28 May, 2010

French Women Really Don't Get Fat...

...At least not THIS French woman. Mireille Guiliano is lean, fit, and fun. I enjoyed listening to her. More than I expected to.

She seems to have passion for what (and how) people eat, without being snobbish. I expected her European demeanor to have more reproach for the American food culture, but it didn't. She understood that people are in a hurry, eat quickly, and don't have a proper relationship with their food. This is what she talks about. Enjoying your food, not just inhaling it.

The talk was organized by Keren Brown (thanks, Keren!) who was able to snag a few review copies, as well. Present were women AND men, something that surprised me. She said that actually, over the years, her fans have become about 30% male and 70% female. That's an impressive ratio for someone who talks about French women in her book title. Not only that, but the subject is cooking/eating, a topic that is largely discussed among the general female population, not as much with men. (Although, mind you, there are plenty of men in the food/restaurant business. But in general, the average American man doesn't sit around discussing food and culinary techniques at length.)

I took a review copy of her new cookbook, and I've already read part of it. It is not necessarily a low-fat book. Nor is it low-carb. It's an interesting mix of dishes. I am attracted to her breakfast ideas. I've already tried one of the recipes ("Strawberry-Banana-Oatmeal Smoothie"), which curbed my hunger all morning until lunch. Amazing! She really emphasizes breakfast as the most important meal of the day, and she has many great, healthy breakfast recipes I'm going to try.

I found her talk to be very enlightening and glad I went. It was a Monday morning, and yet it was well-attended for a weekday. What a great turnout--people skipped work to come see her!

The Muse Cafe on Queen Anne.

Stack of review books (I took one) and Keren Brown, organizer

Mireille and Keren Brown discussing something

Mireille talking to an engrossed cafe crowd


Cafe crowd

Signing books

There were MEN (!) at this talk

Paola Thomas with her review copy
and Melody Biringer of Crave Seattle with Mireille


More dudes!

Ashley Rodriguez and myself

Signing books

25 May, 2010

Spring Hill Heaven.

The upscale West Seattle restaurant, Spring Hill, offers a decidedly downscale dinner on Monday nights: Fried Chicken. It's the real deal. Served with a plethora of complementary and tasty side dishes, this fried-chicken extravaganza is even served family-style, not entirely unlike the KFC buckets of yore.

Their chicken dinners are so popular, we had to wait a few weeks for the next available Monday-night table. And, since then, we've booked yet another reservation (it was THAT good, that we're going again), and this time, it's booked out even longer. (Lord, please don't let me get hit by a bus before June 28th.)

The dinner is, as mentioned, served family-style with a big ole pile of cripsy fowl, where everyone just digs in. And you gotta book a table for four, so if you're a romantic couple looking for a night out, you'd better grab another couple and skip the romance. The chicken has the perfect crisp on the outside and the perfect slurp inside. Side dishes included a version of Mac 'n cheese done with herbed Spaetzle, a mixed salad (the only unremarkable thing on the table), pillowy mashed taters and gravy, the best broccoli I've ever tasted (no, really), and jalepeno cornbread with honey butter.

And the best part? There was enough chicken for all four of us to take home for another full meal. The whole thing cost $80 per table (plus drinks).

Without further ado, here is my gallery of images from the dinner.

We're ready!

The open kitchen.

Lots and lots of chicken.

Low-key atmosphere and the restaurant was packed. 
Good sign.

Quick service, as they know what we were there for. :)

It was even bigger than it looks.

Paula taking photos of the food

Mashed potatoes and fancy-pants Mac 'n' Cheese

The real deal.

Tonight's dinner, and tomorrow night's dinner.

22 May, 2010

Paola's Oxtail Ragu with Creamy Sage Polenta

About a month ago, I wrote a status update on Facebook saying how I wish I liked Polenta, but that I just have never been able to get into it. Paola left me a message saying that her favorite way to eat it was with her Italian family's oxtail ragu. My interest was piqued. I'd never made anything with oxtail before, and I was determined to find a way to love polenta, so I asked her for the recipe, which she gladly sent me.

This is a really good one. I'm a sucker for a really flavorful sauce. And the creamy version of the polenta (something I got from Rouxbe Cooking School, and tweaked it a little to make it my own) was absolutely outstanding. I can't imagine not liking polenta anymore, now that I've had the real deal - a version that isn't grainy. The trick is to use finely ground polenta (cornmeal). It also needs a vigorous stirring every minute and a half for a full 30 minutes. I also added more liquid than Rouxbe's version called for, to make it extra creamy.

The trick to the oxtail ragu is to cook it for 8 hours in a crockpot on low heat. If you can make it a day ahead, you can put it in the refrigerator and skim the fat off the top the next day. I did it that night, but it's not as easy when it's in liquid form.

Serves 4.

Oxtail ingredients.
  • 1 oxtail (2 - 3 lbs), dredged in flour
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 3 cloves crushed garlic (I used 8, because I'm garlic-crazy like that)
  • 2 carrots, peeled and diced
  • 1 can diced tomatoes
  • 2 TB tomato paste 
  • white or red wine (I used red)
  • stock (I used beef)
  • 1 TB fresh oregano
  • 1 TB fresh thyme
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 2 TB olive oil
Polenta ingredients.
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 2 shallots, diced
  • 5 garlic cloves, chopped
  • 4 cups chicken or vegetable stock 
  • 4 1/2 cups milk (I used 2 cups milk + 2 1/2 cups heavy cream because I ran out of milk)
  • 1/2 tsp sea salt
  • 1/4 tsp pepper
  • 2 cups finely ground cornmeal (polenta)
  • 3 TB fresh sage, chopped (can substitute with thyme) (I used 2 TB sage and 1 TB thyme, both fresh)
  • 1/2 cup Parmigiano-Reggiano, grated
  • 1 TB butter
Oxtail instructions.
In a large saute pan over medium-high heat, brown the surface of the oxtail on all sides in olive oil, about 8 minutes. Remove the meat.

Add the meat and the remaining ingredients to a crockpot. If the oxtail is not completely covered, add more wine or water to cover. Cook on high for 1 hour and then turn down to low and cook for another 7 hours. The ragu is done when the meat literally falls off of the bones. Discard bones and bay leaves. Skim the fat off the top before serving. (It's easiest to skim the fat off when it has cooled down overnight, and it is eaten the next day. However, this time I skimmed it off when it was still in liquid form and it worked okay.)

Polenta instructions.
In a 4-quart saucepan, fry the onion and garlic in olive oil over medium heat until glossy, about 3-4 minutes. Be careful not to brown them. Turn the heat up to medium-high and add stock and milk, and then season with salt and pepper. Using a whisk, stir in the polenta cornmeal in a very slow, steady stream, whisking constantly in one direction. When all of the cornmeal has been incorporated, switch to a wooden spoon, and stir the polenta every 1-2 minutes for about 30 minutes. When you stir it and the polenta pulls away from the sides of the pan, it is done. I also tasted it and it was creamy and not grainy.

A couple of minutes before taking it off of the heat, stir in the sage, butter, and parmesan. Spoon into bowls and top with a healthy ladleful of oxtail ragu.

Gallery of images.

Frozen and thawed.

Oxtails dredged in a little bit of flour.

Put it in the crockpot and let it cook all day, stirring occasionally.

Polenta (fine cornmeal) and grated parmesan

Fresh sage from our herb garden - polenta in the cooking process

Creamy polenta covered with its perfect mate: oxtail ragu!

Thanks to Paola Thomas for her fantastic family oxtail recipe. It will probably become our family recipe now. It received a 10 out of 10 rating from both me and my partner, Rick.

20 May, 2010

Restaurant Zoë

A couple of weeks ago, after a lovely happy hour at Pintxo, a friend and I went to Restaurant Zoë for dinner. We decided to eat family style and share several smaller courses, instead of opting each for our own dinner. It was a fabulous way to try a few different bites of a few different dishes. In fact, I think I've decided that this is the way to dine!

We also noticed that the color palette of our dishes matched in lovely shades of green and brown. And the plating... My goodness! These dishes were edible art pieces. Even the simple sorbet dessert was gorgeous. A very delicious and beautiful meal all around. I will definitely be back for a closer look at other items on the menu. The ones I tried all received high marks for presentation and flavor.

As always, here are the visual highlights of the meal.

The dinner menus looked like personal invitations to 
a private, fancy dinner party. Classy.

Great atmosphere inside the dining room.

Very friendly and helpful staff and a tasty cocktail.

Next time, I'll try some wine.

The best pre-dinner bread: moist, buttery, and aromatic
rosemary bread with a tasty balsamic dip full of "stuff".

Little amuse bouche bites before our meal. I don't know what
they were, but it was tasty and a great way to whet the appetite.

The Spring Risotto: creamy and crunchy and understated.
Very good and not too filling. Just right.

A gorgeous dish and not too rich at all. I love a good risotto.

Dungeness crab with a brioche crouton, shaved green
asparagus, and ramp pistou. That's some kind of gorgeous.

This was the specialty hash that evening. Very, very good.
Possibly my favorite of the evening. The meat had a
great flavor, the potato was both firm and tender, 
and the greens were delicious. Meat 'n taters, done up fancy!

The fish at the neighboring table looked incredible, and
appeared to be served on a bed of the spring risotto.
(Yes, sometimes we spy other people's meals. We like
to know what we're missing!)

A lovely evening to be out on the town.

Sorbet made from local, in-season rhubarb and served with
mini madeleines. Really refreshing and tasty!

Isn't that gorgeous?!

The final treat of the night was no less gorgeous and tasty.
This is the Warm Chocolate Hazelnut Torte.
Served with espresso crème anglaise, candied hazelnuts,
and drizzled in caramel.

Deliciously messy.

I highly recommend this restaurant, and it really didn't set us back an arm and a leg, either. For the offerings and the service, I honestly expected it to cost more.

I will be going back for seconds, that's for sure. 

15 May, 2010

Eating at Lola

Lola pita spreads

I recently became acquainted with someone online, because a mutual friend of ours thought we should meet. Michelle Cheng is from Austin, TX and she and her husband were going to be celebrating their anniversary here in Seattle. We conversed a few times on Facebook, and then more over e-mail, and we decided that we had a lot in common and really needed to meet -- and over food.

She had a list of places she wanted to visit, but on her list was to visit one of the Tom Douglas restaurants. I had told her about my favorite of his six places (Palace Kitchen) but realized that I'd actually never been to Lola yet, and had heard good things about it. So, we decided on that, as our place to dine.

We were very happy with the service, the food, and the atmosphere. We started with a couple of fantastic appetizers--manti (lamb ravioli with yogurt, red sauce, and pine nuts), all six of the Lola pita spreads, and a lamb meatball plate. After that, we elected to eat family-style and enjoyed Tom's Big Dinner, which consisted of a veritable smorgasbord of flavors -- grilled asparagus, prawn and chicken kebabs, greek salad, smashed garlic fried potatoes (Michelle's and my favorite of the night), and a family-style pile of lamb, fennel, and olives. (Yes, we ate our share of lamb that evening.)

Everything was delicious, even down to the dessert, which was an interesting sweet/savory turnover filled with goat cheese, honey, and pistachios. I honestly have to say, though, that the best part was the company. I enjoyed Michelle and her hubby and I was happy to share a Seattle dinner with them! Come back again soon, you two!

Highlights from dinner!

A lovely evening with lovely new friends!