Sunday, May 29, 2005

Spaghetti alla Carbonara

I think I first had a real Spaghetti alla Carbonara at the rooftop restaurant at the Hotel Forum in Rome. It was about a zillion degrees by lunchtime, and we had been plodding around the Forum for a couple of hours and were starving. I was hooked, and had several different versions around Rome--it's a great late-night meal.

When I say "real" I mean "no cream, no peas". I used to make Fred Plotkin's version, which had eggs, pancetta, parsley, pepper, parmesano, and olive oil. He has you cube the pancetta and cook it slowly in olive oil, so that it's pink and not crispy. I've recently been using Ruth Reichl's version from Garlic and Sapphires, which omits parsley, and uses only bacon fat and eggs for the sauce. The idea is to cook the eggs slightly with the hot pasta, and then add parmesan cheese and let it melt into the egg goo. The trick is to let the pasta drain long enough (like 10 seconds) so that it's not so hot that the eggs turn solid. Ruth Reichl's version is very minimalist, and very good. I've been using the trim piece pack (around 1/2 price) of Hempler's bacon, which is a local product. I used to use pancetta, but the pancetta I can get here is pre-sliced too thin. One of these days I'll go to Salumi and get a hunk of pancetta.

Set a pot of spaghetti going, around 1lb. Use only thick spaghetti. I sometimes use bucatini from Rustichella D'Abruzzo. Meanwhile, cook 1/2lb bacon or pancetta until starts to render some fat. Add a slightly smashed clove of garlic, and continue to cook until it's a little dry around the edges, but not crispy--you still want it to be pink, not brown. Put two eggs (freshly laid by your chickens and never refrigerated is best, because refrigeration affects the texture of the eggs) into your serving dish.
Whisk the eggs (not too much!) with a generous amount of black pepper:
Eggs and Pepper, Blended
Drain the spaghetti, let it release a bit of heat, then dump it on the egg mixture and toss so that the spaghetti is evenly coated and the eggs are slightly cooked. If the spaghetti is too hot, the eggs will get dry. Next, toss with the bacon (discard the garlic) and the rendered bacon fat, sprinkle about 1/2c parmesan on top, and toss together until the cheese is melted into the sauce.
Adding the Cheese
Serve with pepper and grated parmesan at the table.

Thursday, May 26, 2005

Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill

In case you haven't already heard about it, here's a film recommendation for the weekend: Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill, a documentary about a flock of wild parrots living in San Francisco and Mark Bittner, a man who has befriended them. It's G-rated and quite touching, though my 9-year-old started bawling at the ending. As Debbie pointed out, it's one of those rare movies shot in San Francisco that actually looks like the San Francisco we know. For those on Bainbridge Island, it's playing at the Lynwood Theatre this weekend. Don't miss it!

Dinner: The Supermarket Meze

When it's 85 degrees and there is barely cloud in the sky, something refreshing that doesn't involve slaving over a hot stove comes to mind. Pre-made dolmas, baba ganoush, orzo salad and tabouli from the Town & Country salad bar, some pita, along with some tomatoes, red onions, cukes, kalamata olives and feta that Debbie made into a Greek salad. A French rosé to drink.

Too bad the kids won't eat it. They know how to make ramen...

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Comfort Food

A death in the family brings everyone together, in this case in San Diego. The question then becomes, what to eat after a funeral? Along with a cornucopia of baked goods left over from the church, (those Lutherans really know how to bake!) Patrick tried to come up with a selection of comfort foods to cook. He made lasagne, a crock-pot full of meatballs, homemade macaroni and cheese, and some green salad. Everything was perfect.

Our comfort food before the funeral turned out to be Pho and spring rolls from our favorite place on Mira Mesa Blvd., Pho Hua Hiep.

What else comes to mind for comfort food?

Monday, May 16, 2005


We now have seven chickens, including two chicks. Chickens - 06

You should have chickens, too! We feed them organic mash and various kitchen scraps. They live in a coop on the lawn. In return, they fertilize the lawn, give us lots of additional fertilizer to put on the compost heap, and they give us the most amazing eggs. Fresh-laid eggs are nothing like what you buy in the store, even if you buy the "organic free-range" eggs.

The kids love them, and take them out and play with them almost every day. Some people will tell you that chickens are not social with humans and shouldn't be handled, but our experience has been otherwise. Our most productive chicken, Opal, is always being dragged around the yard in the arms of one of our kids. Opal now comes to the end of the coop when you walk up, hoping to be let out. Our dog Alaska, however, would like to voice an objection--he wants to come out and play, too!
Chickens - 24
"Please! Just one little chicken!"
Alaska has tasted chicken in the past, so we have to be careful to keep him away from the chickens when they're out. He barks and barks, and sometimes gets so excited that he pees on the carpet...

Oh, and the chicks are extremely cute:
Chickens - 13

Some cities are getting progressive about chickens. For example, in Seattle, you can keep three chickens no matter how much land you have, and more land allows you to have more chickens. Sadly, in most municipalities, chickens are considered "livestock" and have draconian setback requirements. When we lived in San Diego, our neighbor snitched on us, and the city inspector came out. We had previously let them roam free on our slope, but after the inspector came, we had to keep them in the coop, because they had to be 50 feet from any dwelling. Rules like that make it almost impossible to keep chickens in a city.

There are lots of ways of keeping chickens and not having them be smelly. One is the coop you see here (which we got from Henspa). Pull down the handle on the back and wheels come down, and you can roll it around the yard. Our lawn is still kind of sparse, but in the areas where the coop has been, it's coming in really thick and green. (I did fertilize the rest of it with organic this-and-that about a month ago, but it's not nearly as effective as hosting chickens). You can also build a stationary coop and keep piling on straw bedding. As long as you can manage to keep it dry, it won't smell bad. After a year, you take out the bedding and compost it. The garden center next door to us has a coop managed like that, and it doesn't stink at all.

Sunday, May 15, 2005

Paella with Samantha

Saturday dinner: We started with some tapas of roasted new red potatoes, roasted artichokes, and grilled spring Walla Walla onions, all served with a lovely Romesco sauce that Debbie made. Drink was La Guita sherry.

Next I made some Paella (with chorizo, mussels, clams, shrimp, chicken, peas, and piquillo peppers). For a first crack at Paella, I think it turned out pretty well. Because I was late getting home, Debbie did the actual hard work of making Sofrito. Once that's done, the paella is just basically a bunch of ingredients thrown into a pan and stirred around a bit... In the future I might make it on the BBQ over a nice big bed of coals, so that the edges cook as fast as the center. Wine was Clos de Caillou Rosé.

For dessert I made Mel i Mato with Beecher's "Blank Slate" with honey (they don't sell it plain anymore), dried strawberries from the dried fruit stand next to the pig at Pike Place, and toasted almonds, drizzled with thyme honey.


Friday, May 13, 2005

About Me

My family and I moved to Bainbridge Island, Washington in February, 2005. I am a software engineer for a large software company at an office in the Fremont district of Seattle. This blog is mostly about what I find to eat around home and work, what's cooking at our house, and whatever else I think of.

Thursday, May 12, 2005

My Coffee Shower at Triangle Lounge

I ate lunch a couple of weeks ago at the Triangle Lounge, which is an old-school bar in Fremont that now serves lunch. I had a burger. The bun was good, nice and crisp, not a slice of focaccia. The meat tasted like it had been cooked in a small pan so that it deep-fried in its own fat a bit, and so it tasted just like mom used to make! It was a beautiful, sunny day, and I was sitting outside at the table right by the window. I decided to order dessert (bread pudding with whiskey sauce--quite nice, though it had a nitrous-propelled splooge of "whipped cream."). It started to drizzle a little bit, so I looked up and saw that there was not a cloud in the sky. Odd! My dessert came, and I noticed that the "raindrops" were a little brownish. I moved across the table, and that's when it really started coming down! Turns out that the genius on the second floor decided to pour their leftover coffee onto the flowers in their windowbox, and the coffee drained through the dirt and out onto my head. Ick! The waiter was suitably appalled, and comped my dessert. I decided not to go upstairs and pound on the door, figuring that the manager would do it for me.

Palace Kitchen

I had to drag my wife here, because we had a 9-year-old in tow, and she'd gotten the idea that it was kind of fancy from the reviews. It's not--it's really casual, almost funky, and the waiter was very nice and accomodating to our daughter. Food was spectacularly good. Oysters on the half-shell were pristine, perfectly shucked. Olive poppers were great, except that I wanted about 10 more orders. Pork jowl bruschetta with green garlic: yum. House-made soppresata was submlime. Brandade ravioli! We just ate appetizers.

Ghandi on Madison Ave., Bainbridge Island

I had high hopes when an Indian restaurant opened on the island. This place is upstairs at the Pavilion (where the movie theater is). Summary: nasty, nasty, nasty. Italian frozen mixed vegetables with tomato sauce poured from the bag into the tandoori, "because people like vegetables." Ick, ick, ick! We also had baigun bharta (sp?), which was insipid. Service was lame. If you're going to have an "open kitchen," at least clean up after yourself, for god's sake.

UPDATE October, 2005: We went back. They still put that yutz on the tandoori. Either don't order tandoori or ask for no vegetables. Some of the curries are OK, like the Saag Paneer (which they call something else). The samosas are not bad. The kitchen could still use a little tidying.

Blue C

Blue C on Fremont Ave. is one of those conveyor-belt sushi places. It seems cheap when you look at the item prices, but when you're a pig like me you find out that even though you were only going to get a few little things, you've spent over $20, one little plate at a time. The sushi is OK, though they have too many "creative" rolls and not enough old-school. Nigiri selection is pretty limited. It's not as good as, say Isobune in the Bay Area, but it'll do, since it's right near the office.

Rant: sushi bars which serve green tea made with teabags should be deeply ashamed.

A Good, Cheap Lunch in Fremont

Pontevecchio is a pretty good Sicilian restaurant in the Fremont district of Seattle (on N. 34th st.) What the reviews I've seen don't tell you is that you can walk up to the window on the sidewalk and get a calzone and a soda for $5. The filling is usually meat sauce. The meat sauce is a nice rich brown sauce made with ground beef and lots of rosemary, and not too much tomato. The shell is nice and crisp on top, with greasy goodness oozing out of the sides. They also usually have a nice looking baked pasta, which I never get because the calzone is so good and stays reasonably hot during my walk back to the office. (If the people who designed the office complex which houses Adobe across the street hadn't been such morons, they could have made the plaza in front a nice place to eat lunch, but there's really no comfortable place to sit. Move along, you!)

Update, November 2005: They remodeled the restaurant, and jacked up the price of the calzone to $7! Still a pretty good deal, but not quite what it was.

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Brouwer's Cafe in Fremont

I went by Brouwer's Cafe in Fremont (Phinney Ridge at 35th) yesterday. It's new enough that there's no signage outside. It was lunchtime, so I didn't have any beer, which is too bad, because that is really what the place is about. The building is an odd mishmash of architectural style. The exterior is very industrial, with dark green steel siding and industrial windows. The inside has some faux-granite shotcrete on the lower walls, dark wood tables and booths, and some high-industrialesque steel going around the back of the bar and the refrigerators. The upper walls are a butter color, and there are chandeliers on the ceilings and what look like parodies of flemish paintings on the high walls. There is a mezzanine which allows smoking. [That's something I miss about California--mandatory non-smoking everywhere. Somehow, the bar/resto scene didn't collapse in CA, despite stern warnings from RJR and Philip Morris.]

The lunch menu is a bit sparse: steak frites, mussels with fries, a few sandwiches, and some small plates (fries, croquettes, etc). There's no indication from the front that the menu has two sides, so I didn't even notice the sandwiches and such until after I'd ordered. They have a very limited selection of non-alcoholic drinks. Service was pleasant enough.

I had a steak with fries. The steak was a nice piece of onglet, cooked pretty much as I requested (rare). It came with a Belgian ale reduction sauce that was truly awful--very bitter and nasty tasting. The fries were pretty good, nice and hot, with a lot of salt (maybe a tad too much--could have used more on the steak, less on the fries). It was served with a side of extremely mediocre "aioli" that couldn't have been made with olive oil.

For dessert I had the apple-caramel bread pudding. The splooge of nitrous-propelled translucent cream-like stuff is a turn-off. Whip some cream, it's not that hard! The bread pudding itself was a bit uninspired, with the goo not fully soaking the bread everywhere. The caramel sauce was nice, but if you're going to heat the caramel sauce, don't serve the bread pudding cold.

Summary: don't go for the food at this point. Maybe they'll figure it out in a couple of months.

UPDATE: I went back a second time, much better.

Hamburgers and Focaccia

I like focaccia. I don't even mind sandwiches served on it, though good sandwich bread is underappreciated. Hamburgers should never be served on focaccia. Focaccia is too delicate to stand up to a hamburger. A properly cooked (still juicy and pink) and dressed hamburger will turn a piece of focaccia into mush. I've gone to several higher-end restaurants that offer a $9-$12 burger on the menu, and they all seem to put them on focaccia. Stop it! If you can't stand an ordinary hamburger bun, then make one! Homemade hamburger buns can be fabulous.