Saturday, October 20, 2012

Hide Anything Embarassing... My Parents are Coming for Dinner

It was already 6:15 by the time we got home from work and I had to make make dinner, uncork wine and clean myself up. This meant delegating cleaning and primping the house to Ali, convincing him to turn off football and entrusting him with incredibly important tasks like throwing the throw blanket over the sofa arm just right and making sure that incriminating wrappers were not left on night stands. It's Monday and I've finally decided to invite my parents over to see our new apartment after spending 3 months getting it to a place that I'm proud to show off. I'm not freaking out, per se... I love cooking and entertaining. But with my parents' visit to the first apartment I've shared with a boy(!), I felt a whole sense of homemakerness I haven't experienced yet. I almost donned an apron and heels, almost.

I talk a lot in these posts about the strangeness of the quarter life crisis, second coming of age, teetering on the edge of feeling like an adult. I have a bowl of decorative balls on my coffee table. Why? Because its fucking classy, that's why. I'd prefer to have game night with my coupled friends while we drink $15 bottles wine and listen to records. Why? Because I don't want to have to shave my legs and wait in line with a bunch of drunk 22 year olds so I can pay $8 cover and have drinks spilled on me. Shots of Cuervo have lost their allure.

My parents are the ultimate role models of adulthood for me. To them, they were coming to hang out with their kiddo and congratulate me on the new digs. To me, they were standing at my door step to take stock of how me and the man friend are making it. So you better believe I had matching towels in the bathroom and flowers on the table. I almost murdered Ali when he asked if we had actual napkins instead of paper towels. There's always something... anyway. I knew I didn't want to prepare anything too involved so I could pay attention to my family. I adapted a recipe I found for a Spanish orange chicken. The initial recipe called for orange zest, Spanish chorizo, potatoes and onions. Since I had a load of clementines on hand I made a swap and added some seasonal vegetables. It was tasty - bright from the citrus zest and roasting everything together in the oven made for a cohesive, family-style dish that just felt warm and filling on a cold Fall night.

We also started with a tuna tartare tower scooped with tarro chips that was inspired by a recent trip to Hawaii. I was on a business trip in Honolulu, conducting focus groups for a client. As a planner/strategist I moderate focus groups during our research and discovery phase. This trip was my first double header - doing back to back two-hour focus groups in one evening. After 4 hours of talking, no food and lots of intense conversation, I was exhausted and in need of a drink more than anything. We hit up the hotel bar at The Modern Hotel and snacked on a tuna tartare layered with avocado and served with beet chips. It was all I needed to go with a goblet of wine and a great night cap with my favorite boss lady. So it inspired me to make my own version when I got home. My parents are Midwest born. When we first moved to Seattle and my parents discovered the seafood-focused food culture, we stumbled our way through overcooking salmon and figuring out how to steam mussels. But the idea of raw fish seemed like an invitation for salmonella. We used to go to restaurants and order tuna steaks well-done. Somewhere a chef was crying or spitting in our food. Either way, I still can't get my mom to trust sushi completely but both parents have taken a surprising turn in trusting raw seafood mostly because they've seen how unbelievably delicious it is. We have an amazing asian market in Seattle called Uwajimaya - where you can get sushi-grade fish that is not only trustworthy but soooo goooood.

The night was a success. My parents loved the apartment and the food, but I think the more important thing is that Ali and I love it. And we love sharing it with our friends and family as we've blended out style and belongings and made it all come together as a home.


Tuna Tartare Tower with Mango, Cucumber Salsa:

3-4 oz. Sushi Grade Maguro Tuna, diced
2 tsp. Mirin
1 Avocado, diced
Medium Pyrex Bowl (or the like) 4-5 inches in diameter OR a round ring mold if you own one.
Tarro Chips

For Salsa:
1 Tbs Roma Tomato, diced
1 Tbs Englich Cucumber, diced
1 Tbs Mango, diced
Squeeze of Lime Juice

 Dice Tuna and Avocado into small cubes, place in separate bowls. Add a pinch of salt to avocado and stir in. Add 2 tsp. Mirin to Tuna and mix. Now here's where I get a little creative in retrofitting objects into kitchen utensils I don't have. I don't have a round mold for cooking. As much as I'd love to own every kitchen device and tool that I can gather from Williams & Sonoma, I don't. But to form the Tartare into a round tower I decided to test out a small Pyrex bowl and it worked perfectly.

Stack the Tuna in the bottom of the bowl and lightly pack down with a spoon. Next add the Avocado and pack down again. The layers should fill bowl as close to the top of the bowl as possible. Flip your serving plate upside down and place over the bowl in the desired position. Grab both bowl and plate and flip! Gently remove the bowl and revel in your masterpiece.

Mince Tomato, Cucumber and Mango into fine cubes (even smaller than Tartare!). Squeeze a quarter of lime over the chopped ingredients and mix together. Top the Tartare tower with 2 Tbs. of salsa mixture.

Pile Tarro Chips next to Tartare and serve to your party guests!

Serves: 4-6


Roasted Spanish Clementine Chicken:

3 large Chicken Breasts, bone-in and skin on
4 Chicken Thighs, bone-in and skin on 
3 Links Spanish Chorizo, chopped
10 Clementines, zested
1 Lemon, zested
1 Red Onion, large chop
1/2 Delicata Squash, quartered and chopped
1/2 lb Red Potatoes, halved
1/2 lb Brussels Sprouts, halved
Cloves from 1 head of Garlic, peeled
2 Tbs Dried Oregano
Salt & Pepper

1 C Chicken Stock
Juice from Clementines and 1/2 Lemon
1 Tbs Garlic, Minced
1 Tbs Butter
Salt & Pepper

Place oven racks on upper 1/3 and bottom of oven. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Zest all of your citrus and set remaining fruit aside. Chop all of your vegetables and Chorizo and layer into two sheet pans. Add whole cloves of Garlic across baking sheets. Coat with Olive Oil and sprinkle with Salt and Pepper.

Take your Chicken Breasts and cut in half. Coat with Olive Oil and sprinkle with Salt and Pepper. Take your zest mixture and run underneath skin of each chicken piece and sprinkle on top. Spread chicken pieces evenly across banking sheets on top of vegetables, skin-side up. Sprinkle Oregano across vegetables and chicken.

Place one baking sheet on top rack and one on bottom rack. Bake for 20 minutes. After 20 minutes switch baking sheets onto opposite racks and cook for an additional 20 minutes.

With 10 minutes to go heat Chicken Stock and citrus juice in a sauce pan and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to a simmer and add Garlic and Salt and Pepper. Let sauce reduce to half and add 1 Tbs of Butter to finish. Makes the sauce glossy and unctuous.

Remove pans from oven and set Chicken aside for juices to redistribute. Layer vegetables onto a large serving platter and top with chicken pieces. Spoon sauce over dish so that it is coated but sauce is not pooling on the plate.

Serves: 4-6


Wednesday, August 29, 2012

No Mean Girling in Advertising

It's really easy to be tempted into making digs at competitors in ads. I'm not talking slander on par with political campaigns. But with the growing role of agencies in clients' digital media management and content development, an agency can be searching for post fodder.

That happened to me today when we heard about a competitor dealing with a PR faux pas. In the end, it really came down to overly cranky customers and there was nothing inherently unethical or "wrong" with the brand's actions. But it would have been sooo easy to allude to the topic in a snarky Facebook post.

But it's too easy. We joked about it and toyed with it before we quickly settled that it just isn't worth it. Picking on a competitor never actually make consumers trust your brand more. The finger pointing only wastes our efforts on publicizing another brand while saying nothing of real substance about our actual client.

Sympathizing with what mess our competitor's PR team and creative agency must be dealing with, it got me thinking on creative responses to negative press or feedback. I tucked this example in my back pocket back in June when Smart Car came up with an awesome response to a Twitter comment. 

A lot of brands, big or small, deal with social media trolls who aim to incite reactions out of fans or spout off negative comments about a company and its products just to be sensational. Smart Car came across one such tweet from some a-hole who has an entire website dedicated to inventing trash-talking quips about advertising.

Clayton Hove tweeted, "Saw a bird had crapped on a Smart Car. Totaled it." Rather than lash back or let it slide, Smart Car decided to respond in a much more interesting and playful way – creating some serious buzz and even changing the mind of said hater. They calculated just how much bird shit it would take to indeed total a car. Read the full story here.

All I'm saying is to take the negative feedback, the easy digs, the "mean girling" mentality and turn it into an actual creative opportunity that says something about your brand and their personal touch on taking the high road.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Officially Shacking Up

My lower back currently has a spastic nerve shooting daggers down through my butt cheek. My head hurts from sore shoulder muscles and my shins and knees haven't been this bruised since romping around the playground. I couldn't be happier. This is moving week.

Ali (the boyfriend) and I officially moved in together this past week. After two months of scouring Craigslist for an apartment and finding nothing worthwhile I was ready to give up. He's already lived with me at my place for close to a year (unofficially). But the 600 sq. ft wasn't cutting it for two. Not to mention that he always felt like somewhat of a guest despite the comfort and familiarity of my apartment. So when we found a place a little over a week ago, we sprung at it. All of a sudden it became a regimented routine of packing our belongings and discarding what we didn't need at Goodwill. We said goodbye to the little apartment with the amazing view of downtown Seattle and the sound, the place where he first kissed me, the small apartment with cracks and creaks but lots of charm. We're moving on to the next step.

With packing comes sore muscles, sleep deprivation, agitation (WHAT DO YOU MEAN THE TABLE WON'T FIT IN THE TRUNK! *Fight back unnecessary tears)  and an overall upheaval of your routine. After finally hauling the boxed-up goods and furniture we've each accumulated into corners of rooms, we fled to my parents house to find some normalcy amidst the chaos. The obnoxious part about moving is that when you've juuuust about reached your breaking point of sanity upon moving everything in, you realize the fun has all but just begun as you consider the mountains of cardboard boxes you now need to unpack and find new places for keeping. Not to mention the whole decorating thing.

Getting away to the burbs where I could take a shower, watch TV and decompress in a borrowed robe and a goblet of wine actually inspired me to cook again after weeks of eating out. Moving in with a boyfriend is exciting. I've never done it before. My Catholic grandmothers would be rolling over in their graves. What would Jesus do? NOT engage in premarital shenanigans, that's what. But I'm in love, and this is right. Ali is teaching me practical grown up knowledge like the difference between screwdriver heads and how I'm not allowed to use my collection of hangers from dry cleaners. NO WIRE HANGERS!  Get out of here Joan Crawford, they work.

So to save our sanity, last weekend we cooked a meal. It was not our best effort, Our steak and potatoes masterpiece had its flaws, but it was our best we could do with foggy heads and sore bodies. I put so much pepper in the mashed potatoes they looked gray. Awesome. I think maybe I'll start a post called the "Failure of the Month." Recognize shortcomings, laugh at them and move on. Ali ate those peppery potatoes like a champ! That's love. The one saving grace from that meal was the sauteed mushrooms we unapologetically spooned over our steaks. Hot damn. They were silky with butter and deep with herbs and earthy goodness that only mushrooms give off. One thing in your day will always go right, these were mine this past weekend.

Sauteed Mushroom 
8 oz. of sliced Mushrooms - your choice but fancier is tastier (duh). I used button mushrooms
1/2 stick Butter
2 tsp crushed Rosemary
1 tsp Tarragon
3 Tbs minced Shallot
5 cloves minced Garlic
 1/4 C dry White Wine
2 tsp Salt
1 tsp ground Black Pepper

Melt butter in a saute pan and add Shallots and Garlic. Saute for 2 minutes until Shallots are translucent and add mushrooms and herbs. Cook for 5 minutes until mushrooms are soft and add White Wine. Reduce to a simmer and cook for an additional 10 minutes. Add salt and pepper. Pour over steak or grab a spoon and ladle directly into mouth.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

The Perfect Hash Brown

There's been an ongoing debate between a group of us. A line has been drawn, and each involved has chosen a side where they have remained headstrong and steadfast in their convictions. The debate is of course whether bacon is better crunchy or soft. Ali and I maintain that crispy bacon is the only way to go. I don't want a flaccid, chewy fat piece of bacon on my plate or in my mouth. Our two good friends both maintain that crispy bacon dries out all the flavor and desired texture. Obviously you can go to the extreme on either side - bacon can be too underdone and too overcooked. We've realized neither of us will ever win, its a matter of preference and hopefully you can reach a happy medium. But what can I say, I'm a peace-keeper. Eat your soggy bacon, but I will silently judge you.

There is another brunch favorite that I've never heard anyone argue the texture of however - and that is hash browns. Hash browns are supposed to showcase a layer of crisp matchsticks browned in butter and then give in to a fluffy core. I don't care if you like breakfast potatoes, shredded or scalloped - a crisp outer layer should always give way to fluffy goodness. The problem is, potatoes can be hard to finagle. Sometimes they refuse to brown and crisp up - leaving you with steamed potato mash. Or worse, they do brown but then the brown goodness sticks to the pan and never reaches your plate. Sometimes the potatoes wind up absorbing the oil or butter and all you taste is mushy grease - mmmm no. So I've studied up on how to achieve the best hash browns that will give you the desired crunch and hopefully avoid the mess of spilled oil and wayward flung potatoes.

The keys: a cold water bath, bacon grease and an uncrowded pan on high heat.

Perfect Hash Browns:
1/2 - 1 lb Russet or Yukon Gold Potatoes (will serve 2-4 people)
1/3 C Onion, diced
1/4 C Red or Yellow Pepper, diced
2 Cloves Garlic, minced
1-2 tsp Cayenne Pepper
Salt and Pepper to taste 
3 Tbs Bacon Grease and/or Butter

Whether you're grating your own potatoes, finely slicing them into matchsticks (painstaking but great) or pulling them from a freezer bag you must submerge in cold water for 5-10 minutes. This releases extra starch in the potatoes that prevents them from browning nicely. Continue to change water every 3-5 minutes until water remains clear rather than cloudy. Place a few layers of paper towels on top of a clean dish rag. Strain potatoes and place on top of towels, wrapping them tightly up into a bundle. Squeeze as much excess water out of potatoes as possible and pat dry. The dryer you get your potatoes the crispier they will be in the pan.

Bacon grease adds a ton of flavor, so I suggest cooking your bacon first and saving the grease in a measuring cup. No bacon (blasphemy)? Just use melted butter instead. Place dry potatoes into a bowl and toss with onion, peppers, cayenne and S&P. Now you get to choose your own adventure in hash brown making...

Oven Hash Browns - Set oven to 450 degrees. Pour bacon grease or melted butter onto hash browns and toss to coat. You want the hash browns to be coated but not sopping with grease. So if you need to add more or less just keep a watchful eye. Spread hash browns evenly onto baking sheet and bake for 20 minutes, stirring and shaking up the pan ever so often. For extra crispness, turn oven to broil after 20 minutes and allow hash browns to continue cooking on the middle rack for up to 5 minutes. This cooking method will yield more loose and overall crisp hash browns. 

Pan or Griddle Hash Browns - Set heat on high and add bacon grease or butter to pan. Allow to simmer for a minute and add your hash browns in an even layer. Try not to crowd the pan. Allow to cook on one side for 5-7 minutes, don't fuss with the hash browns except to check on the browning with a spatula. When browned on one side divide browns into manageable halves or fourths so you can scoop and flip without losing too many potatoes to the stove top or floor. Don't be a hero and try to flip the hash browns with a flick of your wrist. It sounds fun and impressive but more likely than not you will lose half the batch and maybe wind up with a hash brown burn on your forearm. Maaaybe that's happened to me, whatever. Save yourself and your hash browns and use the spatula.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Pork Shoulder & Crock Pot: A 9 Hour Love Story

I haven't had a long lazy weekend day at home in a long while. Every weekend in February I was off in a new place - doing research in Salt Lake City and Portland, visiting friends in San Francisco and celebrating the 1 year anniversary with my boyfriend on Whidbey Island. I've had a lot of amazing food (epic 7 course meal at The Inn at Langley (I should really post about that)). I've had some delicious but not-so-good-for-me food like the A Bomb of a sandwich from Giordano's, whose french fry and cured meat fillings soaked up every ounce of my hangover. Furthermore, I've had some afterthought food - the fill that keeps you moving as your go from hotel to meeting or keeps your fingers typing on the keyboard as you finish up a deadline. 

I've been craving conscious eating cooked by my own hand. It's therapeutic and gratifying to make, dish up and savor the goofy satisfied grin from your companion as he takes a bite and you dig in as well. So before boy and I headed to Pike Place for a rare sunny Sunday, I made a dry rub for a pork shoulder, seared it in a cast iron skillet and put it to work in a crock pot with onions, broth, mustard seeds and apple juice. As the day went on, I lost my fleet in a game of battle ship that accompanied a Northwest wine tasting flight. We looked for the honey lady we know but found graffiti art around the market when couldn't find her. And I spent much too long  oggling pickled vegetables to serve with dinner at DeLaurenti's, landing on pickled watermelon rind, apricots, cornichons and cipolline.


By the time we got home the hallways of my apartment building were fragrant with simmering meat. The pork shoulder easily shredded with a fork into luscious ribbons that I drowned with barbecue sauce. We served our lot with corn bread and pan fried broccoli. Each of the pickles I brought home added a different sweetness or vinegary acid that cut the richness of the pork. Pickled watermelon bites like a firm gelatin and tastes like candy. The apricots were speckled with peppercorns and made each fork-full of meat more tangy and sweet. It was a perfect way to cap a long few weeks in the shortest month of the year.

Pork Shoulder Rub:
1/4 C Brown Sugar
1 tsp. Cinnamon
3 Tbs Cumin
1 tsp. Cayenne
2 Tbs Garlic Salt
3 tsp Black pepper
1 Tbs Oregano

1 C Beef Broth
2 Tbs Mustard Seeds
1/3 C Apple Juice
1/2 Onion, sliced

4-5 lb. Pork Shoulder

Take a 4-5 lb. natural Pork Shoulder and trim excess caps of fat. Massage in dry rub with unabashed amounts of the mix. Get it dirty. Pour 2 Tbs of olive oil in a caste iron or heavy based skillet and sear meat on all sides in the screaming hot pan. Place meat in crock pot and add the bathtub ingredients. Cover and cook on low for 8-9 hours, shred meat and serve by itself or with your favorite barbecue sauce... you should probably have some hot sauce on hand too, but that's a given.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Thanksgiving Recap

Still getting rid of the Thanksgiving weekend hangover. My family not only celebrated the most epic day of feasting all year this past weekend, but my Mom's 60th Birthday as well... which called for another feast in itself. When Underhill's celebrate we head to my parents' place in on Camano Island. It calls for game time, punctual 5:00 cocktail hour with Dad's Manhattans, and ridiculous "snack" spreads that start at 3:00 and wind down with enough food at dinner to last us through the week. Its also the one time of year I'll let myself cheat on being gluten free to stuff myself full of stuffing. Has to be Marie Callendar's cornbread stuffing. Has to be the same way we've made it since I can remember - celery, onion, walnuts and mushrooms. No more. Everyone has a favorite Thanksgiving food that they've deemed untouchable. Sometimes less fuss makes it better. Thanksgiving is an interesting combination of lavish dishes paired with simple favorites you've loved since you can remember Thanksgivings. Mine is the stuffing, so don't mess. Rather than recap recipes, I captured the wine, indulgence and smiles of my family. Happy post Thanksgiving, I'm prepping to detox just in time to redo it all at Christmas time :).

Monday, November 14, 2011

Giving in to Autumn with Brussels Sprouts

I just got back from a vacation to Mexico with my boyfriend, best friend and her man, and their two amazing friends whom I'd never met until we landed in Puerto Vallarta. The couples retreat was timed just right, I had my fill of drinking homemade pina coladas from a canteen, cooking or ordering tacos every night - made simply and un-fussed with like they should be. We soaked up as much sun as we did tequila and at the end of the trip I came home to discover that the bone-chilling cold of late Fall had finally set in while we were away.

Even though it's always a sad day when you pull out the winter coats and put away your flip flops, I don't mind too terribly. It's the turning point where massive maple leaves burst from green, to red, to yellow and orange - always most vibrant before they die. I like the crisp, cold walks in the sun on weekends with a scarf and hat and my hand shoved in my boyfriend's coat pocket. And I really like the Autumn vegetables that have started to wander into my CSA box and onto my plate. Tonight I made a healthy dinner that feels hearty but gave me a break from the beef stews and and potatoes that can prepare you for winter. Raw Brussels Sprout salad with pomegranate seeds and roasted root vegetables on the side. Favorite things about this food - you can easily find new ways to adjust the recipe with what you have on hand, and it tastes just as good an hour later as it does when served immediately.

Brussels Sprout Salad with Pomegranate Seeds
1/2 lb. Brussels Sprouts, shredded
1/2 C Tofu, cubed
1/4 Yellow Onion, finely sliced
1/3 C Pomegranate Seeds
1/4 C Toasted Almond Slivers
Handful of shaved Parmesan

1/4 C Olive Oil
1/2 C Apple Cider Vinegar
2 Tbs Dijon Mustard
2 tsp Honey
Salt and Pepper

 Dice tofu into cubes and pat dry. Season with salt and pepper and brown in a saute pan and set aside. Peel off outer leaves of Brussels sprouts and shred. Slice onion and place in a bowl of cold water - this will take away some of the bite! Whisk vinaigrette in a separate bowl and combine with all ingredients. Serve and top with Parmesan cheese.