Stir-fry blog

Seattle Weekly’s Voracious Tasting: passing judgment

Tom Monahan (food judge, aspiring foodie and substitute blogger)

I’m not a food judge; I just play one in local food competitions. Seriously, my qualifications as a food judge are limited to the meals I know how to prepare with my lovely wife, the food I eat at the many wonderful restaurants in and around Seattle and the knowledge I’ve obtained from PCC.

I realize that I’m more knowledgeable than many on the subjects of whole grains and seasonal produce, but to judge a food competition pitting Chef Jason Stratton from Spinasse against Chef Seth Caswell from emmer&rye, all of which to be hosted by Seattle icon Tom Douglas…really!?!?!  That’s a life list item for many.

Of course, I jumped at the honor when it was bestowed upon me last week to judge this chef showdown at the Seattle Weekly’s Voracious Tasting & Food Awards on Wednesday, April 14.  Over the weekend, my nerves continued to grow as the event neared. They weren’t squelched either when I entered the event venue, Seattle’s historic Paramount Theatre. 

I check in for my judging duties backstage to be greeted by the chefs, Tom Douglas and my fellow judges, which included Seattle Weekly food critic, Jason Sheehan and the Weekly’s food writer, Julien Perry. That was the first of many “pinch me” moments.

Sensing the moment, Tom Douglas orders up some cocktails for the judges and chefs.  You know, to ease our nerves before we’re greeted by a 1,000 fellow foodies sipping cocktails and noshing on delicious morsels from some of Seattle’s most prestigious and innovative restaurants and bars. 

The competition is announced by a calm and cool Douglas and we hit the stage to assume our positions as judges. The moment is overwhelming, but my fears subside greatly due to a contingent of PCC staff cheering me on from the audience.

That’s me, second from the left, with the “deer in the headlights” smile on my face.

Douglas announces the secret ingredient for the competition…it’s LAMB! Specifically the wonderful Umpqua Valley Lamb carried in our stores. The chefs scramble for ingredients with their assistants and start preparations on their first set of dishes. The action is fast and furious and I get a sense of where this first dish is heading.

All the while, Douglas is chatting it up with the chefs and proceeds to the judges to get our thoughts on the showdown. Pinch me moment number two, Tom Douglas asking me about food. Never in my wildest dreams!

Back to the showdown, the first dishes are near completion and I can get a glance at what Chef Jason is working on. There were no hot burners, nothing being roasted in an oven…we’re going raw for this first dish. In fact, both chefs prepared raw lamb. I believe Chef Jason’s was carpaccio and Chef Seth’s was tartare. Raw lamb was a first for me, and I must say probably not the last. It’s really all about the preparation.


Chef Jason Stratton (on the left) competing in the chef showdown, with Tom Douglas watching his every move.

The competition continues and I’m starting to get used this judge gig. I have two tremendous chefs preparing outrageous dishes with beautiful ingredients (all provided by PCC), a culinary legend asking for my opinion on said dishes and servers asking me every couple of minutes if I need anything. Whose life did I steal!?!?

Ultimately, the four dishes prepared by each chef are delivered, tasted and judged. I sensed that the competition would be close, but not this close. The styles of each chef differed, providing for an easy contrast, but they each did such a great job with their presentation, creativity and taste.

Easing in to my role as judge, my thought provoking image is displayed on the big screen at the Paramount Theatre.

The votes were tallied and Douglas announced that Chef Seth Caswell won with 296 points to Chef Jason’s 289, out of a possible 400 points. 7 points separated these two chefs, but in all honesty nothing really separates them. They are each part of an amazing food movement happening locally, regionally and nationally. These chefs are celebrating food.

I know that this was likely a once in the lifetime experience and I didn’t take that for granted. I loved every minute of it! And if there’s a moral to my tale, it’s get out and eat!

More about: Umpqua Valley Lamb

Ch-ch-ch chia seeds, for energy. Find them in our bulk spices section.

To those of you who stuck with a New Year's resolution to exercise more, I salute you. As for me, I fell off the wagon for a time in February, feeling too tired and groggy to run or swim. "Dude, you should totally eat chia seeds," piped up my friend Katie, who's training for her second triathlon, fueled by an ever-improving diet.

Chia seeds? Yes. They're a nutty-tasting whole grain that resembles poppy seeds, rich in Omega-3 fatty acids and fiber, and also feature calcium, magnesium and other vital nutrients. I tried them sprinkled atop yogurt for a week. I felt energized. When we ran Green Lake, I found I had the energy to want to go around again. A month later and I'm solidly back on the wagon. It's a good place to be.

Nope, that's not black pepper on my yogurt, but chia seeds.

Turns out, chia has been cultivated since ancient times in Central America and long revered as a high-energy food. They're mentioned as a superfood in "Born to Run", a popular book about the origins of running and superathletes. Celebrity doctors Weil and Oz both sing chia's praises.

While many friends credit chia seeds for an extra energy boost, I'm inclined to think the result is part seed, part the foods you eat in order to enjoy the seeds -- yogurt with fruit, fresh-fruit smoothies, salads, oatmeal, fiber-rich pumpkin muffins, etc. We each can use more whole grains, fiber and produce in our diet, especially those of us who need the stamina to keep running, dancing, chasing toddlers, lifting, rowing, gardening, climbing.

Find them in our bulk spice section. And tell us: What other foods leave you energized? I've become a huge fan of roasted sweet potatoes for many of the same benefits.

More about: bulk, fiber, omega-3

Sweater drive: Guess how many you gave?

A beautiful day in the neighborhood, indeed. It's 68 degrees at Seatac Airport, the warmest March 24 on record since 1960. And, the final numbers are in from the Misters Rogers Neighborhood Sweater Drive. Are you ready? 

Together, PCC shoppers and KCTS viewers donated more than 5,000 sweaters, coats and other cozy items in January and February. That translates into 125 large bags of adult clothing donated to Northwest Center, 26 large bags of children's clothing donated to Wellspring Family Services and three large bags of shoes donated to Virgina Mason's "Shoes for Haiti" Drive. Wow!

In case you've ever wondered what 5,000 items of clothing looks like. Imagine all that warmth!

On a sunny day like today, it's easy to take warmth for granted. Thank you for sharing yours!

More about: community

Local Chefs for Local Farms

March checklist

  • Meet James Beard Award-winning Seattle Chef Maria Hines
  • Savor a four-course, prix fixe dinner with wine pairing and hors d'oeuvres at Tilth, a fabulous, certified-organic restaurant
  • Help preserve Washington's remaining organic farmland

Would you believe you can tackle all three in one fell swoop? Join Chef Hines, local farmers and board members from the PCC Farmland Trust at Local Chefs for Local Farms, a dinner event/fundraiser/all-around great time that's taking place 5:30 p.m. Tuesday, March 16 at Tilth. Tickets are $150 per person (plus tax and tip) with all proceeds going to support PCC Farmland Trust's Future Farm Fund to purchase organic agricultural conservation easements. Call 206-633-0801 to reserve your spot.

The Farmland Trust has preserved four farms so far, including this beaut, Ames Creek in Carnation:

Help them make it five!

More about: PCC Farmland Trust

Get it now: fresh, wild Alaskan halibut

I know what I'll be enjoying for dinner this week. And probably the next few weeks!

Many of us grew up with the food we desired available regardless of the season. Strawberries in December? You bet.

But over the years, it's been a pleasure to discover how wonderful fruit, vegetables, seafood, and other favorites taste at the peak of their season. And right now, moist, decadent halibut is a star attraction.

In honor of the fresh-off-the-boat catch, some cooking inspiration from our newly revamped Recipe Database. I definitely can vouch for this delicious halibut recipe created by my co-worker, Roxanne. Easy to prepare, a great use for those tender young asparagus shoots coming into our stores, and oh-so satisfying.

More about: halibut, sustainable seafood

Registration now open for Kids Cooking Camps

Can you believe it's officially spring in a few weeks? These trees sure can.

Blossoms, buds and fresh, green unfurling leaves mean summer -- and our wonderful PCC Cooks Kids Cooking Camp -- is not that far away.

Our Cooks team has opened registration early this year to help busy parents start planning. Go Around the World in Five Days by cooking the cuisine of a variety of nations:  Spanish tapas; Vietnamese soup and sandwiches; Italian fresh pasta; Indian dal and roti; and Middle Eastern falafel with pita. Mmm mmm good! 

Click here to plan one great-tasting summer!

Fresh from the PCC deli

Sometimes, a picture really does say a thousand words.

Little Nathan, savoring mac and cheese

after a recent trip to the PCC Redmond deli.

More about: PCC Deli, Redmond

Chop chop: Knife skills class with PCC Cooks

For years, my mom cringed whenever I sliced up an apple. Until I took Seppo Farrey's knife skills class last week, I had no idea why.

Now, I realize it's the crazy sawing method I'd somehow developed away from her watchful eye. While I'd protest that I was just fine at cutting fruit, inside I knew I needed help (and outside, my nicked fingertips agreed). That's how I found myself staring down a bowl of fresh produce at the PCC Greenlake classroom, chef's knife in hand, armed and dangerous.

This produce soon will become our prey.

Knife Skills is just one of the hundreds of PCC Cooks classes taught by skilled professionals each year. As Seppo launched into his talk, I wondered if I would leave able to chop as quickly as a chef, rat-a-tat-tatting across a cutting board. While I'm not quite that fast, I now can chop with speed, confidence and precision. I also can't stop. Each day I relish any chance to chop, slice, smash and dice. Who knew becoming my own sous chef could be so satisfying? Now I need to get my husband into a class!

Seppo demonstrates how to cut apart a whole chicken. Now I get it!

Lots of reading material to take home. One point that stuck: Don't try to catch a falling knife. It rarely ends well.

Now we're cookin'! Glad to finally know how to properly produce matchsticks and julienne.

Seppo and his team wisely put our handiwork to good use. We enjoyed a steamy Lemon Cilantro Chicken Soup that night.

Who knew there were so many ways to slice a potato? 

I left class knowing how to properly grip a knife, how to protect my other hand, how to cut a variety of shapes, how best to handle different types of produce, how to care for my cutting boards and knives and so on, knowledge that will serve me (and my dinnertable) well for a lifetime.

Many people tell me they dread cooking, not because of the time at the oven or stove, but because of the prepwork. By all means, get yourself to a knife class if you feel your skills could use improvement (we'll have several in our next round of PCC Cooks classes; registration opens March 29!). Now I go out of my way to find recipes with abundant produce, simply because it means more fun at the cutting board with my favorite knife, making meals that both taste and look delicious.



More about: PCC Cooks

Bob's Red Mill: A feel-good story in time for the weekend

It's nice to hear in this day and age when a company does right by their employees. Check out this story of Bob Moore, the namesake and founder of Bob's Red Mill in Milwaukie, Ore., and the extraordinarily generous gift he gave his employees on his 81st birthday.

I buy Bob's Red Mill flours and cornmeal at PCC because I like them (they're also very popular with our gluten-free customers!). Now, I also buy them knowing that I'm supporting a company that puts its people -- the heart of any successful business or organization -- first.

More about: gluten free

Books: Most popular titles at PCC

We're voracious readers here at PCC. Many a bookshelf in our office is as full as this one, with tomes about cooking, eating, alternative medicine, gardening, hiking, agriculture and much more.

I'm always fascinated to know which books we carry are most popular with our shoppers. Without further ado, our top-sellers through last week of the 200-plus titles we carry in our stores.

Top 10 sellers overall

1. "Feeding the Whole Family" by Cynthia Lair.

2. "B is for Beer" by Tom Robbins.

3. "The Backyard Homstead" by Carleen Madigan.

4. "Veganomicon: The Ultimate Vegan Cookbook" by Isa Chandra Moskowitz and Terry Hope Romero.

5."Flying Apron's Gluten-Free and Vegan Baking Book" by Jennifer Katzinger, Kathryn Barnard and Shauna James Ahern.

6. "Washington Local and Seasonal Cookbook" by Becky Selengut, Jen Sayers Bajger, James Darcy and Jennifer Ogle.

7. "Maritime Northwest Garden Guide" by Carl Elliott and Rob Peterson.

8. "Larry Gets Lost in Seattle" by John Skewes.

9. "Juice Lady's Guide to Juicing for Health" by Cherie Calbom.

10. "Guide to Gardening in the Pacific Northwest" by Carol W. Hall and Norman E. Hall.

The top cookbook: "Feeding the Whole Family" by Cynthia Lair.

The top health book: "Juicing, Fasting and Detoxing for Life" by Cherie Calbom and John Calbom

The top herb and garden book: "The Backyard Homestead" by Carleen Madigan.

The top children's book: "Larry Gets Lost in Seattle" by John Skewes.

(Selection varies by store. Call your local PCC to check on supply).

Which have you read? What do you recommend and why? What's your favorite book from PCC? As for me, my sister-in-law was very happy to receive "Vegan Soul Kitchen" by Bryant Terry for Christmas. I'm thinking of getting the yoga fans in my life "Sleeping Bag Yoga" by Erin Widman. I'm also intrigued by "The Dutch Oven Cookbook" by Sharon Kramis and Julie Kramis-Hearne. I'm amazed by how much that one pot can cook, even delicious sticky rice! I learned that at Shojin Japanese Cooking class with PCC Cooks last week. Can't wait to try it.


More about: books, Cookus Interruptus, gifts, PCC Cooks

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