Wednesday, April 29, 2009

An Embarrassment of Saffron

Last summer Costco announced that it would be selling a limited amount of coveted saffron  from the Castilla La Mancha region of Spain. I paced their doors for a few weeks determined not to miss the unveiling. 

Since that time, I've felt rich with saffron, GOOD saffron, THE BEST saffron, and I am often considering different uses for it.
I've been playing with homemade pasta for a few weeks now. Most of my attempts have not been as successful as I'd hoped. I could just feel it in my bones that this time would be different.

On a recent visit to Big John's PFI (Pacific Food Importers) in Seattle I found some "00" flour (no, not licensed to kill like Bond) Doppio zero in Italian. It's a finely-milled flour recommended for making pasta. They say all-purpose flour is a good substitute. My devotion is to "00" flour now.
Armed with some quality ingredients, I decided to try my hand at a Saffron Pappardelle. 
I will try to contain my over-the-top-squealing-like-a-school-girl elation but I'm just tellin' ya!
Maybe the planets were  aligned right the day I whisked my eggs and prepared to pour them into their little "00" well. I don't know. Maybe I got lucky. If so, it warrants a happy dance and a post on the blog. 

I started with a bowl. I know they say just pour your flour on the board and make a well. That hasn't impressed me. So I poured my flour into a bowl and made a well in the center. Then I sprinkled in a little kosher salt and then into the well went some of the saffron water that had cooled after the saffron had steeped out its beautiful vibrant color. Then the eggs joined the saffron water. I used a fork and slowly incorporated the liquid ingredients into the flour. The dough was sticky but held its shape. So I turned it out onto the board and began to slowly incorporate the remaining one cup of flour. Things were looking very promising at this point. 

I didn't end up using the whole cup of flour remaining. Maybe just a half cup. I didn't pay close attention to the amount of flour left in the cup. I was focused on the feel of the dough. When it no longer stuck to the tile I was kneading it on I knew it was ready. 

I cut the dough into four pieces, wrapped them in plastic wrap and refrigerated them overnight. In the morning I unwrapped a jewel-toned disk and dusted it with a little flour and proceeded to roll through the cylinders of the pasta machine.

I could have strained the saffron threads out of the water before I put them into the flour but that's just not how I roll. (HA!) I like boots over loafers, jeans over slacks, calloused hands over......wait, I'm talking about pasta aren't I? I think rustic is beautiful and I loved the way the saffron threads melted into the pasta creating unique patterns.
This dough was VERY well behaved! If it were a guest it would definitely be invited back for another visit.

And the rest is history! These jeweled ribbons were honored guests at our Sunday Dinner.

Saffron Pasta Dough

4 cups "00" flour (or all-purpose flour if you don't have a local source for "00")
4 fresh eggs, beaten
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 generous-I-feel-rich pinch of saffron
1/4 cup water

Bring the water to a boil in a small pan and add the saffron. Allow it to steep and then cool.
Put 3 cups of flour in a bowl (or if you want to be a real Italian Momma on a board) and make a well in the center of the flour big enough to receive the saffron water and the eggs. 
Using a fork work the eggs gently and slowly into the flour. I suggest you sing while you're doing this. It requires patience and you won't likely notice you've even been patient if you're singing a song you love.
When the dough forms a sticky-ish ball turn it out onto a floured board. Keep singing that song you love while you knead in bits of the remaining cup of flour. Don't ask how long this takes but I suggest you bring another favorite song to the games. 
When the dough "feels right" you're done! What is "feels right"? Trust your instincts! It won't stick to the counter but it won't feel like a weapon either. Pliable but firm. 
I cut this ball into 4 pieces and wrapped each one individually in plastic wrap and tucked it into the refrigerator over night. 
In the morning I opened one package at a time and rolled it out on the pasta machine. Starting at #1 on the dial and rolling it out twice on each number, up to #5. I don't know what #6 is used for but I haven't reached that skill level yet. Twice through on #5 made a perfectly whisper-thin sheet of pasta. 
I cut those long sheets into lengths about 7 inches long or so and rolled them up to cut into 3/4-1 inch pieces (pictured above). 
I'm thinking anyone who wants to tackle homemade pasta knows better than to boil it in water that isn't seasoned with a hefty dose of kosher salt. 
I was busy singing and didn't pay attention to how long I cooked the pasta. Just a couple of minutes I'm sure.

Monday, April 27, 2009


This week's Sunday Dinner was the inaugural dinner at David's newly remodeled  house. We still had to navigate around waiting-to-be-hung art and boxes but that did little to deter us from enjoying the company of each other and the great food. 
Chris and Nancy arrived in their vintage convertible Cutlass with the top down and Chris had donned his utilikilt for the occasion. It felt like summer.

Because it was a special occasion, David opened a wonderful bottle of Leonetti wine. 

Of course there were other bottles that made their appearance as well.

Dinner was Chicken Marsala with wild mushrooms, handmade saffron pasta primavera, fennel & blood orange salad and Helena's chocolate chip cookies with sauterne for dessert.
I'll post a recipe for the saffron pasta another day. For now, the pictures will have to do.

I really need to throw in one shot of the view from David's house. There are still new-window decals on the glass but you get the idea. 

Sunday dinners are typically a concerted effort. Many hands cover a multitude of jobs. 

These hands? Not so much help.
Conversation rarely lags in our company and seldom is there not an interesting topic to be discussed.

Our words and laughter carry us past the sunset and into the evening glow. It's always hard to say "The End".

But for today, I must. 

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Tasting a Memory

I love cooking for my adult children. They get so excited about food and the idea of recreating a memory through a meal. I sometimes wonder if we can ever recapture the taste that we remember as children. As adults, I think some of our taste memories have been ‘enhanced’ over the years. Just recreating the food doesn’t recreate the memory.

I might be over thinking it, but this has been my personal experience when revisiting my childhood favorite meals as an adult.  

My daughter wanted something with pesto in it for dinner. When the kids were young, I knew an Italian woman who had a small farm for a back yard. It was an unusual suburban scene. Every summer I would show up to buy basil from her. I think my daughter’s memories of pesto come from this place.

We would pile several paper grocery bags full of fresh picked sweet basil into the car and drive home with the intoxicating smell surrounding us. I would have several friends over and we would form an assembly line to make and freeze our years worth of pesto. Inevitably the house would be filled with laughter and the sweet smell of basil and garlic.

Tonight, when my daughter opened the container of pesto I’d made and brought along to make pizza with, she closed her eyes and sighed deeply. I could almost feel her being transported in her mind to a summertime supper table of her past where a plate of angel hair pasta with pesto rested just beneath her nose.

I think we all felt young again in the shadows of the setting sun with sweet basil and garlic dancing on our tongues. Even better, the one who still possesses the zeal of youth, danced interpretively, between bites.


Tuesday, April 21, 2009

When things heat up

It’s difficult to miss the looks of elation and anticipation (summer is coming!) on Seattleites’ faces these past few days.

I used to listen to an album (yes, vinyl) when I was in college. It was by a local artist named Brian Bowers. I think he played an autoharp. I was a little blue-grassy at the time. Anyway, there was a song on this album called The View From Home. The lyrics, as I remember them in part, went something like this:

Up north lies Alaska our last true frontier

Out west lies the ocean, and Olympics so near

Back east lies madness, say what you will

Say that I'm a maniac singing on a hill

Out on the road, we tell all the turkeys

Yes, it's always raining and the sun never shines

But all the natives know when the mountain lifts her skirts

The view from home will flat out melt your mind

Even though I’m not so much blue-grassy anymore. I still love that lyric.

When I drive across the I-90 bridge and the waters of Lake Washington literally sparkle against the back drop of a snow-covered Mount Rainier. The view from home does flat-out melt my mind.


Warm weather, even if it’s only a few days in a row, beckons us outdoors to dry off our wings. I like to throw together salads to keep in the refrigerator and if the notion to grill something moves me, I am all set for side dishes.


I will just say it now. I’m sorry I am TERRIBLE about following recipes. I am of the belief that everyone likes me but I am certain there are things they don't like ABOUT me and not having a recipe handy is one of those things.  So, I am here with an “almost-recipe”. This is a salad I’ve made for years. I have changed it over the years but it remains a favorite.

A little spicy, a hint of  sweetness but certainly summertime comfort food.

I found the original recipe years ago in a cookbook from Pasta & Co. I’ve changed it only slightly over the years. My adult son still asks me to make this for him, even in the winter.

Always use the best ingredients you can afford.

Asian Noodle Salad

1 pkg. Angel Hair Pasta, Cooked according to package directions, drained but not rinsed.

½ cup sesame seeds, toasted

1 cup green onions, sliced thin



¼ cup sesame oil

¼ cup Tamari

2 TB sugar

2 TB hot chili oil (less if you’re sensitive to heat)

2 TB Balsamic vinegar or Black vinegar


Combine the dressing with the cooked pasta and finish with the sesame seeds and green onions.  Chill & enjoy!


Sunday, April 19, 2009

Be Still

Now we will count to twelve
and we will all keep still.

This one time upon the earth,
let's not speak any language,
let's stop for one second,
and not move our arms so much.

It would be a delicious moment,
without hurry, without locomotives,
all of us would be together
in a sudden uneasiness.

I'm pretty sure Pablo Neruda wasn't thinking of Sunday Dinner when he penned these words that enveloped me in comfort today.  But today WAS a day without hurry. A day for languishing, laughter and friendship. Letting my coffee turn cold as I read poetry and words of wisdom written long before I made my way to this place I love so much. 

I'm thankful every day. Really. But today, I felt a deep sense of gratitude for my life. Where I am. Who I've become. The rich, rich friendships that surround me. How much I love and am loved. These things are present every day but today, I felt the stillness around me and I basked in the richness of  just being. 

Then, I roasted a chicken....and we had Sunday dinner. Amen.

Friday, April 17, 2009

For the love of Bernie!

The sun is out and I can't stay here as long as I might like.  But I had to drop in and brag about Bernie. He's growing! Darn it! His little hind legs kept falling off of my lap. I feel like I need to keep taking pictures of the little pint so I can remember these precious puppy days.

I went to a wine tasting with Bernie's people last night. 
The featured winery was Bergevin Lane out of Walla Walla. I love their wines.
Annette Bergevin and Amber Lane are the owners and were pouring at last night's tasting.

There was, what seemed to be an arena of food to pair with the wines but this  little dish is the one I brought home to the blog.

Cioppino is just fun to eat! It's sport and food all in one. I love the back drop of linens and china juxtaposed with having to (I really don't need to be coaxed) get my fingers involved in my food. Even if daintily, I like wrangling sea shells..there's something organic and if you'll just indulge me: rule-breaking, about it. The cioppino was good, as you can see it was loaded with little critters. I was pretty sure it was begging for some red pepper flakes but it could have just been the voices in my head. They're always begging for spices.

There was some too-loud-for-a-country-club laughter coming from our table.(guess who?) Steve's cousin Gary and I 'went there'. I kept waiting for the giant cane too come hook around my neck and pull me out to the lobby for a talking to. Somehow we escaped without retribution. Imagine my surprise when my name was announced from the microphone! I was sure this was it. But I won a beautiful bottle of 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon!

And a package of golf balls! (HA!).. I gave the golf balls to Steve so he can use them when he's watching paint dry. I kept the wine. I'm saving it for a special occasion. Like the next time I decide to open a bottle of wine. What time is it?

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Tax Day!

This is my friend Steve. He’s in his element here the night of his birthday party a little over a week ago. I like this picture because I know that for Steve, the moment that this picture was taken, he was in the eye of the storm.

He’s a Tax Accountant (It’s taking every ounce of restraint I have to keep from typing all the accountant euphemisms!)  and right now, this very moment, I bet he feels like he’s trying to find a comfortable spot to stretch out in a powered up woodchipper. This is TAX DAY!

So, my homage to my good friend: Pictures of a happier day.

Steve is a golfer. (Those who watch paint dry for sport {woops!}) Steve has a tradition on his birthday of playing golf with his buddies.  My assignment, should I accept it,  was to have food waiting when the.. Exhausted? Elated? Energized? Golfers arrived after their game. They arrived happy and hungry!

I can find no better time to seque to BERNIE. Bernie is Steve and Kathleen’s new addition. I’m Bernie’s Auntie but we bear no resemblance to each other. He is MUCH cuter than me. This is Bernie napping in Kathleen's arms before the hoopla. We could learn a lot from Bernie.


Well rested and full of charm, he really doesn't have to do much to gain attention from everyone. He just looks cute. It’s working for him. Plus.. and I'm not just a proud Auntie.. he really IS intelligent. I MEAN it!

After some wine, some laughs and plenty of Bernie cuddling, it was dinner time. There was cedar-plank grilled salmon, grilled vegetables and roasted fingerling potatoes. 

Truly, a great time was had by all. 

Even though this was Steve's 39th birthday (I KNOW!) he and Kathleen have been married over 30 years! For such a young man he has SO MANY accomplishments. 

Kudos to you my friend! April 16th.. we'll break some bread and drink some wine. 

Monday, April 13, 2009

Providing warmth

There were no chocolate easter bunnies to bite the ears off of. No Peeps, no foil-wrapped-parafin-laden chocolate eggs. But we had these!

And this

Last year at this time,  I was in eastern Washington. I had moved there temporarily to take care of some family business. 

Prior to relocating I had decided that I was NOT going to subject myself to the never ending dark and dreary that is Seattle. One way or another, I was outa here. ( oh and when I make up my mind... )

When I was in the where-will-I-escape-to phase of the process I would attend our Sunday dinners and find my friend David looking at me seriously and asking in a number of different ways: "How can you just pick up and leave your friends behind?" 

Maybe I am overly idealistic or maybe I just don't take the time to consider all the details (especially after I've made up my mind). Not maybe, I AM overly idealistic.  Period. And details schmetails. I told David that "I can make friends ANYWHERE!" Oh, it hurts to even TYPE that now. 

I was working with only one or two details. #1. I need to get someplace where the sun actually visits for more than one month out of the year (exaggeration) and #2. I can make friends ANYWHERE! I didn't stop to consider much of anything else. Really. 

I'm back now. I was gone for about a year and a half. I am the epitome of Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz. There's NO place like home. There's NO place like home. I'm so happy to be back. More on this life-lesson another time.

 So, the frigid April temperatures are not something I'm willing to complain about. Sideways rain cannot shake my resolve  to be grateful that I live here. Even if Seattle has another June-uary I will be the one with a smile on my face while wearing fleece. Well, all of Seattle wears fleece year round so you might not be able to spot me in the crowd. 

 Before the move, I would have attended yesterday’s Sunday dinner. But back then, I would have sat on the couch while we were visiting and gazed out the window and inevitably would have made some snarky comment about the blackened skies to the north. Yesterday I found those skies beautiful, full of power and personality. Not just because I was sitting close to the fire but because I was basking in the warmth of my very close friends. 

 And the little lamby did nothing to hurt my Pollyanna resolve either.

No matter what the skies to the north were saying, it was spring time and our table would reflect that truth from the buttery roasted fingerling potatoes to the tender, threateningly-green beans.

 The salad was not original but was an idea that had originated at Porcella Urban Market (R.I.P.) where Owner Kelly Gaddis and Chef Noah Mellich were constantly inspiring and delighting with their profoundly simple but intelligent kitchen concoctions. This salad was a  combination of baby arugula (Rocket), hard-cooked eggs, crispy pancetta and shaved, aged Pecorino cheese. The dressing:an earthy truffle vinaigrette.

Nancy had marinated the racks of lamb over night and Chris worked his MacGyver magic on the fire in his grill to bring that lamb to bloody perfection! There were a few squeamish (end piece) carnivores, but for the most part: moan-worthy lamb

Meanwhile, back in the house... We labor not.

I think it’s a sign of great food or abundant wine or stimulating conversation or maybe just really comfortable dining room chairs when dinner and dessert have been cleared away and everyone remains at the table to linger and visit. This is often the scene at our Sunday dinners.

And in the midst of appreciating it all….

The sun paid us a beautiful Easter Sunday visit!