Thursday, May 27, 2010

Overnight Bread

I love making bread, but most of my bread is just sandwich and toast loaves. I get a bit intimidated by fancy loaves or artisan bread, but I am always willing to increase my bread baking repertoire. Recently I checked out from the library Peter Reinhart's Artisan Breads Every Day. His approach to bread is so scientific I felt like I was back in college reading through the cookbook. In fact, I got a little bogged down just reading through the information and almost didn't get around to baking anything from the book before it was due back at the library. I was determined that wasn't going to happen, so I buckled down, and made some bread, the day before I had to turn the book back in.

What bread, you ask? Oh, what bread - wild rice and onion. I love onions. The recipe was really simple. Make the dough the night before. Put it into a greased bowl, cover with plastic wrap and pop it into the fridge. In the morning I was greeted by an amazing sight - dough eagerly pressing against it's plastic containment field. I halved the dough and shaped one half into a boule and one half into a baguette.

Then, I had to go run an errand. Oops. My rising loaves got simply enormous! As soon as I got home I popped them into the oven. The smell of those baking loaves made me swoon! My bread tasters were quite cross that I wouldn't allow them to tear hunks form the bread as soon as it got out of the oven.

Verdict? Wonderfully good bread. Easy recipe to follow. This book is now on my Amazon wishlist. Try this recipe and I think you'll be sold, too.

Wild Rice and Onion Bread
-adapted from Peter Reinhart’s Artisan Breads Every Day

6 cups (765 g) unbleached bread flour
2-1/4 tsp salt, or 3-1/2 tsp coarse kosher salt
2 Tbsp instant yeast
1 cup (170 g) cooked wild rice (about 1/3 cup dry rice, cooked)*
1/4 cup (56.6 g) brown sugar
1-1/2 cups (340 g) lukewarm water (about 95 deg. F)
1/2 cup (113 g) lukewarm buttermilk, or any other milk (about 95 deg. F)
1/4 cup (28.5 g) minced or chopped dried onions, or 2 cups (227 g) diced fresh onion (about 1 large onion)**
1 egg white for egg wash (optional)
1 Tbsp water, for egg wash (optional)

* Since cooking the wild rice takes a long time, double the amount you cook and put 1/2 of the cooled rice into a ziploc bag and store it in the freezer for the next time you make the bread.

** If you use dried onions, you may have to add an extra 2 to 4 Tbsp of water while mixing.

Do ahead:

1- Combine all of the ingredients, except the egg wash, in a mixing bowl. With the paddle attachment at lowest speed mix for 1 minute. The dough should be sticky, coarse, and shaggy. Let the dough rest for 5 minutes.

2- Switch to the dough hook and mix on medium-low speed for 4 minutes, adding flour or water as needed to keep the dough ball together. The dough should be soft, supple, and slightly sticky.

3- Transfer the dough to a lightly floured work surface. Knead the dough for 2 to 3 minutes, adding more flour as needed to prevent sticking. The dough will still be soft and slightly sticky but will hold together to form a soft, supple, ball. Place the dough in a clean, lightly oiled bowl, cover the bowl tightly with plastic wrap, and immediately refrigerate overnight or for up to 4 days. (If you plan to bake the dough in batches over different days, you can portion the dough and place it into two or more oiled bowls at this stage)

On Baking Day:

1- Remove the dough from the refrigerator about 2 hours before you plan to bake. Shape it into sandwich loaves (using 28 oz of dough for 4-1/2 by 8-inch pans, and 36 oz of dough for 5 by 9-inch pans) or baguettes or boules or rolls. Proof the dough in the greased loaf pans, or on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper or a silicone mat.

2- Mist the top of the dough with spray oil and cover loosely with plastic wrap. Let the dough rise at room temperature for 1-1/2 to 2 hours, until it’s about 1-1/2 times its original size. Optional, brush the top with egg wash just before they’re ready to bake.

3- Preheat the oven to 350 deg. F. Bake the loaves for 10 to 15 minutes, then rotate the pan; rotate rolls after 8 minutes. The total baking time is 45 to 55 minutes for loaves and 20 to 25 minutes for rolls. The bread is done when it has a rich golden color, the loaf sounds hollow when thumped on the bottom, and the internal temperature is about 185 deg. F in the center.

Cool on a wire rack for at least 20 minutes for rolls or 1 hour for loaves before slicing.

Monday, May 24, 2010

DIY Dessert

My husband and I rarely go out for dinner. Weird as it may seem, I don't find eating out relaxing. My everyday wear is jeans and Danskos, so to dress up and put on a skirt and heels isn't relaxing. I worry about the hygiene in the kitchen. Did our server look like the kind of person to spit in our food? And I fret about the cost. Why should I pay outrageous prices for something that I can jolly well cook myself for a fraction of the cost? And tip on top of that??

For my husband's sanity and the sake of our marriage, I've reached a compromise. I'll happily go out if I can wear my jeans and comfy shoes, if the caliber of the restaurant suggests cleanliness is not a special order, and if I can order something that's too time-consuming or tricky for me to make at home.

Recently hubs and I had just such a dinner out. It was lovely and we both enjoyed our food. But when we looked at the dessert menu, it just wasn't right. There was nothing deeply chocolatey. While we scanned the menu, we bounced ideas back and forth about the perfect dessert for that moment. We arrived at fudgey brownies with cherries and a dark chocolate cherry ganache. That wasn't on the menu, so when we got home I made them. Mmmmm, perfect ending for the best dinner out in a long time!

Cherry Brownies with Chocolate Cherry Ganache

1/2 cup (125 g) unsalted butter, cut into 4 pieces
3 oz (90 g) unsweetened chocolate, finely chopped
1 cup (220 g) sugar
Pinch of salt
2 large eggs, at room temperature
1 tsp vanilla extract
3/4 cup (90 g) cake flour, sifted
1/2 cup chocolate chips
1/2 cup drained, chopped canned sour cherries (juice reserved)
1/2 cup heavy cream
4 oz. bittersweet chocolate, chopped

1- Preheat the oven to 350 deg. F. (180 C). Line an 8-inch square baking dish with aluminum foil, leaving at least 2 inches hanging over the edge of the pan, and lightly grease the foil.

2- In a saucepan over low heat, combine the butter and chopped unsweetened chocolate. Heat, stirring often,until melted, about 4 minutes. Remove from the heat and stir in the sugar and salt. Add the eggs and vanilla and stir until well blended. Sprinkle the sifted flour over the mixture and stir until just blended. Gently stir in the chips and chopped cherries.

3- Pour the batter into the prepared pan and spread evenly. Bake the brownies until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out almost completely clean, about 30 to 35 minutes. Crumbs may cling to the toothpick. Do not overbake, or you'll lose that marvelous fudgey texture!

4- Transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

5- While the brownies are cooling, make the ganache. Place the reserved juice from the sour cherries plus enough juice to equal 1/2 cup into a small saucepan. Cook over medium heat, stirring often, till the juice is reduced and is the consistency of syrup.

6- Add the cream to the saucepan and warm just till small bubbles appear around the edges. Pour the cherry-cream mixture over the chopped bittersweet chocolate. Let it sit for a few minutes, then stir until all the chocolate is dissolved.

7- Pour the ganache over the brownies and let them sit for an hour for the ganache to set up. This can be speeded up by popping the brownies into the refrigerator for 20 minutes.

8- When the ganache has set, pull the brownies out of the pan, using the foil as handles. Set them on a cutting board and peel back the foil. Cut into 16 or 25 squares (depending on how big you like your brownies).

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Resistance is Futile

Drat those cravings. You know how it is. A thought that niggles at the back of your brain, tickling you at odd hours, nudging you in quiet moments, gently clearing the throat, and, if you don't cave in to the craving, it is eventually shoving you in the chest and slapping you upside the chest. Yes, my cravings are not to be trivialized; they're a force to be reckoned with.

My most recent craving was lemon and poppyseed. I'll blame Whole Foods. They have those adorable mini-scones in lemon and poppyseed. Of course, I'd never pay those prices, but still, the idea of lemon and poppyseeds stayed with me, badgered me, and generally made my subconscious pester me until I screamed, "Uncle, uncle!"

Well, I didn't really scream, but I did bake. I pondered scones, muffins, and cookies, and eventually settled on shortbread. I'm normally a soft, squishy cookie kind of gal, but I like the restrained elegance of shortbread. This recipe gave me shortbread that is the perfect companion to a cup of tea of a mug of coffee. Subtly sweet, with a lingering flavor of poppyseeds and tangy lemon on your tongue.

Now that I've got you thinking lemon and poppyseed, you know you want them.....go ahead, give in. It will only get worse if you resist!

Lemon Poppyseed Shortbread Cookies
- adapted from Great Cookies by Carole Walters

1-3/4 cups all-purpose flour, spooned in and leveled
1/2 cup rice flour, spooned in and leveled
1/4 tsp salt
3 Tbsp poppy seeds
1 cup ( 2 sticks) unsalted butter, slightly softened
2 Tbsp freshly grated lemon zest
1/2 tsp lemon oil
1/2 cup superfine sugar
2 oz white chocolate, melted, for garnish (optional)*

1- Preheat the oven to 300 deg. F with a rack in the center of the oven. Line a 9 -inch square baking pan with a 15-inch square sheet of heavy-duty aluminum foil.

2- Sift the flours and salt together three times. Stir in the poppy seeds and set aside.

3- In the bowl of an electric mixer with the paddle attachment, cream the butter on medium-low speed until smooth and creamy. Add the lemon zest and lemon oil and mix for 1 minute. Add the sugar gradually, then mix for 1 minute longer, scraping the bowl as needed.

4 - Remove the bowl from the machine and, using a wooden spoon, cut half of the dry ingredients into the butter mixture until almost incorporated. Work in the remaining flour with the spoon or by hand, adding it in 5 or 6 additions. Gently knead the mixture just until a smooth dough is formed. Be careful not to overwork the dough, as this results in tough cookies.

5- Press the dough evenly into the pan. Be sure the dough is pushed to the corners and is even throughout. Clean the edges of the pan by inserting a spatula in between the dough and the sides of the pan

6- Bake the shortbread for 55 to 60 minutes. Remove from the oven and let rest for 10 minutes. (Keep the oven turned on!)

7- Use the foil to remove the shortbread from the pan to a baking sheet without a rim. Peel back the foil so it releases from the sides of the cookies. Using a long, serrated knife, cut five 1-3/4-inch strips. Turn the foil a quarter turn and repeat the cuts to form 25 squares. Spread the cookies apart and return them to the oven for 10 more minutes to dry and crisp.

8- Remove from the oven and let cool for 5 to 10 minutes before transferring to a cooling rack.

9- (Optional garnish) Pour the tepid melted white chocolate into a small plastic squeeze bootle or a pastry bag fitted with a #2 decorating tip. Move it back and forth over the cookies to create squiggly lines of chocolate. You can also dip a fork into the melted chocolate and drizzle it over the cookies. Let the cookies stand at room temperature until the chocolate has set.

Store the cookies in an airtight container between layers of wax paper for up to 3 weeks.

*The drizzle on the top is just for show, to dress up the cookies for company. Tastewise, it doesn't really need it.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Inspired Baking

I know that authors at book signings dread the inevitable question, "Where do you get your ideas from?" The question is dreaded not just because it ends a sentence with a preposition, but because everyone asks it and the answer is always the same - "From all around me."

As a baker I feel the same way (not about the press of fans demanding my signature), that inspiration is all around me. I have endless inspiration in my cookbooks, magazines, and the food blogs I visit. So why is it King Arthur feels they need to send me food porn in the mail? I visit their website, I get their emails, why do I need a catalog? Because the sneaky marketing geniuses know that the catalog will follow me from kitchen to bathroom to bedroom, that I'll mark items and dog ear pages, and I'll end up ordering.

This time around the thing that grabbed my attention was a gorgeous seeded boule. Skimming through the ingredients I saw that I had everything to make it except the harvest grains blend. Well, I didn't want to have to wait for grains to be shipped clear across the country so I went on a grain buying binge at Whole Foods' bulk section. (Take that, sneaky marketing geniuses!)

The bread was easy to make and so tasty! We had it with grilled salmon for dinner, then used it to make panini sandwiches the next night (the chicken sausage, gruyere, and carmelized onion sandwiches from this month's Fine Cooking).

I'll give you the recipe with the grain substitutions I made, but you can go the easy way and order the blend from King Arthur. And the sneaky marketing geniuses? Don't feel badly for them; their job is secure. I put in an order. Didn't order the grains, but I did need a few things....

Multi-Grain Boule
- adapted from King Arthur Flour

1 cup (8 oz) boiling water
1 cup ( 5 oz) mixed grains*
2 cups (16 oz) sourdough starter, fed and ready to use
1-3/4 cups (7 oz) white whole wheat flour
1-3/4 cups (7-1/2 oz) King Arthur Unbleached all-purposed flour
2-1/2 tsp salt
1-1/2 tsp instant yeast
2 Tbsp vegetable oil

1 Tbsp of mixed sesame, flax, and poppy seeds

* I used a mixture of millet, sunflower seeds, poppy seeds, amaranth, flax seeds, sesame seeds, and flakes from Raisin Bran

1- Place the mixed grains in the large bowl of an electric mixer. Pour the boiling water over it. Let it cool to lukewarm.

2- Add the fed sourdough starter and the remaining dough ingredients. Mix until it is a soft dough, adding additional water or flour as needed.

3- Cover the dough in the bowl, and let it rise until it's almost doubled, about 1 to 1-1/2 hours.

4- Turn the dough out onto a lightly greased work surface and gently fold it over a few times to deflate it. Shape it into a large round. Spray a large, round baking dish with non-stick baking spray and sprinkle it with cornmeal. Place the dough round into the baking dish, cover it with plastic wrap, and let it rise until it's very puffy, about 1 to 1-1/2 hours.

5- While the dough is rising preheat the oven to 425 deg. F.

6- Just before baking, brush the dough round with water and sprinkle with the topping seeds. Use a lame or a very sharp knife to make four slashes across the top of the loaf, in a cross hatch pattern.

7- Bake the bread covered for 40 minutes. Uncover the loaf and continue to bake 10 to 15 minutes, until the loaf is golden brown and an instant-read thermometer inserted in the center registers 190 deg. F.

8- Remove the bread from the oven. Let it rest for 5 minutes, then remove it from the baking dish and cool it on a cooling rack.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

TDF Brownies

I once heard a motivational speaker who was a former beauty pageant queen and she was from the deep South. Every word she said had honey-coated twang. It might just have been that accent that made such an impression, but I can still hear her saying, "Y'all talk death too much!" (Phonetically, that would be, "Yahl tahk dayeth tew muuch.")

You hear death all the time in every day expressions. "These shoes are killing me." "I was so embarrassed I wanted to die." "She was dressed to kill." "I was worried to death." "I could have died laughing." Why are we so obsessed with death? Why not celebrate life?

With that bit of background, you can understand that I approached a new cookbook a bit tentatively. Brownies to Die For . Really? Would you trade the rest of your life for a brownie? I doubt it unless your life was unbelievably horrific or the brownie was astonishingly good. Even then, I doubt it.

But the brownies I made from this book were really good. Really, really good. So, if you like peanut butter and chocolate together, give them a try. And if you feel like your life is a scene from a horror movie, try the brownies. They might give you something to live for and help you to hang in there one more day.

Brownies Worth Living For
(aka Peanut Butter Swirl Brownies)

adapted from Brownies to Die For - Bev Shaffer
Yield: 2-1/2 dozen


---- Brownie Base ----

4 oz. unsweetened chocolate, coarsely chopped
2/3 cup unsalted butter
2 cups granulated sugar
4 large egg, lightly beaten
1 tsp. pure vanilla extract
1 1/4 cups unbleached white flour, all-purpose
1 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. salt
4-5 oz. semisweet chocolate, coarsely chopped

---- Peanut Butter Marble Base -----

3/4 cup crunchy peanut butter*
1/3 cup unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
1/2 cup light brown sugar, firmly packed
3 tbsp. unbleached white flour, all-purpose
1/2 tsp. pure vanilla extract
1 tbsp. milk, whole or 2 percent
2 large egg, lightly beaten

---- Chocolate Frosting ----

2 oz. unsweetened chocolate, coarsely chopped
1 oz. bittersweet chocolate, coarsely chopped
3 tbsp. unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
2 3/4 cups confectioners' sugar, sifted
1/4 tsp. salt
1 tsp. pure vanilla extract
4 tsbsp milk, whole or 2 percent

(* I didn't have crunchy peanut butter, so I chopped about 1/4 cup unsalted peanuts, put them in a 3/4 cup measure, and filled the rest of the measuring cup with smooth peanut butter)


1) Heat oven to 350°. Grease a 13x9 baking pan

2) For the Brownie Base: In a med saucepan over low heat, melt the chocolate and butter, stirring to blend. Remove pan from heat and whisk in sugar, eggs, and vanilla. Stir in flour, baking powder, and salt. Gently stir in chocolate pieces. Spread half of the Brownie Base into prepared pan.

3) For the Peanut Butter Marble Base: In a medium bowl with an electric mixer, combine peanut butter and butter. Add sugar and flour, blending well. Mix in vanilla, milk, and eggs—blending until smooth. Spread Peanut Butter Marble Base over Brownie Base. Spoon remaining Brownie Base evenly over Peanut Butter Marble Base. Pull a knife through the layers in a zigzag motion to create marbling. Bake for 35 to 45 minutes or until a cake tester or toothpick inserted near the center comes out with a few moist crumbs attached. Cool pan completely on a wire rack.

4) For the Chocolate Frosting: Melt chocolates and butter in a medium saucepan over low heat, stirring often until mixture is combined. remove saucepan from heat. Whisk in sugar, salt, vanilla, and enough milk to make a soft, spreadable frosting.

Frost cooled brownies. Cut into bars. Makes about 2 1/2 dozen.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Granola Bars on Simple Bites

Tomorrow I'll post something rich and chocolatey, but today you can skip on over to Simple Bites to read my article about granola bars. Make the bars today and you'll feel healthy enough to take on the coming decadence!

Monday, May 10, 2010

Marshmallows, New & Improved!

The very first thing I ever posted on my blog was marshmallows. I'd wanted to try making them for years and starting my blog was the excuse I needed to take the plunge. Since then I've made them hundreds, dozens, well, lots of times. I love watching the alchemy which transforms gelatin and sugar syrup into billowy pillows of sweetness. I've made them vanilla, peppermint, and fruit flavored, so you might wonder why I'm giving myself a High Five award on yet more marshmallows.

I know candy is not anyone's definition of health food, so it might seem foolish to try and make it healthier, but I am concerned about using corn syrup. Since High Fructose Corn Syrup hit my radar several years ago, I've been trying to keep it out of my house. How disheartening is was to learn that the dreaded HFCS had snuck into my regular corn syrup! I still have it in my pantry, but try to use it only sparingly. (David Lebovitz wrote a terrific post about when and why to use corn syrup here.)

So it was with delight that this marshmallow-making fan found a book called Marshmallows, which has a method for making your own syrup to replace corn syrup. The result? Not a settle for marshmallow. Not an "it's OK, but I'm wistfully thinking of the other kind" marshmallow. This made better marshmallows. Softer, fluffier, not as gummy. My family loved them and all gave them two sticky thumbs up. Woo hoo!

Because you have to make the syrup before you can make the marshmallows, this works out well as a multi-day project.

"Healthier" Marshmallows
- adapted from Marshmallows, Homemade Gourmet Treats

Marshmallow Syrup
- makes about 1 quart

2 cups water
5-1/3 cups granulated cane sugar
1 tsp cream of tartar
Pinch of salt

1- In a heavy 4-quart pan, combine all the ingredients, stirring until the sugar is moistened. Place over medium-high heat and bring to a boil. Cover the pan for 2 minutes so the steam will wash any sugar crystals from the sides of the pan.

2- Uncover the pan, place a candy thermometer in the sugar mixture, and increase the heat to high. From this point on, do not stir! Continue cooking until the thermometer reads 240 deg. F.

3- Remove the pan from the heat and let the syrup cool for 15 minutes. Ladle* it into clean jars and attach lids.

Store the syrup at room temperature for up to 2 months. If the syrup begins to form crystals at the bottom of the jar, pour out the amount of syrup you need when you use it, without scraping the jar. Discard any crystallized part that is left in the jar.

* Ladle is important. I poured and the syrup picked up sugar crystals from the side of the pan and began crystallizing in the jar.

Note: The syrup will be very thick once it cools. To use it, microwave uncovered for 2 minutes on high power, or place the jar in a pan of hot water over low heat until it can be poured easily. Do not stir the syrup.


1/2 cup + 2 Tbsp cold water
1-1/2 tbsp pure vanilla extract
3 Tbsp unflavored gelatin
3/4 cup water
1-1/4 cups Marshmallow Syrup (above)
Pinch salt
1-1/2 cups granulated sugar
Coating mixture (step 7)

1- Spray the bottom and sides of a 9 x 13 pan with cooking spray and wipe it lightly with a paper towel, leaving only a thin film of oil. Set up a stand mixer with whisk attachment in place.

2- Measure the cold water into a measuring cup and add the vanilla. Place the gelatin into a small bowl and pour the water mixture over it, stirring until there are no lumps. Set the bowl near the stove.

3- Place the 3/4 cup water, the Marshmallow Syrup, salt, and sugar, in that order, into a 4-quart pan. Bring the mixture to a boil over medium-high heat. Cover the pan with a lid and allow it to boil for 2 minutes to wash down the sugar crystals on the sides.

4- Remove the lid, place a candy thermometer in the pan, and continue boiling until the syrup is 250 deg. F. Once the lid is removed, do not stir the mixture! Remove the thermometer and gently stir in the bloomed gelatin.

5- Pour the batter into the bowl of the stand mixer. Beat it on high for 10 to 12 minutes. At first the batter will look very watery, but as it beats, it will become thick, white and glossy and will increase in volume by two- or threefold.

6- Remove the bowl from the mixer stand and spread the batter into the prepared pan. Smooth the top with a spatula. Let the pan sit uncovered at room temperature for at least 4 hours or overnight.

7- Sift together 3/4 cups confectioners' sugar and 1/4 cup cornstarch. Lightly sprinkle a work surface with the mixture. Ease the marshmallows away from the sides of the pan and flip the pan over, releasing the marshmallows onto the cutting surface. Cut the marshmallows into squares, or use cookie cutters to cut fancy shapes. Toss the cut marshmallows in the powdered sugar mixture, shaking off any excess.

Place the coated marshmallows in an airtight container, with wax paper between the layers, and leave a corner of the lid slightly ajar. They will keep at room temperature for up to 2 weeks.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Treasure In My Backyard

I have an embarrassing confession to make. I have a something amazing that's just a 15 minute drive from my house and I almost never go there. It's downtown Seattle. There is soooo much to see, do, and eat there, but I just don't go there. When out of town visitors come, I'm pretty clueless about advising them where to go and what to see.

Well, I used to be clueless, now I'm totally up on what's the best thing to do in Seattle. When in Seattle you must take the Seattle Bites Food Tour of the Pike Place Market. The lovely and gracious Val of More Than Burnt Toast arranged a tour for a group of Seattle area and Canadian food bloggers and we had such fun!

Our tour guide was Jan Marie Johnson, an amazing bundle of energy, knowledge, and fun. She had a huge smile on her face and a cheerful word of greeting for everyone in the market. No wonder she recently was voted #1 Food Tour Guide in the Northwest! Plus, she brought along her kind husband, Mark, who also worked hard to make sure everyone had a good time. They moved to Seattle when they fell in love with the city and Jan Marie is enthusiastic about the history, the culture, and the people of Seattle.

We started our tour at TASTE restaurant, located inside the Seattle Art Museum. Alex, the general manager, told us about the focus of the restaurant, the passion for local sourcing of all the ingredients (well, not the olive oil, salt, or capers), and using fresh, seasonal ingredients with a respect for their source.

While we tasted flatbread made from Eastern Washington wheat, topped with creme fraiche from a local dairy, locally grown herbs, and hand-netted salmon, he talked passionately about the food, the art, and the experience that is available at TASTE.

A quick trot up the street took us to Pike Place Market. Jan Marie's tour weaves in a lot of local history, so as we walked, she talked to us through headsets about the people and events that shaped this area. I won't bother to try and tell you everything I learned because the tour was over three hours, but this was one of my favorite parts of the tour.

We tasted all along the tour. Nutella crepes with bananas (Crepe de France),

Pastrami on Rye with dill pickles (all but the bread flown in from New York by I Love New York Deli) - it's so funny to watch food bloggers do sample tastings. We all had our cameras out taking pictures of the food before we could eat.

Gourmet sausages from Uli's Famous Sausage, Inc

Salmon from Pure Food Fish Market. They have beautiful fish and they will ship it for a small charge. Fresh salmon for Mother's Day?

And then we hit Pike Place Chowder. They won the Chowder competition at Newport, Rhode Island for 3 years running before being inducted into the hall of fame. It is seriously the best chowder I've ever tasted. I'm taking my husband there for a date night.

A quick stop at Corner Produce to ogle the produce and sample the wares.

Then on to a coffee tasting at Seattle Coffee Works. If you're into coffee, this is a must-see destination in Seattle. They roast their own beans in house. They have about a dozen different coffee extraction methods. And they have super nice, knowledgeable staff.

This lovely lady educated us about the terroirs of the various coffee-growing region and demonstrated the vacuum-extraction method of making coffee. We called it the coffee bong. It was pretty cool to watch the water burble up into the coffee grounds, then get sucked back into the bottom beaker.

Jan Marie gave us each a stick of gum to cleanse our palette's for our next stop, then showed us where we could put it. On the gum wall. Artfully disgusting.

Our final stop was La Buona Tavola where we were plied with Prosecco and tempted with pictures of the tours they offer to Italy to sample the local wines. Our host's enthusiasm for Italy was contagious. I want to go!

I apologize if this post is a bit of gushing overload, but there was so much to see and learn on this tour that I really wanted to share it with you. When I got home form the tour I was buzzing till dinnertime, talking non-stop about all the amazing things I'd learned and the wonderful food I'd tasted. I think my husband was looking for the off switch after about an hour.

If you're in the Seattle area, whether you live here or are just visiting, I highly recommend that you go on theSeattle Bites Food Tour. Call 425-888-8837. You'll love it!

Monday, May 3, 2010

She Who Kills Plants

When I went to summer camp, everyone got cool "camp names." The counselors would bestow a moniker based on a preference, an attribute, or just something weird. Then when you got home you could drive your family nuts going on and on about the great times you had with Poncho, Slipknot, Flames and Bubbles.

If I had a camp name today, it would probably be something like Black Thumb. I am one of the world's worst gardeners. Every winter the seed companies send catalogs which I thumb through imagining a beautiful, bountiful garden like those pictured. I think they must use some sort of hallucinogen-based ink, because I forget about my attempts at gardening that have ended in shriveled, withered, bug-infested pathetic bits of greenery and begin to think that this might be the year for me.

I've tried growing starts from seed, buying starts at the nursery, and have now graduated to buying and bringing home plants, which promptly die. Seriously, I just bought a lovely, big basil plant at Trader Joe's and in two days the leaves started turning black and curling up. It's now hanging on by a thread.

The only success I've experienced is with blueberries, my faithful friends that produce every year and require almost no maintenance. Also, a newcomer to my garden has surprised me. Rhubarb has come back two years running! I am so delighted to see the lovely, large fans of greenery waving to me from the back of the yard. They beckon to me, saying, "Hey, I'm here. I survived the winter and the weeds. Come pick me and enjoy a delicious treat!"

For my first rhubarb of the season I tried a new frozen dessert. Pairing rhubarb with strawberries is almost a cliche, but I can stand the sting of being unoriginal with a lovely bowl of strawberry-rhubarb sherbet in hand. Lighter than a custardy ice cream, it's lovely on its own, but also pairs beautifully with crispy sugar cookies, brownies, or a slice of strawberry rhubarb pie (just in case you can't get enough of the yummy flavor combo).

Strawberry-Rhubarb Sherbet
- adapted from Williams-Sonoma Ice Creams and Sorbets

2 Tbsp water
1 tsp unflavored gelatin
1 lb. (500 g) rhubarb, sliced
1 lb. (500 g) strawberries, sliced
1-1/2 cups (375 g) sugar
1-1/2 cups (375 g) whole milk
1/2 cup (125 ml) light corn syrup

1- In a small cup, sprinkle the gelatin over the water. Let stand for 10 minutes to soften.

2- Meanwhile, in a large heavy saucepan, combine the rhubarb and strawberries with the sugar. Place over low heat and stir until the strawberries release their juice. Turn up the heat to medium and stir until the sugar dissolves, about 3 minutes. Continue cooking, stirring occasionally, until the rhubarb is tender, about 5 minutes.

3- Add the gelatin mixture to the hot rhubarb mixture and stir until the gelatin dissolves, about 1 minute.

4- In a food processor fitted with the metal blade or in a blender, purée the rhubarb mixture until smooth. Pour the purée into a large bowl. Add the milk and corn syrup and stir to blend. Refrigerate until cold, about 1 hour.

5- Transfer the sherbet mixture to an ice cream maker and process according to the manufacturer's instructions. Transfer the sherbet to a container; cover and freeze until firm.

Makes about 5 cups (1.25 l)