Grant McWilliams

Food

Food Blog

Food is the only art you can eat.

Do you have any more charcole smookers?

This was on Craigslist today. I started chuckling at how well taken care of this "smooker" is but the text is funny too. I'm not sure what a charcole smooker is but it sure looks like they've taken great care of it. It's not rusted ALL THE WAY through like the others.

 

smoker/charcole grill - $75 (olympia)


Date: 2010-09-04, 3:11PM PDT



well taken care of char-griller smooker if interested call me at [number deleted] obo thanks

 


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Blackberry Syrup is going to be the death of me

I often hear people talk about Le Terroir when used to denote the special characteristics that geography bestows upon particular varieties of wine, coffee and tea. People wanting to grow grapes in less idealistic locations (not France or Italy) dispute this claim. I'm here to say that I believe in Le Terroir - at least in part. Every year I make Blackberry Syrup and Blackberry jam. I have along the east and north sides of my house Blackberry bushes the size of trees. The bushes in the north produce amazing, knock it out of the park, rocket to the moon, get the big O, fabulous fruit that in turn makes the most amazing syrup you've ever had. Those of you who know me know that I love exclamation food and this syrup is all I've said it is. The most common response to a spoonful is Oh My God! Really, I get that more than anything.

The berries on the east side of the house produce roughly the same thing short a few explicatives. The syrup they produce is for the record still better than anything you'll ever get in a bottle from the store and that includes so called "gourmet" products. The reason that both syrups made from berries on the side and back are great is that I only pick the absolute ripest berries which are very low in pectin and very high in natural sugar. I combine these with a bit more cane sugar and a tad of water and then only boil them just long enough for the fruit to break down and give me their juice. In this case the longer you cook the fruit the more you break down the flavor. However, the two locations give me different qualities of fruit. Even the birds will pick the bushes in the back clean before moving to those in the side of the house. What's the difference? I don't know to be honest. The ones in the back are at the bottom of a slope so maybe they get more water, they're further from the street so maybe less pollution, they get sun all day instead of half day, they're let run wild as opposed to me having to hack away on the side bushes on occasion... It's my opinion though that my fireplace has something to do with it. I have a gas fireplace on the east side and the pilot light is on, that means it's burning gas which then exits the right side of the building. I wonder if there's just enough gas in the air that the plants aren't as healthy.. Plants are funny that way.

No matter, this syrup might as well be crack (and should be illegal). I've taken to making homemade ice cream every other night just so I have an excuse to put syrup on it. I have to confess that I've gone down to the fridge in the middle of the night just to get a spoonful of syrup by itself. ;-) This morning I got out my Waring Pro 300 Belgian Waffle maker (father's day present) and made perfectly light and crispy waffles using Carbon's Golden Malted waffle mix just like what you get at many popular business hotels. And of course, I drizzled them with Blackberry Syrup. This syrup resembles liquid rubies is so beautiful that you hardly want to eat it until you get a whiff then a taste and you're all done.

 

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What a deal

I was in Grocery Outlet the other day and saw something interesting. On most of their signs they'll have their price and then the price for that item in other stores to let you know how much you save. Common sense would tell you that if Grocery Outlets price was higher then the competition they'd just leave that off the sign since their entire purpose for existing is to sell junk. Apparently that little business strategy didn't make it into the weekly employee meeting as you can see by the photo I took.

I do have one suggestion for Grocery Outlet however... Could you give me a directions the next time some other store has a better deal?

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My Todo list - Mexican

I have a short list of Mexican restaurants that can actually pull off any sort of edible mole in the Seattle area and currently that list has 3 items in it - La Carta de Oaxaca, Frida's and Todo Mexico. However, in Mexico just about every restaurant makes decent mole, some better than others but most good. In America you're lucky to have one in 20 that can make it well enough to get past the gag reflex so we have a great many people who say they don't like mole. Which of course throws me into the usual rage and I climb up on my soapbox to explain with my magaphone what they had wasn't mole to which they stick their fingers in their ears and say na na na until I'm done. I've had this conversation with a lot of food items, the most common being duck, lamb and escargot. Mole only misses the top 3 out of a lack of awareness of it's existance by the general populus. So back to my list of perveyors of good mole. You don't have to question me on the first - just go to Yelp and type in La Carta de Oaxaca which currently has 386 reviews which must be some sort of limit because it's had that for years. La Carta de Oaxaca makes the only great Mole Negro in the city. Frida's is less well known but makes a decent Mole Poblano. The last and the focus of this article is Todo Mexico in Lynnwood WA.

 

 

Todo should be on everyone's todo list. I'm sure it's pronounced "to-doe" and not "to do" but I digress.The very interesting think about Todo is that it has a section of the menu with foods from different regions of Mexico. If you've been to Mexico the odds that you've seen anything but sand is small so you may not realize that Mexico resembles Europe in it's cultural diversity. Pre-hispanic Mesoamerica had many competing civilizations with different languages and cultures. The Spanish were only partially successful in integrating these people so food in Veracruz doesn't resemble food in Mexico City which doesn't resemble food in Oaxaca and so on (and none of it resembles Mexican food where I live). There are many dishes you can only get in a certain region (chiles en nogado for example) so travelling to different regions is a must if you want to experience Mexican cuisine. The other interesting thing that has been pointed out to me recently is that the French created their wonderful style of cuisine about 150 years ago, the Italians a bit more than that and so on. The food that you eat in Mexico spans to the time of the Romans. You're eating 2000 years of history with Mexican food. You can't say that with any European culture. Italian tomato sauce, polenta, Belgian chocolate, Irish potatoes, squash filled ravioli, Hungarian paprika and so on all came from ingredients from Mexico so those countries could not have been making those foods for very long.

This section of the Todo Mexico menu is very interesting because you can get Yukatan style tacos el Pastor, Mole from Puebla and so on. You can take a little journey around Mexico in one restaurant which is genius in my opinion as long as the quality is good which it is. Back to the Mole. Todo makes a mole poblano that isn't too sweet and has a noticeable touch of cinnamon to it and I have to say that I'm always suprised at how well I like it. Having been to Oaxaca several times I've had quite a lot of Mole and considering the bad track record of U.S. based Mexican restaurants ability to make Mole I usually try to avoid it but I never regret ordering Mole Poblano from Todo. I highly recommend it.

 

 

The other plate I enjoy is the Todo Special (the name may be different but close, my memory fails me) that includes a very neat idea, take strips of chicken and wrap them in bacon and grill them. They also take prawns and wrap them in bacon and grill them. I think anything wrapped in bacon and grilled would be great. My general rule is that bacon added to anything usually improves it. Not sure I'm sold on baconaise though, hmm.

The other thing I'd like to mention is that the day when you have warm cozy restaurants seems to have faded. Restaurants these days seem to want high ceilings, little directional lights 12 inches above the table and jazz playing which gets drowned out by noisy conversations because of the horrible acoustics of 14 ft ceilings . The waiter will come by with his hair spiked and those ridiculous tiny square black rimmed glasses. Everyone wants to be trendy, nobody cares about comfort. Todo bucks that trend and has booths everywhere and even a fireplace. Look at the photo above and tell me that doesn't look like a wonderful place to bring your family and just sit back, relax, eat great food and spend time with those who you care about in front of the fire. It doesn't matter what you eat because the feel of the place is worth the visit. I wish for a return to this style of restaurant but I don't think it's going to happen anytime soon. Even La Carta de Oaxaca leans heavily toward the trendy side with black and white photos adorning the walls and enough noise to make you feel like you're at a football game. Not saying you shouldn't go to La Carta de Oaxaca as you should but I yearn for the Todo style of restaurant more often then not and Todo delivers. The yelp reviews for Todo are a bit confusing, there are many people saying they really like it but only gave it 3 stars. There are also several people saying the service is slow. . Service slow in a Mexican restaurant? If you want fast go to Taco Bell. Mexico is about siestas and kicking back. The environment is good, the fire is roaring, have a margarita and relax, the waiter will be a round in a bit.

 

 

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Canada is more French so it makes sense..

Considering the grocery store product signs are in both English and French and we hear so much French being spoken it sort of makes sense that we'd be able to find a French restaurant in Vancouver. I know that Quebec is not France but still it seems that the odds are greater than in Seattle where people still think the French hate them. So in our wandering the streets of Vancouver we kept our eyes peeled for French restaurants and found one that looked good - The Hermitage on Robson. Hermitage's chef (and owner)  trained for eight years in France and also trained as a Pastry Chef and a Butcher prior to serving as the private chef to the King Leopold of Belgium. He has worked at some of the finest 3 star Michelin restaurants in Europe and then went on to be the executive chef at some of the best hotels in Europe, the United States, and Canada. In 1985 Hervé Martin came to Vancouver to open the Pan Pacific Hotel after which he decided to open his own restaurant - the Hermitage. We chose this restaurant not based on their self-promotion but rather in the same way that we choose any French restaurant - on their variety of duck offerings! The clincher was the seared foie gras, caramelized pear on toasted buttered brioche which by the way was fabulous. My Mom had froi gras for the very first time and now understands our fascination with it. The duck's psychological well being be damned, it's good.

I also ate as my main dish duck breast with pears and roasted potatoes millefeuille in a pear William reduction. They asked me if I wanted it cooked to medium (which would ruin it) so I responded how I do in France - "I want it pink". They didn't do too bad but it was still cooked a bit too much and only showed a bit of pink. Duck breast is best when the whole interior of the meat is pink without a shade of gray. The sauce was good and the potatoes millefeuille were excellent. The asparagus stayed on my plate though.

Piper had mussels in a wine sauce which she didn't like at first because of the flavor of the wine. In Paris they're basically straight up with butter and lemon. No need to get fancy when the basic food is fine by itself.

My mother had duck confit raviolis with a Madeira sauce which was oddly different but very nice nonetheless. I'm not sure she was sold on them but I liked it as did Natalya.

The service was excellent an our waiter was from Paris so he had an authentic Parisen accent as apposed to the harsher Quebecian accent of the other waiters. The environment was also very nice and even though we were drastically underdressed we were treated well and nobody batted an eyelash at my Babylon 5 t-shirt. My one complaint is this sort of food costs a great deal more to eat here than in Paris. Our meal for 5 (with two eating appetizers in place of their main dish) it cost us $175. If our party of 5 were to eat here once a month for a year it would cost enough over eating at our favorite restaurant in Paris to buy one round trip ticket to France. I think overall each dish cost about 50% more than it would in Paris (factoring in current exchange rate). Should French food cost more here than in France? I don't think so but it does. But then Mexican costs more than in Mexico, Italian costs more than in Italy and just about every other type costs more than in it's home country.

A word of advice, if you plan on going to The Hermitage you should have the Froie Gras and you can eat off the Appetizers menu because they're nice sized plates. If you want to drop the $30 then order the Duck Breasts and make sure they understand to cook it as they would in France - pink everywhere.

 

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Time for Persian

It's been a while for a food posting (OK, more than a while) but I've been busy. I've not started cooking again yet but that's coming up possibly on Wednesday when we cook Chicken Marsala, Rosemarry Roasted Potatoes and Baguette slices fried in Olive Oil then spread with Truffle infused Chevre. For now you'll just need to be OK with photos of meals others have prepared for us.

We recently went to Vancouver B.C. which has a more cosmopoliton feel than Seattle and hunted down a Persian restaurant that had Fesenjan - one of our all time favorite dishes. Fesenjan which I've talked about before is a decadant dish that not everyone likes of braised meat in a walnut and pomegranet sauce. It's a bit tart and sweet at the same time but definately unforgettable if you have it. The first time I had Korscht-e fesenjan I loved it but the problem is finding a decent rendition of it. In Seattle we only have a couple of Persian joints and neither make a truly great fesenjan. Darchin in downtown Vancouver doesn't do too bad a job. It's a bit tart and a little pasty so I think they needed to let the walnuts sweat a bit more but overall very nice.

 

 

For dessert I had a classic Persian dessert called Faloodeh which is a sorbet made with very fine vermicelli noodles frozen with corn starch, rose water, lime juice sometimes pistachios. I gave my mother a small taste and her face squinched up and she almost spit it out. I later asked her why and she couldn't say, she just didn't like the taste. Natalya really liked it and helped me finish it off.

To mee the flavor was mostly that of lime juice and rose water. The noodles are there for texture. I didn't think the flavor was overpowering but of course after the fesenjan anything seems mild.

 

 

 

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Ancho Chile and Honey glazed country style ribs

I've been on a bit of a chile kick lately. You can blame Mexico I think since it started the minute I got back. In the past few weeks I've stuffed Bells, make sweet pepper cream sauce, stuffed poblanos for Chiles en Nagoda and yesterday made Chile and tomato rice to stuff my chimichangas with. Today I continued that trend and made an Ancho (my favorite) and Anaheim marinade spiced with canela, cloves, Mexican oregano and garlic. Half was spread over the country style ribs and let marinade overnight. The second half was laced with mint honey and used to baste the ribs as they braized. I paired this up with bright orange mashed sweet potatoes. I laid the ribs on a bed of lettuce and served them. I personally felt the flavor was very very good and I'll be playing with this some more in the future. My kids however weren't that thrilled. I'm perplexed as to why and they couldn't tell me either. I'm sold on using rehydrated chiles blended with garlic and apple cider vinager as a marinade. I'm not sure why I didn't do this earlier.

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Ancho Chile and Honey glazed country style ribs

I've been on a bit of a chile kick lately. You can blame Mexico I think since it started the minute I got back. In the past few weeks I've stuffed Bells, make sweet pepper cream sauce, stuffed poblanos for Chiles en Nagoda and yesterday made Chile and tomato rice to stuff my chimichangas with. Today I continued that trend and made an Ancho (my favorite) and Anaheim marinade spiced with canela, cloves, Mexican oregano and garlic. Half was spread over the country style ribs and let marinade overnight. The second half was laced with mint honey and used to baste the ribs as they braized. I paired this up with bright orange mashed sweet potatoes. I laid the ribs on a bed of lettuce and served them. I personally felt the flavor was very very good and I'll be playing with this some more in the future. My kids however weren't that thrilled. I'm perplexed as to why and they couldn't tell me either. I'm sold on using rehydrated chiles blended with garlic and apple cider vinager as a marinade. I'm not sure why I didn't do this earlier.

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Deep fried Chimichanga in rich heavy cream sauce

A friend gave me a bunch of cream which was starting to clump up so I decided to use it for something besides ice cream. Afterall you can only eat so much ice cream. My idea came from a couple of restaurants - one is a in Richland WA called La Isla Bonita that makes a seafood chimichanga with cream sauce poured over it that I've always loved. I just recently discovered a local Mexican joint near Edmonds Community College in Lynwood called Taquiera La Raza that also had a chimichanga with cream sauce and although it's not as wonderful as La Isla Bonita's it's very nice.

So here was my idea, make some burritos with tomato and chile rice, black beans and seared pork, then drop them in the fryer until golden brown and cover with a steaming heavy cream/mexican sour cream (Creme Fresca) mix topped with a sprinkling of sweet paprika, cumin and brown sugar. Here's the result. Natalya has never had something like this and she's my toughest critic so when she took a bite and nodded her head I knew that I'd done well. She's since gone back and cooked several more. I'm playing with chile and honey glazed pork spare ribs tonight and I think that may be a nicer meat to stuff the burritos with next time. Stay tuned, I'm sure there'll be an update.

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Sweet Pepper tortellini and prosciutto wrapped melon

Tonight I decided not to do anything complex. I was at Safeway and they had prosciutto for half price (about $11/lb) so I picked up some and of course that led to getting some cantelope which in turn led to getting some red bell peppers and fresh cheese tortellini which were also on sale. Actually all of it was. You can't have these other things without some sort of bread so a baguette went in the bag as well. The checkout lady pointed at the prosciutto and asked me what it was. I said "prosciutto" and she said she could read it but what was it, was it salmon? It was all I could do but blink. No it's ham I said which was followed by her asking me what I do with it. I wrap it around melons along with Italian sweet basil and drizzle it with olive oil as an appetizer. I thought she was going to melt. She seemed to think it sounded very good. It's so easy I'm not sure why other people don't do things like this. A baby could do it!

I roasted the red bell peppers under the broiler and then tossed them in a ziplock bag to steam. A mixture of fresh garlic and butter slopped on to the bagguette set it up nicely. The fresh tortellini went in a pot of heavily salted water and two shallots and a couple of cloves of garlic went in a frypan with olive oil until translucent. A can of Campbell's condensed tomato soup and an additional can of milk was then mixed in along with the pealed red bell peppers and the whole mess was thrown in the blender and pureed. Back in the pan I added a very healthy handful of basil and a dab of olive oil for good measure. As I said earlier the melon was pealed and cut in thin slices then wrapped with prosciutto, basil and drizzled with olive oil. For a quick meal it turned out really well.

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