Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Food in the Emerald City

A scientific conference took me to Seattle in mid-April. It was my first time in Seattle (and my first time in Washington), and I was lucky enough to have both a day off mid-conference and a dear friend living there to guide me to some awesome places in Seattle. Oh... and it turns out she works at a bakery part-time, and we have separately both grown to be a little obsessed with good food.

As I suppose any good food tour of Seattle begins, we started at Pike Place Market. I was first impressed by the wide variety of crafts, and then the huge stalls of tulips.

Then we started passing stands with huge selections of seafood, including monkfish, a huge octopus, razor clams, river salmon, and, of course, fresh fish being tossed about by burly fish-mongers. At this point, I think I was convinced that Seattle is just as wonderful as Madison (if not more so).

Next we stopped at the nearby Sur La Table store, where, after much ogling, I picked out a small square ravioli press (which you'll see in a future post). Then we hopped on a bus and headed over to Fremont (a very hip neighborhood in Seattle). We picked up chocolate hazelnut cookies from Flying Apron for my officemate/hotelroommate, who doesn't eat gluten and was trying out a totally grain-free diet. For lunch, we had sandwiches at Homegrown, a cute sustainable sandwich/soup/salad place.

For dessert #1, we checked out the shop at Theo Chocolate Inc. They had samples of all kinds of crazy chocolate bars , along with standard high quality regular milk and dark chocolate. My favorite flavors were spicy chile and fennel & fig. I had high expectations for the coconut curry bar, but it ended up just tasting kind of odd.

Dessert #2 was a honey rose lollipop from a tiny hole-in-the-wall shop, and we enjoyed them as we waited for our bus back to downtown.

But my Seattle fun didn't end when I had to hug my friend goodbye on Sunday. On Tuesday, a group of intrepid plasma theorists walked downhill from hotel to a restaurant called Nijo Sushi. My officemate enjoyed a big plate of sashimi with no soy sauce and no rice, and another in our group got some sushi rolls that were on fire! (See the "Flamin' Fire" below.)

I ordered a bowl of sake steamed mussels that were tasty, though I was surprised at the number of them that were unopened. I assumed that at a restaurant like this, they wouldn't serve the unopened ones. I also had a seared tuna salad, which was absolutely heavenly. The crust on the edge of the tuna was flavorful and matched perfectly with the sesame dressing.

What can I say? I can't wait to go back to Seattle, maybe find a hotel suite with a kitchen, and enjoy some more great northwestern cuisine!

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Thursday, May 20, 2010

March Goal: Yeast Bread

March has come and gone, and I've only sort of accomplished my March goal. Technically, these fantastic cinnamon rolls are made from a yeast dough, but a) they don't compare in difficulty to a full-blown bread, and b) I've made cinnamon rolls with yeast before. Actually, I used to make basic cinnamon rolls every Christmas for breakfast.

So why have I cut corners? Well, March was crazy: the busy season of my last semester of classes and the weeks before I presented research at a conference in Seattle. Also, for the potluck on the last Thursday of March, everyone was supposed to bring something from their past, or their family, and, as I said, I used to make cinnamon rolls for Christmas. So I killed two birds with one stone.

I was able to take this opportunity to fix the things that never worked out so well about my Christmas morning cinnamon rolls. First of all, I don't remember doing much actual kneading of the dough. Secondly, in my impatience, I'd make the rolls, then set them in the oven set at the lowest setting to let them rise. Instead, they'd often just dry out and stay the same size. (My dear family never complained, and even complemented the rolls on not being too sickeningly sweet and gooey.) This time, I kneaded the dough thoroughly for the recommended 10 minutes. Also, I let it rise both before and after forming the rolls, both times in an oven that had been turned on, and then turned off.

Oh, and these weren't just plain Jane cinnamon rolls; they were cardamom cinnamon rolls. Perhaps I haven't been blogging long enough for you to know this, but I am pretty obsessed with cardamom. And I had recently obtained whole cardamom pods from my friend Aditya (who uses them in savory Indian cooking). So that was quite a treat. And one last thing: there's no cream cheese frosting on top of the cinnamon rolls; it's actually spread on the inside before the cinnamon-sugar filling, so it permeates the whole roll. Perfection!

After all was baked and eaten, it's clear that the cinnamon rolls were a good move. And I can always fit some more intense bread-baking into the less-stressful summer months.

Cardamom Cinnamon Rolls
from The Paupered Chef

for the dough
3/4 cup milk
1/3 cup sugar
1/2 cup unsalted butter at room temperature
3/4 tsp salt
1 package yeast
1 egg, beaten
3 cups all purpose flour
zest of 1 lemon
two teaspoons whole black cardamom pieces (from inside cardamom pods), ground in a mortar and pestle or spice blender

for the frosting filling
4 oz cream cheese at room temperature
1 cup powdered sugar
6 Tbsp unsalted butter

for the cinnamon filling
1 cup brown sugar
1 Tbsp ground cinnamon

for topping the rolls
1 egg, beaten
1/2 cup pearl sugar (optional)

1. Scald the milk in a saucepan (until bubbles form around the edge, but before the whole thing boils).
2. Put the butter, sugar, salt, and cardamom in a large bowl. Pour in the hot milk and stir to combine.
3. Proof the yeast: put it in a small bowl with 1/2 tsp sugar and 2 Tbsp warm (but not hot) water. Meanwhile, add about half of the flour and the lemon zest to the milk mixture, and stir well. When the yeast begins to foam, add it to the milk mixture, along with the beaten egg. Mix well.
4. Continue adding the rest of the flour, and stirring until flour is mostly mixed in. Switch to kneading with your hands, adding flour until the dough no longer sticks to your fingers (it should feel sticky, but not actually stick, thanks to the butter). Knead for approximately 10 minutes.
5. Cover the dough in the bowl with a kitchen towel and allow to rise in a warm place for at least an hour. (One good option is to turn on the oven to the lowest setting while kneading, and turn it off before setting the bowl in the oven.)
6. While dough is rising, combine frosting ingredients in a mixing bowl and beat with a hand mixer until smooth. In a separate medium bowl, mix together the brown sugar and cinnamon.
7. When the dough is about double in size, turn it out onto a lightly floured surface, and divide it into 2 pieces. Roll one piece into a large rectangle, about 1 foot by 1 1/2 feet. The dough should be about 1/4 inch thick.
8. Spread half of the frosting mixture into a thin layer on the dough (avoiding the outer inch of the dough). Sprinkle with half of the brown sugar mixture.
9. Roll the rectangle from one of the longer sides into a long cylinder. Transfer the roll to a cutting board, and use a very sharp knife to cut the cylinder into 1 inch wide pieces. Set these into a rectangular baking dish, with no room between them.
10. Roll out, frost, sugar, roll up, and cut the second piece of dough, placing the rolls in the baking dish with the others.
11. Cover with plastic wrap and a kitchen towel and allow to rise in a warm place for 45 minutes.
12. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Uncover the rolls and lightly brush them with the beaten egg. (Optional: sprinkle with the pearl sugar).
13. Bake the rolls until they just begin to brown, 15-20 minutes.

Did I mention that that was the night that the 5th seeded Bulldog basketball team from my alma mater, Butler University, beat the 1 seed Syracuse? Here's a screen shot when they were tied...

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Saturday, May 15, 2010

Potluck 3/11: Molten Melty Goodness

Madison brought us an unusually early spring this year. The snow was melting in March (a month earlier than usual), and the sun shone surprisingly often. Melting snow made me thinking of melty foods, and, let's face it, even a "warm" spring can be quite chilly, and the comfort of melty cheese or molten chocolate sounded wonderful. This early-March potluck was full of delicious foods, whether melty, molten, or just melt-in-your-mouth.

Gabriel contributed the ultimate melted food: cheese fondue. Ok, so we kind of cheated and picked it up in a package from Trader Joe's, but you would never be able to tell. This "Swiss Beer Fondue" tasted like a good blend of swiss and gruyère, and had the perfect texture after it was heated in a pot on the stovetop. We then moved it to the table and served it with sliced veggies, chunks of bread, and a cut up apple. Perfection.

In the melt-in-your mouth category (and in the "hooray it's spring and some cooking can occur outdoors" category), Carlos brought his signature black bean burgers, that he cooked on the grill, topped with melty cheese, and served to the ravenous crowds. And you better believe that I'm including a recipe at the end of this post...

But that's not all! For dessert, Kristin brought cinnamon rolls, with frosting oozing over their tops, and I made mini molten chocolate cakes. The big kicker? They're gluten free! And the weirdest ingredient in them is corn starch, which really isn't that weird. Oh, and also they're pretty delicious. Especially topped with whipped cream. Actually the original recipe, from Jacques Pepin, includes an apricot cognac sauce. I haven't tried that yet, but I'll include it in the recipe at the end anyway - you'll have to let me know how it is if you try it out!

Carlos's Fridge Black Bean Burgers

Ingredients (approximate amounts)
1/2 cup grated carrot
1 small onion (finely chopped or grated)
2 cans black beans, drained and rinsed
2 eggs
at least 1/4 cup wheat germ
1/4 cup sesame seeds
a small handful of oats (optional)
minced parsley and sage
salt and pepper
1/4 cup shredded parmesan or cheddar

1. Preheat a grill to medium (this could also be done, and might be easier on a grill pan)
2. Mash all of the ingredients together in a bowl. (Or mix in a food processor, pulsing a few times, so the mixture is not entirely uniform). The mixture should stay together. If it is too wet, add more wheat germ or oatmeal.
3. Form patties just smaller than a fist. You're looking for something closer to a slightly flattened sphere than a disc.
4. Grill those patties! Grill on one side until the side is set enough that you can lift it with a spatula without it falling apart. Flip it, and grill until the other side is equally set.
5. Enjoy with some cheddar cheese and salsa or ketchup.

Chocolate Cake & Apricot Cognac Sauce
from Jacques Pepin’s Fast Food, My Way,
...and passed to me by my awesome officemate, Bonnie

8 oz (225 grams) bittersweet chocolate
8 tbsp (1 stick or 110 grams) butter
2 tbsp sugar
2 tsp cornstarch
2 tsp vanilla extract
2 large eggs
2 large egg yolks
½ cup apricot jam
2 tbsp warm water
2 tbsp cognac

1. heat oven to 350 degrees
2. over a bain marie, melt chocolate, butter, sugar, cornstarch, vanilla. whisk until smooth.
3. add eggs and yolks and whisk again until smooth
4. pour into individual ramekins or muffin tins which have been sprayed with nonstick cooking spray
5. bake for 8 minutes (they may not look done, but seriously, take them out after 8 minutes!)
6. let them cool to room temperature (even though you will want to eat them right away)
7. combine jam, water and cognac until smooth
8. flip dessert over onto plate and top with sauce
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