Let's eat!

Hi. My name's Carol, and I love food. No, you don't understand. I love food. If I were on the Titanic, I'd be in the galley (kitchen) eating up the chocolate pudding and the roasted quail. I go to most events, activities and parties just for the food. The company and the conversation are secondary. Here, I'll try to document everything that goes into my mouth. Aren't we excited? Oh, hey, are you gonna eat that?

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Not so Perfect Pumpkin Pie

It all started with my husband's innocent, "You should make pumpkin pie with all the roasted pumpkin puree you worked so hard on. Not just pumpkin bread." He wasn't completely serious. But, after worrying about the difficulty of making the dough, I took him seriously.

I'd never made pie before. I always thought it was harder to make than cookies, cakes, and quick breads.

But I'd rolled out sugar and gingerbread man dough before. So making dough wasn't foreign to me.

What convinced me finally to do it was finding this supposedly easy recipe for Perfect Pumpkin Pie from Foods of Our Lives. She emphasizes fresh pumpkin over canned. That's point #1. Her pumpkin filling didn't have a million exotic ingredients. I even had a can of evaporated milk leftover from a previous baking project, score #2. And I liked the simplicity and vinegar quirk of her Grandma's Pie Crust. No sugar in the dough for the crust either. Interesting.

Still worrying I'd mess up the crust real badly — mostly in not being able to roll it out without tearing it apart — I forged ahead, adding a few notes from an old Martha Stewart Thanksgiving special and mental notes from decades upon decades of watching cooking shows, mostly about keeping the dough cold, keeping even the flour cold beforehand, cutting up the butter into cold little cubes, brushing the dough edges with egg wash, stuff like that.

Let me tell you, the only way to learn anything, especially baking pies is to do it once. I ran into a few problems they never tell you about, certainly never brought up in this recipe.

The recipe doesn't say anything about keeping the dough chilled before rolling it out and the dough in the pie pan chilling in the freezer while making the filling. It doesn't mention that four tablespoons of cold water isn't enough to pull the dough together at first crack. How long it took to cut the butter cubes into the flour mixture until it all turned into a coarse sand (ow! my arm!), and how important it is to put the filled pie pan on top of a baking sheet in case of spillage.

The recipe certainly didn't warn you that when you go to pull the foil off the 30-minute baked pie, that it could take off pieces of half-baked dough edges. Or, that the edges would continue to bake until it burned if you didn't line them with foil toward the second half of the baking process. Or!, that baking the pie filling off enough until it wasn't jiggling like jello took a lot longer than 30 more minutes.

Don't put your finger in the middle of the pie to test for doneness either. Leaves a mark.

Otherwise, voila! My first not so perfect pumpkin pie for Thanksgiving tomorrow. Very homemade.

(I have the other half of the dough in the freezer to make pumpkin pie for Christmas next month. This time I know what to expect.)

Sunday, October 9, 2011

lucky chicken

This is good. Not sure how I did it (again). It's been awhile since my last successful chicken dish. I'd tried before, many times, figuring it had to be chicken with skin and bone then forgot some steps along the way. Last time, I tried to finish the chicken by broiling the skin crispy. It wasn't quite the same.

It's the same now, by accident.

I didn't need to broil the chicken at all. I forgot to take the chicken out of the oven when I turned the heat down from 375 to 350, maybe 15 extra minutes after 20, and somehow they came out great, crispy skin, deeply flavorful meat, even more deeply flavorful bits and broth left on the baking sheets.

Maybe the key is forgetting.

Here's, to the best of my knowledge, what I did with the chicken:

Marinated chicken thighs in bone and with skin for about 15-30 minutes. Marinade included tequila, soy, sesame oil, Mirin, garlic-salt (I individually sprinkled some over individual pieces), pepper, grated ginger, garlic cloves put through garlic masher. Lay out individual chicken thighs on sheet pan meat down, skin up, pepper skin. Bake at 375 for 20 minutes, reduce heat to 350 for another 10-15 checking for skin crispness.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Hello, Goodbye, Beet Root Cafe

The two separate times we've been to Whistler, we've had a heck of a time finding a decent place to eat. Decent, meaning, affordable first. Whistler can be expensive, especially now with the devalued U.S. dollar. Used to be, you go to Canada to get everything cheaper. Not anymore. They come down here to get cheap stuff, and the cost of living isn't so cheap up there to begin with.

The same thing happened our third time in Whistler this past Labor Day Weekend. But there were so many more places to eat, so we faced the dilemma of finding an affordable breakfasty cafe that pleased a picky eater of a son, his dad and me--oh, with barely 15 minutes to eat because the next jazz show (there for the first inaugural Jazz on the Mountain festival) was already starting in five.

We found ourselves walking around the Village way too long, going from one place to another, finding them all similarly Urban Grill-ish, meaning, not our style.

Finally, as we were prepared to give up and find something on the way to the Olympic Plaza, where the concert was, my husband noticed a hole-in-the-wall advertising Irish lamb stew on a small handwritten sign. We had to walk around a maze of corner buildings to an inner mini-mall on the other side to find the Beet Root Cafe, run by an Irish-accented husband and wife.

Like a fool, I spotted the sandwich section -- this place reminded me of a cafe in Deep Cove, Vancouver -- and tried the turkey panini. Ed had a breakfast burrito, and our son James had his makeshift breakfast sandwich with scrambled egg, bacon, and a toasted muffin.

My panini was HUGE. More like a gigantic focaccia sandwich, more focaccia than turkey to be truthful. But I ate it dutifully while I eyed this lady at the cafe's outside area primly enjoying her small bowl of stew with multi-grain brain and butter. I kept thinking that would've been perfect before the concert, not too much, not too little.

The next day, we were back, but for dinner, again with only 15 minutes to spare before another jazz concert. I ordered my large Irish lamb stew and wolfed it down. It was so peasanty and basic, more brothy than stewy (the kind of beef stew Americans are familiar with), with the hearty multi-grain really going well with it, sopping up the broth along the way.

I loved this stew so much, we went back our last day, for a leisurely morning breakfast, while my husband went with an interesting turkey sandwich with shredded beets and assorted other vegetables. They must love beets in Canada. I'd had a golden beet salad at a Sunday Brunch the morning before that was to-die for.

It was only when I finished my big, honkin' chunk of potato slap-dab in the middle of the bowl of stew-age that I found out the Beet Root Cafe was leasing out, its owners looking to unload their place.

Hopefully, by the time we come back here, there will be new owners and not a for sale sign.

Brunch, the Whistler way

My media invitation read: "The Fairmont Chateau Whistler will be hosting you for brunch on Sunday, September 4. Please meet Jennifer Tice, PR manager, at the entrance to the Wildflower Restaurant at noon."

What a Sunday Brunch it was. I was there to cover the first-ever Whistler Jazz Festival. Organizers did it right, too, taking care of the artists, the visitors, and the media with special events designed to get them all to mingle.

As a part of the media (I write about jazz on Examiner.com), I had the privilege--along with my family--to visit Whistler and have free food at Whistler's finest--twice, the first night at a fancy Bearfoot Bistro, where I'd imagine all the celebs make a beeline for. The second time was on Sunday for a brunch to end all brunches.

Was the Wildflower's Brunch as lavishly spread out as, say, the Halekulani's Orchids in Waikiki? No. They've never heard of sushi and sashimi for breakfast--these are British and French descendants for the most part--but the spread they did have in such a rich, distinguished setting was singularly out of this world and pampering.

As is my habit at brunches, I scoped out the spread with my camera first. My eye zeroed in immediately on the raw oysters with a selection of sauces, cocktail, mignonettes, next to bowls of scallops, smoked salmon and trout, and shrimp. Then, the long wooden plank of perfectly poached, delicate Eggs Benedict.

I also noticed an indigenous breakfast staple, harkening back to Britain's bangers and mash: a pot of roasted tomatoes and beans. Mmm. I could totally go for that every morning. And did this morning.

I pretty much pile-drove through three full, heaping plates of everything, then skipped dessert (carrot cake, danishes, chocolate) out of guilt--with a heaping plate full of as many raw oysters each time as I could get away with.

It's awkward talking to PR and media contacts with food flying out of your mouth, but I did my best. I mean, free raw oysters on the half shell? Come on.

What I didn't have, my husband and son dove into. My son James loved himself on a plate full of bacon, then proceeded to make his breakfast sandwiches (as he's wont to do on vacation since this summer) with some creamy scrambled eggs and a halved roll. He even tried the sausage (the darker-colored one left of the pale ones I tried). Seeing all that bacon piled high was a dream for his little bacon-loving heart.

My husband took advantage of the omelette-making and roast-beef-carving stand. He said his tomato omelette was the best he ever had. The roast beef was perfectly cooked to a medium-rare, with an option of wine-reduced au jus and some horseradish.

It was like going to Vegas in the '80s, but free and much, much more sophisticated.

We dined like kings as the house band played live jazz behind us. I could get used to this life.

Did I wake up and turn into a Kardashian?

The moment we stepped inside Bearfoot Bistro, most of my family especially me majorly sleep deprived since driving across the border from WA state into Canada's Whistler, Friday night (Sept. 2, 2011) for a fancy VIP Media-only dinner, c/o Jazz on the Mountain at Whistler, we knew we weren't in Kansas anymore.

I felt as if we woke up from a restless dream only to find ourselves catapulted into the lives of the rich and famous. I half-expected Robin Leach to round the corner with his tubby jolly form any minute after the five-course dining experience, plus vintage champagne options down in the Cellar, where my nine-year-old son got to saber a bottle top off with an excited, childlike flourish.

My husband and I exchanged several quizzical, dumbstruck glances at the dinner table -- for 15 -- smack-dab in the middle of this five-star resort-like dining establishment.

As soon as I read the menu, each printed on fancy card stock at each place setting on the starched-white table, with fancy choices for the first course (Serrano and Melon, Heirloom Tomato Panzanella, Seared Québec Foie Gras, raw oysters on the half shell)... I knew I was in trouble. Okay, I wasn't in trouble; I could totally eat this stuff.

But our nine-year-old son was in misery. He's used to McDonald's, Kraft mac 'n cheese, and Tubby Toast. This fancy stuff was over his head and out of his palate.

We gamely tried to go with the flow. It was easy to do with the easygoing guests and hosts who made sure our son was taken care of (he got to pick from the kids' menu and had cheese pizza later) when we trudged down into the Cellar and several of us got to saber a real vintage bottle of champagne, including him. Exciting stuff for a kid.

The champagne was delicious, too, as was the white wine -- which tasted of pears -- that accompanied our feast.

Every course I carefully chose was delicious:

Serrano & Melon
wild greens, shaved parmesan, puffed quinoa

-- A spoon full of a seared pink fish with vegetables in a cleansing bite in between

Beef Tenderloin
potato purée, grilled asparagus, dungeness crab croquette

-- A melon sorbet aperitif, again to cleanse the palate

variations of Pemberton beets & raspberries

We waited forever for the dessert -- a crazy contraption of beet foam on top of a wet chocolate cake and raspberry sorbet. While we did, my son and I snuck off near the lobby (restaurant is attached to a hotel) to play checkers, and watched a nearby table enjoy the restaurant's signature homemade dry ice, ice cream, made in a giant metal bowl.

This was the high life, and we were made a part of it by the grace of God, my participation as a Jazz Music Examiner, there to cover the first Whistler Jazz Festival, and pure, dumb luck.

As foreign as this luxurious living was, we tried to make the best of it, and enjoy ourselves from first bite to last. As a tablemate said to me, as I nervously joked about handing over my firstborn in payment for what surely must be a multi-million-dollar repast, "This is where you go to eat when someone else is paying. Just enjoy it."

I did. Boy, the steak -- was it Australian waygu striploin? -- was so tender...

Monday, August 29, 2011

Indian curry hit

All it took apparently was for me to mention offhand that Indian curry eases dementia (read it in a Costco Membership magazine). Even though I'd made Aloo Gobi last night and would make broiled curried salmon later tonight, my husband wanted to try out another Groupon for an Indian restaurant located in Fremont, Seattle, a 30-minute drive south from here.

Only trouble was, I insisted on going to UPS and Albertson's to get two big errands done, as previously scheduled. I also flaked out on the time to pick up our son from a playdate elsewhere, and found out only on the drive down to Fremont that we just lost a half hour (we're supposed to pick James up at 7 not 7:30 p.m. Oops!).

We had to find Qazis Rrestaurant -- Indian Curry House and Mediterranean Cuisine -- in a hurry during rush hour traffic, order and wolf down our food in less than 40 minutes, praying they served food fast.

It turned out they did. The food was out of this world, way better than a Seattle Bengal Tiger chain that sucked the last time we had Indian. Also, my friend said it was okay if we were a little late in picking our son up. Aah.

First thing I noticed right off the bat was baba ghanouge under appetizers. It didn't hit me until well into our meal that this was Middle Eastern, not Indian. That's when I realized this restaurant was Indian AND Mediterranean. So they also had hummus, gyros, falafels. Double score.

Baba ghanouge was so creamy, light, and buttery, like a feather, with barely a hint of garlic or lemony tang. It was barely there and perfectly sopped up by the buttery pita (more buttery than a Middle Eastern restaurant would offer, but I'm not complaining). I would so order just this next time, maybe the Mazza (hummus, baba ghannoj, falafel, dolmas, and tabboleh, pita bread) platter, and be done.

As it turned out, the curries we'd ordered were just the right amount. At other Indian restaurants, the curries come in these gigantic tubs. We always have doggy bags for days. But Qazis offers their many, many varieties of curries in these cute, metal, small bowls. Eddie and I finished my Chicken Vindaloo (even at mild, it was hot) and Chicken Makni (simmered in butter, tomato and cream sauce), with our colorful, orange-bespecked garlic naan and colorful, orange-bespecked Basmati rice--all deeply flavorful, yet simply prepared.

Nothing was overly done or heavy, not even the Vindaloo which had a kick but held a mild sophistication. We finished every last bite, save for licking our bowls, except the Basmati rice. The Basmati rice was really the only dish that came large; neither of us were complaining.

Even though we were both pleasantly stuffed--as opposed to vomitous--we had to order the kheer. With the flavorless dish water still in our recent memory from that horrid Bengal Tiger, we dived into our small bowl of rice, coconut milk, nuts, and cardamom. They could've added more nuts, but otherwise, perfection, rich, sweet, flavorful.

Because Qazis is also a Mediterranean restaurant, they offered a lot more than kheer (rice pudding), rasmalai (cheese patties swimming in almond-sweetened milk and cardamom sauce) and gulab jamun (fried milk dough dripping with honey/saffron syrup). There was halvah, baklava, kulfi (Indian ice cream comprised of condensed milk, cream, cardamom, almonds)--what I'm ordering next time, Chai ice cream, coconut almond ice cream, mango pistachio ice cream, NY cheesecake.

We ate inside, way before dinner time, around 5-6 p.m., so there weren't that many people. They were outside enjoying the sun. Some of the owners' children ran in and out from the kitchen. It was comforting, not intrusive, breezy.

I think this shall be my favorite Indian restaurant. We're definitely going back--only when we have nothing else to do but just sit back and really enjoy.

Aloo Gobi from a Soap Opera Actress

It's not often I'm inspired to make a recipe I find from a magazine. I've recreated a Campbell's soup recipe. I've wanted to recreate a Nigella Lawson strawberry muffin recipe. Otherwise, I never get around to it, or the recipe's too complicated.

Not this one. It's from Soap Opera Digest, and an Indian actress who plays Rama on ONE LIFE TO LIVE.

Shenaz Treasury's (Rama, OLTL) Aloo Gobi (Potato-Cauliflower Curry) Recipe:

2 medium potatoes, peeled and cubed
1 small or medium cauliflower, cut into florets
1 medium onion, chopped
1 medium tomato, chopped
2 cloves of garlic, chopped
2 tbsp. ginger, grated or finely chopped
1/2 tsp. turmeric
1 1/2 tsp. ground cumin
2 tsp. ground coriander
1/2 tsp. ground garam masala
1/2 tsp. ground red pepper
1 tsp. salt
1/2 cup fresh cilantro
2 green chilies, whole

Heat 3 tbsp. vegetable oil in large skillet over medium heat. Cook onion, garlic and ginger in hot oil till golden brown, 5 minutes. Stir cilantro stems, green chilies and turmeric into the mix. Add tomato and continue cooking until tomatoes are softened. Add potatoes, cook and stir till potatoes are completely coated. Add cauliflower, season with cumin, coriander, garam masala, ground red pepper, and salt. Pour 2 cups water over mix, stir. Bring to boil, cover, reduce heat to medium-low and cook till potatoes and cauliflower are tender but not mushy, 20 minutes. Garnish with cilantro leaves before serving [with rice!].

-Soap Opera Digest, Aug. 23, 2011

I love Indian food, especially vegetarian offerings like Aloo Gobi (potato and cauliflower curry). I was first introduced to Indian food by a former boyfriend back in Hawaii. He would take me to this awesome place in Honolulu where all the curries and daals and chutneys were served on this metal tray like from my high school cafeteria. Everything was so spicy and exotic. I couldn't get enough. That it was healthy and vegetarian, aided in my never ending fitness routine and six-mile daily jog.

This Aloo Gobi recipe seemed easy enough to make in my home. All I really needed was to pick up garam masala by the 1/2 teaspoonful at PCC (cheapest option; buying an entire bottle is expensive).

I actually had to pick up a whole lot more than one spice. Earlier today, I went to the Farmer's Market and PCC for most of the vegetables. The recipe didn't specify what kind of green chilies to get, so I got big serranos.

The hardest part of cooking Indian food is preparing all of the ingredients for the skillet, then, standing there making sure each one is toasted long enough in the oil with the other spices. I got the garlic and onion prepped when I realized I didn't get enough ginger. I finished chopping the other vegetables, put them in their own dishes, then went back to the store for more ginger.

I hate doing that.

I didn't use just water for the two cups liquid. I needed more flavor, if my husband was going to try some. Truth be told, I should've added chicken for him. I used a can of chicken broth then finished up the second cup with water. It still needed more salt after simmering covered for 20 minutes.

If you're a vegetarian/vegan, you would love this as is--minus the chicken broth. If you're allergic to tomatoes, use bell pepper, or even Chinese eggplant.

This is my attempt to eat better. Let's see how long this lasts.

I'm still interested in finding other Aloo Gobi recipes to try. Could be an Indian food-cooking trend here.