Saturday, January 31, 2009

Road Trip 101

Paul and I love road trips. We managed to arrange a four day weekend last weekend so we could take a mini vacation and decided to go back to one of our favorite places, the Northern California/Southern Oregon Coast. Honestly, going that far up 101 and back is quite a trip in just four days. But there is always a plan which seems to work: spend the first night in Eureka - a fishing, lumber, and frankly, being in Humboldt County, a marijuana farming area. At least, the marijuana part is a popular legend, and legend or not, you won't find me wandering in the woods, accidentally stumbling upon a "ranch" and never returning.

Back to Eureka, which has an attractive old town area with restaurants and shops by the harbor. We got our mitts on a restaurant guide, and there were some pretty interesting options. We chose Avalon, an upscale dining room which was decorated inside like a winter forest. I should have taken pictures, sorry! I had a delicious cocktail, with Hangarone Raspberry vodka and meyer lemon whatsit and other goodies. It was so tasty I wanted a second martinki, but being a cheap albeit happy drunk I nearly knocked over my empty martini glass and realized I had better stop. The food was really good; my braised lamb shank had great flavor but I do wish to had been cooked a little longer. I like the meat to fall off the bone. Paul loved his gnocchi dish. We both gave it a thumbs up and highly recommend the Avalon dining experience. It's a little expensive and for special occasions; we made up for it by eating at KFC in Brookings the next night!!!!!

Up the road north of Eureka is the pretty little town of Trinidad. It's up on a cliff with a harbor down below. The real attraction for us is Katy's Smokehouse. Paul and I stop there without fail everytime we head that way and buy the amazing smoked salmon. The Lakes bought Katy's business 20 years ago and really seem to love their jobs. This time I also bought a couple of cans of their sashimi grade tuna. They swore up and down it's way way better than the carvahlo tuna that comes from that area, and is low in mercury. I'm looking forward to popping open a can and giving it a try. I was pleasantly surprised to learn that Judy Lake was an instructor for the culinary program at Delta College for several years! How small is this planet anyway? Anyway, while in Trinidad you can grab your smoked salmon, take some crackers and sit on a bench right next to the lighthouse overlooking the ocean and have a little picnic, which is exactly what we did. Sweet.

Way way up the highway (by the way, highway 101 is a whole lotta two lane highway) is Brookings, OR, our destination. Now, sadly for me I haven't found any amazing coffee places up in those hinterlands, so I wasn't getting any really good coffee. Heck, it was pretty pee poor. However, there is a pretty cute drive-through espresso chain that I couldn't resist trying, Dutch Brothers Coffee. The visuals are great; just look! Paul and I shared an Annhilator - steamed half and half, chocolate, macadamia nut and espresso. It was pleasant but not earthshaking, but like I said the visuals are really cool.

Brookings is a town on the cliffs with the harbor below like many west coast sea towns. I absolutely love to stay at the Best Western Beachfront down in the harbor. It's on the beach and every room has an ocean view. When the weather is nice I like to leave the balcony sliding door open and listen to the waves break all night. However, the weather was cold, natch, so no dice this time.

At the north entrance of the harbor is a little cafe called the Oceanside Diner. Paul had spotted it and I agreed to try it. The diner is a shrine to Nascar, even with a race video playing! The menu is simple and I really like the fact that you could get a lite, small or medium portion. We each
ordered the lite egg, hash browns and toast, lite meaning one egg with a smaller portion of potatoes. It was all cooked perfectly and the english muffin was toasted and then griddled with butter. I know, because I asked the cook/owner how she did it.

Heading south again, we stopped in Klamath, a wide spot in the road. It's part of the Yurok reservation and we dropped into a little business that sells salmon jerky. I didn't really see a sign other than Salmon Jerky. You can't miss it, plus there's always a wood fire burning by the road. I highly recommend the 5 day smoked salmon, it's chewy, a bit like jerky. Just know salmon jerky isn't dry and thin and leathery like beef jerky; it's much better. We also bought what I call salmon candy. It was smoked with brown sugar and pretty sweet and yummy. That got devoured in the car in no time!

During the trip home we decided to cut over to Highway 1 and go through Mendocino. There is Moody's coffee house; my drink was poorly made, but I give them points for 1) using organic milk and 2) having agave nectar available. Maybe next time I should go behind the counter and make my own drink.. That would go over great!

I love to go away and I love to come home. There's no place like it!

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Monday, January 5, 2009

High Class Cocktail Wieners

I am hooked on Top Chef. Part of the thrill is watching these professionals struggle with ridiculous challenges. I always internalize the show, convinced I'd be one of the first casualties. Now, I gather the first order of business is to prepare a dish that tastes good, as it should be. But it also has to look good; actually, not just good, but as if some cook worked it over with tweezers, squirt bottles and any manner of magic devices. While working in the Student Chef, particularly in the pastry section, my peeve was the fussiness of the desserts we had to serve, with all manner of fluff, tuiles, swiriling syrups, and flying buttresses. Just give me an incredible tart or an amazing piece of chocolate cake with some unbelievable gelato, and for crapsake, not too much whipped cream!

When Top Chef's head judge, Tom Colicchio, is displeased, he often asks "what were you thinking?" That just chills me to the bone! So, I hereby offer you an appetizer that would probably pass the taste test on Top Chef, but because of the lack of squirt bottles would probably get me the boot, along with an inquiry about my thoughts. However, let me say these wieners are so delicious and so much better than being stewed in sauce for hours, that it just doesn't matter.

This is so easy it's sinful, consisting of Litl Smokies sausages, bacon, brown sugar and toothpicks. Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. A one pound package of Litl Smokies would be very sufficient for a moderate size party. Wrap each sausage with bacon and secure with a toothpick. To do this, cut a slice of bacon crosswise into three equal pieces. If your bacon is thick, cut it lengthwise too, so you end up with six pieces. Therefore, use one slice thick bacon for 6 sausages, or one slice regular thin bacon for 3 sausages. If you have a half sheet pan like professional kitchens use (actually they use full sheet pans), line it with parchment paper and place all of your bacon-wrapped smokies in the pan. Cover liberally with brown sugar. Pop in oven and bake for one full hour. The sugar will be fabulously caramelized. Turn the wiener over so the glazed side is up for serving and for heaven sake don't leave them sitting in the pan full of rendered bacon fat, as they will be greasy.

I made these for New Year's Eve and was going to add some cayenne to the brown sugar so we'd enjoy some sweet heat, but since peppered bacon was used I decided not to push it. Next time...

Finally, thanks to Kathy Curtis for taking these to a holiday party and giving me the recipe. Kathy, you're the bomb!