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This Seattle restaurant’s menu is diverse and fresh

Ever-changing menu at Blind Pig Bistro makes it a worthy restaurant to revisit

Three words describe the Blind Pig Bistro in Seattle’s Eastlake neighborhood: seasonal, local and creative. This small restaurant seating less than 30 people is sandwiched between a Subway and teriyaki restaurant in a tiny strip mall at 2238 Eastlake Ave. E. But don’t let the size of the restaurant be the judge of what this restaurant can cook.

The small kitchen at the Blind Pig Bistro prepares a 12-courses tasting menu for visitors. A large blackboard on the wall is a menu that serves as a cheat sheet for what your palate will be tasting throughout the night. Come hungry and pace yourself at this casual restaurant that takes no reservations. It’s best to plan this dining excursion with a group of friends (a total of 4 works best) so that you can order the tasting menu that’s shared at the table for a total of $130-$170 depending on the fresh menu. For about $40 per person, you can try numerous dishes that will wow your taste buds.

Chef Charles Walpole modifies the menu every couple of days, and overhauls it about once a week focusing on local ingredients and fresh seasonal products coming from farmers in the area. Through the International Food Bloggers Conference and Urbanspoon, several food bloggers from across the country, included myself dined at the Blind Pig Bistro. Bloggers said the food was fresh, provocative and well-balanced. The favorite dishes were the steak with charred eggplant, duck and zucchini salad.

If you need to nibble, experience their happy hour of small bites of the chef’s desire for $5 and wine by the glass for the same price. Recent reviews of the restaurant include:

The Seattle Times

Eater Seattle

Seattle Met

Cheers

Christine

Blind Pig Bistro on Urbanspoon

Restaurant brings French flair to Bainbridge Island

Three fun ways to enjoy Bainbridge Island for the day through food, walks and a museum

If eating solo, sit near the kitchen where you can watch Chef Greg Atkinson and his team use fresh ingredients for their dishes. Photo by Christine Willmsen

If eating solo, sit near the kitchen where you can watch Chef Greg Atkinson and his team use fresh ingredients for their dishes. Photo by Christine Willmsen

Restaurant Marché, a bistro with a French-influenced menu, is reason enough to visit Bainbridge Island. Owner and Chef Greg Atkinson consistently prepares great food with a focus on local ingredients. But there’s more to see and do on this island.

With ferries leaving almost every hour from Seattle, Bainbridge is the perfect getaway for the solo traveler – either by foot or by car.

What better excuse do you need than a fantastic restaurant, verdant gardens and a new museum to visit Bainbridge Island for the day?

If the beautiful ferry ride over to this island getaway isn’t enough nature, I recommend you take your car on the ferry and then drive to the Bloedel Reserve. The 150-acre forest is lush with gardens and ponds. If you are keenly interested in birds, don’t forget your binoculars for this stroll.

After walking the trails for a couple miles, head back to Bainbridge Island’s downtown area – Winslow Way – where shops, the new museum and a wine tasting room will keep your senses engaged.

The great attraction about Bainbridge is that you don’t need a car if you just want to wander about downtown for the day.

New Museum captures creativity of local artists

The Bainbridge Island Museum of Art, right on Winslow Way, between the ferry terminal and downtown shops, is a feast for the eyes. The museum, which opened in June, is free and features artist from the Puget Sound area.

At this point, you’ve built up an appetite and there’s no better place to curb it than Restaurant Marché.

Comfort and quality lead you to Marché

The lyonnaise salad has a perfectly cooked egg via sous vide as the centerpiece. Photo by Christine Willmsen

The lyonnaise salad has a perfectly cooked egg via sous vide as the centerpiece. Photo by Christine Willmsen

A hearty plate of duck breast with broccolini and an ancient wheat grain. Photo by Christine Willmsen

A hearty plate of duck breast with broccolini and an ancient wheat grain. Photo by Christine Willmsen

Here, Atkinson and his wife, Betsy, flow through the restaurant like it’s their second home ­– at least that’s the way guests are treated when they are greeted by the couple. Greg Atkinson worked as executive chef at Canlis for seven years and has also written several cookbooks.

At Marché, you can sit outside or inside depending on how busy the restaurant at 150 Madrone Lane is on any given night. But the best seats (about four of them) in the restaurant are near the open kitchen, where you can watch Atkinson and his team roll out dishes like grilled salmon, trout meuniére and steak.

Try the salad lyonnaise, which has thick chunks of bacon and a gooey-centered egg (cooked sous vide) on top of friseé. Marché has great cocktails, but the wine by the glass is limited.

The show-stopping dish is the Pleasant View duck cooked medium rare with a crispy, rich skin and a bing cherry sauce drizzled on top. It’s plated with Eikhorn, an ancient wheat, and broccolini.

The menu also offers small plates to nibble on like the country pate with pistachios and greens.

Just steps away is Mora Iced Creamery, where you can grab a gelato for the walk back to the ferry.

These are some of my top reasons to visit Bainbridge Island. I hope you find even more.

Cheers

Christine

Restaurant Marché on Urbanspoon

Quick tips to make your tomatoes grow

Six tips for a bumper crop of tomatoes

Dig deep hole, put an inch of compost and a sprinkle of fertilizer into the hole and then plant tomato in a warm, sunny spot.

Dig deep hole, put an inch of compost and a sprinkle of fertilizer into the hole and then plant tomato in a warm, sunny spot. Photo by Christine Willmsen

It’s time to get dirty. Yep, I said it – get in the dirt and get dirty.

Memorial Day weekend has passed and that means it’s fair game to plant a number of vegetables, some that will give you vegetables early and others in the middle of the summer. One of my favorites is the tomato.

Since I’m from the Midwest, I’m compelled to plant tomatoes. As a child I remember eating big, beefy tomatoes every day with a pinch of salt and pepper. I also recall my mom canning those juicy, plump tomatoes for winter dishes. So my goal is to relive those memories by planting my own this year. I want you to enjoy them too.

Here are six tips for healthy tomatoes that I’ve picked up over the years and from a recent class at Swanson’s Nursery:

1. If you are limited for space, grow tomatoes in large containers on your deck or patio. If the only person enjoying the tomatoes is you, then I suggest you buy two plants that are different types.

2. Choose starters from your local nursery or store at this point, seeds won’t develop in time. Pick the sunniest and warmest spot in your yard. Tomatoes need 6-8 hours of light per day.

3. Right before planting, pinch off the lowest two levels of leaves. This will encourage a strong stalk to support the heavy tomatoes.

4. Dig a deep hole, put an inch of compost in and sprinkle some fertilizer in the hole before planting it. Cover the root and plant with soil almost up to the first leaf.

5. Plant 18 inches apart and put a cage around each plant. If plants are too close to each other, they can get diseases due to wet foliage.

6. Water consistently, making sure soil doesn’t dry out. Inconsistent watering can lead to blossom-end rot, a brown leathery spot found on the bottom of fruit.

I planted tomato seeds indoors for the first time and had great success. Photo by Christine Willmsen

I planted tomato seeds indoors for the first time and had great success. Photo by Christine Willmsen

My desire for fresh tomatoes started two months ago when I planted two types of tomato seeds indoors – heirloom tomatoes and yellow cherry tomatoes. I used old plastic egg holders to start my seeds and placed them on the sunny kitchen windowsill.

After they got two strong leaves on them, I transplanted them into a small pot for several weeks before I daringly planted them in the ground this past weekend. I’m crossing my fingers that we’ll all have a hot, sunny summer, which means great tomatoes. Look for recipes from me in two months when we all are plucking them from our gardens.

Cheers

Christine

A live cooking competition at a Seattle restaurant – an opportunity I can’t pass up

This home cook is ready to play at Kitchen Circus

When I heard the news that I made it as a contestant for Kitchen Circus, a live cooking competition at the renowned Rover’s restaurant in Seattle, I jumped up and down with excitement like a little girl. Then I got nervous.

If you ask my friends what I’m passionate about they will tell you food and journalism. While being a hard-news reporter almost pays the bills, food fills my heart. I’m always chatting about food, creating new recipes, reading about food and, of course, eating it any chance I can get. That’s also part of the reason why I started this blog The Solo Cook.

So when I heard about the Kitchen Circus contest, I thought why not take it to the next level – right?

Why not challenge myself by stepping into a professional kitchen and cooking an incredible dish live and on camera – oh and for 45 people. So with nudges and encouragement from my friends, I submitted an application and a home video that talks about myself and shows me cooking an Italian fish dish.

Live Audition Nerves

To my surprise I made the first cut. But then I faced a live audition filmed at the restaurant, and I had no idea what to expect. Occasionally, I appear on local and national television stations, speaking about investigative stories I’ve written, but being on camera for this was different. I wondered what Chef Thierry Rautureau was going to ask me and how he would test me.

At the live audition, Chef Thierry Rautureau asked me questions about why I should compete in Kitchen Circus.

At the live audition, I met other potential contestants who equally loved cooking and I felt more at ease. As the camera rolled, the affable Rautureau peppered me with hard questions. On top of that – at the same time – I also had to separate an egg’s yolk and white, and later mince a shallot. I honestly don’t recall how I answered some of the questions. But soon the camera seemed to fade and there I was just chopping and chatting with Rautureau.

I must have impressed the chef and the crew because now I’m one of nine contestants who are up for the ultimate challenge. I will cook an appetizer, main entrée or dessert for at least 45 people; competing against two other home cooks during a Nov. 20 dinner at Rover’s. You can count on me channeling my competitive and creative streaks that night. Until then I will be obsessed with food and sharing that journey.

Cheers

Christine

Great things can grow from Foodportunity

What a bountiful garden this year. These are just a few of the vegetables that grew in my garden as I started my blog The Solo Cook. Photo by Christine Willmsen

Opportunities can grow just like a garden

Potatoes are easy to grow and there is always a surprise underneath. Photo by Christine Willmsen

Three types of potatoes – butter, rose and purple – grew in my garden. Photo by Christine Willmsen

This summer I had just started a food blog called The Solo Cook, which focused on cooking, gardening and savoring food from a single person’s perspective. But I didn’t know how to get the word out. The Solo Cook was just underway and I had no idea how to meet and network with chefs, writers and food industry peeps.

A couple friends suggested I go to a Foodportunity event in June. I quickly printed some business cards and walked into the event with a smile. While I was nervous about explaining my passion for food to a room full of people, I realized it was a true opportunity for me. After seeing a couple familiar faces and sipping a glass of wine, I warmed up and just started chatting with people. In fact, the night wasn’t even over and I had run out of business cards.

This single girl froze some of the peas to later cook during the wet winter months. Photo by Christine Willmsen

I met some amazing, talented people and absorbed suggestions and ideas from chefs. One of those chefs was Thierry Rautureau, owner of Rover’s and Luc. He had a sincere interest in my blog and offered some valuable advice. It was this connection at Foodportunity that gave me the confidence to apply for a live cooking competition. Not only did I have the guts to apply for the cooking competition at Rover’s, but I must have made an impression because now I’m one of nine contestants in Kitchen Circus. This home cook will tackle a professional kitchen on Nov. 20 and prepare an amuse bouche and one course for at least 45 people.

My beets started to appear in the garden mid-summer. Photo by Christine Willmsen

I look back at my experience with Foodportunity just four months ago, and believe it gave me the courage to step outside my comfort zone of being a hard news journalist and dip my pen into the creative, fun world of writing about food. My photos here are of my garden and some of the wonderful food it produced. I’m still new to this arena, and most people don’t know about me or my blog yet, but everyone has to start somewhere.

It’s October and I’m pulling my beets out of the ground. I chop the green tops and throw them into soups. Photo by Christine Willmsen

I’m attending the Foodportunity event on Oct. 22 at Palace Ballroom, and I don’t plan to run out of business cards this time. Follow Foodportunity on twitter #foodprt and @foodportunityse.

Cheers

Christine

Compound butter adds a boost of flavor

Butter it up Babe

Compound butter incorporates herbs like parsley, thyme and oregano.

Who doesn’t love butter? It’s fantastic to cook with and tastes great on just about anything.  But guess what – you can jazz it up by making compound butter. This is great for single people who don’t know what to do with the extra herbs from the store and those who want to add something quick and rich to a dish.

You only need a couple of herbs to make compound butter.

A compound butter, also known as buerre composé in French, basically incorporates herbs or other ingredients to flavor it. Compound butter saves a single person the hassle of always finding herbs to cut and add to a dish. This time-saving method allows you to have flavor-packed butter ready anytime.  I hate it when I buy expensive herbs from the store for one recipe, and then they go to waste days later because I never did anything with them. Next time you have extra parsley or any other herb, make compound butter.

Hot in the Kitchen

Finely chop two tablespoons of fresh herbs like parsley, thyme and oregano.

Making a compound butter is easy. Just let a stick of butter, 8 tablespoons, soften by taking it out of the refrigerator. In the meantime, chop two tablespoons fresh herbs like parsley, thyme, chives or oregano and any combination of them. Be creative by adding other spices and herbs to your compound butter.

Mash herbs into soften butter with a fork.

Mix or mash the herbs and butter together with a spatula or fork. Use wax paper or plastic wrap to mold the butter into a cylinder, covering the butter and twisting the ends.

Wrap butter in wax paper or plastic wrap and store in the refrigerator.

The butter can last for months in the freezer and weeks in the refrigerator. Anytime you want to cook with it, just pull it out of the refrigerator and slice a couple pads off.

I love a dab of compound butter on my steak or mixed in with garden vegetables. The compound butter I added to my green beans made them glisten and taste rich.

The dinner below uses only one pan and is perfect for one. I sautéed green beans with garlic and topped it with compound butter. After I removed the beans from the pan, I cooked tilapia (you could use any white fish) for about three minutes until translucent.

Next week I’ll highlight a Hot Spot restaurant for singles.

Cheers

Christine

Sautéed green beans with melted compound butter is a great side to white fish like tilapia.

Tapas bar in Seattle’s Ballard neighborhood is a hit for singles

Ocho – a Hot Solo Spot

This deviled egg delight combines salmon roe, pickled onion, tomato dust and dill.

Turn to Ocho in Seattle’s Ballard neighborhood, if you want a restaurant that has small bites, made just for one person with an artistic impression.  As The Solo Cook, I look for places that single people can enjoy, whether it’s the vibe of the place or the menu that is eclectic and perfect for one. I’ll share my secret hot solo spots with you and I’ll also discover new places along the way.

At Ocho they throw great cocktails behind the bar and create bite-size menu items that are loaded with flavors from Spain.

This small tapas bar at 2325 NW Market St. is hopping, but there’s usually an empty seat at the bar. I also like to people-watch so I sit in the outdoor area, just in front, where I’m entertained by the foot, bike and car traffic, zooming by the table.

The Solo Cook enjoys the San Miguel cocktail at Ocho, a tapas bar in Seattle.

What’s fantastic about Ocho and other tapas bars is that you get to try several menu items, without getting full like you would if you ordered a large entrée.

Visually, these tapas tempt the eyes. I craved deviled eggs as a child, so when I saw Ocho’s grown-up version, I couldn’t wait to sink my teeth into the creamy egg. Their Huevo del Diablo for just $2.50 is an explosion of flavors in the mouth with salmon roe, dill, fried capers, pickled onion and tomato dust.

Another great menu item at $1.75 is the Banderilla de Boqueron, which combines skewered anchovy, red pepper, deep-fried artichoke and aioli.

“I wanted to convince people to try anchovies because in Spain they’re eaten like candy,” said Ocho owner and manager Zach Harjo.

While chatting with Harjo, I discovered his inspiration for the restaurant.

This tapas dish at Ocho will make you an anchovy and artichoke lover.

After graduating with several art degrees from University of Washington in 2003, Harjo backpacked through several regions of Spain. He discovered a vibrant nightlife with people standing at bars, nibbling food and having cocktails.

“I wanted to bring the bar nightlife of Spain to here,” he said about opening Ocho in 2008.  “The two or three dollar items inspired me in Spain and I love the flavors.”

To quench your thirst, I recommend you sip on the herbaceous and refreshing San Miguel drink with gin, St. Germain, rhubarb bitters and a touch of lemon.

Another gin drink called El Picador, changes colors as you imbibe. Because the speared beet bleeds into the drink, it turns red much like a Spanish bull bleeding in the ring, Harjo said. Drinks cost $8 and tapas about $2-9.

Cheers

Christine

My twitter account has changed, now follow me @thesolocook

Ocho on Urbanspoon

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