Trying out Butternut Squash Lasagna

Categories: food — Tags: , , , , , , — Posted by: Grant @ December 11, 2008 : 6:16 pm
Butternut squash lasagna

Butternut squash lasagna

Before I start my post, I want to credit Patricia at Cook Local for finding this interesting butternut squash lasagna recipe, which originates from Coconut and Lime.

The recipe calls for lasagna made with butternut squash, rainbow chard and (surprise), no tomato sauce OR meat. My first reaction is probably like yours: Whaaat? Vegetarian lasagna, that’s common enough, but no tomato sauce? This was going to be interesting, as I’m a huuuge fan of lasagna and as such, am very particular about how it tastes. In fact, Steve often cracked jokes about my food fetish because I would volunteer for lasagna duty every time we reviewed an Italian restaurant.

I won’t repeat the recipe, as I’ve linked to both blogs, who do the art of cooking more justice than I to begin with. That said, it’s a fairly straight forward lasagna recipe that consists of baking and mashing the squash, making a chard and ricotta mix, heating a milk-based sauce and then combining into layers.

I tripped up on the layering stage of making my lasagna, as my pasta somehow managed to break down into dozens of smaller parts while boiling(!). I’m sure my head added to the steam coming from the pot because I specifically tried to avoid the specific brand of pasta that I used, as I had bad experiences with it before. MY supermarket, PCC, only carried one brand for lasagna however, so that’s what I ended up being stuck with. Bah!

So, that turned into a challenging mix-and-match puzzle for a few minutes while I wrestled with the mashed butternut squash. Even though Patricia warned against it, I tried using a spoon at first, but gave up soon after the first layer and just used my hands instead. Sometimes I just have to fail in order to believe. :)

The end result was a lasagna that was rich, creamy and smooth – and much better than what I would have guessed! I thought the rainbow chard might overpower the dish beforehand, but it was subdued fairly well. I feel there was room in the recipe to add more herbs however; and perhaps even tomato sauce. But at that point, you would diverge from the uniqueness of the dish and be making a traditional lasagna (well, mostly).

Well, all this talk of food makes me hungry, so I’d better run off to the kitchen now. :) Thanks again to Patricia from Cook Local and also Coconut and Lime for this cool recipe.

Redmond Lights Festival, Chain Restaurants and Indians

Categories: news — Tags: , , , , , , , , , — Posted by: Grant @ December 9, 2008 : 8:05 pm

Last night, I headed out to the Redmond lights festival, which is a walk along the Burke Gilman/Sammamish River that ends up at the Redmond Town Center. I’ve been a little leery of RTC lately because of some political issues lately, but they’ve seemed to be getting better according to a popular Redmond blog that I keep up with.

Anyhow, the festival was fun, with the sparkling of blinking red lights that everyone wore, holiday music, and general holiday mood. With the sour economy, it was nice to see everyone just out and having fun. Of course, it helped that there was free food involved, as there were lines 50 people deep for even some simple foods like Panera Bread cookies. Even though the lines were long, we (Steve, my girlfriend and I) had no problem waiting around and enjoying the scene. If we can camp out at Black Friday at 3am, we can wait 10 minutes for free food. :)

Most of the food vendors were those directly in Redmond town center, like Thai Ginger, Mefil (I always wondered if this name was a clever play on “Me Fill”), Ruby’s, that new sandwich/soupy Italian chain that replaced Cosi (THANK YOU), and Todai. Also there was Canyons, Azteca and Qdoba, which are close by.

For various reasons, we don’t review chain restaurants as a rule on Chef Seattle, but it’s events like these that tend to put some things into perspective on the roles of big food chains. What I mean is that when a large business gets involved, they have a marketing budget to sponsor events like the Redmond festival, because marketing and branding is what chain restaurants do best. Small, independently owned restaurants often don’t have the budget, manpower or – and I think this is the primary reason – foresight to sponsor these type of events. I love my small restaurants, but having talked with many chef/owners, I say it with love when I say they know food, but suck at self-promotion.

The only independent food vendor passing out free food here was Mefil, while every other one was a chain of some kind – though Thai Ginger and Canyons are both Seattle-based chains. I’m going to single out Mefil for a second, because as an Indian restaurant, I have to say that of all the various ethnic restaurants owners, Indians are the best pound-for-pound marketers. There’s often a good reason for that though, which is that many Indian restaurant and business owners are often highly educated individuals, with MBAs or other post-college education.

When I was volunteering at a food bank warehouse a few years ago, I had an eye-opening discussion with an Indian fellow – Gugan, I think his name was – who was working off 20 hours of community service. He told me he sold liquor to a minor, as it was Superbowl weekend and his store was packed with people out the door.

Explaining, he told me he owned seven convenience stores and managed all of them by himself, employing friends and family. Apparently, he had an MBA and wanted to start an integrated chip design outsourcing business when he came to America, but found he could do quite fine selling drinks and snacks to the masses. When I asked him about restaurants, he was pretty adamant that it was the same for that niche as well, with many well qualified owners doing it because they money made it worth it.

After he left for the day, he offered me free Slurpees anytime at his stores, though I never quite took him up on that offer. :)

November is 30 for $30 Month

Categories: restaurants,seattle — Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , — Posted by: Grant @ November 12, 2008 : 2:10 pm
  • Andaluca (Downtown, NW/Mediterranean)
  • Barking Frog (Woodinville next to The Herb Farm, Northwest)
  • Barolo (Downtown, Italian)
  • Bin Vivant (Kirkland, American/Wines)
  • Boka (Downtown, American)
  • Brasa (Belltown, Spanish/American)
  • Cafe Campagne (Pike’s Place, French) Not to be confused with Campagne Restaurant
  • Crush
  • Dahlia Lounge (Downtown, Northwest)
  • Earth and Ocean (Downtown, Northwest)
  • Etta’s (Pike’s Place, Seafood)
  • Eva Restaurant (Green Lake, American)
  • Fish Club (Downtown, Seafood)
  • Hunt Club (Capitol Hill, American)
  • Lola (Downtown, Greek)
  • Nell’s (Greenlake, Northwest)
  • Nishino (Madison, Japanese)
  • Ponti Seafood Grill (Queen Anne, Seafood)
  • Portage (Queen Anne, French/Northwest)
  • Ray’s Boathouse (Ballard, Seafood)
  • Restaurant Zoe (Belltown, Northwest/American)
  • Serafina (Eastlake, Italian)
  • Shuckers (Downtown, Seafood)
  • 6/7 Restaurant (Downtown, American)
  • Steelhead Diner (Pike’s Place, Northwest)
  • Szmania’s (Magnolia, NW/German)
  • The Georgian (Downtown, Northwest)
  • Third Floor Fish Cafe (Kirkland, Seafood)
  • 35th Street Bistro (Fremont, American)
  • Veil (now closed)
  • Yarrow Bay Grill (Kirkland, Seafood)
  • 0/8 Seafood Grill (Bellevue, Seafood/Steak)

Happy eating!

Linguine with Clams

Categories: food — Tags: , , , , , , , — Posted by: Grant @ April 20, 2008 : 8:53 pm

Linguine with clams

I have a secret to share. For years, I’ve have an affair with a blond Italian whom I meet with monthly over candlelit dinners. I’d describe our relationship as rather shallow; I imply my willingness to pay and the well-dressed escort delivers my Italian beauty to the table. We’re about to lock lips, when the attendant cheerfully asks, ‘Would you like some fresh grated cheese with that?’.

Yes, I’m talking about linguine. In this particular case, my simple and everyday linguine with clams recipe. Here’s what you need to get started:

Ingredients

  • 1 8oz packet linguine
  • 1 cup fresh cooked clam meat (about 3 pounds Manila clams)
  • 1/2 half and half / heavy cream
  • 1/2 cup white wine
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 3T freshly chopped parsley
  • 3T butter
  • 4 minced garlic cloves
  • 1 lemon
  • 1T parsley flakes
  • 1t oregano
  • 1t thyme
  • 1t red pepper flakes
  • 1/4t sea salt
  • fresh cracked pepper to taste

Boiling clams

Preparation of the clams:
When you buy your clams, make sure to buy the clams the same day you’ll be cooking or put them in a pot of salt water if you won’t use them immediately. Your clams will die if you leave them out of the water long enough, which is bad for both taste and health reasons. Before you start cooking your clams, push down on each clam to see if it clamps back down on itself. If the shell immediately bounces back, toss the clam – it’s dead.

Cooking the clams:
First, put the clams into a pot of salted water (use lots of salt) and cook at high heat until the water starts boiling. Once boiling, reduce to a simmer and cook until shells pop up. Do not overcook, or meat will turn rubbery and tough. Strain (you may save clam juice for chowders or broth) and then remove clam meat and set aside.

Cooking the pasta:
Bring large pot of water to boil. Be sure to add plenty of kosher or sea salt to pot. If you are not cooking clams and pasta at the same time, you can reuse strained clam juice to boil pasta. Cook until firm / al dente (should have tiny bit of white texture left in middle of pasta). Al dente is how most Italians cook and there are also health benefits of not overcooking your pasta (deals with how your body processes carbohydrates). Remove from water and drizzle with olive oil to prevent from sticking, if your sauce is not going to be ready soon.

Herbs and spices
Preparing the sauce
Combine butter, olive oil, white wine, garlic, heavy cream and squeeze half lemon (watch the seeds) into a sauce pot and cover over medium heat. Cook for 3 minutes. Add parsley flakes, pepper flakes, thyme, oregano and salt. Reduce heat to low and cook for 3 more minutes, stirring occasionally.

Mixing clams and linguine
Combining the ingredients
In a large pan, over medium heat, combine pasta, sauce and clams. Add fresh parsley and mix together. Cook for 2-3 minutes. Remove, plate and garnish with fresh parsley.

That’s it! Total cooking and prep time is around 30 minutes. This is a good dish for beginners, as it’s quick, tasty and almost impossible to screw up. It’s also completely open to variations, as recipes often include more cream, no cream, bacon, additional seafood or other spice combinations.

Northwest Seafood @ Culinary Communion

Categories: food,seattle — Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , — Posted by: Grant @ April 10, 2008 : 2:05 pm

Zach of Culinary Communion

(Above: Zach, cooking instructor at Culinary Communion))

I had a great time last night attending a Northwest seafood cooking class at Culinary Communion located in Beacon Hill. It was a 3 hour adventure of chopping, boiling, juicing, cutting, mincing, washing, slicing and more importantly – tasting!

Our cooking class was led by Zach, new Culinary Communion instructor who just moved back from Vegas not too long ago after being sous chef at Guy Savoy (if I recall correctly) at Caesar’s Palace. His credentials also include being a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America and chef at Cascadia in Belltown a few years ago. Zach is a great teacher and friendly guy, so he’s highly recommended if you ever decide to take a cooking course at Culinary Communion.

Salmon, oysters, crabs and clams

We started off the night with a huge table filled with fresh seafood that included whole Canadian king salmon, Manila clams, pacific halibut, Penn Cove mussels (plus two other varieties I forget) and live dungeness crab. Zach walked us through the varieties of sea life, methods of cooking and also great tips on places to buy seafood. He stated that for the regular consumer, Uwajimaya provides great, fresh seafood in addition to excellent prices. For whatever reason, I was never sure of the seafood at Uwajimaya, but I think I’ll give it a shot with Zach’s recommendation.

For those in the city, Zach also mentioned that while the Pike Place fish tossing troupes might seem like a tourist trap in terms of price gouging – they are more than willing to negotiate prices with locals if they think you know about the gig.

A couple of neat things that we learned about our various seafoods were that farm raised salmon will have white tongues as opposed to black tongues from wild salmon (go with wild salmon). For salmon (or any salt water fish), look for clear eyes as opposed to cloudy to gauge how long the fish has been dead. When preparing mollusks, press down on their lids and see if they retract and clamp back down. If they don’t, that means they’re dead and you should toss them out. An important tip- while you want to soak clams in water, do not soak mussels in water unless you want to kill them. Instead, cover mussels with a damp cloth towel and set aside until ready to use.

Salmon fillets

Among the dishes we cooked, the slow-roasted salmon was a big favorite. It featured a variety of simple ingredients such as butter, lemon, olive oil, herbs and wine, poured over slow cooked salmon fillets. Other dishes that we cooked included:red curry mussel stew, halibut seviche, New England clam chowder and biscuits, bucatini alla puttanesca (I am officially a new fan of bucatini), Peruvian ceviche and fresh Vietnamese spring rolls.

Bucatini alla puttanesca

I love the bucatini pasta because it’s a thick spaghetti like pasta that is hollow in the middle, providing more surface area for sauce delivery. If you’ve ever wondered why pasta is always shaped in odd, funny shapes, it’s all to provide extra surface area. The bucatini works great for this purpose and I can see lots of uses in the future for red and white sauce Italian cooking.

The amazing part is that most of these dishes were quite easy to make. With a dozen cooks of mixed skill, it was no trouble getting all the food prepped and cooked while coming out delicious. One of the teams forgot to add baking powder and soda to the biscuits, which caused them not to rise and turn out more like biscuitty chewables, but even then everyone had a good laugh and reached for seconds when it came around.

While I learned a whole lot from the class and Zach, the most important things I learned were:

- Uwajimaya is great for seafood.
- Use LOTS OF SALT when boiling seafood, pasta or blanching vegetables. Like, an entire cup of salt. This sounds scary, but in reality, it works great and won’t send your sodium intake through the roof.
- Ceviche is the easiest dish in the world.
- If your clan chowder is soupy, blend in a biscuit to add consistency.
- All fresh fish can be eaten raw; so don’t overcook that salmon.
- More butter the better, at least for biscuits.
- Shucking oysters is fun. Try it.

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