Smitten with Smitten Kitchen

It’s been a minute. I recognize this blog may as well be one clever sister. But, alas, I am back!

Many, many months ago I was over at a friend’s house and she was making Slow Cooker Black Bean Ragout by Deb Perelman from The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook. Now I love black beans. Love love love. I also love a slow cooker recipe. So I  decided to check it out at the library. So often, I buy a cookbook and only use one or two recipes from it. Checking it out from the library is almost like a screening process. See if I like it and if I even use it before I have to turn it back in.

I loved the cookbook. I found that the ingredients in the cookbook were ingredients I loved to cook with, but there was always a new twist on the recipe. It passed the screening process.  Don’t worry. It’s not overdue at the library. I talked it up so much that my mom bought it for me as a present! Thanks Mom!

I am so overdue for talking about this cookbook that I will just list a couple of the recipes I have tried with a short description of why I love them so.

Honey and Harissa Farro Salad- The best. This salad incorporates farro, carrots, parsnips and feta with a little mint. This is my first tasting of harissa, a Tunisian hot pepper sauce that provides a great kick in a salad. Also, what I love about this recipe is that it makes me eat a vegetable that I hate.  This recipe calls for one pound of parsnips. Yech! But, actually, YUM! It asks that you cut them  into two inch lengths and then roast them at 400 degrees for twenty minutes. The roasting of the parsnips along with the carrots make it just the right amount of crunchy to top the salad. An added bonus is that they are great for my little baby to eat with her hands and she hates spoons!

Emmentaler on Rye with Sweet and Sour Red Onions- Love this fancy, schmancy grilled cheese. I had some friends over a few months ago and I loved serving them these sandwiches. Quick and easy, but the best part of these sandwiches are the caramelized  onions. To make them I just mixed butter, balsamic vinegar, red onions and brown sugar. So delicious.  This part of the recipe really makes you feel like you are eating a sandwich from a restaurant, not a thrown together one from home.

Black Bean Ragout- This is the reason I was interested in the cookbook to start with. I know Deb Perelman is known for lots of interesting vegetarian dishes and I think this is a classic example. As with all her recipes, the steps in this recipe are fairly simple.  This dish is fantastic because you just throw all the ingredients in and let it cook in a slow cooker for about four hours. The black beans, onions and various spices could be enough to satisfy me, but in addition there are all sorts of sides that make this dish just a tad different from your average black bean stew.  Instead of being served in a bowl it’s served on top of  sliced ciabatta bread ( or french bread will do) with garlic that is rubbed on top after it is toasted in the broiler. There is also a crema to put on top which is just cumin and sour cream (or yogurt). Even though it’s just the addition of one spice, it makes the meal.  The other fabulous side dish is the onions which is just sliced red onions with a tablespoon of lime juice. This adds a great balance to the sort of subdued flavors.

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Golden Sheet Cake with Berry Buttercream- I made this cake for my daughter’s 1st birthday. The cake was extremely easy. A sheet pan is all you need for equipment, plus parchment paper to help get it out of pan if you want to put it on a serving plate.  The frosting looks difficult, but really it’s just about getting a variety of berries and splitting the frosting in four batches. The ingredients are simple: 1 cup of confectioners sugar,  4 tablespoons of butter and about a tablespoon of berry puree. I pureed about a cup of each fruit (blueberry, raspberry and blackberries), but I knew I’d have leftover. If you decide to make this, the extra fruit is great in smoothies.

Probably the most annoying thing about making this frosting is that you have to do it in batches so expect a large load of dishes.  It is actually only three batches of frosting because the blueberry batch is doubled.  Once you make the blueberry frosting, you have to split it in half and add just a touch of blue dye to one. This gives you four distinct colors. Oddly enough, Deb Perelman suggests doing this because blueberries pureed actually don’t look blue, but more pinkish. Also, if you let the blueberries sit long enough after being pureed they will turn into a weird gelatin like substance. Very strange.

After I got four batches of frosting ready go to (and several, several taste tests– raspberry is by far the tastiest), then I prepared my frosting bag with a 1/4 inch frosting tip. To do all one color at once, I followed the instructions in the recipe of applying one line, and then counting over three more lines with my tip at the top of the cake. This worked fairly well, but as you can see in the picture below I sometimes allowed for too much room and sometimes didn’t allow enough. This, I am sure gets easier the more times you do it. After all the lines are done, I simply took a butter knife every inch and dragged it slightly over the top of the frosting. And that’s it! Everyone was very impressed with the cake and many people thought it was store bought, custom made! The hardest part of the entire process? Cleaning out the frosting bag after each of the four batches of frosting. However, if you are thinking of making this frosting and contemplating just using a plastic bag, I would strongly urge you to just go out and buy a nice frosting bag. The frosting in the plastic bag has a tendency of getting stuck which prompts you to push the frosting out harder and then you have a mess when it comes out in a blob on your cake. I know this because I tried doing one color of this cake with the plastic bag out of pure laziness of not wanting to wash out my bag. Now I know.

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I have been told that Deb’s website is really fantastic and has tons of great recipes that aren’t in her cookbook. So, if you are inspired, check it out!

http://smittenkitchen.com

Collaborative Baby Shower Quilt

Clearly, it’s been a while since I’ve posted.  Clearly.    While I don’t have the excuse of an adorable addition, like Ms. Marie and her little one, Mattie, I can draw on her experience to post:  The threecleversisters host a baby shower!  Last winter, we descended upon Marie’s Brooklyn, NY apartment for a baby shower without the standard baby games but with a little craft time – quilt making!

A few years ago, I attended a baby shower in which the guests all decorated scraps of fabric that included quotes, images, or messages for the little one and his family.  The host then used those fabric scraps to create a flag decoration for the nursery.  It was such a charming idea, that I promised myself that I would do that for someone.  When Marie and I hosted Sara’s baby shower, I was in law school and there wasn’t any creative energy.  Marie, then, was the likely recipient.  I offered to do a flag or a quilt. She did the quilt.

The activity required a bit of coordination and fortunately I flew JetBlue to NYC so I could check my bags, with all the supplies, for free.  I bought some stencils from Lotta Jansdotter and Martha Stewart along with Martha Stewart’s paints.  We did some test squares – using my mom, aunt, cousin, and grandma as guinea pigs over Christmas.  It was a great way to get some of them involved since Gami, Kate, and Aunt B weren’t able to attend the actual shower.

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kclever & GG

kclever & GG

GG's contribution to the quilt.

GG’s contribution to the quilt.

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I also contacted several of Marie’s college friends and some of her husband’s extended family about decorating squares.  So many people were invited to the shower and so many people wanted to participate, the quilt was larger than the typical lap quilt.

The shower was held in January in Brooklyn.  That means there wasn’t a lot of space for 15+ people who were invited.  Fortunately, the weather was on our side, and though it was a bit chilly, we expanded the craft portion of the shower to patio.  No baby games on this one — what mom really wants to do the circumference of her belly anyway?  We CRAFTED!

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By the time I had collected all the pieces, I had 32 squares.  I planned to make a piece with the baby’s initials or name once she was announced, but 33 square does not make a normal looking quilt — 11×3?  Nope.

Instead, I chose to make a square for each of her initials.  I printed out MASSIVE font each letter from my handy Microsoft Word program and used that as an applique.  I was thrilled by how nice it turned out.

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The number was 35, 7 x 5, and with the borders and 62 x 96 in (approximately)!

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The Baby Quilt!

The Baby Quilt!

 

Czech Plum Dumplings

I’ve never been a big fan of fresh plums.  I have always wanted to like them, little orbs of summer that they are, and occasionally would try one or two from the fruit drawer in the fridge where my mom stored them.  Like the peaches we got, they always disappointed, but we also knew that the produce that made its way to our local grocery stores was also the most lackluster.  But even now, when I’m able to grab a few from a farmer’s market (so, as tree-ripened and as sweet as one could hope for), I never have any desire to eat them raw.  Cooked, roasted, baked, simmered, or jammed, however, they’re, at least for me, perfectly irresistible.

Czech Plum Dumplings (2 of 11)

Over ten years ago now (ugh) when I lived in the Czech Republic, I soon learned that plums were such an important fruit there that different words existed for the different varieties–to a Czech’s mind, then, an Italian prune plum and a sugar plum are perhaps as different as a peach and a nectarine.  And that late-summer-to-early-fall Italian prune plum is the key component to a whole range of delicious things:  from slivovice (plum brandy) to povidla (plum butter) to plum dumplings.  I’ve made the first two from that list, and have long been meaning to make the final entry.

Czech Plum Dumplings (11 of 11)

I’ve made them before, in fact, but not on my own.  The village I lived in for one year as an English teacher had previously housed a Czech language school for foreigners.  During the old communist days, students came from the so-called “nonaligned” countries to study at Czech universities–usually technical subjects like engineering–but needed an intensive crash course in Czech before they started.  Hence they lived in language school’s dorms for a year before they were off to Prague, Brno, or other Czech university towns.  Today the institute runs preparatory courses (for Czech students) to prepare them for their college entrance exams.  If I remember correctly, you sit for an exam in the program of your choice–medical, legal, general studies.  If you don’t get in, you can come to this program and spend another year preparing to retake the exams.  (Yeah, no pressure). Anyway, “Cestina pro cizince” (Czech for foreigners) is no more, but one of the program’s teachers, Alena, still live in the town–and lucky for me, she took me on for lessons.  Not bad to have “CSL” (“Czech as a second langauge?) teacher with twenty years of experience introducing you to the insanity that is Czech grammar. Since I was there in the evenings, Alena also took it upon herself to make sure I had a good grounding in Czech food.  She was one of those people who can whip up any number of things from scratch (of course she was!) and while I sadly must admit I haven’t retained all that much, I do remember making these dumplings with her.  A big bowl of blue-purple oval fruits, tvaroh (Czech “farmer’s cheese”, also known as quark), milk, flour, and butter.

Czech Plum Dumplings (1 of 11)

Czech Plum Dumplings (3 of 11)

First we mixed and kneaded the soft pillowy dough–me and Alena by hand, today me and little H with the stand mixer–

Czech Plum Dumplings (4 of 11)

An assembly line was set up, and we wrapped each fruit in its own little package–

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moistened the edges to create a seal–

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and set them aside while we waited for the water to boil.

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We slipped them into  boiling water to poach, and a few minutes later, carefully fished them out, hot and slippery.

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Drizzled with butter, powdered sugar, and poppy seeds.  My favorite type of lesson about culture–via the stomach.

Czech Plum Dumplings (11 of 11)

Note:  you’ll notice that it took me a while to get this post up as these plums, even if early fall fruits, are no longer in season. However, you can use other fruits so you don’t have to wait until next September.

Czech Plum Dumplings
Recipe Type: breakfast, dessert
Cuisine: Czech
Serves: 4-6
Ingredients
  • 2T butter, softened
  • 1 egg
  • 1/2 cup “pot cheese” (farmer’s cheese, quark, tvaroh, tvarog).
  • pinch of salt
  • 2 cups cake flour or a combination of cake and regular flour. (I used 240g cake and 30g regular flour).
  • 1/4 cup milk
  • 1 – 1 1/2 pounds fruit (prunes, apricots, cherries, apples or other firm fruit; I used 16 plums)
  • melted butter, poppy seeds, additional quark, and powdered sugar for serving
Instructions
  1. Cream butter, egg and cheese together. It’s OK if it’s a bit lumpy. Add the salt, flour, and milk to make a medium firm dough. Depending on the firmness of your cheese, you may have to add more milk. Allow to rest for 30 minutes.
  2. Fill a large pot with water and bring it to a boil while you make the dumplings.
  3. Break off pieces and form into balls–you’ll want 16 or so. Let rest 15 minutes to allow the gluten to relax. On a floured surface, roll dough out into rounds and place a pierced fruit in the center. Dab the edges of the dough to create an adhesive edge, wrap around the fruit, and pinch together, sealing the edges well. Set aside on a floured surface, sealed side down, while you make the other dumplings.
  4. Gently slip into boiling water one at a time but as quickly as possible. Cook for 5-8 minutes turning once. Remove with a skimmer or slotted spoon.
  5. To serve, tear open a dumpling with two forks, and drizzle with melted butter, more cheese, poppy seeds, and powdered sugar

Summer raspberries

Every summer when we went to Seattle, the first thing we always did upon arriving at our grandparents’ house was to run to the backyard and eat the raspberries off the bushes growing in the backyard.  To this day the smell of fresh raspberries brings back that memory, and I don’t know if I love raspberries so much simply for what they are or because of the connection in my mind.

I’m happy to see my sons building the same associations, both picking berries at their own grandparents’ house, and at their great-grandmother’s.

My parents planted these raspberries just last year.   Last year they were tiny clumps of leaves, this year they are dripping with berries.

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Like mother like son, I suppose.  They don’t even make it in the house.

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My grandmother is still growing raspberries.  But this year the star crop was the marionberries, similar to a blackberry.  My grandmother always reminds me she planted them at my request.  I’ve nearly only ever had them from her backyard.

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Seattle Eats: The Original Bakery in West Seattle

The main attraction of the West Seattle Fauntleroy district may be Lincoln Park along the shore of Puget Sound, but it’s also a busy hub for commuters whose cars line up during the day to board the eponymous ferry out to Vashon Island.  Otherwise, it’s a quiet area, with small businesses nestled in among residential areas.  One such corner just a short walk up from the park is shared by Endolyne Joe’s (“Endolyne” referring to the fact that this was once the “end of the line” for the now defunct tram system) and The Original Bakery.

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One of those “neighborhood businesses”–and in this case just as friendly and neighborly as you’d imagine such a shop should be–is The Original Bakery, open since 1936 and run by a father-daughter team, Bernie and Anna Alonzo.  Light and open, charmingly decorated with Delftware-inspired tiles, and drawing in plenty of foot traffic and lots of folks who are clearly “regulars.”

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Now admittedly my father has a fondness for bear claws (by which I mean, he is most certainly a regular) but I was still a bit surprised when we visited and we were greeted by Alex, the guy behind the counter, with a  “Hi Jim!  These must be your daughter and grandsons from Boston!”  My dad then told me that Alex was studying economics, which led to what would have been a discussion about law school excepting that my sons, looking in the display case and getting more and more excited, couldn’t wait any longer before placing their order.

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Frosted donuts with sprinkles (including patriotic red white and blue, as this was just before the 4th of July) were their order of the day (as anything with frosting is always a hit with my boys who then get to lick it off their fingers), but there’s plenty of other flaky pastries, cookies, muffins, and of course bear claws.  And plenty of varieties of bread, from sourdough to rye to french to challah.

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At little bakeries like this, I am usually prepared to pay a bit of a premium for something that is not mass-produced or shipped from some far-off industrial oven.  But I was surprised at the reasonableness of the prices–on our way out we took home a loaf of glazed cinnamon swirl bread for $2.99 (pre-sliced at our request!)–something the fancier bakeries in Boston (and just as likely Seattle!) might be charging $6 dollars for.

Per the owner, “We like to try to keep our prices low where we can.”

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The Original Bakery

9253 45th Ave SW
Seattle, WA 98136
(206) 938-5088

http://www.theoriginalbakery.com/

The Original Bakery and Endolyne Joe's

Other “Seattle Eats” posts on Three Clever Sisters

Bakery Nouveau

Marination Ma Kai

Salumi

Original Bakery on Urbanspoon

Seattle Eats: Marination ma kai

One of the fun parts of planning our annual trip to Seattle is that my uncle always knows the newest places in the Seattle food scene.  Last year he took me to Salumi, this year we all went down on a remarkably sunny Seattle Saturday to Marination ma kai–originally a food truck, now a bricks and mortar restaurant.

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Marination ma kai has an enviable location on Seattle’s Alki beach in West Seattle–“ma kai” means “by the sea.”

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And you couldn’t pick a more appropriate spot for a Hawaiian-inspired restaurant to be located.

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Hawaiian is only part of it though:  This is actually a Hawaiian-Korean place, as the generous application of kimchi will make immediately apparent.  But there’s plenty of surprising items on the menu as well:  an unapologetic use of SPAM, so-called “sexy tofu,” sliders and tacos, and Marination’s signature secret recipe Nunya sauce (what Food and Wine calls “the next Sriracha”).  If you aren’t going to be in Seattle, you can still get a taste of Marination by having Nunya shipped to you.

Between all of us, we sampled a good portion of the menu–I had kimchi rice bowl with a fried egg, Karen got the sexy tofu, and there were orders of pork sliders, fried fish, and lots of crispy fries with Nunya sauce.

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While parking is not always easy at Alki, there’s no better place to enjoy the meal.  We claimed some picnic tables near the restaurant (funnily enough, next to the showering-off station for scuba divers, whose bulky amphibious get-ups were quite entertaining for my sons) and looked across Elliott Bay to downtown Seattle.  There’s plenty of indoor seating for those more than common overcast days as well.

But on a sunny day, no nicer way to finish off a meal than by dipping your toes in Puget Sound.

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(Aunt Karen and Little H, with the Space Needle in the background).

Marination ma kai

Alki Beach – Seacrest Park – West Seattle Water Taxi Loading Dock
1660 Harbor Ave SW, West Seattle

http://marinationmobile.com/locations

Marination Ma Kai on Urbanspoon

Updated to add:  I haven’t tried this recipe, but it’s what Flourishing Foodie reports to be a successful go at recreating the Korean Tofu Tacos at home.  I’ll be giving it a try myself!