Outback experiment

wpid-img_0007.jpgLast summer I was working with a LOT of different contractors to get my folks’ new place fixed up, with varying degrees of success. The one that was most irritating was of course also the most expensive, and when I told them how annoyed I was on their customer survey they sent a rather nice apology note and two gift cards to Outback Steakhouse. We don’t generally go to chains like Outback, but hey! Free food! So last night after meeting with a tax advisor we rewarded ourselves with an outing into darkest Burlington, where the steakhouse is tucked into a hidden cul de sac between Target and the freeway.

I had done a little research on Chowhound on what our best bet might be (and what absolutely NOT to order), so after fighting off offers of a Blooming Onion, we settled on one Porterhouse steak to split, with blue cheese wedge salad for me and Caesar salad for Jon.

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The steak was ostensibly 20 ounces but that includes bone, so it really wasn’t that big. It was cut quite thin but was done more or less to our specifications (although the waitress was careful to make sure we knew what “medium rare” meant so we wouldn’t freak out at the pink center.) It was tender and salty and quite edible.wpid-img_0006.jpg

The Caesar didn’t seem to be anything special – lots of garlic, little or no anchovy, dull croutons. No big surprises. wpid-img_0005.jpgThe wedge was quite fun, as I have a personal fondness for this sort of thing. The bacon was incredibly sweet, though, like candy. Between the dressing, tomatoes, raw onions and iceberg lettuce, it balanced out pretty well, but it was still a bit too sweet for my taste.

It all turned out to be plenty of food, plus two glasses of cheap wine, so we still have another gift card. We haven’t decided whether we’ll go back, and if so, what else would be safe to order. Any suggestions?

 

chat noir

wpid-img_0003.jpgWe’ve been taking swing dance lessons in Bellingham every week, which is occasionally a fun excuse to go out for an early dinner in town. This week we decided to try the Black Cat (AKA Le Chat Noir) in Fairhaven, which recently came under new ownership and has undergone some renovation.

The Cat has always been a fun space, perched at the top of several flights of stairs with a view down Harris Street and the bay beyond, but it had a history of long waits, expensive watered-down drinks, and rather bad food. We had heard a good report of the new Cat from the staff over at The Real McCoy, and I’m happy to say we’re pleased with the reboot so far.

wpid-img_0001.jpgWe tried the burger special, which had avocado and bacon jam, and the fish tacos, which were done in classic Baja style with a nice amount of cabbage and salsa. The portion size was perhaps a little small for anyone larger than me, but the fish was nicely fried. I liked it a lot. I also had a very good glass of a New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, and Jon tried one of the house cocktails, an unusual sounding blend of Mezcal, cherry heering and a few other things. We will definitely be back, I think Le Chat is heading in the right direction.

 

salmon curry for one

 

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I was on my own for dinner tonight, a situation that often leads to macaroni and cheese and/or tuna. Trying to be a bit more original, I tried something from 660 Curries that didn’t sound too difficult – a defrosted piece of salmon, braised in a sauce of coconut milk, curry leaves and balchao masala (a fiery, vinegary flavor paste that we made up some time ago and now keep in the freezer in tablespoon-size portions). I added some peas for greenery and dumped it over jasmine rice. Not thrilling, but not bad, and with a glass of wine and Netflix it did the job.

braised chicken with a lot of garlic

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I’ve made this recipe twice now. It’s really, really good, even if you use a lot less than the traditional 40 cloves of garlic, but when I make it it seems to come out very rich and salty, causing me to wake up at 2am with a certain digestive regret. Maybe if I went easier on the salt and did a better job of defatting the sauce. Or maybe just eat less of it. I dunno, did I mention it’s really, really good?

Braised Chicken with Forty Cloves a Lot  of Garlic
adapted from Use Real Butter, who adapted it from Fine Cooking

4 lbs. chicken, whole or pieces (whole thighs are nice)
kosher salt
black pepper, freshly ground
1/2 lemon
1/4 tsp sweet paprika
2 tbsp olive oil
a dozen or so cloves of garlic, peeled
1/2 cup dry white wine
2 sprigs fresh thyme
1 or 2 sprigs fresh rosemary
2 sprigs flat-leaf parsley
1 cup chicken broth
baguette for serving

Pat the chicken dry, season (both inside and out if whole chicken) with 2 teaspoons of salt and 1 teaspoon of pepper, then sprinkle paprika over it. Squeeze the lemon juice into a vessel and reserve. If preparing a whole chicken, place the used lemon half in the cavity. Heat the olive oil in a Dutch oven over medium-high heat. When the oil is hot, place the chicken breast-side or meaty-side down and brown for about 2 minutes. Flip the chicken and brown another 2-3 minutes. Remove to a plate and drain off the oil in the pot (but keep the brown bits!). Return the pot to medium-high heat. Add the garlic cloves and the wine, stirring the bottom of the pot to deglaze the fond. Place the chicken in the pot on top of the garlic, with the breast-side or meaty-side up. Add the herbs and broth. Bring to a boil. Cover the pot and set the heat to low.

Braise 45 minutes to an hour, basting every 20 minutes, until done.  Move the chicken to a plate. Defat the sauce as much as possible, bring the drippings to a boil over medium-high heat, then reduce to a simmer, mashing the garlic into the gravy. Season the gravy with salt, pepper, and lemon juice to taste. Serve with the chicken (carved or as pieces) and toasted slices of baguette.

Afghani experiment

On Monday Jon made kofte kebabs, so to go with them I decided to try my hand at an Afghan-style basmati rice pilaf with carrots and raisins. The pilaf gets par-boiled, then drained and steamed in its residual water. A little dry, but very tasty, will try again!

To go with I adapted a recipe from Turquoise: a chopped lettuce salad with dill, scallion, and parsley mixed in. Liked this a lot.

a new Hungarian soup

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This was definitely one of those Must Make Again recipes. I’ve been making Hungarian Mushroom Soup (from the Moosewood cookbook) for years, but for some reason this week I decided to try a recipe for “goulash soup” from Barbara Kafka’s soup cookbook, which turned out to be vaguely similar – it has paprika and onions as the flavor base – but is very much its own thing.  I didn’t follow the recipe slavishly, but I more or less kept to the ingredient list, and it was incredible. It didn’t hurt that the stew beef I used was from our latest quarter-cow from Skagit Angus, tender and really beefy-flavored.

The original recipe called for coating the beef in flour before frying it, which I didn’t feel like doing. I thought about making a roux separately to thicken the soup, but it turned out not to be necessary  – the texture of the broth was thick and silky.

Hungarian Goulash Soup

adapted from Soup: A Way of Life by Barbara Kafka

  • 1 pound stew beef
  • kosher salt, maybe a tsp?
  • a couple spoonfuls of canola oil
  • 2 Tbsp butter
  • 1 onion
  • 1 tsp smoked Spanish paprika and 2 tsp regular paprika
  • 2 cups chicken stock
  • 1 red bell pepper, diced
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 3 small yellow potatoes, peeled and diced
  • about 1/2 cup tomato puree
  • 1/2 tsp caraway seed
  • around a cup of dried egg noodles
  • sour cream

I salted the beef, then seared it in a soup pot in two batches with canola oil at high heat, then set it aside.

In the same pan, I added the butter, turned the heat to medium and sauteed the onion. Once it softened I added the paprika, then put the meat back in, mixed it all up, and added the stock. I brought it to a simmer, covered the pot, turned the heat to low and let it cook for an hour.

At this point I added the potato, garlic and bell pepper, recovered the pan and cooked for another fifteen minutes or so. Then I uncovered, added the caraway seeds and tomato plus some water to rinse out the can, brought the soup back to a simmer, and added the pasta. Once the noodles were done, I checked for seasoning, added a little salt, and served with sour cream.

Coupeville

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The day after Thanksgiving we went with friends on a field trip. The idea was to take the ferry to Port Townsend, eat fabulous clam chowder at Fins on the water, then come home, but things didn’t go quite as planned. First, the weather was disgusting and there were rumours at the ferry dock that the power was out in PT, and second, we discovered that Fins was closed for remodeling (which was not mentioned on the restaurant’s website or FB page. WTF, Fins?)

Stymied, we gave our ferry tickets away and headed back up the island to Coupeville, where we found a very satisfactory lunch at Christopher’s, a rather nice place I’d heard about but never actually been to before. Their clam chowder was declared acceptable, Jon had some really good fish and chips, and I had a bowl of linguine with perfectly fresh Penn Cove mussels (not entirely debearded, unfortunately, but still excellent). We watched people putting up holiday lights in the rain, checked out a local arts and crafts fair, then walked around the downtown and waterfront before heading home.

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Thanksgiving

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Thanksgiving this year had almost all the usual suspects: perfectly brined turkey and very excellent stuffing by my parents, plus mashed potatoes, Brussels sprouts salad, two kinds of cranberry sauce, smoked salmon and cream cheese with rye crackers, pumpkin pie and pecan pie, and spiced Old Fashioned cocktails. The only thing missing was the creamed spinach, but we’ll make that for ourselves very soon.

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Leftovers

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Leftover braised lamb with shell beans from Nell Thorn, warmed up with leftover roasted beets and sweet potatoes from our dinner on Thursday, with quick couscous and a glass of Spanish garnatxa. A great lunch after a morning working in the garden.