If you follow me on Twitter (or read my tweets in the sidebar here,) you know that I was in Seattle last weekend for the International Food Blogger Conference. It's hard to believe, but after this trip, I feel more nostalgic than ever for the years I lived there.
I moved straight from college in Pennsylvania and immediately took to the rainy Pacific Northwest in flannel and Doc Martins. I didn't know anything about food, other than what I needed to be a restaurant server. After a summer in Alaska slinging overpriced crab legs at cruise ship seniors in a hotel dining room, a friend told me about a job in a small restaurant at the south end of the University District. It was Boat St. Cafe and it was a food revelation. During my brief stint there, I learned that simple, quality ingredients could be surprisingly elegant and satisfying. During lulls in service, I would help the cook make cream-baked chicken breasts for sandwiches, our summery onion, tomato and fennel soup or the decadent blackberry cobbler. I discovered smoked mozzarella. I whipped up batches of mayo flavored with lemon and basil or cayenne and red pepper flakes. My favorite snack on the weekend brunch shift was our simple oven-roasted baby red potatoes split and topped with creamy house-made hollandaise sauce and scallions. I gained a few pounds.
I had heard that the owner during my time had sold the business and that they had relocated closer to downtown. There had been a lot of buzz about a new young chef and a sexy new dinner menu. Several of my friends reported that they had gone and loved it. So when I walked in for lunch last week, I was surprised to find so many familiar touches. The interior is bright and white everywhere. Not in a modern plastic way, but whitewashed and cool with wood and stone and slate. I saw one of the old lunch standbys being delivered to a table: melted cheese over baguette halves, topped with tomato and fresh basil.
On the menu were variations of the dishes I had learned to cook - first at the restaurant and then for myself at home. Even though there were plenty of new additions, the voice of the former Boat Street was clearly still the same. I asked the server and learned that the new chef was running the dinner kitchen, but the original owner was still there running the lunch kitchen. "And she is still crazy," our server added. I remember that part, of course, but mostly I remember the food.
Boat Street Cafe
3131 Western Ave
(between Bay St & Denny Way)
Seattle, WA 98121
Macaroni & Cheese - simplified. This was pasta & melted cheese. Nothing creamy about it, but the flavor was still delicious.
Betsy waits patiently for me to take a photo of our artichoke sandwich. I'm pretty sure the artichokes were canned - strange, because they are in season and there was a whole raw one in a glass on our table for decoration. Still - great flavor, very creamy and on a ciabatta roll that was not too dense or chewy.
Lovely, seasonal rhubarb sauce over vanilla ice cream. Sigh.
Not pictured: The signature Amaretto Bread Pudding with rum butter cream and golden raisins. Topped with heavy cream. Not for the faint of heart.
This past Sunday Matt Timms made Take-down magic happen by featuring not chili, not bacon, but glorious Tofu at the most recent of his much-lauded culinary challenges. Being rather tofu-challenged myself, I decided to participate as a taster instead of a chef at this event. Although the tofu came disguised in many ways, I was disappointed in the ratio of savory to sweet dishes. The multitude of desserts meant that the savory dishes really stood out - and several took home the biggest prizes. Which is not to say that the desserts weren't delicious - both versions of Tiramisu were yummy, and these little cups of lemony goodness were executed with both flair and flavor:
I loved the "General Lu's Tofu," by Karol Lu and Mike O'Neil's Spicy Ginger Tofu. My vote went to Karol, but I was torn between hers and the Ethiopian Empanadas, by Sara Morrisson. Her made-up creation had a lovely, flaky dough wrapped around a slightly spicy tofu-studded filling. I went back for thirds. My only wish was that they could have been warmer - but even at room temp they impressed enough to take home both the judge's top prize and the audience award.
A Plate of Tofu dreams:
The judges (Cathy Erway & Akiko Moorman,) gave out a lot of prizes, including one for worst presentation - a horrible gooey green mess of "green tea brulee." For a complete list of winners, check out Matt's Take-down site.
I wasn't sure that I was going to post about the making of my pickles for the recent Park Slope Pork-Off. I got the recipe from David Lebovitz and he got it from the book Arthur Schwartz's Jewish Home Cooking. Now that I am blogging about it we will reach complete recipe redundancy. BUT! These were so easy and delicious that I can't resist sharing. SO! Here we go:
Arthur Schwartz's Homemade Kosher Pickles adapted by David Lebovitz and Melissa Sands:
The basic idea here is that you make a brine, pour it over little cucumber guys packed into glass jars with spices and then put them (without lids) into your cupboard. Magically, after 3-5 days, you suddenly have a butterfly instead of a caterpillar. Wow.
David made whole pickles and spears. Since these were specifically intended to go with my Spiked Pulled Pork Sliders at the Pork-Off, I wanted chips. I had picked up two different kinds of cucumbers - small, bright green babies at Trader Joe's and short but thick "regular" ones from a grocery store. I sliced the thicker ones on a mandolin and chopped the others by hand. It seemed safer for my fingertips. I used fresh bay leaves, coriander seeds, whole allspice and fennel seeds for my "pickling spice." I also filled the jars with sprigs of fresh dill and smashed garlic.
For funsies I also thinly sliced two tomatillos and one red onion to pickle together. I changed the recipe a bit for this mixture, adding dried Thai chilies for spice. Here are the beauties after 24 hours:
They definitely weren't done yet, so they went back into the cabinet. I tasted them each day until it had been 36 hours - at that point the thinner chips were definitely pickle flavored. The onions had mellowed and taken on some spice, so I put them in the fridge, too. The smaller, thicker chips tasted a little bitter and didn't seem to have picked up the flavors from the brine. I wasn't very hopeful for them because even at 24 hours the thin chips had a nice flavor. But an extra 24 hours did the trick - the next taste was all about salty, garlicky, dilly dills. The liquid had gotten cloudier and the chips themselves seemed saturated.
Pickled Cucumber Recipe:
2 quarts water
3 tablespoons kosher salt - do not substitute table salt or sea salt
12-15 Kirby or small cucumbers, cleaned & sliced as desired
1 bunch of fresh dill, washed
1 teaspoon each: coriander, allspice berries, fennel seeds
4 bay leaves
4 cloves garlic, peeled and lightly crushed
In a large pot, heat water with the salt until dissolved.
Sterilize two 1-quart jars by running them through the dishwasher or filling them with boiling water and dumping it out.
Put two or three bushy sprigs of dill into each jar. Pack in the pickles, layering in each jar: 1 1/2 teaspoons spice mix, 2 bay leaves and 2 smashed garlic cloves.
Carefully pour in the brine to cover the cucumbers completely. Cover each jar with cheesecloth and secure with a rubber band or kitchen twine. Store in a cool, dark place for 3-6 days. When they have reached the desired sourness, put on a lid and refrigerate.
Pickled Red Onions and Tomatillos:
Follow the basic recipe above, but use 2 tomatillos and 1 red onion, thinly sliced and layered into a pint-sized mason jar. For my pickling spice, I did a mixture of coriander, allspice berries and mustard seeds - about 1 heaping teaspoon total. I also added 2 small, dried hot chile peppers to give these a little kick and left out the fresh dill. They were a perfect crunchy, tart topping for the pulled pork sandwiches I made with my Pork-Off leftovers.