Friday, August 31, 2007

Searching for the right cooking soundtrack

Had to find just the right tunes while I was frying up some chicken (see below), a labor of love, especially considering it was a rare sweltering summer day. If you can call the mid-70s sweltering.

Turned to my Memphis collection and came up with William Lee Ellis -- "God's Tattoos" -- and Daddy Mack's "Slow Ride", a seasoned bluesman doing covers of rock classics, my buddy Billy Gibson doing his magical thang on the harp. Couldn't find "Electric Watermelon", though. The North Mississippi Allstars latest is likely in Baby Girl's messy room, as she decided she loves this funky roots blues band. Especially the super cute drummer, Cody.

What do you like to listen to while you're in the kitchen?

Excuse me, where can I find the lard?

Cooked dinner for a friend's birthday and told her she could order anything. She wanted some of that Southern fried chicken I've been bragging about.

My favorite recipe comes from a wonderful collaborative cookbook written by Atlanta chef Scott Peacock and the late culinary icon Edna Lewis called "The Gift of Southern Cooking" and it involves brining the chicken, then marinating it in buttermilk and finally frying it in lard. Yes, lard. Lard that's been dosed with country ham and clarified butter.

I knew I wasn't going to find any country ham 'round here, but I did stumble onto some local tasso, a spicy cured Cajun style ham. When I went looking for lard at Fred Meyer, I couldn't find it anywhere. Not near the oil or shortening, nor back by the butter. Some manager tracked it down in the storeroom. It's off the shelves.

Hey, I know it's not good for the old ticker, or the waistline for that matter. That's why I'm going to spend some extra time on the treadmill at the gym today.

Anyway, the chicken turned out pretty darned fabulous, crispy, intensely flavorful. Not greasy. And I served it with good-for-you summer green beans and yams that I seasoned with orange juice and a little maple syrup. We had peaches and angel food cake for dessert.

I love the idea of a special home cooked birthday dinner. For me, it was always steak on the grill when I was growing up. What's on your plate when you turn a year older?

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Lunch on Lake Union

Such a gorgeous day, going to try and burn it in my memory banks for those long, gray winter months. I was out running errands and wanted to grab something quick and eat someplace pretty.

The fish-and-chips window at Ivar's Salmon House has a special for about $10: alder-grilled salmon, rice, cornbread and slaw. Unfortunately, the fish was overcooked, but it still was pretty darned tasty. I made my own special sauce with tartar, Tabasco and a little lemon juice.

This is an amazing location, the cityscape looking like something from a movie at the other end of the lake. Come to think of it, I think the location for "Sleepless in Seattle" wasn't far from here.

Anyway, I e-mailed this image to my BBQ buddy in Memphis (because he's always rubbing it in when he's eating pulled pork at our favorite haunts and payback is double, right?), but he wasn't impressed. Bet he would be if I ever got him to get on a plane up here for a visit.

Not-so-random question: Salmon or catfish?

I'm so homesick for Memphis

I don't care how hot it is, I've been getting tons of mouthwatering reports from my cousin Suz, who's in M'town this week at a conference.

Naturally I gave her a list of must-do meals, and she's followed my advice a few times. Called to rave about the fried chicken from Alcenia's. She was on her way to Bryant's for some biscuits, but she got there too late. Darn. I sent her to Buns on the Run, and suggested she stop at Soul Fish Cafe on the way. She said she had just had lunch, and wasn't hungry.


I'm looking forward to going down South this fall, for the Southern Foodways Alliance symposium -- this year's focus is on the state of Southern food -- and I'm already working on my game plan for getting in as many meals as I can stomach. I don't think I'll even have time to try the new places, but if I were to pick just one, what would it be?

A big ass piece of cake

Went to the ball game the other night, and ate dinner at the Hit it Here Cafe. Which is pretty good, and not a lot more dough than the regular concession stands.

I had an Asian noodle salad with a skewer of shrimp on top, the dressing was a little on the sweet side, so I asked if I could get some soy sauce. The server brought me like half cup of it.

Portions are pretty huge, including this whopping piece of cake. It might not translate, but this slice is at least 1/8 of a cake. Wonder if anyone polishes off the whole thing themselves? I'd rather have one perfect piece of chocolate at the end of the meal. Wouldn't you? What's your ideal way to end a meal?

Friday, August 24, 2007

I've been Slogged!

After Wednesday's Dining Out column "The Bark Stops Here", I got a ton of fan mail supporting my pointing out that, ahem, it's against health code to bring animals into food service areas, inside and out.

Yesterday, The Stranger's wickedly funny Slog gave me an "Amen Sista!" and the floodgates opened, some 75 comments later, I got a huge kick out of the various asides and arguements that broke out. What does peanut allergies have to do with this discussion anyway?

There were some hilarious personal jabs, like, if they didn't allow dogs in restaurants, how would I get in? And, then, to the PR twit trying to pass himself off as a legit journalist, who suggested that my reviews don't reflect a world view: Let's compare passports, huh? In the past three years, I've eaten my way around New Orleans, New York, San Fran, Napa Valley, Chicago, Miami, LA, Atlanta, back to New York a couple of times, where I actually ate lunch with Gael Greene and Calvin Trillin, then to Taylor, Mississippi for the best catfish on the planet, to Buenos Aires, and Asheville, N.C., Nashville and, of course, dear, sweet, sassy Memphis. Where you been chump?

Neely's hang with Paula Deen

Seasoned BBQ restaurateurs Patrick and Gina Neely are two of the nicest people I met while living in Memphis, often volunteering their time and talent to make that community a better place. Pat made a deep impression with his efforts to encourage at-risk kids to get better grades, treating them to dinner and a Grizzlies game.
Anyway, the pair are going to party tonight on the Food Network, with the queen of Southern cuisine, Paula Deen. They're tackling that great debate: Barbecue or fried? I'm torn. I'm tuning in. It's on at 9 PST.
What's your current obsession on that delicious channel? I'm kinda crazy about Alton Brown's "Feasting on Asphalt", and was so sorry to miss the episode through the Mississippi Delta. Guess I will try to catch it on the reruns.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Fruitful trip to the farmer's market

Went to the Columbia City Farmer's Market yesterday and was amazed at the incredible variety of produce. Especially at this stand that sported a dozen heirloom varieties, mix and match for $3 a pound.

The walkways were clogged with shoppers toting heavy bags, my load included potatoes from my favorite spud man, Olsen Farms, some of those dandy tomatoes (sliced up up and had them over pasta last night, with Gulf shrimp and fresh basil... $1 a bunch), chiogia beets (the striped ones), white peaches, a $5 bouquet, arugula, the biggest head of lettuce and cookies from Columbia City Bakery.

I didn't buy any berries because I'm going to go pick my own today, the blackberry bushes around here are heavy.

What's your best score at a summer market? How'd you cook it?

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Headed east and found South

Was in Leavenworth this weekend for my brother Shaun's wedding, and got a chance to eat one of the best meals I've ever had in this faux Bavarian Village (where I'm drawn by family ties and the tonic effect of the Wenatchee River).

South opened a couple of months ago and the locals freaked. The portions were too small! The price was too high! The food was too flavorful! The Mexican fare that's known and loved in Leavenworth comes out of a can, and is slopped onto huge platters.

So, the young couple who own South -- the daughter and son-in-law of longtime Spokane restaurateurs, William and Marcia Bond who have made many diners happy at Luna, and more recently, Maron -- retooled. The prices now are cheap by Seattle standards, entrees in the $15 range. Starters under $10. (Don't miss the ceviche.)

And the food is fresh and wildly flavorful. Salsas pop. The mole was intense. Even the rice was deeply satisfying, cooked in from scratch chicken stock. The margaritas totally rock, made with fresh-squeezed limes.

I loved the restaurant's patio space, too, lights strung overhead, live music occasionally featured on one end of the comfy space. Grapevines are growing along one wall, I think the east wall of South.

This kind of food might seem out of place in a town built on bratwurst and beer, but Leavenworth is evolving. There are wine tasting rooms mixed in among the souvenir shops, a fabulous day spa and a sushi bar are fine additions. The place has gone global. I can't wait to get back.

Disappointing lunch at Steelhead Diner

When I reviewed this upscale diner at the Pike Place Market a few months ago, I found a lot to like. The chef grew up in Louisiana, and cooked in New Orleans, the most flavorful city in the country, so it was surprising that his gumbo and greens struck the right notes.

But yesterday, tried the new halibut preparation and it was a disaster. First, the price: $22 for a four-ounce portion. Which was overcooked and dry. There were two slices of nice summer tomatoes on top, a few slices of cukes and a sauce that was described as having watermelon as the featured ingredient. Didn't taste that. Did taste the raw garlic for hours afterwards. Major bummer.

Other disappointments: the salmon rillette I had enjoyed before, pinwheels of delicate salmon and cream cheese had been turned into salmon salad, not my favorite texture. Fried corn was on the cob, drowing in butter. Peaches on the dessert were sweet, but underripe and hard. The pecan pie filling was too heavy on the Karo. The server never brought bread. The diner's version of a po'boy was tasty, but was light on the remoulade and had pickles on it. I've been spoiled by the sandwiches down South, and I don't ever remember pickles on a po'boy.

The tab for lunch for two, no drinks: $70-something.

Didn't see the chef in the kitchen, but did spot one of the cooks eating something. Isn't there a rule against chowing in full view of the dining room?

Still, I like the energy in the room, and the chef/owners dedication to some good causes. There was a card on the table explaining the need to save the region's steelhead population.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Mel Brooks at The Met

Legendary entertainer Mel Brooks has been in Seattle for the world premiere of the stage version of "Young Frankenstein" (I'm going tonight), but it's not all work. He recently had dinner at Metropolitan Grill (a steak, of course) and was happy to pose for this pic with Thomas Meehan (Young Frankenstein co-librettist), Wendy Starr (Met Grill marketing manager) and Annie Boyington (Met Grill front desk host.)

Anybody else spot the man who made millions of people laugh around town?

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

A peach of a wine column

Eric Asimov writes winningly of a distillery in Oregon that specializes in eau de vie in his column today in the New York Times (, telling the story of this unusual stuff by painting a portrait of the passionate person behind the effort.

Made me want to clip the article -- yes, I get the print edition delivered daily -- and take it to my favorite wine guy down the block.

This summer, I've been obsessed with pink wines. The dry roses. Remember when we called them "blush" wines? I really enjoyed a syrah rose from an up-and-coming wine growing region in Washington state, the area near Wenatchee and Chelan.

The Saint Laurent 2006 syrah rose is wrapped up in one of the prettiest labels on the shelf, which usually puts me off a wine. Fortunately, what's inside is as gorgeous as the packaging, refreshingly fruity, but with enough snap to keep it from sliding off the too-sweet chart. It was a big hit with grilled salmon.

Another thing I love about these roses? The price. Some of the best deals around at under $20. I've got a Chinook rose chilling for dinner on the deck tonight!

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Fish and chips and 73 on the beach

I don't want to torture my sizzling friends in the South, but I have to share this pic from my picnic on Alki today. Absolutely perfect weather. And the fish was pretty good, too.

Finally got in to try Sun Fish, the line was already out the door about noon. Tried nearly everything that swims on that menu: salmon, halibut, cod, prawns. I really enjoyed the Sunfish Special, a grilled skewer loaded with grilled seafood.

The fries were the biggest disappointment, though. Limp and greasy. No salt. Ugh.

There were tons of people on the beach doing the cookout thing. Before it turns gray again, I'm going to drag my grill out there.

If you live in a part of the world where it's too bloody hot to cook right now, what's your game plan?

Tiki mon goes to Glacier

Every summer, hubby and his hardcore hiking buds go on some 60-mile trek, and Tiki Mon comes along for the ride.

He's filled with some serious high-end Scotch. I wish I could remember the name, but Scotch means squat to this Irish lass. On the trail, I much prefer Wild Turkey.

Anyway, this year Tiki Mon enjoyed the spectacular peaks and crystal clear waters of Glacier, the guys started on the Canadian side and worked their way south. And, no, didn't spot one single grizzly. Though, they were required to watch a cautionary video, and cook in groups.

The cooking part of the trip always fascinates me because the menus are based on what's light. Like instant mashed potatoes. Doesn't exactly stick to the ribs, does it?

If I were going out for six days and nights, I'm afraid I'd have to have a sherpa. I'd need some savory carrot at the end of a long day in the old (stinky) hiking boots. A big fat steak maybe. Or, seared duck breast with a demiglace. Forget those nasty dehydrated rice and beans.

What would be your dream meal in the outback? And what would you take to quench your powerful thirst? Gatorade or Power Aide?

Shut up already!

Tried to get into one of the restaurants along Alki Beach for dinner last night. Not a plan. Everybody else had the same idea. And quite a few places were closed on Monday night.

So, ended up at Blackbird Bistro, which I had heard was good. It was dead. There were maybe a half a dozen tables. It was obviously the line cook didn't have enough to do, so he was bitching and moaning about some chef he had worked with -- "he came in and he was so hungover, he 86-ed half the menu" "he was such a burnout, he'd come back from vacation and say he needed another vacation" and on and on it went from the display kitchen.

Guy, have a little common sense. You never know who might be within ear shot of your bad mouth. A food critic, maybe.

That bad energy was almost enough to drive me out the door. But I hung around and ordered a portobello mushroom sandwich. Not bad.

What's the most awkward conversation you've overheard at a restaurant?

Sunday, August 12, 2007

I like pie!

Got invited to a friend's family picnic, on the homestead deep in the heart of berry country in Burlington. Just down the road from Sedro Wooley. My pal's sister Francis made the pies, and I was first in line for the blackberry. It was insane!
I don't think I'll be invited back because I sat in the corner and made loud moaning sounds. Like this pie is better than sex!
I also made a detour to Sakuma Bros. Market Stand, and picked up half a flat of "the world's sweetest strawberries" and made jam today. Good, but not as good as that pie!
How are you getting your pie on this summer?

Thursday, August 9, 2007

If it's 10:30, that must be the taco truck outside

I've never worked at home before, this is a whole new experience. I'm trying to get my feng shui on, right? To set up a spot where the distractions are minimal.

And, then, because we live in construction zone central, the taco truck rolls up mid-morning, like some kind of grown-up ice cream truck. You know how I know this? Because it blasts a zippy version of the tune they play when the horses are entering the starting gate.

Tomorrow, I'm going to trot down and see what they've got. Expect some pics.

Anybody have some brilliant ideas about the best way to be productive in your home office?

Local Vine mighty fine

Just had a bite and a few sips at the newest wine bar in Belltown, billed as the coffeehouse of all wine bars. Whatever that means. I didn't see a laptop in the place, though the crowd was skewing a little older than the typical scene in that part of town.

The menu is paired with the wines, which are grouped under titles like "cheerful", "bombshell" and "statuesque". Va-va-va-voom?

I had a $21 glass of DeLille's 2005 Doyenne Metier Blanc. (Listed under "centered.") God, I would love to take a Frenchman here and see what he has to say about this goofy approach. It was lovely, but didn't exactly blow my mind.

The whole thing feels a little complicated. Like learning the rules to a new game. But I'm willing to try. It's got a warm, friendly vibe. And speaking of warm, the fireplace was lit. On an August night.

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

A new chapter for W&D

I'm starting over, again. After launching Whining & Dining at the Spokesman-Review in 2003, it's traveled with me to Memphis and back to the Northwest, where I've been writing restaurant reviews for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. My dream job.

But anyone who has been paying attention knows the newspaper business ain't what it used to be, so I find myself a freelancer. Not such a bad thing, especially because I'll still be writing reviews for the P-I. I'll miss sitting in a newsroom, though. It's a noisy, chaotic, absolutely frenetic environment, desks crammed impossibly close. And I loved every minute of it.

Still, I'm not the kind who laments. I look forward and celebrate. With a shimmering glass of Veuve Clicquot, thank you very much. I hope some of you will come along for on the never-ending eating adventure.