Wednesday, June 30, 2010

First Homemade Dinner in Seattle: Braised Pork Shoulder and Sautéed Morels in a Red Sauce

The gift Seattle bequeathed to me was a bounty of sensory perceptions. When I bit into my first Northwestern peach, I thought I had stumbled upon the land of milk and honey. This was all I wanted to eat…until I had the cherries, no this must be it! I listened intently to soulful musical performances and had meaningful conversations with unnamed persons. Everything was throbbing with life. I don’t know if it was this city, this summer, this attitude I was taking, but “best” simply could not be pinned to one thing.
The city continually presented me pieces of its beauty: from the hand-made trinkets and hand-picked strawberries, lively hoola-hoop performances or fortune telling in the local park; I connected with all these trade masters in some way. Seattle was an experience for all my senses. My eyes glided to the tops and window ledges of buildings where I found leafy greenery erupting. My nose directed me to the mouth-watering, inviting scents of warm bread or Asian-inspired cooking. The people I met greeted me with familiarity, making available all the privileges of a long-awaited guest. It was odd staying in a hotel when so much of me thought I was home.
However, the hotel felt nothing like home. The tiny joke-of-a-kitchen was equipped with an easy-bake sized oven, a cheap stovetop with only two working burners and two pans, one mixing spoon, no knife. When I requested one, I got the awkward love child of a serrated and butter knife.

The better news was that the food I purchased from Pike Place Market was quite the spread. In my grocery bag was a French baguette, a tin of olive oil, a can of pureed tomatoes, two cuts of pork shoulder, three delightful little cipollini onions, a handful of brown, foam-like Washington morel mushrooms, purple garlic, fresh basil and a pasta artisan’s Rosemary Garlic linguine. Everything fresh or local; I could not be more pleased. Granted, I was handicapped by this awful excuse for a kitchen, but I would not let Seattle rain on my dinner parade [actually it didn’t rain until the day I left]. I brought the same sunshine and flavor to the table, even 3000 miles away from home.
Working with the bare minimum – we are talking salt and pepper packets – I created a phenomenal meal. The pork shoulder was bought from the last butcher in Pike Place; he was closing up shop that very day. The price was dirt cheap but the tenderness and taste were worth much more. The sweet cipollini onions and garlic complimented the braised pork and tomato, while the morels and Rosemary Garlic pasta acted as wonderful accents to the savory red sauce. With a dash of salt and pepper and some thinly sliced leaves of basil it was complete. Even out of my element, I still was able to create yummy delicacies. The following recipe is to be followed roughly, as I was not able to record everything at the time. But there is always room for experimentation!
Braised Pork Shoulder and Sautéed Morels in a Red Sauce
Olive oil
1 28 oz can pureed tomatoes, with juice
2 pork shoulders, bone-in
3 cipollini onions, chopped
2 cloves purple garlic, minced
5-6 morel mushrooms, sliced
Fresh basil, thinly sliced
Salt and pepper
Rosemary Garlic Linguine
1. In frying pan over high heat, heat olive oil for about 2 min.
2 Add pork shoulders; fry until well-browned on both sides – about 5-7 min.
3. Add can of tomatoes, onions, garlic, reduce heat to medium low and cover; cook until desired tenderness, about 15-20 min.
4. Meanwhile, heat water and cook pasta al dente.
5. In another pan, heat olive oil over medium heat. Add morels and cook until tender, but still retaining most of their shape and firmness. Add to red sauce. Heat for about 5 min.
6. Place pasta on plate, add pork, cover with red sauce, top with basil, salt and pepper.


Sunday, June 27, 2010

Piroshky Piroshky: Yep, So Good They Said It Twice

Thoughts of breakfast are the reason I wake up in the morning. My starved stomach rouses me from slumber, ravenously awaiting a sunrise sacrifice. Whether its cereal, eggs, toast, oatmeal, bacon, sausage, scrapple, pancakes, doughnuts, pastries, or anything else, breakfast is a wonderful thing to wake up to. But after visiting Seattle’s Piroshky Piroshky, I have a whole new reason to enjoy traditional “breakfast food” all day long.
Not having a nose in Seattle would be an awful shame. Piroshky may be along the same busy strip of small specialty food shops like it, but wander down and soon enough you will be enticed by the heavenly, wafting smells of sweet dough. As their sinisterly saccharine and savory baked goods lure you in, you will not protest.
There seems to always be a line, but once you sit down and begin pulling apart your warm, sticky-sweet Apple Cinnamon Roll, or piroshky, all can be forgiven. Fighting the urge to devour the decadence in one bite, I decided this has to be on the menu for my last meal on Earth. The dough melts on your tongue into cinnamon sugary bliss; it’s the sensation of dissolving cotton candy in your mouth, except imagine a thicker, richer, more “adult-version”.
After trying one of these Russian piroshkys, you will be enlightened – that should be enough to clear up any of those grey, typical “Pacific Northwest” skies. And for those without a sweet tooth, they have savory potato, cheddar and onion rolls, as well as ones featuring salmon, beef, spinach, mushrooms, etc. But really, who doesn’t have a sweet tooth?
Price wise, it may seem a little high. But that’s all before you begin eating it. Afterwards you won’t want your money back; actually, you will probably feel like tipping. Overall, it’s a must if you are down in Pike’s Place Market in Seattle. Just make sure you can find someplace to sit and enjoy it’s royal deliciousness.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Pig: From East to West Coast

After spending the past 10 days on an adventure of gastronomic proportions, I have found thine holy grail of meats: PORK. Whether you shudder or scoff at the decision, I assure you that it’s founded on the grounds of intrinsic, delicious taste. Admittedly, pigs are content to eat trash and bask in their own filth, so one might assume incorrectly that the following flavor would be of the same sort. However, I will let you in on the dirty little secret about the flavor. Pork may be the world’s other white meat, although, it’s no “chicken” when it comes to packing a powerful punch to the taste buds. Regardless of the form it comes in, pork gives you depth of flavor to a dish while complimenting the other ingredients as well. Anyway you want it, pork’s the way you need it.
Today, the competition lies between two pork prodigies: Seattle’s Salumi, a local salami shop known to sell out by noon owned by the parents of Mario Batali, and Philadelphia’s Tommy DiNic’s, a fast-paced Italian-style pork roast sandwich stop.
Here are the categories:
Location, Location, Location: DiNic’s is tightly packed into the culinary candy land that is Philly’s Reading Terminal Market, while Salumi is an unassuming hole in the wall near the Seattle International District. In both, the line wrapped around the vicinity; you could see the lunch-rush hunger in their eyes.
The All-Too-Overlooked Atmosphere: Salumi was a shotgun operation, meaning the building was long and skinny. Within its crowded walls, they squeezed in some ladies working a sandwich production line, cashier station, some samples of hanging ham hocks and salami, and a few scattered tables in the back. An endearing grandmother-figure was placed behind the front paned glass window, cheerfully punching out gnocchi on a lightly flowered surface. I seemed to have been teleported into an Old World salami shop.
DiNic’s was set up like a walk-thru diner: the vibrant red waxed countertops covered in delicious greasy sandwich paper, customers perched on silver cushioned bar stools; behind the counters were the soda tap and large stainless cooking appliances. A brawny, hearty crew carved up the tender pork and stuffed the sandwiches. While watching them a bit I determined there was much jostling and joking to be had between them. Hungry lunchtime mongrels pushed in and around the line; I swayed with the crowds, intoxicated by the smell of roasted pig and garlic.
The Order: Salumi’s Salumi Salami Sandwich, with a pesto spread, pickled peppers and onions and homemade mozzarella cheese. DiNic’s Pork Roast Hoagie with a garlic broccoli rabe and crumbly sharp provolone cheese.

For Our Frugal Friends, the Fee: DiNic’s was around $8 for a sandwich. Salumi was about $10. Granted, both these colossal sandwiches counted as two meals.
First Impressions and Final Thoughts: After waiting in line 30 minutes before Salumi opened [as the interwebs suggested], I was ready to enjoy this much-anticipated sandwich. I shuffled towards a tiny table with a sweating galss pitcher of water. My stomach grumbled; I had skipped breakfast in order to arrive here in time. I unfolded my sandwich, sizing it up. The bread was the most substantial part of the sandwich. They gave me A LOT. The thick white slice of fresh mozzarella looked heavenly, and the green pesto oozing underneath pickled peppers and onions added vibrant coloring to the sandwich. Oh, you want to know about the salami? Well, short answer: it left me wanting more, much more. What I could taste of the salami was very good, but I needed more material to work with. It was almost as if they were hiding the salami underneath all the bread and condiments. More bread just means more meat, right? The salami’s poor showing was an unsavory disappointment to the sandwich. Fortunately the solution may be as simple as more slices of salami.
We made it into Philly around noon. Although we had made breakfast only a short time ago, we made a bee-line for DiNic’s the minute we entered the Market. I would describe myself as uncharacteristically not hungry. All the same, I found myself in the presence of a mouth-watering, meat-stuffed, garlic-tinged sandwich that would not only arrest my senses but create a genuine sensation of unabated hunger. Incredible. The sandwich itself was definitely over a pound, and I’m happy to report that it wasn’t all bread and filler. The top layer was a blend of broccoli rabe greens with an impeccable garlic sauce. Not far beneath was a more-generous-than-Christmas amount of succulent roast pork literally dripping with its own juices. The sharp provolone made me a believer that most everything is better with a bite. This perfect combination was bundled in a happy little hoagie. After the first bite, my mind was blown. All I could think to say was “Oh my god…” as a smile crossed my face. A sandwich of this caliber blows even the native Philly Cheese Steak out of the water, no question. It’s just unfortunate that this was still categorically a sandwich because it was much, much more. You don’t even seem to care that you will be sweating garlic for the next few days, because this is a meal of the moment. It’s the kind of food epiphany that you won’t experience every day. I have suddenly become a strong proponent of déjà vu.
So, if you didn’t catch the winner as it raced by, it was DiNic’s Roast Pork Sandwich of Philadelphia’s Reading Terminal Market. If you are ever in Philly, do yourself [and your stomach] the favor. Oh and if you could, bring me back half? I feel like that’s a reasonable “recommendation service charge”.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

One Reason to Be a Jerk: Mexican Lime Beef Jerky

It’s like a thinly sliced, dried, portable steak. Once I perfect this recipe it shall be a staple for camping and hiking adventures to come [or maybe just cheap dates? hehe]. Either way this chewy, salty meat packs a punch and makes you work for your lunch.
I used this recipe from my June 2010 Food and Wine, which I did happen to enjoy, but it didn’t have that packaged appeal. For once, I wanted that! With so many recipes and variations, it seems that jerky is an art of trial and error. So I will try more attempts, using different methods and such, and will report back once I’m there.
Mexican Lime Jerky [Food and Wine June 2010]
2 large jalapenos, halved, 1 seeded
1 c fresh lime juice
32 oz light Mexican beer [I used Corona]
½ c soy sauce
Coarse salt, for sprinkling before drying
1. Take about 2 lbs trimmed beef top round or bottom round, about 1½ in thick, and cut into ¼ in-thick slices, either with or against the grain.
2. In a mini food processor, puree the seeded jalapeno with ¼ c lime juice. Transfer puree into large bowl, stir in beer, soy sauce and unseeded jalapeno and remaining ¾ c lime juice.
3. Add beef to marinade; stir well to coat each slice.
4. Cover and refrigerate for 6 to 8 hours.
5. Preheat oven to 200˚.
6. Set 3 large wire racks on top of 3 large rimmed baking sheets.
7. Remove beef from marinade and pat dry.
8. Arrange beef on the racks, about ¼ in apart.
9. Sprinkle with coarse salt.
10. Bake for 4 hours or until jerky is firm and almost completely dry but still chewy.
11. Let cool completely. Store in airtight container in fridge for us to 6 weeks.
Makes about ¾ lb.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Chocolate Concentrate : Chocolate Syrup

Orange juice comes from it. Lemonade, limeade, pineapple-banana-orange drinks do too. Chances are most people are familiar with the “from the concentrate” labels stamped on many favorite juices and drinks. You can even go deeper into the frozen section of your grocery store and find THE concentrate: the frozen, potent base to which you add water. So it brings us to the question of what the “concentrate” truly is and what it means. By definition, it is the just the base of flavor, sweeteners, basically anything besides the liquid you add once you make it. It can also be used as a burst of flavor in a dish or sauce without drastically increasing the amount of liquid. Yet, why is “concentrate” limited to just fruit juices? The term could surely be extended to other condensed products.

The homemade chocolate syrup I made last night was a decadent river of sweet chocolate that ran right into my cold glass of milk. With the twirl of my spoon I had rich and tasty chocolate milk, and the ingredients required to make this syrup were all found in my pantry.

This afternoon though, I wondered if I was limiting myself by considering this a syrup, and adding it exclusively to milk and ice cream. Thus, the experimenting began. Although I would eat the stuff straight, I assume that most would like to have options. First, I tried it in my vanilla yogurt. It turned out to be a nice sour twist on the super-sweet chocolate, and offered far more protein than if it were ice cream or frozen yogurt. Then I tried dipping apples in it: delicious, of course. Therefore, I’m sure strawberries, bananas, cookies or marshmallows would sing the same tune as well. It might even work as a coating if you were to freeze your chocolate covered treat; I have yet to try that once. I am still looking for more creative dipping or mixing ideas, but I think I might have over-binged on chocolate for the past day.

For now, I do consider this homemade recipe a chocolate concentrate, just because it is SO sweet and can act as a base flavoring for other things. I need only add about a spoonful to a glass of chocolate milk – and I like mine chocolatey! I urge you to expand your view towards chocolate syrup, and give it a go in other mildly flavored things. It surely will pump up the chocolate flavor.

Chocolate Concentrate


½ c cocoa powder

1 cup water

2 cups sugar

1/8 tsp salt

½ tsp vanilla


1. In a medium size saucepan, add cocoa powder and water. Whisk until well mixed.

2. Whisk in sugar over medium heat. Heat to boiling, make sure that sugar is dissolved: 3 min. [BE CAREFUL – IT WILL BOIL OVER IF UNATTENDED]

3. Add in salt and vanilla. Take off heat. Let stand and cool.

4. Put in glass jar or container.

5. Will stay fresh a lot longer than it will survive in a house full of chocolate lovers.

Makes about 2 cups.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Cooking the Beach: Malibu Mango Muffins

Picture yourself on a secluded beach, a cool citrus drink in hand. Underneath your toes is soft, warm sand. You hear only the swelling of waves, rushing the coast. A cool ocean breeze wafts scents of mangos, coconut and spiced rum. Above you a sunset is painting streaks of deep purple, brilliant orange and soft hues of crimson, gold and rose across a dimming sky. Now, make that description into a muffin.
This week, as the temperature climbs and the sun shines, I long for the beach. Unfortunately, I have not yet found the opportunity this summer. Instead of wishing and longing, I made proactive motions to bring it to me. Through cooking, I have unlocked the secret of the senses: I have made muffins that taste…like the beach [with less sand and no sunburn].
I found a recipe for mango muffins, in which few had faith [surprise, surprise]. It does seem an odd fruit for muffins, but that is only because creativity and cooking seldom go hand and hand in corporate, mass produced muffin mixes. This recipe was not so different. The depth of the flavor was barely below sea level, so I had to cast out the recipe and swim out to sea with my own wits of cooking about me. What emerged from the oven in just 20 minutes was blissful sunshine for my belly.
Although the batter gave smelled like tooty fruity, it was not as I expected once I tasted the finished product. These muffins were perfectly moist, sweet and beachy. Piping hot from the oven, they soaked up the butter with we soak up sunlight, and their soft, warm consistency melted in my mouth. Everything is worth eating nearly straight out of the oven, even on a hot day like today. Now the beach is only a grocery store away.
Malibu Mango Muffins
½ c whole wheat flour
¾ c all-purpose flour
2 T ground oatmeal
2 T brown sugar [heaping spoonfuls], and some for sprinkling on the top
½ t baking soda
1/8 t salt
¾ c mashed mango
2 T sugar
1 T and 1 ½ t canola or vegetable oil
1 egg, beaten
3 T milk
1 t rum
½ t coconut extract
½ t almond extract
1. Preheat oven to 350˚.
2. Meanwhile, mix together the first six ingredients in bowl.
3. Mash mango with sugar in a food processor. Then mix in bowl along with the oil, egg, milk, rum and extracts.
4. Add the liquid ingredients to the dry, mix batter to a sloppy, wet consistency [should be much runnier than cookie or bread dough].
5. Pour batter into about 8 large muffin cups or well-greased muffin tins; about ¾ full. Sprinkle with a pinch of brown sugar.
6. Bake muffins for about 20 minutes, or until golden brown. When pricked with a toothpick should come out clean. Cool.
7. Eat these muffins when they are hot with some butter :)