Impromptu Seattle Dinner Party

One of the pleasant surprises from IFBC 2013 was the amount of swag we received. I was in a minimalist mood so I had brought only one small carry-on. However, after just one day of the conference, I had two very full bags containing an assortment of snacks and quality ingredients. Furthermore, the liquids (including a nice bottle of Bordeaux wine) could never get past airport security. Solution? Throw a dinner party using as many ingredients as possible.

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The haul.

Some of the gems I discovered in my goodie bags:

  • Manuka Doctor Honey. The complex flavor of the honey made it a great ingredient to cook with.

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  • Lots of Scharffen Berger chocolate bars. The depth of flavor made it a great component for savory as well as sweet cooking.

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  • California Olive Oil-a splash of home.
  • Lagrima Pure Vanilla Extract-such an enticing aroma.
  • Bob’s Red Mill Sorghum-a grain I had never worked with.

Luckily, my couchsurfing host, Anton, was open to the idea of a dinner party and generously gave me full access to his kitchen and invited adventurous friends to join in the fun. We brainstormed over drinks at Brouwer’s and decided to try to make it a Seattle-themed party and feature iconic Seattle ingredients.

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Pike Place-If you’re in Seattle, you can’t miss it.

In addition to the freebies we had, we bought fresh, local ingredients from Pike Place Market including:

  • Beautiful filets of King Salmon from the iconic Pike Place Fish Market
  • Short ribs from BB Ranch
  • Fresh produce from a selection of vendors throughout the market
  • Ancho chili flakes, cumin, and other spices from World Spice
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Beautiful specimens of Pacific NW seafood

The bounty of Pike Place Market is one of the things I miss most about living in Seattle. Pike Place market is far more than just a tourist attraction. I actually think in some ways Pike Place is more geared towards locals who don’t have to hop on a plane on their way back to their kitchen. However, if you do happen to find yourself with a salmon in your hotel room, Chef John has the solution. Also, most of the vendors at Pike Place do ship their wares.

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Infinite possibilities.

We wanted to work in a lot of different ideas while having the overall menu to capture Seattle. Sourcing the ingredients locally was a huge step towards achieving this goal. We, of course, wanted to use salmon. And taking an Asian-inspired approach fit in well with the Asian influences of the International District and local favorites such as Wild Ginger and The Triple Door.

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Prepping the catch of the day.
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Gently poaching the salmon.
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Tossing slaw with a light vinaigrette.

For a finishing touch for the salad, we used a trick I picked up from the photography session and separated made “caviar” from blackberries by painstakingly separating fleshy “bubbles” from the rind using a butter knife. The result is something that resembles caviar.

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Harvesting blackberry caviar.

We also wanted to feature coffee as part of a savory dish. An all-out molè seemed too complicated for an impromptu dinner. Braising short ribs in a coffee and chocolate sauce seemed like the perfect amount of complexity, and having a slow-cooking dish allowed us to work on the rest of the prep while the ribs were working their magic.

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Adding the key ingredient after a three hour braise.
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Ribs ready to serve.

Glazing carrots seemed like a natural way to highlight the deep flavor of the Manuka honey. I became semi-obsessed with using the sorghum. I found an intriguing sorghum creme brûlée recipe, but the recipe seemed to omit the sorghum in the instructions! We ended up just using it as a traditional starch.

Finally, we made Creme Brûlée because we wanted an excuse to play with the torch and the chocolate bottom was another excuse for us to use Scharffen Berger chocolate and the Lagrima vanilla extract.

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Anton carefully lining the bottom with chocolate.
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We ran into some technical difficulties in igniting the torch so we tried broiling.

Putting it all together …

  • The ginger poached salmon served on top of a simple slaw dressed with an Asian vinaigrette. Topped with Blackberry “caviar”

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  • Short ribs braised with mushrooms in coffee, chocolate, and ancho, served over a bed of sorghum

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  • Honey glazed rainbow carrots

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  • Drink pairings: Mojitos made with a variety of Dry Soda flavors and the Harvest Ale from Fremont Brewing. Dry Soda seemed like a natural cocktail ingredient because of the unique flavor and the fact that they are not overwhelmingly sweet like most sodas.

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We managed to throw the entire party together in a day, with a couple of hours to spare. The lightness of salmon contrasted well with the darkness and depth of the ribs and sweetness of the carrots. We had  some technical difficulties with the dessert but were able to make just enough to round out the meal. All in all, cooking a meal with local ingredients was a welcome change of pace of eating out every meal and a fantastic way to meet new friends.

Photos by Jon Lai

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