Don’t Forget: Parkplace Booksigning

December 10, 2009

Pacific Northwest Wining & Dining Cover Art

A quick reminder that I’ll be signing my three recent book titles (“Pacific Northwest Wining & Dining,” the “Pike Place Public Market Seafood Cookbook,” and the “Pike Place Market Cookbook”) tomorrow evening from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. at Parkplace Books’ Annual Holiday Bash in Kirkland, Washington.

Enjoy a glass of wassail, mingle with other Pacific Northwest children’s and adult book authors, and support this venerable (since 1986!), locally owned, independent bookseller.

Donated food items and donations of children’s books will be given to Kirkland Interfaith Transitions in Housing (KITH) to be handed out to children in need.

Very Special Italian Treats

December 9, 2009

Over a glass of wine late one afternoon at Purple Café and Wine Bar I had the pleasure of meeting Enzo Schiano, a former Microsoft marketing heavyweight turned olive-oil producer and winemaker in Tuscany. Schiano and wife Claire Beliard (a native of France) make Poggio la Noce extra virgin artisan olive oil at their hillside estate in Fiesole, Italy.

Schiano, a native of Naples, Italy, who studied in the United States before joining Microsoft, has been making olive oil in his groves (2,000 trees farmed organically!) situated above Florence since 2001. This year I tasted his “olio nuovo,” or “new” oil that had been pressed just a week or so before he returned stateside.

As you might expect of a just-pressed extra virgin oil, it was a vivid green color, redolent of aromas and flavors of new-mown grass, fresh herbs, and a bit of pepper, yet still smooth and satin-y. Yum!

The oil, which sells for $24.99 for a stylish 500-ml bottle, is sold at Whole Foods Market, some Metropolitan Market locations, DeLaurenti Specialty Food & Wine, QFC, and online at the Poggio Web site, so you should have no problem finding it.

Italian Olive Oil

Enzo is also a winemaker, and his delightful Gigiò wine, a Sangiovese blend, is available locally at McCarthy & Schiering Wine Merchants (which also carries the olive oil). I’d buy it for the whimsical label alone, not to mention the lovely wine inside.

Gigiò Wine Label

This time of year, these Italian treats with a Northwest tie would make lovely holiday or hostess gifts.

Exotic Spices

December 7, 2009

During the 23rd annual Les Dames d’Escoffier annual conference in Philadelphia in October, I took a wonderful seminar with my buddy, and Philadelphia Dame and chef extraordinaire,  Aliza Green at the venerable Reading Terminal Market in downtown. Exotic Spices

Here’s a photo of some of the unusual spices she described, then cooked with.

The workshop so inspired me that I rushed back to Seattle and went to World Spice Merchants (along Western Avenue, just below the Pike Place Market) and MarketSpice (a venerable Pike Place Market shop that’s been in business since 1911!) to restock my spice rack.

I loved the way at World Spice Merchants that they ground my Kashmiri garam masala (an Indian spice blend), right before my eyes. It’s also neat because they offer five different blends of garam to choose from and you can smell them and compare prices before you buy them!

Also at World Spice, I bought an ounce of Aleppo Pepper, a warm, chocolate-y, chipotle-like pepper with a moist texture. It’s so special, I’ve been sprinkling it over scrambled eggs, soups and stews, and just about everything.

Still on a spice jag, instead of preparing the traditional Thanksgiving turkey this year, I made Madhur Jaffrey’s Silken Chicken, an excellent recipe from “Madhur Jaffrey’s Quick and Easy Indian Cooking” (Chronicle Books, 2007). It combines heavy whipping cream with garam masala, cayenne, ground cumin, paprika, fresh garlic, and fresh ginger to form a marinade that is briefly rubbed (just 10 minutes!) into chicken breasts that have been previously been slit, pricked, and rubbed with salt and lemon juice.

Just before baking the breasts, sprinkle them with a bit more of the spices and black pepper, dried mint (I used fresh), and another sprinkle of lemon juice (I used Meyer lemons for a very aromatic option).

Here’s the dish just before I popped it into the hot, hot oven.

Silken Chicken Before Baking

The chicken is roasted at highest oven temperature in the top third of the oven and the result really is silken, velvet-y chicken and sauce, as shown below. Yum!

Silken Chicken

Three nights later, I tried the dish substituting thin turkey fillets for the boneless, skinless chicken breasts. The dish was still delectable, but the turkey was drier and not as “silky” as the chicken, so I’d definitely opt for that. I feel this preparation would be too overpowering for any type of seafood, other than a hearty white fish, such as swordfish or halibut.

Savoring Spanish Olive Oil at Spur

December 5, 2009

In mid October we were lucky enough to be among a cadre of local media, trade, and restaurateurs who were invited to experience a Spanish olive-oil tasting and dinner at Spur Gastropub in Belltown.

There we learned that Spain claims to be the first producers of olive oil in the world, and that Spain produces 25 percent in the world, with production of 1.2 million tons of the extra-virgin variety.

Southern Spain is home to 300 million olive trees (!), and 24 varieties are used to make Spanish olive oil.

Here’s a shot of the four oils we sampled (left to right). They included Arbequina, which is described as “clean and green with fresh-mown grass, green apple, and green almond notes.” The soft, delicately flavored oil produced from this variety is lovely with boiled potatoes or roasted fish or salads garnished with orange segments.

Spanish Olive Oil Tasting

Hojiblanca extra virgin olive oil looks cloudy because it is unfiltered. It has “dry-grass and hay notes reminiscent of a summer day.” It works well in pastries, pasta, and for bread-dipping, as well as for frying.

Cornicabra (a.k.a. “the heart of the goat”) is more bitter and peppery–a more rustic-style oil than the others in the group. Try it with barbecue.

Picual is the most produced oil in Spain, as well as the most intense of the four we sampled. Use it to add a distinctive flavor atop vegetables, soups, and stews.

Spur Gastropod Black Cod

Spur chef/owners Brian McCrackena and Dana Tough created a six-course tasting menu highlighting each of the four oils. Pictured above is our first course of Slow-Cooked Butterfish (a.k.a. Black Cod or Sablefish) with Potatoes, Pearl-Onion Confit, and Hojiblanca Olive-Oil Foam.

Spur Gastropub Pork

I’m not much of a meat eater, but the Poached Pork Loin won me over with its buttery texture, wilted arugula, thin crostini, and Picual Mayonnaise. Truly a perfect dish.

Spur Gastropub Olive Oil Ice Cream!

Even dessert featured olive oil–the Arbequina variety in Olive Oil Ice Cream with Sponge Cake and Lemon. While you might not think of using olive oil in baking, it can make cakes lighter and more healthy than butter-based versions.

Spanish Albariño and Verdejo wines paired perfectly with these outstanding dishes.

I’ll Be Signing Books at Parkplace Books!

December 3, 2009

Mark your calendars, one and all!

Pacific Northwest Wining & Dining Cover Art

On Friday, December 11, from 7:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m., I’ll sign all my recent book titles, including “Pacific Northwest Wining & Dining,” at Parkplace Books’ Annual Holiday Bash in Kirkland, Washington! As the press release says:

“Mingle with some of our favorite children and adult Pacific Northwest authors, imbibe in holiday wassail, sample delicious holiday treats. . .and get a jump on your gift-buying.

“This has always been a fantastic time to come together with friends, family members, and others from the Kirkland community. As in the past, we will be accepting donated food items, and our sleigh is waiting for donations of children’s books that will be given to Kirkland Interfaith Transitions in Housing (KITH) to be handed out to children in need.

“So join us for an evening of Holiday Cheer and Good Conversation that also benefits our neighbors in need.”

Cookies, Cookies, Cookies!

December 1, 2009

From November 1 through December 1, Ryan Witcher, pastry chef at ART Restaurant and Lounge in the new Four Seasons Hotel Seattle accepted recipes for The Ultimate Holiday Cookie Recipe Search and Showdown. Purpose of the Showdown? To choose three recipes for the best holiday cookie to be served in the restaurant and hotel during the holidays.

Happy to report that I’ll be among the judges to choose the winning cookie (from among the top three entries) on Sunday, December 6, at the first annual Holidays with HeART, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.

Holidays with HeART is a family event with a lunch buffet, cookie decorating, and judging of the Ultimate Holiday Cookie recipe, with proceeds benefitting Treehouse.

Kerry Sear at ART

Here’s a photo of ART’s executive chef Kerry Sear manning the grill at Party on the Plaza, another fun holiday event that was held on Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving, to welcome holiday shoppers and guests.

Sun-Dried Tomato and Pesto Torte

December 1, 2009

Sun-Dried Tomato and Pesto Torte

Sun-Dried Tomato and Pesto Torte

Varietal: Syrah, Chardonnay (Unoaked), Lemberger, or Rosé

Serves 16 to 20 as an appetizer

This flavorful, easy-to-make appetizer makes a beautiful plate presentation that will be perfect for entertaining friends and family around the holidays. For red-wine lovers, pair the luscious, boldly flavored torte with Syrah or Lemberger; white-wine lovers will prefer an unoaked Chardonnay, while a dry Rosé is another intriguing option.

Three 8-ounce packages cream cheese, at room temperature

1/2 cup (2 ounces) freshly grated Parmesan cheese

1 tablespoon minced garlic

7 ounces homemade basil-based pesto, one 7-ounce container refrigerated basil-based pesto, or one 6.35-ounce jar basil-based pesto

One 8.5-ounce jar oil-packed sun-dried tomatoes, well drained and minced

2 fresh basil leaves, for garnish

12 cherry tomatoes, for garnish

1 baguette, cut into 1/4-inch slices, for serving

1. One or two days before you plan to serve, line a 5-cup mold or medium mixing bowl with pieces of plastic wrap long enough to hang out over the sides (the long pieces will be used to wrap the torte). Place the cream cheese, Parmesan, and garlic in a food processor and pulse until well blended.

2. Spoon one-third of the cream cheese mixture into the bottom of the mold and smooth the top. Spoon the pesto evenly over the cream cheese layer. Spoon half of the remaining cream cheese mixture over the pesto and smooth the top. Evenly cover the second layer of cream cheese mixture with the sun-dried tomatoes. Spoon the remaining cream cheese mixture on top of the tomatoes and smooth the top.

3. Carefully strike the filled mold on the countertop to pack down the layers. Bring the long ends of plastic wrap up and over the top of the torte to cover completely. Refrigerate for at least 24 hours to allow the flavors to meld.

4. Just before serving, unwrap the long pieces of plastic wrap, place a serving platter over the mold, hold the platter, and carefully flip the mold and platter. Remove and discard the plastic wrap. Garnish the torte with fresh basil leaves and cherry tomatoes and serve with the baguette slices.

Cook’s Hint: You can make this torte up to 2 days ahead of time to allow the flavors to develop even further. You can also vary the flavor of the torte depending on the type of pesto choose. Use your own homemade version or various other varieties, such as arugula or cilantro.

Recipe reprinted from Pacific Northwest Wining & Dining: The People, Places, Food, and Drink of Washington, Oregon, Idaho, and British Columbia (Wiley, 2007, $34.95) by Braiden Rex-Johnson.

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