Monday, December 28, 2009

Porktastic Holidays!

Okay, so it's a given that by the time the holidays are over you have gained about 10-15 extra pounds and you feel like a terrible pork and cookie addict with no memory of the word salad.  You instinctively reach for the gravy even though you're on your lunch break at work eating a Vietnamese sandwich.  You can't figure out why there is no pie or cake to be had after your breakfast coffee and toast.  Trust me, I know how you feel.  You are not alone.  Take a deep breathe and repeat after me "Cookies can't control me, cookies can't control me, cookies can't control me".  There, feel better?  No?  Okay, screw it.  Finish your leftovers and turn on your cable TV pilates workout.  That's all I got for ya.  Hell, that's all I can muster.  Here's what we've been eating this holiday season:

Thanksgiving 2009
Sweet Bourbon glazed Ham
Creamy Garlic Mashed Yukon Gold Potatoes
Mi Abuela's Stuffing de Cubano
Braised Swiss Chard with Toasted Almonds
Spicy Red Eye Gravy

Who doesn't love the all mighty pig?  Unless you're Muslim or Kosher you have no excuses.  Pork should be in at least three of your daily meals in some shape or form.  Studies show that the consumption of pork greases your insides so that your body can digest more evenly hence helping you live a longer and more fulfilling life (Heck I'm no scientist, but that sounds good to me).

I went down to my favorite butcher shop, trying my best to avoid the millions of shuffling tourists standing in my way as a sockeye salmon gets flung over their heads by a bunch of screaming fishmongers, fish juice whipping the poor saps in the face.  I picked out the prettiest bone-in hog thigh (ham) I could find.  All natural, locally sourced pork.  I tend to pick ham over turkey for Thanksgiving.  Don't get me wrong, I enjoy a nicely cooked turkey.  But when it comes down to it, ham is yummier.  So I roasted the ham for a few hours, brushing the glaze on every 1/2 hour or so.  The sweet smokiness that the bourbon provides is blissful and the skin gets so incredibly crispy and amazing that you'd kill anyone that stood between you and your chicharrones.

Mashed potatoes are one of those ubiquitous dishes that seems to find it's way onto every holiday table.  There's a reason for that.  They're freaking delicious when cooked properly.  Yes, there is a skill to making good mashed potatoes.  I like to whip them up in my Kitchen-aid after simmering the hell out of them in salted water.  Then I add a good amount of cream, butter, salt, pepper, chives, and roasted garlic.
Here's a video from that shows you how to make perfect mashed potatoes.  Do these steps and you can't fail (assuming you're not the worst cook ever).

I've been eating my grandmother's Cuban stuffing since I was a baby.  Yes, it's sort of an odd stuffing but it still is the best I've ever had.  Ground beef, ground pork/sausage, potatoes, allspice, seasoning, and a specific brand of prepackaged stuffing mix.  It's just one of those family dishes from the past that you try to recreate on a higher quality culinary level (i.e. making my own bread crumbs and not using prepackaged stuff) but it just doesn't work out.  It's like our grandmothers made a special pact with these companies.  Every time Grandma uses a jar of Ragu Garlic and Herb Flavor Tomato Sauce in a casserole she gets a royalty check.

To add some green to dinner I braised some Swiss chard in olive oil with garlic and crushed red pepper flakes.  To finish the dish I tossed it with toasted almond slivers.  I love winter greens.  The bitterness cut with a little lemon or sherry wine vinegar.  I try my best not to make vegetables an afterthought but when you have a juicy ham roasting in the oven that's all you can think about.  But alas, the greens did show up to the dance and we're all healthier people for it.  Eat your greens kids, they're good for ya!

Don't forget to top everything off with delicious gravy!
Red Eye Gravy

about 2 cups ham drippings
1/4 cup butter
2 Tbsp flour
1/2 cup freshly brewed black coffee
few dashes of hot sauce
fresh cracked black pepper

Remove the ham for the roasting pan.  Pour off a little of the fat but keep all the ham juices and some of the remaining fat.  Put the pan over medium heat on the stove.  Add the butter.  Whisk in the flour and cook for a minute.  Add the coffee and hot sauce, whisking to combine.  Let the gravy cook and thicken for a minute of two.  Adjust seasonings.  Pour over everything.

Christmas 2009
Lechon Asada Con Mojo (Cuban Roast Pork)
Arroz con Frijoles Negros
Coles de Bruselas con Mostaza (Brussel Sprouts with Mustard)

As a Cuban, growing up we always had the traditional Noche Buena (Cuban Christmas Eve dinner).  The roast pork, black beans and rice, fried plantains, yucca con mojo, etc.  It's a tradition that I failed to continue through the young, rebellious years after leaving home.  As I get older these sentimentalities are creeping back into my brain.  You come to realize that some traditions are not just "the products of uninspired imaginations used for the purpose of control and conformity" and that by roasting a freaking pig on Christmas Eve doesn't make me any less of a rebel rouser.  It's not like I'm buying war bonds with my Bush bucks (whatever the hell that means).  Anyways, to get back on track, pork is in my blood.  I am Cuban.  Swine is my spirit animal.  If I was blind I would have a seeing eye pig.

I went back to favorite meat guy and bought a huge pork shoulder roast.  My butcher knows that I am a pork addict.  He even said "Hey, do you ever eat anything not pig?" "Sure I do." I said.  "I also love those spicy sausages you sell"  "Those are made of pork too ya know." He yelled while laughing.  I got my roast and I headed home to make a mojo.  Cuban mojo is easy.  Fresh sour orange juice (or orange juice and lemon juice), lime juice, garlic, salt, pepper, fresh oregano.  I marinated the pork overnight in the mojo.  Bright and early Xmas morning I turned the oven to 200 degrees F and roasted the beast for 8 hours.  When the time was up, I poked the pork with a fork (that was poetic) and it fell apart into juicy shredded Cuban pork.  Serve with the juices and mojo and you're good to go.  We'll be having Cuban sandwiches, BBQ pork sandwiches, carnitas tacos, you name it, for weeks.  My Kitty Clara was the most excited about all the leftover pork.  She's such a vulture.

My Cuban black beans are vegan.  No ham hock or bacon in this this recipe.  Just black beans, water, salt, pepper, onion, green peppers, garlic, sugar, and vinegar.  Very simple but so tasty.  Serve over white rice and you're good to go.  By cooking the rice in the bean broth you end up making Moros y Christianos.  The black beans signify the Moors and the white rice the Christians.  That's one of those things that seems like it could be racist but not really.  It could be worse I guess.  So anyways, leftover frijoles negros can also be transformed into black bean burgers, spicy black bean soup, etc...  I have to come up with more ideas considering I have like 3 gallons of the stuff.  Good thing I love black beans.

Brussel sprouts are another great go to vegetable.  Quick and easy to make and it always seems to impress people.  They always say "I don't care for Brussel sprouts" until they try mine.  A little butter, white wine, mustard, and chicken stock and you have the best tasting baby cabbages around.  Here's my recipe for Seastack Brussel Sprouts.

So fine, you gained a couple pounds and your cholesterol is a bit high, and your pants don't fit anymore, and your skin feels greasy.  Isn't that what the holidays are all about?  Decadence and debauchery.  Over-indulgence and low self-esteem.  That why New Years conveniently comes along with it's resolutions and black out drinking.  So we can drink champagne to forget this past tragic year and come up with an amazing array of ways that this year will be spectacular.  The next day, the next year we will rise out of the dirty ashtray and pull our pants-less bodies out of our neighbors bushes and get a greasy breakfast to start the New Year of right.  We can start working on those New Year's resolutions tomorrow right after we get rid of these freaking headaches.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Sovereign State #8: Armenia

The Menu:

Soojoukh (Air-dried Pork Shoulder Sausage)
Sunni (Armenian String Cheese)
Lahvosh (Armenian Cracker Bread)
Basturma (Cured Beef with Paprika)
Prinzov Pilaf (Armenian Rice Pilaf)
Mahdzoon Chicken (Baked Chicken Breast with Yogurt)

The Republic of Armenia is situated right smack dab in the middle of Europe and Asia.  Hell, it's almost in Africa.  The cuisine is the love child of Eastern European (white food for white people) and middle eastern cultures.  Think of Midnight Express meets Red Heat but in food form(and minus all the Turkish prison beatings and Schwarzenegger one liners).  As a country, this former component of the U.S.S.R., has definitely seen it's share of misfortune. During WWI nearly a million Armenians were killed by the Ottoman Empire. Yet, they survived and maintained a unique identity. Now a democratic nation that belongs to all the cool kid groups (ie: United Nations, Council of Europe, and the evil WTO), aside from being a slightly poor country Armenia is still rich in it's culinary traditions.

 So Eastern European food tends to look very unappealing.  There is not a lot of color going on in some of the food.  Aside from beets and a few winter greens, brown and white is the palate you get to work with.  I'm glad I didn't serve the Mahdzoon Chicken on a beige plate or I would have never found my food.  The taste of the dish is fantastic though.  First you marinate the chicken overnight in some white wine, garlic, olive oil, and fresh herbs.  The you cover it with yogurt and bake it.  The yogurt congeals and the chicken doesn't get much color so presentations-wise you better have some garnishes laying around or it'll look like a pile of anemic bird flesh covered in spit.  Like I said, it was super delicious though.  Very moist and slightly sour from the yogurt.  I would make this recipe again but I would perhaps sear off the chicken breasts first and add some fresh herbs to the final dish.

I served it with Armenian pilaf which reminded me a lot of Rice-A-Roni, but made from scratch.  I love the stuff so I was very much at home with this dish.  Perhaps it's not just a San Francisco treat. Armenians love it too.  I think the combination of pasta and rice, although somewhat maniacal, is a great idea.  Saute the basmati and small broken vermicelli in butter until golden.  Cook it in some fresh made chicken stock, add some scallions, and fluff to serve.  Yum.

Now it's no secret that I love cured meat products.  All forms and sizes all animals, I don't care what kind  it is.  If it's edible meat and it's cured I want it in my mouth.  So much to my delight, Armenia loves cured meat products as well.  I found an online purveyor of such delicacies and went nuts.  I have enough Armenian sausage to last me my whole life.  The Soojoukh is a lot like a salami.  It has that briny sour taste and would great in a sandwich or chopped up in a salad.  The Basturma is a little bit more unfamiliar.  It's an air cured beef that is covered in paprika.  The flavor is slightly gamey and pungent even though it's cow.  It has the texture of perhaps a thickly sliced Serrano ham.  Finish off a charcuterie board with some Armenian flatbread and Sunni (yummy string cheese) and I'm a happy girl.

So yeah, it took me a while to get through the Armenian portion of the ride but I finally did it and I'm glad I did.  The food was delicious and research was interesting.  Now, any volunteers to help me eat all this sausage?  Next up, Australia.  Yummmm....kangaroo....

For more info on this project, read this: 203 Sovereign States

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

A Cold War.

Here lied a review of Zhavago's Cafe on Broadway, Capitol Hill.  It was a review that had an innacuracy or two (I accidentally called a shawarma sandwich a souvlaki sandwich.)  My finding after eating there were: A) They seem to have a hard time making the piroshkies hot,  B) the chicken shawarma sandwich was dry and didn't taste very good, and C) although the owner and staff seemed friendly some of the staff had no clue as to what they were selling.  I really wanted to like this place but the experiences I've had there have led me to the conclusion of not wanting to eat there again.

The review was accidentally lost but I decided that it was important to put this in it's place.  The original contained a few comments from people who agreed with my comments and a few from people who denied the possibilities of Zhavagos being mediocre.  My blog is my opinion.  It's my experiences.  People can take it for what it's worth.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Hot Diggity Dog!

It's been a really busy week and I'm slightly ashamed to say that I've eaten chili dogs more than a couple of times this week.  Not that I'm knocking the King of classic fast food, I'm just saying a girl should maybe limit her Red-Hots intake to less than twice a week.  By the way, thinking about hot dogs and people's general upturned nose towards the "mysterious" force meat stuffed in a hogs intestine, did you know that the process of scraping those "hoofs and snouts" for sausage is called Advanced Meat Recovery?  That's the process in which all of the "hidden" flesh gets carved out of places that no human eye could find a scrap.  The way I see it, if an animal has to die for my consumption, I'm going to eat it all.  Not to say that I don't care about where my meat comes from.  I definitely believe in small farm, local, sustainable, organic, and all the buzz words that make sense to me and the planet.  I would prefer a small farmer preforming his own form of Advanced Meat Recovery than some robots and a dirty, toothless,  mystery meat slinger going at it with a metal toothpick.  Does all of this talk of Hot Dogs make you hungry?  Me too!  I wish I had another chili dog right now but I'm going to limit myself to just two of them.  Besides, a girl can only eat so many chili dogs in a day.

Monday, November 9, 2009

What's cookin' PDX?

Recently K and I took a decadent trip to Portland Oregon for our 8 year wedding anniversary.  We stayed at the luxurious Nines Hotel on Morrison Street, downtown.  It was so freaking lovely we almost didn't want to come home.  A thought kept repeating in my head.  "Why does P-Town have better food than Seattle?"  "Why does P-Town have better shopping than Seattle?"  "Why does Portland have so much awesome street food when Seattle has so little?"  Okay, I know what you're saying.  "If you like Portland so much better than Seattle then why don't you move there?"  The answer to that question is a complicated one.  I love Seattle for the same reason that I hate Seattle.  Seattle is a small city trying to be a big city.  I like living in the city but at the same time Seattle is confused in thinking that to become a large city we have to remove all of it's small city charm.  It has become a place where independent business owners can't make a living, vacant plastic condos are spreading like hipsters on a white belt sale, and people just don't seem to give a shit.  I want cute boutiques to shop in, consistent and delicious restaurants to eat at, and affordable freaking housing to live in.  Is that so wrong?  I'm easy like that.  I'm hoping over the next few years we find our identity again and stop all this nonsense.  I also hope we get a goddamn grilled cheese truck!

Day 1 - Portland Oregon:

After running all over Seattle trying to get someone to rent me a car (apparently, car rental companies think you're a deadbeat if all you have is a credit union debit card) we finally got rolling after taping up some bloody toes (don't ask) and picking my pride up off the floor.  A short couple of hours later we arrived at the Nines Hotel in downtown PDX.  It's a beautiful French antique/retro modern luxury hotel that gets it just right.  The kind of place you could see someone arrive stepping out of their Aston Martin Vantage wearing a vintage Chanel couture ball gown.  We're not rich but we pretend it very well.  As a matter of fact, it costs us as much to stay here as it would've the Red Lion Hotel so whateva.

For Dinner we walked through junkie infested waters to the very hip Ace Hotel where underneath resides the lovely restaurant Clyde Commons.  It was packed but we managed to grab a couple of window bar seats.  It was loud and full of young professionals (perhaps professional douchbags, I'm not sure) giving us the stink eye.  After everyone got a look at the beautiful ladies that just enlightened their evening they went back to stuffing their faces and talking about which car made them look more attractive.  We staved off a couple of panic attacks and perhaps physical ones (I thought Kelleen was going to elbow the drunk woman behind her in the head if she bumped her one more time). The staff was very friendly and we ordered a couple of cocktails. I got the East of Eden which consisted of Bombay Dry Gin, fresh lemon juice, elderflower liqueur, a Gewurtzraminer reduction, and egg whites. It was silky and sour and freaking delicious. It calmed me down right quick. K got a cocktail which I can't remember the name but it consisted of bourbon and ginger soda. Also very tasty. For a starter we ordered a crispy fried pork terrine with pistachios, frisée and a Dijon vinaigrette. After the initial crunch of the breading, the pork was melt in your mouth amazingness. This appetizer was so good I wanted like ten more of them. The dish was perfectly balanced and all of the flavors complimented each other so well. I wanted to ask for the recipe but the bartender looked busy. For the entrees I ordered the grilled trout with smoked beef tongue, potato hash, fried eggs, and béarnaise sauce and Kelleen ordered the fresh pappardelle with lamb sugo, raisins, and pine nuts.  Holy Hell this meal was fantastic.  Probably the best trout I had ever eaten.  It was nice and charred from the grill and the smokiness of the beef tongue and the creaminess of the sauce blew my mind a little bit.  I thought K was going to crawl inside of the fish and live there she liked it so much.  I rarely order pasta when I'm at a restaurant because it's relatively simple for me to make at home but the papperadelle was another story.  The noodles were unearthly with just the right amount of al dente spring to them and the lamb sugo (kind of like a ragout) had an elegant balance of spice and sweetness.  The drunk lady had left our side, the cocktails had kicked in, the food was phenomenal, and everything seemed all right.  Clyde Common on Urbanspoon

Day 2 - Portland

Following a lovely night of sleep we headed off to Clinton Street for a Scandinavian breakfast at Broder.  The small cafe had a beautiful, sunny disposition.  After deciding that perhaps sitting almost in the restrooms was not conducive to the enjoyment of a meal we moved to a more appropriate spot where we ordered the Swedish breakfast bord which consisted of house-made gravlax, salami, Swedish hard cheese, grapefruit, rye crisps, fresh made yogurt with honey and lingonberries.  I also ordered the Pytt I Panna (Swedish hash), a tasty mash up of potato, duroc ham, roast beef, onions, and peppers topped with fried eggs and served with walnut toast and lingonberry jam.  We also had a few sides of potato pancakes.  Everything was so simple and tasty.  After the fact I wish we had tried the aebleskiver (Danish pancakes).  Something to look forward to next time. Broder on Urbanspoon

After a such a large breakfast and full day of shopping we pretty much skipped lunch except for the amazing snack we had at the Grilled Cheese Truck.  Grilled cheese truck you say?  Why yes, there is an amazing grilled cheese truck on Alberta Street.  We had one with blue cheese, apples, and bacon.  It was so good and I love the fact that they had converted the Partridge Family school bus into a dining hall.  So stinking genius.  Portland has tons and tons of street food.  Buses, carts, vacant lots with smokers on them.  Everywhere you go there are at a few carts of every kind of food you can think of.  We saw the usual taco trucks and hotdog carts but also saw Egyptian, Chinese, Polish, Thai, and Lebanese stalls and waffle and ice cream carts.  This made me angry with jealousy.  Why are Seattle regulations and taxes so unreasonable.  I need more food in portable form.  I demand it!!!  Oh, and check out this for Portland's food cart scene: foodcartsportland

So before dinner we headed off to get some cocktails at the Teardrop Lounge.  They make all of their own tinctures and bitters.  Very inspired cocktails.  I had the Corpse Reviver which consisted of gin, absinthe, Cointreau, Lillet Blanc, fresh lemon, and I can't remember what else.  This cocktail kicked my ass.  For a minute of two I thought I was on acid but not in a bad way.  I think too that it was my first time drinking absinthe.  Kelleen had the White Noise which was made of tequila, white miso, Nocino, spiced pomelo soda, and lime.  So good it hurt.  You definitely can't say they aren't innovative.  I love that mixology is starting to make a presence in the culinary world.

For dinner I made reservations at Ten 01 in the Pearl district.  I promised K that I wouldn't take any pictures of our food, it being our anniversary dinner and all.  They had learned of our special occasion and brought us a few glasses of champagne which I though was very classy of them.  The staff was amazing and it was probably some of the best service I've ever had.  They were like fancy ninjas that would fold your napkin while you weren't looking.  I thought that perhaps we had magic water glasses that never dried up.

So we started up with some oysters on the half shell.  If I see these on the menu I have to have them.  I think I am addicted to raw oysters.  If there was a dealer in the alley behind my apartment that sold raw oysters with perhaps a little mignonette I would probably have to sign my paychecks over to him for my daily fix.  Actually I'm glad there is no such thing as back alley oyster dealers (at least that I'm aware of).  We had some Kumamoto and some Willapa Bay oysters with a jalapeno-champagne mignonette.  Super yummy.  We weren't that hungry so we headed straight for the entrees.  I got the lavender duck breast with white beans, lacinato kale, and balsamic gibier jus.  This was one of the top 5 things I've ever put into my mouth.  The duck was perfectly cooked with angel dust or some kind of addictive substance.  The lavender gave it a subtle floral flavor.  The beans had just the right amount of give and were creamy on the inside.  I have never had kale as good as this.  There was no bitterness what-so-ever.  The whole dish made perfect sense.  I snapped out of my absinthe induced haze and the world made total sense for the duration of the meal.  An epiphany in a cut of meat.  Kelleen ordered the seared sea scallops with parsnip puree, brussel sprouts, and fresh roasted chestnuts.  They were by far the best scallops we had ever eaten.  What mad genius would ever think to pair up sea scallops and roasted chestnuts?  It makes no sense!  "Is this chef insane?" I thought to myself.  So delicious.  We were sent desert and even though we were stuffed we made room.  It was a peanut butter and chocolate bread pudding with malted milk ice cream.  More of a cake than a pudding, it was decadent and once again completely original.  I also had a trio of cheese on house made sea salt crackers.    Before we could leave they also sent us a chocolate chip cookie and house made chocolates.  There was a lot of talk about the place going downhill with a new chef arriving and all that business.  The new chef Benjamin Parks has me as a fan.  This was one of the best meals I've ever had.

Day 3 - Portland
I still have dreams about the Reggie at Pine State Biscuits.  The Reggie is fried chicken, thick slab bacon, and cheddar cheese layered into a cream-top buttermilk biscuit and topped with sausage gravy.  You can get it "deluxed" by adding a fried egg to the situation (which I thought about but decided that veering at the last minute in a "game of chicken" with a potential heart attack wasn't worth it).  We also had a plate of biscuits and gravy, some Hash Up -hash browns with ham, onions, mushrooms, and melted cheese (in Waffle House lingo we would call these hash browns, scattered, smothered, covered, chunked, and capped), and an order of fried green tomatoes.
  These kids would make any Southern grandmother proud.  I haven't had Southern food so good since I was a little girl in Georgia.  My god, those biscuits were like eating buttery air.  I wanted to do a couple of backstroke laps in a pool of that gravy.  In fact, I may have to replace all the liquid I drink with a steady supply of Pine State Biscuit sausage gravy.  You may have to wait in a very long line and smack a horde of kids so hip they have the word "irony" tattooed on their foreheads out of your way to get a seat at one of three small tables but hell yes it is worth it.
Pine State Biscuits on Urbanspoon
Once again we had eaten so much before doing some more shopping I almost had to shop in the maternity sections of the boutiques we perused.  Thank god for the empire waist, that's all.  As the day faded away and our appetites begrudgingly returned to us we headed off to Bluehour for some cocktails before dinner.  Kelleen had a New Stone Fence (vodka, apple cider, angostura, applejack maple foam) and I had a Diva (house infused citrus vodka, blood orange, lime).  Go ahead, have your little laugh at my drink and say things like "...of course your drink was called the diva Violet, what else would you have?  Didn't they have a drink called the Spoiled Princess Latina Diva?"  No they didn't if they had, I would've gotten it.  The drinks were tasty if not up to par with Teardrops innovative concoctions but perhaps the comparison is unfair.  Of course after seeing raw oysters on the menu I ordered a half a dozen.  My one complaint is the music.  I felt like we were being transported to some scary world where John Tesh and Moby had lots of babies and formed world music bands together.  I didn't like that.

For dinner we tried to go to Le Pigeon but it was packed and the wait was too long with no place to wait. Then we tried Pok Pok but it was packed and so cold that the diners looked like they were trying to enjoy Southeast Asian food while ice fishing.  Everyone looked like they were in pain so we opted against waiting.  Finally we arrived at Laurelhurst Market.  Butchershop by day, steak restaurant by night.  The wait was long but at least we could wait inside by the meat case.  The fact that LM is it's own butcher shop means that there is no middle-man so the amazing steaks are unbelievably affordable.  K had a medium rare bavette steak with garlic smashed potatoes, and chimichurri.  The bavette comes from right above the loin on the cow and is similar to skirt steak.  It was lip-smacking heaven.  Nothing like a perfectly cooked steak.  I got the Cassoulet Toulousaine  (duck confit, pork belly, Toulouse sausage, and Viridian Farms tarbais beans).  Once again I found myself saying "best meal I've had".  Everything was just so amazing.  I wish we had tried some of the cocktails at LM.  Mixologist Evan Zimmerman is supposed to be a genius with his house-made tonics and bitters but I was liquored out.  Back to the hotel for an early morning drive back to Seattle.

Portland treated us amazingly well.  Every meal we ate was fantastic.  Tons of great shopping.  Really nice people.  Our hotel treated us like royalty.  It's always hard to go back to your busy life from vacation.  Work days seem like they never end, bills should just pay themselves, and your super creepy idiot of a noisy downstairs neighbor seems like he's perhaps dangling in a creepy sex swing and barking like a dog louder than ever.  But home is home, and that's where my heart is.

Monday, October 26, 2009

The Hunger Presents: White Trash Girl - Episode 1

I spent roughly 12 years of my life in a place called Woodstock Georgia, about 45 minutes outside of Atlanta. My mother had a pretty hard time making friends in the South being born in Cuba and raised in New York. The Southerners back in our little neck of the woods (and I do mean woods, we were kind of in the middle of Deliverance country) were friendly enough from a distance but didn't want the brown people at their party if ya know what I'm saying. I think we were the only ethnic people within a ten mile radius. Hell, I don't think I even saw a black person until I went to junior high. Pretty messed up. Anyways, my mother had an interesting cooking style. She cooked a lot of Cuban food and some Italian (my godfather is Italian) but she also adapted to the South by trying out all these 50's Americana, Southern white trash sort of dishes. Things like tuna noodle casserole, hamburger mac, fried bologna sandwiches, etc. I loved the stuff. I have a serious addiction for these kind of dishes. I definitely do not have a salt or cheese deficiency. This kind of food is a part of my history. Now that were in another semi-depression these kind of meals are becoming more and more popular. They're cheap to make and they are filling. As you can probably tell, I am not a food snob. While I love organic, local, sustainable foods I also have a deep respect for down and dirty food. It doesn't necessarily mean that you have to use crap ingredients. You can elevate white trash food by using local, high quality ingredients. In my mind you are still cooking with white trash spirit which is good enough for me. Even though I am part Cuban, Chinese, and French Canadian, once you live in the South, it becomes a part of you. I still hear my Southern twang come out once in a while and I still love my hot dog and tater tot casseroles.

Spicy Taco-Mac

16 oz. macaroni pasta
1 lb. ground beef
2 cups half and half
2 Tbsp. butter
2 Tbsp AP flour
1 packet of taco seasoning (or make your own)
kosher salt and fresh ground black pepper tt
2 1/2 cups cheddar cheese (my fave is Beecher's Flagship cheese), grated
your favorite hot sauce (Tapatio is mine)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease a 9 x 12 baking dish. Cook pasta in salted boiling water until cooked al dente. Set aside. Meanwhile, brown the ground beef whole in a skillet on medium high heat until just cooked through. Mix the taco seasoning in a 1/2 cup of water. Add to the beef and simmer until the sauce thickens. Add a few good dashed of the hot sauce. Set aside.

Heat butter in a heavy saucepan over medium-high heat. Whisk in the flour making sure there are no lumps and cook the roux, stirring occasionally, for 2-3 minutes. Whisk in half and half, stirring constantly, until thickened, about 3 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Remove from heat. Stir in the cheese until melted. Stir in the taco beef. Pour pasta into the cheese sauce and mix well. Pour mixture into the baking dish and bake 30 minutes until golden brown. If you want to get really white trash, crumble nacho flavored Doritos with a little butter and sprinkle over the top before baking. Enjoy and leave your guilty feeling at the door.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Sovereign State #7 Argentina

Entraña Asado con Chimichurri (Grilled Skirt Steak with Chimichurri)
Puré de Patatas con Ajo (Garlic Mashed Potatoes)
Pizza Argentina con Jamón y Aceitunas Verdes (Pizza with Pancetta and Castellino Olives)
Pizza Argentina Margherita (Pizza with Heirloom Tomatoes and Fresh Basil)

Argentina is an interesting amalgam of European cultures. Like an adopted child, it knows that it's biological parents are of Spanish descent but it has been raised in German and Italian foster homes for most of it's life so Argentina has taken on a German, Italian sort of attitude. "Yeah sure, I'll eat my empanadas but you better serve some spaghetti and grilled sausages with it." Pretty much the red meat capitol of the world, and with the amount of cow that they eat I'm surprised these nice people aren't dropping like flies from heart attacks.

Grilled meat is pretty much the holy grail of Argentinean cuisine. Being an apartment dweller I had to use my trusty grill pan to achieve a lovely "pho-grill" seared steak. I grilled a beautiful skirt steak that I first marinated for an hour or two in some olive oil, kosher salt, black pepper, garlic, and rosemary. I turned a burner up to medium high and grilled the steak about 2 minutes each side until perfectly medium rare. Then I let it rest for 5 minutes. Always let your meat rest after cooking. Never cut into your meat right after cooking. Resting helps the the juices redistribute and seals in all the moisture. I wish I could use a charcoal grill to get that nice smokey flavor only an outdoor grill can provide but alas, here I am in my lovely little kitchen. Perhaps next summer I'll build a little window ledge and put a grill on it. As long as it doesn't drop three stories and take someone's head off or burn the building down, I think it'll work. Don't you? Is that a fire hazard? I'll just put it right next to my indoor smoker that has a rigged exhaust pipe that goes directly into my annoying neighbors apartment. Okay, okay don't get all ready to call the fire marshal on me. I'm just kidding, my little grill pan works just fine. So anyways, the condiment of choice in Argentina is chimichurri. A tasty salsa minus the tomatoes. It's basically, parsley, garlic, red pepper flakes, olive oil, and sherry vinegar thrown in a blender (salt and pepper tt). I love the acidity it brings to the melty fattiness of the meat. I served the skirt steak and chimichurri with garlic mashed potatoes and a little basic green salad. The next day I made steak sandwiches with my go to cheese Beechers Flagship and a little chimichurri mayo. Served up with my favorite salt and pepper chips. I could eat that skirt steak for every meal it was so good. Such basic, clean flavors. No need to muck it up with a bunch of nonsense.

Argentineans love pizza. You heard me right, they love Italian food. So much so that they pretty much eat pasta and pizza every second of every day. Seriously. Okay maybe not that much but Italian cuisine has definitely crept into the homes of these South American peoples to the point of having something covered in tomato sauce and cheese on nearly every menu. Pizza and Argentina go together like junkies and crack rock, ya know. They love the stuff. Maybe even more than Americans. Argentina is said to have the best Italian food outside of Italy, and who am I to argue? I've only had American Italian food so as far as I'm concerned, it's probably true. So the day after steak-fest 09 I decided to truly represent Argentina I had to make pizza. I made one with pancetta, pitted, green castellino olives, and fresh mozzarella and one with black krin heirloom tomatoes, fresh basil, roasted goat-horn peppers, and fresh mozzarella. The dough was a little sticky but the result was a super crusty, chewy crust. I cranked my oven to 525 degrees (as high as it goes) for about an hour and cooked the pies for about 8-10 minutes, turning them once for even cooking. The results were definitely awesome. Best pizzas I ever made. I used Elise's dough recipe from Simply Recipes and it worked out really well. I used my quick tomato sauce recipe and it added just the right flavor. So stinkin' good. I just a ate a slice cold for breakfast. Yum.

1 cup (packed) fresh Italian parsley
1/2 cup olive oil
1/3 cup sherry wine vinegar
3 garlic cloves
1/2 tsp dried crushed red pepper
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp fresh black pepper

Puree all ingredients in blender or processor. Eat with steak or fish.

Quick Pizza Sauce
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 15 oz can fire roasted diced tomatoes
1 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
2 garlic cloves, minced
a few fresh basil leaves
kosher slat and fresh cracked black pepper tt

In an unheated sauce pan add the olive oil, garlic, and red pepper flakes. Turn the heat up to low and cook for a minute or two until the garlic becomes fragrant. Meanwhile in a food processor, add the tomatoes, basil, salt and pepper and pulse it a few times. Add the tomatoes to the pan and stir to combine. Cook for a few minutes and then remove from the heat. Top a pizza with it or whatever else you can think of.


For more info on this project, read this: 203 Sovereign States

Wednesday, October 7, 2009


Shannon was K's amazingly awesome sister and best friend. She is missed and loved. To remember her and celebrate her birthday we went to the beach, ate her favorite tuna fish sandwiches on white bread with BBQ chips, and watched one of her favorite movies, Fletch.

Here's my recipe for my tuna fish sandwich. I'm sure she would've liked of my version.

your favorite bread, I like rye, baguette, or kaiser rolls.
6 oz white albacore tuns, drained
1 Tbsp Mayo
2 tsp Dijon mustard
1 scallion, chopped
1 Tbsp Spanish Olives, chopped
2 dashes of hot sauce (Tapatio is my go to)

Mix everything but the bread. Put the tuna salad in between two pieces of bread. You can insert lettuce and tomato if you like. Sometimes I'll add cheese. When I'm feeling especially like the fancy white trash that I sometimes am I"ll broil them open faced with American cheese on them as a tuna melt. Eat with pickles and chips. Watch with a good Chevy Chase or Bill Murray movie.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Violet had a little lamb...

I have the flu and haven't cooked for a few days unless you count pressing buttons on the microwave or heating up leftovers. For some reason when I feel like death I crave steak and meat and bloody burgers. Maybe it has something to do with the fact that the body needs protein when it's fighting off a cold. I didn't want to blog about the can of SpaghettiOs and meatballs I ate for lunch today (You heard me right. So a girl craves her childhood food when she's sick too, so don't judge!) so instead I'll give you a nice recipe for my delicious Lamb Burger with spinach, smoked gouda cheese, and poblano pepper aoili. Now, more orange juice and back to bed.

Violet's Lamb Burger
1 lb ground lamb
3 scallions, chopped
1 clove garlic chopped
1 Tbsp bread crumbs
1 egg
2 tsp fresh chopped oregano
2 tsp Pickapeppa Sauce
a few dashes of hot sauce
salt and pepper tt

Combine ingredients thoroughly. Don't over work the meat though. Seperate into four patties. Broil the burgers (about 5 inches from the heat) for about 4 minutes each side or until medium rare. Top with slices of smoked gouda for the last minute. Serve on toasted buns with with spinach, and poblano aioli (recipe follows).

Roasted Poblano Aioli

2 large egg yolks
2 tablespoons spicy Dijon mustard
1 minced clove garlic
2 teaspoons lemon juice
6 ounces roasted and peeled poblano peppers
1 cup olive oil
kosher salt and fresh cracked black pepper tt

1. Combine everything but the olive oil in a food processor. Blend until smooth and then drizzle the olive oil into the mixture slowly in a thin stream. Season with salt and pepper and keep cold until serving.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Sovereign State #6 Antigua & Barbuda

Antigua and Barbuda
The Menu:
Antiguan Pepperpot

There's a sale on sovereign states this week! Two for the price of one. That's right folks, step right up and see the mysterious Caribbean nation with two heads. I wonder if the people of Antigua and Barbuda ever get mad at each for being lumped together. I mean, they are two separate islands. I wonder if they get pissed off, kind of like how when you ask a New Yorker if they're from New Jersey. It's not pretty and you might end up with a black eye. And we're not even mentioning the bird guano covered, feral goat infested, volcanic rock island of Redonda which in my opinion should be added to the nation's name. It should be Antigua, Barbuda, and Feral Goat Infested Redonda. There, I said it.

There is a small war going on in the internets. What exactly is Antigua, Barbuda, and FGIR's national dish? Is it pepperpot like most people claim? Or is it the sweet potato and coconut infused dukana like some protest? Or maybe that crazy woman that I talked to on the Caribbean Grace Foods forums was right in insisting that bananas was the national dish. I thought about just taking a picture of a banana and calling it a day but I figured that you, my dear reader, would not be satisfied with that post. I decided to go with majority rules (in most cases majority blows) and cook the dishes that I thought best represented the islands. Pepperpot is a pretty common dish in a lot of Caribbean countries and the difference in this version is the addition of eddo leaves, pigeon peas, pork knuckle, and yucca. It also has calabaza squash, orange yams, habanero peppers, and pork belly. The day after I cooked this stew, fall weather arrived so you can all thank me for ending summer for you. This is a serious cool weather dish.

Fungee (pronounced 'fun-jee') is basically corn meal or polenta cooked until it forms a ball. It's pretty difficult to make because it splatters and you are required to keep stirring now matter how much of your hand get burned and blistered. When cooking this dish, the wooden spoon becomes like a crude torture device, stirring and scalding. Next time I'll wear mittens. Corn meal, water, butter, mittens, and a stacked set of guns (arm muscles). That's all you need to make this simple but effective side dish. I have to say, it goes pretty damn well with the pepperpot. As the stew infiltrates the fungee it becomes almost dumpling like in texture. Very tasty. Information was hard to come by on this nation but I'm glad I was able to find a piece of the islands and cook it in my kitchen. I just hope I never come across any feral goats.

For more info on this project, read this: 203 Sovereign States

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

...and now for something completely delicious.

...and I wonder why I can't seem to lose my lil' booze gut. Sure it's a little one but it ruins any chances I have of becoming America's next top model. Oh well, at least I have twenty portions of mac n' cheese in front of me. Ya know, if there was one thing I could've learned in culinary school it would've been how to cook for two people. I blame my bad portioning skills on my mother. Her and my grandmother had three rules when it came to food. 1) Everyone is probably hungry all the time. 2) Why just make a little bit when you can make more than enough to feed the whole neighborhood? 3) If you're not currently eating there must be a problem. I don't know how many times in my childhood I heard "Why aren't you eating? Are you sick?" Ummm, I just ate breakfast 20 freaking minutes ago. That's why I'm not hungry. Let a kid rest without a sandwich in their hand. Sheesh. So yes, I have become like her. I have adopted the very same rules that plagued me my whole life. I make too much food, all the time, and I can't moderately portion food to save my life. I just hope my aging, rusty metabolism keeps puttering along. I guess, in a way, it is comforting to know that there is always something comforting to snack on.

Baked Penne & Beecher's Flagship Cheese with Spicy Lamb Sausage -or-
Mac N' Cheese with Sausage (depends on whether you're feeling fancy or not)

16 oz. penne pasta
1/2 lb. spicy lamb sausage (merguez would work as well)
3 cups half and half
3 Tbsp. butter
3 Tbsp AP flour
kosher salt and fresh ground black pepper tt
1 tsp pimenton picante
2 1/2 - 3 cups Beecher's Smoked Flagship cheese, grated (or mix it up with your favorites)
1 cup fine bread crumbs
1 Tbsp butter, melted

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease a 9 x 12 baking dish. Cook pasta in salted boiling water until cooked al dente. Set aside. Meanwhile, brown sausage whole in a skillet until just cooked through. Let the meat rest before slicing. Heat butter in a heavy saucepan over medium-high heat.
Whisk in the flour making sure there are no lumps and cook the roux, stirring occasionally, for 2-3 minutes. Whisk in half and half, stirring constantly, until thickened, about 3 minutes. Season with salt and pepper and add pimenton. Remove from heat. Stir in the cheese until melted. Pour pasta into cheese sauce. Add sausage. Mix well. Pour into prepared pan. Combine bread crumbs and the Tbsp of melted butter. Sprinkle over macaroni and cheese. Bake 30 minutes until golden brown.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Sovereign State #5: Angola

The Menu:
Piri Piri
Arroz Integral com Manteiga de Amendoim e Bananas (Brown Rice with Peanut Butter and Bananas)
Feijoada Angolan (Chicken and Red Palm Oil Stew)
Camaro Grelhado com Mohlo Cru (Grilled Prawns with Raw Sauce)

Angola is kind of a scary place. Even their flag looks scary. Angola was occupied by the Portuguese for four centuries up until 1975. The country is also one of the birth places of the Cold War (team USA, Britain, Portugal vs. team USSR, Cuba in a game of "Who gets Angola's oil & blood diamonds"). After nearly thirty years of civil war with millions massacred and hundreds of thousands left homeless, the gunfire has officially stopped but the abundance of misplaced minefields and humanitarian atrocities continue. That however does not mean there is nothing worth eating. Every place, no matter how scary it is always has something tasty to eat. Angola is no different.

Dura Palms are the vegetation of choice in Angola. The oil from the trees is very popular as is the "hash" or tree pulp. It was pretty damn hard to get over here in the United States. Just recently a company called Ökonatur started to import here. It's a bit pricey but I felt that it was necessary for authentic Angolan dishes. It's pretty crazy. It's not filtered so it has bits of palm pulp floating in it and when you put it to heat it smokes a lot. The bits burn up and then you're ready to fry in it. Red palm oil has a bitter, nutty sort of flavor. I have to say I was slightly wary of using it because it almost has an off sort of smell to it but after cooking with it my concerns were put to rest.

Angolans like their food spicy. While being a Latina I enjoy a little bit of kick in my food myself but I do not have the dead to the world taste buds or iron gut to deal with a dish that has 10 habaneros in it. I can think of better ways to commit suicide so I cut back a little bit on the spiciness in a few of the dishes but still kept them spicy and authentic. The national condiment of Angola is Piri Piri (which I think translates to "burn your face off"). It's basically 4 Tbsp of lemon Juice, 4 Tbsp water, 5 Tbsp of African cayenne pepper, and 1 Tbsp of garlic salt. It does not mess around. The flavor is amazing and it really brightens up a dish but I would just use a tiny bit in my food instead of the recipes that called for chicken or seafood to be lathered in it before being grilled. I'll save that for when I have house-guests that I hate.

It's pretty amazing the amount of culture people will retain from their oppressors after they have gone. Angola has an incredible amount of Portuguese influence in it's cuisine. Feijoada Angolan is one of those dishes that came from Portugal but the Angolans made it their own. Originally it was a black bean stew with salt pork and other meats stewed in a clay pot. The Angolans mix it up and make it with white beans with the addition of bay leaves, cabbage, carrots, and chicken. They also flavor it with quite a bit of red palm oil. I really enjoyed this dish. It has that comfort sort of thing that a lot of stews do. I can imagine that if I had a cold and lived in Angola I would want this dinner. That or an ice bath or an air conditioner. I made my Angolan Feijoada with lima beans (soaked overnight and simmered in water for about one hour). Then I sauteed 1/2 head of cabbage, one onion, three carrots, some garlic, and two habaneros (cut in half and seeded) in a little peanut oil and added that to the pot when the beans were ready. Tomatoes were added and then I pulled out my new jar of red palm oil and sauteed chicken legs and thighs in the red pulpy liquid gold. Lastly I sliced some Portuguese linguiça (sausage) and gave them a quick toss in the oil adding it along with the chicken to the stew. To finish I added some chopped parsley and about 1/2 cup of palm oil. Yes, salt and pepper were added throughout. Overall, after the beans were done I cooked the stew about 1 hour. I made like 2 gallons of the stuff so we'll be eating Angolan for a while. Anybody hungry? I'll give you some.

Now, I'm not a very big fan of brown rice. I grew up eating white rice and I prefer it. No, I'm not racist, I just don't care for the texture of brown rice. However, this rice dish made me appreciate it a little more. I like the tomato flavor in the rice and the bananas adds a sweetness that makes it feel like the rice isn't trying so hard to be healthy. You know, like it's saying "yeah I guess I'm pretty good for you but check it out, I'm hanging out with bananas and peanut butter so I'm sort of a bad-ass." Just like the drama kids that hung out with the super cool rebel smokers in high school. Yeah I see you with the bad kids but I know you're still a musical theater nerd. This dish is basically brown rice cooked in tomato juice and water. Meanwhile the sauce consists of sauteed onion, peppers, curry powder, tomatoes, and peanut butter. I added a little water to thin it out a little bit. Then when the rice is done pan fry up some banana slices in peanut oil and serve over the rice. Arroz Integral com Manteiga de Amendoim e Bananas feels very earthy and African.

The Camaro Grelhado com Mohlo Cru is basically prawns with Portuguese mojo sauce with a few tweaks and I knew it would be delicious. With my mortar and pestle I ground 1 tsp of cumin seed, pinch of salt and peppercorns, a few scallions, a couple cloves of garlic. After grinding it to a paste I added a few Tbsp of sherry vinegar and water. I marinated the shrimp in the sauce for about 15 minutes and then skewered them and tossed them onto an oiled grill pan. 2 minutes each side and they were done. Yum-o. (maybe I should make an idiotic slogan like that rat-faced hack Rachel Ray. I dunno. How about "freaking yumtastic!")

So yes, my first go at Central African food was pretty much spectacular. Sure, some of it had it's similarities to Portuguese food but the spirit of the dishes are one hundred percent African. In fact, I'm still scraping the dead taste buds off of my scalded tongue. I will be sure to have a jar of piri piri in my fridge just in case. You never know who's going to drop by for dinner.

For more info on this project, read this: 203 Sovereign States

Friday, September 11, 2009

Taberna Del Alabardero

In the guts of one of my favorite but now defunct Belltown happy hour spots lives a restaurant that is sort of an anomaly here in Seattle. What used to be Cascadia with it's delicious truffle butter topped mini burgers and Douglas Fir martinis now resides the lovely new Spanish restaurant Taberna Del Alabardero. Although the decor hasn't changed much (it's still feels a little like an airplane hanger with curtains) the food sure has. Taberna specializes in traditional Spanish fare including paellas (served tableside) and a variety of delicious tapas. The food was amazing but it was the service that won me over. Something you don't tend to find in Seattle is great service. Sure, it's gotten much better but it still tends to be very casual. Not that I mind casual service but when you eat at a fine dining restaurant it feels especially deluxe to be pampered a little bit instead of the usual disdain you receive for asking for your water to be refilled. The staff was flown in from Spain and the differences in their fine dining culture truly shows. Our servers were top notch and you can tell that they take serious pride in what they do.

Taberna is probably the most authentic Spanish dining experience you'll find in the Pacific Northwest. It's simple but elegant food cooked with passion and skill. This is no knock on Txori or Harvest Vine (which sadly may no longer be with us for much longer). I love chef Joseba Jimenez's food and I truly hope his divorce does not destroy him and his beautiful restaurants. His food is Basque with a modern feel to it. Taberna feels like like old world Spain (and not in a stuffy Inquisition kind of way).
So Kelleen took me to Taberna for my birthday and we started off with a bottle of one of my favorite cavas, Mont Marcal brut rose. I try to always have a bottle of this in my fridge for those fancy sort of times. I don't know if you can fall in love with a bottle of wine but I think I may have. The chef somehow heard it was my birthday and he sent out a plate of Tortilla Española de Patatas. It reminded me how good an omelette with potatoes can be. Very silky and creamy. After swallowing the small plate whole we decided to start with a bunch of tapas. We ordered the Cazuela de Chorizo (chorizo poached in olive oil), Croquetas de Jamón del Iberico (Iberico ham croquettes), Patatas Bravas (fried potatoes with a spicy tomato sauce), and my favorite dish Rotos con Virutas de Iberico (Broken fried eggs over French fries with Iberico ham shavings). Everything was perfectly spiced and delicious. The only complaint I have is on myself for not noticing the Padron Peppers on the menu. They are one of my favorite thing in the world and I overlooked them. There is no justice in the world. Anyway, I'm finally starting to get over it. For our main course we ordered the Paella de Langostinos y Ajetes con Ali-Oli (Saffron Rice with King Prawns and Spring Garlic Served with Ali-Oli). The rice was cooked perfectly al-dente in a fragrant saffron and shellfish stock. The giant prawns were moist and fresh with just the right amount of bitterness from the spring onions. I could eat this paella for every meal, everyday, for the rest of my life. I decided that instead of another bottle of cava we should get a pitcher of sangria. It was filled with sour apples and not overly sweet. The sangria was the perfect drink for the second half of our meal. For dessert we got the Torrija Semiliquida Crujiente con Sorbete de Platano y Aromas de Menta y Citricos (Crunchy, Semi-liquid French Toast with Banana). I was slightly terrified by the description, trying to picture what "crunchy, semi-liquid" would be like but it was just that. The French toast was crunchy on the outside and moist and liquidy on the inside. The banana ice cream was fired too. This desert kind of blew my mind. It was also brought to me with a candle and happy birthday written on it. I almost cried. I felt truly spoiled by such a lovely meal. I will definitely be returning to Taberna Del Alabardero. It doesn't take much to make people feel important. Perhaps this is the next step in Seattle's culinary growth. A little pride in what you do goes a long way.

Taberna Del Alabardero
2328 1st Avenue Seattle, WA 98121
206 448 8884

Friday, September 4, 2009

Sovereign State #4: Andorra

The Menu:
Terrina de Conejo (Rabbit Terrine)
Sofrito (Catalan Tomato and Onion Sauce)
Trinxat (Cabbage and Potato Cake)
Cargols amb Mantega D'all (Roasted Snails with Garlic Butter)

Familiarity is a funny thing. It's easy to live a little dangerously when you understand your surroundings. In a sort of twisted way I can understand why people travel across the world and end up eating out of American burger joints. It's safe and easy. Hell, perhaps I might even try something wacky like a Mc-Tonkatsu burger in Osaka or maybe a Flame Broiled Shawarma Jr. in Cairo just to , you know, soak up some culture for the few minutes I'm not sitting in the hotel pool. I can almost understand the madness. Almost.

I love Spanish food. Arroz co Pollo, Picadillo, these are my comfort dishes. Andorra is pretty damn close to Spanish food. It actually has quite a bit in common with Catalan and Basque cuisine. I understand Spanish flavors. I grew up with these flavors. I could just whip out some kind of braised chicken dish with tomatoes and olives or perhaps fry up some Basque chorizo and eggs and call it a day. But I like the challenge of searching for something new. I like expanding my culinary knowledge. I wanted to cook something I've never cooked before. I know these flavors, so why not test my palate. The hotel pool is really nice but sometimes you just have to see what else is around you and find some adventure.

I went down to see my buddy Don at Don & Joe's butcher shop in the market to grab some rabbit. He fabricated it (cut it up) for me and I asked him to save me the livers. He asked me if I was "feeling a little jumpy" to which I replied "keep using puns like that and I'll have to shop somewhere else". I also got a bit of bacon and some of their amazing pork meat sticks that I need for my pork deficiency. I also picked up my snails from Delaurentis next door. I found a recipe for snails that said "go outside and collect 20 garden snails". Uhhh, not in my neighborhood friend. I'll stick with canned snails. After collecting all my ingredients I went home and started on dinner. I finally got to use my lovely new friend. My pink Kitchen-aid mixer with meat grinder attachment that my sweetheart wifey got me for my birthday. I loved how upset the cat got while watching the rabbit meat squish out of the grinder. Both my kitty Clara and K were intrigued and repulsed at the same time.

The rabbit terrine was incredible. A mixture of ground rabbit meat and liver, garlic, onion, egg, and spices. All wrapped up with bacon and steamed in a terrine water bath for 1 1/2 hours. It was like eating the most moist meatloaf you ever had in your life. If there was a god of meatloaf, this is what she would make. It went perfectly with the sofrito sauce. A super smokey and spicy tomato sauce with pimenton (smoked paprika) and sweet onions. I always make Cuban sofrito as the base for soups and sauces but I have never thought of the addition of pimenton. I don't know why, it makes perfect sense. This will be my "go to" sofrito from now on. We ate the terrine the next day in sandwiches. So stinking good!

Who doesn't love potato pancakes? Unloved demon spawn, that's who. Trinxat (pronounced trin-chat), Andorra's national dish of potatoes, cabbage, and bacon all fried up in patty form, is comfort food pure and simple. K is half Irish and I make a dish called colcannon for her when she's not shining shoes or following rainbows. It's basically the same ingredients as trinxat but the Andorrans here have stepped it up a notch (as my favorite uneducated TV celebrity leprechaun would say) and fried the whole thing.

Snails are a hard sell to people that have never tried them before. Getting someone to try snails for the first time can be a daunting task. "Here, I cooked you some slimy insect looking creatures, have some." Snails are mollusks. If you like clams, oysters, mussels, etc... you will like snails. It's a texture thing that most people have a problem with. To me, snails have similar texture and flavor to a portabella mushroom that got in a fight with a clam. I stuffed the snails back into their shells and topped them off with some garlic and chive butter and roasted them for 10 minutes. They were garlicky and delicious.

Food does not have to be filled with chemicals just to be comforting. Food should be made with care and pride(call me a hippy and I'll hurt you). And perhaps sometimes you need to get a little challenged. Eating and traveling shouldn't just be about familiarity. It should show you new and exciting things so that when you want some of your favorites, you'll have a whole lot more to choose from.

For more info on this project, read this: 203 Sovereign States