November 14, 2011

Chipotle Quinoa and Shrimp

This was a surprisingly good dish that I made the other day for Margie, who had been wanting to incorporate more quinoa into our diet.  Quinoa is a very healthy grain-like seed and often times is treated a lot like rice in how it is prepared.  Having not been a huge fan of quinoa with my first few encounters with it, I was very skeptical.  With good seasoning and ingredients such as this recipe, this turned out really well and we both agreed that we should make this again soon.

I originally came across the recipe on another blog, Karma Cucina, and had to try it myself.


Chipotle Quinoa and Shrimp


Serves 4

 

For the shrimp and marinade:

16 peeled jumbo shrimp

1/4 cup loosely packed cilantro leaves, roughly chopped

1 clove garlic, minced

1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil

1 Tbsp. seeded jalapeno pepper, minced

1/2 tsp. sea salt

1/4 tsp. fresh ground pepper

For the quinoa:

3 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 Tbsp. seeded jalapeno pepper, minced

1 medium onion, chopped

2 – 4 canned chipotle chilies, minced, with some of their adobo sauce

1 Tbsp. dried oregano

1/4 tsp. cumin

3/4 cup quinoa, rinsed and drained

Salt* and pepper to taste

1 can black beans, rinsed and drained

1/2 cup frozen corn kernels

1 1/2 cups vegetable or chicken stock

3/4 cup loosely packed cilantro leaves, roughly chopped

1 avocado, skin and pit removed, cubed

Lime wedges

Directions:

Combine the shrimp and marinade ingredients in a large resealable plastic bag.  Seal tightly and work the mixture around with your hands until well combined.  Refrigerate for 30 minutes.

In the meantime, pour olive oil into a medium sized pot over medium heat.  Add garlic, jalapeno, and onion and cook 5 minutes or until everything has softened.  Add chipotle chilies and adobo sauce, oregano, and cumin and cook for an additional minute.  Turn the heat up to medium high and add the quinoa, salt, and pepper.  Toss around and coat evenly for 3 – 5 minutes.

Add the beans, corn, and stock, bring to a boil, cover, and reduce heat.  Simmer for 15 minutes.  Remove the lid and test the quinoa for doneness. When the quinoa is fully cooked, it will be tender and look like a semi-transparent globule with a cream colored orbit or curly string hanging off.   If it’s not quite there yet in appearance and is still a little crunchy, add a bit more stock, cover, and simmer for another few minutes.

Once done, remove from heat, stir in cilantro leaves, cover and set aside.

Heat a large skillet over high heat.  Add shrimp and sear for approximately 2 minutes on each side or until the flesh is completely opaque.

Place a mound of quinoa on each dish and top with shrimp and avocado.  Serve with lime wedges.

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October 13, 2011

Truffled Mushroom Risotto with Chicken Confit

Fall has definitely arrived here in the Pacific Northwest and despite my love for the sun, I am excited for fall to be here.  There is a nice crispness to the air and it’s time for some hearty, warming meals.  I wanted to surprise Margie with a nice dinner and knowing her love for mushrooms and risotto, I mixed these two recipes together to make a really nice fall/winter meal.  It actually came out much better than I had hoped and was really decadent.

Truffled Mushroon Risotto with Chicken Confit

This dinner is not for the faint of heart.  I’m not going to lie…this is not a healthy dish, but it sure is outstanding.  I had not previously done much “confit-ing”, so it was a lot of fun trying a new technique.

Confit – is a generic term for various kinds of food that have been immersed in a substance for both flavor and preservation. Sealed and stored in a cool place, confit can last for several months. Confit is one of the oldest ways to preserve food, and is a speciality of southwestern France

The slow cooking really makes the chicken moist and tender and the smell that permeates the house is amazing.  This rich meal is easily now in my top 10 favorite decadent meals.  It is worth all the effort and time involved in cooking.

Chicken Confit

1   whole chicken, divided into 7 parts

2-2.5 cups duck fat

5 cloves  garlic, smashed

salt and pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 275 degrees.  Place rinsed, dried and chicken in a glass baking dish.  Season with salt and pepper.  Sprinkle garlic over chicken.  Cover chicken completely with duck fat.

Cover baking dish with aluminum foil and bake for 4-5 hours.

Remove chicken from liquid duck fat.   The chicken can be pan seared for crisping or preserved for a later meal.

chicken in duck fat after an couple hours in the oven at low temp

after the 4-5 hours in the oven, I quickly browned the chicken in a frying pan before serving

Risotto with Leeks, Shiitake Mushrooms, and Truffles

Gabriel Rucker of Le Pigeon in Portland, OR, published in Bon Appetit

Yield: Makes 6-8 first-course servings

Leeks:

2 large leeks (white and pale green parts only), halved, thinly sliced crosswise (about 2 cups)

3/4 cup whipping cream

Mushrooms:

1 pound shiitake mushrooms, stemmed, cut into 1/4- to 1/3-inch-thick slices

1 large onion, halved, thinly sliced lengthwise

1/4 cup (1/2 stick) butter, melted

1 tablespoon white truffle oil

1 teaspoon minced fresh thyme leaves

Risotto:

4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) butter, divided

1 large onion, chopped

1 1/2 cups arborio rice or medium-grain white rice

1/2 cup dry white wine

5 cups (or more) hot vegetable broth

1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese

2 teaspoons shaved or chopped black truffle (you can also use truffle oil, which is what I did when I made it)

Chopped fresh parsley

For leeks:

Bring leeks and cream to boil in heavy medium saucepan. Reduce heat to medium and simmer until leeks are tender and cream is thick, stirring often, about 15 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. DO AHEAD: Can be made 1 day ahead. Cover and chill. Re-warm before continuing.

For mushrooms:

Preheat oven to 400°F. Toss all ingredients on rimmed baking sheet. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Roast until mushrooms are tender and light brown around edges, stirring occasionally, about 45 minutes. DO AHEAD: Can be made 2 hours ahead. Let stand at room temperature.

mushroom mixture before roasting

For risotto:

Melt 2 tablespoons butter in heavy large saucepan over medium heat. Add onion and cook until beginning to soften, about 5 minutes. Add rice; stir 1 minute. Add wine and stir until almost all liquid is absorbed, about 1 minute. Add 1 cup hot broth. Simmer until broth is almost absorbed, stirring often, about 4 minutes. Add more broth, 1 cup at a time, allowing each addition to be absorbed before adding next and stirring often, until rice is tender and mixture is creamy, about 20 minutes longer. Stir in leek mixture, mushroom mixture, remaining 2 tablespoons butter, cheese, and truffle. Transfer to large bowl, sprinkle with parsley, and serve.

Top risotto with a piece of browned chicken confit.

Truffled Mushroom Risotto w/ Chicken Confit

October 9, 2011

Spinach Gnocchi with Alfredo Sauce, Roasted Tomatoes and Crab

In celebration of our 1-year wedding anniversary, we decided to re-create the first joint dinner we made together when we first started dating. We clearly selected the spinach gnocchi for its sentimental value rather than its heart health rating.

This dish is rich and will easily serve 6 hungry gnocchi lovers.

Decadence on a Platter

 

Gnocchi Ingredients

1   lb. package chopped frozen spinach

8   oz. ricotta cheese, drained

1   c. all purpose flour

2   eggs, beaten

2-3 pinches freshly grated nutmeg

Freshly ground salt and pepper

24  cherry tomatoes

16 oz lump crab meat (omit for vegetarian option) – canned is fine since Alfredo sauce will dominate

Parmesan cheese to garnish

Alfredo Sauce Ingredients

*I am trying to recall what I actually included in the Alfredo sauce. This is not exact nor what my cooking that night. If feeling risk averse, look up a recipe online.

5 tbsp butter

5 tbsp flour  – many recipes did not call for flour but I found that creating a good white sauce base with flour (like my mom used to make) worked really well

2 cloves minced garlic

2 c. Half & Half or heavy whipping cream

1-2 c. parmesan cheese (according to how thick you like the sauce)

Salt and white pepper, to taste

Directions

Cook spinach according to instructions. Cool, drain, and squeeze dry. Chop finely. In a bowl, mix together spinach, ricotta, flour, eggs, nutmeg, salt and pepper. With generously floured hands (keep re-flouring), form mixture into small sausage shapes and place on cookie sheet covered with wax paper. Patience will dictate how reasonably sized your gnocchi turn out (we had two clearly distinct size patterns).  Refrigerate 1+ hour or until firm.

To roast the cherry tomatoes: Preheat oven to 400F. Oil a roasting pan. Cut tomatoes in half and arrange cut side up in pan. Season with salt and pepper and roast 20 minutes or until blistered.

To make the sauce: Make alfredo sauce while the tomatoes are roasting. Melt butter, mix in minced garlic, and mix in flour until pasty but blended well. I can’t recall for sure, but I think I mixed in a little white wine at this point. Add cream in increments, making sure you blend until smooth before adding more cream. Add parmesan cheese in a couple of batches, melting and blending until smooth. Add white pepper and salt to taste. Keep on low heat while you finish cooking the gnocchi, stirring on occasion to prevent burning. Mix some of the smaller crab pieces in with the sauce (reserve the largest lumps to top the dish).

To cook the gnocchi: Bring a large pan of salted water to a boil. Drop spinach gnocchi, a few at a time into water. When floating at top, removed with slotted spoon. Drain and keep warm while cooking remainder.

To finish: Serve the gnocchi, add tomatoes, and cover with sauce (you might want to use less enthusiastic quantities of alfredo sauce than we did). Top with the larger pieces of crab. Finally, sprinkle with parmesan cheese. This dish pairs well with a bottle of chardonnay.

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September 27, 2011

Lobster…and more lobster

Lobster!

 

I like lobster.  On a recent trip back east to Maine for a wedding, i just couldn’t get enough of the stuff.  Out here in Oregon, we don’t get lobster much, so it’s pretty much a delicacy to me.  In the months leading up to our trip, I started my research.  I was going to get my fill of lobster in every way I could.  I wanted it fresh.  I wanted it cooked to order.  I wanted it in a roll.  I wanted it any which way I could get it…and get it I did!

In Portland, Maine, Margie and I wandered down to the waterfront in search of fresh lobster from Three Sons Lobster & Fish for some fresh from the boat lobster action.  This place did not disappoint.  We walked down the grimey, working wharf and into the warehouse dock.  Tanks of salty water greeted us along with a chalkboard menu of the day’s catch.  There were lots of things on the menu, but I only saw lobster.  After pleading my rookie-ness to the employees, they directed me to a nice 1.8 pound lobster that they pulled from one of the many tanks. It was a quick introduction, as I did not have anything to say, but “he’ll do.”   20 minutes later the lobster was properly steamed and ready for its butter bath.  Really, there is nothing better that comes from the sea, than lobster and melted butter.

 

 

Looking for a little variety in my lobster diet, I was directed to Red’s Eats, in Wiscasset, ME.  This is not a fancy place by any stretch of the imagination.  It’s is simply a roadside stand with the best lobster roll I have ever had.  If you don’t believe me on that, there are plenty of other’s that will back me up.  Red’s consistently gets voted the state’s top lobster roll.  This was a MUST STOP on our drive from Portland to Bar Harbor.

Lobster rolls traditionally come is some sort of bun (usually those silly east coast top cut hot dog buns), fresh chunk lobster meat, and a mayonnaise base sauce, sometimes with celery.  Red’s is something different though.  Their simplicity is admirable.  Their lobster roll is not only humungous in size (over a whole lobster is packed in it), but comes with the choice of the mayo sauce or melted butter.  Now what do you think I picked?  Darn right….melted butter!!!   I don’t think I could have it any other way after this.  This was THE PERFECT LOBSTER ROLL.

Red's Eats lobster roll

 

Overall, I could not have asked for anything better with our Lobsterfest Tour this summer in Maine.  The lobster and the wedding (the real reason we went to Maine) were both amazing.  If you are ever in Maine, try either of these places and you will not be disappointed.

All this lobster talk has now made me crave it again.  Mmmm.

September 12, 2011

Pappardelle alla Bolognese

Pappardelle alla Bolognese

Ingredients

2  tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

3   tablespoons butter

3   carrot, finely, diced

2   medium onions, diced

4   rib celery, finely diced

5   cloves garlic, diced

1   pound ground beef

1   pound ground pork

1   pound ground lamb

¼   pound pancetta or slab bacon, ground

9   oz. tomato paste

3   medium tomatoes, roasted and diced

1   cup milk

1   cup dry white wine

salt and freshly ground black pepper

Parmigiano-Reggiano, for grating

Wide noodle pasta, cooked and drained

Directions

In a large 8-quart, heavy-bottomed saucepan, heat the olive oil and butter over medium heat. Add the onions, carrots, celery, and garlic and sweat over medium heat until the vegetables are translucent and soft but not browned, about 10 to 15 minutes.

Add the beef, pork, lamb, and pancetta and stir into the vegetables. Add the meat over high heat, stirring to keep the meat from sticking together until browned.

Add the tomato paste, roasted tomatoes, milk, and wine and simmer over medium-low heat for 1 ½ hours.

Season with salt and pepper, to taste, and remove from the heat.

Mix a little sauce with cooked and drained pasta and toss gently.  Serve in large bowls and add additional sauce as necessary.  Top with grated Parmigiano-Reggiano.

Pasta has long been near the top of my favorite comfort foods list.  There is something about it that just makes me feel so satisfied after a nice bowl of tasty pasta.  I don’t make pasta dishes nearly as much as I should at home and I am always browsing restaurant menus for my favorite combination of pasta and sauce….a wide noodle Bolognese.  I love meat…and by definition, Bolognese is a meat sauce.  It doesn’t get any better than that!

I have had many different versions of Bolognese and they all seem to be a bit different; mostly all good, but just different.  With a little time in front of the computer with my friend, Google, I set out to find out what a real Bolognese sauce was.

From what I was able to gather, Bolognese is a simple, hearty meat sauce in every sense of the word , that dates back at least to the 5th century.  The meat is usually comprised of beef and pancetta and sometime pork as well.  It is mixed with very few other competing ingredients, such as the traditional mirepoix (a mix of diced carrots, celery, and onions), garlic, tomato paste, wine, and milk.  It really is a very simple mix that yields a very meaty, thick sauce.  Some add tomatoes, including myself, giving it more of a red color.  The traditional recipe, without the tomatoes, yields a much more brown colored sauce.

With my admission of adding tomatoes, I guess the word is out that I am not a cooking purist, so I might as well divulge my other straying’s in the Bolognese world.  I have been experimenting with the different meats included and have found that mixing several types yields a much more complex, deeper taste.  In this recipe, I used, beef, pork, lamb, and pancetta.  That should be enough meats!

It should be noted that the Italians do not pair a Bolognese sauce with the pasta shape spaghetti. Wider shaped pastas are thought to hold up to the heavy sauce better and provide the right balance of noodle to sauce.  To each their own though…

August 26, 2011

Roughin’ it!

Expeditions can take you many places.  You can journey to a far off place.  You can find yourself trying a new cuisine or preparation.  In this case, Margie and I journeyed to Hosmer Lake in Central Oregon to go camping and enjoy the bounty of outdoor opportunity that Oregon provides.  Margie is still relatively new to the “camping” thing and we are still sorting out just how much we “rough it” in the great outdoors.  I like to keep things simple and pack fairly lightly for overnight camping trips, while Margie still enjoys the comforts of a very nicely padded sleeping surface.  We both agree, however, that there is no reason camping food has to suffer at all.  We take a lot of pride in our meals while camping. With a little extra forethought and planning anyone can still make some tasty (some might even say fancy) meals with simple camp cookware.

On this particular three day camping trip, we were well equipped with plenty of food and beverage for our expedition into the great outdoors.  The car was filled to the brim and we were off to enjoy ourselves and do a little fly fishing, relaxing, and mostly just escaping from the normal day to day life.  In past camping trips, we have been known to make such meals as chicken or beef fajitas, or fish tacos, or steak and potatoes.  All very good camping meals, by the way, and not all that difficult to prepare and cook outdoors.  On this particular trip, we were going to make Pesto Linguine with Sauteed Chicken and Artichokes.

First things first….a little wine.

Nothing but the best while camping 😉

Laugh all you want, but it’s not as bad as you think.  Wine Spectator agrees….they gave it a whopping 87 points.  More than you would have guessed, huh?

This meal isn’t about making every component ourselves or even using the freshest, hand selected ingredients.  It’s more like what one would make at home for a convenient, but enjoyable weeknight meal.  We purchased dried pasta, pre-made pesto sauce, canned artichoke hearts, and pre-shredded parmesan cheese.  We weren’t quite ready to go all Pilgrim and make all that out there.  Perhaps at a later time…

The chicken was one component that we spent more time with.  The chicken was cut into smaller pieces to make it cook faster and also to give more surface area for the spices to adhere to.  I like spiced up food!  After marinating the chicken for awhile, it was time to cook.

Since the meal really is simple, i’m not going to spend time talking through each step.  We got a late start that evening on cooking, so you will notice that it started out nice and light, but by the time everything was ready to eat, we had lanterns going and were squinting to see our food!

Uh oh! It's getting kinda dark out.

Yes, that is a camping wine glass!

Almost ready!

It may not be the prettiest meal we have ever made, but on this night in this place, it tasted REALLY GOOD!  We’re pretty certain our meal was the best in the campground that night!  For us, the extra effort to cook fun and unusual camping food is enjoyable and it makes the trip even more memorable.

Does anyone else have some favorite camping meals that they want to share?  We are looking for new meals to try on the next trip…

August 23, 2011

The Christening

There is one universal truth about men. They love their grills. I’m positive if you took a poll of men, you would find a direct correlation between their satisfaction in life and their satisfaction with their grill. Once the man in your life starts to question the worth of his grill, you should probably start budgeting for his birthday or Christmas grill. If his standards are pretty high, you may have to count the grill towards multiple gifting occasions. In Mike’s case, his mom and his wife (that’s me) co-gifted a Weber for his birthday.

New Weber Grill

Wine + Weber = One Happy Man

My parents seem to have a real knack for timing. Not only did they visit the first week we had a solid run of exceptional weather, they also timed it so they could help us christen the grill. After hearing our chatter about lamb burgers, they had to see what all the fuss was about. In perfect summer tradition, we hit up the PSU Saturday market. We scored some local grass fed lamb and located lots of beautiful produce.

I was planning to grill miniature tomatoes that wouldn’t require slicing and also wouldn’t fall through the grate.

Before I start, let me give you an overview of the toppings. You may pick and choose but the sauce is an absolute must.

  • Lightly toasted brioche or other worthy bun
  • Roasted tomatoes (you can either slice and roast in the oven, grill, or cheat and buy them from the Zupan’s olive bar) or sun-dried tomatoes
  • Crumbled feta cheese
  • Leaf lettuce (we used romaine)
  • Diced kalamata olives
  • Cilantro Mint Chutney
Lamb Burger Toppings Bar

Lamb Burger Toppings Bar

If you’ve got at least two able bodies in the kitchen, I would suggest that one person work on the chutney and the other person work on the lamb patties. In our case, we had a few extra able bodies so it was something of a circus atmosphere.

Cilantro Mint Chutney

1/3 cup         plain greek yogurt

2 T.                onion, chopped

1                jalapeno chile, seeded and chopped

1 ½ T.           fresh ginger, chopped

1/3 cup         fresh mint leaves

¾ cup           cilantro leaves

1 lg. clove     garlic, chopped

½ t.               salt

pinch            sugar

Combine all ingredients in a food processor and blend thoroughly.  Cover and refrigerate until serving.

My love/hate relationship with the food processor: love its efficiency but hate how annoying it is to clean.

 

Lamb Burger patties

1 pound           ground lamb

1 ¾ T.              ground cumin

¾ T.                 ground coriander

1 t.                     onion powder

1 lg. clove        garlic

2 T.                   balsamic vinegar

to taste             salt and pepper

Mix all ingredients well in a non-reactive bowl and form into patties.  Do not press patties too firmly.   1 pound of meat yields 3 respectable patties.  Patties are best when thicker than normal, helping them to not over cook on the grill.

Grilling Instructions:

Heat grill to medium high.  Brush grill surface with oil.  Grill lamb patties to a nice medium doneness.

Fire and Meat

Toast buns as the burgers finish cooking.

Some of the best grill marks around. Kudos to both the grill and to the grillmaster!

Add all the toppings and see if you can actually fit your mouth around it. I suggest pairing it with a Greek salad.

Lamb Burger

The Best (and probably only) Lamb Burger You’ve Ever Tasted

Did the parents like the Mediterranean lamb burgers? I’d have to say so. I think my mom is a fairly bird-like eater. She’s always doling out half of her sandwich, steak, etc, to her hungry tablemates. (Is she really your mom, you ask?). Both of my parents had polished off their plates completely. I even checked under the table to see if they’d stashed the remnants in the napkins on their laps (this was an old trick my sister and I employed with peas). Nada. Just a couple of distended bellies and satisfied grins.

July 28, 2011

Walla Walla, Washington

This post is a bit out of sequence. We’d actually never planned to blog about the trip but Walla Walla was a special request and it’s in keeping with our theme – culinary expeditions. You’ll have to excuse the lack of appropriate and useful photojournalism that resulted from our lack of planning.

We’d actually visited Walla Walla in 2009 and it held a special pre-engagement place in our hearts. We thought it would be fun to visit once again since things had settled down ever-so-slightly. It’s also a fun change of pace from the Pinot scene of the Willamette Valley (although we do love our Pinots!).

View of Scenic Walla Walla Wine Country

View of Scenic Walla Walla Wine Country

When to go?

There are many special events in this town known for its university, sweet onions and its burgeoning wine community, so check the calendar of events before you go. Your choice of dates can greatly impact hotel rates and dining options since this is a small town.

http://www.wallawalla.org/calendar.cfm

Restaurants

Saffron Mediterranean Kitchen:

We went to this place on our first trip and we decided it had to remain in the mix. We noshed on a lamb flatbread appetizer (Gozleme) that was perfectly seasoned and cooked. Don’t let them mislead you – it’s large and could be a meal in and of itself. We both then ate homemade pastas for dinner. The quality of the pasta in both dishes was really good, but the flavor of the accompanying ingredients was a little bland in my dish (the stinging nettle pappardelle with lamb ragu).  On the other hand, Mike’s Agnolotti (pork ragu with morel mushrooms and organic kale) was quite flavorful.

http://www.saffronmediterraneankitchen.com/

South Fork Restaurant:

The Green Curry Halibut was Mike’s inspiration for the last blog post. His dish was quite tasty but I think there are some negative details about the restaurant I should disclose. My crab cannelloni was lackluster, more soupy and soggy than flavorful. The main reason I don’t want to recommend it is because I don’t want this to be your memory of the Walla Walla restaurant scenee. Both ambience and location are less than desirable for the price point. I walk almost everywhere in Portland and I had to concede that we couldn’t walk there.

Graze (sandwiches):

If you’d like to picnic at a vineyard, Graze’s sandwiches might be the answer for you. They are sizable, simple and fresh. They have a limited selection of cold sandwiches (which is probably what you want), but we can at least recommend the turkey/avocado. Side salad is an option.

http://www.grazeevents.com/files/GrazeMenu.pdf

Sapolil Cellars:

The only reasons I’m listing Sapolil are for its fun live music and downtown location. I’m listing it as a restaurant because it’s downtown and offers bar food. Word of warning à their wines were pretty poor.

Clarette’s:

We ate breakfast here on both trips. It has inexpensive, large breakfasts but nothing inspirational. The interior is outdated and probably didn’t win any awards 40 years ago when it was last decorated.

Lodging

Walla Walla Faces Inn:

This is where we stayed on both visits. We like the boutique nature of the inn. If you’re able to ignore the dusty pink corridor walls, you can enjoy the fairly contemporary units. They are more than just rooms. Some of them are essentially one bedroom apartments, complete with kitchen and washer/dryer.

Living Room in our Walla Walla Rental

Living Room in our Walla Walla Rental

Other rooms (like the one we stayed in previously) are more compact but still have a large bathroom, mini fridge, etc. They even supply you with a complimentary ½ bottle of their award-winning signature Walla Walla Faces Syrah. I figured it was too gimmicky to be good, but I was wrong.

Welcome Gift of Walla Faces Syrah

Welcome Gift of Walla Faces Syrah

The inn still has a special place in my heart but I did end up visiting the chiropractor after awakening to find my neck on a 45 degree downhill slope. The bed and pillows (at least in this unit) were way too soft. It didn’t seem to phase Mike but I’m pretty sure he could sleep soundly on an active volcano.

That said, it’s downtown and easy walking to restaurants and shops.

Marcus Whitman Hotel:

Since I married into the Marcus name, I thought we should consider this hotel. It looked quite nice and you can occasionally get decent rates. Unfortunately, it was completely booked on one of the nights we were planning to visit and the rates were too high on an alternative weekend.

It’s the tallest building in town. It’s also conveniently located in downtown o downtown Walla Walla.

http://www.wallawalla.org/calendar.cfm

Best Western:

The Best Western seemed like the best combination of value, location, and price. Unfortunately they were also booked the weekends we considered.

http://www.tripadvisor.com/Hotel_Review-g60992-d72515-Reviews-BEST_WESTERN_Walla_Walla_Suites_Inn-Walla_Walla_Washington.html

Vineyards

Now for the good stuff. I’m going to offer notes about vineyards from this visit and our previous visit. Please keep in mind that changes seem to brew in Walla Walla and an old review could lead you astray. The vineyards are listed with our favorites roughly towards the top. I’m also including some we didn’t love so we can spare you the visit.

Wine tasting strategy (perhaps a questionable one): The fees are only $5 at most places in Walla Walla (seems cheap after the price inflation in the Willamette Valley). If you buy a bottle, most places will waive your tasting fee. We ended up with quite a few bottles.

There are several distinct vineyard/winery areas:

  • Westside
  • East Walla Walla and Airport Wineries: Some quality wineries are located here but the airport scene is basically a trailer park. I would visit only for the best quality wines.
  • South: This is my favorite area as far as the scenery goes.
  • Downtown: Good for some late afternoon, early evening lazy tastings.

Here is a map: http://www.winesnw.com/wallamap.html

Typical Walla Walla Vines

Typical Walla Walla Vines

Waters:     This was our second visit to what is probably our favorite vineyard due to the quality of the wines, the friendliness of the staff, and the location. We picnicked here as they were setting up for an annual wine cookout. Must try the Interlude and Capella blends! Advice: Walk in wearing matching themed glittery shirts and tell them how you hate all blends, how you will only drink Shiraz from Australia, and then confirm to them that their wine isn’t very good (as you’d suspected).

http://waterswinery.com/

Gramercy Cellars:      We love their wine, their labels, and their vibe. We tasted back in 2009 when they offered a guest vineyard tasting at Waters. It was excellent so we decided to track them down. They moved into the old Amavi tasting room right outside of town. It’s not situated at a vineyard with panoramic views, but the atmosphere makes up for it. You walk into the man cave and immediately feel relaxed. You can sit at the bar with the friendly, tats-laden server or sink into the deep brown leather couches, or enjoy a game of darts. By merely finding the place, you will feel like a member of an exclusive club. They don’t even have a sign out front announcing their presence. You are in the club.

https://gramercycellars.com/

Buty:      The airport thing sounds cool, but it’s really just a series of trailer type places that serve as tasting rooms. Pretty limited in terms of ambience and basically no scenery. HOWEVER, if you’re going to hit the airport wine tasting rooms, this is the place to go. Their wines are quite good.

Sleight of Hand:       Listing this because it has pretty good wines and is in a scenic area. You’ll want to split at this place because they give you about a million tastes. The labels contain funky, dark, magician-inspired themes that are carried over to the tasting room décor.

Walla Faces:       This tasting room is next to our downtown boutique inn and is owned by the same people who own the inn. They gave us a half bottle of their wine as a welcome gift. Instead of drinking it, we went next door and tried a glass of their wines (they don’t have a tasting flight). I loved their award-winning Syrah, but didn’t love Mike’s Cabernet as much. We enjoyed their lounge chairs and live music. We even chatted for a while with the artist behind the wine labels – Candice Johnson. From Candice, I learned that Walla Walla is not a good place to be single (unless you’re in college), she previously lived in Paris, and she hasn’t yet tired of painting tons of psychedelic faces.

Basel Cellars:     This is a beautiful setting for a picnic. We didn’t visit this time, but I think it’s worth mentioning. Their wines are not as pricey as some (and also not as good), but the setting was really cool. The tasting room was elevated above the vineyard, somewhat like a fortress. The facility is large with manicured grounds. It was definitely groomed for weddings.

Beresan:  Across from Sleight of Hand, we didn’t visit this time, but I did enjoy it last time. I liked their Carmenere/Cab blend as a novelty, but I wish I’d purchased the Cab instead of the Carmenere. The Carmenere didn’t stand alone.

Beresan Vineyards

Beresan Vineyards

Rulo:   Reasonably priced, enjoyable wines.

Woodward Canyon:    As our second vineyard ever visited in Walla Walla, this redeemed Walla Walla in our eyes (after the first stop). They had several tasty wines, especially their high-end “artist series” Cabernet Sauvignon wine. They buy an oil painting every year and then reproduce it for their artist series label.  We drove in from the Westside of town.

Amavi:    I loved their wines last time. This time they upgraded to a cool facility on site at their vineyard but their wines didn’t seem as good.

The New Amavi Vineyard

The New Amavi Vineyard Tasting Room

Other places (still in order):

  • Waterbook:   Large, somewhat cool facility. Fairly institutional feel though. Decent whites.
  • Russell Creek:   NOT a scenic location, inside or out. This is one of the airport tasting rooms. I liked their Syrahs but Mike wasn’t a fan. They’re a bit on the heavy side.
  • Va Piano:   Looks BEAUTIFUL in their pics but I didn’t love their wines. And I really didn’t think the setting was as great in real life as in the marketing literature.
  • L’Ecole:   If the Wine Spectator awarded “cute points” for the vineyard house/tasting room, this would rate highly. Otherwise, thumbs down. This was our very first stop in 2009 and I poured out most of it.
  • Tertulia:   Had to mention because we really didn’t like this place. Friendly but their wines were not good. The only good thing was that they were cheap. Somehow they’d managed to score high marks with wine spectator for their Cabernet Sauvignon, but we both agreed it wasn’t great.
July 12, 2011

Dinner…re-created

Margie and I recently spent a weekend away in the wine country of Walla Walla, Washington.  Walla Walla is about 4.5 hours NE of Portland and home to some great hearty red wine production.  We had previously travelled there two years ago and had a fabulous time and had been itching to get back.  The last trip went just perfectly for us with the perfect quaint, modern hotel, right on main street downtown, the perfect restaurants and great wineries.  We were looking to duplicate that again and weren’t disappointed.

We ate at a local restaurant on the south side of town, called South Fork Grill.  The menu had looked good, so Margie had gotten us a reservation.  When we arrived, we were a little surprised.  It wasn’t what we expected.  It was in a small strip mall and looked pretty suburban.  (sorry, we can be food snobs  🙂 )

Despite the atmosphere, the food really surprised me.  I had ordered a Halibut w/Green Curry as my main course mostly because I was feeling like fish and I love a good halibut.  (I guess you could say I just got it for the hal-i-but….hahah)  It really hit the spot and knocked my socks off.  It had a great fresh taste with just the right amount of heat to it.  I also loved the zesty cilantro, red pepper, lime juice topping on it.  It all really came together as a dish.

When I got home from the weekend, I was still craving the halibut dish.  I HAD TO HAVE IT AGAIN.  I set out to recreate the dish at home.  It was my mission and I was not to fail.  The recipe below is what I made and both Margie and I agree, it is pretty darn close to what we tasted at the restaurant.

This is going to be a regular staple in our house for years to come.  It’s not too difficult to make and the curry paste can be made  in a larger batch and frozen for a week or two.  If the photo of the dish doesn’t entice you to make it, I don’t know what will.

HALIBUT W/ GREEN CURRY

Halibut w/ Thai Green Curry

 Curry paste ingredients

  • 1 stalk lemongrass minced
  • 1-3 green chilies, sliced (thai green chilies or jalapeno)
  • 1 shallot, sliced
  • 4-5 cloves garlic
  • 1 thumb-size piece of ginger, thinly sliced
  • 1/2 cup chopped fresh coriander/cilantro leaves & stems
  • 1/2 cup fresh basil
  • 1/2 tsp. ground cumin
  • 1/2 tsp. ground white pepper
  • 1/2 tsp. ground coriander
  • 3 Tbsp fish sauce
  • 1 tsp. shrimp paste (available by the jar at Asian stores)
  • 1-2 tsp. brown sugar, to taste
  • 1 can coconut milk (15 oz.) , reserve 1/4 for cooking

Place all ingredients in a food processor.

Process well to form Thai green curry sauce. Taste the sauce for salt and spice. If too salty for your taste, add a squeeze of lime or lemon juice. If not salty enough, add more fish sauce or salt. Add more chili for more heat.

Topping ingredients

  • 3 Tbsp chopped cilantro leaves
  • ¼ red bell pepper, julienned small
  • 1 Tbsp lime juice

Gently mix all ingredients in a non-reactive bowl and refrigerate, until serving

Main ingredients

  • 1 pound halibut fillet, portioned, skin removed
  • 2 Tbsp cooking oil (grapeseed, olive, or vegetable)
  • 2 cups steamed rice

Preparation

Assemble curry paste and topping according to directions above.

Cook rice in rice cooker until it is cooked through and still sticky.

Heat curry paste and remaining coconut milk over medium heat in sauce pan.  Add more Coconut milk if needed to get a medium consistency curry sauce.

Heat cooking oil for fish in a large sauté pan.   Sauté halibut fillets in oil until browned on both sides and just barely opaque all the way through.

Using a small bowl (Pyrex dishes work well), spoon cooked rice into prep bowl.  This will then be used to create a nice mound of rice in the serving bowl on which the curry and fish will be placed.  Flip the molding bowl onto the large serving bowl and remove.  You should have a nice, neat mound of rice in the center.

Spoon desired amount of curry around the rice mound.  Top with halibut.

Sprinkle red pepper/cilantro topping on top of halibut.


June 21, 2011

Monkey See, Monkey Do

Mike and I ate at Lovely’s Fifty-Fifty a few weeks ago. It’s wood-fired pizza Nirvana on Mississippi. This post was not intended to be a restaurant review (so please excuse my moments of schizophrenia), but the fact that I had been dreaming about copycatting their fungal masterpiece should be review enough. (And you have not lived until you’ve had their homemade salted caramel ice cream). Since Mike cringes at the sight and smell of mushrooms, I decided to indulge myself when he headed out of town on a guys’ fishing trip.

“Monkey See, Monkey Do” is the highly technical kitchen term being portrayed this week. In this particular case, the monkey saw and ate the dish in question but did not see the making of it. This is where imagination and creativity come into play. My mom has always referred to this as “by guess and by gosh.” I looked up the description of the pizza from Lovely’s website, formulated my own ideas about what should go into the pizza, and jotted them down on a list. I was hoping this would serve to keep me on task when I arrived at the uber exciting PSU Farmer’s market. Surprisingly, it did help rein me in. I left with only 4 things that weren’t on my list. And I intended to use the gourmet garlic onions on the pizza. I’d never heard of these spring delights before and couldn’t resist trying them.

So where is the inspirational picture of my farmer’s market booty? Do you even need to ask? Mike was out of town and I was the sole photographer for this gourmet experience. There are many confusing-looking buttons on our fancy camera, but I swear that I didn’t hit the trash can button. The pictures I took of the fresh produce must’ve vanished to the same place that gobbles up socks from the laundry.

Mushroom Truffle Pizza

Pizza Dough:

1 bag Trader Joe’s pizza dough (this is one of those worthwhile shortcuts)

I pulled the bag of dough out of the fridge and read the instructions. “Take pizza dough out of bag, flour, and let rest for 20 minutes.” I’m really not sure why it needed to rest when it hadn’t done anything yet, but I decided to follow instructions for once.

Dough at Rest

While the dough was resting, I got busy with the pizza sauce. I’m pretty sure Lovely’s pizza sauce was just a light coating of olive oil, but I had already decided on an “enhancement.” I simply had to have a mushroom sauce base for my mushroom pizza. Those of you who know my food preferences should not be surprised that I decided to augment the Lovely’s-inspired pizza with even more mushroomy goodness.

Sauce:

4oz Shitake Mushroom, chopped (no stems)

1 Shallot, chopped

1 clove Garlic, minced

1 standard Gobstopper-sized white truffle nugget, finely grated

2 sprigs Thyme

Salt & Pepper

Grapeseed or Olive Oil (gobs to thin it out…roughly ¾- 1 cup)

Sautee the shitakes and shallots in Grapeseed Oil (healthier for sautéing than olive oil) for 4-6 minutes on Med-High heat. Add the Garlic and Thyme and cook for another 1-2 minutes (avoid burning the garlic). Add sautéed mixture to a food processor and add more grapeseed oil. Salt and pepper to taste. Puree. Mix in the grated truffle. Voila, your mushroom sauce base is ready!

Back to the pizza dough. Mike always handled the pizza crust on our pizza nights so I wasn’t fully aware how sporting the task really is. I would just have to wrestle the pizza dough monster myself. I started trying to roll it out but it stretched right back like a rubber band. So I tried picking it up by the top edge and letting gravity stretch it. Stretch, rotate, stretch, rotate. My meager success somehow led to images of spinning, flipping, and twirling overhead. These were visions of pizza Olympics and I had just barely joined the farm league. (I experience similar visions of grandeur when I watch Wimbledon and then head out for a Sunday tennis match at the park).

Things were getting messy. If you want to get a sense of my cooking style, you should really check out this youtube video. Some might liken me to a female version of the Swedish chef (as opposed to Mike’s Iron Chef-like style).

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9OfsABOGw3c

Flour = White Dirt

I finally managed to stretch 2/3 of the bag of dough (Mike can do the same with ½ a bag) out over one of our specialty pizza pans. We like the aerated pizza pans. They’re no substitute for wood-fired ovens but they help crisp up crusts pretty nicely. I put the crust in the oven for about 5 or so minutes at 450 degrees until it began to brown just a bit. Keep an eye on the crust while it’s cooking. If the crust starts to puff up like a parachute, poke it with a sharp object to deflate it.

Pre-crisped Pizza Crust

Pizza Toppings:

4 oz Morel mushrooms, cut into bite-sized pieces

1-2 Gourmet garlic onions, chopped

1 sprig Thyme, chopped

1-2 T Grapeseed Oil

1 clove Garlic, minced

0.2 lb Brigante Pecorino Pinna Sheep’s Cheese (a fairly rich and flavorful sheep’s cheese that also melts well)

Black Truffle Oil (Lovely’s used Tartufo cheese instead of my truffle oil and pecorino combo)

2-3 T chopped Italian Parsely

I sautéed the mushrooms and gourmet garlic onions in Grapeseed oil over Med-High heat. I then added the garlic and thyme after 4-6 minutes. I cooked for another 2+ minutes (stop before the garlic burns).

Do-Over Tip: I think it’s important to highlight do-over tips. If I had a do-over, I would double the amount of morel mushrooms and cut them slightly larger, but I am a mushroom fiend so look at the pictures and use your own judgment. Mushrooms always cook down much more than I anticipate and the morel mushroom is an especially tricky little devil. It looks so burly that I couldn’t fathom it shrinking while cooking. I was wrong. The morel cooks down just as much as any other mushroom.

Assemble and Bake:

I spread the mushroom pizza sauce over the crust just like I would a tomato-based sauce. I added most of the cheese, arranged the morel mushroom sauté mixture, and then sprinkled the remaining cheese over top.

Assembled but not Cooked

I then baked for another 8-12 minutes at 450 (until cheese melted and started to brown). I drizzled the truffle oil to taste (I tend to be heavy-handed) and sprinkled a decorative dose of parsley over top. You might want to add a sprig of thyme for flair.

The pizza smelled rich and delicious. (Mike would’ve used a different descriptor). On many occasions I’ve declared fungus to be my friend and this night was no exception. This monkey ended the night with a chick flick, satiated taste buds, and a full belly.

Melted Mushroomy Goodness