I still have my Christmas lights up so I can sneak in a review post, right? 2015 was an exciting year. I got a job I loved and was so busy for a while that I ate an embarrassing number of smoothies and Starbucks’ spinach and feta wraps – because those were the two shops across the street from my office. But somehow I still managed to hit publish on my 500th blog post, cook up an incredible amount of delicious food and feast on some spectacular meals out.
I had set a goal for myself of eating less meat last year and inadvertently became a vegetarian again. I’ve tried to be careful about where my meat came from for a while – something I doubled down on when we moved the to the US – but we were still eating too much of it, too blindly. After almost a decade of being a strict vegetarian in a previous life, I am not up to that level of restraint this time around (I have heard the term ‘flexitarian’ thrown around) and have tested the waters by eating mostly vegetarian and gluten free (for Matt) at home and around town and saving the meat dishes for Michelin-starred restaurants and feasts my friends have made. Except for a handful of meals I found that I just didn’t want meat and so it’s dropped out of my life without much thought. Looking back, I can see that I ate a lot of eggs and fish and I know that I ate a lot of hummus.
Early in the year I took a Winter Farmers Market class at The Pantry that was quite excellent. I still haven’t been able to get Matt to stop buying asparagus in winter and while I have a few root vegetable dishes under my belt, it was great to taste kale gratin, handmade gnocchi, roasted Delicata squash with pomegranates, pepitas and cheese, and parsnip toasts with pear, Parmesan and crispy sage. It inspired me to make a parsnip galette a few weeks later.
I also took an Ancient Grains baking class where we made spelt, oat, multigrain, kamut-flax seed and rye-walnut and they were all so good! The rye walnut one in particular – I’ve made it a few times.
To celebrate my new job, Matt took me out to dinner at The Herb Farm – a place that we had walked around, feeding the resident pigs and longingly hoping for a dinner cancellation when we stayed at the adjacent Willows Lodge the Christmas before. The menu here changes monthly and showcases the farm’s herbs against a theme in a warm, charmingly decorated room where you sit at tables with other diners. National Geographic called it the top destination restaurant in the world and while I think that may be a stretch, it’s near impossible not to have a good time here. The staff give a history of the farm and a tasting of some of the herbs, then the doors open and diners are whisked to their seats with a flourish. Matt had asked if I would eat meat on this occasion and I said I would, because it had been months and even though the restaurant was still a secret, I knew it would be a good one. But it became apparent during the herb tasting that this entire dinner was about meat. Beef, in fact. “I think the theme is meat,” I said quietly, having seen the ‘Super Cattle in Seattle‘ poster with a huge cow on it. He demurred but the staff explained proudly that this special menu was courtesy of a an American Wagyu steer that they were trying to use as much of as possible.
It was delicious and decadent and I loved the way they incorporated the flavours and oils even into the soup and the salad. Definitely we will be back to the Herb Farm and hopefully one of these times we’ll be able to do some wine tasting in Woodinville as well.
In April my sister Stacie and I went to Austin for my birthday and in between all the cocktails we had a couple of stellar vegetarian dinners – no barbeque for us! We had the vegetarian tasting menu (and cocktails) at Qui, which was simply exquisite. We enjoyed every minute of it and even thought about going back the next night but instead we headed out to at Wink,. We had heard rumblings of a storm happening but we didn’t let that stop us as we hopped in the cab. Unfortunately the weatherman was quite serious and the power went out after the first course. We waited out the storm with a couple bottles of wine which means I unfortunately don’t remember much of the rest of the meal but I do remember some dancing and food trucks later on…
Another excellent dish at Qui.
Roasted carrots were on everyone’s menu last year. The ones at Spur were particularly delicious.
While we were both busy so working, I went back to my previous vegetarian days standbys where I would make big pots of channa masala or lentil soup for days, and come summer we barbecued a lot of portobello burgers. But I also signed up for some new blogs and had the opportunity to review several amazing cookbooks that seemed tailor-made for the way we wanted to eat.
bowl + spoon was one of my favourite, reminding us how good coddled eggs could be with mustardy croutons, or healthy green bowls chock full of goodness. I think I will end up making everything in it eventually, and I’ve already been inspired to make a ton of spin-offs.
A Modern Way to Eat and Seven Spoons are also excellent and I loved the way both are mostly vegetarian, often gluten-free or whole grain and give you tons of ideas about how to stock your pantry and riff on recipe ideas. Carrot soup and walnut bread and shakshuka were what I made for the blog and great examples of this – both I have made many times before, but mostly not following a recipe and I loved the punchiness of the flavours. I also made Matt some of the chipotle lime ribs, which he adored.
I eat a LOT of quinoa salads and the combo of grapes, almonds and red onions boosts it up with tons of flavour. Also, it’s not dry which is a huge issue for me.
Date Night In was instrumental in re-connecting me with my love of roast salmon, getting Matt to eat cooked salmon and getting us preparing food together again. The book is organized by dates – a cocktail, a starter, a main and a desert to be prepared and enjoyed by a couple, at home. The book is organized by dates – a cocktail, a starter, a main and a desert to be prepared and enjoyed by a couple, at home. It’s a good strategy and even though we rarely eat that much food at dinner it was fun making cocktails and crab cakes and snuggling into the hammock.
Plum sangria isn’t as good as my white wine and peach, but it’s sure pretty.
Fish tacos are a staple of summer at my place. This year I tried a recipe from Cooks Illustrated and deleted all my old versions.
To make up for the all-beef dinner, Matt took me to a vegetarian tasting menu at The Corson Building. As you can see above, the spread was excellent but on a summer’s evening we were just delighted to wander around the garden, pet the cat and sit on the patio sipping a glass of wine. It feels like a tiny Italian villa (or maybe one of the outbuildings), full of beautiful wood furniture, wine and people dining happily. The themes change fairly regularly and I’m looking forward to going back soon.
Later in the summer we headed out to a Duvall farm for Outstanding in the Field. In all the years I’ve been on the mailing list and had my eye on the event calendar, I’ve never been able to get there so I was super stoked to be strolling around the fields, wine in hand, while Rachel Yang (of Revel) prepped our dinner.
What a lark! We gorged on a full course of Heirloom tomato salad, Korean noodles, picked fish, smoked tofu and lots and lots of wine while gabbing with the people all around us at the communal table.
Next time I’d like to try a different locale, maybe on a beach, with a bigger group.
At some point I made these roasted grape and olive crostini from Smitten Kitchen and then kept making them and am planning on making them again this week for our housewarming party. So good!
Kraken Congee is one of my favourite places to go for lunch downtown.
Il Corvo is another one, with their handmade pasta and olives.
The fall was full of excellent meals, starting with a kaiseki tasting menu at Naka, a new Japanese restaurant in Seattle. I went with a Meetup group so it was a bit awkward but worth it to be reminded of how thoughtful Japanese cuisine can be.
Later my sister and I had what turned out to be a rather colorless but incredibly awesome vegetarian dinner at Tilth, one of my favourite restaurants in Seattle.
And then we were off to Peru! We had planned (and reserved) our meals out in Lima months before and before we had seen much of the city we were sitting down to lunch at Central. Currently rated by some the best restaurant in South America (and the 4th best in the world), it took us a moment to find the nondescript door. But then we were seated and beautiful cocktails infused with coca leaves and Peruvian fruit started us off, followed by a fresh and sophisticated ceviche (a staple in Peru), grilled octopus and a mixed rice and seafood dish. We had a dessert made of guavas as well before setting out to do some sight-seeing. More on this later.
Next up was Astrid y Gaston. Rated 14th best in the world, we had heard that this restaurant may be resting on its laurels a bit and not living up to the hype. It was certainly fancy, with expensive cars pulling into the courtyard to drop off diner, who in turn slowly filed through the photo op in front of the sign. Inside we decided to do the 5 course tasting menu with cuy and scallop added to it and for the most part it was very good but we did find it to be our least favorite meal of the three. Ironically, the ceviche starter looks almost exactly like the one at Central.
At Maido the Nikkei Experience awaited us. 15 courses of the best in Peruvian and Japanese fusion. Here, although the restaurant is rated #44 on the list, we had high hopes. Friends Mijune and Annika could not say enough good things and even Matt, who is not all that fond of Japanese food, said it was the best meal he had last year. For me it was no contest – the quality of the fish, the interestingness of the new ingredients, the attentive service while we sat at the sushi bar all conspired to make me drink with excitement. I could have easily gone back the next day and eaten the exact menu again without complaint. More on this later.
Throughout Peru we ate lots of ceviche and Pisco and when we headed out on to the Inca Trail our camp chef made us many delicious meals of things I had tried for the first time (some delicious, some not). I love to try new things, particularly in their native environment and I only wish we had been able to take a cooking class to learn a little more about them. But then suddenly the year was over and we were drinking Champagne at midnight.
Bring it on 2016! I’m going to gobble you up.