Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Gwyneth Paltrow's Roasted Tomato and Anchovy Oreganata Pasta

I had to. I just...had to. With all the heat that Gwyneth Paltrow had been getting from her first, entirely random, cookbook, I had to try at least one recipe. "Just one, but that's it," I thought to myself, as Gwyneth stared back at me from the cover of Bon Appétit. As I flipped through her limited handful of free recipes, I sensed the cool back side of the culinary world's hand approaching my right cheek.

I found nothing particularly interesting, until I stumbled across a narrow column titled, "Roasted Tomato and Anchovy Oreganata Pasta." As I read through its ingredients, I was itching for a picture of this dish. The very top of the column had some unnoticeable text, pre-labeling the column, "Cook the Cover." Wait, what? How did I miss that? I flipped back to the cover and only saw Gwyneth, staring back at me again. I looked down at her hands and saw a nondescript, bland-looking pasta.

Nope. No thanks. I read through the rest of her recipes, but the spaghetti recipe called for me. In a last-ditch effort, I went to the Bon Appétit website, hoping to find a better picture.

Eh, better, but the spaghetti still looked kind of bland. I guess it looked good enough to try. I cast my visual judgments aside and just went for it. Besides, how can you go wrong with roasted cherry tomatoes and anchovies? Gwyneth and I were on the same page on that one.

You start off this easy and aromatic recipe with some cherry tomatoes. I don't think you have to be very exact with any of her measurements, and she seems to agree.

Next up was the oreganata. I used whole wheat panko bread crumbs for this, and I can see where homemade bread crumbs could do a better job here. The panko bread crumbs didn't hold together very well and turned out to be more of a crumble, with very little structure. Maybe some egg white could have helped here too. If you have the time to do make your own bread crumbs, go for it. It's super easy and it'll probably be well worth it. The bread crumbs got tossed together with some flat-leaf parsley, thyme, oregano, kosher salt, freshly ground black pepper, and some good old extra virgin olive oil.

Next, some delicious anchovies. I didn't account for how salty the anchovies already were, so be careful with the amount of salt you put in the oreganata mixture.

After you spread out the oreganata over the anchovies, you're good to throw it into the oven.

Back to the tomatoes. I roasted them for three and a half hours and got sweet enough results. Her upper limit of eight hours might be killing it, but I have yet to try it. They came out wrinkled and absurdly fragrant.

After a few minutes, the bread crumbs should come out well-browned and shiny. There should also be an awesome smell coming out of your oven.

After letting the tomatoes cool, as recommended by Gwyneth, I crushed the tomatoes by hand. This is by far one of the most satisfying feelings in the world.

You should have a beautiful pool of tomato juices and roasted skins.

Then you just add some garlic, salt, and olive oil to a pan and add the tomatoes in spaced-out batches. She doesn't say to do this, but I find that adding the roasted tomatoes in a few, separate batches definitely adds some nice layers of flavor. Start cooking your spaghetti (especially if it's dry) before you throw in the last, and what will turn out to be the "freshest," batch of tomatoes.

Throw in the spaghetti with the last batch of tomatoes and toss to coat the spaghetti with the sauce. If the sauce isn't clinging enough to the pasta, add in some of that pasta water. Right before serving, mix in some torn basil leaves.

This end result is simple, fresh, and surprisingly layered in flavor and texture. The perfect bite should start off with some of that crunchy, umami, fishy, and herbal oreganata, followed by a thin layer of fresh basil and flavorful roasted tomato skin, which should break the way to some toothsome spaghetti coated with a vibrantly sweet tomato sauce.

Sounds awesome, right? It is. Give it a whirl when you get the chance.

Gwyn (I feel like we're on a nickname name basis now--I hope you don't mind), congrats on surviving a mountain of high-seated criticism. You're awesome in my book, and I'm looking forward to cooking up another one of your recipes.

Culinary world...thank you, may I have another?

Monday, June 20, 2011

Sushi Kappo Tamura

Sushi Kappo Tamura is part of a growing Seattle-based Kitamura empire. With Chiso, Showa Izakaya, and a tip of the hat from the James Beard Foundation under his belt, Taichi Kitamura has had no trouble finding forums to share his food. After eating at all of his establishments, his love for local, seasonal, and sustainable food becomes very clear.

The moment you walk in, you're greeted by a beautiful sushi bar. You won't find a single person without a smile at the bar. Sushi Kappo Tamura is not only about the food, but also about a personable and casual experience. Every sushi chef was having conversations with people seated at the bar. Every fifteen minutes or so, the chefs would say goodbye to their departing customers and would thank at least one person by name. You can tell that Sushi Kappo Tamura is very much about lasting, meaningful relationships with their customers.

Unlike Chiso or Showa, Sushi Kappo Tamura is the place to go for food straight from the hands of Chef Kitamura. That's him at the right end of the bar.

The space has high ceilings, comforting seating, calming music, and huge windows letting in the sunset. The plate ware is a refreshing departure from blindingly white plates and is just as beautiful as the food. From service to setting, Sushi Kappo Tamura feels like you've been invited to Taichi Kitamura's home. No pretention or high-brow service. Just good food and good company.

Sushi Kappo Tamura has a very focused and interesting menu, which makes the tasting menu not absolutely necessary. But if you have the chance, go for it. Like any good tasting menu, this one speaks to you.

This particular tasting menu started with organic mizuna, shimeji and grilled king oyster mushrooms, dressed with yuzu sauce and umadashi. The mizuna, or water greens, were light, crisp, and slightly peppery. Think of a less intense, but more full-bodied type of arugula. The sauce was bright from the intense yuzu, but tempered by the light and aromatic dashi broth. The mushrooms completed the dish with a beautiful richness and earthiness.

The second course was an Alaskan red snapper nitsuke with hari ginger and gobo. The fish was firm, yet moist. Every bite of the fish literally melted in my mouth. Nitsuke means that the fish was simmered in a broth that is usually soy sauce based. The gobo, or burdock, was slightly sweet and added some earthiness to the dish. The tightly packed handful of seasoned spinach was refreshing and light. The hari ginger was finely julienned, which allowed itself to season and unify the rest of the dish. Overall, the dish was a delicious balance of textures and sweet, salty, light, and earthy flavors.

Third was a duck breast shio-ni, yuzu gosyo scallion sauce with sauteed mustard greens. Each bite of this dish was insane. The duck breast was cooked with some soy sauce to a beautiful medium-rare and the yuzu and scallions brightened and intensified the duck's flavor. The mustard greens were simply sautéed, which added a nice kick to each bite. Duck typically depends on its own fat to let its flavor shine. These lean slices of duck did just the opposite with even better results.

The fourth course was the chef's sushi selection. At the top-left was a six-pack of cucumber, geoduck, and cuttlefish. The diagonal spread featured albacore, yellowtail, tuna, cuttlefish, and salmon. At the bottom-right was some salmon roe and geoduck. The sushi here is no joke. This is some of the best-quality sushi I've had in Seattle. Everything melted like oceanic honey in my mouth. I mean really, look at how beautiful each careful slice of fish looks. Usually, I take a stab at highlighting the best in a spread of sushi, but all of these were so good that nothing stood above the rest.

The meal ended with an Okinawan cane sugar crème brûlée. I love crème brûlée, and this one reinforced that obsession. Though a standard version of crème brûlée is always delicious, my favorite ones have always been at Japanese restaurants that take a departure from the norm (i.e., black sesame crème brûlée and green tea crème brûlée).

The rich sugar cane brûlée came out crisp, sweet, and reminiscent of the flavor of molasses. The layer of sugar cane was just thick enough to complement the nutty and surprisingly light custard. The custard tasted almond-based and was smooth, but still had a pleasantly heavy texture. Like many of the other dishes on the tasting menu, I can't help but describe this dish as earthy. I can't remember a single dessert that I've described as earthy, but this one was. So good.

Needless to say, I'm a huge fan of everything I ate here. Sushi Kappo Tamura doesn't flaunt any bells or whistles. It just features delicious, fresh, healthy, and focused food. By the end of the tasting menu, I was perfectly satisfied. Chef Kitamura's food defines himself as a down-to-earth guy with an appreciation for where food comes from and serving healthy, yet satiating food.

Sushi Kappo Tamura
2968 Eastlake Ave E
Seattle, WA 98102
(206) 547-0937

GET: Anything.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

America's Test Kitchen's Roast Chicken (9/24)

This was a fun one, mainly because this chicken recipe introduced me to some simple, new techniques.

I've brined a turkey before with great results, but I've never been sure how a chicken would react to brining. This particular brine was pretty straightforward with a cup of salt, half a cup of sugar, and half a gallon of water. I used stevia instead of sugar, as usual. Remember to always go light on the stevia.

After mixing up the brine, I dunked in the chicken and weighed it down with a measuring cup to keep the whole chicken fully submerged for an hour. I don't know what's wrong with me, but I unconsciously tasted the brining water with my finger after putting in the chicken. Thinking I had just voluntary given myself a bacterial disease, I panicked for about three seconds before realizing that I'd at least die from doing what I love: tasting brining liquid with a raw chicken floating in it. I mean, cooking.

On to the potatoes. Instead of potatoes, I went with sweet potatoes. Sweet potatoes have a lower glycemic index and are generally better for you than regular potatoes. I love sweet potatoes anyways. They have a lot more character.

After slicing up the potatoes and mixing them with olive oil, salt, and pepper, I laid them across the roasting pan. I have to say, I felt like Remy from Ratatouille when I was laying down the slices of sweet potato. Speaking of which, I should try to make that some time...

So which looks better? Wait, don't answer that.

After draining and patting down the brined chicken, I had to butterfly the chicken. I've never butterflied anything before, so I was looking forward to this.

Turns out it's super easy. It was kind of disappointing how easy it was, but welcome at the same time. All you do is cut out the backbone.

Then you just flip over the chicken and press down on the breasts like you're performing CPR. Easy, peasy. If you're still unsure about how to do it, take a gander at this instructional video. You should now have one, flattened, butterflied chicken.

I've made quite a few compound butters at this point, but this is the first one I've made with dijon mustard thrown into the mix. It was also interesting to see that the recipe called for mashed garlic rather than minced, or finely chopped, garlic.

After working the compound butter under the chicken skin, rubbing down the chicken with some olive oil, and positioning the butterflied chicken on the roasting rack, I couldn't help but laugh at the absurdity of this chicken's posture. I don't know what's more disturbing--the strangely sheepish character of this chicken, or the fact that when I Google image searched "sheepish," I got this:

Sorry. After I saw this picture, I just couldn't live with the fact that I might be the only one out there suffering from a horridly indelible and baaaaaa'd image.

Right before throwing this in the oven, I took one last look at the chicken with a little bit of doubt and sent it on its way.

The finished product was beautiful, but I couldn't help but laugh one last time at how ridiculous this chicken looked. If you're in a hurry to roast a chicken, consider butterflying it. You can roast the chicken at higher temperatures over shorter periods of time without worrying about the meat being undercooked.

Be honest: how many times have you scrolled between this picture and the"sheepish" picture? If you say a number less than three, you're lying.

Another nice thing about butterflying a chicken is that breaking down the chicken is insanely easy. The dark meat fell off the bone as if it were a deeply braised leg of lamb. The second the meat was exposed, the aroma of thyme and mustard escaped from underneath the skin. The meat tasted great initially, with hints of mustard, a little bit of thyme, and flavorful chunks of garlic, but the meat had a strong aftertaste that felt like gulping down a pint of ocean water. The only solution to this was to just keep eating the chicken and balancing out the saltiness of the chicken with the sweet potatoes.

The skin was the most addictive part of this chicken: crispy, savory, fatty, and unlike the actual meat, perfectly salty.

The chicken breasts nearly burst with juices when I cut into them. The meat near the cavity took on a beautiful color and flavor. These pieces were slightly less salty, but they still carried that same, unfortunate aftertaste.

The sweet potatoes came out just as beautifully as the chicken. Most of the slices came out tender and packed with flavor, but the slices that sat along the borders of the roasting pan came out with an even tastier crispy char. The sweet potatoes were glazed with drippings and had moments of spicy mustard and thyme. Several pieces even had a tiny, or should I say a poultry, aftertaste of salty chicken.

Overall, aside from the saltiness, this chicken was great. Though this recipe required a bit more effort than usual, and the payoff might be questionable, this chicken was very much worth trying. I might have to give this one another go at some point with less salt in the brining liquid or a shorter brining time. More than anything, though, I loved tasting and learning about butterflied chickens.

Good work, America's Test Kitchen. I don't know if this stands up to some of the other chickens I've roasted to date, but ATK, you put up a hell of a fight.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Plum Bistro

Within my first month of living in Seattle, it was pretty apparent that I'd have to deal with a food movement that completely clashes with my eating habits: veganism. I had always approached veganism with my eyes rolling to the back of my head. Since then, I've tried a good handful of vegan food, but none stand out quite as much as Makini Howell's Plum Bistro.

Plum Bistro is set up in space that feels invitingly industrial through its smart use of exposed cement and beautiful wood paneling. This cafe passes on the stereotypical indicators of vegan cafes and succeeds in putting together an interior that is welcoming, comforting, and distinctly Seattle. The local Native American art, the restrained use of light fixtures, the vaulted ceilings, and the glass-paneled garage door do nothing but help to establish that environment.

One glance at the menu makes clear that Plum Bistro is full of creativity. Every time I go, I want to try everything all over again, which, needless to say, makes decision-making particularly difficult. It's a good thing that every meal starts off with a bottle of water and a glass of ice with a grabbag mix of freshly sliced cucumber, lemon, orange, or lime. Infused waters always come off as a trend to some, but I've always found them to be a simple way to generally lighten up the meal.

Let's start with three starters that everyone should get when you go to Plum Bistro.

First up, the Roasted Garlic Sweet Potato Fries. These things are no joke. The fries are sweet and crispy, and the garlic-packed salsa verde-like topping with jalapeño aioli is the perfect way to balance the sweet potatoes with some heat. The center of this mound of fries is usually a bit soggy, but the salsa has a way of making even the soggiest of fries delicious. I like the sweet potato fries better, but just as delicious are the Crunchy Garlicky Yam Fries topped with a dill aioli.

Second, the Spicy Mac 'N' Yease. I might like this more than I like regular mac and cheese. Whatever they use for their macaroni is light and the way they bake it gives a nice crunchy edge to a good number of them. The cheese substitute is addictive, creamy, and packed with rustic and intense spices. My bet is on either, or both, turmeric or cumin. This dish always has just enough heat to keep you coming for more.

The third starter you have to get are the Creamed Tofu Filled Cilantro Crepes. These crepes are unreal. Sitting on top of a healthy drizzle of that same jalapeño aioli used in the sweet potato fries, these light and fluffy crepes come topped with cilantro, scallions, and asparagus. The creamed tofu, and the whole dish, really is texturally bland, but when you get the right bite with a bit of each component on your fork, it's absurdly delicious. I could get these and the Spicy Mac 'N' Yease and call it a day, every day, and inadvertently become a vegan.

I've been to Plum Bistro several times for brunch, lunch, and dinner, and each experience has typically been defined by those three dishes. There are some other standouts, though.

At lunch, Plum Bistro serves two delicious wraps. I prefer the Spicy Jamaican Tempeh Wrap. Packed with pickled sweet peppers and onions, tangerine slices, spinach, tempeh, and that same jalapeño aioli, without careful handling, this wrap can get really messy really quickly. The tortilla they use is blistered, toasty, and freshly aromatic. Each bite is packed with flavor: the sweet and juicy tangerine slices add a bright note to the firm tempeh and the peppers, onions, and aioli deliver on the promised spiciness of the dish.

The Chili-Crusted Seitan is one of the heartiest dishes I've had at Plum Bistro. With its clear focus on Mexican flavors, this dish is also one of the more classic-tasting dishes I've had at Plum Bistro. The chili-crusted seitan is packed with spices and is served enchilada-style, wrapped in a tortilla and topped with a delicious Mexican mole sauce. The combination of the salsa verde and avocado salsa on top did a great job at brightening up the heavier mole sauce and seitan. Though the mole isn't the best mole I've ever had, it's definitely very solid. The rice was surprisingly delicious and went really well with the trio of sauces as well. The menu says that this comes with a coconut and green mango cucumber salad and black beans, which I would have loved to try, but the restaurant, and I, didn't realize their absence.

The Tempeh Vermouth is awesome. The vermouth doesn't come out too strong in the tempeh, and the olive oil-based sauce adds a nice, unifying base to the tempeh, pan-seared smashed potatoes, and roasted brussel sprouts. I love anything seared, singed, charred, crusted, or roasted, and this dish was a great showcase of those textures and flavors. Let's not forget those delicious pieces of roasted garlic, too. This dish makes clear that vegan dinner entrées are very possible, can be very delicious, and can be very filling.

The Double-Dipped Seitan is another example of an amazingly filling and delicious dinner entrée. The double-dipped seitan comes off as a country-friend steak of sorts, and the gravy tastes a whole lot meatier than it is, or isn't, really. The asparagus and chives add some necessary greens to the plate and the roasted garlic mashed potatoes make you feel like this dish has always been an American family standard. This dish leaves you feeling fully satisfied without feeling like you just ate an oily chicken fried steak with buttery mashed potatoes.

The last, but certainly not least, outstanding dish I've had at Plum Bistro is the Mama Africa Burger. Though the millet and quinoa burger patty doesn't hold together very well, it's just as satisfying as your typical beef patty. There are much more interesting flavors going on in this patty than a typical burger, showcasing Plum Bistro's signature use of rich and flavorful spices. The bun is beautiful and fluffy, and the sweet grilled onions, fresh tomatoes, bright salsa, and housemade vegan mayo make you feel like you're eating what every American dreams of: a guiltless, filling, and delicious burger. I might have to try to make this at some point over the summer whenever I get tired of grilling beef, which might be never...but still. It's on my list. The side of yam fries and garlic-dill aioli is a nice bonus.

The dishes I've had that aren't really standouts still had certain components that made them memorable and worth getting as a backup.

The Lite Fluffy Banana Pancakes aren't very light or fluffy at all, and you can't really taste bananas in the pancakes, but they come topped with an insanely addictive sweet chocolate mole sauce that goes perfectly with the banana slices. Who am I kidding, though? Nothing beats Tasty Crust's banana pancakes anyways.

The Panamanian-Style Polenta and Chili Gravy comes with a bland bowl of chili with chunks of polenta on the right and an equally boring set of tortillas on the left. The jalapeño scramble and avocado salsa in the middle, however, are delicious. I wish the plate were just a huge mound of that scramble topped with that avocado salsa. No distractions necessary.

The Mama Africa Salad is fresh and bright with slices of orange and strawberry, but overall, the dish came off as typical. The Mama Africa (the millet and quinoa sticks), however, are firm, delicious, and could stand on their own as an appetizer with a set of aiolis.

The biscuits in the Mini Biscuits in Chili Chorizo Gravy I had were dense and stale and the gravy tasted like it needed some more seasoning, but whatever they use for their chorizo is like crack. It's good to know that there's an above-average, vegan substitute to chorizo out there.

With such a large and interesting menu, there's always something new to get at Plum Bistro. I used to think that veganism was a voluntary resignation from eating delicious food. Though I don't think I'll ever go vegan, it comforts me to know that places like Plum Bistro would make being vegan entirely bearable. Makini Howell's food is local, organic, sustainable, vegan, fresh, flavorful, and innovative, all characteristics that undoubtedly put her at the forefront of vegan cooking.

Plum Bistro
1429 12th Ave E
Suite B
Seattle, WA 98122
(206) 838-5333

GET: Roasted Garlic Sweet Potato Fries; Crunchy Garlicky Yam Fries; Spicy Mac 'N' Yease; Creamed Tofu Filled Cilantro Crepes; Spicy Jamaican Tempeh Wrap; Tempeh Vermouth; Double-Dipped Seitan; Mama Africa Burger.
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