Tuesday, March 27, 2012

On the Town: May the odds be ever in your favor...

This past weekend my husband and I went to see “The Hunger Games” (which was crazy awesome, but that’s not what this post is about :).  We went to the Alamo Drafthouse and they have menu specials they are featuring during the run of the film.  I had taken note of them before we went to the show, and I knew I wanted to try the Lamb Stew with Dried Plums.  I should mention - my husband and I were pescetarian from 1998-2011 and I’ve only recently discovered that I love lamb.  In fact, I plan on trying a recipe for a spring dinner I’m having in a couple of weeks.  So I was very excited to try the stew.  In a bread bowl no less.  Since I also try to be mindful of what I eat calorically, I had thought that I would eat the stew and maybe a couple of pieces of the bread bowl.  But nope.  I ate every. last. bite.  It was so amazingly good - rich and hearty and sweet.  Everything I would want in a stew.  And the bread bowl, once it soaked up all the broth... there was no turning back.  It was definitely worth every single calorie.

I would like to go back at some point to try one of the other items - Strawberry Upside Down Cake.  I was too full after the stew to try it, but it also sounds pretty yummy.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Irish Soda Bread

I have been itching to try my hand at bread making for some time, but I’m afraid of it.  I’m not the best baker in the world because I have no patience and don’t take my time so my cakes can come out a bit wonky sometimes. But bread, although requiring precise measurements and resting periods, is a bit more forgiving in the “design” department.  I’ve perfected biscuits (I use this Bobby Flay recipe), so I decided the next step would be the soda bread.  And since St. Patrick’s Day was coming up, I thought what better time to try it.

I used the recipe I found here at Melangery

I didn’t alter it at all since this was my first time making it and I always like to try the unaltered recipe first.  I was super happy with how it turned out!  It was chewy and moist with a great crunchy crust.  And the flavor was so comforting and warm.  My husband and I thought it would also make great scones.  I think I am going to try that next - with honey and raisins!

As for bread making... I think I’m hooked.  My next step will be to take a class.  I feel like for the yeast breads, I need someone to show me exactly what the dough should look and feel like at each step.

“My” Vegetable Soup

I love soup.  I eat soup for lunch every day.  A couple of years ago I decided I needed to lose weight and I lost 55 pounds and I’ve kept it off and I credit this in large part to my eating soup.  Every day.  There are so many flavor and texture combinations, I never get bored.  One thing I struggled with though was that I could never find a vegetable soup that met my expectations.  And then last fall I realized I could just create my own.  So I looked at many, many veggie soup recipes and picked the base recipe I thought sounded good.  Then I just added the veggies I like.  Since it was fall, I added vegetables like cabbage, turnips, and mushrooms.  It was delicious!
So, now it’s March and I finally had some time to cook and I wanted my veggie soup.  But I wanted more seasonal ingredients.  So this time I used kale, broccoli, and red onion.  And again, I loved it.  Now I’m super excited to make it later in April with asparagus, spinach, artichokes, and peas.

Here is the recipe I most recently used...

Makes roughly 6 servings (10-12 oz each)
  • 2 Tbsp Extra Virgin Olive Oil
  • 3 Tbsp Unsalted Butter
  • 1 Red Onion, diced
  • 3 stalks Celery, diced
  • 3 Carrots, diced
  • 1-2 heads Broccoli, cut into florets
  • 3 Yukon Gold Potatoes, peeled and diced
  • 1 head Kale, washed well and chopped
  • 1/2 tsp Salt
  • 1/4 tsp Garlic Salt
  • 1/4 tsp Celery Salt
  • 1 can Diced Tomatoes
  • 1 quart Low Sodium Chicken Broth (I like thick soup, you may want to add more broth)
  • 2 Tbsp Fresh Thyme, chopped
  • 2 Tbsp Fresh Oregano, chopped
  • 3 Fresh Bay Leaves

Heat oil and butter in stock pot on med high heat
Add onion and cook for 2 minutes, Then add celery and carrots, cook another 2-3 minutes, stirring to coat with oil and butter
Add broccoli and potatoes, stir to combine and cook another 2-3 minutes. Add kale, stir and cook for 2 mins
Add salts, tomatoes and broth, bring back to boil and boil for a couple of mins
Turn down to simmer, simmer for about 10 mins and then add herbs
Cook for another 20 mins until all veggies are tender

If you’re watching your salt intake, you could easily take out the extra salt, I just like the flavors.
Also, you could easily add some chicken to this for some added protein

[Nutrition: Calories - 256; Fat - 11g; Sodium - 352g; Carbs - 35; Protein - 7.4g]

Grapefruit cake

For the last several years, my husband’s brother and his wife have given us the Harry and David “Fruit of the Month” for Christmas.  We love it because we get yummy, fresh, seasonal fruit delivered to our door once a month. Sometimes though, it’s more fruit than we know what to do with.  Last month it was oranges and grapefruit.  I made a fruit salad out of most of it, but I had seen this recipe for grapefruit cake and thought I would give it a shot.

I didn’t want something really big, so I cut the recipe down and just used one 10-inch round cake pan. And I topped it with French Vanilla yogurt and honey. It came out so yummy and moist and perfectly tart.

Adapted from Yankee Magazine

Makes 6-8 servings
Prep time: 30 mins; Cook time: 40 mins
Nonstick Cooking Spray
1 ¼ cups All Purpose Flour
4 Tbsp Cornstarch
1/2 tsp Baking Powder
3/4 tsp Table Salt
1/2 cup Unsalted Butter, 2 sticks, at room
1 cup Granulated Sugar
Zest Of 1 Grapefruit
Juice of ½ lemon
2 Eggs, at room temperature
Juice of 1/2 Grapefruit

French Vanilla Yogurt

Preheat oven to 325°. Mist a 10 inch cake pan with cooking spray.

In a large bowl, combine flour, baking powder, and salt. In a separate bowl, beat butter with an electric mixer until color lightens, about 2 minutes. Add sugar gradually; then beat until fluffy, about 4 minutes. Add grapefruit zest and lemon juice; beat thoroughly.

Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Add one-third of the flour mixture; then beat until just incorporated. Add 1/4 cup grapefruit juice and another third of the flour mixture; then beat until just incorporated. Repeat with the other 1/4 cup grapefruit juice and the remaining flour mixture.

Pour batter into prepared pan. Tap pan on counter to get rid of any air pockets. Bake 40 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted near the center comes out clean.

Remove cake from oven and place on a cooling rack 10 minutes; then turn cake out of the pan onto rack.

[Nutrition info (cake only): Cals - 301; Fat - 12.9; Sodium - 315mg; Carbs - 43.8g; Protein - 3.5g]

Monday, March 19, 2012

Trip to Seattle - The Food edition

So for my first post, I thought I would write about some amazing food we had during a recent trip to Seattle.  Obviously we had good coffee from pretty much every place we went.  But also 2 life time bests: the Dungeness Crab & Flagship grilled cheese sandwich at Beechers and the pancakes at the Hi-Life in Ballard.

But I'm getting ahead of myself....  we arrived late Thursday night and my original intent was to get room service, but we decided to eat in the Fireside Room (which was inside our hotel - Hotel Sorrento).  We got there around 9:30 pm and started with the crab cake.  It was quite yummy and since I was starving, we had eaten pretty much all of it before I remembered I wanted to photograph it.  Oh well.  It was large and very lightly fried with huge chunks of crab and not overly creamy.  It was served on top of a really flavorful tomato jam that complimented the crab perfectly and then topped with fried leeks.  By the time we were finished with that, their second happy hour had started, so we got the "Hour Tower", which was 3 appetizer size dishes on a tiered tray kind of like a tea service.  We chose the seared scallops (with an arugula and melon salad and a bacon and red wine vinaigrette), the mac and cheese, and the roasted mushroom & sausage panzanella.  All were great - the scallops and the panzanella being our favorites.  The panzanella reminded me of Thanksgiving.  Also, for drinks, I had "the Madison" which was 360 lemon vodka, St. Germain, grapefruit juice, honey syrup, Domaine Ste. Michelle Brut - super tasty!  And Michael had the Honey Rye.  We ended the night with some decaf and the bananas foster bread pudding.  It was nice and custardy with chunks of banana, served with salted caramel and vanilla ice cream.  On the whole, an excellent first meal in Seattle.

Fireside Room

On Friday we started our day at Starbucks and just got some standard items.  Then we walked around a bit and found Beechers and Le Panier down by Pike Place Market and put them on our list to try.  Lunch was at the Cafe inside Nordstrom Store #1.  They have 2 restaurants in there that we wanted to try because we love the Bistro at the one here in Austin.  We decided to start with the cafe because we knew our dinner would be large and that our friends would want to join us at the Grill later that weekend.  We had the turkey club and an awesome oatmeal cookie.

Nordstrom Flagship
We were visiting Seattle in order to surprise our friend for her 30th birthday, so dinner was set up by her husband.  It was a place she chose where she thought it would be just her and her husband for a nice birthday dinner.  We arranged with her husband to meet them at the DeLuxe bar and grill before dinner.  While we waited I had the Pomegranate Drop (Pearl Pomegranate Vodka, muddled lemons, simple syrup and pomegranate nectar in a sugar-rimmed glass) and Michael had the Sazerac.  Once they arrived they had a drink and then we headed to the restaurant for dinner.

Dinner was at Poppy.  It was a truly unique dining experience and the food was amazing.  The concept comes from the Indian Thali - "a selection of different dishes, usually served in small bowls on a round tray."  The food at Poppy is sort of a mix of Indian spices and northwest cooking.  We started with 3 appetizers: eggplant fries with sea salt & honey; spiced fig, onion, blue cheese and sage tart; dungeness crab, avocado, heart of palm and grapefruit salad.  The salad was definitely my favorite and I plan on trying to recreate it at home.  It was incredibly flavorful and the textures of the soft, chewy crab, the crunchy hearts of palm, the creamy avocado and the juicy grapefruit melded magically.  Also the eggplant fries were perfectly crispy and sticky with honey which was such a perfect combination that I can't imagine having eggplant fries any other way.  The meal was great too... I got a 7 item thali and my favorite items were the naan, the prawns with polenta, and the fried leeks with raisins.  And finally, dessert was simply amazing.  We chose the pandan lime sorbet which was refreshing, yummy, and super delicious and the hot date cake which was also incredibly good.  With the dessert thali, you also get 2 each of the following: lavender hazelnut cakes, nutter butter squares, passion fruit pates de fruit, and salted caramel truffles.  The best of those was the nutter butter squares - they were peanut buttery and crispy and chocolatey - so perfect!

Happy Birthday Jessica!

On Saturday, Jessica and I went for a workout while Michael and Alex went to Stumptown coffee.  Michael had a Chemex pour-over cup of the Panama Esmeralda Especial.  He says it was the best coffee he's ever had.  :)
Then Jessica and I met up with them at Pike Place Market.  This place has some of the most beautiful produce I've ever seen.  I could't resist taking tons of photos!

Pike Place Produce

Afterwards we grabbed 2 grilled cheese sandwiches and a mac & cheese from Beechers and some pastries (palmier and almond croissant) from Le Panier.  Everything was SO delicious!  But the crab grilled cheese was hands down the best grilled cheese I've ever had.  The crab was succulent and the cheese and remoulade sauce added a creaminess and richness that put this sandwich into the "best" category.  Yum yum!!

Pastries from Le Panier 
Best grilled cheese ever!

After that we went about our day doing various things - seeing the space needle and doing some shopping. For a late lunch we went to the other Nordstrom restaurant - the Grill.  It was also pretty tasty.  We shared some onion rings and I got a yummy cobb salad.  It was a nice "lighter" lunch after the grilled cheeses and pastries.

...Much later we went to dinner - I really wanted sushi and since we were near water I knew it would be fresh and yummy.  We went to Shiro's Sushi Restaurant.  The atmosphere was very authentic and I loved that.  I let Jessica choose since I'm new to the sushi world and not sure what I like.  I started with a miso tofu soup that was great and vegetable tempura - and you can never go wrong with fried vegetables.  Unfortunately, I wasn't thrilled with the sushi, but I recognize that it's just me.  I'm very sensitive to spice and since this was a very traditional restaurant, there was wasabi on every piece, so that was all I tasted.  However, I could taste enough of the fish to know that it was super fresh and that I liked the fatty tuna as well as the smoked salmon roll.

On Sunday we decided to go to Ballard for brunch with Jessica and Alex and some of their friends.  We went to the Hi-Life.  I got the Station House #18 and I am not lying when I say these were the best pancakes I have ever had!  They melted in your mouth.  I cannot express how wonderful they were.  And the bacon was yummy too... thick cut and crispy.  It was breakfast perfection!  Then we headed to the Ballard Farmers Market were we snacked on some tasty, tiny donuts covered in cinnamon and sugar.

Station House #18 - Best pancakes ever! 
Yummy little donuts

After another fun and full day, I had one last restaurant request and that was a traditional seafood restaurant.  There were plenty to choose from of course, but since it was already very late on a Sunday night, that limited us to about 3 places that were open.  We chose Harborside.  It used to be McCormick & Schmick's, but went through a re-design to become more chef driven.  The menu looked fantastic so we gave it a shot.  We were not disappointed. We started with fried shrimp and calamari, both were great and I don't usually like calamari. Then I decided to get the smoked sturgeon with mashed potatoes and sautéed winter greens, topped with orange slices. The dish originally came with a horseradish sauce, but after the wasabi from the night before I didn't want more of that. So I requested a different sauce and they gave me an orange vinaigrette that was perfect with the dish. This was one of those dishes that even though I was really full, I just couldn't stop eating because everything was so tasty. The fish was succulent and smoked perfectly, the mashed potatoes were chunky and creamy and the greens had a ton of flavor. Michael got the surf and turf - a filet with sea scallops that also looked pretty yummy. To drink I had the Chateau St. Michelle, which was fantastic! We ended the dinner with the apple crumble that was hot and gooey and covered in oatmeal. Oh so good. I have no photos because it was too dark and I would love to go back sometime for an early dinner in the summer, because it's right on Lake Union and you could tell the view would be amazing! My only complaint is that it is in a hotel and kind of has the atmosphere of a hotel restaurant. But that didn't matter once we got the food.

All in all, we had wonderful food in Seattle and I really look forward to going back!

PS - I used the Evernote Food app to take notes about our meals while there.  I highly recommend it!