paella party!

Well, this was the big birthday weekend, and I do believe we did it up right. In honor of my birthday, my aunt’s birthday, my father’s 60th birthday and my parents’ upcoming 40th anniversary, we hired our friend Knut Christiansen of Paellaworks catering to come out and cook up a paella for us and about thirty friends and neighbors. Despite the annoyingly autumnal weather (wind AND rain, sheesh), everything went beautifully.

getting the fire going

My parents put together this contraption for the paella pan – Knut said it was the best fire setup he’d ever used. The great thing about the metal rails was the way the pan could be slid onto the fire and off again. There was plenty of good fruitwood to burn, too.

Anjou bread

The paella was built up gradually over the course of the afternoon. We all stood around and watched and got in the way while eating olive bread from the Anjou Bakery (thanks, Heather & Kevin!) and a wonderful goat cheese/pear/butter mixture that Knut had brought.


The first thing to go in was the chorizo, to render all that good pork fat into the pan. Continue reading

grill me an oyster

grilling an oyster
wine & oysters

Finally, a beautiful day! We celebrated by going on food safari, as Jen from Last Night’s Dinner puts it (I’m adopting that phrase, it’s perfect). We had visited the farmer’s market the day before and gotten a bunch of goodies, but on Sunday we drove out Chuckanut for further supplies. We got mussels and Kumamoto oysters at Taylor Shellfish, a loaf of farmer bread from the Breadfarm (plus what may have been the world’s best macaroon), and a completely gratuitous chorizo sausage from Slough Food (hey, as long as we were in there…) We took our haul home, fired up the grill, opened up some wine and settled in to eat shellfish.

hot oyster shell
farmer bread Continue reading

scallop crêpes

scallop crepe

I love scallops, and I love crêpes. When I saw a recipe in the April 2007 issue of Saveur magazine for buckwheat crêpes with scallops and scallop cream sauce, I knew I would have to make it at some point. We got around to it last week, on a rare sunny evening. We sat by the stove drinking white wine, frying scallops and eating them rolled in hot crêpes as they came out of the pan. Bliss!

We never remember which buckwheat crêpe recipe we like best, so this time J used Mark Bittman’s version from The Best Recipes in the World. The scallop sauce recipe was written to feed a vast number of people, so I edited it heavily to suit myself. The result was delicious, to say the least, but I’m not sure I would make it quite this way again. I’d rather eat my scallops whole and make a shallot-cream sauce to go on them, instead of using any of them in the actual sauce. But that’s just me – the pureed scallop did have a wonderful sweet flavor, and it’s definitely worth trying.

scallop crepe with asparagus

Scallops with Scallop Cream Sauce
adapted from Saveur magazine

  • 3/4 pound large sea scallops
  • 1/4 cup cream
  • 1/2 cup chicken broth
  • 1/2 cup white wine

Select a third of the scallops (I picked out the ugliest ones for this part). Pat them dry and season with salt and pepper. Fry them in a bit of butter until golden brown, then puree them in a heatproof container with the broth, wine and cream. Pour back into the pan and simmer until thickened. Salt to taste.

Cut the remaining scallops in half and fry as you go – two pieces per crêpe works well. Cook a crêpe, lay it on a plate and arrange the scallops on it, then spoon a good glop of the sauce on top. Asparagus is a good addition; leeks might be tasty as well. Roll up the crepe and eat.

cooking class: tapas & paella

paella 1

Another cooking class at Gretchens, this time focusing on one dish: paella! Knut Christiansen of Paellaworks catering brought his big pan and lots of good stuff to put in it, and Randy Finley of Mount Baker Vineyards brought wine to go along with it all. Paella is something Knut does especially well, even when he’s making it up as he goes along, so it was great fun to watch it all come together. And even more fun to eat it at the end.

Knut's tapas

Paella takes a while to cook, of course, so to keep people occupied and happy Knut put together some tapas to pass out. One was a leaf of Swiss chard wrapped around a tasty filling of cheese and sausage, paired with a salad of shredded asparagus, olives, chard stems and a tangy tangerine and cinnamon dressing. Everyone ate those immediately, so after that he toasted some crostini in the paella pan, I rubbed it with raw garlic and he swiped a bit of tomato sauce across it. Simple but good. We ate the tapas with two white wines, a blend called Rosetta Blanc and a Viognier (Mount Baker makes a really nice vio).

starting the paella Continue reading

local oysters

ropes and buoys

One of the perks of living in the Skagit Valley is being near the water. We don’t live close enough to Puget Sound to, say, go kayaking every morning (rats!), but a half-hour’s drive gets us to a ferry terminal, a bayside walking trail, or a shellfish farm.

Taylor Shellfish Farm
Taylor Shellfish Farm

I visited Taylor Shellfish for the first time many years ago, as part of a Watershed Masters program I was in. We toured the facility, listened to a lecture on oyster reproduction in a big cold drafty room, then ate quantities of hot fresh oyster soup. I wasn’t actually a big fan of oyster soup, but I appreciated the gesture at the time. We’ve since been back to the farm a number of times to buy fresh clams, mussels, and (most recently) oysters.

The retail shop is right on Samish Bay, near the mouth of Oyster Creek. They sell shellfish and crabs, as well as oyster knives and a few sauces and seasonings, so if you want you can buy a bag of oysters and head straight out to one of their picnic tables on the water and eat them immediately. It doesn’t get much fresher than that.

oysters Continue reading

dinner at the Oyster Creek Inn

oyster creek inn

Update: sadly, the Oyster Creek Inn has closed.

Birthdays in our house are never just one day – it’s more of a birthday week (one celebratory dinner is never enough). So I took J out for dinner at the Oyster Creek Inn, one of several restaurants perched precariously on the edge of Chuckanut Drive. It’s a funny place, very quiet and romantic but with a slight rustic edge, and an amazing view down a ravine to Oyster Creek, covered in ferns and loud with the sound of the rushing water. The chef there is Peter Belknap, of Gretchens Cooking School fame, but he had somehow managed to take a vacation this week, so we weren’t able to harass him from the dining room. The food was still excellent, though! We tried to take pictures but, believe me, you don’t want to see them (too dark).

We had intended to start with the Kung Pao clams, a dish we had tried over a year ago and loved. They didn’t have it, which crushed us briefly, but we rallied and ordered mussels with ginger and chile oil, along with a half bottle of Fess Parker viognier. The mussels were some of the best I’ve ever had, just in terms of freshness and texture, and they were sitting in a sauce chock full of ginger chunks. The chile wasn’t very obvious but there was still a nice zip to the dish. It went fantastically with the viognier, which under other circumstances might have been too sweet and syrupy for my taste – but it contrasted with the fresh ginger to great effect.

For our entrees, I ordered a pork tenderloin and J got the New Zealand rack of lamb. Both were excellent, but I particularly liked what they were served with: a melange of roasted vegetables, caramelized and savory, and a tangle of red cabbage. It was dark and hard to tell, but I think there were potatoes, squash, sweet potatoes, carrots – maybe parsnips? We had a bottle of Stag’s Leap petite syrah, which was big, bold and fruity – a great pairing with the meat and vegetables.

For dessert I had a cup of coffee, but J (true to form) needed to try the creme brulee. He said it had a great crust, but the custard itself was a little curdled in texture. Not that he let that stop him from eating it.

It was a nice dinner – quiet, warming and cozy. The waitress seemed a little awkward, but she also seemed to be the only person working outside the kitchen. Our table was by one of the big windows looking down into the ravine, and even though there were other diners in the room it felt very private. It’s not necessarily a place for adventurous eating, but for a mellow, comfortable evening out – just what we wanted.

cooking class: shellfish and wine

Knut's mise en place

Last Thursday at Gretchens we volunteered for a class focusing on shellfish paired with wine. The food was prepared by Knut Christiansen, the wine was provided by Randy Finley, owner of Mount Baker Vineyards. We were there for five hours and I think I’ve eaten enough butter sauce to last me for a week or two, but it was a fun class.

Mount Baker wines

Randy brought a good assortment of wines. We had the choice to begin with a sip of viognier or reserve merlot – both were excellent. Then he poured a rosé which was interestingly substantial, with almost an oaky quality. It went with the first shellfish course, which was:

mussels with olives and tangerine Continue reading