March 28, 2010

Oh, the Bread

Walnut-studded bread, I can't believe I slipped in telling you about this. Hauntingly-delicious, this loaf was just begging to be consumed in two days. We are very good care-keepers, so of course we did our part in tending to it. Spongy and yeasty, its lightly nutty scent trailed through the apartment.

Seattle has a lot of hidden treasures. I'm not talking about the colorful characters you'll find downtown who refuse to accept the idea that the grunge scene died in the 90s, the tipsy library building, or the homeless who dance creatively to sell their new issues of Real Change.

I'm takling about cafes and bakeries - such as the place where we got the bread, the Columbia City Bakery. Although I have never been to Europe, the food scene here seems a very European, from what I hear. You've got your bread-people, meat-people, produce-sellers, and dairy-men. Sure, many U.S. cities have this, but it's nearly effortless in Seattle to shop outside the supermarket. I'm fortunate to be 4 blocks away from Pike Place Market at work, and a 1/2 hour and $20 investment afterwards will give me pork sausage, chuck roast, muscat grapes, green beans, yogurt, and baguette in return.

And a crazy lady telling me more than I'd ever need or want to know about yogurt.

I bring up the bread because it points to a larger issue we've been discussing a lot over here: getting groceries. What is a joy to many, is a pain-in-the-side to others. I couldn't find anything more exciting to do. Others I know would rather stare at a wall.

As we're developing our grocery buying ritual, balancing sourcing from both local sources and the supermarket, I'm curious how you get groceries. Ours is a weekend mishmash of Trader Joe's, Safeway, Whole Foods, and the market.

So, how do you decide? Where do you go? And how often?

March 22, 2010

The Usual

Routine feels good. Boring - yes. Reassuring - absolutely. Yoga, breakfast, bus, 9 to 5, bus, dinner, walk, bath, and bed - that's my day in a nutshell. The occasional marathon-cooking session, a movie here, a kiss there - that may just be the extent of our randomness. I see the same people on my bus ride every day including two twiggy French girls who I can't stop staring at, a woman who seems like she's been 9 months pregnant for the past two months, and student studying astronomy whose gender I still can't figure out. Don't get my started on the bus driver, the epitome of Dustin Hoffman himself.

The weekends are a bit more mish-mash, but generally speaking, we lead a pretty boring life. But I have to say I love it. Boring isn't so bad. And since we're demystifying boring today, why don't I bring up the issue of broccoli soup.

Just so you may appreciate these photos a bit more, know that I risked a clean face taking this photo. Our chairs aren't as solid as I thought. Daylight savings time has delivered an extra hour of daylight to our apartment, so you may be seeing a few more photos around here as it's the first thing I try to do after I get home and peel off work.

Broccoli soup. I know, right - images of lima bean green glop dotted with deep green specks. Creamy. Gut-ache inducing. Boring. Green. I know, I know. But just as there's merit in a boring life, there's also merit in this humble soup. In elaborating on the issue of substance abuse, my boyfriend related certain substances to a pencil. "You can use a pencil to draw beautiful images, but you can also take a pencil and jab it in your eye," he said. It's all in how you use it. (See why I keep him around?) Same goes for broccoli.

It's all about how you use it.

In my opinion, broccoli's deep flavor isn't assisted that well by heavy dairy products, as traditionally done in cream of broccoli soup. If your broccoli is good, you want the other elements to supplement the vegetal flavor, not cloak it. My tastes of lightened up as of late, and I just can't take such a hit to the gut as this soup is known to do.

So go on, be boring for a change. Pretty soon you'll find yourself getting excited to get groceries. Just wait.

I wish I could tell you this recipe was from Ina Garten, Nigella Lawson, or another woman whose demeanor is similarly trustworthy. Although they probably have an attractive recipe for you - here's my stab at broccoli soup for you. Also, welcome new readers! Glad to see you around here.

Broccoli Soup
Amounts depend on the batch size and your soup thickness preference.

Vegetable or Chicken stock
Whole milk
Salt and pepper
Extra virgin olive oil
Thyme, basil, or other herb of choice

Cut the broccoli florets off the stem. Steam, roast, or boil to the point in which you'd almost eat them. A little 'al dente' - if you will. In the meantime, saute garlic in a bit of olive oil in a soup pot. Add the cooked broccoli and stir to coat with the garlicky oil. Add salt and pepper to taste. Let the oil absorb and the garlic infuse. (What I mean to say is- wait a few minutes.) Add stock. I would start small with the amount and as you blend, you can add more. Bring to a simmer and let the broccoli finish cooking. You'll want it pretty tender so it will blend easily. Blend with an immersion hand blender, regular blender, or food processor. Add more stock to get your desired thickness. Top with milk to your liking and some chopped herbs. I used thyme and basil. Note: Besides the florets, I also used the broccoli stem. It requires separate and longer cooking than the florets. There's no need to use the stem, but you'll have to buy double the broccoli to get the same bulk.

March 19, 2010


.... British Columbia, that is. Ever since I came across this blog, I knew Vancouver was in order. I think it may have been somewhere in her quirky design and the stories of her farmer's market goodies. And ever since I met him, we haven't had enough excuses for day-long roadtrips. Vancouver, being Seattle's French cousin only a few hours away, only made sense. I had some ideas, but really couldn't have anticipated this enough.

It came as no surprise to see French everywhere, even on the almond-studded chocolate bar and robin-egg blue bag of salt and vinegar chips we ate while veering our way through the city, as it was a fact I learned the hard way in 6th grade. Let me emphasize the hard way. I was a finalist in our school's annual Geography Bee. It came down to the final question, "Besides English, what language will you find most people speaking in Canada?" Being from Minnesota and all, you'd think I'd know what was going on with our brother upstairs. But southern Minnesota didn't associate much with the kanuks - so I hadn't a clue. Long story short, I lost. And now I will forever remember, they speak French - idiot.

6th grade sob stories aside, let me get to the point here - Japa Dogs. Admittedly having a crush on Anthony Bourdain, I heeded his advice from one of his episodes of 'No Reservations' to seek out this Japanese-style hot dog that was to involve wasabi mayo, diakon radish slices, teriyaki, and toasted sesame buns sold in street carts. We even arrived before they opened.

Nothing could have tasted better at 11am than a prime pork wiener that snapped under your teeth while both the sweet and sinus-clearing condiments pushed it along. And the bun, oh boy - the bun. Toasted to perfection and covered in sesame seeds, it was the ideal bed for such a pimped-out hot dog.

Don't get me wrong, some sacrifices were made for this fine specimen. I forewent breakfast, and we nearly got caught by the car police for going over our meter-allotment (thank god he happned to 'like people from Seattle' and let us go!). But it was worth every mouthful, and then some.

Although Vancouver was slowly getting over its post-Olympics hangover, there still was still light buzz in the city. I hate to say that it was all downhill after the Japa Dog, but it was a pretty tough act to follow. Byron from England entertained us for a good hour on Granville Island, where my boyfriend and I separately got pulled up on stage, which found me holding a torch like Lady Liberty herself, and my boyfriend grabbing objects between Byron's legs, just like in the video above. (Looks like Byron knows how to recycle his tricks like women are known to do with their little black dress.)

After sharing a sandwich on a nearby bench with a few seemingly friendly birds who quickly turned aggressive, we headed home just in time to beat the rain. One of the worst situations one can find themselves in is having to spend an hour looking at others' vacation photos and hear vacation stories - so I don't want to keep you too long. But let me leave you with this:

Visit Vancouver. Find Japa Dog. Stumble upon Byron if time allows. And avoid the birds.

Happy Travels!

March 15, 2010

Sweet Spuds

I've never loved potatoes. Except the gratin a former farm friend made for my 21st birthday (with '21' written in cherry tomatoes!), I've never had a potato dish that has floored me. Not until I started dating someone from Eastern Europe did I realize my disdain towards potatoes. If you skipped geography class, know that their land and climate is very conducive to potatoes. And potatoes. And beets. And potatoes.

The potato issue was sure to surface. As what happens too often when you know you're right, compromise is glaring around the corner. For me, that compromise came by way of sweet potatos.

Growing up in a lefse-baking household, the closest my heart came to liking potatoes were the square bumps of potato mixture that would soon become lefse. And these were potato flakes, mind you. So it doesn't even count. (To my mother's defense, I have heard from many-a-lefse baker that dried potato flakes do work best.)

A sure sign of this Sprout's maturation was the move from flaky potato tendencies to deep sweet potato love. I never saw the full potential of these beauties as they were usually disguised under a large pillow of marshmallows at Thanksgiving. My recent situation had me digging for alternatives, and soon things became clear. The sweet potatoes unearthed themselves. (I hope you're all catching these puns I'm throwing at you.)

Unlike my awful puns, sweet potatoes don't need much help to get noticed. But remember, they're called sweet potatoes for a reason, so please put that bag of marshmallows away. Or else I'll have to send a sad bag of Idahoes your way.

Roasted Sweet Potatoes

4-6 sweet potatoes
olive oil (we used sunflower oil)

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Scrub sweet potatoes to remove any dirt. (I keep the skin on as it adds texture and an earthy quality.) Trim a portion of the pointy ends off if you wish, in order to make cutting consistent pieces easier. Cut each sweet potato in half horizontally and vertically, then into 3-or-so wedges, depending on the size of the sweet potato.

Try your best to have all the wedges the same size so they will be cooked through consistently. Put them in a baking pan and drizzle oil, salt, and pepper over the potatoes. Stir or toss to coat. Put in the oven until they're at the texture to your liking - approximately 30 minutes.

Sometimes, for fun, I crank up the heat towards the end to get things nice and toasty.

March 11, 2010

Buttered Up

Since it was all wishy-washy Cabbage Soup Diet talk last time, I thought I'd just get to the point today - croissants. I feel rejuvenated just saying it.

I can't stop tickling the idea of breakfast around here, it's just one of those things that makes me extremely happy. Like the smell of a man's neck, or baths, or cookbooks. Breakfast means so much to me that sometimes I forgo a good lunch for a nice, hearty breakfast. (I have this weird thing about eating at work, which is for another post.) Yoga, this nifty thing called a Macbook, granola, and coffee - it's all this girl needs in the morning to face the day.

When it comes to breakfast, I'm admittedly a granola gal. It's quick, it's filling, it's good. Most importantly, it leaves me with few dishes. In a pinch, I'll even use my coffee mug. But weekend breakfasts call for occasional warm treats, which is why I decided to embark on the croissant. Although this recipe is a 3-day process, each step is not very complicated. Essentially: make dough, let it rise, add butter, fold, fold, fold, let it rise, fold, fold, fold, roll out, cut into pizza-like slices, roll up, and bake!

There - you have homemade croissants.

OK, so it's a bit more complicated than that, but not too bad. I came to this recipe via Mireille Guiliano, author of French Women Don't Get Fat - which is actually a really good read that is more about an overall healthy lifestyle than about weight. I know what you're thinking, "A croissant recipe, from a French woman talking about not getting fat? Sounds like a piece of cardboard to me!" Ms. Guiliano knows a good thing when she sees it, and French cuisine isn't about quantity but quality. Imagine the bloated croissants you see at your local coffee chain. Cut that in half. Now in half again. And, voila, you've got the approximate size of a French croissant. That's why they don't get fat.

Space is previous around here and I don't want to waste much real-estate on the lengthy recipe that will unintentionally intimidate you. But if you want the recipe (and a guaranteed delicious breakfast for the next week) - let me know, I'd be happy to pass it along. If not - no worries, I've had enough croissants for the both of us.

March 7, 2010

Cabbage Resurrected

So, there's this thing called cabbage.... and then there's this thing called cabbage. If you're curious, there is a difference.

My first recollection of this specimen was via the Cabbage Soup Diet. Although I did not partake, it was a hit in the Midwest during the late 90s, and rumor has it there may still be devoted followers... poor things. If they exist, we probably can't see them - being so slight and all. The Diet essentially 'tricked' you into consuming massive amounts of water from this low-calorie, sweet soup. Funny how we humans think sometimes. I don't understand what's so difficult about drinking a glass of water every now and then. But forcing insipid soup down the hatchet 3 times a day - now that's an idea sure to work! Sarcasm aside, I'm not here to talk about diets. I'm here to talk about the resurrection of cabbage.

Numerous food bloggers I follow have written about this recipe in the past year. Since I had the book sitting right next to me on my new, huge (!) bookshelf, I came to see trying it as an obligation- despite the Diet-enforced damage that had been done in my mind concerning the lowly cabbage. Since the completion and consumption of this recipe, cabbage has resurrected itself from soggy, white chunks (floating in what resembled dishwater) to bulbous, toasted, sweet pillows. Now, dear readers, I pass the duty on to you.

Keep in mind that when it comes to flavor, adding heat instead of water will get you quite farther. (Out with boiling and in with roasting!) Adopting the roasting mindset does require one to get over their fear of fat. Yes, you'll have to use a little. But you'll be so much more satisfied with what really tastes good, that you won't need so much. Just listen to yourself. It's tricky at first, but it is much more effective of a method to being comfortable in your skin than the evil we spoke of above.

There isn't much fat involved in this recipe as it uses a method called braising- in which you let a particular food cook in a small amount of liquid, covered, at a low temperature, for a long time. It's covered roasting, you could say, with a touch of liquid. Although it requires the most difficult ingredient to come by, patience - it yields the most sexy cabbage you'll ever fork in.

Note: I've quickly come to see I'm not much of a recipe person. I don't cook line-by-line with recipes, so it's hard for me to decipher them to you. I will give you my adapted versions of recipes, but be flexible and work with what you have and with your personal tastes in mind. The dish will turn out much better - for you. Like butter over olive oil? Use it. No salt? Fine with me. Different shape of a pan? Great, I hope the cabbage gets quite comfy.

Braised Green Cabbage
All About Braising by Molly Stevens

1 medium head green cabbage (I prefer Savoy)
1 large yellow onion, thickly siced
1 large carrot, cut into 1/4-inch rounds
1/4 cup chicken or vegetable stock
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
Salt and pepper, to taste
1/8 tsp crushed red pepper flakes, optional
(I didn't use the carrots or onions as I didn't have any on hand, but I imagine they'd add more sweet elements)

Heat the oven to 325 degrees. Lightly oil a large (9x13) baking dish. I used an oval Emile Henry ceramic gratin dish which worked fine too. Peel off and discard the ragged outer leaves from the cabbage. Cut the cabbage into 8 wedges (in a vertical half, then into 4 vertical wedges each.) Arrange the cabbage in the baking dish, enough to make a single layer. If the cabbage doesn't all fit, use some for coleslaw.

Scatter the onion and carrot over the cabbage. Drizzle the oil and stock over the vegetables. Season with salt and pepper. Cover tightly with foil, and slide in to the middle of the oven to braise until the vegetables are completely tender. It may take up to two hours, in which time you can get a great deal of other things done around the house.

Once the cabbage is completely tender, remove the foil, increase the oven heat to 400 degrees, and roast until the vegetables begin to brown, another 15 minutes or so. Serve warm or at room temperature, with more salt and pepper if you wish.

*You might be tempted to turn up the heat before this last step, and get it done with already. But don't do it! It defeats the whole purpose. It's like a bath, why would you draw a scalding-hot bath and hop in, just to hop out? As it is with this cabbage, its full experience and extraction of essence is greatly dependent on the time you give it to relax.