Champagne: A Delectable Weapon

When I moved into my first apartment in college my Mom offered me various pieces of mis-matched furniture and sage advice: “Always have a bottle of champagne in your refrigerator.” 

To a college kid surviving off $2 burritos, Woodstock’s pizza, Popov and Keystone Light, this seemed a tad indulgent.

“If someone breaks in, you throw the champagne hard at their feet and the explosion will enable you to make a get away.”

Brilliant. Better than pepper spray and you can drink it too – a double-duty weapon. 

To this day there is always a bottle of bubbly in my fridge and a bottle or five in reserve in the basement. Perfect for self-defense and celebration.

If you choose to build your own arsenal, here are a few of my favorites:

  • Toad Hollow Risque (sub-$20 usually): This is the perfect sparkling wine for a girls’ night in. Sweet and naughty it pairs well with Chambord for a decadent Kir Royal.
  • Roederer Estate Brut: (Often can be found for $20 or less): Roederer produces a consistently dry, vibrant sparkling wine. Jim and I picked the Roederer Estate Brut as the sparkling wine for our wedding and no one was disappointed. My sister and I enjoy sipping it while dining al fresco on clams or mussels.
  • Domaine Carneros Vintage Brut: ($26): If you ever find yourself in Sonoma or Napa, head on over to Domaine Carneros for a glass of bubbly and a cheese plate on the deck of the Chateau overlooking the Carneros Valley. On a sunny day, there is no better place to be and the bubbly is on par with the champagne of its partner Taittinger.  The Famous Gate pinot noir is also excellent.
  • Perrier-Jouet, “The Flower Bottle”: ($145): I would probably throw a vase before letting one of Perrier-Jouet’s flower bottles bounce to the floor, it’s that good.  This champagne is one of my Mom’s favorites and she has excellent taste so just trust me on this one. Keep your eye out for Christmas specials where you can find the champagne with matching flutes at a slightly lower price (sometimes even at Costco – shocking).

Now, get out there and arm yourself!

Thanksgiving Menu and Beverage Planning


This year Jim and I are hosting Thanksgiving. Menu planning is contentious as Jim and his children are uber-traditionalists and persnickety eaters. When I suggested au gratin potatoes instead of mashed, I was met with the horror reserved for news that I had run over the family cat (if we had one that is) – “You have to have mashed potatoes at Thanksgiving! Pause. Pause. Pause. Sigh. We could have 2 kinds of potatoes I guess.”

Yeah, no. I played that game last Christmas and ended up in the kitchen for 7 hours to be met with a number of dishes that persons who shall not be named didn’t even try. Although I tried to rise above it as any good hostess would, I’m seriously contemplating getting those in question Emily Post’s Etiquette for Christmas this year.

My brother-in-law Dave will be co-cooking with me, Jim will be making the sacred mashed potatoes and the remaining side dishes are all secret so Thanksgiving Day cooking won’t be the drudgery that is cooking dishes you don’t want to make. Here’s how things are shaping up:

Appetizer
Cheese plate of Cougar Gold cheddar, blue cheese, triple cream brie and herbed goat cheese served with pita crackers and baguette.

The Main Event
Turkey
Gravy
Sacred Mashed Potatoes
Herbed Stuffing
Sausage Stuffing
Dave’s homemade dinner rolls
Apple-cinnamon cranberry sauce
Secret side dish no. 1
Secret side dish no. 2
Secret side dish no. 3

Dessert
Pumpkin Pie
Chocolate Pecan Pie
Apple Gallette

Which leaves me to ponder drinks. For the cheese plate, I’m pairing my Dad’s Renegade Sauvignon Blanc. If I didn’t have that though, Roederer Sparkling Wine, Murphy-Goode’s Fume or Conundrum would all work as would a white bordeaux.

As most of the family favors red wine, with dinner I’m debating between Hard Row to Hoe’s Double Dip, Murphy-Goode’s Terra Lago Cabernet Sauvignon or my Dad’s pinot noir (which is on the bold side unlike normal California pinots). For Thanksgiving dinner a pinot noir, a barbaresco, or a lighter bordeaux pairs well. Above all, I’m following my winemaker bro-in-law’s rule – “with great food, drink great wine.”

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Seattle Restaurants Know Wine

I was surprised to discover that Wine Spectator has bestowed awards upon 27 Seattle restaurants.  27, as in 2 more than Los Angeles.  What really surprised me though was who was on the list and who wasn’t.  Check out the full list here in my Examiner article on the subject and let me know if there’s any restaurant who should or shouldn’t be on the list.

Take a Bite Out Of Seattle

Pike Place Market

Pike Place Market

It was an ominous looking day when I headed down to the Seattle Art Museum to meet up with fellow foodies and bloggers, More Than Burnt Toast, Cookie Baker Lynn, Eat, Love Travel, Sortachef, and The Lonely Radish.  At the invitation of Jan Marie Johnson, we were meeting up to experience Seattle Bites Food Tours’  “Take a Bite Out of the Market Tour,” a 2010 Best of Western Washington winner.    

We started our tour at Taste, the restaurant inside the Seattle Art Museum.  The focus of Taste is on local ingredients, primarily sourced from Pike Place Market.  While there, we got to taste a flatbread with salmon, onion, dill, and capers topped off with a bit of creme fraiche.  It was crisp and chewy at the same time – quite a feat.    

Flatbread with Salmon at Taste

Flatbread with Salmon at Taste

Wine at TasteTaste also features a wine list of 90+ bottles most of which are boutique wineries.  Since you won’t find those wines in your average wine shop, they will sell you a bottle to take home if you like.  I wish more restaurants did this because when I try a new bottle of wine at a restaurant and fall in love I’m always disappointed when I can’t find it again.    

After Taste we headed off toward the Market, Jan Marie entertaining us with facts, stories and pics from the founding of the Market along the way.  For example, did you know that Pike Place Market is over 102 years old?  I didn’t.  Did you know that it is the longest running market in the U.S.?  That there are over 400 small businesses in the Market?  That it has its own food bank, post office, health care and day care?   

Nutella and Banana Crepe at Crepe de France

Nutella and Banana Crepe at Crepe de France

After our savory snack at Taste it was time for something sweet.  Nutella and banana crepes at Crepe de France (a favorite of mine in the Market).  While devouring our sweet treat we learned the history of Crepe de France, established in 1991 as one of the many small food stalls in the Market, family run, with over 15 types of crepes all made from ingredients sourced from the Market.

I Love New York Deli

I Love New York Deli

After our crepes it was back to savory.  First stop, I Love New York Deli, a stall next to the famous Market donuts.  Now when I say this is real NY deli, believe me (I have actually been to NY and had deli there, more than once, and I’m not talking Carnegie – ugh).  The owner is from Brooklyn and everything except the bread is flown out from NY.  The bread is made locally from a family recipe.  As a long time pickle hater, I was prepared to eat the potato knishe (yum) and the corned beef sandwich but I was not planning on touching that pickle.  Then I thought, this is a food tour, maybe I should just try it.  Um, YUM!  It perfectly balanced the plate.  I think I may have a new addiction (and no, I’m not pregnant).     Right next to I Love New York Deli is newcomer Saffron Spice, serving up Indian favorites like samosas, lamb kebab rolls, and lassies.  We sampled the vegetarian samosas with two sauces: the first of mint, coriander and cream and the second of tomatoes and ginger.  The samosa was as good as the ones I had in Delhi and the saucing was perfect.  

Samosas at Saffron Spice

Samosas at Saffron Spice

Our tour took us through the Economy Market (that’s where Crepe de France is located), the main market, and over to the Sanitary Market for a peek at Can Can a 1900s style Parisian Cabaret  that offers burlesque late night.  We wandered past Fero’s Meat Market (my go-to for lamb), Three Girls’ Bakery – the first legitimate female business in the Market, and over to Pike Place Chowder for a taste of their award-winning clam chowder(they won the Great Chowder Cookoff in Rhode Island 3 years in a row and then were inducted into the Chowder Hall of Fame).  

Award Winning Pike Place Chowder

Award Winning Pike Place Chowder

The chowder was thick, creamy and stick to your ribs, just as it should be.  It also threatended to fill us to bursting, so I limited my taste to a few savory bites.    

Back in the main market we hit two of my Market favorites: Uli’s Sausage and Pure Food Fish.  At Uli’s we sampled the German Bratwurst with spicy hot mustard – a hit that I took home last week – and Hot Italian Vesuvious with huckleberry jam.  The latter is a combo I never would have thought of on my own and it was fabulous.  Fiery, savory and sweet, a perfect combination of flavors.  Uli’s is lean and made with no filler, so to me that makes it health sausage 😉   

At Pure Food Fish we sampled on smoked salmon – yum- and learned that it is the oldest merchant in the market, having been there for over 50 years.   

Pure Food Fish

Pure Food Fish

We made some more stops around the market learning the history and lore and had a palate cleansing grapel and pear at Corner Produce.  Then we headed up to Seattle Coffee Works for some sampling and serious coffee knowledge.  Seattle Coffee Works roasts all of their own coffee and serves it in traditional and non-traditional ways such as vacuum pressed.  I’m not a coffee drinker, but I was diggin the flavors of the Sidamo we tried – light and hoppy like an IPA.   

Seattle Coffee Works

Innovation Rules at Seattle Coffee Works

Naturally we followed coffee with wine – at La Buona Tavola.  This was a MAJOR find for me.  The wines are Italian and are sourced from small Italian wineries.  Personal relationships are the business model here.  We started with a prosecco from a 2000 case production and I picked up a sangiovese that Jim and I are now officially addicted to.  La Buona Tavola has winemaker dinners once a month, puts together food and wine focussed trips to Italy and caters.   

Having tasted all that good food, it was time for me to do some shopping for dinner.  I picked up salmon at Pure Food Fish, asparagus at Corner Produce, and wine at La Buona Tavola so I could bring a little taste of the tour back home to Jim.  While he enjoyed the meal I concocted he wants to go on the tour himself, for the history more than the food (so he says).   

Jan Marie is fun, personable and a font of knowledge.  She’s done her research, built relationships and built a tour that has something for everyone.  Seattle Bites is a must do on my list for anyone visiting Seattle.  I know that every time family or friends visit I’ll be sending them to Jan Marie, and let’s face it, I’ll probably join them myself.  Whether your visiting or living in Seattle, take some time and indulge in a Seattle Bites Food Tour.  You won’t be disappointed and you’ll definitely be well fed.

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Good Times in Portland, Part 1

Voodoo Doughnut Maple Creme

Voodoo Doughnut Maple Creme

Last weekend, I filled up the Mini and headed down to Portland for a girls’ weekend with my college roommate.  After 3 hours on “the 5” and a pit stop at Subway for a drink, I met up with Jules at the Nike employee store for some serious shopping (on my part). Many tennis skirts and yoga togs later it was time to head out to dinner.  After some pondering, we chose The Gilt Club

At this point it’s only fair to tell you that despite best laid plans, we only managed to break out the camera once all weekend, for the photos in this post.  So, I’ll just have to describe the Gilt Club for you because I have no pictures.  Imagine entering a swanky bar with 60s style chandeliers and James Bond (Sean Connery of course) playing on the plasma.  To the right, a cozy, yet open dining room lined with tall, red leather booths and lighted by gilt covered, curvy chandeliers with lights complete with lamp shades, poking out at improbable angles.  We started our meal with a 2006 Jaboulet Beaume de Venise Rouge/Grenache & Syrah, from Rhone.  This wine was complex and bold without completely overwhelming our food.  I definitely recommend you get your hands on some if you have the opportunity. 

Then it was on to the food.  First up, steamed manilla clams with merguez sausage, preserved lemons & clam broth, topped with tomato conserve.  This dish was everything you hope for in a steamed clam dish – perfectly steamed clams, flavorful broth and oh the tomato!  To get our greens in, we each had a salad.  Ok, mine didn’t really count as greens, as I ordered the Blood orange and beets with baguette crisps, dill, arugula, chili oil, and crushed pistachios, but still, the intention was there.  The salad was deconstructed (so it was not hardy) and the blood orange slices provided a nice tangy contrast to the perfectly roasted beets.  I wish I had ordered two . . . But that wish was quickly forgotten when our small plates arrived: Brussels sprouts with house cured bacon & pecans; Rabbit & pork mortadella with toasted pecans & figs and Pork terrine with cornichons, duo of mustards, & frisee.  Yum, yum, and yum.  Again, wish I had two orders of the crispy roasted brussels sprouts – in fact, just thinking about them makes me want to roast some up tonight. 

Voodoo Doughnut

Voodoo Doughnut

After dinner we headed to Voodoo Doughnut (I apologize for the bad photo – the iPhone is just not up to nighttime shots) for some serious dessert – a maple cream and maple bar with bacon.   Ok, serious dessert for me, because I’m pretty sure Jules only had a single bite of the maple bar with bacon.  Doughnuts are not her thing.

Maple Bar with Bacon

Maple Bar with Bacon

The maple bar with bacon was good but could have been improved upon.  Instead of adding two tasty crispy strips of bacon, I would crumble that bacon into bits that cover the entire doughnut like sprinkles so you get crispy bacon in every bite – because it pairs really well with the maple frosting (like dipping your bacon in syrup).  That said, the taste was solid.  

The maple creme was also tasty but . . . with a bizarre surprise in the middle. 

Maple Creme Surprise

Maple Creme Surprise

Yep, that’s green creme filling.  The Maple Creme was delish but I could have lived without the food dye in that gooey, generously stuffed doughnut.  If you’re a true fan of Voodoo Doughnut or just into kitsch, they have a line of t-shirts, hoodies and panties – yes, panties – for sale with their logo.  As their tagline is “The Magic is in the Hole,” I think I’ll pass on the panties . . .

Christmas: Traditions, Family, Fun & Loads of Cooking

Kate Assisting With Christmas Cookies

Kate Assisting With Christmas Cookies

My Mom and my lil sis, Kate, arrived Christmas Eve and after breakfast for lunch at Coastal Kitchen (the salt cod hash was yummy especially with the gingerbread waffle for dessert – we were sharing – really) we set into a Christmas tradition – all-out Christmas cookie baking.  5 kinds in total, Mom’s Molasses Cookies, Chocolate Comfort Co0kies (Kate’s favorite), Orange Cardamom Madeleine’s, Chocolate Hazelnut Thumbprint Cookies and old-fashioned sugar cookies (my husband’s request).

CookiesWe took a break for a new holiday tradition, Christmas Eve dinner at a Chinese restaurant.  We went to our new favorite, New Star, and feasted on Mongolian Beef, Honey Garlic Chicken (or as we call it “crack chicken” because it’s so addictive), pork fried rice, egg rolls, and Three Cups Sauce Chicken Hot Pot.  It was delicious and I am sooo sorry I forgot to bring my camera! I really need to get better about pics!  New Year’s resolution, perhaps? 

After Chinese, more cookie making and then I prepped the stuffing and made cinnamon apple cranberry sauce for the next day.  At about 1 am, everyone was in bed, so I played “Santa” and filled the stockings.  Finally fell into bed at 2 am, exhausted.

Up at 8 am the next morning to start cooking the Christmas meal.  At noon, my Dad arrived (having my Mom and Dad at Christmas together was huge as it hadn’t happened in 20+ years) and Mom and Kate were awake and it was present time.  Stockings first of course, which were a big hit – Theo’s chocolate, Dr. Seuss pens, and other assorted goodies were crowd pleasers.  Kate gifted my husband and me with UCLA sweatshirts (she also got me a UCLA water bottle which was immediately put into use) and my husband wore his all day.  He was so happy to have a sweatshirt from his “favorite California Pac 10 school.” 

During presents I was “carmelizing” the onions for our sage turkey and gravy.  I followed the directions faithfully, but they ended up burned.  Oh, well.

From noon to 5:30, I cooked, with varied assistance from the entire family.  My husband’s girls arrived around 3 pm and Lauren was an invaluable potato peeler.  The end result?  Honeybaked Ham, Sage Turkey (Natural, organic from the Northwest) with gravy from the packet – because the recipe we had was horrible – Julia Child’s turnips (obtained from the Farmer’s Market), traditional stuffing, Paula Deen Blue Cheese Au Gratin Potatoes, mashed potatoes, roasted brussels sprouts with lemon and parmesan, and cinnamon apple cranberry sauce accompanied by Renegade Cabernet Sauvignon (a gift from my Dad).    

Christmas Dinner

Christmas Dinner

With the exception of the gravy and the fact that only a portion of the turkey was cooked well enough to eat, the food turned out well, but, I pretty much completely missed Christmas because I spent the entire time in the kitchen.  So, next year, if I’m not in Egypt, which is my first choice, we’re doing things differently.  A turkey breast, not an entire turkey, and fewer side dishes, preferably ones that can be made ahead and reheated.   If that doesn’t minimize my time in the kitchen, we’re having take-out the next year, because the best part of Christmas is spending time with your family.  A good meal is just a bonus.

For Crowd Pleasing Holiday Gifts Nothing Beats Food and Wine Treats

Holiday Treats

Holiday Treats

The holidays mean holiday parties, family, friends, neighbors and gifts – loads of gifts.  The gift part can get a little exhausting to be perfectly honest.  I love finding the perfect gift for a person for their birthday, but when it comes to Christmas it’s too many and my mind goes into overload.  My goal is to give a gift the recipient will enjoy and ideally that they can’t get where they are or won’t indulge in for themselves.  Over the years, I’ve stumbled upon some sure-fire winners.  Here they are to help you out and get your own creative juices flowing:

Theo’s Chocolate $3.25+:  Theo’s Chocolate is the “only organic, fair-trade, bean-to-bar chocolate factory in the US” and I’m proud to say it’s right here in Seattle – Fremont to be exact.  Now, I have to warn you, once you have Theo’s you never go back.  This is serious chocolate.  My favorites are the Hazelnut Crunch, Chai and Dark Chocolate Nib Bars.  My husband loves the Theo Jane Goodall Dark Chocolate bars (70% cacao).  Vegan confections are available as are treats like Big Daddy Peanut Butter and sipping chocolate.  These make great stocking stuffers, or tie up a few bars for a hostess or office-mate gift.

Sweet Beauty Organic Chocolate Spa Treatments $5.50+:  Owner Lisa Francoise whips up lotions, scrubs, lip balms and baby products that are so natural, you or your child, could eat them and be none the worse for it.  My year-round favorite is the Pot de Creme body creme ($20), but I’m loving the white chocolate candy cane line for the holidays (I’m using the lip balm as I write).  Other favorite scents are mojito and tangerine truffle.  The lip balms make great stocking stuffers, the lotions make luxurious hostess and office-mate gifts and Lisa has a selection of gift sets that will make anyone on your list feel like a queen.  I’ve already picked up one of these for a princess on my list.

Chukar Cherries $9.75+:  For the chocolate covered cherry lovers you know, nothing beats Chukar’s.  No preservatives, no sulfates, no trans fat.  Just good old-fashioned natural ingredients like Washington cherries and nuts covered in milk, dark or white chocolate.

Cougar Gold Cheese $27: Cougar Gold cheese is made at the Washington State Creamery and is available in retail stores in the Washington area and online. It comes packed in – a can.  The original flavor is bar none the best sharp, dry cheddar I have ever tasted (and I am a cheese devotee).  My brother-in-law has used his in his famous Minnesota Juicy Lucy burgers.  We use ours paired with local bread and salami for easy entertaining.  It stands up well to Murphy Goode’s Snake Eyes Zinfandel.

Wine: Your favorite or theirs, wine is always appreciated.  I like Murphy-Goode (disclosure, my bro-in-law is the winemaker) for really good wines at a good value.  My favs?  The Liar’s Dice ($21) and Snake Eyes ($35) zinfandels, the Murphy Ranch Malbec ($25), the Terra Lago Cabernet Sauvignon ($45) and the Fume ($12.50).  For bubbly, Domaine Carneros Brut is a favorite ($26) as is Toad Hollow’s Risque.  For Washington wines I like Delille Cellars (especially the D2 and the Chaleur Estate) and Abeja’s Cabernet Sauvignon.

Sensory Girly Indulgences: Candles, bath salts and bubbles, oh my!  No girl on your list can resist a little pampering.  Spoil her with a Seda France candle, luxurious bubble bath or some healing bath salts.  My favorite online shopping site?  Beauty Exclusive.

Homemade Gifts: Whether it be a hand-knit scarf or your famous apple pie, homemade gifts are always a hit.  This time of year I make lots of cranberry chocolate chip, chocolate dream and molasses cookies to give and to share.  Check out Carol’s recent posts for some great “Gifts from the Kitchen.”

Happy Holidays and Happy Shopping!