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TASTE Responsibly; Taste Fabulosity; Fabulous Taste!

I have two friends that are extra especially wonderful to eat with. They love to try everything and even better, they love to share everything! Lovely Kirsten was my first and you never forget your first. It was a girl’s weekend at the Salish Lodge: spa treatments, roaring wood fire (on the hottest day of the year), a pillow menu, wine, music and room service. If you could see my grin you would be suspicious of that weekend and perhaps you should. I love room service and that was the best ever. Then there was breakfast the next morning at a private table in the dining room where the coffee service alone was worth writing about. Such a nice memory.

Today I am writing about my other yummy foodie friend, Kat. We had the most wonderful evening last Wednesday! We chitty-chatted the whole way to Seattle and got blown into the Seattle Art Museum where we enjoyed the member preview of “Life, Liberty And the Pursuit of Happiness”, as well as a last look at Hopper’s Women. We were a wee bit early for our dinner reservation at the museum restaurant and yet happily the table was ready so they seated us right away. It’s a good thing, too, because we spent at least 15 minutes trying to figure out what we wanted to order. Since we had a reservation we had one of the perimeter booths that I love to sit at and view the entire room. The service was great and the food was impeccable! If you have yet to check out “Taste” just click on that link and see what they are about. The happy hour is great and everything on it over 6 bucks becomes 6 bucks from 3-6 pm. They also offer ‘flight and bites’ where they serve three cocktails tastes paired with three small bites from the menus. What a neat idea! They also serve a great lunch and of course you could just go in for the desserts menu and be quite pleased. For those with kids 12 and under they offer a 7-item menu where everything is just 5 bucks, and very kid friendly.

Kat and I were there for dinner, and as always we were in the mood to try as much as we could so we came up with a plan to share. Most entrees on the taste dinner menu are offered in half, or full size portions, exactly so that you can try more than one item and share your food. That is what great food is all about, right? Sharing! Enjoying it together! And that we did. The chef sent out an amuse bouche of cool (not cold) sun choke puree served in a sort of shot glass, with a drop of balsamic vinegar in the bottom that finished off the tease just perfectly. They also brought some bread and sweet butter, and in the breadbasket were some house made cheese ‘crackers’, which I just love! They were sliced more thinly than I have seen before and therefore super crispy and full of flavor. (Side note: Lori’s gramma Ellie made ‘crackers’ like these and passed the recipe on to Lori’s mom, Libby. Libby’s house is where I had them the first time and they are so fantastic!)

Our first taste was the squash and chickpea frites and they smelled like donuts! I know that sounds weird, and it sort of was, though they did not taste like donuts. I have not even eaten donuts, possibly since I was a kid, but when I worked for the King County Sheriff’s Office the district car used to bring in Chuck’s Donuts for the dispatchers and I remember that distinctive aroma. For the next course Kat ordered the wheatberry risotto (I think it was farro) with wild hedgehog mushrooms, beet green salad, and Willamette Fontina. The risotto far better than I even thought it would be (ok well, everything was that night…) because risotto is one of my favorite cooking methods and yet I have so far only done it with rice and pasta. I will now try it with farro to see if I can get anywhere near what they did. The beet green salad was great and since I adore beet greens that was not a stretch for me anyway. For that round I had Qualicum Beach scallops with winter vegetable ratatouille, celeriac puree and carrot reduction. The scallops were cooked perfectly: caramelized on the outside, tender and sweet inside. It was perhaps the cutest little plate that we had!

Our meal went for nearly two hours and we enjoyed the next course even more than the first. Kat had an organic chicken popover with smoked bacon, fried leeks and foraged mushrooms. The chicken was as tender as good gnocchi, the sauce a creamy mediator bringing the smokiness of the bacon and the earthiness of the mushrooms into perfect harmony. It truly was a symphony for the palate! My secondi was pork belly confit with yukon-horseradish puree, and pork-grapefruit gastrique (a thickened sauce that added a fantastic edge to the pork belly). I know most of us have not had pork belly, except in the form of bacon. The other times I have had it did not do it the justice that chef Hetherington did. As tender as pulled pork, it fell apart at the lightest touch, and so flavorful! At last we come to our shared dessert. the Theo chocolate orbit cake with sweet curry ice cream and lime yogurt. Ok, I know that sounds odd so let me explain. The cake was a flourless cake: rich and fudgy. Theo chocolate is sublime; dark and smooth and not sweet. It was surrounded by the lime yogurt, which at first I thought was crème fraiche, because it was not overly lime-y, but rather added a nice tart creaminess to each bite. Then the sweet curry ice cream. I think it was Thai red curry, only sweet with no heat, and sooo creamy. I LOVE CURRY ICE CREAM! I had no idea! I will attempt it home, may the force be with me, and I will let you know if I can do it. Yum!

I enjoyed a wonderful glass of wine with my courses. It was a blend (merlot, cab, cab-franc) by Ryan Patrick Vineyards “Rock Island Red” 2006, in the Columbia Valley. I will be hunting that wine down again, it was that good. Taste’s wine menu offers sparkling, white and red, and rather than categorize the wines by grape or region (they are all Washington and Oregon), they offer a description of the style of the wines, with tasting notes as the headline, and then they list the wines. My wine was under “Exotic/anise, tea, mocha, licorice and cinnamon to black pepper and clove”, just as an example. Every category offers one wine that you may order by the taste, the glass, the half bottle, or by the bottle. All the other offerings are by the bottle and their prices are quite reasonable for restaurant wine prices. We also had a couple of cocktails to start: mine was the Lusty Lady and I can’t remember what Kat’s was, other than I did not like it at all. Which was ok, cuz she did not like mine at all. Mine was grapefruity and I could drink it for breakfast! By the way, the Lusty Lady marquis could be seen clearly from our table and it read “Stimulus Package”! How great is that!

I know that it sounds like we had a huge feast and were totally gluttonous, and I must say that it felt like we were queens for a day! The portions were perfectly petite and we both left happily sated and certainly not stuffed. We were even able to nearly run up the hill to Benaroya and get seated just in time for Izhak Perlman to wheel out onto the stage and give a phenomenal performance on his violin. As many times as I have been to and loved Benaroya I have never seen the symphony there and so I have never heard that giant organ that is built into the back wall and this, of course, intrigues me. Kat told me about the New Year’s Eve bash they do there and I really want to see that! I am looking forward to the next season’s offerings.

On the way home, as Kat and I were reliving the wonderful evening it began to snow. We were on SR 16 and it looked like snow flakes swirling lightly in the headlights, and then suddenly it was a blizzard! I was up waaaay later than I am used to (it was after 11 pm!!!) and I thought I was in a dream warp! It was pretty and crazy due to the high winds. It capped off the night just right, in a flurry of fun!

With whom do you love to dine? What makes dining with that person (or people) special?

 

 

I had a very busy week! most of the days I got up early and worked for an hour or two, went to the cafe and got home in time to wash my face, crawl into bed and veg out for a half an hour before I fell asleep. Saturday morning I woke up at 1 am with a raging headache. I took some Tylenol and went back to sleep for 4 hours, then I got a couple of hours of administrative work in before we headed to the restaurant. I did everything I could think of to get rid of the headache, which was making me nauseas. I took stuff my naturopath gave me, I drank a little coffee, I had an Emergen-C, I drank a bunch of water, I ate some protein, and I took a really hot shower. It persisted ALL DAY LONG.

That afternoon we catered a baby shower upstairs for 20 guests, then turned the room around in record time and hosted an event for the Kitsap Wine Society. I was ‘on’ all day: cooking, serving, setting up, tearing down, pouring wines, discussing them, chatting with the guests and being what I hope was a good hostess. After clean up we got home at about 8:15 and I realized that I had not eaten since 11 am and I was feeling hungry. (The headache masked the hunger until then). We had some leftover roasted veggies (carrots and mushrooms and garlic, oh my) and salmon in the fridge (Mark bbq’d the salmon from our freezer a couple of days earlier and it was GOOD!) I was soooo tired and headachy! I washed my face and climbed into bed with the warmer on. Mark heated the plate of food and brought to me because he always takes such good care of me!

This food tasted so fantastic I can’t even explain it. It was roasted portabellas, roasted carrots and roasted garlic, tossed in olive oil, salt and pepper, with a small bit of provolone, a dab of goat cheese and a few pine nuts. He said he accidentally heated it too far and so the cheese had melted down onto the veggies, which were hotter than we would normally eat them. Mmmmm… I closed my eyes and enjoyed the flavors melding in my mouth. Then I had a bite of the coho that was lightly smoky and oh so flavorful. I wish I was in the mood for wine but my head hurt too much… though the pain was abating with all the comforts of home around me. It was simple and so fabulous.

Mark and I have really been trying to make an effort to have food in the house for dinner, as opposed to slapping together some cheese and crackers, or toasted cheese and tomato soup every night. Not that those things aren’t fine once in a while, but we were in a rut and it was getting old. Plus we were getting takeout more often than anyone needs to and that needed to stop as well. In the summer it is much easier, with all the fresh produce around we can always make a niciose salad or an antipasti platter and salad. So I have been planning ahead a bit and raiding the freezer on Sundays. Last Sunday I pulled out a gallon of soup left over from the Thanksgiving turkey carcass and thoroughly enjoyed eating that for a few days. Thank you Turkey!!! I had also pulled out some Lopez Island Farm pork chops and half way through the week Mark bbq’d them for us. I got home on Wednesday night, tired and hungry, and Mark had them all ready for me with some veggies and a piece of Puglese bread from Luigi’sthat he had heated on the grill as well. OH MY! I sent a kiss to Luigi when I tasted that bread! It was FANTASTICO! I am going back for more of that one for sure! I had also picked up a whole grain loaf that I had for breakfast and it was great as well. This Sunday I roasted a couple of chickens and cooked some beans and we will be eating them in various forms all week.

I want to tell you about the beans recipe that I made because it was simple food and so tasty! I will also tell you how I did the chickens, though that is probably something you have down already.

I happened to have some presoaked white kidney beans, but you could use canned beans if you wanted to for this, just rinse them well to get the canned taste off of them.

I chopped some pancetta (you could use bacon, or any pork bits, or nothing at all) and got it rendering in a bit of olive oil. I threw in some chopped onions, covered them for a few minutes until everything was releasing liquid and getting loosey-goosey. Then I put the lid aside and let the onions lightly caramelize for awhile. I pushed the pancetta and onions around to the perimeter of the pan and squeezed in a glob of tomato paste (I love those new tubes!) into the middle. Then I pushed it around until it darkened and had some color to it. I mixed it all up and it began to stick. I seasoned it with salt and pepper, and then poured in a bit of red wine to deglaze the pan and get all the sticky bits up off of the bottom. I poured in the beans, some sage, and the juice from a 28 oz can of San Marzano tomatoes. I crushed up the tomatoes in my hands and added them to the pan, then poured in some chicken stock (you could use water or veggie stock) until it was all swimming nicely, and topped it with fresh parsley. I let it cook for about 2+ hours, partly covered, and stirring on occasion. I uncovered and let it cook another hour maybe, so that the sauce thickened up allot and it was no longer soupy at all. I tested the beans to be sure they were done, and tasted for seasoning. I topped it with a bit more parsley and some excellent quality (read: sweet) balsamic vinegar and left the lid on while the chicken rested. Not allot of hands on work, just stirring once in awhile. I had grated some pecorino Romano to throw in but did not end up doing that because the seasoning would have been pushed too far and it would have been too salty.

For the chickens I did my usual trick of loosening up the skin all around it, smearing them in and out with olive oil, and then rubbing in a mixture of salt, pepper and herbs (sage, fennel, rosemary, oregano, thyme…) then stuffing them with lemons and grapefruit. (I had a bunch of left over lemon ends, but not quite enough, so I figured a half a grapefruit divided into the birds would do the trick) and it was so good! I put them on a roasting rack, in a roasting pan, breast side down. (This helps keep the breast meat juicier and more flavorful, but you lose the crispiness of the skin on whatever side is down.) I cooked them for about 15 minutes at 400, and then turned it down to 350. They were big birds, about 5 lb each, so they cooked for over an hour, then rested for about 15 minutes. We had the rest of Luigi’s breads with it and we will do different things with the leftovers for the rest of the week. Things like one of my favorite breakfasts: chicken on brown rice and mixed with hummus. Probably a chicken and veggie pasta, too. We will freeze the leftovers or make a dish with them that freezes and enjoy them again before winter is a memory.

Except for Wednesday. On that day Kat and I are going to have a day of culture. We are attending the member’s only preview of the new SAM exhibit “Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness” (I LOVE the American school, thank you Helen Bedtelyon) and then we will have dinner at Taste, the SAM’s phenomenal restaurant. We then have tickets to see Izhak Perlman at Benaroya and we are SO excited! He is one of Kat’s early inspirations to pick up a violin and I am so honored to be enjoying this concert with her! Kat will be driving us home because the show gets over long past my bedtime, and she is ok with that. It’s nice to have friends who understand my need for sleep!

Do you have a favorite headache cure? I used to get migraines in my 20’s, and lately I have been getting what I believe to be tension headaches. Who takes care of you when you exhausted? What is your simple comfort food?