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Archive for April, 2009

The fifth taste

Yesterday, Clare and I served as volunteer assistants for Chef Mamie, one of the teachers of public classes at the Natural Gourmet. We were cooking for an event hosted by the NYWCA (New York Women’s Culinary Alliance) highlighting umami*. The “fifth taste” (after the basic four: sweet, sour, salty, and bitter), umami is strongly present in many foods including tuna, chicken, seaweed, tomatoes, shiitake mushrooms, and parmesan cheese.

Last night’s event, held at the Institute for Culinary Education, featured a guest speaker from the Umami Information Center, who gave a short lecture on the history of the taste, which was followed by a buffet dinner full of umami-rich foods. The discovery of umami, in 1908, is credited to a Japanese chemist (Dr. Kikunae Ikeda of Tokyo Imperial University), thus people often associate the taste with Japanese foods. While it is true that many Japanese dishes are high in umami-rich ingredients, people of all nationalities have been tasting umami for centuries, it just wasn’t labeled as such. In fact, we learned during the lecture that breast milk is high in umami. 

The buffet we cooked included Japanese, Thai, Vietnamese, and Italian dishes, each of which were paired with a wine or sake (all donated by Gotham Wine). I made one Thai dish: stir fried straw mushrooms and prawns with shrimp paste; and one Japanese: miso soup.

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Clare made two Vietnamese dishes: fresh spring rolls (served with a peanut sauce) and grilled pork chops.

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Clare also helped Chef Mamie with the pizzas, which were delicious.

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Chef Mamie made two dishes as well, they were my favorites: Japanese vegetable sushi rice and green tea cookies.

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It was a fun night, and I learned some new recipes, which is always good. 

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My dinner plate from last night.

 

* I linked to the Wikipedia entry on umami for those who want to read more on its definition, but wanted to note that I found a glaring error on the page (which I corrected) so beware of false information.

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peace-gamesOur flight from Seattle landed yesterday morning at 1:00 am in Newark, we were home by 2:00. I managed to squeeze in five hours of sleep before I was off to Fairway with my granny cart to stock up on food. I then cooked all day (with lots of help from Jenn who got roped into being my kitchen assistant) for a fund raiser for Peace Games, an organization that is making a real difference in the lives of city kids in Boston, New York, and Los Angeles. Peace Game’s NYC headquarters is housed in the office of kasina, the consulting firm where I once worked, who donate the space.

While working for kasina, I had the pleasure of volunteering with some middle schoolers in the Bronx through Peace Games. Helping with their rehearsals of Othello and taking a group of kids to see Amateur Night at the Apollo are among my favorite memories of my time at kasina. I realize that everyone is tightening their purse strings these days, but if you are looking for an amazing organization that is always seeking support (not just in the form of a check), I highly recommend checking out Peace Games

In addition to some savory bites, I made this cake for the party.

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Photo by Lee Kowarski

It was my first foray into the use of fondant. I’m a long way from Ace of Cakes, but I had fun. A super special thank you goes out to Jenn who cut out the X-shaped bodies for me, I couldn’t have done it without her.

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Before heading to the airport, Dave and I had one final lunch with Braiden at Serious Pie, Tom Douglas‘ pizza joint. We started out with a salad of fava beans, local radishes, and miner’s lettuce. Smothered in a creamy but light dressing, the favas were the shining star of the dish.

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We each got our own pizza. All three (we swapped slices so I was able to sample them all) were delicious in their own right. The crust was crisp and salty and full of flavor. I find that this is the true test of a good pizza. Too often, I am disappointed by over-hyped pizza which turns out to have a flavorless crust, but that was not the case today.

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Mine: roasted chanterelles, truffle cheese. I did wish they had been more generous with the mushrooms, but the ones I did get were delightful.

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Dave’s: cherry bomb peppers, sweet fennel sausage. “Sweet and delicious.” 

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Braiden’s: Penn Cove clams, house pancetta, lemon thyme. She complained of the 
clam juice making the pizza, “a little too clammy,” but I thought my slice (minus the pancetta) was pretty good.

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A winning trio.

We then booked it to Trophy for one last act of gluttony.

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My friend Hana, when I told her I had been to Cupcake Royale, had said that Trophy was much better, so I went to see for myself. We got our cupcakes to go, for the plane, as we were still full of pizza. I went with the chocolate graham cracker with toasted marshmallow (only available on Sundays and Mondays), Dave chose plain vanilla.

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They survived the trip through airport security pretty well. We just ate them, sitting here in the airport lounge (our flight is delayed). Dave said the frosting on his was delicious. Mine was pretty good, with a layer of crunchy graham cracker on the bottom of the cake, but the marshmallow frosting on top was a bit too much for me, I couldn’t eat it all. I think that I am over cupcakes.

Stuffed, I am so done with food (especially sugar) for a while…

Serious Pie on Urbanspoon

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The best, last: lark

Last night, our last in Seattle, we had dinner with Meghan at lark.

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The small restaurant on Capitol Hill offers seasonally-inspired small plates that highlight local “artisans, farmers, and foragers.” Its warm interior is what I would call rustic chic. A nice touch are the hanging curtains which can be closed to section off parts of the space, adding an increased sense of intimacy.

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The menu is divided into five categories of small plates — cheese, vegetables/grains, charcuterie, fish, and meat — and dessert. The three of us ordered six small plates and two desserts to share. The only sections of the menu that we did not explore were the cheese and charcuterie. I’m not one to overly gush, but the food was sublime. Each dish that arrived offered delicate and thoughtful flavor pairings. The portions were neither too big nor too small, and we all left the restaurant feeling satisfied but not bursting at the seams. Without further ado, I present to you our dinner (in the order it was served).

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St. Judes albacore belly confit with warm potato, fennel and herb salad. Thin, salty slices of tuna, soft, welcoming potato, crisp fennel. The perfect beginning.

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Rosti potatoes with clabber cream. Crunchy exterior, piping hot so the cream melted into each nook, served in a cute mini cast iron frying pan.

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Bluebird Grain Farms farro with nettles and roasted oyster mushrooms. Farro seems to be one of this season’s hot ingredients. The chewy grains paired well with the wilted nettles (much like the dish I had at Tilth) and savory mushrooms.

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Roasted eel with saba and new potato salad. The best dish I had. The eel, seasoned like Japanese sushi eel, was slightly sweet and melted in your mouth.

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Sautéed half wild mushrooms with garlic, olive oil and sea salt.

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Rotisserie pork belly, stuffed with prunes and Serrano ham, bean râgout. I didn’t have this one, but Dave says it was “tender and delicately spiced.”

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Apple, dried cherry and currant cobbler with ginger biscuit and crème fraiche. Dave’s favorite of the two desserts: a buttery, dense crust atop sweet, hot pieces of local apple.

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Hazelnut cake with port syrup, salted hazelnuts and banana sorbet. Sadly, the banana sorbet didn’t photograph well, but this dish was outrageously good. The cold, sweet sorbet melded amazingly with the spongy cake.

At the end of our meal, Dave proclaimed it the best dinner he’d had since our anniversary at Gramercy Tavern in March. I whole-heartedly concur.

Lark on Urbanspoon

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Last night’s wedding festivities ended with a candlelit dinner at Duck Soup, considered by many to be the best restaurant on San Juan Island. Cam raves about the place, so I arrived hungry and excited, still a bit buzzed from the afternoon champagne. Set off of a small pond in a rustic log cabin, the inside of Duck Soup is cozy and unpretentious. The walls are decorated with simple paintings of various types of fish and produce. Our table was right by the roaring fire. We sat down to three different bottles of wines (one white, two red) and crusty baguette slices that we slathered with a delicious house made sardine spread. 

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The meal kicked off with my favorite course, a Dungeness crab stack with wontons, avocado, and wasabi aioli (there was five spice tofu instead of crab for the vegetarians). The crispiness of the fried wontons provided a pleasant contrast to the tender crab and avocado. Next came a cream of mushroom soup with bacon croutons (which I scooped out and gave to Dave). The soup, which also tasted of tomato, was flavorful and woody and just the right size.

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The third and final appetizer was an organic baby green salad with tahini green goddess dressing and optional blue cheese. I skipped the cheese, as the tahini dressing was so flavorful that I didn’t want anything to detract from it. By the time our main courses arrived the toasts had begun and I was beginning to feel full. I had chosen the halibut muinère with lemon basil beurre blanc, creamy polenta, and fresh asparagus.

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There was also a filet mignon (Dave’s choice), and an Israeli cous cous risotto. I’m not a huge fan of creamy sauces, but the beurre blanc was light enough that it didn’t over-power the halibut, one of my favorite fish, which is now in season.

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The meal ended with a heart-shaped vanilla bean crème brulée, meant to be shared, how apropo.  Also on the table were truffles, my other favorite part of the meal, made by the bride herself.

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Arriving in the San Juan Islands, for me, is like reuniting with a happier, truer version of myself. As soon as I drive off the ferry onto one of the islands (usually Orcas Island, my favorite place on earth, but this weekend we are on San Juan Island where my friend Cameni grew up) there is an immediate sense of release, everything negative and unnecessary melts away.

Yesterday was a perfect island day. It started out with a yoga class. Unlike the over-crowded and intense atmosphere of my NYC studio, the one I went to yesterday was as serene and calming as the view of the Cascade mountains in the distance, and there were only five of us in the class. After yoga, Dave picked me up and took me to the farmers’ market.dsc02082 
San Juan Island is largely covered with farmland and the produce that you find at the market is unlike any that I have seen in NYC farmers’ markets. Beautiful heirloom varieties of whatever is in season.

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That’s purple broccoli! One stand was selling seedlings for various greens, another several kinds of meat. It all made me wish that I was staying somewhere with a kitchen.

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We partook of my main weakness: baked goods. The cinnamon buns at one stall looked to die for, but I resisted and went with the whole grain bakery stand instead.

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pear tart, lemon ginger muffin, ham and cheese croissant

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We hiked off our baked treats with a quick jaunt up Mount Young for some scenic views of the surrounding islands.  Then it was time for the main event. Cameni and Alex were married lakeside, in a movie-worthy ceremony that started and ended with Cam being rowed across the lake (there by her father, back by her new husband).

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After the ceremony, there was a tea reception in the main lodge of the Lakedale Resort where we were all staying. Every little detail of the tea was ever-so-charming, and ever-so-Cam. She had made creative labels for all the offerings, most of which were brought by friends and family.

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Pixie Snacks

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Dewdrop/Moonbeam Juice

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Wood Gnome Bread

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Flower Petal Tea / Dragon Wing Tea

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Toad Stools

The crowd favorite was definitely Alex’s mom’s pumpkin chocolate chip bread.

We ended the reception with champagne and wedding cake — a delicious, rustic carrot cake made by the maid of honor’s mother.

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Cameni, a dear, old friend of mine, was married today on San Juan Island, WA. The ceremony was one of the most beautiful and moving that I have had the pleasure of attending. The cake was pretty tasty too.

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