The year of the Ox

February 14th, 2009 by Dawn

Omakase at Tojo’s.

When our friends Michael and Susan proposed that we make a trip up to Vancouver to celebrate the Chinese New Year, it took us about two seconds to say yes.  It had been a year since our last trip, and we’d been wanting to go back to some of our classic favorite restaurants.  The parade in Chinatown sounded like it’d be fun, too.

So we packed our bags and an empty cooler, and off we went on a Friday afternoon.  We arrived in time for a late dinner reservation at Tojo’s.  It’s been long enough since we’ve dined there that we hadn’t yet seen the new digs.  They’ve moved from a tiny second floor location, to a huge, bright ground floor restaurant.

Our meal was outstanding.  Highlights included: sablefish and sea urchin in a smoky-yummy sauce inside a sea urchin shell; a sesame albacore that reminded me of our favorite starter at Kisaku (but even better), and two kinds of amazing toro nigiri.  The food is special, but the bill at Tojo’s is steep.  Four of us spent as much that night as ten of us would the next evening.  Definitely not an everyday kind of meal.

Oyama Sausage Company; Japadog; fish at the Granville Market.

Saturday morning, we headed straight to Granville Island for coffee and doughnuts.  We’d had great coffee at JJ Bean on a previous trip, rivaling some of our favorite coffees in Seattle.  John and Eric waited in line, while Jacki and I walked around the corner for Lee’s Donuts.  Unfortunately, the filled doughnuts I wanted weren’t ready yet, so I decided to wait.  They said it would be only 15 minutes.  So we grabbed our coffees (which were indeed as good as I remember), and wandered off around the market.

When we arrived back at Lee’s, there they were.  The puffy, sugar-coated doughnuts were ready, with more coming out as we stood there deciding which one.  I finally settled on the lemon-filled, and Eric the chocolate Bavarian.  Oh, man, these were even better than last time.  This was the warmest, freshest doughnut I’ve ever eaten.  The lemon was oozy and sweet, but not overly, with the crunchy sugar on the exterior coating my lips as I tried not to squirt lemon everywhere (I’m sometimes a messier eater than I like to admit).  Eric made some comment about how my lips looked like a margarita glass.

Bread at the Granville Market; JJ Bean coffee; the kitchen at Vij’s.

After picking up some pork lomo and speck from Oyama Sausage Company for our trip home, along with candied fennel seeds, a few pocky sticks for snacks, and matcha tea from one of our favorite Granville stands, South China Seas Trading Company, we headed back downtown.

Eric and I were torn between Japadog or Kintaro Ramen for lunch.  With limited time in Vancouver, we could only do one, so we let our friends decide.  With a six-year-old in party, hotdogs won out.  The little stand on a street corner looked like a normal hotdog stand until you took a closer look at the menu: Terimayo, Misomayo, Okonomi, and Oroshi dogs.  The Terimayo was an all-beef hotdog with Japanese mayo, nori seaweed strips, teriyaki sauce, and fried onions.  With juice dribbling off my fingers, I managed to switch with Eric so I could try the Okonomi next.  It was a juicy Kurobuta pork sausage with okonomiyaki sauce, bonito flakes tacked down from the breeze by Japanese mayo, on top of fried cabbage.  We realized we should have ordered a third, but by this time the line was loooong, with a crowd waiting for their dogs.

Japadogs! Okonomi (top) and Terimayo (bottom).

We spent the afternoon doing a brief bit of shopping followed by a long walk from downtown to the waterfront and halfway along Stanley Park’s exterior edge, before cutting back through the duck pond and up to Denman.  It was a gloriously sunny day, and all of Vancouver seemed to be out.  We didn’t realize how lucky we were with that weather.

It was 4:30 when we headed off to dinner.  Why so early?  We had to get in line for Vij’s.  We were the first in line at quarter to five, and the queue started forming moments later behind us.  By the time the doors opened at 5:30, the line stretched two storefronts down!  It was a good thing we arrived when we did, because our party of ten would have otherwise had hours to wait.

I’ve written about Vij’s here before, and it is still my favorite Indian restaurant anywhere.  While we were deciding what to order, the wait staff served us nibbles of hot pakoras and pooris, along with complimentary chai.  We ended up ordering about a dozen dishes, all good, some outstanding.  I’d forgotten why the lamb popsicles are so popular, but quickly remembered – they were juicy and perfectly cooked, with that amazing cream curry.  I was also a big fan of one of their simplest dishes: saag paneer.  I wonder why that isn’t in their cookbook?  I will make any dish in that cookbook that has paneer – the recipe is simple and turns out great.  My favorite dessert this evening was the gulab jamun, which was the best version of this sticky fried dough I’ve had.

Dining at Vij’s; saag paneer.

We couldn’t leave without a stop next door at Rangoli to pick up some of Vij’s food to fill our cooler for the trip home.  Rangoli is a more casual cafe along with a marketplace selling Vij’s meals, spices, and their excellent cookbook.

The next morning, we all met in Chinatown for the Chinese New Year festivities.  It was a rainy, cold morning, not much different than a winter Seattle day, except for the intermittent wet snow.  After staking out a prime position on the parade route, we eventually gave it up when we all started freezing, and headed over to the Classical Chinese Garden instead, where the gardens were open and booths outside were set up with face painting and crafts for the kids.  While groups with their costumes assembled for the parade, dancers and drummers performed under a tent where everyone crowded in to stay dry.

Rain was constant during the parade, and umbrellas lined the curbs while the colorful groups paraded under the Millennium Gate.  Firecrackers, dragons, and ox helmets were everywhere.  After about 45 minutes, we left to find some dim sum to warm up with.  We headed downtown to Kirin for a change from our usual visit to Sun Sui Wah.

Chinese New Year parade; dim sum at Kirin.

Instead of carts wheeling past, at Kirin you order from a menu and everything comes out made-to-order.  Everything we ordered was good – definitely better than anything we can get in Seattle.  My favorite was the savory radish pudding, a Chinese New Year specialty.  After finishing up with some red bean and sesame desserts, we were on our way home.  Short weekends like that always leave me wanting more, but fortunately Vancouver’s just a short drive away.  Any tips about where we should go next time?

To see more photos from our weekend, go to our photo gallery.

Tojo’s, 1133 W Broadway, Vancouver, BC Tojo's on Urbanspoon

JJ Bean, 1689 Johnston Street, Vancouver, BC Jj Bean on Urbanspoon

Lee’s Donuts, 1689 Johnston Street, Vancouver, BC Lee's Donuts on Urbanspoon

Japadog, 899 Burrard Street, Vancouver, BC Japadog on Urbanspoon

Vij’s, 1480 W 11th Avenue, Vancouver, BC Vij's on Urbanspoon

Rangoli, 1488 W 11th Avenue, Vancouver, BC Rangoli on Urbanspoon

Kirin, 1166 Alberni St, Vancouver, BC Kirin (Downtown) on Urbanspoon

Spring Hill, way out west

February 5th, 2009 by Eric

We don’t make it to West Seattle much.  Sure, we’ve made the pilgrimage for amazing pastries and chocolates at Bakery Nouveau, and have had several omakase and kaiseki dinners at Mashiko’s.  But West Seattle isn’t the first place we think of when deciding on where to go for food.  So, after hearing good things about Spring Hill from foodie friends we trust, we hopped in the car and checked it out.  Boy, am I glad we went.

We met up with some friends on a Sunday evening last month.  Our friends arrived before us, and got to talking with a food photographer who was taking pictures for an upcoming menu.  He had a lighting setup in the back of the restaurant, which I wouldn’t have minded borrowing for a couple of pictures!  My distraction was tempered when hunger kicked in, and I focused back on the menu.  I arrived thinking that I’d order off of the New Urban Eats prix fixe menu, but enough things on the main menu caught my eye that I switched plans and shared a few dishes with Dawn.

Sauteed black cod 

My butter lettuce salad with herbs, radish, parmesan, and citronette arrived, nicely dressed – simple, crisp flavors.  Dawn made a great choice by going with the duck egg yolk raviolo with green sauce, which had thin slices of duck breast prosciutto layered on top and garlic chips on the side.  A rich, decadent, perfectly executed dish.

Things really got rolling when the entrées arrived.  The handmade pappardelle with Bolognese sauce had an alluring, intense flavor, so much so that our friend had to defend her dish from our roving forks.  Wood grilled rib eye steak with twice baked potato rissolé, foraged mushroom ragout, and kale was cooked to perfection, and even had a subtle herb flavor in each bite of meat.  As good as this was, everyone at the table agreed that my roasted duck breast was the winner, served with cabbage sausage, quinoa waffle, spaghetti squash, and orange-maple mustard.  Now, I’m a huge fan of waffles with dinner (chicken and waffles, anyone?), and yet I was still surprised at how well the quinoa waffle went with the tender and succulent duck breast.  Dawn’s sautéed black cod with smoked clam panzanella was as good as expected; apparently we’re on a black cod kick lately, as one of us seems to get this fish every time we go out.

 Spring Hill

For dessert, we all shared several dishes.  A lemon meringue tart with lavender was fine, but I’m not a huge lemon fan, so this fell into the “a bit too tart” category for me.  An ice cream sampler included orange mimosa sorbet (least favorite of our group), salted peanut ice cream (I could eat a gallon of this stuff, it was so good), and yogurt ice cream (tangy, yummy).  But then there was the hot chocolate s’mores topped with cinnamon marshmallow, with homemade cinnamon graham cracker cookies with nutella filling on the side.  While the cookies were a bit too dry and needed a touch of salt for flavor, the hot chocolate-marshmallow-gooeyness was simply outstanding.

 Hot chocolate s'mores

My only complaint about dinner had to do with service: I dislike when bussers clear the table while people are still eating.  And as happened this evening, I really dislike when someone reaches over me as I’m trying to take a bite of something, just to get the empty plate next to me.  It’s one of my restaurant pet peeves, and a surprising number of waitstaff at upscale restaurants in Seattle do this.  Nevertheless, our waitress was very nice, checked on us at all the right times, and graciously let us sit and catch up with our friends long after dessert was done without bothering us at all.

Spring Hill is on my must-visit-again list, and perhaps next time we’ll go for Monday night “spaghetti night”!

Spring Hill
4437 California Ave SW, Seattle
(206) 935-1075

Spring Hill on Urbanspoon

Frank’s Oyster House & Champagne Parlor

January 25th, 2009 by Eric

We’ve enjoyed many dinners at our neighborhood restaurant Pair over the past few years.  Owners Sarah and Felix Penn opened their second restaurant Frank’s this month, just a few blocks away from Pair, so we stopped in for dinner on their first Friday night to see what the new place is all about.


Dark wood paneling, soft lighting, and high-backed booths give a relaxed, low-key vibe to the restaurant.  We were seated on the Oyster House side of the restaurant, opposite the tall doorway that leads to the Parlor and bar.  I’m glad I made a reservation, because they were full by 7PM and turning people away.  We had a hard time deciding between all of the tasty-sounding options on the cocktail and dinner menus, but we finally agreed on a few things to share.  Dawn sampled an Air Mail cocktail (lime, honey, rum, champagne) while I went for the Pear & Cardamom Sidecar (a nice twist on the classic drink).

Our plate of buttery and flaky cheddar biscuits with ham arrived first, with a small ramekin of Calvados apple butter on the side.  It was a tasty, homey dish, and I’d buy jars of that apple butter to go if they were for sale.  Next up were two mini lobster rolls, served on house-made hot dog buns, with a butter lettuce leaf tucked in.  As Sarah explained, the lobster is served Cape Cod style (mixed simply with mayonnaise), sans celery as you might find in some parts of Maine.  These definitely felt like fancy lobster rolls, with a subtle grill flavor in the slightly crunchy bread, more haute than what you’d find on the roadside in Maine.  Quite tasty, but also quite pricey at $9 a roll.

Dawn tried the chard and ricotta pansotti (a triangular-shaped stuffed pasta), and it was nice and rich – a decent vegetarian option.  I loved my filet mignon with horseradish parsley butter.  The steak was cooked to a perfect medium rare, melt-in-your-mouth tender, with deep flavor.  Easily one of the best steaks I’ve had in the past few years, and a great value compared to any of the pricey steakhouses around town.  With a side of creamed kale to go with it, I was in heaven.

Filet mignon with horseradish parsley butter

For dessert, we shared caramelized bananas with three ice creams.  The presentation was interesting, with the ice creams served in a single stack of round discs, but when I took a bite with all three, they just didn’t go together.  Each had a different consistency (one was soft, two were hard), and the chocolate ice cream didn’t have a smooth texture (slightly crystallized, like it didn’t freeze properly).  The bananas were good, but overall this dish didn’t impress me.

As to be expected during opening week, there were a few hiccups during the evening.  It was a full twenty minutes before our waitress came over to our table to even say hello (we were starting to think about leaving), and when she arrived, she apologetically told us that she had forgotten about us.  While I’m sure that’s the honest truth, it’s not the greatest thing to hear as a customer.  It also felt like we were re-forgotten after every course during the evening, with long waits the norm.  Our favorite moment was when our waitress came by and asked, “Has anyone dessert’d you yet?”  Well, no, no one has taken our dessert order, but yes we have been deserted!  It looked like the staff was in the weeds on this first busy evening, so I’m sure they’ll straighten things out.  I’m eager to go back to try some oysters, the razor clam fritters, and another one of those steaks!

Frank’s Oyster House & Champagne Parlor
2616 NE 55th St, Seattle

Frank's Oyster House & Champagne Parlor on Urbanspoon


January 11th, 2009 by Dawn

Tamale assembly

For some reason, I always thought tamales would be hard to make, but they turn out to be easy work with a group of friends over margaritas.  We first met Kathy around the holidays a number of years ago, and she promised that one year she’d share her recipes and show us how.  It’s been part of her annual Christmas tradition for years.

This was the year for our tamalada (tamale making party).  After one raincheck (snowcheck?) on account of Seattle’s crazy winter weather, we finally gathered at Kathy’s house just after Christmas.  Joining us and Kathy (our tamalera, or tamale expert) were a group of dedicated foodies:  Kathy’s husband Patrick (retired and part-time “volunteer” at Salumi), along with our friends Catherine (Queso y Vino owner, and food blogger extraordinaire), her husband Ken (wine distributor and chef), and Eric and Kye (IMO, the couple most qualified to write a food blog who don’t actually have one).

Everyone brought something to contribute, and when you have eight people this dedicated to food in one room, it turns out to make for some awesome tamale fixin’s.  Not only were we stuffed after dinner, but we each went home with ten kinds of tamales, plus sweet dessert tamales.

Eric and I brought Mangalitsa carne picada filling with red mole, along with the sweet tamale filling: golden and black raisins stewed in rum.  Everyone else arrived with fillings too: duck with mole, roasted poblano rajas con queso, chicken and green chili, roasted yams and queso, spicy pastilla mushrooms, pork rib adobada, mushrooms with epazote y queso, and carnitas.

Assembling the tamales

We made two types of tamale masa (plus the dessert masa, which was an adaptation of a recipe we found online).  Kathy started demonstrating with the sweet potato masa, showing us the secret she learned for keeping the tamale soft, fluffy and not too dense: at least 15 minutes beating in a stand mixer.

Next we made the lard version.  I had brought some homemade lard rendered from Mangalitsa fatback, which we mixed in with the fresh masa Kathy had purchased from the Pike Place Market outpost of La Mexicana Tortilla Factory.

Then we got to work wrapping the tamales, some with corn husks and others with banana leaves.  I thought there would be some kind of magic trick to wrapping them, but it wasn’t too difficult, and everyone seemed to develop their own technique and cute corn husk bows.

While we waited for the first batch to finish steaming (which requires almost an hour and a half), we noshed on homemade salsas, guacamole, and chips washed down with Kathy’s delicious blood orange margaritas.  Once the tamales were done, we sat down, enjoying them with red chili sauce on top and beans alongside.  They were among the best tamales I’ve eaten – I’m thinking that this might become a holiday tradition of our own.


For more photos of the evening, hop over to our Flickr stream.

Homemade Lard

Cut good quality leaf fat (preferred) or back fat into chunks.  Puree the chunks into a paste using a food processor.  Transfer to a Dutch oven or heavy pot, and leave it uncovered in a 250-degree oven for several hours, stirring periodically.  It’s done when you have a clear liquid with crisp brown cracklings on top.  Strain the liquid into containers and refrigerate up to three months or freeze up to a year.

Lard Tamale Masa
Adapted from Mexico: One Plate at a Time, by Rick Bayless

10 oz. lard or Crisco shortening
2 lb. fresh masa (4 cups) or 3½ cups dried masa harina for tamales mixed with 2¼ cups hot water (prep ahead of time and let sit for 20-30 minutes)
1½ teaspoons baking powder
2 teaspoons salt
1½ cups chicken broth

With a stand mixer, beat lard or shortening with salt and baking powder until light in texture, about one minute.  Continue beating as you add the masa in three additions.  Reduce speed and add one cup of broth, continue beating 3-4 minutes, then add the last half cup of broth.  Total mixing time should be 15-20 minutes.

Sweet Potato Tamale Masa

Roast one sweet potato (baked or diced).  Follow instructions above, adding half the potato at a time with the broth.

Red Chili Sauce
From Elena’s Secrets of Mexican Cooking, by Elena Zelayeta

12 large dried red chilies. Using a few different varieties is best.
1 teaspoon dried Mexican oregano
1 teaspoon salt
4 cloves garlic
1 8 oz. can tomato sauce or 3 oz. can tomato paste
2 tablespoons canola oil

Remove the stems and seeds from the chiles and dry toast 3-4 minutes in a skillet to release the oils.  Add to blender jar and cover with 4-5 cups of water.  Soak for 30+ minutes.

Add the next four ingredients to the blender and blend on high for 3-4 minutes.  Strain.

Heat oil in a sauce pan or skillet.  Add chili mixture into the hot oil and cook for 4-5 minutes until the color deepens.  Taste for salt and/or sugar.  Simmer 15-20 minutes.

Cantinetta opens in Wallingford

January 3rd, 2009 by Dawn

Italian.  It’s my favorite cuisine, but for years, I’d hate to eat it dining out in Seattle.  When I moved here, there were plenty of Italian-American restaurants.  You know the kind, where sauces are heavy and poured on top of too-soft pasta, and the kitschy Italian music is playing.  But Seattle was deprived of many places that even came close to what I could make at home with a few simple fresh ingredients – isn’t that the essence of what Italian cooking is about?

Recently, though, Italian restaurants have started coming into their own in Seattle, serving food that emphasizes our local ingredients while evoking the authenticity of the cooking of Italy, down to the handmade pasta.  Spinasse in particular has been the standout for me recently, but another new Italian place opening in a tiny corner of Wallingford took me by surprise.  Cantinetta welcomed its first guests tonight.

I was intrigued when I heard that Morgan Brownlow would be its sous chef.  We first came across Morgan’s cooking in Portland, just before he left clarklewis in 2006.  We had an outstanding meal there, and were pleased to try his food again at Lark’s second Whole Beast Dinner a couple years ago.  There, Johnathan introduced Morgan as master of the pig:  he works with the whole animal, breaking it down and cooking with all of its parts.  That night we had his pork snouts alla Milanese, which is one of his specialty dishes, along with a pig ear salad, and lardo cracklings, all delicious.


We were pleased to see Morgan’s obvious hand on the menu tonight.  This time, trotters were there in his Milanese-style with a Salmoriglio sauce.  Garlicky and tangy, they were delicious.  Along with our antipasti, we also enjoyed speck with winter squash, billed as a side-dish on the menu.  We dredged the pork-wrapped squash in the sweet brown-butter agro-dolce sauce, grabbing some fried sage leaves along the way.  The three small morsels were gone too soon.  Balancing the rich dishes, we also chose a salad.  It, too, featured the pig, with bits of tesa (a type of pancetta) nestled among the chicory and walnuts.  It was well-balanced, with the perfect amount of cracked black pepper.

Trevor Greenwood came over before our meal started to recommend our wine.  He’s the owner of Cantinetta, wine steward, and an alumnus of the authentically Neapolitan Via Tribunali.  This was our second clue that Cantinetta might be something other than ordinary.

Next course was the pasta.  We ordered two pastas, both handmade, and both wonderful.  The dishes were a bit pricey for what you get (for example, only six ravioli), but on the other hand, where else are you going to get pasta this good?  Not Tavolata, maybe not even La Spiga.  I’d say that only Spinasse has an edge on the pasta, with a more tender and delicate bite.  But with hazelnut fed pork inside Cantinetta’s ravoili, and perfectly seasoned hedgehog mushrooms and chestnuts on the tagliarini, tonight’s was among the best pasta I’ve eaten in Seattle.

I wished we had some bread to sop up all the lovely sauces on every plate.  A chewy soft foccacia served when we ordered was gone before the food arrived.

For our secondo, we ordered the black cod.  We opted for the fish instead of the lamb sausage, to balance our meat-heavy meal.  We were pleased with our choice: the sizable piece of fish was perfectly tender and buttery, with sweet carrots and leeks served simply underneath.

We thought that three antipasti, two pasta, and one secondo would be enough for four people before we headed into dessert, but we were still feeling hungry.  So we ordered the house-made lamb sausage after all.  Served over polenta, with peppers and olives, it was a rich dish, slightly sweet from the peppers.  While we enjoyed it, the table was in agreement that it was our least-favorite of the night.

The executive chef Brian Cartenuto came around briefly to our table as our plates were getting cleared.  He was making the rounds while the kitchen got a slight breather after the first wave of tables.  He’s new to Seattle, arriving here in November (what a welcome, with our deluge of snow).  He previously worked at restaurants in the other Washington (DC), and then a cruise line before landing here.

He continued around the packed room, to visit with each table.  There seemed to be two types of parties in house:  the young hipsters at the bar, and families over by the windows, including one young family with an infant and another with a preschool-age child.  Kids seemed welcome here:  the front waiting area even has a tiny chair for the little ones, and the noise level was loud enough that parents didn’t have to worry about small outbursts (yet, amazingly, it wasn’t so loud that you couldn’t talk comfortably with your dining companions – a welcome change).

Immediately after our plates were cleared, our dessert arrived.  The waitress had warned us at the beginning that we should save room for their molten chocolate cake, and said that it would take 20 minutes to order.  Our friend made it clear to her that we definitely wanted it, so it arrived even before our dessert menus.  Molten, indeed, the cake was gooey and decadent – probably the best version I’ve had in a while.  We enjoyed it while selecting our second dessert, an olive oil polenta cake.  Light and airy, with a bit of crunch and hint of lemon, it was a lovely ending to the meal.  Cantinetta would make a good late-night stop for just dessert, perhaps at the bar with a limoncello.

Four of us paid a bill of $200, which included cocktails, a bottle of wine, and after-dinner drinks.  Not cheap, but honestly, pretty in-line with anything like it in Seattle.  We’ll be keeping an eye on Cantinetta and likely returning soon.

3650 Wallingford Avenue N, Seattle
(206) 632-1000

Cantinetta on Urbanspoon

Satsuma mandarin orange marmalade

December 26th, 2008 by Dawn

Satsuma mandarin orange marmalade

This year, I went on a bit of a canning craze.  I’d actually never canned in my life before this year, but was “forced” into it by the bounty of fruit we received from our CSA.  We’ve done a CSA for years, but stopped doing it for the last couple years after the Pike Place Market stopped offering theirs.  We settled into a weekly routine of heading to the U-District market for our produce instead, which we were quite content with.

One of our favorite stands at the market is Tiny’s, since I love stone fruits and they are among the best and offer theirs for the longest season.  They have an amazing variety of plums, peaches, and cherries, along with melons, apples, and more.  So when I found out that they offer a CSA, I thought maybe we’d finally found a good replacement for the Pike Place CSA – local, good quality produce, and best of all, a much higher proportion of fruits than most CSAs.  I love snacking on fruit, and that was my one wish for the Pike Place CSA: more fruit.

Be careful what you ask for.  Every week, Tiny’s supplied us with the juiciest, most delicious fruit, at least several pounds per week.  And soon we had fruit coming out our ears, it seemed, and I was getting a little tired of plums, so I needed to start getting more creative.  Through the summer, we ate fruit sliced on our grilled fish and meat.  I made plum financiers, and peach crisps (not to mention enough zucchini bread to feed an army!).  But it wasn’t enough to keep up.

So I finally pulled out my jam book, Mes Confitures.  I was determined not to let the fruit go to waste, and preserves seemed just the thing.  And this book has some creative and tasty jam recipes.  This season, I made strawberry jam with mint and cracked black pepper, plum and rhubarb jam, peach jam with lemon verbena, pluot jam, and plum and apple jam with anise and vanilla bean.  I shared the jars with our neighbors and started collecting them to give as gifts for Christmas.

But when I started packaging the gifts, I realized that there was one kind missing: orange marmalade.  My dad’s favorite spread is this, and he even likes to ask for a jar sometimes for Christmas.  I’ve given him jars in the past, but never my own, even though I’ve had a marmalade recipe filed away that I’d clipped out of the newspaper years ago.  I was always a little nervous about making it because I’d never canned before and thought giving my family spoiled jam might not be the best Christmas gift.

SatsumasOrange segmentsMarmalade jars

Now that I’d learned how to preserve jams though, the recipe no longer looked very hard at all.  Four simple ingredients: oranges, sugar, water, and a touch of lemon.  It turned out to be as easy as the author, Greg Atkinson, says.  And it tastes better than any marmalade I’ve purchased.  I hope my dad enjoys his marmalade this year!

Here is Greg Atkinson’s recipe.  Check out the original newspaper article for his other recipes for maple and honey granola and ginger biscotti.

Satsuma Mandarin Orange Marmalade
by Greg Atkinson
Makes six half-pints

9 medium-sized mandarin oranges
2 cups water
¼ cup lemon juice
4 cups sugar

Peel the oranges and set the fruit and peel aside separately. Slice enough of the skins into fine julienne strips to measure 2 cups. In a large kettle over high heat, boil the sliced orange peel in water for 5 minutes. (If you want to make a marmalade that’s less bitter, pour the water in which the peels were boiled into a measuring cup and replace it with the same amount of fresh water.)

Meanwhile, sterilize six half-pint jars in boiling water, and allow them to simmer on low heat, undisturbed while you make the marmalade.

With the metal blade in the work bowl of a food processor, puree the fruit of the oranges and the lemon juice, then add this pulp and juice mixture to the mixture of orange peel and water. When the whole mixture reaches a lively boil, add the sugar and cook, stirring occasionally for 15 minutes, or until the marmalade has thickened slightly and a candy thermometer registers 220 degrees.

Transfer the marmalade to jars and seal with clean, new, two-part lids. Return the filled jars to the hot water bath where they were sterilized and let the jars simmer for 5 minutes. Allow the marmalade to stand undisturbed for several hours or overnight. Sealed jars will keep in a cool, dark place for a year; any jars that do not seal may be kept in the refrigerator.

Note: If you want to make more than just a few jars, make two or three batches in a row. If you try to double the recipe, it will not work as well.

Breakfast: rusks and coffee

December 20th, 2008 by Dawn

Rusks with Eric's cappuccino

Our friend Arathi likes to bake, even more than I do, which I hadn’t thought possible.  And anyone who’s lucky enough to work with her husband (like me) benefits from when she bakes too many cookies and he brings a batch to share.  After I tried her rusks, I had to get her recipe.  Like biscotti, they are twice-baked dry cookies/biscuits, not too sweet, and perfect for enjoying with your morning coffee or dipping into tea.  We also found that they go nicely with a glass of eggnog!

Baking rusks

Greg’s Favorite Rusks
From The Farmhouse Cookbook, by Susan Herrmann Loomis
Makes about 80 rusks

2 cups whole almonds
2 cups sugar
5½  cups unbleached all purpose flour
¾ teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup sour cream
2 eggs

Preheat oven to 350F. Place almonds in a baking pan large enough to hold them in a single layer, and toast, stirring once, until they give off a toasted aroma, 10 to 15 minutes.

Raise the oven temperature to 375F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.

Combine the almonds and 2 tablespoons of the sugar in a food processor, and grind to a fine powder.

Sift flour, salt, and baking soda together onto a piece of waxed paper.

Cream butter and remaining sugar in a large bowl until pale yellow and light. Add the sour cream and the eggs, one at a time, mixing well after each addition. Stir in the flour mixture and the almonds until just incorporated.

Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface, and pat it out to form a 13 x 4-inch rectangle that is ¾ inch thick. Cut the rectangle in half lengthwise, so you have two pieces of dough measuring 13 x 2 inches, and transfer them to the prepared baking sheets. Bake in the center of the oven until golden, puffed, and firm, about 35 minutes. Slide the parchment paper onto wire racks, and cool the strips until they are lukewarm, about 15 minutes. Lower the oven temperature to 300F.

Slice the strips crosswise into ½ inch thick slices, and lay them on their side on the parchment. Return the paper to the baking sheets, and bake slices until they are golden, 15 to 20 minutes. Turn and bake until golden on the other side, another 15 to 20 minutes. Transfer the rusks to wire racks to cool.

Traca and Kris’s dinner

December 13th, 2008 by Eric

Our friend Traca (of Seattle Tall Poppy) loves to bring people together to share wonderful food experiences.  Her dinner this week, hosted and prepared by her talented friend/chef Kris, was no exception; a diverse group of food-loving folks from all over Seattle met and talked for hours while enjoying course after course of dinner.  It was, without a doubt, a great way to spend an evening!

Traca has a great write-up about the evening, so I’ll skip the details and instead just share some photos.

Japanese eggplant; chatting with Naomi
Left: Japanese eggplant with ponzu and tempura bits.
Right: Dawn chats with Naomi (formerly of Villa Victoria).

Ohitashi; seared tuna rolls
Left: ohitashi (blanched spinach towers).  Right: seared tuna rolls.

Singeing rosemary
Singeing the rosemary tucked into the pork tenderloin medallions.

Kris; dessert platter
Left: Kris describes the asparagus dish.  Right: assembling the dessert platters of apples slices, cheese, marscapone stuffed figs dipped in chocolate.

Monsoon East

December 10th, 2008 by Dawn

Eric Bahn was greeting guests at every table tonight, his first official night open on the Eastside.  We were impressed with the interior of the new Monsoon, as it’s quite a transformation from the previous Porcella space.  He explained the thought they put into every detail.  The marble at the bar is from Vietnam, the wooden screens are antique Chinese pieces from David Smith, and the posts flanking them are reclaimed from a church in Hoquiam.  Altogether, the place is modern, cozy, and comfortable.

Monsoon East

You see a long bar with lanterns overhead on the left as you enter, and a large dining room on the right.  There’s another smaller dining room tucked away in back, where we were initially going to be seated, but we preferred to be up front where the activity was.

The menu was overwhelming at first, with a huge list of detailed menu items and no categories beyond “raw bar” and “dinner.”  After staring at the menu fuzzily for a while, we realized that the white space delineated the different types of food: appetizers, seafood, meat, side dishes, etc.  We managed to narrow down the choices, and settle on kona kampachi sashimi with lime from the raw bar, imperial rolls with kuraboto pork and shrimp, a catfish claypot, the drunken chicken, and wokked soft noodles with mushrooms and duck egg.

While we waited for our meal to begin, I tried their signature plum wine martini.  It was just the right mix of tangy, sweet, and sour.  Then the food arrived.

Our first bite was of the sashimi, which was lively and flavorful, with crispy shallots adding a nice texture.  The rolls were also excellent – hot, crisp, and tasty with the dipping sauce.  Catfish was next, and the first bite was an unexpected burst of flavor – we both looked at each other simultaneously, impressed.  The cracked pepper on top was generous, adding an interesting dimension.  We both agreed that it was one of the most impressive dishes of the meal, although it was good to split since the flavors were strong and I don’t think I could have finished the whole thing myself.  The drunken chicken is a standard at all of Eric’s restaurants, and was as good as always, although probably our least favorite among the other dishes.  I think I liked the soft noodles the best.  The egg, mushrooms, and noodles were well balanced, where nothing overwhelmed the other ingredients.

Monsoon East

For dessert we had trouble deciding between the banana cake with savory coconut cream, which we’ve had and loved at the original Monsoon, or the bananas wrapped in sticky rice with jackfruit cream.  We opted for the latter, to try something new, and wished we’d ordered the cake instead.  It’s not that the dessert was bad, but the rice was a bit chewy and slightly bland.  My recollection of the banana cake is more favorable.

This is the beginning of a wave of new restaurants on the Eastside.  Also coming soon are Wild Ginger, Blue C Sushi, Boom Noodle, and the second location of Barrio which just opened in Seattle last week.  El Gaucho, Pearl, and even Top Pot Doughnuts, have also opened recently.

Monsoon East
10245 Main St, Bellevue
(425) 635-1112

Monsoon East on Urbanspoon

Jack’s Tapas Cafe – revisited

December 7th, 2008 by Eric

Longtime readers might recall Dawn’s post earlier this year about Jack’s Tapas Cafe in the U-District.  We thought it was worth sharing some more thoughts on Jack’s, now that we’ve had a chance to dig in and try more of their menu.

Jack’s, Chiang’s Gourmet (in Lake City), and Szechuan Chef (in Bellevue) are our favorite Chinese restaurants in town.  Jack’s cafe is a very friendly, low-key, family-run affair, and is the kind of place where you can easily fall into a rut – once you stumble upon an excellent dish, you may find yourself ordering it time and again.  But fight the temptation!  There are many great dishes to be had.  For starters, try the hot and sour soup (it’s among the best we’ve had around here), or the sesame scallion bread (with its many soft layers and crispy pan-fried exterior).  Their hand-shaved noodle stir fry is a must, as is the sour napa cabbage stir-fry with lamb; the latter has a wonderfully unique flavor that keeps me coming back.

Jack's Tapas Cafe
Green beans, pigs ears, and sesame scallion bread at Jack’s Tapas Cafe.

We’re glad our friend Jim recommended we try the mixed vegetables, chicken, translucent noodles with golden crown dish – a large plate with an egg omelet serving as the crown, covering the rest of the ingredients.  (We’ve found that this dish doesn’t fare quite as well for take-out, so save it for your in-house dining.)  On a lunch visit just today with friends, we finally tried the eggplant with basil and now it’s on our must-order list for next time.  In return, we introduced them to the slightly spicy green beans with beef.  We always order too much food at Jack’s, but I have no problem eating those green beans leftover.

Not everything makes it on the must-order-again list for us.  I found the pigs ears appetizer to be a bit too tough and leathery, and the tofu with Chinese chives was good, but not top-tier.

Next visit, I’m trying the highly-recommended three cup chicken.  What else do you think we should try?  Post your recommendations below.

Jack’s Tapas Cafe (Mainly Chinese)
5211 University Way, Seattle
(206) 523-6855

Jack's Tapas Cafe in Seattle

Peaks Frozen Custard

December 2nd, 2008 by Dawn

The paper came down off the windows right before Thanksgiving, and on Friday, Peaks Frozen Custard opened in Roosevelt.  This is the real stuff, you guys, just like Kopp’s back in Wisconsin.  In fact, Peaks is run by folks from Wisconsin, and their custard machine is from the dairy state, too.  Theresa Blaser, one of the owners, explained to us how they make it in small batches several times a day so that customers can get it as fresh as possible.  That’s when the custard tastes best.

Peak's Frozen Custard

They offer three flavors: vanilla, chocolate, and a flavor of the day – today’s was cookies ‘n cream, and Sunday’s was egg nog.  The vanilla is pure vanilla goodness, and their proprietary chocolate custard is rich and perfectly chocolaty.  Served up in a waffle cone, waffle dish, or compostable dish with compostable spoon, you can eat it plain or with any of their long list of toppings (that’s marshmallow on chocolate above).  Um-yum.

If that’s not enough to convince you to eat frozen custard on a cold winter day, I don’t know what is.  Well, I was actually wondering, how is a new custard place going to hold their own in a floundering economy in the middle of winter in gray Seattle?  They’ve got this figured out, too.  They’re really a coffee house in disguise, using coffee to lure you in to the custard temptations.  This neighborhood has a dearth of good independent coffee places.  There’s Bus Stop, which is well, meh, the usually burnt coffee at Whole Foods across the street, or the Starbucks above that.  Starbucks is about the only place with comfy chairs where you can kick back, though, so that leaves no options for independent coffee.  Peaks is kicking up the competition, with Lighthouse coffee, a roaster out of Fremont that we love.  Not only that, but they’ve got comfy chairs and a fireplace to boot.  I expected a sterile fluorescent place, probably because it’s in a new condo building, and was pleasantly surprised when I walked in.  They’ve even got a kids nook, complete with wooden rocking horse and storybooks.

To top it all off, Theresa bakes an assortment of pastries daily.  She gets in at 5am to make cupcakes, quiche, cookies, bundt cake, brownies, and more.  We detoured past there this morning on our walk to the park and ride, and were impressed with her sherry nutmeg bundt cake which was served right out of the oven.  Above, that’s our fellow vanpooler, Ben, who we ran into inside, enjoying his own slice before we all headed off to work.

Peaks Frozen Custard
1026 NE 65th Street, Seattle
(206) 854-2351

Peaks Frozen Custard on Urbanspoon

Vios 2 opens in Ravenna!

December 1st, 2008 by Dawn

This is the most exciting news all year for us Ravenna foodiesVios’ second location just opened tonight, and the neighborhood welcomed them in full force: it was already packed with kids and adults alike.  Vios has taken over the Ravenna Honey Bear Bakery and remodeled Third Place Books to accommodate more seating and upgrade the kitchen.  Modeled as a family-friendly place just like their Capitol Hill location, they even have the kids play pit, with ample toys and a three-foot-high door so there are no worries about anyone wandering off while you’re eating.

Vios Café at Third Place

Our impression of Vios in Capitol Hill has been that they have great food, but it’s pricey.  Either they’ve adjusted things with the new economy, or updated the prices for the new location, but everything seemed quite reasonably priced to us tonight: sandwiches for about $7, flat bread pizza for $9, salads for $5, and dinner specials for $10-14.  It was especially a good deal given how tasty the food was.

My favorite tonight was the warm pita with Kopanisti spread, which is a sheep’s milk feta with roasted red pepper and a kick.  I sopped up the extra spread with the crust of my flat bread pizza.  The flat bread came out piping hot with salty pancetta, roasted fennel, and mushrooms.  Eric enjoyed his lamb Giouvetsi with orzo pasta, and we both split a Brussels sprouts salad with walnuts.  We saved some for lunch leftovers tomorrow so that we could try the desserts.  During the entire meal, Eric was eyeing the carrot cake sitting on the counter, and the waitress told him he was the first to order it.  Not surprising, since it wasn’t listed on the menu, but people are missing out!  It was moist, not too sweet, and yuummmmy.  I stole bites of that while eating my cinnamon gelato.  That was my only (slight) disappointment of the meal: the cinnamon seemed grainy and chalky, although the gelato was intense and cinnamony.

The Pub at Third Place downstairs is serving a special Vios pub menu that’s different from upstairs, plus you can get the full restaurant menu, too.  That seems like a good option for getting together with friends over a beer, or the place to head when the restaurant is full.

Open daily, Vios Ravenna starts serving breakfast at 8am.  They have a small morning menu with baked goods, frittata, an egg sandwich, french toast, and oatmeal, along with the Illy espresso that they serve all day long.  I can visualize a weekend morning there in my future.

Vios Café at Third Place
6504 20th Ave NE, Seattle

Vios Café at Third Place on Urbanspoon