Sunday, December 7, 2008

Watercress Soup & Still MORE Seattle Bakeries

The break from blogging was a little longer than I anticipated. But, really, after Thanksgiving (it’s possible that I went back for thirds on stuffing. I love stuffing.), there’s hardly room to think about a wafer-thin mint, much less croissants, quiches and other pastry items with a high butterfat index.

Also, the Seattle School District has been interfering with my plans (and many other parents with kids in the Seattle public schools) for… everything. For many years, the district has run a budget deficit, all the while spending loads of money on facilities upgrades while not actually improving academics for the students, and it is now faced with a massive financial hole that it will be very, very painful to dig out of. Now the board plans to close a number of schools, and move some programs (my boy’s is amongst them). Although clearly some schools do need to be closed, the board's proposed closures and program changes seem less about managing their finances in a way that allows them to serve Seattle students as best the district can while staying in budget and much, much more about political maneuvering, power, control and appearances. Obviously, the superintendent is not getting a Christmas card from me this year. I’m sure she'll be crushed.

Anyway. There are many, many more Seattle bakeries to talk about. Many. It’s amazing that Seattleites aren’t all waddling around in layers of buttery suet, and yet… well, when the pastries often cost $3 and up apiece, the cost alone discourages overindulgence.

Although… a pricey pastry is still far more economical than impractical, insanely priced shoes. That’s flawed logic, but I’m not getting paid to think this through clearly.

With all that's going on, it seems like a good time to go to a bakery for a little edible comfort. It is also a good time for soup, like the not-promising-looking but quite tasty watercress soup pictured above. I’ve had my share of dud watercress soups; this one, which (since we just finished reading Despereaux for the second time), I sold to Curly by calling it Despereaux soup, causing her to slurp it up with gusto. Cook, in Despereaux, has a point when she observes that sometimes, nothing does a body good like soup. Again, I’m not planning on sharing any with the Superintendent. And again, I’m sure she’ll be super-duper crushed.

But before discussing soup any further, the bakeries:

Le Panier: 1902 Pike Place. in the Market. Table-vulturing is brought to an art here on weekend mornings, when people hunting for an empty chair and counter spot to have their pain au chocolat (quite respectably done here, as are the croissants, if not as good as a couple of other places in town) hopefully circle those who have a perch. I am very fond of their chocolate éclairs, which have a firm-ish filling. Their savory feuilletes are delicious. Their sandwiches are terrific; I highly recommend the Toulonaise (or, as Curly has long called it, the tuna-way). Curly and my boy used to love their macarons (made with… almond flour). Their friands (sort of like madeleines, only with, er, the kiss of death of ground almonds) are the perfect afternoon cookie-cake. Only… I am rarely there without Curly, so it’s been a loooong time since I’ve had one. I love this bakery. It’s crowded, it’s highly touristed, it’s not necessarily best-in-show at any single thing, but the food is very good, and despite the table-vulturing involved (although we usually are there before 8am, which means we get to watch the table vultures rather than be the table vultures), it’s a nice place for a pre-errands at the market breakfast.

Chocolopolis. 1527 Queen Anne Ave N. Relatively new, it is not, actually, a bakery. Still, it seems wrong not to include anywhere with so much chocolate (and by that logic, I should have Fran’s and Theo chocolate on here, but... don’t). They have almost every kind of fancy chocolate you want, including super-pricey and quite tasty chips. And, for anyone who has ever lived in the Mid-Atlantic, they have the best classed-up chocolate covered pretzel. Ever. And for those of you making disgusted faces? Don’t knock it till you try it.
Bella Dolce. 2711 East Madison. This is a very, very small spot on Madison, just up the street from the much larger Essential Baking Company. They have a small selection of sweets, as well as a small selection of savory items, and a maybe three very small tables. It is not a big bakery, but it’s friendly. Their cookies often have nuts, and they usually only have one or two cookie options at a time, but everything we’ve had from there that’s nut-free has been really good. I particularly like their chocolate cake with a hint-of-coconut frosting, and the kids love it in its cupcake incarnation. Curly is also fond of their take on red velvet.

Macrina. Locations in Belltown, SODO and on Queen Anne. Their brown butter shortbread is fantastic. I’m not crazy about sugar cookies, or shortbread (except when it’s fancily referred to as pate sucree and is in a tart), but when Curly insisted I have a nibble of hers some time ago, I almost ate whole cookie. So good. Not unlike Le Panier, Macrina is not necessarily best in show at any one thing, but is an inviting bakery with delicious… stuff. Their coffee, as many have complained, does kind of suck, but it’s caffeinated, and although it’s nice when a bakery has killer coffee, I’m there because of their excellence in the baked good events. Their breads are really strong (and carried by numerous Seattle-area grocers)- it’s just a very good bakery. We don’t get there often, but we all really enjoy it when we do.

Le Fournil. 3230 Eastlake Ave E. Their picture-perfect dessert sweets are the biggest draw here. Mille feiulles, éclairs, a pear and chocolate tart, beautiful strawberry tarts in season (often, alas, with pistachios, which sounds scrumptious in theory, but in practice doesn’t come home with us). Their baguette is merely so-so. Their croissants and pain au chocolat are good… but not as good as Le Panier, Sweet & Savory, Columbia City Bakery, Bakery Nouveau or Café Besalu. Their éclairs, though, I will make a special trip for. I have a feeling that Le Panier’s éclairs (which I will also make a special trip for) are more classic, but Le Fournil’s have a deep, pudding quality to the filling, and they don’t stint on the dark frosting, either, so there is the lovely contrast of the creamy filling, the gooey frosting and the firm, not-at-all sweet pate choux (that’s what that stuff is, right?). They have a nice breakfast-y apple turnover that I get a yen for now and then, too.

So there will be more bakeries up… soon. Between the holidays the Seattle school board-sponsored fun (which promises to drag on for a bit), I took a longer blogging break than I meant to.

And lastly (I know. I can go on for-ev-uh), watercress soup.

Cook, in Despereaux, makes a soup with garlic, watercress, and chicken broth that is restorative, calming, happiness inducing and quite tasty. It fortifies our hero for his quest, it instills in the villain (who we gave an Italian accent, given his name) a longing for a life he cannot have, and it provides comfort and calm to other characters. This soup is not all that. However, if you want to make a good, but not good-looking watercress soup, just right for a bit of comfort on a winter evening, take:

3 tablespoons butter, go generously instead of stintingly. The butter flavor infuses the soup in a good way.

3 bunches watercress, washed

3-4 medium potatoes (mine weighed in at about 1.75 lbs at the grocery store. My kids adore weighing crap at the grocery store, so I often come home having been told, if not remembering, the weight of every piece of produce), peeled and chopped

4 cups chicken broth

1 clove garlic, peeled and sliced thinly-ish

1 cup or more water

2 cups milk

1. Melt the butter in a soup pan. Add the potatoes. Cook until some of the potatoes start to get all golden. Mine stubbornly attempted to glue themselves to the bottom of the pan, but the golden flavor does come through in the soup in the end.

2. While you get the potatoes going, fill another pot with water, bring to a boil, and briefly blanch the watercress, draining it and squeezing it out a bit (after rinsing it in cold water). I blanch because, well, it seems like every cooked recipe with watercress involves blanching, in hopes of preventing an army green soup. It could be a big blanching hoax. I don't know. The color of my soup could kindly be described as celadon, but certain grim green seems inevitable in the color.

3. Once the potatoes, which (of course) you've been stirring regularly, are getting a bit gold on some of the sides (it's not particularly important for them to golden up evenly), add the watercress, garlic, water and chicken broth. Bring to a boil, and then simmer for 10-20 minutes.

4. Add the milk. Bring to a boil, and then simmer for 10-20 minutes.

5. Blend the soup. You might want to let it cool first, so that the hot soup doesn't explode the lid off the blend and hurl itself all over you and your kitchen. I bet an immersion blender sounds like a really good idea right now.

6. Reheat if necessary and salt to taste.


joe@italyville said...

I have to say I love the name Chocolopolis and also love the tiny sign on Bella Dolce. great stuff... haven't been to Seattle in a while but love it.

Meg said...

Joe- Isn't it a great name? It's a nice place, too. It's hard not to worry for them in this economic climate, though.
The sign is Macrina's; when I posted it I worried that it wasn't clear, and I guess it wasn't. Bella Dolce is a cute place, but I didn't have any pictures right then.
It's an easy place to like, Seattle, even now, with short, gray days and cold rain.

Bee said...

That's a good grinchy green for Xmas season.

I made a lovely celery (with Cashel Blue cheese) soup this weekend -- but it wasn't as healthy as your watercress soup. Not as green, either.

I refuse to comment on the bakeries because I feel pouty that there isn't a decent bakery within 30 miles of my house.

Meg said...

Bee- I think I'd be a little pouty with no good bakery within 30 miles. While I like to bake, I also like the option to have delicious baked goods without having to make them myself.

Celery and blue cheese sounds totally cool as a soup.