Home-made Favorites: The One-Day Artisan Loaf

One-Day Artisan Loaf

I made this video a few years ago to demonstrate how you make one of my favorite home-made loaves, the One-Day Artisan Loaf. It amazes me how much interest the video still generates. The recipe is simple. It produces a beautiful loaf—domed, with a crisp caramelized crust, irregular crumb and complex flavors.

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I created the One-Day Artisan Loaf for my second cookbook, More From Macrina. The premise of the cookbook adapts Macrina recipes for the home cook. I made all of the recipes with typical home equipment. The inspiration for this loaf came from an article in the New York Times back in November 2006, featuring Jim Lahey, the owner of Manhattan’s Sullivan Street Bakery. The article describes a revolutionary method of creating full-flavored, artisan-style bread mixed entirely by hand, without any kneading. Time and a heavy dutch oven do most of the work that kneading and expensive steam-injected ovens do for professionals. I began fiddling around with the technique to create a version of my own.

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Baking

My recipe includes milk and olive oil. These add a slightly fermented flavor. Rye flour provides another dimension to the flavor. I shorten the preparation time but incorporate a few extra steps for manipulating the dough, including a series of folds that resemble a brief kneading, and a couple of baker’s turns between rises. The results make it worth the extra bit of work.

The video also demonstrates how to make a whole grain version with a garnish of sunflower and pumpkin seeds and diced dried apricots. The whole grains give the loaf the delightful flavor of roasted nuts, notes of apple cider, and an earthy flavor that I love.

One of the keys to baking a beautiful one-day artisan loaf is having a humid atmosphere when the bread first hits the oven. This is where the dutch oven comes in. The hydration level of this dough is high, so when baking in a covered dutch oven, the air inside will remain moist for the first few minutes. The bread achieves a soft outer surface to rise before it forms a hard crust. By using this technique, you’ll end up with a crusty bread that has a rich caramelized color and a lovely depth of flavor, much like one you’d get at Macrina or another artisan bakery.

The Name

When naming this loaf, I thought of the word artisan because of the loaf’s characteristics: a crackly, caramelized crust, a wide, irregular crumb, and a complexity of flavor. A few comments have come in saying the bread isn’t truly artisanal. Most artisan loaves are naturally leavened and use very little if any, commercial yeast. They are also usually slow-fermented overnight and hand-formed. Maybe artisan-like would be a better name. Whatever you want to call it, if you are a fan of a rustic European-style domed loaf, with many of the great qualities of artisanal loaves —that doesn’t keep you in the kitchen all day—this loaf is for you! Start in the morning and you’ll impress your dinner guests with wonderful, freshly baked bread, without breaking a sweat!

Leslie

Wheatstalk 2018

Wheatstalk 2018

IMG_9847I joined the Bread Bakers Guild of America in 1993, the same year I opened Macrina. It was an insanely busy time in my life, but I knew I needed a community of artisan bakers for support and guidance. The Guild provided that and more. The Guild was much smaller 25 years ago. Not surprisingly, its growth has mirrored the rise of artisan baking in America.

IMG_9156Now, I’m on the Guild’s Board of Directors. For the last 16 months, I’ve been busy working with the other eight directors to plan Wheatstalk, the Guild’s most significant event, which starts February 27. The three-day celebration of baking is filled with lectures, hands-on classes, demonstrations, and maybe most importantly, a chance to visit with fellow bakers.

IMG_9860We’re holding this year’s gathering at Johnson & Wales University in Providence, Rhode Island. Of the Guild’s 2200 members, 525 members entered a lottery for the 125 available spots. All told, with the lottery winners, the teachers and volunteers like myself, about 200 artisan bakers will descend on the city. We’ll leave flour dust in our wake!

The Guild isn’t only comprised of professional bakers, but also super-talented home bakers and tiny CSA’s that bake once a week. At previous Wheatstalk events, I’ve picked up valuable tips from passionate home bakers who bake in backyard wood-fired hearths, as well as people that produce at a scale larger than Macrina’s.IMG_4182

Wheatstalk takes place in six classrooms, an amphitheater and a lecture hall. Featured speakers include two celebrity bakers from France, Hubert Chiron and Patrice Tireau. Stephen Jones of the internationally renowned Bread Lab, located in Mount Vernon, will be talking about the Wheat Movement in America. Also, some of the country’s best artisan bakers, bakery owners, and pastry and savory instructors will be teaching—including Jane Cho, Macrina’s Production Manager and pastry chef extraordinaire, and Scott France, Macrina’s CEO.

IMG_9025Scott is teaching a class called Growing Your Bakery with Amy Scherber of Amy’s Bread, a New York bakery that is a little bigger than Macrina and opened just a year earlier. Our bakeries are similar, both with cafés and wholesale operations. Scott and Amy will cover essential questions like, Do you really want to stop baking? Because when you grow, you spend a lot less time kneading dough. Out of necessity you get into the business of managing employees, training, retaining employees, pricing, food safety, and charitable donations. Scott says, “Amy and I should complement each other well. She is the baker who started her business, and I’m not. That difference should be useful.”

IMG_9202Once all the organizing is done, my job at Wheatstalk is very hands-on—preparing three days of breakfast and lunch for 200 people! It’s a big job, but I’ll have plenty of help. I’m serving a very Macrina-centric menu of tasty comfort food. There’ll be Macrina’s Macaroni and Cheese with Spicy Broccoli one day, lentil soup another, savory salads, and all the beautiful loaves of bread made fresh each day in the morning classes.

IMG_4280After months of planning, I can hardly believe it’s about to happen. I look forward to seeing old friends and meeting new ones, to learning new techniques and recipes. Everyone walks away inspired and with a handful of new friends and an even deeper connection to this awesome industry than they thought possible!

Leslie

Mean Sandwich

Mean Sandwich draws a great cross-section of people throughout the day. The generously-sized sandwiches are all served on Macrina’s Seeded Buns, and everything else is made in-house. The bun absorbs the juiciness of the fillings and keeps the generous pile of inners together. Kevin and Alex are usually there, and you’ll occasionally find their adorable three-year-old daughter holding court with the customers. If you love a delicious sandwich get on over there!

Leslie

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Mean Sandwich

John Montagu, the Fourth Earl of Sandwich, is said to have invented the sandwich so he didn’t have to leave the gambling table to eat. Three hundred years after his birth, the now ubiquitous finger food ranges from humble to haute. At Mean Sandwich, located in Ballard, everyday street food and elevated cuisine find a happy meeting place. You can grab something to nosh on when you’re in a hurry, or treat your snobbiest foodie friend to lunch. They won’t be disappointed.

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Mean Sandwich is the brainchild of Kevin and Alex Pemoulie, formerly chef/owners of Thirty Acres, a critically-acclaimed restaurant that landed on Bon Appétit’s 2012 list of 50 best new restaurants in the country. Before that, they both worked at David Chang’s legendary New York restaurant Momofuku. After the birth of their daughter, they wanted to refocus. They shuttered their ode to fine dining and moved to Seattle, Alex’s hometown, to focus on casual, accessible food.

“We’re challenging ourselves in a different way entirely,” Kevin says. “Before we opened, I worked for a long time on the menu for Mean Sandwich. Obviously, everything here is going between two pieces of bread, but we make everything in-house, from the corned beef of our namesake sandwich to our sausage.”

Already high expectations for Mean Sandwich were elevated last fall when Eater put it on their list of 23 most anticipated openings around the country. Now, open nearly a year, the Pemoulie’s have backed up the hype, so much so that they made Bon Appetit’s 2017 list of 50 best new restaurants in the country.

The menu is simple: six signature sandwiches, a side salad, and Skins and Ins, an awesome combination of fried potato chunks and their skins. All sandwiches are griddled and served hot on a Macrina Seeded Bun.

The eponymous sandwich features tender thick-cut corned beef, pickled red cabbage, yellow mustard, mint, and a subtle dash of maple syrup. It’s based on a Thirty Acres dish and it’s worth a driving across town for—even at rush hour. None of the sandwiches feel too precious, but each has a special twist, that something you couldn’t do at home. You get the sense that the same care and effort they once put into each creative small plate at Thirty Acres goes into each sandwich. In addition to the standing menu, a special sandwich is offered every day, such as the Glazed Pork Belly with pine nuts, radicchio, and roasted tomato mayo. With the onset of the cooler weather, a fresh daily soup is also available.

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Behind the small storefront, the interior space is simple with a couple of booths and seating lining the windows, 18 seats in total. In warmer weather, the large backyard is an oasis of fun. Diners pack the eight picnic tables and many wait for a turn at the ping-pong table. Patrons of Peddler Brewing can order sandwiches through a pickup window located in the brewery’s beer garden.

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With a successful first year nearly behind them, Kevin and Alex are interested in opening a second location. “If the right opportunity came along we’d definitely entertain the idea,” Kevin says. “It seems that if you divide the city by a harsh north-south line, a lot of people wind up sticking to their neighborhoods during the weekdays, especially during the cold months. It’d be helpful to be in another part of the city.”

Meanwhile, to expand their reach, Mean Sandwich plans to make their sandwiches available through every delivery service in Seattle. “We just want to serve people great sandwiches,” Kevin says.“Right now we’re operating exclusively with Caviar, but we’re looking to use UberEats, Postmates, Doordash, Amazon Restaurants. We literally just want to use every single one.”

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Kevin and Alex have embraced Seattle and its food scene. They frequently take their daughter along as they try new restaurants or return to favorites. “The city is great,” Kevin says. “We live half a mile from Mean Sandwich, see Alex’s parents a great deal, and love our walkable neighborhood.”

Their gamble to leave fine-dining behind and take their talents West has given Seattle a chef-driven take on the old standby. They’ve kept the everyday convenience of the Earl of Sandwich’s pedestrian invention and made it tasty enough for the most discerning diner.

Mean Sandwich opens at 11 a.m. seven days a week. Check their website (meansandwich.com) for evening closing hours and much more. 

Bee Local

At Macrina, we support artisanal and local products and Bee Local is a great example of why. First, the taste of their honey is exceptional. The honey is raw, single-origin, and sustainably produced, making the variety of flavors wonderful. In addition, the bees provide innumerable benefits to the neighborhoods in which they forage. ~ Leslie

The Sweet Rewards of Good Bee-havior

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Bee Local, a boutique producer of exceptional honey, currently manages less than 60 hives in total. They cover an area from Seattle to Walla Walla, then down onto Portland, Bend, and the Willamette Valley. Few commercial producers would consider anything less than 60 hives in one place an apiary, but this wildly inefficient process evolved from one key fact: location means everything to honey.

Ryan Lebrun is the busy beekeeper managing the hives. He loves introducing people to the incredible variety of honey produced by different landscapes, almost as much as he enjoys introducing a live hive to people unfamiliar with them.

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Honey is a lot like wine. Terroir, the combination of soil, climate, flora, and sunlight in a specific place, lends the honey it’s unique flavor. Foraging bees come up with the incredible flavors by transporting nectar and pollen from whatever is blooming in the area. Single-origin honey captures a specific time and place in one jar, a sweet and nuanced treasure of nature.

Some honey, such as Bee Local’s Buckwheat Honey, is as dark as oil and has a grassy, earthy taste. Others, like their Acacia Honey, resemble chardonnay and are buttery with hints of vanilla.

A lot of commercial honey is blended. Producers buy large quantities from all over, heat it up, mix it, strain it with microfilters, and package it. Basically, it’s like jug wine. Because the US consumes more honey than it produces, much is imported, sometimes from dubious overseas sources.

“It was discovered that some foreign manufacturers were mixing honey with other sweeteners, like high fructose corn syrup, or molasses, or sugars made from rice,” Ryan says. “On top of that, they’ve found really bad chemicals in the honey. Some of the storage barrels contained exposed lead that would get into the honey. Lots of insecticides and pesticides sprayed on the crops also got into the honey. Not only was the product adulterated, it was actually bad for you.”

As a result, the US has set a high tariff on honey coming from China. Many European nations have banned the import of Chinese honey. An article in the Journal of Food Science coauthored by John Spink, director of Michigan State University’s Food Fraud Initiative, cited honey as the third most faked food in the world. To work around prohibitive tariffs, some exporters ship their product to a country like Vietnam that has no such restrictions and the honey makes its way to the US market. This scandal has been dubbed honey laundering.

But there are plenty of domestic producers of quality honey. Most of it is clover honey. “Clover is a really good honey producer,” Ryan says. “Lots of beekeepers, especially in the Midwest, make lots of clover honey. There’s nothing wrong with it. To me, it tastes like a graham cracker. But that’s the only flavor most people know.”

Honey Water

That is, perhaps, the best reason to try Bee Local honey: to discover the world of flavors that bees produce. At Macrina, we carry Bee Local’s Walla Walla honey and their Honey Water. The Walla Walla honey comes from an area rich in wildflowers. It has an herbal aroma, not overwhelmingly sweet, allowing nuanced flavors of mineral and barley to emerge. Honey Water is a simple syrup made with Bee Local’s honey and is the best way to sweeten drinks.

If the best reason to try Bee Local is the taste, not far behind are the ecological impacts that come from well-tended urban hives. Not all of them are immediately obvious. Ryan explains: “A side effect I wasn’t anticipating was how a hive could transform a neighborhood. Whether it’s a rooftop or a backyard, we put in a beehive, come back a year later, and you see that the whole neighborhood is into it. People want to help, and the best way to do that is to plant pollinator-friendly flowers. Then their neighbors join in planting flowers. The neighborhood gets in tune with the seasons, what they’re growing, not using pesticides—people suddenly have that in mind—they want to focus on what chemicals they’re using, what they’re city might be using, and they build a chorus of voices against that.”

Come see what all the buzz is about. Drop into one of our cafes and grab a jar. You may discover a whole new world of flavor.

The New Queen City Grill

When I opened Macrina in 1993, Peter Lamb and Robert Eickhof were running Queen City Grill. They put Belltown on the map as a dining destination. Scott Carsberg, chef of Lampreia, followed them in 1992. Peter was good friends with Scott and when I opened Peter would drop by and chat with Scott before picking up bread for the Queen. I used to love going there for great food and that lovely atmosphere. It always was a lively place! I’m so glad Trevor, Brian, and the others were able to keep it alive and are doing so much to make it a vital Seattle destination again. 

Leslie

Long Live the Queen

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When Trevor Greenwood learned that the iconic Queen City Grill was slated to close late last year, he sprang into action. Working feverishly, he pulled together a team who shared his love of the restaurant and inked a deal to save the Queen two days before Christmas and just a week before the doors would have closed forever.

For Greenwood it was personal—he’d started there as a busser and worked his way into management and captaining the wine program. Years later, he founded Cantinetta, the beloved Tuscan-inspired restaurant with locations in Wallingford, Bellevue, and Madison Valley.

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The rejuvenated Queen City Grill reopened in early 2017 after a remodel that updated the interior—touched up varnish, new lighting, paint, and plenty of improved firepower in the kitchen.

“Every restaurant that’s been around a while has to fight to stay relevant,” says Executive Chef Brian Cartenuto. “Queen City Grill opened in 1987. Belltown was very different then. And look at Seattle now. There are 77 cranes up. Lots of newcomers. Enough restaurant openings to make you dizzy. People are intrigued with what’s new.”

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The task of renewal at the Queen is in the able hands of Cartenuto, the original executive chef at Cantinetta. Restaurant critic Providence Cicero, writing of his dishes at Cantinetta, said they “combine a wonderful balance of flavors with an element of surprise.”

At the Queen, Cartenuto honors the refined simplicity and whimsy that made the original Queen City Grill such a sensation. His menu has a Northwest sensibility and features seasonal produce and local purveyors.

“There’s still a burger on the menu,” Cartenuto says. “It’s important to me that the food stays fun and approachable. Through technique, quality of ingredients we try to make the food exciting, food that tells the story of the seasons and that honors our past. For example, we’re putting Miso Salmon on the menu to pay homage to the past. That was probably novel in 1990. But there’s a reason it’s a classic now. And they can be reinvented, made relevant again.”

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Come to think of it, that’s an excellent metaphor for the Queen City Grill—a classic, reinvented and made relevant again.

Brunch is another new feature. Offered on weekends from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. the menu ranges through a few classics like a super custardy French toast with star anise sugar and berry compote, then veers middle-Eastern with Shakshuka, a lovely egg dish with a spiced tomato sauce and grilled flatbread.

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Come visit (or revisit) Queen City Grill, one of the oldest bars standing in Seattle, now tastefully refurbished to preserve all of the romance of the original space and with an exciting new menu that has something for everyone.

Meet Erica Olsen, Macrina’s New Pastry Chef

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Sometimes life travels full circle in the most delightful ways. When I first met Erica Olsen, she was cradled in her mother’s arm at Grand Central Bakery. I worked as the head baker at that time. Erica’s mother worked there too. We were all dusted in flour. That was more than 25 years ago. Now I get to introduce Erica as Macrina’s new pastry chef.

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“No smell reminds me of home more than the yeasty smell of rising bread,” Erica says. “My mom was always baking. I love food, and have been working with food since I was 14, but growing up I never thought I’d be a chef.”

That changed when Erica enrolled in the Seattle Culinary Academy where, amongst others, she trained with Chef Kim Maher, the amazing pastry chef at Super Six, and formerly Macrina’s head pastry chef. (If you haven’t tried Super Six’s Malasadas you’re missing out on one of Seattle’s best pastries.) After Erica graduated, she had the opportunity to work with Kim at Super Six where she refined her skills.

Then earlier this year Erica met Jane Cho, Macrina’s production manager, at a Les Dames D’Escoffier Seattle event (A fabulous organization I’ve been involved with for nearly 25 years) and learned Macrina was searching for a new head pastry chef. Connections were made and soon after Erica impressed Macrina’s entire management team with her passion and skill. That flour-dusted child is now a talented flour-dusted adult and I’m proud to have her on the team.

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Born and raised on Seattle’s Capitol Hill, Erica still lives near to her childhood home on the hill. She and her girlfriend, Rikke, love to take long city walks with Betty, their dog, a charming blend of dachshund, cocker spaniel, and spitz. A favorite summer activity is berry picking. “Especially raspberries,” Erica says. “Blueberries and strawberries are great, but I’ll eat raspberries until I’m sick.” She’s also an active SIFF member and while balancing a busy training schedule managed to squeeze in several films at this year’s festival.

Erica will spend time working with each café’s pastry team. Her day begins early, but she’s often still working the ovens at lunch. You’ll see her back there, kneading dough and pulling trays of steaming Cornetti and Morning Rolls from the oven in the morning, and tarts and cakes in the afternoon. Erica says, “I’ve got big shoes to fill here at Macrina. The pastries are incredible, and the standards are very high. But I work with a great team and have lots of support.”

Please join me in welcoming Erica to Macrina.

Leslie

PCC’s Perfect Blueberries & Macrina’s Coffee Cake

PCC has the best blueberries. They’re as big as the end of your thumb, dusky blue, perfectly sweet-tart, and ready to burst with finger-staining nectar. Called Sweet Baby Blues, they come exclusively from LaPierre Farms in Zillah, Washington.

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To honor the arrival of berry season in the Pacific Northwest, we’ve collaborated with our friends at PCC Markets on a Mini Blueberry Coffee Cake. I’ve made my favorite fresh fruit coffee cake with many types of berries and other fruits, but the juiciness of the blueberries from LaPierre Farms, and their balance of acidity and sweetness, is unique enough that it took several modifications to adjust my recipe. The cinnamon sugar streusel topping complements the tartness of the berries nicely and I find the combination irresistible. The cake will be featured at PCC as well as in our cafés.

We began selling our breads and other baked items at PCC in 2014. “Customers are loving this partnership,” said PCC’s Senior Grocery Merchandiser Scott Owen. “We began selling Macrina breads in King County locations and they sold so well we expanded the products to all of our stores.”

I have great admiration for the dedication PCC has shown toward improving our local food supply. They maintain partnerships with local and regional farmers to provide the best-tasting, freshest produce possible. One way they do this is through the PCC Farmland Trust, which works to protect threatened farmland in Washington. The trust also helps local farmers be productive growing sustainable and organic crops. It was through them that we learned of an excellent wheat grown on PCC Farmland Trust land by Williams Hudson Bay Farm and processed by Fairhaven Mills. We now use the whole grain whole wheat flour in some of our breads.

Wayne and Marni LaPierre are an example of the type of family farm PCC has supported. In 1984, after finishing college with a horticultural degree, Wayne returned to the Yakima Valley where his grandparents had farmed. He planted an orchard of cherry trees and soon after began growing organically. In 1989, PCC began their relationship with LaPierre Farms and each year customers have eagerly awaited the arrival of Wayne and Marni’s fruit throughout the summer.

Just a few years ago, Wayne began growing blueberries. PCC contracted the whole crop.

“LaPierre Farms is a very special farm, with a grower that is seemingly doing the impossible,” Scott said. “He picks, cools, packs, and ships in about 24 hours. Our stores often get them barely a day of the vine. They are amazing in quality, texture, and flavor.”

Aside from great soil conditions and careful watering at night, one key to the great berries is careful handpicking. Blueberries don’t ripen all at once, requiring patience and multiple picks. Wayne trains all of his pickers how to identify berries that are mature. When they’re at their best they come off easily. “We just roll’em off with our fingers,” Wayne said.

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It’s that kind of care, and attention to every detail in the growing process, that distinguishes Sweet Baby Blues. Give the berries a try. I think you’ll understand why they inspired me to create Macrina’s newest product, the Mini Blueberry Coffee Cake. Macrina shares PCC’s value of sourcing the best ingredients from local farms, which makes it an honor and a joy to collaborate with them.

Leslie

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.

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