September 29, 2012

Sitka & Spruce

I went to Seattle at the end of July. There were plenty of places to eat on my wish list of to-do's as Seattle has quite the food scene. Lately, I've decided a good way to choose restaurants is by looking at the list of James Beard Award winners. Local Seattle chef Matt Dillon was a 2012 winner, so his restaurant, Sitka & Spruce, moved to the top of my list.

I had Friday night dinner reservations with a hot date - we'll call him Mr. Right until I can think of a better pseudonym. Sitka & Spruce is located in Melrose Market, and in classic Kimberly form (brain-dead), I couldn't tell exactly where to enter, so I walked around the perimeter of the whole building trying to figure it out.

Eventually we made it in. The restaurant was fairly small, with only a few tables, and an open kitchen. The décor was very Northwest, unfinished wood, brick, exposed ceiling beams, etc. The big windows provided a nice view of the bright evening.

Everything was plated beautifully. See gratuitous food photos below.

Sitka & Spruce

We began with slices of sourdough bread baked at The Corson Building in Georgetown, accompanied by lovage butter with sea salt and salmon mousse. The mousse was quite good, but the butter was better.

Next we had Saucisson D’Alsace Salami from Olympic Provisions. I think this was Mr. R's favorite course. Not sure why I don't have a picture of it.

Sitka and Spruce

The next course was my favorite. It was some sort of amazing delicious roasted fava beans topped with an egg, salt, and edible flower petals. Underneath was a piece of toasted sourdough, and the sauce had a distinct Thai flavor, perhaps some sort of coconut milk curry.

Sitka and Spruce

The next course of Neah Bay king salmon, shelling peas, and summer chanterelles was adequate, though a slight let down after the incredible fava beans.

Sitka and Spruce

The last course was on two plates, the first, a Barley salad with heirloom tomatoes, some sort of creamy, tangy dressing on the side, and flatbread.

Sitka and Spruce

The other plate, roasted pork, dandelion greens, and peaches. The dandelion greens were beautiful, though bitter, but the pork and peaches were perfect.

Mr. Right was quite charming. Holding his hand across the table and discussing the food made for a perfect evening.   

Update: The Amateur Gourmet listed Sitka & Spruce on his list of romantic restaurants: This just happened.

August 8, 2012

In Defense of French Pastry

Yesterday, as I was driving home from work I heard a story on NPR about French bakeries using frozen croissant dough instead of making croissants from scratch onsite. Croissants are like the Tolstoy novel of recipes, long and laborious, with many tedious steps, ingredients that must be at the perfect temperature, waiting time for chilling and proofing and baking, etc. No wonder bakeries want to outsource the labor by purchasing and selling “industrial croissants.” I find it impossible to believe that anyone who’s tasted French pastries made from scratch by artisans could be fooled by these imposters.
NPR: Outsourced croissants outrage traditional French bakers
This story made me think back to my visit to Paris last October. Pastries in Paris pâtisseries were displayed in the storefronts like beautiful jewels. We left our hotel in the morning and strolled up the neighboring block to Au Levain des Martyrs for a petit-déjeuner.

“Bonjour!” Then I did my best to order a pain au chocolat and an almond croissant. Even basic words like those still required some pointing and apologies. I handed over a couple of Euro coins as payment, smiled, “Merci.” Then we walked to the metro stop at Notre-Dame-de-Lorette to catch a train to the museums.

In the evening, we stopped at Stohrer at 51 Rue Montorgueil.

Stohrer Paris

Stohrer was open in 1725 when Marie Leczynska, queen and wife of Louis XV, wanted babas and puits d'amour (wells of love: canelle shell filled with vanilla pastry cream). It's one of those places that has probably been using the same sourdough starter since Napoleon was in power.

Pâtisserie Stohrer Histoire de Paris

Their display cases of pastry were filled with beautiful selections. They also had baskets of croissants and canelés, and jars of jellies.

Stohrer Paris Canelés Croissants

In the end, our two selections were the Tarte aux Framboises (fond de pâte sablée, crème mousseline vanillée et framboises fraîches)

Raspberry Tartelette

and Le Mille feuilles caramel (une délicate pâte feuilletée, une crème légère pâtissière, le dessus caramélisé ou bien au sucre glace, selon votre goût).

Millefeuille au caramel

And good luck trying to say mille feuilles well enough that a French pâtissier can understand you. Despite practicing, I still drew a confused look from the lady waiting on me.

With pastries in hand, you may want to seek out a park bench on which to sit and enjoy the delicious treats, or you might want to eat while walking around the corner to G. Detou. As David Lebovitz said, it is truly pastry paradise. I'm still kicking myself for not buying more French chocolate and Madagascar bourbon vanilla beans. I've never seen any vanilla beans as long, moist, and plump, but still reasonably priced.

Or there are always the iconic Paris sites, that you may have thought were cliché, but in fact deserve all their adoration. I recommend you and your pastry visit the Eiffel Tower at dusk. It will be beautiful as the sun's setting, and after nightfall, the tower sparkles on the hour, which is completely magical.

May 20, 2012

Cook the Book: Jeni's Splendid Ice Creams at Home

My secret, or perhaps not so secret, favorite dessert is ice cream. People that find out I like to make desserts always ask what my favorite is. I usually say cakes, because few people make good layer cakes from scratch these days and when made correctly, they're a showstopper. But my favorite dessert may just be ice cream...even more so as summer begins, the weather heats up, and a cold dessert sounds heavenly. I was in Columbus, Ohio at the beginning of the month, and the eatery I most wanted to visit was Jeni's for ice cream.

Some of the more intriguing flavors were The Milkiest Chocolate in the World, Salty Caramel, and Goat Cheese with Red Cherries. The first time we went (I had to go more than once!) I got a scoop of Salty Caramel and one of Dark Chocolate. On the second visit, I tried The Buckeye State (peanut butter with dark chocolate bits) and Queen City Cayenne (spicy milk chocolate).

I decided to order Jeni's award-winning book, Jeni's Splendid Ice Creams at Home, and cook through the book this summer. In truth, it will probably become a year-long endeavor, which is good because she organizes the recipes into Spring, Summer, Autumn, and Winter flavors. The first thing I noticed about her recipes is that she doesn't use a custard base, instead she uses tapioca starch and cream cheese to create a thick and creamy texture - mind blown!

For my first magic trick, I made Bangkok Peanut ice cream, a spicy peanut ice cream with peanut butter, both coconut milk and toasted coconut, honey, and cayenne. Jeni compares its flavors to those of Pad Thai. I made mine with jalapeño peanut butter and Alaska fireweed honey. This flavor had a simultaneous spicy and cooling sensation - mind blown! again - that caused my guests to ask for a drink of water. To me, it was perfect. I ate a scoop. Then another. Then when the ice cream was gone, I poured milk into the container to wash out every last drop for myself.

I went a little further and made the "One Night in Bangkok Sundae," with scoops of Bangkok Peanut, sliced bananas, praline sauce (cream and dark brown muscovado sugar), peanuts, whipped cream, and cilantro.

One Night in Bangkok Sundae

Maybe your mind was just blown by the concept of cilantro in the ice cream sundae, but for me this was not without precedent. At a street market in Taiwan, they sold ice cream, not in a cone, but wrapped in a thin, tortilla- or crepe-like pancake, that was also filled with peanut brittle shavings and cilantro.



Those Asians sure do know their ice cream. Wait!


Something else we saw in Taiwan. Mind blown again. (I promise to never ever use that phrase again in my blog.) Bangkok Peanut Ice Cream recipe online here.

March 21, 2012

Australia Is Awesome

Tonight I went to the grocery store and bought scallops, barramundi, mango, and papaya. Can you tell I miss Australia?

Some of the foodie highlights we found Down Under were meat pies, kebabs, TimTams, tropical fruits, pavlovas, lamingtons, mud crabs, octopus, and kangaroo.

Nancy heartily approved of the meat pies.

Meat Pies Approved by Nancy

Oh, and there was brekkie at Bourke Street Bakery.

Macadamia & Honey Sticky Bun, Pain au Chocolat, Rhubarb & Pear Danish, and a Chocolate Tartlet. Don't judge me. That was shared amongst 7 people.

Tonight I tried scallops with a Thai sauce following this recipe.

For the sauce, I used a macadamia nut oil from where else but Queensland?

By the way, that video is a little over the top, but they don't exaggerate too much.

February 27, 2012

Chocolate-Covered Valentine's

I didn't write about my Valentine's Day festivities yet. After the pantry purge of 2012, I had a lot of old chocolate to throw out. Lots of Hershey's Kisses that were pushed to the far reaches of the cupboard and some Baker's chocolate that also ended up in the dark corners - neither fit to eat nor bake with.

That stuff could go straight to the dumpster. Or it could go to the dumpster covering whatever else was headed for the dumpster.

If you didn't follow that, you wouldn't be alone.

After a lot of "Why would you waste chocolate like that?" questions, a few people came over for a night of chocolate covered anything! They brought random non-edibles for us to cover in chocolate. My old T-ball trophies were going to look so much cooler in chocolate.

Some of the items we dipped were necklaces, light bulbs, CDs, and Texas-shaped stuff. My personal favorites were the copy of Twilight and a hubcap.

And here's something that always makes me laugh. Pretty much what I'm looking for in a valentine:

February 20, 2012


I'd heard about Brennan's since I was young. My dad took a family trip to New Orleans when he was young. More than once he talked about that trip and quoted their cabby, who when asked where to eat in New Orleans, said, "You don't eat in New Orleans. You put your feet under the table and dine!" Dad often told me how wonderful Brennan's was. For him, Brennan's set the standard for Hollandaise sauce that mine would be judged by.

Brennan's is in an old French Quarter mansion on Rue Royale, my favorite street to stroll in the Quarter.


The decor and place settings were as fancy as at August. Definitely a champagne breakfast sort of place. My waiter was O'Keefe. I knew what I wanted to order before I even arrived at the restaurant.

Brennan's French Bread

First, I had the New Orleans Turtle Soup. It was dark and thick and rich, and then O'Keefe poured a good shot of sherry on top of it, and it looked even better.

Brennan's Turtle Soup

Next I had the Eggs Hussarde. The menu described it thus: (A Brennan's Original) One of the dishes that put "Breakfast at Brennan's" on the map. Poached eggs atop Holland rusks, Canadian bacon, and Marchand de Vin sauce. Topped with Hollandaise sauce.

Brennan's Eggs Hussarde

Not one, but two French sauces! I try to be ambitious in the kitchen, but even though the recipe for Eggs Hussarde is on Brennan's website, I doubt I'll ever attempt it. It would take me all morning to make and still wouldn't be half as good as what they served me.

I finished up with the most fun course, Bananas Foster for dessert. This is the place they invented Bananas Foster! If you don't know about it, watch this clip from the Food Network:

O'Keefe brought the pan with butter, brown sugar, cinnamon, and sliced bananas over to the table to show me. Then he stepped over to the cart and put the pan over a flame to melt the sugar and bananas. He added the banana liqueur and quietly said he'd tell me when it was time to get the camera ready for the flambé. He poured the rum in and tilted the pan to catch the flame.

Brennan's Bananas Foster Brennan's Bananas Foster Flambé Brennan's Bananas Foster Flambé Brennan's Bananas Foster Flambé

The flame went higher than his head. After the mixture cooked a moment and the flame died away, he poured the pan's contents over vanilla ice cream. The hot caramel melted the ice cream a bit, and the texture of the ice cream, soft bananas, and syrupy sugar was divine.

Brennan's Bananas Foster

I don't know if it was the sentimentality of the connection to my dad at Brennan's or because it was my last meal in New Orleans, but the food at Brennan's was my favorite. I didn't eat again until the next day. This was a breakfast of champions indeed.

My Best 24 Hours of Eating Out

In honor of Mardi Gras, I'm finally going to post the tales of my fantastic New Orleans dining. I had my best 24 hours of eating out in New Orleans, where I ate at August for lunch, Cochon for dinner, and Brennan's for breakfast.

Starting with August: The only picture I took was outside the restaurant. August's website describes their location as an historic four-story “French-Creole” building from the 1800s, with a rich interior of hardwood floors, soaring columns, mahogany paneling, monumental floral arrangements, and antique mirrors and chandeliers.

Restaurant August

I took my camera inside, but somehow I felt uncomfortable about snapping photos with a loud SLR and disrupting other guests in the pristine, white linen and silver fork restaurant. The food was delicious and beautifully presented. Pulling out the camera could only have cheapened my experience.

But here are the details about what I ate and links to photos taken by diners with less scruples but better photography skills.
  • First, the waiter brought me an amuse bouche, courtesy of the chef. It was a seafood custard with sabayon and caviar inside an eggshell. Photo Here. Elegant and delicious.
  • The first course was the pâté de campagne (country pâté) of La Provence pork, with toast points, greens, and seasonal marmalades. Photo on Right. The pâté was very good, rich and meaty with a hint of acidity. How did they cook the toast points so evenly?
  • The chief course was lamb belly on braised mustard greens. Photo.
  • For dessert, I had the milk chocolate peanut butter croquant with salted caramel and McEwen’s buttered popcorn ice cream. Photo. It was like a really good candy bar. I thought the dessert was the weakest of the courses. I probably ordered the wrong thing.
For something completely different, I went to Cochon for dinner, which had a very different vibe. Their website describes their location as a rustic, yet contemporary interior of a renovated New Orleans warehouse. Simply decorated. Very casual. Fairly loud. I loved it.


I started with the wood-fired oyster roast. I love oysters anyway, but these were superb. I used my bread to sop up the spicy butter left behind in the half shells. I ordered an Abita root beer. And then I had another. I'd walked the mile from my hotel on Canal to Tchoupitoulas St. in the New Orleans heat and humidity and I felt justified to load up on Louisiana cane sugar.

Cochon Wood-fired Oyster Roast

My main course was the Louisiana Cochon with Turnips, Cabbage, and Cracklins, which is pulled pork, formed into a patty and seared, served with turnips and cabbage, and topped with pork cracklins! Amazing!

Louisiana Cochon with Turnips, Cabbage, & Cracklins

When you're at a restaurant this good and the waitress asks you if you want dessert, the only correct answer is "Hell yes!" I got the Blueberry Buckle with Vanilla and Salted Caramel Sauces. If memory serves, that streusel had cracklins in it, too!

Cochon Blueberry Buckle

I'd never had blueberry buckle before, but that dessert was so fantastic that I had to try my hand at making it when I got home. Plated with Smuckers caramel sauce and a good helping of sea salt. It was actually pretty marvelous.

Blueberry Buckle with Salted Caramel Sauce

Next up, Brennan's!

January 26, 2012


My back is much, much better today. I could walk at an almost normal pace, sit down without easing myself into the chair, and drive without wincing when I moved my foot from the gas pedal to the brake. I have high hopes that in the next few days I'll even be able to bend at the waist. Such dramatic improvement!

I'm doing well on my goal to keep a clean pantry. I don't even want to reveal how bad it was before. The first step is admitting you have a problem. Here's the damage as it was on January 2:

And as it is today:

I took an inventory of everything in the cupboards. The most interesting realization was that I had 15 varieties of salt:
  • Mesquite Smoked Maine Sea Salt
  • Black Cyprus Flake Mediterranean Sea Salt
  • Alea Coarse Hawaiian Red Sea Salt
  • Hawaiian Red Alaea Sea Salt (former bought in bulk at Whole Foods and latter packaged by faerie's)
  • Slovenian Fleur de Sel
  • Gusto Mundial Hibiscus Flor de Sal
  • RealSalt All-Natural Sea Salt
  • Morton Table Salt
  • Morton Kosher Salt
  • Fleur de Sel
  • Saltworks Smoked Serrano Salt
  • World Classics Fine Ground Sea Salt
  • Bolivian Rose Fine Salt
  • Lemon Coarse Salt
  • Alderwood Smoked Sea Salt
Certifiably insane! I'm glad I didn't order any Guerande or Maldon sea salt as I wanted to last month. Completely crazy. I also have 8 kinds of honey and 7 types of vinegar, but only 4 kinds of peanut butter, which may be a record low.

Good progress on my other resolution as well - I haven't eaten out this month, or to be specific, I haven't paid for a meal out. I've spent $282.97 on groceries so far this month and feel confident I can ring in under $300 for January. And that total includes the cost of a dinner party I hosted for 8 people. Not bad at all for me. More details on the dinner party to follow.

The next project is to transform the other kitchen cupboards into a picture of organization that would make Martha Stewart proud.

January 25, 2012

Le Petit Gourmand

I've camped out at Mom and Dad's for a few days because of a nasty pain in my back that makes any movement excruciating. The highlight of my day was when Katie and Nancy came home from the library and Nancy showed me the book she chose for herself.

She curled up next to me on the bed and we flipped through recipes for Croque Monsieur sandwiches, Sole Meunière, and Clafoutis.

My niece has very discerning tastes. She asked for seconds of a 72% dark chocolate and sea salt bar from World Market.

Another high point was finding that I could laugh without writhing in agony, so you know, small victories today. 

January 10, 2012

Dark Vador Burger

Now that I've been back from my trip to Belgium for 3 months, I figure it's time to blog about it before it becomes like the Alaskan cruise that I never wrote about or the New Orleans trip about which I still have posts sitting in the drafts folder.

There's a burger chain in Belgium and France called Quick Burger. While we were there, Katie and I saw ads everywhere with two burgers in battle mode that read Hard Pepper vs. Strong Bacon. I laughed every time I saw it. Best photo evidence I could find online here and here.

My friend Shelley sent me a link to a story about Quick's new Dark Vador Burger, which has a terrifyingly black bun.

Who do you think will win that battle?

One of my favorite parts of traveling is walking up and down city streets. It's especially fun when you've traversed cultures because there are even more things to gawk at, very discreetly, of course.

A few pictures we snapped in Antwerp:




And if you were wondering what language Smurfs speak, it's clearly Flemish. Clearly.


January 3, 2012


Happy 2012! Does anyone have any resolutions or goals with regards to food? I'll go first.

For the month of January, my goal is to not eat out. It looks like I spent about $180/month at restaurants last year, but I didn't count the calories. I'm hoping that I can cut expenses and pounds by cooking my own meals. Wait wait, I just checked my supermarket purchases for last year, and they averaged around $260/month. I don't know if eating at home will save me any money, but I do know that I have an overstocked pantry right now that I could probably eat on for a month. Which brings us to goal #2...

My goal is to keep my kitchen pantry organized. No expired foods. No partially opened bags spilling in the cupboard. No pushing unwanted items to the back of the cupboard to be forgotten for years. I'm doing a pantry purge now and it is not pretty. I was well past the point of needing an intervention. I realize that I can be a hoarder. I'll try to combat it with an inventory list and by trying to make do with ingredients I have on hand, Chopped-style, no matter how crazy the combinations may seem. I accept the culinary challenge.

I'll evaluate my success with not eating out at the end of the month. I already know I'll make an exception if I go out of town. And I'm not offering to cook at my house if I am asked out on a dinner date. It could happen. I'm not very confident in my motivation to maintain the pantry inventory list, but as of now I'm resolved to do it. I hope it will reduce the amount of food I let go to waste.

As for the pantry purge, I think the winner, or rather, loser, of my game of expiration date roulette was the seaweed package with a use-by date of July 26, 2006. I know I didn't buy that because I can't read ANYTHING on the package except the expiry date. I assume the rest of the characters are Japanese. Now I'm trying to remember why someone gave me seaweed.

Seaweed Potato Chips