Monday, October 31, 2005

Green Chile Stew

Our friend Demi and her family came over to celebrate her birthday. One of the things Demi enjoyed the most from her college days in Santa Fe was the food, especially having a nice bowl of Green Chile Stew, so Debbie decided to make it for Demi's dinner. The place to start when making this dish is, not surprisingly, the green chiles--lots of them, and they should preferably be New Mexico chiles, not Anaheim chiles. Fortunately for the sake of our stew, the chile guy at Pike Place market had fresh green New Mexico chiles that he grows in eastern Washington. The first thing to do with them is to roast them. Some people roast them on the stove, but we like to do it over charcoal, both because it gives a nice flavor and because there are a lot of chiles to roast, and it would take forever on the stove.

Chiles Roasting

They should be roasted until they blacken and blister. Once they're done, they should steam in a plastic bag for a little while, and then they get peeled and seeded. It was a beautiful afternoon on Saturday, so Debbie was able to do it all sitting outside in the sun.

Roasted and Peeled Chiles

Once that's done, the rest of it is pretty straightforward: brown some lean cubed pork (we used pork shoulder), cook some onions until soft, add some garlic, diced tomatoes, pork, diced potatoes, cover with water, and cook for about 3 hours.

We started by munching on some Mole Sausage from Salumi, and I made some Margaritas (in a martini style, i.e. shaken and strained--4 parts tequila, 1 part grand marnier, 1 part meyer lemon simple syrup, juice of 2 key limes.)

For an appetizer I made quesadillas. A real quesadilla is not just a flour-and-cheese sandwich. You start with 1lb of masa, which is the stuff you make corn tortillas out of. I was too lazy to travel across the seas to get fresh masa, so I made it using masa harina. Add 3 Tbsp flour, 1 tsp baking powder, and 1 Tbsp lard and knead it for about 5 minutes, then let it rest for 10 minutes. Make walnut-sized balls, flatten them out in a tortilla press until they're about 4" round, put a blob of filling on top, fold over, and seal. I decided to do something different, and filled most of them with goat cheese and sun-dried tomatoes. The rest I filled with "mexican cheese mix" from Safeway, so that the kids might eat some. The filled quesadillas then get deep fried until they're golden. The dough was a bit fragile; I don't think I kneaded it quite long enough. The goat cheese and sun-dried tomato "California Quesadilla" was pretty good, although it's essential to get the quesadilla fully sealed, otherwise the sun-dried tomato gets fried, and it turns black and chewy. We served them with guacamole and salsa, though I kind of liked the goat cheese ones as they were.

For dessert Debbie made the world-famous Chocolate Ancho Chile and Orange Cake from the Chronicle cookbook. There's just enough ancho chile flavor to make the flavors really deep, but not enough to make it hot. Even the kids present loved it, except the youngest, who refused it on principle.

Monday, October 24, 2005

J'Aime les Crêpes


J'Aime les Crêpes in Kingston has some of the best crêpes I've had in the states. Paul, the owner, got his authentic buckwheat-blend recipe from a woman in Bretagne. Everything is cooked fresh to order, which is more than I can say for most of the crêpe stands in Paris these days. A second branch is going to open in a building under construction in Winslow (the one at Bjune and Madison, IIRC) at some point hopefully soon. I can't wait!

Saturday, October 22, 2005


Madoka is Bainbridge Island's newest restaurant, which just opened yesterday. We had dinner there tonight, on their second evening of full service. Since we just moved to the area this year, we never made it to chef Alvin Binuya's previous Seattle gigs, Ponti Seafood Grill and Axis, but I understand they were both well-regarded. Co-owner Jose Gonzales runs the front of the house. He's a really nice guy, and seems to run a tight ship, given how well things went on their second night--only slightly bumpy, nothing really to complain about.

Madoka is located in what used to be Bistro Pleasant Beach, on Winslow Way just east of Madison. The building has a parking lot to the side. They've done quite a bit of remodeling on the space, and it turned out really well--it's a very sophisticated and elegant space, with dark, rich colors and good lighting. The kitchen is open on one side, and not lighted too harshly. There is a terrace outside with tables, so hopefully once they open for lunch one could eat outside on nice days.

The menu hes been described as pan-Pacific, but that's really just a jumping-off point. We started off sharing the Ahi Poke and the Wild Mushroom Ravioli. The Ahi Poke is probably the best rendition of this dish I've had. Sometimes it can be sticky sweet, but this got a nice balance of flavor. The ahi was in approximately 1/2" cubes, mixed with some seaweed, and served with a little ball of wasabi granita and finely diced cucumber on the side, along with some crunchy sesame seed puffs.

The ravioli was made with chanterelles and I think a bit of lobster, with pine nuts and fried sage. They were very nicely flavored, with a simple sage butter. The fried sage leaves were perfect. Our only complaint was that the ravioli could have been a little warmer.

For a main dish, Debbie had the Cappelini with smoked duck, plantain-mango chutney, and basil. This was an interesting dish; the "chutney" was mixed around with the rest of the ingredients, and the basil was nicely wilted. The flavors were good, though we both agreed that the particular ingredients would do better on a different substrate than cappelini, like either in a bowl with a bit of duck-basil broth, or maybe on top of some couscous.

I had the braised lamb shank, which was served on top of a puree of potatoes and parsnips (I think), with some long and paper-thin plantain chips. The lamb was meltingly tender, as lamb shank should be, with a richly flavorful brown reduction sauce. We both agreed it was the best lamb shank dish we'd had.

The wine list is small but well put together, with interesting selections from all over the world. I understand Larry Davidson at Winslow Wine worked on the wine list, and he did a great job. The prices on the wine are really quite reasonable. We had a Morgan 2003 Pinot Noir "Twelve Clones" from the Salinas Valley, which was $35.

I understand that Chef Binuya's mom (who used to have a pastry shop on Vashon Island) is the pastry chef. I had a Valrhona bittersweet chocolate truffle tart, which was chocolatey good through and through. Debbie had the vanilla bean white chocolate creme caramel, which was silken and creamy, not excessively gelatinous like creme caramel can sometimes be.

A great start, hope it keeps getting beter.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Today's Rants: Worse than Instant?

Rant #73:

Several asian cuisines have pastes that come in jars or tubs that can be used as the basis of a sauce if one is lazy. I've done this with Thai curries (green, red, yellow--sautee a bit, mix with coconut milk, stir, add meat and vegetables) and with different Indian food (tandoori--mix with yogurt, or different curries, also to be mixed with yogurt, marinate and grill for tandoori, just cook for curries). The results are not as good as when made from scratch, which I've occasionally done also, but those recipes do go on and on...(and you don't really want asafoetida in your house anyway because it stinks.)

So what continually amazes me is how restaurants can serve food with a straight face that is worse than one can make with one jar of paste, one can of coconut milk or tub of yogurt, maybe some marinading, and straightforward cooking. How is this possible? My only thought is that the pastes (especially the Thai ones) are usually as hot as they're supposed to be, and if your restaurant caters to people who don't like spicy food, maybe you can't use the premade pastes. Does that sound plausible? It could be the cost, I guess, but the Thai pastes especially are quite inexpensive per serving, and the Indian ones aren't too bad either.

Rant #73a:
There's a place that serves chaat next to an Indian grocery warehouse store in West Berkeley called Vik's Chaat Corner. It's an amazing place, as long as decor isn't what you're after. What I also found amazing is that the woman working behind the counter at the grocery store told me that their Indian frozen entrees were better than at most local Indian restaurants. I tried them, and she was right! (They were made by Deep in New Jersey). What's up with that?

Tuesday, October 18, 2005



It's feeling very autumnal these days. The leaves are turning, the blackberries have shrivelled up, and it's getting a bit chilly out. One definite upside is that Chanterelles (the trumpet-shaped wild mushroom seen in the photo above) are abundant around here this time of year. Chanterelles are a rare delicacy in a lot of the country. Where we used to live they were between $18 and $30 per pound in the supermarket if you could get them at all, and were often not very fresh. Not so around here--I'm told that they're all over the island right now, including the Grand Forest. The chanterelles pictured above are available at the T&C market for under $5/pound, which keeps me from stomping around the forest (bum knee and all...) My friend Richard never picks any mushrooms but chanterelles, because he claims that they don't look like any other mushroom, so he's pretty sure they're not poisonous. But still, do please ask a competent mycologist before you eat a wild mushroom you've gathered if you're not completely sure of yourself.

For dinner tonight, Debbie made an old fave to start, Chanterelles with Dried Apricots, Chives, and Shallots on Toast. Soak 1/2c halved dried apricots in 1/2c chicken broth, melt a tablespoon or two of butter, sautee some finely chopped shallots, add cleaned and roughly sliced chanterelles, sautee until somewhat soft, add the apricots and soaking liquid, and cook down until you get a bit of a sauce. Add some chives. Pour the mixture on top of a slice of toast.


The kids wouldn't go near this, which is sad because Stuart was all over this dish when he was around 2, saying "want more chanterelles..." Now he's a teenager, and sneers at it. He did eat the loin of pork with garlic and rosemary, though. Catherine ate toast.

Monday, October 10, 2005

Café Campagne and Richard Thompson

My friend John flew up from Walnut Creek to see Richard Thompson at Benaroya (Nordstrom Hall, the small one). We were joined by John's friend Lynn. Sadly, our babysitting plans fell through at the last minute, so Debbie graciously offered to stay home with the kids.

We went to Café Campagne for dinner, because I knew it was the type of place that John would like. I can't figure out why it's not completely full every night--the food is great, and it's got an informal vibe that the upstairs restaurant doesn't (I found the latter a bit cold, even though the food was great.) We started with a couple of appetizers--the Brandade de Morue (salt cod purée) and the Paté de Campagne, which is one of the best I've had (though nothing beats my friend Pascal's homemade paté). I had a lamb shoulder served with a flatbread made of chickpeas. John had the Merguez sausage, and Lynn had the prix fixe with a salad, truite amandine, and a caramel pot de crème with a bit of fleur de sel sprinkled on top, which was to be mixed in. Lynn was kind of full, so we all shared the pot de crème, which was luscious.

Afterwards we went to the concert. We managed to sell the extra ticket to someone who thought they'd show up at the last minute to a sold-out show. John didn't want to bother, and he paid for them, but Lynn and I felt obligated to at least try. Of course, had we left it unsold, I wouldn't have had to sit next to a slightly annoying person who didn't enjoy the concert. The rest of us did. There was an opening act, Griffin something (Holt?) who played a 1/2 hour set. He strummed his guitar, whined that he didn't have the chance to get a beer before the show (which someone eventually brought him) and sang songs about relationships and one about being Judas.

Richard Thompson was accompanied by Danny Thompson (no relation), a stand-up bassist who is regarded as one of the best jazz bassists on the planet. They played about a 2-hour set, including encores. Richard Thompson is one of the most amazing guitarists I've ever seen, and a great songwriter, with a lot of wit. He's also got a very dry sense of humor. I think I figured out one reason I'll never be a great guitar player: we were sitting quite close (row D) so I could see that Richard Thompson's fingers are long enough that the first two segments of each finger, maybe excluding the pinky, can span the width of the fretboard, so he doesn't have to bend his hand around the neck like I do. The other reasons, of course, are lack of innate skill, and lack of study or practice. Thompson plays a bass line with a pick while playing really amazing lead lines with his fingers.

The show ended at 11, and by the time we got out of the hall it was about 6 past. I have an injured knee and leg from biking and paintball, so I hobbled as fast as I could to the ferry terminal, but missed the 11:15 by 2 minutes, so I had to wait around for the 12:45. Commuter Comforts saved the day again, though they pestered us into leaving around 12:10. A cab ride home with one of our barely functional Bainbridge cab drivers, and I was in bed by 1:40. A fine evening out, except for that hanging out in the ferry terminal for 1.5 hours bit.

Dinner with Friends

We had a few friends over for dinner a week ago Sunday, and I'm finally getting to blogging about it.

We started with some cheese and olives and drank a bottle of Spanish Red (the name of which I no longer remember) that Kiyo and Peter brought, which was perfect with the cheese. Next we opened a Contra Costa County Old Vines Mourvèdre 1993 from Cline that Samantha and Barbie brought. It was fabulous.

For a main course, we had a lasagne made with pumpkin, leeks, prosciutto, bechamel sauce, walnuts, and parmesan that Debbie made. It was really good, and very autumnal. If anyone requests it, I'll post the recipe. With dinner, after we finished the Cline, we had a 1993 Pinot Noir from Alloro Vineyard in the Willamette Valley that was recommended to me by Alain at the T&C, and his recommendations are usually spot-on. He said it was his favorite Oregon Pinot, and I have to say I wouldn't disagree. Samantha made a salad of arugula with seared ahi tuna and a balsamic vinaigrette, which was fabulous. My son Stuart whined about the pepper on the ahi, so Barbie graciously carved off the outside of some slices for him.

For dessert we had a really great chocolate port nut tart that Kiyo made, à la mode. I wish I had some right now! Being Sunday night, nobody was quite up to having port with the tart, everyone remembering the ferry beckoning them at some ungodly hour of the morning. I left the pears and blue cheese for another day, because everyone was stuffed, and you really need to eat that while drinking port for the full effect.

After it rained a bit just before dinner, while we were standing around drinking wine and eating olives and Humboldt Fog, the sun started breaking through, and we got an amazing double rainbow. None of us thought to run and get a camera, because we all stood in the backyard and said "Ooh!" Other residents of Bainbridge, however, did manage a few shots.

After dinner, Samantha demonstrated the Martha Stewart magic Chinese Laundry t-shirt folding trick, and we were all awed. Two pinches, one fold, a third pinch, one shake, and one more fold, and you have a perfectly-folded t-shirt, in about 1/4 the time it used to take me to fold a rumpled mess. My life is transformed. (I wear a lot of t-shirts...)

Mor Mor Bistro

We had lunch at Mor Mor Bistro in Poulsbo today. It had been recommended by some friends.

The interior is a bit uninspired--it looks like it was done without any professional design help. The service was fine, nothing to complain about. We started by sharing an "artisinal meat and cheese platter." I guess everything was decent enough--it comes with a few slices of mostly hard cheese, a couple of slices of salami and coppa and another meat product I didn't recognize. I had a Caesar Salad, which was not much better than you get at the Sizzler--the lettuce was almost chiffonaded, which I don't like in a Caesar Salad (and really isn't what it's supposed to be), and maybe not as pristine as it should be. The dressing was a bit on the boring side--I like it punchy and full of anchovies. I thought the parmesan cheese was perhaps grated too finely (they probably used a Microplane grater). It should have a bit of texture. The croutons were rock-hard. They did use mostly hearts of romaine, which is a plus--the sizzler uses the whole head. Next, I had a burger with their "famous" parmesan fries. The burger was pleasant enough, good slices of bacon and cheese, but perhaps nothing to write home about. The "famous" fries were just mediocre french fries with parmesan cheese grated on top, maybe too late to get it all melted. Debbie had three-cheese ravioli, which were OK, but not much better than what you'd get in the refrigerator section at Safeway. The sauce was a bit uninteresting.

All in all, a bit disappointing, nothing objectionable but nothing particularly inspiring either, and probably not worth the drive to Poulsbo. Maybe dinner is better (which happens at some restaurants, where the B-team makes lunch.)