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Wednesday, June 2, 2010
I think it’s time I explain my relationship with food. Food is more to me than just sustenance, it is tied to my conception of the world, my community and my culture. Food is how we celebrate our victories, sooth our wounds and how we create community. We eat in times of happiness and sadness, for joy and for pain. We bring a plate of cookies to a new neighbor, a pot of soup to those who are sick. Food can do so many things, and yet at the end of the day, it is just food. It’s not overly complicated, doesn’t require anything from you, it is there simply to satiate your hunger and nourish your body.
I sought comfort in food at an early age, holding on to it for stability when it seemed my world was flying to pieces. It manifested itself in strange ways, like a constant, baseless fear of running out of food. I grew up simply, but having enough food was never once an issue- I have no idea where my fear came from. At birthday parties, I would eye the platters of beautiful food with an almost crazed mind, panicked at the thought that I would not get enough cake; that they would run out and I would be left cakeless, other kids eyeing me with pity. I had no basis for this fear, I have never seen a children’s birthday party with a shortage of cake. But I could not be convinced.
As I got older, I lost the fear of not having enough, and sought the comfort of food in other ways. I was an overachiever in school- straight A’s, dancer in a dance company, Rotary Interact Club President, outrigger canoe team, art classes- my resume was optimized for college applications. Food was my outlet. A simple process of mixing ingredients to yield a yummy finished product. Nothing to be graded, judged, or held up for comparison, this food was just for me.
I found my passion for cooking in college. I was shy, not the type of girl to go to wild parties, and turned to cooking to make friends. The smell of fresh hot chocolate chip cookies baking in a dorm could attract even the most reclusive of college kids. With food, I forged friendships and created my tribe. I joined a sorority, and through it made deep friendships with amazing women- smart, funny and inspiring. Each of our events was marked with food; cookie parties celebrating our accomplishments, dinners saying goodbye to graduating seniors, even attendance at our chapter meetings every Monday night was guaranteed with some sort of food bribe. We laughed and cried over those meals and parties and through them grew into our young adult selves.
Graduation scattered my closest friends across the country, but I stuck close to the familiar in the more sophisticated city of Seattle. The city brought many new things, but brought me closer to the tight knit group of girlfriends who stayed nearby. There were so many restaurants to be explored, happy hours to be tested and food festivals like the international cheese festival in Pike Market. Best of all, we started a tradition called Tuesday Night Dinner. The location rotated between each of our starter apartments, with barely enough kitchen space to turn around, let alone create a meal. We came up with a theme, like breakfast, Mexican, appetizers, risotto, and all brought parts of the meal and, of course, a few bottles of wine. No matter what our crazy lives threw at us, we always had Tuesday nights with the girls. While it was the companionship we treasured, it was the food that brought us together.
I have moved on from Seattle, but not from Tuesday Night Dinners. Instead of cooking to maintain relationships, I am cooking to build new ones. The meals have changed too. That first year out of school we were all playing at being grown-ups, pulling together prepared meals from the glorious Metropolitan Market (my favorite thing about Seattle shopping, more on that another day). Now that I have more time, I spend it creating menus, perfecting techniques (or at least attempting them), and appreciating the power of food.
I don’t know where my relationship with food will take me next, whether it will remain a hobby or blossom into a career, but I know that this love affair will continue throughout my whole life. No matter what else is going on, I know that with a few simple ingredients, I can satisfy someone’s basic needs, nourish their body, and even bring a smile to their face. That is the power of food, and it is a power I am happy to have.
Thursday, May 27, 2010
The day started off bright and clear, perfect for our grilling plans. The menu: Teriyaki Salmon, Filet Mignon, leftover Macaroni and Cheese, Rice, Salad, and Corn. Grilled Teriyaki Salmon is one of my all time favorite meals, so moist and hearty, yet still light and healthy. Add to that all those sides (not that Filet is a side, but in my world, Salmon trumps steak), and you’ve got yourself a party!
Unfortunately, the skies had another plan for us. Big angry clouds rolled in around five, and unleashed a torrent of sideways rain, flooding the streets and nearly drowning cars. Grillmaster Andrew was really looking forward to an evening of grillin’, and was convinced that the show could go on but luckily for our delicious food, we moved the party inside. It may have taken a bit longer, and didn’t get that flame-seared flavor, but we ended up with a pretty great plate of food.
The Great Teriyaki sauce debate continues: Soy Vey vs. Mr. Yoshida’s. Last night, Andrew claimed a momentary victory: Soy Vey was available and Mr. Yoshida’s was nowhere to be found. But Soy Vey can make a mean marinade, so all ended well. We filled our bellies so full of the savory; we could barely fit the sweet (the cookie dough pots, made by special request for our guests). A night with friends, good times, and great food- hard to beat!
The Star of the Show
All wrapped up and ready to grill... or broil
Tender and Moist
Look at that bite- yum!
Wednesday, May 26, 2010
One of the things I miss most about Seattle is Pike Market. Not that I went all the time, maybe once a month at most, but just having it there made me feel very urban and sophisticated. I loved popping over, grabbing a loaf of bread from my favorite bakery, a pound of Wild Salmon from the fishmongers, and a huge bouquet of flowers and bringing it all home for a simple dinner overlooking the sound. The best part of Pike Market, though, is Beecher’s Mac and Cheese. Hands down the World’s best Mac and Cheese (ask anyone who has had it). Whenever visitors came into town, Beecher’s was a must-taste to get the true flavor of Seattle.
Here in the land of cheese, Wisconsin, I would have thought that they would have been able to top Seattle’s Finest, but it was not to be. Luckily, a little digging on the Internet revealed the holy grail of Mac and Cheese recipes. Tuesday Night has become our night for entertaining, so what better excuse than to present the Amazing Beecher’s Cheesy Pasta?
I could not get all the actual cheeses used in Beecher’s, but its not difficult to find some great ones out here. I used smoked mozzarella, cause I love a great smoked cheese, Fontina for a nice smooth sauce, and sharp cheddar to add a bite of flavor. To top it all off, I used a thin layer of cheddar/gruyere and a sprinkling of Panko breadcrumbs for a crunchy crust. I served it with a spicy honey glazed chicken, and a big green salad. MMMMMmmmmm. Perfection.
milk roux and cheese, ready to make sauce!
mmm, look at all that cheese
the extent of my baby kitchen!
ready to pop in the oven
Crusty on the top, hot cheesy deliciousness in the middle!
Mac and Cheese
12 ounces penne pasta
4 cups Beecher's Flagship Sauce (recipe follows)
1/2 cup cheddar, grated
1/2 cup Gruyere cheese, grated
1/4 Tsp chili powder
1/4 Tsp Paprika
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Oil or butter an 9x13 inch baking dish.
Cook the penne 2 minutes less than package directions. (It will finish cooking in the oven.) Rinse pasta in cold water and set aside.
Combine cooked pasta and Flagship Sauce in a medium bowl and mix carefully but thoroughly. Scrape the pasta into the prepared baking dish. Sprinkle the top with the cheeses and then the chili powder and paprika. Bake, uncovered, for 20 minutes. Let sit for 5 minutes before serving.
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
3 cups milk
3/12 cups semihard cheese, (I used cheddar)
1 1/2 cup grated semisoft cheese, (I mixed smoked mozzarella and Fontina)
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 tsp Chili Powder
1/2 tsp Paprika
1/2 tsp Cayenne Pepper
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
Melt the butter in a heavy-bottom saucepan over medium heat and whisk in the flour. Continue whisking and cooking for 2 minutes. Slowly add the milk, whisking constantly. Cook until the sauce thickens, about 10 minutes, stirring frequently. Remove from the heat. Add the cheese, salt, chili powder, paprika, cayenne pepper and garlic powder. Stir until the cheese is melted and all ingredients are incorporated, about 3 minutes. Use immediately, or refrigerate for up to three days.
Source: Adapted from Beecher's World's Best Mac and Cheese care of the Seattle PI
Sunday, May 23, 2010
A whole weekend on my own, with no one’s palate to please but my own. I was a single girl this weekend, but since I was basically bedridden my adventures didn’t stray beyond my kitchen. So this weekend, I got to cook whatever I wanted- all the goodies that I love that my partner in culinary escapades won’t touch with a 10-foot pole. Which means: Shrimp.
My family loves shrimp. In any and every form- You can barbecue it, boil it, broil it, bake it, sauteé it (Forrest Gump, remember that movie? No? Rent it immediately). You name it, we love it. You can bet if there is a shrimp option on the menu, at least one of my family members will order it. So it was a given that I make a shrimp dish at some point, I just had to time it right.
The best restaurant on the Island of Maui is A Saigon Café, the best Vietnamese food you will ever encounter. Ask anyone who lives there. It is impossible to find if you don’t know exactly where it is, and it has no sign outside (My mom called it “Opén” for a long time, since the only visible sign was the open sign). To get there, you drive into the creepy area of town, past boarded up buildings and drugged out homeless people, and park on a dark street just under a bridge. But don’t despair, just lock your car and walk inside.
The smiling staff greets you by name, the bright interior sooths your unease. It is always packed- birthday parties, first dates, groups of people eating before they go to the ballet or theater, guaranteed you will run into at least one person you know. The waiters are old friends- trading stories of their families and asking how I am doing on the mainland.
And then there is the food. No matter what you order, you can’t go wrong. My mom and I order about 5 family style dishes, with the intention of taking leftovers home, but it’s just too good to wait. My favorite dish is the make your own fresh rolls, where they bring you the fillings and you roll it all up into a yummy spring roll. While I adore their chicken rolls, I decided to substitute shrimp instead. Though nowhere near as good as their inspiration, they hit the spot.
Shrimp Spring Rolls
For the Shrimp
8 jumbo shrimp, uncooked, peeled and tail off
1/2 tsp chili pepper
1 tsp chopped Sweet Basil
1/2 tbsp vegetable oil
1/2 tbsp Rice Wine Vinegar
salt and pepper
For the Sauce
2 Tbsp Sweet Chili sauce
1 Tbsp Rice Wine Vinegar
1/2 Tbsp granulated sugar
Cooked vermicelli noodles
Spring Roll Wrappers
Bowl of hot hot water to cook wrappers in
- Heat oil in a medium hot pan and add shrimp. Add chili pepper, basil, salt and pepper, and rice wine vinegar and cook until shrimp turn pink.
- Mix the sauce ingredients together, adjusting to your taste.
- Chop the ingredients for the filling and arrange on a plate.
- Dip one spring roll wrapper into hot water at a time, rotating until it softens and becomes transparent
- Lay out flat on a plate and arrange fillings in the middle of the wrapper. Fold edges of wrapper over and roll.- Dip into sauce.