Grant McWilliams

Food Blog

Food Blog

Food is the only art you can eat.

What flavors go with what other flavors?

I've been asked for this many times from budding cooks. How do you know that pears go with walnuts or browned butter goes with sage. Why does honey go with duck so well and how do I know that mint will work well with lamb? Someone made a graphic over at Information is Beautiful that shows this. They don't link up ALL the great connections (the aforementioned lamb and mint aren't on there and they don't pair duck with orange which is classic) but it's a good start. Enjoy.

 

 

http://infobeautiful2.s3.amazonaws.com/taste_buds.png

 

 

Here's a pre-view. To see the entire thing click the link above.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Champion VFNT tomatoes are very productive

My tomatoes are coming along nicely but I'm afraid their days are numbered. It's October 1st (already?) and the average highs for the week have been in the 60s which won't last much longer. I planted Brandywine (Heirloom), Champion VFNT and Better Boy tomato plants in the spring. As you may recall from a previous post the Brandywine plants came from eastern WA where it's very hot and dry and took some time to get over their shock concerning our mid 70 degree summers. The Better Boy is supposed to be a great tomato for Seattle weather and initially started producing fruit about 3 weeks earlier than any other but overall they haven't done a whole lot. The ripening of the fruit hasn't gone well and even now I still don't have ONE good tomato from that plant even though it still has a lot of green fruit on it. Some are turning orange now so we'll see. The one plant that's turned in a great performance is the Champion VFNT which came from behind and has kicked out more ripe fruit than all other plants combined (I have 6 total). It continues to grow and ripen fruit even now but I cut them off due to energy wasted on trying to grow fruit that will never have a chance to ripen only keeps the fruit that does from finishing.

Over the winter I'll be experimenting with aeroponics and I've decided that at the rate the Champion makes fruit ONE plant will produce more than I will ever need. All three of my varieties are Indeterminate Tomatoes meaning they continue to vine and make fruit indefinitely as opposed to having one large crop at a time. To me the idea was that I'd rather have a continuous supply of tomatoes than a pile I can't eat fast enough then nothing.  I'm still interested in the Brandywine but it's clear that it's not an outside tomato plant for the Pacific Northwest.

So my plans are to create a home brew aerogarden in the garage this winter and grow one Champion and maybe one Brandywine until I get it all figured out. I can always find a use for tomatoes (ketchup, pasta sauce, tomato juice, tomato paste, BBQ sauce etc...) and sometimes it takes a great deal of tomatoes to make the product. If nothing else I can give them away because tomatoes in the middle of winter run about $2.99/lb. I don't think I'll have a problem getting rid of them. Stay tuned as I'll be posting about the aeroponics later. I'll also be growing all my herbs in it as well.

 

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Fresh Tortillas hot off the Comal

I've had decent luck with homemade tortillas but sometimes the mixing, rolling and cooking process can get a bit long. Corn tortillas seem to roll out better than flour and don't have the stretch factor. Mission however, has just made my life better by introducing fresh rolled flour tortillas so I picked up a couple of packages in various sizes to see if they were worth it. There was a $1 off coupon on each package so I ended up getting about 90 oz of tortillas for $3.60. I figured even if they turn out horrible I'm only out a couple of bucks.

The tortillas look like rolled flattened pasta dough (yellow and a bit translucent) and take only 30-45 seconds to cook. If you cook them on a lower temperature and longer they end up tasting just like the cooked tortillas from the bag however, I like the fact that you now how control over how they're cooked. I'll be playing with deep frying them in their raw state as well.

You do have to be careful with them before they're cooked as they can break easily. Also they need to be refrigerated but I'm testing them in the freezer to see how well they keep. I'll update this after I have results.

Conclusion: Outside of the cost break (because of the coupons) I don't see a huge advantage to uncooked tortillas since they cook up to taste just like the cooked ones. I do see more waste because if you don't have that pan at the right temperature you'll burn a few. However, you do have more flexibility in HOW you want them cooked and they may possibly keep better than cooked ones but that remains to be seen.

What I'd really like to see is an uncooked real mexican tortilla made with lard. I know it's passe to want lard in your food but they taste great and most people don't keep lard around because it's too much work to render (or they keep that hydrogenated lard type stuff which isn't any good).

 

 

 

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Chimichangas and Macaroni Salad?

Since I just got done thrashing on Fusion To Go and their mixing of Bahn mi, Macaroni Salad and Tacos I thought I'd see how the other half lived and made Chimichangas and Macaroni Salad for dinner. Actually to be honest, the macaroni will get eaten tomorrow night but still...

 

The Macaroni Salad will be added to the recipes section later as I get it just right. The Chimichanga's are a remake of the Pork Chimichangas at La Raza in Lynnwood where they pour heavy cream over them. You can't say this is authentic since Chimichangas come from Arizona. You can't even say that their close cousin the un-deep-fried version is authentic since they come from Texas. However, it is a nice meal and there's something to be said for having a grease soaked burrito smothered in cream. As a matter of fact 9 out of 10 cardiologists approve (of you helping pay for their new villa).

I usually use heavy cream (36-40%) with a touch of Mexican sour cream mixed in to thicken itup with a spinkling of paprika and cilantro leaves but I only had half and half and sweetened condensed milk so that's what I played with. It didn't work very well to be honest. As soon as I have heavy cream again I'll make more. The pork is your basic shoulder cooked either as carnitas or sliced into small strips and grilled. I prefer the latter with a touch of lime juice. Combined with black beans and Mexican rice (ancho chiles, tomatoes, garlic and cilantro in medium grained rice) it makes a decent meal. Again, not very Mexican but worth the trouble in my book.

 

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Fusion Food to the max

I understand that as time goes on people take ideas from other areas. The fact that rice is very popular in South America is a great example, it grows well there and is cheap so it satisfies the need. Imagining Mexican food without rice is difficult. I also understand that if I'm in Seattle and I want to have a French restaurant I'm probably going to cook Salmon because it's readily available and the locals like it. Sometimes you can get food from one culture in another because people request it. An example of this is the amount of soy sauce you find in Thai restaurants. I've been in Thai restaurants and had someone say "what kind of Thai restaurant doesn't have soy sauce?".  That's like asking what kind of Polish restaurant doesn't have Italian food.

I was at the annual Seattle Night Market in Chinatown/ID last night and took a photo of this food truck.  Now granted, the trucks name was Fusion on the Run but I think we're stretching the term a bit when you have Banh Mi, Tacos and Macaroni Salad in the same truck. Reminds me of the old joke - A Vietnamese man, A Mexican and a white guy walk into a bar... Never mind.

My issue is not that you can't have different kinds of food from the same truck/restaurant but that the odds that the cooks will know and understand each different culture and be able to do a decent job is small. The only way I could see this working is that if you actually had three different accomplished chefs that decide to do what they do best and combine their efforts. I don't think this is how these things come together though. It's usually an entrepreneur trying to figure out what his customers want and providing for that.

The Blimpies Sub shop near the Everett Mall is run by people from India who make burritos. I was talking to the owners and they relayed to me that Mexicans come into the shop and tell them that they don't actually eat burritos in Mexico and yet when you go into a Mexican restaurant there they are - burritos. I rest my case.

Fusion keeps life interesting and we can be thankful for it otherwise Thai and Indian food would be bland, Italians wouldn't have red sauce, the Irish wouldn't have potatoes and the middle east wouldn't cook rice but still I wonder some times.

 

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The Tomato Chronicles

After weeks of skipping out on any sort of food related post I was in the garden today and thought I'd update people on the science of tomatoes. That's a fancy way of describing me avoiding work and staring at plants.

Since I'm trying to learn about Tomatoes I ask everyone what they grow. I'm finding out that people know as much about what they grow as what they drink (referencing wine drinkers that think red and white are varieties) which doesn't help me learn. So here's the current results of my tomato growing experiments. Keep in mind that we're talking about Seattle climate and if you live somewhere else all bets are off.

I grew two indeterminate hybrid varieties (Bettery Boy and Champion) and one indeterminate heirloom (Brandywine). Indeterminate just means that they'll vine forever and keep producing fruit throughout the growing season instead of one batch like a determinate tomato plant. The Hybrids have been bred with certain traits. The Better Boy is a VFN and the Champion a VFNT. This means they're resistan to certain diseases. The key is as follows.

 

V - Verticillium Wilt

F - Fusarium Wilt

FF - Fusarium, Races 1 & 2

N - Nematodes

T - Tobacco Mosaic Virus

A - Alternaria Stem Canker

St - Stemphylium Gray Leaf Spot

 

Going into this I had two tomatoes in mind - Brandywine and Black Russians. I chose them of course based on flavor, not practicallity. I gave up on finding the latter and picked up 4 Brandywine plants in eastern Washington. They were a little shocked and surprised at the change in weather and did nothing for about a month. The Better Boy was chosen because it's suposed to fruit quickly and I wanted *something for my effort if the others failed. The Champion was a good compromise and is resistant to quite a lot (VFNT).

 

I was told that indeterminate tomatoes like being pruned and I have to agree. Pruning is everything. They respond to pruning as well as my grapes do. Early on I thought my Better Boy was going to be the only plant with fruit on it and even now it's the only one with red fruit. However, it seems to be very sensitive to water on it's leaves (rain) and has been fighting off a cold. The Champion however, did nothing but make leaves forever and then one day it exploded. The Brandywine thinks it has all year to make fruit although it has at least started if very late.

Here is the results so far:

 

  • Bettery Boy: 13 tomatoes
  • Champion VFNT: 26 tomatoes
  • Brandywine: 2 tomatoes
My one Champion is producing more fruit than my 4 Brandywines and one Better Boy combined. To be fair though when I planted the Brandywines my grapes were asleep. Now they've consumed half the house and are shading two of the plants for most of the day. The third Brandywine is being shaded by the Champion and the fourth is the one with the fruit on it.
 
The yield so far from the Champion is great. The jury is still out on flavor. They may all taste like cardboard once they're ripe, we'll see.
 
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Rack for pork spare ribs

There are rib racks that do a great job with baby back/loin back ribs. In a pinch they may even work with St. Louis style spare ribs but fail miserably when they attempt to hold up a full rack of pork spare ribs. While digging around in the garage looking for a solution I found a wire basket I bought to grill vegetables in. Inverted this did nicely to solve my problem. I laid down one rack of pork spare ribs and one rack of beef ribs then the basket and draped a second rack of pork spare ribs over the basket. This allowed plenty of smoke travel above and below all three racks. It was fairly easy to rotate the meat as well since I just pulled out the basket with the ribs on it,  rotated the bottom ribs and then put the basket in 180's opposite how it came out. The only negative to this setup was the door thermometer which was too long keeping the door from closeing. I popped it out and things went fine after that but I didn't know how hot the smoke chamber was.

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Pink is the new Red

 

Grocery outlet gives me a lot of material to talk about. This is a product I saw there recently - Cheese Ravioli with Creamy Pink Sauce. If you love Red sauce you have to try this! What's the difference between red sauce and pink sauce you ask? Pink Sauce is a lot like Red Sauce but with more White! There's nothing quite like a good Creamy Pink Sauce that's for sure. Don't be tempted by Green Sauce, Blue Sauce, White Sauce or Yellow Sauce. Only settle for the best - Pink Sauce. Oh and keep it all natural if you've got a moment. I was tempted by All Unnatural Pink Sauce once and boy was I sorry. You owe it to yourself to just keep on looking if it's not 100% All Natural Pink Sauce.

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Grocery Outlet, you crack me up.

I swear I could have a blog just covering Grocery Outlet's  products. I'd have to carry a camera around and take pictures of all the crazy things in their stores. Wait, I already do that.

So what's happened this week is that Grocery Outlet has a killer sale on SPAM. That's right, hard to resist isn't it? Not only is this an interest for The Man, The Myth, The Legend's cost conscious SPAM eating readers (who admit it) but also those health conscious penny pinching, tight wad, SPAM eating readers too since it has 25% less salt! Please hold your applause until I'm done, thanks!. If my math is correct this means that it probably weighs about 25% less now too. There's been no word on which 25% of salt has been removed though. How much money will you save if you run by Grocery Outlet on the way home to pick up a can of Montanan's New York steak? About $5 a pound! That deal is too good to be true for sure. Actually you may be wondering how it's possible to even give a $5 discount on a one pound can of SPAM.

 

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In the path of the Moghuls

One of the most fascinating migrations in history for food buffs happened in about 1400 (besides the seasonal migration of water buffalo on the Masai Mara, if you could just sneak a tranquilizer gun and a barrel smoker out there when nobody was looking) when the Muhgals went from modern day Turkey, through Iran, Afghanistan and Pakistan and settled in northern India. You can actually see the path they took in restaurant menus. In Persian restaurants you have Korescht-e, Afghan you have Qorma-i and Indian you have Korma. All three are meat braised in a sauce served over rice. In Indian cuisine you often eat naan which happens to be the farsi (Persian) word for bread. There are many many other similarities. Last night we decided to explore further and went to Kabul to get a closer look. Not Kabul Afghanistan, foodtard - Kabul restaurant in the Wallingford district of Seattle. Located at 2301 N. 45th Street it's centrally located and if you're a local you've probably walked past it a million times and only noticed the mural on the wall. Like most places in Seattle it's difficult finding a place to park but once you do there's plenty more to do in this area including two movie theaters and lots of shopping.

On with Kabul which happens to be pronounced closer to "cobble" than "kabool" like you might hear a lot. Kabul is a small somewhat intimate restaurant with very pleasant ethnic staff. I mention this because it's really irritating to eat at an ethnic restaurant and the server is some white kid that can't even pronounce the dishes let alone know what's good. I didn't ask our server where he was from but he looked the part and was very knowledgable about Afghan cuisine. For the record Afghans are more white (like Persians) than brown (like Pakistani/Indian). The lady in the mural on the wall outside has green/grey eyes which may surprise some who don't know about this region.

 

Here's the Kabul Menu if you like to look up the items below.


Anyway on with the food. We ordered Bolani for an appetizer. Think of Bolani as thin sheets of pastry dough layed over scallions and potatoes dipped in a sort of tzatziki sauce and you'd be close. They were a hit as both Piper and I liked them.

For our Entrees Piper really wanted Badenjan Borani which is an eggplant topped with tomato sauce, meat and a yogurt sauce. The Kebabs came with a side of this for an extra $2 so we passed on ordering it separately. I was curious about the Kabuli Palow because of it's mention of carrots and dried berries on it. Probably my favorite rice dish anywhere is Javaher Polow (Persian Jeweled Rice) and the similarities peaked my interest. Our server though pointed out that all the Entrees came with this and indeed they did, we took home an entire to-go box of it. So in the end we ordered Qorma-i Sabzi and Bara Kebab which came with Badenjan Borani and Kabuli Palow. The former is a dish with Spinach and chunks of lamb with flavorful sauce served with Badenjan Borani. The lamb was good, the rice was good but I'm not a huge fan of spinach. I did eat some of it though but once the lamb sauce was gone and I only had spinach left I was done. No Popeye forearms for me. The Bara Kebab (the top photo in this article) is a shish kabob like you'd expect of Lamb pieces marinated in garlic, onions, coriander and lemon juice. It was tender enough to mostly eat without a knife and the flavor was really good. Piper filled up on lamb and barely had enough room for dessert. The Bara Kebab also came with Kabuli Palow and Badenjan Borani. Both meals also came with "Afghan bread" which would be similar to cooking pita until it inflates then seperating the top from the bottom into thin strips and serving them. Not a lot of substance but good for wiping up the Badenjan Borani sauce left on the plate.

So my thoughts on all three, I think the Badenjan Borani is the star of the show and let me say that I'm really not a fan of Eggplant. I eat moussaka but there's plenty of other substance in that and I'm not a fan of eggplant parmesan. However, having said that this is a very nice dish. The eggplant is sliced really thin, covered with tomato sauce, meat and the yogurt sauce. I was pleasently surprised. Piper didn't eat her half as she'd filled up on Kebab and planned on taking her Badenjan Borani home. I couldn't however, see any reason in the Badenjan Borani sitting in the fridge wasting away so I convinced her to hand it over which she did. The Kebab was very good but not "OMG I think I just had an orgasm" good. It's meat on a stick with flavoring on it. It wasn't dried out though which is common with these types of things. Also the lamb didn't taste all Wheel of Fortune like some. You know, gamey.  The Kabuli Palow was a nice filler but doesn't hold a candle to Javaher Palow. It's a flavored Basmati dish and the carrots and raisins seem like an afterthought.

Dessert posed some interesting choices - have Afghan desserts and learn something new or have Gelato because you like it. I did the former and Piper had chocolate gelato. What do Afghans eat for dessert? That depends but you can bet it will have pistachio nuts, rose water and cardamom in it. I had a choice of Firni a custard, baklava or ice cream - all three with at least two of the holy trinity in them. Since I've had Persian baklava with rose water and cardamom which I like very much and is in fact my favorite baklava I chose Firni because that's just how I am, I like living in the edge and looking death in the eye without flinching. Firni is a custard with all three of the Rose Water, Cardamom and Pistachio combination and is very good I must say. I will have to duplicate it at home.

Closing thoughts. Afghan food is as good as I expected it to be and since it's a bit of a novelty in Seattle (only 1.5 Afghan restaurants) it's also quite pricey. Dinner for two without drinks - $71. We probably would have paid half that at an Indian restaurant and 2/3 that at a Persian restaurant. Is it worth it? I think so as a once in a while sort of thing. If it were cheaper I'd eat Afghan food more often I think.

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