Grant McWilliams

Food

Food Blog

Food is the only art you can eat.

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
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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

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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

 

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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.

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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.

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I really like my new Business directory fashioned into a  Recipe book but I've not had time to submit any recipes. There's no seperate print button like on other articles but I'll be working on that in the future. For now either print the webpage or save ink and copy and paste it into a word processor window.

Someone asked me the other day for a couple of recipes so I figured that would be a wonderful time to put a little effort into kickstarting the Recipe book so as of right now there's about 5 recipes in it. I will be adding others as I get to them. I'm only uploading recipes that I'm reasonably happy with so there won't be a lot for a while.For now here they are.

  • Wheat Pita
  • Desi Ghee
  • Indian Style Basmati
  • Persian Jeweled Rice
  • Gulab Jamun
To browse all recipes go to the Recipe Book... Add a comment

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.

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The first time I went to Mexico it was a bit of a shock. It was hot, sunny and for the most part dirty. I'd been all over Europe but most of Europe is like our own country without the dillution of culture. Mexico was different, it felt foreign. As much as I thought I'd had Mexican food at home I learned soon enough that I didn't know the first thing about Mexican food. We paid a taxi for a whole day to just drive us around Cozomel island, show us ruins and then drop us off at a restaurant of his choice for dinner. He let us out at a largely open air restaurant that only had Mexicans in it (rare in Cozomel). One of the things they brought us was tortilla soup and boy was I surprised. It had flavor, depth and the tortillas were crisp. I've not had decent tortilla soup since then. It usually tastes like taco seasoning with soggy unleaven bread in it. Natalya decided to fix Tortilla soup last night and it was quite good. I think with some more seasoning and perfecting the technique of keeping the tortillas crisp she'd be on to something.

And another surprise was the empanadas. We fell in love with the Chilean Empanada at Julia's Empanadas in the Adams Morgan district of Washington D.C. and have been chasing the dream ever since.

I miss Mexico.

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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...

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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 Rice Javaher 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.

 

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