julia child, mastering the art of french cooking, julie powell, french cuisine

Feeling a Bit…Crabby?

 

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“I wrote about all the things a cook can do with crabs. Paul sketched crab parts. And we ate heaps of splendid crab bisque. Then we moved on to eggplant.” – Julia Child

I’ve always been a fan of crab meat. When I was a kid, my uncle would take us out on his speedboat across the bay to a little restaurant on the water that served fresh crab, and we would sit at the paper-covered table with bibs around our necks smashing the dickens out of those little guys. To be honest, for me I think it was less about the crab and more about the memories. I know this because an evening at Joe’s Crab Shack doesn’t have quite the same effect on me – but I still like a good crab leg every now and then.

So when last night’s dinner of Quiche aux Fruits de Mer (seafood quiche) called for my choice of shrimp, crab or lobster meat (the former of which Ben can’t stand and the latter of which was WAY too expensive), I was excited for the chance to sidle up to the seafood counter at the grocery store and order my very first tub of fresh crab meat. The butcher warned me that because this was true crab meat, I would need to sift through the tub for any grit or shell pieces that may have found their way in. I felt so Pike Place Fish Market!

Sauteing crab meat and scallions

I just bought the meat on Sunday, but didn’t want to run the risk of it overstaying its welcome in my fridge, so I decided to make this dish last night while everything was still fresh. I have to say, it was a relatively easy recipe (I love it when that happens, don’t you?). First I made the pastry dough as I’ve done before, finally coming to terms with the fact that I will never win an award for prettiest pie crust. Let’s just accept that fact and move on with our lives. (I am encouraged, however, that my pie crust career could potentially thrive at this restaurant which is home to the infamous Ugly Crust Pie.)

Adding crab meat mixture to the cream filling

While the dough baked in the oven, I turned my attention to the filling and sauteed some minced scallions in butter, then added the crab meat. Because the meat was raw, I cooked it a pretty long time, then added a little bit of Vermouth to the pan. While the alcohol cooked off a bit, I beat a couple of eggs in a bowl with some whipping cream, added a tablespoon of tomato paste and seasoned it with salt and pepper, then gradually added the crab meat mixture. When the pie crust was ready, I poured in the creamy filling and topped it off with a quarter cup of shredded Swiss cheese.

I popped the whole thing into a 350-degree oven and let it bake for about 30 minutes. When the timer sounded, I removed it from the oven and couldn’t believe how nicely it had all come together – not to mention the yummy smells wafting from the pan! After letting it cool a bit, I removed the outer section of the springform pan and slid the quiche onto a serving platter. Perfection! The color from the tomato paste had really come out in the oven, and the filling seemed set without being crispy on top.

Finished pie crust or South Dakota Badlands? You decide.

Using a pie server, I sliced a couple of wedges from the quiche and set them on individual plates. As I cut into the quiche, I was surprised to see that the texture was very moist and creamy, a consistency more like that of a casserole. It seemed cooked through, so I decided to give it a try. Never having tried crab before, Ben was a little hesitant, not sure what to expect. He was pleasantly surprised (as was I, to be honest) – this was tasty!

The pie crust was flaky and baked just right (sometimes it seems to come out a little raw in the middle, but this one was done well) and was a nice contrast to the creamy filling inside. The Vermouth worked really well with the crab meat, taking it up a couple of notches, and the combination of the melted Swiss cheese with the tomato flavor was delicious. If you like seafood, especially crab, you would definitely like this meal. It wasn’t heavy, but it was pretty filling. Best of all, it was simple to put together and takes less than an hour to make (including baking a pie crust from scratch).

Delish!

The next time you’re having friends over, give this a try. It’s great for feeding a small group of people and it looks more impressive than it actually is. And when you tell them you made the crust from scratch, you’ll win mega brownie points. (Of course, you’d win even more brownie points if you actually served brownies, but you’re on your own there.)

Bon appetit!

– Jessica

Save the Neck for Me, Clark!

 

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“Ah me, there was still so much to learn, and cooking was only half of it. I felt I’d have to teach at least a hundred classes before I really knew what I was doing.” – Julia Child

First, let me say this: we were down to a total of two rolls of toilet paper in the entire house, yet our fridge is stocked with a 5-pound duck. Perhaps I need to re-evaluate our priorities?

In other news, for the first time in a week, I woke up yesterday morning and could actually breathe out of my nose. Both sides!! Things were looking up. To celebrate my newfound strength and energy, I decided to jump back on the Julia bandwagon and prepared to make Caneton Roti (roast duckling) with Carottes Glacees (glazed carrots) and stuffing. Look out, world! I’m back!

I let the duck thaw overnight on Saturday and by Sunday evening it was ready for prep. I unwrapped it from the white butcher paper, and flipped it over – and was SHOCKED, to say the least, to see my duck GIVE BIRTH!! (I know what you’re thinking right now. You’re thinking, “Don’t ducks lay eggs?” to which I say, “Don’t devalue the miracle of life.”) To prove it, here’s a picture of what sprang forth from my duck’s loins:

I can honestly say I didn't expect this.

Holy moly!! I didn’t know whether to break out the congratulatory cigars or run screaming from the kitchen. Instead, I did what any professional chef would do. I went straight to the internet to figure out what I was looking at. (See? The things I do for science!) For your educational benefit, I’ve spread out the organs on the white butcher paper and have labeled each part so you won’t be quite so terrified should these items come spilling out of your own duck. Given that there’s not much information on the web about these bits, this is the best I could come up with. And for the record, I had to look at a lot of grody photos of ducks on the internet, so I hope you appreciate this:

See a faux pas with my foie gras? Send me an email with corrected info! It's amazing how little info there is out there for this stuff.

For the record, not to be super critical or anything, but the inside of a duck really stinks. Literally.

Heading to the oven

Now that I knew what I was dealing with, I felt I could move forward with dinner. (And just so you know, I actually saved the organs in a ziploc bag in the freezer for future brown gravy recipes. The neck I had no problem tossing out, much to the disappointment of Clark Griswold’s cousin Eddy, I’m sure.) I rinsed out the duck in the sink, then seasoned the inside with salt, pepper, thyme and a small sliced onion. I thought it was odd that this recipe didn’t call for me to smear butter all over the bird, like Julia’s chicken recipe, but as my husband pointed out, don’t question Julia. So I trussed the duck, having to make a slight adjustment when I realized one-half of the right wing was missing (your guess is as good as mine), and set the duck breast side up in a roasting pan, then added some chopped carrot and onion to the bottom of the pan. I put it in the middle rack of the 425-degree oven and let it cook for about 15 minutes to brown a little.

During that time, I peeled and quartered some carrots and tossed them into a sauce pan along with a cup of beef stock, a tablespoon of sugar, 3 tablespoons of butter and some salt and pepper. I cooked this for about 30 minutes while the duck kept baking in the oven.

After the initial 15 minutes, I took the duck out of the oven and flipped it over to its side, then turned down the heat to 350. I put it back in for another 40 minutes, checking it occasionally to remove any excess fat drippings (there really weren’t any). When the timer went off, I flipped the duck to its other side and let it cook for another 30 minutes.

Ready for cooking

At this point, Ben kept mentioning how good something smelled, and I agreed but was secretly thinking, “Hm…that doesn’t smell like duck. It smells like carrots.” So I went to check on the glazed carrots…and they were beginning to burn. They had one minute left to cook. Dang it. I pulled them off the stove and stirred them up and was encouraged to see that only a few had burnt bottoms. But I also noticed most of the “syrupy sauce” had burned away and the carrots weren’t very glazed. Looking at the clock I saw that I had time to make another batch that would be ready just as the duck came out of the oven, so I decided to give it another try.

About 15 minutes before the duck was finished, I flipped it onto its back and salted it a bit, then put it back in the oven for its final baking time. At this point, Ben made the stuffing and I checked the carrots, which I was relieved to see looked perfect. All that was left once the duck came out of the oven was for me to make an easy sauce to drizzle on top. I removed the finished duck to a platter and drained all but a tablespoon of the fat from the roasting pan. I took the rack out, then added a cup of beef stock and brought it to a boil on the stove, scraping up coagulated juices and crushing the carrots and onions in the pan. Off heat, I swirled in some butter and strained it into a bowl. Dinner was ready!

Roasted Duck

I’m not sure I’d ever had duck before last night. Quail maybe, but not duck. So I didn’t know quite what to expect. Because it didn’t call for butter, I assumed it was fattier than chicken, but that’s about all. I sliced some meat and put it on our plates, topped with a little bit of sauce, and added a helping of carrots and stuffing. Everything looked and smelled terrific! The duck was golden brown, but not crispy, and the inside was juicy and moist. The glazed carrots were tender, but not mushy, and the sauce was a perfect consistency. (Definitely worth re-doing.) The stuffing was wonderful as always, because really, how can you ever go wrong with Stovetop?

When I bit into the gray duck meat, I was surprised to discover it tasted very much like turkey, and I could suddenly understand why many people serve it for holiday dinner. It was a little fatty, and as Julia warned, there isn’t as much meat on a duck as there is on a chicken, so we didn’t have very many leftovers (but that’s also because we both went back for seconds). The meat was very tender, and the sauce was just right – almost like an au jus for beef. While I think I might still prefer chicken or turkey over duck, Ben and I were both pleasantly surprised and agreed we would have duck any time.

Roasted duckling with glazed carrots and stuffing

The carrots, I have to say, were my favorite part of the meal; I think because they turned out better than I could have expected. When I bit into them, I was surprised to see that they didn’t seem to taste like carrots at all – the richness of the beef stock and sugar combined with the flavor of the carrots made an entirely new taste that’s difficult to describe. Like carrots but beefier? I don’t know. What I do know is there are none leftover, and even Ben, who is not a fan of cooked carrots, cleaned his plate. I highly recommend you try these, if for no other reason than how simple they are to make! Carrots, beef stock, sugar, butter and a little salt and pepper. BAM! Done! (Make these. Seriously.)

This meal reminded me of a mini-Thanksgiving dinner, between the turkey-ness of the duck and the richness of the carrots and the homestyle stuffing, all we needed was a slice of pumpkin pie (the ingredients of which are in my pantry, even though Julia doesn’t offer a French recipe). Instead, we settled for ice cream sundaes and vegged out on the couch, full, happy, and warm from bellies of duck and wine.

Yes, people. It’s true. I’m back.

– Jessica

I Think the U(ni)verse is Against Me

Super Mario Brothers circa 1985

If any of you are Uverse customers, then we can mourn together in this weekend’s discovery that our cable company is duking it out with the head of (are you ready for this?) HGTV, Food Network, and the Cooking channel and have currently blocked all programming of these shows. NOOOOOOOO!!!! Imagine my surprise when I tuned in to what I thought would be Iron Chef and discovered The 40-Year Old Virgin. So I changed the channel for my favorite house hunting shows, only to find a not-very-family-friendly series in its place. This will not do. To be honest, the only reason I’m even interested in cable is for those three networks. (I secretly suspect Ben is somehow the mastermind behind this, considering he’s always trying to pry me away from my favorite FN shows.) So no TV for us this weekend. Instead, we downloaded old school Nintendo games to our Wii system – there’s something really comforting about being sick on the sofa, cuddled up in a blanket surrounded by soggy tissues playing 1980’s video games with your husband. Don’t you think?

Duck tonight! (No, I mean, I’m cooking duck tonight. Tune in tomorrow for the recap!)

– Jessica

Two All-Beef Patties, Special Sauce…

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“I’m not going to blow sunshine up your (skirt), Jus Lie is no miracle or anything, but it’s a nice enough simple clear sauce.” – Julie Powell 

After Wednesday’s powerful fish soup (whose odor, by the way, is still permeating my entire house), I decided we should return to the familiar. And so my next Julia creation was one of our favorites, Bifteck Hache a la Lyonnaise (ground beef with onions and herbs) with Jus Lie (starched-thickened brown sauce). The patties I’ve made before, but the sauce was a new venture.

The exciting thing I discovered about the beef patties was that I remembered how to make them without relying on the cookbook! Granted, this was my third time to cook them, but it was encouraging nonetheless to think that maybe I actually really am learning something from all of this. I sauteed some minced onion in a little bit of butter, then scooped them into a mixing bowl. I then added ground beef, an egg, some salt, pepper and thyme and a little bit of butter. Using a wooden spoon, I stirred the ingredients together until they were well mixed, then formed four patties with my hands.

The stove, hard at work.

I set the patties on wax paper while I heated some oil and butter in a large pan, then (my favorite part) I dusted the meat with flour before setting them carefully into the heated fat. With vents, fans and the air conditioning blazing, I was able to minimize the amount of smoke that filled the kitchen, and it wasn’t long before the patties were cooked through. I set them aside while I focused on the sauce and steamed some corn on the cob (hey, we buy it in bulk and it hangs out in our freezer – it’s readily available and super easy, what can I say?).

The sauce didn’t take long at all to whip up. I scooped a bit of cornstarch into a small saucepan, then stirred in a couple tablespoons of cold beef stock. To that I added a cup of boiling beef stock and let it thicken and simmer for about five minutes. As a final touch I poured in a little Madeira wine for extra flavor and let it cook a little longer to burn off some of the alcohol.

Hamburger patty with sauce and corn

When Ben came home, he served us each a beef patty topped with sauce and an ear of corn. With this sinus infection, I didn’t have much of an appetite, so this was plenty of food for me. I was impressed with my burgers – they were cooked perfectly, tender and juicy on the inside and a little crispy on the outside (that flour coating adds a nice touch). As Ben brought his fork to his mouth, he stopped. “Did you use Cognac in the sauce?” he asked, remembering my faux pas with the filet the other night. I shook my head. “Madeira wine,” I answered, and he looked at me skeptically. “Did you cook it long enough? It smells really strong – like Jack Daniels sauce.” Heck, with this pitiful nose, I could hardly smell anything, so we gave it a taste. He was right. Even though I thought I’d cooked it long enough, the sauce did still taste a bit of alcohol. But more than that, it seemed kind of thin and runny, and the overall flavor didn’t do much for me. Again, it could be that my taste buds are a little wacky right now, but I wasn’t real thrilled with how this turned out. The meat itself was great, so at least there’s that.

Did I mention I made them from memory?

Sometimes it’s okay to realize that a small victory is still a victory.

In other news, I’ve got a duck in the freezer and some carrots to glaze…things are about to get interesting!

– Jessica

Fish Heads, Fish Heads, Roly Poly Fish Heads

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“If only I’d made the soup with a dozen different kinds of strange-o fishies.” – Julie Powell 

Anybody here familiar with the Dr. Demento song of today’s title? My dad used to sing this to me when I was a kid – weird but true. Anyway, it came to mind as I was cooking last night’s dinner, a recipe that was truly made only out of necessity: Soupe de Poisson (strained fish soup).

To be honest, the idea of a fish soup kind of grosses me out – especially upon realizing it calls for about 3 pounds of fish stock (made from fish heads, tails, bones and trimmings). But Julia, God love her, gave me an out. She said I could use clam juice instead, so you can bet that’s what I did. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

My gramma taught me the paper towel trick.

I had some leftover fish filets in my freezer, so I figured this would be a good way to use them up. I began by cooking some minced onions and leeks in a bit of olive oil in a big soup pot on the stove. Correction: I began by burning the dickens out of my eyeballs with the fumes of mincing said onions and leeks – holy moly, those were some potent onions!! My grandmother taught me a trick many years ago about putting a folded piece of paper towel between your lips and breathing through your mouth while chopping onions, but this helpful hint was no match against those monsters. Anyone else have a trick to avoid such agony? There’s no crying in cooking!!

I digress.

So the onions and leeks are sizzling in the pot, and I chop some tomatoes and mash some garlic to throw in as well. As things are heating up, I add about 1 1/4 quarts of water, and lots of seasoning (bay leaf, parsley, thyme, fennel, and pepper), as well as the chopped fish leftovers and a can of clam juice. Now, the fish at this point had been frozen, thawed, frozen, and thawed again, so it probably wasn’t quite as fresh as the morning dew. But considering this dish called for fish heads, I didn’t worry too much about it. Besides, it was for flavoring more than anything.

Straining the soup

This mixture boiled on the stove for about 40 minutes, and when the timer sounded, I strained everything through a colander into a saucepan, pressing the contents of the colander with a wooden spoon to get all of the flavorful juices of the ingredients. I gotta tell you, the stuff left behind in that colander made me glad it was just for flavor – it didn’t look too appetizing.

The next step was to break up about 1/3 cup of spaghetti noodles into 2″ pieces and toss them into the saucepan, then heat everything together for another ten minutes or so until the pasta was cooked. I thought this was kind of weird, but did as I was told. Because when Julia Child tells you to do something, you do it.

When the timer went off telling me the soup was done, I had a kitten asleep on my lap, so I waited a couple more minutes before finally moving her. And it’s a good thing I did, because I discovered that nearly all the liquid had cooked out of the sauce pan. Argh!! So I added more water, brought everything to a boil and saved the soup – hooray! I would have been really mad if I’d burnt the dish in the last few minutes of cooking. While this soup was easy to make, it was a bit of a process.

When Ben came home, he sniffed the air, then asked flatly, “Fish soup?”  I couldn’t blame him. Neither of us was really looking forward to this meal, but tried to keep an open mind as we served it into bowls. Julia recommends topping it with shredded Swiss cheese and something called rouille (a garlic, pimiento and chili pepper sauce), but honestly it was all we could do to eat the soup as it was, so we kept it simple this time.

Soupe de Poisson

Now, granted, the person suffering from a sinus infection is probably not the person who should be taste-testing a new recipe, but hey – it is what it is. As I lifted the spoon to my lips, I could smell the combination of the tomatoes and the fish, and I admit I cringed a little. It seemed like an odd combination. I slurped a little of the broth and swallowed – and it tasted exactly like I expected it would. It was definitely fishy, but not necessarily in a bad way. Just in a strong way. And the cooked spaghetti noodles inside were kind of an odd thing. As they were the only solid item in this broth, they seemed a little out of place, although I’m glad the soup wasn’t entirely liquid. 

I’m not exactly sure what to say. I could see how someone who really likes fish would like this soup. Unfortunately, I am not that person. Are you? If so, I suggest you give this a try and see what you think. Maybe I should have used the cheese and rouille after all – it might have masked the fishiness that was a little too much for me to stand. Maybe I should have used a variety of fish for the stock – although I think it still would have turned out strong-fishy tasting. Either way, the soup was much better than the menthol-licorice Nyquil I had before bed. *wince*

Tomorrow? Back to something we know – hamburger patties with sauce! Nary a single fish head in sight. *sigh of relief*

– Jessica

Today’s French Lesson:
Non, merci. Je suis plein.”

It’s a Hard Knock Life

 

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“Guilt has reached the saturation point.  There is no time when I am not neglecting something important – my job, my husband, my family, my Project.” – Julie Powell 

Well, dear friends, if you’re still following along on this nutty journey, I give you major kudos. After having been out of town for a couple of weeks, followed by a week of our household being stricken with The Plague, I’m sure by now you’re beginning to think I’ll never cook another Julia Child recipe again. (And really, with enough leftover Halloween candy to last me through the weekend, I’m beginning to question this theory myself.) But NAY, says I! The project must continue! The show must go on! The bulk supply of butter in my fridge must be consumed!

And so, the other night, when I was actually vertical – before pestilence chained me to my bed for an 8 hours of sleep … during the day – I actually cooked a Julia meal. I’ll admit, it was a little rough getting back into the swing of things (the smoke alarm may or may not have gone off for twenty minutes, and certain neighbors may or may not have checked in to be sure all was well) but the end result was tasty and an overall success.

mixed peppercorn

After two weeks of eating turkey sandwiches and BLT’s while on the road, I was really craving a good steak, and I couldn’t help noticing our local grocery store was having a special on NY strip steaks. How convenient! And so, my first Julia meal after a not-so-brief hiatus was to be Steak au Poivre (pepper steak with  brandy sauce) with mashed potatoes and steamed corn on the cob. First, I poured a couple tablespoons of peppercorn into a small bowl and used a wine bottle to crush them into a rough powder. Drying two steaks on some paper towels, I rubbed and pressed the crushed peppercorn into both sides of the meat. I wrapped the meat in wax paper and let it sit for about 30 minutes so the steaks could really absorb the pepper flavor.

In the meantime, I steamed some corn on the cob in a small pot on the stove, and heated up some mashed potatoes in a bag (I know, I know…I didn’t have a lot of time, okay? I had scary movies to watch with my husband. I had a pumpkin to carve. I had a sock drawer to organize. I had a headful of hair to perm. Wait, what?)

When the 30 minutes was up, I then sauteed the steaks in hot oil and butter on the stove for a few minutes on each side until they were cooked through perfectly. I removed them to a plate and seasoned them lightly with salt. Then, I poured the fat out of the pan and added a tablespoon of butter and minced shallots, cooking them slowly for a minute. Next I added a half-cup of beef stock, boiling the mixture rapidly and scraping up all the coagulated juices. Finally, I poured in a third-cup of cognac and cooked the liquid for another couple of minutes, removed the pan from the heat and gradually stirred in another 3 tablespoons of butter.

sizzling steak

Now, I have yet to figure out how to cook meat on the stove without the kitchen filling up with smoke. I’ve opened windows, turned on fans, used the vent on the stove – all to no avail. And so, with a house full of smoke, a high-pitched smoke alarm piercing my brain with its warnings of danger, two cats reacting negatively to said alarm, and an ever-rising stress level, I finally called it quits and yanked everything off the stove and yelled, “Dinner’s ready!!”

The steaks were actually pretty big, so I split one with Ben. When I cut into the meat, I could see that they were just right – tender and juicy, slightly pink in the middle, with a nice peppercorn crust. YUM!! I ladled the brandy sauce over the meat, then scooped a spoonful of mashed potatoes onto each plate, as well as a half-ear of corn on the cob. Not a bad looking dinner, I must say!

Delish! (and yeah, those potatoes came from a bag...don't judge)

When I bit into the steak, I immediately noticed two things: 1.) the peppercorn flavor was just right, not overpowering at all; and 2.) I was in too big a hurry when it came to the sauce and committed the very sin Julia warned me of: I didn’t let the alcohol cook out of the brandy sauce enough, and it was a bit on the strong side. Rats! Was I surprised? Honestly, no, I wasn’t. Given the chaotic situation evolving in my kitchen toward the end of the cooking process, frankly I’m surprised the sauce turned out to be edible at all. *sigh* Oh, well.

For what it’s worth, I discovered that by putting a bite of meat on my fork, then scooping up a bite of mashed potatoes, the flavor of the sauce was cut dramatically and the meal was actually very good. All in all, not a bad recipe to ease my way back into the kitchen. Next up on the agenda? Fish Soup.

Good thing I’ve got all that Halloween candy to curb my appetite…

– Jessica

Trick or Treat, Smell My Feet, Give me Something Good to Eat!

Happy Halloween, readers! This Halloween marks the one year anniversary of my being a home owner (not to mention the owner of a fabulous kitchen). But even before this monumental occasion, Halloween has always been one of my favorite holidays. We’re celebrating with scary movies (have you seen Saw 3D yet??), costume parties (major kudos to the girl dressed as the Mad Hatter), a live midnight showing of Rocky Horror Picture Show (yikes!!) and of course, the traditional fun of passing out candy to trick-or-treaters (I love that part!).  What are you doing to celebrate?

I’ll consider your visit to today’s post as your way of ringing my cyber doorbell and chanting, “Trick or treat!” So in turn, I am putting this in your candy buckets.

Have a safe and happy holiday, all you ghouls and goblins!

Happy haunting!

– Jessica

I Like Funny

I love to discover quirky fun products that nobody else has thought of, but that also serve a purpose. When I first came across Fred & Friends, I immediately fell in love with their sense of humor and how they’ve incorporated hilarity into everyday needs. But what really caught my attention was how many fun products they have for the kitchen!

These food face plates remind me of Wooly Willy. Anyone remember him?

From Mr. and Ms. Food Face plates (dinnerware with cartoon faces to encourage kids to play with their food) to the Batter Finger Spatula (a spatula shaped like a giant finger for licking batter from the bowl) to Ninjabread Men cookie cutters, Fred & Friends has a wide assortment of hilarious tools and products for your kitchen and tableware needs (not to mention lots of stuff for home and office fun).

This website is also a great source for all of your holiday shopping needs. I can guarantee that you’ll find something for someone on your list this year. (I was really wishing I had the vampire teeth ice cube molds for Halloween.) Even if you’re not in the market to buy these products, I highly encourage you to visit the website just to see what’s out there. If nothing else, you’re sure to be entertained.

Enjoy!

– Jessica

My Big Fat Greek Dinner

Given that I’ve been out of town for a week, and my road warrior husband is still working his way home, it appears the cooking project is on a brief hiatus and the restaurant reviews continue.

Last night I met a few of my closest 110 friends at a local Greek restaurant – Kostas Cafe – to recount our Seattle adventure, watch a video of our performance, and spend some time together before taking a much-needed break through the end of the year. Because we had so many in attendance, the restaurant actually closed to the general public and hosted our party alone. It was a great time! Not only did I really enjoy visiting and singing with some terrific ladies, I reached far beyond my gastronomic comfort zone and embraced a culinary adventure like no other.

Tzaziki with Pita bread

I have to confess that when I heard we were meeting at a Greek restaurant, I was a little nervous. Not very familiar with Greek food (with the exception of these pitiful dolmas and baklava), I wasn’t real sure about what to expect. Luckily, my friends sitting beside me felt the same way, so we went through this adventure together. As we sat down at our tables, the waitstaff brought around a menu for us which had been prepared and printed specifically for our get-together – complete with music themed graphics. A really sweet touch, I thought. Price of dinner included appetizers (Tzatziki, a dip of sour cream, cucumber, garlic and olive oil with warm Pita bread and Dolmas, grape leaves stuffed with rice and ground beef). The Pita bread was fresh from the oven and a little toasty – delicious! – and it contrasted nicely with the cool dip. The dolmas were really good, meatier than I remember with soft warm grape leaves. Very tasty.

Throw another souvlaki on the barbee!

Next came a Greek salad, which I liked, although it was a little heavy on the dressing for me. Our waiter came around to take our entree order, which we could choose from a list specifically for our party. I opted for the safest sounding dish, Chicken Souvlaki (tender chunks of marinated chicken breast broiled on a skewer with onions, topped with lemon butter sauce) with green beans and potatoes. I was really happy with my choice – the chicken was moist and delicious, and the lemon butter sauce wasn’t overwhelming at all (I hate it when a good dish is unnecessarily smothered in overwhelming sauces…but don’t tell Julia Child I said so). The onions, I was happy to discover, were minimal, sliced thin and cooked through. I thought the green beans and potatoes were good, too. Mostly, I couldn’t believe how much food we were being served! But don’t you think for one minute that I didn’t save room for dessert.

Galaktoboureko - meh, it's all Greek to me!

I had anticipated ordering baklava, as that’s the only Greek dessert I know. Imagine my shock when it didn’t appear on our menu! Given the choice between rice pudding and something called Galaktoboureko, I went with the latter – it was described as a Greek custard layered in filo dough topped with some kind of syrup. It sounded similar to baklava, so I gave it a try. As it turned out, it reminded me very much of baklava and was super yummy, albeit really dense. I couldn’t eat the whole thing (shocking, I know!) but made a pretty good dent in it.

All in all, I give my first real Greek dining experience two thumbs way up. I was really impressed with the waitstaff and how friendly and attentive they were (not easy when faced with 110 hungry women and spouses), and thought the restaurant itself was pretty endearing. Located in a strip shopping center, the two-room facility was just the right size for our group, and they let us use their bar’s big screen TV to show our performance DVD. Special thanks to Dimitri and his staff for a wonderful evening of good friendship and good food.

Now, I just have to figure out how to tell them the bad news – they forgot to wrap their dolmas in green dental floss!

Like Greek food? Like friendly people? Check out Kostas Cafe. Don’t have a Kostas Cafe near you? Then go to your friendly neighborhood Greek restaurant and order any of the dishes I mentioned here. They were terrific!

Opa!

– Jessica

All That It’s Cracked Up to Be?

They're not kidding.

One year for Christmas, Ben and I received a book called “1,000 Places to See Before You Die.” Listed among the 1,000 is Beth’s Cafe in Seattle.

On our way into town, our shuttle driver pointed out places along the way that we should know about – Beth’s Cafe, he said, was a must. Known for its 12-egg omelets served on a metal pie pan, this hole-in-the-wall diner seemed to be the place to go as there was a line that stretched out the door and down the sidewalk. We later walked about 10 blocks from our hotel and found ourselves standing in front of the purple building just as lunch hour hit (bad timing on our part, but what do you expect from someone who’s still on Central time?).

Inside Beth's Diner

We had to put our names on a list and sit outside as there was no room inside to wait – this place is pretty small, as we were warned by several locals when they told us that Beth’s was a “dive” but had great food. So we took a little walk across the street to a nearby scenic lake and enjoyed the beautiful crisp fall weather, then returned back to the restaurant just in time to be seated. When we walked in, the first thing I noticed was all the walls were covered with crayon drawings from guests. Not only did this give the place a “we love our customers” kind of vibe, but it was a great alternative to over-played graffiti walls.

That's one omelet.

Service was a little slow, but they were packed, so we weren’t too surprised. I couldn’t bring myself to order one of the infamous omelets, although plenty of people did. Like this guy, for instance. He was nice enough to let me take a quick photo before he dug into his lunch. See that big smile on his face? Yeah, he didn’t look like that when he left. He actually only made it about halfway through the omelet before doubling over at the table and holding his stomach while his friends finished their lunch. He looked pretty miserable, but something tells me he would have done it again if he could.

I ordered a BLT, which was actually really good! The bacon was thick and crispy, just the way I like it on a sandwich. My friend Celeste had the Basic Burger, which she gave two thumbs way up. All in all, a great dining experience! Mostly, it was fun watching the waitstaff carry trays of omelets past us. Yikes, those things were huge!

Like omelets? Like funky local out-of-the-way places? I highly recommend Beth’s Diner in Seattle. Give it a try and leave a drawing for the wall. Fun times!

– Jessica

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