Sunday, January 17, 2010

Savoring Seattle - a brief view of a tasty trip

You know, I have a great dislike for the times when things you have to do get in the way of things you want to do. The past two weeks have been full of those times - work deadlines, social responsibilities, tedious errands, that I have had little time to cook, let alone blog. It has been a pain!

 Seattle sunrise with Mt. Rainier in the background

However, here I am - ready to finish part 2 of the already begun saga of the Seattle Holiday Adventure, albeit a little late and out of context...but here goes.

You've now heard about the epic (and delicious) route we took to get to Seattle, now all of the eating we did once we arrived must be accounted for, and let me tell you - there was plenty of eating going on.

We got there just in time for Christmas Eve and the Quebec side of my family has a great tradition of staying up really late - having a fancy hors d'ouvre party around 10:30 and then at midnight (when it's officially Christmas) we get to open presents. This event usually extends into the not-so-wee hours of the morning...

My contribution to the evening was to be blue cheese-stuffed dates, wrapped in bacon (recipe below). I had sampled these before, but had never made them - luckily they are super simple, especially for something that tastes so good.

Bacon-wrapped dates stuffed with blue cheese - ready for the oven.

Pitted dates come with a hole already in them, so all you need to do is find a blue cheese soft enough to coax into it. This isn't a huge limitation by any means because most blue cheeses are naturally soft(ish) so just stay away from the rather hard ones. Once these bacon-wrapped gems came out of the oven, they almost didn't make it to midnight - they were that popular!

I almost didn't get a photo of these, they went so fast!

There was also plenty of eating out while in Seattle, but one place stood out in particular. It's one of my perennial favorites when I'm in town and its name is La Medusa. It's Sicilian eatery with little pretense and lots of flavor. We went there on New Year's Eve, which also happens to be my brother's birthday. They had a prix fixe menu on this particular night with wine pairings, so naturally that's what I got.

The first course was seared scallops atop a sunchoke puree with caramelized onions and pomegranate seeds. The scallop was delicately seared and still almost translucent in the middle, an indication that it has not been overcooked and its light texture floated nicely above the puree when paired in a bite together. The onions and pomegranate added both a subtle sweetness and crunch that rounded out the dish nicely. This course was paired with NV Jeio Rose Prosecco from Italy, whose bubbles carried a lightness that matched the dish and was lovely.

The happy eaters @ La Medusa - birthday boy at the far end

The salad (or second) course was an arugula salad with satsuma orange, castelvetrano olives and a pancetta vinaigrette. The vinaigrette is what made this salad, and no, I'm not just saying that due to my obscene fondness for bacon (a close relative to pancetta). Without the salty accent, the salad would have been too common, bordering on cliche - but the warm vinaigrette definitely set it apart and made it something special, especially given how nicely the peppery arugula paired with the pancetta (pepper bacon anyone!?!?). Course two was paired with Mirth Chardonnay from Washington State which, I've got to admit, I was not a big fan of. The flavor was too heavy, lacking a crispness that would have gone nicely with the salad and had a slight hint of burnt rubber to it.

The main course was Cotechino with black lentils. I at first had to ask the waitress what Cotechino was exactly. It's a large, rustic sausage typically consisting of pork, fatback and pork rind. Cotechino is a dish traditionally served on New Year's Eve and is purported to bring prosperity to its eater. La Medusa's version was very tasty indeed and that was lucky because the bed of black lentils it rested upon was a little underwhelming on its own. Together, however, they had an earthy richness and heartiness that was a nice way to say arivaderchi! to 2009. The cotechino was paired with a Sicilian red that goes by the name Il Frappato (it's 100% frappato grapes) which brought forth a comparable earthiness to the pork.

Cotechino! (Unfortunately this is the only good picture of the food I managed)

Lastly, though the prix fixe came with poached seckle pears, I couldn't resist La Medusa's cannoli. I don't know what it is about this crispy-creamy pastries but I am just ridiculously enamoured with them and get them everywhere I go. So there!

Suffice it to say that I have never eated at La Medusa and been dissappointed, and this year was no exception. So - for those of you who don't live in Seattle, but plan on visiting - add this to your must visit list. And for those of you who do live in Seattle - what are you waiting for?!?!?

La Medusa

P.S. A Fast Food Favorite: Its not too often that I give in to fast food cravings, but these days it's possible to have slow/fast food. Does that make any sense? I didn't think so! What I mean is that there are lots of talented food artisans that are taking on traditional fast foods and making them into tasty (often locally-sourced) delicacies, but they're still available in high speeds and relatively low costs.

One such example is Top Pot donuts in Seattle. They are taking a tired perhaps even antiquated foodstuff and turning it into something exotic that you might actually want to waste the calories on. We got to try the chocolate raspberry (the glaze is made with real raspberries!), the mexican chocolate (with cinnamon and sugar), the classic maple bar and the oh-so-tasty raised glazed, just to name a few.

Top Pot donuts - 12 kinds o' love (some already got eaten)

These were so good we got a dozen to share, and coming from someone who was previously not a huge donut fan, that's a pretty big deal.


Bacon-Wrapped Dates Stuffed with Blue Cheese

Pitted Dates - as many as you want to serve (suggested: 1/2 pound)
Blue cheese (such as St. Agur) - you'll need about 1/2 tsp per date (suggested: 1/4 pound)
Bacon - half a slice per date

-Let the blue cheese soften slightly at room temp.
-Pinch off a piece of cheese and roll it into a size that can be inserted into the hole.
-Wrap the date tightly in bacon, placing it on a baking tray with the bacon's free end down.
-Broil in the oven for 7-10 minutes (or until crispy, but keep a close eye so that they don't burn) and flip (if possible - sometimes the dates don't want to cooperate!)
-Transfer to plate and serve! (watch out - these puppies come out hot~)

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

  The rainbow over the Tillamook Cheese Factory - Notice I am enjoying my milkshake...

Well, we're just back from a delicious stint in sunny, yes I said sunny, Seattle. Every time I get to go up there I get so excited because Seattle has really come into its own as of late in the realm of all things culinary. Luckily, my brother is as much a foodie as I am and plans each meal of our stay.

The tastiness did not wait for Seattle to start however, and we made sure to savor local flavors the whole way up the California, Oregon and Washington coasts. Our first stop was the town of Medocino, famed for gorgeous countryside, quaint village life and good things, including food, beer, wine and certain "medicinal" herbs.

 Avenue of the Giants - California Redwood Forest

We ate dinner at the local pub, Patterson's, which, being Saturday, was packed. Rarely do you find such gourmet food as Kobe beef burgers in a local pub, but we were in Mendocino after all. We ordered the burger and a pint each of local beers and they were both scrumptious! The burger, which was cooked to our liking, was so tasty and the beer washed it down nicely.

 The next morning we came back into town for breakfast and tried the Mendocino Bakery, which looked pretty underwhelming from the outside. However, once inside, our minds were changed and the pastries were delicious. I got a "breakfast pouch" which was a pouch made with pizza dough filled with scrambled eggs, pepper jack cheese and housemade sausage. This was a grand idea in my opinion and a great way to contain the staples of breakfast into a contained, easy to handle treat.

Depoe Bay Oregon - famous for savage coastlines and every flavor of taffy

On our way through Humboldt County, we saw an "Adopt-a-Highway" sign that read "Eel River Brewery, the first organic brewery." Less than five minutes later we found ourselves on barstools in front of a vast selection of hand crafted beers. Having never heard of Eel River beers before, we opted for the sampler. We got to try 8 different beers from light to dark, including an Acai Berry Wheat, that was very tasty. We ended up buying several varieties to take with us to share with folks over the holidays.

Eel River Brewing Sampler

For dinner, we ended up stopping, on a whim, in a town called Gold Beach at a steakhouse called "Spinner's Seafood and Chop House." At first we were worried that the prices were going to be a little steep and that our road-weary outfits and faces would not be accepted, but this was not the case. The hostess happily seated us and we were pleasantly surprised to find that the menu was really rather affordable.

Luckily for us, our trip coincided with the launch of crab season and so there was no way I was going to pass up on the Dungeness Crab Mac N' Cheese. We also got the lamb shoulder which was braised in red wine with mushrooms and root veggies. Both dishes were very, very good. There was so much food (each entree came with a choice of salad - and there were 5 varieties or soup) that we ended up taking half of our meals with us, to be enjoyed for dinner the following day.

We were extremely surprised when we checked out the dessert menu at the variety and appeal of the desserts. We ended up selecting a marionberry cheesecake, that was the perfect finish to this great meal.

Our last day on the road enjoyed the cherry on top of all meals on this particular road trip. Our friend Clark, owner of Full of Life Flatbread, highly recommended a place in Newport, OR aptly named Local Ocean Seafood. When we first walked into this place I was a little confused, I mean Clark LOVES good food as much as I do and this place looked like a fish and chip shack warmed over. However, I sat chastened once the food graced our table and our mouths.

I immediately asked the chef what he recommended and he came over, sat at our table and went through each item - apologizing profusely that the crab actually came in turns out this gentleman was the restaurant's owner and each dish he recommended hit the bull's eye.

Roasted Garlic and Crab Soup

We started out with Dungeness crab and roasted garlic soup, followed by pan roasted oysters. The crowning moment was the 2 pound whole crab, which was easily shared by the two of us. We washed this seafood feast down with two bottles of Rogue Brewing beer, one of my faves from Oregon.

Our friend, Mr. Crab, was super meaty

The remainder of the trip wasn't marked with any particularly tantilizing foods, until, that is, we reached the Tillamook Creamery. This haven of cheese and ice cream was a feast for the eyes. This, my friends is where some serious cheddar magic happens. We were able to sample several cheeses and were delighted by the ice cream selection (38 flavors) in all (the mud slide makes a phenomenal milk shake!). It seemed like the perfect way to end this first part of our culinary journey.

Where the magic happens, yes - those are giant blocks of ages cheddar!

Stay tuned as a fill you in on all of the eating we did IN seattle - it was no small feat, but somebody had to do it...