Monday, April 22, 2013

FoodTrek: Spring Fever and Yes, More Cowbell

"I got a fever... and the only prescription is... More Cowbell," so sayeth Christopher Walken's insane, Phil Spector-style record producer character on that high-larious Blue Oyster Cult Saturday Night Live skit from a few  years ago. If you have no idea what the hell I'm talking about and have a strong hankering to see Will Ferrell's hairy gut shake its money-maker, you should get to know your Internets better and see a quick-edit mashup on the YouTube. I definitely got a case of Spring Fever when I indulged in some springtime shenanigans: attending Woodinville RESERVE and savoring a day of sun at Pike Place Market. Start that cowbell, we're ready to rawk.

Ramping it up with spring in the Northwest - Photo by Wasabi Prime

I did the prerequisite Spring Thing, like freshening up our garden beds, adding some smelly but nutritious compost, and I managed to get a small army of sprouted peas into the soil between all the truly schizo-crazysauce weather we've been having. Pouring, sideways rain one day, Thundering Hailstorm of Gibraltar the next. Mother Nature, you have been truly menopausal this season, but even the rainiest of rainy days won't ruin my parade. I braved a soggy Friday to attend this year's first Woodinville RESERVE, a nice kickoff to the spring season for Woodinville Wine Country. It was right before the annual Passport to Woodinville weekend (just this last weekend), which is like one big open house for most of the wineries in the city. Woodinville RESERVE was a single-night event, pouring over 40 top-rated wines as well as small bottlings. It was a nice concentrated option if you didn't want to do a winery-wander across the Passport weekend, and you had the opportunity to sip exclusive wines and even some sneak preview pours.

Taking over Columbia Winery for a night at Woodinville RESERVE - Photos by Wasabi Prime
RESERVE was held at Columbia Winery, which is a beautiful venue. The rain didn't keep the 400+ guests from coming in to sip wines and warm up by the tasting room's gorgeous indoor fireplace, which was apropos for the soggy weather. Tables were set up throughout the main tasting room, private club room and their large event space, so pretty much the entire winery was used.

Sweets from Emily's and Wellington Chocolates, and spring on a plate from Barking Frog - Photos by Wasabi Prime
It wasn't just wine, thankfully there was plenty of food to help balance the nonstop pours -- nearly a dozen restaurants and specialty food shops came out to serve some very delicious bites. Italianissimo brought their Friday night special to the party, their delicious house made sausage. Purple Cafe served lovely smoked duck gougeres with a cherry compote. Le Petit Terroir had multiple dishes like house made sausage, mushroom ragu over polenta and a marvelously savory bacon jam on toast. Barking Frog made an incredible spring salad with mixed greens, fresh fava beans and fiddleheads lightly battered and fried. Josh Henderson of Skillet fame was on hand to sneak preview the signature burger from his upcoming Hollywood Tavern, opening this summer. They were serving halves, but I totally took two and Voltron-ed them into a single delicious burger.

Hollywood Tavern burger, Le Petit Terroir bacon jam and Purple's smoked duck - Photos by Wasabi Prime
I indulged in sweets as well as savory -- Emily's Chocolates and Nuts have wonderfully snackable dried fruit covered in chocolate (health food, right?) but their habanero caramels had me hooked. I also indulged in Wellington Chocolates' sweets, which were as elegant as their gorgeous chocolate art -- that shoe was beautiful!

It's wine tastin' time! - Photos by Wasabi Prime
What about the wine??! At events like this, you want to enjoy yourself, but be smart -- designate a driver, get a cab, etc. I was definitely in sip/toss mode, just sampling lightly to get a sense of a wine, and that's it, with many food breaks between sips. I didn't get through everything, but that wasn't the goal to try it ALL, I just found a few interesting selections that caught my tastebuds' attention. Obelisco Estate's Cabernet Rosé was charming and summery, with its strawberry-forward flavor -- not that wine should be a genderized drink, but I do know many ladies who aren't big red wine drinkers, who would love this wine. Gård Vintners' Grand Klasse Rosé was also a very lovely rosé, more dry, not as berry-forward as Obelisco's, and so very sippable on a summer day. I had a bit of the appropriately named Opulento, an indulgent Port-style dessert wine from Brian Carter Cellars, which would be perfect with chocolates (or habanero caramels). I really enjoyed William Church Winery's Viognier -- I like their Malbec and Syrah, but their Viognier was particularly bright and palate-refreshing. Piccola was pouring tastes of their 100% Petite Verdot, which was a complex, spiced treat. Along those spicy notes, Page Cellars previewed their Winginit (wingin' it, get it???), a peppery, bold Mourvedre that was very memorable, as was the label art -- gorgeous vintage airplane illustration, flying over a city. This certainly wasn't everything I sampled -- it was such a whirlwind night and these were just the ones that stuck in my memory, but don't take it as a list to follow, use it as inspiration to get out there and do some wine-adventuring of your own!

Wine and chocolate at Chocolate Box in Seattle - Photos by Wasabi Prime
Mother Nature must have gotten a hold of herself, as the weather returned to somewhat sunny days by midweek. I headed into downtown Seattle and did a quick swing-by of the Chocolate Box, a specialty chocolate and wine shop right by Pike Place Market in downtown Seattle. I remember sampling some of Gusto Chocolates' fireweed honey dark chocolate, at Taste Washington and coming to the conclusion that this is pretty much crack mixed with the magic Walt cooked up in that mobile home on Breaking Bad, it's so good. Gusto is a line of chocolates from Forte Chocolates, and when I was chatting with some of the folks at Chocolate Box, they mentioned how the Gusto rosemary caramels with orange, and sea salt honey caramels just won big at the Academy of Chocolate awards -- GO SEATTLE. I was curious about their white chocolate, so along with my must-have fireweed honey dark chocolate bar, I nabbed some of their white chocolate flavors.White chocolate isn't normally my thing, but who knows, Gusto might make me a new devotee?

Market sights and scents in full bloom - Photos by Wasabi Prime
I had set up an afternoon Market-walk meetup with friend Dana, Seattle's own street sartorialist coolhunter, capturing some amazing and stylish people walking through our city on her simply mah-velous blog, It's My Darlin'. Her photography is also regularly featured in the Seattle Times, so check it out! We are kindred-spirit browsers, stopping to admire everything from art, to the endless delectables at DeLaurenti, to the numerous vendors throughout Pike Place Market. Despite some weird weather hovering over Capitol Hill, the Market was nothing but blue skies!

Nature's bounty, by the pound - Photo by Wasabi Prime
We browsed the Market Like a Boss and picked up some fresh goodies like ginormous medjool dates, small-batch grenadine and wild ramps. Sounds like a Portlandia episode in the making, doesn't it? I was tempted to get fresh fiddleheads, especially after that salad from Barking Frog, but when I saw the fresh wild ramps, I had to have them. These particular bundles weren't local -- the vendor was saying these were brought in, but that the foragers would be bringing local ramps in from the surrounding islands soon. Ramps just look like big ol' weeds with leafy tops, but they smell strongly of garlic/onion, as that's exactly what they are -- wild onions. They start coming up around the springtime, thriving in rainy, chilled conditions, and have been a commonly foraged food since the 17th century. They've gotten Cool Kid status, as a lot of chefs and food trendsetters have zoned-in on its flavorful benefits. Its popularity has caused a problem for some areas where ramps are being over-harvested (like in parts of Canada and the Appalachian region) and conservation efforts have had to be "ramped" up (har-har) to ensure the survival of the species. Their growth is slow and the conditions are specific, so only a few regions are able to cultivate wild ramps, but it sounds like Washington is trying to expand on growing these delicacies so that there's more to go around.

Colorful goodies at Pike Place Market - Photos by Wasabi Prime
So if you're lucky to get your grubby mitts on some wild ramps -- what the heck do you do with 'em? It's like garlic, so that's the flavor it will add to a dish, but given its rare, seasonal status, you want it to shine in a dish, versus just being mixed into obscurity. You can eat the ramp from leafy top to red/white stalk bottom, you just chop off the little rooty/bulb end, like a scallion -- very little goes to waste. They're wonderful with eggs, quickly seared, slightly caramelized and served whole, from leaf to stalk. I cleaned the two bunches of ramps I bought, removed the nubby root/bulb end and separated the white stalks from the leafy tops. I used this quick-pickle recipe from Serious Eats on the stalks, with some minor variations on my end, adding more red pepper flakes for kick and less salt. The two jars of ramp stalks are pickling away in the fridge and while I haven't fully determined their fate, I think they would be lovely as a topping for a burger or enjoyed with some charcuterie -- anything rich and fatty to go with the sharpness of the garlicky brine.

Ramps two ways -- greens with a pasta carbonara and stalks in a quick-pickle brine - Photos by Wasabi Prime
I had a pile of fresh, garlic-pungent ramp greens to play with, so I wilted them in with a quick pasta carbonara. So in a way, I had them with eggs, it just included pasta, cheese and bacon as well. Winning. It was a nicely uncomplicated dish to enjoy the fresh flavor of the ramp greens, since the pickled stalks would be for another day. While you can pickle the whole thing, it's nice to stretch out the specialness of such a rare ingredient.

The end of a perfect spring day - Photo by Wasabi Prime
I rarely say anything is perfect, but a sunny day of springtime wandering through Pike Place Market (followed by fresh oysters and wine on a waterfront deck, to boot) was pretty perfection-worthy. And a big food and wine party to get the spring season in gear? Not a bad way to usher in an albeit finicky season and almost forgive Mother Nature for that insane Saturday afternoon hailstorm that almost ran my car into a ditch. You're moody as hell, Springtime, but we'll put up with you for gorgeous sunsets like these.

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