Archive for the ‘Dining Out’ Category

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.

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The first time I went to In-N-Out Burger, it lived up to its name. It was IN and it was OUT. Both my travel companion and I were in the bathroom at our hotel within 30 minutes of stopping at In-N-Out upon our arrival in Los Angeles. This was not a good first experience at the famed fast-food chain.

Even though that first experience wasn’t great, I chalked up my sensitive stomach to a long travel day. On a recent trip back to California I was willing to give In-N-Out Burger another shot. After all, everyone says it is THE BEST burger. And, being a longtime devotee of Seattle’s own homegrown burger chain, Dick’s Drive-In, I wanted to pit the two against each other. Who has the better burger: In-N-Out Burger or Dick’s Drive-In?

There are some similarities between Dick’s and In-N-Out. Both chains started in the 1950s (Dick’s in 1952, In-N-Out in 1948); both use fresh (not frozen) meat; and both companies have progressive personnel programs in comparison with other fast-food chains. But this my friends, is where the similarities end.

In-N-Out Burger

In-N-Out Burger started with one location in a suburb of L.A. in 1948. Today there are around 250 locations in California, Texas, Arizona, Nevada, and Utah. Compared with other fast-food burger chains, this is pretty small. But still – 5 states, 250 locations. The list of In-N-Out Burger devotees is long and esteemed. Celebrities, athletes, reputable chefs – Thomas Keller among them – love In-N-Out Burger. Their reputation for fresh, quality ingredients is well-known.

Driving south on the I-80 near San Francisco, we easily found an In-N-Out Burger to pull into. It was located – like all fast-food chains of its size – next to a shopping mall. The gleaming white building and iconic red & yellow sign welcomed us as we walked into the restaurant.

The menu at In-N-Out is pretty simple. A couple of burger options, fries, shakes, and sodas. What many people love to tout about In-N-Out Burger though is the “secret menu.” Well, a simple search online quickly reveals that nothing is “secret” about the secret menu. It basically just offers options for making your burger bigger. You can make your burger 3×3 or 4×4 – tripling or quadrupling the patties and cheese. The one interesting option on the secret menu is “animal-style.” This puts mustard on your patty before it is cooked and adds caramelized onions. Grrr. Me likes the sound of THAT!

We ordered a regular cheeseburger and an “animal-style” cheeseburger, some fries, a drink and grabbed a table. Surveying the scene around us, we were disappointed to discover that the interior of In-N-Out Burger looks like most other fast-food burger joints. Crummy tile floors, fluorescent lighting and plastic tables with the chairs attached.

When our burgers arrived, they looked promising. Nestled into paper wrappers, our burgers peeked out at us. Crisp lettuce, red tomatoes, melting cheese, and – in the case of the animal-style burger – caramel-colored onions. The first bite was good. Warm bun, flavorful meat, tangy pickles, and the crunch of the lettuce. The tomato was mealy and flavorless. But otherwise the fresh toppings were tasty. The animal-style cheeseburger offered the bonus tanginess of the mustard-coated patty.

After a few more bites, the flaw of the In-N-Out burger revealed itself. Remember those old McDonald’s commercials for the McDLT? “Hot side hot, cool side cool.” Well, cold toppings on a burger will ultimately cool a burger too quickly. Especially a fast-food burger that has too thin a patty to retain heat for any length of time.

Still, In-N-Out makes a good burger. But what was all the fuss about? It’s a fast-food burger in a non-descript, sterile building. I’d rather eat at Sonic. And Burger King, in my opinion, makes a more flavorful burger.

Two other big marks against In-N-Out: First, the fries were AWFUL. Deep-fried packing peanuts would probably taste better. Second, Christian propaganda. In-N-Out prints discreet references to Bible verses on the paper wrapping, cups, etc. Not the actual text of the passage, just the book, chapter and number of the verse. Still. I’d prefer a side of heartburn with my burger to a side of morality any day.

Dick’s Drive-In

With just 5 locations in the Seattle area, Dick’s Drive-In is truly a “local” chain. They are adding a 6th location (the first new location in 36 years) in the suburbs north of the city by 2012.

While Dick’s is a “drive-in,” it is more of a “walk-up” burger joint. With the exception of the dine-in restaurant at the location on Seattle’s Queen Anne neighborhood, they all have a similar design. 50’s retro buildings with large windows allow you to see the behind-the-scenes action and the menu. Long lines form at the four or five windows, and customers – during every kind of weather – stand and wait for their turn to order. A long, but narrow stainless steel bar extends along the front of the building, where people can eat their burger. Many however just return to eat either inside or outside of their cars.

The menu is simple and, with the exception of prices, has hardly changed since Dick’s first opened. For a fair comparison to In-N-Out we ordered a Dick’s Deluxe (which includes chopped lettuce & pickles, plus cheese and mayo), a cheeseburger and French fries. If you like ketchup, be sure to order that too, since it costs 5 cents extra.

While there is no “secret menu” at Dick’s, locals know that there are some tricks to ordering at Dick’s. Even though there are no substitutions, local food writer Leslie Kelly discovered, you CAN order a Deluxe without cheese. The only other “secret” is that, under no circumstances, should you order the French fries unless you have actually seen them dumped from the fryer to the salting/packaging area (what is that area called anyways?). Through the large glass windows, you will see piles of freshly scrubbed and chopped potatoes waiting in baths of water until it is their turn for a hot oil bath. Despite, or perhaps because of, the freshness of the potatoes, the fries at Dick’s are notoriously perishable. That is, within a few minutes of being cooked, they get soggy. Which is great if you are stoned. Or drunk. But not so much if you are stone sober.

Turn around is pretty quick at Dick’s. While you fish money out of your pockets, your cashier preps your order. Sometimes you are asked to step aside while they finish up your burgers, but usually you order, pay and walk away with your order within a couple of minutes. At all hours of the day however, you will encounter lines at Dick’s. They are open daily from 11am -2am and generally have a crowd no matter the hour.

With our bag of burgers and fries in hand, we returned to the car to devour our meal. The burgers at Dick’s are tightly packaged in paper or foil wrappers. When you unwrap your burger at Dick’s it is HOT. The hot, fresh patty combined with the heat-chamber of the wrapper wilts the lettuce (in the case of the Deluxe). But, it also creates a lot of steam within the wrapper, softening the bun so it melts in your mouth.

The bun is much sweeter than most fast-food buns. The meat is also quite salty. The steam effect of the wrapper makes the burgers at Dick’s quite soft and reminds me more of Chinese humbow than of other fast-food burgers. We were fortunate to get a fresh order of French fries on this visit (since we saw them dumped from the fryer). They were crisp on the outside and perfectly fluffy on the inside. And, they tasted like real potatoes.

When we finished our meal, I took the empty bags and wrappers back to the front of the building where the refuse bins are separated into compost, trash and recyclables. I took a look at the long lines that had not gotten any smaller since we arrived 20 minutes prior. There were families, kids in sports uniforms, guys in suits, other guys in coveralls, and emo kids. Even though a lot of things have changed around Seattle since the 1950’s, Dick’s has remained virtually the same. And we wouldn’t want it any other way.

The Verdict

I’ll admit that I am biased. I have been going to Dick’s Drive-In my entire life. Heck, maybe even while I was still in utero. That being said, I expected fireworks at In-N-Out Burger. What I got was a cookie cutter fast-food chain. And not even a cool cookie cutter like a dinosaur or a rocket ship. It was a plain chain with little character. The burger tasted fresh and I loved the tang of the mustard on the animal-style version. The fries were inexcusable though and the subtle yet still-present propaganda on the packaging left a bad taste in my mouth. Dick’s has its flaws – it is a little sweet for some people’s taste, and the French fries require some advance knowledge before ordering. Still, the atmosphere at Dick’s is retro-cool and the crowd offers great people-watching and the perfect cross-section of Seattle. These reasons are why Dick’s Drive-In is my favorite fast-food cheeseburger.

Dick's Drive-in (Capitol Hill) on Urbanspoon

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Inspiration for writing ebbs and flows for me, as I’m sure it does for anyone who writes and blogs. I am my own boss and my own editor…and deadlines come and go without huge consequences. As I look back through my archives, there are months with one entry and months with 10+ entries. I don’t beat myself up over this, but do want to get better. Or at least more consistent.

I’ve had a lot of fun food activities and meals over the summer. I’ve made gallons of ice cream, dozens of pies, canned pickles, beans, beets, carrots and dill relish, and have had some incredible meals out in restaurants. But instead of writing about those things…I’ve either tweeted about them or shared some snaps on Facebook. I promise I’ll get better. I promise to blog more.

Instead, today (tonight actually) I want to share with you some of my greatest hits. If you are new to my blog, I think these entries are a good way to get to know me.

Kentucky Bourbon Trail. If there’s one thing you should know about me, it’s that I love Bourbon.

Ridiculously delicious cookies. The other thing you should know about me is that I am half Swedish and half Norwegian (my parents both immigrated to the U.S.). I love to write about some of our favorite family recipes.

Go Bananas. I travelled to the Philippines in 2008 and loved it. And can’t stop thinking about it. And planning my next trip.

Italian with a Rock & Roll Soundtrack. Me and the Mr. went to NYC for our anniversary and ate at Babbo.

Poundcake. When I learned my husband was having an affair. With a dessert.

Amy Sedaris’ cheeseball. Why I hate potlucks, but love Amy Sedaris.

Marshmallow Heaven. One of my first blog entries and the fulfillment of a childhood dream.

Raincoast Crisps. Best. Crackers. Ever.

Kitchen Gear I Love. Hi, my name is Sonja and I love kitchen gadgets.

When Accidents Happen. I’m not too proud to share my failures.

I Got Schooled. An early experience at Seattle’s famed Zig Zag Café.

My Glamorous Job. My former life as a European tour guide. Not all it’s cracked up to be.

So, I hope you enjoy reading a little more about my past and hope to bring you a lot more in the future. Feel free to leave a comment and tell me what you think. Or follow me on Twitter. And if you are in the Seattle area, I hope our paths cross soon.

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I am flying to California later today and hate to travel on an empty stomach. Airport food is overpriced and airplane food is, well, unpalatable. I packed some snacks for the flight, but want to board this evening with a full belly.

I had some errands to run this afternoon that took me past one of my favorite sandwich shops, Tubs Gourmet Subs. For anyone that grew up in the Seattle area in the late 80s, it helps to say the complete name Tubsgourmetsubs, because if you just say “Tubs,” it conjures up images of that hot-tub-by-the-hour place called Tubs, that used to be located in the U. District. Yeah, not a very appetizing thought.

Despite the name, Tubs Gourmet Subs has one of my favorite sandwiches in Seattle: The Firecracker. A toasted baguette, with a shattering crust, is slathered with garlic mayo and sprinkled with “firecracker” seasoning. Then, they pile on slices of chicken, jack cheese, strips of bacon, jalapenos, lettuce, tomato, and a healthy (or unhealthy) few squirts of ranch dressing. It is served with warm BBQ sauce on the side for dipping. The Firecracker more than lives up to its name. After about four bites, my mouth is on fire, but it’s worth every bite.

The mister used to work near Tubs Gourmet Subs about 15 years ago. It is located in a strip mall right on Lake City Way, near Nathan Hale High School (and a gun store and a strip club, but what on Lake City Way isn’t near a gun store or a strip club?).

Gavin’s favorite sandwich was, and still is, the Joker’s Dip – an orgy of meat (ham, turkey, roast beef, and bacon) plus the requisite cheese, mayo, lettuce, and tomato served on a toasted baquette and with warm BBQ dipping sauce.

I believe Tubs Gourmet Subs (no apostrophe, by the way, that is their typo not mine) was a pioneer in the toasted baguette style of sandwich. Long before that naughty talking oven over at Quiznos started getting all the attention, Tubs Gourmet Subs has been toasting their bread.

And what’s with the BBQ dipping sauce? Who cares? It’s fucking delicious and who doesn’t like to dip their already flavorful food in something MORE flavorful? No one, that’s who.
Tubs Gourmet Subs on Urbanspoon

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I am so glad you are still reading because that has got to be the worst title ever. If nothing else, I am pretty honest. Since leftover steak is what this post is about, that is the title. I probably could have gotten away with the title MAGIC! because that is what happens when you take leftover steak and transform it into something different.

There really isn’t any dish that tastes as good the next day. Pizza tastes different, chili and spaghetti sauce may taste better, but trying to recreate the exact meal you had a night or two ago from the leftovers in your fridge rarely happens. Thanksgiving dinner may be the only exception.

Leftovers are a reality for us all however and I think if you are creative, you can find some way to make use of them. Think about how many uses you find for that leftover turkey after Thanksgiving: Turkey soup, turkey pot pie, turkey sandwiches, and on and on.

We had a great meal out the other night at The Met – a Seattle steakhouse that is one of my favorite (and most expensive) guilty pleasures. Truth be told, I can’t finish a whole steak anymore. Especially since our favorite steak at The Met is the long-bone rib-eye. We first tried this steak last winter and decided to go for it again. While we managed some self-control and decided to share the steak, 36 ounces is a whole lotta meat. That meant leftovers.

In the back of our minds, I think the Mister and I were both looking forward to leftovers, since we knew that would mean steak sandwiches. Gavin made up the sandwich below from leftovers from our last steak, and it’s a keeper. This is a very ad-hoc recipe. Feel free to adapt it to your own preferences. You may prefer a different type of bread or cheese. I have made it with caramelized onions and blue cheese and it is insanely delicious. I think the only key elements are the steak (obviously), the mayo and the butter. There is no sense trying to make this sandwich low calorie, low-fat or at all healthy. So don’t try.

Steak Sandwiches

Leftover steak, sliced thin
Onion, thinly sliced
Dijon or spicy mustard (I like Edmund Fallot, the hubs likes Gulden)
Cheddar cheese
Sliced sourdough bread

Butter what will be the outsides of each slice of bread liberally. On the inside of each slice of bread, spread a generous amount of mayo. Add a little mustard to one side as well. Place the slices in a skillet over low heat, butter side down. Sprinkle some or all of the onions on one side and slices of the cheese on the other.

In the meantime…heat another skillet over medium heat. Melt a little butter in the pan and then add some of the onions (unless you want them all raw). Add the sliced leftover steak. Sauté until the meat is warm through and all the pink (if there was any), is gone.

Transfer the hot onion and meat mix to one side of the bread. Top is with the other slice of bread – butter side up. Raise the heat to medium and cook and flip until each slice of bread is golden brown and the cheese is melted. Slice in half and enjoy.

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Our vacation to Eastern Washington was amazing. We went to Walla Walla for three nights, drove through the Palouse for a one-night stop in Spokane to visit some friends and then lounged around Lake Chelan for the last three nights. I have lots of good reports to share…from wine tasting, to Washington’s second best bartender, touring the Dry Fly Distillery and our quest for the best drive-in burger. More on all of that later because today is Feasting Friday.

A big construction project is underway at our house. The roof has been torn off and it’s fucking mayhem over here. Therefore…our meals for a few days will be eaten out, where there is no dust and no sawing or hammering taking place. Our first meal away from the chaos – I am happy to report – was perfect.

Teddy’s Bigger Burgers is a chain from Hawaii that recently arrived on the shores of the Pacific Northwest. Before our vacation, I spent a lot of time on Chowhound researching restaurants. I found a thread titled Looking for the best burger in WA where I found lots of tips for the trip but ALSO saw mention of Teddy’s, which is closer to home.

Teddy’s has been voted best burger in Hawaii every year since 2004…according to their website at least. They opened their first mainland location in Woodinville, about 15 miles from our house. It isn’t the most convenient option for burgers, but ended up being worth the drive.

They offer burgers in three sizes: Big (5 oz), Bigger (7 oz) and Biggest (9oz). All the burgers come with lettuce, tomato, pickles, onions and special sauce. More on the special sauce in a minute, but first can I just say that I LOVE a place that doesn’t make onions optional?! I love onions on a burger (thankfully so does Gavin) and Teddy’s slices theirs ultra-thin.

OK, so about that sauce. It is mayonnaise-based and a little bit sweet with just the tiniest bit of smoked flavor. I likened it to grilled pineapple, but that might have been because I had Hawaii on the brain. They slather on loads of it and it is a nice compliment to the “flame-broiled” beef.

Teddy’s uses 100% ground chuck for their patties. They serve them medium and, as the menu states, that means they may be a little pink in the middle. It was cooked perfectly in my mind. A little drier than I expected out of ground chuck, but maybe they use leaner meat than I do. Or maybe some dimwit in the kitchen that day was pressing the heck out the patties with a spatula. Don’t get me wrong…it was juicy, just not oozing juice. Eeew. That sounded kind of gross. Anyways

The fries were in top form. Thick-cut potatoes, double fried and not over salted. Perfection. This was a relief given our most recent experiences with french fries in the north end.

All in all, Teddy’s was tops. I have a running list of my favorite burgers in the greater Seattle area and Teddy’s is definitely in the top 5. Maybe even the top 2. It’s THAT good.

Teddy's Bigger Burgers on Urbanspoon

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For someone that lives in a city surrounded by water, it is shocking how little I actually get out on the water. That all changed this week when we went out on our friend’s Zodiac.

The picture above isn’t exactly what you imagined when I said “Zodiac,” was it? The thing is, Robin and Jason really know how to entertain. If you set up a table with a table cloth, load it with bottles of wine and tasty food…then, a Zodiac can actually be quite civilized.

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