Monday, July 30, 2012

National Cheesecake Day

That's right, today is National Cheesecake Day.  In honor of this very important holiday, I decided to make a cheesecake yesterday.

"Wait, you made a cheesecake the day before National Cheesecake Day?"

Why yes, that's right.  I made it the day before the day of celebration.  After all, it takes about 8-10 hours to make my cheesecake!  I typically use blackberries in my cheesecake, though it's much better with marionberries.  I've made it with raspberries too, but it wasn't nearly as good.  I made one without any berries for a friend of mine who is allergic to all berries (so sad!).  He wrapped and froze that thing, and he ate it over the course of a month.  He even hid it in his freezer when his family stopped by to visit.  He didn't share one bite!  Haha!  His name is remaining anonymous for fear of retaliation by his family members.  The cheesecake does magically taste better when it's frozen.  The wonderful berry flavor permeates! 

"Will you give us your cheesecake recipe?"

Ha!  No.  Even if I did, who amongst you would dedicate an entire day to making a cheesecake?  Wait?  No one?  That's what I thought.  I've given my recipe to a few friends who have asked, and I've never had anyone come back and say "I made it, and it was a hit!" ... because nobody's ever made it!  Let the record show that my dedication to food is pure and strong!

Yesterday afternoon when I finished mixing the cheesecake batter, I called out to my dude so he could come downstairs to lick the mixing blade.  I turned around, and he was already patiently and quietly waiting behind me like a cake batter ninja.  Very, very sneaky, sir!

At one of my old jobs, I had brought in some cheesecake to share with the office.  I offered some to our building maintenance guy since he was always helping us out with favors around the office.

After he took a bite, he said "Oh my god... that's a good cheesecake.  Now ... why are you still single?"  Haha!  It always makes me feel good to turn cheesecake non-believers when they say "I like that cheesecake!"  I certainly can relate.  Don't even get me started on the Melting Pot's cheesecake.  It's just so gross!

Alright, enough about my cheesecake.  Since I'm not going to share my recipe, it's time to talk about how you can make your cheesecake perfect!  First of all, no-bake cheesecakes don't count.  Sure, they're fine in their own right, and they come in handy when you don't have a lot of time or energy to invest into a cheesecake.  A true cheesecake is baked!

The two main elements to a good cheesecake are: temperature and a well-aerated batter.

First of all, you need to start off with all of your cold ingredients are at room temperature. That means the eggs, cream cheese, and anything else that would normally be in the fridge.  "Cool" doesn't count; it has to be room temperature.  Using a water bath is also a great way to ensure a proper temperature for your cheesecake.  I bake mine in a water bath for about an hour and a half at 325 degrees.  Then I turn the oven off, leave the door propped open, and I let it sit in the water bath inside the oven for an hour.  After that, I put it on a rack and let it cool to room temperature for a few hours.  Then it has to go into the fridge to chill for another 4 hours minimally.  When you follow these steps, it helps ensure that your cheesecake won't crack or cave in.  Cheesecake takes a lot of time to prepare!  I usually set aside at least 8 hours for my cheesecake, and that doesn't include refrigeration time. 

For a well-aerated batter, you have to make sure your cream cheese is nice and fluffy.  You have to be careful to not over-fluff it!  A good 4 minutes on medium speed is a good start.  Then add your sugar, and whip at medium for another 4 minutes.  When you add your eggs, whip at medium speed for a full minute after you add each egg.  Of course this largely depends on the ingredients you are using for your cheesecake.

All in all, today's cheesecake was a hit!  I wished I had a blow dryer to help get it out of the spring form pan for a smooth finish.  Of course it tasted just the same.  I'm just glad I came home with a leftover slice!

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Bite of Seattle 2012

As usual, the Bite of Seattle was a tasty, tasty blast!  The Bite of Seattle is always my favorite festival of the year.  There are plenty of food vendors to choose from, there's a comedy stage, and they even have cooking demonstrations! 

My favorite part of the event is always the Alley.  It's a program hosted by Tom Douglas, and it benefits Food Lifeline.  For $10, you get a plate with one featured sample from 7 local resterauteurs.  They do vary the menu day by day, and they had 15 total restaurants participating this year.  We always make sure to stop by Friday, Saturday, and Sunday.  96% of the proceeds go straight to the mouths of those who need it the most here in Western Washington.  Last year, funds raised by The Alley allowed Food Lifeline to provide nearly 86,000 nutritious meals to hungry people.  That's a huge benefit!  This really is a great cause, so I strongly encourage everyone to participate again next year and beyond.  Beyond that, it's a tasty, tasty charitable event, and it's a great way to try out 7 local restaurants in one sitting!  If find yourself at the Bite of Seattle and can't figure out what to pick for lunch or dinner, keep it simple and just go with the Alley!  There are always clear "winners" (and sometimes "losers") on the plate, so you'll be able to find out which restaurants you want to visit later on.

The Bite Cooks (sponsored by Viking) was wonderful too.  Oh, how I want one of those stoves!  She will be mine.  Oh yes, she will be mine...  As usual, Thierry Rautureau did a fantastic job as the emcee.  If you want to learn more about cooking, this is a great opportunity to learn some tips in the kitchen.  Thierry and some of the local chefs provided some excellent cooking tips (including some I covered in my video).  This is also a great opportunity to get out and meet some of your talented local executive chefs, sommeliers, and mixologists.  They also do audience give-aways if you pay attention and answer some questions at the end, and we made off with a nice little bonus!

Speaking of Thierry, don't forget to watch Thierry on the Top Chef Masters, Wednesday night, July 25th (tomorrow!) on Bravo.  Good luck, Thierry!  We're rooting for you!  Thierry is a simply amazing chef!  This is going to sound like a very "mom" thing to say, but he's already a winner in my eyes!  We would go to the viewing party at Luc tomorrow night, but it would be very late for us.  Of course, Thierry already knows the outcome, but he's under contract to not tell anyone who won. 

I was kind of surprised to find out they didn't have a camera crew filming the Bite Cooks event this year, so I'm significantly less bummed about losing the competition :)  But hey, budget cuts happen!  Fortunately Festivals Inc gave all of the contestants $50 in Bite Bucks due to their flawed voting system.  Hopefully they will fix the voting system next year.  Even though I truly don't care about the money, I don't think I'll bother with it again next year since the payout just isn't worth the effort.  But who knows, maybe one of these days I will start including video demos here on my blog.  Instructional video blogging is a lot of work - especially when you don't have a camera crew!  I did get a chance to meet Bonnie, one of my fellow contestants, and she was super sweet!  She would have been a great presenter too!  Oh, and yes, I did make my video private.  If you ever want to see it, you will need to send me a private message or put a comment on this page. 

A few of the featured chefs at the Bite Cooks have items featured on the foodie 100 list!  The Stumbling Goat has the Anderson Valley lamb T-bone on the Foodie 100 list.  We spoke to the executive chef, Joshua Theilen, at Stumbling Goat about this dish since we haven't had the opportunity to try it just yet.  We found out they are sourcing their lamb T-bones from a different place than Anderson Valley.  Obviously it's still a lamb T-bone, so it still counts!  We will have to go check them out sometime this week.  Incidentally, Joshua won the Bite Cooks Cook-off competition on Saturday, and he won $200 for his favorite charity.  Congrats, Joshua! 

Thanks to the Bite Cooks, I also found out about a wonderful winery called Sozo.  Sozo is a winery that helps provide anywhere from 1-25 meals (per bottle) for orphans, widows and homeless who lack basic needs.  The name "Sozo" is a greek word that means "to save."  Each bottle has a number on the front part of the label, and that number tells you how many people will be fed with your purchase.  That's right, you can drink wine *and* save lives, people!  I'll totally toast to that!  I know what you're thinking: "A charity wine?  It probably tastes like swill!"  You're dead wrong.  They had some wine to sample at the wine garden, and I tried a bottle of the Pinot Noir.  That was a fantastic Pinot Noir!  Their goal is to sell only quality wines while saving lifes, and they have a very talented and well-renowned vintner working for them.  When they go to restaurants to sell their wines, they don't even lead with the "This wine saves lives" bit.   They have the sommeliers and restaurant owners try the wines, and then they tell them what they're all about.  The only downside is that you can't just go out to a grocery store and buy their wine.  You can find it on their website (link above) and at some local restaurants.  They also had some bottles for sale at the wine garden, so I picked up a bottle.  That's right, I saved 10 lives by adding a bottle to my wine fridge.  Everyone's happy!  If you want some great quality wines with an even better excuse to drink - check them out!

I couldn't help but notice there were significantly less vendors this year than there were last year.  Out of sheer curiosity, I looked up the booth prices.

$350 for a Hand-crafted or specialty food product booth (not too bad)
$1700 + 16% of sales for a 10x10 Restaurant Booth (16%?  ouch!)
$2975 + 16% of sales for a 20x10 Restaurant Booth (dang!)
$3175 + 16% of sales for a 20x20 Restaurant Booth (double dang!)

I get that the festival doesn't charge admission, so they have to make their money somewhere.  I was really astonished to find out how much they charge the food vendors!  Wow.  So get out there and support your local food vendors!

The Comedy Stage also had a few talented comedians ... and they had a few "eh" comedians in my opinion (but hey, I'll be nice and won't name names!).  Kermit Apio was a hoot!  With a little bit of self-deprecating humor combined with some very important life lessons for the gentlement out there, he had a great routine!  You should definitely check him out if he ever tours through your area.

All in all, it really was a great festival!  If you didn't get to check it out this year, you missed out!  There's always next year!  It will probably be July 19-21 2013, so mark your calendars!

Monday, July 16, 2012

Foodie 100 List - Altaye Ethiopian Restaurant

Since the Alligator Soul is now closed, I officially move to replace the crawfish etoufee with the Altaye Special at Altaye Ethiopian Restaurant on the Seattle Foodie 100 list.  I've already had one person second the motion, and several have been in favor.  There.  It's a done deal.  You're welcome!  Sadly, I have not yet figured out how to have the owner of the list update it with changes like this.

Simply put, Altaye is one of Seattle's best hidden gems.  Located at 8135 Rainier Avenue South in Seattle, you will find one of the most welcoming restaurants in all of Seattle.  It's in a rather small and unassuming building, but do not be deterred by appearances.  The owners, Essa and Titi, are incredibly friendly, and they serve up some spectacular food for great prices!  If something were to happen to this restaurant, I would pitch an unabashed fit!

If you've never had Ethiopian food before, you need to head over to this place.  Fair warning though: you might not like Ethiopian food at other restaurants once you've tried this place!  I make no apologies for the fact that knowledge of this restaurant's food will ruin other Ethiopian food for you!  I've had Ethiopian food at other establishments, and it was just not good at all.  NOT good, I tell you.  We're talking the  "Wow, dinner last night just wasn't a good idea" kind of not good.  No, I won't publicly name names, though you can probably figure it out if you do some hunting. 

Where you're going: you don't need forks. Since you will be eating with your fingers, just wash your hands (they do have a restroom available), and get ready to be dazzled!  To describe Ethiopian food, I would say it's similar to Indian food, but there won't be any rice or naan. If that description turns you off - don't be misled.   You will love this stuff!  Hey, you never know if you like or dislike something until you've tried it, right?  Eat it!  It tastes good, I promise!  Let them know that you've never had Ethiopian food, and they will guide you through the process.  If you are a vegetarian, they will provide some wonderful lentils and a wide array of vegetable sides. 

If you decide to stop by just for lunch or dinner, you should order the Altaye Special.  For $12.95, you will receive a huge plate of food with a side of unlimited injera bread.  The special will feed 2 easily.  That's right, for less than $7/person, you will leave feeling as happy as a stuffed tick at a nudist camp!  Their sambusas are great too, though the Altaye Special will be more than enough for you.  The first time we went here, we ordered 2 sambusas and 2 specials, and Essa reined us back in since that would have been way more food than we needed.  I give them mad props for not trying to upsell us on food!

What is injera, you ask?  Injera is a crepe flat bread, and the pores that form on the top of the bread help soak up some of the yummy goodness on your plate.  Titi makes the injera herself every day, and she even grinds the flour herself!  It is made from teff flour, so for those with Celiac disease, yes it is a gluten-free bread.  It does have a slightly sour taste, though it's not nearly as sour as sourdough.  A friend once had enjera bread (from somewhere else across the world in England) that tasted like dirty dishsoap.  Let's suffice it to say - they didn't do it right.  Some places don't use true teff flour, so if you've had bad injera experiences at other Ethiopian restaurants, that might have been part of the culprit. 

I mentioned you don't need forks, right?  Basically the way you eat Ethiopian food is you tear off a piece about the size of 2 to 3 of your fingers, and you scoop up the food with the injera.  Think of it like a mini-taco.  Once you've started to clear some space on your plate, eat some of the injera at the bottom of your plate.  It will be even tastier than the other injera since it has all of the food flavors thoroughly soaked into it.

When we order, we usually get the Altaye Special plus an order of the chicken tibs (pictured in the bowl), and we specially request them to be extra-extra spicy.  For those of you who enjoy spicy food, this is one of the few places in Seattle where you can request some spicy and delicious food!  Those chicken tibs are superb!  My stomach doesn't handle spicy food very well, but I am unable to control myself when Titi's chicken tibs are at stake. 

When you order the Altaye Special, you will notice some white cottage-cheese type of stuff on the platter.  That is the eyeb (also known as aib, ayib, iab, etc).  Save that for last.  Basically it's very similar to a dry cottage cheese, and it's to help calm your stomach down after you throw so many foreign spices and flavors at it.  If you're lactose-intolerant, I can't help you there.  If you have a particularly sensitive stomach like I do, feel free to ask for a little extra eyeb.  Just make sure that is the last thing you toss down your gullet!

A few times a year, I host a group event here for some friends through the Yelp and Meetup crowd. For $10 per person (the group rate), you get all of the food you could possibly desire.   She usually serves a few extra options than you will normally find on the Altaye Special.  If you would like to join us for one of our group events, feel free to leave a comment or send me an email.  Just let me know if you require a vegetarian meal or if you have any food allergies.  The picture on the left is a platter for 4 people. 

Never once have any of my guests said "Eh, it was alright" when they were done.  Don't let the surrounding location deter you.   We've parked on the street hidden our valuables (be smart, people - you should never do this anywhere!), and we've never had any issues.  Sure, it's not in the most desirable part of town (by Seattle standards), but it's still not bad.   The food is at a great price, service is superb, and the food is simply the best Ethiopian food in town!

In summary, there are a few staples at every Ethiopian restaurant:

1) Tasty, fresh injera bread = Altaye gets a check in this category.
2) Warm fuzzies from the restaurant owners = Altaye gets a check-plus-plus in this category.  This place is also very kid-friendly.  Titi just loves children, and they adore her!
3) Tasty, tasty noms = Altaye also gets a check-plus-plus in this category.  The flavors might be a little foreign to those with limited food experiences, but they're great!

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Foodie 100 list - Chicken and Asparagus Risotto - Il Terrazzo Carmine

At Il Terrazzo Carmine, there is a chicken and asparagus risotto on the Foodie 100 list.  I scoped out their menu online, and I noticed only a mention of the risotto of the day.  So I decided to call ahead and ask about the chicken asparagus risotto.

They said since the risotto changes daily, we should specifically request the chicken asparagus risotto with a little bit of advance notice.  When I made my reservation for the next day, I requested the dish.  They happily obliged!

The restaurant itself was a little difficult to find.  Signage is a little odd from 1st Avenue since a lot of the pictures are from the main entrance from the patio area.  To reach this restaurant from 1st street, you go through the building lobby, through the restaurant's back door.  The ambiance is very nice, and the wine menu is very extensive.

We were seated promptly and offered some bread to nosh on.  We also ordered some bruschetta as an appetizer.  It was kind of mediocre.  The tomatoes should have been mixed with the basil a little better.  The bread was also incredibly tough, and the olive oil messily seeped through the giant holes in the bread.

The chicken asparagus risotto was very well prepared.  It is a rather large portion.  The risotto was cooked just right, and it had a great flavor to it.  Though the flavor was a one that I grew tired of before the plate was finished.  If you're craving a risotto, I would still recommend it since it was so well prepared.

I ordered the cannoli for dessert.  They were a bit gritty and also mediocre.  I've made cannoli's before, so I know it's not easy to get rid of that gritty texture.  Perhaps a little more investigating is needed?

Service was prompt, friendly, and very attentive.  Prices weren't completely unreasonable.  It's a lovely Italian restaurant, and I would still go back to try some of their other dishes! I certainly enjoyed it much more than the Pink Door.

Foodie 100 list - Theo Chocolate

Since we are still working on knocking out the last few of the items on the Foodie 100 list this week, we decided to go do the Theo Chocolates tour today.  The name "Theo Chocolate" originates from the Greek name of the cacoa tree - Theobroma Cacao. 

For $6 (credit cards accepted), they will give you about a 1 hour tour through their little factory.  You will need to reserve your tour in advance, though there isn't a way to pay for the tour in advance online.  You can reserve your tour on their website at:

We arrived a bit early for our tour, so we decided to stop by the storefront.  They had about a dozen different samples of some of their chocolates.  That's right, you can cross this foodie item off your list for free!  My favorite was the salted almond milk chocolate.

When we paid for the tour tickets, they handed us some hairnets for obvious sanitary reasons.  They asked if we were wearing sandals (which we weren't), though they will give you little booties for your sandals if you are.  They requested to tuck every bit of hair possible and any dangling earrings into the hairnet.  For the gentlemen with beards (or for any ladies with hypertrichosis!), they will hand you a beard net.

You would think there are more chocolate factories out there, but in fact there are only about 20 other chocolate factories in the US.  Sure, there are plenty of other chocolate "melters" in the US, but Theo is one of the few chocolate makers in America.

The tour guide walked us through the process of harvesting the cacoa bean and getting it to their factory.  Did you know that cacoa pods grow on the trunks and lower branches of the tree?  They are also hand-picked since an automated machine would probably damage any new growth from the cacoa trees.

She passed around samples of the chocolates while she spoke.  She explained that we were going to experience the chocolates in order of dark chocolates to milk chocolates so we wouldn't experience palate fatigue from the sweetness of the milk chocolates.  I am a huge fan of milk chocolate, so I had to be patient!

I was quite surprised to find out exactly how many cacoa beans it takes to make just a 3 oz chocolate bar.  It was a lot - enough beans for about 3 pods!  They also use only organic products to make their chocolates, and they only participate in the fair trade program.  Basically the fair trade program is for giving the cacoa farmers a liveable wage, access to healthcare and education for their children, and they don't allow child labor.  That's pretty much awesome!

Our tour guide then walked us through the factory and explained what each machine does.  She also showed us the shell coating of the cacoa bean that they sell as mulch.  That was the best selling mulch I have ever smelled in my life!  When I buy my own house and start doing some flower beds, I'm coming back here for some mulch!

She then took us to the kitchen where we sampled some chocolate covered caramels and ganaches.  Most of the people working in the kitchen came from a culinary background, so they had some very interesting combinations stuff going on in there. 

After the kitchen portion was over, the tour was pretty much done.  They do offer the tour patrons 10% off of the fresh treats behind the glass pane.

All in all, it's an interesting tour.  I would recommend it.  It would be fun to do as a date thing, though fair warning: you and your date are not going to look very sexy with your hairnets.  There just isn't a way to get around that!