Love at First Sight

I’m sorry if I’m about to repeat myself here, but I’m going to tell you a little bit about how Chris and I met. I swear I’ve done it already (more than just little snippets), but I’m in no mood to read through every last post to double check. So there.

I’m thinking I used to have a section about it on the “About” page, and when I just went to update it a little (yeah, finally!) I realized it wasn’t there anymore. So maybe some of you don’t know the story.

Anyway, away we go.

I applied for a study abroad trip in Italy in the winter of 2000 after a pretty shitty year (see link #1 above). I got “picked” to go (although I’m sure it wasn’t that hard…), so after pinching myself a few times, asking my parents over and over for money (because I didn’t believe them the first time they said they’d pay for it), and getting all my shit together (vacation from the soap store, finding a place for my cat to live, etc), I was finally set. There were only a couple of “orientation meetings” to attend, and then I’d be on my way to Florence.

Chris would tell you that we met at one of those orientation sessions. He’d also tell you that I was a royal bitch to him when he tried to make small talk from the row behind me; apparently I was annoyed that he didn’t know we’d be 6 hours ahead of North Carolina time and snapped at him, but I swear I don’t remember it. I mean seriously, when do I ever snap at people? And of course, he’d tell you that he noticed all the cornbread I’d eaten, and that he may have fallen in love with me at first sight. Again, I remember none of this.

Chris would also tell you that he found out pretty quickly that I had a super-serious boyfriend at home and that his heart was crushed. There was one drunken night (of many, because it was Italy for cryin’ out loud! that means cheap-ass wine!) that many of us distinctly remember a phrase slurred from Chris’ lips: “My girlfriend! She has a boyfriend!”. Ah, the memories.

Anyways, even though it wasn’t necessarily love at first sight, Chris and I definitely hung out together quite a bit in Italy and in a matter or months (or weeks…) upon returning from said country, we were pretty much walking to each other’s houses every day after class. Three years later we were moving to Chicago together, and two years after that we got hitched. Five years after that, here we are in California. How time flies.

It just so happened that an Italian cooking class was offered as part of our study abroad curriculum. I’d initially enrolled in some nerdy educational something-or-other class, but once I realized the cooking class was offered, I quickly jumped ship and opted for the more ‘leisurely’ course. I may or may not have known that Chris was already taking the cooking class, too ;). As a result, we got to spend even more time together, and while I barely remember what we cooked, I do remember one little detail.

There was rabbit.

Okay, two details. The rabbit was really tasty. I have no idea how we prepared it, but maybe it was something like this? Ragù is Italian-derived, after all.

Either way, it’s a ragù you should certainly make, even if you do have to drive around to all your city’s butcher shops to find a rabbit. Rabbit is lean, totally flavor-filled, and a meat you’ll fall in love with the second you taste the result. It may not be love at first sight, but that doesn’t ever truly happen anyway, does it?

Rabbit Ragù with Soppressata
Adapted from Food & Wine, September 2009; serves 4-6 

time commitment: 2 1/2 hours (more like 1 hour active)

printable version

2 3/4 pounds plum tomatoes (or 3 14.5 oz cans diced tomatoes)
2 T extra-virgin olive oil
1 whole 2-3 lb rabbit*
salt & pepper
1 onion, medium dice
2 stalks of celery, medium dice
2 carrots, medium dice
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 c hefty red wine (I used a 2004 Syrah)
4 c low-sodium chicken broth
1/4 c red wine vinegar
1 T finely chopped rosemary
4 oz soppressata, finely diced
3/4 lb tagliatelle
1/4 c Parmigiano-Regianno cheese, grated
1 T chopped parsley, for garnish (optional)

*Rabbit is pretty difficult to locate since the demand is relatively low in most places. For those in San Francisco, I found mine at Bi-Rite, but Drewes Bros usually carries a few frozen rabbits and I know the meat shop at the Ferry Bldg carries it. Many butcher shops can order one for you at your request. D’artagnan is an online meat market and they sell it too for reasonable prices. If you buy it locally, you can probably have the butcher butcher it for you.

Butcher your rabbit if the market didn’t do it for you. I cut mine into 8 pieces, sorta following these instructions.

If using fresh tomatoes, you’ll get the best results if you peel your tomatoes. You can leave them peeled and loaded with seeds if you want, though, to save time. If you’re using canned tomatoes, you can obviously skip this step. Bring a medium saucepan of water to a boil and fill a bowl with ice water. Score the bottom of each tomato with a shallow X. Plunge the tomatoes into the boiling water for 30 seconds. Transfer the tomatoes to the ice water bath to cool. Peel the tomatoes and cut them in half crosswise. Scoop the seeds and pulp into a strainer set over a bowl. Press the pulp and juice through the strainer and discard the seeds. Coarsely chop the tomatoes and add them to the strained pulp and juice.

Heat the olive oil in a Dutch oven. Season the rabbit pieces with salt and pepper. Add them to the Dutch oven and cook over moderately high heat, turning once, until lightly browned all over, about 6 minutes. Transfer the rabbit to a plate.

Toss the onions, celery, and carrots into the Dutch oven and cook over moderate-high heat for about 5 minutes, until softened. Add garlic and cook another minute or two. Add red wine and bring to boil to deglaze (removed browned bits).

Once most of the wine has evaporated, add the chicken stock and bring to a boil. Add the tomatoes, red wine vinegar, rosemary and the browned rabbit and season lightly with salt and pepper. Cover partially and cook over moderately low heat, stirring occasionally, until the rabbit is tender, about 1 hour and 10 minutes. Transfer the rabbit to a plate. Boil the sauce until thickened, about 20 minutes.

Pull the rabbit meat from the bones and shred it. Return the rabbit meat to the Dutch oven, add the diced soppressata and simmer for 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, cook the pasta until al dente. Drain the pasta well and divide among shallow bowls. Spoon the rabbit ragù over the pasta, top with cheese and parsley, and serve hot.

Time Flies; a Countdown

Time flies when you’re having fun, doesn’t it? In no time, I’ll be trying my hand at lemon-growing, learning to surf, biking through the Redwoods, driving with the top down while wearing a tank top, and relaxing on the Pacific shores, local brew in one hand. (Wine in the other, of course.)

Ok, ok, maybe not ALL of those things, but still. It’s definitely going to be different. Different and a little bit warmer. I must say I am very excited about being a California girl. Not that I really know what that entails, but next time you hear from me, I’ll be ‘on the other side’.

Meanwhile, I thought a countdown might be fun. You know, just for shits and giggles. Hopefully, more giggles though.

Let’s start with 20 and work our way down, shall we?

20: days until I start my new job. (Yes, I already have a job! I need an easy button for this one.) I still get to work at a fancy place (Stanford), but I get to work with preggers ladies instead of talk about hereditary cancer risk. Man, I will miss my job, but I think this will be a good change.
19: the number of dirty socks and underwear in a bag in “my room” at Jennifer & Jon’s. I need to do laundry. seriously.
18: how many different restaurants I’ve been to in the last two weeks. Yes, my pants are tight, too. By the way, Vancouver is a really cool city. I’ll talk about that in another week or so.
17: the number of times Riley has licked my feet in the past week. apparently, my feet smell special, and i don’t know if that’s good or bad…
16: yikaroonies, my niece turns this age on Sunday! Happy Birthday, Ash, and drive safe my dear!
15: how long it’s been since I’ve seen my kitty cat. Mama’s comin’ soon, Tange!
14: “free” days to figure out my surroundings once in CA. this includes finding a place to live. no pressure.
13: the number of lime-flavored chips I could eat right now. ok, double it.
12: how many times I look at craigslist-SF each day. also how many times I almost crap my pants at rent prices in said city.
11: a rough estimate of how many pounds I’ve gained in the last month, thanks to having tons of awesome friends who want to go out for “one last [insert drink/food/drink and food]”.
10: how many times Chris has tried to forward our mail. apparently the USPS doesn’t like that we live(d) on North Avenue. this also means I am not getting my food magazines. or bills. One of these is bad; I’ll let you decide which one.
9: this is how many pairs of shoes I have to find room for in my suitcase come Sunday morning. needless to say, I will be wearing rain boots to the airport, rain or shine…
8: how many sandwiches are on the menu at Grahamwich, which is where I’m eating with Caroline today. I already know what I’m getting though.
7: how many nights I’ve been lucky enough to eat dinner at ‘home’ with J&J. Jennifer made some amazing General Tso’s chicken one night, Jon whipped up cupcakes and tasty cucumber cocktails, and I made short ribs (of course) and some pork chops, also a winning pulled pork dish. Cooking with friends is one of my favorite things. Do i say that a lot?! Cuz it’s true.
6: months until we’re back in Chicago! Felicia, I’m glad you’re getting married :).
5: this is how many hours it takes me to get from Chicago to San Francisco. minus 30 minutes. hello blood clot and swollen feet. Dramatic?
4: four nights left of sleeping alone. Chris better watch out – I’ve gotten really good at taking up the whole bed.
3: three more days working with some really lovely people, at a really lovely job.
2: the number of clinic notes I have left to write. i have three days left to do it though, so no worries!
1: one more weekend, which means some quality time with J&J, Riley, and Chicago. It better not freakin’ snow.

So there you are. These are the things that are on my mind lately. Short ribs included, especially these ones. They are tender, they are smothered in wine and tomatoes, they are served atop carbs. They will make you wish it was December all over again, when you can focus on comfort food for another three months instead of cold, rainy Spring days or days when you just have to eat something hefty, instead of a salad, or something else non-hefty.

For me, they were even better, because they were made and eaten with some of my ‘besties’. J&J, I will miss you guys terribly. Please move West already.

Tomato-Braised Short Ribs.
inspired by Pioneer Woman, serves 4

time commitment: 24 hours; 45 minutes active time (start the day before you want to eat!)

printable version

1 T olive oil
4 honkin’ bone-in grass-fed short ribs
1 large onion, thinly sliced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 t sugar
1 t cinnamon
1 large can (28 oz) fire-roasted diced tomatoes, drained
1 c good red wine
salt and pepper
1 box whole wheat linguini (or gluten-free linguini)
parsley, for garnish (optional)

on med-hi, heat olive oil in large dutch oven. brown short ribs on each side, about 2 minutes per side. remove and set aside.

toss in onions, garlic, and cinnamon. saute, stirring frequently, until onions are soft, about 5 minutes. add diced tomotoes and red wine, and bring to a boil. add salt and pepper to taste. nestle short ribs into tomato sauce, turn heat to low, and cover. simmer for 3-3.5 hours. remove from heat and let come to room temperature. refrigerate overnight for best results.

the next day: remove from fridge. fat from short ribs will have risen to the top and hardened. This is the best time to get it out – just remove it with a knife/spoon/whatever (it sorta looks like candle wax… appetizing, no?!). warm the short ribs and sauce over medium heat.

meanwhile, cook pasta according to package directions, and serve with warmed short ribs and tomato sauce. garnish with parsley if desired. enjoy a nice hefty red wine alongside ;).

Castles Made of Sand

I had a free flight courtesy of my friends at Southwest, and my 8 roundtrips within the last 2 years. It expired in April, and I don’t know about you, but I’m not one to let things that are “free” go to waste. Hubs had 1/2 of a free flight (i.e., a “one way”) as a result of his perseverence during “Free Flight Blackout” over Christmas, insisting that they had to let him use at least part of his round trip gratis fare. While San Diego was our first choice, as it turns out, it was many others’ first choice and so we took a risk, and instead took a maiden voyage northwest – to the home of Grunge.

I’d never been to Seattle, hence the “maiden voyage” connotation, and I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. A disadvantage in living in such an awesome city as Chicago is that, at least in my experience with U.S. travel, it’s hard to find a city that’s remotely comparable. Nonetheless, we proceeded with an open mind that was only somewhat inundated with fear of rain.

Needless to say, I fell in love with another West Coast city. What does that mean?

Here are our chosen points of interest:

Woodinville. Take a day, rent a car, and get thee to the wineries. As my friend Todd said, I apparently don’t go anywhere if I can’t find a winery within an hour. I think he’s right. We didn’t load up like we did in Napa, but most importantly we started our trip off right :). Word on the street is that there are quite a few wine regions in the area, but we went for the close one. The tasty rosemary and sea salt flatbread below with the cozy fireplace? Columbia Valley.

Cafe Juanita, Kirkland. Anybody watch “The Next Iron Chef”? Chef Holly Smith, of Cafe Juanita, was an early loser but you wouldn’t know from the Northern Italian fare she puts out here. The octopus you see below isn’t from there, but from Chez Wetzel instead, and serves as my attempt at a recreation of her dish. I had the cutest little pasta dish, rabbit agnolotti, and could have cared less that we didn’t even get to eat until 9.

Pike Place Market. Flying fish? Fiddleheads? Locally made honey? Ten thousand types of pasta? I think I’ve made my point. Although I’m certain Hubs’ interest was quickly fading after the first 10 vegetable stands, I could have wandered for hours.

Theo Chocolate Factory. A factory – full of organic free-trade chocolate? Come to mama. I fell for the chai and coconut curry bars, but if those don’t suit your fancy they had about 20 other flavors, all with free samples. We didn’t even need that damn tour that sold out a week before we got there. Hmmmmph.

Poppy. We thought long and hard about going to Herb Farm but decided that spending 500 bucks on dinner was not in our best interests. That said, the owner of Poppy used to be the executive chef of Herb Farm and left a few years ago to open Poppy. Plus, this guy, he’s gonna be on Top Chef Masters, which was reason enough for me to check it out. The dishes, called ‘thali’, are Indian-style dishes with multiple small courses served all at once. And with naan. You can’t go wrong with naan, and you can’t go wrong when it’s 32 buckaroos for all of it. Although if you ask Hubs, he will swear the oysters he got for his appetizer did him in the next day, as he’s now proclaimed Jerry Traunfeld as Top Chef Masters’ “villain”.

Capitol Hill. Our B&B was up in this neighborhood, and it was the perfect distance from downtown, absolutely gorgeous, and owned by one ‘bear’ of a guy. The last person I’d ever expect to be running a B&B; I’d picture him chopping wood, donned in flannel, but nonetheless, he was awesome and we really hit it off. If you’re ever up in that area and in the mood for pizza, try Palermos, which I ended up ordering for take-out when Hubs was busy eating Walgreens’ version of Saltines.

Pioneer Square. Thanks to men being the weaker species :), I found myself wandering around sans Hubs for an afternoon, and landed in this little gem of a neighborhood, which I liken to Chicago’s Printer’s Row. It’s one of Seattle’s oldest neighborhoods, and filled with historic buildings, tiny parks, and quaint shops. Also, Vietnamese sandwich shops.

Fonte. Another place I visited by my lonesome. Good wine flights and bruschetta, and a perfect downtown spot to read a book. Grab some coffee while you’re there, or get your beans packed up for home.

Seattle Public Library, Central Branch. One of the more modern buildings in the downtown area, with bright yellow escalators, tons of books (is that obvious?), and city views that aren’t half bad either.

Clearly, there is plenty to do in Seattle, and you could easily fill a weekend or even a week. But, before you venture to the good ol’ Northwest, a few words of advice:

If you have bad knees, please do take advantage of the bus system. Those hills are a doozy, and 1 mile really does take 20 minutes. Plus, the public transit rocks (meaning – it’s clean, it’s cheap, and it’s always on time).

Watch out for dreadlocks. There is no telling what’s under there, and you’ll see lots and lots of dreadlocks. Which I generally like, but this guy sorta scared me.

Also watch out for narcissistic doggies at the market. They lay in their cuddliness, collecting affection from passersby with ease. They can’t be trusted.

There are uncensored graphics at Starbucks. Starbucks??!! You can’t go anywhere these days without seeing boobies.

Speaking of coffee, drink loads of it because it’s damn tasty. Wear a coat with a tie so you can “double fist” but keep a hand free.

Don’t go up the Space Needle. It’s sorta lame, especially if you’ve taken the (free) trip up Chicago’s Hancock Tower, which has a much more awesome view. Plus, it’s super windy up there and the view from the bottom is way better.

Go alone. Your Hubs (or Wifey) will probably get sick from who knows what and have to stay in bed all day at some point during your trip. Just kidding, of course, but wandering the city alone was sorta fun, although copilots are always better. So if you are traveling solo, it’s totally doable.

Do not look for Jimi Hendrix’s statue. It isn’t there , and an empty spot with a wire sticking out is sorta lame. Although, I did some more research, and word on the street is that it is there and I missed it. Damn google maps for betraying me!

Do go on a hunt for a frequent Pearl Jam rehearsal spot behind the alley of the Crocodile Cafe. With Seattle being practically solely responsible for the birth of Grunge Rock, you’d do the city a disservice if you didn’t find something representative of that era. Plus, it is a cool door, eh? Even if you do have to wander in an alley to find it.

Try fiddleheads. They’re delightfully crunchy.

And go to Cafe Juanita and get the grilled octopus dish, or if all else fails, try this one at home.

Braised, Grilled Octopus with Fennel, Green Sauce, and Chickpea Puree
Inspired by Cafe Juanita; serves 2 as an appetizer

printable version

1 small octopus (~1/2 lb); head removed
kosher salt
fresh ground pepper
1 c red wine (I used an Italian blend)
1 c red wine vinegar
a few sprigs of thyme
1 clove garlic
1 handful of fresh parsley
1 T capers, drained
1 green onion
1/4 t red pepper flakes
fresh lemon juice
extra virgin olive oil
1/2 can of chickpeas (garbanzo beans), drained and rinsed
2-3 T milk or cream
fennel bulb (as much as you want), thinly shaved

preheat oven to 325 F. place trimmed octopus in medium pot and sprinkle with salt and a little pepper. pour red wine and red wine vinegar over and add thyme and garlic. cover and place in oven for about 30 minutes, until octopus is soft and tender, but not chewy. remove from liquid.

green sauce
meanwhile, in a mini processor, add parsley, capers, green onion, pepper flakes, and pulse. slowly pour in olive oil until a coarsely pureed. add 1/2 lemon’s worth of juice and season with salt and pepper. pour into small bowl.

chickpea puree
in the same processor (rinsed), add chickpeas and milk. puree until smooth, adding more milk if needed. season with salt and pepper.

putting it together
light a grill pan over med-hi and brush with oil. grill about 2 minutes on each side.

place half of green sauce on bottom of plate. top with half of chickpea puree, and top with half of octopus. gently toss fennel shavings in a little oil and the other half of the lemon’s juice and place atop octopus.