Sunday, July 31, 2011

Mutter Murghi - One down, 659 Curries to go

Weighing in with 809 pages,  660 Curries* by Raghavan Iyer is truly a gateway to Indian cooking.  Personally told, complete in detail and easy to follow directions this cookbook is encyclopedic in proportions. Regional variety of spice blends, meats or vegetarian and some wonderful "curry cohorts" or sides to go along. So many choices it was hard to pick what I would try first.  For convenience I wanted to see if there was a combination using ingredients easy to come by or already in my pantry, as there are no Indian/Pakastani groceries within 40  miles of me. My eyes lit on page 158, Yogurt-Marinated Chicken with Peas (Mutter Murghi), sounded great,  with some pretty fresh spring peas and an interesting sesame flavored garam masala.

Maharashtrian Garam Masala Spices
Organizing spices before toasting in a heavy bottomed skillet.
First, I marinated skinless bone-in chicken thighs for about 3 hours, recipe suggests a minimum of 30 minutes or overnight in the yogurt rich creamy marinade highlighted with ginger, turmeric, garlic, and a couple serrano chiles peppers.
Then I prepared the Maharashtrian Garam Masala, which is a sesame flavored spice blend including unsweetened coconut, cumin and coriander seeds, peppers and raw peanuts. Toasting the spices really brought out the aromatics! After cooling, ground to the consistency of course ground black pepper in my brand new spice grinder.

Cooking Yogurt Marinated Chicken
Place chicken thighs on top of onions and cook about 6 min each side while browning.

Maharashtrian Garam Masala
Amazing that it only takes one tablespoon of the garam masala to add layers of flavor to the yogurt marinated chicken thighs. I served this fabulous curry with fresh naan and a buttery basmati rice with spinach and onions. (more on that one later.) This isn't an overly hot curry, but to cool it down for those more sensitive to heat, just add a dollop of plain yogurt. I can't wait to test drive curry #2!

A platter of goodness
Yogurt Marinated Chicken
A little naan, a little curry and basmati rice.

Information about Chef Raghavan Iyer at

Friday, July 22, 2011

Lunch Date 5 - Savor Seattle

Just a sampling of our adventure.
 Savor Seattle is something like speed dating, but with food. The personal ad would read something like this:
Do you like fine food, hob nobbing with notable chefs and foodies in the know?  I like brisk walks rewarded with nuanced edible delights and an opportunity to imbibe expertly crafted cocktails, beer, and wine. Perhaps we have something in common, contact me.
With a free day ahead and no plans I took a minute to websurf things to do in Seattle. I have been here before, visited the museums, parks and Pike's Public Market, so my eyes lit up on this link to Savor Seattle Tours, a Trip Advisor #1 rated attraction. It hit all the right notes, gourmet walking tour, something I can do solo but enjoy the company of others, experience some great food and get behind the scenes epicurean scoop, seven stops, all in three hours. Sign me up.

We met our guide Mark Boeker at the upper lobby of the Mayflower Park Hotel. A beautiful place with the first bar in Seattle to have windows installed... back in the 1970's. Apparently there were ordinances protecting the citizenry from viewing revelers before then. Mark quickly put the group at ease with just the right touch of self-deprecating humor while efficiently handling the group handling logistics to get us started. I liked him immediately, this was going to be fun!

Sangria and Crispy Duck Cake with Apricot Chutney at Andaluca
First stop was right downstairs to the acclaimed Andaluca Restaurant and the haunt of Chef Wayne Johnson (who will be appearing on Iron Chef America on July 31, 2011.) The mellow yellows and creams of the Mayflower transform into rich red mahogany, painted murals and echos of the Andaluca Provence of my travels. Seated before the paned windows at a black tiled table we were treated to a glass of sangria and a crispy duck cake with a cucumber riata. The sangria, unlike any I've tasted before had hints of cinnamon, a pinch of cardamon and freshness of pear, and while fortified with fruit brandies, it was not overly alcoholic. The crispy duck cake, not gamey, was lightly and freshly seasoned with mint, lemon, sweet marjoram and topped with an apricot chutney, resonating with my own personal flavor palate. Lucky for all of us we can get the recipes at their web site!

Serious pie. Seriously.
Time to walk and we headed a few blocks over to Virginia Street and Serious Pie, the brainchild of Chef Tom Douglas who is credited with helping put Seattle on the culinary map with his five downtown restaurants. Dude, this is some serious pizza! We tasted two; the morel and crimini mushroom with truffle cheese; and the yukon gold potato, rosemary, pecorino pizzas while learning that their in-house pastry chef takes about 27 hours to prepare the dough to create this twice baked crispy bed. Side note: Chef Tom bested Food Network’s Iron Chef against Chef Morimoto in 2005, serious indeed. Another side note: Tyler Florence talks up Serious pie on the food show, "The Best thing I ever ate."

White truffle oil flavors our potato and leek soup.
Heading down towards the water we start weaving our way through the crowds to La Buona Tavola - Truffle Cafe located at Pike's Place Public Market for some truffle edification and tasting. The shop with a sunny yellow interior is hardly bigger than a closet with a tasting table and single round table with a few seats and some bar stools. Hospitality exudes in the demeanor of our hostess and staff as we were offered a simple potato and leek soup. "Have a taste before I add the white truffle oil... ready now try with a few drops. See!" Our taste buds come alive with the buttery, lightly pungent addition. Next a dusting of sea salt and truffle mixture on the back of our hands, while we listened a bit about spring truffle season and the differences between black and white truffles. Envisioning fresh, rustic bread with a sprinkle of this seasoned salt was enough to ensure I had a small jar to bring home.

Il Bistro Seafood Saffron Risotto
Back onto Pike Street, we head toward the end of the market and downstairs to Il Bistro and a plate of saffron seafood risotto paired with a 2008 Waving Tree Sangiovese. Two succulent, tender little neck clams topped this brilliant yellow rice with small bits of plum tomatoes and chives. While we ate, we chatted with Chef Nathan Luoma about preparing risotto for a crowd and some make ahead steps so you are not left stirring in the kitchen while your guests are drinking your wine. Chef Nathan, a gracious host, truly engaged and passionate about his restaurant and cuisine. When else would I have had a chance to meet and talk with him? Cool.

I am glad the tour suggest having a bottle of water to bring along for our walk. I was getting thirsty as we ventured further, walking down a lane paved with bricks recovered from San Francisco after the 1906 earthquake. Great recycling even then... We passed the Market Theater Gum Wall, gross but quite the attraction as dozens of tourists added their wad and smiled for the obligatory photo.

A car, some Kilt Lifter Ruby Ale and Micro-Brew Museum with tin ceiling.
Now we're talking. We're heading into the basement of the Pike Brewing Company and meeting up with Abil Bradshaw as she gives us the lowdown on the lore and process of brewing. I've never smelled raw hops before and the difference between the Cascade and Columbia varieties were noticeable. Did you know that Washington produces about a third of all the hops used in the US? I didn't either. We wandered from the grain mill, to the mash and back to the fermenting tanks and kegs and finally upstairs to the Micro-Beer Museum with the stylized tin ceiling. Awaiting us to taste were the Scotch style Kilt Lifter Ruby Ale, and Pike Tandem Double Ale paired with cheeses. Abril quickly notices that there is a blue cheese on the plate. "Stop! This will not go with these beers, bring us Pike IPA (India Pale Ale) for the blue," she adamantly addressed the staff. The blue cheese did pair best with this hoppy, bright IPA brew, the flavors compliment each other.  Of the three, I liked the Kilt Lifter best, but those who know wouldn't be at all surprised. Beer and cheese tasting, nice trend to play with.

Pho Xao at Thoa's Restaurant. Do you see the Manchester United Team Bus!?

Seattle's brisk fresh sea air hits our faces as we walk to the views of Elliots Bay and Thoa's Restaurant and Lounge for some Pho Xao. The interior is bright with vibrant green walls with hints of bamboo plants and colorful artwork. Our serving of delicate rice noodles, included tender, flavorful chicken and light fish sauce, was topped with cashews, one taste and I was ready for more! The view of the water from our table was wonderful, as was the view of the Manchester United team bus parked next door at the Four Seasons. (Yes, I am a soccer fan.) Of all the stops, this one felt a little rushed and I wish we could of had a bit more time here. If my stay were longer I would definitely come back for a full meal. This personal interpretation of Vietnamese food from Chef Thoa Nguyen, creator of the Chinoise Cafe and the Islander restaurants is a winner.

Gelatiamo "Delizioso!"

Last stop, dessert. How can it be the time has passed so quickly? Visiting with new found friends as we walk up to Gelatiamo for some gelato and Caffé Umbria. Two scoops, raspberry and chocolate chip, smooth, fruity and creamy all at once.  Lingering over a second cup and finishing up our visiting it is time to bid our companions adieu. Thanks to our guide Mark for such an enjoyable outing.

The Caffé Umbria kicks into my caffeine deprived system, a necessary boost on the way to catch the Number 13 back up to Queen Anne. This turned out to be a perfect progressive lunch. One you can do on your own, or as a date. Many restaurants have great happy hour menus and a selection of small plates so a gourmet tasting tour could be yours for a song. What a great way to see and taste some of the best of this city.


Savour Seattle Tours
About Mark Boeker
Serious Pie
La Buono Travolo -- Truffle Cafe
Il Bistro
Market Theater Gum Wall
Pike Brewing  Company
Thoa's Restaurant and Lounge

Friday, July 15, 2011

In my travels -- Seattle

Having a farmer's market just out your front door is a good thing. Two great grocery stores within half a block, convenient. A fabulous butcher and seafood market a block away, dangerous. Such is city dwelling in the very wonderful Queen Anne neighborhood in Seattle, WA. Visiting in July when the strawberries and tomatoes are at their finest, delirium.

I made my vacation plans so I could shop the Queen Anne's Farmers Market, that's how much of a crazy foodie I am. The day did not disappoint, Skagit Strawberries, fresh picked and mouthwatering juicy, targeted for tonight's dessert.  Mt. Townsend Creamery's SeaStack Soft Cheese, oh my. Buttery smooth consistency, with just enough rind, not quite spreadable, but perfect on sourdough. Fresh wild salad greens with bright nasturtiums, and a choice heirloom tomato. What a pleasure to leisurely walk through the market and pick up a little of this, a little of that for today's meal. So different than my typical, highly organized approach to lists and market visits that are the routine. To have time for this, to appreciate the local, seasonal and artisan is a gift, a connection with our food and the people who bring their very best.

Today is a little grey and in my head, I am trying to replicate my Dad's simple chowder recipe. Not the Boston or Manhattan style, but a little more earthy and spare where the clams themselves star. Before the market walk, I assembled the basic ingredients and some nice wine for dinner, but what I needed most was some fresh northwest clams to make our chowder a success. "Never fear! the boy says, I know a place."  After arriving home from work, my son and I make a quick walk down to A&J's Market and visit the seafood counter. Before us, lovely petite little neck clams! Two pounds please! (and I asked if they carried know, for later..., yes of course, nice small 2.5lb ones, but I digress...)

The second story apartment soon hums with music and the rattles and taps of dinner preparation. A nice first day of vacation with my son.

Farmer's Market Treasures
Fresh picked strawberries, Mt. Townsend Seastack Soft Cheese

heirloom tomato
Juicy, sweet heirloom tomato

littleneck clams
Freshly steamed little neck clams ready to pop into the chowder!

simple clam chowder
Cool summer night, warm clam chowder.

strawberries with balsamic fig vineger
Fresh strawberries tossed with Balsamic Vinegar infused with Fig over vanilla ice cream.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

CoCoNut PorTeR Chocolate Cake with Toasted Coconut Frosting

CoCoNut PorTeR Chocolate Cake
CoCoNut PorTeR Chocolate Cake - A new favorite
  There is a reason I avoid baking, it is just dangerous you see.

This recipe is a prime example. It has taken me months to actually bake this, mulling it over and summing up my courage. Not that this is a difficult recipe -- not in the least, it is the rich decadent calories and overindulgent caramel goodness that was destined to send me into a food coma that I was trying to avoid. No so good on the will power when it comes to chocolate cake, it seems.

For as long as I can remember, either my Mom or Dad would bake a German's Chocolate cake for special occasions, mostly birthdays. Four tiers high with the coconut frosting dripping from each layer, the outside surrounded by freshly whipped cream.  If I was lucky, there might be left overs for breakfast. Occasionally my son will make it his special request, because he loves the cake that Grandpa made. So the tradition lives on. But that is a very time consuming BIG cake. Couldn't I find something a little different?

The inspiration came a couple of years ago when I first tasted the rich, creamy porter at the Maui Brewing Company in Hawaii. Inspired by beer, really? Why not, you may have heard of Guinness Chocolate Cake, that Nigella Lawson created and well loved since the 2004 reprint in the New York Times.  So why not make a tropical twist to this dense, chocolaty and decidedly decadent chocolate cake. Toasted coconut, required. Premium cocoa powder, of course. Quirky Hawaiian Porter Beer, why not! While the frosting might remind you of the German's favorite, cooking the caramel mixture a bit longer to deepen the flavors and toasting the coconut takes it out of the familiar and into something fresh and new. Aloha my friends.

CoCoNut PorTeR Chocolate Cake Slice
Do you dare to indulge?
Click Read More for full recipe

Sunday, July 10, 2011

660 Curries* -- Courtesy of Tastespotting

by Raghavan Iyer, IACP Award-Winning Teacher of the Year
I often visit Tastespotting for inspiration, both culinary and photographic.  It is amazing the creative collection that the world of foodies create and share with each other. So much to see and read about I often find myself noodling away time scanning the gallery and thinking, hmm that looks good!

What a surprise that my comment was the winner for the 660 Curries by Raghavan Iyer Giveaway. Kismet is what I call it. I have been stretching my world tastes in the kitchen and this lovely encyclopedic volume is a welcome guide. I am so excited, just browsing quickly, right after ripping open the package, reading the sweet note from Tastespotting  Sarah, and seeing the wealth of flavors before my eyes.

You can bet you'll be seeing my efforts and review here. Saucy & Sensational it says on the cover.... Thanks Tastespotting!

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Thanks Tyler! Summer Ratatouille with Feta, Green Olives, and Almonds

An adaptation of Tyler Florences popular Ratatouille Recipe
This is the recipe that drove me to San Luis Obisbo to stand in line for an hour, in the heat, to meet Tyler Florence at Savor the Central Coast.

Ratatouille, really. Isn't this just stewed summer vegetables in tomatoes and garlic? Richly Mediterranean flavors of summertime, sunshine and herbs, with origins from Occitan Provença, southern France. This dish is replicated in Catalonia, Spain and Majorca with different names. If you were to do a quick Google search, over 19 million linked results appear, including references to the adorable Disney movie with the same name. This, amongst other random thoughts crossed my mind as I waiting patiently in line for Tyer's book signing, holding my new copy of his latest release Tyler Florence Family Meal and chatting up the nice couple from San Jose next to me in line. 

So, what do you say to a celebrity author when you get a chance to exchanges a few words?  All the cliches ran through my head and I desperately did not want to just gush, "I love your work!" So, my mind came back to this ratatouille recipe he had posted on Traditional in nature but made with extraordinary topping of almonds, feta and green olives. This is the recipe that got me hooked on Tyler's cooking aesthetic. A bit of creativity enhances the underlying tomatoey, garlic, herby goodness in an authentic way. The way a great chef shows restraint but still brings his personality to the dish. And as for popularity, seaching this recipe title comes up with nearly 8,000 references! You know it is a hit.  

Rushing in after a cooking demonstration ran long, Tyler settled into the author's area. Quickly a glance at his phone, a sip of water and he began the business of signing in the stifling heat of the main tent. As I waited, I was happy to observe the interactions. Tyler was genuine, gracious and engaged with each person he met. So, in my couple of minutes, we talked eggplant, creativity and yes, I did gush. 

Tyler Florence at Savor the Central Coast, San Luis Obisbo, CA
Click Read More for my adaptation and links to the original recipe.