Grant McWilliams

Food

Food Blog

Food is the only art you can eat.

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.

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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.

 

 {gallery labels=filename}Gallerys/Chimichanga{/gallery}  

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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.

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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.

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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

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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.

{gallery}Gallerys/Moussaka{/gallery}  

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I've been working on an article about the various Sweet Potatoes and the differences and it occurred to me how humorous the situation is. Anyone in food knows that what is called a Yam in most cases is actually a sweet potato. This is fairly common knowledge but digging further it only gets worse and it isn't just sweet potatoes who are violated in the arbitrary naming process of food.  

Rest assured there is a plant called a Yam and it is edible but most American's have probably not even seen one let alone eaten it.  <big word alert> The Yam is native to Africa and Asia and belongs to the monocot family Dioscoreaceae.  Monocots are one of two major groups of flowering plants (or angiosperms) that are traditionally recognized, the other beingdicotyledons, or dicots. Monocot seedlings typically have one cotyledon (seed-leaf), in contrast to the two cotyledons typical of dicots. So in short a Yam is a monocot and a Sweet Potato is a dicot - not even botanically related at very base level of flowering plants. So what you see in the grocery store called Yam is actually a Sweet Potato no matter what color it is. There are yellow Sweet Potatoes labeled as such, there are orange Sweet Potatoes labeled as Yams and there are purple Sweet Potatoes labeled however the person wanted who put up the sign. It gets worse.

In addition to a "grocery store Yam" being in fact a Sweet Potato it's not even a potato at all. The potato's scientific name - Solanum tuberosum reflects that it belongs to the Solanaceae family whose other members include tomatoes, eggplants, peppers, and tomatillos. That's right, you say potato, I say tomato! Potatoes are related to tomatoes and eggplants. There are over 100 varieties of edible potatoes and the Sweet Potato isn't even related because it belongs to the Convolvulaceae plant family and is known by the scientific name of Ipomoea batatas. What's interesting about all of this is the genus is ipomoea and the species for Sweet Potato is batatas ie. phonetically potato which tells you how far back the confusion goes. Anyone who's seen a Sweet Potato flower may recognize it as another close relative in the same botanical family is the "Morning Glory" flower. <end of big word alert> 

To recap:

  • Yams are Sweet Potatoes
  • Yams are not yams
  • Sweet Potatoes are not potatoes
  • "Sweet" Potatoes have a lower Glycemic Index than potatoes
  • Potatoes are related to eggplants
  • Eggplants do not make eggs (irrelevant)
  • Sweet Potatoes are related to Morning Glory
  • Real Yams do exist and they're not from Miami (you'll understand in a minute)

So Yams aren't yams, they're sweet potatoes which aren't potatoes and aren't sweet? Pretty much. How did this happen?

The history of the Sweet Potato in my own words:

  1. 750 BC an unknown Peruvian digs up a root and starts gnawing on it. Sweet Potatoes become a big hit spawning massive population growth, a couple of ruthless rulers, a box with a diseased feather and some really unruly metal clad illegal immigrants who have very little respect for local customs of ownership but I'm getting ahead of myself.
  2. A man from Italy wants to go boating but doesn't have the means to purchase one so he turns to begging which proves successful. He immediately gets lost in his new boat and about a month later runs it into a mound of dirt. Hungry he digs up a root and gnaws on it to much delight.
  3. The local Taino people who were of course overjoyed to have been finally discovered told the Italian boater that the root was called batatas. 
  4. Not having heard of a batatas  and having a slight hearing and/or comprehension problem he erroneously called it patata (you know from the rhyme potato, patata). Since the nice couple who loaned him their boat were Spanish this became the Spanish name for batatas. 
  5. Later the English not paying much attention to anything on the stranded side of the English Channel renamed it potato. Keep in mind there wasn't such a thing yet so you have to give them some credit for their originality.
  6. One hundred years later another man (who due to his lack of accomplishments remains unknown) dug up another root in South Columbia (I mean America, don't get me started) drags another tuber back to Europe. It resembled the batatas but generally lacked flavor or any other discernible value so it was given to the Irish and named potato.
  7. Since people then named things by shape nobody noticed that the tasty batatas and the untasty potatoes were not in fact related nor did it matter - they were similar in shape so too should be similar in name.
  8. One hundred years later some well meaning folks needed to get some shit done and since it was a bit early in the timeline to run by Home Depot for good hard working laborers they asked the Portuguese if they knew of anyone who might want a job where pay wasn't an object. They did and offered to provide the transportation. 
  9. The newly arrived people were famished and upon taking into their site the aforementioned roots responded with the Wolof word  "nyam" loosely translated as "If you don't give me something to eat I'm going to open up a can of Chris Rock on you".  As a side note the same people used to say nyam back home followed by feverish gnawing on roots as well.  Food is once again named by shape. Do not confuse nyam with Miami which although has a similar amount of dirt and clingy things attached to it differs in shape on the southern end.
  10. Zoom forward another 100 years (thankfully history happens in nice round numbers) to the deep south when orange colored sweet potatoes were introduced. The folks there didn't want to confuse anyone by competing fairly so they decided to rename orange sweet potatoes to  "If you don't give me something to eat I'm going to open a can of Chris Rock on you" but that was voted down in favor of Yam, an Anglicized version of the Wolof word nyam. Miami doesn't factor in here so we'll skip it for now.
  11. Fast forward to another nice round number in history and you have the USDA whom with good intentions tries to rectify the naming situation and passes regulations to force everyone to put the name Sweet Potato on every box of Yams. They failed to define the size of the text thus a new industry was born for super small typesetters. 
That's pretty much it for yams. Now we have Sweet Potatoes who aren't related to Potatoes named Yams which aren't related to Yams and aren't that sweet.
 
 
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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.

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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

 

{gallery}Gallerys/recipes{/gallery}  

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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?

  

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