Category Archives: delicious events

Dominoes and Treats at the Palace

It has been SO much fun spreading the word about the release of my latest book, Gourmet Game Night, because the basic premise of the book is all about having fun. I like to think that previous books I worked on had their merits: tasty reliable recipes, interesting stories and perspectives on foods and cooking. But this one is different. When I bring up games with folks, more often than not their eyes light up and they smile, telling me about the standing euchre date they have with neighbors every other Saturday. Or the on-going cribbage battles with their sister. Or the group of friends they’ve been playing poker with for the last few years.

It makes my job as an author doing gigs to promote the book a much more fun one than it ever has been in the past. Case in point: a mini domino tournament that the Tom Douglas gang is putting on for me at Palace Kitchen in downtown Seattle. Thursday evening May 13, part of the restaurant will be set aside for folks to play dominoes (likely the Mexican Train version of the game) while nibbling on samples of a few recipes from my cookbook (Green Pea and  Mint Spread with Crispy Pancetta, Herb Marinated Shrimp, and Lamb and Olive Kebabs). Plus they’ll be stirring up one of the cocktails from the book too, yummy Orange Negronis, available at the bar that night. Come join in the fun!! Tickets are $10 to cover the snacks, and books will be available that night as well, all the info you need is here. Of course, I’ll be happy to sign those books that night too. It’s going to be a really fun evening.

Many thanks to the folks from Blue Highway Games who will be on hand to run the tournament and provide their general game-playing expertise. That shop at the top of Queen Anne was part of the inspiration behind the book. I figured that if a couple guys who used to be in the electronic gaming industry were turning their attention to retail of old-school board games, there had to be something to this trend of unwinding with friends and family around the table, not electronics required. Hope to see you next week!



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Luscious Lamb

I was chatting with the butcher at my neighborhood grocery store about lamb on a recent visit. I wanted to do a simple braise-stew but time was short, didn’t want to fiddle with trimming shoulder (blade) meat from the bone, nor rely on leaner leg steaks that are less unctuous for braising. He told me that some English customers mentioned they braise the whole bone-in shoulder steaks and later just lift out the bones when the meat’s all delightfully tender. (He also told me that he’s never tried the prep, since he doesn’t like lamb. How’s that possible? And a butcher, to boot?!) Bingo!! I now have a new favorite quickie dinner plan in my repertoire.

That afternoon I salt-and-pepper seasoned the lamb and browned the steaks in a deep sauté pan. Out came the steaks, in went some chopped onion and garlic to sauté,  with a couple bay leaves (could also add other herbs or veg on hand; diced carrot and/or fennel bulb would be tasty). I squeezed in juice from a small lemon, then tossed in the rind too. A generous pinch of salt and pepper as well.

I added the lamb back to the pan with whatever juices collected on the plate, and added a generous swig of  dry vermouth (dry white wine good too), popped on the lid and got back to work for a couple hours while the meat slowly braised over low heat. Later, I drained and rinsed a can of chickpeas and scattered them into the pan. I then left the lid a bit to one side, so some of the liquid evaporated, thickening the cooking liquids a bit. By the time the bones were easy to lift out with a pair of tongs, the meat is also tender enough to break into large pieces if you like, for a more stew-like presentation. Or lift out the steaks in whole pieces and serve plated with the reduced braising ingredients spooned over. Painless, easy, and delicious!

I do really love lamb, the flavor and versatility of the various cuts is just out of this world. Which is why I’m so looking forward to being a judge at the Lamb Jam later in October, a lamb-pa-loosa with Seattle area chefs cooking up their best lamb dishes to wow us judges. Bring it on! You can attend and get a sample of their lamb craft as well, tickets just $30.

I don’t recall much lamb in the kitchen when I was growing up, but the lamb file in my file drawer is pretty full, including a typed ring-bound San Juan Islands Lamb Cookbook with a few dozen recipes compiled by the San Juan County Lamb and Wool Producers, dated summer 1987. (Wool brings up a whole other story, for another time perhaps, but it was a winter trip to Lopez Island and a holiday bazaar with yarn spun from Lopez sheep that turned me into a mad knitter!)

Lamb certainly figured in many of the recipes in the school repertoire at La Varenne, my favorite being navarin d’agneau, a rich stew with lots of vegetables we all worked to perfect knowing it might show up on one of the practical exams. A friend in Pittsburgh shared this link to an article about Julia Child’s connection with a local lamb farmer and their favorite Julia-inspired roasted leg of lamb recipe. From that simplicity to the more elaborate Lebanese kibbi preparation with ground lamb, bulghur, spices and pine nuts, I don’t think I’ve met a lamb dish I didn’t like.

Braised lamb shanks are a sure favorite around this house. They shine in simple preparation, braised with wine and/or broth, aromatic vegetables, herbs, subtle flavors that emphasize the lamb character. But then again, one of the most memorable recipes from years of testing restaurant recipes is the Coconut Curried Lamb Shanks from Luau Polynesian Lounge, contributed to the Best Places Seattle Cookbook I did with Kathy Casey back in 2001. It’s got a lot of bold flavors, both in the braising liquids and in the coconut-ginger salsa that accompanies the shanks for serving. But man, was it delicious! I haven’t made this for a while, but may have to whip it up again soon.


Coconut Curried Lamb Shanks (from Luau Polynesian Lounge)


4 lamb shanks (about 1 lb each)

3 tablespoons vegetable oil

1 can (14 oz) unsweetened coconut milk

1/4 cup soy sauce

1/4 cup Thai fish sauce (nam pla)

3 tablespoons honey

2 tablespoons red curry paste

2 tablespoons chopped cilantro

1 tablespoon coriander seeds

5 star anise


Coconut Ginger Salsa

1 cup freshly grated coconut

3 tablespoons chopped pickled ginger

2 tablespoons minced lemongrass

1 tablespoon chopped cilantro

1/2 habanero chile, cored, seeded, and minced (or to taste)

Juice of 1 lime

Salt and freshly ground black pepper


Preheat the oven to 325°F.

For the salsa, combine the coconut, ginger, lemongrass, cilantro, chile, and lime juice with salt and pepper to taste. Stir to mix well and set aside.

Season the lamb shanks well with salt and pepper. Heat the oil in a large, heavy pot, such as a Dutch oven, over medium-high heat. Add 2 of the shanks and brown them well on all sides, about 5 minutes total. Set them aside on a plate and brown the remaining 2 shanks. Return the first shanks to the pan (with any juices that have collected on the plate) and add the coconut milk, soy sauce, fish sauce, honey, red curry paste, cilantro, coriander seeds, and star anise. Add cold water just to cover the shanks and bring to a boil over high heat. Cover the pot and braise the lamb shanks in the oven until very tender, about 3 hours.

Transfer the lamb shanks to a platter and cover with foil to keep warm. Skim the fat from the surface of the braising liquid, then strain the liquid through a sieve. Return the liquid to the pot and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Reduce the liquid until slightly thickened, about 15 minutes. Taste for seasoning, adding salt or pepper to taste. Pour some of the cooking liquids over the lamb shanks and spoon the coconut-ginger salsa alongside.

Makes 4 servings


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My Dinner with Julia

Julia Child’s birthday was on August 15, the towering mentor to generations of food lovers in this country would have been 97 years old. Usually it’s an annual event that garners plenty of its own attention, with media tributes and themed dinners in countless homes across America.

But this year was a little different. THE movie — Julie & Julia — was released a week prior. An overflowing stockpot of discussion, reflection, praise, and controversy flowed in virtually every outlet from Twitter to Newsweek. And it began a few weeks earlier with the first wave of preview screenings (one of which I attended in Seattle). One of my food writer pals was a surprised participant in the hubbub when ABC News called following a blog post of hers to quote her on the food world’s perspectives on the film.

Man. It was all anyone (at least in my circles) could talk about for a few weeks. It took the launch of season three of Mad Men to change the subject (on to retro cocktails and cigarettes!!). And it unfortunately made Julia’s birthday this year seem something of an afterthought. I did toast her with a simple dinner of butter-sautéed sole fillets here at home.

I really didn’t want to join in the chorus of dissertation on the film, though I will say that I LOVED it and was very impressed with how the two vastly different lives and stories (based on My Life in France and Julie and Julia) were chronicled in such an engaging fashion.

I did, however, want to join those who used the opportunity to celebrate Julia’s impact on us by telling a personal tale or two about interacting with the larger-than-life culinary inspiration.

juliaandme2As it happens it was my birthday, the first day that I met Julia. Not only met her, but cooked for her. I was working at the Château du Feÿ in northern Burgundy and Julia was traveling through France, due to drop in for a day to visit her longtime friend, and my boss/mentor, Anne Willan.

I got wind of this a couple of weeks earlier and figured it would be about the best birthday present possible to be able to spend time with Julia while she was here. But how was I going to squirrel my way into this? (On a later occasion, Leslie Caron came to visit with Anne one afternoon. Ms. Caron was just moving into neighborhood, setting up an auberge in nearby Villeneuve-Sur-Yonne.  I offered to make them tea so Anne could devote her full attention to her guest; she slyly commented “I don’t recall you making me afternoon tea before!” Busted.)

Ends up I didn’t need to scheme much to be able to spend time with Julia during her visit. Anne juliamenuinvited five of us La Varenne graduates to put together the dinner that evening. And what a glorious evening it was. I did up some menus for the occasion, which Julia kindly signed for us all. My contribution was, thankfully, not a starring role of the meal, which would have made me too nervous. I drew from a dish I’d created for my “mystery basket” final exam for the Grand Diplôme I earned from the school: flan de courgettes. Blanched thin slices of cucumber lined individual ramekins that were then filled with a rich zucchini custard (I think I spiced it up with saffron and/or cumin).

Randall serving the Surprise to Julia

Randall serving the Surprise to Julia

My La Varenne pals rounded out the menu, as you see here, with delectable treats from blinis with caviar to braised wild boar done up hunter-style. The dessert was truly a show-stopper. Randall went all out with a huge, beautiful “Surprise Danubius” — a riff on Baked Alaska (or perhaps more correctly omelette norvegienne since we were in France!). There were a couple different cake flavors–poppy seed (hinting at time Randall spent cooking in Budapest) and chocolate–with at least 2 ice cream flavors, he recalls perhaps ginger and lavender. All lavishly coated in meringue and browned to a toasty finish. It was spectacular.

I really wish my tired old memory box could recall a slew of specific details about that evening. Alas. But the whole experience was a whirlwind of thrill that I’ll never forget. I did later have occasion to spend a few hours with Julia in her Cambridge home, doing an interview for a cover story in Simply Seafood magazine. That was amazing too. If it’s possible to have two once-in-a-lifetime experiences with the same person, I feel fortunate to have had just that with Madame Julia Child. Here’s to Julia!


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A Market Basket Cook-Off

What a phenomenal Saturday morning it was yesterday. It was such an honor to be asked to judge the Ready Set Go…Cook (friendly) competition at the University District Farmers Market, an annual affair that pits two Seattle chefs against each other using their pick of items from market vendors. My cohorts on the judging panel were Joe Gruber, Executive Director of the University District Food Bank and Joane McIntyre from Rents Due Ranch, a longtime market vendor. We were introduced by Mayor Greg Nickels who had moments earlier been part of a ceremony celebrating the city’s purchase of the University Heights building and property, under a banner that touted “celebrating community and supporting local farmers.” It’s a phenomenal step forward in helping ensure that at least one of our city’s neighborhood farmers markets has a permanent home to count on for years to come.

One proviso for the cook-off was that each dish–serving four–should come in at or below a $10 cost. An new this year was the added challenge to integrate pantry items provided by the nearby University District Food Bank, in an effort to show shoppers how well you can eat without having to bust your budget on expensive gourmet products.

The two contenders yesterday were Rachel Yang, chef/co-owner of Joule restaurant in Wallingford and Juli Guillemette, a just-recently-departed sous chef at BOKA downtown (she’s headed off on a road trip adventure back to Vermont where her family has a dairy farm–best wishes for that Juli!). Here’s how each provisioned their kitchens for the cook-off, best as I could note.

Rachel’s market products included fennel, small Asian eggplants, zucchini and yellow squash, hazelnuts, eggs, zucchini blossoms, purslane, honey, goat yogurt and (coolest product of all) zucchini stalks, which included crunchy stalks, tender tendrils and leaves. From the Food Bank pantry she used vinegar, cider, rice, mandarin oranges, and …. Spam!!

Juli’s choices from the market stalls included purslane, Walla Walla sweet onions, green beans, tomatoes, peaches, cucumbers, garlic, oregano, basil, and chicken livers. And from the Food Bank pantry she opted for flour, vinegar, tuna, oil, and maybe one or two other items I missed.

Oh, and each chef was allowed to bring a secret ingredient.

Juli presented her dishes first. She noted a love for meat and fruit combinations, pairing the chicken livers with peaches. The peach halves were lightly sugared and caramelized cut-side down in a cast iron pan (she’d have grilled them if that had been an option). Then cut in pieces, the peaches were partnered with chopped basil and sautéed Walla Walla sweets tocookoff3accompany the crispy pan-fried chicken livers. Her secret ingredient went to use here as a simple sauce: exquisite aged balsamic vinegar. I’m not, unfortunately, a fan of meat-meets-fruit, but do really like chicken livers. And I appreciated the creativity of this combination, particularly given the more savory basil and onion elements.

The second dish Juli served was a twist on salade niçoise, with the tuna, tomatoes, blanched green beans, cucumber and purslane, topped with a vinaigrette that included minced garlic and fresh oregano.  What’s not to love, great fresh bright flavors, quite summery, and nice to show how much you can dress up an inexpensive can of tuna.

Rachel followed with her first of two dishes. The halved baby eggplant and cookoff2pieces of fennel bulb had been marinated (honey-soy) and cooked in a grill pan, served with a salad of purslane and mandarin oranges, a sauce of yogurt and honey with chopped fennel fronds alongside. Delicious.

For me, the star dish of the day was Rachel’s second, a zucchini congee. Congee is, as Rachel simply put it, a rice porridge, typically savory. She noted that giving the time constraints of the competition, cooking the rice congee-style was a quicker option. The long grain rice soaked in cold water for maybe 20 minutes, then she whirled it in the blender with water for a bit, tossed it all in a saucepan to cook. Later she added grated zucchini, sliced zucchini stalks and zucchini leaves. For a finishing touch, she sautéed diced yellow squash and Spam to spoon over.

Rachel put her secret ingredient–soy sauce–to unique use, curing egg yolks from the beginning of the competition (about 1 hour before serving). A cured raw egg yolk was then added to the center of each bowl just before serving, which then oozed deliciously into the congee as you eat it. The lastcookoff1 of many flourishes in this dish was a small piece of lightly fried zucchini blossom on top, a lovely crisp contrast to the silky rich texture of the dish. Wow.

Both chefs did such a great job, really got into the spirit of the challenge and into the pleasure of sharing their favorite ingredients and techniques with the crowd. But Rachel prevailed to take away the coveted blue ribbon first prize for this year’s Ready Set, Go…Cook!

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Meet Your Friendly Farmer

Just around the corner, on August 23, is one of the best chef-farmer food events in town each year. This will be the 5th annual Incredible Feast, an outstanding chance to visit with  farmers you see at the weekly markets around Seattle, in a setting that’s not quite as frantic as a busy market day! Each of the 30 or so participating farmers showcases one or more of their signature ingredients, cooked up into a delicious treat by the chef they’ve been partnered with.

This year’s Feast will be held at the University District market site, at University Heights (corner of University Way and 50th). Among the participating farmers are Billy’s Organic, Rama Farm, Whistling Train, Foraged and Found Edibles, Rock Ridge Orchards and Loki Fish. And the chefs who’ll be cooking include John Sundstrom from Lark, Chris Keff from Flying Fish, Renee Erickson from Boat Street Café and Ethan Stowell from Union. More details hereUntitled-2.

Proceeds from the event support the Neighborhood Farmers Market Alliance, which oversees many of the city’s best markets. In fact, the University District just received major national recognition as one of the top 10 markets in the countryby Huffington Post (it ranked #3).

I’ll be there and hope you might consider joining for the fun, delicious Sunday afternoon of wonderful food, farm-fresh. You can get your tickets here.

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Cooking at the Barn: Returning to Orcas

A week from today I’ll be in one of my favorite places on the planet. Oh, how I wish it were Paris! But a very close second to Paris in terms of places that make me happy, serene, inspired, and revived is Orcas Island. Right here in my own back yard, a short drive and glorious ferry ride away.

Orcas from a kayak's perspective

Orcas from a kayak's perspective

I’ve been going to Orcas for most of my life, it’s a place that evokes the most profound and soul-feeding memories for me: learning to play golf at the Orcas Island Golf Country Golf Course, riding paddle boats on Cascade Lake, walking around the tippy-top of Mt Constitution, skipping stones and roasting marshmellows on the beach at North Beach Inn where we always stayed. Not only summers, but also the occasional Thanksgiving when we headed to the island instead of our other holiday destination: Harrison Hot Springs.

So it’s with a lot of anticipation that I look forward to returning to Orcas next week. I’ll be teaching a cooking class at Christina Orchid’s “Red Barn.” Orcas regulars will recognize her as the founder of the amazing Christina’s restaurant in the heart of Eastsound. She opened the restaurant over 25 years ago, and sold it a year or two ago — able now to devote time to a range of other projects and activities, which includes teaching at the Seattle Culinary Academy at Seattle Central Community College, and devoting more time to the Red Rabbit Farm on her Orcas property.  She and her husband Bruce have put a huge amount of work into the barn, used for cooking classes and special events of all kinds. I read on the site just now that next year they’ll be offering farm-stay experiences beginning next year, guests cooking and exploring by day (clamming, foraging, visiting local farms), staying on the property by night. Sounds amazing. Sign me up.

Next Tuesday evening I’ll be teaching the first of Christina’s June series of four “celebrity guest chef” classes. My recipes will draw from books in my Northwest Homegrown Cookbook Series, including salmon with sorrel sauce

Sunset from Beach Haven on Orcas

Sunset from Beach Haven on Orcas

and clafoutis made with plums. I’m not sure how registration’s going, but if you want to find out more, here’s the class information with contact info too.

Cost of the class is $100, which includes the class, a dinner following, and wine! And proceeds go to Orcas Island Children’s House, an early learning childhood center that’s been in operation since 1969, fulfilling the needs of working families on the island to provide their young children with education-oriented preschool services. Hope to maybe see you there!!

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Summer Camp for Foodies

I always loved summer camp as a kid. For many summers my folks dropped me off at Camp Killoquah north of Everett for a week of canoeing, swimming, archery, making sand candles, singing camp songs. I can’t remember much about what I did last month, or the name of someone I met at a meeting last week, but I can remember those darn camp songs. Why is that?

The food? Well, not much sticks with me about the food. Aside from one delicious recollection. Some mornings we’d build a camp fire (we were Camp Fire girls, after all) and toast slices of bread on sticks held precariously over the flames. Then came the fun. A virtual smorgasbord of toppings we could add at will: peanut butter, jelly, chopped nuts, raisins, coconut, brown sugar, cinnamon sugar. Man, that was some amazing toast, I’ve thought about it more than a few times over the years. But never had the nerve to try recreating it. Maybe one of these days.

Short of going back to relive the bug bites and lumpy cots, the early reveille and KP duty — there’s a better option for us grown-ups to enjoy a taste of summer camp right here in Seattle. Make that a surprising, delicious taste of summer camp. Summer camp, done up Tom Douglas style. Which means your breakfast might just be a bowl of pho made by Eric Banh from Monsoon, as was the case on the morning I joined Summer Camp last year.

Some of last year’s highlights included making breads and pizza at Serious Pie, learning cake decorating techniques, wine tasting challenges, a demo with Armandino Batali from Salumi and an outing to Pike Place Market followed by cooking together in the Palace Kitchen. Oh, and loads of demos by local chefs, such as John Sundstrom from Lark and and Mark Fuller from Spring Hill.

It’s a busy week, five full days. But the pacing’s great, lots of different things going on throughout the day, great conversations and interactions, the guests clearly having a lot of fun together, and intently interested in the subject at hand: great food and beverage, shared in a convivial and engaging setting. Think about going back to camp this summer. It’ll definitely be delicious. Maybe I’ll share that toast recipe with Tom, for old time’s sake.

I can’t promise that there are still spots available, they go QUICK, many guests from previous years jump right on board again. But they have added a second week this year, so it’s possible! To find out more, check out this link on their web site.

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