Looking to the Stars

Star gazing
Rather than heading to the Methow Valley and the Rolling Huts this year for our summer vacation, we gratefully accepted an invitation to join the Wright's and friends at a spectacular house they rented on Blake Point at the northern bend of Orcas Island's horseshoe. Credit for this gorgeous time-lapse exposure of the sky belongs to the talented photographer, Eric Wright.

 

During the week, I was the butt of many jokes from Ken, as mythological stories about my days living on the island seem to belie the fact that I lived on Orcas for BUT a year. So much happened that shaped me, as a young English graduate from NY who was first discovering my destiny to live in the great Northwest. In my defense, I would have stayed an islander, had not my romantic interest of the time chosen to attend graduate school in Bellingham. And so I packed up my island life and followed my heart to another city.

 

Going back, I always encounter some familiar faces, but Orcas is new in so many ways. A barn tucked off the bay I used walk along (with thumb out as I hitch hiked into work--don't read this mom) now houses Buck Bay Shellfish.  Head here for succulent small clams spooned out of their "Exclusive Flow-Through Saltwater Tanks", weighed on an old-fashioned hanging scale, and scooped into a bag of ice. They also sell whole Dungeness Crabs that are boated over live from Lopez. We wanted them uncooked, and scored the last live dancing Dungies from Buck Bay's tank shortly after they opened on the 5th.

 

We all took turns cooking dinner, and Ken's contribution was his phenomenal Cataplana Clams and a Lamb Tagine with artichokes and favas, cooked outside on live coals. The cataplana has to be my favorite functional cookware--a copper clamshell designed for steaming shellfish, on the stove or on the beach. Until some culinary research this evening, I had no idea that Moroccan tagines and Algarve cataplanas were related, but the connection makes lots of sense.

 

Tonight my husband finally transcribed his Cataplana Clams recipe which was inspired by a trip to the now defunct winebar 750 ml in Portland, and it is my pleasure to share his secrets with you.

I'm so blessed to have been married to a chef for seven years, don't you think? BOM PROVEITO!

 Cataplana clams

 

CATAPLANA CLAMS

 

1/4 cup chopped shallots

1 Tbs chopped garlic

1/2 cup chopped linguica

1/2 Tbs orange zest

1 pinch saffron

1/4 cup fino, manzanilla, or Vinho Verde

1-2 lbs fresh manila clams

2 Tbs chopped parsley

2 Tbs chopped cilantro

Olive Oil

 

Heat olive oil and add shallots, occasionally stirring until transluscent. Add linguica and garlic and cook until sausage has colored the oil, becoming slightly crisp, and garlic becomes fragrant.  Stir in orange zest and saffron threads, then add the clams. Add sherry or wine, stir and then cover or clamp your cataplana shut at this point. Steam until the clams have opened, then toss in the parsley and cilantro. Taste for salt, but the linguica and clams naturally season the dish. Serve with crusty bread to sop up the delicious juices. If you're on Orcas, head to Rose's Bakery.


Going Whole Hog: Croatian Pig Roast on Bainbridge Island

Img_6699_2The day started out quite innocently as we drove along the country roads of Bainbridge Island, fawning over the brilliant tapestry of autumn foliage we've been blessed with this year. Usually the rain has pummeled the leaves off the trees by now leaving us with a few weeks of lukewarm color before the gray settles in, but this fall has been a sweet reward for suffering through a December-like finish to August (with thunderstorms & hail to boot.)

"Now that's a picture!" I shouted as we whizzed past Bainbridge Island Vineyard & turned back around to get a closer glimpse through the vines framing a huge pumpkin patch at neighboring Suyematsu Farm, one of the few remaining plots on the island farmed by a Japanese-American (Akio Suyematsu), after 220 citizens of Japanese descent were rounded up from the island's berry farms and interned in California's Mojave Desert during World War II. 

But that's a tale I'll leave to "Snow Falling Over Cedars"--this story centers around one very big Bainbridge pig.Img_6702

Kate & Larry are some of the wonderful customers-turned friends that I met in my days at the Spanish Table & when I saw an evite show up in my inbox for a Croatian pig roast, I frankly had to clear the calendar.

Kate's family is Andalucian, & I've been taunted for years hearing about the incredible paella feasts she's assembled for friends on the island, but her husband Larry has eastern European blood & slivovitz running through his veins--a grappa-like substance that was to be served to the guests (even though we were warned about that could wipe the make-up off of Tammy Faye in an instant.)Img_6712

Did I mention the party started at 3:00 pm? But after enjoying a leisurely lunch of dim sum with friends & bloggers Dawn & Eric Wright of Wright Eats & Traca Savadago of Seattle Tall Poppy at Jumbo Chinese, my stomach was properly coated with grease to handle the job. A foodie's work is never done!

While I'm accustomed to the lavish spreads that my mother's family put out on special occasions & holidays, walking into a Croatian fete left me wide-eyed at the complete study in contrast--a plated mosaic of roasted peppers, a bowl of fresh cabbage salad replacing long-pickled sauerkraut, & whorls of dough baked in what looked to be one of my Portuguese paella pans. Img_6725Who knew that eastern European food could be so vibrantly Mediterranean? Perhaps a trip to the Dalmatian coast is overdue.

I pride myself on attempting to throw down some complex recipes at home, but all I can say is Geez Louise! When I see that someone has created borek (a gorgeous pastry layered with feta) from their own HOMEMADE PHYLLO??? Well that takes the cake, Kate. Or maybe this does...

Ken's homemade Makovnjaca (poppyseed roll with raisins & rum) which was our assigned dish for the feast. Little did I know when I emailed Kate back & said, "Do I qualify for anImg_6743advanced recipe for the party?" that she would require me busting out the Kitchen Aid & measuring spoons. A baking assignment? Good lord, that takes precision & more patience than I have on a Saturday morning.

Enter my husband, an angel & a trooper, who cracked eggs shells & ground spices while I rounded up a dozen corn-husked bundles of deliciousness at Villa Victoria's tamale sale. Not only did Ken brilliantly succeed in his mission, but now he risks having to ship off a log to my mother-in-law in Utah every Christmas now that his talent has been exposed.

Let me warn you, even when buying poppy seeds in bulk, this caviar-like spice is pricey & making the Makovnjaca took over three hours. If you're not a baker & you live in Seattle, you might just head to George's Delicatessen on Madison by Swedish Hospital for a ready-made treat. But when if your hosts are spit-roasting a whole pig--umm--you should make it by hand, right??Img_6705

I'll let the rest of the story play itself out in pictures, but many thanks to Kate & Larry for inviting us out for this incredible spread, & welcoming us into a fold of NW-islanders & Greek friends, alike. There's nothing sadder than having to leaving a party to catch a ferry while a group of revellers are gathered under heat lamps with a bottle of slivovitch being passed around. Zivjeli!!!Img_6729

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Goat Cheese & Blue Grass, Oh Boy! Harvest Celebration 2008

Img_6638Oh, how I love an Indian summer! And while I was skeptical about seeing a day of sunshine again after the typical Northwest drizzliness sunk in this past week, I was elated to be out in the fields for the Harvest Celebration Farm Tour under clear blue skies.

Growing up in upstate New York, I have a soft spot for warm September days where the colors start to turn, when corn is at its sweetest, & the smell of cider donuts frying up is the ultimate Proustian madeleine. Give me a hot paper bag of these bite-sized autumnal treats shaken with cinnamon & sugar and I am a kid in New England again.

"We're going to live our five-year-old dreams," Ken told his mother on the phone as our truck ambled out to the Snohomish Valley. "No, not dreams we've had for five years," he explained. "You know, dreams that five-year-olds have. Petting zoos, corn mazes, hay bale rides..." to which I gave him a sharp jab with my elbow. Honestly, I wish I could've borrowed my three adorable nephews who live back in the New York to take on the farm tour, but I don't know that they would have been as giddy as I was to drive 30 miles to get a free lesson in goat milking.Img_6567

When I read that Fall City Farms was giving cider making demonstrations, I held my breath (could there be cider donuts here in Washington?? we grow lots of apples) & marked it as the first stop on our list. BINGO! So while Ken rounded up some golden beets & butternut squash from their country store, I stood in line for a taste of childhood.

Turns out the real action at Fall City is in the "u pick" garden & families of tattooed Seattle hipsters, locavores, and valley folk waded through the tangled greens with pitch forks & baskets, harvesting missile-sized zucchini or rotund root vegetables straight from the earth.  "You can't get fresher than this!" beamed one farm-goer, & I couldn't agree more.

Img_6579 Next on the list was a visit down the road to River Valley Cheese... In late spring, I had been in contact with cheesemaker Julie Steil about working one of her farmer's market booths before I knew I was going to be hired (& subsequently fired) by Bella Cosa. I've always respected Julie's cheeses, and while perhaps being on the farm adds something extra to the flavor, I was truly taken with where her cheeses are going. Julie's mom & kids were on hand to pass out samples (I'm assuming the cheesemaker was busy trying to keep with the demand), & by the time we finished voting on our favorites, I had a sampler of four different varieties safely tucked aside to take home as things were quickly selling out to the crowd at their tasting tent.

My recommendations? Naughty Nellie, a semi-soft raw cow's milk cheese with a pleasant hoppiness, thanks to the Pike Brewery ale-washed rind, BoVino, a creamier version of Drunken Goat only made with raw cow's milk soaked in local cabernet wine, fresh mozzarella (made one hour before--how can you resist that?), and my personal favorite, the Ranch Reserve, a perfectly rustic goat cheese (surprisingly pasteurized) brushed with honey dark rum that had all the personality of a French cave-aged cheese, & went exceptionally well with the Sauvignon Blanc we had chillin' in the fridge when we got home from our journey.

And while Ken had fun taking pictures of me getting a lesson in goat milking with the cute farmhands, I think I'll leave that up to your imagination, lest you decide that raw milk cheeses are not for you. Here's the poor goat that put up with me...Img_6587 Sorry, gal, it was my first try!

The day would not have been complete without a stop at Full Circle Farm in Carnation, folks that have really made their mark on Seattle's culinary community, working hard to connect the consumer & the chef with the land. In the tradition of Berkeley's Chez Panisse, restaurants such Lark started the trend here of crediting local growers on their menus, & a dish with Full Circle's name attached to it has always a sure stamp of quality and exceptional flavor.  Go to any of our neighborhood farmer's markets & Full Circle's booth is packed with luscious greens, crayola orange carrots and a knowledgeable staff member who clearly loves their veggies.

Img_6623 The farm is as gorgeous as their produce, & has grown to nearly 300 acres since the original five  acreage purchase by husband & wife team Andrew Stout & Wendy Munroe. True do-gooders, the farm has donated over 200,00 pounds of produce to food banks, schools & daycares, & participates in innovate programs like fueling kids' brains with fruit instead of junk food during WASL testing. Smart thinking!

As bluegrass musicians plucked away, we gathered around to watch chef Seth Caswell (formerly of Stumbling Goat & soon-to-be Emmer) sautee up lobster mushrooms with fennel & sun-sweet cherry tomatoes in a creative combination. Inspired by our few forkfuls, we took our over-sized canvas bag to the vegetable stand to load up on the harvest--a beautiful head of escarole, two curly-q eggplant (a miracle that they can grow on the eastern side of the mountains), & outrageously fragrant poblano peppers for stuffing with fresh corn & goat cheese. We ended up with so many treasures from the farms that I had to cancel our Sunday night reservation at Poppy as I couldn't bear the food-guilt & let it all wilt in our produce drawer. Oh well, another time.

Right now, nothing's more precious than these gifts from the late September sun...

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Fall City Farms

3636 Neal Rd SE, Fall City WA

River Valley Cheese

34920 SE Fall-City Snoqualmie Rd, Fall City WA

Full Circle Farm

31904 NE 8th St, Carnation, WA

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Get out of the city, it's good for ya!

 

 


Epcot for Enophiles: No Sideways Spit Bucket at Darioush

Img_5328Was this picture (of me taking a picture) shot somewhere in A.) Athens; B.) Rome; C.) Vegas?

Sorry my friends, but if you guessed any of these above, you're wrong (oh, you knew it was a pop-quiz trick!) although Vegas might not have been a bad bet. Welcome to............the Napa Valley, Disneyland for wine lovers, as long as you have quite a few pesos in your pocket, that is if you want to take a souvenir home with you.

And while Seattle was belted with more snow & hail from the heavens a week ago, Napa rewarded us with green hills & sunshine, country highways flanked by vineyard after vineyard with pastoral stretches of grazing stallions in between. I had hoped to catch a few winks on the drive before hitting our first tasting room, but as soon as our gang cruised over the Golden Gate Bridge shouting out, "There's Alcatraz! Hey Catherine, look at the VIEW!" I knew sleep was for wimps, despite pulling a couple of half-nighters.Img_5333_2

So here is a portrait that best paints the life of a wine professional--witness the spit-vs.-swallow dilemma, the quality-to-value ratio racing through our minds, a pondering of the cosmos poised over a glass...

Heck yeah, I drank what was in my cup--I'm at Darioush!

To my right is Jens Strecker, a close friend and proprietor of Portalis, my favorite wine bar in Seattle, & to the right of him is Kurt of A & B Imports who suavely got our tasting fee waived & secured a reserved industry table where we lounged on sleek leather couches instead of huddling at the bar with the masses. Kurt, you rock.

So while I could wax poetic for hours about the bucolic roads of Napa, let's get down to brass tacks, shall we?

Img_5340 Darioush Signature Chardonnay 2006 ($41): Supremely elegant, restrained oak (a big plus), creme brulee notes with a nutmeg-spiced finish, this feisty Chard has lots of structure to offer plus a vanilla twist.

Darioush Duel 2005: 60% Cab, 40% Shiraz (the region of Iran that  Darioush Khaledi hails from.) Chai spices brew in the glass and memories of hot cocoa, black cherry cordial fruit, with an earthiness dug straight from the valley.

Darioush Signature Merlot 2005 ($48): A Merlot that dares you to scoff at it. Fresh blackberry pie fruit, flirtatious vanilla, creamy as a cappucino with herbaceous notes, & cacao tannins.

Darioush Signature Shiraz 2005 ($64): Sidle-up to a glass of mocha fudge, grilled fruit, and candied cassis. Heady & opulent with thoroughbred tannins. Precioso but seductive. What could be next...?

Darioush Signature Cabernet 2005 ($80): ...California Cab, of course. I guess this would be considered our entree, although I wish there was an fillet mignon serves beside it instead of their delicious estate-grown pistachios. Spice box nose, bramble fruits, & gravel texture make this a whopper of a wine that glided off into the sunset on the palate.Img_5346_2

What a flight--& this was just our first stop of the day!

I have to say, my dream would be to come back & pause for an hour at this shaded picnic table in the vineyards... It's not the French Laundry, but with a bottle of wine, a baguette, & some San Fran-produced salumi, you have the makings of an unforgettable rustic meal in the most romantic of spots. Just face north so you're not over-looking the Hummer-limo parking lot.

This is Napa after all & a far cry from my normal life--splendor often comes from the company I keep, & indeed I was very rich on this trip. Salud and thank you all for enjoying the journey!

Img_5338 But Jens--you owe me for going to The Tonga Room (San Fran's oldest tiki bar)-- one for that awful salt-shaker of a margarita, one for the floating barge wedding party R & B band (although that elderly Asian drummer did have something on James Brown), and one for the ring-side seats of jiggling on the dance floor that don't need further explanation.

Tonga is sort of like a big mid-western wedding reception meets the Rainforest Cafe, and were it not for a good friend wanting to share a night cap before retiring to a mint on his pillow at the gorgeous Fairmont Hotel before we headed back to our friend's bohemian apartment across the bridge in Oakland, I would have bolted faster than Anthony Bourdain facing another trip to an Uzbekistan bath house. The sort of excruciating entertainment that makes for a good story in the end at the expense of the teller, I suppose.

Fortunately, enough sun & alcohol can put you out like a light, and I dove into bed with dreams of California sugar plums dancing in my head hours ahead of making our early flight on Sunday morning. Tonight, I'm ready to hit the hay after trying to combat the troops of dandelions invading our yard, & wrapping up this blog after an extremely successful tasting of Brian Carter's wines at Urban Vines.

But we'll meet again, Jens. And I'm sure we'll laugh--hopefully over a beautiful Burgundy from your cellar!


Take Me Home, Country Roads: The Skagit Valley is a Bounty of Beauty & Killer Cukes!

Img_5266_2I love to travel, but would rather crawl behind a rusting tractor instead of looking for the nearest interstate ramp when there's stretches of countryside basted with a glorious gallery of daffodils painted from one side of the road to another.

It pays to go slow.

One of my favorite back road drives is that from Anacortes to Silvana, & now's the time to do it. The pastures are filled with new offspring nudging their mothers alongside the Pioneer Highway, and the tulips should be in glorious bloom (hope all those hail storms & snow didn't inhibit their beauty.) I took this photo a few weeks ago & can't even imagine how beautiful the fields look now...

Many years ago, I was forced to visit a hypnotist to cure my fear of flying after a particularly hairy landing into the crosswinds of the Denver airport, as it's completely impractical to swear off air travel when half you family lives in the Midwest & the other half, in New York.

As a part of therapy, my soft-spoken hypnotist asked me to recall a place of tranquility that I could go to after counting back from one hundred--Img_2123_5 perhaps a desert island, a sunset on the beach? After taking the back roads from San Juan Island a few weeks ago, I think I'll place my thoughts here when I fly off to San Fran next Friday for a mega-tasting of vino. Turbulence will be met with blue mountains topped with snow, poplars dusting the clouds, a field of petals below me...

So, if you've got the Tulip Fest on your itinerary these next few weeks or you're thinking of a vacation anytime on the San Juan's, here's three solid reasons to extend your island vibe and take the slow roads home:

1. Silvana Meats- I've heard gushing reviews of this place from customers for years & finally decided to stop in--they were right. With friendly old-fashioned service & great prices for naturally grazed meat, Silvana Meats' owner, John Karlberg, keeps to the three rules his father taught him: "Honesty, quality and giving the customer something they couldn't get at the grocery store." Dry-cured hams, braunswieger (the foie gras of sausage), & true slab bacon are just a few of the temptations here. The best plan is to pack an ice chest for your booty of hormone-free, cut-to-order Northwest meat home fresh from their coolers (wish I'd had one.) Their smokehouse list is simply overwhelming.

2. Snow Goose Produce- Worth the stop as they stock Gothberg Farm Chevre, Img_2132 the best I've tasted in WA state, and their freshly made waffle cones served up with dreamy Lopez Creamery ice cream--a combo that will bring you to your knees. And for other fellow New Yorkers & locavores, don't leave without some of the Glacier Deli-Dills from Pleasant Valley Farms--a discovery I made lunching at Seeds in La Conner--these local picklers have brought the flavor & crunch I crave to the west. Fourth-generation farmer, Mike Youngquist, is trying to keep Skagit growers & migrant workers in business after Bay Valley Foods (owners of Nalley, Farman's and Steinfeld's) just announced their plan to ditch local cukes in favor of those from other states, even outsourcing to India. Ask your local grocer to buy these pickles & support Skagit farmers!!!

3. Slough Food- Okay, so if you've got a little extra time on your hands, start heading for the highway from Anacortes & jog north on Farm to Market road (great name isn't it?) to visit my friend R. John DeGloria. Img_2136 Slough Food is a fabulous gourmand shop at the crook of eclectic Edison, a rural outpost where locals, tourists, and bikers (both Harley & Schwinn) patronize the one saloon & a couple of off-the-wall galleries, respectively. Look for cheese, honey, eggs from Skagitonians, plus artisan wines, Salumi meats, exotic chocolates & the like.

By all means, ask for a taste of whatever looks interesting, put your elbow on the counter and listen to R. John spin stories--it's just plain fun to stock up for a picnic here or a nosh for the ride home. Img_2154 But make sure to visit his buddies at the Breadfarm next door--after you taste their black olive baguette, it's hard to resist going the few extra miles for an experience like this.

Consider the ever-increasing Euro to dollar ratio, a trip to our own Skagit Valley is a relative bargain... We can make a difference by shopping locally-- & you get to tip-toe through the tulips along the way!   

Silvana Meats 1229 Pioneer Hwy, Silvana,  WA, 360.652.7188

Snow Goose Produce 15170 Fir Island Rd, Mt Vernon, WA 360.445.6908


Slough Food 5766 Cain's Court, Suite B, Edison, WA 360.766.4458

Breadfarm 5766 Cain's Court, Edison, WA 360.766.4065

 


Traveling Miles for Mollusks: Westcott Bay Sea Farms

Cimg0003I brake for farms.

Happening upon a sign like this is a bit like stumbling upon manna thrown from the heavens...  "Wait, wait, wait! What did that say?" I scream as if there was a four-car pile-up behind us as we zoom past. "Great. Another dirt road, dead ends, & weird people," sighs my husband when we're on our way to somewhere in the middle of nowhere, do-nothing vacation. And then he admirably puts on his blinkers, turns the truck around & indulges my obsession.

I seriously love this guy...

I also believe that at the end of the day, there's a real joy in making a fruitful connection with someone at the source of outstanding locally-produced vegetables, cheese, meat, bread or the likes, and then make an inspired meal from something just plucked out of the ocean or the earth--Cimg0005it's enough to balance out the uncomfortable moments & a few failed 'Operation Locavore' missions.  Independent farmers can sometimes be quirky, intense, a little in-your-face--mostly in a good way. That's probably why they can keep doing what they're doing when they're up against the odds. They ain't growing soybeans or commodity corn.

So at the beginning of the week here on San Juan Island, we were headed out to Roche Harbor & I saw this sign post. After Ken took care of business in the village, we jagged at a fork down the road through a gorgeous stretch of homes until we came to an unpaved road at the bottom of Westcott Drive & thought ourselves to be lost once again on one of my foodie quests. "I'm sorry, Ken," I apologized in frustration. "My gut told me to take this road." "Yeah, well my gut told me to go down the other road," Ken grumbled as we turned the truck around. "Well, maybe your gut shouldn't listen to my gut next time!" I grumbled as we sped back up the hill. "Maybe my gut's a little crazy!"

So we headed down 'Ken's Guts Drive' and lo & behold it dead-ended at an even more incredibly gorgeous home that perched above the cove with a wooden sign that read, "Private Property. No Oysters Here." Let's just say that we didn't come home with any seafood that day. Cimg0011

Turns out, had we gone just a *little* bit further on Westcott we would have found Westcott Bay Sea Farms, but this just gave me the excuse to drag my 'Feather' (another wounded bird from the working world who came to join me for a few days on my San Juan Island sojourn--  yes, I made her pick an 'island name' for herself) for a field trip where we would pick up some clams & mussels for our inaugural lunch. Really, F., you should be a photographer who documents exotic places as your next vocation if you ask me...

So while Ken was back to Seattle life, Feather & I set ourselves to the task of rounding up some serious mollusks, but I have to say a self-serve seafood stand was a first for me. We headed to the office.

"Is there a scoop?" I asked earnestly. "Nope," The Office Lady said (who reminded me just a bit of the owl in those old "How many licks does it take to get to the center of a Tootsie-Roll lollipop?" commercials.) "Use your hands."

And so what is that pile of rubber boots for, I wondered to myself but dared not ask. Do we need to go wade out into the bay like a couple of Virginia Woolf's?

Cimg0020Bubbling tanks before us, we each took turns sticking our hands into the ice cold waters for some ultra-fresh catch. "My god that's COLD!!!" "Look at how red your hand is!" "Here I go again, ahhh!!!" I guess I like to torture my guests when they're along for a nice trip to the islands, & oh yeah, a blog.

As we found out later from a friend who lives here, you just lift the baskets out of the water & grab what you want. Thanks Office Lady, you could have told us that much.

So after the drive back to Green Hollow, Feather began to settle into her temporary nest as I prepared a late lunch for us--a recipe I've seen Ken prepare many times over, but since he's so good at it, I'd never made it all on my own. Thank goodness I'm often his sous chef so I had an idea of the proportions & pulled a rabbit out of my hat. Or maybe it was an oyster...

All I can tell you is that these were absolutely the freshest, sweetest, tenderest clams & mussels I've ever eaten. It would be hard to do them wrong. And I'm so proud to have done them right, Office Lady. I wish we could have taken you back to the cabin for a few glasses of wine & a bowl of Portuguese fisherman's stew. Heck, you might have taken the rest of that gloriously sunny day off, only to hand out copies of my recipe on our next visit. Salud!

Cimg0026 Portuguese Steamed Shellfish ala 750 ml

750 ml was a fanciful little wine bar down in Portland's Pearl District that Ken & I discovered years ago which has since now come & gone... Too bad since they perfected the art of cataplana, a Portuguese steaming vessel in the shape of a clam shell. Legend has it that fisherman would cook up their catch right on the beach after getting off work in the Algarve, a region where free-thinking conquerors caved in to pork-loving ways. Maybe the fishermen kept a little linguica in their pocket & a classic dish was born! Here's my off-the-cuff San Juan version:

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Serves two hungry chicks on vacation

3 pounds mixed clams & mussels (clams soaked for a bit, mussels de-bearded)
1/2 a shallot, minced
2 cloves garlic, minced
glass dry white wine or Manzanilla/Fino sherry
1 tsp zested orange peel
3 generous pinches saffron, crumbled
2 knobs butter
2 Tbs chopped Italian parsley

Get a knob of butter sizzling in a shallow saucepan, then throw in your garlic & shallot, taking care not to brown them but cook until they become fragrant.

Have your white wine or sherry ready to rescue your garlic from bitter over-browning, & pour it into the pan, creating an appetite-inducing smell. Add your stellar shellfish, crumble saffron with your fingers into the pan along with some orange zest, & place a tight-fitting lid on top, checking from time to time until almost all shells burst open (there might be a few duds.)

Sprinkle with parsley & serve with hearty bread for soaking up the nectar.


Westcott Bay Sea Farms: 904 Westcott Drive   Friday Harbor, WA 98250

360.378.2489


 


Hold the Punjabi Presses! : Vancouver Always Means a Trip to Vij's

Img_3276 Although many moons ago, I remember a moment from a day trip to Vancouver with utter clarity--after absorbing an exhibition of Emily Carr's Pacific Rim fascination with old-growth tree trunks at the Vancouver Art Museum, I boarded a bus along with half a dozen Chinese men whose skin oozed with the smell of a thousand roasted garlic bulbs emerging from a sweaty oven. At that instant, Vancouver became something exotic, an international metropolis of glittering capsulated high rises towering over Granville Island, an experience so far from my small town life in Bellingham that I made a stunning revelation--eh, Canada is a different country!

Despite all the SNL stereotypical jokes about a Canuck fascination with cheap beer & hockey pucks, Vancouver & Montreal may be the New York & Paris north of the border, where international cuisine & well-heeled citizens make me feel a little timid about donning polar fleece even on the drizzliest of days. So while I will always opt for the solitude of a quiet weekend on the Pacific Rim, Ken thirsted for some cosmopolitan action, & as life goes in our own little microcosm of a kitchen, a fusion of our two tastes met & were briefly sated with a three night journey in honor of my hubbie's birthday.

The #1 reason for our trip to Vancouver? Vij's. Simply the best non-traditional/yet-traditional Indian food we've ever tasted, proudly defiant of being sub-standardized as cheap "ethnic cuisine". Vij's began as a fourteen-seat earnest experiment, & became a place where no-reservation tables are a coveted gourmet coup. So how did this come to be?

Vikram Vij is there himself to welcome you at the door, his indigo-on-ice blue eyes are nearly as startling as the wait (one hour we were told on a Friday night), but when the front of the house IS the house (and the New York Times says, "Easily among the best Indian restaurants in the world"), who's to say no? So while Ken faced the impossibility of parking, I was whisked through the lantern-lit dining room packed with glowing diners, through an aromatic cloud of curry leaves & steaming basmati from the open kitchen, to the romantic teak-walled lounge that sets Vij's apart from your run-of-the-mill spice route joint. Examining the carefully thought out glass pours & free appetizers for waiting guests, I wondered why this is so seldom the case in the restaurant world, & perhaps why I haven't gone to Canada more often?

Unfortunately Vij's lighting is so romantic that we gave up our photo session & got down to some serious eating... California prawns in coconut masala on grilled kale, Paneer & back bacon with spicy sauteed brussel sprouts (a Canadian-Indian fusion that makes you wonder how anyone could hate a brussel sprout) for our starters, Bitter melon, paneer & raw sugar with yellow moong & masur lentils (you can never have too much paneer!), Pan-fried coriander quail cakes with coconut curried vegetables for our entrees, & a gluttonous finish of Mango kulfi (mango-pistachio ice cream with a gorgeously edible silver leaf placed on top) & fried pistachio dumplings (so sorry I don't know the Indian name for this!) Top that off with a bottle of the highly coveted Blue Mountain Pinot Gris 2003 from the Okanogan Valley, stellar service that would blow Rachel Ray's budget for about 4 days, Vij's sets a new standard for what Indian cuisine can be if you have the audience to appreciate it.

I'll admit that I balked a little bit at the bill, having paid nowhere near that price for any Asian meal outside of Wild Ginger & our dinner at Tojo's the next night (I'll get to that later), but for such inventiveness, attentive service & atmosphere, you kind of have to switch gears & think outside the box which is exactly what Vij's does best. Do we have anything like this in Seattle? Well, I think next on our list should be to check out Thomas Hurley's (of Hurley's Portland) new French-Korean venture, Coupage, in Madrona... After stumbling upon Blue Ginger in Bellevue last weekend (again check back for a full review) I'd be interested in comparing the two, having a very traditional Korean lunch in an upscale atmosphere. Sounds like a throw-down, or maybe it's apples & oranges.

But perhaps our best future dining discovery was Barbara-Jo's Books to Cook's in Granville Market where my eyes set upon what else but Vij's cookbook!!! My heart did a little tap dance while my heart raced at seeing nearly every dish we had ordered (& some we sadly passed up for modesty's sake) for $40 Canadian bucks burning a hole in my pocket. Forget the year of Italian food, maybe this is our year for a role reversal--I cook Asian & Ken goes European! Well, for this month anyway... Fickle, fickle, fickle is the foodie. But that's what makes us passionate in the kitchen--a meal can change your life!

Cumin Basmati Rice from Vij's: Elegant & Inspired Indian Cuisine

Img_3386Ah, rice. An ingredient so simple but with so many secrets... Perhaps this is why the Chinese have traditions passed on from generation to generation--how many times to rinse, & in which direction, clockwise or counter-clockwise produces the best results? Maybe this is why I am asked to teach classes on how to perfect paella, a dish that can be absolutely delicious or an abomination gone wrong. Rice, such a fickle grain, but a staple more than half the world depends on when it comes to breakfast, lunch, & dinner.    

I know this is a basic recipe to start with, but like ordering phad thai at at new Thai joint, rice seemed like a good litmus test in breaking in the cookbook. I had some leftover frozen paneer from Pabla down in Renton, I wanted a savory counterpart to some Skyway in-house saag paneer & the aromas of this rice side dish had Ken lifting the lid to absorb its sweet onion & cumin perfume. I had to swat him out of the kitchen until it was on his plate! Vij notes, "Nothing beats the flavour, aroma or texture of Himalayan basmati"---we used Tilda brand found locally at Uwajimaya's. Soaking is also imperative, unlike the rices of Spain with which I am so familiar...

  • 2 cups basmati rice
  • 3 cups cold water for soaking
  • 1/4 cup canola oil
  • 1 Tbs cumin seeds
  • 1 cup finely chopped onions (1 medium-large)
  • 3 & 3/4 cups water for cooking

Wash basmati rice twice in cold water. Soak rice in the 3 cups of cold water for 15 minutes, or while you are sauteing the cumin seeds & onions.

Heat oil in a medium pot for 1 minute on medium-high heat. Add cumin seeds, stir & allow to sizzle for about 30 seconds. Add onions & saute for 4 to 5 minutes, until just the edges are brown (for a sweeter onion flavour), or for 3 to 4 minutes more, until brown (for a stronger flavour.) Turn off the heat.

Drain the rice as much as possible. Add rice & the 3 & 3/4 cups of water to onions, & stir well to combine. Turn on the heat to high & bring to a boil. Once the pot is boiling vigorously, lower the heat to just a simmer, cover the pot & cook for 18 to 20 minutes (note: ours was done after 15...) Turn off the heat & allow the rice to sit, covered for 5 minutes. Take off the lid, fluff with a fork & serve.