The Cooking School at Tutka Bay Lodge!

The visuals from my journey to the cooking school at Alaska’s remote and serene Tutka Bay Lodge last week.

Indeed, a picture is worth a thousand words.

I am still working on the full write up from the class, but in the mean time here’s some eye candy…

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The New Williams Sonoma in Seattle: Bucking the Trend

If you live in Seattle and like to cook,  be sure to check out the new Williams Sonoma at the University Village. A whopping 10,000 square feet and only opened since yesterday, this store immediately engaged me.

I’m a tough nut to crack when it comes to cookware. I am partial to certain brands such as Le Creuset, Cuisinart, Kuhn Rikon,  All-Clad, and Wusthof, so I’m well aware that high quality cookware comes at a hefty price. It’s an investment that should last a life time.

IMG_3664So, when I entered the new Williams Sonoma today,  I felt like a kid in a candy shop. Unlike the old store located across the Village, which was significantly smaller and cramped, this large store is open, inviting and spacious. It also features floor to ceiling displays of cookware in a variety of styles and sizes from an array of manufacturers.

I have to say that over the years when I shop for cookware, I have noticed that very often items I am interested in aren’t in stock and I am referred to a website or a catalog. This catalog default method always irritates because I like to pick up the pots and pans I might buy. I also like to hold a knife or, in the case of an appliance, inspect the controls and the features.  I also ask a lot of questions and always appreciate the knowledge, opinion,  and input from the storekeepers.

IMG_3686When I roamed around the new store today, I really felt as if they had hit the mark. The huge displays of cookware drew me in and fed my curiosity. Although I’m not in the market for new cookware right now, it was very helpful to see all of the options right there in front of my eyes and to be able to compare and contrast the choices between the different brands. Shopping experiences like this simply aren’t that easy to come by these days and I spent a fair amount of time in that department.  I soon found myself wishing I could justify purchasing a set of Mauviel Copper Pots from France. Alas, I couldn’t justify it even with the Grand Opening Discount of 20% so I moved on to the next department…Cutlery and Small Appliances, which sits right behind the cookware.

IMG_3673This u-shaped section is by no means a run of the mill department because in the center of this section, there are tables with small appliances, cutting boards and sponges. The helpful customer service gal told me that shoppers are invited to “test drive” the appliances right there before purchasing! They have large wooden tables set up with various appliances, a cutting board and a sponge! I really liked that approach and set up. This morning the Vitamix representative was there buzzing up a pineapple and grape smoothie and discussing the fine points between the different models. As for the knife display, the sales gal pointed out that they even keep a bowl of fruit and vegetables at the ready so cooks can try different knives right then and there to see how different knives feel and function in the hand.

IMG_3697Although I resisted the Mauviel pans, I succumbed to buying an Emile Henry pizza stone. Again, it was the display that sucked me in. They had the regular Emile Henry pizza stone (which I once had) and then a bright red round ridged Emile Henry stone. I suspected that the ridged pan was designed to make a crispier pizza crust and indeed that is what I was told.  With little delay, I had one rung up. Thankfully that 20% Grand Opening Discount brought that pan down in price by $12.

So, if you like to cook, check it out. Cooking is, after all,  a sensory tactile experience and buying cookware should be one, too.

Thankfully, Williams Sonoma is bucking the trend and reinvesting in that delicious reality.

72 Hours in Homer, AK: Bucket List on Steroids! Part One

RV Alaska June 2017A trip to Homer, Alaska, at the height of the fishing season and only two days before the summer solstice can only mean one thing. A bucket list on steroids. My husband, son and I flew up to Alaska last week and it was a quick and tightly focused trip to see some clients, do research, fish, and explore the region.

When we were planning the trip beforehand, we decided to rent an RV from  Great Alaskan Holidays in Anchorage. Chris has done this before but this was the first time I was embarking on the RV rental gig. We ran some numbers beforehand and realized that renting an RV and driving it the four hours to Homer out on the Kenai Peninsula was far more economical than flying down there, staying in hotels, renting a car, and eating out. The RV also gave us complete freedom to organize our trip according to our schedule and needs. And, combined with the daily 21 hours of daylight at this time of year, we were able to maximize our time in a very remote location.

After flying from Seattle to Anchorage we were greeted at the airport by the rental company shuttle which took us to the facility where we checked in, watched a safety video, and loaded our Minnie Winnie with gear, clothing and food. Our Minnie Winnie was spacious, gorgeous and appointed with Cuisinart cookware, bed linens and fluffy towels. We rented a toaster and the coffee pot.

Our first night was spent in Seward, Alaska simply because we didn’t want to drive so long after leaving from Seattle that morning. We stayed at a municipal campground in town, watched the cruise ships navigate into the dock, marveled at the massive halibut and rock fish haul on display and then left early the next morning for Homer,  the Halibut Capital of the World. Located on the Kachemak Bay and in the shadow of Kachemak Bay State Park, this place is a nature lover’s paradise.

The spacious and clean Heritage RV Park, located right on the Bay, became our home for three nights. Sitting right on The Spit and adjacent to the local (and stocked) fishing lagoon, this RV park is also within walking distance to town and the marina. This proximity to the attractions worked great because we didn’t have to unhook the RV and trek the lengthy rig in to town to see the sights. Our site was right on the beach and had some of the best Alaskan scenery I have ever experienced. We didn’t have to eat out because our fully equipped kitchen was stocked and ready.

During the three days, we covered a lot of territory even though the Spit is relatively small in size. Fishing for halibut. Making tacos at a local cooking school. Losing a BIG fish in the lagoon. Discovering a new water trail around the Bay, Watching fishermen fillet their fish. Kicking back and enjoying the Midnight Sun. Watching the sun set and indulging in Klondike Bars and berries at midnight on Father’s Day.

For more on my 72 Hours in Homer, watch for Part 2: The Cooking School at Tutka Bay Lodge. 

 

 

 

 

Tomato Season 2017: Digging Those Eastern European Heirlooms

Well, I admit it. I start thinking about the upcoming tomato season in December. Seattle is ridiculously dark and rainy during the last month of the year, but without fail that’s when my tomato and garden catalogs trickle in and that’s when I leave the holiday hubbub at the door and start to plan for the spring.

This year, we are having a ridiculously cold and rainy spring and everyone is wondering when the dreary weather will hit the road. No one has any answers and the media even salts the communal wound by publishing articles saying this is the rainiest season EVER for the Emerald City.

That being said, I am still marching forth on my tomato planning but I am also preparing for what will most likely be a late and truncated tomato season. When I moved to Seattle from New York over twenty years ago, I got turned on to the Eastern European heirloom tomatoes. I was told that these varieties are naturally conducive to Seattle’s maritime climate and that they produced flavorful unique tomatoes that defy the odds. Indeed, varieties such as Black Krim, Moskvich, Gregori’s Altai, Cosmonaut Volkov, Stupice and Siberia have been the backbone of my tomato beds for year.  These varieties sit alongside the classic heirlooms such as Carmello, San Marzano, Mortgage Lifter and Brandywine.

I often push the envelope and plant my tomatoes around April 15th but NOT this year because nighttime temperatures are still dipping to 40, which is way too cold. Hence, I’m coddling my plants at the kitchen table and at locations throughout my little house until the days get warmer and brighter.

If you haven’t gotten your tomato game plan in order yet, fear not because there’s still lots of time to reach for some of the Eastern Europeans. I grow some by seed but I also rely on the plants grown by Langley Fine Gardens on Vashon Island. You can find them at  Sky Nursery in Shoreline, at Swanson’s Nursery in NW Seattle and at select farmer’s markets during spring.  Or, you can simply order live plants directly from Territorial Seed in Oregon.

 

 

Banh Town in North Seattle: Vietnamese Street Food Served with a Smile

It pays to drive the carpool. It can be deliciously rewarding in many ways.

Twice a week I drive my son and his buddy over to evening lacrosse practice. En route, I get the scoop on everything from the Spanish curriculum at a local middle school to the boys’ recap on last week’s game.

Recently, one of our carpool conversations circled around food. We were talking about my son James’s favorite teriyaki joint in the neighborhood and our 14-year-old car pool passenger quickly chimed in with HIS favorite joint in the area…Banh Town.

Banh Town: Vietnamese Street Food. Banh Mi. Pho. Happiness

I was immediately intrigued by his suggestion because the place had been on my list for about two years…Will quickly gave me a recap on their pho and their sandwich selection. Sighing in the back seat, he told me their vermicelli salad was “the best.”  I think Will was in fact making a mental note to get back there sooner rather than later.

I made a similar note and this week when my husband and I wanted something light, fresh and different for lunch, I suggested Banh Town. We were soon out the door and on our way to this small, bright and cheerful little family owned and operated Vietnamese restaurant. Located at the busy intersection of Greenwood Avenue North and Holman Road and sitting right behind a Jiffy Lube, Banh Town is a treasure. The interior is bright and the walls are decorated with large  colorful photographs of Vietnam.

 

Vermicelli Salad.JPGChauanh, was our server and she is also one of the owners. Service with a smile seems to be the mantra at Banh Town and we were quickly briefed on the menu which includes an array of banh mi, pho, vermicelli salads and a variety of starters. Although I’ve been making a lot of pho during this wet and rainy Seattle winter we’ve been having, I opted to celebrate the sunshine yesterday and ordered the chicken vermicelli salad ($9.95). My husband had the five spice chicken banh mi ($6.95) and we shared two spring rolls ($7) and an order of quail’s egg poppers ($7), which were a family recipe from Grandma Le. ( I think Grandma Le might be Chauanh’s maternal grandma. We were told she is a great cook and she is cited as the recipe creator on a few of the flagship items on the menu so take note!)

Bahn MiThe banh mi arrived with a side of sesame slaw and the sandwich was light and beautifully done with a crispy airy French roll and lots of fresh cilantro. My salad was full of flavor and the skewered chicken was grilled to the perfect degree. Perched on top of cold vermicelli noodles and a cucumber lettuce combo, the chicken added a nice protein punch to the light and satisfying entrée. The quail’s egg  poppers were crispy on the  outside and the interior was subtle and comforting.

The bill was reasonable by Seattle standards and totaled less $40 with tax and tip. The restaurant  is now open seven days a week and offers takeout and delivery via Doordash and Postmates.

The restaurant’s logo touts: Banh Town: Vietnamese Street Food. Banh Mi. Pho. Happiness.

Yep, that pretty much sums it up.

 

 

 

Discover Asian Doodle Soup!

We’ve all heard about Zoodles…spiralized zucchini that often takes the place of pasta in savory dishes.

Well, I’ve come up with Doodles! Spiralized Daikon radish that works equally as well in hot and cold dishes.

Until yesterday, I had never bothered with Daikon radish, a huge mild white winter radish from Asia. A cruciferous vegetable high in fiber and low in calories, this vegetable is indeed an underappreciated powerhouse.  When I was at the upscale Asian market in my neighborhood this weekend, I noticed boxes and boxes of these radishes around the produce department. Clearly a seasonal loss leader, they were priced at 49 cents a pound so I decided to buy one.  At the time, I didn’t know what I’d do with it but I figured something would strike my fancy.

At home, I was going to originally prep the ingredients for my Asian Chicken Salad but the weather was awful over the weekend and the chill permeated so I ditched the salad idea and decided to craft a warm and soothing Asian soup. That’s when I had my AHA moment. The Daikon was on my counter and it occurred to me that the elongated vegetable would be perfect spiralized!

daikon-doodles-2017

So, I readied my  KitchenAid Spiralizer  with the fine spiralizer attachment, cut the daikon into five inch chunks, and attached it to the spiralizer. It spiraled perfectly and the “Doodles” worked great in an Asian pho with shredded Napa cabbage, cilantro, Thai basil and scallions.   I simmered them in a homemade Asian-style chicken broth over moderately high heat for about three or four minutes. After that,  they softened a bit but retained some crunch. A very satisfying low carb and low calorie way to get a hefty hit of vegetables on a cold rainy Seattle day.

I didn’t use them all in one go yesterday so I stashed the leftover Doodles in the fridge and they stored perfectly—no browning or discoloring and they remained crispy and crunchy overnight.

So, if you find Daikon on sale and you happen to have a spiralizer in your kitchen, give Doodles a go!

 

Cookbook Review: Nourishing Broth

I love cookbooks and have hundreds of them in my home. New releases, trendy editions, vintage copies, dog-eared classics. You name it, I pretty much have it in my disorganized and tattered but beloved collection.

Over the years while writing for newspapers, Amazon’s Al Dente blog and my own website, I have reviewed numerous cookbooks and one of my benchmarks for judging a book is whether the recipes and tips really work. Lately, I’ve noticed that many cookbook reviews give a casual broad mention of the content and the author and it’s pretty clear that the reviewer didn’t really crack the book and put it to the test.

I often ask myself, did this person peruse it or use it? For me, the true test takes place on the stove and at the kitchen counter. Are the instructions logical and is the ingredient list accurate? Does the author erroneously assume knowledge and omit details that might impact the finished results? Do the recipes add value to the everyday repertoire? Is the content unique enough that the reader is encouraged to ditch tradition, take a risk and try something new?

Well, when I recently saw Nourishing Broth at the  Amazon Bookstore down at Seattle’s University Village, I put it on my cookbook bucket list and bought it a few days later. Admittedly, the paperback book isn’t flashy.but the contents are indeed explosive. Written by Sally Fallon Morell of the Weston A. Price Foundation, the book covers all aspects of making nutritious restorative homemade broths and is based on in depth research, countless studies, and no nonsense home based culinary tradition. Sally cites research and writes convincingly how a well crafted broth can help tackle issues such as osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, digestive diseases, mental health, athletic challenges, and even saggy middle aged skin and the dreaded cellulite! This is a lot of the stuff that our grandmothers knew intuitively but somehow got shoved aside as time marched on and the food scene became more dynamic.

Consisting of three main parts: Basic Broth Science, The Healing Power of Broth, and Recipes, Nourishing Broth sent me on a little quest.  I’ve always made homemade broths for my family and my kids often swear by how my chicken broth, when laced with ginger, garlic and cilantro, can quickly turn around a nasty cold.

Sally’s book, however, inspired me to tweak my tradition even further. With my list in hand at my neighborhood Asian market,  I headed for the meat department and purchased unique stubby cuts of beef with bones and collagen. On page 168 in the introduction to her recipe for Classic Beef Stock she says: “Good beef stock requires several sorts of bones: knuckle bones…marrow bones….meaty ribs…and shanks…”  I gathered a motley but beautiful collection of shanks, rib cubes, oxtail and more.

Following her basic recipe and using my big All-Clad slow cooker, I was flabbergasted by the depth of flavor, silky texture and  overall richness of the beef broth I created. I incorporated that broth into numerous soups and dishes that week and the feedback was very positive. I really knew I was on to something when I spontaneously worked the last of that broth and beef into a late night beef taco for my 14 year old son.He declared it the “best ever.” My beloved Golden Retriever even took note and sat patiently next too me while I drained the broth at the end of the day! When I half jokingly asked her if she liked “gravy” she licked her lips, wagged her tail and sat at attention!

Since then, I’ve made chicken and shellfish broth recipes from the book and incorporated many of Sally’s healthy tips. Priced at $23, this book offers tremendous value and endless healthy inspiration. I highly recommend it.