Sunday, March 27, 2011

Salted Bourbon Caramel

Salted Bourbon Caramel
Snake & Butterfly, $6/4

Generally speaking, the chocolate world is divided into two camps: chocolate makers, who turn cacao into edible chocolate, and chocolatiers, who turn pre-made chocolate into confections or bars. California-based Snake & Butterfly is a rare breed, an artisan "bean-to-bar" chocolate maker that also crafts exquisite confections (a "bean-to-bonbon" maker?).

One of the annual rituals of my childhood was biting into a neighbor's homemade bourbon balls, then opting to eat only the chocolate shell; every year, I tried again, hoping I would have matured enough to appreciate the candy's boozy center, but no dice.

I guess I must be a full-on grown-up now, because I could happily eat one of Snake & Butterfly's salted bourbon caramels every day of the week. The bitter chocolate shell encapsulates a core of creamy liquid caramel as salty as barroom banter and potent enough to knock me a few inches sideways. Think of it as an all-in-one dessert shot.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Liège Waffle

Classic Liège Waffle,
Sweet Iron, $2.99

Although I must have bused past the Sweet Iron waffle shop in downtown Seattle several dozen times since it opened, I've never previously given it more than a longing glance. Because of its skyscraper location and slick branding I jumped to the conclusion that Sweet Iron would be a Starbucks satellite, stamping out standardized but soulless waffles the same improbably golden brown as a Seattlite's winter tan.

Turns out that I couldn't have been more wrong.

Today when I passed Sweet Iron and saw a banner in the window proclaiming "International Waffle Day" I made a point of interrupting my return trip to investigate. Despite its high-end graphics and decor, Sweet Iron is the lone outpost of a young, locally-owned small business that promotes social responsibility, environmental sustainability, and artisanal--if delightfully irregular--baked-to-order waffles.

The waffles are Liège-style; unlike batter-based Belgian waffles, these start out as a blob of buttery brioche dough kneaded fresh each morning. Pearl sugar lurking within the dough turns to pockets and patches of gooey-glassy caramel when pressed in the waffle iron. You can can further gild the lily with powdered sugar, chocolate, or whipped cream and strawberries with balsamic vinegar. Sweet Iron also offers savory versions, like Brie and basil, and seasonal specials; I had a mindblowing springtime sample topped with housemade lemon curd and fresh blueberries.

Sweet Iron
1200 3rd Ave
Seattle, WA

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Pan de Coco

Pan de Coco

Whole Foods has published a series of recipe cards featuring foods inspired by clients of their Whole Planet Foundation, a microlending organization (if you've recently allowed a Whole Foods checker to round your total up to the nearest dollar, Whole Planet is probably where your change went). The recipes look amazing, and I love that they allow you to share a tiny taste of someone else's life.

Pan de coco is a light, fluffy, coconut-scented bread roll that's a favorite in Honduras. As flavored breads go, it's easy to make and versatile. The recipe card recommends having it with rice, beans and fried plantains, or as a simple snack with coffee, but I can attest that it also makes fantastic French toast (below).

The pan de coco recipe card also features
Euceria Bernandez, a second-generation Honduran baker. She bakes pan de coco in a fire pit in her yard and sells it door-to-door in her neighborhood. A microloan allowed her to stock up on staple ingredients.

More treats from exotic lands are at Wanderfood Wednesday...

Saturday, March 19, 2011

St. Joseph's Day

St. Joseph's Day

In many Italian communities, elaborate three-tiered altars are a key feature of St Joseph's Day celebrations. The altars are said to have originated in Sicily when a famine was cut short after prayers to St. Joseph resulted in a life-saving crop of fava beans.

St. Joseph's altars are piled high with a variety of foods including fruit, vegetables, Lent-appropriate fish, and dried favas. Because Joseph is the patron saint of pastry chefs, baked goods feature prominently: breads shaped like crosses or carpenters' tools (even the crumbs of which are considered to have the power to avert certain disasters), pastries resembling sacrificial lambs, fish, pinecones, or the Mater Dolorosa's sword-skewered heart. In some regions, St. Joseph's celebrants also enjoy zeppole, balls of fried dough topped with buttercream rosettes.

The photo above shows a St. Joseph's altar on display at the Southern Food and Beverage Museum in New Orleans, where the tradition arrived with Sicilian immigrants at the end of the 19th century:

"By 1910, forty percent of the population and 90% of the French Quarter was Italian, primarily Sicilian. At that time there were so many altars given in homes and churches that was impossible for one person to visit them all, even in one's own neighborhood. Instead another tradition developed: one could visit nine altars and at the ninth, one would make a wish and it would be granted. It is this thread of petition that runs through the tradition of the altar.

"Some altars are created out of a custom called questua, which means "searching" or "seeking". Instead of buying the ingredients and materials for the altar, one begs for them, further humbling oneself in an act of posverty. This recalls the impoverishment of the starving Sicilians who intially asked for St. Joseph's help. It also reminds the person on the questua of the purpose of the altar: to feed the hungry."

After the foods on the St. Joseph's altar have served their ceremonial purpose, they are distributed to the needy.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Blood Orange Marmalade

Blood Orange Marmalade

Community supported agriculture (CSA) aims to soften the abrupt ups and downs that characterize a farmer's income by offering sustained out-of-season support. For a set fee, subscribers receive a box of varied fresh produce at regular intervals.

I love the idea, but have never been in a position to commit, so I jumped at the chance to get a single trial box from Full Circle Farm. Suddenly my kitchen is full of strangers! It's great to get out of my broccoli-potatoes-spinach rut, but using up new ingredients has required some experimentation and ingenuity.

While most of the produce in a typical CSA box comes from local or regional farms, Full Circle supplements its winter offerings with imports from organic farms nearer the equator. Among the exotic treats in my box were five Californian blood oranges. Organic citrus is among the things I'm usually too stingy to buy, reasoning that the pristine peels would go to waste. But when life hands me organic lemons, I can't just make lemonade and call it good! I decided marmalade would be the best use of my citrus windfall.

Almost as easily done as said; I just followed the same simple steps that I used to make yuzu marmalade last fall. This batch turned out much looser than the yuzu--perhaps blood oranges contain less pectin?--which is absolutely fine since I want to spread it on toast, not stand spoons up in it. It tastes something like normal orange marmalade blended with mulled red wine.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Strawberry Shortcake

Strawberry Shortcake
Fumie's Gold, $3.75

Pastry chef Fumie Kumagai makes what one of my friends in Japan calls "OL cakes": light, dainty, and impeccable treats that a slim, dainty, and impeccably groomed "office lady" could enjoy on her afternoon break without ruining her appetite for dinner. Kumagai's bijou bakery in downtown Bellevue features classic American and European pastries given an appreciable Japanese twist (e.g. Swiss roll with matcha, Mont Blanc with red beans). Even without any exotic ingredients, the strawberry shortcake was nothing like my mother makes; it was barely sweet, as creamy as a cow, and so light it seemed to levitate onto my fork.

The one thing that Fumie's Gold lacks is seating. Not being particularly dainty myself, I decided to have a shortcake picnic in the large park across the street. It started to drizzle just as I tucked in so I was able entertain several joggers-by with my attempts to juggle cake, umbrella and spork. I left behind a dry seatprint and, sadly, a plop of snow white whipped cream; I looked back at the bench just in time to see both marks disappear in the rain.

10045 NE 1st St
Ste CU2
Bellevue, WA