Ten Years of Skillet: Evolved Street Food for the Masses

Skillet’s food has a personality and flair that stands out. It’s been that way from the get go. When I think of Skillet, I think of assertive flavors, great recipes, classic culinary techniques applied to innovative spins on American favorites, and a focus on seasonal and local ingredients. Skillet is a beloved Seattle restaurant and I’m proud they’ve chosen Macrina rolls and breads for many of their classic dishes.

Leslie

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In restaurant years, ten makes you a veteran. For Skillet, the ride has been adventurous. Skillet’s wild years began in a renegade Airstream trailer, involved a few skirmishes with a health department unfamiliar with food trucks, and a couple of run-ins with aggressive tow-truck drivers. But ambition, talent, and a few unforgettable dishes have carried Skillet to a successful but never dull maturity.

In 2007, street-food trucks weren’t a phenomenon. You could actually find downtown street corners without one. Beyond taco trucks—fabulous, yes, but one dimensional—there wasn’t much. Then Skillet’s pioneering street-food truck came along. People stood in long lines to eat the Fried Chicken Sammy, the Bacon Jam Burger, Poutine (not at all ubiquitous then), and the Kale Caesar. When discussing local food trucks, it’s fair to divide the conversation into Before Skillet (the dark ages) and After Skillet (the enlightenment).

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Fast forward ten years, Skillet has grown into a Seattle institution. There are four brick and mortar restaurants—Capital Hill, Ballard, Denny Regrade, Seattle Center—and two food trucks. What hasn’t changed is the food. Skillet’s chef-driven take on American-inspired classics has become a brand unto itself. Their greatest hits—the chicken sandwich, the burger, the Caesar, the waffle with braised pork belly, the griddle cakes with compote—couldn’t be pulled from the menu without risking insurrection, maybe a little like a Pearl Jam concert in which the band refused to play “Evenflow.” It’s not that the new stuff isn’t worth trying—it is—it’s just that Seattle fell in love with Skillet’s classics first and won’t let go. And that’s just fine with Skillet. They continue to source great local food, fix it up, and serve their favorite dishes to customers, many of them long-time devotees.

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The diners are spacious, light and airy, with a menu that expands upon the original food truck menu. To celebrate their tenth anniversary, Skillet is featuring a throwback menu all year that features recipes culled from old newsletters. March features the Lemongrass Pork Sammy with pickled ginger slaw. April features the Porchetta Sammy with hazelnut gremolata.

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That catering plays a role in Skillet’s middle-aged evolution should come as no surprise. Skillet’s burgers, fries, and milkshakes were first introduced at founder Josh Henderson’s wedding. Now, with a team of over 100 talented people, Skillet can cater up to six simultaneous events. Hundreds of brides and grooms have chosen Skillet to cater their weddings.

Catering Manager, Jessica Paul Jones, says that in addition to weddings, private parties and corporate events make up the bulk of their catering. But they can handle just about anything in Pacific Northwest. They’ve even have a china box that can roast a whole pig. One memorable catering event was a party at the top of the Smith Tower. Jessica remembers carrying food and equipment up the stairs (“My legs hurt for days”). Then there was the one at a ‘huuuuge” house in Laurelhurst that sat above the lake with 103 slate steps winding down to the lakeside tables (“My legs hurt even worse”).

When major life events occur, some Skillet fans rely upon their favorite restaurant. One such customer is Brian Benjamin, a weekly food truck regular since 2009. His go-to item is the Fried Chicken Sammy. His parents met his fiancé’s parents for the first time at the Skillet restaurant in Ballard. And guess who’s catering their wedding?

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Brian Benjamin

In a world of coincidences, one that isn’t all that surprising is that Brian is also a Macrina fan. He explains, “My fiancé, Jilian, used to live right behind the Macrina Bakery on Queen Anne. I always loved waking up on a weekend morning to walk over to get a ham and cheese brioche or Morning Glory muffin. We still swing by from time to time to pick up a loaf of rosemary semolina bread. I’m often more excited to eat the bread than I am the rest of the meal.”

Maybe that isn’t such a coincidence after all since Macrina’s potato roll has long been an essential part of Skillet’s Fried Chicken Sammy. At Macrina, we’re proud to be a part of one of Seattle’s favorite sandwiches.

What’s next for Skillet? Ani Pendergast, Skillet’s Director of Marketing, says, “Our focus is on maintaining the same kind of consistency we’ve always had. We’d love to open more neighborhood restaurants. But first we have to feel that we have the capacity to do it, then we need to find the right location. Our primary focus has always been on the food and the service. Whether you hit the restaurants, the trucks, or catering we want to be sure you get Skillet food and Skillet service. So we don’t spread ourselves too thin, we’ll only grow when we’re ready for it.”

Azeite Esplendido: Gold-Medal Winning Olive Oil from Portugal

“There are many good olive oils out there, but few that are exceptional, especially at a reasonable price. I tried Azeite Esplendido at the Fancy Food Show earlier this year and was blown away. Sheila Fitzgerald, the importer, impressed me with her passion and knowledge for all things olive oil, from its health benefits to the advantages of small-scale artisanal production. I love the balance this oil has. It’s assertive, with that great peppery spice, not bitter, and low in acidity. I am proud to add Azeite Esplendido to the small curated line of products we carry at Macrina.” 

Leslie

Azeite Esplendido: Gold-Medal Winning Olive Oil from Portugal

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A great extra virgin olive oil is as different from the typical pale yellow stuff sold in supermarkets as pure maple syrup is from Aunt Jemima’s. Good olive oil is alive and peppery, not bitter, and taken straight can make you cough. If you’re accustomed to bland commodity olive oil one spoonful of the real thing will transport you to another gustatory plane where flavor defies known parameters.

That’s sort of what happened when Seattle resident Sheila Fitzgerald was hiking through northern Portugal en route to the shrine of Santiago de Compostela in 2012. In the high hills above the Douro Valley, a soaring majestic patchwork of cultivated agriculture and natural, craggy slopes, she found herself in a grove of olive trees. Some had massive trunks, their limbs twisted and magnificent with age. She introduced herself to the property owner, Henrique Cardoso, a fourth-generation farmer, who then introduced her to his olive oil.

fullsizeoutput_3e9a “I knew good olive oil, but I’d never tasted anything like his,” Sheila says. “The golden-green oil had a peppery spiciness to it, no bitterness, and a complexity and balance that I’d never experienced.”

That revelatory moment kicked off Sheila’s four-year journey to become the sole US importer of Henrique’s olive oil. The first challenge was winning Henrique’s trust, persuading him that she would uphold his fierce commitment to quality. Next came an extended process of gaining FDA approval, an involved study of the existing US market, selecting bottles, and designing a label.

Since that first visit, Sheila has been back many times, including at harvest time, which starts in November and goes through January.

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“Henrique picks his olives early and makes Azeite Esplendido from the first harvest,” Sheila says. “That means the olive is picked when they’re very green. Most farmers wait until the olives get plumper. That way they get more oil out of it. But the olive loses flavor as it ripens. My oil has a peppery spiciness to it. That’s indicative of an early harvest. It can bring tears to your eyes, even make you cough. That’s a good thing.”

Harvest is a time of celebration. An autumnal chill in the air, the groves often laced with tendrils of fog, pickers go from tree to tree using long rakes to pull the olives into nets. An old tractor hauls them to the press, no longer one of the picturesque stone mills, but a state-of-the-art stainless steel centrifuge.

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“The olives are washed then ground into a mash before they’re dumped into the centrifuge,” Sheila says. “Henrique continually adjusts the revolutions per second, which changes the oil. He’s always testing it.”

Before the bottling, which is done within twelve hours of pressing, comes the blending. Azeite Esplendido is composed of first cold-pressed oil from four types of olives: Transmontona Verdeal, Cobrançosa, Cordovil, and Madural.

Sheila says, “Henrique guards the percentage of each olive in the blend. It’s the secret to his recipe. Along with picking at the right time, carefully monitoring of the oil extraction, and cultivating the best trees.”

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The Tras-os-Montes region, where the farm is located, is one of the six protected designation of origin (DOP) zones in Portugal. The microclimate and soil make it an ideal place for olive trees. On Henrique’s farm, the trees are widely spaced to allow each tree plenty of sun and wind and rain. Some of the trees are five to six hundred years old. These are called the mother trees. Around their base workers mound extra dirt. When new shoots come up they are transplanted, hence the name mother tree. The trees are not irrigated.

Sheila says, “Henrique told me doesn’t want to babysit his trees. It’s survival of the fittest. If it can’t grow there, he doesn’t want it.”

While Italy’s olive trees suffered through a terrible year in 2016 that halved production, Henrique’s groves fared well.

“Olive oil is a live product. It changes over time,” Sheila says. “It’s dependent on fluctuations in the weather. The new harvest is so bright green. Henrique tasted the oil at bottling and said, ‘My olive oil is so good this year we’re gonna blow the dishes off the wall.’ It wasn’t a translation issue. That’s his expression. No one makes olive oil like he does.”

Last April, at the New York International Olive Oil Competition, 827 olive oil entries from 26 countries were judged. Azeite Espledido took home the top honor, a gold medal.

Macrina is proud to carry this fine olive oil. Buy a bottle and a loaf of your favorite crusty bread, puddle a bit of oil on a plate and dip. Will it blow the dishes off the wall? Probably not. But it just might blow you away.

Herkimer Coffee: New World Microroaster, Old World Aesthetic

Not only am I fan of their coffee, I admire Herkimer’s employee-driven focus. It shows in the quality of their product and service. If you don’t already know them, drop by one of their three locations. You won’t be sorry. —Leslie.

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Third wave coffee refers to the direct trade, farmer-obsessed purists, many of whom feature lightly roasted single-origin coffees best brewed with a slow-motion pour over. Stumptown, Blue Bottle, and Intelligentsia Coffee are three of the big ones. All have recently taken on large investors and big expansion plans are underway. Their founders are living the dream.

But what of those who dream differently?

Herkimer Coffee, founded in 2003, roasts exquisite coffees but prefers to stay small. Mike Prins, the owner and founder of Herkimer coffee, named the business after the town in upstate New York where his father was born. For him, Herkimer Coffee is about roots and simple dreams. It’s about values that run deep. It’s a place where relationships are more important than profit and the only palpable marketing plan is to make an authentic, high-quality product.

Herkimer Coffee probably wouldn’t exist had Mike not gotten a do-over.

Back in the early 90’s, while working for a Seattle company that sold and repaired espresso machines, Mike visited B&W Specialty Coffee, a small roaster in Minneapolis. “I wanted to open a small café that roasted its own coffee, but it seemed unattainable. Then on this business trip, I met the folks at B&W who were young and making great coffee in a small-batch roaster. The main thing I remember is their passion and how much fun they seemed to be having. It was just a brief visit, but it sparked a dream.”

In 1994, Mike opened Caffe Vita on Queen Anne with a partner. Their little café took off, and in 1995 they began roasting. By 2002, the business had flourished. But it wasn’t that little roaster on the corner anymore. Mike sold his stake in the business.

“I thought I’d left coffee for good,” Mike says. “I was in limbo, no job, not sure what would come next. Some months later, walking home from the store in my Greenwood neighborhood I noticed a corner building with a For Lease sign in the window. That’s a good spot, I thought. I made a phone call and away it went.”

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This time though he wasn’t going to let the dream get away from him. Herkimer Coffee, whatever it would become, would remain small and sustainable, and it would focus on relationships with employees and customers. And most importantly it would be a place he enjoyed coming to each day.

“This place is really well thought out,” Candace Harter, the Greenwood café manager, says. “We focus on traditional coffee bar fare. Espresso drinks and drip coffee. We don’t try to do too much. We use Macrina products and Mighty-O donuts. It allows us to focus on what we do well, serving coffee to the community.”

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Mike started the café using coffee roasted by Caffe Vita. That changed in 2007 when he added a roaster in the space adjacent to the café. Mike then brought on Scott Richardson to buy green coffee, to roast, and to be the wholesale manager.

“Scott and I go back to 1996, Kara, too,” Mike says (Kara MacDonald was the first hire at Herkimer and now runs the Ravenna shop). “We all worked together back in the Vita days. Scott was roasting and overseeing wholesale while Kara was managing retail.”

Much has changed in elite specialty coffee since then. In the mid-nineties, Seattle was in the midst of the European-inspired, espresso-oriented second wave. (The first wave occurred in the early twentieth century with the establishment of national brands like Maxwell House and Folgers.)

“When I started sourcing coffee for Herkimer I wanted to take it to another level,” Scott says. “I wanted to know the producers. The old style was to buy the best coffee on the commodity market at the lowest price. But that’s not very fair to the grower, nor does it get you the finest coffees.”

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Scott now travels to source countries frequently and purchases much of Herkimer’s green coffee directly from the producer. “My interest is a long-term reciprocal relationship. Farmers come out better, we can both budget, and I can count on excellent coffee.”

Some of that coffee goes into single-origin roasts. But most of it is blended for espresso. “Seatle was born as an espresso-driven market. And it still is,” Scott says. “Old world aesthetic means I love a big, gooey espresso. One with high oil saturation, high carbohydrates, good acid balance, but not sour. Too many pull acidic espresso with light roasts. Those light roasts are great in a pour over, but as espresso they’ll curdle milk. I like where espresso comes from, its history, everything about it. I go out of my way to source coffee from very high elevations. The coffees I put in our espresso blend have what it takes to make them big and balanced, a coffee you won’t get sick of drinking every day.”

Herkimer’s quality is a function of relationships: relationships with employees, with customers at the coffee bar, with wholesale accounts, and with coffee producers.

“We have 24 employees, including myself,” Mike says. “Over a third have been here more than five years, and many more than ten. That’s pretty unique. I try to put everyone in a position where they can succeed at what they like to do.”

Choosing the right person for the job is like choosing the right coffee. The wrong one can sour the blend.

Two early employees, Nathan Reasoner and Reid Hickman, both worked at Zoka before coming to Herkimer soon after the roastery opened. They both roast and help with sales. In addition, Reed built and manages the company website. Nathan manages the wholesale accounts.

IMG_6324 “Now that the third wave, the premium farmer-focused coffee movement, is getting a lot bigger it puts us in an interesting position, trying to manage our own growth and retain what makes our coffee special,” Reid says. “We find these small lots that are beautiful. We have great people roasting. If we grow too fast we wouldn’t be able to source enough of the best coffees or find and train the right people to roast and prepare it.”

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“We’re lucky to be in an environment, around people we enjoy, doing something that we like,” Nathan says. “I wanted to find a career where I could have a good life and make something I’m proud of. In this day and age, in this city, that’s hard to find.”

Mike says, “People make strange decisions that aren’t always the best when they’re trying to grow too fast. For us, quality of life is the most important factor in our growth decisions. We want to continue to do for our customers and staff all that we say we are going to do. That’s very important to us.”

This focus on relationships is the beating heart of the extended Herkimer community, on both sides of the coffee bar, with the wholesale buyers, and with the coffee producers.“I like coming to work every day,” Mike says. “I like being around all the great people we have. I love coffee. Those are boring statements, but it’s what I enjoy.”

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Herkimer Coffee has locations in the Queen Anne, Phinney Ridge and Ravenna neighborhoods. Find out more at https://herkimercoffee.com/.

Ayako and Family Jam

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Ayako and Family Jam

During lunch at Sitka & Spruce some years ago, a gentle-spirited dog walked in. Taking a stroll around the restaurant, just checking things out, he seemed to be saying hello to everyone and then waltzed out the door. I asked our server whose dog it was and she responded, “Ayako. She works at Marigold & Mint next door and makes the best jam in the world. You should try some.”  I went straight over after lunch and got a bottle.  Apricot jam.  Golden in color, perfect consistency and not too sweet.  I had to agree.

A jar of Ayako Gordon’s mouthwatering jam has that special homemade quality because it is essentially that. It’s a simple thing, an age-old tradition, taking the abundant fruit at harvest and preserving it as jam. But so few take the time today, or do it with the skill that Ayako does. Done right, the result is transcendent, the flavor taking us back to memories of grandmother’s jam or that perfect juicy plum you had in Italy. If you don’t already have a reverence for plums, this jam will change that.

These days, Ayako uses a commercial kitchen and no longer has the time to create beautiful flower arrangements at Marigold & Mint. She is the sole jam maker, processes all the fruit by hand, and jars it herself. All her fruit—Damson plums, apricots, rhubarb, Coral Pink plums, Water Balloon plums, Mirabelle plums, quince, and more—comes from Mair Farm-Taki in the Yakima River Valley. Ayako considers her relationship to Mair Farm-Taki a collaboration, where her aim is to highlight the quality and the uniqueness of the organic fruit grown there and to honor both of their Japanese heritage.

ayakojam_126smallFor such a small, artisan producer news of her remarkable jam has spread from coast to coast through national press, including the New York Times. Web orders from across the country have filtered in and a few small business owners enchanted with the jam and Washington small-farm agriculture now retail the colorful hexagonal jars of jam.

The whole serendipitous endeavor began in 2010 when Ayako began helping at the Mair Farm-Taki stand at the University District Farmer’s Market. One day the owner, Katsumi Taki, suggested Ayako make jam with all the fruit that didn’t sell at the market. She played around with recipes until she found one for each fruit that brought forth its essential flavor. She began selling the jam at the Mair Farm-Taki stand, Marigold and Mint in Melrose Market, and through farm CSA’s. As word of mouth spread a few local retailers began to carry it.

While Ayako still makes all the jam by hand, her children have jumped in to help her with the business, handling web design, sales, and other administrative tasks. Damson Plum and Apricot are her two signature flavors and are usually in stock. Other offerings rotate through the year, with over a dozen different plum varieties available mid to late summer as the harvest comes in. Rhubarb is one of the earliest harvest flavors to come in. A look through the website shows how many flavors are sold out. Not being able to find your favorite flavor only makes you want it more. And really, it couldn’t be any other way. Such is the cost of local, seasonal produce, hand-selected, and carefully prepared in small batches. It’s what makes it so memorable.ayakoandfamily_02

I’m delighted to carry Ayako and Family Jam at Macrina. It is the kind of local, artisanal
product that I love. Grab a jar next time you’re in one of the cafes and try some on a toasted slice of your favorite loaf. You’ll see what I’m talking about.

Leslie

Edible City: A Delicious Journey

On view at MOHAI through September 10, 2017

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(Photo courtesy of MOHAI)

There may be no better way to know a city than by the way its people eat. Seattle’s Museum of History & Industry (MOHAI) currently has a beautiful new exhibit, Edible City: A Delicious Journey, which explores Seattle’s culinary history over the last two centuries. You journey across shorelines that provided abundant seafood to Native Americans in this area and trace the influences of Pacific Rim nations on signature dishes in four-star restaurants. If you haven’t already seen it, put it on your calendar. You’ll appreciate this place we call home all the more.

The exhibit, which runs through September 10, 2017, was curated by two-time James Beard Award-winning food writer Rebekah Denn. An exhaustive researcher, she writes beautifully. Enthralled by the exhibit, we recently asked her some questions to learn more.

Leslie

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(Photo courtesy of MOHAI)

How did you get involved in the project?

RD: MOHAI first contacted me in October of 2014 to see if I had ideas for how to tell the story, so I’ve been working on it on and off for two years.

What came first: the idea for the book or the exhibit?

RD: The exhibit idea definitely came before the book! But we ultimately wanted a way to preserve some of the exhibit and expand on the stories.

When I first met with the MOHAI staff, they asked me if I had any questions about doing the exhibit. I said, “What’s my biggest problem going to be?” One of the designers said, “You won’t have room for everything you want to say.” That was so true, but the book helped get at least some more of the information out there, and some of the really striking photos from MOHAI’s archives. We also got to include some recipes that we think of as Seattle signatures, and artist Julie Notarianni illustrated them for us.

In your research, what are a few things that surprised you?

RD: a. How many times what is old becomes new again. There’s a 1927 letter I love from Pike Place Market warning a vendor against selling spinach from California when local spinach is available (they threaten to confiscate his spinach!). Similarly, back in the 1940s, Angelo Pellegrini was encouraging Seattleites to eat fresh, local, seasonal foods — his writings are absolutely on-point for modern diners. You could also slip some of the menus from oyster bars 100 years ago into a modern restaurant without anyone noticing (except maybe the price list.)

b. How it seems that people have always wanted to find a way to stay in Seattle once they got here, and how prescient some observers were about what Seattle’s food scene would become. Actually, let me quote you a paragraph from the catalog about the Boeing bust years (which in turn quotes Roger Sale): “Given the flagging economy, it might have seemed an odd time for a restaurant renaissance, yet food provided an entry point into business for job-seekers who didn’t want to leave their beloved hometown. Restaurants were perhaps the best example, wrote historian Roger Sale, of a new consumer culture where it seemed everyone laid off from Boeing wanted to turn a lathe or cook an omelet. Young workers and female entrepreneurs entered the field, attracted by small-scale projects that weren’t beholden to banks and didn’t require a corporate slog to the top. “Cheeses, wines and coffees Seattle had never heard of became available,” Sale wrote. It was possible, he presciently suggested in 1976, that this rush of activity could push the city into an era of culinary greatness.”

c. I’ve written about food in Seattle for well over a decade, and I learned so much that I hadn’t known… like the story of the huge Crescent spice company that was based here (now part of McCormick), producers of Mapleine, a hugely popular imitation maple flavoring. Or how every era seemed to have its own version of our Tom Douglas. Again, from the catalog: “In the ‘20s and ‘30s the name Clare Colegrove was “associated with good eating in Seattle,” by one account, with alliterative eateries like the Purple Pup. Walter Clark, known as the dean of Seattle restaurateurs, owned an astonishing 55 restaurants between 1930 and 1970 (including the iconic Twin Teepees), according to old-Seattle expert Clark Humphrey. A critic once wrote that it was unlikely anyone in Seattle had not heard of Clark’s restaurants. A few decades later, it was unlikely that anyone had.”

What primary sources did you rely on for foods and restaurants for Seattle’s early history?

RB: I spent some time in MOHAI’s archives and found some fabulous materials (menus… matchbooks…photographs…cookbooks…the sign from the original Manca’s and the equipment from the Sagamiya bakery!) The museum staff members and public historian emeritus Lorraine McConaghy were also invaluable in helping track down material, from ancient newspaper advertisements to a still-working farm machine used to make berry-picking boxes. Nancy Leson let me raid her archives and interview notes from her decades covering the Seattle restaurant scene. People and institutions were unbelievably generous. Angelo Pellegrini’s children shared stories of their dad and agreed to loan us family treasures. Bob Kramer invited us to tour his workshop and see how he forges his world-famous knives. Jerilyn Brusseau and Greg Komen loaned us original Cinnabon items, including their cinnamon tasting notes from the Restaurants Unlimited Inc. kitchen. Jon Rowley brought us letters from Julia Child (they had a running correspondence on salmon and on peaches, among other subjects.) The Seattle Public Library let us borrow items from the library’s Pike Place Market collection, including a grand old ledger book from the wartime years and buttons from the Save the Market campaign. (Speaking of SPL, their online archives are an amazing resource. When we had questions like “When was Maison Blanc destroyed in a fire?” the library website let us simply search Seattle Times archives from 1895 onward from our desks. (The answer: It was front page news on April 30, 1960.) The owner of the Monorail Espresso cart delayed her own plans for the cart so that we could include it in our displays. “Starbucks Melody,” the blogger, brought over pieces from her personal collection like bottles of “Mazagran,” the company’s first bottled beverage. Mario Batali gave us permission to use a video of his grandmother Leonetta making ravioli… and then, when we visited Armandino Batali and his daughter Gina at Salumi, they loaned us a Merlino olive oil tin that was the “Leonetta” brand, also named for her (Armandino’s grandparents founded the Merlino company.) Serendipity! And the people who are a part of Seattle’s modern food history shared their expertise (including Matt Galvin, who served on the advisory committee) and their stories. The founders of the Beacon Food Forest sent over the original maps for the project; Seattle Neighborhood Farmers Markets dropped off the bells that they ring to open and close the market. Allrecipes staff members did Seattle-based recipe searches for us. The thank you list could go on for pages.

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(Photo courtesy of MOHAI)

The Joy of Holiday Giving

The Joy of Holiday Giving

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When the days grow short and cold, my thoughts turn to baking. A warm blast from a hot oven on a chilly winter night, even better if it carries the aroma of baking cookies, is enough to make even Scrooge smile. And nothing fills a wintry home with more cheer than the clatter of a busy kitchen. Did I mention the smells that waft throughout the home? Maybe this is part of why I bake so much when it’s cold and dark. Another part is the lovely tradition I grew up with of bringing Christmas baskets with homemade foods to friends, neighbors, and relatives.

My mother was the driving force. From an early age she’d been creative, starting at Roosevelt High School in Portland, Oregon, where she joined a social club called MyPhidias. The group remained friends until my mother was well into her 70s. They were the most artistic group of gals I knew. They did toile painting, made theatrical backdrops, choreographed entertainment, and created all kinds of handmade cards, tags, and preserves that they sold at holiday bazaars.

This creative streak made its way into our Christmas baskets. Starting with jam, which we made all summer. We bought freshly picked strawberries, raspberries, and blueberries from local farm stands and made freezer jam, the favorite in our house because of its brighter color and fresh-fruit flavor. We certainly ate our supplies down throughout the year, but always saved plenty to give away.

Just after Thanksgiving we started baking holiday cookies—lefse, fried rosette cookies, and many other family favorites, all in preparation for our holiday baskets. We had boxes lined with paper towels for the rosette cookies and tins–o-plenty for all the other cookies. When it came time to assemble everything my mother lined the baskets with colorful tissue paper, arranged the cookies and jars of jam and wrapped the basket in clear cellophane with a wire edged ribbon. They were beautiful.

I have carried on this tradition of making jams from local berries, plum bbq sauce, plum & quince paste (see our blog and video for plum paste), roasted tomato sauce, and holiday cookies (see our blog and video for holiday cookies)—both old family favorites and many new recipes I’ve discovered. This year I even made bitters. When the time comes, I buy a bunch of baskets and fill them with my handmade treasures, much as my mother did. The baskets are synonymous in my heart with festivity, giving, and joy. They are also the perfect antidote to the gloomy weather we get this time of year, both in the making and the giving. Delivering them to friends and seeing the smiles on their faces brings me such happiness. To me, this “giving from your heart” is the true spirit of Christmas.

If your life has just been too crazy to make any of your traditional specialties, Macrina does have a selection of artisanal handmade delicacies, both savory and sweet. We make many of them, but we’ve also curated a few of our favorite local artisanal products, such as Ayako and Family Jam. Drop by one of our cafés and we can help you put together a gift basket.

Leslie

Out of the Kitchen: Relaxing Stowell Style

Ethan and Angela Stowell probably don’t need an introduction, but just in case, they’re the couple behind 15 esteemed Seattle restaurants, namely Anchovies & Olives, Ballard Pizza Co. (3 locations), Bar Cotto, Bramling Cross, Goldfinch Tavern, How to Cook a Wolf, Marine Hardware, Mkt., Red Cow, Rione XIII, Staple & Fancy, Tavolàta Belltown, Tavolàta Capitol Hill. Ethan is the chef, Angela the CEO. That they ever relax may come as a surprise, but they make time. I’ve always loved Ethan’s cooking and his dedication to using local and seasonal ingredients. I’m honored that they use Macrina breads at their restaurants. They are wonderful people and one of Seattle’s premier restaurateurs. Learn more about their life outside of the kitchen right here.

Leslie

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Out of the Kitchen: Relaxing Stowell Style

Everybody knows running restaurants is not for the lazy or the faint of heart. Add kids and a serious commitment to philanthropy and you’ve got a recipe for a life few would call relaxing. Humble, as Angela and Ethan Stowell both are, they’d be the first to point out that they have the support of a great team in all they do. But even with a strong team, Ethan and Angela work long and hard and are pulled in many directions. Still, they remain deeply committed to spending quality time together with their two young children, Adrian and Franklin.

Given their culinary prowess you might expect them to spend their free time teaching the kids how to foraging for chanterelles or morels in the forest, or out on the beach digging for Manila clams. Turns out they’re just like most parents with two young kids, racing home from brunch at their neighborhood dim sum restaurant before their two-year-old, Franklin, falls asleep.

Ethan explains, “Because when you’re doing naps—you know what it’s like having kids—after lunch you’ve got to race home before he falls asleep. If you have a half-hour drive, you’re in trouble. The last thing you need is a twenty-minute power nap.”

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Because Ethan frequently works in the evening, mornings become family time.

“The nice thing about our schedule is we have family breakfasts every morning because we have the luxury of not leaving the house until nine,” Angela says. “Breakfast is our long time together, kind of the reverse of most families.”

Ethan gets up with the kids and starts breakfast. When he can he gets them involved, often making pancakes, eggs, or oatmeal.

Angela adds, “Well, we try not to do pancakes more than two mornings in a row.”

Presently, in fact, Ethan is skipping the pancakes nearly altogether. About a year ago, he lost over 50 pounds through a mixture of diet and exercise and has kept the weight off. He is very careful about what he eats for breakfast and lunch, then lets loose at dinner. And he is religious about getting in an hour of exercise each day. Angela has always been a fitness and health advocate.

“Before having kids I did lots of triathlons and a half ironman,” Angela says. “I’ve been a runner for a long time. For me, it’s a stress relief. This may not be the most romantic thing in the world at 9 p.m., but if we’re both home, when we get the kids to bed, we’ll both go exercise. Sometimes it’s the only time we have, especially if it’s a Sunday and we’ve been busy with them all day. We both get our hour workout in.

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One key block of time for Angela to sneak in a long run is Saturday mornings when Ethan and a group of dads take the kids out without the moms.

“Saturday I just work a half day, so it’s dad and kid time,” Ethan says. “I have a friends’ group of five to six guys. A text thread goes out. Not everyone can make it every time. We meet somewhere at ten, go to the zoo, or the Science Center, or Golden Gardens. Then we get lunch and rush home for nap time.”

In the summer, weekends are often spent on Whidbey Island where Ethan’s parents have a vacation home. The island is Angela’s favorite place to be.

“Our weekends there are kind of always the same,” Angela says. “In the summertime we go to the farmers market in the morning, we go to Primo Bistro, we always go to Moonraker Books to check out what’s happening there and visit the owner Josh, then we visit a couple of farms with stands, maybe grab a loaf of Screaming Banshee bread. The cool thing about Whidbey is that there are a lot of people who knew Ethan when he was five years old. Those people are now super invested in our family.”

In Seattle, when the Stowell’s have the occasional night together they frequently go out to eat.

“We are definitely a family that doesn’t shy from taking them out to restaurants,” Ethan says. “I’m a big believer in bringing kids to our restaurants. You want kids getting used to eating good food, getting used to being out socially.”

In fact, this January they will be starting a family dinner night at Rione.

“I’m super excited about it,” Angela says. “From five to seven anybody who makes a reservation will be told that there will be kids around. It’s an opportunity for families to come out with their kids. Don’t feel bad if things get spilled. It’s gonna be hard to keep the kids in their seats.”

“There’s gonna be spaghetti on the windows,” Ethan says with a smile.

Angela adds, “We’ll be there. And at some point our kids will have iPads out. I think it’s good for parents to see that it is okay to do what you have to do to get through dinner at a restaurant. Because it’s not always going to be like this, and sometimes you just need a moment’s peace to finish your wine.”

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While they may be a more high-profile couple than most in Seattle, they both stress that their private lives are much like any other family.

“My life isn’t much different than any working mom,” Angela says. “You wake up and someone needs you right away—this morning it was who gets to sit next to mom—then you go to work and someone needs you. Then you get home and they need you again. Then maybe I squeeze in a little workout. Not anything different than any other working mom. We’re just really appreciative of the window of time we get together.”

Visit www.ethanstowellrestaurants.com to learn more and make reservations at your favorite spot.

Macrina Pumpkin Pie: From Seed to Table

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Little is more satisfying than cooking from my garden’s bounty. It represents months of work and patience. Every vegetable started as a seed I planted, nurtured and harvested. And while the process is on a much larger scale at Macrina, it is still just as fulfilling. Yesterday, the first crates of butternut squash (more on this secret later) were delivered for our Thanksgiving pies. I didn’t grow them myself, but I worked with local grower extraordinaire Oxbow Farm in selecting the seeds and establishing the quantities we’d need.

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Photo credit Johnny’s Selected Seeds

Oxbow Farm gets their seeds from Johnny’s Selected Seeds. Johnny’s has been around since 1972, is 100% employee owned and does not use genetically engineered plants or seeds. Our squash began with a hybrid seed called Metro PMR. It has superior flavor, resists powdery mildew and matures relatively quickly. Butternut is a moschata species of squash, which can be hard to ripen in our region’s limited growing season.

Butternut squash plants are tender, and their seedlings are especially susceptible to frost damage. Before planting growers have to wait until the soil is warm and the danger of a cold snap has passed. In the Pacific Northwest this means no earlier than May. The growers at Oxbow sow the seeds in a large protected hothouse to give them a head start. Because the seeds sprout quickly and are susceptible to becoming root bound, this can’t be done too early. Once they reach transplant size in the nursery there is quite a scramble to get so many tender plants out to the fields with enough time remaining for them to mature before the first fall frost.

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Like zucchini, the butternut squash plant sends off several vines as it grows, some as long as 15 feet. Lots of work is required to keep the plants weed and bug-free. After flowering, two or three young squash will grow off each vine. Green at first, tan vertical stripes emerge as the squash ripens. Eventually the green fades and is replaced by the matte tawny color of the mature fruit.

Depending on the weather during the growing season, the squash are harvested anywhere from mid-September through mid-October. This year, at Oxbow, the butternut were ready later than the other varieties of winter squash. The crew at Oxbow harvested them all in mid-October.

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Photo credit Johnny’s Selected Seeds

More than six months after choosing the seeds it was a joy to hold the ripe squash. Each is unblemished and heavy in the hand. Cutting one open, I found the orange flesh inside creamy and sweet. Perfect for pie.

Butternut squash are the not-so-secret ingredient in our pumpkin pies. Simply put, the pies made with roast butternut squash won our taste test. They had more flavor than those made with only pie pumpkins. While our pumpkin pies are predominantly made with butternut squash, we do add a bit of pumpkin.

To make our pie, we cut the squash in half, remove the seeds, and roast them on a sheet pan lined with parchment paper. Once the roasted squash cools, the skin peels off easily. Roasting them concentrates the natural sugars, and they puree beautifully. With the butternut squash we found we needed both less sugar and less cream in our recipe to create the perfect texture and taste for our pie.

Roasting butternut pumpkin, for a warming soup. Top view on oven tray.

Roasting butternut pumpkin, for a warming soup. Top view on oven tray.

The week of Thanksgiving is when our bakery floor gets truly insane. We start by roasting the squash and the pie shells. Then the filled pies shuffle in and out of our ovens. At the cafés, managers and crew pull together the long list of pre-orders that customers have placed throughout the month. Thanksgiving Eve managers and crew are usually at the cafés by 3 a.m. to be sure every order is ready to go, as well as plenty of extra stock on the shelves to accommodate last minute shoppers.

And when it’s all done we do the same thing you do. We gather with our families and friends for a feast. It’s one of my favorite days of the year. I love every part of it: decorating the house, setting the table beautifully, organizing the beverages, and—the best part—cooking the Thanksgiving dinner. Because there are so many dishes to prepare and only so much time, I always rely on Macrina Stuffing Mix, a selection of bread and rolls, crostini and a few of the appetizer spreads, and, of course, our pies. The pumpkin pie is my all-time favorite. The sweetness of Oxbow’s roasted squash with brown sugar, maple syrup, cinnamon, allspice and ginger is perfect with slightly sweetened whipped cream.

Our Thanksgiving menu is now available for the whole month of November. We will be taking advanced orders for the holiday through noon, November 21st.

Leslie

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Oxbow Farm & Conservation Center cultivates 30 acres of vegetables, tree fruit, and berries on the banks of an oxbow lake in the lower Snoqualmie Valley. We have been growing food for our customers for 16 years. Our produce is available throughout the greater Seattle area at independent grocery stores, restaurants, and most importantly, through our Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program.

Macrina Cornetti

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For years, my business partner, Matt has asked if we could make cornetto. Matt spent a year living in Italy and became quite enamored of the Italian breakfast – a stop at the local café on the way to work, a beautiful cappuccino, a cornetto and an animated conversation, usually about soccer. Every time Matt asked, I had to tell him we don’t have enough space. Well, this summer, we moved into our new production facility. There is space and I am finally able to grant Matt’s wish!

Cornetti are often referred to as the Italian cousin to the French croissant. Cornetti are made with laminated dough. Buttery dough is repeatedly folded and rolled to lace the dough with thin layers of butter fat. This creates a moist and flaky texture. Macrina’s laminated dough is slightly sweeter and made with a smidge less butter to create the perfect texture. We use the laminated dough to make our Cornetto, Chocolate Cornetto, Morning Rolls and Orange Hazelnut Pinwheels.

The story behind laminated pastry is an interesting one. It seems to have originated in Austria with a pastry called a kipferl. Some say the crescent shape was created to celebrate the Austrian defeat of the Ottomans whose flag carried an image of the crescent moon. Whether that story is myth or not, what is certain is that the pastry spread throughout Europe with regional and national differences.

Recently, The New Yorker published a story, Straightened-out Croissants and the Decline of Civilization” after one bakery in England started making their croissants un-curved. We have wisely opted to stay out of the centuries old England-France controversy. Our cornetti are slightly curved and available in our cafes and for wholesale sales. Come down to one of our cafés, order a cappuccino and a cornetto, and treat yourself to an Italian breakfast (while you read the New Yorker article, it is a fun one!)

Leslie

 

Cornetto (pictured above): “Little horn” in Italian. We form our cornetti from a triangle of our laminated dough rolled to create a crescent shape, brushed with egg wash and sprinkled with pearl sugar and baked to a deep brown. Lightly sweet, flaky on the outside and moist inside. Enjoy plain or with fresh preserves.

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Chocolate Cornetto: Our cornetto filled with batons of semisweet chocolate.

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Morning Rolls: Our laminated dough layered with house-made vanilla sugar and rolled into a swirl. Baked to a golden brown. Flaky and light with buttery caramelized sugar at the base.

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Orange Hazelnut Pinwheels: Our laminated dough layered with house-made hazelnut sugar and fresh orange zest, rolled into a pinwheel and baked golden brown. Dusted with powdered sugar. Flaky and sweet with just the right touch of citrus.

Green Tables

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Green Tables

Les Dames D’Escoffier Seattle is an organization near and dear to my heart. Being a Dame for nearly 25 years has been an important part of my life and career success. Early in my career I benefitted greatly from key mentoring relationships and support. Les Dames gives me a chance to pay it forward, to help other young women find the same opportunities. Les Dames raises money and awareness to inspire and aid women in finding rewarding careers in the hospitality industry. We offer scholarships, funds for continuing education, and help create opportunities through our experience and network of established relationships.

A major focus of ours is Green Tables, a Les Dames chapter initiative which supports education on all aspects of growing, sourcing and preparing nutritious food. We hold a series of fundraisers throughout the year and we have one coming up. Tag and Table is this Sunday, September 18th, on Capitol Hill. It will be a great opportunity to find fantastic kitchen tools, have some fun doing it, enjoy food and wine while you shop, and know that your support of Green Tables is making a difference in women’s lives and the health of our city’s food supply.

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One recent recipient of a Les Dames’ grant is Seed to Table, an edible education program for youth located in Olympia. We awarded them a $3,500 grant to help fund staff support and materials for their Preschool Garden Time program, spring field trips, and summer camp. They offer free, weekly Preschool Garden Time in the spring, garden field trips for preschool and grade school groups, and a summer camp for children ages 6-12.  The goal of this programming is to connect children with their food, by teaching them how to grow and cook their own delicious and nutritious meals.

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Program Director Karen Ray says, “Between April and June, we served over 460 people, including over 260 children, at our weekly Preschool Garden Times and class field trips.  These programs were free to the community, and all funding support was provided by Les Dames. Children dissected bean seeds to see how they grow, and then planted beans in the garden. They strung twine on pea trellises and watched the peas grow from week to week. They discovered spittle bugs hiding in the herb garden, and ladybugs eating aphids on the rose bushes. Children also learned how flowers get pollinated and turn into fruits and seeds. And throughout the spring, children harvested and ate from the garden–peas, carrots, broccoli, radishes, cherries, and strawberries.”

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Another recent recipient is Southwest Early Learning Bilingual Preschool. Director Karina Rojas Rodriguez says, “We are a non-profit bilingual preschool in the heart of West Seattle serving a wide range of ethnic, cultural and linguistic children. Many of our children do not have the experience of growing their own garden or attending amazing field trips like the pumpkin patch. With the Green Tables grant we are able to maintain our very own garden here on Delridge, rent a school bus to transport 130 children to and from the pumpkin patch, and most importantly continue to serve organic and farm to table meals to our children. We appreciate everything they have done for us and continue to do for us.”

Green Tables has awarded over $64,000 since it’s first grant awards in 2011, helping bring healthy meals to schools and early education supporting the garden-to-table cycle, and supporting sustainable farming practices that provide organic and sustainable foods to our community. Drop in on Sunday to learn more about who we are, meet some of the women who have worked hard to make this organization a success, buy something for your kitchen, and help us make a difference.

Thank you for your support.

Leslie