Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Lamb sausages worth driving for.

My friend Nicole and I went on a butcher shop crawl last week (meaning we went to several different butcher shops for the particular items they are known for). One of the meat shops on the list was the Leschi Food Mart. I had read in an article in Chow that Leschi had some of the best lamb sausages in Seattle. Sausage being one of my favorite foods in the whole world, we had to find this place. I had never been to Leschi and I didn't know what to expect so as our adventure brought us through some particularly rough neighborhoods we began to wonder what this Leschi place was going to be like. Pimps, prostitutes, and boarded up mini-mart windows gave way to lush green windy park roads and giant glass mansions. It was definitely one of the strangest car rides I've taken in a while. It felt like we had entered a whole other city and we were no longer near Seattle. Eventually we came across the little mini-grocery store Leschi Food Mart. I remember thinking to myself, "Wow, are we really buying meat at a mini-mart?" Once we walked in and down an aisle to the butcher case, all of my fears had subsided and I knew that everything was going to be great. Tons of house-made sausages including lamb sausage, kielbasa, spicy fennel, applesauce breakfast, smoked turkey, and other house-smoked meats. After picking out like five types of sausage the butcher asked me "What's today, sausage day?" Yes it was my friend. I wanted to try everything. We purchased our bounty and headed back to Seattle (although we did get lost and kept winding up back by the mini-mart. We thought we were not going to be allowed to escape.) Finally we made it back home and packed our freezers with delicious sausages.

The lamb sausage from Leschi is indeed the best lamb sausage I have ever had. Perfect fat to meat ratio, juicy and tender. I will definitely have that adventure again to get these sausages. I sauteed the lamb sausages in a little olive oil until perfectly cooked. I served them on French lentils with bacon and a salad of curly endive and mint with a balsamic vinaigrette.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

The Greek Burger.

You heard me right. I never realized that there was such a thing as the Greek burger until I witnessed the beautiful thing at mt local go-to gyro joint called strangely enough, Gyro World. I don't think this burger is a traditional staple in Greece but it is a delicious little find none the less. Not to mention their amazing garlicky season salted Greek fries, but that's another story. Anyways, I decided to elaborate on Gyro World's burger and take it one step further. I bought some local organic ground lamb and mixed in a little lemon pepper and salt. I formed burger patties and grilled them until medium rare (I don't think the picture does them justice, they were more pink on the inside). I put them in a grilled roll with some mayo, sliced cucumber, a mixed olive tapenade, and some fresh wild greens. If only I had the fries, my meal would have been perfect but I suppose a nice organic salad would have to do. What's next, the Mexi-burger? Hmmmm....actually.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Sri Lankan Fish Curry

Sri Lanka, the lovely Southeast Asian island off the coast of India gained it's independence from the British in 1948 as the Commonwealth of Ceylon. It became a republic within the Commonwealth in 1972 and changed it's name to Sri Lanka. You can definitely see Indian & British influences in their food. Common are spices such as cloves and cinnamon and dishes like coconut based curry are a direct nod to their northern neighbors. And the history lesson ends.........now.

I came across some Sri Lankan curry at my favorite spice market, World Spice. The fragrant mixture contained coriander, cumin, fennel, fenugreek, cassia, clove, cardamom, pequin chile, and tellicherry black pepper. I always buy my spices whole and right before I use them I first toast them in a dry pan and then grind them myself in my little trusty coffee/spice grinder (Just don't use the same grinder for your coffee or you'll either wind up with disgusting curry coffee or coffee flavored fish! Either way it's a lose lose situation.). Do this and you will never buy those dried weeds that have been sitting on grocery store shelves for that past ten years ever again. Fresh spices make a world of difference.

I bought some local fresh cod and decided to make a Sri Lankan fish curry. I had my fishmonger clean and fillet the cod for me (whenever I clean fish at home my apartment smells like fish for days and although my cat doesn't seem to mind, I don't care for it). You could use whatever kind of fresh white fish is local in your area. In my opinion you should always go for local and fresh over regionally authentic to the recipe when it's comes to fish. I'd much rather eat some Pacific cod snatched out of nearby waters than Chinese black cod that's been mostly frozen for two months.

Sri Lankan Fish Curry

2 lbs fresh cod fillets (skinned and deboned)
1 cup coconut milk
2 Tbsp Sri Lankan curry (toasted and ground)
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 Tbsp ginger, minced
3 scallions, thinly sliced (reserve some of the green parts for garnish)
1/4 cup basil, chiffonade
1 hot Thai chile, thinly sliced
1 red bell pepper, seeded and sliced
1 yellow onion, halved and sliced
1 Tbsp canola oil
kosher salt
steamed rice

In a large saute pan or wok over medium heat add the canola oil and saute the onions, and peppers for 4 minutes. Add the ginger, garlic and scallions and saute for another 3-4 minutes. Then add the Sri Lankan curry powder and stir until it starts to almost smoke. Pour in the coconut milk and a little salt, stir to incorporate the spices. Simmer the curry for about 10-15 minutes until it slightly thickens. Season the cod with salt and gently nestle the fillets in the curry making sure they are covered. Lower the heat to medium low and cover. Let the fish steam for about 8-10 minutes. Serve over steamed rice and garnish with scallions and basil.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Rib sticking good.

Is there anything better than slow roasted pork ribs? There sure wasn't in my mind while I was eating these sticky little treats. I marinated some organic pork ribs in a mixture of kecap manis (Indonesian sweet soy sauce), soy sauce, crushed garlic, scallion, ginger, chili paste and a little honey for about 2 hours. I then used the marinade as a glaze while the ribs roasted at a low temperature for a few hours. The sugars in the kecap manis and honey caramelized to a dark dark red (not quite burnt but just to that delicious charred flavor) and the meat was falling off the bone. I don't remember Tony Romas ever being this good! I like to serve these with a little Asian slaw made of shredded cabbage, carrot, and bean sprouts with a ginger rice wine vinaigrette.

Kecap Manis & Honey Glazed Pork Ribs
3 lbs pork ribs

1 cup Kecap Manis
1/2 cup soy sauce
2 fl oz rice wine vinegar
2 tsp sesame oil
1 Tbsp chili garlic paste
1 clove garlic, minced
3 scallions, sliced
1/2 Tbsp ginger, minced
2 Tbsp honey

In a small sauce pan mix together everything but the ribs and simmer over low heat for 5 minutes. Let the mixture cool. Reserve a little of the marinade for later. Place the pork in a dish and cover with the cooled marinade. Make sure the ribs are coated and refrigerate for 2-3 hours.

Preheat oven to 400F degrees. Place the ribs on a rack over a foil lined baking sheet and roast for 10 minutes. Glaze the ribs again with the marinade, turn the heat down to 250F degrees and roast for about 3 hours basting with the marinade every 30 minutes. Pull them from the oven, cover with foil, and let them rest about 15 minutes before cutting into them. Sprinkle on some toasted sesame seeds and serve with a little of the reserved marinade (the marinade that the pork never touched). Enjoy.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Crab Ravioli with Sweet Corn Hash

Sometimes you're just too tired to cook an elaborate meal. After a long tiring day at work this week I searched my fridge and freezer for dinner. I spotted some beautiful house-made crab ravioli from my favorite Italian deli Delaurentis. Whenever I go there I stock up on their pastas for those quick meals after a long day of work. They freeze well and are perfect for days like this. Delicious fresh spinach pasta stuffed with lots of crab and ricotta. Earlier this week at the farmers market I bought some beautiful organic sweet white corn. I decided to make a quick sweet corn hash by blanching some fresh shucked white corn for 10 minutes and then sauteing them with a little diced bacon, shallots, garlic, onion, and spinach. I topped off the ravioli with a little sage butter. I think the sweet corn hash would go perfect with almost anything. It's such an easy dish to make you should try it with a pork chop or some soft shelled crab or whatever you fancy.

Sweet Corn Hash

4 ears of fresh sweet corn, shucked/cut off the cob
1/2 lb bacon, small diced
1 shallot, minced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 red onion, small diced
1 cup, tightly packed spinach
kosher salt and fresh cracked black pepper
1/2 Tbsp butter

Blanch the corn kernels in simmering salted water for 10 minutes. Drain.

In a saute pan over medium heat cook the bacon in the butter until some the fat renders. Add the shallot, garlic and onion and saute for 4 minutes. Add the corn and spinach and toss until the spinach is wilted. Season with salt and pepper. Serve hot with crab ravioli, pork chops, chicken, fish, anything you like.

Friday, October 5, 2007

Syrian Zahtar and Black Lemon Spiced Chicken

I love using new and exotic spices. Whenever I'm in a rut I'll go to World Spice and browse the shelves for something I've never heard of. This time I came across black lemons. They are dried out lemons that have blackened and become rock hard. You can grate them into dishes to add a sweet and sour flavor and deepness. Syrian zahtar is a spice blend consisting of ground sesame seeds, sumac, cumin, coriander, and a little anise. I marinated the chicken in the zahtar, kosher salt, and a little olive oil and then grilled the chicken breast in a grill-pan over medium heat for about 4 minutes each side. In the meantime, I made a sauce by sauteing some organic onions and peppers and deglazing the pan with a little white wine adding raisins and some grated black lemon. On the side I made a simple heirloom potato and roasted garlic salad.

Don't be afraid to try new things and fail. Once in a while I'll try something new and it will go horribly wrong. That's what frozen pizzas are for. However for those times when you have everything going your way, you'll discover new favorites for your repertoire and your pantry will grow beyond your cabinet doors (I consider that a great problem to have).

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Sitka & Spruce

Slow food. What exactly does that mean? It's the hottest thing in the culinary world since, oh I don't know, stacking food so high it falls on your lap. Here's the thing though, slow food is a trend that is actually beneficial to the well being of our world and our lives. All it really means is that we eat locally, chemically free, and small farm produced food prepared with care. Not only does this help the environment (less auto emissions from shipping, less packaging to throw away, and more organic toxin-free soil) it makes us healthier (a body full of toxic chemicals and strange animal hormones is not a happy one). I really hope this movement in food sticks with the joe-schmoe public and forces corporate slop companies to find something else to ruin the world with. End rant.

Chef Matt Dillon (no, not Dallas from the Outsiders) is a bit of a daredevil. Not necessarily with the food he makes but with the choices of his locations. Sitka & Spruce, a tiny 20 seater with a communal table, is located in a strip mall. Diners have the choice as they walk up to the building, Subway or Sitka & Spruce. As hard of a choice that may be to some folk, anyone who walks through the stale bread stenched doors to the left should be bashed in the head with a day old baguette. Sitka does not take reservations and you may have to wait quite a while for a seat (if you can get one at all) in which case the lovely waitstaff will encourage you to go across the street to a bar and have some drinks or try again tomorrow. Chef Dillon also has plans to open a new restaurant, The Corson Building, named so after the old building it's located in. Apparently it's under a bridge next to live train tracks near an air field. The funny thing is that even though that sounds like the worst possible location it will be packed and delicious and worth every ounce of odd loud noises. He could probably open a restaurant on a rickety leaking houseboat parked next to the Discovery Park sewage drains and it would still be successful.

So anyway, my pals Rod & Shannon took me and K out to eat for a late birthday dinner. Luckily we showed up at just the perfect time and a table for four was empty and glowing with a single ray of the dying sunlight as if the gods themselves were saying "Happy birthday little guy"! The waitstaff was very sweet and knowledgeable. I think I went to culinary school with one of them but she was a few quarters below me so I didn't really know her and I kept my mouth shut. Most of the dishes are small plates so we ended up ordering a bunch of things to share. A nice bottle of cava (Spanish sparkling wine) and off we were.

Slow Cooked Rabbit with Watermelon, Raddichio, and Pickled Chanterelles
This was as delicious as it sounds. I loved the sweet crunchy watermelon with the beautifully tender braised rabbit and the plump tart chanterelles. All of the flavors worked perfectly with each other. I think this was a little bit genius and definitely my favorite dish of the night.

Billy's Tomatoes, Bufula Mozzarella, Gaetas
Lovely heirloom tomatoes, with fresh buffalo mozzarella, olive oil, and fresh basil. It's hard to make the classic caprese salad remarkable. The fresh flavors of the beautiful ingredients in this dish made it just that, remarkable.

Petite Bell Peppers & Duck Ham
Cured duck breast has to be one of my new favorite things. Using the term duck ham is just a playful way to say cured duck. It's basically duck that has been salt cured to the texture of proscutto. To me it has a slightly saltier gamier taste than your cured hams. I love the stuff. Here it was paired with some sweet roasted peppers, hard cheese (parmesan/pecorino), and a drizzle of either aged balsamic or wine reduction (I forgot). This was a truly well balanced dish. I wish there had been a little more of the duck though because I'm selfish and I wanted to eat it all. I'm going to make some at home soon. I'll let you know how it turns out.

Pork Chop with Tomatillos & Coriander Leaves
This is one of the best pork chops that I've ever had. And that's a pretty big statement coming from a Cuban. It was cooked perfectly and was so juicy I had to be careful not to drool all over myself. The roasted tomatillos and cilantro matched up to the smokiness of the pork very well. Now that I think about it maybe this was my favorite dish. Hmmm, I can't decide.

Cucumbers with Butter & Lemon Verbena
Generally cucumbers aren't anything too special. Kinda watery and not much flavor. The warm cukes were delicious and buttery and the lemon verbena and salt lifted them into a whole new place. Very inventive and tasty.

Poussin 'Al Mottone, Roasted Peaches & Sage
A beautiful spring chicken cooked under a brick. The meat of the game hen was so tender that it was falling off the bone and the skin was crispy and amazing. The roasted peaches made excellent company to the bird. I also loved the fried sage garnish. You can take almost any herb and fry it. They make the perfect garnishes and they taste awesome as well. I was pretty damn stuffed by this point but dessert must be had.

Chocolate Sorbet & Peach Crepes
It's no secret that I am not a big sweets fan. However I must admit, these desserts were fantastic. The rich chocolate sorbet was so creamy and dark I really enjoyed it. The crepes were eggy and fluffy and not overly sweet. Very good "cooks" desserts. And by that I mean, good, simple, and not very sweet. To most cooks dessert is kind of an after though. That didn't seem to be the case here. After having a few bites of these super rich desserts I was ready to take a nap.

Sitka And Spruce may not be the fanciest of places and it may not have to most inspiring location (although once you're inside you'll forget you're next to a fast food chain). But if you want to eat inspiring food that has been in great care from farmer to chef, Matt Dillon can set you up. Support these kinds of restaurants and try to cook this way at home and I promise, you won't regret it. All it takes is a passion for your food.