Wild Ginger on Urbanspoon

Wild Ginger has been a star Seattle restaurant since the late 90's. My first experience had been when my brother got married. We went to the original location with our extended family for the rehearsal dinner. The next time I went back the restaurant had moved to a larger location with much more upscale design. This time I am at the brand new second location in Bellevue, WA.

My father remembered the rehearsal dinner and requested that we go there for dinner. So it definitely made an impression if he's remembering a meal from ten years ago.

This new location opened in September '09. It looks very similar in design to the downtown Seattle location, including being two-story. There is a large satay bar downstairs and a small private bar area. I thought it was odd that the bar was downstairs, so far from the entrance and tucked away in the back. Bar business is usually so important for sales, so why is it so hidden?

While I was in the restroom I was fascinated by the Dyson Airblade hand dryers in the bathroom. It was the most effective air dryer I've ever used. People generally reach for the paper towels because they hate to wait for the old dryers - rubbing your hands together for 30 seconds to dry. The Airblade 'scrapes' the air down off your hands like the high powered dryers in car washes. Start putting these dryers in restrooms and people will start using them over paper if they are conservation conscious.

But we were here for the food. I apologize for the poor quality pictures taken with my Blackberry.

We started with crab cakes for my nephew, a scallop satay skewer for myself, and dad ordered the Green Papaya Salad - Shredded green papaya tossed with peanuts, fish sauce and herbs in a lemongrass dressing. None of us had had green papaya before and we found this to be crunchy and refreshing. I liked the lemongrass and mint that stood out in the flavoring. The salad was huge and we ended taking half of it home.

We were all sharing our choices family style. I chose the Tuna Manada - Seared ahi tuna cubes in a coconut milk sauce infused with lemongrass. This was the most disappointing of all our dishes. It was on the bland side and seemed to me like they forgot an ingredient to give the extra punch it needed. Even salt would have brought out the flavors in a better way. It was just dull.

Dad's choice was the overall favorite. He chose the Salt and Pepper Prawns - fried prawns tossed in salt, green onions, and red pepper. Now I often eat this dish when we go to work lunches at Sacramento Chinese restaurants. This was the best version of the dish I've ever had. They were generous with the pepper and the prawns were perfectly fried, crispy, without any grease. I noticed that they used red pepper flakes for their pepper while in Sacramento we've always had it done with chopped, fresh jalapenos. Both ways are good, but this won out for the intensity of the pepper.

Paul's favorite is the Hanoi Tuna - Sashimi-grade ahi tuna marinated with shallots, garlic, and turmeric, seared rare and served with almonds, dill and scallion oil. He particularly likes the almond paste that you see underneath the tuna. I enjoyed it as well - but second best to the prawns.

We also had the Chinese green beans and I got their raspberry ginger ale to drink. The menu has two prices for the items - small and large. We got the large sizes of all our entrees and were glad we did. Even if you were eating the dish to yourself, you will probably want the larger portion. Service was attentive and friendly.

I'll probably continue to stop by Wild Ginger each time I visit the Seattle area.
Tandoori Kitchen on Urbanspoon

We stopped in for a quick lunch at Tandoori Kitchen, just down the street from my brother's place. They had a buffet lunch for $8.99, which is pretty reasonable since the entrees were around $10.99 each. But we didn't want to eat too much since we had big dinner plans.

When I look now on Urbanspoon.com I see a mix of reviews. Some really are bad and others like the place. My overall response to the negative reviews I see is - it's a Pakistani restaurant, not Indian. This explains some of the dishes not being the same preparation as by Indians. It also could explain some of the service issues. After all, Pakistanis are Muslim. That's no excuse for how to treat customers in the U.S., but sometimes it does show an intolerance, impatience, and ignorance by Americans as well. I also always look on the dates of the reviews. Some of them are over two years old. I really take issue with Urbanspoon not having expiration dates on reviews that are posted. Things change, including ownership or chefs, so that old reviews are not pertinent today.

Anyway, we had good service and enjoyed the food. I was particularly excited to have a Pakistani samosa. Indians do them veggie and Pakistanis put in meat. I like the meat version and the one they served here was excellent. I was a very happy camper. The only negative on the samosa was the amount of grease. It did just drip it all over. But hey, sometimes grease is good. Bonus - he didn't charge us for the samosas. I had said how much I enjoyed them and he comp'd them for us.

My dad and I split an order of Chicken Tikka. I was wanting some sauce with it, but it came out as very tender, moist, chicken chunks that were nicely spiced. Although sauceless, I still enjoyed it.

I also tasted a meat dish Paul got from the buffet and enjoyed it too. So I would eat here again and Paul certainly will become a regular. And if you are reading the mixed reviews, I would suggest you try them yourself. After all, the reviews are about 50/50 and so how can you really know which side you will come on?
Mediterranean Kitchen on Urbanspoon

Growing up in Saudi Arabia our favorite street food was schwarmas. Back in the 70's they would sell from street carts and the lamb would be rotating on giant rotisseries. They would take Arab bread and put in it shredded lettuce, tomato, the sliced meat, a garlicy tzatziki like sauce, and mint leaves. All ARAMCONS grew up with this schwarma memory.

Sad to say, it is VERY difficult to find schwarmas like this any more - even in Arabia. My dad went back to visit last March and he said he couldn't find a lamb one anywhere, they were all being done with chicken. Here in the U.S. it is equally difficult. If you do find schwarma places, they usually use beef. Many will offer lamb as a kebab version. Basically they are cubing and kebabing the lamb instead of shaving it off a rotisserie like we grew up with.

I'm visiting my brother up in the Seattle area and for Christmas Eve we have gone to Mediterranean Kitchen in Kirkland. Apparently there is a full blown restaurant in Bellevue and this is an offshoot diner style. My brother's one warning - they use a lot of garlic.

OK. So my bro is a garlic wimp. My dad and I thought it was great. The best thing, this truly was the closest schwarma to our childhood memories. My only complaint, it could use a more generous serving of meat in the sandwich. (See any in the pic?) I really did feel like I was eating the sandwich of my past. Kudos.

My brother LOVES their baklava as well. It was pretty tasty. The nuts had been ground to a paste for the filling layer. The pastry was nice and flaky without being overly soaked in honey syrup.

Something that attracted my eye on the menu was the Mediterranean fries - french fries covered in feta cheese, garlic, and sumac - and ketchup. I love garlic fries and I like feta too, so it seemed like a good combo to me. It wasn't bad, but not something I would order again. I think in this case I would have liked more garlic and less feta. But it was nice that the feta was nice and melty.

My brother says that if you go to the actual mother restaurant you will smell the garlic as soon as you open the door. Not so bad for me. The more, the better. I'd be happy to have a Med Kitchen in Sacramento to get the lamb schwarmas and I know my fellow schoolmates would be thrilled as well.

The December 2009 Daring Bakers’ challenge was brought to you by Anna of Very Small Anna and Y of Lemonpi. They chose to challenge Daring Bakers’ everywhere to bake and assemble a gingerbread house from scratch. They chose recipes from Good Housekeeping and from The Great Scandinavian Baking Book as the challenge recipes.

I chose the Scandinavian recipe because it only called for things that I already had on hand. The Good Housekeeping would be more of the American traditional gingerbread in that it requires molasses.

I had never made a gingerbread house before, let alone from scratch. So many people just get the kits. The challenge said to make the house and decorate it as you please, just that all items must be edible. It also required the use of a template. I found mine off the internet somewhere (can't find the site again). I rolled my dough pretty darn thick so that my pieces were a good 1/4 inch thick.

The assembly required using simple syrup to be the glue. Simple syrup meant just melting sugar. Unfortunately I went a little too far and ended up getting very caramelized dark syrup. You can see a long drip on my finished house. This also ended up tinging my royal icing that came in contact with it. So after a day my icicles were looking like dirty snow icicles. Oh, well.

The real cost comes from all the decorating elements. I ended up using only candy on mine. I suggest going to the bulk bins at Winco as being the cheapest. I ended up at Sweet Factory for their bulk bins and large assortment. They are pricier though.

Here are some other things you can use:
-pretzel sticks
-Necco wafers
-almond slivers
-After 8 mints
-coconut flakes

All in all I was pretty happy with how it turned out. I wouldn't mind trying a more complex one next year or maybe doing a Halloween one. I ended up taking mine to work and donating it for auction to raise funds for our food drive.

This is probably my last cooking post for 2009. I'm off to Seattle and will probably do a review or two of restaurants up there. I'm hoping that maybe I can hit some of their famous gourmet food trucks as well. So for now, have a happy and safe holiday and Season's Eatings to you all.

Scandinavian dough
1 cup butter, room temperature [226g]
1 cup brown sugar, well packed [220g]
2 tablespoons cinnamon
4 teaspoons ground ginger
3 teaspoons ground cloves
2 teaspoons baking soda
½ cup boiling water
5 cups all-purpose flour [875g]

1. In a large bowl, cream the butter and sugar until blended. Add the cinnamon, ginger and cloves. Mix the baking soda with the boiling water and add to the dough along with the flour. Mix to make a stiff dough. If necessary add more water, a tablespoon at a time. Chill 2 hours or overnight.

2. Cut patterns for the house, making patterns for the roof, front walls, gabled walls, chimney and door out of cardboard.

3. Roll the dough out on a large, ungreased baking sheet and place the patterns on the dough. Mark off the various pieces with a knife, but leave the pieces in place.

4. [I rolled out the dough on a floured bench, roughly 1/8 inch thick (which allows for fact that the dough puffs a little when baked), cut required shapes and transferred these to the baking sheet. Any scraps I saved and rerolled at the end.]

5. Preheat the oven to 375'F (190'C). Bake for 12 to 15 minutes until the cookie dough feels firm. After baking, again place the pattern on top of the gingerbread and trim the shapes, cutting the edges with a straight-edged knife. Leave to cool on the baking sheet.

Royal Icing:

1 large egg white
3 cups (330g) powdered sugar
1 teaspoon white vinegar
1 teaspoon almond extract

Beat all ingredients until smooth, adding the powdered sugar gradually to get the desired consistency. Pipe on pieces and allow to dry before assembling. If you aren't using it all at once you can keep it in a small bowl, loosely covered with a damp towel for a few hours until ready to use. You may have to beat it slightly to get it an even consistency if the top sets up a bit. Piped on the house, this will set up hard over time.

Simple Syrup:
2 cups (400g) sugar

Place in a small saucepan and heat until just boiling and the sugar dissolves. Dredge or brush the edges of the pieces to glue them together. If the syrup crystallizes, remake it.

It's no secret that I have a sweet tooth. This is problematic when one is single and has a craving for something sweet. Often I have the desire to bake a cake or pie. But then I would have an entire cake on my hands. Not a good idea.

On a recent Rachael Ray show there was a woman promoting her new cookbook - 101 Recipes for Microwave Mug Cakes. Turns out she had found a recipe for making a single serving cake in a coffee mug. She expanded on the idea by creating her own recipes to create a cookbook's worth.

I had my own craving and remembered that show. A quick search turned up a Wikihow page with three recipes - including the one I made.

Basically you grease a large coffee mug. Mix all the ingredients together in the mug and then microwave for three minutes. I made the chocolate cake with a handful of chocolate chips thrown in for good measure. It was pretty plain, so it could use a chocolate glaze. The easiest solution, though, is a dollop of whip cream.

We make microwave cakes all the time for Pampered Chef. I'm not sure why I had never thought about it before. I also have the Small Batch Baking Cookbook. Why not take those recipes and microwave them in a mug? I'm now curious to play around myself. But then again, do I really need to give in to my sweet tooth so easily?

Chocolate Mug Cake

4 Tbsp. cake flour
(other kinds of flour will work as well, but the cake will be heavier)
4 Tbsp. granulated sugar
2 Tbsp. cocoa
1 egg
3 Tbsp. milk (any kind)
3 Tbsp. oil (any kind but peanut)
splash in a little vanilla

Spray a large coffee mug with cooking spray. Mix together dry ingredients in the mug. Add the wet ingredients and mix well. Microwave on high for three minutes. Be careful! The mug will be hot. Remove it from the microwave with a potholder. Turn the cake out on a plate and wait for it to cool before eating.

Masullos on Urbanspoon

12/9/09 Update - Original Post follows

My roomie took me tonite for a birthday dinner. We had the Mustapha which has prosciutto, mozarella, and topped with arugula. I've had it before and really like it because I love the saltiness of prosciutto. We also had the Elisa with mozarella, Toscano salame, onion, fennel, romano and oregano. It was also good, but I still preferred the Mustapha.

Robert, the owner, came out to talk to us tonite. We talked about the divide between people who prefer Hot Italian and those who like Masullo's. He said he didn't mind the comparisons because it sort of drove business for people to try both - so they both win. This time it was a Wednesday night and business was moderate but constant.

The menu changes seasonally and this month they had gingerbread on the dessert menu. It was served with spiced apples and a little whipped cream. We received a nice sized wedge and found it was nicely spiced and served warm.

I fall into the Masullo's camp and am so glad it is only a quarter mile from my house.

Original Post

Masullo Pizza would be missed if you didn't know it was there or had the address. So far they have no signage and they are in a small strip building next to a smog check and auto repair. So I better give you the address: 2711 Riverside Blvd.

The restaurant itself is very spartan. The tables are made from wood from one old neighborhood oak tree. But simplicity often works and is a nice change of pace.

This is the small Margherita pizza. What is wrong with this picture?

Perhaps I'm spoiled or something. But I'm used to Margherita pizzas having more basil. There are only three leaves on here! But then I was researching on the internet and see that my understanding of a Margherita might be incorrect. In fact, Wikipedia gives an explanation and pictures of Margheritas that look just like this one.

The Masullo pizzas are done Neopolitan style.

"the genuine Neapolitan pizza dough consists of Italian wheat flour, natural Neapolitan yeast or brewer’s yeast, salt and water. The dough must be kneaded by hand or with a low-speed mixer. After the rising process, the dough must be formed by hand without the help of a rolling pin or other mechanical device, and may be no more than 3 mm (¹⁄₈ in) thick. The pizza must be baked for 60–90 seconds in a 485 °C (905 °F) stone oven with an oak-wood fire.[2] When cooked, it should be crispy, tender and fragrant."

I had called in my order to go and was surprised when they said it would be done in 5-10 minutes. I guess that's because of the thin crust and the high temperature oven. Sure enough, I was there in 10 minutes and it was coming out of the oven.

My Margherita seemed to fit the criteria. It had a nice thin bread crust. I'm still disappointed, though, in the amount of basil and cheese and I was unimpressed with the sauce - very plain. But I'm willing to try again. I look forward to trying the Jacqueline of potato, fontina, oregano and Niman Ranch bacon and the Mustapha of mozzarella, granna, prosciutto and arugula. Stay tuned for an updated review.

11/17/08 Update:

We went on a Friday night and the place was PACKED! It's a small place, so it doesn't take much. Every place at the communal large tables were taken as well. Luckily the people waiting were all for one large group, so the two of us were able to be seated in about five minutes.

This was my first time eating in - I had always just picked up "to go" orders. The tables are set with chilled bottles of water that are just refilled later with tap water and rechilled. We each ordered a salad. I had the mixed greens which came with nice, salty slices of prosciutto and a balsamic vinegrette. My friend had the frisee salad with blue cheese and pine nuts. Both came with two small triangles of pizza crust that was nicely salted.

This time we ordered the Lupe, which is a new pizza combo. It had broccoli rabe, bacon, anchovies, and cheese. I've never had anchovies on pizza before but did like that super saltiness that they gave to offset the bitterness of the rabe. A great pizza that we both liked.

BTW, I had previously ordered the Josephine with the thinly sliced potato. Didn't really care for that one. Also, I observed the American, which is basically a pepperoni pizza. Be aware that, like the Margherita, the toppings are sparse. So expect only about 5-6 pepperonis and not covered like you would find at other pizza places.