Earlier this year, I decided to join a community-supported agriculture (CSA) program. A CSA is a way for farmers and a community of individuals to join together in a mutual partnership. There are many different CSA models out there, but the most common scenario is where individuals make a financial commitment to a farm, thereby becoming members or shareholders of that farm. In return, members are given a share of the farm’s bounty during the growing season, usually in the form of weekly deliveries of fresh produce. The benefits for the farmers are a guaranteed, steady source of income and the opportunity to talk directly with their consumers. Also, since most CSAs require advance payment, the farmers receive the money at the beginning of the season when it is needed most. Although there are risks involved with joining a CSA (poor harvests mean less produce for everyone), the benefits for the members are numerous: delicious, healthy produce throughout the season, knowledge of exactly where that produce comes from and sense of community and connection with a local farm.

After a little bit of research, I finally decided to join the CSA program at Boistfort Valley Farm. I was tempted at first to go with one of the biggies. Pioneer Organics and Full Circle Farm both offer CSA-like programs in which you get a weekly box of organic produce delivered. They offer a lot of conveniences including year-round delivery and picking & choosing your produce online. But, they also supplement their deliveries with produce from California and Mexico, especially in the winter. I decided that wanted to go with a more traditional CSA where everything comes from a single local farm and whatever those farmers feel like growing that year is what you get. Once I figured that part out, it was really just a matter of finding a farm that delivered to Capitol Hill and had a delivery day that worked well with my cooking schedule. Boistfort Valley Farm fit the bill perfectly. Plus, I liked their website and they were really sweet when I e-mailed them with my questions.

Today, my first box of Boistfort Valley Farm produce arrived! I headed over to the Capitol Hill drop site after work, lugged the box home and excitedly opened it up as soon as I walked in the door. Inside was an amazing array of vegetables, more than Robert and I will probably be able to consume in a week unless I start cooking on the weekends. There were two huge heads of lettuce (romaine and red oak leaf), a bunch of red chard, beets with greens, baby carrots, baby bok choy, easter egg radishes, cilantro, mint, 2 pints of strawberries and a bouquet of fresh flowers. There was also a friendly newsletter explaining what was what and offering some recipes. Figuring out creative ways to use all of this produce will be a fun challenge. For dinner tonight, I made pasta with cilantro-mint pesto, roasted beets and carrots, and a huge salad of mixed greens and radishes with an ume vinaigrette. The strawberries will be for dessert. Everything was so fresh and delicious. I can’t wait to see what the next 19 weeks of boxes will bring!

Yesterday was my birthday. I never do anything too crazy for my birthday. I do like to use it as an excuse to eat lots of good food, though, and this year was no exception! On Sunday night, my family and I went to Kingfish for my annual birthday dinner. I’ve written about Kingfish before so I won’t go into it too much here except to say that, man, their desserts are huge! I had heard that they were “oversized” but apparently I didn’t quite understand what this really meant. We ordered three desserts to split between the seven of us, and we would have easily been satisfied with only two (we did somehow manage to finish all three though!) The dark chocolate cake was an encyclopedia-sized slab, the cherry cobbler was served in a trough, and the strawberry shortcake was piled sky-high with fresh strawberries and whipped cream. It was truly awe-inspiring. If Robert and ever go there alone and want dessert, we may need to go in on it with another table or something. It was so good, I think it would be worth it. The cherry cobbler was my favorite.

My friend took me out for lunch yesterday at one of my favorite restaurants in the International District: Shanghai Garden. We ordered hot & sour soup, mu shu vegetables and spicy szechuan bean curd. One of the things that I love about Shanghai Garden is the table service. If you order soup, they bring it out in a big bowl and then portion it out for each person at the table. They also assemble your mu shu for you, putting the perfect amount of hoisin sauce and veggies into each pancake. I really like the way that Shanghai Garden makes their fried bean curd. Instead of using firm tofu like a lot of restaurants do, they use a soft, silky tofu. It is crispy and light on the outside but soft and pillowy on the inside. The szechuan bean curd was served in a slightly spicy sweet & sour sauce with broccoli and snow peas. We had this with brown rice which was pretty unusual; it was more of a reddish color with lots of darker kernels sprinkled throughout. It was all so good!

After so much dining out, I was more than happy to stay home for dinner on my birthday. I didn’t feel like cooking, though, so I headed down to Pike Place Market after work and picked up some items for a deluxe smorgasboard. I got a really nice piece of freshly-smoked salmon from Pure Food Fish which ended up being way more than I needed (We only ate a quarter of it. I used the rest to make smoked salmon & pickled onion sandwiches on rye tonight.) From DeLaurenti, I bought a small wedge of Taleggio cheese and another small piece of Rogue Creamery’s Smoky Blue from Oregon. If you’ve never had this cheese, you must try it! It is so unusual; it is a blue cheese that has been lightly smoked which makes it taste a little bacony. Mmmm…blue cheese and bacon. But, the true hit of the night was the Taleggio. I just love this cheese. It is kind of stinky, but its flavor is mellow and nutty. And it is so deliciously creamy. I also picked up some Rainier cherries and the last of the local asparagus, which I grilled rather successfully on my little grill pan. To drink, I served another Oregon product: A to Z Winemaker’s 2005 Pinot Blanc. It was a really fantastic wine. It was very full-bodied but without the oak that is usually associated with heavy whites. It just had a really nice, full fruit flavor. Ah, so much good food in such a short amount of time. I can’t wait for my next birthday!

Our neighborhood farmer’s market just opened up for the season, and I couldn’t be happier! Robert and I braved the rain and cold on Sunday and headed down to see what was fresh this week. This early in the season, there isn’t quite the same level of abundance that you see in the summer and autumn months, but we still found a few good things to try including some adorable baby turnips. I had never had baby turnips before so I had no idea if I would like them or not. Come to think of it, I’m not sure that I’ve ever had adult turnips either. But, I like most vegetables and, at a mere $2.00/bunch, I figured I didn’t have much to lose.

The turnips looked really clean already so I just gave them a quick rinse and then trimmed off the greens, leaving a bit of the stem attached to make them look pretty. I steamed the turnips along with some small carrots for a very short time until they were just tender. Then, I tossed them in a pan with a little butter, salt, pepper and a tiny pinch of sugar until the vegetables were glazed and beginning to brown in spots. I served the turnips alongside orecchiette pasta with fresh fava beans, Red Russian kale (also from the farmer’s market) and the greens from the baby turnips. And for Robert, Cascioppo Italian sausages. The turnips were delicious. Very tender and a little bit sweet. They were actually kind of juicy which, for a root vegetable, is sort of amazing. The turnip greens were appropriately bitter and went really well with the creamy fava beans in the pasta. Hooray for the return of the farmer’s market!

As I mentioned in my last post, I picked up an interesting sounding wine at Pike & Western Wine Shop to feature for this week’s winesday: Domaine Gerard Millet Menetou Salon 2005. Menetou Salon is a wine appellation in the Loire Valley in France. It is neighbor to the famous Sancerre appellation and, like Sancerre, Menetou Salon produces mostly Sauvignon Blanc (the only other grape that is planted in this area is Pinot Noir.) Since Menetou Salon is less well-known than Sancerre, the wines from this region are usually much lower in price. I love Sancerre wines, but I am rarely in the mood to pay for them. The woman at the wine shop also told me to look for wines from Quincy, another neighbor of Sancerre.

To go with my French wine, I decided to make a classic French dish, Brandade de Morue. Brandade is a puree made from salt cod, garlic, olive oil, cream and sometimes potato. Salt cod, also called bacalao in Spain and baccala in Italy, is essentially just cod that has been salted and dried. Its use dates back centuries, when salting and drying were important techniques used to preserve fish so that it would keep for long periods of time. These days, although we no longer need to rely on such methods of preservation, a fondness for salt cod persists and there are countless recipes available for salt cod dishes. If you have never used it before, be forewarned, salt cod is one of those ingredients that falls into the same category as fish sauce and some cheeses: stinky but good. It kind of smells like rotten fish.

To prepare salt cod for use in a recipe, you must soak it for up to several days, changing the water a couple of times per day. You can sometimes find pre-soaked salt cod in Italian or Spanish markets. The salt cod that I picked up at The Spanish Table was actually packed with a small amount of liquid. I wasn’t sure if that counted as pre-soaked or not so, just to be safe, I still went through the step of soaking the cod as my recipe directed. Once the salt cod is done soaking, you can use it as you would any other kind of fish. To make brandade, you simply need to cook the cod for a short while and then mash it together with cooked potatoes, cream, garlic, and olive oil. You can also season it with lemon juice or thyme.

I served the brandade as an appetizer with crostini and olives. For the main course, I made clams in fennel-tomato broth and served it with a mixed greens & radish salad. The brandade was very good. The salt cod flavor was pretty subtle, however, despite the fact that I used less potato and cream than the recipe called for. I think it was a recipe designed for salt cod newbies. Next time, I will use even less potato or maybe I’ll try a completely different, more hardcore salt cod recipe instead. As for the wine, it was delicious. It was light and zesty, with touches of grapefruit, just as good as any Sancerre I’ve tried. And, for nearly half the price of Sancerre wines, it really can’t be beat.

We’ve been having such nice weather here in Seattle lately so Robert I decided to spend the day down at Pike Place Market. This is one of our favorite things to do. We love just wandering around, eating and shopping and discovering new things in the market’s nooks and crannies. Of course, we didn’t once stop to consider the fact that it was a holiday weekend and that the crowds, our absolute least favorite thing about the market, would be out in full force today. If we had, we might have made other plans. Still, despite the fact that the market was packed, we managed to have a fun time.

We spent a while looking around in our favorite shops and walking through the produce stands, checking out what veggies and fruits were fresh. I sampled a few fancy items at some of the fancy new shops around the market including a delicious raspberry balsamic vinegar from Pappardelle’s and a homemade potato leek soup drizzled with white truffle oil at La Buona Tavola. The man at La Buona Tavola had me sample the soup first without the truffle oil and then with the oil. It definitely added an intriguing flavor to the soup.

Next, we headed down to Pike and Western Wine Shop. They have a really great selection of Northwest wines available so you’re bound to find wines there that you might not be able to get elsewhere in Seattle. I picked up an interesting-sounding wine that was on sale. It is from the same general area as Sancerre, one of my favorite wines. Like Sancerre, it is minerally and crisp, but this wine tends not to be quite as shockingly acidic. I’ll highlight it during this week’s winesday.

In need of some rest, we ducked into Kell’s Irish Pub for a pint and a pasty. Robert loves the beef pasty at Kell’s. He also likes the dark, cozy atmosphere and lack of crowds. My veggie pasty was primarily rich pastry served with an even richer cream sauce but it did have some vegetables in it, including sun-dried tomato which gave it an interesting flavor. It went very well with my Irish beer.

On our way home, we decided to pick up some groceries. First, we stopped by Beecher’s to get some cheese. Beecher’s is my favorite recent-ish addition to the market. They make their own award-winning cheeses and they also sell a wide variety of cheeses from other Northwest-based cheesemakers. We picked up a package of Fruit Nut Crostini by Anjou Bakery and Brandywine Chevre from Rollingstone in Parma, Idaho. This chevre is aged in a mixture of hard cider and brandy and then wrapped in a grape leaf. It should be delicious with the crostini. After that, we headed over to Sosio’s to pick up some vegetables for an Easter salad to bring over to my parent’s house tomorrow. We got some asparagus, fresh English peas and mint, all for super cheap. Finally, we couldn’t leave the market without fulfilling our sweet tooth. From Three Girls bakery, we got a nutty brownie and an espresso brownie. Those we will eat later tonight!

I usually have my winesdays planned out a few days in advance, but, earlier this week, I was finding myself at a loss as to what to make. There wasn’t any specific food that I was craving nor was there a particular wine that I had been dying to try. This happens to me occasionally as I suspect it does to everyone. Usually when I experience this type of mental block, Robert is quick to suggest Tuna Noodle Casserole (his favorite) followed by Pasta with Tuna and Olives. This time he also threw Pasta Puttanesca into the mix. As soon as he said it, I knew that was what I had to make. I immediately began craving spicy pasta and thinking about what wines I could pair it with. I love it when it suddenly clicks like that! In acknowledgment of Robert’s preoccupation with pasta-tuna combinations, I decided to try a recipe from Tom Douglas’ Seattle Kitchen cookbook, Pasta Puttanesca with Charred Ahi Tuna.

I headed down to DeLaurenti for wine and ingredients. Since I was shopping at an upscale Italian deli rather than the plain old grocery store, I decided to go with a fancy pasta. I picked up a package of Rustichella d’Abruzzo Chitarra. Chitarra is like spaghetti but with a neat square diameter. I normally use Barilla pasta. It’s cheap, easy to find and holds up really well (it never gets gummy.) At three times the cost, I was curious to see if the Rustichella pasta was really that much better than the Barilla.

In the recipe notes, Tom Douglas recommends pairing his Pasta Puttanesca with an Italian white wine or, “for a real dare,” he says to try a Chianti. I took his dare one step further and bought a heavier red: Vallevo 2004 Montepulciano d’Abruzzo. Montepulciano d’Abruzzo is typically a rich, robust and fruity yet soft-textured wine. It is made entirely from the montepulciano grape.

I make my own version of Pasta Puttanesca all the time, so I was excited to try a different recipe. Tom’s recipe calls for lemon zest and lemon juice whereas mine calls for red wine vinegar. Other than that, and the fact that he serves his with tuna, the two recipes are pretty much identical. Tomatoes, olives, capers, anchovies, chilies and lots of garlic. The tuna in his recipe is served quite rare. You basically just sear it for a minute per side. Then you slice it thinly and serve the slices over the pasta.

As expected, the Rustichella pasta cooked up nicely. It was much chewier and heartier than I am used to, and it definitely held the puttanesca sauce well, one of the oft-touted benefits of artisan pastas (but, at $2 per pound, I think I’ll probably stick with Barilla.) I really enjoyed the combination of the tuna and the spicy sauce. The lemon really brightened up the entire dish.

The wine was also delicious. Although it was a heavier wine, the spicy & salty flavors of the sauce were not overwhelmed by it. I think the extra chewy texture of the pasta also helped make the dish able to stand up to a hearty wine. By the way, did anyone catch that the wine and the pasta I bought are both from Abruzzo? I didn’t plan that. I didn’t even make the connection myself until after dinner. No wonder they went well together!

Now that the chaos of the holidays is pretty much over, I’m getting back to my normal routine and that means the return of weekly winesdays! For this week’s winesday, I decided to go with a very traditional Burgundian meal: Oeufs en Meurette. Oeufs en Meurette is poached eggs in red wine sauce served over toast. The recipe that I used is pretty long and time-consuming but not at all difficult. As a plus, a lot of the work can be done ahead of time. I was able to get it all done after a short day of work, however, including peeling the baby onions by hand. The eggs are poached in the red wine causing them to turn a creepy gray-purple color. Fortunately, they get covered up by the sauce (which was only a slightly creepy purple color.) As expected, it was quite a rich dish but, what the heck, it’s still the holidays! This is the best time to treat yourself to really yummy, fattening foods.

My matching wine was, of course, a red Burgundy. I went with a bottle of 2004 Domaine du Prieure Pinot Noir. The wine was much lighter than most pinot noirs I’ve tried. In the glass, it looked just like cranberry juice. I’m not sure if it was this particular wine or if all the wines of Burgundy are this light. I guess I’ll have to try another to find out. By the way, all red Burgundy wines are made from pinot noir grapes except for Beaujolais which is made from gamay grapes.

In a really smart move, I decided to skip the rush of Pike Place Market and visit a small wine shop in my neighborhood instead: European Vine Selections. I am in love with this shop! I should have been going there this whole time. It has a really great selection of wines from all over the world packed into a pretty small area. It’s a very low key store. No pretentiousness and no pressure. Wines are stacked irregularly (in some cases, hazardously) in cardboard boxes, many with a decent layer of dust. Descriptions of some of the wines are available, written in barely legible handwriting. I went a little crazy while I was there and bought several other wines including a bottle of Prosecco for New Year’s Eve. If you’re ever up on the north end of Capitol Hill, you should definitely check this store out.

Last night, I did something I’ve never done before. I drank my very first cup of instant coffee. I know, I know, I am from Seattle, the coffee capital of the country, where drinking instant coffee is considered worthy of jail time but, stop laughing for a moment and let me explain. I’ve been doing all of this food planning for our upcoming backpacking trip and one problem I was trying to solve was how to get my coffee fix in the woods. I had read about these handy coffee bags (like tea bags) that you can use to brew individual cups but I couldn’t find any at my stores. They sell them at REI which means they probably cost as much as a double mocha with whipped cream. So, other than instant coffee, the only options left involved too much preparation and messy cleanup. When I spotted a small jar of instant coffee at Trader Joe’s yesterday, I thought I’d give it a shot. And it actually wasn’t terrible. I would say that it was decent and drinkable; I’ve been served worse brewed coffee in restaurants before. It was certainly lacking body but did not have the bitter or sour flavor that I was expecting. Plus, it’s kind of fun to make. It is so completely instantaneous, it’s almost like magic! It also magically doesn’t leave sediment in the bottom of the cup like our french press coffee does which will make wilderness cleanup even easier. I found a thread on a coffee website where coffee lovers were discussing their favorite brands of instant coffee, each with their own disclaimer, of course, as to why they would even know about such things. Most people agreed that the Nescafe brand instant coffees that are sold in Europe are the best. There is also a Nescafe variety made for Mexico that is a much darker roast that sounds pretty good. I heard that you can find it in some Latin markets so that may be an option for future backpacking trips. So, now I am one of those people that has a big jar of instant coffee sitting in their refrigerator. I may have to put a label on it that says “backpacking coffee” in case somebody comes over and looks in my fridge and judges me. Anybody have suggestions for creative ways to use up instant coffee?

Hi everybody. Well, our Christmas dinner was a great success! As usual, we starting making plans for next year’s dinner over breakfast. Could be a Greek theme or we’re even toying with the idea of Chinese although none of really cook Chinese food that often (but that would make it even more fun!)

One of my Christmas gifts this year was “Seattle Kitchen” by the famous Seattle chef, Tom Douglas. I’m really enjoying reading it. The recipes, of course, all look great. Perhaps a bit labor-intensive for the home cook but very inspiring and certainly adaptable to my style of cooking. It also completely nails down Seattle cuisine – what other cookbook has an entire chapter devoted to the art of bento and another all about crab? The best part about the book, though, is Tom’s guide to shopping in Seattle and all of the little asides about our fresh seafood and produce and wines and beers. It reminds me of why I love living here. Now, after reading through the book, I am dying to go to Mutual Fish for the freshest fish in Seattle and to seek out the little hidden places in Pike Place Market that I normally walk right on by. Just yesterday, thanks to this book, my friend and I went for pho at a little lunch counter neither one of us had ever noticed before. Perhaps next weekend, I will take a trip over to the Bainbridge Island winery for a wine tasting or maybe I’ll eat my way through the International District. One of my New Year’s resolutions is to cook with more fresh, local ingredients and this book will surely come in handy as my guide to Seattle’s great food!

I’m happy to report that I’ve made it to the farmer’s market every week for a month now! Last Sunday, Robert came with me. I thought he would be bored and impatient but, it turns out, he really enjoyed himself. More than me even! See, I really want to be one of those people that goes to the farmer’s market and casually chats up the farmers and spontaneously buys whatever looks fresh and turns it into a meal. But I’m not. Instead, I’m your typical introverted Seattleite and I thrive on order over chaos. Apparently, Robert is the opposite. He was asking questions and getting free samples and really getting into the whole thing. He picked out some veggies and made a delicious farm-fresh stir-fry that evening. I think he’s getting inspired by the Eat Feed podcasts we have been listening to. They cover different food themes each week, anything from the history of ice cream to modern-day Hawaiian cuisine, and are each quite fascinating. Go to eatfeed.com to download the podcasts or to podcastalley.com to learn more about podcasts in general and to choose from a variety of topics to fit your tastes.

Newer Posts »« Older Posts