Thursday, July 28, 2011


Yesterday started off like any other day -- until the crash.

I was getting out of the car at work, trying to get something out of the trunk while juggling too much stuff in my hands. When my iPhone slipped out of one hand and fell to the cement parking deck, I knew by the sound I was in trouble.

Up until now, I was convinced this phone had nine lives. I've dropped it numerous times before, even lost it between the bleachers and the boards at Toyota Sports Center. To this day Kings radio color commentator Daryl Evans walks by me and shakes his head in wonder that I'm allowed to play with expensive toys unchaperoned.

But all those other times, the phone landed on a corner or skipped around a few times before it finally fell to Earth with a softened blow. This fall was straight down to a hard surface, landing flat as a pancake right on the screen face.

I knew from the soft crunching sounds the news was bad. It was confirmed as soon as I turned the phone over. And in short order, my day was shot to hell.

I've had my current phone for several years, which makes it a dinosaur in electronic terms. But I was holding off on getting a new one because Apple has a new iPhone design rumored to be coming out in the fall. The phone still worked and I tentatively ran my fingers over the shattered touch screen to see if it was still usable (as embarrassing at it would be to be seen with a battered phone). But the glass was too jagged in places and tiny shards poked at my skin. Continuing to use it just wasn't an option.

After I got over the shock of realizing I had to replace the phone, I hopped on the Internet to survey my options. I learned that Apple stores have a machine that can pull out the screen and replace it with another one in minutes, which would cost around $200 -- just about the cost of a new phone. Other articles indicated you could send it to a third party for repairs but it would take several days -- also not an option. So I had to suck it up, say goodbye to my trusted Kings-customizes iPhone 3G and purchase a new phone.

Now that I've had a day to play with it, I love the new phone. It's faster, the camera is far superior and it even records video. Part of me wonders why I waited so long to upgrade it.

The new kid on the block, complete with purple protective case

Then I realized why. Memories. The old phone is full of them. Kings hockey. The Tequila Sisters. Alumni Band. New York City. Hundreds of Foursquare check-ins during my travels coast-to-coast. Texting in Canada. Random photos of ordinary things I loved enough to document. Long problem solving calls with my best friends. Connections to people I love.

So rather than throw it away, I cleaned the screen on the old warrior one more time, turned it off and put it away in a safe place. It may be retired from active duty, but it will never be forgotten.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

The Best Indoor BBQ - Ever!

After my most recent trip to Seattle, I was sorting through old photos and was reminded of another great weekend cooking with my friend Leah a year ago. Then I looked at my Blogger account and realized I started a blog but never finished it. So this is a year late, but good food is always worth sharing to I figured I would finish the blog now. First, let me set the stage a bit....

Barbecues in the Pacific Northwest are always a day-to-day decision, because you just never know when it's going to rain. And in spite of nice weather when I first arrived, on the day Leah had planned to cook it was definitely raining, and stayed raining most of the day.

At least Leah and I know how to improvise. So we just set the table inside and figured good food makes a good barbecue, not the location. We even used the checked tablecloth to make it feel a little bit like eating outdoors.

Then it was time to hit the kitchen and execute Leah's grand meal plan. All recipes are from the Cooks Illustrated recipe archive, so if you're already a member you can grab them online. If you're not, I've printed the recipes here for your convenience.

Gas-Grilled Tuna Burgers with Wasabi Mayonnaise
French Potato Salad with Mustard and Fines Herbes
Buttermilk Coleslaw with Green Onions and Cilantro
Perfect Chocolate Chip Cookies

Gas-Grilled Tuna Burgers with Wasabi Mayonnaise
1 1/4 pounds tuna steaks (high-quality)
1 medium clove garlic , minced or pressed through a garlic press (about 1 teaspoon)
1 teaspoon minced fresh ginger
1/2 teaspoon table salt
Ground black pepper
Vegetable oil


1. Chop tuna into 1/4- to 1/3-inch pieces. Using rocking motion with knife, continue to chop tuna until it is coarsely ground into pieces roughly 1/8 inch each. Mix with garlic, ginger, salt, and pepper to taste. Divide mixture into 4 equal portions (about 5 ounces each) and use your hands to press into compact patty about 1 inch thick. Place patties on parchment-lined baking sheet and refrigerate for at least 15 minutes.

2. Turn on all burners to high, close lid, and heat grill until very hot, about 15 minutes. Leave all burners on high. 

3. Lightly dip small wad of paper towels in vegetable oil; holding wad with long-handled tongs, wipe cooking grate (see illustration below). Grill burgers, covered, until browned on one side, about 3 minutes. Flip burgers with greased metal spatula. Continue grilling, covered, to desired doneness, about 3 minutes for medium-rare or 4 minutes for medium. Serve immediately.

French Potato Salad with Mustard and Fines Herbes
2 pounds small red potatoes (about 2-inch diameter), unpeeled, scrubbed, and cut into 1/4-inch-thick slices
2 tablespoons table salt
1 medium clove garlic , peeled and threaded on skewer
1 1/2 tablespoons champagne vinegar or white wine vinegar
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
1/4 cup olive oil
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 small shallot , minced (about 2 tablespoons)
1 tablespoon minced fresh chervil leaves
1 tablespoon minced fresh parsley leaves
1 tablespoon minced fresh chives
1 teaspoon minced fresh tarragon leaves

Note: If fresh chervil isn’t available, substitute an additional 1/2 tablespoon of minced parsley and an additional 1/2 teaspoon of tarragon. For best flavor, serve the salad warm, but to make ahead, follow the recipe through step 2, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate. Before serving, bring the salad to room temperature, then add the shallots and herbs. 


1. Place potatoes, 6 cups cold tap water, and salt in large saucepan; bring to boil over high heat, then reduce heat to medium. Lower skewered garlic into simmering water and partially blanch, about 45 seconds. Immediately run garlic under cold tap water to stop cooking; remove garlic from skewer and set aside. Continue to simmer potatoes, uncovered, until tender but still firm (thin-bladed paring knife can be slipped into and out of center of potato slice with no resistance), about 5 minutes. Drain potatoes, reserving 1/4 cup cooking water. Arrange hot potatoes close together in single layer on rimmed baking sheet. 

2. Press garlic through garlic press or mince by hand. Whisk garlic, reserved potato cooking water, vinegar, mustard, oil, and pepper in small bowl until combined. Drizzle dressing evenly over warm potatoes; let stand 10 minutes. 

3. Toss shallot and herbs in small bowl. Transfer potatoes to large serving bowl; add shallot/herb mixture and mix gently with rubber spatula to combine. Serve immediately. 

Buttermilk Coleslaw with Green Onions and Cilantro
1 pound cabbage (about 1/2 medium head), red or green, shredded fine (6 cups)
Table salt
1 medium carrot , shredded on box grater
1/2 cup buttermilk
2 tablespoons mayonnaise
2 tablespoons sour cream
1 small shallot , minced (about 2 tablespoons)
1 tablespoon minced fresh cilantro leaves
1 teaspoon lime juice
1/2 teaspoon granulated sugar
2 scallions , sliced thin
1/8 teaspoon ground black pepper


1. Toss shredded cabbage and 1 teaspoon salt in colander or large mesh strainer set over medium bowl. Let stand until cabbage wilts, at least 1 hour or up to 4 hours. Rinse cabbage under cold running water. Press, but do not squeeze, to drain; pat dry with paper towels. Place wilted cabbage and carrot in large bowl. 

2. Stir buttermilk, mayonnaise, sour cream, shallot, cilantro, lime juice, sugar, scallions, 1/4 teaspoon salt, and pepper together in small bowl. Pour dressing over cabbage and toss to combine; refrigerate until chilled, about 30 minutes. (Coleslaw can be refrigerated for up to 3 days.)  

Perfect Chocolate Chip Cookies
1 3/4cups unbleached all-purpose flour (8 3/4 ounces)
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
14 tablespoons unsalted butter (1 3/4 sticks)
1/2 cup granulated sugar (3 1/2 ounces)

1 teaspoon table salt
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 large egg
1 large egg yolk
1 1/4cups semisweet chocolate chips or chunks (see note)
3/4 cup chopped pecans or walnuts, toasted (optional)


1. Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 375 degrees. Line 2 large (18- by 12-inch) baking sheets with parchment paper. Whisk flour and baking soda together in medium bowl; set aside.

2. Heat 10 tablespoons butter in 10-inch skillet over medium-high heat until melted, about 2 minutes. Continue cooking, swirling pan constantly until butter is dark golden brown and has nutty aroma, 1 to 3 minutes. Remove skillet from heat and, using heatproof spatula, transfer browned butter to large heatproof bowl. Stir remaining 4 tablespoons butter into hot butter until completely melted.

3. Add both sugars, salt, and vanilla to bowl with butter and whisk until fully incorporated. Add egg and yolk and whisk until mixture is smooth with no sugar lumps remaining, about 30 seconds. Let mixture stand 3 minutes, then whisk for 30 seconds. Repeat process of resting and whisking 2 more times until mixture is thick, smooth, and shiny. Using rubber spatula or wooden spoon, stir in flour mixture until just combined, about 1 minute. Stir in chocolate chips and nuts (if using), giving dough final stir to ensure no flour pockets remain.

I'm not gonna lie, I thought this step was borderline obsessive. We're mixing cookie dough, not making gunpowder! But Leah religiously kept the timer on me while I dutifully whisked the batter for EXACTLY 30 seconds, then timed it again as it rested. And while I wasn't completely bought into the process, I trust Leah and the Cooks Illustrated people. I think I added a pound of muscle to my arm doing the batter for these damn cookies! But it DID look pretty amazing....


4. Divide dough into 16 portions, each about 3 tablespoons (or use #24 cookie scoop). Arrange 2 inches apart on prepared baking sheets, 8 dough balls per sheet. (Smaller baking sheets can be used, but will require 3 batches.)

5. Bake cookies 1 tray at a time until cookies are golden brown and still puffy, and edges have begun to set but centers are still soft, 10 to 14 minutes, rotating baking sheet halfway through baking. Transfer baking sheet to wire rack; cool cookies completely before serving.

What can I say, we know how to put together a pretty nice spread of food -- and beverage!

All the food was delicious, but the star of the night was absolutely the cookies, thanks to a little spontaneous creativity. Leah had wanted to use the cookies to make ice cream sandwiches, but wasn't entirely sure how to make it the best presentation. I had seen an article in Martha Stewart Living a while ago about ice cream cakes, so I proposed softening the ice cream and using a cookie cutter to form it into perfect rounds.

Spreading out the ice cream before cutting....

The end result was absolute perfection.

Maybe it's time for us to open a catering business.....

Monday, July 25, 2011

Culinary Therapy

Cooking is like many things in life. You start of with an idea of what you want to accomplish, then make a plan to get there. Sometimes the work goes smoothly, and other times you have to improvise or even create something completely new on the fly in order to realize your vision. Most of all, your outcome is better when it's the result of a collaboration with others who bring their own strengths and perspectives to the table to balance yours.

That's probably why I enjoy cooking with my dear friend Leah Jacobs so much. We're a lot alike, but also different enough that our skills complement each other. So every time I get to visit her in Seattle, we use our love of food and the strength of our friendship as an excuse to cook together. It's part food and part therapy, at least for me.

Leah and I have an unspoken deal about how things work in her kitchen. She's the brains of the operation (recipe finder, shopping list maker, and ingredient measurer extraordinaire) and I'm the brawn (chopper, mixer and dish washer). OK, that's not totally true -- Leah washes dishes too. But I digress.

The Brains of the operation hard at work...

I also get to steal all the great recipes she finds, which is worth the sweat equity I put in. Plus I get to eat fabulous meals with great company!

On my most recent trip to Seattle, we cooked up another winning combination for dinner, so I have FOUR recipes to share! This blog post is gonna be a long one because I don't have links to most of the recipes -- but I promise it will be YUMMY!

Fig, Prosciutto and Mascarpone Bruschetta With Grilled Baguette
Tequila Marinated Grilled Skirt Steak
Italian Bread Salad (aka Panzanella)
Berry Cheese Torte

Fig, Prosciutto and Mascarpone Bruschetta With Grilled Baguette
  • 1 baguette sliced into 1/2" thick pieces
  • 1 cup mascarpone cheese
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil plus extra for baguette
  • 3/4 cup chopped figs
  • 4 ounces prosciutto sliced into thin pieces
  • 1 shallot minced
  • 2 cloves garlic minced
  • 2 tablespoons honey
  • 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
  •  Salt and pepper 

1) Heat grill or grill pan. Brush sliced baguette with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Grill bread until marks appear (about 2 minutes). Leah and I actually toasted the bread in a 400 degree oven for about 10 minutes and it worked just as well.

2) In a saute pan, heat olive oil over medium high heat. Saute shallot for 2 minutes. Add prosciutto and cook until meat starts to crisp (about 4 minutes). Add figs and garlic and cook 2 more minutes, then add vinegar and honey and season with salt and pepper to taste.

3) Divide mascarpone cheese and spread over grilled baguette slices. Top with fig/prosciutto mix and serve.

So pretty, super tasty, and SO EASY! The hardest part is the chopping -- especially the figs because they're pretty sticky! And there was not one morsel left so it's a crowd pleaser.

Italian Bread Salad (Panzanella)

I knew this had to be good since it was a Cooks Illustrated recipe. It certainly didn't disappoint, although Leah and I made a few minor adjustments.
  • 6 cups rustic Italian or French bread , cut or torn into 1-inch pieces (1/2 to 1 pound)
  • 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • Salt and pepper
  • 1 1/2 pounds tomatoes , cored, seeded, and cut into 1-inch pieces
  • 3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
  • 1 cucumber , peeled, halved lengthwise, seeded, and sliced thin
  • 1 shallot, sliced thin
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh basil

1) Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 400 degrees. Toss bread pieces with 2 tablespoons oil and ¼ teaspoon salt; arrange bread in single layer on rimmed baking sheet. Toast bread pieces until just starting to turn light golden, 15 to 20 minutes, stirring halfway through. Set aside to cool to room temperature.

2) Gently toss tomatoes and ½ teaspoon salt in large bowl. Transfer to colander and set over bowl; set aside to drain for 15 minutes, tossing occasionally.  So you'll notice in the ingredients is says to seed and core the tomatoes. We bought these lovely little plum tomatoes so we'd have an easier time cutting them into one inch pieces, but it took forever to seed and core them, and not much additional juice drained out of the tomatoes after the 15 minutes were up. If I had to do it over, I'd use regular tomatoes, not seed and core them so that the juice around the seeds could run out, and then run it through a sieve to remove the seeds.

3) Whisk remaining 6 tablespoons oil, vinegar, and ¼ teaspoon pepper into reserved tomato juices. Add bread pieces, toss to coat, and let stand for 10 minutes, tossing occasionally.

4) Add tomatoes, cucumber, shallot, and basil to bowl with bread pieces and toss to coat. Season with salt and pepper to taste, and serve immediately. We goofed here too and realized we didn't have an extra shallot, so we used a small amount of thinly sliced red onion and it worked just as well.

It's the perfect salad for summer. No dressing needed, very light and a colorful addition to any plate. It also disappeared.

Tequila Marinated Grilled Flank Steak
  • 3/4 cup freshly squeezed lime juice (approximately 8 large limes)
  • 1/2 cup clear tequila
  • 1/4 cup soy sauce
  • 1/4 cup minced garlic
  • 1 bunch roughly chopped cilantro, leaves and stems included
  • 1 Jalapeno pepper, seeded and diced
  • 1 Serrano pepper, seeded and diced
  • 1 teaspoon cumin powder
  • 1 tablespoon freshly cracked black pepper
  • 1 1/2-2 pounds flank steak

I knew this recipe was a guaranteed winner. Anytime you get to marinate meat in alcohol, it's a fun day in the kitchen. We also used skirt steak instead of flank steak and it worked just as well. Leah spent quite a bit of time chatting up the meat choice with the butcher so she knows the difference between the two. I personally have no clue. In my world, meat is meat and it's ALL good. Here's how you make it.

1) Combine all ingredients in s resealable plastic gallon bag. Confession time: Leah and I used bottled lime juice. Normally we're up to the task of fresh squeezing, but the limes we found at the store were TINY and it would have taken forever! We chose a shortcut so we could have time for a cocktail -- so sue us. Add the steak and let marinate in refrigerator for 2 hours. Remove and let marinate at room temperature another 30-45 minutes.

2) Prepare grill to medium-high heat. Remove steak from marinade, reserving marinade. Put marinade in a small sauce pot and bring to a boil, then strain and reserve.

3) Place steak on the grill. Cook for 4 minutes, turn 180 degrees and cook for 3 minutes more (to create cross grill marks). Flip over and finish cooking for 3-5 minutes, depending on doneness. Remove from grill and move to cutting board and let rest, lightly covered, for 5 minutes. Slice against grain and serve immediately with reserved marinade.

Now THAT is some tasty meat!

Berry Cheese Torte

This recipe was my contribution to the party. Leah was looking for something sweet that didn't have chocolate, and I had found this going through my recipe stash. It's published online, so I'm going to save myself some typing on this already long post and just link it for you, then follow it with some photos and notes.

So this is basically a fruit tart with a revised take on the typical graham cracker crust using vanilla wafers and ginger snaps instead of graham crackers. Major yummy! But the crust was the first issue I had with the recipe.

 It says to use a 9" springform pan, but the amount of crust mix was not enough to cover the pan AND go 1 1/2 inches up the side. If the crust portion of the recipe was doubled it would have worked. The other option would be to use a 8" pan.

As luck would have it, Leah's kitchen has this great little tool called a tamper so I was able to get the crust to work per the recipe, but with a lot more effort than expected. But after it baked, I was still a little worried because the crust wasn't sticking together along the sides of the pan.

We didn't have enough time to redo it, so we went with it, figuring the gelatin in the fruit portion of the recipe would help hold it together. Or the cream cheese filling part. All the pieces of this puzzle would come together somehow.

Speaking of gelatin, that brings me to the second issue with the recipe. You dissolve gelatin in grape juice, then heat it. It says that it should then set up in 45 minutes in the fridge, but it took at least twice that long. A couple of notes on the recipe site mentioned the same thing, so I know it wasn't just us. Next time, I'd probably try heating the grape juice before adding the gelatin so it would dissolve faster and hopefully activate better.

We really shouldn't have worried, because the finished product turned out just fine -- and was a tasty as we hoped!

HUGE thanks to Leah for yet another one-of-a-kind amateur test kitchen experience resulting in an amazing meal! Try any of these recipes and I promise you'll get raves.

Now go cook something, will ya?

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Cheesesteak Wars: Who Makes The Best Steak in Philly?

No visit to Philadelphia is complete without sampling the city's most beloved food -- the cheesesteak. If Seattle is known for having a coffee shop on every corner, then Philly has a cheesesteak joint on every one of theirs. But not all cheesesteaks are created equal, and anyone who has spent much time in Philly has an opinion on whose steak is best. Since I was in Philly for two days, I decided to try two.

The steak on the left is from my first stop - Jim's Steaks on South Street.

Jim's was recommended by a dear friend who is a Philly area native, and she swore it was absolutely the best steak in the city. Apparently a lot of other people feel that way too, because the place was PACKED and it was late in the afternoon before I got around to having lunch.

At Jim's, you get a birds eye view of the guy assembling your steak as you order, and it's a delight to behold. I ordered a steak with provolone, lettuce and tomato.

First, the cheese went on the bun, which then got pressed face down on the grill for about 5 seconds. Then a flick of the wrist was all it took to slap a healthy portion of meat between the bread and finish with the lettuce and tomato.

Let's see that again, but bigger!

The steak at Jim's had amazing flavor, plus the bun was nice and soft from those few seconds on the grill. It probably soaked up a nice little bit of grease as well, which made it all the more tasty.

The next day, I checked out Pat's King of Steaks.

Pat's is located in a hardscrabble working-class South Philly neighborhood right out of Rocky. In fact, one of the scenes in the movie was filmed at Pat's, so they have a little plaque to commemorate that.

Pat's was founded by the Oliveri Brothers, who according to Wikipedia are "generally credited as the 1933 co-creators of the Philly Cheesesteak." When you ask most casual visitors to Philly where to go for a steak, they'll normally mention Pat's or Geno's, which is right on the opposite corner of the street.

Since they get a lot of tourists, the Pat's gang are also kind enough to give you instructions on how to order a steak. Who knew there was a right way?

I ordered a "steak wit provolone." No good visual on the guy making your steak this time, just the dude leaning out a small window to take your money. And the other interesting thing about Pat's was the ordering process for anything else BUT a steak -- that all happened at another window, with a separate register. That one was a head scratcher, but I guess the guy taking the steak orders needs to stay focused.

The Pat's steak was good, but didn't come close to matching Jim's. The meat quality was about the same, but the bun just didn't have that same softness and flavor. And looking at both steaks side by side above, it's pretty clear Jim's gets you the bigger portion. All told, Jim's was the big winner for me.

Regardless of what steak you prefer, here are some final tips to get the most out of your Philly cheesesteak experience.
  1. Bring plenty of cash. Neither of these joints take credit cards and a steak plus a drink will run you about $10. There is an ATM around the corner from Jim's, but not a cash machine in sight near Pat's.
  2. Have patience, especially if you're going during a busy time. Both places can get really busy.
  3. Seating can be a little tricky, so be prepared to eat on the fly if needed. Of course, you can always get it to go.
Sadly, my Philly cheesesteak experience was not complete because I never had a steak the "traditional" way -- with Cheese Wiz. Guess that means I gotta go back. Life is rough sometimes...

East Coast Adventures: Philadelphia

After I was done reuniting with my classmates and spending time with family in Delaware, I headed up to Philadelphia for a couple of days.

Philly will always have a special place in my heart because it was the closest "big" city to where I grew up. When I was in grade school, we lived in Wilmington, DE during the United States Bicentennial, and in 1976 I took my first trip to see the place democracy started in our country. I distinctly remember the Liberty Bell, which at that time was outside just across the mall from Independence Hall.

The little Liberty Bell in the bottom left corner is a ceramic bank circa 1976! What a coincidence!

 This is the first time I've revisited the historic sites in the city, and a lot has changed over the years in a good way. The Liberty Bell is now enclosed in a beautiful new visitors center  and Independence Hall in undergoing some exterior renovation. As luck would have it, I picked a great day to do things inside, because it poured rain at one point. But wet or dry the historic part of Philadelphia is more beautiful than I remembered it.

The next day, I visited some popular tourist sites in the city for the very first time. That day the weather was hot and sunny, so Boathouse Row was the right place to start the day.

Set along the east bank of the Schuylkill River, Boathouse Row is home to all the local collegiate and social rowing clubs.  If you follow the walking path further into Fairmount Park, you get gorgeous views of the river, and if you walk far enough you get the Philadelphia skyline in the background!

After Boathouse Row, I headed to the Philadelphia Museum of Art, which is probably most famous for the iconic steps Sylvester Stallone ran up in the first Rocky movie. They even have a Rocky statute just off to one side of the bottom of the steps and a bronze plaque at the top exactly where Rocky stood at the end of his run. More importantly, you get a great view  straight down Market Street right to City Hall.

Philly is a fantastic sports city, so I couldn't leave without taking in a Phillies game at Citizens Bank Park. The Boston Red Sox were in town, so the game was sold out, the crowd was great and most importantly -- the Phillies won!

I crammed a lot into two days -- maybe that calls for a cheesesteak?