Recipes, products and tasty morsels that move me.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Hometown Gem

Let me be clear, I love where I grew up. Richland, Washington was the perfect place for a childhood. Big enough that you could avoid people if you needed to (think cops and annoying ex-boyfriends) and small enough that, once I was in high school, my parent's felt pretty safe when I was out until midnight running around with my friends. However, in the 15 years since I last lived there, things have changed. It seems every time I go home a new expanse of land that was merely sagebrush and tumbleweeds a few years back is now a mini mall or a housing development - or, often times, both. Each visit I am met with a new restaurant to try - unfortunately, they are all restaurants that I can try in any city in the country with a population of more than 100k people. Some folks take comfort in the fact that they can eat at any PF Chang's and their Orange Chicken will taste the same every time - but, I like something a little more original.

Generally, I don't get too excited for meals when I visit my family - but that might be changing. This past weekend my Mom took me to Monterosso's Italian Restaurant. This little gem is hidden behind a Mexican restaurant in the middle of Richland in, of all things, an antique railroad dining car. Original? Yes. Great food? Absolutely. And the service was good, too. After we politely asked the waitress to not seat us at the table directly next to the door I was a bit worried she might be irritated with us, but she hid it well if she was. The menu is small by chain restaurant standards but good sized when compared to local Seattle restaurant menu's. The wine list was decent. The ambiance leaves something to be desired, but it's in a railroad car so space is extremely limited and they've done what they can with it. It was also still daylight out when we ate so perhaps darkness and some candlelight would have made things a bit more picturesque. But, the food was spectacular.

Neither of us was very hungry so we skipped the appetizers and salads - which was great because I didn't feel guilty about eating all of the amazing house made bread they brought to our table. It is similar to a beer bread and each person gets their own little loaf along with some olive oil and balsamic vinegar for dipping. For entrees I ordered the Lemon Pepper Prawns Linguine. I had a choice of a cream or white wine sauce - I chose the lighter white wine sauce. My Mom ordered the Cajun Seafood Saute, not a particularly authentic Italian dish, but it is her favorite thing and she can not stray. The food arrived and we ate every bite. The linguine was simple and delicious. It wasn't overpowered with a lot of different flavor elements. My Mom's seafood dish was outstanding - spicy and saucy, much more complex than my linguine, and just plain tasty. We soaked up all the sauce on her plate with the couple pieces of bread we had left. We left stuffed and happy and we might just have a new go-to restaurant for when I come to visit her.

Thanks, Mom!

Friday, March 19, 2010

Feeding My Need to Feed

There are few things I enjoy more than making a meal for my friends or family. I love to put a plate of food in front of someone only to hear a few minutes later between bites "This is sooooo goooood....." There are all sorts of different reason that I like to cook for different people. I like to cook for my Mom because I can see that she is truly impressed that the little chef that managed to get pudding on her kitchen ceiling (during one of my earliest attempts at baking) is now an accomplished cook that can whip up healthy and delicious food. I like to cook for my husband because, well, I love my husband and for me there is no better way to show him how much I care. But, of all the people I've cooked and baked for, my all time favorite is my friend Mansur. Mansur went to college with Dan and we were lucky enough to live near him for a short time when we moved to Philadelphia. We often had him over for dinner and I loved it because Mansur genuinely appreciated that I cooked for him and he loves food - not to mention, he's just good company. Whether I made him filet mignon or a grilled cheese sandwich he was always excited. One time I made grilled steaks with a Gorgonzola sauce and we all three ate so much that we ended up laying on our floor in agony (or ecstasy, depending on how you look at) for the rest of the night moaning about how full we were.

Mansur has been on my mind this week because it's the middle of NCAA March Madness and every year we play in an online pool with him and some other friends for bracket supremacy. So, when I was pondering what to cook for dinner on Saturday night I was reminded of a meal I prepared for Mansur that he particularly liked. If memory serves - the first time I made this he and I finished the entire pan in one sitting. Venetian Shrimp & Scallops is a Rachel Ray recipe - so it can supposedly be made in 30 minutes or less. I think it takes closer to 45 but it depends on how much you have prepped before you start cooking. One thing is for sure - get lots of crusty bread for the table to soak up the delicious broth! This dish is similar to Cioppino but less expensive and much less time consuming. The recipe can be found here. It makes four servings but at times I have scaled it up to 9 servings with relative ease.


Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Seriously, Delicious.

Food Confession: I'm not really a big pizza fan. I know a lot of people love it and great debates are waged over crust and sauce - but it just doesn't do the trick for me. I grew up with a brother who always worked in pizza restaurants (and now runs four of them!) and we had pizza several times a week. Maybe I'm just immune to the charms of pizza after consuming so much of it in my teens. So, when Seattle Metropolitan magazine named a pizza place on their 10 Best Restaurants list I was surprised and intrigued. Last weekend we finally made plans to check out the culinary delights at this award winning pizza joint - Serious Pie.

I had read many reviews that mentioned the very long wait times (no reservations are taken) so we planned to get there early, get our name on the list and then hit up one of the nearby bars for a drink while we waited. My husband scoffed at me when I insisted on leaving the house by 6:05 pm so when we met our friends at 7:30 the wiat wouldn't be too much longer. "What if there's no wait? What if we get right in?" All I could think was how much I was going to enjoy being right about this one.

We arrived at the restaurant at 6:2o pm only to be met with a 2 hour wait. 2 HOURS! What could be worth waiting two hours for? Certainly not pizza, right? But wait we did. We actually got lucky and got a call (the hostesses very graciously offered to call one of our cell phones when a table was ready) only 90 minutes or so after we'd put our name in. We downed our drinks, paid our bills and trudged back over to the restaurant.

Be aware before you go - the tables are communal. If there are only 2-4 people in your group you'll have other diners at your table. We had a total of six people with us so we got a table to ourselves. After settling in we finally got a glimpse of the menu - some delicious sounding salads and appetizers and a handful of pizza options. Not a ton of selection. There is, however, an extensive wine and beer list. We all ordered an appetizer or salad of some sort as well as some drinks and then proceeded to try and decide on pizzas. After much debate we ordered three different pizzas, figuring a 1/2 pizza per person was plenty of food.

Our appetizers arrived and they were outstanding. I ordered 'Last Summer's Beans with Bortega and Sardines', a delicate little plate of exactly what the title describes. It was simple and delicious. Other appetizers we tried were the 'Baby Lettuces with Radishes and Muscatel Vinaigrette', a pate' appetizer special, and 'Brandied Peaches, Speck and Pine Nuts'. All the appetizers were well balanced and delicious but the 'Brandied Peaches' were by far the standout. The textures and tastes in combination with one in other just knocked me off my socks. I grudgingly agreed to let Dan eat most of it.

Finally the big moment arrived - three rustic looking pies were placed on our table. We decided to try the Buffalo Mozzarella and San Marzano Tomato, the House Salumi - Caramelized Onion and Sardegna and finally the Penn Cove Clams, House Pancetta and Lemon Thyme pizzas. To say we were blown away would be an understatement. Serious Pie nails it. The toppings are flavorful and used sparingly so as not to overwhelm the Super Star of this pizza - The Crust. Good lord I could wax poetic about the crust for days. Bubbly and chewy, lightly sprinkled with something on top that I could never figure out - salt and pepper? garlic salt? Not sure exactly but it was delicious. I think all three pizzas were gone within about six minutes. Leaving us to sit there and stare at each other and decide which one of us was going to be the first to suggest we order one more. Finally our friend Jay said "I could eat another piece...." and we all piped in that we could too. Conveniently enough, each pie is cut into six pieces so we all had one more slice and left fat and happy. For the record, the fourth pizza we ordered was the Buffalo Mozzarello and San Marzano Tomato because most of the table thought that was the standout. I personally liked the House Salumi pizza the best because of the variety of flavors on it - but was very happy to eat more of whichever pizza was put in front of me.

One final thought - while we were eating my friend Sara said "the crust tastes like it has extra gluten, that's what makes it so great". As I walked back to our table from the restroom I noticed many large bags or flour stacked in a corner with the words "High Gluten Flour" stamped on them. So, props to you Sara for being such a smarty!

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Stick To Your Ribs

When my husband and I migrated back out west to Seattle in 2007 we were lucky enough to have a built in social system of other student's from his grad school that had also moved here. I love the diverse backgrounds and cultures of the student's that Dan went to school with and I have had the opportunity to try many new types of cuisine because of it. In particular, our friend Vlad was a foodie kindred spirit for me. While Vlad lived here we had many excellent home cooked meals - an invitation to dinner at his house was not to be passed up - and I truly miss his company now that he has moved to Los Angeles to pursue a new career opportunity. I have recounted to many people the night Vlad and his lovely wife invited us over for a beef taste test. They had purchased three different types of steak - organic, grass fed and just a regular cut from the grocery store and we each tasted the steaks to compare texture and flavor. It was eye opening to say the least and made me think of beef in a whole new way (I believe we all agreed the grass fed tasted best....we had a lot of wine that night so it's a bit hazy). But, the meal that really stands out in my head is when Vlad cooked us his baby back ribs.

About a year ago Vlad invited us over for a weekend dinner. Little did we know we were about to eat the best ribs we ever had. Since then I have made the ribs three times. I even made them for Vlad one time to make sure I had them right. In truth, the recipe is very simple - but the end result will please even the most discerning rib eater. I made the ribs again last weekend for my husband's family and they were a hit, so I decided to ask Vlad if I could share his recipe with you. Thankfully, he agreed. I hope you enjoy them as much as I do. This recipe will serve 6-10 people depending on how hungry you are.

Vlad's Amazing Ribs


2-3 racks baby back ribs, Costco and Trader Joe's sell pretty good ones

1/4 - 1/2 cup dry rub (I like Grill Mates Sweet & Smoky Rub)

1 - 2 cups BBQ Sauce, just choose what you like


Remove ribs from packaging and pat dry. Rub with dry rub until all sides of each rack are covered. Let sit for 12-24 hours, covered, in the fridge. I usually put one rack each on cookie sheets.

When you are ready to cook the ribs, remove them from the refrigerator and let them sit on the counter while you preheat your oven to the broiler setting. Once the oven is at broiling temp, cook the ribs for five minutes on each side. If you are using two pans, do them one at a time - you want to get a good crust on them at this point. Lower oven temperature to 200 degrees F and cook ribs, covered in foil, for 4-8 hours. At this point you can have both cookie sheets in the oven at the same time. Just try to get them as close the the center as possible for even heating. Four hours is minimum, anything more than 8 is a bit much - but they will be delicious anywhere between 4 and 8 hours.

Slather ribs in BBQ sauce just before serving. If you put the sauce on earlier it will scorch.

A New Twist On An Old Classic

Chocolate dipped fruit is by far the dessert I make most often for dinner guests. For one thing, it's easy. For another, it's relatively light. I love to make rich, heavy meals for guests and they are often time consuming - making dipped fruit an ideal finishing touch. Furthermore, I find that my guests are always delighted to be presented with a beautiful plate of strawberries dipped in dark chocolate or cherries dipped in white chocolate. As Ina says "How bad can that be?"

I was thrilled to see a new take on this old trick while I was watching the Food Network the other day. Claire Robinson has a new show called Five Ingredient Fix that airs Saturdays at 12:30 pm and Sundays at 8:30 am. I've watched the show a few times and I think her concept is good - delicious food that doesn't involve more than five ingredients. Often this doesn't work for me. I love to add lots of flavor to my food with herbs and spices, but her ideas are great for simplifying your cooking processes. Also, I think the show is wonderful for beginner cooks because the recipes aren't intimidating. Last week Claire shared a recipe for Chili-Chocolate Covered Strawberries and I had to make them right away. She simply melted down chocolate in a double boiler and then added a bit of chili powder at the end, dip the strawberries, let the chocolate harden and Voila! Dessert is done. I had ground cayenne on hand, so that is what I used but you could use any type of chili powder.

Here are some tips on making perfect Chocolate Dipped Strawberries:

  • Rinse your berries and then let them dry completely. If water gets into the chocolate it makes it harden quickly and become lumpy and ugly. I usually rinse mine and lay them out on a kitchen towel for a good hour before dipping them.

  • You don't need to use long stemmed berries, they are hard to find. But, the bigger the better in terms of appearance and balancing the strawberry flavor with the chocolate.

  • If you don't have a double boiler you can simply fit a glass or metal bowl over a sauce pan. Fill the pan with a few inches of water, you don't want it to touch the bottom of the bowl, and bring the water to a boil. Put your chips or chopped up chocolate in the bowl and continue to whisk until smooth. Once it's smooth, remove from the heat. You can reheat if necessary.

  • Once berries are dipped put them on a piece of wax paper on top of a large cookie sheet. Put the whole cookie sheet in the fridge for at least an hour so the chocolate can set. Remove from wax paper and arrange on a pretty plate or platter.

  • Bring dipped berries to room temp before serving. The chocolate will taste better. I usually take them out of the fridge during the main course.