Cajun Cooking Adds Heat to Cold Nights

It seems people rarely get together at each other’s houses for a meal these days. People still love to eat and socialize they just seem to prefer to do it at a restaurant. And that’s a shame.

Don’t get me wrong, I love eating out (to the detriment of my waistline). But people tend to linger longer at home. Conversations are less guarded and often less PC. Loud laughter is not discouraged and wine flows more plentifully when you BYO (often across our tablecloth which is why I buy in threes).

So why aren’t people throwing more dinner parties? The common complaint I hear is the time involved and not knowing how to plan a meal. So I thought I would share one of my favorite easy dinner party menus. The theme is Cajun – perfect on a cold night and of course, for Mardi Gras celebrations. You can even make it a voodoo inspired Halloween party, which is what I did when the neighbors came over last weekend.

Low-lighting, candles, a spiderweb table dressing & skull from Target plus mini-pumpkins from Trader Joe's give a Halloween air to the table

Low-lighting, candles, a spiderweb table dressing & skull from Target plus mini-pumpkins from Trader Joe’s give a Halloween air to the table

First things first, wine. I chose a McCrea Mouvedre to welcome my neighbors and sip with apps. For dinner I wanted something with a little spice and chose Dunham Cellars Trutina although a tempranillo would also work well. We also dipped into two more bottles the neighbors brought over because that’s how these nights go…

For appetizers I turned to a favorite cookbook – Kathy Casey’s Sips & Apps: Classic and Contemporary Recipes for Cocktails and Appetizers. Although not Cajun, I chose her simple and simply addictive Croque Monsieur Puffs (scroll down the link, recipe is toward the bottom).

This appetizer works for literally every occasion, brunch, lunch you name it - and people cannot get enough!

This appetizer works for literally every occasion, brunch, lunch you name it – and people cannot get enough!

My sister, a serious cheese addict, was visiting so we picked up a wedge of triple cream brie topped it with orange marmalade (apricot jam works well too) and chopped pecans and warmed it in a 350 degree oven for ten minutes (basically until the topping is gooey and running down the sides). We served it with sweet cranberry & pumpkin spice thins and savory pita crackers (both from Trader Joe’s but pretty much any kind of cracker would work well).

Marmalade & Pecan Topped Brie & Creole Crab Cupcakes

Marmalade & Pecan Topped Brie & Creole Crab Cupcakes

Since my sister was helping in the kitchen we added one more app – Kathy Casey’s Creole Crab Cupcakes. This meal has more than enough food without a third app (our guests were a little too full before the entree), but if you can get lump crab meat fairly easily (for those in Seattle, my husband picked up ours at Mutual Fish) it’s a delicious recipe that looks stunning and is fast and easy to make (FYI: you do need a mini muffin pan).

The star of the night, however, is Slow Cooker Jambalaya. You can save some time the day of by cutting up your ingredients the night before and buying peeled, deveined, cooked frozen shrimp from Trader Joe’s or elsewhere. Toss your ingredients in the slow cooker in the morning, set to low, and seven hours later your house will have a whiff of creole kitchen about it. (If you’re in a hurry, set to high and let cook for three hours). About half an hour before serving, throw some rice and chicken broth (or water) in rice cooker or pot (covered on stove). Put a little rice in each of your guest’s bowls – or do as I do and ask them to serve themselves – and top with the jambalaya.

The only side you need is a little cornbread. To save time use the Marie Calendar’s mix (just add water), which is pretty unbeatable. You can make squares or muffins. Squares are faster as you can bake an entire pan at once. If I have time, though I like the look of muffins. And no I don’t ever feel obligated to make cornbread from scratch, Marie has it down.

If you’re feeling like you need a little more, add some braised kale. I like this recipe from Emeril Lagasse. And no, you do not have to make you’re own chicken stock.

For dessert we went with a pumpkin spice cake which we ate too quickly to photograph. But I think red velvet cake (or cupcakes) would work especially well. If you are celebrating Mardi Gras, then a King Cake is the way to go.

To provide the perfect background music, put on some New Orleans jazz (we favor Kermit Ruffins & Rebirth), just keep it low enough to allow the conversation to flow.

 

 

Loosen Your Belt: Dine Around Seattle is Back

From Sunday through Thursday, March 2-27, you can score a three-course prix fix for $30 at 58 Seattle restaurants. At some of them you can even score a three-course lunch for $15.

The restaurant selection includes icons like Ray’s Boathouse and Barking Frog; cult favorites Skillet Diner and Nishino’s and the always full to bursting Toulouse Petit and Peso’s. I’ve taken advantage of Dine Around myself before and through it discovered gems like Stumbling Goat Bistro and Eva. This time around Hunger 2.0 and La Bête look intriguing, but with so many options it’s hard to choose.

For more info. click here. Give it a whirl and please let me know which places you recommend, I’m always on the lookout for a new place to nosh.

Thin Mints and Trefoils = The Double Trouble Tart

I was at dinner with a friend perusing the various soup and salad menu options I had resigned myself to, when an email from the Girl Scouts of Western Washington landed in my inbox. Would I like to participate in a Girl Scout Cookie Recipe Contest? The Grand Prize includes 24 boxes of Girl Scout Cookies…

I eyed up the unsatisfying selection of salad options with Thin Mints, Trefoils, Peanut Buttery DO-SI-DOS and chewy Samoas dancing through my head. Those visions turned into a Double Trouble Tart. Thin Mints, Chocolate, mint, pecans, and Trefoil shortbread combine into a dessert so decadent, eating it will make you feel nothing short of naughty.

DOUBLE TROUBLE TART

Double Trouble Tart

Double Trouble Tart

Ingredients

Crust:

20 Thin Mint Girl Scout Cookies

1/4 c. unsalted butter, melted, plus enough butter to butter the pie plate

Filling:

12 ounces semisweet chocolate chips

1 cup heavy cream

1/2 c. chopped pecans

Topping:

12-16 Trefoil Girl Scout Cookies

1/2 c. semisweet chocolate chips

Peppermint Extract

Directions:

For the Crust: Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Crush 20 Thin Mint Girl Scout Cookies (a quick turn in a food processor or mini-prep does the trick). Pour crushed Thin Mints into a small bowl and combine with 1/4 c. melted, unsalted butter. Mix until the Thin Mint crumbs stick together when pressed. Butter a 9 – 9.5″ pie plate. Press the crumb mixture into the bottom of the pie plate. Bake for seventeen minutes. Cool for twenty minutes or until the crust returns to room temperature.

For the Filling: Once the crust is cool, pour chocolate chips and pecans into a medium bowl. Heat the cream over medium heat in a small saucepan, stirring frequently until the edges start to bubble. Remove from heat and pour over the chocolate chips and pecans. Stir until completely mixed. Pour into the pie plate over the Thin Mint crust. Cool in the refrigerator until set, at least 4 hours. (This is a great make ahead dish as it can chill and set overnight.)

For the Trefoil Topping:  Lay a piece of wax paper on the counter or on top of a cutting board. Stack 12-16 Trefoils on the wax paper. Melt 1/2 c. of chocolate chips. If you like, you can do this in the microwave in a microwave safe bowl by microwaving in 30 second intervals at 1/2 power. Stir after every 30 seconds. It usually takes no more than one minute to melt the chocolate this way. Once chocolate is melted, pour in ten-fifteen drops of peppermint extract (the more the mintier) and stir to combine. Use a spoon, knife or pastry brush to cover one side of each of the Trefoils. Brush an entire side or get creative and brush the edges and raised portions of the Trefoil design. Set on wax paper, chocolate-free side down to cool and harden.

To Serve: Once the tart is set, remove from the refrigerator and decorate with your mint chocolate Trefoils and a sprig or two of mint if you have it handy. When it’s time to eat cut into 12-16 slices and top each slice with a mint chocolate coated Trefoil.

***The Girl Scouts will be selling cookies in Western Washington March 1-17th. Stock up while you can (those Thin Mints store perfectly in the freezer – and are excellent eaten frozen or refrigerated).

****Please check out the Girl Scouts’ Contest Page on February 19th to see if my Double Trouble Tart makes the finals!

A Mexican Food Find in Seattle

Mole Enchiladas at Baja Bistro

In Southern California, and Arizona and other border states, fresh, authentic, spicy, satiating Mexican food is as available as Starbucks in Seattle. Really available, like high quality taquitos at the car wash available. It was so available that I never thought much of it and it didn’t even make my top five foods list when I could scoop it up at every turn.

But since moving to Seattle, Mexican food has become my Moby Dick. Seattle has amazing Thai, Chinese, Indian, Vietnamese, French, Italian and of course, Northwestern cuisine. Its abundance of mouth-watering culinary options is staggering. But it repeatedly falls flat when it comes to Mexican food because the food is just plain bland.

While Seattleites are happy cranking up the spicy stars when ordering Asian cuisine, apparently they want no stars in their Mexican food – or at least that’s what the restaurateurs think. La Carta Oaxaca and Mexicaleria Oaxaca buck this trend, and now there is another restaurant to add to the bland-bucking list, Baja Bistro in Beacon Hill. Baja Bistro has heat. Not hot water gulping, heat, but enough heat to awaken your palette and remind you that spice is nice.

For my full review on Examiner.com, please click here.
Baja Bistro on Urbanspoon

Airplane Encounters

I’ve been flying around a bit lately and although my head is usually buried in a book, a stack of work papers or firmly fixed on my laptop, sometimes I get to chatting with my seat mates.

In the course of two days and two flights, I met:

  • A former fire fighter who now helps design fire suppression systems for big box stores and whose work travel can include 2-3 flights per day;
  • A software engineer who plays Australian Rules Football (Footie to those in the know) on the side; and
  • A former law student who now acts as a consultant to persons setting up and running “dispensaries” (yes, we’re talking pot here).  Apparently, business is booming.

Dispensary consultant wins the award for most interesting profession and use of an almost law degree.

What’s the most interesting profession you’ve come across in your wanders?

Hiatus

Before entering the working world, summer meant warm days, long nights and vacation.  In honor of that tradition, OC2Seattle.com will be on summer vacation until after Labor Day.  In the meantime please pop over to Examiner.com where I dish on Seattle restaurants and food goings-on in the Seattle area.

Casa Patron: Flavorful Mild Mexican Food

From the outside, Casa Patron looks like any other business in the Ravenna neighborhood – plain, strip-mallish, uninspired. But walk in the door and you are transported to a Mexican Hacienda complete with Zorro inspired chandeliers and cowboy hats hanging over the large downstairs bar.

The dining area of Casa Patron consists of an open area with high ceilings on the lower level, and a smaller, more intimate area of booths and tables in a loft like space. The booths next to the loft balcony let you enjoy the intimacy of the upper area while keeping an eye on the action below and a service bar upstairs means you’ll never have to wait long for your drink.

The menu features traditional Mexican fare but mixes things up with Latin-American dishes like Camarones a la Diabla (large shrimp sautéed in garlic butter with mushrooms, onions, tomatoes, and bell peppers in a hot spicy sauce). 

The meal begins with the expected crispy, salty, just right complimentary chips and two-kinds of salsa; a medium deep red traditional salsa and a pico de gallo variety with a hint of heat.

The cocktail list features a long-list of tequila based drinks and a well-rounded selection of Mexican beers, like Negro Modelo and Dos Equis Amber, on tap.

The Taquitos Patron with chicken ($8.50) is an appetizer fit for four. The taquitos are nicely crisped without the greasiness so often found. The chicken is moist and the guacamole served with the dish is fresh and creamy. If you like your food mild, this is an excellent starter. If you like your Latin on the spicy side, you’ll likely find this dish a bit bland. Dipping in the spicier pico de gallo served with the chips and requesting hot sauce helps spice things up.

Like the Taquitos, the quesadilla appetizer ($8.00) is easily sharable by four or more. Flour tortillas stuffed with cheese or add steak or chicken for an extra $1.00. The cheese is the star here and is so plentiful the steak or chicken flavor gets slightly smothered. 

The Casa Patron Plato Favorito entrée ($18) lets you sample some of the best Casa Patron has to offer. It includes tender steak marinated in a spicy sauce, fresh, meaty and succulent shrimp, and chicken, spiced and pounded thin, and sautéed mushrooms surrounded by super-sized portions of rice and worthy refried beans. The steak was the star of this dish and indicates that any of the dishes on the menu featuring the beef marinated in spicy sauce will be winners. The shrimp was a very close and very satisfying second.

The Fajitas de Pollo ($13) were served in the traditional sizzling manner with a bevy of bright red and green bell peppers and onions and rice, refried beans and flour tortillas on the side. The chicken was well-seasoned but again, not very spicy.

The Enchiladas de Congrejo ($12.95) features enchiladas stuffed with Dungeness crab and topped with salsa verde and Monterey jack cheese.  The salsa verde is just as it should be but a bit overwhelming for the light flavor of the Dungeness crab. The shrimp variation may stand up better to the verde.

Dinner is not complete without a serving of the Coconut Flan; a dish that will convert even the most devout flan-hater. Creamy instead of spongy, with a texture between crème brulee and cheesecake it is infused with a deep, rich coconut flavor. The coconut flan alone is reason to keep coming back to Casa Patron.

Casa Patron delivers good, fresh Mexican and Latin cuisine in a relaxed and friendly ambience. Dishes like the Coconut Flan and the Casa Patron Plato Favorito elevate the cuisine above the typical Seattle Mexican restaurant and the friendly and attentive, but not invasive, service will make Casa Patron a neighborhood favorite.  But, as with most Mexican restaurants in Seattle, it would benefit from turning up the heat.

Casa Patron is located at 805 NE 65th St (at the corner of 65th NE and 8th NE) and is open Monday – Thursday from 11:00am – 12:00am, Friday – Sunday between 8:00am – 2:00am and hosts a daily Happy Hour from 3:00pm – 6:00pm.   Reservations can be made by phoning 206.923.7680.

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