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