Sunday, November 17, 2013

Pie in a Bowl

 
Pie in a Bowl
Skillet, $6

Acknowledging that baking pie filling inside a pie shell isn't always worth the risk, Skillet takes a surer route to satisfaction by cooking the components separately.  Not until you place an order for "pie in a bowl" do the tender chocolate pudding and shards of perfectly cooked crust come together in the eponymous bowl, where their sweetness is balanced out by a smattering of sea salt and bitter cocoa nibs. 

Monday, November 11, 2013

Nab Vam


















Nab Vam 
Seattle Center's Hmong New Year, $2

Food is a big component of Hmong New Year or Xyoo Tshiah, the only major holiday observed throughout the Hmong diaspora.  There's pork in several formats, there's a spicy salad of pounded green papaya, there's the chewy confection ncuav, a mochi cousin made from pounded sticky rice.

And there's nab vam, a dessert-drink hybrid so colorful it rivals the appliqued costumes worn by many of the young celebrants.  Although nab vam is often translated as "three color dessert," the variety of textures in each cup is at least as important and often more numerous.  As Sami Scripter and Sheng Vang explain in their excellent Hmong cookbook, Cooking from the Heart, "Westerners are  used to solid and liquid food being separate.  That is not so for the Hmong (and Asians in general), who delight in a variety of slippery, crunchy, chewy, and watery sensations all happening in the same dish.”

Nab vam's textural delights usually include crunchy crushed ice, runny caramel syrup, unctuous coconut cream, slippery strings of rice flour jelly, and bubbly balls of "frog egg" tapioca.  Extras might include crisp water chestnuts, soft-cooked beans, or juicy bits of chopped fruit.  How popular is it?  Scripter and Vang's standard recipe makes 40 servings.    

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Pudding Shots


















Pudding Shot
The Brick, $2

If you ever watched "Northern Exposure," you're familiar with the Brick Saloon, a warm but no-nonsense watering hole where--to mix sitcoms--everyone knows your name, and how you like your burger.  

Far from being a hollow facade figment of a set designer's imagination, the Brick is a real and venerable place, the oldest continuously operating bar in Washington state.  Opened in 1889, it was rebuilt in 1898, and renamed in honor of the 45,000 bricks used in the facade.   I didn't get either the bricks or the basement jail cell in the above picture, but you can see two of the bar's other famous features:  a wood bar imported from England via Cape Horn more than a century ago, and between the bar and the stools, a 23' brass-lined trough spittoon, though which water still flows today. 

In the foreground, a more recent feature of the Brick's menu:  a pudding shot.  Like jell-o shots, they're made by mixing up instant pudding with alcohol instead of water.   The seasonal flavor:  candy corn.  Holling might not approve, but Shelley certainly would. 

The Brick Saloon
100 W Pennsylvania Ave.
Roslyn WA
509/649-2643

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Chocolate Ganache Pie



















 
Chocolate Ganache Pie
Better Living Through Coffee, $3.95 

Each return trip to Port Townsend brings me a little closer to my goal of eating my way through the menu at Better Living Through Coffee, home of "Organic Fair-Trade Coffee & Nutrient Dense Food."  As always, I was curious to see how that nutritional mission applies to sweets and delighted to find that in the case of the housemade pies (blackberry, chocolate, or fig and walnut), it applies deliciously.  My server was a little sparing with the details, but my understanding is that the hefty, hearty crust involves both yogurt and flour ground from sprouted whole wheat; the creamy-chewy dark chocolate ganache is sweetened with minimally-processed succanat and topped with an optional dollop of real whipped cream. 

Better Living Through Coffee
100 Tyler Street  
Port Townsend, WA
360/385-3388

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Little Bake Shop

Pear Tart
Little Bake Shop, Johnson Orchards 

Alfred Johnson emigrated from Sweden in 1889 and was eventually lured to central Washington by a railroad initiative offering free transportation to prospective buyers of rail-owned land in the Yakima Valley.  In 1904 Johnson and his brothers founded their orchard on 60 acres of irrigated valley floor.  In the early years, much of the orchard's produce was packed into barrels and shipped to Sweden via Seattle, but as the area's population grew, more and more of the fruit was consumed locally.    

Now surrounded by sprawling subdivisions, Johnson Orchards continues to operate under a banner of continuity ("Same Family, Same Location - Quality Fruit since 1904") but a few things have certainly changed.  The orchard now offers cherries, apricots, peaches, nectarines, pears, plums, apples, and pluots, some available through a u-pick program, others sold by the pound, box, or bin in a refurbished 1916 fruit packing warehouse.  In 2011, the family added a commercial kitchen, where they bake cakes, bars, and pies during the growing season, selling them from "Little Bake Shop" cases inside the warehouse--on Fridays and Saturdays only.   

4906 Summitview Avenue
Yakima WA
509/966-7479 

 

Friday, October 11, 2013

Roslyn Candy Co.

 
















Bite-sized truffles
Rosyln Candy Co., $1 each

Relative to its size, tiny Roslyn WA is packed with attractions.  It still has many of the buildings familiar from the TV show "Northern Exposure," but also surprises like a fascinatingly multi-cultural cemetery (in the heyday of mining workers were recruited from all over the world) and budding businesses like the Roslyn Candy Co.

From a colorful little house in the heart of downtown, Roslyn Candy dispenses ice cream, retro candy by the pound, and chocolate truffles and treats created by owners Alesha Schmedeke and Otto Cate.  The confectionery lineup features both revived classics (Italian-style hazlenut-and-chocolate gianduja creams) and contemporary crazes (chocolate-dipped local bacon from Owens Meats), as well as an assortment of bite-sized truffles (above) ranging from the 80% dark chocolate "Kumabo" to a fennel-infused white chocolate ganache coated in white chocolate and topped with colorful candied Indian fennel seeds. 

Roslyn Candy Co. 
104 1/2 Pennsylvania Ave
Roslyn WA
509/649-3390

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Mom's European Food & Deli


















Russian Mini Chocolate Bars
Mom's European Food & Deli, $6.99/lb

Soap Lake is a tiny town in central Washington built around a lake long famed for the healing properties of its foamy waters and slimy mud.  Modern environmental factors have put a dent in those powers--and in the number of tourists visiting the town's spas and resorts.  From the car I saw two going-out-of-business sales, several vacant storefronts, and the empty lot where town boosters had once planned to erect the world's largest lava lamp.

There was no one else in sight when I parked by the public swimming area just a block from downtown, rolled up my pants, and waded into the shallow, slightly effervescent water.  There was no one in sight as I stood ankle-deep in mud, creamy and insubstantial as Cool Whip, and wondered what it would be like to live here. 

I was starting to get a little spooked when a stroll down main street finally filled in a few of the blanks.   As I passed a strikingly well-stocked yarn store, there was a flurry of activity; car after car pulled up and a dozen chatty women got out carrying snacks and projects for the weekly "stitch and bitch."  

At the other end of the street, I found Mom's European Deli, a strikingly well-stocked emporium of foods from Russia and the Baltic region--deli staples like meat, cheese, and specialty breads, but also row upon row of sweet snacks.  The dozens of individually wrapped hard candies, caramels, and nutty little dark chocolate bars  (like Clumsy Bear, Nut Cluster, Kara Kym, above) are sold pick-and-mix style by the pound, as is sesame and sunflower halva, cut to order from huge marbled blocks.  There are also sweet drinks, boxed cookies, and bags of confections like zephir, a pastel hybrid of marshmallow and divinity.   The cold case is stocked with fresh cakes from Russian bakeries on the east coast, carried back by long-haul truck drivers returning from a New York run.  

The beach may no longer be bustling, but an unexpected bounty of beautiful yarn and Russian treats prove that there's still life, creativity, community, and celebration behind Soap Lake's hard-luck facade.   

Mom's European Food & Deli
331 Main Ave E
Soap Lake WA
509/246-1121


Sunday, October 6, 2013

Hrustule


















Hrustule
Seattle Center's CroatiaFest 

Crackly, deep-fried hrustule cookies are a Croatian favorite, popular at Christmas and other happy occasions.  The cookies are simple strips or twists of thin dough, which, depending on the family, may be flavored with combinations of vanilla, rum, whiskey, anise, orange, or lemon. 

 
But although hrustule are simple to make, they are time-consuming and labor intensive.  For Seattle Center's CroatiaFest, members of the Martinis family demonstrated skills honed over many years of working together to make huge batches of holiday hrustule.  

First the cousins demonstrated blending the dough in a standing mixer, adding flour a little at a time until just the right texture is achieved, then rolling it so thin that the pattern of the tablecloth underneath shows through.  They used a serrated pastry wheel to cut the dough into strips, and before dropping the strips in hot oil, gave each strip a gentle stretch to make a little thinner--and so a little crisper.  Out of the fryer, the cookies are drained on paper tools, then sprinkled with powdered sugar once cool. 

 

Other booths sold fresh palacinke (Croatian crepes), and slices of povitica, a sweet bread swirled with nuts, cinnamon, and chocolate. 

Monday, September 2, 2013

Colt's Bolts


















Colt's Bolts
Nashville Airport, $1.99

On the one hand, a Colt's Bolt is a dressed-up Reese's Peanut Butter Cup; on the other, it's a country song wrapped in foil.  

On the label of each confection is a 1980's glamor shot of blonde in a red power suit, company owner Mackenzie Colt.  A teenage wife and mother with talent and ambition, Colt was a regular at open mic nights at the Ramada Inn lounge near her St. Louis home, where she was discovered by Buck Owens.  After touring as Owens' protege, she moved to Nashville for a six-season stint as a scantily-clad "Hee Haw Honey." 

When she aged out of her Hee Haw role, Colt had a Plan C waiting in the wings:  a lifelong passion for baking and confectionery.  In 1984 she began to combine chocolate, peanut butter, and roasted almonds into candy cups she called Colt's Bolts.  At first she mixed all of the ingredients in her own Cuisinart and wrapped the finished cups in the foil left over from chocolate bars she melted down for her coating.  All that had to change after Colt's Bolts won the Fancy Food Show's Outstanding Confection Award and a Japanese distributor ordered 60,000 pieces. 

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Pink Radio Cake



















Pink Radio Cake
Fido, $4.25

A beet bonanza several years ago led Fido's pastry chef to experiment with using beet puree to add subtle flavor and not-so-subtle color to the coffeeshop's standard cake recipe.  The resulting "pink radio cake" is sort of a dialed-down red velvet:  cake moistened with buttermilk, oil, and vinegar and held together with cream cheese icing the color of a Barbie birthday party.  

Judging from other pictures I've seen online, some batches are definitely beetier than others, with one or more of the cake layers looking like a wedge of rouge.  Maybe it's a seasonal thing? 

Nostalgic old-Nashville aside:  I can so clearly remember the building's previous life as Jones' Pet Shop, where the puppies in their tiny cages were both adorable and pitiful, impossible not to look at.  

Fido 
1812 21st Ave S
Nashville TN
615/777-3436

Saturday, August 31, 2013

Jeni's Splendid Ice Creams




















Jeni's Splendid Ice Creams
3-scoop cup, $5.50

On at least a hundred occasions I've filled a Baskin-Robbins' cup with one of the clashing-est combinations possible:  one scoop of peanut-butter-chocolate AND one of daquiri ice.  And never has a B-R server paused and gently suggested to me that perhaps the flavors I'd requested might not pair very well together.  I had to go to Jeni's Splendid Ice Creams for that.  

I first had Jeni's several years ago at the original location in the Columbus, Ohio covered market and quickly decided that a second serving would justify a return trip to Ohio.  Since then the business has boomed and you can now find Jeni's outlets sprinkled around the Southeast.

The lines are long and slow, but even so the servers patiently encourage careful decision making and thorough sampling.  Before coming in I'd read the profiles of all of the current flavors online and made a plan, but I still sampled almost everything--you know, just to be sure. 

My first choice was Yazoo Sue with rosemary bar nuts:  "Built from the ground up with a creamy, rich, and mellow cherry wood-smoked porter (by Nashville's Yazoo Brewing Company) and fistfuls of savory 'bar nuts'—peanuts, pecans, and almonds dusted with rosemary, brown sugar, and cayenne."  Second, Black Coffee:  "We steep Batdorf & Bronson's single-estate coffee right in the cream (rather than in water). Our process yields coffee ice cream that tastes as delicious as a cup of intensely flavorful coffee smells."

Last, I shoehorned in the flavor that my concerned server suggested might not play well with the others, Cherry Lambic Sorbet:  "If your memory says, 'Skip it because it’s gonna taste like artificial, super-sweet cherry flavoring,' don’t trust your memory. In fact, our Cherry Lambic sorbet won the Gallo Family Vineyards award in 2008. We used the money we won from this award to begin direct-sourcing vanilla beans and pure vanilla extract from Ndali Estate in Uganda."

When I wouldn't budge, we came up with a compromise:  my server used waffle cookies to craft a dam between the creamy flavors and the tart one.  

Jeni's Splendid Ice Creams
1892 Eastland Avenue
Nashville TN 
615/262-8611

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Crema's Coffee Soda



















Coffee Soda
Crema Coffee

I've always loved the idea of coffee-flavored soda but had yet to drink one that matched up with the nectar of my imagination.  Then came Crema.  Their coffee soda blows my expectations out of the water, in large part because it's not coffee-flavored, but actual coffee that they carbonate to order.  A rotating selection of cold-brews get poured into some kind of Rube Goldberg carbonating contraption that requires a (trainee?) barista to shake it vigorously for several minutes.  To that they add ice, mellow demerara simple syrup, and a zippy little twist of orange zest.  Bring on the 100% humidity!

Crema Coffee
15 Hermitage Ave
Nashville, TN
615/255-8311

Monday, August 26, 2013

Charlton's Coffeehouse




















Drinking Chocolate
R. Charlton's Coffeehouse

Since just a whiff of Swiss Miss can send me back to snowy afternoons in the 1970s, I wasn't all that surprised to find that among the many more-or-less historical flavors available in Colonial Williamsburg's pubs, restaurants, and kiosks, there is a time machine disguised as hot chocolate.  

The building that houses R. Charlton's became a coffeehouse soon after it was constructed in 1750, and was under Richard Charlton's management by the mid-1760s.  Growing up in London, Charlton would have had ample chance to experience that city's thousands of coffee shops and to appreciate that the eponymous beverage was actually less important than the exchange of ideas and opinions it fueled.   Located conveniently close to the colonial Capitol, Charlton's Coffeehouse also provided newspapers and a particular kind of privacy to its men-only clientele.  It was a place where they could gather to freely discuss the news of the day, and, on occasion, to act; some of the events of the October 1765 Stamp Act resistance took place at Charlton's.

In 2008-9, the Victorian house that had been built on Charlton's foundation was removed to a new site and the coffeehouse was reconstructed using historic records.  Attention to period details shows in everything from the reception room's eye-popping wallpaper, to the entertaining gossip shared by the prattling "Mrs. Charlton" (below left), to the choice of complimentary beverages offered to each visitor:  tea, coffee, or chocolate.  

Every single person in my tour group chose the chocolate, served in small china cups with cream on the side.  Like the building itself, this chocolate is an 18th century revival funded by the Mars confectionery company's historic division.  The process of making it is laborious but so low-tech that it is sometimes demonstrated on site:  cacao beans are roasted, cleaned, crushed, ground, and diluted with hot water.  To cut the beverage's natural bitterness, Charlton's adds an historically accurate blend of sugar, cinnamon, vanilla, nutmeg, anise, cayenne, and orange zest--far-flung flavorings that taste nearly as exotic now as they would have to the building's original patrons.  





Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Cheerwine



















Cheerwine

For many American entrepreneurs in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the bubbling sludge of their money-making dreams was soda syrup, not Texas crude.  Since sodas started out as a way of administering tonics and medicines, pharmacists were responsible for many of the field's early successes (including Hires root beer in 1876 and Coca-Cola in 1886), but fizzy drinks soon transitioned away from their medicinal origins.  

While the early sodas featured roots and herbs with some claim to therapeutic properties (ginger, coca, birch, etc.), their younger cousins leaned towards fun, fruity flavors.  In 1917, a North Carolina general store owner named L.D. Peeler tinkered with a commercial recipe for soda syrup until he arrived at an extra-bubbly formula for dark cherry soda that he called Cheerwine.   

Licensed Cheerwine syrups were a hit at regional soda fountains, but Peeler expanded his market even further by taking advantage of the 1899 invention that allowed for the bottling of pre-mixed servings of carbonated beverages.  Today the Cheerwine Bottling Co., headed by Peeler's great-grandson, relies on yet another generation of technology to spread the word.  Thanks to social media, sponsorship deals, a appealingly retro logo, slick radio spots, zeigeist-y slogans ("Born in the South.  Raised in a Glass," "Keep Calm, Drink Cheerwine"), and a tour van that visits college campuses across the country, Cheerwine seems set to bubble on for another hundred years.  

Monday, August 19, 2013

Anti-Griddle-Sicles


Anti-Griddle-Sicles 

Rent, gas, parking, clothing, takeout meals...When a clear-eyed look at their finances showed high-flying New Yorkers Wendy Jehanara Tremayne and Mikey Sklar their daily expenses meant they were literally working to work, they opted out.  They quit their jobs, moved to New Mexico, and transformed their lives into an ongoing experiment in modern self-reliance.  Tremayne's The Good Life Lab documents their discoveries, offering their fellow 21st century pioneers pointers on everything from brewing biofuel to making a dented shipping container habitable.  

Their joyful, sensible approach to life off the grid is exemplified by the delicious treats Sklar whipped up during a recent reading.  The antigriddle is a faddish kitchen gadget that flash-freezes foods placed on its surface and can cost more than $1000.  Tremayne and Sklar's version is a garage-sale cookie sheet set atop a block of dry ice.  For a frosty treat, just tag a toothpick with a mixture of heavy cream, sugar, vanilla, and balsamic vinegar and give it a minute or two to set up.