Foodie Tuesday: Rinse and Repeat

You all know what a fan I am of leftovers and ‘repurposed’ ingredients. Most of the foods I’ve been fixing lately have been a continuation of that tradition of mine, especially because it’s been a particularly busy time around our place. We’ve had the usual spate of spring concerts and recitals, more than the usual number of social and business-social events at home and other places, and planning and preparation for a large quantity of upcoming happenings. The garden’s been coming in at top speed. I’ve been trying to clean house more seriously than I had in a long time, because it’s really overdue and I’d love to sell off and give away a lot of underutilized Things. Oh, and I’m trying hard, really I am, not to fall behind with my writing and artwork.

That latter means, naturally, keeping my blogging current, but in addition it means working on two art commissions—one a super-fast turnaround project I just got a few days ago. It also includes attempting to continue with the development of several books to follow up on the one I published in January.

I’m neither complaining nor bragging, just stating a truth that is pretty much like the daily one facing the majority of people I know, each with his or her variations on the details. And it reinforces my attachment to quick, simple, reusable and flexible ingredients and dishes more than ever. Today, for example, I made and froze what will (I’m certain) be a delicious potato side dish for later this week, when friends are coming over for a casual dinner visit. I used a combination of a smashed microwave ‘baked’ potato, a handful of chopped and mashed leftover french fries—good hand cut ones from our favorite old school steakhouse—a handful of crushed leftover potato chips, and enough leftover pimiento cheese from the batch I made for our party the other night to make it all into a cheesy potato casserole. I had some crisped bacon in the fridge, so the casserole is topped with that for the finish. It doesn’t look like so much yet, being in the freezer and all, but I’m expecting to enjoy it quite a bit, along with whatever else I manage to put together for the occasion.photo

Confession: I got an itch to do something trendy, despite being so rarely trendy myself, and I made a lattice out of the bacon. Silly, but kind of fun. And if one is going to wrestle with trying to cook a little in the midst of lots of real life busyness, shouldn’t there be a little bit of silly fun involved? No, wait: a lot?

 

Foodie Tuesday: Best of the Wurst

 

photoLong before anyone imputed a less well-mannered meaning to the phrase ‘sausage-fest’ there were plenty of people who appreciated the finer points of delicious minced and seasoned meats in casings (or patties) enough to not only dine upon them but celebrate them as well. Among those people, families and cultures where sausage is known and admired, it may begin in early childhood with tasty little links at breakfast or frankfurters, better known in much of the US as hotdogs, served up for lunch or supper, and from there it’s off to the races.photoWhat goes with sausage? What doesn’t? But I have to ask as well: does good sausage really have to have anything go with it? Okay, maybe it’s got to have an accompanying drink to be at its best, and a good beer is hard to beat as a way to wash down a good sausage, whether it’s a fine adult beverage or an outstanding root beer. All ages covered by serving different versions of one libation!photoNow, if I’m hungry for a good southern-style sort of sausage, say perhaps a savory hunk of Andouille or a juicy smoked Texas sausage, a piece of skillet-baked cornbread is a perfect taste to enjoy on the side and ideal, too, for sopping up the sausage’s drippings. Did I say smoked Texas sausage? Oh, yeah, maybe a whole bucketful–nothing like a classic Tejas BBQ joint with a tub full of smoky rings of hickory-scented sausage to get the salivary juices flowing just as fast as the hot-links‘ juices.photoOf course, the American south is far from the only place on earth producing miraculously delicious kinds of sausages. I have devoured plenty of fantastic ones on foreign turf, and gladly. Another accompaniment that nearly always appeals is the ever-welcome potato. From plain boiled, baked or mashed potatoes to crisps and chips and all sorts of fried ones, there are endless wonders that can be wrought from potatoes to enhance to beauty of sausages. One of my favorites, both in the German-speaking lands and at home, is Rösti, a crispy-tender variant of what we know as hash browns in the States, and since it’s so quick and easy to fix and sausages are too, it’s not an uncommon meal hereabouts.photoSometimes having an exclusively meat-and-potatoes meal isn’t entirely enough, and a bright vegetable addition becomes a delightful contrast in texture and flavor and a palate cleansing lightener of the occasion as well. Often, a simple, quick salad like a melange of Mandarin orange segments and cut sugar snap peas, toasted sliced almonds and pine nuts, and light lime-honey-ginger vinaigrette makes just the right complement to the fat happiness of sausages and starch.photoAnd sometimes the sausage is most welcome incorporated into a well-loved main dish. It might be Italian sausage in a classic red sauce; could be chorizo in a glorious paella; may be a welcome casserole of Cassoulet. Last week, it was Gumbo loaded with minced ham, crawfish tails and both pork and beef sausages all playing along nicely with the okra, corn, carrots, celery, onions and bell peppers cooked for a long, low, slow simmer in homemade bone broth and store-bought fire-roasted tomatoes and a bottle of Czech beer, seasoned with bay leaf, cloves, black pepper, cumin, smoked paprika and premixed Cajun spice and thickened at the last just a little further with the traditional filé (sassafras powder) before being spooned over broth-cooked rice. Next week, it might be time for bangers and mash, kielbasa and noodles, or possibly just some marvelous eggs, scrambled until custard-like and served with sage-scented breakfast sausage.photoAnd no, all of this goodness is not reserved for those of the manly persuasion (slangy phrases notwithstanding). This here girl-type person, for one, will fight for her share of the feast, so I guess it doesn’t qualify as a total sausage-fest, if you know what I mean.

Foodie Tuesday: Pilgrimages

photoSince I have made it clear that I spend much of my travel time and energy on eating and/or thinking about eating (just as I do at home, but more exotically, if you will), then the clear corollary is that I am inclined to travel toward, and for, specific foods and eateries. Returning to my home turf is clearly a time when this is bound to take on a significance and intensity of the grandest proportions. Needless to say, it would be impossible to revisit every place we love to eat in one trip, let alone a fairly brief holiday, but we are dedicated enough to the love of good food to make our best efforts in the attempt.

Spud Fish & Chips is a local landmark institution that predates even my existence by, say, half a length, and its place in my personal registry of notables was confirmed very early not only because it’s a great place to get very tasty, freshly made cod and chips for which people have long been accustomed to queue up around the block and down the street, but one of its four (I think) branches happens to be located about two doors down from where my grandparents had their apartment when I was small. The cod (or halibut or salmon or shrimp, if that’s your preference) is hot, moist and sweet and coated with a lovely, crispy golden jacket that holds the fillets neatly together whilst they are being gently paddled through a bit of sweet tartar sauce or drizzled with malt vinegar en route to their demolition. The fries are unevenly hand-cut so that one gets the meaty, mealy, potato-y big fries and the medium, slightly more greasy ones and the thin, crisp ones all together for fine textural variety.

From the first bite of cod, I was transported immediately to the days when my parents would pile us four girls into the car and head to Grandma and Grandpa’s and at some point we would essay right across the street to Alki Beach (the nicest and most popular tidal beach in Seattle), play until we were sufficiently caked with sand and maybe had had a quick stop to pay homage to the Ice Cream Cone Lady, a 3-meter mini of the Statue of Liberty that stands almost directly across from the apartment on the beach whom I so named for my obvious assumption about that strangely compelling object she lifted in her hand while she hugged what I guess I must have thought was the menu to her bronze breast. After these exertions we would inevitably get hungry for the aforementioned fish and chips, preferably followed by our own ice cream, and that was the heavenly point of the whole outing. Besides Grandma and Grandpa, of course.

photoAnother luscious luxury I crave after too long away from it is the New England style clam chowder at 42nd Street Cafe in Seaview, Washington. In our earlier married years either my husband and I had a whole lot more free time on our hands or (more likely) were willing to cram more into the available time, so we went as often as we could manage for a three- or four-day weekend on Washington’s Long Beach Peninsula. It’s quite touristy, especially in the summer high season, because of the marvelous beaches, the excellent boardwalk, the fantastic biking and walking paths that range all over the peninsula, the usual silly shops, the fairly constant wind that makes it a prime place for kite flyers, and the regularly held classic car shows. Among other enticements. Primarily, though, it’s a place to go and relish the ocean–and, yes indeedy, to eat. For a pretty small set of towns and off-season residents, the peninsula offers a goodly range of fine eating, and we have favorite places and foods to show for it.

Cheri Walker’s glorious clam chowder is one of the many reasons we’ve faithfully, if not obsessively, returned to 42nd Street for all of these years. She somehow concocted the perfect balance of ingredients for a chowder I’ve never tasted anything close to matching, to the degree that while I won’t give many clam chowders elsewhere the time of day anymore after one look at their floury glue-like consistency and paltry pieces of rubbery clam, I would happily eat Cheri’s clam chowder three meals a day when I can get it. Bacon in it. Yes, you are unsurprised that I think this a superb ingredient in a clam chowder. I am nothing if not predictable. A major attraction of her clam chowder, however, is naturally the large quantities of fresh and tender clam bits therein. Little pieces of potato, the soft crunch of celery. That sort of goodness. But what really sets it apart is the light, savory broth, with just the right juices and herbs interlaced with cream and, I suspect, a tot of sherry or cognac to give the finish such sweetness and depth. In any event, heaven.

photoAnd while we’re on the peninsula, we indulge yet another seafood craving, this at another small-group chain restaurant. Dooger’s doesn’t either sound or look particularly impressive other than being a pleasant-looking middle-of-the-road place frequented by the older set and families with lots of squirmy kids. And it is that. There are people who disdain it for its plainness or complain that it’s predictable and dull. But we two have willingly waited at the no-reservations place as long as perhaps an hour on occasion when the crowds are in town. Why? Crab legs. Dooger’s makes the very ordinary extraordinary, at times. So very worthwhile. What you see on this plate is fairly common fare, mainly: a butter and sour cream loaded baked potato, fried white bread, a little plastic cup of very very simple seafood sauce with a hint of horseradish. All well made in their simple ways, to be fair. We always start with the salad-from-a-bag salads because (a) they go through their salads so fast that it’s always fresh greenery on your plate there and (b) it’s piled up high with the sweetest little lightly briny tiny shrimp your heart could desire. A perfectly refreshing start. Followed by this comfort food pile-up of potato and toast and oooooooooh, Dungeness crab leg pieces. Already cracked open for us lazy diners, and as we generally choose them (though you can order them sautéed in garlic butter, steamed, or Cajun spiced, too), coated with the most delicate dusting of flour and deep fried in a flash to meltingly dainty little bites of sheer Northwest nirvana. Try ’em straight up or with a squeeze of lemon.photoI limited myself to the ‘small’ serving shown here only because I decided I would also succumb to the key lime pie which, you guessed it, is presumably made from the recipe right there on the Nellie and Joe’s juice bottle, but by golly has been a popular recipe for eons for good reason. Still and all, next time: just get more fresh, delectable crab legs. Who really knows when I’ll get to eat as many of them as I want again?

Thankfully, I have in no way limited my foodly fun to these few specialties on this trip any more than I would do so at any other time. There was a scrumptious lunch of grilled Tillamook cheddar cheese sandwich also, happily, jammed with Dungeness crab at the charming diner the Beehive in Montesano, Washington (sensing a theme here, are you?) and accompanied by light, crispy onion rings, and followed by a densely packed pie of tiny wild blackberries with just enough sugar to hold them into proper pie form. There was a delectable pub supper at A Terrible Beauty (right in West Seattle) of beer battered salmon and chips. The ethereal, candy-like Walnut Prawns at Lee’s Chinese, also in West Seattle.photoI could go on, but I’m starting to get hungry as usual amid the Foodie Tuesday tales, so I must bid you adieu for the nonce and grab my cutlery as I trot over to the kitchen in search of . . .