Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Pickled Tomatoes and Cucumbers - Generational Recipe

Growing up I remember my mother always canning vegetables and preserves in the summer time. Pickled tomatoes were my favorite, which was usually a special occasion, like a birthday or a New Year celebration, treat. Now as an adult I would always enjoy pickled tomatoes and cucumbers on my trips back home. This summer I am extra lucky since my mother is visiting me during the harvest time. I asked her to teach me how to pickle tomatoes and cucumbers. Below is the recipe I followed that my mom has been using for decades and it has some folklore elements in it too.

Ingredients per 1 24 oz jar

For tomatoes:

0.5 litter of water
1 lbs (+/- as many as you can fit in a jar) of small round tomatoes (used red delight)
1 tablespoon of salt
2 tablespoons of sugar
3 tablespoons of vinegar (5%)
2-3 fresh dill umbrellas
1 bay leaf
2 cloves
5 peppercorns
5 allspice
2 thin slices of fresh horseradish root
1 sprig of fresh Italian parsley
2-3 fresh small peeled garlic cloves (if large cut in half)

For cucumbers:

0.5 litter of water
Small to medium size pickling cucumbers, as many as you can fit in a jar, washed and bottoms cut off on both sides
1 tablespoon of salt
0.5 tablespoon of sugar
3 tablespoons of vinegar (5%)
2-3 fresh dill umbrellas
1 bay leaf
5 peppercorns
5 allspice
10 yellow mustard seeds
2 thin slices of fresh horseradish root
1 sprig of fresh Italian parsley
2-3 fresh small peeled garlic cloves (if large cut in half)


1. Wash the jars as described on a box, dry with a towel. They must be clean. My mom washes them with baking soda or salt. It must be the way they used to do it. Also less unknown ingredients this way. But regular dish soap is fine as well.

2. Add tomatoes to the jars, filling them almost to the top. Then add cloves, peppercorns, allspice, garlic, bay leaf, horseradish, dill umbrellas and parsley. Do the same for cucumbers except omit cloves but add mustard seeds. Follow ingredients list above.

3. In a big pot bring water, salt and sugar to a boil and pour into the jars, filling to the top, cover with the lids and let stand for 20 minutes. Note that ratio of sugar and salt differs for tomatoes and cucumbers. Follow ingredients list above. After 20 minutes pour the liquid from the jars back into the pot and bring to a boil. Pour the hot liquid back into the jars filling them almost to the top, add vinegar and close the jars. Make sure the lid is on tight and turn the jars upside down and cover all the jars with a blanket overnight.

4. The next morning take the jars from under the blanket and store in a cool dark environment until ready to eat. We usually let them marinate for a month or more or until Thanksgiving. If you see bubbles or the liquid gets very cloudy it means something went wrong and you should just get rid of the jars.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

What to Make with Squash Blossoms and Lobster Mushrooms - Pizza

I went to the U-district Farmers Market this Saturday and picked up squash blossoms, tomatoes, lobster mushrooms, walla walla sweet onions, zucchini and few other items. I knew right away I wanted to make pizza with ricotta and squash blossoms. I decided that fontina cheese and some finely sliced zucchini slices will go well with those two ingredients. 

I got intrigued by a bright orange color of lobster mushrooms and decided to get them. I have never eaten them before. But thought to myself - I can always fry them with onions. And then I decided to make another pizza with tomatoes, lobster mushrooms, onions and fontina cheese plus some fresh thyme. 

I usually get my pizza dough from Trader Joe's but this time I even contemplated making my own. After looking at several recipes I decided to just get a fancier pizza dough  in a store - the Essential Baking Company kind. It is a step up from $1.29 to $4.99.

I had enough dough for two small pizzas. I first made squash blossom pizza with olive oil as a base. Added zucchini, shredded fontina, ricotta and squash blossoms and baked it at 450 degrees for 17 minutes. Sprinkled with fresh parsley. It did come out very pretty and tasty. 

To make the second pizza I fried sliced walla walla onions and mushrooms in olive oil for about 15 minutes. I also made my own tomato sauce from the fresh tomatoes I got at the market. The second pizza came out pretty good as well. 

I served both pizzas with a salad. I am very satisfied with my creations tonight. Pizzas were different. The squash ricotta was very fresh and light. The mushroom onion pizza was rich tasting. Maybe next time I will make my own dough.

Exploring the Occidental Square - the London Plane

The Occidental Square in Seattle is one of my favorite spots. Just add few benches and you will feel like you just been transplanted to Europe. I am happy to see that Matt Dillon, an owner of Sitka & Spruce, has opened two new places here: The London Plane and Bar Sajor. Last Friday my friend and I went for lunch to the London Plane. I absolutely love the space - big windows, plenty of light, modern decor.

The menu primarily consists of vegetarian salads. Reminded me of an upscale PCC deli. You can get a plate of three salads (small or large size), which is what we chose to do. I had eggplant, cauliflower tahini and some kind of pickled green beans. We also got bread, which I believe is made by a bakery that Matt owns. Everything was delicious. It will be interesting to see how this place develops over time. My next place to dine is the Bar Sajor across the street.

My New Kitchen Addition - Rancilio Silvia Espresso Machine

I am finally an owner of an espresso machine. I have been dreaming about making an espresso after dinner or in the afternoon on a weekend and enjoying it with a piece of chocolate or a cookie. After consulting Coffee Geek Web site, my friends and acquaintances I decided on Rancilio Rocky Grinder and Rancilio Silvia espresso machine. Rancilio Silvia is considered to be a starter espresso machine, which only costs about $700!!!

I purchased both the machine and a grinder at Visions Espresso in Seattle. Tyler in the shop spent an hour with us showing how to use the grinder and a machine. We unpacked and tested my grinder and machine right there. I learned so much about making an espresso in those 60 minutes. For example, you need about 16-18 grams of coffee to make a double espresso and that 25-30 seconds is a good time for a shot. If it comes out too fast it means your grind is either too coarse or there is not enough coffee or some combination of both.

I have had machine for over three weeks now and am very satisfied. We use it every morning and sometimes in the afternoons and evenings. I clean it once a week. Here is an espresso I made this morning and enjoyed it with orangettes and a hazelnut diamond from Fran's.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Little Uncle for Lunch in Pioneer Square

I have been eating Little Uncle's phad thai for several months now. What I like about it is that it is not greasy, has a handful of ingredients, which are all good quality. The price is good too - $8.80. We usually do a take out from their Madison location. Recently, they opened a lunch spot in the Pioneer Square. It is very close to my work and I have gone there once a week for two weeks now. I had phad thai one time and tuna and eggplant dish another. Picture is below.

The restaurant is located in a basement on Yesler next to a toy store "Magic Mouse." There is plenty of space to sit down and it looks like their reputation on Madison has gone around because they have a lot of customers. Their menu is more versatile than at the original location.

Cooking Whole Chicken from the Sea Breeze Farm

Few Saturdays ago I was at the U-district Farmers Market and got drawn to a big line in front of the Sea Breeze Farm stand. Sea Breeze Farm is located on Vashon Island and they sell fresh poutry, meat, dairy, eggs and other products at the U-district and Ballard Farmers Markets on the weekend. People in line were raving about their fresh chickens. So, that's what I got in addition to a big slab of smoked bacon!!!

I simply rubbed chicken with chopped fresh rosemary, minced garlic, salt and olive oil and let marinade in a refrigerator for a day. Before cooking I cut chicken in half. Chicken was about 2 lbs.

I fried chicken skin side down in a pan on medium-low heat for 30 minutes. Then I flipped it and cooked for another 30 minutes. I finished cooking it in the oven at 425 degrees for 10 minutes. So, does fresh chicken differ from the store bought? I think so. This was also very small chicken and reminded me of eating a Cornish game hen. I served it with chanterelle risotto and sliced tomatoes.

Dahlias in Volunteer Park 2013

Every summer some generous souls plant Dahlia Garden in the Volunteer Park in Seattle. Dahlias are blooming now and they are gorgeous! Check them out yourself!

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Portland by Train August 3 2013

Yesterday we took a train from Seattle to Portland and back. I love taking trains. It reminds me of Europe. Plus I find it relaxing. We took 7:30 a.m. train from King Street Station. Seattle train station is beautiful - an old building recently renovated.

The train ride took about 3.5 hours. We got to Portland Union Station after 11 a.m. The train station in Portland is conveniently located in the Pearl District. We were hungry and headed for lunch to Clyde Common. I have heard about this place before and it was a good time to try it. The restaurant is located in the Ace Hotel and seems spacious and lively. We had a burger, pate and radicchio salad. All were good except the fries, which were just ok.

After lunch we decided to hit famous Voodoo Donuts. But the line was so long we decided to skip the sugary treats and head to the Washington Park. We walked passed Goose Hollow neighborhood passing restaurants, coffee shops, old and new buildings. I was impressed to see some wind mills on a top of a skyriser.

Rose Garden was in full bloom. It was very nice to walk among the beautiful roses. There was a harpist playing there as well adding more romance to the experience.

We walked back to the Goose Hollow neighborhood and stumbled upon a cupcake place Saint Cupcake. That building reminded me of New York - old brick buildings with ladders on a side. We enjoyed an espresso and few mini cupcakes. Cupcakes were pretty and moist. Frosting was delicious as well. I love cream cheese frosting.

It was 4 p.m. and it was time to slowly head back to the train station. We passed by another bakery and few more shops, stopped at Whole Foods to grab dinner to eat on a train. The train back was at 6:15 p.m. and we got to Seattle around 9:30 p.m. in time for the end of the Sounders game. It was a great day trip. Highly recommend to everyone.

Mailbox Peak Hike

Last weekend I really needed a strenuous hike so Mailbox Peak came to mind. I have been on it six years ago and recall it being, well, just hard! It is a 3 mile one-way hike to the top of a mountain that has a Mailbox. You gain about 4,000 feet. This is a hike that people use to train for climbing the Mt.Rainier.

Few things have changed on a trail since my last time on it. All are good changes. There is now a parking lot and a restroom at the beggining of a trail. Also, there is a clearly marked sign for the trail with a warning.

You need to get a discovery daily trail pass. The trail itself is more defined and has white reflective diamonds on the trees to let you know that you are still on a trail. People have gotten lost here.The picture below shows why! There are so many roots and in some parts you can't tell which way to go.

Once you get into the open area you are greeted by the meadows with tons of wild flowers. This was one of the best parts of a hike.

We climbed to the top in 2.5 hours making couple 5 minute breaks along the way. At the top you get a 360 degree view of the cascades, Mt. Rainier and the Puget Sound. We had lunch and wrote our names in a notebook, which is kept in the mailbox. Unfortunately, one of the mailboxes that used to be there six years ago was gone. There are also more people on a trail these days.

Going back took us another 2 hours because you really have to watch your footing. Some people on yelp suggested bringing the gardening gloves - I wished I did. Also, wear hiking shoes and not sneakers like I did. Going down you really realize how far up you hiked and how steep this hike really is. Once back at the parking lot you feel a tremendous sense of accomplishment. I love this hike and hopefully, will come back sooner than six years.