Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Ethel's Chocolate - Las Vegas!!!

Ethel's Chocolates are visually seductive, and for this reason they deserve mention.  Sexy, trendy, and a little bit sassy, some of these chocolates actually taste pretty good too. Ethel's Chocolates is named for Ethel Mars, the mother of  Forrest Mars (the candy magnate who "invented" M&M's and Mars bars).  Owned by Mars Inc., Ethel's Chocolate factory is located just outside of Las Vegas, Nevada, and offers taste tours for those who want to sample the goods.

It was Sunday insanity at the Las Vegas airport. Everyone was on their way out after a weekend of sleepless debauchery. We were jostled and pushed about with the swarms of other traveling bodies, and found our way, eventually, to our gate.  A quick search for some snacks to complement Southwest's in-flight service of ginger ale and crackers brought us to a slick outlet for these handsome chocolates. 

Somewhere between Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf , Sbarro, Starbucks, and a generic sandwich stand, was the oasis of Ethel's Chocolates. We slipped in and away from the buzzing crowd and ogled the pretty pretty chocolates in the pretty pretty glass case. One piece for $2, or twelve of your choice in a little box  for $16, and so on. The savings continued as you increased the number of chocolates in the box. The workers kept rattling off the savings in dollars. We chose sixteen, and half of them the kind with the hipster retro graphics, supposedly filled with something alcoholic.

I wasn't expecting these things to taste like much, but some of them were pretty good. There were a few, though, that weren't so good. According to the website, Ethel's chocolates are designed by Jin Caldwell, a former pastry chef for Wynn-Las Vegas and the Bellagio Hotel.  To me, however, the chocolates are mostly about presentation. The little retro graphics are masterful, but fillings and flavors aren't consistently great. Overall, the chocolate is a bit waxy, but kudos for all the dark chocolate!

The lemon meringue (above) is fairly great: tangy, lemony along side dark chocolate. The balance is nice, if you are a lemon meringue pie person.  The Etheltini is delicious with a chocolat-y vodka creamy middle.

The Lemon Drop (with the lemon wedge above), is pretty good, not too sweet, but can't taste the vodka at all.  The Chocolapolitan (labeled "Cosmo", which they claimed was a vodka chocolate cosmopolitan), was pretty good, but all of these supposedly liquor filled chocolates are a far cry from their European counterparts (think the German Asbach Uralt brandy filled chocolates that can actually get you tipsy). I could only taste the alchohol if I closed my eyes and tried really hard. So, on the plus side, these alcohol-filled chocolates are kid friendly!

The perfecto mohito (see the graphic of the green drink above) just sucked. Strange sour lemon lime and mint flavors and icky sweet. I couldn't even finish my 1/3 of a piece ration (morsels were divvied three ways for taste testing).

There were many many flavors, shapes and permutations of these chocolates that I didn't buy or sample, so I can't comment on the cabernet wine or the champagne chocolates, or the many truffles and brittles available at Ethel's.  In any case, these chocolates would make great gifts for someone who isn't overly discerning about their chocolate, but who enjoys a visual feast.

And... there are Ethel's lounges in Las Vegas (one in the Flamingo Hotel) where one can sip coffee and other beverages on plush couches while eating vodka chocolates. Might be a fun diversion from the slots.

Ethel's Gourmet Chocolate Lounge on Urbanspoon

Semisweet Chocolate on Foodista

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Txori Bar

Txori Bar

2207 2nd Ave
Seattle, WA 98121-2016
(206) 204-9771

We had the amazing fortune to sit at a table next to the folks that make Txori possible! Pictured above: the general manager (cool do and glasses), the pastry chef (looking sassy and awestruck), the office manager (sassy pink skirt) and the chef (hat peeking out) - and that's me in the back, all fuzzy.  It wasn't a full-on "sassy."  We only sampled some dessert from their table (ironically enough these Txori insiders were eating an elaborate smorgasbord of cupcakes from the Yellow Leaf Cupcake Company, located around the corner. This group was apparently tired of their own insanely amazing desserts). Throughout the evening, however, this friendly group also offered us fabulous menu suggestions, and they tolerated all of my incessent questions and musings with humor and patience... (e.g. "what do you like on the menu? ...what's that?...look at this!...etc.).

Here's the view towards the front door from our table:

My dining companion was only seven years old. Although this is a rather sophisticated and elegant Basque inspired tapas joint, we both enjoyed it. Fun finger food. Excellent service. Pleasant atmosphere.

We started out with drinks.  She ordered sprite on the rocks and I ordered a campari and soda.
We sandwiched ourselves between two other tables, so that I could ogle their food and ask opinions of our aforementioned neighbors. They raved about the stuffed squid in its ink on fried bread (calamares en su tinta ), so I ordered it. I am also partial to cured anchovies, so I ordered that too.
Below is the squid:


                                The anchovies:                                                                                                                 

 As you can see, the format is somewhat like sushi. Something on top of a bite and a half sized piece of bread. This makes eating bites off of other people's plates difficult.

The middle aged couple at the table to the other side of us were eating a plate of mushrooms, a plate of meatballs, and then later the braised oxtail tartlet. The tartlet looked like scrumptious morsels of meat wrapped in filo dough. Flaky and buttery.  However, this couple was not as approachable as the Txori all-star insider table. When I asked how the mushrooms and meatballs were, hoping that maybe I could move in for a taste, the gentleman turned to me and explained that the mushrooms were "amazing and mind-blowing" and that I "had to order them."

Well, this is the point at which I would normally say "can I have a bite?"  However, with him I hesitated, because, as much as I like getting to know people, socializing and sharing food, I also don't want to ruffle feathers or butt in when I'm not wanted. Sometimes you just know, and anyway, I was already getting the death stare from the gentleman's female companion. She was nice enough, but wouldn't talk. So....I backed off and ate my squid in its ink, which was exquisite, warm, tender, and fresh:

I also ordered those meatballs that Kent, the fabulous waiter, suggested I order for my little companion who he thought would love them. Made of veal and pork, these meatballs were incredible. Swimming in just enough beautiful rich sauce, I could have eaten about 20 of these things.She loved them too.

Kent was pretty fab all around. I ambled up to the bar to watch the chefs, look at the case (set up much like a sushi bar) and ask questions.  I spotted a small green stuffed thing which looked unusual, so I asked the busy chef what it was. He shot me an annoyed look and told me it was a "date". Well, I know enough to know a date when I see one, so I turned to Kent, who clarified that it was in fact NOT a date. The kitchen staff were messing with me, and in true-to-form kitchen staff tradition, behaved like gnarly smart asses.  Kent kindly answered questions, explained specials, and somehow by the time I got back to my table I had ordered a savory cone of cream and anchovies, supposedly a classic Basque snack. Not sure how I feel about this one. Sounded interesting in theory. Was very pretty when they arrived at the table, but harder to eat.

Kent also managed to add more St. Germain (elderflower blossom liqueur) to my cocktail when I told him I could only taste the cava rosada, a sparkling Spanish wine but mostly the orange soda. As pretty as this drink was, the taste was rather bland and heavy on the orange, even with the extra splash of St. Germain. Not as heavenly as described by here by Cornichon. Note the bottle of still water behind my drink (no throat numbing ice...hip hip hooray!).

 But...our server's most wonderful contribution to my experience that night was his dessert recommendation: olive oil cake. I must have cringed, because he offered to pay for it if I didn't like it. How do you pass up an offer like that? I was sure I would hate it, because I'm not often impressed with dessert to begin with, and olive oil in a sweet cake sounded too strong. I ordered the chocolate mousse as a back up. You can see the mousse on the left (much better, by the way, than Cafe Press chocolate mousse) and the olive oil cake nestled against a  dollop of crème fraîche on the right. This olive oil cake was a moist, rich, not too sweet, wine-soaked, masterpiece.

 Thinking myself lucky to have the pastry chef right next to me, I asked her how in the world she made it...."lots of wine and lots of sugar..."  The next day I tried to make one and I used lots of wine and lots of sugar, but mine tasted nutty and yeasty and border-line yucky. If you go to Txori for nothing else, go for a coffee and olive oil cake. You will not be disappointed.  Peace out.

Txori Bar on Urbanspoon

Thursday, September 17, 2009

SPECIAL RECIPE EDITION: Almost Gluten Free Plum Tart

Almost Gluten-Free Plum Tart

A lovely friend of the family gave me a big bag of Italian plums, so I made a couple of almost gluten-free tarts.

I do not have celiac's disease (as far as I know), but I avoid gluten and challenge myself to bake gluten-light, and/or gluten free. If you are gluten intolerant or allergic, you can use rice or millet flour instead of spelt flour. Spelt is actually very low in gluten, but it is not gluten-free. As a general rule, I also bake without cow's milk, but I do use butter.

This recipe is loosely adapted from a combination of recipes I no longer have on paper, but can vaguely call up from memory, and a couple that I found on the web: one from (glutinous) Epicurious and one from Gluten Free in South Africa.

This recipe makes enough dough for two 9 inch tarts. Preheat oven to 425. Important note: When you use flour that is gluten free, or almost gluten free, I recommend using a tart pan with a removable bottom if you want to easily cut pieces that stay in tact. Gluten free crusts crumble and disintegrate easily.

Tart Pastry Dough
2 cups white rice flour

1 cup white spelt flour (or a gluten free flour: millet, rice, quinoa, etc.)
1 stick plus 3 Tbsp unsalted butter cut into small 1/2 inch pieces (very cold or frozen)
1/3 cup organic sugar
2 packets of vanilla sugar (I brought these back from Germany, but you can probably find them in a  European import store)
pinch of sea salt
4 egg yolks
1/3 cup almond or rice milk

4 pounds of Italian plums (or a big bowl full), pitted and quartered
2 Tablespoons cornstarch
3/4 cup sugar + 2 packets of vanilla sugar (or 2 teaspoons vanilla extract)
Juice from half a large lemon

Dough: Put the flour, sugar, salt and butter in a large bowl. I don't have a food processor, so I use two sharp knives and I cut the flour-butter mixture with one knife in each hand, chop chop chop, alternating hands, bringing the knives toward you until the little lumps are the size of breadcrumbs.  This takes some time, but it's fun. Now, mix in the yolks with a big wooden spoon or your hands. I just use my hands. Much more efficient. Slowly mix in the milk, 2 tablespoons at a time until you can form the dough into a firm smooth ball that is not sticky. Divide the ball into two balls and set aside, or refrigerate until you're ready to bake. You can keep the pastry dough wrapped in plastic for several days in the fridge or frozen for a week or two. When you're ready, push the dough into the bottom of the pie pan with your fingers, spreading to cover bottom and sides. You may need to redistribute it a bit to cover all surfaces. Now, you're ready for the filling!

Filling: Mix quartered plums with cornstarch, sugar, vanilla and lemon juice. Allow 10-30 minutes for sugar to dissolve and juices to flow and mingle.  Arrange plums in a circle, skin down, starting from the outer edges of the tart pan. Pointy end towards the center. Layer the next circle on top of the first. Keep creating circles until you fill the pan and cover up all the pastry.  Pour  juices from the filling mixture on top of the tart. 

Bake: Bake at 425 for the first 15 minutes. Reduce to 350 for 30-40 minutes. Crust should be golden and plums bubbly. Allow to cool for at least a half hour.

Enjoy with coffee or tea!



Fruit Tart Dessert on Foodista

Saturday, September 12, 2009

44 Degrees North and BlueWater Bistro

BluWater Bistro (South Lake Union)
1001 Fairview N
Seattle WA 98109
(206) 447.0769
Bluwater Bistro (Lake Union) on Urbanspoon

....and 44 degrees North Vodka

This place, the BluWater Bistro (note the spelling of "Blu") is good for one thing, and one thing only: a quick drink on a sunny day to satisfy the need for a little sun on a crowded frat-partyesque patio, and if you like watching seaplanes land, that too. But this is not a final destination. This is where you stop on your way to someplace else. I happened to be there for happy hour the other day. Waitresses were as sweet and accommodating as can be, but also as skanky as they come - hair freshly dyed, with plenty of spray-on-tanned skin showing. Bartenders seemed freshly California, half high, or just stooopid, but, you know, super-friendly. The plastic removable leg on the outdoor plastic table spontaneously fell off as we sat there sipping away. Table even tipped over. Drinks spilled. The place is a mess. However, I discovered a new-to-me potato vodka in the process, and so, despite the BluWater, this discovery blissed me out.

Normally I don't go in for flavored or infused vodkas, but the surfy-dude bartender pointed out a potato vodka grown and raised in Idaho – a choice of either wild huckleberry or Rainier cherry infused. He pointed out this special little cocktail item on the menu: Cherry-Chocolate Press, described as Idaho potato-vodka infused with carob and Rainier Cherries, mixed with soda and sprite. OK. A yummy cherry chocolate soda! A perfect drink for this bubble gum Tiki paradise. I tried it. It was fine – and rather luscious to look at, with fresh cherries bobbing around in the glass with the ice - but it was watered down by all that sprite, and I really just wanted a straight shot of that vodka stuff. So I marched over to a different wingy bartender and asked for a taste straight up. Without hesitation, he poured me a mini shot. Zingy. Cherry. But not over the top. Not exactly smooth as silk, but with a nice zip and flavor, especially in contrast to the watered down sprite-filled “cocktail” I had out sitting out on the patio.

Steve Body of the Seattle Examiner gives 44 degrees North infused vodkas a thumbs-up in his recent review of potato vodkas. Sadly, he neglects my own personal potoato favorites, Koenig (also an Idaho potato vodka…with lovely vanilla underlay and Chopin, the best Polish potato vodka money can buy. If you want to check out Body’s incomplete and rather generous potato vodka review:

The half-hour BluWater jaunt was worth the table spills and light classic hits.

Now, I’m on a mini mission to try 44 Degree North's Huckleberry extravaganza.