Grant McWilliams

111 items tagged "Food"

  • Carcasonne

    I knew I wasn't going to get a lot of site seeing in but I wanted to do two things while here - go to Carcasonne and see some prehistoric caves. Carcasonneis a small village about 40 minutes from Toulouse by train. It's also the home to the largest castle in all of Europe (maybe the world). It cost us55 Euros (roughly $80) by train which I thought was bit steep. On arriving we talked to the tourist information and they gave us a map. We were doing just fineuntil we were approached by this little old blond haired French lady who spoke a mile a minute and was all too enthusiastic to show us her town. She didn't speak a lick of English and was doing her best to help us get to the castle but she couldn't see well enough to read our map and we couldn't hear well enough to get what she was saying. She'd rattle off stories about the history followed by a quick "Do you understand?" at which point a drop of drool wouldfall from our lips and the blank look on our faces would resume. Between Natalya and I we were able to discern that she was 71 years old, had livedin Carcasonne her whole life and has a daughter in Washington but we don't know which one. Oh and the daughter watches kids. She then got out her keys and insisted on us getting in her car at which point my red flag started flapping and we declined. I'm sure she was just fine but up until this point this was going to be a great story to tell and I thought it best to keep it that way. Last think I want is a newspaper headline announcing the finding of a couple of American tourists in a canal somewhere. The one thing she did tell us though is to traverse the esplanade and take the small rue to the left. This we did which was a great tip because it led us across a foot bridge in plain view of the castle. Maybe she did have good intentions.

    Carcasonne itself is a fantasy castle built by the Cathars a long time ago. The Cathars were a group of people that thought Christianity shouldreturn to a simpler time. That and they believed in reincarnation - don't ask how that works...The Catholics declared the Cathars patrons of the Devil or something and decided to exterminate them and eventually succeeded. By the 1600s the castle had fallen into disrepair and the French border had moved south lessening the need for such a bastion. Later the village moved out of it and settled in the valley below. Now it's been restored and the village inside the walls is filled with restaurants and shops. It's actually quite nice and not crazy like Mount st. Michael. The sheer size of it is impressive. The Moors (Muslims) holed up in it when resisting against French troops which is a great story in the area. It's interesting to hear about the Muslims as being the good guys and the Christians as the aggressors. Quite the change of characters.

    We ate at the only open restaurant in the town (It was Sunday) and decided to try the other local specialty - Cassoulet. Cassoulet is a heavy white bean, sausage and duck parts dish cooked in a clay pot. I think it would grow on you but is definitely not something one would call fine food. Natalya was not impressed.

  • 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.

  • BBQ Chicken Pasta

    There's a restaurant in Kirkland WA called Cafe Veloce thats a pretty cool place with old Italian racing motorcycles placed sporadically around the restaurant and the walls plastered with racing memorabilia. It also serves some decent food including one not so Italian dish - BBQ Chicken Pasta. I skimmed over that menu item quite a few times without ordering it because I'm in an Italian restaurant and I'm pretty sure that Kansas City is nowhere near Rome so the idea of putting BBQ sauce on pasta makes little sense. However, one day I did my normal routine and asked the Waitress to just bring me her absolutely favorite thing on the menu and this is what showed up. She was spot on the money.  Considering that BBQ sauce is just tomato sauce with a little molasses added the Italians only missed it by that >< much. Had they thought a bit more about this (and a few other situations in the last 100 years, namely a couple of wars) they could have been on the winning team. 

    I suppose a shout out should got to the Mexicans since most great foods in the world require ingredients originating from that area which gained global distribution soon after their illegal immigrant problems got really bad (1521).  If it were not for them the Italians would still be eating wheat porridge three times a day and tomatoes - the Italian Love Apples would still be unknown.

    I'm not sure why people (myself included) are so against BBQ Chicken Pasta because we'll rip apart a BBQ Chicken Pizza and then when there's nothing left snort the crumbs with a straw to get our fix. I'm to the point that I don't eat pizza unless it has BBQ Chicken on it, why would I? Tomato sauce and pepperoni? Can you get more boring?

    I don't have a recipe for BBQ Chicken Pasta even though it's a favorite in our house and I make it often just because I'm not happy with it yet.  For the most part you just swap out one starch - bread for another - pasta. However, I've found the sauce to be a much pickier thing with the pasta because there's so much more of it. You don't want a smokey/tart/hot or very sweet sauce with this dish which leaves me experimenting on it. I've come to the conclusion that excessive heat is out and so is the amount of vinegar that a lot of BBQ sauces have. I lean more to a honey BBQ sauce with the dominant flavor being tomatoes and a hint of molasses. As soon as I'm satisfied I'll be uploading the recipe. 

    The other components are grilled chicken breasts, onions and sweet peppers grilled until caramelized and cilantro. I serve this with either a Penne or Farfalle noodle because both hold the sauce well. Four cups of sauce, two onions, two red bell peppers and 1 lb of chicken works well for 1 lb of pasta as a general rule.

  • BBQ Pasta! Whatever happened to that?

    This is what I get for going through old food photos. I was looking for a photo of Boniatillo - a dessert made with sweet potatoes. The further I dug the more I saw photos of dishes we used to make but  have embarrassingly forgotten.

    BBQ Chicken Pasta is one of those dishes. I don't know why I stopped making it but I did. It's been long enough that nobody remembered eating it. While I was nearly finished with the sauce and had the noodles boiling Jade asked what the noodles were for and then in response to my pointing to the sauce he asked "They're going in there? That's weird". I'm not sure why it seemed weird, maybe because he already has the categories in his mind as to what's allowed or not. The way I look at it we eat BBQ Chicken pizza so why not replace the crust with another starch, in this case noodles.

    So the pasta goes something like this. Combine a tomato flavored BBQ sauce with roasted red peppers, carmelized onions, chopped tomatoes and cilantro, add grilled chicken and toss over pasta. It's a very fresh vibrant dish that takes you a bit by surprise. The BBQ sauce you need to make because virtually everything in the store is going to either be too sweet, hot or smoky. Even a little bit of smoke will ruin this dish.

    On first bite Jade gave me two thumbs up and Natalya said she really liked it too.

  • Black Chili

    I was in Winco the other day in the Mexican foods aisle and while browsing the dried chile peppers I took a whiff of Ancho Negros. As the aroma from the Ancho Negros entered my nasal passage an odor molecule (or two) landed on a cilia and triggered a neuron which in turn sent an electrical signal to my brain. This had a cascading effect remniscant of toppling dominoes - licorice, plums, sweet chiles and maybe even a smokey sensation all entered my imagination together resulting in  one vision forming in my mind - Black Chili! I imagined there on the cold tile floor a Chili with a deep black color and a flavor to match. A mixture of black beans and dark red kidneys, Ancho Negros blackened to within an inch of their life, roasted red bell peppers, roasted garlic, roasted tomatoes and carmalized onions. Throw in the basis of a deep smoky BBQ sauce - molassis, cumin and tomato sauce and then simmer until melded. We could add ground beef but that seemed just wrong so I'd have to go with mesquite smoked brisket with a nice deep bark. All of this formed in the thought bubble over my head and I've been itching to putting it together.

     

     

    Two days ago I smoked the brisket for two hours, wrapped it in foil and finished it in the oven. Yesterday I put dark red kidneys and black beans in to soak. Today I simmered them for 2 hrs, roasted the bell peppers and tomatoes under the broiler and roasted the Jalapenos, garlic and Ancho Negros on a cast iron comal. The onions were salted and carmalized in a dutch oven and the rest was built up from there. Three hours later I had what you see here - Black Chili.

    The verdict? I think it has promise.

  • 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.

     

  • Bobbing for Gulab Jamun

    I'm off dinner duty tonight which means I'm on dessert duty. Most baked desserts take quite a while to make so I decided to drag out the fryer and make Gulab Jamun which is a popular North Indian, Pakistani, Bangladeshi, Nepali, Gujarati and Punjabi sweet dish made of a dough consisting mainly of milk solids (often including double cream and flour) in a sugar syrup flavored with cardamom seeds and rosewater or saffron.

    You can get it in Indian restaurants but we've found the quality to be all over the place. Sometimes you get it cold and other times it's warm. Once they were very clearly frozen and when they warmed them up the insides were still cold - ew! Also like many desserts there is a huge markup on Gulab Jamun in restaurants, for the price of one Gulab Jamun with maybe 2 balls of dough you can make an entire dish of them with 80 at home and in under an hour.

    The photo to the right is 3/4 of the batch we made because we are still experimenting with the proportions for our copper serving dish. We used 2c dried milk, 1c flour, about 2/3c milk and 1tsp baking soda for the dough. We'll be adjusting this down a bit because we ended up with an extra 10 that won't fit in the dish. The syrup is made with 3c sugar, 2.5c water (or less) and 2tsp cardamom powder. In the future I'll be experimenting with putting rosewater in it as well. This whole tray of Galub Jamun cost about $2.50.

  • Boniatillo - Sweet Potatoes for Dessert!

    In the U.S. desserts usually fall under the categories of cake, pie or ice cream. I'm sure there are desserts that don't belong in these categories but they're the exception, not the rule. This dessert is a breath of fresh air and not (that) bad for you either. At least it has something in it besides sugar that your body can use including Vitamin A. It may seem strange to use a vegetable for dessert but we do it all the time when we make Pumpkin Pie (or Sweet Potato pie in the south). And what better than to use a tuber that purees nicely and is already reasonably sweet.

    Boniatillo is a Latin American dessert described as a Cuban tropical sweet potato pudding. The Cuban version uses the white fleshed Boniato sweet potato. This rendition uses the more commonly available Jewel or Beauregard Sweet Potato most often mislabeled as Yam in American grocery stores. It also infuses the sugar syrup with lemon, orange and cinnamon creating a nice fruity sweet sensation along with pleasant Sweet Potato overtones. To add richness butter and egg yolks are beaten into it then whipped egg whites are fluffed and folded with the pudding to give it body. A sprinkle of cinnamon and a little cream and you have a nice tropical dessert pudding.

     Link to the Recipe: Boniatillo

  • Boniatillo and Gulab Jamun recipes up

    Now that the recipe module is operational again on my site I'm starting to upload my recipes when I get time. Tonight I added the Gulab Jamun recipe as well as the Boniatillo recipe. Both are desserts, the former Indian and the latter Cuban.

    Both recipes are done for all practical purposes so I won't be changing them. Tonight I made ghee so tomorrow if I get time I will upload the "recipe" for that as well.

    Boniatillo is a favorite dessert that we make out of sweet potatoes. It's really easy to make but because the potato needs to cook for about an hour you can't really have dessert in 5 minutes.

  • Bountiful Harvest

     

    There's one thing that I like about where I'm living - fruit grows. I have grapes in the front yard and Blackberries in the back. The grapes need to be tended too otherwise the fruit never grows but obviously because of the weed status of Blackberry bushes I have to do nothing to keep them alive. The grapes aren't quite ready yet although I did eat a few today. The Blackberries have been ripe for a couple of weeks and currently I'm pulling about 2 lbs of berries off the plants in my back yard per day(which equals 5 half pints of jam). That 2 lbs has been put to good use by becoming Jam and Syrup. So far the jam has been good and I  only say good because of it being compared in my mind with the Blackberry syrup which is wonderful. After I harvest tomorrow I'll make Blackberry jelly. Even though I've only given the Blackberry Jam a "good" rating it's heads above the stuff you get in the store.

    I love Blackberry Jam but after cooking the berries down and straining them for syrup the juice was so pretty that I can't resist making jelly too. I use no commercial pectin so the ingredients list goes something like this - Blackberries, Cane Suger. The recipe for syrup is way more complicated - Blackberries, suger, lemon juice, vanilla. I like the syrup so much that I may use the same formula to make the jelly but throw an apple core in a cheese cloth bag in there to provide the pectin. Also I picked them a bit firm so I can capitalize on the extra pectin that pre-ripe blackberries have.

    After I have enough jam and jelly to last the winter I'm going to turn my attention to Blackberry Vinaigrette and if the season lasts long enough I may try my hand at Blackberry Wine that I see at the Ballard Farmers Market. The wine will take about a year to rack and age so I'll be able to use it this time next year. Two days worth of berries will make one 750 ml bottle of wine. What I really have in mind for the wine is to make full bodied Blackberry wine reduction sauces for duck and steaks.

    One day's harvest

     

  • Bred to save the day (tic)

    Sometimes things work out and other times you just empty the fridge into a pot and give the old dial a hearty twist. When it comes up to temp you serve it (in solitude). Tonight I looked through the pantry and realized I had nearly everything I needed to make Chili which would save me a trip to the store in the rain. I threw in one slab of hamburger (I fill 1 gallon freezer bags with a 1/2 inch thick square of hamburger and freeze it, they stack like sheets of plywood), two cans of whole tomatoes pulsed in the food processor, onions, bell peppers, tons of chile powder, cumin, coriander, garlic and so on. After having it simmer for an hour I gave it a sip and I was swept back to my childhood memories of navy green kitchen cabinets and brown shag carpet. You might not see the connection quite yet so I'm going to help you out a little (this one's a freebie but you can show your gratitude by sticking a thank-you note to the invoice of a 2010 Mustang GT and send it to the usual address). The thing that both the chili and the my childhood memories have in common is their lack of taste. Oooh! you say. Try and keep up, the clocks a ticking.  So it seems my chili powder had turned to chilly powder. After much deliberation I added another quarter of a cup - call it a stimulus package if you will as it yielded the expected results - everything pretty much stayed the same. The cans of tomatoes were 99c grocery outlet random brand which seemed to be getting most of their flavor from the water they were packed in. Remind me to send off a letter to random brand to beef up the tomato flavoring in their water. Long story short - simmering it longer only lessened the cleansing nature of drinking 8 glasses water a day and boiling the hell out of it only resulted in the same amount of hell taking up a smaller amount of space. We have a rule in our house that on certain days we eat monastery style. This means that if anyone opens their big mouth they find themselves without a place to sleep. This was one of those times.

     

     

    Thankfully you can always count on the act of "breaking bread" to save the day. The term breaking bread always reminds me of that time in Paris where I thought I was smarter than the French and tried to buy two baguettes on Saturday so I could eat one on Sunday when my boulangerie was closed. Breaking bread is not entirely accurate as the bread was the one opening a can of whoopass on everything it was whacked against. Our bread had no cause to be broke as it was made of corn and fried nicely in a cast iron skillet heated until the lard (yes I said it - lard) in the bottom was smoking. Piper also broke bread in the form of bagel dough turned mini-loaves. Seems the bagel dough was very wet and difficult to work with (sounds like someone I used to know) so she stuffed it into mini dutch ovens and it cooked up nicely. Someone needs to remind her about greasing and flowering her mini-dutch ovens though as the bread and the vessle in which it was cooked were tighter than Sonny and Cher which could only be separated by using one very hard object and a great deal of energy. I'm still talking about the bread here - try to stay focused.

    Overall things worked out as they always do. Tomorrow I will attempt to save the leftovers, no pun intended.

  • Broiler + juice = welding rod

    After spending 84 days sitting in a hospital I finally have the time to post. Actually I don't but at some point I need to post something anyway so here goes. One of my first chores as soon as I arrived home was to replace the broiler element in my oven. While roasting bell peppers in December some juice splattered up on it and the element turned into a welding rod. I kid you not the intensity of the "fire" was very similar to a welding rod and even burnt along the element until it broke clear through. I ordered a new one online for about $35 and it arrived around the first of the year and sat waiting for me. The other night I wanted to have Sweet Pepper Tortellini and that requires that I have a working broiler element so I took some time to put it in. It amounted to 5 very stubborn sheet metal screws and holding a wrench at a bad angle to get it in but once done it worked wonderfully. Even if I don't broil my oven seems to use both elements because the couple of times I tried to cook pizza in the oven while the broiler element was out the bottoms ended up scorched. With this new element I was able to roast peppers with the rack about 8 inches away which increases the likelyhood that it will survive. I may however, keep an extra one in the garage for such situations as this. I'm sure I'll blow it again roasting peppers or making steam for bread at some point.

  • Butternut Squash Ravioli with Pistachio Cream

    There's a small restaurant in an Italian town very few have heard of that serves a butternut squash ravioli in pistachio cream sauce that's so good the clouds part and the angels sing – or so they say. Modena is a town sparse with foreign tourists but famous among automobile enthusiasts as the home of passionate car maker Maserati. Not only does Maserati reside here but a few miles down the road Ferrari makes some of the most beautiful machines the earth has ever seen. If that weren't enough a few miles in the opposite direction is Ferrari's arch rival and raging bull Lamborghini. That as they say is a lot of Italian Passionein one spot. Everywhere in Modena you get the feeling of vibrancy. It's in the narrow cobblestone streets lined with bright orange, yellow and pastel pink houses, the music and the food. If one strolls to Piazza Giacomo Matteotti at the heart of the city they will come upon this famous restaurant serving the aforementioned pasta that brings forth the angels – or so they say.

    I was in Venice on a very rainy day with nothing to do so I hitched a ride on a train to Moden to taste this wonderful pasta and hear the angels sing. Down the narrow streets, across the piazza and past the stacks of bistro chairs and deep read awnings I hurried only to be greeted by a hand written sign reading  - Chiuso. Closed? I've come 10,000 miles to taste his pasta! In Italy there isn't a reason more important than one living life the way they want to live it and apparently my troubles were not great enough for the owner to interrupt his life to make me some past. I left vowing to return another day.

    Two years later I was in Bologna tasting what is supposed to be the world's best Gelato and remembered that Modena wasn't that far away. Another train and a brisk walk lands me in front of the exact same restaurant on the exact same piazza looking at the exact same sign. Questa è la vita - such is life.

    Butternut Squash Ravioli in Pistachio Cream sounds lovely but unfortunately after 4 trips to Italy I've still not had the pleasure of hearing the angels in song. However, I have spent some time imagining the results and I've crafted my own version which you see here. Angels don't sing when you eat it but you might hear a slight murmur. I won't be putting up a recipe because I make it so rarely that I haven't had time to write down what I do to get the result I want. There's de-shelled, poached then de-skinned and finely ground pistachios, minced garlic in olive oil, brown sugar and cream in the right quantities and of course butternut squash ravioli. How much of each? You decide, they're your angels.

  • 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.

     

  • Cassoulette

    Ah, Cassoulette....

  • 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.

     

  • Chardonnay poached pear and frangipane tart

    What can I say? I miss Paris. In Paris (and all over France) you can get  something called the Tart au Pomme (Apple Tart) that has slices of apple fanfolded around a tart with a shiny glaze on them. Even the worst one picked up at Monoprix (think mini Fred Meyers) is very good. I didn't decide to make an Apple tart this week nor did I decide to make a pear tart until we had a BBQ and one of our guests brought a really large bottle of Chardonnay. We know from the past that pears poach really nice in Chardonnay so I started thinking about a tart made of them. I searched for recipes and found one with a frangipane filling and poached pears laying on top. This looked nice so I poached the pears and made my crust last night. Tonight I cooked the crust (too much), made homemade apple jelly for glaze and cooked the tart tonight.

    The Frangipane is made from Almonds, eggs and creme. The pears (d'anjour) are poached in the aforementioned Chardonnay along with lemon juice, lemon rind, sugar, cinnamon, cloves and peppercorns then glazed with melted apple jelly.

  • Chelo and Souvlaki

    I'm not sure what was going on but a local store had London Broil for about $1.88 per pound so I bought some even though I don't care for it much. I figure with enough massaging I could use it for something. I can't really afford to buy lamb right now so I decided to use the London Broil in place of lamb in making Souvlaki. The beef got cubed then marinated with olive oil, lemon juice, Cabernet Sauvignon,garlic, oregano, salt and crushed pepper. The cubes of beef were threaded with onions, cherry tomatoes and red bell peppers on skewers and broiled. At 145 degrees it wasn't too tough to eat but a few pieces went over 150 and they got really chewy.

    To go with it we made Chelo which is nice (especially if you like the flavor of butter). I know I'm mixing cultures by doing souvlaki and chelo but I think I can still sleep at night. I finally found a use for my Al-Clad Ltd sauce pan - making Chelo! I bought the pan and haven't really ever used it. Primarily because the sides are really low and well, Al-Clad makes the worst handles of any company in the world. I'm not sure why they do that. They ruin great performing cookware buy attaching a handle that has two really sharp pressure points on the wrist. Have they every tried to use them or are they just for looks? OK, I'm ranting about Al-Clad which isn't a good thing. It's just that they make really nice stuff and have really bad handles. Thankfully this Al-Clad pan (known from this day forward as my Chelo pan) is really small so it's not much of a problem. I have a single egg skillet that's also Al-Clad and works well because of it's size. My double boiler is Al-Clad but has two handles so it's OK. Al-Clad are you listening? It's just not me either, I was in Sur La Table and the guy selling a customer pans said "you might consider Calphalon if the handle bothers you". A-hah! The handles do suck. Ok I'm done ranting. For the purpose my Al-Clad pan makes Chelo fine so I guess I'll be keeping it.

     

     

  • Chicken and Bacon Borsetti with Sweet Pepper cream

    On occasion I check out frozen stuffed pasta at the local grocery but almost always pass over them unless they're dirt cheap or they sound especially interesting. I've learned that fresh homemade pasta is just plain better. I have found though that there are several types of fresh (packaged) pasta available in the store - most are unaffordable by anyone but a first year Microsoft investor. QFC (our local "charge whatever they want because they have rustic tile floors" grocery store) had fresh packaged chicken and bacon borsetti that looked interesting. Interesting because it's not cheese or sausage ravioli. The pasta was usually $7 but was on sale for $4 and because of a special promo had a dollar off coupon so I bought it on impulse. The first night I cooked it I served it in the old standby - browned butter and sage sauce - and it worked fairly well. My kids couldn't place the flavor of bacon in the pasta because they weren't expecting it. The second time I cooked it I decided to put a little effort into it and make sweet pepper cream sauce. The sauce turned out very good but clashed with the strong flavors of the pasta. Oh well, live and learn.

    I do however, think I'l be spending more time with borsetti. In case you don't know what they are they look like cute little bags of gold. I thought that maybe they'd be visible in the photo but they really aren't. You can see the top of the bag all bunched up in the right side of the pasta bowl. They seem really easy to make since they're just squares of pasta bunched up with filling. I think you'll be hearing more of borsetti in the future. Next time I'll just make them fresh. It's not that the chicken and bacon ones were bad, they just don't match what I had in mind.

  • Chicken Marsala

    Two days ago we had Chicken Tikka Masala and tonight we prepared Chicken Marsala. People who know us have a hard time telling these apart because the names are almost identical but there's no two dishes further apart than these two. Chicken Tikka Masala is Indian and Chicken Marsala is Italian/Sicilian. The former gains it's flavor from Garam Masala spices and the latter from what I think is the nicest of the fortified wines including Port, Sherry and Madeira - Marsala.  The wine we refer to as Marsala was born out of a Brits fondness for the then popular Port which was unavailable in Sicily. A fortified wine is one that has added alcohol added to it such as ethanol. Yes, people do that! Port is a fortified wine from Portugal as does Madeira which come from the likely named islands off the west coast of Africa. Sherry comes from Spain and Marsala comes from the city of Marsala in Sicily and is my favorite of the four. Chicken Marsala is a favorite dish amongst the southern Italians and I think I've about perfected it. The secret to great Chicken Marsala is the amount of fond you're able to build up in the pan and the quality of Marsala you use. I've tried just about every Marsala from every store in the area and I've settled on two. Unlike a Cab, Merlot or virtually any other wine you usually only have one variety of Marsala per store so if you don't like the one you had the last time you have to drive to the next store to try a different variety. My two favorites are Opici Italian Sweet Marsala available at Central Market in Mill Creek and Pellegrini Italian Sweet Marsala available at PCC markets. I use only sweet Marsala in my recipe but if you want to use dry you can add a touch of grade B maple (Grade A is not as strong)  to your sauce for a nice variation. The other issues with Chicken Marsala is getting a decent Pancetta which can be a bit difficult. Central Market had an awesome one but they've since changed brands and I don't like the new one as much but it's edible. Costco's Pancetta is pretty bad as is most pancettas you get in a package. I'm still looking for a replacement so I'll keep you posted. The last thing I'm a bit picky about is using Portobella's instead of Crimini (baby portobellas) or god forbid Oyster mushrooms. The mushrooms give up quite a bit of moisture and shrink in the process so you really want a good meaty mushroom.

  • Chicken Panang and Fresh Spring Rolls

    We're just staring to cook Thai food but so far it's very similar to Italian in that it's dirt simple. Once you have a curry paste created you can make this in about the same amount of time it takes to steam the rice. Total cost for 4 people to eat Chicken Panang and Jasmine Rice - $3.60. In a recession you CAN eat decent food!

    The Fresh Spring rolls in the background were made by Natalya.

  • Chicken Phad Thai

    Been in a bit of a Thai mood lately. I've always liked Thai food but haven't had the money to go out so I'm working on getting down a few recipes as well as the restaurants so I can eat it at home. I like Phad Thai for the most part but can't justify buying it in a restaurant because 10 minutes after I eat I'm starving again. Credit the rice noodles for that I think.

    Phad Thai isn't really an authentic dish just like Chicken Tikki Masala didn't come from India and fortune cookies didn't come from China. Phad Thai translates as Thai Style noodles and from the name you'd realize that if it's Thai Style it isn't Thai.. Because of the popularity of the dish I've heard that it's made it's way to Thailand and you can actually buy it there now.

    Anyway it's a staple at American Thai shops so off I go to make it. In my previous post about Thai Red Curry I mentioned that I was searching for one particular brand of Red Curry paste - Mae Ploy. In my search I also found Mae Ploy brand Phad Thai sauce and they only wanted $1.67 at 99 Ranch Market so I picked some up. Mae Ploy Pad Thai sauce has the following ingredients in it.

    • Palm Sugar
    • Shallot
    • Water
    • Fish Sauce
    • Soy Bean Oil
    • Vinegar
    • Tamerind
    • Red Chili
    • Salted Radish
    • Dried Shrimp
    • Salt

    Since I have 8 of those ingredients already in the garage I may see how much it would cost to make this. You might be thinking that at $1.69/jar it's not worth it but I had to use two jars for my 16 oz of noodles making 50% of the cost of the meal the sauce. The flavor of the sauce was good enought that I also wondered if Thai shops were just using this with some additions of their own instead of fashioning their own sauce but it seemed cost prohibitive. We got probably two orders of Pad Thai out of two jars so maybe they do. I still think they make their own or buy it in bulk.

    I mentioned that I used two jars but that's not entirely true. I also had a jar of Por Kwan Pad Thai Sauce which I also added to my pan. This in my opinion is the correct amount of sauce for 16 oz Rice Stick noodles but flavor of the Por Kwan was so so wherease the Mae Ploy looked and smelled like great Pad Thai sauce. Mae Ploy impresses me again!

    To make the dish complete I added several things.

    • 1.5 lb of chicken
    • 16 oz Rice Stick noodles
    • 2 8 oz jars Pad Thai sauce
    • Large handful of Mung Bean sprouts
    • Small handfull of chopped peanuts

    The results were so close to what restaurants sell that a guest wouldn't know they're not eating takeout. My next step is to do a cost analysis on the Pad Thai sauce and see how much it would cost to duplicate it.  The entire meal for 5 people cost us $7.50 (half of which is the sauce) which is a bit more expensive than our usual meals. The Thai Red Curry cost about $4.50 for the same amount so you can see my motivation to make the sauce.

     

  • Chicken Red Curry

    One of my favorite (OK my favorite) thing to eat at Thai restaurants is Chicken Red Curry. For those of you that are afraid of "curry" I have one thing to say - Curry's not a spice! What goes into Thai Red Curry is

    • red chillies
    • galanga (or sometimes fresh ginger)
    • palm sugar
    • garlic
    • lemon grass
    • salt
    • shallot
    • shrimp paste
    • lime peel
    • ground pepper.

    There's nothing in there too weird and I assure you it won't make you gag or want to hurl (both actual quotes from people who don't know what curry is but insists that it causes adverse bodily reactions).

    Anyway I've been looking for a certain brand of red curry paste which would save me a bunch of time cooking Thai Red Curry and after going to just about every Asian grocery in the area I finally found it at Ranch 99 market in Shoreline. It's Mae Ploy Red Curry Paste and I think it's a head above the others. I narrowed my search to this one because I peaked into the open kitchen of 123 Thai in Port Townsend and saw them using this. Granted they don't just use it straight like an Italian chef won't use only tomatoes out of a can without doctering them up first but at least I will get closer without creating the curry paste myself.

    To the Red Curry paste I added more palm sugar and Thai Basil (NOT Italian basil, these are not interchangable!), coconut milk, sweet red peppers, water chestnuts, bamboo shoots and chicken. The rice is straight Jasmine rice cooked in the rice cooker. I think the flavor is fairly close but in the future I'll be experimenting with more galangal.. I added 4 cups of coconut milk and I think I've settled on Arroy-D as my preferred brand of that as well. I've used some other stuff (Chaokoh) but I ton't like it nearly as much.

     

  • Chicken Tikka Masala

    Good Indian food is hard not to love. When I open my spice cupboard I'm instantly transported to a magical land full of aromas and color and when we're cooking - well, you can probably imagine. When someone says Chickin Tikka Masala most people who know Indian food knows it's a tomato creme sauce with a strong Garam Masala flavor to it.What most people don't know is that it's a dish that was created in London and has become so popular there that the Brits have declared it the national dish. The proprietor of my favorite local Indian restaurant (Clay Pit - Mill Creek WA) said that 90 percent of the people they serve order Chicken Tikka Masala because that's the most known and recognized dish. Mill Creek is a predominantly white community so this makes sense. We've eaten Indian food all over the world and it's a shame that people don't get better accustomed to some of the other dishes as they're wonderful as well. The influence Chicken Tikka Masala has had on other Indian dishes has been dramatic so much so that cooks are adding Garam Masala to a lot of other dishes to make them more appealing to customers addicted to Chicken Tikka Masala. This I think is unfortunate but a reality nonetheless. Anyway we've been working on a Chicken Tikka Masala recipe at home and we're about 90% there. On first bite it comes off as being a bit flat but things build as you proceed. What I'd like is for the flavor to be stronger and the heat identical. Outside of that I think we're about there.

    You may already know that Chicken Tikka is cooked in a tandoori and I don't have one. To get around this I marinate the kebabs in the yogurt/spice mix and put them as close to the broiler as possible. This may mean you put the rack on the topmost slot and then invert a sheet pan in order to get the kebabs closer. I'm also experimenting with making naan in a similar fashion. A tandoori runs at about 800 degrees and my oven will hit 550 so by heating the oven with a Pizza stone up under the broiler I may be able to similate a tandoori. More on that later. I have a few more changes to my Chicken Tikka Masala recipe before I post it but it will be coming in the next month or so.

  • Chiles en Nogada

    There's this dish so pretty that a man once got on a bus with his three kids in a very southern city in Mexico and rode for 4 hrs to the town where it originated just to experience the decadance. This is a true story and the dish is that pretty. The dish is called Chiles en Nogada (pronounced Nuh-God-duh) and is yet another invention of the Spanish nuns in Puebla for the first Emporer of Mexico after they gained their independence from Spain. The other famous dish that nuns in Puebla created is Mole Pablano which of course I ate many plates full the last time I was there.

    There are many ways to make Chiles en Nogada but the variation I had in Puelba (yes, that was me mentioned above) had a Poblano chile stuffed with a combination of shredded meat, tomatoes and dried fruits like raisins, nuts and fresh pomegranate seeds. This chile is then covered with a white sauce made of Queso Fresco (Mexican Cheese) and Mexican sour cream with ground walnuts and topped with pomegranate seeds and parsley leaves. The red, white and green symbolize the colors of the Mexican flag. It's customary to only eat it in August but I was lucky enough to find it in January at one small restaurant. My take on Chiles en Nogada got it's start when I was perusing the aisles at Grocery Outlet when I found a package of sweet yellow, orange and red peppers. These weren't bell peppers but longer almost Jalepeno shaped peppers. Even though the Poblano pepper is traditional I decided to use these instead and it worked out wonderfully.

  • 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.

     

  • Chimichangas Smothered in Heavy Cream

    La Raza a small taqueria near Edmonds Community College in Lynnwood Washington that makes cream smothered Chimichanga. Let me just say that I'm aware that Chimichangas are no more Mexican than French toast is French. However, there's something very nice about deep fried tortilla with a heavy dose of cream. I think you could deep fry a Taco Bell burrito and smother it in cream and it would be edible (about the only way). Even though I like going to La Raza to pick up a Chimi at lunch I don't always like paying $10 per meal. Although the Chimichanga is large enough to share with someone else I don't always have someone there to share with.

    So instead of spending $20 to take my family out for Chimichangas we make them ourselves. For $6.00 I made 7 Cream smothered Chimichangas or roughly 85 cents each. I get my 40% heavy cream from Cash and Carry, tortillas from anywhere, chicken on sale and the rice is dirt cheap no matter what. 

    Loose instructions for Chimichangas. There's no real recipe because it's largely done by taste.

    Rice

    • Roast 2 cloves of garlic and two Jalapenos on a comal
    • Combine garlic and peppers in a food processor with a bit of salt to make a paste
    • Add half lb of tomatoes and pulse
    • Heat a little oil in a dutch oven and when hot add 1 cup of medium grain rice and cook 5 minutes
    • Add tomato salsa from food processor and cook for 5 minutes
    • Add 3/4 cup of water or broth and place in oven for 25 minutes

    Everything else

    • Grill small strips of chicken breast pieces
    • Pour 2 cups of heavy cream in fry pan on medium heat
    • Add enough sour cream to thicken
    • Add enough sugar to sweeten
    • Combine refried beans on large tortilla with rice, chicken and shredded cheese and close with toothpicks
    • Fry in deep fryer at 350 degrees until brown, turn over and repeat
    • Place Chimichanga on plate and pour cream over
    • Sprinkle paprika over cream

    That's it really. Making the rice is the most work. If you double the rice recipe you can make these several times in a row or just eat the rice. For me this recipe made about 7 Chimichangas.

     

     

      

  • Confusing consumers isn't good

    I was in a grocery store last week and I saw that they were carrying both El Monterey Chili and Picante burritos. I've never seen both in one store and have in fact bought Chili thinking I was getting Picante only to get home and spit them back out. I'm not a fan of my frozen burritos tasting like Chili powder. If I wanted chili powder in my mouth I'd combine it with tomatoes  and make chili with it. The Picante burritos though I like and after that unfortunate incident I've had to be very careful to read the package to make sure I was in fact getting Picante and not Chili flavored burritos. 

    This display though accentuates the problem - El Monterey has two products that look nearly identical. Yes the shade of red is slightly different and there are a few words that are not identical but I feel these two products need to be more unique. So let's think about having two products nearly the same, most stores won't carry both because the number of people grabbing the wrong one and then returning them probably goes up. I don't know the protocol for returned goods but I bet it's a write off. So by only being able to sell one OR the other in each store you're cutting your market in half. It would seem that by making the packages drastically different they could put another product out there and increase sales. Just an observation.

     

  • Corail to Toulouse

    After a night in Paris we took the metro to Gare Austerlitz, and wandered through the station looking for the Grand Lignes as they call them. Anyone who's not been in a Paris train station probably doesn't know of this experience. So many people take trains in France that the train stations are the size of small airports and Paris has 6 of them. They combine regional trains (Corail), High Speed intercity (TGV), Suburban (RER) and Metro (subway) trains all in a dizzying array of floors, escalators and shopping malls. My first trip through Paris I came via the tunnel under the English Channel. The gentleman in London's Waterloo station told me to take the C1 RER from Gare du Nord to Gare de Lyon. I made it and to this day I have no idea how I pulled it off. I've retraced that path and it was sheer luck. I remember asking someone if they spoke English but they said no. Just getting from the TGV to the RER level through massive numbers of escalators, payment turnstiles, confusing signs etc. and then getting on the RER and getting back out of the RER system, to the right level in Gare de Lyon AND finding a booth to get my ticket was a miracle. We've traveled on many many trains, subways and suburban rail systems now and even with that knowledge I give myself ample time to transfer between transportation systems. It seems that when you exit the metro or RER you spend quite a lot of time walking down tunnels, up stairs, down stairs, through more tunnels and maybe get to ride an escalator or two and hopefully you don't tear your new cashmere sweater climbing under a barbed wire fence trying to save time. The Paris metro system is NOT handicap accessible (mental of physical)!

    So the metro ride to the train station was uneventful but the walking down tunnels, up stairs, down stairs, through more tunnels and maybe get to ride an escalator or two and climbing under barbed wire fences was a little irritating. Scratch the part about the barbed wire fence, that's a different story. By now our bags are chock full of crap we probably don't need and are getting quite heavy. In addition we're carrying my 9x7 carpet that I bought in Toulouse and Natalya has her daybag packed as well. We do find the Grande Lignes and thankfully we'd printed our ticket in Toulouse the night before.

    Not having had breakfast nor the time to find it we boarded our train. I stopped to ask twice about the ticket. In the French train system you have to validate your ticket by inserting them into little yellow boxes at the head of each platform which then stamps a time on them. It would seem that since most all tickets are only good for that one train ride that validating the ticket is a useless waste of human energy since after all you couldn't use the ticket twice. I've stopped questioning the wisdom of this since afterall it's a French thing and you just don't get anywhere by questioning the French. As much as I love the French there is the French way and then there's the logical way. Anyway our ticket was printed from the Internet and I could see myself folding it up and cramming it in the validation machine resulting in me removing the shreds with tweezers while the SNCF staff looks over my shoulder and complains in French. The alternative was to just board the train and pray to Napoleon that validation wasn't necessary. The fine for not validating your tickets is roughly $100 or in this case equal to the price of the tickets. After being on the train for a minute I exited and asked another conductor which said "It's not needed for this type of ticket". Still until the ticket man comes along and doesn't fine me I'm not off the hook.

    After the train started moving I figured it was time to engage in the time honored French tradition of finding Croissants and bitter orange juice. Trains are hilarious sometimes because depending on the rails and or the car itself you may have a smooth as glass ride (TGV at 200mph comes to mind) or be practicing your bull riding for the local rodeo back home. This was one of those cars where if you were drunk you could probably walk a straight line. It was nicely finished but after walking the length of it I realize that the bolsters on the headrests are not to keep your drooling sleepy head from falling into the aisle but for people in the search for croissants from landing in your lap. The advantage trains have over airplanes is that you can go for a walk in the middle of your journey. It's a great mix because not only do you have the very natural act of hunting for food but you get adventure (jumping between moving rail cars) and you get to practice your swagger (and your pardons and excuse mois if you never quite get the rhythm down). The bar car as they say was where it always is - on the exact opposite end of the train from where you are. I'm not sure how this works but the people immediately next to the bar car probably cannot see it due to a vortex in the time space continuum and are forced to also trek to the opposite end of the train as well only to find the engine and as a result have to call off the expedition and return to their own car only to find as if by magic -  the bar car. It makes for an interesting time because the view from your seat during the journey isn't that much different than attending a runway show at Galleries Lafayette. The difference being that the steady stream of people walking the aisles on a train appear drunk, disillusioned and starved and the models at Galleries Lafayette only possess two of these traits. Which two depends on the model.

    The French countryside is pretty but not amazingly so and resembles western Washington for the most part. What a lot of people don't realize is that most of France is made up of farms so about the time that you're completely engrossed in this idealist view of romantic French countryside full of vineyards and stone house you see a rusted tractor sitting in a field and a bunch of cows that don't look any different than what you'd see in America. France = farms.

    We arrived in Toulouse at 2 pm. The market at St Sernin winds down at two and it will take us about 30 minutes to get there but we're still waiting on word from Jim about a hotel room. We really wanted to hit that market again and it only happens on Sunday. Jim mentioned that he'd let us crash on his floor saving us another $150. We walk by the Internet cafe to check the email and find that Sebastien and Jim have booked a restaurant and are expecting us and that we have a free room. At this point it doesn't make sense to go back to the train station to catch the metro or walk to the next station to catch it because then we'd only go one stop and will have paid $4 for that privilege so we hoof it. By the time we arrive it's clear that we're not catching the St. Sernin market so we drop our bags and go to lunch at the restaurants in the floor above the market at Place Victor Hugo.

    The market at Place Victor Hugo is an interesting one because it's stalls of meat mongers with whole chickens, ducks, and other forms of animals along with ranges of produce and everything else you need to fashion a meal. To get upstairs you climb an unkept wooden stairway to the next level and as you open the door you realize you're onto something that the rest of the town already knows about as the entire floor full of various eating establishments are chock full of people eating. The food that you order here actually comes from down below. The duck probably had feathers on it a short time earlier. Even though we had reservations we end up waiting about 20 minutes. They're out of Magret de Canard so I take the menu.

    The menu for those who aren't versed in "la French" is not the physical folded piece of paper with items on it as that's the la carte. If you order a la carte you're ordering off what we'd call the menu or literally "from the card". If you order le menu you will be surprised to not get la carte but a predetermined list of starters, main plates and possibly a dessert for a set price based on an unknown formula. However, if you choose the formulae you will get a subset of la menu (list of items form la carte) made of up items from la carte (the menu). Still with me? To make matters worse if you order a la carte and only choose an Entrée your server will remain at your table pen in hand staring at you and you don't know why. In France the entrée is the starter and the plat is your main course. The plat translates to plate so you're starting with the Entrée and ending with the plate. Sounds logical, that's sort of how I determine to stop eating in America too - when you get to the hard thing you're done. My menu included a salad with Foie gras, a steak called the onglet that's roughly equivalent to the American hanger steak fries. Yes, the French eat French fries....

    The foie gras was average and the meat was tender but overall the meal was satisfying and definitely filling. Eating takes a long time in France and is followed up with a cafe (a cafe is not something made of wood and containing chairs and people waiting to take your order but in fact translates to coffee, how convenient you think that they'd serve coffee at a cafe), or dessert. With a meal you always get lengthy conversations about all things including the difference between shallots and onions which we never really resolve.

    We drag ourselves back to our hotel and Jim who never seems to adjust to the time change goes to sleep. Natalya and I have to prepare for our return trip home and doing so venture out to our local Tunisian sweet shop to buy nut based goodies. We take a walk and return later to pack everything up. I'm not sure how we're getting everything home but it appears the best strategy is to vacuum pack the dirty clothes and carry the carpet in the dirty clothes bag. This would also mean we have too many items for carry on and will have to check a bag. For those of you who don't know my travel style I never ever check bags. I and my three kids can travel for months on end and never have more than carry on bags. This is an art form I believe but it keeps things simple. I've only checked a bag one other time and it's because it was over the weight limit for Virgin Atlantic so I had no other choice.

    Nine-thirty pm brought a knock at the door which in turn brought Jim's smiling face. It's dinner time. If you're figuring out that the French spend a great deal of time eating you're right on the money. Natalya and I have chosen to return to a really great restaurant at Place St George near Place Wilson. The last time we ate there we had the most amazing mashed potatoes topped with caramelized shallots bathed in Sherry. This last item has haunted us since. We arrive in pouring rain and still sit outside. The French are amazing in this regard. They'll put up space heaters and whatever else just to sit outside. In Seattle if you put out a table on the sidewalk they turn their noses and and demand proper eating arrangements. I don't get it. Outside is less formal so you can show up wearing your pajamas and nobody will care. You can eat great food in your pajamas - what a concept! I tried ordering Squab (pigeon) again to no avail so I get the lamb shank. I'm told that there isn't any which my experience backs up. I've not seen one pigeon in all of Toulouse. Apparently they've "over fished" the proverbial pigeon waters.

    So we're outside in the pouring rain under a canopy eating our foie gras. We at some point start getting horizontal rain and retreat to the safety of stone and timber. Our food arrives and there's something wrong - the shallots are missing. I ask about it and he brings me a small glass full of caramelized onions. Onions? Are we confused? Am I as an American not supposed to be able to tell the difference? I show them a picture of my meal since I photograph everything I eat and come to find out that they've changed chefs since then. I in turn insist they get the old one back and pronto which I'm sure doesn't please the new chef. Twice on this trip we've ordered something that was out of this world only to get a replacement or nothing at all - once in Paris at Le Square Cafe and now in Toulouse. How can you recommend a place if they keep changing the menu?

    Having said all of that dinner was good as always and I'd be more than happy to have that exact same meal in Seattle even without the shallots. I do know however that I need to spend some time recreating the shallots. It's the only way. sigh..

     

     

     

     

  • Crablegs and Chedder Bay biscuits

    You can always tell when I'm getting busy because the posts to my food blog get less frequent. There's another reason for the infrequency as well - practice. If I cook the same thing 5 times I'm not going to post that I cooked it 5 times. That would get very boring...

    So we went to H-Mart our local Asian grocery and they had Snow Crab legs on sale for $4.99/lb so we picked up some. I'm almost ashamed to say that about once a year I go to Red Lobster. To give myself some credit though I don't eat the pastas so weighed down with cheese that you can't recognize it or the shrimp with so much breading on them that you can't actually prove their shrimp. When I go I eat Snow Crab and Chedder Bay Biscuits. I'm sure the bisquits don't quite fit into the fine food category but they're really quite good. The snow crab went in the steamer and Natalya melted some butter and added a dash of salt and some lemon juice. The biscuits are from the recipe online that is NOT exactly the same as Red Lobster's but close. I'd say it's about 80% similar and with some modifications to spices I think I can nail it in a time or two. Anyway an entire crab dinner and chedder bay biscuits for $10 for 4 people.

  • 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.

  • Dinner party

    Two Americans, a Moroccan, one Ukrainian, a Korean, eight Frenchmen and three Indians and a Brit enter a bar.... Sounds like the beginning to a joke. The class is having dinner together tonight. I've been riding the metro to work but got a ride home. Including my walking time it takes me about 28 minutes to get to work. Driving it took 45. Something tells me that driving isn't the solution. Dinner was in a small hole in the wall and was a great deal of fun. The French do things differently because dinner took over 4 hrs. There was a lot of mixed language conversations with half taking place in French and the other half in English. One Frenchman decided to pretend he couldn't speak French to the waitress, another accidentally broke a wine glass and then while trying to show how he did it broke another two. The waitress was not impressed but the rest of us were rolling on the floor. The food was good and the company was great. We got to see the inner workings of how other cultures live. This I'm thankful for. I'll have a video up later. We drug ourselves back into the hotel at 1am. Unfortunately the Hotel Albert was booked so Natalya moved us to the hotel Capitole during the day. The Hotel Capitole isn't as nice as Albert but still head over heals nicer than Hotel Junior. Tomorrow is the last day of class. The Parisians decide to go to a bar after dinner. I never see them again.

  • 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

     


  • Do you know what would go great with this? Paprika!

    We laughed at that saying repeatedly when in Hungary. The Hungarians I swear put Paprika in everything. If you go to the Great Market Hall near the Elizabeth bridge you will be overwhelmed by the shear numbers of Paprika sellers. Most of the lower floor of this giant market is full of dried peppers and the sellers of such. Not to mention these people don't buy little 3 oz bottles of McCormick from the grocery but by the pound. You also have a choice of sweet or hot paprika, a freedom we don't always have.

    One of the famous Hungarian dishes is Chicken Paprikash which has of course chicken and lots of Paprika. Natalya made this last night and it was decent. I'm not a huge fan of Chicken Paprikash but it was as good as any.

  • Doro Wat - Ethiopian at it's best

    Ethiopian food is a treat for us locally. Although Seattle based Ethiopian restaurants can't hold a candle to those in other places like Washington DC they're still pretty decent and it's hard to argue against Ethiopian food in general. However, none of the local restaurants are very near me so I have to either drive in traffic or make it myself. 

    I can get Injera bread from Amy's Mercato in Seattle and I can get Berber spices as several African grocery stores.

     
    Naturally making both at home would cut the cost of this dish substantially but even buying my Injera/Berbere from local stores this ended up costing about $1 per person per meal.  Following is the preview recipe for Doro Wat. It's not hard but don't get impatient as it takes quite a while. Later I'll formalize it into a real recipe for the recipebook section of Recessionchef.
     
     
     
    Check out the recipe at doro_wat recipe.
     
     
     
     
     
     
     

     

  • Doro Wat and Injera

    This is a tribute to Natalya who fixed me dinner for a week. I was not allowed to know what was for dinner or help. My first site of the food was when I sat down to the table. She deserves all the credit. The first night I sat down to Doro Wat. If you don't eat Ethiopian you should try it. Just go to a restaurant (Queen Sheba on Capital hill in Seattle is decent) and order the meat combo if you're into dead animals - if not order the veggie combo. Don't do this alone because there's just too much food on it. One combo ($20 at Queen Sheba or $13 at the places on MLK jr BLVD) will feed 2-4 people. My family eats one combo and usually has a few leftovers. Anyway there will be a giant plate layered with a spongy crepe looking thing called Injera. You don't get silverwear because you use the Injera to pick up the food by hand. On top of the Injera will be various "stews" with meat, lamb and chicken in them. It's all a bit spicy and can be VERY spicy so be warned. The menu usually tells you the spice level if you look under the individual items. If you get lucky and are eating Ethiopian in D.C. you will probably get to eat around a Mesob (tiny table resembling a drum) which is a great experience. In Seattle they give us regular tables (boring!).

    My favorite Ethiopian dishes are Beef Tibbs and Doro Wat. A Wat is a stew and chicken is Doro in Ethiopian so you can guess what's in Doro Wat. Anyway Natalya surprised me with Doro Wat and Injera. It wasn't too bad but some spice were missing and the Injera needed more bubbles. I think it has soda water in it and the recipe didn't call for it. I'm sure we'll revisit Ethiopian dishes later in our culinary journey.

    Oh and we ate it sitting on the floor on pillows on sheesham wood tables. Not authentic Ethiopian but it sufficed since we don't have a Mesob...

  • Duck Fat - Liquid Gold

    The poor duckies should have tasteless fat. I feel for them, I do but because I'm higher on the food chain I appreciate their existance. About two weeks ago on a particularly rainy day I got the hankering for Cassoulet, a heavy dish made primarily in the southwestern corner of France. It's not fine food like you'd expect from the French but rather a heavy casserole with lots of meats and beans in it. Arguably the most important meat in it is Confit de Canard - or duck preserved in duck or goose fat. In my effort to avoid giving up a years salary to an online reseller I decided I'd just make Confit de Canard and in doing so would need about 5 cups of duck fat. My recipe says the best way to get duck fat is to just pour it off every time I make something with duck in it thus saving the cost of buying it. Like I or anyone I know cooks duck every day right? I do this for bacon grease but I'm afraid I don't cook enough duck in a year to get a cup of duck fat so I had to go hunt for it. A quick google search for "duck fat seattle" gave several results pointing to various grocery stores and markets that had it. One of my favorites - Central Market in Mill Creek was listed so off we go for a 1 hr bus ride to pick up our duck fat. "We usually carry it" was the answer I got and empty handed is how we left. The next day I boarded the Swift/M358 bus to Central Market in Shoreline and there I found duck fat - for $16/lb.. Gag, cough. I needed about $30 worth of duck fat for one meal - a bit steep I thought. Getting the M358 bus to Seattle again and an hour later I was in Chinatown (the International district, ahem) at Uwajamaya Market. They had duck fat too in solid blocks but a man standing between me and my duck fat kept putting package after package into his cart which he talked on the phone. He left only 3 packages - which thankfully was all I needed. Had he taken the rest I would have followed him around and package by package removed it from his cart. It's not legally his until he pays for it right?

    Duck fat in hand I returned home to make my Confit de Canard. To make this you salt duck thighs and legs heavily and let them rest for two days. Then you melt the duck fat in a pan on very low heat so it doesn't boil then you rinse the salt cured duck pieces then dry. Once dry you cook them in the duck fat for about 90 minutes and let them cool. Salt the bottom of a dish, layer duck fat in the bottom, layer duck pieces then melt the rest of the duck fat again and pour it over the top. Then melt pig lard and pour a layer of that over the top, cover with plastic wrap and put in the fridge for 4-6 weeks. Yes 4-6 weeks. I did everything except the 4-6 weeks part. It seems that making Confit de Canard out of a bunch of ducks at the same time would be more effecient. Then take the carcases and make duck stock out of it.

    Why all the fuss over Duck fat? Because it's very very nice. I don't know how one fat can taste better than another but it does. I've never had the urge to drink vegetable oil, peanut oil, olive oil or lard but it's taken all of my strength not to go to the fridge and take a swig of the duck fat. The smell is all over the house, it's on my hands and it's in my mind. I can't wait to fry potatoes in it. Since my primary motivation was to make Cassoulet I'll have a later post up about that as soon as it's done. This one meal has been a week long project.

     

     

     

  • Easy flatbread for 4 cents each

    We just had a discussion on Google+ about eating on a budget. Seems I need to write that book afterall. One of the strategies I've always employed is food subsidies. That just means that a cheap food subsidizes an expensive one. Restaurants do this all the time, that's why you have starches (potatoes, rice, bread) with your meats. The price of a starch is a fraction of the price of herbs, spices, aged cheese, wine and meats. Next on the ladder is most vegetables. It's a rare occasion for vegetables to cost more than $1 per lb. When was the last time you bought meat for $1/lb?

    So with that in mind I'd like to focus on breads. Now if you buy the budget American white bread you may be able to get it for a dollar for a 24 oz loaf. You can make it cheaper but it's really the yeast that costs so you have to commit to buying a block of yeast to make it worth the trouble. Then there's the rising time etc.. Usually these hurdles are too much and people avoid saving money by buying bread and understandably so. However, flatbread can be easy to make and dirt cheap. Pita usually costs about $3 in the store for 10 ounces. That's a starch for the price of a meat. Pita is fairly easy to make too and I have a Wheat Pita recipe that I like a lot here at The Man, The Myth, The Legend.

    However, what I'm about to show you will make even homemade Pita look expensive! I can make 8 pita at home for about $1. If I buy large blocks of yeast and 25 lb of flour I can get them down to about 10 cents each and it takes only 2 hrs from start to finish to make it. Following is how to make flatbread in 30 minutes for 1/3 the cost of Wheat Pita. How is this possible you ask? India! If you had to feed 1 Billion people and they had little to no money I bet you'd find a cheap way to do it and they have. The flatbread I'm referring to is Chapati (or Roti). To make Chapati you'll want to look around for an Indian/Pakistani market and pick up a large bag of Atta (Chapati flour). Atta is a blend of wheat flour and malted barley flour and you should be able to get it for about $1/lb if you buy a 20/lb bag. To make 8 Chapati you'll need one cup of Atta and enough water to get it to come together. Since you're paying about 33 cents per cup of Atta and water is free Chapati ends up being one of the cheapest and easiest flatbreads to make.

    Directions:

    1. Put one cup of Atta in a food processor bowl. Turn it on and add small amounts of water at a time until it comes together in a ball. Unlike how westerners make bread (put in ingredients, then add flour to get it just right) Indians put the flour in the bowl and add water until it's just right. Be careful not to add too much water because adding flour doesn't fix it. If you're kneeding by hand just dip your knuckles in a bowl of water and kneed by punching the dough down. Food processors however do a good job and you'll be done in about 3 minutes.

    2. After the dough comes together put it in a bowl and cover for 30 minutes to let it rest. During this time you can make the rest of your dinner.

    3. Heat a flat comal or griddle pan to medium tempurature.

    4. Roll the doughbull into a long rope then cut it into eight pieces. One at a time roll each piece into a ball then flaten and roll out into a very thin circle about 6-8 inches in diameter.

    5. Lay on the griddle for about 30 seconds then flip. It will puff up if your pan is up to temperature. If it doesn't puff up wait a few minutes before cooking the next one.

    6. Brush a little clarified butter on them when done. This is optional but it gives them a nice flavor.  See my recipe on how to make clarified butter (Deshi Ghee).

     

  • Eating lite

    Lately I've been getting more exercise and eating my lunch later. The side effect of this is that when dinner comes around I don't feel like eating as much so in the name of satisfying my desires we've been making lighter weight dinners.

    The dishes you see to the right probably look familiar because I've had them up here before. The noodles are butternut squash filled ravioli in a browned butter sage sauce. Honestly this meal takes about as much time as it takes to boil the water. You don't consume very much of the butter since you're just coating the noodles. The salad was your basic balsamic vinegarette made using whatever balsamic vinegar I had left in the cupboard. As much as people like Trader Joe's it's taken me nearly 2 years to get rid of all the crappy balsamic that I've bought there (or had given to me). I've not had the money to buy good stuff so we're using it for things like this - vinegarettes.

    Italian food in Italy is very light and refreshingly simple unlike the stuff you'll get in Italian restaurants here. I'll not beat that dead horse as I've said plenty about it in the past. Anyway this is a cheap, simplen and flavorful meal. I think the main investment is the Sage if you're buying it from the grocery. If you have an Asian market or you grow it yourself this meal is very inexpensive. I spent about $6.00 to feed four people (or $1.50 ea). Definately worth the cost.

  • Eating lite - part II

    So here's a bit fancier version of our simple meals. The main course is a salad made from Red Leaf and Romaine lettuce with a homemade caeser dressing, croutons made from baguette dribbled with Croatian olive oil perfumed with garlic, parmesan and grilled chicken.  A side of honey dew and a smoothie made of orange, mango, banana, milk and shaved ice.

    The star of the show has to be the pears carmelized in crushed black pepper scented burnt sugar sauce.

    Total cost for everything (for 4 people with leftovers) - $7.50 or $1.87 per person. The lettuce, pears, honey dew melon and oranges I buy from the asian grocery, the chicken, milk and baguette I bought from the grocery store.

  • Figuring out BBQ

    When I'm in Paris I eat croissants, baguettes and escargot. As soon as my plane lands I eat a Philly Cheesteak or a Cheeseburger. How much more American can you get? When in America do what the Americans do. In this same vein I'm tring to learn to BBQ. This may sound silly as anyone can light a fire and throw meat on it right? I know how good BBQ can be but I rarely get to experience it because what happens is I go to someones house and they throw some ribs on the grill and you spend the rest of the night trying to get the meat off them and finally give the job over to the dog who has no better luck.

    This is NOT what I'm talking about. I'm trying to learn to do it right. Take one cut of meat and cook it until I've mastered it and then move on to the next. Once I have a cut of meat down I can then justify buying Prime or Choice but until then it's Select for me. I've found a couple of sites that seem to be pretty good in helping the helpless BBQ and I've added them to the Food links.

    People who use store bought Matchlite quicklite charcoal and douse it with lighter fluid are not quite who these sites are aimed at. Lump charcoal (with no added fuel) is about the best but not all is created equal. The first site reviews lump charcoal for temp, burn time and ash buildup. As soon as I find one of the reviewed brands locally I'll post a note. The other two sites are about all things BBQ. They have reviews of smokers and grills.

    I will probably be buying the Weber Smokey Mountain smoker and the Char-Griller grill because of reviews on both sites. I'll have modifications to the Char-Griller to do which are also outlined. Because I plan on getting the WSM I may change my choice of the Char-Griller to something else without a smoker attachement if it means a better grill. I'm not sure, I'll let you know later.

    Grant

  • French food in Seattle?

    To celebrate the lack of fatal accidents involving myself from November 2009 to November 2010 my kids decided to take me out to eat for a late lunch. Having just spent the last week slaving over Cassoulet and still craving French food I perused the menus of Place Pigalle, Cafe Campagne, Restaurant Campagne and Maximilien in the Pikes Place Market in downtown Seattle. In Paris I choose my restaurants on how serious they are about that little bird that everyone loves - the Duck. If a restaurant lists at least two of the three holy duck dishes (Foie Grois, Confit de Canard, Magret de Canard) then it's worthy of consideration. It seems however, that in Seattle if a restaurant possesses at least ONE of the three they're considered French but being in the northwest and a long way from France they can fill up the rest of the menu with Asian Fusion dishes or seafood. If a Seattle French restaurant prepares two of the three holy duck dishes they're exceptional and so far I've not found one establishment that will make all three. They will have either Foie Gras and Magret or Magret and Confit or Foie Gras and Confit but never all three.

    I've looked at the Maximelien menu a million times and even though their lunch menu had only one of the three (dinner has two) they also had escargot so we entered through the heavy wooden doors to our little French sanctuary amongst the hustle and bustle of the market. As soon as that door shuts the market goes silent and you find yourself in a small 10-12 table restaurant fitted in supple dark woods with a staircase bending it's way to a second floor. The second floor stops about 2 feet from the outer wall leaving an air gap connecting upper and lower floors which lends to making the place feel a bit larger overall. The walls are covered with mirrors presumably to add to this effect. From the outside Maximilien always seemed bigger and I was very surprised to find it this small.

    The host had a very strong but not very familiar French accent. I didn't get around to asking him where he was from. The server smiled to the point where I thought she was going to explode but always provided us prompt service and kept refilling our bread basket. Magret de Canard wasn't on the lunch menu so I had Confit de Canard and an escargot appetizer. The escargot was the best we've had in the states so far and the table bread was perfect for soaking up the butter and parsley in the escargot plate (no they didn't serve them in the shells).

    The Confit was OK but you'd be hard pressed to tell it from a turkey leg. I'm not a huge Confit de Canard fan so I've not eaten it very many times but it was still good and the duck fat that was attached was nice. The sliced potato rounds tasted like they were fried in duck fat as they had a nice crispy texture and the flavor was good. Both the potatoes and the Confit were served over a bed of lentils (God knows why). I'm not sure why you'd mix up food with lentils and even more perplexed as to why you'd serve both on the same plate. I personally prefer my food to change color and p { margin-bottom: 0.08in; } consistency during the digestive process.

    Overall it wasn't a bad experience but we didn't have any OMG! moments either. The environment was quaint, the music decent (you can listen to what's playing in the restaurant right now by going to their RSS feed - neat. I'd like to come back for dinner and try their other dishes before I do a full review of Maximelien.

     

     

     

     

  • 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).

     

     

     

  • Frozen Microwavable Flame Broiled Cheeseburgers?

    I couldn't resist capturing the epitome of our gastronomic downfall in America. I saw this in Albertson's Grocery and couldn't believe my eyes. Flame Broiled Cheeseburgers.... sounds good until you realize that you've wandered haphazardly into the frozen section and the box says they're microwavable. Any burger coming out of a microwave is going to taste like something big and brown from a pasture but it won't be cow. What's worse is that it comes with a bun and cheese. I'm sure the microwave will do wonders to those as well. I'm also a bit confused about the flame broiled part. So they're flame broiled, frozen and then warmed up in the microwave? Why don't they just rub shoe polish on them because a shoe polished patty will look about as close to flame broiling as this pile.

    Is it that hard to just make a hamburger? Really? You take hamburger, flatten it and cook it. Seriously folks you could do it with one leg tied behind your back (I'm aware that the saying usually contains an arm but it's more fun for us to visualize this way). If the thought of warming a pan brings sweat beads to your forehead and uncontrollable rocking then head on over to McBurger Queenville's 5 Brothers burger shop and grab a 99 cent cheeseburger. I'm sure their food sucks but at least each part is frozen seperately and then reheated on something that does more than excite the water molecules by beating the crap out of them with electrons.

    The worst part of this is the price. Check out the sticker on the bottom left - $5.48/lb! Are you crazy? Buns cost about $1/lb and cheese about $4/lb. That means that 2 oz hamburger patty is coming in at around $9/lb. I have another idea, get a meat grinder and a blind fold. Put the blind fold on and head to your local meat counter (if you're driving be careful), once there point in the meat's general direction, then take whatever you bought home, grind it up (legal counsel tells me I need to inform you to remove the blind fold somewhere around this step) and cook it. I guarantee you this will make a better burger for the same price and in under 10 minutes time.

  • 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.

     

  • Garlic and Rosemary Roasted Chicken with Yukon Golds

    Chicken is probably the most boring tasting animal on the planet, that's why when we don't know what something tastes like we say it tastes like chicken (meaning it has no strong flavor). However, chicken doesn't have to be boring at all and with a little work we can pick a good chicken, keep the flavor by cooking it right and even add to it using some specially selected herbs and vegetables. 

    This recipe's purpose is to molest the chicken as little as possible and add subtle other flavors. The chicken also contributes by giving up a certain amount of it's juices and the runoff from the garlic and rosemary paste which drizzles down into the potatoes and shallots making for a very nice accompaniment.

    This time around I waited about 20 minutes into the roasting and added sliced Sweet Potatoes which was very nice. Also instead of using just Yukon Golds I found a bag of mixed tiny potatoes at the store comprising of Yukon Golds, Purple and Red Bliss. The best tasting out of these three in this recipe is the Yukon Golds so this mix doesn't add to the quality of the meal however it does make it pretty. Yukon Golds just have the right amount of waxy texture and the right amount of starch to soak up the chicken's juices and yet hold themselves together. 

    Try out the recipe and let me know what you think.

    Recipe: Garlic and Rosemary Roasted Chicken with Yukon Golds

    Gallery: 

      

  • Goodbye Food Emporium - it's been nice knowing you

    Businesses who survive are businesses who change. A winning formula in 1920 wouldn't work in 1930 or 1940. If your sales are tanking you probably need to find a new angle. One of my favorite grocery stores announced on Friday that they were closing after 15 years. They've put the blame on their products being premium and shoppers tastes during the recession have been less than premium. This I find is true, but this doesn't excuse Olsen's Food Emporium from fault. At one time there were 13 Food Emporiums but eventually the Olsen's sold 12 of them to QFC for 39 Million dollars. They kept the Mukilteo Speedway store.

    What made Food Emporium special was their choice of products to sell. They had the usual frozen pizzas, bags of flour and so on. They also had every single soda I ever drank as a kid including Big Red, Green River and Bubble Up. They are responsible for getting me hooked on Virgils natural cream soda. They had hundreds of bbq sauces, locally made jams and syrups and a wine section with employees that actually knew what they were doing. They were one of the first stores to integrate a Starbucks into it and they were smart enough to know that they didn't make the best doughnuts in the world so they bought them from Henry's - which is a real doughnut shop. Safeway and Albertsons could both take a hint because their doughnuts stink. If you needed some Berber spice for that special North African dish you could get it there as well as Dalmation Juniper Berries. They were never cheap but when you're the only store in town carrying these things you didn't need to be. If I needed Juniper Berries I'd go to Food Emporium. I started shopping at Food Emporium because every week they'd give away a free item in the paper, one week it would be eggs, the next something else. I wasa a water drinker as they say - I took the free item and didn't buy the overpriced stuff. At some point though I started desiring their special items and started shopping Food Emporium just for things I couldn't get elsewhere. I also started talking a walk along the north shore of the lake to Food Emporium so I could sit, drink cofee and eat doughnuts. I can't say I've ever done this at a grocery store before.

    What went wrong? I have to admit I knew it was there for years but never shopped in it. I think the reasoning was that local groceries are more expensive and worse I related it to a grocery store we had in eastern WA called Food Pavilion which was very expensive. Another reason is that it has one of those excellent/horrible locations. Excellent if you look at a map but horrible if you're driving by in your car. If you were driving south on Highway 99 you never saw the store because of a slight hill. If you're driving nouth you never saw it until you were already past it with very little chance of flipping a U-turn. If you were driving by on Mukilteo Speedway you also never saw it until too late. By the time you got to the next light to turn around you were at Albertson's which is cheaper anyway. It was an excellent location but the signage was horrible. They needed to have some sort of flashy street signs to alert you before it was too late.

    Another failing was the prices. For instance Food Emporium sold el Monteray burritos for $4.79. Safeway sold them for $3.79 and often put them on sale for 2/$7. Albertsons sold them for $3.50 and put them on sale for $3. Winco and Grocery Outlet consistantly sold them for $2.50 which is nearly half the price. I understand economies of scale and all of that but twice the price??? I have no problem paying a premium price for some local jam or bbq sauce but to pay a premium price for a product that's half as much down the street is hard even if the cause is good.

    Food Emporium's strength was it's oddball product selection. You could find just about any gourmet product there. Unfortunately stores like PCC, Whole Foods and Central Market have to also sell other items as well because you can't live on Maury Island Blackberry syrup forever.  PCC and Whole Foods put their stores in Seattle where buyers are more discerning and also focus on healthy foods. Health nuts will pay a hundred bucks for a granola bar if they think it's healthy. Food Emporium is in an area where not too many people would care about a $100 granola bar.

    The solution they missed: They should have called up Winco and asked to make a deal. Winco's prices to the customer is probably what Safeway gets it for. Since Winco is putting in a Silver Lake Store they need to truck grocery items to South Everett now. I think a deal could have been struck where Winco would bring a truck by once a week to drop off cheap products so Food Emporium could compete on the everyday items while still being able to offer the premium products.

    But this is not what they did - they plodded on until they couldn't go any longer and then announced they were closing. I was there today and I have to say the overall feel of the customers was one of disbelief and sadness. Where will I buy Dalmation Juniper Berries now? I hope the best for the owners and the 75 employees soon to be out of work. I will miss my times at Food Emporium and it will be sad to see them go. I don't however, think it was necessary.

     

     

  • 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.

     

  • Gulyas

    When I was a kid we have a thing called Goulash which had ground hamburger, tomato juice, elbow macaroni and basically nothing else. I grew up thinking this was goulash until one day I got the brainy idea of going to Eastern Europe which I found out was actually in Central Europe. I'm not sure who decided that Eastern Europe should be in Central Europe but probably the same people that call Kentucky the mid-west when in fact it's in the east. Anyway I digress. The point was that I ate Goulash in several countries and it varies somewhat but for the most part it's very similar in Croatia, Slovenia and Hungary. It always has cubes of beef, sauce with tomatoes, lots of Paprika and various other things. Sometimes it has Hungarian soup noodles in it and other times it may have potatoes instead. We've been wanting to cook real goulash (gulyas in Hungarian) for a while so we did tonight. Overall it had a good flavour with Caraway seeds and Paprika but I'm going to make a few changes to make it taste more like it does in Eastern Europe (the one in Central Europe).

    You might be surprised to find out that Goulash is actually a stew of sorts instead of elbow macaroni in tomato juice. The soup noodles are made from a very stiff dough of eggs and flour (no other liquids), squeezed into fingernail size pieces and dropped into boiling water. You can see Piper forming the noodles and Jade fishing them out when done here. It's a very easy process making them especially if you have a mixer.

    The soup is made with a high galatin beef like blade steak cut into cubes and browned

    in a dutch oven. Added are onions tons of paprika, caraway, tomato paste, garlic and a bit of salt. Later home made beef broth is added or chicken broth from the store and the whole thing is simmered for a couple of hours. Halfway through green peppers and cubed potatoes are added. More broth is added as needed and when done the sauce is soupy and the meat almost falls off the bone. Add the pasta and serve it.

  • Honey Barbecue Chicken Pasta

    We have some meals around our house that we cook often but there's no recipes attached to them. This is in part because it's all by taste and also because I haven't gotten serious enough to focus on making them recipes. One of those meals is Barbecue Chicken Pasta. This might seem out of left field until you realize that most people have no problem eating Barbecue Chicken Pizza. For the pasta rendition we substitute noodles for the pizza dough and add in some nice caramelized veggies. We're not exactly forging new trails here with grilled chicken, boiled noodles and sauce. However, what makes this meal a bit more complex and the reason I don't have a proper recipe for it is the sauce. There's a million jarred BBQ sauces on the store shelves but the problem is that none of them fit this dish. Most are too smokey, too hot, have too much vinegar bite or are too sweet. Since I just knocked out the four dominant flavors of BBQ sauce you may wonder what my vision is. I want a sauce with no smokiness, no heat, a touch of sweetness to complement the caramelized onions and peppers, a touch of zippiness and a whole lot of tomato flavor. What I want is a BBQ flavored tomato based sauce that's bright and lively but not overpowering. You'd think that with 30 million jarred bbq sauces that someone would have that combination but so far I've not found it.

    Following is the very rough recipe. I'm not happy enough with it to put it in the recipebook on this site. Later when I get the sauce dialed in I will but for now it's just a blog post. Forgive me for being just a bit vague on things.

  • How to afford great food via personal subsidies

    Using Food Subsidies at Home

    Something I'll surely be talking about later is food subsidies. I often hear the argument that people can't afford to eat well. I understand that money is tight but I also understand that when the cost of each plate is important (as apposed to the monthly food bill) and the cost of each ingredient on that plate is known you have a lot of power and flexibility to afford better food. Maybe I need to explain.  In the restaurant business inventory cost is everything. You can't just make great food and send it out the door without knowing what it costs and one of the tricks to providing a great meal for a profit is to know the cost of *everything* on that plate. If you go out to dinner at a decent restaurant and you analyze the food on your plate you'd think that a bit of meat, some veggies and a starch is a balanced meal but you may be surprised to know that the items on that plate have little to do with nutrition and a lot to do with economics. Restaurants are in business to make money, not go broke. 

    Let's take a closer look at what they do. I've somewhat randomly picked a menu from a local Seattle restaurant – The Pink Door. A swanky Italian/American restaurant with no visible name to be exact just a.... wait for it.... pink door in Post Alley near the very famous and tourist infested Pike Place Market.http://thepinkdoor.net/

    Example Food Subsidy

    We'll take a look at a few items on their dinner menu.


    b u t t e r n u t s q u a s h r a v i o l i d e - c o n s t r u c t e d burst in your mouth mushroom consommé ravioli over creamy squash purée & fresh herbs 19


    Let's assume they're going to give you 1.5 lbs of food here and we're going to divide the weight into pasta and squash sincethe latter is not only the filling but has it as a base too. That leaves us with ¾ lb of pasta dough and ¾ lb of butternut squash. Naturally the squash is going to have some herbs and spices in it which we don't know but they will be mere fractions of an ounce in weight so for our purposes negligible. We also see that we have a mushroom consommé in the filling. The material cost of making a pound of pasta is roughly 60 cents. The cost per pound for butternut squash is about $1. We don't know the mushrooms used but just for the sake of argument they'rePortobella which usually run about $7/lb. That's a lot of money in comparison to the rest of the meal but if we only have ¾ lb of ravioli filling then the amount of mushrooms is probably in the 2 oz range or about 45 cents. Add in a half an ounce of fresh shaved cave aged Parmesan ($25/lb) and we're sitting squarely at $2.50 cents for this meal. If you want to really do it up some nice home baked rolls would be great. That would bump the cost to a whopping $2.75.

    • ¾ lb pasta - $.90/lb

    • ¾ lb squash – $1/lb

    • 2 oz Mushrooms - $7/lb

    • ½ oz grated Parmesan - $25/lb

    Total material cost is $2.75. How do they get away with charging $19 then? Part of it is to cover the cost of the building, wages for the chefs and wait staff, profit for the owner and so on. We made a dish with $25/lb imported cheese and fairly expensive mushrooms by subsidizing the cost of the expensive items with the cost of the cheap ones. In this case pasta, squash and bread are the cheap items. I'd bet that part of this dish also subsidizes more expensive dishes. That's right, not only do we have subsidies going on within a dish but between them. Let's do another one with even more specialty items. More after the jump.

     

  • I've had it up to here with frozen stuffed pasta

    All I want is food with flavor, is that too much to ask? If I eat cheese it has to taste like something (Kraft are you listening?), if I buy ice-cream I want more than different combinations of the same 4 flavors, I see no reason why Pizza can't have more than one type of sauce and 5 toppings. And the point of this article - if I eat stuffed pasta the filling should serve a purpose other than to keep two pieces of dough from sticking together. There's a restaurant in Modena Italy (home to Ferrari) that serves a butternut squash ravioli in pistachio cream sauce that's supposedly divine. I say supposedly because I've travelled to Modena twice just to eat that dish and both times the restaurant was closed. Yes, that's a true story. This brings me to the present  time and I'm still chasing this grand idea that stuffed pasta can have flavor and not just the Robin to the sauce's Batman. Pumpkin puree and Butternut squash are both seasonal so taking a page from The French Laundry's list of tricks I've been using sweet potato. The French Laundry if you don't know is a wonderful French restaurant in Napa Valley California owned by Thomas Keller, one of my favorite chefs because of his philosophy on food. He believes that the first bite is wonderful, the second is similar and by the third bite your mouth is bored so there's no reason going on. So at the French Laundry you only get the first couple of bites of a lot of dishes. He keeps you in this "Oh my God" stage throughout the entire meal.

    Anyway back to pasta. I don't like sweet potato pasta nearly as much as butternut squash because it doesn't have that bright flavor of squash nor is the flavor  as mallable because it takes too long for you to make it taste like something else than sweet potatoes. But having said that it's much easier to work with because the water content is significantly less making a firmer filling. With butternut squash I aim for (imagine if you will), bright orange flavorful meat with a touch of cinnamon, a burst of fresh shaved nutmeg and  a dash of grade B maple syrup. This makes a very flavorful, pretty and not too sweet filling for a ravioli and provides quite the visual punch in a green pistachio creame sauce. Alas, the sweet potatoes are an imposter but unlike the squash are available year round. Also even the worst sweet potato filled pasta is better than the best you can get from the store.

    Most people don't make pasta because it takes too long or it's too difficult to work with. I have a few tricks which I'll share with you that may change your mind. By myself I made 100 ravioli (about 4lbs) in about an hour (plus an hour to bake the potatoes during which I watched a movie). If you have two people working - one rolling dough and the other stuffing you can double that number. This ravioli would cost you about $25 in the store ($2.50 homemade) so maybe it doesn't pay off but the quality is better. It's imperative that you have a powered pasta roller like the attachment to Kitchenaide's Mixer line or you have a second (or third person) hand cranking. Rolling the dough even with a power roller is the most time consuming part.

    So on with it. I bought several Ravioli forms from Amazon (see the picture after the link) but what's funny is that I don't use them as they were intended. The idea is that you roll out flat dough, lay it over the form, push down with the plastic insert to create the indentions, fill, cover them with another layer of rolled out flat dough and finally seal the whole thing by rolling over the whole thing with a rolling pin. This sounds like a great idea but gets very messy with the sauce not going where it's not supposed to and it's almost impossible to avoid air pockets. If you prick the air pockets you end up with ravioli full of water when you cook it. So I take the plastic inserts, fill them with filling and throw them in the freezer for a few minutes. The result is little squash or potato ice cubes which I then lay flat surface down on the dough and fold over another layer, seal it and cut them manually. This ends up being as fast and I have more control.

    A lot of people use egg wash to seal their pasta which also is messy. I have not found that it's necessary and if you're rolling your dough as you use it you don't even need water. Just dust your area with flour, roll the dough, place filling flat side down on the dough and fold it over to cover it up. Press long the edges to seal and cut them. Now take them and freeze them for cooking later. I even freeze them if I cook them immediately as it helps them hold together.

    Ingredients:

    • flour
    • eggs
    • sweet potatoes
    • cinnamon
    • nutmeg
    • maple syrup or extract
  • 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 isJavaher 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 SabziandBara Kebabwhich came with Badenjan Boraniand 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.

  • Is All-Clad/Emeril color blind or just deceitful?

    Wow, it's been nearly a month since I've posted to my food blog. So this is what it's like to have a job...

    The other night H-mart had a great deal on snow crablegs so I bought a few pounds and took them and 2lbs of shrimp home to cook. I threw my Emeril Lagasse signature double boiler/steamer engineered by All-Clad on the stove with water in it. We then proceded to shell and devine the shrimp which took longer than expected. During this time I hadn't noticed that the steamer was no longer steaming. Natalya turned around and asked if there was still water in it at which time everyone jumped up and ran to the stove because we all knew what that means to a pan. No matter what your pan is made of it's not going to withstand high heat for too long if it's dry. The pan was in fact dry and the burner was bright red and something curious was happening - there was a stream (literally) of aluminum pouring out of the bottom of the pan. We dumped 4 cups of water in the pan which turned to vapor on contact. I knew the pan was completely destroyed but was just trying to contain the damage. There was a pool of aluminum under the burner and a lake on the stove top. A little poured onto the floor and just as fast as you could say Bam! Natalya stepped in it. Thankfully she only got a small burn.

    Now before anyone gets cute and says "you're not supposed to do that" let me say this - stick a fork in it.  Having said that I'd like to focus on the pan. This is very clearly advertised as a copper and aluminum core pan engineered by the most renowned American pan company - All-Clad.  Here's the wording from Emerilware.

    The triple-layer encapsulated base of stainless steel, aluminum and copper are bound together to ensure fast and even heat distribution.

    So the triple-layer encapsulated base is made of stainless which is the outside and  aluminum/copper bound together for the inside, or so it would seem. If you look at the outside you will see that it appears to have about 4mm of copper in the base. I've never doubted this fact since you can very clearly see that there's a great deal of copper there. Since I only use it for boiling pasta, steaming etc. I've never really cared outside of the fact that I knew I had a fairly reactive pan. I do admit though that I bought this pan because I've loved how well my Mauviel copper performs and we all know that copper is a better heat conducter than aluminum by several times. Granted this is only a $100 pan and I shouldn't expect too outside of the fact that you have two well known qauntities felt it important to slap their names on it.

    So what came out of the pan was very clearly NOT copper which is not in itself the problem. All-Clad makes their copper core line under their own name and if you look at the drawings you'll see that there are multiple copper and aluminum cores sandwiched together. I asked a Williams-Sanoma employee why they'd use multiple cores since copper was the superior conductor and his response comically was "the more the better". Somehow I don't think a lot of metalurgists would agree.

    Anyway when you look at this pan you see copper but after the other nights incident it is very clear that the core is made up of only aluminum core and the outer millimeter or less is a copper veneer to make you think you have a copper core. If you take a knife and scratch the "copper core" you will hit aluminum.

    So the question isn't even whether an aluminum core is bad because we all know that Calphalon and All-Clad Alluminum core pans perform beatifully but rather what is Emeril and All-Clad trying to pull? I think it has to do with wool and a pair of pearly blues set deep in my skull. They very easily could have made an aluminum core pan and nobody would have thought less of them. The fact that they made an aluminum core pan, sprayed copper on the outside and sold it to me as a copper core pan doesn't set well with me. It makes me not want to believe what either say. I wonder now if you took a knife to All-Clads copper core line ($450 for an 8qt stock pot) you'd hit aluminum or copper. Looking at the side profile drawing again of their pans it looks like there's only a minimal amount of copper in their pans as well, perhaps 1mm at most. No wonder The America's test kitchen said there's no difference between All-Clad copper core and their standard aluminum core pans. I think this is just their strategy to keep people from going to a real copper pan. You get the shiny benefits of copper without the hassle and weight!

    In researching this article I see All-Clad has something called Coper-chef now that appears "all copper". Looking at the cutaway diagram it looks like this is yet another All-Clad alluminum pan with copper sprayed on the outside. Now you get none of the benefits of copper with all the hassle. I think the most irritating thing about all of this is that All-Clad makes great pans and the marketing department just needs to go take a walk and let the engineers do their work. I don't buy large All-Clad pans though because the handles are the worst I've ever seen anywhere. If I were to pay $400 for an All-Clad pan I'd drill the rivets out and put the handle from a $20 Cuisinart on it so I could actually use it. But as far as their cooking performace goes, they're top notch.

    After this though I'd think twice about buying anything with Emeril or All-Clads name on it.

     

     

     

     

  • Jam...

    I usually only post about what we're cooking or have cooked but I just spent some time looking for new jam for those late night sugar cravings. Sometimes just eating a peanut butter and jam sandwich satisfies that craving instead of breaking out the ice cream so I like to keep it around. We have massive blackberry bushes in the back yard which makes excellent jam but unfortunately I didn't beat the birds to them last year. When I make jam I combine Blackberries, a little bit of plums and cane sugar for a nice clean taste. Plums are high in natural pectin so there's no need to add commercial pectin. Pectin needs sugar in order to thicken a jam but natural pectin needs 1/3 less than commercial pectin. This allows me to have more fruit, less sugar and no added pectin which is all good. My rant is that I don't have any jam from last year so I'm relying on off the shelf jams. After reading Omnivore's delima I'm also trying to avoid the petrolium based preservatives and corn syrup.

    My rant starts here... Just go through the ingredients list of most jams and such a simple thing becomes very complex fast. Some of them have as many as 15 ingredients. Even the best (usually imported) have about 5 ingredients. Most have more than one type of sugar including sugar, cane sugar, glucose syrup, corn syrup and high fructose corn syrup. We're still talking about berries that are full of sugar right? Why are we adding so much sugar to our jam? Then there's the preservatives. We're adding preservatives to a canned food.. Is this so it can sit in the fridge for 3 years after opening it? So I dug through all the jars and settled on the Safeway branded Jam which only had 2 types of sugars and one preservative. I think the worst offenders were Smuckers (no surprise there) and the best was the imported jams. Although the one we eat in Paris is also available in the stores here but the ingredients list is different here (longer) which I suppose is because of food regulations in the states.

    My question is this - since the jam we make is really nice why can't they do that on a commercial level. Maybe the berries they're using aren't ready to be picked so they need to add massive sugar to cut the tartness. I do know one thing, as soon as my berris are ripe I'm making jam, lots of it!

  • Javaher Polow

    I ran across this FXcuisine who stole it from New Food of Life by Najmeih Batmanglij. I didn't have all of the ingredients so I'm posting what I did have. I shamelessly posted the recipe straight from their site in my recipe book but I'll get around to changing it to reflect what I've been making in a day or two.

    Persian Jeweled RiceJavaher Polow
    For 6 as a royal side dish
    1.5 cups Basmati rice
    1 organic oranges
    1/2 large carrot
    1 cup dried berry mix from Trader Joes (Golden raisens, cranberries, blueberries)
    1/2 onion
    1/2 cup blanched whole almonds or almonds and pistachios
    1 tbsp cinnamon
    1 1/2 tsp cumin seeds
    1 1/2 tbsp green cardamom pods
    pinch of saffron diluted in 1 glass water
    150 gr butter
    2 tbsp yoghurt

    The recipe called for barberries which I have no access too. I then decided to substitute pomegranite seeds which too are out of season. I switched to the berry mix at Trader Joes because they had one with pomegranite seeds but because of my current financial system I chose the mix without them and it turned out wonderful. You soak the berries, blanch the nuts, soak the rice and candy the orange peel and carrot. This rice is the most flavorful rice I've ever had. It really is a dish fit for royalty.

    I've paired it with Korhesht-e fesanjan and homemade wheat pita. This fits into the "exclaimation foods" category that I like so much.

     

  • Korescht-e Fesanjan

    One of my favorite meals is a Persian dish called Korescht-e Fesanjan or the slang term Fesenjoon. It's a meat "soup" of sorts with a Pomegranate and Walnut sauce. It's quite wonderful but also quite elusive in the dining world because of the lack of great Persian restaurants in the Seattle area. I've taken it to task to reproduce it at home. The first time I made it Jade proclaimed that he felt like he was "throwing up". Thankfully I've made progress since then. What I fixed last night got a thumbs up from everyone and Piper begged me to not change it (she knows me too well). I'm not satisfied but I'm on the right track. The texture and color are off and the flavors will need to be tweaked still. I paired it with fresh home made wheat pitas, steamed basmati and apple tea (really apple cider).

  • Last pumpkin of the season

    Regular readers of the Man, the Myth, the Legend will know that I'm a big fan of pumpkins. See my previous pumpkin articles as proof. This year I did a Pumpkin Smackdown article on the best pumpkin varieties and tested based on flavor, texture, cookability, longevity and availability.  As you may recall I rated the Rouge vif d'Etampes (Cinderella) pumpkin the winner. Most other pumpkins even if they have decent flavor fall down in one way or another. Since I refuse to use "pumpkin" from a can my pumpkin buying season is fairly limited to October and possibly some of November due to the popularity of pumpkins at Halloween for the humans and the somewhat related popularity of pumpkins as food for farm animals in November. I put quotes around the word pumpkin in the previous sentence because what's in the can is listed simply as pumpkin alone in the ingredients list and yet it's BROWN. Pumpkin is NOT brown as you'll see in the photo in this article and in fact it's very very orange. I'm not sure why a can of nothing but pumpkin ends up being brown but I'm skeptical that they found some unknown variety of pumpkin with brown flesh. Until that mystery is solved by Scooby and the gang I'll stick to fresh pumpkin that happens to be bright orange. 

    With that in mind you may recall from my Pumpkin Smackdown article that the Cinderella excelled on longevity. If left alone and their skin is not broken in any way they'll last up to 6 months. My daughter Natalya brought me several Cinderella pumpkins in late October. I cooked my last one tonight - 5 whole months later. A lot of people tell you that pumpkins need to be stored in dark cool places etc. but these pumpkins were stored in the front room under my Chippendale era Buffet at room temperature for 5 months. The trick is for the air to be dry (no garages) and to never break the skin. If you nick the pumpkin's skin you have to cook it within a day or two or it will rot. If the pumpkin is stored in a damp location it will rot. The longest I've ever kept pumpkins has been inside the house in a warm dry environment where they didn't get damaged. 

    This pumpkin was a very large one which is why I waited until the very last moment to cook it. Because of it's size it wouldn't fit on my half sheet pans thus I had to cut it across the poles (instead of around the equator) and cook one half at a time taking nearly 6 hours. The meat I was able to retrieve from it will probably get me another 6 loaves of pumpkin bread and maybe another pan of Pumpkin Lasagna.

  • Livening up Macaroni Salad

    My mother has been bugging me about putting up my Macaroni Salad recipe so she can make it and you know what they say, if your mother tells you to do something you should listen - and share.

    This is the first recipe in a series that's a result of my tackling each item of the standard American BBQ feast one at a time. I'm fairly happy with it so now I can move on to other things like BBQ beans or Potato salad. Considering the weather I probably won't finish them until next summer.

    I'm not straying too far from the standard base of macaroni, mayonnaise, vinegar and some form of sweetener. In my rendition I swap sweetened condensed milk for some of the mayonnaise and the sweetener. I also add sweet peppers (bell or otherwise), red onion, carrot and celery.

    As with a lot of cooking it's not so much the ingredients you choose but the balance they create and I really like this salad. I make it each Sunday and eat it for my lunch. Those of you who know me know that I don't put up recipes unless I'm satisfied and I rarely am so take this one serious. That does not mean however, that I won't still be playing with flavor balances in the future.

    Without further ado here is the recipe - Macaroni Salad

     

  • Meringues

    When I mention to people that one of Jade's favorite things about Paris is Meringues they respond with "Oh I like Meringue too, especially on lemon pie!". Notice they say Meringue with no s on the end. This means we're talking about completely different things. Meringue used for Lemon Meringue pie is a soft pillowy substance that when bit into disappears. I've always had difficulty in explaining French Meringues but I've seen them listed in cookbooks as being a cookie and I guess they could be called a cookie so from now on that's what I'll call them - Meringue cookies. A French Meringue is mostly air and sugar but is dried out in an oven at 200 degrees for about 3 hrs. I put my meringue batter in a pastry bag and squirted it onto a sheet pan. They came out crispy on the outside and gooey on the inside just like in Paris. Everytime I make something where I have a bunch of egg whites left over I try to make Meringues and up until lately this act as always ended in failure. I thought the recipe was wrong so I checked another book (Jacque Pepin's) and he says to do them exactly the way the other books say. I finally find a Cook's Illustrated article on them which was what I needed. Thomas Keller says the more simple the food the more difficult it is to cook. I followed Cooks Illustrated's recipe and they came out just like Meringues in Paris! I always like Cooks Illustrated because they explain why they're doing something. It appears you need some sort of acid in order to make them work right. Also I've found that knowing how fast to mixer should be going and for how long is important with this one.

  • Mexican Brownies?

    I actually made these about 4 days ago but forgot to post them...

    Mexican Brownies? Maybe brownies aren't mexican but Chocolate was consumed by the Maya 1000 years before the Europeans landed at Veracruz. The Aztecs and most other indiginous groups also drank chocolate for festivals and religious ceremonies.

    Even today you can stop in at a Chocolatria and have a cup of Hot Chocolate and some Churros. In Oaxaca there are several Chocolatrias that grind the cacao while you wait just like a coffee shop would here. You get a fresh ground cup of hot chocolate which you can drink in the shop while watching the world go by.

    So with that in mind I buy a lot of chocolate from Mayordomo in Oaxaca. When I'm there I bring it back and if I'm not there I mail order it. It's expensive through the post so it makes sense to just pick it up if you're in the city. With that chocolate I make brownies hence the title of this blog post. There's something different about Oaxacan chocolate than European or American chocolate. It has a special smell and taste to it that always brings back nice memories.

    To add extra depth to the ganache used for the brownies I also include a couple tablespoons of dutch processed cocoa to the 7 ozs of Mayordomo Oaxacan chocolate.

    Oh and I forgot to take pictures until I only had one left so it was a bit weird shaped.

  • Microwave Cassoulet brought to you by Betty Crocker

    This is not a joke! Well, it is sort of but I bet Betty Crocker didn't think so. My daughter checked out a Betty Crocker cookbook from the local library. She was showing me some recipes in it as normally I would not have even opened it. About halfway through there was an Easy Cassoulet recipe. Intrigued I looked it over. Seconds later my jaw dropped in disbelief. You, my faithful readers probably remember my Cassoulet article from the past. If not then go there now and read up on it, I'll wait for you. In that recipe (which is quite good) there are no less than 19 ingredients and start to finish it takes about 3 days to prepare spread out over one month. I never thought any meal could be worth that kind of labor and yet I've made it 4 times. Now my least favorite season - Fall, is welcomed open armed just because it gives me an excuse to break out the butcher knife and soak those great northern white beans until they're smooth as butter. Yes, I'm hooked.

    I'm sure Betty Crocker they're doing their readers a great service having an Easy Cassoulet recipe because who wouldn't want to partake in this rustic southern French dish? The recipe is as follows.

    • 1 pound of Polish sausage
    • 1 can of great northern beans
    • 1 can of kidney beans
    • 1 can of black beans
    • 1 can of tomato sauce
    • 3 medium carrots
    • 2 small onions
    • 2 tbs brown sugar
    • 1/2 cup of dry red wine or beef broth
    • 1 1/2 tsp dried thyme leaves
    • 2 cloves of garlic

     

    In the interest of their consummate readers they've even included microwave directions *gag cough gag* as follows.

     

    To Microwave: Place carrots and red wine in 3 qt microwavable casserole. Cover and microwave on high for 5 minutes. Place sausage on carrots. Mix remaining ingredients. Pour over top. Cover tightly and microwave on high 18 to 22 minutes, stirring after 12 minutes, until hot and bubbly.

     

    Can we have a moment of silence to honor the death of our dear old friend? If you don't mind I'd like to say a few words. "Cassoulet, I'm sorry for what has become of you. I'm sorry for how little we've tried to understand your complexity and how we've attempted to make you into something you're not out of our own laziness and for the sake of convenience. But most of all I'm sorry that you had to go out this way, with such a loss of dignity, please forgive us - amen."

    Polish sausage and 3 cans of beans? Are you on crack Betty Crocker? Betty Coker is more like it. What can they possibly think to accomplish by putting Polish sausages and 3 types of canned beans in a microwave dish and cooking it for 20 minutes? I'm not saying you have to spend three days cooking Cassoulet but there are some dishes that if you don't plan on cooking them right you should just leave them the hell alone! Or here's another idea, microwave your sausage and beans but call it microwaved sausage and beans - not Cassoulet.

    I have other issues with it. I don't believe I'm actually giving it any time at all but dry red wine OR beef broth? Oh you don't have any dry red wine for your wine reduction to pour over that Chateaubriand? Just use beef broth, they taste about the same. Ack! I can't think of an instance where you'd substitute beef broth for red wine. I just can't. Speechless I may not be but flabbergasted I am.

     

  • Moussaka and homeade wheat pita

    We haven't had Moussaka for quite a while and we had a decent Cab Sauv in the fridge going to waste (along with lamb in the freezer) so Natalya made Moussaka tonight. We usually use my Côtes du Rhône blend in the Moussaka but always welcome a change. I'd planned on making pita bread for dinner but picked up some packaged pita at Zam Zam the local Indian/Pakistan/everythingstan market for $1.19 which is pretty cheap. Even though I still planned on making Pita sometimes I get home and just don't have the motivation to spend two hrs making bread so eating the packaged pita was the fallback plan.

    As usual dinner is a family event with Piper making the Bechamel sauce, I made the Pita bread and Natalya made the bulk of the Moussaka. Jade provided cleanup duty. The recipe is getting pretty good so it will be going up on this site soon. I also liked the Pita a lot. I used 1/3 wheat flower and 2/3 white flour for a nice mix. I cooked them on the pizza stone at 500 degrees F under the broiler and all puffed up in about 1 minute flat. Prep time for the Pita bread was about 2 hrs because you have to let it rise. Total cost for 8 Pita was 42 cents (not including electricity) plus the price of a TBS of farm honey which I don't know the price of. I'd estimate that I paid half to make Pita over buying them at the cheapest place in town. Compare the 42 cents to $1.19 and they're a good deal but compare them to $2.99-$3.99 at the grocery and they become a great deal.

    Natalya and Jade wasn't so hot on the idea of having 1/3 wheat bread but I'm still playing with that. Ingredients for the Pita were White flour, wheat flour, honey, olive oil, yeast and salt. I however thought they were excellent and I ate two dipped in tzatziki sauce. The Tzatziki needs work as it came out too cucumberish and not yogurtish. We've made this a bunch of times but always forget to write down the recipe that we like the best.

    So stayed tuned, the Moussaka will be going into the online recipebook here at grantmcwilliams.com and the Pita recipe will go up after the next time I make them. I'd like a white pita too for my wonderbread kids. Oh, and from the photo to the right you can tell that something is dripping from the Pita, that's Ghee! When I pulled them from the oven I brushed Ghee on them since it wouldn't be overpowering like Olive Oil.

  • Moussaka recipe is up

    After a great deal of time I've put the Moussaka recipe up. The negative to posting photos of really nice meals is that it's inevitable that someone will want the recipe. An interesting story though - I lost my Moussaka recipe. So the one I just posted is a work in progress that's a result of taking some other online Moussaka recipes and twisting them to match my memory. I'm sure I'll have to modify it as time goes on to get it tasting the way I originally had it. However, for now this one is pretty good. 

    In the future I'll be playing with pealing the Eggplant, breading and baking it. Primarily because the part of the Moussaka my kids like the least is the Eggplant skin. I'll also be playing with the spices, potatoes and wine. I've given hints about the Bechamel and I'll be playing with that more to decide exactly how I want it. I've folded in beaten egg whites and added grated cheese to it for added bulk and have liked the results. 

    Continue to my Moussaka Recipe.

  • Moussaka!

    There's a wild Moussaka loose in the theater! When I tell people I'm eating Moussaka for dinner I get some strange responses. At the very least I get a "What's Moussaka?" with a wrinkled up nose. I tell them it's like Lasagna without the noodles, meat, tomato sauce or cheese which is usually followed by an "Oh!" from them. So what is Moussaka? It's a Greek cassarole dish comprised of lamb, eggplant, breadcrumbs, spices and bechemal sauce. Sometimes we cheat and use half lamb and half hamburger if we're poor. The meat is cooked with spices and herbs (cinnamon, cloves, garlic) and then the pan is deglazed with red wine. Tomato puree is added and the whole thing is simmered for a while. The breadcrumbs, meat mixture and fried eggplant are layered in a glass baking dish and topped with Bechamel and baked for 30 minutes. Our recipe is getting closer to being where I want it and when I'm happy I'll upload the recipe. Moussaka is good paired with pita brushed with olive oil and warmed on a comal dipped in Tzatziki sauce.

  • Moussaka! Kalí óreksi! How I've missed you.

    I was going back through recipes from my old site to put up here and I was shocked at how poor my food photography was so I made Moussaka for the sole purpose of taking new photos. That and Fred Meyer had Aubergine for $1 each which is pretty good. 

     

    Moussaka is one of my favorite Greek dishes to make even though I'm definitely not in the eggplant lovers club. The way I feel about eggplant is that if you could tenderize a slug but keep the sliminess you'd have an eggplant. However, the meat and flavorings in Moussaka are nice enough to overpower any anti-eggplant reactions I may have. My favorite part though is the Béchamel Sauce poured over the top. The recipe calls for parmigiana and feta cheeses but I did parmigiana and a cave aged Gruyère which worked out nicely. I also like Moussake with potatoes in it which I didn't have (and was snowed in) so that went. For meat lamb is best, 50/50 lamb beef is next and just beef being last. However, beef is still enjoyable because of the spices and red wine in it. I used a Ste. Michelle soft red blend that I had uncorked already. My favorite wine for this dish is a Côtes du Rhône blend of Granache and Syrah. If you don't put wine in it you'll definitely notice but I'm not sure the type of wine is as big a deal as in other recipes. I see recipes that use white wine though and I'm not so sure about that. This is a hearty dish with hearty flavors, red seems to go better.

      

  • Munchkin Pumpkin Pots de Creme

    I have a few more Cinderella pumpkins in the garage and needed to use up some of the puree so this is the result. I made these a few years ago and they were a big hit so here we are again. The basic recipe is really easy if you have pumpkin puree around. If not you can take the meat of a pumpkin cut into cubes and brought to a boil in 3/4 cup of milk then simmered until the pumpkin meat is tender. Once that's done (or you bake your pumpkins like I do) just follow the recipe. The Custard recipe comes from The Good Food Channel in the UK so I oppologize ahead of time if you're not used to metric measurements. Any decent set of measuring cups have both metrics and American Standard measurements on it. Sugar is measured in weight (as it should be) so you'll need a scale or you can go online to find a converter.

    • 375g pumpkin puree
    • 125ml double cream
    • 3 large eggs
    • 60g caster sugar
    • 35g soft dark brown sugar
    • 1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
    • 1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
    • 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
    • 50g unsalted butter, melted and cooled

    Puree the pumpkin and 125ml of milk in the blender. In a medium bowl whisk the eggs and cream together then add the pumpkin puree/milk mixture, the caster sugar and brown sugar and all the spices. Definitely use fresh grated nutmeg in this recipe, you can thank me later. Add the melted butter and pass the mixture through a fine sieve.

    Cut off the tops of 8 munchkin pumpkins and scoop the seeds and strings out. Fill the pumpkins to about 1/4 inch below the surface and place in a large roaster. Fill the roaster with water to about halfway up the sides of the pumpkins. Place in a 170c degree oven (325 Fahrenheit) for about 35 minutes or until the custard has set. The surface should feel firm when pushed and liquid should not ooze out from under the top. I put 35 minutes as a general measurement but I think it takes longer than that, I haven't measured. Just start looking at them when they've been in for 35 minutes and cook them until done. When done grate some more fresh nutmeg on the top and let them cool.

  • My contribution to Thanksgiving

    Just thought I'd post the photos of my Thanksgiving dishes. The munchkin pumpkins are filled with pumpkin creme anglaise. The other dish has roasted butternut squash, fennel, quince and fresh cranberries boiled in my favorite Cote de Rhone red wine.

  • My new pizza stone/hearth oven

    I'd love to have a big wood fired hearth oven but that's just not happening anytime soon. In the past I've used Pizza stones to approximate the same but after a while they crack and can be a bit expensive ($25) to replace. They also don't fit my oven since they're round and for the same reason only allow one pizza per stone to be cooked. What I've really been looking for was one large square pizza stone that would better cover the rack and allow me to cook several pizzas at a time. I've found a few square stones but strangely they don't fit my standard sized oven very well. It baffles me as to why someone wouldn't make it the same size as the oven. Maybe cost is the reason, it usually is.

    Another option is a full hearth kit for the oven which provides stone walls and lining but costs a lot more money. My solution for now is to line the shelves of the oven with unglazed quarry tiles. I need to trim a little off one line of tiles to get it to fit and I'm also going to attach them somehow to a sheet of metal so they'll all remain flat when I have them in. I'm thinking of picking up the cheapest unrimmed cookie sheet for this purpose and using Kent HT silicone (food safe and withstands heat to 600 degrees). I paid $10 for enough quarry tiles to cover two racks so I may even experiment with a double layer of tiles to hold more heat. A hearth kit for $20 and a little elbow grease, not bad.

  • 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.

     

     

  • Naan and non-naan

    I've said this before and I'll say it again - simple things are sometimes harder to cook than complex things. If you have a lot of ingredients in a dish you can usually recover it if something goes wrong. If you only have 3 ingredients (like some breads) it may be difficult to master a recipe. To drive this point home Julia Child after having attended and graduating from Le Corden Bleu went through 200lbs of flour trying to make a decent baguette and failed. It wasn't until she got invited into a boulangerie and saw the tricks could she pull off a decent baguette at home. Baguettes if you don't know have 4 ingredients and one of those is water.

    I've mastered making pita at home but for Indian dinners we really want naan. So far I've been a complete failure making naan. The last dinner we had I made both naan and pita and in case the naan wasn't right - we ate the pita. A local restaurant gave me a tip - they cook it twice, once in the oven and once in the tandoori. I don't have a tandoori and I never will but this gets me closer.

    So I'm here to say that I'm going to figure out naan. To start things out right I just bought 20lbs of Chapati flour that Indians use for making Chapati (of course,) Roti and Paratha. I've heard it's also good for making naan, we'll se about that.

    The way I figure it I have enough flour to screw naan up 40 times which might be what it takes. I hope I don't have to use as much a Julia Child did but I WILL figure out naan.

    P.S. Before emailing me links of naan recipes please try them. I've tried many and they all make glorified pita. If you however have been successful in making naan then by all means drop me a line.

  • Nine hour smoked Brisket

     

    Seattle temperatures nearly reached 60 degrees yesterday so I felt it time to fire up the smoker red hot and burn the living organic matter from it that accumulated during the wet winter. Once the inside was nice and clean and my bricks had lost their green fungus overtones I loaded the offset chamber with mesquite lump charcoal and brought the temp to 250. Once the temp

     had stabilized I loaded it with a heavily rubbed point beef brisket and smoked it with hickory fairly heavy for about 4 hrs at between 250-225 degrees which is longer than I usually do but I felt adventurous. To be honest after this winter I think I just missed the smell of the smoker running in the back yard. The Brisket was then double wrapped and put in the oven at 225. I probably should have pulled it at 8 hrs but it still turned out really great. The fat cap was mostly gone, the texture like melted butter and after resting very little juices ran off.  It has a great layer of bark and the flavor nice and smokey.

    The photo to the right is cut against the grain. You can see the substantial bark and the looseness of the muscle fiber.

  • Oaxaca! Maybe it's time for Mole...


    My favorite state in Mexico is definitely Oaxaca. Oaxaca is second most southern state in Mexico near the Guatemala border. It's roughly about as far south as Belize and has decent climate.  It has untouristed beaches facing south, excellent ancient ruins like Mitla and Mont Alban a ancient hilltop Zapotec village with planetarium, ball court and hospital. There is just enough tourism for services to be available but not enough to be really irritating like the entire east coast of the Yukatan Peninsula or the many west coast resort towns like Acapulco, Mazatlan, and Puerta Villarta. But the real reason I like Oaxaca is for the nice people and the wonderful food. Even among Mexicans the Oaxacans excel. Oaxaca is billed as the land of the 7 moles. If you haven't had mole you need to fly to Oaxaca. Don't go to your local Azteca for it because you'll decide that you don't like it. That's about the same as going to Olive Garden and having "Italian" food (pronounced with a long i!).  If you're wanting to know a bit more about mole visit the Wikipedia page on mole.

  • Oaxaca!!!

    Wow, Oaxaca has become mainstream! In case you've been hiding under a rock for the last few years there's this place called Oaxaca (wa-HA-ku) in southern Mexico about the same latitude as the country of Belize that has great food, great people and great ruins. It also seems to have been discovered. In the first 15 minutes of being in the zocolo I've seen more tourists than ALL of Mexico City. We came into Oaxaca llate last night, got signed into our Hostel and went out to eat. Credit cards are not used that much here and our hostel charged us 10% more to use my card so I chose to pay for one night and I'll go to the ATM to get cash to pay for the other nights. I've found this to be the case everywhere including restaurants. The money thing is a bit out of control because the exchange rate is 12.5 to one. That means I paid 2,500 pesos for a hostel for 4 nights. It's not hard to pay 2000 pesos for bus tickets or 600 pesos for dinner. Each peso is worth less than one dime so it's like you're paying for everything in dimes. What's more interesting is the lack of ability to make change for anything over a 20 peso bill. I remember the last time I was here I went into an ice cream shop and tried buying four ice cream cones with a 50 peso bill and they about fell over. Not understanding how cheap things were I though $5 USD would cover it. I ended up digging through my pockets for change 10 pesos in change. Another time I tried buying an antibiotic and band-aids from a pharmacy with a 500 ($40 USD) and the girls eyes about popped out of her head when she saw it. My daily budget for 4 people is roughly 1000 pesos or $80 for food and accommodations.

     

    So first day in Oaxaca and I've already seen changes since the last time I was here. Before it was more common to see tourists than Mexico City but not overwhelmingly so. This time every third person was a tourist from somewhere and there were plenty of Americans as well which you rarely ever see in Mexico City. I wish prosperity for the Oaxacenos but at the same time hope they don't turn into Cancun because a beautiful city will have been destroyed. It will be difficult for Oaxaca in the future to remember who they are so many tourists that it will be more profitable satisfying the demand for Nachos and Burritos. Italy has had so much tourism that it's all but been dissolved into Disneyland and I pray that Oaxaca doesn't suffer the same fate.

    Our plan for day one of Oaxaca was to get our bearings, wander the streets, eat good food and figure out how to get to Monte Alban. We've been to Monte Alban before but we took a tour which had an excellent guide but only left us 15 minutes of personal time. Monte Alban is a lot like Machu Picchu in that you're best memories may be just sitting under a tree imagining what this once great city may have been like. This is what we planned on doing and in order to do that we needed to just find transportation alone.

    Oaxaca is famous for several things - chocolate, cheese and black pottery. South of the zocolo a few blocks is "chocolate corner" where you can get a cup of chocolate caliente at every corner or there about. Mayordomo is becoming the Starbucks of Oaxaca in putting a chocolate cafe on every block. I've had hot chocolate before and I've had mexican chocolate before (Mayordomo) but I've not sat down and ordered a hot chocolate from a chocolate cafe so that's on the agenda. The cheese they sell in the markets in the form of giant balls that are wound of long flat "noodles" of cheese. I bought one kilo of cheese to eat as snacks while we walked around. It's good cheese that resembles a salty mozerella more than anything.  The last item is something special to this region. They hand make the pottery without the use of a pottery wheel, cut out designs in the sides then bury it underground cover it with green leaves and build a fire on top. The smoke impregnates the pottery making it a very deep charcoal black. The best part is they sell it for next to nothing. It really is beautiful and unlike anything you'll see anywhere else.

    The indoor market in Oaxaca City is possitively large and sells everything from handmade scarves to meat. I'd love to to have access to the mounds of chiles, chocolate and cheese not to mention the spices and other raw ingredients.

    We also planned on getting off the zocolo to eat some great food at cheaper prices than we enjoyed before. I believe I used the Moon guide on our first trip to Oaxaca and this time I brought the Let's Go which is great for budget travelers and not so good for those who want to spend their childrens inheritance on Oaxacano cuisine so we just had to wing it a bit.

    Before I go on I'll tell you a bit about Oaxaca the state and Oaxaca the city. Oaxaca (pronounced wa-HA-ku) the state is populated by many different indigenous groups which make up nearly half the populus. The most common is the Zapotecas followed by the Mixtecas. The former built Monte Alban, the latter build Mitla and eventually ruled Monte Alban. The difference between Oaxaca and the rest of Mexico is that the native people didn't mix with the Spanish so technically they live in Mexico but aren't Mexican. A lot of the people in the

    state don't speak Spanish either and stick to their original language. This brings a surprising diversity to the area and you'll notice that the people don't even look the same if you travel around the state. Oaxaca city has become very popular with tourists because it's a very pretty city with cobblestone streets and colonial Spanish architecture. The zocolo is one of the prettiest anywhere with gardens, an art nouveau gazebo, hundreds of planted poinsetias and two story Spanish colonades lining all four sides. Because I've never been to Spain it reminds me a great deal of Bologna Italy which has somewhere around 70 miles of porticos lining the street. The zocolo is in the same style. Two of the four corners are anchored by 450 year old churches and the area is mostly for pedestrian use only. The restaurants lining the zocolo on both first and second stories are mostly white table cloth fancy places with excellent traditional Oaxacano food. The exception to this being the one Basque restaurant which seemed to have gotten lost and ended up in southern Mexico. I'm not sure how that happened but a Spanish galleon and shackles may have been involved.

     

    I think I mentioned the hostel (Paulina Hostel) yesterday but I wanted to reiterate that this hostel is only about 3 blocks from the zocolo, is incredibly clean, is a Let's Go thumbs up and has a very tranquil inner courtyard with attached open eating area, free Internet and free breakfast. We rented all 5 beds in a 5 bed dormroom so we'd have a private room. There's wifi access just about everywhere except the room full of computers (ironically) so I can get on the Internet in our room. My only real complaint is the lack of power outlets in the rooms. I'm sure it's to discourage people from plugging in electric weed eaters or toasters but still I'd like to use my computer in my underwear which I currently can't do without shocking a bunch of German and Korean backpackers. I've only found four power outlets in all of the hostel – one I have to reach over a pool of water to access, the second has a christmas tree plugged into it, the third is in the dining room and the fourth the computer room. Each one of these places only has ONE outlet so I can't charge my laptop at the same time as my camera batteries. Today I'm going to go find a power strip of sorts.

     

    Before we left the hostel we handed over our clothes to be washed which cost us 75 pesos or about $6 which was fine. So in search of food we wandered the pedestrian street leading from the zocolo to the nearly 500 year old church of Santa Domingo

     

    We ran across the Catedral restaurant which had an inner courtyard. They had several mole entrees including Mole Almendrado (almond) which Natalya wanted. Overall the service was decent and the food average. The Mole Negro Tamale in banana leaf was the best thing there. Piper had squash flour soup with cubes of cheese and plantain molettas filled with meat neither of which she was impressed with because either the color or the texture was off. Jade had chicken breast with squash flower sauce which was decent. He didn't have any problem finishing it off. We were also reminded that if you can't speak the language and you didn't want something don't mention that you don't want it because they will only hear the part that they recognize (the item not wanted) and bring it to you. I ended up drinking both bottles of mineral water with gas. We made the mistake of saying no gas. No gas gets translated to gas which is what you get. We've learned this lesson before so we have no excuse. Sin gas is the secret password to water without bubbles or still water as the Brits say.

     

    During dinner we heard an American couple at the next table and before leaving I asked them where there where from to which they responded Boulder Colorado. Boulder? That was my response because usually the travelers I encounter are from California, Florida or New York. I bet their reverse culture shock after returning home is greater than ours. Anyway there names were Audry and Jeffery and seemed to be a very nice couple. She'd been to Oaxaca 30 years ago and I can only imagine how much it's changed in that amount of time. It's changed in the last 3 years so 30 years has to be a big jump. She asked me about San Miguel de Allende and Puebla too so apparently she'd either been to them or had been doing some reading. She was also aware of the hot springs, the big tree and Mitla. There's a slight chance we may run into them tomorrow since they too decided to go to Monte Alban via the bus. I hadn't researched how to do that yet but I know it's possible.

    Mexico does Christmas a lot different than the States. Since 97% of the population identifies themselves as Catholic they celebrate Christmas from December 25th to January 6th. Even now near the first the zocolo is going full swing with bands, decorations and many many people. Thankfully our hostel is a couple of blocks away so we can get some sleep.

  • Out with Greece, in with Mexico

     

    I pondered on whether I'd mention Mexico in the title of this blog post because you'd be hard pressed to find fajitas in Mexico. But in fact the Mexican people created fajitas even if they did do it in the States so the title stands. We just finished up the Moussaka and I had a couple of pounds of pork loin in the freezer than needed to be used and some red bells that were starting to wrinkle so we threw together some pork fajitas for dinner. When you're using skirt steak you don't have to do anything to the meat in order for it to taste great but skirt steak is $8/lb which is a bit too rich for my blood right now. Pork or chicken for that matter needs a little something so I whipped up some marinade that I'd created to give them flavor. A while back I'd found a commercial marinade that I liked the flavor of but it had way too many chemicals in it so I recreated it from scratch. It's not too hard to make and I'm mostly satisfied with it outside of the fact that Im using lite corn syrup which I want to cut out of my food. Later I'll spend a little more time to add a bit of heat, depth and get the corn syrup out but for now it stands. I don't eat fajitas that often so I've really not put much effort into the marinade.

     

     

     

    The fajita marinade comprises of the following ingredients.

    1. light corn syrup
    2. cider vinager
    3. lime juice
    4. ketchup
    5. mollases
    6. brown sugar
    7. cumin
    8. worchestershire sauce
    9. salt
    10. corriander
    11. garlic powder
    12. cayenne

    Yes this means it's very sweet. I want the corn syrup gone and I want more depth so I'll be playing with the spices and worchestershire sauce.

  • Persian Baklava

    Baklava is one of those desserts that you see in many cultures but I think it's origins go back to Assyria. Most people have probably had it at a Greek restaurant and some might even claim it to be a Greek dessert but in fact Baklava was one of the many things left behind after the 400 year occupation of Greece by the Turks. If you trace the history of the land we now call Turkey far enough you'll probably run into a bunch of Persians at some point. Not that Baklava originated from Persia because it probably didn't but the version I like the best is Persian. Greek Baklava usually has layers of Phyllo dough interlaced with layers of walnuts soaked in a sugary syrup. Persian Baklava strays from this formula a bit by using Almonds (without skins for New Year) or Pistachios mixed with Cardamom and perfumed with Rose water. This version has a wonderful scent to it and a nice spice kick as well. If you've never had Cardamom then you're missing out. Just go to an Indian grocery and buy a bag of whole green cardamom pods. Break open a pod and chew the tiny black seeds that reside within and you'll be in for a treat. I'm not going to try to describe the flavor because I can't (I've tried), you just need to try it.

    If you take the time to blanch the Almonds and slip the skins off you will be rewarded with a nicer cleaner flavor. We're not done with the recipe yet but when we get it perfected (and I mean perfected) I'll post it to my online Recipe book for all to use. For now though, I give you photos.

  • Persian Jeweled Rice stuffed Yellow Bells

    I was in my local Indian market the other day and they had the nicest looking small yellow bell peppers and for only 50 cents each. Thoughts of what to do with them raced through my head. I've been wanting to branch out and utilize the Persian Jeweled rice or versions of it for more dishes so I decided to pick up some yellow bells and stuff them with Persian Jeweled rice. This turned out really good but possibly the peppers are too small. You find yourself digging through the pepper trying to get a bigger bite of the rice because it's so incredibly flavorful. The jeweled rice has caramelized carrots and orange rind in cardamom and cinnamon spiced basmati with butter and yogurt. Topped with caramelized onions and soaked berry mix with a touch of pomegranate seeds.

  • Phad Thai - it's what's for dinner

    Phad Thai is a very easy meal to make at home if you have the right ingredients. There are several brands of Phad Thai sauce on the market and frankly I'm not entirely happy with any of them alone. However upon buying several and inspecting the ingredients list and tasting them I've found an alternative to making my own Phad Thai sauce - speedball them! Mae Ploy one of my favorite Asian product makers focuses on fewer ingredients in their jarred Phad Thai sauce and only lists 11 items. Ingredients include palm sugar, shallot, water, fish sauce, soy bean oil, vinegar, tamarind, red chili, salted radish, dried shrimp and salt.  Por Kwan, another popular company has 14 ingredients so in exchange for the shallots in Mae Ploy's sauce they have onion and garlic, tartaric acid, citric acid and sodium metabisulphate. From the ingredients list the Mae Ploy definitely sounds like the better product but the overall effect is a sweeter sauce. After experimenting I've found the best combination is a 50/50 mix of both sauces.  I use one large jar of Mae Ploy and two small jars of Por Kwan.

  • 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.

  • Pizza

    I love pizza more than most things but I rarely eat it in Seattle. You'd think we were the pizza masters here based on the number of local pizza joints but in reality none of it's very good in my opinion. Pizza restaurants are opening at an alarming rate (5 new ones in Ballard this year) but they just keep churning out the same old crap. We were in the mood to eat great pizza so we had no other choice but to make it ourself. A lot of flour and water, a few pears, a bottle of South African chardonnay, a round of chevre, some cherry tomatoes and a sprinkle of balsamic vinegar and we're on our way. I didn't take pictures this time so I stole a photo from the last time I made this.

     

     

     

     

     

     

    We also made some BBQ chicken pizzas which also didn't take a picture of. We used a Mozzerella, Provolone and Parmesian cheese blend with chicken and BBQ sauce augmented with carmelized red onion and cilantro. I also didn't take pictures of these pizzas either because we've done this before. The photo shown is from the last time when I used Smoked Gouda instead of the cheese blend.

  • Pizza dough, Persian Jeweled Rice, Boniatillo and Gulab Jamon recipes

    I've imported four more recipes from my old site to my new one - Pizza dough, Persian Jeweled Rice, Boniatillo and Gulab Jamon. Quite a mix for sure but they're the ones that have been requested the most so they come first.

    The Pizza Dough recipe has served me well and for Italian style thin pizzas cooked on a stone it's been the best recipe I've come across. The dough is easy to work with and cooks up nice. 

    Persian Jeweled rice is probably the most elegant and regal way that I've ever had rice. The ingredients list is a bit harder to come by since I've specified some brands but the results are very nice. 

    Boniatillo is a Latin American sweet potato dessert that's fairly simple and surprisingly good. You use the orange sweet potatoes (often misnamed Yams in the store) along with some citrus flavors to make a nice dessert with the perfect balance of sweet and savory.

    Gulab Jamon is an Indian (dot not feather) dessert often found in Indian restaurants. 

     

    In uploading these recipes I've found that my photography skills have improved remarkably. In fact I feel a bit ashamed at uploading these photos but as soon as I make each again I'll take new ones. 

    Recipes:

    Pizza Dough     Persian Jeweled Rice     Boniatillo    Gulab Jamon

     

      

  • Poor lazy people eat better

    You may be wondering about the title of today's article. You may also be wondering if I'm nuts but just hear me out. I've always loved bread and when I was a kid I'd visit my grandmother who made bread every other day. I can remember the amount of work involved but loved putting real butter on a slice as soon as it came out of the oven. I make most of my flat bread at home because I just can't get myself to choke down the store bought stuff. I also make all of my sweet breads for the same reason. Over the years I've dabbled with baking artisan breads and have had decent luck with them.

    In case nobody has noticed the States (and maybe the world) is currently in a bit of a recession so for a lot of folks money is a bit tight. We're also having a food epidemic in that we keep eating more and more crap and the country as a whole has become unhealthy and obese. This is a more complex problem then what I'm going to discuss right now but you can watch Jamie Oliver's TED speech if you doubt how bad this problem has become. So whenever I run across a solution to more than one problem with little to no drawbacks I get excited about it. In my tiny corner of the universe I'd like to save a bit of money and eat better. This isn't so hard to do but you usually have to sacrifice a great deal of time to do so until now. On good advice I've been playing around with Jeff Hertzberg and Zoë François' book Artisan Bread in 5 Minutes a Day. The idea is if you make a bunch of dough, keep it in the fridge and just cut off a chunk every day to bake then you're only spending 5 minutes per day making homemade bread. The reality is you're spending 5 minutes of your time but start to finish it takes about 90 minutes to 2 hrs a day to have bread but you're not doing anything during that time. You could be watching a movie. Not any dough can be used in this manner so they came up with a super saturated dough that will keep in the fridge for up to two weeks.

    The process goes something like this. Throw a bunch of stuff in a mixer, turn it on for a couple of minutes just until it's mixed (but don't knead it) and cover it to let it rise for about an hour. Then take the dough, put it in the fridge and then the next day you can start baking. Because there's so much water in the dough it's much nicer to work with when it's cold. Whenever you want bread you just cut off a grapefruit sized portion, fold the corners under so it makes a nice ball and drop it on a cornmeal covered pizza peel. Forty minutes later after it's warmed up you pop it in the oven and cook it for half an hour and you have fresh bread in 5 minutes a day.

    So far I've been very impressed because all of the work involved in traditional bread is just not there. You don't knead the bread ever, you don't have to start 4 hrs before dinner making the dough, you don't have to watch it's rise and punch it down half way through or anything. The only real issue is that since it's so wet it can be quite sticky. I'm trying various things to combat that. Cornmeal on the peel helps but doesn't solve the problem. Tonight I put down flour and then cornmeal and it still stuck but an oiled spatula was able to break it free and onto the clay tiles in my oven.

    To summarize you can make good bread in 5 minutes a day for about 35 cents a loaf and you don't need any special equipment outside of a baking stone. Poor lazy people eat better.

  • Pumpkin and Mascarpone Lasagna

    It's been a while since I put up any recipes but I recently hosted the end of the quarter potluck for my classes and so in doing that spent most of a day cooking. On occasion I have a vegetarian student and I pull out the old favorite - Pumpkin and Mascarpone Lasagna. It also just so happened that I had just enough pumpkin left from my second to last pumpkin of the season. The recipe calls for 2 lbs which is quite a lot and I had exactly that.

    The nice thing about this recipe is that it's nice, light and a bit exciting. The reaction you have after eating this is the same as the reaction from Butternut Squash Ravioli - you wonder why people limit themselves to boring meat/cheese and red sauce noodles. The flavors are bright and exciting, meat or cheese lasagna is boring and drab. Maybe it's not for everyone but so far every person I've fed it to really liked it and in addition it's good for most vegetarians (has dairy and eggs) and like many non-meat foods, it's cheap. In fact as I made it the cost is roughly $1 per slice of lasagna and half that cost comes from cheese. Shop around and you may be able to make it for less. 

    The Recipe: Pumpkin and Mascarpone Lasagna

    Note for anyone not willing to eat eggs they can just leave them out of the Bechamel. It will be less fluffy but still very nice.

  • Pumpkin bread loaf number 1 - 2011

    My first Cinderella Pumpkin was very productive and gave me a great deal of pumpkin so naturally I wanted to do something with it so I made bread as I always do. I've always been very reluctant to put up a Pumpkin Bread recipe because there's a LOT of method involved in how I do it. The reason for this is the amount of moisture in the fresh pumpkin I use. Also every loaf has a full 2 cups of pumpkin in it thus compounding the problem. When you have wet recipes it's very easy to end up with a mess. Also my readers pumpkins may be dryer or wetter than mine thus needing modifications to the recipe. So after 10 years I've still not posted the recipe for my bread.

    In addition the first loaf of the year may or may not turn out since I'm getting the feel of my pumpkins. I've made the recipe more reliable in the past by putting the pumpkin meat in a pan over low heat and condensing the flavor by steaming out some of the liquid. This also takes some of the moisture out of the bread which I don't want. It's all about weights and balances which only my eyes and fingers know. Recipe or no, I baked a loaf and of course took photos.

    I'm sure there will be more later.

  • Pumpkin Smackdown!

    Many years ago when my daughter was first born we'd receive WIC coupons from the local office for food to help with nutrition and such. Those coupons were only good for certain things but you could buy just about anything from the local farmers market with them. Breezing the halls of the farmers market was an interesting thing because at the time I didn't do a lot of cooking and the only thing the farmer's market sold was items that needed to be cooked. As fate would have it I made a choice and bought a pumpkin. Once home I had to figure out what to do with it so I made Pumpkin bread and the rest as they say is history.

    I've now been making Pumpkin bread every fall for 20 years without missing a single season. Since then I've also learned a great deal about food and Pumpkins specifically. As most people I started out buying Jack-o-Lantern pumpkins because this is the quintessential pumpkin that everyone recognizes. Little did I know they don't make great food. Cooks Illustrated a magazine I respect greatly maintains the idea that it's just not worth the effort to cook raw pumpkins but I beg to differ. Had I stopped at the Jack-o-Lantern pumpkins I would agree but there are better pumpkins out there when you have food in mind which is why we're here today.

      

    Pumpkin Varieties

    Shortly I'll be outlining the 3 pumpkin varieties worth considering for food and referencing the pumpkin people usually try to make food out of unsuccessfully – the Jack-o-Lantern. There are many many varieties of pumpkins but half of them are branches from the Jack-o-lantern tree so we'll cover them together. Then there's the smallish Sugar Pie Pumpkin, the Long Island Cheese Wheel and the Cinderella. The latter two have limited availability although popularity of the Cinderella seems to be on the rise if only slightly.

     

    Testing Criteria 

    Flavor: Of course flavor will be number one. Contrary to popular belief not all pumpkins taste the same and why would they? Not all squash taste the same so it makes sense. 

    Texture: Texture is important when making puree out of the meat.

    Cookability: This is more important than you think. I've cooked pumpkins every possible way looking for the method that gives me the most meat, the best flavor and texture. Some pumpkins are more cookable than others. Pumpkins that are too small or too large are difficult to cook while either maintaining flavor or getting a decent ratio of meat to work involved. See my method on how to cook a pumpkin a bit later in this article. 

    Longevity: Because I only use fresh pumpkin in my bread and I worry about availability more than most. Most pumpkins disappear from the store about Halloween time. This is a problem for me because I like cooking pumpkin bread for more than the two weeks leading up the Halloween. There are vast differences between pumpkins in regard to longevity.

    Availability: Availability is important because if you can't buy the variety to begin with it doesn't matter how good it is. Some pumpkins like Jack-o-Lantern are always available around Halloween but ONLY right up to October 31st. Try to get one the next day. Others just aren't distributed or grown much.

    Cost: How much do I usually have to pay?

      

  • Pumpkins are food... eat them. Really!

    It's that time of year again.... The leaves are falling, the grapes are a bit surprised at our 60 degree daytime temps and pumpkins are available from the farms. It's Pumpkin Bread time -  a 20 year tradition at The Man, The Myth, The Legend. It all started two decades ago when we got coupons to spend at the local farmers market. Not knowing what to spend them on I bought a pumpkin and made bread from a recipe out of the 1971 edition of The Joy of Cooking (not to be confused with the 1969 edition of The Joy of Sex, something you only do once for sure). The bread was not bad and we got to use the pumpkin. In the last 20 years I've cooked pumpkin every way possible, changed recipes, tossed out ingredients, added others and about 10 years ago figured I was done. Since then I've played a bit with baking dishes, clay tiles etc. but the ingredients and methods have been locked in and now is just a tradition that we look forward to. Following is a few tips.

    1. Don't use Jack-o-lantern pumpkins for anything. No really, don't. They're not food, they're tasteless mass.
    2. Buy Cinderella Pumpkins no larger than 12 inches in diameter
    3. Buy your pumpkins from a farm. Most farms have them from late September to Halloween. Not all farms have Cinderellas so you might ask first.
    4. Don't get pumpkins from the store unless they're Sugar Pie pumpkins (my second choice)
    5. Do not boil, steam or bake open side up. You actually want to keep the flavor, not disperse with it.
    6. Don't believe Christopher Kimble and the America's Test Kitchen staff when they say fresh pumpkin isn't worth the effort. The next time I see him I'll bring both canned and fresh to see if I can change his mind.

    I've cooked many different types of pumpkins many different ways. If you use Jack-o-lanterns from the store you might as well just pick up a can of pumpkin puree because you won't be able to tell the difference. Cinderellas have consistently won my choice as the best pumpkins for the following reasons.

    • Best flavor. Sugar Pie is also good
    • Large enough to be worth the trouble. Sugar Pie don't have a lot of meat so take a great deal more work
    • They last forever. I don't know why but they do. I've had Cinderellas which were picked in October still be cookable in December. This extends my Pumpkin Bread season.
    • They're a flat pumpkin (think Cinderellas Carriage) so you can cook both halves in a standard oven at the same time otherwise it would take 6 hrs which is quite a lot.
    • Good texture. If cooked like I outline below the meat nearly has the consistency of applesauce (no strings).

    There is ONE way to cook pumpkin and retain as much of the flavor as possible.  With the longest stiff knife you own cut the pumpkin around the equator (beltline). If you do it right your blade will return back to where you started in the exact latitude. Sometimes I'm off by an eighth of an inch. In this case cut the surface on both pumpkins so it's as flat as possible. Place them face down on a counter to see if there's any air gaps. Scrape out the strings and seeds until the walls of the pumpkin are smooth and lighter orange colored. The strings and goo attached to it have a deeper orange color. Don't dig too much into the meat, it's precious. The texture of the meat changes depending on the season, how much rain, how early you picked the pumpkin and so on. If it's spongy and dry be especially careful of removing meat. If it's firm the go ahead and scrape the walls smooth. The best meat is around the beltline of the pumpkin so try to keep as much as possible while still leaving a smooth surface.. Once they're flat place them cut side down on a half sheet pan and in an oven at 350 degrees. It will take somewhere near 3 hours to cook. You will get to know when they're done by looking at them. The outside of the pumpkin should be charred a bit but it should still be holding it's shape. The reason for this is if you got a good seal the steam inside the pumpkin holds it up. This is very important because if you didn't get a good seal the steam will escape and the meat of the pumpkin will rest on the pan and burn. Cut it right and it will turn out.  If the pumpkin hasn't caved in and you're not sure if it's done leave it in the oven longer. When you think it's done stick a pie server under one edge and lift. A large amount of liquid will come rushing out. Suck this off using a Turkey baster so it doesn't spill when removing the pumpkin from the oven. Remove and let cook.

    Once the pumpkins are cool place another half sheet pan on the skin side of the pumpkin sandwiching it between the two half sheet pans. Turn them both over quickly and remove the pan that the pumpkin was cooked on. This will leave the cooked pumpkin facing cut side up which eases the removal of the meat. I've been using a cheese slicer for 20 years to scrape out my pumpkins and sadly this is it's last pumpkin. I've already started looking online to find another. It's the perfect tool because of the round shape of it. You could probably use a large spoon but your goal is to scrape, not scoop because you'll never get the walls smooth and you'll lose too much meat. Perhaps a very shallow spoon would work with a nice defined edge.

    As I've said the best pumpkin is around the beltline and I'm a bit picky about the meat near the stem as it's flavor isn't as nice. If your pumpkin is cooked properly you will take the meat around the beltine clear out to the skin. Near the stem go by color. If it's looking a bit dark leave it. It won't hurt you but it's more bitter.

    I've experimented with all the liquid that comes out of the pumpkin. It HAS flavor but reducing it with the meat doesn't make enough difference in my opinion to be worth the effort. I'm still looking for a use for it though. I wonder if it could help flavor squash soups etc...

    Store the pumpkin in a plastic container with a lid that seals in the refrigerator. I've tried canning and freezing the cooked meat and I lose too much flavor both ways so I've decided that pumpkin bread is seasonal and why not? You have to have something to look forward to in the fall.

    Well, that's it. In the next few days I'll be making bread so there will be an article on that.

     

     

  • 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.

  • Ravioli in Pummelo Cream. Who comes up with this stuff?

    Everytime I walk by a Pummelo in the store I have to pick it up and smell it. This wonderful fruit is the grandfather to the grapefruit and according to the scientists a Pummelo and an Orange had too much to drink one night and before the Pummelo finished school and saved enough money to move out of the trailer the orange had given birth to a grapefruit. The grapefruit seemed like it was going to be a complete failure at first but both of it's parents saw something in it and with encouragement it went on to become a star even if it's temperament was a bit sour at times. Or so that's what the scientists say.

    The reason I pick up Pummelos and smell them is because they have a nice grapefruity smell that's sweet, not sour. I've been envisioning Pummelo garlic sauces for chicken and Pumelo cream sauces for stuffed pasta. Up until lately they've been too green but the Asian markets have nice yellow ones now so it was time to see what I could do with this fruit.

    First of all I think most of the flavor is in the meat. I drained the juice and added it to my shallot/sherry mixture and the Sherry completely overwhelmed it. Next time I'll cut the shallots in half and ax the Sherry completely. If I keep the wine I'll probably go for a nice mild Riesling. Anyway I was also candying orange peals for the garnish in a cardamom syrup so I added that to the cream and it perked up quite a bit. While I was plating it and getting the camera situated the parmesan started to cool giving the sauce a lumpy look. I'll address this next time. Overall it was a good first start but it will take a few more swings before I hit the ball out of the park. My judges (kids) scarfed it all down and licked their plates so I guess it wasn't complete loss.

  • Saint Angels and Skinny Coyotes - part 2

    I split this journal entry into two parts because only after I started writing did I realize how much I had to say about San Angel. San Angel may very well be my new favorite place in Mexico City. It's this very cute little "town" that the City absorbed with cobblestone streets and Spanish colonial buildings. What's neater is the park in the middle hosts an art market on Saturday that reminds me a lot of the one on Montmartre in Paris short of the mime infestation of the latter.

    There were some very nice restaurants there with tables out on the sidewalk very European style with prices in the 130 peso range for really nice meals. This is roughly equal to about $10 in the states which is expensive here but the food is much better than we'd get at home.

    I like San Angel a lot, I think I mentioned that. It's important to note though that if you think Mexico City looks like the pictures I've added to this blog you'll be a little disappointed when you get here. Just 3 blocks down the hill is a bus station with garbage strewn all over and open air stalls selling knockoff Rolexes. This still IS Mexico City afterall but you might think of San Angel as an oasis in a desert of chaos. I think it's definitely worth a visit especially if you want to get away. I've been to Mexico City several times and it's the first time I've wandered out this way. The first time we went to Coyoacan but we'd hired a private driver and didn't have enough time to do the San Angel to Coyoacan walk.

     

     

     

    fLike I mentioned earlier on Saturday there's an artisanal market in the square of San Angel. For those of you who poo poo the idea of carrying a guidebook around I'll have you know that we would have missed one of the coolest parts of our trip had I not read ahead.  So we wandered the stalls looking at the original Mexican art and I can say that it's all very good and original. Mexico has some great artists.  We then ventured inside to the Bazar de Sabado which many more shops and is a permenent exhibition hall with prices to match in an old hacienda with a restaurant in the central courtyard (with a mile long line). As this building was built in the Spanish hacienda style there were rooms all around the courtyard and each room has been turned into a salesroom for different artists. In one room you might find pottery and in the next jewelry. It took quite some time to shuffle our way through the rooms as they were very very crowded and per the norm we ran into a few other Americans which did not fail to live up to the stereotype.

     

    Our stomachs were starting to complain so we decided to search out food. The way we budgeted this trip was to have two cheap meals (street food) and one fancy meal which took up the majority of our daily food budget. There were so many nice restaurants that we nearly had our big meal in San Angel. All the while we've been in Mexico City we've been passing Tacos el Pastor stands and we definately can't get decent Tacos el Pastor in the states so we took a vote and the majority decided to eat Tacos el Pastor on the square and save our large meal for later. There was a place that advertised Tacos el Pastor for 9 pesos which is roughly equivalent to pocket lint. We found out that they were not 9 pesos for the plate of four in the picture but 9 pesos each which for a meal is roughly equivalent to pocket lint from both front pockets, a ball point pen and a rubber band. We ordered 20 tacos el pastor. Tacos el pastor (you have to say that really fast or nobody here will understand you, go ahead and practice) are hard to find in the States. In Mexico they have a spit of pork mixed with onions and peppers rotating in a vertical position next to a heat source not unlike Greek gyro shops do it. This spit of meat sits there rotating all day and they just shave off meat when needed onto little corn tortillas about 2 inches across which you squeeze lime juice over. For reasons unknown to me you always get double tortillas. I'm not sure why that is and my Spanish is just good enough to find the toilet so I probably won't be solving that mystery any time soon.

     

     

    Piper of course had to buy a hand made indiginous doll to go with her collection so there was one lady making these gorgeous little Mexican dolls on the spot so Piper asked her Quanta Questa (phonetically, I don't write in Spanish) and she rattled off some prices which did us little good since we don't hear in Spanish either. My little notepad came to the rescue (today's travel tip, if you don't speak the language carry a notepad) and she outlined that the large dolls were $125 pesos ($10), medium $100 pesos ($8), smaller $60 pesos ($5) and smallest were $40 pesos ($3). Sometimes you feel bad about buying this stuff because it's so cheap. Those were the pre-bargain prices and we were supposed to talk her down but I just couldn't. Piper paid full price for a medium doll. Eight dollars for a very nice hand made doll with cloth body. Now that we'd taken a page from Cortes book and stolen from the natives we figured we'd head to Coyoacan - Cortes' home.

     

    The next leg of our day was spent walking to another suburban “town” named skinny coyote or coyoacan. Coyoacan is where Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera lived as well as where Leon Trotsky spent his last days before being assassinated by one of his servants which just backs up the old saying that most "accidents" happen within 10 miles of your home, would could ask President Carranza to back me up on that one. Coyoacan however came into existence when Cortes decided not to live on the swampy rattlesnake infested island where Tenochtitlan was and built his house on the shore of the lake Texcoco. That house still stands today and is coming up on it's 500th birthday. I believe it's administrative offices now but mostly ends up being the backdrop for a bunch of tourist photos of friends and families. Mexico City is only allowed to have two Zocolos (main squares) and the one at Coyoacan is the second. I'm thinking that the link to Cortes probably helped. Coyoacan is probably the only other place besides San Angel where I'd actually live in Mexico City since it reminds me of Oaxaca so much. We watched a Quinceanera celebration in front of the church which got Natalya all excited because they had gorgeous dresses on. I do have to admit they looked very beautiful which brings me to another topic.

    Whatever stereotype about Mexicans you buy into it's probably wrong. Mexicans range from short to very tall and ugly as sin to absolutely gorgeous. They can be as white as I am - no make that as white as Natalya or very dark brown. There is a very large range of people who fall under the category of Mexican and this makes Mexico a very fun place to people watch. Actually they spend as much time watching us as we spend watching them. Mexico City doesn't get a lot of American tourists so we're a bit of a spectacle. As we walk down the street people will either pay us no mind whatsoever (the nananana response) or stare and smile – there's nothing in between. Every guy of all age looks Natalya up and down which she's getting used to slowly. It's very interesting.

    After taking the metro back we went to find the Pastalaria Ideal to get pastries but it was out of about everything so we went around the corner to the Churreria (24 hour Churro and Hot Chocolate shop, just imagine a donut shop that sells chocolate instaead of cofee) which had about 50 people waiting to get in so we skipped that as well. On our way back to the hotel we walked up a pedestrian only street and believe it or not ate at a Chinese restaurant. Yes, that's right we had Chinese. It was cheap and it was fast so it served nicely. When it came to pay though I was short a few pesos and they didn't take credit cards so I ran to the ATM which refused my card as did the next one. I returned to make a deal with the restaurant and we scraped up every penny we had and gave it to them which they accepted. You have to love Mexico... Especially when you don't have enough money to pay the bill. They're very laid back about everything.

    Upon getting to the hotel we all passed out from exhaustion. Tomorrow is unplanned so we don't know what we'll be doing. I'd like to make it to Tula but a private driver will cost $100 for all day. This includes a stop of at Tepozollan and Teotihuacan. I haven't decided if I want to spend the money since we could take a bus for a lot less...

     

     

     

     

     

  • Simple Italian

    Although we're out of our "travel to Italy" phase (you can thank the Italians for that) we still eat Italian food. Just so everyone knows Italian is pronounced with a short Iand not eye-talian (there is no country pronounced eye-taly). Now that I have that off my chest I'll continue. We still eat Italian but we rarely ever go out to eat at Italian restaurants because just as French food get's lost in the translation to America so does Italian. In Italy most dishes are very simple to make and have a nice clean goodness to them. At italian restaurants in the States the same dishes are complex, expensive and heavy. It doesn't seem to matter if the owners are actually from Italy either because they do the same thing. Mexican's make crappy food in America and wonderful food in Mexico, Italians make crappy food in America and wonderful food in Italy. I'm not sure what the source of this is but it exists nonetheless. So anyway we wanted a simple meal tonight so we fixed Italian (remember Italian = simple, say it three times).

    Usually we make our own stuffed pasta but this time we cheated. We bought frozen butternut squash filled ravioli. The problem with store bought ravioli is they have no real flavor. Even though you can look at the ingredients list and see everything is there they come out real bland. For the sauce we browned one stick of butter until it foamed and then added the sage leaves while removing it from the stove. While that was cooling I made some Buerre Monte which is an emulsion of water and butter. Buerre Monte is the coolest thing ever. You just boil about 1 TBs of water in a pan and then wisk in butter a TBs or two at a time. This emulsion process keeps the fats and milk solids from seperating from the butter. I mixed in some of the Buerre Monte to thicken our browned butter a bit and shredded some parmesan over the top and it was ready. The whole meal was done in the amount of time it takes to boil water.

     

     

  • Smoked pork loin

    I've been wanting to move away from all processed foods and one thing I've been eating for 20 years is frozen burritos for breakfast. It might be weird to think of burritos as breakfast food but I've always liked them and they're convenient. Once I became poor (my current income category) I started looking at making my own burritos for cost reasons but it's really really hard to make them less than 30 cents each which is what I buy them for. Granted they'd be better for me and taste better but oh the agony of labor.

    A few weeks ago I boiled about 5 lbs of pork loin with onion, garlic and some other stuff. Once it was just falling apart I shredded it, seared it along with some onion, added pureed roast tomatoes, chilis and garlic then Mexican tomato rice and black beans and wrapped them in a large tortilla. These were surprisingly good and have convinced me that it's worth the effort.

    I'm not satisfied with the flavor of the poached pork so this time since I was home working anyway I put the loin in the smoker. It was also an experiment in how long many hours I can get out of it on each chimney of charcoal. I placed bricks from the front yard in the belly of the smoker, started a charcoal chimney of lump charcoal and using the minion method dumped it over a layer of unburned charcoal. I apparently choked the air down too much because 4 hrs later the temp had dropped below 200 degrees.  Lump charcoal seems to want more air than brickettes as the firebox was half full of unburned charcoal. I started a half chimney of brickettes to throw on top of the unburned lump and let it go. I returned from the concert tonight to find my smoker still at 200 degrees! Not bad, I replenished once in 11 hrs and the temperature never fluctuated more than 50 degrees always staying between 200 and 250. Next time I'll give the lump more air to keep it alive and see how long I can go without replenishing. Keep in mind this is all being done with a $99 offset smoker picked up from Wallmart. Ok so it has a few modifications but still.

    Tomorrow I'll shred it, combine it with grilled onion, a little sauce, my black beans I cooked today, some roasted tomato and pasilla salsa, my classic tomato Mexican rice and maybe some cheese and throw it in a burrito. I'll let you know how it turns out. The smell is awesome so far.

     

  • Squash and Mascarpone Lasagna?

    My cousin Robin sent me a link to a food blog that had posted one of Wolfgang Puck's creations that sounded interesting - Pumpkin Lasagna. I almost didn't try it because I've had Wolfgang Puck's frozen pizza (a word of advice to other chefs - don't!) and I've seen his junk cookware but it sounded like it would be fun and maybe even good. In Italy it's very common to have Pumpkin or Squash puree in stuffed noodles and they've become a favorite in our house. My other reason for making the recipe is that I don't really like Lasagna. This may sound counter-intuitive but it's not. Classic Lasagna is about as interesting as classic Spaghetti (sorry Spaghetti lovers) in that it's well - boring. There's nothing interesting about a tomato sauce and noodles topped with cheese. Yes, kids like it but that's because they don't know any better. Why make Pumpkin Lasagna? Because it isn't boring! So we followed the recipe as posted at the One Perfect Bite food blog which made it according to the original recipe (I assume) by using Pumpkin and Chevre. The one red flag was the amount of salt used in the filling - ONE TABLESPOON! That seemed excessive to me but I hate it when I go through the trouble of making a recipe and people substitute cheese whiz for Froie Gras then complain so in the 1 Tbsp of salt went. I didn't have enough fresh Thyme so I had to commit the ultimate evil and dig through the cupboard for the dried version. I had fresh sage and ground some nutmeg. The recipe called for "goat cheese" (whatever that is) or Mascarpone which sounded good so I used that. We had a ton of Delicata Squash in the garage so we baked it cut side down the way I do pumpkins and it turned out real nice.

    Conclusion: I think this recipe has real promise. If you like eating Squash then you'll love Squash Lasagna. However I was right on the money with the salt issue. I'm fairly certain that it was meant to be 1 tsp (teaspoon) and not 1 tbsp (tablespoon) as we had to gag it down. We'll be making it again later this week with a bit less Thyme, Sage and Salt. I believe this is the first time I've not doubled the herbs in a recipe and in fact pulled them back. Usually recipes lack flavor and need kick.

     

     

     

  • 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.

  • Sweet pepper totellini

     

    .Years ago I ate at the Europa Pizzaria in Spokane Wa, and had the most sublime creme sauce ever. It had sweet peppers in it and was so very mild that at first it didn't grab you but after each bite my willingness to take another bite grew. By the time I got to the end I was licking my plate. Here we are years later and I'm attempting to recreate it. I've only tried to make it a few times and I'm still nowhere near but I thought I'd post a pic or two anyway...

  • Sweet potato filled agnolotti in brown butter sage cream sauce

    I've been in the mood to make some real pasta in a while and have been wanting to try out agnolotti. Agnolotti are Piedmonts version of ravioli and I have to say that I think Piedmont has something over on the rest of Italy. They're pretty easy to make and you don't need forms like Ravioli plus they hold more sauce than Ravioli do.I filled the Agnolotti with sweet potatoes as apposted to using butternut squash as usual. The sweet potatoes after being spiced up with squab spices (cloves, cinnamon, corriander, black pepercorns, allspice, white pepper toasted and then all ground in a spice grinder) and mixed with butter and diced bacon taste about the same but has more body.

    The sauce is a mix of buerre monte and creme fraiche with 1/3 cup of blanched sage leaves blended in and strained. It's then topped with jullienned proccuto, browned butter and deep fried sage leaves.

    As a side note: I've noticed my youtube videos don't show up on my main page. To see them go to Food -> Blog

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

    [youtube:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aQFSdXmMffc]

     

     

     

     

     

     

    [youtube:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bzbCCkcXyUs]

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

  • Sweet potato pumpkin soup with parmesan croutons

    Google+ has been a very productive use of my time in a lot of ways. I have more intellectual conversations in one day than I've had on Facebook since the beginning. I fear that this will come to an end once everyone is using it but for now it's golden. If you'd like to follow me do so at gplus.to/grant.mcwilliams.

    Lately on Google+ I've been trying to boost the number of foodie posts and in turn ended up making a recipe that Elaina Samardzija posted. You can follow her on her Flavour blog where she talks a great deal about food and wine. You can find her Google+ info there and I recommend her for your foodie circles.

    The other day she posted a modification of Jamie Oliver's Butternut Squash soup recipe using pumpkin and sweet potatoes flavored with rosemary, red onion, carrots, sage and garlic. All good in my book. Since I had everything but the sweet potatoes I ran down to my local Indian market and picked up a few garnets (garnet yams are not yams, they're sweet potatoes, don't get me started).

    The smell from the kitchen was very nice and the soup was easy to make.  I'd post the recipe here but it makes more sense to just send you to her blog at Flavour. Besides you might find other things interesting to read.

    The gist of the soup is a melody of sweet potatoes, pumpkin, red onions, carrots, celery, garlic, rosemary and stock plus a touch of heat from cayenne. Topped with a sliced baguette sporting olive oil drizzles and shaved Parmesan toasted under the broiler.

    I've tasted Butternut squash soup before that I've really liked and have attempted all the famous versions of it and it's been OK but not great. This one is better than OK but still not "hit it out of the park good". The heat is nice, the overall flavor is nice and it sort of grows on you. I think I'll be spending some time on it in the future to see if I get it creamy smooth and more depth.

    The croûtons though I liked a lot and if you just cut them up and eat them with the soup it's a nice mixture of flavors. However, a change that I'll make the next time I do this is to fry them in olive oil in my non-stick pan like I do for my Fried baguette and truffle chèvre hors d'oeuvres. I think that will be an improvement.

    Overall very nice and perfect timing for winter

  • Sweet Potato Smackdown!

    I've been wanting to discus the venerable sweet potato for quite a while. Having read Chilies to Chocolate: Food the Americas Gave to the World and History of Food I've been curious about the confusion surrounding sweet potatoes. I've also wanted to learn a bit more about them and see if there were difference between the available varieties.

    In the last 100 years there's been a trend to shrink the genetic biodiversity of our food resulting in less choice. After growing tomatoes and many herbs I have become well aware that you grow food so you can have the right food, not necessarily to save money. It is cheaper to grow your own but if you factor in your labor a garden you probably costs you twice as much as just buying the food but the advantage is better quality and more choice. There are paste tomatoes, slicing tomatoes and sauce tomatoes depending on your needs. There are many different varieties of mint (chocolate mint is very nice), basil and other herbs. You can grow pumpkins for Halloween and pumpkins to eat (not the same thing, see my previous articles on pumpkins). However, we're nearing a disaster of epidemic proportions. Not only are we engineering seeds that can't produce more seeds and then patenting them so other people can't grow food without paying for the seeds but the plants can't survive without us making them subject to our commercial interests. There are seed banks trying to combat this but that will only allow us to plant these various crops, it won't give anyone the incentive to do it.

    We are narrowing our biodiversity for commercial profit. It's just easier to grow and ship two types of tomatoes than 10. Likewise it's easier to provide one type of basil, one type of mint, one type of sage etc... Another reason may be that people are just further removed from their food than they once were so we don't pay attention to the different types of foods we have available. If you've never studied sweet potatoes you may think there's only one type – labeled Sweet Potatoes in the store. In fact there are over 6,500 varieties of sweet potatoes. Obviously we can't try them all so I focused on the three varieties commonly available in super markets – Beauregard, Garnet and Jersey. I've seen the Jewel variety in stores too on occasion but they weren't available for this comparison so I may do a follow up when I can find some.

    I tested three varieties cooked in 4 different ways and noted the difference. Before you skip the rest of the article because you think they're all the same you might want to reconsider. Read the article after the jump.

  • Tamales

     

     

    I made these about a week ago but since I've been having some hardware issues with my site I haven't been posting much.

    I used to be one of those people that couldn't stand the smell of steamed corn mush but something happened after I started traveling to Mexico. Now when I smell Tamales I'm immediately transported to the streets of Mexico City where heavy duty trikes laden down with giant gas powered steamers hang over the front wheels with steam eaking out their lids troll the street markets looking for customers wanting to buy tamales for next to nothing. I also think of a woman on Calle de Motolinia with a charcoal fire in the bottom of a grocery cart selling fresh grilled food. There was always a line waiting to get her food. This is Mexico City and that smell of Tamales permeates the city (along with smog of course). Now when I smell steamed corn I smile. Anyway we made Tamales in my one remaining steamer. Overall they were pretty good but the corn only versions were a bit salty. The filling in the others was a mixture of shredded chicken, raisins, onion, garlic, roasted tomatoes and chiles and oregano. I can't take any credit for the recipe at all because I made it straight from Zarela Martinez' Food from the Heart cookbook. It was her grandmother's recipe and in my opinion if it was good enough for Zarela's grandmother then it's good enough for me.

    A friend asked me if the recipe was authentic because of the raisins. Number one, I don't think there's

    such a thing as authentic anything and yes, anyone familiar with Mole's know Mexicans use raisins in their food.

    A while ago I was steaming pumpkin in my large double level steamer and later awoke to the fire alarms going off. I scorched it pretty bad but the metal wasn't warped or anything. Since I have figured out how to get it back to normal I resorted to using my smaller steamer with only one level. This means I needed to steam the tamales in two batches taking 2 hrs to finish. When I get my big steamer either fixed or replaced I'll revisit Tamales.

     

  • Templo Mayor, Baldaras Artisanal Market and potato quesadillas

    It's our third day here and I'm still taking Tylenol for my head. Many people don't realize that Mexico City is 3000 feet HIGHER than Denver Colorado. Maybe to Bolivians that's not such a big deal but for someone that lives one mile from the ocean it's been interesting. I remember that when I was in the Andes I had a headache at 10,000 ft and became winded anywhere above 12,500 ft. With this in mind I didn't really expect to have any elevation sickness this trip but I've had a headache for 3 days now and so have my kids. A couple Tylenol takes care of it though. The other issue with being this high is that breathing can be a problem if you're exercising. If we were just sitting in the hotel I doubt we'd feel the elevation but we're currently averaging about 7 miles a day of walking. Part of that time we're winded. The metro (subway to New Yorkers) has a lot of stairs and we're starting to dread them. To make matters worse the world famous Mexico City pollution does in fact exist. I've mentioned in previous posts that you know the smog is there by a faint smell that always seems to exist no matter where you are. It's like your neighbors cooking some food and a hint of the smell gets through the wall but not enough for you to identify what they've cooked. Everything smells a bit like smog. Thankfully there's enough bums and homeless people living in the street that the smell of urine overpowers the smell of smog making you look forward to the next moment in time where smog is dominant.

     

    Speaking of pollution and urine.... I was here three years ago and the smog was worse and the streets dirty. The former you forget about after a few days but unfortunately the sore throats from breathing pollution exists longer. Both of these problems have changed enough to be noticeable in the last three years. I'm honestly not sure what the solution is to the pollution problem but it's very much caused by transportation because early in the morning you can see the surrounding mountains and by 10 am their covered in a blanket of ick. One solution would be to replace all the cars with a Metro system that can carry five million people per day – oh wait, they already did that. Maybe they could prohibit cars from driving all 7 days depending on the ending number of their license plate like London. Drat, they did that too. I think they need to replace all their old smog belching cars with new ones but who's going to pay for 20,000,0000 new cars?

     

    The second problem (garbage in the streets) has gotten better because Mexico City has banned the miles and miles of street markets. They've never needed a mall because Mexico City IS a mall! I have fond memories of waking up in the morning hearing the street sellers announcing their prices in a very melodic manner. They're all gone now outside of a few places. I mentioned in the past that even though this means the streets are cleaner it also means a little of character in the process.

     

    In the National Museum of Anthropology I once saw a diorama of what the market at Tlatelolco was like during the reign of the Aztecs and it was impressive with 30,000 people buying and selling goods. Cortes was really impressed with the market system and their methods of keeping things fair. Walking down any random street a few years ago had people laying out blankets on the street and putting their wares on it. There was many voices calling out what they had to sell and the prices. If you took away the Spanish buildings it wouldn't be hard to imagine this as being Tlatelolco. It really was a strong observation to realize that these people still carry on their 600 year old traditions. They speak Spanish now instead of Nahuatl but everything else is the same. Now that most of the street markets have been driven off Mexico City seems to be calmer and more quiet although don't get any ideas about this being a solitary place because it's still a zoo. When the markets were going full steam the streets would be full of trash and then street cleaning crews would come out at 7pm and clean it all up only to have it return to the same mess the following day as it was impossible to keep it clean. It was amazing to watch. Now the streets stay cleaner and are easier to maintain. I took an early morning walk and saw people hosing down the sidewalks and scrubbing them with squeegees and you always see cleanup crews in the street picking up garbage. The new Mexico City has less pollution, less crime and is much cleaner.

     

    The job isn't over though as the city still smells and I believe better technology needs to be used. In Paris they have these little sidewalk wide “street cleaners” that remember a full size street cleaner but can fit on a sidewalk. Mexico City could use about 1000 of those. So in relation to other cities of the world I'd say Historic Mexico City is on par with the Termini area of Rome for cleanliness. Not perfect but doable. Anyone who comes here expecting Geneva will be shocked though. We need to keep this all in context - Mexico City is a city of 25 million really poor people in a country that doesn't have enough money to change that fact. The average full time worker in Mexico City makes $10US a day.

     

    I'm dwelling a bit on the Aztecs and history because I finally gave in and went to Templo Mayor, the remains of the city of Tenochtitlan. Tenochtitlan as you probably know was one of the largest cities in the world at about 1500 AD and was several times the size of London. It was built on an island and expanded using Chanampas – floating squares of dirt where they planted things who's roots grew until they anchored in the lake bottom. Each street through the Chanampas had a dirt path and a water way which was used for transporting goods. Tenochtitlan was an American Venice! Can you imagine the tourist opportunities of a city built in the middle of a giant lake? The Spanish couldn't so they razed it and took the stones to make Latin America's largest church in the early 1500s. People knew that the modern day zocolo is is paved over the  main center of the Aztec city of Tenochtitlan but what do you do about it 500 years later? You can't tear down 500 year old buildings to find 550 year old buildings so Tenochtitlan remained buried. In the 70s a construction project unearthed a multi ton carved stone. Since they they've unearthed the main ceremonial pyramid of the Aztecs – Templo Mayor. I can see Templo Mayor from my terrace window as I could last time I came to this grand city and I walk past it every day to catch the metro but I've never gone in. The reason for this is from the street it looks like a bunch of rocks and I'd heard there was a museum but it didn't look like there was enough room for a real large one so I avoided Templo Mayor until now. The Let's Go guide gives it a thumbs up and they've treated me well but I'm not super interested in the Aztecs so I avoided going. Today I went and I'm blown away by how much better it was than I imagined.

     

    The ruins of Templo Mayor itself are really subtle. You don't realize until you're standing a foot away from a giant serpent carved in stone that this thing is big. Before it was torn down it was about 150 ft tall. Not much in comparison to the pyramids at Teotihaucan but still very impressive. You also learn that the temple the Spanish saw was the 7th temple and the other 6 still existed inside the 7th. Each time the Aztecs got a new emperor they built a new temple over top the old one making it larger. We could see the top of the original templ from the boardwalk the top. The people living in Montezuma's time didn't even know there were 7 levels let alone see them! Fortunately AND  unfortunately a city works project cut a 4 ft wide swath through the Templo Mayor and inserted a brick tunnel for water. This is something a scientist would never do but thanks to the short sightedness of the city officials they now have a cross section view of all 7 temples which we got to see. We also saw some other buildings that made up the ceremonial center, relief panels and the original paint on the stones. When we entered the complex I asked about the audio guide and she said we get it in the museum. My thought was I don't want it for some dinky little museum, I'd rather have it for the main show – the ruins. After following the boardwalk path through the ruins we end up at the museum and upon walking into it I realized they'd built a 7 story building to house over 1000 artifacts pulled from the Templo Mayor site. Over 1000 Aztecs artifacts! They built it in a very forward thinking "giant square ugly concrete block" style showing Mexico's leadership in architecture since it led a wave of apartments and condos being built all across America in the same style. A few colleges look like they were built in the same style but I won't mention which ones.  Also the Aztecs had two main Gods and two temples on the tip of their pyramid – one for agriculture and the other for war. The modern museum building was built into two sections, the right for the God of war and the left for the God of Agriculture (rain). I'd say we spent every bit as much time in the museum as we did in the ruins. Overall I too will throw in my bid and say that Templo Mayor should be on everyone's list of things to do.

    One thing worth mentioning is that you get to see how bad things have sunk over time. The Aztecs employed a very Venetian technique of sinking wood poles in the mud to make a foundation to build temples on. This worked sort of. Even during their time they were "repaving" the plazas with more layers of rock to make it level again. The Spanish copied that method and suffered the very same consequences. The Catedral Metropolitana is sinking at an alarming rate. Massive amounts of stones are really heavy and this was a marshy island in the middle of a lake.

    Interestingly enough we also entered the Catedral Metropolitana to day as well. The Catedral was built in part from the stones of the Aztec pyramid and palaces nearly 500 years ago and is Latin America's largest church. You can't say that it's the biggest church in all of America because about 30,000 nuts get together in a stadium and call it church somewhere. I'm not sure I'd put that in the same category as this. Inside this massive Gothic church is an equally massive pipe organ. Most churches like this have the organ take up the back wall but this organ occupies what looks like an entire 3 story building in the middle of the floor. It's positively massive. I'm not a big church fan so after taking some photos and a video we left.

     

    Starved we started walking toward a mythical indoor market to which no guidebook mentions. OK so mine mentioned it but I missed it. We found it the previous visit and inside this market was a quesadilla restaurant that made the best potato quesadillas I've ever had. I'm not sure why they're so good and I've tried to duplicate them at home with no luck. I wanted a second memory to go by but didn't remember exactly which market it was. My brain said Baldaras but the word Artisinal kept popping up in my head. So we walked to the Artisanal market listed in the guidebook only to find it's not the right one. Even more hungry Natalya and I decided that we could still make it to the Baldaras market and if that wasn't it we'd eat anywhere that had food. Another 15 minutes of low blood sugar walking (the kind where you walk like you're drunk) we made it and beelined for the Quesdilla restaurant I ordered papas and queso of course but nobody else remembered how good they were so they ordered other things. Jade wanted Tacos el Pastor but got rolled up fried tacos. I tried explaining to the waiter that I wanted the potato and onion quesadilla but didn't know the name for onion so he took me to the preparation area and had me point to the ingredients – there were no onions. I settled on papas and cheese because it was the closest. I remember onions and salt, I found out that the onions were in the potatoes and were green onions and the salt was in the cheese. They were as good as I remembered and now have a more fresh memory to go by. I also took pictures so keep your eyes peeled. Jade and Piper ordered papas fritas (fries) which turned out very good. Who would have thought that the Mexicans would be great at French Fries. Jade made the connection that the French ruled Mexico for 3 years so maybe that is why. :-) Kids are funny sometimes.

     

    For anyone interested in pre-hispanic mesoamerican civilization it's worth it to get on a plane and fly to the National Museum of Anthropology even if that means you'll get back on a plane and fly home when done – it's that good! It's the Louvre of mesoamerican civilizations. Our plan was to get there before it closed and spend an hour or so on the civilizations that I've been studying. Each building of the museum holds relics from each civilization like the Maya, Aztecs, Toltecs, Teotihaucanos, Zapotecs, Mixtecs and so on. We caught the metro but was shooed out of Chapultapec park because it was closing. Tomorrow we can't go because it's Monday and all museums are closed on Monday so our only other chance is Tuesday morning before we leave for Oaxaca. Tomorrow we plan on taking a bus to Tula to see the ancient Toltec city of Tollan. The Toltecs predated the Aztecs and were idealized by them as well. They wanted to go to the Toltecs schools and intermarry with them so they would have noble offspring. I've been wanting to see their city for a long time.

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

  • Testing the quarry tiles

    So far I have $10 invested in the quarry tiles that I'm using as a poor mans brick oven. To get a flat surface I was looking into placing them in a baking sheet, bonding them onto a sheet of metal and other things. Because we were going to have a pizza party I basically ran out of time so I just laid the tiles on the metal racks in the ovens and winged it. I'm still going to work on a better solution because one rack of tiles weighs 16 lbs so the rack sags in the middle. My long term plan (at this moment) is to sand down the edges of the tiles so they fit together very tight and bond them to a sheet of metal some how. I think that if I bond them with the metal sprung a bit in the convex direction the tiles themselves will provide the structural strength. My only concern is replacing a tile if one breaks. I may look into fastening them a different way. Maybe I'll bond bolts to them and fasten those to the metal. Who knows, it's just ideas at this point.

    To test out the tiles we made homemade pizza and set the oven to 550 degrees. I also had my old pizza stone on the bottom rack for comparison. The tiles worked wonderfully and even though I've not made any of the changes above I had no problem with them just laid on the racks and they had no problem with the heat.

    We made pizza for us and made sure there were ingredients for people with narrower palettes as well. I poached pears in Chardonnay, simmered down our own BBQ sauce and made a marinara for standard pizzas. The pears I paired (ahem) with an herbed Chevre, rubbed the crust with a branch of rosemary dipped in olive oil and sprinkled with Balsamic Vinegar. The pizza in the photo I made the next night the same with but added shallots caramelized in Muscatel Sherry and pomegranate seeds.

    For the narrower palette we made the BBQ sauce which we teamed up with grilled chicken breast and slices of smoked Gouda and sprinkled with cilantro. For the even narrower palette I made sure we had marinara, mozzarella and pepperoni available. Most of the kids ate that.

    I think I need to say something about the dough for a minute. I've heard all kinds of horror stories about homemade pizzas and it mostly centers around the dough. I remember as a kid trying to make pizza at home and it always tasted funky but it was because we were trying to cut corners. We'd buy pizza dough in a can, pizza sauce in a can etc... Just skip to the chase because none of those things work very well. Pizza sauce (marinara) is a no brainer so I won't spend any time there. The dough however can be very picky so I've included the pizza dough recipe that we use in the recipe section. It's a bit more complex than some doughs (eg. Cooks Illustrated pizza dough) but I like it much better. It's such a wonderful dough to work with that it makes making pizzas a joy. You wil lneed to find durum flour and the recipe calls for bread flour as well but I cheat on that a lot and use a combination of bread flour and all-purpose depending on what I have. The recipe is in weights and is for 16 small pizzas so you'll probably want to do the math to cut it down.

     

     

     

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