Saturday, August 28, 2010

Baby Leeks, Vacation Fallout

It's not that I lacked inspiration this past week, or past two to three weeks since starting to prepare for vacation. Motivation wasn't lacking either. I have been, however, overwhelmed. Vacation is funny that way, particularly with a toddler and a full time job. It takes so much to get ready to leave and you always return to so much to do.

We got back Monday after 9 days in the Northwest. We didn't make it to the grocery store, despite the empty refrigerator until Wednesday. The bags stayed unpacked until Thursday. Yesterday, some of the laundry was done. We are still picking up the pieces of the vacation nearly a week later.

With every day that went by since Monday, I had hoped to find the energy to sit down and write. I wanted to write. I also wanted to go to the grocery store, unpack, and do laundry and all of those things together became overwhelming. Which is why Monday and Tuesday I did nothing. I went to sleep early rest up because I had so much to do, but couldn't really do any of it because there was just ...too much.

No one can pressure me more than I can. I make my rules and hold myself to a pace that is sometimes overwhelming even for me. And when there is too much on the plate, sometimes, none of it gets done.

A new recipe and a bit of rambling was in order. Summer's almost over- our farmers market still had tender baby leeks and they are on the menu at our house this weekend.

Baby Leeks with Mustard Vinaigrette

Mustard Vinaigrette: 4 teaspoons Dijon mustard; 2 teaspoons pickled mustard seeds or 2 teaspoons grain mustard; 2 teaspoons red wine vinegar; 1/3 cup olive oil; salt and pepper to taste.

Leeks: 10 baby leeks; 1 teaspoon kosher salt; 2 tablespoons creme fraiche; 1/4 cup onion micro greens

Cut off the top and the dark green part of the leek and rinse well to remove any trace of dirt that might be hiding under the many layers of the leek.

Try to match up two bundles of 5 leeks of similar size. Tie each of the 2 bundles with kitchen twine. In a medium size pot, boil enough water to hold the leeks comfortably. Add 1 - 2 teaspoons of salt to the water. When the water boils, put the 2 bundles of leeks in and reduce the heat to medium - more than a simmer, less than a roaring boil. Boil for 10 minutes. Check with a knife for doneness. The green color of the leek will begin to fade when ready.

In the meantime, make the vinaigrette. Start with the mustard and pickled mustard seeds (or grain mustard) and gradually add the oil while stirring to incorporate it. Add the vinegar the same way.

Carefully drain the leeks. Place on a clean towel, pat dry. Cut the twine. Place desired portions (3-4 leeks) on each plate. Drizzle the mustard vinaigrette over it.

Thin 2 tablespoons of creme fraiche with a little water until it has the consistency of runny sour cream.

Drizzle some of the creme fraiche over the leeks and top with the micro greens. A sprinkle of salt and the dish is done.

Serve, enjoy, and stay motivated. Summer's almost over- for better or for worse.

P.S. Happy Birthday Chris Cina! Chef, food blogger, food photographer- you can enjoy some of Chris's work and ramblings at

Photography by Jennifer Olson

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Vancouver Bites

In the spirit of my previous post, no recipe, not much blabbering- a few thoughts to share on the food that is making me think of hiring a personal trainer swiftly upon returning to Denver. I have been eating- a lot. And I am not guilty or sorry- I'm just saying- there has been a lot of eating.

Vancouver is a treat in August, but bear in mind that if you arrive in August in what happens to be the hottest day in 20 years, no air conditioning will be awaiting to cool your room. But there will be blackberries to pick on the side of the road, outstanding garden heirloom tomatoes, and sockeye season.

Vancouver, as it turns out, is not a food town. It is at its core a British colony. No matter how amazing River Cafe, Moro, or the London L'Atelier de Robuchon are, London, for instance, is also not a food town. Vancouver is reminiscent of that British food-sense. You can't just walk into a place as you could in some food cities (not naming names for the sake of focusing on the city at hand) and expect above-average food.

But undoubtedly there is amazing food in Vancouver: I'll venture to say the best sushi you will have outside of Japan, amazing Indian, and incredible local ingredients to create any dreamt-up meal.

We were sent to try sushi at Zipang- a small and cozy place on Main Street (great shopping up on the same street).Zipang is not crazy crowded at lunch on a weekday, but I hear the wait gets a bit out of hand on a weekend dinner. Sockeye sashimi in Vancouver during sockeye season is hard to get wrong.

Traditional rolls with the ocean basically outside your door are also hard to get wrong. I'd venture to say you are guaranteed a great meal no matter what you order.

The one thing we had, however, that was interesting and new was the Zipang Crazy Roll- imagine the shell of a California roll with only the avocado inside.

Add tempura bits - just the fried tempura batter and fresh wasabi paste. So good. Is Zipang the best sushi in Vancouver? Probably not, but it is a very safe bet with a great menu, reasonably priced selection, in a funky shopping district.

Vij's was our Indian outing. It has been a long time coming and we were finally making the pilgrimage to this food mecca.

I knew a few things about Vij's - there are only women working in the kitchen- I can't remember why but it is intriguing. The owner, Vij, is thoroughly annoyed with people bringing in their young children to dinner- this irked me since we at times bring the toddler with us. I also knew that everyone said we should go there, Mr. Pastamaker has been dying to go, and we had a decent gift certificate to spend.

An institution in Vancouver, Vij's doesn't take reservations. That meant that when we walked in at 7:20 on a Tuesday night, the wait was two to two and a half hours. Naturally, we stayed. Indian-inspired cocktails including an Indian Mojito and small passed snacks made what turned out to be less than two hour wait enjoyable.

The light for taking pictures of the actual dishes was awful. I tried and tried to no avail then gave up and allowed myself to bathe in the various curry sauces that accompanied our dinner without the worry of the camera. A highlight of the meal: lamb popsicles, amazing chops marinated in wine dancing over a fenugreek cream curry on top of turmeric and spinach potatoes.

While the toddler was sleeping one day, I had a quieter lunch at Medina.

Sister restaurant to the fancied and well-reviewed Chambar and the swanky and fun Dirty Apron Cooking School,Medina seems to have fallen out a Parisian-New York alliance that couldn't agree on where to live and had to move to Vancouver. The pace is mellow, the coffee flawless, the cassoulet well balanced. A good attitude from the staff completes very tasty bites and a fun scene makes waiting for your check with an 8 month old (my niece) tolerable.

Granville Island Market is one of those things you have to visit if you are into food. I, for one, must go to the farmers market wherever I am. This was not my first time at Granville and it will sure not be the last. The gooseberries, served on the salmon in my Seattle picture here, were irresistible.

Reminiscent of Barcelona's La Boqueria or London's Borough Market, Granville has a bit of everything - not the largest selection of produce - a few stands with flawless, nicely packaged, and a bit overpriced fruits and veggies- but certainly a beautiful selection of specialty ingredients, artisan breads, seasonal sweet treats...

Handmade chocolates...

House cured meats....

And a fantastic added perk- just down the street on the docks- fresh fish likely caught that day from local fishermen straight from the boat. If it is sockeye season, I'll let you guess what we bought. Nearly 5 pounds, this baby made my trip.

The sockeye got decapitated, lavished with dill from the back yard, salt, and lemon and thrown on the grill whole for 35 minutes. It was a fitting simple and delicious end to our stay.

A couple more days in Seattle- let the eating continue and if you know of a place there that I shouldn't miss, don't be shy!

Sunday, August 15, 2010

The Definition of Insanity

I suppose that I should have known. I should have learned the lesson long ago. I've made the same assumption more than once before with the same outcome. The definition of insanity itself - doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.

Well, I am on vacation. I thought I'd write. I am not writing. I mean, technically, I am- right now- but I am not in the same way that I would if I were home. And in a way, I wish I had the motivation to make myself keep going, no matter where I am, what I do, how tired or relaxed I get.

Bad as I may feel, I am not writing a recipe. I did, however, come up with a compromise: sharing what I am tasting while away. Seattle is a food-lover's destination and the places I have already sampled had me put the 300 days of yearly rain into produce perspective.

Last night, Sitka & Spruce. Heeeellooooo! This place is amazing. Simple, unpretentious, in a complex declared today by the New York Times to be Seattle's New Food Market, Sitka and Spruce offers outstanding ingredients that are allowed to shine by not over-preparing, over-seasoning, and over-decorating them. This is exactly my kind of place.

Sockeye salmon crudo with creme fraiche, dill, and gooseberries at Sitka and Spruce.

This morning, the Corson Building- wow. Mr. Pastamaker is a sort of urbanist pioneer in his own right developing post industrial waterfront in Denver, but the surrounding Georgetown neighborhood brings wrong side of the tracks to the next level. With the Boeing facility 2 blocks away and airplanes (today, for example, fighter jets) flying over it disturbingly low, freight trains literally outside the gate (train horn and all!), and the highway smack over it, the Corson Building houses chickens and grows everything from peaches to dill to shallots, figs, and chamomile in their astonishingly beautiful courtyard.

Corson Building thriving garden set against the tracks under a highway overpass.

Tonight, June in Madrona. Opened in May, this French-inspired restaurant will make a valiant attempt to last in a neighborhood more conducive to playgrounds, small coffee shops, and yoga studios then to subtle European-inspired restaurants. It is not overly fancy. It is actually perfect- classic French preparations with fantastic northwestern ingredients. Phil Collins (apparently taste in food does not always translate into taste in music) and no air conditioning (at least 85 this evening) aside, the food was amazing and we're hoping June will always be here dishing out tasty bites from rabbit rillettes to geoduck sour and sweet! Thanks Linda at Salty Seattle for the recommendation!

Chevre Creme Caramel at June.

Live from Seattle on Twitter! Returning to regular programming before you know it.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Confession Wednesday-The Turnip

I am openly declaring myself a turnip convert. I was a hater, now I'm a lover. LOVER!

Up until a month ago, I just wasn't that into them. I didn't get it. It was like a really bad overgrown mutant radish cooked in an awkward way that polluted an entire dish. I would eat it of course pretending to have the most developed palate for root vegetable (which, by the way, I love!), but still not understanding the hype around that sharp-tasting round item.

That turnip was just a long lost ancient red (or purple, in this case) headed step child at an organic vegetable family reunion. It tasted old, sharp, and bitter perhaps from being under the intermittent stream of 'mist' in the produce isle at your local King Soopers for the past 3 to 6 months. It looked desperate and unappealing begging to be picked up, leafless, purple beyond recognition under the bright neon lights, wrinkled, and ready to infect your next stew, soup, or (sigh) salad.

Three weeks ago, I met another turnip and fell in love head over heals. The perfect turnip in the simplest of presentations made me a turnip worshiper ready to preach the gospel right here.

There I was just having a quiet girls dinner at Cafe Aion (love Aion!) in Boulder when turnip love stroke. Seasonal, simply prepared, locally produced, this Cure Farm baby turnip was delicately sweet, firm yet tender, crisp and lively. It was mesmerizing. So mesmerizing I could not help but get turnips each week and make them each week the same simple way.

Turnip Convert Salad

Ingredients: a large bunch of baby turnips (not the haggard ones from your corporate grocery store); 2 tablespoons of olive oil; juice of a half of lemon; leaves from 5-7 springs of flat leaf parsley, chopped small;salt to taste.

Cut the greens off. Wash the greens and reserve them for another use- braising is always a good option. Wash the turnips well. Scrub them with a vegetable brush under room temperature water.

Cut the scrubbed turnips into quarters and place them in a bowl. My grandma's salad dressing making trick: salt- oil- acid- herbs (if used). She has never mixed ingredients for a dressing together outside of the bowl and her salads were always outstanding. So here, first, sprinkle salt. Put the oil in and toss lightly. Add the lemon juice and chopped parsley. Voila!

Give turnip another chance. And if you already love it, try it this way! Enjoy it seasonally, prepare simply.

Photography by Jennifer Olson.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Speechless Batali Pesto

Batali's Traditional Pesto ala Genovese, a recipe from Aspen Food and Wine (where Morimoto suggested Batali talks too much!)

Photography by Jennifer Olson

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Confession Wednesday-Things I Won't Eat

I say I eat everything; anything. And that is a lie. I don't. I will not eat bean sprouts - too worm-like, plus when they heat up from, say, a pad thai, I swear they come alive and swarm around all squishy. I will frown upon any baked goods with almond extract; and I can sniff out even a drop of it. It is so fake and synthetic-smelling. I will not cook anything with Portobello mushrooms. Don't get confused here, I know my mushrooms- I am not talking crimini (still delicate and pleasing to the palate) or button (just plain as apple sauce). No, I am talking about the mutant, spongelike, unpleasingly-tasting Portobello mushroom that are somehow confused for a vegetarian substitute for meat in a BURGER. Hello???

Not to out Mr. Pastamaker, but when we met the guy was not a fan of celery root, hated olives, limited his 'fancy' cheese-intake to Manchengo, and hadn't thought in a million years that he'd eat organs! Now, you should see him snarf on Blue de Basque, sweetbreads, and pork belly (sigh, isn't he Jewish??). And celery root mashers are now certainly a favorite.

My mom hates gazpacho. That - I don't get. My main theory is that she was too old to catch the cold soup fad. Well, it has been a fad for me but the Spanish have been eating Gazpacho and Ajo Blanco for quite a few centuries. For my mother, soup is warm. That makes gazpacho not soup. And she doesn't care for whatever else gazpacho might be categorized as.

My hope is that you love gazpacho. I adore it. And I am willing to profess my love for Jose Andres any old time. He is outstanding and his gazpacho recipe, with some personal small modifications, is a perfect quick summer dish.

Gazpacho, a Jose Andres-inspired recipe

Ingredients: 2 lbs ripe tomatoes (about 10 plum tomatoes); 1/2 lbs English cucumber (about 1 cucumber); 3 ounces green bell pepper (half a pepper); 1 garlic clove, peeled; 2 tablespoons Sherry vinegar; 1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil; salt to taste.

For garnish- cucumber, cut into medium dice; 2 scallions, white and light green parts only, sliced thin; 1/2 red bell pepper, cut in small dice. You can clearly vary the garnishes in infinite ways. Be creative- you are just adding a little texture.

On Peeling Tomatoes
The tomatoes need to be peeled, for this dish and for others. You want to cut into the skin oh so gently so you don't get into the flesh. A sharp knife makes all the difference. I used to just make a little cross at the bottom of the tomato. That works, but what works best is going all the way around and removing the core.

Boil enough water in a pot to hold the tomatoes comfortably. Reduce the heat and dunk your tomatoes in for a minute or so depending on ripeness. Remove them and set aside for a couple of minutes- no points for scortching your fingers.

When they are cool enough to handle, peel the skin off. See? Magic!

Cut the peeled tomatoes into large chunks - quarters, eights, even halves will do. Peel and cut up the cucumber into 1/2 inch chunks- no need to make this pretty. Clean up the bell pepper of core and seeds and cut it up in 1/2-1 inch chunks.

Grab your trusty blender (mine has been through the war of making baby food without a food processor for a good year) and place in it everything- yep, all of the ingredients. Taste and adjust seasonings- vinegar, olive oil, salt.

Cool in the fridge for at least half an hour. Plate it with your chosen garnishes and drizzle just a few drops of olive oil around it and perhaps a sprinkle of salt.

Eat your Spanish cold soup for dinner or lunch along side other Spanish treats- may I suggest- Spanish Roasted Peppers and/or Patatas Bravas!

Photography by Jennifer Olson.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Now or Never

Last week, while watching the Food Network's Next Star (yes, unfortunately I have become addicted to that), I saw, well, what everyone else did- a young cute married urbanite Italian lawyer chick, overly bright-eyed, ridiculously speed-talking, highly driven, obnoxiously energetic, self-taught in the kitchen, food-blog-writing, and clearly very emotional, getting booted off the show basically because she began her presentation by singing the first line of the Italian cliche song O Sole Mio.

I knew this girl in law school; not this exact girl, but this prototype. I wasn't her, I promise. Really, I could not have cared less about this person-in any incarnation- and particularly on a Food Network show if I wasn't mortified of the association- around 30, petite, married, not-from-the-US, city-dweller, lawyer, blog-writer, kind-of-hyper, not formally trained in cooking, seemingly energetic, stubbornly driven, and unapologetically emotional. In a type-casting way, I fit the mold.

Add to that: the only thing I could think of for my August 1st post title and the theme I am choosing for the blog this month was the It's Now or Never song (come hold me tight, kiss me my darling, be mine tonight...). Yeah, I probably would have sang this if given the proper forum, not that my voice is anything like Elvis, or any better than Serena's. And maybe I would have been booted off the show, not that I'd ever get on the show, but you get my drift. I am not that chick-for better or for worse.

All of that to say that August is the month where anyone can cook amazingly- hence the Now or Never line. Produce is outrageous in August even in Colorado. Preparation can be minimal while still getting great flavors and amazing dishes. Cook now or forever hold your peace, I say, and I am not even trying to be cheesy- it just comes natural.
While I can't promise that I won't make some crazy recipes at home this month, I have decided that August will be dedicated to the simplest and tastiest of recipes- my version of seasonal and local 30-minute dishes (not to be confused with meals, although perhaps at times that will be the case). The hottest produce, easiest preparations, tastiest tricks and recipes using zucchini (the endless supply of zucchini!), tomatoes, corn, fresh herbs, baby leeks, turnips, beets, peaches, apricots, and whatever else I can't live without at the farmers market.

Israeli Couscous with Zucchini, very loosely based on a Suzanne Goin, Sunday Suppers at Lucques recipe

Ingredients: 2 cups Israeli couscous; 2 1/2 cups chicken or vegetable stock; 1/2 onion finely chopped; 1 medium zucchini diced very small; 2 tablespoons butter; 1 teaspoon kosher salt, fresh ground pepper to taste.

A warning: Israeli couscous(also known as Italian couscous, but I almost wanted to leave that out because of that Serena girl) has to be the world's most slippery substance. One wrong move while handling it and an infinite number of tiny little pasta-made beads will explode all over whatever surface you are on eventually somehow making their way to the floor. I am not kidding- these little beads are wild.

Bring the stock to a boil and salt it with about 1 teaspoon salt. When it boils, add the couscous and stir. Turn the heat to low and cook covered for 10-12 minutes until cooked through but still nearly al dente. Most of the stock probably evaporated. If it didn't, drain it. Add the butter, stir, and cover again until the butter melts. Taste for seasoning and adjust if needed.

In a separate pan, but probably during the time the couscous is cooking, heat up 2 tablespoons of olive oil on medium-high heat and add the chopped onion. Saute for 2 minutes stirring a couple of times and add the diced zucchini. Turn the heat down to medium and cook until the zucchini is soft and cooked through- about 5-7 minutes.

Add the zucchini and onion to the cooked couscous and stir it all together. The zucchini bits won't be much larger that the couscous beads. Tasty as a side-dish or on its own, and a great leftover food for lunch the next day!

That said, don't believe in type-casting! Cook this month more than any other month because the bounty is outrageous. Eat local. Keep it simple. Try my recipes. Visit the blog often. Ciao- just kidding!

Photography by Jennifer Olson.