here, but work out of my home office.

Yesterday, I just had to escape from the (very nice and concerned) workers and from the fans for a few hours, so I went to work out at the gym and run a few downtown errands, then took a stroll through the Pike Place Market. Living the bachelorette life for the past four days, I had let my larder grow empty, about as empty as my drooping spirits.

And, for once in my life, I didn’t even really want to go to my beloved Market.

But once I got there and picked out my fresh produce (including Oh My God! peaches), and shared my saga with produce monger and food-and-wine photographer Mark at Sosio’s Produce, I began to feel better. Side note, and please don’t tell his boss, Susie Manzo: Mark, dear man that he is, gave me a box of local strawberries—my favorite fruit—for free, he felt so sorry for my plight.

After I bought a loaf of Grand Central Campagnolo Bread—still my favorite artisan loaf about town—at Three Girls Bakery from the happy guy who looks like Groucho Marx, treated myself to some Plugra European Butter at The Creamery, and chatted it up with Walt and the boys at Pure Food Fish, I realized yet again that this little slice of heaven, our very own farmers’ market in the heart of downtown Seattle, is a special place not only for the fine fish, produce, dairy products and cheese, specialty-food shops, and plethora of interesting restos, but for the very special people who work along the cobblestones.

For my solo dinner last night I steamed thick asparagus and slathered it with low-fat mayo, chopped a yellow heirloom tomato and sprinkled it with Australian Sea Salt, and sautéed a quartet of fist-sized, super-succulent sea scallops seasoned with nothing more than Al’aea Hawaiian Pink Sea Salt and Shichimi Togarashi (Japanese Seven Spice) to soothe my senses. For dessert? Some of those baby strawberries with whipped cream and brown sugar, of course.

My simple summer supper made me smile, filled my belly, and sent my spirits soaring. A coupla glasses of winemaker extraordinaire Virginie Bourgue’s SBS–Sauvignon Blanc/Semillon from Cadaretta, a brand-new winery in Walla Walla, helped dull some of the pain.

The pretty bouquet of pristine white sweet peas I purchased from my favorite flower farmer in the Market, Carlita (Lita) Mendez, of John & Lita’s Produce & Flowers, sent me off to sweetly scented dreams on the living-room couch.

And I awoke early this morning, refreshed and restored, ready and eager to face a new day.

Gone Fishing!

October 4, 2011

This is an exciting time for Spencer and me when we both celebrate milestone birthdays in the next two weeks (55 for me, 70 for him!), then our 30th anniversary in December.

To mark the occasion, and since we skipped taking a summer vacation this year, we’re heading off for a few weeks of much-needed r&r.

So during this time, instead of new Northwest Notes content, I’ll be bringing back some of my favorite blog posts from throughout the years.

I hope you enjoy this window back in time as much as I enjoyed re-reading and re-posting them for you.

Happy autumn! Wish us happy leaf-watching as we begin our Fall Foliage cruise up the United States East Coast and down through the St. Lawrence Seaway in eastern Canada.

Back in the saddle late-October!

Save the Date for Artisan Cheese-Making Workshop

October 1, 2011

Have you ever wondered how to make your own fresh mozzarella, goat cheese, or mascarpone?

Then mark your calendars for Saturday, October 29, when you can learn the foundational basics of cheese making and ways to use fresh cheeses from chef/instructor and cookbook author Mary Karlin.

Mary will share tips from her newly-released book, “Artisan Cheese Making at Home,” published by Ten Speed Press.

Students will taste sample cheeses that have been made ahead then discuss the styles and flavors.

Attendees will work in teams to make all of the cheeses,  then share what they’ve made to take home. Some cheese will be finished at home.

Participants gather at 10:30, class starts at 11:00am in the Multi-Use Kitchen at the Art Institute of Seattle.

The class is $200 and includes a signed book.

Call 206-239-2363 to register with a credit card.

Questions about this workshop? Contact Bridget Charters at bcharters@aii.edu.