Thursday, February 25, 2010

Stinging Nettle, Lovage, And Mussel Soup

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When I lived in Bellevue and worked in North Bend I’d often stop at the Herb Farm.  This was before the fire that caused Jerry Traunfeld and co. to move the charming and famous Herb Farm restaurant from Fall City to Woodinville.

Back then you could buy herbs and flowers and wander the gardens and visit the chickens.  The paths were lined with hazelnut shells that crackled and popped underfoot.  A wooden bench nestled under  a wisteria arbor.  I’d sit there, quietly mesmerized by the sun dappling through the trees and the contented chuckling of the chickens.  

So it’s Jerry Traunfeld’s fault that I want chickens. 

I’ve been trying to convince Ross that three little chickens would be a charming addition to our family but he’s equally convinced they’re troublesome and smelly and the best kind of raccoon bait and our own personal episode of Wild Kingdom.  He’s probably right which is why I haven’t copied some of the wonderful chicken coops I saw at the Northwest Flower and Garden show a few weeks ago. 

But I’m so tempted.  And I can’t stop imagining the perfect chicken coop.

Yesterday while strolling along and mentally designing a raccoon proof chicken fortress I noticed stinging nettles just beginning to sprout.  This got me thinking of Jerry Traunfeld again.  Because he’s a fabulous chef and uses all sorts of local ingredients and according to Carolyn from Sound Food makes the best nettle soup.  She passed on this great recipe and I have to agree with Carolyn; it’s fantastic. 

I don’t have lovage so I substituted fennel but you could also use celery and parsley.  I used homemade chicken stock and mixed clams with mussels.  It was fast and easy and delicious and healthy.  You know to be careful when harvesting but beware: nettles can sting through denim so wear high boots, rubber gloves and a thick coat. 

If you’ve never eaten nettles before it takes a bit of courage to take that first bite, especially if your leg is throbbing where the nettle stung you through your jeans.  Rest assured that blanching nettles cures their sting and they’re perfectly harmless yet filled with all sorts of antioxidants, more iron than any other leafy green and are a tonic to ease arthritis.

Stinging Nettle, Lovage, And Mussel Soup

(6 servings)

  • 4 ounces young stinging nettle leaves (handle with gloves when raw)
  • 2 pounds small live mussels
  • ½ cup dry white wine
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 2 cups thinly sliced leek
  • 2 cups chicken stock
  • 1 tablespoon white rice
  • ¼ cup young lovage leaves
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • Crème fraiche for garnish

Boil the nettles in a large pot of salted boiling water for 2 minutes. Drain, rinse under cold water, and squeeze dry.
Put the mussels and wine in a large pot with a tight fitting lid. Place over high heat until the mussels open, about 4 minutes. Drain the mussels, reserving the liquid, and remove the meat from the shells. You should have about 2 cups liquid. If there is less, add chicken stock to come to 2 cups.
Cook the leek in the butter over medium heat in a large saucepan until softened. Add the mussel liquid, chicken stock, and rice. Cover and cook at an even simmer for about 30 minutes, or until the rice is very soft. Stir in the lovage and nettles. Puree the soup in small batches in a blender until very smooth. Return to the pan and bring it back to a simmer. Taste and add pepper and additional salt if needed. Stir in the reserved mussels. Ladle into warm bowls and drizzle with crème fraiche.
Copyright 2003 © Jerry Traunfeld

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Molten Mousse Soufflé

 molten choc cake 078 Molten Chocolate cake is one of my favorite desserts.  For Wine Society we used this super easy and wonderfully airy recipe from the February issue of Sunset magazine but my long time favorite comes from the January 1998 Bon Appétit.  I’ve been using this recipe for over a decade and still love it. 


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The recipe below chills the soufflés before baking but you can also freeze them in espresso cups or ramekins, thereby creating a Martha moment when you produce fabulously sexy molten mousse cakes for unexpected company.



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Mexican Chocolate Soufflé Cakes

Makes 6

8 ounce semisweet chocolate, chopped

½ cup unsalted butter, cut into one inch pieces

1 ½ teaspoon instant espresso powder

Pinch of salt

6 large egg yolks

1/3 cup sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

2 large egg whites

Garnish: 1 cup fresh raspberries and mint

Butter six 4 ½ inch diameter tartlet pans with ¾ inch high removable sides and removable bottoms. Place tartlet pans on baking sheet. Stir chocolate and butter in heavy medium saucepan over low heat until melted and smooth. Remove from heat. Add espresso powder and salt; stir to blend well. Cool to lukewarm, stirring occasionally.

Using electric mixer. Beat egg yolks, all but 1 tablespoon sugar, vanilla and cinnamon in large bowl until mixture is pale yellow and thick, about 5 minutes. Fold ¼ of egg mixture into chocolate mixture. Fold chocolate mixture into egg mixture.

Beat egg white in another large bowl until soft peak form. Add 1 tablespoon sugar beat just until firm peaks form. Fold into chocolate mixture. Divide batter among prepared pans. Cover, chill at least 1 hour and up to 4 hours.

Beat cream in large bowl until soft peaks form.

Position rack in center of oven and preheat to 400. Bake cakes until edges are set and centers are still soft. Let cool for 5 minutes and serve immediately with fresh whip cream, raspberries and mint sprig garnish.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Wine Society with Eagle Harbor Wine Company

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Hugh and Cynthia Remash, our guest winemakers make big bodied red wines at their Bainbridge Island winery.  Last fall when we sipped cabernet in their cozy tasting room on Winslow Way we immediately thought of beef bourguignon followed by lots of chocolate. 

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We might have gotten a little carried away but it’s February and it’s cold and rainy and Valentine’s day waits out there with it’s big red bulls-eye so we ate chocolate.

Hugh’s wines are big and bold and will stand up the anything.  Lush, full, well rounded a pleasure to drink.  Cynthia’s a professional chef and learned her craft on a ten month sabbatical to Florence in 2002 where Hugh studied art and winemaking.  The youngster in their lives orchestrated the whole thing after deciding she wanted to go to school in Europe!

Last week we stepped from winter’s chill  past the fledgling blooms of a sunrise pink rhododendron into the heart of a Hal Molstad designed home.  Soaring ceilings and glass walls, stone entry and lots of wood; plank walls and ceiling; creating a lovely northwest contemporary home with a hint of Asian inspiration. 

In the center of it all, two glittering tables set for 16.

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Wine Society Menu


Eagle Harbor Wine Company

February 6, 2010


Assorted Cheeses

Founders Cabernet Sauvignon


Russian Beet Soup with Sour Cream and Dill

Goose Ridge Syrah

Warm Mushroom Salad with Prosciutto

Condor (Syrah/Cab blend)


Citrus Sorbet

Forgeron Late Harvest Semillon


Beef Bourguignon and Crostini



Molten Mousse Soufflés

Flourless Chocolate Torte

Chocolate Spice Cake

Founders Cabernet Sauvignon


Here’s how it works:  The menu is designed around the wine, with help from the winemaker.  The recipes are dispersed to members who prepare, present and serve at dinner.  Each member introduces their dish to much applause and the winemaker presents his wine and explains the pairings.   We eat then do it again for the next course.

At the end of the evening we count up the wine bottles and settle up with our winemaker.  A convivial way to celebrate food, wine and friends.  If you’re thinking of starting your own wine society, I urge you to do so.  If you need any help, feel free to send me an email

If you’d like our recipes, just ask.  I’ll be posting the molten chocolate mousse recipe later this week.


Saturday, February 13, 2010

Vichyssoise ZZ Top Makeover

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Yesterday Daniela and I ignored all that training from childhood and played with our food.  It all started with a bland looking potato and leek soup.  Unable to let it just sit there and be plain we had to give it a complete makeover. 

We started with clothes because everyone know from watching MTV in the 1980’s that all you need is the right outfit.  I refer of course to the ZZ Top “Legs” video where the poor downtrodden shoe store girl just needed to lose her glasses, tease her hair and put on a sexy dress to rule the world (or at least get a ride in the ZZ Top Cruiser, which in 1983 was ruling the world).  Hope springs eternal to all the frizzy haired, slightly dowdy teens from that era we all learned the same lesson:

It’s all about the presentation.

For our plain little soup with the fancy name we picked tall skinny shot glasses with designs etched into the crystal.  From there we teased her hair a bit with a dollop of crème fraiche, added a couple beauty marks with cracked fresh pepper and topped it all off with an herb garnish.

And because it seemed redundant to have three glasses all the same we tweaked the flavor in each.  Vichyssoise’s delicate flavor lends itself to tweaking.  We swirled white truffle oil into one, chopped chives into another and left the last unadorned.  I wish I would have added sliced leeks with the rings askew to one of the dishes because that would have looked great and echoed the flavors of the dish.  Fried chopped shallots or fried shallot rings would have been another great addition.

So, when you’re lunching with one of the top wedding designers in Seattle (Daniela from Bella Signature Design) and want to make a splash remember this:

  • Clothing counts!  Dress it up in a pretty vessel
  • Remember the garnish
  • Go for contrast (cracked pepper against the white crème fraiche)
  • If all else fails, throw in some French colloquialisms ‘C’est le vie ‘and   ‘je na se quoi’ and cognac come to mind.


à la vôtre (Cheers!)



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Friday, February 5, 2010

Slow Cooker Caramelized Onions

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I’m falling in love with my slow cooker.  We’ve known each other a long time but we’ve never really connected.  We keep giving each other a chance, meeting up every now and then.  All our friends think we’d be great together but until now, we just haven’t clicked.

Lots of relationships require a catalyst and for us it’s this cookbook.


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I picked it up at Costco the other day; if you look closely you can see  sticky notes marking recipes.  The first one that caught my eye was creamy onion soup.  Not for the soup so much as the hands-off way of caramelizing onions.

I love a good caramelized onion but I don’t have the patience to stir a pot for 30-40 minutes.  Mine usually  lack that satisfying deep brown hue that promises sweet and savory taste or worse, they burn.

My slow cooker, the book told me, could change all that.  It whispered sweet nothings about caramelizing onions to perfection while I spent the day playing.  Promises of tempting aromas and a pot of slow cooked onions beckoned  and before I knew it I’d sliced up 6 Vidalia onions. 

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I tossed them with dried thyme and olive oil and added a bay leaf.  This flurry of activity happened early in the morning and when we came home from an afternoon of beachcombing they looked like this:

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I really love it when I can use up leftovers and make a fabulous meal at the same time.  I had broth from beef braised in red wine which I heated in a separate pan, I toasted cubes of French bread in olive oil, kosher salt and herbs de Provence then put them all together with a fistful of grated gruyere for a hearty and quick French Onion Soup.

The best part is that I have onions leftover for my next fabulous meal…blue cheese and caramelized onion tart?  Gourmet burgers? Veggie sandwich with caramelized onions or maybe goat cheese crostini with …you guessed it: caramelized onions.

My slow cooker and I are on again; we have plans to get together to make crème brulee next week.

While perfect for French Onion Soup these onions were quite wet.  A quick sauté in a hot pan will remove the excess liquid and make them perfect for just about anything.  Store in the fridge for a week or freeze them for up to three months.

Following is the recipe for Slow Cooked French Onion soup.  My soup was delicious but would be impossible to duplicate without making beef braised in red wine first and using that fabulous broth.  (The strength of any French onion soup is in the beef broth.  Amp up store bought with a bit of cognac or brandy for this recipe).

Creamy Onion Soup

From: Slow Cooker: The Best Cookbook Ever by Diane Phillips

½ cup unsalted butter

2 tablespoons olive oil

5 large sweet onions, such as Vidalia

2 tablespoons sugar

1 tablespoon dried thyme

1 teaspoon salt

½ teaspoon ground black pepper

1 bay leaf

½ cup white wine

5 cups beef stock

1 ½ cup shredded gruyere cheese

Turn a 5-7 quart slow cooker on high, add the butter and oil to the insert, cover until the butter is melted.

Remove the cover and add the onions, sugar, thyme, salt, pepper and bay leaf. Stir the onions until they are covered with seasonings and butter.

Cover and cook on high for 7-8 hours, until they are caramelized and a deep golden brown. (I followed the recipe to here).

Remove the cover and add the wine and beef stock. Cover and cook the soup on high for an additional 30 minutes or on low for an additional hour.

Remove bay leaf before serving garnish each serving with a sprinkling of gruyere cheese.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Beef Braised in Red Wine with Truffle Oil

Okay, so it’s pot roast…but it’s really special pot roast with truffle oil and cocoa marinated overnight in red wine and brandy nestled between layers of chopped carrots, celery and onions and gently infused with thyme and garlic and bay and cooked all day. 

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But worth the effort, oh so worth the effort.  Falling apart tender, juicy and packed with flavor.  Redolent of home and hearth.  Smack your lips yummy.  My house smells like childhood and hugs and that special place where food is love.

It’s taken me two years and many attempts to get it right  but this is it…the worlds most perfect pot roast.

It all started with Julia…The main recipe comes from Mastering the Art of French Cooking.  I’ve added a few bits like a teaspoon of cocoa, white truffle oil and some extra garlic.  I flame the broth to burn off the alcohol which can taste bitter and use a slow cooker for super tender meat. 

When it’s all done I reduce the broth and puree the vegetables then recombine the the two for a savory, intensely flavored gravy. 

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There is always leftover broth and I used it to flavor everything from Udon noodles to Beef Bourguignon to French onion soup.  The leftover vegetable puree gets frozen in cubes and added to anything that needs  a flavor boost or body.

Beef Braised in Red Wine

Adapted From: Mastering the Art of French Cooking

Start With:

3 pound pot roast

To Season the Meat:

1 tablespoon kosher salt

1 teaspoon freshly ground pepper

1 tablespoon white truffle oil (optional but so delicious)

For the Marinade:

1 cup each celery, onion and carrot, chopped.

2 halved cloves garlic, peeled and crushed

1 tablespoon dried thyme

2 bay leaves

¼ cup minced parsley

¼ teaspoon dried cloves (Julia uses 2 whole cloves)

1 bottle red wine (Pinot Noir or Cabernet)

1/3 cup good brandy

¼ cup olive oil (Julia uses ½ cup)


1 teaspoon baking cocoa

Beef stock to cover

1 tablespoon butter; one tablespoon flour for beurre manie

Spread salt and pepper on roast then drizzle with truffle oil pressing the salt/pepper/oil mixture into the meat. Combine chopped veggies , thyme, bay leaf, ground cloves and garlic then place half this mixture in the bottom of a bowl, layer in the roast, cover with remaining veggies. Pour brandy, oil and wine to cover. Wrap and place in fridge overnight to marinate.

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Next day remove roast from marinade (save marinade) and place on wire rack to drain.  Pour two tablespoons olive oil or bacon grease in large pan (I use my Le Creuset), get it smoking hot then drop in the roast that you’ve patted dry with paper towel. Sear all six sides and remove. Drain veggies (save wine marinade) and place in hot pan. Add more oil if needed. Add three cloves chopped garlic. Sauté 3-4 minutes, or until tender.

Remove veggies from pan and pour in marinade. Bring to a boil and deglaze pan. Add cocoa. Burn off any remaining alcohol.

Place all in crock pot add beef stock to cover. Cook until tender when pierced with a fork (6 hour low setting on my crock pot).

Remove and cover with foil. Puree veggies and reduce marinade by half. Thicken with beurre manie (equal parts soft butter and flour combined) if needed. Serve with mashed potatoes and steamed veggies.