Admitting defeat

I pride myself in being the mistress of the grill in our house. Steak, chops, burgers, and brats all are within my domain, not Gavin’s. He has no shortage of opinions about how he wants things grilled, but still usually leaves the job up to me. When it was time to upgrade our grill, about four years ago, that job was mine too.

I researched grills online and in my favorite food magazines. When it came down to the best grill for our money, the Weber Genesis won out. It had stainless-steel grates, three burners and 40,000 BTUs. This baby was exactly what I wanted. Gavin questioned my decision to not get a side-burner, but I was quick to ask, “Who uses those things anyways?” I didn’t think I would. I didn’t have marinades simmering alongside while I grilled. I couldn’t imagine boiling corn outside when we had a perfectly good stove inside.

Fast-forward to today. It’s warm and sunny, and Seattleites are enjoying being on the water, camping trips, outdoor concerts, and more. We, on the other hand, are still up to our eyeballs in the remodel of our home. We are living in the basement, surrounded by boxes of our junk, using our laundry room as a makeshift kitchen and our grill on nights when it’s actually warm enough outside. Cooking is otherwise almost non-existent since it isn’t very appetizing in our dark, dusty, cramped basement.

On the menu for tonight – and probably the next several nights – are bratwurst. They’re cheap, easy, salty, and satisfying. The thing is, we like to boil our brats in bath of beer and onions prior to grilling. Boil. In a pot. On a burner. I’ve tried to deny it before – that a side-burner would have been a nice thing to have on our grill. I’ve pulled a one-burner unit out on the deck to steam oysters – but still didn’t admit defeat. In the last several weeks, we’ve boiled pasta on that unit as well.

But tonight, I’m feeling weak. I give up. I can’t deny it anymore. I made a mistake. I should have bought a grill with a sideburner.

Oh, inverted world

I’ve been researching (read: drinking) some new vermouth and other fortified wines lately. I wrote a piece for my Seattle Weekly column with some of my findings, and have continued to taste and try other brands. One of my longtime favorites is Dolin. Last summer I went through quite a bit of the Dolin Blanc, which is tasty and refreshing with some soda water and a dash of bitters or a twist. Lillet Blanc over ice with a slice of orange was another summertime favorite.

This summer hasn’t exactly been the summer to lounge on the deck in the late afternoon sun sipping long drinks. There have been maybe three balmy evenings where we wanted a cold, light and refreshing cocktail. Most of the time, we’ve wanted something a bit more boozy. Something flavorful and rich, but not too heavy on the alcohol. Enter the inverted cocktail.

I’d heard about inverted Martinis and Manhattans before. You just take the normal ratio (2 parts spirits to 1 part vermouth) and invert it. Nathan Weber, who bartends around town, was at Rob Roy when I stopped in there a couple of weeks ago. I was working on a different Seattle Weekly column I sometimes write. Nathan and I got to chatting about vermouth. He’s a big fan of Dolin as well and loves to just drink it straight. He’s also a fan of inverted Martinis and Manhattans.  I had an inverted Martini  there with Gordon’s gin, Dolin dry vermouth and a couple of dashes of bitters. Served up with a twist, it’s more thirst quenching than a traditional Martini, and less likely to get you tanked. Well, that depends on how many you drink I suppose….

I’ve long been a fan of Manhattans. I love them and all their variations, particularly when they are made using interesting vermouths like Carpano Antica or Punt e Mes. I met friends for happy hour at Lot No. 3 in Bellevue last week. This bar is known for its “build your own Manhattan” menu. After talking a bit to the bartender about vermouth, he pulled out a bottle of Cocchi Torino. This is said to be the original recipe of Italian vermouth first produced in 1891. It’s spicy and rich, with a clove, citrus and nutmeg aroma. He used it to make me an inverted Manhattan with Old Overholt rye. It was nutty and complex, thought not exactly refreshing. It was perfect for a grey and rainy Seattle summer day.

In 2008, Pyramid Breweries renamed their Hefeweizen beer – a company staple since it was introduced in 1993  – to Haywire. After nearly three years with the new name, they have finally admitted they hefe’d up. “Moving away from the tradition that made us great was a mistake,” said Ryan Daley, brand manager for Pyramid. The change was made to differentiate Pyramid from other Hefeweizen brands on the shelves. While the beer in the bottle remained unchanged from the original 1993 recipe, the name change adversely affected sales.

Founded in 1984 in Kalama WA, Pyramid Breweries began as Hart Brewing Co. and brewed some of the country’s first microbrews. In 1996, the company was renamed Pyramid, after Hart’s flagship brand of Pyramid Ales. Pyramid Breweries was acquired by Independent Brewers United in 2008, which was acquired by North American Breweries, headquartered in Rochester, NY, in 2010. Pyramid operates alehouses in Portland, Berkeley, Walnut Creek, Sacramento, and Seattle.

Seattle’s Pyramid Alehouse, popular thanks to its location next to Safeco Field, will begin brewing beer again onsite later this year. They haven’t brewed at that location since 2008, when it was more or less mothballed due to its relatively small, 15-barrel capacity. Beer is now brewed at the company’s facilities in Portland and Berkeley. Lead brewer Ryan Pappe, sees the smaller capacity at the Seattle brewery as a positive. He’s enthusiastic about the possibility for more experimentation with ingredients like dry hops and chocolate, and barrel aging. He brews at the company’s Portland brewery, which has a capacity of 160 barrels. They brew half batches of some of Pyramid’s seasonal beers in Portland, but as Pappe said, “even a half batch is a lot of beer.”

In preparation for renewed brewing in Seattle, Pyramid has posted a job for an Alehouse Brewer. In addition to brewing, the Seattle brewer will be a brand “Alebassador,” or ambassador, for the community. Prospective applicants need the ability to work a flexible schedule, because “making beer is not a 9-5 sort of thing.”

Looking ahead to 2012, Pyramid is hoping to add more seasonal beers, like Snowcap Ale, which celebrates the 25th anniversary of its creation this year. The company also plans to add more variety to its variety packs, and continue to offer alehouse exclusives like its Ignition Series. Beers in the Ignition Series include Discord, a dark IPA available August through October, and Live Wire, an Imperial Hefeweizen, available at the Seattle alehouse now.

A Fond Farewell

I loved everything about our first kitchen in the beginning. The maple butcher-block countertops, the cream-colored side-by-side refrigerator, even the country-kitchen style cabinets, with their dark wood veneer. It was our first kitchen together. In our first home together, and I knew it would be the start of something very special.

For twelve years, the old kitchen served us well. In it, we learned how to roll pasta, render lard, carve turkeys, and make everything from soups and stews, to pan sauces and poached eggs. I learned how to make custard and curds in that kitchen, and how to fix a broken Bernaise sauce. We cooked weekly, and later monthly, “Soup Night” meals for groups of 5 to 25 friends. We made marshmallows, hamburger buns, pizza and bread. We canned jam and pickles, made bitters and sipped bourbon. All in that old kitchen.

There were lots of hits, and plenty of misses along the way, some of them leaving a permanent mark on the kitchen. The old refrigerator started to leak, leaving behind water damage in the wood laminate flooring. Once, when brewing beer with my late-brother Jon, we boiled over a batch of wort on the stovetop, leaving it forever sticky and stained. The butcher-block countertops got nicked, banged-up and burned. They could easily be sanded down and treated with mineral oil to look new again, but we liked the rings left behind by the many bottles of red wine we enjoyed in that old kitchen.

As the years went by, we slowly replaced the old fridge, the old stove and the old dishwasher. We never invested a lot in these upgrades, knowing we’d someday remodel. Our next kitchen, we thought, will have better countertops, modern cabinets and appliances as top-of-the-line as we could afford. We continued to become better cooks, almost smug in the fact that we were better cooks than most people, despite our old, beat-down kitchen.

When we started this remodel project, there wasn’t anything about the old kitchen we thought we’d miss. We took down and dismantled the old cabinets. Four layers of old flooring were removed and the old butcher-block countertops were taken out. We replaced the wiring, plumbing and several studs. As I write this, our old kitchen is a shell of its former self. An empty room, a blank canvas, ready…for our new kitchen.

The new kitchen won’t have loose kick plates under the cabinets, wasted storage space behind the sink, or holes in the wall that we need to strategically cover up with framed prints. It won’t have a microwave over the stove, with a too-weak fan that causes food smells – and sometimes smoke – to fill the house. The new kitchen won’t have fluorescent under-cabinet lighting that casts an eerie, peach-colored glow, or a dishwasher that sounds like a jet engine taking off. But it won’t have cabinet door handles perfect for pinning up a recipe card or printouts either. And it won’t have the scars and stains of cooking successes and failures either.

The new kitchen won’t have kitchen cabinets above the stove, but will have a hood, a hanging rack and open shelving. It will have a counter-depth fridge, with ice and water in the door. The new kitchen will have cabinets and appliances from Sweden, and a custom double bowl stainless steel sink with a built-in drainboard. It will have countertops impervious to stains, even though we’ve saved the old countertops and may repurpose a section as a pastry/pasta board.

And best of all, the new kitchen will have us. And we are ready to cook.

Foolproof Pie Crust

“Easy as pie,” or so goes the saying. The thing about pie CRUST however, is that it is anything but easy. I learned to make pie from several remarkable women, including the baker at a café I worked at almost 20 years ago who said, “A baker’s best friend is her hands. Except for you…your hands are too hot.”

Heat is one enemy to the pie crust making process. So is over mixing. Another is time. You need time to make a good pie crust. And for many people, myself included, it can take a lot of time to learn how to make a good pie crust. In an effort to demystify pie making, I thought I’d once and for all write up my pie crust tips. And below is my favorite recipe for pie crust from Cook’s Illustrated magazine, and a recipe for berry pie.

You can brush the top of the crust with an egg wash and sprinkle with sanding sugar.

Make the pie crust ahead. When possible, I make pie crust in double batches and store them in the fridge for up to three days or in the freezer for up to two months. Making a pie takes long enough as it is, and having the crust step out of the way is a big time saver. Just flatten the dough into a disk, about 8-10 inches in diameter, before you refrigerate or freeze it.

Make the entire pie ahead. I like to make pies an entire day ahead of serving them. This helps the juices set. It’s not always possible, but if you have time, make the pie ahead.

Keep your ingredients cold. Start with cold butter (and shortening or lard if you are using it), measure out what you will need, but cut it into smaller chunks and then freeze it for a few minutes while you measure out the flour, salt and sugar. Some people store their flour and mixing bowl in the fridge or freezer…but that seems like overkill. Unless of course you live in the desert.

Vodka. Step one: Take a shot of vodka. Step two: Put a shot of vodka in the dough. In all seriousness, the use of vodka in the recipe below, from Cook’s Illustrated magazine below, is genius. Using too much water in pie dough can result in a tough crust. By using vodka, Cook’s Illustrated figured out that the alcohol would evaporate, so you could add more liquid to the dough – making it easier to handle and roll out – but not so much that you’d end up with a tough crust. Genius.

After you've cut the fat into the four, it should resemble cottage cheese.

Food processor vs by hand. I make my pie crust in the food processor. I KNOW! Yes, food processors generate heat. Yes, you can quickly overmix the dough. Having said those things though, I still think it’s worth the time savings to use a food processor. If you don’t have one, it’s easy to make pie crust with a pastry cutter. You won’t have to worry about overmixing if mixing by hand. You’ll probably get worn out before that happens. Oh, and this thing about cutting the fat (butter, shortening and/or lard) into the flour using two knives?! Really? I’ve tried it and think it’s complete bullshit. It’s like trying to eat spaghetti with a spoon. You’d have to be really hungry.

Roll the dough between layers of plastic wrap. This can prove challenging for some people. The reason I like it though, is that I don’t have to keep adding more and more flour to the board. It also makes it easier to transfer the rolled out crust into a pie plate.

Use a French-style rolling pin. I love my heavy marble rolling pin, but find it a little too heavy and unwieldy when rolling out pie crust. A French-style one with tapered ends is lightweight and easier to maneuver.

Rolling the dough. If the dough has been in the freezer, thaw it overnight in the fridge. Once out of the fridge, set it out on the counter 20-30 minutes before you are ready to roll. To roll it out, start in the center and roll out towards the edges. Some people like to roll from the center to 12 o’clock and then rotate the disk with each roll. Both ways are fine – practice and see what you like. Just take care to not overroll. Like over mixing, this will result in a tough crust.

Crimp the edges. When you are putting the top crust on a double-crusted pie, first wet the edges of the bottom crust. When you place the top crust over the filling, tuck the edges that hang over under the edge of the bottom crust to create a tight seal. To crimp, take the forefinger and thumb of one hand and place on the inside edge of the pie. Then, take the forefinger of your other hand and press the dough between the fingers on the inside hand. Or, say ‘fuck it’ and crimp the edges with a fork.

Wrap it in foil. Fruit pies often overflow the pan as the fruit cooks and their juices begin to bubble. Avoid a sticky mess by wrapping foil under the bottom of the pan, up the sides and just over the edge of the crust. This will also protect the crust from overbrowning. I have tried those little metal edge protectors you can buy. They’re crap. Same goes for the little metal pan to put the pie plate on while you bake. Just use a rimmed cookie sheet.

Air vents. Cut 3-4 slits in the top of the pan to let air escape. They only need to be an inch or two long – they will stretch a little as the pie cooks.

Cutting into a fresh pie. There is a little trick to getting that first slice of pie out of the pan. Cut the first slice, then a slice on either side. This will make it easier to serve the first piece.


Foolproof Pie Dough
From Cook’s Illustrated magazine
Makes one double crust pie

2 ½ cups (12 ½ ounces) unbleached all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon table salt
2 tablespoons sugar
12 tablespoons (1 ½ sticks) cold unsalted butter, cut into ¼ inch slices
½ cup cold vegetable shortening, cut into 4 pieces
¼ cup cold vodka
¼cup cold water

1. Process just 1 ½ cups flour, salt, and sugar in food processor until combined, about 2 one-second pulses. Add butter and shortening and process until homogeneous dough just starts to collect in uneven clumps, about 15 seconds (dough will resemble cottage cheese curds and there should be no uncoated flour). Scrape bowl with rubber spatula and redistribute dough evenly around processor blade. Add remaining cup flour and pulse until mixture is evenly distributed around bowl and mass of dough has been broken up, 4 to 6 quick pulses. Empty mixture into medium bowl.

2. Sprinkle vodka and water over mixture. With rubber spatula, use folding motion to mix, pressing down on dough until dough is slightly tacky and sticks together. Divide dough into two even balls and flatten each into 4-inch disk. Wrap each in plastic wrap and refrigerate at least 45 minutes or up to 2 days.

3. Remove 1 disk of dough from the refrigerator and roll on generously floured (up to ¼ cup) work surface to 12-inch circle, about 1/8 inch think.  Roll dough loosely and rolling pin and unroll into pie plate, leaving at least 1-inch overhang on each side.  Working around circumference, ease dough into plate by gently lifting edge of dough with one hand while pressing into plate bottom with other hand.  Leave dough that overhangs plate in place; refrigerate while preparing filling until dough is firm, about 30 minutes.

Berry Pie Filling
From The Kingston Hotel Cafe Cookbook
Makes 1 double crusted pit

6 cups fresh or frozen blueberries, blackberries, raspberries, or a combo of the three
2 tablespoons cornstarch
2 tablespoons cake flour
¾ cup brown sugar
6 tablespoons white sugar
¼ teaspoon table salt
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
2 tablespoons unsalted butter

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.

Prepare the pie crust and line a 9-inch pie pan with half the dough.

In a large mixing bowl, combine all of the filling ingredients except the butter. Pour into pastry-lined pie plate.  Dot the top of the fruit with the butter.

Roll out the top crust. Wet the rim of the bottom crust with ice water and place the top crust over the berries. Turn the edges under and crimp. Make little slits in the top of the crust to allow steam to escape while baking.

Plce the pit in the center of a piece of tin foil and fold over te top crust to prevent the edge from browning too fast. Place the pie on a cookie sheet to catch the juices that bubble over.

Bake at 425 degrees F for 10 minutes. Turn the oven down to 350 degrees F and bake for about 45 minutes. Uncover the foil from the edges of the pie, then bake another 30 minutes.  The top crust will be golden and the juices will be tick and bubbling to the top.

I love a good charcuterie platter. Spicy soppresata, rich and flavorful coppa, and of course, Prosciutto. Last Christmas we received (and gave ourselves) a number of books on DIY charcuterie and vowed that 2011 would be the year we make our own. Then we started a kitchen remodel. We still hope to make our own charcuterie…but it may be a few more months. Enter Slow Food.

What is Slow Food?

A non-profit member-supported association, Slow Food was founded to counter the rise of fast food and fast life, the disappearance of local food traditions and people’s dwindling interest in the food they eat, where it comes from, how it tastes and how our food choices affect the rest of the world.

I have known about Slow Food since my days as a tour guide in Europe. It began in Italy in the late 1980s to “protect small-scale quality productions threatened by industrial agriculture, environmental degradation and homogenization.” Slow Food has 1,300 chapters around the globe, including Seattle, which “develop activities, projects and events at a locally and regional and global level

A few weeks ago, Slow Food Seattle announced a new class they would be offering, “Learn to Make Pancetta and Lardo with Mangalitsa Pork.” Three of my favorite things at once: Pancetta, the unsmoked, cured pork belly common to Italian cuisine; Lardo, cured fatback, that can be sliced thin and eaten on a simple crostini or grilled steak; and Mangalitsa pork.

Hot farmer alert!

The Mangalitsa (MON-go-leet-sa) breed of pig was first introduced to the U.S. in 2007 by Heath Putnam. Putnam imported a herd of pigs from Hungary as well as European techniques for “processing,” or butchering, the pigs. Mangalitsas are prized for the great deal of lard they produce. The name in Serbian, Mangalica, actually means, “hog with a lot of lard.” Due to a declining interest in lard however, Mangalitsas, like other heritage breeds, are rare.

Today, Putnam raises only about 700 Mangalitsa pigs on three farms in the Midwest. They are prized by internationally recognized restaurants such as The French Laundry and The Herbfarm, as well as Seattle area favorites like Nell’s and Monsoon. Mangalitsa fat is less saturated than the fat of other pigs. It melts into the marbled and flavorful meat at a lower temperature and has a lighter and cleaner taste. Putnam is doing exactly what adherents to the Slow Food philosophy believe: Salvaging and maintaining sustainable, small-scale farming, and heritage breeds.

Putnam was on hand at Sunday’s event, held at Tom Douglas’ Serious Pie, in it’s second location in the South Lake Union neighborhood of Seattle. Serious Pie chefs Tony Catini and Kenan Fox were there to walk us through the curing process and will oversee our hunks of pancetta as they cure.

Mangalitsas are raised longer than most pigs before they are slaughtered. Putnam raises his pigs to about 270 pounds and about 2 years old. Late in life, they are fed things like hay, peas, acorns, and other nuts to help achieve that flavorful meat. Breed, feed and age of slaughter makes this pork very unique.

For curing Mangalitsa pork, the jowls, fat back and belly work the best. The pork belly contains about 80% fat – much more than most pork belly. Pancetta is usually rolled into a log before it is tied and cured. We would be making slab pancetta, sometimes called pancetta tesa, which is not rolled. Each participant was given about a pound each of Mangalitsa pork belly and fat back, donated by Heath Putnam Farms.

Chef Tony took the floor next and guided us through the basics of curing (very basic, since we only seasoned the meat and they would be curing it for us). Curing is basically applying salt and other herbs & spices to a piece of meat, then storing it in a temperature and humidity controlled space for anywhere from a week to several months. Salt is the most important thing in the cure. It draws out the water and makes it shelf stable. Chef Tony said that at the Tom Douglas restaurants, they use about 2.2% salt per pound of “product.”

Gavin and I each applied a unique blend of spices to our pancetta. Mine included allspice, mace, cayenne, and pepper, among other spices, as well as curing salt and pink salt. For the lardo, the blend was simpler – just garlic, rosemary and pepper along with the curing salt. They provided us with pre-portioned cuts of meat, with the accompanying weighed-out amount of salt we would need for each piece. Chef Tony labeled our pancetta and it will be ready for us to pick up in about two weeks. For the lardo, we took it home and have it curing in our refrigerator for 10-14 days.

After all that talk of pork fat, and the mouth-watering aroma of all the spices on the table, we were hungry! 25 participants in all were next invited up to the dining room of Serious Pie for an early dinner. The price of the class ($45 for members, $55 for non-members) included a multi-course, family-style meal, plus wine. The first course included burrata and just-picked strawberries from Tom Douglas’ farm in Prosser, with balsamic vinegar; marinated beets with pistachios; and Crenshaw melon with Mangalitsa coppa. Next up was a selection of pizzas from Serious Pie’s wood-fired oven: Mangalitsa sausage with roasted peppers and goat cheese; Mangalitsa lardo with pea-vine pesto and porcini mushrooms; and oil-cured tomatoes, saracena olives and buffalo mozzarella. And finally, after all of that, we were served dessert: Coconut cream pie “bites.” Learning never tasted so good.

Aging cocktails applies the already well-tested theory that age adds depth, flavor, and character to spirits. It’s a low-tech way to improve cocktails at a time when high technique is popular in both the culinary and bartending worlds. And it’s a technique being seen at more and more bars around Seattle. Just as barrels give whiskey its flavor and color and soften the harsh tannins in wine, aging cocktails in wood barrels smooths the sharp edges of some drinks, while creating new flavors like vanilla and warm, spicy notes in others.

The popularity of aging cocktails was referenced in print in the early 1900s, but was recently revitalized in the U.S. by Jeffrey Morganthaler, the bar manager at Portland’s Clyde Common, by way of London. While in London, Morganthaler visited Tony Conigliaro’s bar at 69 Colebrooke Row. There, Conigliaro had been aging cocktails for over five years. By time Morganthaler visited in 2009, the aged cocktails were already well established and he was impressed. Upon his return to Portland he began experimenting with aging ingredients as well as complete cocktails. He also took the concept of aging cocktails one step further and started aging them in wood.

Today, at bars from New York to Chicago to Seattle, bartenders are taking small, two- and three-gallon barrels and aging everything from Negronis to Manhattans. Most bartenders agree that gin-based cocktails work best for barrel-aging. The floral and herbal qualities help it stand up to the flavors imparted by a charred wood barrel. Bitter ingredients like Campari become subtler, while vodka takes on too much of a whiskey flavor.

Aging in small barrels means the flavor of the wood is imparted into the barrel’s contents more quickly. So instead of several years, a cocktail can be aged in a few weeks. Five to six weeks seems to be the sweet spot for many cocktails, though some are aged longer. The trick is to take small samples of the cocktail during the aging process to taste the progress. If using vermouth, barrels must be filled entirely, with no air space allowed to oxidize the contents. A large barrel could cost thousands of dollars to fill–another practical reason for using a small barrel. Most bars charge $1-$2 more for aged cocktails, which offsets the cost of the barrels, since they are typically only used once or twice.

Mulleady’s Irish Pub, in Magnolia, has a barrel-aged Negroni regularly on their menu. Tasted alongside a classically made Negroni, the aged Negroni is smoother and in some ways richer. The Campari is beaten into submission, allowing the floral sweetness of the gin to shine through. Owner Travis Stanley-Jones has plans for aging a Widow’s Kiss, in hopes that the apple and spice flavors of the calvados will be enhanced after some time in oak. He admits, though, that barrel-aging is a one-shot opportunity. “Once the cocktail is in the barrel, you can’t undo mistakes like you can when mixing a cocktail to order,” he lamented.

Liberty on Capitol Hill has a “Barrel-Aged Cocktails for the Masses” program where customers can choose a cocktail to have mixed and aged in one of several half-gallon barrels from Woodinville Whiskey Co. After several weeks, your cocktail will be available for purchase by you and other patrons at the bar.

Owner/bartender Andrew Friedman likes the “innovation factor” of barrel-aging and has created an original cocktail called The Good Dog. It’s a mix of Woodinville Whiskey Co.’s White Dog (an unaged whiskey), a chamomile-infused grappa, and Bitter Truth’s Lemon Bitters. They are also currently offering aged versions of a Sazerac with gin, a Vieux Carré, and the Negroni–and hopefully, in a few more weeks, an aged version of the Trident suggested by yours truly (Hi, Andrew!). They have also aged individual spirits like Campari, housemade orange bitters, and sweet vermouth, in hopes that adding any of those individual ingredients to a cocktail will make it more interesting.

Want to try aging your favorite cocktail at home? You can get the half-gallon barrels from Woodinville Whiskey Co. for $69.95.


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.