Friday, August 14, 2009

Spinach & Feta Cream Cheese Spread

This is one of those recipes that Jade and I discovered ages ago, when I liked cooking, but it wasn't the passion it is now. Many of the recipes that I used to make from that period involved pre-prepared food (you know, such as mixes, or juice I wouldn't squeeze myself, or "helper"-type things), and when I revisit them from time to time, more often than not I end up tossing the recipes away. Not only because they may involve ingredients that I can't pronounce, but because it just doesn't taste very good. Preparing fresh food has spoiled me (in a good way).

This is not one of those recipes. It might involve some pre-preparedness, but it's not the kind I feel guilty about -- I still know what's going into it. As for flavor, well, that's stood the test of time. This is just as yummy as I remember it being, the feta and garlic lending bite to the cream cheese, the spinach giving it depth and color, and the yogurt to thin and smooth everything out. I actually adapted the recipe from the original to include the yogurt, because I'm actually using this as a veggie dip this time, and without the yogurt it's more of a spread. In fact, even with the yogurt it's still quite thick and can be easily spread on crackers. I think I actually like this version better than the old; next time I'm going to add a handful of pine nuts as well. I think the flavor and crunch of the nuts would complement the other flavors very nicely -- but only if it's going to be served immediately. Otherwise the nuts will get soggy and it won't be such a great addition.

The pre-preparedness comes in the form of frozen chopped spinach (you can use fresh if you like) and crushed garlic from Trader Joe's (you can crush fresh garlic if you like). I used a block of feta and crumbled it myself; to save time you can buy the pre-crumbled kind in a tub. As Jade notes you can mix everything together in a food processor, but this comes together easily with a big bowl and a fork -- just make sure you mix everything thoroughly.

This recipe is also very flexible and should be made according to your own taste; add more feta, less garlic, whatever pleases your taste buds.

Spinach & Feta Cream Cheese Spread

  • 8oz cream cheese
  • 4oz feta cheese, crumbled
  • 10oz frozen chopped spinach, thawed and drained completely of water
  • 1 1/2 tsp crushed garlic
  • 1/3 cup plain yogurt (optional)
  • 2 tbsp pine nuts (optional)


  1. Thoroughly mix the cream cheese and feta cheese together, crushing the feta so it melds with the cream cheese.
  2. Add the spinach and garlic, combining until there are no big patches of plain cream cheese.
  3. If using, add the yogurt to thin out the mixture, again mixing well. Add more yogurt by the tablespoon to achieve desired consistency. Finally, mix in the pine nuts.
  4. Serve with crackers and/or fresh-cut veggies. (You can easily prepare this spread ahead of time and set it out at room temperature 30 minutes before serving. If using the pine nuts, however, serve immediately.)

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

The Best Sandwich in the World

Okay, granted, I haven't eaten every sandwich in the world. But if I did, I can't imagine that the Cuban Roast sandwich from Paseo would rank anywhere but in the top 5. It's certainly the best sandwich I've ever eaten. I'll go completely out of my way (to Fremont) to pick one up. I'll make up excuses for why I need to be in the area, though I don't ever really need to be in that area. Well, they've opened up another location (in Ballard), so I suppose I can now start making excuses for another area.

The Cuban Roast is their most popular sandwich, and it's not hard to see why. Tender, succulent, marinated pork shoulder stuffed into a hearty roll with large ribbons of translucent grilled onions, jalapenos, romaine lettuce, bits of cilantro, and aioli. If you eat there you also get a corn on the cob on the side. If you're getting the sandwich to go, you'll need to ask for the corn if you want it, as by default it's not included.

I'm not going to lie: eating this sandwich (or really, any of them), is very messy. There's so much packed into it that it inevitably oozes out of where the bread is weakest. But it doesn't matter. The best part is eating all the stuff that's fallen out, after the sandwich itself is gone!

In the past, they ran out of sandwiches before dinner, so if you're bound and determined to have one, you need to go earlier or call in advance to place your order when they've still got sandwich bread. Now that there's two locations, there's two places to get your fix if one's run out. Their Website also has LiveMenu, which apparently tells you by color code whether they've run out of something. Not sure how reliable it is, though.

They have many delectable-sounding sandwiches that I have yet to try, because I am so enamored of the Cuban Roast that I can't bring myself to get anything else. I have had the tofu sandwich, however, which is very good and is much lighter fare than the Cuban Roast. My cousin and I like to split both. With the tofu you can specify a level of spiciness that you prefer -- I like 3 of 5 stars. I've also tried the prawns, many moons ago, and while it was good it wasn't as good as the roast. One day I'm going to try the seared scallops. One day.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

La Rustica

This post is a few months late, but better late than never, so they say. This meal was enjoyed at La Rustica in West Seattle, during Seattle Urban Eats, when they offered a 3-course meal for $30. La Rustica is a small, charming place overlooking the water, serving Northern Italian food. Unlike most restaurants that participate in these promotions, La Rustica's portions were extremely generous (as they are normally). They don't take reservations unless you've got 6 or more in your party, so depending on how busy they are, you may need to wait a bit. The food and the view make it worth it, though.

Every table starts with a basket of fresh, housemade garlic bread, thin and chewy. I dare you to only eat one basket of this stuff.

One of their starters, Bruschetta al Salmonaccio. This is available on their regular menu for $10.95. Description: Thinly sliced salmon marinated in lemon, olive oil, stone-ground mustard and garlic. The portion is so large that it is practically an entree in itself. Tender and flavorful.

Another starter, Ostriche al Forno. It's also available on their regular menu for $12.95. Description: Baked oysters stuffed with spinach, marscapone and cream. It comes with two hot, creamy, and utterly delicious oysters. Unlike the salmon, however, this appetizer is really only good for 1 person. Okay, maybe 2 if you're willing to share. In terms of bang for your buck, the salmon is definitely the way to go.

Here's where the promotional menu deviates a bit from their regular menu. Pictured here is the lamb shank, which isn't normally available. The meat is tender and falling off the bone. It's served with fresh veggies and a side of pasta. It's enormous. Other options included Scampi Allo Spiedo (marinated prawns and pancetta) - $24.95; and Paella Napoletana (saffron rice, sausage, chicken, mussels, clams, prawns and wild boar) - $27.95.

My mother proudly wanted me to include her polished plate.

Dessert was a rich and sinful Chocolate Creme Brulée. It doesn't look like much, but looks can be deceptive, and such is the case here. Chocolatey, creamy, and not too sweet. I can't remember if it's on their regular menu or not, but I sure hope so!

The next Seattle Urban Eats takes place in October. Here's to hoping La Rustica participates again, because I am so there.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Stracciatella, or Chocolatey Flakey Ice Creamy Deliciousness

I have a good reason for making ice cream today, even though it's cloudy and rather cold (cold enough to bring out long pajama pants, which, let's face it, I love wearing). I ordered the darn ice cream machine, it arrived, and I needed to make sure it was working properly right? Right. Never mind that I ordered it a week and a half ago, when Seattle broke our all-time record high, reaching 103°F (with hardly anyone having air conditioning, mind you). The point is that I was trying to be a responsible consumer. And also that ice cream is delicious.

I resisted getting an ice cream machine for a long time, I'm not quite sure why. I think it always felt like one of those extraneous kitchen appliances that would gather dust after one or two uses, because it's so incredibly easy to buy ice cream (and if you're not picky, quite inexpensively), so who wants to bother with the mess of making your own at home? Well, time passed, technology got better, and now the 'mess' part is pretty minimal since they've come up with machines that don't require any ice or rock salt. Then my excuse was that my not-large freezer was jam-packed with things and I simply didn't have the will to clean it out, when the rest of my house was in shambles (have I mentioned what a crappy summer it's been?). My mom took that excuse away when she visited and cleaned my place from top to bottom, so I actually did have time to clean out my freezer (found a giant bag -- unopened -- of Trader Joe's frozen strawberries ... from 2004).

And since I have a food blog, and it was hot as Hades, I ran out of reasons for not getting an ice cream maker.

Now I'm going to state the obvious. IT'S AWESOME. I don't regret waiting to get one, but now that I have it, I'm so glad I do. It's easy to use, and making the ice cream itself is pretty cinchy also. Naturally for my first foray into ice-cream making I chose to turn to David Lebovitz's The Perfect Scoop. :D I wanted to make something simple and traditional, a flavor I enjoy immensely, but is often overlooked for something more flashy: vanilla. It's no coincidence that it's also the first recipe in the book. I also wanted to make vanilla because I've been saving this one vanilla bean for just the right recipe, and this was definitely the moment.

Because this recipe is made with egg yolks, thus making a custard, it may also be more commonly known as "French vanilla," which is, of course, richer than regular vanilla (and gives it a yellowish hue). Confession: I couldn't resist making things a little more interesting, so I turned it into stracciatella, which is a fancy Italian way of saying "chocolate chip ice cream." Although it's more like chocolate flakes than chips, really. It has a vanilla ice cream base, but at the last moment of churning you add a thin stream of bittersweet chocolate, which gets broken up into little flakes in the ice cream, and is so very much better than actual whole chocolate chips (in my humble opinion).

It took my ice cream maker 25 minutes to churn the ice cream to a consistency I liked (I like it thicker, almost hard, rather than soft serve/frozen yogurt-like). I packed it into a plastic container and let it freeze for a few hours to harden even more. I was a bit concerned that the ice cream would be icy or too hard to scoop, but it was absolutely perfect. Creamy, firm yet with a lot of give, it was the perfect texture, and of course the flavor was fantabulous.

Stracciatella (Chocolate Flake Ice Cream) adapted from The Perfect Scoop by David Lebovitz

  • 2 cups heavy cream, divided
  • 1 cup whole milk
  • 6 large egg yolks
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise
  • 3/4 tsp vanilla extract
  • Pinch of salt
  • 4.5 oz bittersweet chocolate, melted


  1. In a medium saucepan, gently warm 1 cup of heavy cream, milk, sugar, and salt, until the sugar has dissolved. Scrape the seeds from the vanilla bean into the warmed mixture and stick the bean itself in there as well. Cover the saucepan, remove from heat, and let steep at room temperature for 30 minutes.
  2. Meanwhile, pour the remaining cup of heavy cream into a large bowl and set a strainer on top. Prepare an ice bath by filling a large bowl (one that can fit the bowl with the 1 cup of heavy cream in it) with ice and water.
  3. In a medium bowl, whisk together the egg yolks.
  4. Slowly (especially at the beginning) pour the warm mixture into the egg yolks, whisking constantly. Then carefully pour the mixture back into the saucepan.
  5. Set the saucepan over medium heat and stir constantly with a wooden spoon. Heat until the custard thickens. You'll know it's ready if it coats the back of the wooden spoon (it won't be super thick), and when you draw your finger across it, it should leave a definitive trail.
  6. Pour the custard through the strainer, into the heavy cream. Stir the cream and custard to incorporate. Take the bean from the strainer and add it to the final mixture. Add the vanilla extract.
  7. Put the bowl into the ice bath, and stir until the mixture has cooled.
  8. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and chill thoroughly in the refrigerator. (I let it sit overnight.)
  9. When you're ready to churn the ice cream, remove the vanilla bean and rinse it. Let it dry out, then use it for another purpose (such as sticking it in your sugar container to make vanilla sugar).
  10. Freeze the ice cream according to your ice cream machine's instructions.
  11. Melt the chocolate in the microwave or by a double-boiler method.
  12. About 5 minutes before the ice cream is done, pour the chocolate in a thin stream directly onto the ice cream (not the mixer arm).

Thursday, August 6, 2009

I'm Back ... with Pesto

This summer has been ... dismal. I want to find something positive to say, but really, it's been the crappiest summer I've had in memory. It's why I had to take a hiatus from this journal. Actually it's not just summer's fault, it all started around April, so spring has some blame as well, but if I never have another year like this one it'll be too soon. Maybe fall will bring better tidings, and the Seattle weather is helping that right along, being cloudy and 68°F today.

In food news, my cousin now has a fresh vegetable garden, and so far it's yielded a lot of salad. A lot of salad. That's fine though, because with summer fruit and tomatoes bursting with flavor, there are worse things to have to eat. :D The other 'crop' her new garden has so far yielded in abundance is basil. After eating her basil, I must say that if you have the will and space (they can be potted) and don't have a brown thumb like I have, grow your own basil. It's 100 times more flavorful than the kind you buy in the grocery store. The difference is amazing.

So I've been having a lot of fresh mozzarella with basil and tomato, one of my favorite things to eat, and of course, with so much basil, it's practically a requirement to make pesto.

I tried making pesto with my mortar and pestle for the first time, and I just have to say ... those that make their pesto this way all the time, bless you. Bless your patience and tireless muscles, because I had to give up and bring out the Mini-Prep. Making pesto is such a cinch, and so delicious, that I'm not sure why I don't do it more often, even if I have to use store-bought basil. Toss the pesto with some pasta (preferably something like rotini, so the pesto can get nice and settled into all the little nooks and crannies) and sliced grape tomatoes and pow! You have a meal that bursts with flavor, each bite a revelation.

Seriously, it's that good.

Pesto (from Deborah Madison's Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone)

  • 1 or 2 plump garlic cloves
  • 1/2 tsp sea salt (plus more to taste)
  • 3 tbsp pine nuts
  • 3 cups loosely packed basil leaves, stems removed, leaves washed and dried (preferably Genovese (Italian) basil)
  • 1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan, preferably Parmigiano-Reggiano
  • 2-3 tbsp grated pecorino Romano to taste
  • 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 tbsp soft butter (optional)
  1. By hand: Smash the garlic with 1/2 tsp salt and the pine nuts to break them up, then add the basil leaves a handful at a time. (If you're impatient, you can speed things up by tearing the leaves into smaller pieces first.) Grind them, using a circular motion, until you have a fairly fine paste with very small flecks of leaves. Briefly work in the cheeses and butter, then stir in the olive oil. Taste for salt.
  2. In a food processor: Use the same ingredients but in the following order: Process the garlic, salt, and pine nuts until fairly finely chopped, then add the basil and olive oil. When smooth, add the cheeses and butter and process just to combine.