Seafood Strudel

December 31, 2011

Seafood Strudel

Wine Varietal: Sparkling Wine or Champagne

Serves 6

For years, this phyllo-wrapped seafood extravaganza has formed the centerpiece for my New Year’s Eve buffet. Brimming with bay scallops and spot prawns (or shrimp), the strudel makes an elegant and impressive presentation, yet goes together quickly once the ingredients are prepped. For a phyllo-dough preparation, it’s lowfat (just one-and-one-half teaspoons of fat per serving!) and full of flavor; the scallops and shrimp form a light “cream” sauce as they cook in the lacy dough. Pair it with a good Northwest Sauvignon Blanc and note how the tarragon (king of the herbs, according to the French) and the anise-flavored Ouzo pick up the herbaceous notes in the wine, while the acidity in the Sauv Blanc cuts through the buttery notes in the phyllo. Just be sure to serve it immediately after it is cooked, as this is one dish that doesn’t reheat well. In keeping with the winter holiday season when I make the strudel, I like to serve it with a simple green salad tossed with a light vinaigrette and garnished with grapefruit segments and toasted almonds. Simply steamed broccoli or Brussels sprouts work well, too. Don’t forget a glass (or three!) of bubbly!

1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil

1/2 cup diced carrots

1/2 cup chopped white or yellow onion

3/4 pound rinsed, dried fresh spinach leaves, blanched (See Cook’s Hint, below) and squeezed very dry or 1 package (10 ounces) frozen chopped spinach, defrosted and squeezed very dry

1/4 teaspoon kosher salt

2 tablespoons minced fresh tarragon, plus extra sprigs, for garnish, or 2 teaspoons dried tarragon, crumbled

3/4 pound Alaskan spot prawns or medium shrimp, rinsed, shelled, deveined, and cut in half lengthwise

3/4 pound bay scallops, rinsed and patted dry

1/2 cup homemade unseasoned dry bread crumbs (See Cook’s Hint, below) or storebought unseasoned dry bread crumbs

1 tablespoon Ouzo, Pernod, or other good-quality anise-flavored liqueur

6 sheets phyllo dough, thawed and covered with a damp kitchen towel to keep them from drying out

2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

1. Preheat the oven to 375°F. Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper.

2. Heat the olive oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add the carrots and onion and cook 5 to 7 minutes, or until the vegetables are tender-crisp, stirring occasionally.

3. Add the spinach, salt, and tarragon and stir constantly, until the spinach and vegetables are well mixed and the tarragon begins to give off its aroma, about 1 minute.

4. Gently stir in the spot prawns, scallops, 1/4 cup of the bread crumbs, and the Ouzo. Immediately remove the skillet from the heat, but continue stirring until the scallops begin to turn white on the outside, 1 to 2 minutes more. Reserve the seafood filling at room temperature while you prepare the phyllo dough.

5. Place a large piece of parchment paper on a clean, dry work surface. Place one sheet of the phyllo in the center of the parchment and dot lightly with butter. Sprinkle with 2 teaspoons of the remaining bread crumbs. Continue this process, layering the phyllo, until all the phyllo and bread crumbs are used (a small amount of melted butter should remain).

6. Starting with the long side of the phyllo, spoon the reserved seafood filling to within 1 inch of the long edge and the side edges. The seafood should cover about half of the remaining rectangle. Beginning with the filled side, roll the dough jelly-roll fashion, using the parchment paper as a guide and a sling. Once rolled, tuck in the ends to seal. Again using the parchment as a sling, transfer the roll to the prepared baking sheet, placing the strudel seam side down. Brush with the remaining butter.

7. Bake the strudel 25 to 30 minutes, or until golden brown on top. Transfer to a wire rack to cool for 5 to 10 minutes, then slice on the diagonal into 6 pieces. Arrange the slices like a pinwheel on a large platter and serve family style, or place on individual dinner plates. Garnish with fresh tarragon.

Cook’s Hints: To blanch the spinach, plunge the leaves into boiling water for 15 to 30 seconds, or until they turn bright green and wilt slightly. Immediately transfer to an ice bath to stop the cooking process. To make unseasoned dry bread crumbs, place a single layer of white or whole-wheat bread slices on a baking sheet and bake at 300°F for about 10 minutes, or until the bread turns light brown and dries completely, turning once. Allow the bread to cool, then place it in a food processor or blender and process until the crumbs reach the desired texture.

Recipe from Braiden Rex-Johnson’s private collection.

A Look Back at 2011

December 30, 2011

This time of year, it seems like just about every newspaper and magazine publishes their Top-10 lists of what’s been good or memorable or horrible during the past year.

So in that vein, I’d like to offer up links to the nine Taste columns I’ve penned for The Seattle Times Pacific Northwest magazine in 2011.

Many of the columns contain recipes you might find useful and inspiring now or in the future. And, in a weird way, looking over the past year is a good way to understand what’s happening in the Seattle, and greater global, food scene.

So here goes, from December back to Valentine’s Day 2011:

A Christmas Wrap

Downtown in December

Spinasse’s chef shares secrets for roasting vegetables

Dinner is superbly home grown, served at the Willows Inn

Chuckanut Shellfish farm rises when the tide goes out

A gorgeous photo from “Salted: A Manifesto on the World’s Most Essential Mineral”

Cooking with salt blocks and bowls is hot — and cold

Clearing up the stir-fry misunderstanding

Graham Kerr at a media interview at the Northwest Garden Show

Chef Graham Kerr gallops into edible gardening

For the love of cocktails

Salted photo by Jennifer Martiné

My Seattle Restaurant Recommendations

December 27, 2011

A couple of months ago, Rhonda May, an esteemed editor friend of mine from Vancouver, British Columbia, told me she was planning a trip to Seattle and asked if we could meet up for a drink.

Rhonda publishes CityFood Magazine and website, and I’ve written articles on the Seattle dining scene for her in the past and regard her highly.

Unfortunately, we were already slated to be outta town that weekend, so I had to take a pass.

But when she asked for a few pointers, I composed a quick list, which I share with you today in case you’re in search of reliable places to take family and friends for holiday outings, or just places you might want to try yourself for a drink or a meal.

1. Be sure to wander around the Melrose Market and the Taylor Shellfish facility up on Capitol Hill. Lots of people like the resto Sitka & Spruce there–I’m not so much of a fan so you can decide for yourself.

2. In the same ‘hood are many of Seattle’s new, trendy restos. A particular fave is Cascina Spinasse for its Tajarin (thin, handcut noodles with sage and butter or meat ragu).

Skillet Diner is also always packed but we haven’t tried it yet.

Anchovies and Olives is one of Ethan Stowell’s four restos. I’d opt for Staple & Fancy (his Ballard neighborhood resto) cuz you can also have a look at Walrus & Carpenter which is right next door.

3. Ballard is also a “hot” resto neighborhood. Maria Hines (Tilth) has her new Golden Beetle there. We also enjoy Joule and Revel (newer than Joule–upscale street food) in the Wallingford and Fremont ‘hoods (same two owners), respectively.

4. Still like Steelhead Diner in the Pike Place Market or chef Kevin Davis’s newer resto Blueacre Seafood more uptown near Pacific Place shopping mall–reminds me of Vancouver restos because it’s big and cool.

5. Lecosho on the Harbor Steps has one of my all-time fave dishes, Grilled Octopus with Garbanzo Beans. Salads are excellent, too. Good happy-hour values (and HH is VERY hot right now).

6. Lots happening in the new South Lake Union area–you can take the South Lake Union Transit (SLUT!)–street car–to get there and walk all around. Tom Douglas has five restos there (!) and Chris Keff relocated her long-running Flying Fish there from Belltown, which is more of a bar than resto scene lately (and more dangerous as a result, sadly). Seastar is also known for its good seafood and excellent wine list. The Whole Foods Market there is huge and an anchor of the ‘hood.

7. The Eastside has lots of clones of downtown Sea restos and has really grown up A LOT in the past few years. At The Bravern you’ll find John Howie Steaks (Howie owns Seastar and there’s one of those on the Eastside as well) and the gorgeous second location of Wild Ginger, always reliable. Nearby is a location of El Gaucho (steakhouse), Joey’s, Palomino, Cheesecake Factory, ‘Z Tejas, etc.

Happy Holiday Eating and Drinking to one and all!

Last-Minute Gift Ideas

December 23, 2011

Once a month I write a book review of a favorite cookbook, wine, or cocktail book that posts on’s Al Dente blog.

These are books I really like to read and cook from, with doable recipes and (often) great wine- and beverage-pairing suggestions. In other words, I really recommend these tomes!

Just in case you’re still in need of practical and useful gift ideas for family and friends, here’s a listing of those dozen books (and accompanying recipes and reviews) that made the cut in 2012.

AND you can purchase the books directly from Amazon by following the links.

Talk about easy gift-giving!

Candle 79 Cookbook

Ginger Bliss and the Violet Fizz

Kitchen Simple

Food Lover’s Guide to Seattle

Can It, Bottle It, Smoke It

Super Natural Every Day

100 Perfect Pairings

Grilled Cheese, Please!

Fried Chicken & Champagne

Gifts Cooks Love: Recipes for Giving

Double Take: One Fabulous Recipe, Two Finished Dishes

Authentic Panettone in Downtown Seattle

December 20, 2011

My last Taste column of 2011 for The Seattle Times Pacific Northwest magazine focuses on Maria Coassin, the owner and founder of Gelatiamo, the popular gelato and pastry shop in downtown Seattle, just a few blocks up the street from our condo.

I enjoyed interviewing and writing about the stylish Italian beauty (who cooks in high heels!), and who started at the “corner of First and Hell” (Union Street) in 1996. It was the same year she introduced fresh panettone, the traditional sweet bread of Italy made during the holiday season, to Seattle.

Maria Coassin of Gelatiamo with her famous panettone

Here’s a photo of her proudly holding one of her “babies”–her 27-hours-in-the-making panettone.

The crumb 0f the bread is so fragile, the loaves must hang upside down for several hours lest they collapse under their own weight. They remind me of bats in a cave!

Panettone leftovers (if there are any!) are great in bread pudding or French toast.

Downtown Seattle Holiday Traditions

December 16, 2011

My latest Taste column for The Seattle Times Pacific Northwest magazine celebrates the downtown Seattle holiday traditions that Spencer and I have established since moving to the city 21 years ago.

Gingerbread Pudding at icon Grill

Among the traditions?

Lunch at icon Grill with my two best girlfriends. Here’s a photo of the yummy Gingerbread Pudding that’s offered up as one of the restaurant’s four holiday desserts. It was divine–gingerbread in an eggy, ginger-tinged pudding with two large scoops of double-cream ice cream and caramel sauce on the top.

If that doesn’t suit (can’t imagine, but just in case!), here are some other sweet holiday options offered up at icon: Candy Cane Cake, “Build Your Own” Holiday Cookie Plate, or Pumpkin Cheesecake.

Yum, and calories be damned!

It’s a Great Time to Buy a Cookbook!

December 13, 2011

The last few years have brought tough times to traditional brick-and-mortar local and independent, not to mention one big national chain bookstore (RIP Borders).

So I was very heartened as we walked through Macy’s in downtown Seattle last weekend, when I spotted two of my titles in several displays in Barbara’s Book Nook on the main floor near a major exit. Great placement!

Pacific Northwest Wining & Dining: The People, Places, Food, and Drink of Washington, Oregon, Idaho, and British Columbia (pictured above in the second row, left-hand side) was available in one book dump. . .

The second edition of the Pike Place Market Cookbook on another.

Now, if I could just get Barbara to stock the gift edition of the Pike Place Public Market Seafood Cookbook!

Feeling Purple

December 6, 2011

We were out in Woodinville picking up some wine a couple of Saturdays ago and happened in to the Purple Cafe & Wine Bar location there for a late lunch.

We have had inconsistent experiences with the Purple downtown, but decided to see what one of its  Eastside outposts might offer.

We were very happy with two salads we tried.

Purple Roasted Beets Salad, with Grilled Salmon, included multi-colored beets, generous knobs of Laura Chenel chèvre (goat’s-milk cheese), orange segments, toasted pistachios, and a honking-big piece of perfectly cooked (rare in the middle) salmon was my lucky choice. Orange-balsamic vinaigrette was the perfect light dressing, and arrived on the side, as requested.

Spencer did just as well with his Purple Chop Salad with Blackened Salmon astride. It comprised romaine hearts, bacon, avocado, garbanzos, roasted red bell pepper, blue cheese, and red onion tossed in balsamic vinaigrette.

The following Saturday we unabashedly ate lunch at the Purple downtown, where their winning ways with salad continued as SJ ordered another Purple Chop Salad and I tried the Apple, Walnut, Stilton Salad, again topped with a lovely piece of grilled salmon.

At $9 to $10 for half salads (which is plenty for most people), $12 for full sizes, plus $4 if you add pulled chicken, $6 for prawns or marinated flank steak, and $7 for grilled salmon or a crab cake, Purple in its various iterations offers a plethora of toothsome and carefully-cooked main-dish salads to appeal to almost any appetite.

The Cranberry Chicken Salad with grilled chicken, bacon, almonds, scallions, celery, apples, dried cranberries, parmigiano-reggiano, and cranberry-dijon vinaigrette would be particularly festive this time of the year.

Québec City to Montreal

December 2, 2011

Once we got off the Eurodam and were on our own for another day in Québec City, we did more sightseeing on our own and decided to take it easy by having dinner at our hotel, the venerable Chateau Frontenac. It’s a former Canadian Pacific RR property, now Fairmont, whose main dining room, Champlain, is named after the founder of Québec.

A formal and rather stuffy place, we had a strange waiter (at first) who didn’t speak English. Our food was better than the service, but the whole experience was quite a disappointment, especially with when paying high prices characteristic of Old-World-style hotels.

The next morning, bright and early at 7:45, we caught the train from Québec’s downtown station to Montreal.

It was during the train ride that we caught our first glimpses of really brilliant fall foliage colors. Sadly, it was hard to capture much of the brilliant beauty from behind the rain-spotted windows aboard the fast-moving train.

But here’s one shot of the pastoral surroudings.

And a better shot of the leaves.

Once in downtown Montreal at the train station, we asked a railroad worker where to catch a taxi to the hotel. He almost laughed in our faces, since the Fairmont Le Reine Elizabeth is located right above the train station, so it was an easy walk up the escalator to check-in and our beautiful room.

Here’s the city-scape view. The domed building in the foreground is a half-scale-sized copy of St. Peter’s Cathedral in Rome.

Unfortunately, we weren’t nearly as impressed with Montreal as we were with Québec City. The Old Town allowed cars, so wasn’t particularly pedestrian-friendly.

But a few highlight in Montreal included:

Lunch at Dominion Square Taverne.

Spencer’s Roasted Chicken Caesar with Cheddar Dressing (the best Caesar he’s ever had, he told me!).

And my Steamed Mussels, perfect with a crisp glass of French Rosé.

And dinner at the hip, happenin’ Garde Manger, where I enjoyed a sublime Cold Seafood Tower (finally got some PEI mussels!) and Spencer had amazing short ribs.

Dessert was the clincher, though–a Fried Mars Bar à La Mode. Gotta love Canadian cuisine!

And with that, dear readers, I end my diary of our Fall Foliage Cruise.