Monthly Archives: May 2009

New name, same most everything else

Champagne cocktail - yum!

Champagne cocktail - yum!

A friend and I dined at 900 Wall last week, the former Merenda Restaurant & Wine Bar. I was so happy they reopened this restaurant because I love the outdoor seating. Makes for great people watching (and vice versa – who wouldn’t notice two blondes eating on a street corner with four glasses of wine in front of them?).

Here’s the view of Wall Street from our table. We live in such a cute town!

Downtown Bend

Downtown Bend

I have one complaint, residents. If you are going to leave your dog in a hot car for two hours while you have dinner, better not leave that car alarm on. This happened right next to us and this dog was freaking out, barking, whining and set the car alarm off nine times. NINE TIMES! And we just knew the owners were nearby because they kept turning it off. I’ve never been closer to giving the finger in public than when the middle-aged couple returned to their car, in front of a full restaurant staring at them increduously. Whatever, people.

Anyhow. Our overall dining experience was great and definitely expensive (this is relative)…so I won’t be returning for a while (need to save up!). We started with the wine flights. My friend got the chardonnay flight and I got the rose flight. It was fabulous.

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Then, we ordered the fritters, which were not risotto fritters as Merenda was famous for. These were potato and chorizo fritters and they were delicious.

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Then, of course, we ordered some oyster shooters – my favorite warm weather appetizer.

$2 a pop

$2 a pop

Later, another friend showed up and a very rude hostess informed us that due to OLCC regulations, they couldn’t seat him with us. I understood that and would have been happy to move inside, but the rude hostess just gave me a look up and down and an expression like, “So THERE.” We eventually moved inside, which caused our pizza order to get messed up and it took 50 minutes to get to us, and they brought the wrong one, which cost $4 more (I was pissed! Shouldn’t they have comped it?). But we didn’t care at that point, it was fun just hanging out.

Multiple people have asked me if it was still “loud” in there. I had never noticed that it was exceptionally loud in Merenda. And 900 Wall seemed the same, so take that as you will. Note on our waiters: they had really great personalities, very notable.

I really hope 900 Wall survives, I think that corner spot is critical in maintaining a vibrant aesthetic to downtown Bend.

Hammy sammy

Nom nom nom

Nom nom nom

If you saw my post on the Venetian panini, then you know that I love anything that includes Gruyere cheese, Dijon mustard and meat. Preferably fried.

I saw Ina Garten of “Barefoot Contessa” make this appetizer, which she called Ham and Chesse in Puff Pastry. We call it the Hammy sammy. ‘Cause that’s what it is.

I jotted the recipe down to make for a party later on, but I just couldn’t resist a little preview. After all, it’s never good to entertain with a dish you’ve never made before. I warn you – this is disturbingly good. I brought a few squares as snacks for my friends at work and I “think” they both enjoyed it….I think one friend drooled on me a little.

Ingredients:

1 package frozen puff pastry (2 pieces), defrosted

2 T Dijon mustard

1/4 lb. black forest ham, sliced

1/2 lb. Swiss Gruyere cheese, sliced (I shredded it and only bought 6 oz. – SO expensive!)

1 egg, beaten with 1 T water, for egg wash

Method:

Preheat oven to 450. Place a piece of parchment paper on a sheet pan.

On a floured surface, roll out 1 sheet of puff pastry until it is 10×12. Place it on the sheet pan and brush the center with the mustard, leaving a 1-inch border. Cover the mustard evenly with the ham slices and then the cheese – it will look like way too much cheese, but leave a 1-inch border again. Brush the border with egg wash.

Roll out the second sheet of puff pastry to fit over the first one. Cut the edges to make them straight, then crimp the edges together with a fork or your fingers. Brush the top with egg wash and cut a few slices to let the steam escape.

Pop it in the oven and bake for 20-25 min., until puffed and golden brown.

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Let it cool a few minutes, then serve hot or warm. You will not believe how yummy this is – perfect for a party because you can assemble it ahead of time and just bake it the day-of. Enjoy, friends!

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Rhubarb grunt

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I have no idea why this is called a grunt. Maybe because it’s so good, it makes you grunt afterwards? Either way, I’m not one to argue with Nigella Lawson and her “How to be a Domestic Goddess: Baking and the Art of Comfort Cooking.” Could you resist those doe eyes and well-bred British accent?

Many of you know my affection for rhubarb – that tart bite of wonderful flavor cooked into pies, bars and…grunts, apparently. I love the beautiful pink and green color of the rhubarb stems and the crunch it makes when I chop it. Mmm!

This dessert is inexpensive and easy to make – I encourage everyone to try it, especially beginners.

Ingredients:

1.5 lbs. rhubarb, cut into 1-inch pieces

3/4 c. white sugar

4 T unsalted butter, cubed

1 c. flour

3 T sugar

1/2 tsp. salt

1 c. plus 2 T heavy cream, whipped lightly (buy 2 pints)

Method:

Preheat the oven to 375 and grease a 12-inch shallow baking dish (glass is good).

Spread the chopped rhubarb over the dish…

Do not attempt to eat raw.

Do not attempt to eat raw.

Then sprinkle in the sugar and toss to coat (a lot of the sugar will stay at the bottom – that’s what makes it gooey!). Dot the surface with the butter.

Sift the flour, sugar and salt into a mixing bowl, then stir in the whipped cream until you have a really sticky dough. Spread the dough over the rhubarb – it’s more like dropping spoonfulls and then spreading it with clean fingers. Cover it as well as you can…

Kind of cobbled

Kind of cobbled

Put the dish on a baking sheet and bake for 45 minutes, or until the fruit is bubbling and the top is golden.

Bubbly and delicious!

Bubbly and delicious!

I used an electric mixer to whip the rest of the cream with a splash of vanilla extract and about 1 T sugar until soft peaks formed. It was heaven, melting over the steaming grunt.

This is also good with vanilla ice cream, or cold straight out of the fridge. Enjoy, friends!

Not your mama’s catfish

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I’m just going to say it: I’m not a huge fish fan. I mean, I like lox and other cured salmon and of course sushi, but I hate baked salmon and most other kinds of fish.

But my co-worker is always gently nudging me in the fish direction, which I know is good,  because fish is good for us, etc. I’ve made halibut before, and it was awesome. But halibut is very expensive. My co-worker swears by this basa swai fillet that was on sale at the grocery store. So the next time I went to Safeway, I bought some. The fish monger told me that it’s a type of Asian catfish.

The first time I made it, I poached the fish in a foil pouch with shallots, garlic, parsley, white wine and lemon. I hated it. HATED it. It tasted…metallic. I was reluctant to try again, but I still had all this basa swai in the freezer…

So I tried Lynne Rossetto Kasper. One of her weekly newsletters was Catfish with an Italian Twist. Lynne has done well by me before, so I thought I’d try her again.

Catfish: success!

I was so impressed by this dish and my boyfriend loved it, too. It is healthy and light, yet completely fulfilling. Yum, yum, yum. And I have to say, I had my doubts up until I put the first bite in my mouth. I am not kidding. I served myself a tiny taste at first. It isn’t fishy at all and full of rosemary flavor. This fish is mild on its own, so it will absorb whatever you cook it in. That is the key, my friends. I just love all the rosemary, it makes the house smell wonderful. It was so easy that even a novice fish-cooker like me could nail it. Trust in Lynne!

Here’s my take on the recipe that serves two:

1 pound of catfish fillets (I had one fillet cut in half)

1 large clove of garlic (I chopped it)

2 tsp fresh rosemary leaves (chopped)

1/2 tsp ground black pepper

4 T EVOO

6 large celery leaves and 2 inches celery stalk (or just a handful of the tender celery heart)

1/4 medium carrot (I didn’t have)

1/2 medium onion, chopped

salt

1 bay leaf

1/4 dry white wine (I used leftover from the chicken scallopine)

2 cans peeled tomatoes, drained (I used 1 large fresh tomato, chopped)

Method:

Wash and dry fish. In a food processor, puree garlic, rosemary, pepper and 1 T EVOO (I didn’t want to dirty my processor, so I just chopped up all the ingredients and whisked in the oil). Rub over the fillets and refridgerate while you prepare the other ingredients.

Mince the celery, carrots and onion (I just finely chopped the celery leaves and onion. Not a huge celery fan). In a 12-inch (largest) skillet, heat the rest of the EVOO over medium. Stir in veggies and the bay leaf. Sautee for 3 min. or until just starting to color.

Push the veggies to the outer area and lay the fillets in the center, topping with all the rub. Sprinkle with a little salt. Sear on both sides, 3-4 min. per side.

Blend in the wine and the tomatoes, spooning them over the fish. Cover the pan and cook for 5 min. When finished, the fish should flake off but be moist and tender.

While that steams, make a quick couscous with chicken stock, 1 pat of butter, a pinch of salt and 1/4 c. golden raisins. When it’s done, stir in a handful of green onions (or chopped parsley) and toasted pine nuts (or almonds, or macadamia nuts).

To serve, spoon some couscous on a plate and top with the hot fish, spooning the sauce over everything.

This goes well with a crisp glass of white wine. Enjoy, friends!

Cardamom ice cream

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One of my favorite things about Bellingham, Wash. is a little ice cream shop called Mallard’s. You can find all sorts of flavors, from basil to lavender to cinnamon to cayenne/chocolate and chai spice. Ever since I got my ice cream machine last year, I’ve been wanting to recreate some of these unique flavors. I’ve already made basil, chai and green tea ice cream. And finally: cardamom.

I found the recipe online and it was really simple  – much easier than some other ice creams I’ve made (you don’t have to chill the custard overnight).

I am a nerd because I happened to have all the ingredients in my cupboards: cardamom pods, vanilla beans and everything. The vanilla bean was a couple years old, but still fresh because I kept it sealed in the freezer. And the cardamom pods were a gift – I don’t know when else I’ll use them.

This ice cream tastes like the ocean rolls from Sparrow Bakery: like cinnamon rolls, except made on croissant dough and with cardamom, not cinnamon.

To make your own frozen ocean roll…

Ingredients:

2 cups of milk (I used 1%)

1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise

8 whole cardamom pods (green), lightly crushed (some seeds will come out, others won’t)

3/4 c. sugar

4 egg yolks

3/4 c. whipping cream

1/8 tsp. ground cardamom (and not a smidge more)

Method:

In a heavy pan, add the milk, vanilla bean and cardamom pods and slowly bring to a boil. Remove from heat, cover and let infuse for 20 minutes.

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Then, remove the pods and vanilla beans. Scrape the seeds out of the vanilla bean and add them back to the milk (some of the cardamom pods will have come out, just leave them in the milk – more flavor!).

Beat egg yolks and sugar until pale and thick. Temper the eggs with the milk liquid (stir some of the warm liquid into the eggs), then pour the eggs in with the milk and gently reheat it over low heat. Stir the custard until it coats the back of the spoon. This will take longer than you think – be patient. Don’t boil it.

Remove the pan form the heat and continue to stir it until it’s almost cool. Lightly whip the cream in a small bowl and fold it into the custard. Mix in the ground cardamom.

Now, for the ice cream machine. Mine calls for adding the custard to a frozen canister which then electrically turns until the custard is frozen and ready to be transferred to another container in the freezer. It took about half an hour to get to the consistency of frozen yogurt, which is what I was looking for (it freezes the rest of the way in the freezer). Anyhow, the point is to freeze it however your machine prefers.

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This ice cream is light and creamy with just enough spice from the cardamom and sweetness from the vanilla. If you use too much cardamom, it will taste soapy, but following the recipe avoids that. I love the little specks of vanilla bean, with a few larger cardamom seeds in there.

Enjoy, friends!

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Chicken scallopine with saffron cream sauce

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I can think of three times in my life when I would use saffron. One of them is paella, of course, and the other is in any other saffron rice dish. The third time was tonight’s dinner, a Giada de Laurentiis recipe I saw her make on TV.

I was a little weary, once I started cooking, that I wouldn’t like that unique saffron flavor. I don’t even know how to describe it. It’s just….saffron. Anyhow, this recipe combines shallots, garlic, white wine, chicken stock, saffron, cream and parsley. How could that go wrong?

Saffron is known for being the most expensive food item in the world. But you can avoid spending $12 for one pinch of these delicate red threads if you know where to go. First, the local Hispanic market. Second, any “bent can” store, like Grocery Outlet. And finally, Trader Joe’s! Come on, you know you’re going there anyways for $2.99 wine.

Here’s Giada’s recipe:

4 chicken breasts pounded thin or 4 cutlets

2 T EVOO

2 shallots, sliced thin

2 garlic cloves, minced

1/2 c. dry white wine (I used Pinot Grigio)

2 1/2 c. chicken stock

1/4 tsp. or one pinch of saffron threads

1/2 c. heavy cream

salt and pepper

Italian parsley, one handful chopped

Method:

Warm the olive oil in a large skillet over high heat. Season the chicken cutlets with salt and pepper. Cook the chicken until golden and cooked through, about 2 to 3 minutes per side. Transfer the chicken to serving plate and tent with foil to keep warm.

Turn the heat to medium, add the shallot and the garlic and cook until tender, about 2 minutes.

Deglaze the pan with the white wine. Using a wooden spoon, scrape all the brown bits from the bottom of the pan. Cook until the wine is almost evaporated.

Add the chicken broth and saffron threads, bring to a simmer and reduce for 10 minutes. Add the cream, salt, and pepper. Stir to combine and simmer for 1 minute to blend the flavors. Pour the sauce over the chicken.

Sprinkle with parsley and serve immediately. I made some polenta cakes to go along, but you could use anything else to accompany. It had a really rich and complex flavor. And what a beautiful color the saffron made! Enjoy, friends.

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Grilled pork with jalapeno/ginger/lime dressing

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If you ever want to switch things up at the grill, I say reach for a pork tenderloin. It’s lean and it grills up for a mean dinner.

This recipe came from Bobby Flay’s “Grilling for Life,” a gift to my bf one year. It was easy and cheap – roughly $15 that feeds five people easily.

First, the maranade (for 2 pounds of pork tenderloin):

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Process 6 green onions, 2 seeded (or not) jalapenos, 2 inches of ginger, zest from 2 limes, 1/4 c. lime juice and a couple tablespoons of canola oil. Add in 1 T of soy sauce and 1 tsp of sesame oil (adjust this to your tastes).

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Reserve half of the sauce for later. Marinate the pork (two tenderloins equaling 2 lbs) in the rest of it for at least 30 minutes.

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Finally, grill the pork over direct heat for about five minutes on each side. Maybe 15-20 minutes total.  Rest the meat for 5 minutes…

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Then cut the pork and serve with more sauce to spoon over. The meat should be tender and a little pink in the middle.

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We ate this with steamed veggies and a spinach-strawberry salad with poppyseed dressing. Yum!!!

Mascarpone brownies with chocolate ganache

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I saw this recipe on TheKitchn.com and I thought, okay, a one-pot dessert. And I like fudgey brownies and mascarpone, so this sounded on spot.

It was good, but I think that I prefer fudgey brownies of the Nigella Lawson variety: with a swirl of cream cheese in the center.

Still, it is easy for entertaining and whatnot – maybe next time I’ll sprinkle raspberries over the ganache for an extra something.

These brownies are seriously chocolatey, so cut them into small chunks and enjoy!

Sesame-soy tofu

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I have issues with cooking tofu at home. I just never get it as good as you find at an Asian restaurant, so I usually don’t buy it. But I saw this recipe in The Denver Post and I thought I’d try it again.

I like this recipe because it is healthy and cheap – I estimate it cost about $5 and feeds two people with extra to spare. But it doesn’t make TOO much, so I would recommend if for my single friends, too.

The recipe calls for Korean chili powder, but I just used whatever I had in the cupboard.

Ingredients:

1 package of firm tofu (mine was 15 ounces)

3 green onions, sliced on an angle

3 garlic cloves, minced

2 T soy sauce

1 T sesame oil

1 T toasted sesame seeds

1 tsp. chili powder

1 T vegetable oil

Method:

Drain the tofu over the sink, then slice into 1/2-inch strips.

Combine green onions, garlic, soy sauce, sesame oil, sesame seeds and chili powder in a small bowl.

Heat veggie oil in a large nonstick skillet over high heat. Place all the tofu slices flat and cook until they are browned on one side. Flip them and brown the other side. Reduce the heat and spoon the green onion mixture over the tofu evenly. Cover the pan and let the tofu steam for 2-3 minutes.

To serve, spoon rice on a plate (I used brown Basmati rice from Costco) and top with tofu and its seasonings.

This dish doesn’t make a lot of sauce, so you might want to top with more soy sauce, or add some water when you are steaming the tofu.

Either way, it got two thumbs up in my household!

Spaghetti and meatballs

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If I’m at an Italian restaurant, I will never order the spaghetti and meatballs. I think it’s because I am not a huge ground beef fan, and my childhood was spent avoiding all meaty/tomato sauces.

But then I found my discount meat bin, and with it new ways to eat meatballs: ground turkey!

Turkey is very lean, and I found that my meatballs didn’t stay together that well, but I also did not use a nonstick skillet (big mistake), so I’ll learn next time. In the end, it tasted great and made plenty for leftovers, but I hate that fried smell all over my house. I wish I could say that next time I’ll bake the meatballs in the oven, but that is just crazy talk. You just need that olive oil taste. I suppose I can just live with it and keep the fan on.

Here’s how I did it:

Combine 1 lb ground turkey with 1/2 c. fresh bread crumbs (I used an old coffee grinder to do this), 3 T chopped parsley, 2 T evoo, two grated garlic cloves (or minced), two eggs (lightly beaten), a couple shakes of red pepper flakes, 1/2 c. Parmesan cheese and salt & pepper.

Heat a nonstick skillet over medium heat and cover the bottom of the pan with olive oil. (meanwhile, put the pot of water on for the pasta) Form the meat into balls (golf ball sized or smaller) and place in the hot pan. Cook until golden on all sides and then remove to a plate or paper towels to drain. Do the same with the rest of the meat and then set aside.

Start cooking the pasta while you prepare the sauce (you can buy jarred sauce, but I had all the stuff, so I made it myself). When the meatballs are all done, put them aside and wipe out the pan. Put the pan back on the heat with another tablespoon of olive oil and add three chopped garlic cloves. Then, add a tablespoon of anchovy paste and stir until it melts into the oil. Then, add a 28-oz can of crushed tomatoes (the cheapest brand is fine) and stir to combine. Stir in a handful of chopped parsley, and salt and pepper to taste. Simmer until the pasta is done, then add the meatballs to the sauce to heat through.

To serve, plate up a twist of spaghetti noodles and top with the sauce and meatballs. Finish with more Parmesan cheese. I promise this will feed a crowd – it is appealing as a comfort food, and gourmet, if you make your own meatballs and sauce.

And, more importantly, it’s cheap and hearty!