Monday, May 31, 2010

Easy weeknight meals: Beef Stroganoff

There are a few things in my kitchen that I am willing to spend an obscene amount of money on: cheese, bread, milk and anchovies. I love cheese to death. Give me a wedge of Stilton, some good French bread and wine and I'll call it a good meal. Unfortunately, during those rare times I decide that goat cheese and crusty baguette would suffice for dinner, the boyfriend would have to resort to ramen. I sometimes can't help but feel so terribly sorry that he would never be able to have cheesecake or creme brulee or all the wonderful food that cream and cheese creates. I do try however, to hunt down dairy-free alternatives that would work just as well as the real thing - Earth Balance shortening for chocolate chip cookies, garlic sauce instead of tzatziki, Rice Dream in mashed potatoes and soy yogurt in potato salads.

We recently discovered a dairy-free alternative to cheese and sour cream at Whole Foods. I can vouch that the sour cream by Vegan Gourmet taste almost like regular sour cream, with a slight soy flavor that mellows out when added to dishes. In fact, I think their sour cream is so much like the real thing that I've started using it in fajitas and tacos. So for the first time in his adult life, the boyfriend is finally able to try beef stroganoff - not just browned beef and egg noodles, but the whole creamy deal. It's rare times like that I think technology and chemicals have made life that much easier for a handful of people.

This is the recipe I use for beef stroganoff - you can substitute beef slices for ground beef and I've also listed the regular, dairy versions that can be used.

Beef stroganoff
Serves 4

1 lb lean ground beef
2 tbsp butter (or Earth Balance)
1 large yellow onion, diced
6 oz cremini mushrooms, sliced, stems discarded
2 tsp smoked paprika
1 tablespoon Worchestershire sauce
1/3 cup marsala wine (or sherry or red wine)
1.5 cups sour cream (Vegan Gourmet or regular)
1/2 cup milk or Rice Dream
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
8 0z. Egg noodles
Fresh parsley, chopped

Cook the egg noodles according to directions. Drain the cooked noodles, return to pot and toss with a tablespoon of butter. Cover to keep warm.

Heat 1 tbsp butter in a large skillet, add the ground beef. Use a wooden spatula to break up the chunks and sprinkle with a little salt and ground pepper, paprika and Worchestershire sauce. Allow the beef to brown without stirring - about 6 minutes. Flip over, sprinkle again with salt and ground pepper. When all the beef has been browned, remove with a slotted spoon and set aside in a bowl.

To your pan, add the remaining butter and toss in the onion and mushroom. Sprinkle lightly with salt and allow the onions and mushrooms to brown. Remember not to stir as stirring prevents browning. Once the onions and mushrooms have been browned, add in the marsala wine to deglaze the pan, scrapping the browned bits and pieces from the bottom of the pan. Turn up the heat and allow the wine to reduce by half and then turn the heat down to the lowest setting.

Add in the beef, sour cream and milk. Stir gently until the sour cream has melted and a rich thick sauce is created. DO NOT BOIL! Season with salt and pepper. Serve over egg noodles and sprinkle generously with the chopped parsley.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Question for Lost maniacs

How did Jacob ever get off the island to meet with the candidates to persuade them to go the island?

The Sunday that was: Cochon 555

A couple of weeks ago, I managed to snag some coveted tickets to Cochon 555 as part of the Foodbuzz Foodie Correspondent Program. In case you've never heard of Cochon 555 (which I haven't either, up to this point), it is "a culinary event featuring five chefs, five pigs, and five wine makers in a friendly competition for a cause." And let me tell you first hand that five pigs can feed A LOT of people.

This year's Cochon 555 took place in the Bell Harbor Convention Center right down by the waterfront, which I think is venue that represents Seattle really well. Inside the dining hall, we were first greeted by a cheese selection from DeLaurenti and crackers from Macrina bakery. Ryan Farr of 4505 Meats down in Portland was on hand to demonstrate how to butcher a whole pig. That was by far the most interesting thing I saw at Cochon 555. There were also slideshows of cute berkshire and mangalitsa piggies projected on screen while slightly buzzed people noshed on pulled pork. I don't know if that was in good taste, but I am so glad Foodbuzz gave me the tickets because I had an incredible time; I drank and ate more than I should have (trusty Mr.Tums fixed the problem this morning) and talked to some very interesting winemakers and foodies.

And the piggie said, "Bleu cheese!"

My favorite chef for the event was Tamara Murphy of the now defunct Brasa restaurant. For some reason, her restaurant was never really that amazing, but my goodness - the menu for Cochon was absolutely delicious. I thought her chorizo sliders were the cutest thing ever and tasted perfect topped with slivers of blue cheese, a bowl of chili verde on the side and complete with a glass of 2008 Pinot Noir from Elk Cove Vineyards.

John Sundstrom of the almighty pretentious Lark ended up winning the event, and to prove my point of his almighty pretentiousness, his menu included tarte tatin with bacon caramel. Pretentious but delicious, I suppose. I couldn't get a picture of the tarte tatin close up because people were jostling and I swallowed mine in a split second lest some person kicked me in the shins and stole mine. I did however manage to grab a photo of John Sundstrom himself smiling knowingly, and a man in the background that looks strangely like Steven Spielberg (Do the Waldo thing)!

We managed to sneak in some nerdy chat time with some people from Elk Cove (3 kinds of Pinot!) in between lining up for the food samples. The gentleman very kindly suggested pairing the pate from Chester Gerl of Matt's in The Market with the estate Riesling. The other noteworthy small plates I liked were pork dumplings in dashi sauce from Adam Stevenson and a pulled pork dish with sparkling apple cider from Anthony Hubbard of Chow Foods. Also, the "head" chorizo by Mr. Gerl was quite amazing (On a side note, I went to Matt's once for my birthday and found it a little subpar, but I might have to try them again based on their perfomance at Cochon!).

I think many of the food items conjured up by the Seattle "superchefs" were pretty interesting. Most were your standard high-end cafe fare while others were slightly more upscale. The only thing I did not care for were these really gross looking red velvet cupcakes with lard frosting. They tasted sort of like a cross between rancid Betty Crocker canned goop and Safeway cupcakes.

At the end of the day, I went home stuffed with pork goodness, and stumbling slightly from some really good wine. Thank you, Foodbuzz for the great opportunity and here's looking forward to next year's Cochon 555!

Thursday, May 6, 2010

A lemon and lavender cake for Mother's Day

Not too long ago, I was seized by some unbearable need to purchase a bag of 20 baby lemons at Whole Foods. I don't know if it was being in Whole Foods that made me feel I needed to spend money, or if was the fact that lemons somehow scream summer and that in the middle of May, Seattle is 46 degrees and raining. Lemons have an uncanny ability to look attractive in any spot they sit in - in a bowl, in a pasta dish, in a roast chicken or in a cake.

But back to the lemons, I call them baby lemons but in my uneducated citrus-food guess I think they're just dwarf-sized lemons. However, they came unwaxed and bright-yellow for the affordable(!) price of $4.99. I had stumbled on a recipe at for a lemon and lavender cake that I wanted to try really badly and a monstrous bag of lemons seemed like the perfect excuse.

Back home, I also figured out a way to trick Brian into allowing me to have the cake. My first trick was to turn the cake into a non-dairy one by using rice milk instead of the regular dairy version (Aha! I have him trapped, we're both gluttons now). And the second trick was to use this as Mother's Day prototype to dedicate to both our mothers who are stuck in their morbid jobs far away from us. Also, I think I deserve to celebrate mother's day since I believe I have done a pretty decent job "mothering" my very rascally dog for the past two years.

So, here's my take on the lemon and lavender cake by Kristina at It should serve well at a Mother's Day brunch with some nice finger sandwiches, tea and strawberries with lots of cream! I used light olive oil instead of vegetable oil, unwaxed lemons and organic lavender flowers; suggestions for swaps are listed in the recipe. You can make this one day ahead - seal tightly with a layer of plastic wrap followed by a layer of foil and store in the refrigerator. Remove from the fridge about 90 minutes before serving. It should still be moist and delicious.
Naked lemons always make me feel sad.

On a side note, I won a Foodbuzz giveaway to Cochon 555 which is an event that has some famous Seattle chefs killing a whole pig and serving it to us. Oh, and there's also wine! I'm excited because I may be able to rediscover my Asian gastronomic roots by noshing on crunchy pig ears. Hurrah!

Lemon and lavender cake
Makes a 7" round cake or 8"x5" loaf

1.5 cups all purpose flour (200g)
1 cup granulated sugar (100g)
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 cup rice milk (120ml) (or just use regular milk)
1/2 cup olive oil (120ml) (or swap vegetable oil)
2 eggs
2.5tsp lemon zest
1.5tsp dried lavender flowers

1 tbsp granulated sugar
1/3 cup honey (113g)
1 tsp lemon zest
1/4 cup lemon juice

Preheat oven to 350°F. Lightly spray your baking pan with cooking oil or just rub some oil using a paper towel.

In a large bowl, mix together flour, baking powder, sugar and salt. In a smaller bowl, whisk together eggs, milk, oil, lemon zest and lavender flowers. Create a well in the large bowl and pour in the egg mixture. Stir gently until all ingredients are just combined. Pour into prepared baking pan.

Chuck into oven and bake at 350°F for about 40 minutes. Stab it with a small knife and if there are no soft crumbs sticking to the knife, it's done. Otherwise, check at every five minute intervals.

When the cake is done, remove from the oven. Let it cool in the pan and you can start on your glaze. Heat all the ingredients for the glaze in a saucepan until the sugar is dissolved and the glaze is slightly viscous.

Stab your cake all over with a chopstick or a skewer and pour the glaze all over it. Leave it to soak for about 5 minutes, remove from the pan and it's ready.