30 January 2011

Homestyle Food - Seattle




That mothering instinct is an enduring one. My oldest is in his mid-twenties, has graduated from college and lives in another city. All the same, when I learned that he had injured his eye, I had to see for myself how he was doing. Loading a truck with the equipment for his band’s first show, the far end of the shock cord came loose and struck him just below his brow with enough force to knock him to the ground. The sight of a fully bandaged eye on his facebook page kept me from sleeping well most of the night. Very early Saturday morning we had the car loaded. We were on the road well before first light and at his house before breakfast.

Once the doctor has been visited and the wound bandaged, what’s a mother to do? Provide food, of course. I came with a bag of goodies from my own kitchen but once we had stopped by the house and picked up my son I relied on area providers to secure a little comfort food for our morning meal. A good old-fashioned breakfast was what we needed to sustain us while he filled us in on the details of what had happened.


A quick iPhone search suggested Flo-Anna’s Diner for a hearty homespun breakfast. I can’t say it looked like much from the outside but the reviews were decent and diner food sounded perfect. Still early on a Saturday we had no trouble finding an empty booth and sat down to order. I have been eager to find the perfect waffle the past few months so I ordered Waffle Combo #1. My husband ordered a Western Omelette and my son had Chicken Fried Steak and Eggs.


I wouldn’t say I found the perfect waffle but the one I had was tender and hot if rather predictable in taste. The bacon was fine and my over-medium egg was cooked perfectly. Chicken Fried Steak smothered in Country Gravy is not my favorite dish but this time the gravy looked to be of a nice consistency and my son ate every bite. The Hash Browns were fresh, crispy on the outside and not at all greasy. The Western Omelette was quite full of peppers, ham and cheese.


I was reminded of many a diner meal eaten on the road with my dad. Friendly service, good coffee in a sturdy mug that never got cold or empty and a decent meal served with ample condiments made getting a meal on the road a reliable pleasure. The look of Flo-Anna's Diner and the casual but efficient atmosphere took me back to those good old days. My son ate well. By the time we were leaving the place was packed and there were folks waiting for tables. Overall it was a good experience.


After breakfast we attended to some chores before seeking out another substantial meal to complete the Mom treatment. This time we drove a little farther up the road to Rainin’ Ribs BBQ & Smokehouse. Having been born in Texas my son likes barbecue and has tasted his fair share of the real thing. Sharing authentic southern style barbecue takes us all back to old times and is a real treat when it’s good.


The exterior of Rainin' Ribs was cute but not a real draw. Inside, however, the colors were warm and inviting and the atmosphere was interesting. After ordering Pulled Pork and Beef Brisket sandwiches with sides of Sweet Potato Fries, Green Beans and Hush Puppies we walked out into a covered tented area to find a picnic-style table to our liking. We chose one looking out to the back. It offered a view of Lake Washington, which might be a real draw on a brighter day when you can find one in this part of the world.


Though the weather outside was dreary the eating area was clean and bright. We gathered utensils and extra sauce and soon our sandwiches were served. They came in baskets lined with a cheerful checkered paper. The meat was piled on deliciously fresh buns. After smothering our meat with the house BBQ sauce, served on the side, the soft bun cradled the meat perfectly, holding it firmly but yielding with the tender meat at each bite.


The sauce was perfect with a bit of sweet distinction and an adequate amount of fire. The sides were also enjoyable. The Sweet Potato Fries were crisp and not at all greasy, the Green Beans were surprisingly roasted and slathered in an oily but delicious dressing, and the Hush Puppies were a tender cornmeal treat, the kind that can be hard to come by in the Pacific Northwest. In fact the sides were so good I would stop by just for a meal of delicious and homey vegetables. I’m eager to try the Collard Greens, Fried Okra and maybe the Beans and Rice on my next visit.


Hopefully our next visit will be compelled by a happier event. Luckily the prognosis for my son’s eye is good. He bruised the retina and must wear an eye patch for several weeks but the doctor is hopeful that the eye will heal completely. I guess all of that could have been conveyed over the phone or via the Internet. Still I am glad to have been able to see it for myself and to offer what little comfort I could. I am convinced that a little visiting and a couple of homestyle meals did us all some good.

23 January 2011

Lamb Shanks with White Beans and Squash


In the realm of comfort food I have found a new love!

By my age you might think I'd have tried everything worth trying, especially when it comes to comfort food which is often close to our hearts and works it's magic on us because of its association with fond childhood memories.  Even so it hasn't worked out that way. I don't think I had ever even tasted lamb more than once or twice until last year.

I know I never ate lamb shanks until one odd evening when my husband and I went out to a neighborhood restaurant for dinner.  I was in the mood to try something different.  I chose Lamb Shanks from the seasonal menu and discovered love at first bite. Tender, flavorful, hearty, I ate the whole dish and couldn't wait to come back for more.

Though I savored my discovery it was another long time before I tried cooking Lamb Shanks at home. Then one Friday afternoon I found myself looking for something new at the meat counter of my local supermarket. Fondly remembering that succulent meat that nearly fell off the bone at the restaurant I picked out several lamb shanks, crossed my fingers and hoped to come up with something at least half as delicious at home.

I settled on a recipe for Lamb Shanks with Butternut Squash from Simply Recipes. It had what seemed like a long list of ingredients and directions but it looked and sounded perfect for a weekend dinner at home.

Though there were a lot of steps to the recipe, none of the steps were really difficult and few required precision. Even better, the result was worth it. My husband said that dinner might be the best he had ever eaten!

While that is a nice compliment under any circumstances you may not understand how nice unless you know my husband is no foodie and hardly takes any special enjoyment in food that lacks nostalgic connotations. He generally eats quickly and as needed. I never know what to make for him on a special occasion. So, when he said this might be the best meal he had ever eaten, I almost fell over ....but then, I couldn't disagree.  It really was delicious!


Lamb Shanks with White Beans and Squash
Adapted from a recipe at Simply Recipes

6 Tablespoons olive oil
4 lamb shanks
salt and freshly ground pepper
4 cloves garlic
6 celery ribs, coarsely chopped
4 carrots, coarsely chopped
1 large onion, coarsely chopped
1/2 cup tomato paste
3 cups dry red wine
6 cups chicken stock
8 sprigs of thyme
3 lbs butternut squash, peeled and cut into 1 inch cubes
1 1/3 cups cooked cannellini beans

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Heat 2 Tablespoons olive oil in a large dutch oven until it shimmers. (I used my 5-quart Le Creuset oval french oven.) Pat lamb shanks dry with paper towels. Season with salt and pepper and brown on all sides in batches. When browned remove the shanks to a plate.

Add garlic cloves along with the celery, carrots and onion to the casserole. Saute over medium heat until golden brown, about 8 minutes. Add the tomato paste and cook, stirring constantly, for 2 minutes. Add the wine. Bring to boil over high heat. Boil until the mixture reduces and begins to thicken, about 15 minutes.

Add the shanks back to the casserole and add the stock and sprigs of thyme. Return to a boil. Remove from heat, cover and place the casserole in the oven until the meat is very tender, 1½ to 2½ hours. Turn the shanks from time to time to cook evenly.

While the lamb shanks are cooking, toss the squash in 2 Tablespoons of olive oil. Season with salt and pepper and place on a large rimmed baking sheet. Roast on a rack positioned high in the same oven with the lamb shanks if desired, at 350 degrees, until tender, approximately 1 hour.

When very tender, remove the lamb shanks from the oven and transfer to a plate. Strain the remaining liquid from the pan pushing as much of the sauce through the strainer as possible, pressing the vegetables through with a wooden spoon. Discard the remains. Skim fat. Return the sauce to the casserole, seasoning with salt and pepper as desired. Bring to boil over medium heat. Add back the lamb shanks and stir in the squash. Simmer until warmed through.

Add the beans, cover and remove from heat.

To serve: spoon the vegetables and sauce into large shallow serving soup bowls and set a lamb shank on top of each,

or

Remove the meat and discard bone. Evenly distribute vegetables, sauce and meat in serving bowls.

Serves 4 to 6.

Enjoy!

16 January 2011

Winter Refuge - Pot Roast


Mid-January always feels like a challenging space in my annual calendar. The holidays are past and winter settles in. The shortest days of the year are not only short but often deeply gray in this part of the country. Rain clouds gather over us for days on end lending little light and an aura of gloom to our winter routines.

While the dull sky threatens to bring me down one of my favorite places of refuge is the kitchen. On a dim afternoon it is comforting to light a candle and watch the flame dance. It brightens the space between my spice-colored kitchen walls. I add the sound of a familiar playlist on my iHome and turn the oven on low while I contemplate dinner.

Mid-winter above all other times of the year is the season that begs for comfort food. Sitting here my mind turns to Beef Barley Soup, Chicken and Dumplings and Pot Roast among other dishes I enjoyed around the family table as a child. These dinners from my childhood have withstood the test of time and are highly favored by my children as well.

Tonight I am planning on serving Pot Roast. While it cooks the aroma of meat and herbs will waft through the house and the warmth of the oven will make the kitchen toasty and inviting. When the meat begins to flake apart easily I will put some potatoes on to boil. Before I know it the family will gather and we will share a meal of tender meat and hearty vegetables.

Within a month the Witch Hazel will bloom at the side of the house and announce the promise of another spring’s slow unfurling. Step by step my garden will regenerate and open itself anew. Meanwhile we will incubate a culture of warmth and welcome in my home kitchen. It is a sign of comfort and hope to have a covered pot in a warm oven on a cold winter day. With the kitchen fragrant and warm we will gather around our table and savor the blessings of the season.



Pot Roast

2-4 Tablespoons olive oil
2 onions, cut into wedges
6 carrots
4 stalks celery
3.5 to 4 lb. pot roast (I used a 3.88 beef chuck roast)
salt
pepper
½ cup flour
1 cup wine
2 Tablespoons brandy, if desired
2 cups beef broth
3 cloves garlic
3 sprigs rosemary
4-6 sprigs thyme

Place a dutch oven on the stovetop over medium heat (I use my 5-quart Le Creuset oval french oven.) When hot, add two Tablespoons olive oil and heat until shimmery.

Brown the onion in the oil. When it begins to soften turn it to brown on all sides. When done remove to a plate.

Add the carrots and celery to the hot dutch oven and brown them on all sides before removing to the same plate.

Season the roast with salt and pepper. Dredge it in the flour. Add additional oil to the pot if needed. When hot, place the roast in the dutch oven and brown it on all sides. When brown remove and set aside.

Add wine (and brandy, if desired) to the pot. Whisk off stuck or browned bits from the bottom of the pan.

Add back pot roast. Pour in the beef broth. Add back the carrots, celery and onion. Submerge the garlic and herb sprigs in broth.


Cover tightly with lid.

Put the pot in the oven at 275 degrees for 3-4 hours, or until the meat is fall-apart tender.

Serve with mashed potatoes and enjoy!

06 January 2011

A Cozy Crown for Epiphany


This holiday season I found a present under the tree that is perfect for this, the twelfth day of Christmas...

At first, we weren’t completely sure what I had opened. It came in three pieces. One was large and two were small.  They were knit from gold and purple yarn with metallic gems and fluffy rims. It was obvious enough that they were crowns but what were they for?

No matter our age it seems crowns are quite irresistible. The largest one wasn't passed half way around the room before it was on someone’s head. It fit well enough but I was pretty sure that despite my sister-in-law’s fair opinion of us she had not knit anyone in my family a personal crown.



Knowing that my sister-in-law and I do share a love of tea I suggested my son take the crown from his head and check for ear holes. Sure enough, he found them. That led to further and varied speculation on the nature of the gift until I produced my teapot and pulled the crown over top.

That settled it. We had a new tea cozy, one perfect for Epiphany, or Three Kings Day.  We also had two matching egg cozies and lots of smiles.  A brilliant gift!

A tea cozy is something many seldom give much thought to in the US but in Britain I take it they are quite popular. I even found a quote by Scottish comedian Bill Connolly that says “Never trust a man who, left alone in a room with a tea cozy, doesn’t try one on.” It would appear that if it looks like a crown a man need not even be left alone in the room, at least not at my house.

Better yet, tea cozies are also quite practical, and this knitted version does a nice job of keeping the pot warm while the tea is brewed and savored. It is also a great conversation piece not to mention an intricate and handsome job of knitting!



This evening as we celebrate Epiphany we will place the figures of the three kings in our nativity tableau and share a simple King Cake and a pot of tea warmed by our new crown cozy. Another Christmas season draws to a close as a bright new year begins.

As those kings discovered so many years ago, Jesus is the light of the world and his birth changed everything. May the blessings of that light fill your life with wonder.  Here's to bright new beginnings in 2011!