Saturday, March 6, 2010

Dinah's Cheese, Kurtwood Farms, Washington

I have loved my visits to Seattle.  Dan and I are so lucky to have such wonderful friends to stay with while we're there.  We have so much fun exploring the culinary terrain with them, and there is so much to explore.  Seattle has great restaurants, access to Washington's wine country, amazing farmer's market, and a burgeoning dairy industry that will soon rival that of my home here in New England.  One example of the many "new to me" cheeses that I tried while there was Dinah's Cheese from Kurtwood Farms made by Kurt Timmermeister.

We were introduced to Dinah's Cheese at Picnic, a great little food and wine shop in Phinney Ridge, by owners Jenny and Anson Klock.  My friend André and I had stepped in to buy some wine, and struck up a conversation with Jenny, and she insisted that we try it, and we were glad that we did.  We left with a half wheel.  Between the five of us in attendance at our dinner party, we ate nearly the entire thing that evening, and I wished we had bought the whole wheel.  It was the only selection among six cheeses purchased that day that was nearly finished.  While we enjoyed the others very well, there was something about Dinah's that kept everyone going back for more.

Dinah's cheese is named for Dinah, the cow.  From her pictures on the Kurtwood Farms Blog, she looks like a Jersey.  I highly recommend reading it - you'll find out all about the adventures of Kurt and Dinah, and some of the other cows such as Joe, Boo, and Luna.  In general, I love cheese made from Jersey milk because of the intense rich buttery character that it has.  Some other favorites that come to mind right away are Tarentaise from Thistle Hill/Spring Brook Farm, Grayson from Meadow Creek, and Green Hill from Sweet Grass Dairy.

Dinah's is modeled on camembert, which is a really tricky cheese to make.  It's tough to get the curds to set just right, and developing a bloomy rind, such as the one on camembert, that tastes good is something that many domestic cheesemakers struggle with.  Timmermeister has managed to execute a cheese that has wonderful richness, a sweet complex yet subtle flavor, and a delicious rind.  The texture is decadently creamy - we enjoyed spreading it on some baguette that the kind folks at Picnic sent us home with.

Like many of the cheeses in Washington, Dinah's is still very small production.  I'm hoping that someday, these wonderful cheeses will make it out to the East Coast, but until then, Seattle is only a plane ticket away.  I'll be looking forward to my next visit there when I know I will find some more outstanding cheeses to try.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Seattle Symphony and Purple Wine Bar

It was my first time hearing the Seattle Symphony Orchestra in person. They have made plenty of great recordings, but hearing an orchestra in its own hall is always a really disarming and illuminating experience. Our friend Jill had managed to get us two comp tickets to the all Mozart program that she was playing in Benaroya Hall on the night of our arrival in Seattle. It was a wonderful welcome to the city, and a great concert.

Before the concert, I enjoyed seeing the gorgeous Dale Chihuly
chandeliers.  They are a dramatic sight to see when you first enter the hall.  They remind of a giant luminous sea creature, which seems appropriate being so close to the ocean at Benaroya Hall.  If you visit, be sure to take a little extra time to see them before the show.  We later saw more Chihuly at the Seattle Art Museum, and the more I see of his work, the more I love it.

The first piece on the program was Symphony No. 34. It was new to me, and it was nice to hear one of the more rarely performed symphonies in Mozart’s oeuvre. My first impression of the Seattle Symphony was that they played with a beautiful sound overall. There was a sense of lyricism in the orchestra’s playing that I often miss in performances of Mozart and I appreciated their great care and attention to detail in shaping phrases.

The next piece featured the principal second violinist of the orchestra, Elisa Barston. Her appearance was part of a series in which musicians from the orchestra are invited to appear as soloists, a wonderful idea that I wish more orchestras would employ since there are so many amazingly talented individuals playing in orchestral settings these days.

Barston’s performance of the fifth violin concerto was light and airy. She luxuriated in her beautiful sterling sound and took quite a few liberties with tempo and stretched phrases; more so than I accustomed to hearing. The overall affect was a little like listening to French art song being performed by a great singer. It was a unique way of thinking about Mozart and I have to give her credit for originality. She backed up her creative approach to the concerto with unfailing technique and pristine intonation. I enjoyed her original cadenzas also. They were spare and favored lyric beauty over flashy technique. It was a bold statement on elegant simplicity an the importance of line that soloists are often afraid to make, and I respected and appreciated her conviction.

The highlight of the program, for me, was the “Posthorn” Serenade on the second half of the program. It is named for the small natural horn that the mailmen in 18th century Europe would play to let everyone know that the mail had been delivered. I wondered why all of the mailboxes in Luxembourg that I saw this past summer had horns on them, and now I know.

The principal trumpet player of the orchestra gave a stunning performance of the long solo on the Posthorn in one of the final movements. I was also really taken with the concertmaster, principal oboist, principal flute, principal bassoonist, and piccolo player. They had rather significant solo passages that they played with beautiful soaring tones and effortless phrasing. The piece really seemed like a concerto grosso for the many talented members of the orchestra than it did a true Serenade meant to be heard as background music. It is a testament to the virtuosity of the orchestral musicians of Mozart’s time.

After the concert, we headed out to Purple Wine Bar in downtown Seattle a block or so away from Benaroya Hall. It was our friend André’s birthday and we celebrated there with his brother completing our merry crew. It was a delightful gathering. Purple offers a tapas style menu of wine-friendly foods. The menu also offers standard sized portions of appetizers, main courses, and desserts. We liked the idea of lots of small tastes of many different foods, so we ended up ordering around ninety per cent of the items on the small bites menu.

Their wine list is extensive and comprehensive as expected for a metropolitan wine bar in a major wine production center. We drank a few local wines to start, and then moved onto some heavy-hitting French favorites. Our Gaston Chicquet Champagne and Graillot Crozes-Hermitage were beautiful and served as apt accompaniments to our celebratory feast.

The space is beautifully decorated and is housed in what used to be a bank and then a library. There is a dramatic spiral staircase in the center of the room that leads up to a miniature private wine tasting room isolated from the rest of the space by wine bottles on all sides. The ceilings seemed to be the same height as an airplane hangar and there is a loft that overlooks the main dining area with more seating for diners. The lighting is brooding, moody, and even a little sexy and many of the patrons seemed to have those same qualities. The kitchen serves the full menu up until midnight, which perpetuates the bumping late night scene. It’s easy to see why this one of downtown Seattle’s hotspots for the after-theater crowd.

Even though we were very tired after a long day of travel, it was wonderful to be out on the town in Seattle. It’s a great city with a real cosmopolitan feel that rivals Boston in my opinion. A symphony concert and a great meal set the celebratory tone of our trip there visiting dear friends for my birthday and André’s birthday. Of course, we can’t wait to return and we happily made many wonderful memories while there.

Le Gourmand and Sambar, Seattle

On the last night of my recent trip to Seattle, we elected to have dinner at a place called Le Gourmand. Our friend and host André arranged the reservation for us. He had eaten there five or six years ago, and based on his fond memories thought that Jill and I would enjoy it. He was right. The meal from start to finish was fantastic.

Le Gourmand, it turns out, is a Seattle institution, owned and operated by Chef Bruce Naftaly for 25 years. It is attached to a small but chic cocktail bar called Sambar that is manned by a friendly and capable staff, who will entertain the most ridiculous of requests, to which I can attest personally. Feeling like showing a flare for the dramatic, I decided to order my cocktail by saying something like this…

“I would like something with Gin, and maybe some St. Germaine. I like that Elderflower flavor. I’m thinking spring… The weather is just so beautiful and I want to celebrate how early it’s come. I know that when I return to Boston I’ll be missing the flowers in bloom and the lack of snow on the ground here in Seattle. What do you think the bartender can whip up?”

André and Jill followed suit with similar, but somewhat more direct and certainly less ridiculous requests. I think we made Katya smile in a good way, and she dutifully took our requests to Tina at the bar. I overheard part of their conversation and had to grin sensing their amusement at my elaborately vague order, which I had hoped would be entertaining for them. We all laughed together about it later in the evening after more drinks and wine had been enjoyed.

Even though we had quite ambiguously ordered our cocktails, Katya and bartender, Tina, ably delivered conjuring up some fabulous impromptu cocktails. I was treated to a mixture of Gin, St. Germaine, Hibiscus syrup, and Lime Juice. André got a sort of Manhattan/Negroni Hybrid that involved Rye and Campari, and Jill’s drink consisted of aged dark rum, artisanal vermouth, and chipotle pepper garnished with a bay leaf from the tree outside. All the drinks tasted great and perfectly fit the parameters that we set forth. I especially enjoyed my drink. It had a beautiful pink color and was light and refreshing. I could have easily had three or four. It was deliciously dangerous.

But on to dinner…

We were seated in the beautiful clean crisp white space that is Le Gourmand. I instantly noticed and admired the gorgeous Capiz chandeliers that softly lit the room. They reminded me of Dan, and I wished that he could have been there with us, but he had to return to Boston a day early to get back to work. Our table was neatly set with fresh, crisp linens, and the silverware and glasses were spotless and neatly arranged.

We studied the wonderful menu for a bit, and then noticed a seven course tasting for only $80. It seemed like the deal of the century, and we decided that we couldn’t pass it up then and there. Our server David was very knowledgeable about all aspects of the food and also served as our sommelier for the evening. His wine list was well chosen with plenty of small producers focused on quality rather than quantity. It was just the kind of list that I love to sink my teeth into.

We started with some Cremant de Bourgogne rosé that David recommended for the aperitif and first couple of courses. We had a Pinot Gris by Kubler, a producer that I had read about, but never seen in Boston. The wine was true to form for an Alsace white showing signs of a ripe vintage: broad and full flavored with lovely aromatics and a touch of sweetness. For our red, we chose a bottle of Joseph Roty Marsannay. It was a triumph with our fabulous meal. It smelled like a barnyard and had plenty of structure balanced out with bright cherry and red currant fruit.

The food was outstanding course after course. I liked Chef Bruce’s simple and elegant approach to the beautiful ingredients with which he was working. Everything was prepared in a manner that featured the main component, be it fish, meat, or vegetable. For example, our first course was a simple nettle soup made only with leeks, onion, a little potato, a light duck stock, and of course nettles. It was a revelation to taste the purity of the nettle flavor in this concentrated form. We sipped it from the funky porcelain cups that it was served in with great enjoyment.

The courses following were a breaded and friend farmer’s egg with roasted cauliflower and Brussels sprouts, a terrine of foie gras with honey, huckleberries, and brioche, salsify in an herb cream, a gratin of local sturgeon served in a seashell, duck breast with black trumpet mushrooms, and a small green salad with vinaigrette made from local vinegar and edible flowers. The foie gras terrine was unlike any I had before. It was made with lobes of foie gras that were pressed together to form a “loaf” of duck liver. The texture was perfect and the balance of flavor was on the sweeter side, nicely accented by the honeyed sauce it was served with and contrasted by the huckleberry compote. David provided us with a little sip of Couteuax de Layon, a sweet white wine from the Loire, to go with it.

We added a cheese course on and shared three desserts for the grand finale: a sour cherry soufflé with chocolate sauce, a sort of caramel ice cream made from French candies, and a crepe with Meyer lemon ice cream. The meal overall was every bit as decadent as it sounded and took us about five hours to eat. We were full but not uncomfortable since Chef Bruce and David paced our meal appropriately. We really appreciated the fact that they indulged our luxuriant pace for the evening, it being a celebratory evening for us.

I should also make special mention of the delicious herbal “house” tea that we were served with our desserts. It was a blend of botanicals that had been grown by the chef’s son’s Montessori class. It included chicory, ginger, and lemon mint and tasted like a cross between coffee and herbal tea. Chef Bruce and his wife had blended it themselves, and it was perfect for the end of the meal. It helped settle our stomachs and made us relax even more. Chef Bruce personally told us the story about the tea when he made an appearance at the table as we finished up our meal. We heartily thanked him and congratulated him on his culinary tour de force that evening. He couldn’t have been more humble and he seemed legitimately pleased that we had enjoyed ourselves as much as we did. I think this serves as a testament to Le Gourmand’s twenty-five year success story.

When our tea and dessert were served, we told David that we were all classical musicians. Being an avid fan of the art form himself, he plugged in his iPod to the restaurant sound system and played the Brahms A Major Quartet and the fantastic Piano Quintet for us. It made me wish Dan was there even more, but it also made the evening that much more special for us. We had quite a discussion with David about music, who was very well informed and had strong opinions about Western art music. He was clearly a man of refined taste and passionate about what he loved, and I felt more than a little bit of kinship with him for that reason.

As the meal drew to a close and in need of a digestif, we wandered back over to Sambar for a final drink (or two) before we headed back out into the night. We ran into an old friend, Rob, who had given us quite a night at his bar, Oliver’s Twist, on our last visit to Seattle in June of last year. It was a pleasant surprise to see him there, and we enjoyed chatting with him again. We stayed and hung out with the staff and Rob for a while and chatted about travel, art, music, and life for an hour or so. We had Fernet Branca and eventually got around to some Hudson Whiskey Manhattan Rye – a delicious new boutique spirit made in New York.

It was hard to leave Sambar and Le Gourmand behind, but we knew that the staff needed to close up shop and head home, and all good things must come to an end. We certainly never felt rushed, on the contrary, everyone there epitomized hospitality and seemed to want to let us dine at a leisurely pace. Katya voluntarily filled our water glasses after she had already been off the clock for a while saying that she really took joy in doing that for us. I was touched by the sentiment and I felt it was a great example of how much the folks at Le Gourmand care about their guests’ comfort and satisfaction. I would certainly recommend Le Gourmand and Sambar to anyone looking for a great experience in Seattle and the surrounding area. They set a scene for a night to be remembered for me and my friends. We couldn’t have been more pleased with our time spent with them.

Fabulously Fierce Friends, Kristin

CQ writes: Kristin and I first met in Luxembourg in August of 2009.  She has a passion for Belgian beers, and is a fantastic piano player.  She maintains a private studio in Chicago of about 40 students at Northwestern.  She performs as part of the Arneis Ensemble has just finished a tour of the Midwest with the group performing work for clarinet, viola, and piano in three states.

cq: 1. Who are your role models - food related or otherwise?

kristin: My piano teacher, Sylvia Wang. She's tough but caring, blunt but generous, has unlimited energy, and never gives up. And she plays SO beautifully.

 cq: 2. What is your drink of choice?

kristin: Fall: Red wine (variety tbd by whatever happens to be in our wine rack at the time...)
Winter: Oatmeal Stout
Spring: Belgian Ale, or sweet white wine
Summer: Mojito, made with home grown mint, or Gin and Tonic, made with North Shore Gin

cq: 3. What is your favorite cookbook or other food related book?

kristin: The Man Who Ate Everything, by Jeffrey Steingarten

cq: 4. What was your most memorable meal and why?

kristin: A few winters ago, I went to see Golijov's Ainadamar at the Chicago Symphony with 10 friends (oh, the days of student tickets!) It was a spectacular, sensual piece, and afterward - still buzzing from the energy of the concert, we escaped the cold dark streets of Chicago at Russian Tea Time, right around the corner. We feasted on opulent comfort food: potato pancakes, mushroom dumplings, borscht with sour cream, Moldavian meatballs - topped off with double-shots of horseradish vodka, served with dark rye bread and pickles. The restaurant is all old-world luxury, with red velvet, plush carpet, dark wood, and gold accents - maybe a cliche, but it felt so good! And the vodka felt even better!! I know I've had better food in other places, but taken as a whole, this night and this meal were perfect.

cq: 5. What is your favorite kitchen gadget or tool?

kristin: My KitchenAid Ice Cream Maker. Someday, I'll have a big enough freezer to actually use it more than once a year...

cq: 6. If you had to make dinner with ingredients at your home right now, what would you make?

kristin: Soup. Or Curry. Or Stirfry. Or anything else that requires one pot, no planning, random ingredients, and spices. Unfortunately, I don't have much time to devote to cooking right now.

cq: 7. What kind of music do you like to listen to while you cook?

kristin: I usually sing to myself.

cq: 8. What is your philosophy on cooking and eating?

kristin: Every meal is an opportunity for greatness!

cq: 9. Are there any foods you can not stand to eat?

kristin: Those pastel colored Indian desserts. Jello salad. Tater tot casserole. Any vegetable or fruit from a can. Fat free cottage cheese. Grilled chicken breast. The huge slab-o-fish sushi. Mysterious sea creatures in Vietnamese restaurants. (No, I don't mean octopus. I mean MYSTERIOUS.) Marshmallow Peeps. Whole wheat pasta.

Alexander Calder at the Seattle Art Museum and Taste

Seattle is blessed with a wonderful art museum that I had the good fortune to visit with my friend Jill just a few days ago. Jill works at the museum a few days a week, so a good thing got even better when we received free admission because of her employment there. We went with the purpose of seeing the amazing Alexander Calder exhibit that is on display right now. It features work in the Shirley’s private collection, major benefactors of the Seattle Art Museum. There are around forty outstanding pieces to be seen including the huge “Red Curly Tail”, “Spider Web”, and my personal favorite, “Bougainvillea”.

Calder worked mostly in the first half of the twentieth century. He is single-handedly responsible for the creation of the mobile genre. He was heavily influence by Joan Miro, with whom he maintained a life-long relationship. There is also quite a bit of similarity to Piet Mondrian in terms of his use of color, and his earliest works on display at SAM reminded me of Picasso. We had the benefit of one of SAM’s knowledgeable docents leading us through the galleries and telling us about each of the works on display.

I was struck by the playful character of Calder’s work. It had a child-like simplicity to it that belied its sophisticated balance and rhythm. While many of his works have a space-age minimalist look to them, there is a certain organic warmth that evokes nature and the elements. That coupled with a strong sense of energy and movement made for a dynamic and engaging collection of pieces to be seen at SAM.

Walking through the rest of the museum, Jill showed me some of her favorite highlights. There was a giant suit of armor made from dog tags, a wood carving showing remarkable soft-looking folds of fabric, and a terrific exhibit of the Pacific Northwest’s Native American people. I was also quite taken by an exhibit of Australian Paintings on the ground floor in a smaller tucked-away gallery. The museum has quite a lot to offer, much of which we did not have time to see.

We ended our afternoon at SAM’s elegant restaurant, Taste. It reminded me a lot of The Modern, which is attached to NYC’s MoMA. We ordered from their inexpensive lunch menu. I had a nice grilled cheese sandwich with tomato soup that was warming and satisfying. There was even a little Calderesque garnish floating on the top of my soup.  Jill had a delicious spaetzle dish with grilled chicken, and we shared a deviled egg. Their comfort food offerings were just what we wanted on a chilly damp Seattle afternoon.

The wine list at Taste is excellent and features plenty of small local producers. We chose a semi-sparkling Riesling from Chehalem in the Northern Willamette to go with our afternoon repast. It was light, refreshing, beautifully aromatic, and complimented our food very well. We were both pleased to find out that it was only eight per cent alcohol, because we were sure to finish the bottle since it was so tasty. The lower alcohol didn’t leave us feeling tired and sluggish, and we were glad because it was only the beginning of our adventure-filled day.

I should also mention the impressive cheese plate at Taste. On the day of our meal there it featured: River Valley “Valley Girl”, Quillisascut “Curado”, and Samish Bay “Black Mambazo” all from Washington. They were delicious, and I engaged our bartender in a discussion about them. It ends up that she was just as big a “curd nerd” as myself, and she had quite a bit to say about cheese in the Pacific Northwest. The more I learn about Washington’s budding dairy industry, the more impressed I am with what it has to offer. I especially enjoyed the “Black Mambazo” which was rubbed with Chipotle pepper, cocoa, and cinnamon. I keep hoping the Washington cheeses will make it out to the East Coast soon.

Visiting SAM was a real treat. The Calder exhibition was magnificent and the permanent exhibits are equally engaging. It was also refreshing to visit a museum that had such a different viewpoint than what I am used to seeing at the MFA here in Boston. I anticipate a return to SAM, and look forward to visiting the Asian Art Branch in the near future.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Chef Paul Sussman's Cornish Game Hens

CQ writes:  One of my fondest memories of working at The Fireplace ages ago here in Brookline is of Chef Paul Sussman's family meals.  He would often ask us what we would like to eat for supper the next day, and usually he would happily honor our request!  Tomato soup with grilled cheese was a staff favorite, and we always had a full balanced meal with protein, starch, and vegetable.  We were spoiled to say the least.  When I meet up with old Fireplace cohorts, we often reminisce about how great Paul's family meals were.  If you've ever worked at a restaurant, you'll know what a big deal this is!

One day, I jokingly said that I would like to have Cornish hens, and I was floored when I showed up and he served us the following recipe.  To this day, it remains on of the best meals I've ever eaten.  I think I went back for seconds, thirds, and... On top of being a great cook, Paul is genuinely a nice guy.  He is a fascinating conversationalist, and one of the only people I know who can finish the New York Times crossword puzzles on a regular basis.

He has been kind enough to contribute his beautiful recipe here.  I hope you enjoy it.  I know I'll be giving it a whirl for my next dinner party.

Chef Paul writes:

I am contributing one of my favorite recipes – at Daddy-O’s we called it Szechwan-style Roasted Game Hen with Yellow Noodles even though it really bears little resemblance to anything Szechwanese. It has Chinese and Thai flavor elements, but that’s about it. It is, however, a very nice dish. The lovely thing about it is how the fat and juices from the chickens seep through the noodles as they roast, making the noodles crunchy and crispy at the bottom where they hit the pan, and soft and unctuous right under the birds. Add to this the Thai cucumber salad, with it’s acidity and heat from the chilies to cut the richness of the hen and noodles, and you’re really eating good.

It’s important to find fresh, not frozen, hens. I had thought the Cornish game hens, which are just a chicken cross-bred from Cornish chickens to be small with mostly white meat and then slaughtered when still very young, were dry tasteless until I had a fresh one. You can, of course, use a poussin or a half of a regular chicken if fresh game hens are unavailable. A hot oven is important so that the sheet pan heats up enough to crisp the noodles.

Szechuan-style Roasted Game Hen over yellow noodles (serves 4)
4 fresh hens, about a pound each
1 cup chili oil (recipe below)
4 tablespoon 10 spice (recipe below) (or use store-bought 5 spice and add some Szechwan peppercorn if you are too lazy or time-constrained)
1 pound Chinese yellow noodles (the thicker kind)
1 tablespoon minced garlic
¼ cup canola oil
¼ cup fish sauce
cucumber salad (recipe below)
  1. Cut the backbone out of the hens, place skin side up on the on the cutting board and press down with the heal of your hand to break the breast bone and flatten the bird. Brush both sides of the birds liberally with chili oil and the dust generously with the 10 spice powder. (This is best done several hours before, or even the day before roasting to give the flavors time to penetrate)
  2. Bring a large pot of water to a boil, plunge the noodles in and cook for one minute, then immediately drain and shock the noodles with cold water and then place in a large bowl. In a sauté pan heat the canola oil over a low flame, add the garlic and sauté briefly. Take off the flame, add the fish sauce then pour over the noodles and mix well.
  3. Make four piles of noodles on a lightly oiled sheet pan (no parchment – you need the noodles to be in contact with the hot metal) and top each with a hen. Tuck the wing tips under the first wing bones, lightly salt and then place in a 450 degree oven. Roast until done – about 30 minutes.
  4. With a spatula scoop under the noodle piles and transfer each hen with it’s noodles to a plate. Serve with the cucumber salad.
Chili oil
1/2 cup dried red chili flakes
1/4 cup Chinese fermented black beans, coarsely chopped
4 large cloves garlic, lightly smashed and peeled
2 tsp Szechwan Peppercorns,
3 Scallions, sliced
10 Ginger quarter-size slices
3 cups canola oil
1/2 cup sesame oil

Combine all ingredients except for the sesame oil in a heavy, non aluminum saucepan. Over moderately low heat, bring the mixture to a bare simmer, stirring occasionally. Continue to barely simmer for 15 minutes. Cool and strain then add the sesame oil.

10 spice powder (from Barbara Tropp)
2 tablespoon Fennel seeds
10 Star anise; broken into points
2 tablespoon Szechwan peppercorns
1 tablespoon Coriander seeds
3/4 tsp Whole cloves
3/4 tsp Cumin seeds
1 1/2 tsp Black peppercorns
1/2 tsp Cinnamon; ground
1/4 tsp Ginger; ground
1/2 ts Tumeric

Toast the whole spices together in a small dry skillet over low heat, stirring and adjusting the heat so that the spices toast without burning. Stir until the spices are fully fragrant and the fennel seeds and lighter colored spices are lightly browned, about 5 minutes. Stir in the ground spices. Using a spice grinder or a clean coffee grinder, grind the mixture finely.

Makes 3/4 cup.

Cucumber salad
2 tablespoon fish sauce
3 tablespoon lime juice
2 tablespoon rice vinegar
¼ cup sliced chilies (I like red Fresno, but use jalapeno, serrano or Thai as you prefer)
2 scallions, sliced thin
2 English cucumbers, sliced thin

mix all ingredients and chill

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

A Day in Woodinville, WA

The last time I visited Seattle, we weren't able to make it to wine country.  I was happy today that this time, an afternoon excursion was possible.  We got a Zipcar and headed down to Woodinville just South of Seattle and hit a couple of wineries and ended the afternoon with a brewery.  It was a really fun afternoon, and we had some great wine and beer.

Delille Cellars:  Our first stop of the afternoon, and the reason I wanted to visit Woodinville, was Delille Cellars.  We had the good fortune to randomly meet Exectuvie winemaker, Chris Upchurch, and his wife at the their tasting room.  We pour the Delille Cellars Roussane by the glass at work, so I knew a little about them and their wines already, but I was very pleased to be able to try a more almost complete lineup of what they had to offer today - we tried seven of their thirteen offerings.

Overall, I admired the restraint of the wines.  The alcohol was in check and none were overly oaky for my palete.  Chris told us that he really admires French wines, especially those of the South and he models much of what he makes on greats such as Grange des Péres, Domaine Tempier, and Domaine de Trevallon to name a few.

I already love the Roussane, and I was also pleased to try their Graves style white called Chaleur Estate Blanc.  It is made from about 2/3 Sauvignon Blanc and 1/3 Semillon.  Because it is aged sur lie and barrel fermented, it has a rich creamy quality that reminds me of creme brulee.  That's not to say that the wine was soft.  On the contrary, there were plenty of bright citrus and floral notes like grapefruit and lemongrass that balanced out the full feel of the wine as we drank it.  It was a wonderful way to start a memorable afternoon of tasting.

We also tried a lovely Mourvedre based rosé, and their excellent lineup of red wines.  My favorite red was the Harrison Hill, a Bordeaux style red made mostly of Cabernet Sauvignon.  I thought it was a good example of a wine that straddles the fence between domestic Cabernet Sauvignon and Bordeaux.  There was plenty of ripe black currant fruit, maybe leaning a little toward blackberry, but that was all balanced out by complex layers of black olive, tobacco, green peppers, dried leaves, and cedar.  The wine did see 100% new oak, but as Chris explained, he takes the wine out of the oak barrels and transfers it to neutral barrels so that it doesn't take on too much of the oaky character.

Chris seemed devoted to letting the grapes make the wine rather then futzing too much with them in the winery.  He spoke passionately about wines and winemakers around the world that he loved and respected, and I was inspired by his fervor.  He's been making wine since the 70's and began Delille in '82.  You could easily consider him one of the pioneer winemakers in Washington.  He and his wife were proud to tell us that their wines are enjoyed at the White House, especially by Michelle Obama, who is partial to their rosé.  His hard work and dedication are obvious in his beautiful wines.

Matthews:  Stop number two was Matthews less than half a mile from the Delille Tasting Room.  In fact, they were recommended to us by the folks at Delille.  We found Warren, our taster, doing some work in the wine-making room behind the counter when we arrived on this quiet Tuesday afternoon.  He was a really pleasant guy who patiently answered lots of my questions, and even showed us around the winery a little.  I was fascinated to learn about the egg-shaped concrete fermentation vessels that they are using to make Sauvignon Blanc.  We weren't able to taste any, due to it being sold out for the vintage.  I had never seen or heard about anything quite like these things before, and it seems they are a new trend in wine-making.

Matthews Estate wines were delicious.  They were polished and had a finesse and elegance that I associate with some of the most expensive domestic red wines, but for a fraction of the price that they usually carry.  The oak was nicely incorporated, and again there was a level of restraint that I admired.  Of the three reds that we tasted, my favorite was their Syrah.

Warren explained that a portion of the proceeds of the sale of the Syrah go to charity, which I thought was quite noble.  I can't imagine that this small winery makes a ton of money, and to see them donating to a worthy cause was nice.  The wine itself was delicious.  There were juicy blackberry pie notes with a bit of peppery spice on the finish, yet it was focused and not over the top or jammy.  We bought three bottles to take with us.

Novelty Hill and Januik:  This stop included two wineries in one.  Both wines are made by the same winemaker, Michael Januik, formerly of Chateau Ste Michelle.  Laura, our taster, was congenial and outgoing.  The deal for tasting there is that you can pick any four wines to taste for $5, making it the best deal of the day as far as tasting fees are concerned.  We let Laura chose for us, and were glad we did.

I liked the Viognier and Sangiovese that she let us taste from Novelty Hill.  Both wines were delicious and easy to drink.  Being modestly priced, they had an impressive expression of varietal character, and were surprisingly complex.  Of the Januik wines, We tasted the Merlot and the Champoux Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon.  Both were also very good.  Again, they had restraint, but they were the most opulent in terms of fruit expression of the wines for the day.  I thought they both delivered in spades.

The tasting facilities and winery at Januik/Novelty were beautiful in and of themselves.  It was designed by a local Seattle firm and had a sleek and open feel to it.  There were large glass windows where you could watch the goings-on in the storage room full of barrels, and the tanks where the fermentation took place.  Laura told us that it had become a popular place to have weddings, and I could see why.  There was some obvious care taken in the decor and the layout of the grounds, which include a Bacci court, that made you want to stay a while and enjoy the afternoon there.  It was lovely.

Red Hook Brewery:  The final stop of the day was at Red Hook Brewery, producer of one of Seattle's local and most noted beers.  We had a bite to eat at the pub while we waited for the 4:00 tour to start.  What we didn't know is that we would be drinking five different beers over the course of the tour.  It was quite a surprise considering that the tour costs $1!  Our guide had a dead-pan delivery when he told jokes that made us smile from ear to ear.  We saw the fermentation vats and the way cool bottling line and he told us a little bit about this history of the brewery and how beer is made.

The most fun part of the tour however was that over half of the crowd had attended it before and they were not shy about drinking the beer that our guide was pouring and pouring and pouring.  This must be the best deal in all of Woodinville, Seattle, Washington, and possibly the entire country to get a good buzz on for cheap.  We didn't mind hopping on the bandwagon in this case with all of the delicious beers there were to taste.

All in all, a great day spent in Woodinville.  I was very impressed with the overall quality of the wines we tasted and convivial spirits that we met.  We learned a lot, tasted some great beer and wine and had fun in general.  It's beautiful country and we even had good weather in the rainy, and sometimes dreary Pacific Northwest.  It was an afternoon to remember.

Roasted Black Trumpet Mushrooms, Nettles, and Sunchoke Meyer Lemon Purée

This dish combines savory and sweet elements balanced with tartness and a touch of earthy bitterness from the Nettles and Meyer Lemon.  This was the first course in a celebratory dinner party that I made for two birthday celebrations.  I found all of the main components for the dish at the Ballard Market in Seattle, which is probably the best Farmers' Market I've ever been to.  For February, they had a remarkable variety of fresh produce and foraged items.  I was inspired by the bounty and beauty of the market to create this starter.

Black Trumpets are sometimes called Horn of Plenty.  They are shaped like a cornucopia and have a dark brownish/purple coloring, hence the name.  They can be cultivated successfully and often appear on restaurant menus in the winter months because they are one of the few flavorful mushrooms available in the winter.  To me, they have a fruity mild aroma and are more on the subtle side.  They are delicious roasted or sauteed on their own and they hold their texture nicely in soups and pasta dishes.  I love them for their dramatic presentation as well.

I've already written about Sunchokes at length.  Find out more about them by clicking here.  They give the puree its sweetness.  Meyer Lemons are a hybrid citrus fruit.  They are a crossing of lemons and mandarin oranges.  They have a sweeter profile than a lemon, but also a hint of floral bitterness on the finish that gives food a wonderful layer of complexity.  They are named for Frank Meyer, who allegedly introduced them to the US by way of the Department of Agriculture.

Stinging Nettles are something I was introduced to about a year ago by the Chef de Cuisine at my job.  Apparently, they are commonly eaten in the UK where he is from.  They taste like spinach, only milder, and like spinach are very nutritious.  To cook them, you must blanch them to remove the chemicals that "sting" you.  Boil them in salted water for three or four minutes and plunge them into an ice bath.  Squeeze the water out of them as you would cooked spinach, and then they are ready for a delicious saute.

Roasted Black Trumpets, Nettles, and Sunchoke Meyer Lemon Purée

Part 1: The Sunchoke Purée

1/2 pound Sunchokes, peeled and sliced
1 small shallot, minced
1 clove garlic, minded
1/2 Meyer Lemon, sliced
1 sprig of Thyme
1 Bay leaf
1/2 cup dry white vermouth
1/2 cup heavy cream
3 tablespoons butter
olive oil
salt and pepper
  1. Saute the shallot and garlic in olive oil until tender.
  2. Add the Sunchokes and brown them lightly.
  3. Add herbs, Meyer Lemon slices, and vermouth and bring to a simmer for about 20 minutes or until the sunchokes are fork tender.
  4. Remove from the heat.  Pick out the herbs and lemon wheels when cooled.
  5. Add heavy cream and puree the remaining ingredients with an immersion blender until silky smooth.  Run it through a find mesh strainer if you like.
  6. Correct seasoning with salt and pepper.
  7. Before serving, bring back up to heat and work in three tablespoons of butter, one tablespoon at a time with a whisk.  Add more cream to "loosen" the puree if necessary.  It should hold its shape on a plate.
For the Nettles:
  1. Melt a couple of tablespoons of butter in a skillet and saute half an onion until translucent.
  2. Add the prepared nettles and warm through.
  3. Season with salt and pepper.
For the Black Trumpets:
  1. Toss in olive oil and salt.
  2. Roast in a hot oven for about 3 to 5 minutes depending on the size of the mushroom.  They should be just warmed through and beginning to sizzle.

To plate:
  1. I used two dollops of the puree on hot plates and smeared them with the back of a spoon to created two comma shaped puddles.  We were celebrating two Pisces birthdays, so I wanted to imitate the astrological sign here.
  2. Spoon out a bit of the hot Nettle saute and nestle a couple of roasted Black Trumpets against it in the center of the plate.
  3. Garnish with fresh chives if you have them.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Picnic, Seattle

CQ is on the road again... This time I have traveled to Seattle for a few days and have already had so many blog-worthy adventures.  I am having so much fun that I have had a hard time sitting down to blog.  With a little free time this afternoon, I wanted to tell you about a great wine and food shop I discovered amongst yesterday's goings-on.  It's called Picnic.   You can find it in Seattle's Phinney Ridge neighborhood.  My friend André and I had a wonderful experience shopping there and chatting with owners of the place, Jenny and Anson Klock.

The concept of Picnic is that you can eat it there, or you can take it out with equal ease and satisfaction.  They offer a selection of soups, sandwiches, salads, charcuterie, and cheese on their menu, and they also host regular themed wine tastings for $8.  It's a fantastic concept that was modeled on some of the retail outlets in my neck of the woods, Boston.  It turns out that Anson has a brother who lives in the South End near some of my favorite places: The Butcher Shop and Formaggio Kitchen.  Having visited these Boston hot-spots, they were inspired to open a similarly styled place in Seattle.

I was impressed with their selection of wine.  They had maybe 100 to 150 different bottles, and it was obvious that each one had been carefully chosen by the owners.  Maybe a third of the selections were local from either Oregon or Washington.  I picked up four bottles from vineyards that I have not seen represented in Boston.  We drank and enjoyed three of the them at our dinner party last night and have one left for later in the week.  The wines were Efeste "Evergreen" Riesling, McKinley Cellars Chenin Blanc, Yellow Hawk Sangiovese, and Syncline "Subduction Red."  We will be having the Yellow Hawk Sangiovese with pizza from flying squirrel at a chamber music reading party tonight, and I'm looking forward to enjoying another of Washington's amazing wine offerings.

Jenny and Anson also sent us home with some cheese, pate, and bread.  They were gracious enough to let us sample quite a few things from their case, and we couldn't resist purchasing more food, even though we had already made quite a haul from the Ballard Market earlier in the afternoon.  Anson's country style pate was entirely made from ground pork and was studded with delicious herbs and he gave us pickled shallots, cornichons, and mustard to eat it with.  We relished its delicious flavor and wonderful even texture while we cooked up a storm for our celebratory dinner party that evening.  The baguette from Columbia City Bakery and Dinah's Cheese from Kurtwood Farms that they turned us on to were also a real treat.  Dinah's Cheese is a delicious gooey camembert style cheese that we admired for it's buttery unctuousness and creamy smooth spreadable paste.

I could have stayed and talked with Jenny and Anson for hours, but we had to pick up our friends after a rehearsal.  I don't think I could imagine a more warm and engaging couple of proprietors, and it turned out that we had quite a bit in common.  They are just the sort of people that you hope will open a business in your own neighborhood.  I was very happy to have found Picnic and I'll be telling everyone I know about it in Boston.  Maybe someday I'll be lucky enough to own a little shop just like it.  Until then, I'll be wishing I lived in Seattle so that I could go there for cheese, bread, wine, and pate once a week.  I wish them continued success and happiness in their wonderful shop, Picnic!