Tossed Salads and Scrambled Eggs

Posts Tagged ‘salted caramel

When I’m in a lift I have a tendency to exit at the next floor the door opens. Each level of my work building in Sydney was painted a different colour so it was discombobulating when I’m in the foyer of the wrong one.

Here in Seattle I’ve inserted a key into the wrong apartment and panicked when it wouldn’t turn. I looked at the number and realised I was three floors above home. I gasped, stumbled and ran down the stairs. And I counted the number of floors.

When Marisa was driving us to dinner at Gainsburg we took the scenic route. We were happily chatting until we crossed the Fremont Bridge and not the Aurora Bridge. We were going in the direction of Greenwood, and thankfully American blocks are perpendicular and numbered so our absentmindedness was easily rectified.

The exterior is ominously clad in black, a ‘dining room and cocktails’ sign beckoned.

It was dark inside. Amber lights diffused a sepia tone and the furniture was in moody shades of red and brown.

We perched on stools at the counter and quizzed the affable chef on the menu.

An ornate plate of charcuterie consisted of coppa, porcini ham, smoked duck breast, olives, cornichons, bread and mustard.

A pot of macaronis et fromage was served with a side salad. Molten Gruyère and Brie were stirred into penne seasoned with roasted garlic and thyme.

A narrow baguette was stuffed with slices of duck breast and brie, caramelised apple and fennel, arugula and Dijon mustard, and served with frites.

The cheesecake du jour was salted caramel. A fluffy cheesecake with a thin biscuit base, the saltiness was balanced by the drizzle of glossy caramel on top.

Layers of spongy chocolate cake and satiny fudge were an opulent dessert.

Appetites satiated and enriched by conversations, we returned across the Aurora Bridge and I alighted the lift on my floor!

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My previous attempts to visit The Meadow in Portland and New York were cancelled by illness and foiled by Hurricane Irene. I was enchanted by the charismatic Mark Bitterman at a potluck last year and had imagined The Meadow as a quaint boutique. Located on the hip Mississippi Avenue in Portland, The Meadow is a purveyor of salts, chocolates, wines, bitters and flowers.

Painted teal with gold flower motif and lettering, The Meadow was a welcomed sight for our caffeinated threesome.

A chalkboard, pails of flowers and stacks of Himalayan salt blocks framed the mint window sill.

The view of The Meadow through the doorway.

A rustic wooden table was laden with mixed vases of vibrant flowers. Their floral fragrances scented the whole room.

A printed missive stated ‘throw away your table salt’. Mark is an advocate for artisan salts.

A wall of shelves was full of glass jars with azure labels. There were sections of curing salts, flake salts, fleur de sel, Hawaiian salts, Italian salts, Japanese salts, Korean salts, rock salts and sel gris.

The salt starter set, left to right: fleur de sel, sel gris Noirmoutier, Maldon, black diamond, Molokai red and Kauai guava smoked.

The Meadow salt set, left to right: Pangasinan star, sel gris, Marlborough flaky, amabito no moshio, haleakala ruby and Halen Môn gold.

Peppers, infused salts, smoked salts, and salt and pepper mills.

Salt accoutrements displayed on Himalayan salt blocks.

Neat rows of wine were at the back of the store.

Colourful bottles of bitters were behind the counter.

A curated collection of chocolates.

The Meadow stocked a variety of local and international chocolates and caramels.

I spotted this cute tin of sardine shaped chocolates.

Individual chocolate bars and salted caramels tempted patrons at the register.

My purchases, clockwise from top right: François Pralus Mini Tropical Pyramid, ceramic bowl and pewter spoon, Paris Caramels with Charentes-Poitou butter, Pineau des Charentes and fleur de sel, Sahagún Almond Bergamot, and Santander semi dark chocolate bar 53% cacao.

I only have six French salted caramels left!

I grew up in a household that weaned off salt over time. My parents cooked with it sparingly in a salt reduced diet that was advocated by dieticians and nutritionists. As adults we had the same shaker of supermarket brand iodised salt in our pantry for many years, its only purpose was to salt the water to boil pasta in.

A couple of evenings ago Myra gathered a group of food lovers for a salt themed potluck with Mark Bitterman. Owner of The Meadow and author of Salted, Mark was visiting from Portland and hosted a dinner at Spring Hill on Sunday.

I bought some leftover heirloom tomatoes at the TomatoFare for the bargain price of two dollars a pound. I made an insalata Caprese as my contribution to the potluck. Heirloom tomatoes, mozzarella and basil were layered, drizzled with extra virgin olive oil and balsamic vinegar, and sprinkled with Murray River salt flakes.

There were a variety of salts at the potluck and each had a story. Some were favourites, others were gifts, and mine reminds me of home.

Carol brought this beautiful Himalayan pink salt crystal for display.

The Secret Stash vanilla salt was speckled and moist.

I love the cute Sugarpill container!

Chuck made his own applewood smoked Maldon salt with lemon thyme.

There were several salads and one other insalata Caprese. Darryl‘s was geometrically styled compared to my rustic approach!

Ashleigh‘s salad of heirloom tomatoes, chèvre and mint was a kaleidoscope of colours.

The soup of the evening was by Kristin, pumpkin soup with salted pumpkin seeds.

Hors d’oeuvres included a cocoa nibs studded chèvre log with applewood salt by Karen.

Bite size hickory smoked salt pretzels, a recipe in Salted made by Carol.

Charred and fanned out on a bamboo tray, Shirley grilled maitake mushrooms and shishito peppers.

She brought three types of Japanese salts to taste with the vegetables – wasabi salt, dashi salt and shichimi tōgarashi blended with salt.

Chuck assembled fresh farm cheese and sungold tomato jam crostinis with his own applewood smoked Maldon salt and lemon thyme.

These sticky nuts were salted orange blossom honey almonds by Lisa.

Kim baked a tin of salted cranberry and pistachio biscotti.

Nazila baked a tray of Jacques Torres chocolate chip cookies with sel gris.

Carol’s second recipe from Salted was Himalayan pink salt brittle.

Nazila dipped vanilla marshmallows in chocolate with salt on top.

Anna rolled chocolate truffles with cayenne and Himalayan pink salt.

Carol made her signature alderwood smoked salt caramels.

And finally, Kimberly brought a jar of jonboy fleur de sel caramels.

We piled our plates with the delectable selection and ate as we listened to Mark, a James Beard Foundation Book Award Winner. An eloquent speaker, we were all mesmerised by his salt narrative. Salt is a ‘universal food, a defining ingredient of the world’s culinary traditions’. He described himself as a vagabond writer and a ‘ravenous and perennial eater’.

When he opened The Meadow, he felt all he was doing was putting contents of his basement into jars! Salt connects people and he stocks over one hundred varieties of salts in his store. They also sell flowers, chocolates and bitters.

He realised there was no original research on salt and its behaviour on food. Salt is a powerful flavour enhancer, a nutritional necessity and the only mineral we eat. It is not just a chemical, it is a substance made by hand.

The Meadow has recently opened a store in New York for retail customers, and they supply food manufacturers and restaurateurs.

Salt makers have an intimate relationship with nature, a deep understanding of complex conditions. Saltiness is modulated by the shape and size of the crystals. Salts have different moisture levels. Fleur de sel has about ten percent residual moisture and is resilient in food, it glistens as it dissolves to spark our palate. Eighty pounds of salt yields one pound of fleur de sel for a ‘luxurious, sensual experience’!

Mark mentioned salts from around the world. Sel gris, French grey sea salt, is mineral rich, moist, coarse and obtains the colour from its terroir. Prussian blue salt is an optical illusion!

Japan has the most sophisticated and obsessive salt culture. To make takesumi bamboo salt, sea water is extracted from three thousand feet under the ocean, sprayed onto bamboo to dry and stirred continuously with a wooden paddle while simmering until evaporated.

Hundreds of millions of years old, Himalayan salt blocks can function as tableware or cookware. It’ll slightly cure sashimi or Carpaccio, and can be heated up for sautéing.

The ‘manifesto’ is the byline of his book and this is clear when he declared that kosher salt is a stainless steel cleaner! Kosher salt is a desiccating agent that extracts moisture. It is a refined chemical manufactured for industries and it is Mark’s ‘mission in life to eradicate kosher salt’.

Salted has three sections: the life of salt, a history; salt guide, varieties and profiles; and salting, techniques and recipes.

We concluded the evening with a peek inside his case of sample salts. Mark had a bottle of nigari, or magnesium chloride. At the Spring Hill dinner the attendees had experimented with droplets into bourbon, adding a complex bitterness.

So for Kate, salt is not just salt!

Sincere thanks to Myra for her hospitality, Mark for his insights, and the Seattle food community for a delicious and informative potluck!

On a cool and drizzling Saturday morning, we were indoors at On the Fly for a cooking class with Chef Christine Keff. We laughed at the irony of recipes for summer parties in this flippant Seattle weather.

Christine relocated Flying Fish from Belltown, where Local 360 is, to South Lake Union about a year ago. Next door is On the Fly, a popular spot for weekday lunch for the surrounding offices.

The walls displayed wines for sale and clusters of cookbooks defied gravity, seemingly suspended in mid air without support.

Neat rows of chairs faced the counter where Christine would be demonstrating the recipes. A door conveniently opened to the Flying Fish kitchen where Christine sought assistance from her team as needed.

Christine was finalising her preparation as we were seated. She unfurled a black knife roll and sharpened her gleaming tools.

We had expected Christine to demonstrate three recipes but flicking through the booklet, there were nine recipes plus the grilled whole salmon not printed! Affable and knowledgeable, Christine entertained us with her commentary and encouraged us to ask questions as she cooked each dish.

The first was the ahi tuna pokē, a Hawaiian marinated raw fish recipe. Pokē is often likened to ceviche but no citrus is used to ‘cook’ the fish and it doesn’t require time to marinate.

Christine recommended Pike Place Market for fresh salmon, halibut and crab as they sell large quantities daily, and Uwajimaya and Mutual Fish for other seafood such as tuna. We learned that tuna doesn’t have to be a dark colour to be fresh; translucence and shine are better indicators for quality.

Scooped into a brittle lumpia cone, the pokē was succulent and infused with the flavours of sambal, soy, sesame, onions and chives. If you have a chopping board and a knife, you can make this deceptively simple hors d’oeuvre! Christine suggested spiking the cones in a bowl of rock salt for presentation. I never deep fry at home so I would serve this on crisp flatbread.

My mother often made potato salad for potluck dinners with family and friends when I was a child. I loved the mixture of waxy potatoes, wedges of hardboiled eggs and crunchy cubes of apples – very retro!

Christine’s version catered for adult tastebuds with green beans and mustard. Boiled in their skins in generously salted water, the potatoes were peeled, cut and combined while warm to soak in the dressing.

Christine shucked and grated ears of fresh corn for the next recipe. There was a lively discussion when she was cooking the creamed corn and poblano. Christine explained that the heat of the chilli is in its membrane and not the seeds. She also warned us not to wash the poblano pepper when peeling the skin as it would dilute it.

The recipe stated one to two tablespoons of heavy cream with optional in brackets. Christine poured in at least half a cup! She declared an additional one to two tablespoons was optional.

The creamed corn bubbled as it reduced, its sweet and smoky aroma wafted through the room. Saffron coloured and studded with kernels, there is something alluring about creamed corn. We each sampled a spoonful and I would have licked the pan if I could!

As Christine sautéed the ingredients for caponata, she elaborated on her remark about the locovore movement. She joked that we would be eating kale for nine months of the year if we only ate food grown in the Pacific Northwest, and we would have to abstain from drinking coffee and using lemons!

Christine supports local producers and she elaborated that food has been shipped for centuries and her preference is to develop cleaner transport than to limit our diet.

We could smell the caponata slowly caramelising as Christine mashed hardboiled egg yolks for sauce gribiche. Olive oil was trickled into the bowl and whisked to form a paste.

The final recipe in On the Fly was cantaloupe agua fresca. Agua fresca translates to fresh water and the cantaloupe was blended and strained with sugar and lime juice adjusted depending on the ripeness of the fruit.

The group walked through the kitchen into the restaurant for the flatbread and whole grilled salmon recipes. Clean and tidy, the kitchen overlooked the dining room.  

Christine rolled out a ball of dough the size of a lime. She then seasoned the sockeye salmon and oiled both sides of the whole fish for grilling.

Flying Fish doesn’t have a weekend lunch service so we were the only people in the restaurant. Two long tables were set up for our buffet lunch. The interior is modern with colour accents.

The first course of our feast was the cantaloupe agua fresca. An orange sherbet colour, the fruit flavoured water was refreshing and summery. 

Charred skin and just cooked, the salmon was grilled to perfection with the flesh flaking easily off the bones.

The potatoes were sliced for the potato salad which maximised the surface area for dressing coverage.

There were audible moans as the pork belly melted in our mouths. A tip from Christine was to cut the pork belly larger than bite size as the chunks will shrink as the fat renders. I’m usually averse to fruits in savoury dishes but this was an exception as the juicy cubes of watermelon cut through the fatty and rich pork belly.

A deep red wine colour, the caponata stained the warm flatbread. The eggplant was silky and imbued with heady spices.

It was a challenge to eat the creamed corn with a fork but we all persisted!

My buffet lunch buffet, clockwise from top: creamed corn with poblano, caponata, grilled sockeye salmon with sauce gribiche, potato salad with green beans and mustard, flatbread, and pork belly and watermelon salad.

A palate cleanser, the rhubarb soda was too sugary for me. It was a pretty drink with the pink hues of the rhubarb syrup at the bottom and the effervescent water poured over it.

We rested our full stomachs for a while and some people were ready to leave to enjoy the emerging sunshine. They were stopped as there was dessert!

A blob of cream dotted with dark chocolate malt balls hid the salted caramel pot de crème. Although smooth and velvety, I had to abandon this as I unfortunately dislike salted caramel.

At $55 per person for recipes, three course meal and matching wines, it is exceptional value. I highly recommend the cooking classes with Chef Christine Keff at Flying Fish!


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