Thursday, October 30, 2008

Remember to vote, Tuesday, Nov. 4

As if you haven't been badgered enough already ... Too bad. It's really important; especially right now. So here's one more plea / reminder.

Please vote. Voting is your right, responsibility and obligation as an American. So make sure to cast your ballot on (or before if you vote absentee) Tuesday, Nov. 4. Questions about your voter registration status, poll site, or ballot? Washington state voters can visit the State’s general election site. For residents of states other than Washington, please visit for answers to questions about your state’s voting process.

P.S. I’m not overtly endorsing anyone here, as this is an equal-party blog, but I do plan on limiting my diet to blue-only foods this Tuesday.

Monday, October 27, 2008

What is it with me and second place?!

We had so much fun at the weekend before last's (I know, I know ... I'm not very timely) Fall Taps & Apps challenge, hosted by the Cudworths — the best party planners on the Plateau. Each couple (11 total; 22 individuals) had to enter a fall-inspired appetizer paired with a beer. We all voted for our first and second choices, but were not allowed to vote for ourselves. Voting was based on the use of fall-inspired ingredients and the success of the pairing combination.
I poured over recipes, trying to find the ultimate fall-inspired appetizer-beer combination, so that when the flavors combined, a spell would come over the participants and they couldn’t help but vote for us. There were great plans to test a few different recipes, but, as has happened with many of my great plans lately, I didn’t quite get around to executing.

We ended up blindly entering, i.e., this was my first try, Hickory-Bacon and Roasted Corn Gougeres, slightly modified from a slightly modified recipe (I couldn’t help myself and had to utilize all the bacon grease — it’s great for roasting the corn). They're like savory cream puffs filled with the flavors of a twice-baked potato. We paired them with Deschutes Brewery’s Black Butte Porter. Thanks to my friend Ryan for the beer recommendation.

Overall, the event was a resounding success. Although I’m having a little bit of “always the bridesmaid” syndrome with another second-place finish; we did come away with 1) two blown-out pastry bags and a new, hard-learned culinary skill; 2) very full, happy bellies and 3) really cool pint glasses adorned with mini chalkboards as our prize. For a moment, I considered throwing a tantrum and demanding a do-over, but that was mainly because the food was so awesome and I didn’t want the party to end!

I’d like to give a shout-out to Curtis and Emily Adamson (Emily works at Marx Foods, a fabulous Seattle specialty food company, making her an automatic contender), who tied us for second place. Their BBQ pulled-pork sliders with Newcastle Brown Ale really gave us a run for our money. And congratulations to Kat and Keith, who took home the grand prize with their entry of mini bratwurst burgers paired with Chimay Grande Réserve. Yum.

Hickory-Bacon and Roasted-Corn Gougeres
5 thick-cut, hickory-smoked bacon slices
3/4 cup corn (from 2 medium ears; or frozen kernels, thawed)
1 cup water
6 Tbsp. unsalted butter, cut into tablespoon pieces
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup all-purpose flour
4 to 5 large eggs
1 1/2 cups coarsely grated extra-sharp Cheddar (5 ounces)
3 tablespoons grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
2 tablespoons finely chopped chives
Crème fraiche or sour cream for dipping

Preheat oven to 375°F with racks in upper and lower thirds.

Cook bacon in skillet over medium heat, turning occasionally, until crisp. Drain and cool on paper towels, reserving bacon grease in separate container (I like a Pryrex measuring cup with a spout for pouring). When cooled, finely chop bacon.

Wipe skillet clean. Add corn and 1 tsp. of reserved bacon grease, and pan-roast over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until kernels are mostly golden brown, 10 to 15 minutes.

Bring water to a boil with butter, salt and remaining reserved bacon grease in a heavy medium saucepan, stirring until all the fat is completely melted (you should have at least two Tbsps. of bacon grease, making eight Tbsps. fat total, when combined with the butter. If you don’t have a full two Tbsps. of bacon grease, add more butter until the fat total equals eight Tbsps.). Add flour all at once to boiling water-fat-salt mixture, reduce heat to medium and stir vigorously with a wooden spoon until mixture pulls away from side of pan, about 2 minutes. Remove from heat and cool slightly, about 3 minutes.

Add 4 eggs, 1 at a time, beating well after each addition. (Batter will appear to separate at first but will then become smooth.) Mixture should be glossy and just stiff enough to hold soft peaks and fall softly from a spoon. If batter is too stiff, beat remaining egg in a small bowl and add to batter 1 teaspoon at a time, beating and then testing batter until it reaches proper consistency.

Stir in bacon, corn, cheeses, chives, and 1/2 teaspoon pepper.

Line 2 large baking sheets with parchment paper or spray baking sheets with nonstick spray. Fill a pastry bag fitted with 1/2-inch plain tip with batter and pipe about 35 (3/4-inch-diameter) mounds, or spoon mounded teaspoons, 1/4 inch apart, onto each sheet.

Bake, switching position of sheets halfway through baking, until puffed, golden, and crisp, 25 to 30 minutes total. Transfer to a rack (still on parchment if using). Make more puffs on cooled baking sheets. Serve warm or at room temperature with crème fraiche or sour cream for dipping.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Holy crap! I like brussels sprouts!

I’ve been trying to incorporate a greater variety of vegetables into our meals lately — things we’re convinced we don’t like, but need to give another try. The experiment is going pretty well. Last week, I discovered that cauliflower isn’t actually the spawn of Satan, as I once considered it.
So I was in Safeway Monday night, looking for a new veggie adventure and spotted some very cute, but lonely-looking brussels sprouts. I’ve tried them a few times over the years, but never with much luck, i.e., flared nostrils and a strong gag reflex. After gazing at them a bit — they really are quite adorable — I decided to give it a go. I remembered a recipe I stumbled across a few months ago on This Week for Dinner and figured that worst case, the sprouts could enrich our compost bin if the experience was similar to past encounters.

Turns out, I’ve just never had brussels sprouts prepared in a way I find appealing. Until now. The 60-second brussels sprouts recipe is a totally new way (to me, at least) to eat these little delights. You don't cook them long enough for the sulfur compounds to begin releasing, so they don't get bitter and smell funky. One minute over super-high heat leaves the sprouts with an al dente texture and a bit of natural sweetness. Morgan wasn’t home when I made them, so I still need to see what he thinks, but I’m pretty certain they’ll begin joining us for dinner on a regular basis. Give them a try!

Ya sure, ya betcha

We spent this past weekend helping Morgan’s mom with the Scandinavian Heritage Festival at the Puyallup Fairgrounds. She’s the main event organizer and Morgan is in charge of sound for the performances — mainly Scandinavian folk musicians and dance troops from around the Northwest. I sold raffle tickets and backed-up Peter (Morgan’s younger brother) and his fiancé Emily at the beverage stand. The event is held in conjunction with Oktoberfest Northwest, which takes place in the adjacent hall. Eating festival food all weekend can leave a little to be desired in the health realm, but who can resist unlimited Swedish meatballs and Danish pancake balls a la the fabulous Scandinavian Café of Camas, Wash.?! Certainly not me. On Sunday, we took a break and ventured over to Oktoberfest for lunch. I had some weiner schnitzel, spätzle (small German dumplings — some people refer to them as noodles, but I think dumplings is a more accurate description) and Paulaner Weizen.

I adore spätzle and am thrilled each time I see it on a menu, which isn’t very often. I must note, however, that this particular spätzle left a great deal to be desired. In fact, it was borderline inedible, closely resembling a homemade glue mixture of flour and water, boiled into a mushy mess. The Tyler Florence recipe I’m linking to above is what I make at home and it’s incredible. I’m going to make some this week to compensate for the disappointment. Plus, I’m in fall-induced comfort-food mode and spätzle fits the bill quite nicely.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

The other white (and really quite tasty) meat

We had friends over to dinner Saturday and made roasted pork tenderloin with apple cider jus. I found the recipe on a terrific food blog I’ve been reading, Je Mange la Ville. We loved it and even the two toddlers gobbled it up.
I haven’t had much luck with pork in the past — always a little dry and chewy — but this came out absolutely perfect; no knife needed, super juicy. Most of the credit goes to my new meat thermometer (Component Design DTTC-S) and current favorite kitchen gadget. Since the thermometer probe goes in the oven and connects to a console/base on the outside, you never have to open the door to check on anything. There’s even an alarm to tell you when your meat has reached the correct temperature. My mom has owned one for awhile, but until now, I didn’t realize quite how superior it was to my lame “traditional” thermometer. It rules.

We served the pork with fresh green beans and caramelized red onion mashed potatoes. A really great dinner for a fall get-together with lots of laughter, good friends and good wine.

Side note: The jus is a nice balance of sweet and savory. It’s supposed to be thin and we all liked it that way, but I threw a little Wondra Flour into the leftover sauce to make more of a gravy on day two (follow the Kettle Gravy directions on the side of the Wondra canister and use one cup of the leftover jus as the broth). I made about one and a half the recipe for the sauce so we would have extra. It was really good in its thickened-form, too, served over brown rice.

Roasted pork tenderloin with apple cider jus
Serves six hungry adults and two voracious toddlers
4 cups apple cider
2 cup low-salt chicken broth
1 large white onion, chopped
12 whole allspice
3 large rosemary sprigs (two for the sauce (whole), one for the pork (minced))
4 cinnamon sticks
4 teaspoons apple cider vinegar
2 bay leaves
2 tbsp unsalted butter
2 one-pound pork tenderloins, well trimmed
Olive oil
4 cloves garlic, minced
salt & pepper

Mix first eight ingredients in medium saucepan. Boil until mixture is reduced to 3 cups, about 45 minutes. Strain, pressing on solids to extract liquid. Discard solids. Return liquid to saucepan and boil until reduced to 1 1/2 cups, about 15 minutes. Whisk in the butter and season with salt and pepper, if needed.

Meanwhile, preheat oven to 375 degrees. Slather pork with olive oil, salt and pepper generously and coat with the minced garlic and rosemary.

Brown on all sides on high in a oven-proof pan. Finish roasting in the preheated oven, 20-22 minutes or until the pork reaches 145 degrees.

Cover with foil and let rest for five to 10 minutes. Pour any pork drippings from the rested meat into the cider sauce.

Slice and serve with the jus drizzled over the top.

Caramelized red onion mashed potatoes
Serves six
12 medium-sized Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled and quartered
One red onion, finely diced
3/4 cup low fat milk
8 oz. light cream cheese
6 Tbsp. butter
1 Tbsp. garlic powder
Salt and pepper to taste

Melt 2 tablespoons butter in heavy medium skillet over medium heat. Add onions and cook until tender and deep golden-brown, stirring often, about 20 minutes. Transfer onions to small bowl. Add milk to skillet — burner should be turned off.

Meanwhile, place quartered potatoes in large saucepan. Add enough cold water to pan to cover potatoes by 1 1/2 inches. Bring to boil, reduce heat to medium, and simmer until potatoes are tender, about 15 to 20 minutes. Drain. Return potatoes to pan and stir over medium heat until dry, about 1 minute. Add remaining 4 tablespoons butter. Bring milk in skillet to simmer, scraping up any browned bits. Add hot milk and cream cheese to potatoes. Mash potatoes. Stir in caramelized onions, garlic powder, salt and pepper to taste.