Wednesday, April 29, 2009


The Continental, $3.50

Although its name is a simple amalgam of the Greek word for milk and the Turkish word for pie, galaktoboureko is a real mouthful--so much so that a friend of mine who married into a Greek family has given up trying to pronounce it correctly, asking instead for second helpings of "galactic booty call."

Like a Maria Luisa, galaktoboureko is essentially a custard sandwich, two wisps of flimsy phyllo pastry bookending a dense slab of eggy custard (which in the "portokali" variant is infused with orange). While the custard and pastry layers of a napoleon are cooked separately, galaktoboureko is cooked all at once, resulting in more robust texture. Before serving, the pastry is soaked in plain or citrus-scented simple syrup.

At the Continental, galactoboureko is baked once a week and is available from Thursday to Saturday, or until it runs out. I prefer it in the first day or two, before it absorbs too much of the syrup.

The Continental

4549 University Way NE
Seattle, WA 98105

Monday, April 27, 2009



Pralines originated in France in the early 17th century, at the home of sugar industry pioneer Duke de Plessis-Praslin. One day the court chef turned his back long enough for his children to steal a supply of almonds and sugar, which they cooked up into a mess so deliciously aromatic that the cook was more inspired than angry. After some tinkering he perfected the recipe and named the new confection in honor of his employer.

Cooks in the American South adapted the recipe for new world appetites and ingredients, replacing the orginal almonds with indigenous pecans and adding cream or butter to the caramelized sugar. Where the original French pralines were individual nuts coated in crunchy sugar, American pralines contain a clutch of toasted nuts, mired in a sepia-toned burnt-sugar puddle with a creamy center and crystalline edges.

The above, somewhat abused praline was given to me by my dear friends Margaret and Bjorn, who recently visited family in the Alabama. It was a perfect Southern souvenir, a single whiff unleashing memories of childhood trips and treats.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Peanut Butter "Comfort" Cookies

Peanut Butter "Comfort" Cookies

Having spent most of the last 24 hours fending off a pandemic-induced panic attack, I needed a reason to turn on the oven, but I knew it was no time to tackle anything new or complicated. The situation called for peanut butter cookies, baked from the simplest recipe imaginable:

1 c smooth peanut butter
1 c sugar
1 large egg, lightly beaten
1 tsp baking soda

Pre-heat the oven to 350. Mix everything together. Roll tablespoons of dough into small balls, place on a cookie sheet, and flatten slightly with a fork. Bake 15 minutes, rotating halfway through.

Because these cookies don't really change color it's tempting to overcook them, but resist; they go from done to burnt very quickly. Just out of the oven they're as fragile as a fresh sandcastle. You can leave them on the sheet to cool and firm up, but if you need the sheet for the next batch, let them cool slightly, then grip each cookie with three fingers (like a radio dial), wiggle gently until it lets go, and transfer to a rack or plate.

I felt much better once the cookies came out of the oven; after all, when the room smells like peanut butter and hot sugar, it's hard not to breathe deeply.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Banh Bo Nuong

Banh Bo Nuong

Saigon Deli, $1.50

Carried into the Saigon Deli on a tide of lunchtime traffic, I washed up in front of a table covered in plastic-wrapped desserts. I chose a huge wedge of alien-looking cake with golden skin and grass-green flesh the texture of lung tissue. When I asked the guy at the counter to identify the unlabeled slab for me, he shrugged: "Just green cake."

Thankfully, the all-knowing internet was able to provide more detail.
Banh bo nuong turns out to be a fairly common Vietnamese treat, similar in composition to sponge cakes enjoyed throughout Southeast Asia. This
recipe reveals that a combination of tapioca flour, single-acting baking powder, and numerous eggs gives bahn bo nuong its singularly succulent texture; coconut milk contributes a rich sweetness and pandan (screwpine) extract accounts for the chlorphyllic color and slightly herbal flavor.

Since it seemed like the done thing, I also bought my first-ever Vietnamese sandwich. I'd never really understood their appeal (slabs of tofu on white bread?) but oh, my! Now I see the light. It was like the innards of the best spring roll in the world had been re-housed inside a perfectly crunchy baguette: julienned vegetables, seared tofu, and a mouth-tingling sauce. And the cake, sandwich, and an iced Vietnamese coffee came to $5! Saigon Deli, you haven't seen the last of me.

Saigon Deli
1237 South Jackson Street
Seattle, WA

Thursday, April 16, 2009

"Hippie" Cookies

"Hippie" Cookies

Since I eat more sweets than is healthy or reasonable, I try to balance things out with the rest of my diet.  Just when I was running out of my own creative combinations of beans and rice I discovered Heidi Swanson's beautiful food blog,  Heidi's recipes are innovative but easy to follow, and the meals I've made from them have been, without exception, totally delicious.  

Acknowledging that even the most nutrition-centric among us needs a treat now and then, Heidi's line-up also includes recipes for sweets like these, called "Nikki's Healthy Cookies" after their originator.  I re-named them "Hippie Cookies" in celebration of their alternative vibe and rustic appearance (think gravel, buckskin, and grass trimmings). 

The revolutionary principle at work here is that an overripe banana and some oil (olive or coconut) will hold a dough together just as well as eggs and butter.  Add oats and almond meal for body, coconut and vanilla for flavor, and dark chocolate for fun, and you have a vegan, flourless, low-sugar treat.  The mixture is baked just long enough for the ingredients to meld.  

I followed Heidi's recipe to the letter, deviating only when it came to shaping the cookies. When I tried to drop spoonfuls of the mix onto a cookie sheet, my freeform haystacks just fell apart (maybe my bananas weren't mushy enough).  I settled on rolling spoonfuls of dough into balls, which held together fine and lessened the risk of burnt bottoms.  The result was totally delicious, man.

Sunday, April 12, 2009


Buñuelos de Miel
Guanaco's Tacos, $4

If Guanaco's excellent pupusas and tacos leave your stomach with room to spare, then the buñuelos de miel will do their best to satisfy.  These pillowy balls of golden-fried yuca dough have a pleasing texture but little flavor of their own, so they're drenched in miel de panela, a syrup made from cane juice that's been evaporated and re-liquified; it's as sticky as runny honey but lacks honey's complex flavors.  Buñuelos de miel bear more than a passing resemblance to gulab jamun, but they are less sweet and served blisteringly hot. 

While I'm thrilled that I no longer have to schlep all the way to White Center for pupusas, the Salvadorean Bakery remains my top spot for sweet Salvadorean treats.   

4106 Brooklyn Ave NE (at 41st)
Seattle, WA  98105

Friday, April 10, 2009

Royal Bakery

Green Tea Cake (top)
Green bean bread (bottom)
Royal Bakery

Although the front window features a wizened monstrosity that might just be Miss Havisham's wedding cake, the rest of Royal Bakery's glass cases are filled with fresh and attractive Korean-style breads, tarts, and cakes.  The green tea cake is a delicate sandwich of sponge and whipped-cream frosting with a mild but appreciable bitterness--ideal (green) tea party fare.  For breakfast treats, there's a range of soft, yeasty buns buns filled with velvety jam made from beans of every available hue.

The Royal Bakery
15210 Aurora
Shoreline, WA 98133

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Sweet Laurette's

Black Bottom Cupcakes
Sweet Laurette's, $3.50

Word has it there are no bad choices to be made at Sweet Laurette's, a bakery, cafe, and bistro located a short (uphill) walk from downtown Port Townsend. It was enthusiastically recommended to me by a local grandmother who takes her granddaughter for breakfast every week.

The French-inflected bakery offers coffee by the bowl and indulgent treats such as "Oblivion Torte" (a flourless chocolate torte with bittersweet glaze) and black bottom cupcakes (above; a grown-up Hostess cupcake filled with cream cheese rather than "creme"). There are a few tables out front (below left), a few more inside, and plenty of sunny weather seating in the arbor-shaded side garden. Breakfasts and lunches at the adjoining bistro feature French favorites made with PNW ingredients.
1029 Lawrence St
Port Townsend, WA 98368

While in Port Townsend, I stayed at Rosewood Cottage, a ridiculously charming guest house in a quiet, convenient neighborhood between downtown and Fort Worden.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

On Common Grounds

Vanilla "Wedding" Cake
On Common Grounds, $4.50/slice

I recently read something that surprised me: serving for serving, vanilla cake generally contains far more sugar than chocolate cake. I decided to take a scientific approach to my doubts, ordering a slice of vanilla "wedding" cake at On Common Grounds, a cheerful bakery and cafe just off the road that most travelers take between Port Townsend and the Hood Canal Bridge. The cake was everything vanilla cake should be: light, buttery, generously frosted and generously proportioned. It was also made with such powerful vanilla that I knew it would be coming out of my pores for at least the next 24 hours.

Just minutes after I scraped the last frosting off the plate and set down my fork, my eyes went glassy and my pancreas started revving like an airplane engine: scientific proof from the Marie Curie of cake.

On Common Grounds
8972 Beaver Valley Rd (Hwy 19)
Chimacum, WA 98325

Friday, April 3, 2009

Elevated Ice Cream

Elevated Ice Cream

Established in 1977, the Elevated Ice Cream parlor on Port Townsend's main drag is a long-standing local institution that became a "destination parlor" more recently, when the Travel Channel voted it one of the best in the country.

Elevated's ice creams are made on the premises at least twice a week, using a base mixture manufactured to their specifications in Snoqualmie. Elevated products aren't organic, but they are made with the highest quality ingredients and RBST-free milk, and they're currently working on new recipes free from corn-based sweeteners. The ice creams are 12% butterfat--satisfying but not stupefying--and the non-dairy Italian ices are low- or non-fat.

After sampling an embarrassing number of Elevated's innovative flavors, I ordered apricot and cardamon ice creams and chocolate Italian ice; all were great, but the spicy-warm cardamon was a standout. Another Elevated innovation is selling by weight rather than by the scoop (no more silent prayers for a heavy-handed scooper!). According to the list of average weights and prices for small, medium, and large cups my "medium" cup was on the small side, but I was consoled by the thought that I hadn't paid for more than I'd gotten.

Elevated Ice Cream
627-631 Water Street
Port Townsend, WA 98368