I’m taking some cooking classes while I’m here in Seattle, and yesterday was the first, called ‘Lunch & Learn: Appetizers’ at Diane’s Market Kitchen, a lovely little shop on Post Avenue only a couple blocks from the water and really close to the market. There was only one other student beside me, and when we arrived we were greeted by Diane and some lovely rustic blueberry tarts. She quickly told us that if something in the kitchen doesn’t turn out as beautifully as planned, just smack ‘rustic’ on its name and it’ll be even better than planned. I think her system works, because the tarts were way good. Wayy good. She put some sour cherry pie filling in the bottom of the tars so the blueberry juices wouldn’t soak through and make the bottom fall out, and you could just taste the cherry enough. Plus a little dollop of crème fraîche on top….Mmmm. After the dessert-first tarts, we had fruit and nut crostini from the Anjou Bakery in Cashmere, WA with Beecher’s Honey Blank Slate cheese and a little of Diane’s own chili crabapple jelly on top. Again, so good! The crostini wasn’t rock-like, as it can sometimes be. And that honey cheese….oh my.

It’s a really soft cheese that I can totally see myself eating plain, straight out of the container, with the fridge door open. And I liked the crabapple jam too, I’m always a fan of the spicy. After that we had the app classic; prosciutto and melon. But while Diane was preparing those, we had some of these interesting, bright green olives called ‘castelvetrano olives.’ They tasted almost like black olives, but much less salty and with much denser flesh. Anyway, I don’t really love olives but I liked these. After the prosciutto and melon we moved on to the next app of the day; stuffed zucchini. I’d never had these before, and..ok. This is odd, but I have a weird prejudice against stuffed things. I just picture frozen and reheated mushroom caps stuffed with unidentifiable vegetable matter. Not good. But these changed my view of the stuffed food community completely. First Diane chopped the zucchini into about 1 and a half inch slices, then hollowed out little bowls in the tops, then put all the mini zucchini bowls in a steamer. For the stuffing she used Merguez, a spicy chorizo-ish Beef/Lamb sausage from Uli’s in the Pike Place Market. After frying the meat with some feta for a minute or two, she scooped it into the steamed zucchini bowls and popped them in the oven. While they baked, we had my favorite app of the day, sirloin and endive. After topping the sirloin with salt she seared it in this smoky grape seed oil from AprèsVin, which has a higher smoke point than other oils apparently, so you can cook the steak at a higher temperature and get really lovely browning on the outside while still keeping it rare. After preparing and slicing the steak, she put little scoopfuls of Chukar Cherry Barbeque sauce in the endive leaves then a slice of steak in each. Maybe my favorite app, although the stuffed zucchini was definitely a contender. The next dish was a modified caprese with little halved tomatoes and cheese curds rather than mozzarella cheese. She didn’t use any olive oil, just this really good balsamic, and even though I’m a big olive olive oil fan, it really didn’t need it. As for the basil, she showed us how to chiffonade it, rather than just chop it. You roll the leaves into a tight little roll then slice the roll up- and it turns out really neat looking. And in perfect little portions too. The next dish was in the Italian vein as well, pasta with simple tomato sauce. Diane had leftover homemade pasta, and oh my goodness…so good. The last dish was something I had actually never had before, figs and goat cheese. I’ve had fig jams and such, but never a just plain fig. The texture was a little odd (thick-ish skin and kind of too seedy on the inside) but the flavor was nice and they won me over eventually. The goat cheeses were really good as well, unlike any goat cheeses I’ve ever had. One was about the texture of cheddar or something like that, and very mild, while the other was quite hard and a bit stronger.

All of the apps were delicious, and I really liked Diane’s cooking philosophy. She explained that things that grow in the same region and come to season at the same time will taste good together, because they naturally pair. She also spoke a lot about the importance of the quality of your basic ingredients, stressing that a dish can never be any better than your worst ingredient. I loved how fresh everything in her kitchen was, and the way she seemed to personally know all her vendors and really understand the background of everything she cooked. (And her kitchen was so pretty!) I left lusting for fresh produce and food with a story, and went and wandered around the market for a while (which will get it’s own post!)

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The Kitchen.

A staple.

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