Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Eating Mexico: Art & Beer

You've waited long enough. I can now tell you where to go to have the best drink in the world.
But first, a little back-story.

Two years ago Ed and I took an unplanned day trip from Cabo to Todos Santos to get out of the tourist clang. We liked Todos so much we decided to stay overnight.

That afternoon we swam in the ocean, then we drank beer and danced to a reggae band under the stars with a bunch of California surf dudes. And the next day, on our way back to Cabo, we stopped on a whim at a little place next to the road called Art & Beer.

That stop changed everything.

I personally believe there's a good possibility that they put "something" in the drinks. I can't prove it, and I honestly don't care. It's just that I can't figure out any other explaination for the overwhelming sense of well-being that overcame us while we were sitting under the palapas, gazing out at the ocean in the distance.

Back home, the thought of Art & Beer brought on fuzzy gazes and caused us both to go to la-la land every time someone asked about our trip to Mexico.

So it's not an overstatement to say Art & Beer was Mecca to us on this trip. Ed even said--as we were pulling up--that he was nervous that it wouldn't be everything we remembered. But the instant we entered it came back.

This is it. This is what you waited for: the Clamato.

A drink like no other, and I mean that. Seventeen (that's 17!) ingredients go into this puppy, including at least three and sometimes four clams, fish roe, worcestershire sauce, something-something, something else, and so on til you get to 17. Oh right, and there are raw scallops on the garnish.

We also ordered the deceptively simple-sounding "whole fried fish."

At Art & Beer that means a whole fried fish plus a whole crab, seven giant scallops, five mussels, a few more clams, homemade beans, fresh tortillas and five just-made salsas. No, seriously.

Another Clamato? Hell yes, senora.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Good Read: Verlyn Klinkenborg on killing his pigs

Thanks to Grinder, I just read Verlyn Klinkenborg's succinct, thought-provoking and tender editorial on his journey from raising pigs to eating their meat.

It's four perfect paragraphs, so try to pencil in a reading.
Here's a taste:

Knowing that you’re doing something for the last time is a uniquely human fear. I thought that would be the hardest thing about having pigs. In fact, it’s not so hard, though it does remind me that humans have trouble thinking carefully about who knows what. One day soon I’ll step into the pen and give the pigs a thorough scratching, behind the ears, between the eyes, down the spine. Their tails will straighten with pleasure. It will be the last time. I will know it, and they simply won’t.

Eating Mexico: In pictures

We started our trip in La Paz, which is a more "real Mexico" experience than you'll get in any of the tourist-friendly areas I've been to.

I made a trip to Mexico City about 10 years ago and the attitude of friendly indifference in La Paz reminded me of that. No one's giving you the uber-jolly "hola sir, come and drink our grande margaritas! Free shots!" greeting every 10 steps. We also never had to say "no gracias" to a small child selling Chicklets. So you get the idea.

Our first dinner was our best dinner in La Paz, at (the very unfortunately named) Tequilas Bar & Grill.

I was doubtful--can good food be served at a place called Tequilas? But we'd heard raves from several people at our hotel. Turns out they were spot on: Ed had one of the best arracharas (flank steaks) I've ever had anywhere in the world. I had a filet of freshly caught grilled bass. Oh, and the guac was pretty damn good too. So were the margaritas with fresh lime and orange juice. But I'm going to shut up about it now since we were in "we just got to Mexico!" mode and didn't take any pictures.

What we did take pictures of was a dinner at Racho Viejo, a taco stand that nearly everyone in La Paz insisted we try. Good stuff.

More pictures of La Paz:

The fishing in La Paz is a big draw, but windy weather and a stormy stomach kept us from bringing home lots of atun this trip. Oh well, guess that's our excuse to go back.

Next up: Todos Santos, including the best drink in the world.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Eating Mexico: Adios, amigos

We're outta here! I won't pretend I'm bummed to be leaving the already-constant drizzle that has become our reality these last 3 weeks. Or has it been longer? See, I'm numb to it already. Good thing we're getting away.

We're off to fish the Sea of Cortez, to eat freshly griddled masa filled with puerco, and coctel de camarones with spicy ketchup and Saltines. To swim in the warm ocean.

We're going to dance and do tequila shots (if our tired, new-parent asses can handle it). At the very least there'll be plenty of fruity drinks consumed during the day, while trying to speak Spanglish instead of Spazneesh (which is what you speak when you're a spazzy (perhaps even drunken spazzy) American. Two friends and I made that up during a college trip to Mexico. Sorry.)

So in the meantime, pretend you're sitting under a palapa drinking a 2-for-1 (it's happy hour!) blended strawberry margarita while you check out Tea & Cookies, where Tea Austen Weaver has some of the most gorgeous pictures of figs I've ever seen. Or Dan Bennett's photo blog, to get lost in a world of mushrooms. Or head over to What We're Eating and get inspired by Amanda's seriously delicous recipes (and photos). You could also do worse than looking at The Grinder blog on Chow, and there's always Grub Street for those who keep track of foodie comings-and-goings in NYC.

We'll be back soon. But not too soon.

[where: 98118]

Good Read: The return of heritage turkey breeds

The Seattle Times's story on heritage turkeys renewed my excitement for Thanksgiving. Yep, this year we'll be tasting our very first heritage turkey. And you know what? I really cannot wait.

Usually the turkey is, well, you know it's pretty good. I like the dark meat. But those enormous white breasts so prized by Butterballers around the nation? You know, the ones that the turkeys are bred to have? They leave me luke-warm, or less.

Did you ever think that maybe there's a reason most of us eat turkey once a year? Sure, we'll have the occasional turkey burger, or we'll sub some turkey sausage in for pork. But I never roast a turkey like I'd roast a chicken. Maybe this is why:

Turkey used to have taste. But that was before turkeys were genetically honed to be not much more than a giant hunk of white meat on stubby legs. Today's conventionally-raised turkey is a freak of nature that, left on its own, would not live a year.

Most turkeys eaten by Americans today are a single variety: the Broad-breasted White. It's a bird bred to grow fast, with huge amounts of breast meat. It's so top heavy in the cleavage it can't walk right; the most it can manage is a waddle. It can't fly, jump or run. And it's so corpulent and misshapen the poor thing can't even copulate; Broad-breasted Whites have to be artificially inseminated.

Heritage turkeys, on the other hand, are bred for flavor. Oh, and they can reproduce without human help! Which is nice for them, I'm guessing.

Herbfarm chef Jerry Traunfeld says:

"It definitely has more flavor than the modern turkey, which has just been bred to be some kind of monster to grow really fast and have this huge amount of breast meat," Traunfeld said. "And they are beautiful when they are cooked, they are a nice, small size — and you get a lot of crispy skin."

Not everyone agrees, though. Sara Dickerman, Seattle Magazine's food editor, did a taste-test of turkeys and came up with a surprising favorite.

It might be a little too late to reserve a heritage turkey this year, but it's worth a call or two. Here's a good place to start.

[where: 98118]

Friday, October 19, 2007

Eating In: Porcini mushroom linguini in wild mushroom sauce

I can do without Mount St. Helens ash figurines and 26 flavors of salty/sweet almonds, but for as big a tourist destination as it is, the Pike Place Market still has some unique, delicious finds.

My most recent was Pappardelle's flavored dried pasta stand. They've got over 40 flavors, with basil-tangerine, dark chocolate, and Venetian calamari among them. I couldn't resist: I bought a pound of the porcini mushroom.

Then I just whipped up a mushroom sauce using dried porcinis and fresh shiitakes, because that's what we had on hand. I think quick sauces are always better with fresh, so the recipe below calls for 1 1/2lbs of fresh mushrooms, but you can substitute dried for half of the fresh in a pinch (like I did). If using dried, soak the shrooms in hot water for at least 15 minutes.

This sauce is one of the quickest, easiest sauces you can make, and it tastes great whether you use red or white wine, or dry sherry.

Alongside we had the very last caprese of the year, using a tomato we bought from the Bainbridge farmer's market, buffalo mozz I picked up at Trader Joe's, and basil that had been barely clinging to life on my plants.

I swear, though, this is the last time. So thank goodness it was frickin' terrific.

Porcini Mushroom Linguini with Wild Mushroom Sauce
1 large shallot or 1/2 red onion, diced fine
1 1/2lbs fresh wild mushrooms (shiitakes, morels, chanterelles, etc) sliced
3/4 c white wine
4-5 T butter
1/2 c half-n-half
1-2 tsps fresh thyme

1lb porcini mushroom linguini
Romano or Parmesan cheese for grating over the top

Bring a large pot of salted water to boil over high heat.

In a large skillet, saute shallot or onion over med-high heat in 1 tablespoon of butter until golden (about 3 minutes). Add another tablespoon of butter to pan and add mushrooms in an even layer. Do not mix right away; leave mushrooms to sear in the pan. After about a minute, stir mushrooms and then leave them again to cook. The pan should be pretty dry, so if your mushrooms are sitting in liquid turn up the heat.

Drop pasta into water to cook.

Once the mushrooms have given off their water and are browning, season with salt, fresh ground pepper and fresh thyme. Add wine (and 1/2 c mushroom soaking liquid if using dried) to pan and reduce to just before dry. Reduce heat to low and add half-n-half, stirring.

Reduce slightly, then take off heat and add 2-3 tablespoons butter, stirring to combine.

Using tongs, add pasta to the sauce, allowing a small amount of the pasta water to come into the sauce pan. Stir to coat, adding pasta water if needed to loosen sauce. Stir in 1/4 cup Parmesan cheese and serve warm, with Parmesan shavings.

The last caprese of 2007 was fantastic. The buffalo milk mozz made a huge difference--it's so much creamier than cow's milk mozz. And even though the basil had seen better days, it did its job. Excellent.

[where: 98118]

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Eating In: Sausages, sauerkraut and spaetzle

Yesterday, Mike Seely wrote a perfect sentence. Blogging about a recent trip to Leavenworth for Oktoberfest (on Voracious), he says:

(Leavenworth's) faux-Bavarianness is so all-encompassing and uber-kitschy that it understandably drives a certain type of person absolutely batshit.

Maybe I'm just a sucker for the word "batshit," but he's spot-on. You either appreciate corny crap or you don't. And I do. Oh boy, do I.

This guy made our sausage

And what a co-ink-e-dink: I had planned my own personal Oktoberfest to celebrate Ed's return from Moab! Big jar of sauerkraut? Check. Four fresh sausages from Uli's? Check. I was even planning to embark on my maiden spaetzle voyage. Ed's so lucky, right?

I looked up a recipe for spaetzle and dove right in. It was a basic spaetzle recipe and it was pretty good, but I didn't think it was special enough to warrant inclusion here (see? standards=sky high!)

Now that I'm done, I think I'd want to try a slightly different, lighter recipe next time. I found a couple recipes for ricotta spaetzle, and although it's obviously not an "authentic German spaetzle" recipe, who cares if the stuff is great, right?

Anyhow, here's me making spaetzle using a colander. Messy and kinda tricky. I finally figured out a good technique (slapping at the batter with my spatula) on my last batch.

The finished product, browned in butter and served with fresh parsley and chives.

I served the sausages on a bed of bacony sauerkraut (I browned some bacon in the pan, then added the jar of kraut). Easy as can be, and it helped the canned kraut taste less generic. By the way, the two non-German sausages (one lamb and one linguica) totally rocked; the brats were good too, but I'll be making a special trip to Uli's for the others.

[where: 98118]

Monday, October 15, 2007

Food News: U-District Mee Sum now open!

Just got an email from William Fong of Mee Sum Pastry and...drum roll... the U-District Mee Sum is open (!!) serving a limited menu. That means yes on the baked and steamed hombows, no on the moon cakes. And bonus: they'll be serving soups, "popcorn chicken" and bubble tea too!

Fong says they're aiming for a real-deal grand opening early next week.

image via Seattle Times

I doubt I'll be able to keep my curiosity in check until then, though, so check back for a report.

In the mean time, qing! (that's celebrate in Chinese)

PS--Don't know the exact address quite yet, but it's right next to the American Apparel on the Ave.

RELATED: Food News: New Mee Sum coming soon!
[where: 98105]

Saturday, October 13, 2007

King Corn: Documentary on the corning of America

"Everything on your plate is corn"
King Corn is being hailed as the Super Size Me of the farming industry: Two friends (Curt Ellis and Ian Cheney) from Boston move to Iowa to raise corn, and along the way they find out how the farming industry really works in America.

From the NY Times:
Mr. Ellis and Mr. Cheney moved to Iowa, in 2003, where they grew an acre of corn and followed it from the ground to the town’s overflowing grain elevators and beyond. Their journey took them to Colorado, where corn-fed cows stood shoulder to shoulder in their own excrement waiting to become cheap hamburgers, and it took them as well to Brooklyn to examine how high fructose corn syrup in sodas has contributed to the nation’s high obesity and diabetes rates.

We're not growing quality, we're growing crap.

From Salon:
Propped up by irrational subsidies and massive doses of fertilizer and herbicide, Midwestern corn production reaches new highs almost every year. Most of the golden grain is not going to wholesome summertime dinners but rather into the production of cattle feed and high-fructose corn syrup for soft drinks and other sweetened products. Corn is ubiquitous in the American diet even if you think you're not eating it, and the deranged overproduction of corn instituted in the Nixon era has directly contributed to epidemic levels of obesity and diabetes. Thankfully, this information arrives via a graceful and frequently humorous film that captures the idiosyncrasies of its characters and never hectors.

If you're at all interested in sustainable agriculture and/or nutrition, this movie looks like a good one.

UPDATE: Looks like the Grand Illusion will be showing the movie, though there aren't any dates listed yet. Road-trippers can see it in Portland at the Hollywood Theater beginning Nov. 9.

In the mean time, check out Curt Ellis's blog on Culinate.com.

*quotes above were taken from the trailor on www.kingcorn.net.
[where: 98101]

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Good Read: Angela Garbes reviews Art of the Table

Just popped in to point you toward the Stranger's review of Art of the Table, the first review of the supperclub-style restaurant by any of the Seattle papers.

image via Art of the Table

I read about the opening of Art of the Table several months back on Egullet and I remember thinking, "this is a place I definitely want to try." Haven't made it there yet, but now, after reading Angela Garbes' rave, I'm even more excited to go.

Check out upcoming menus here (next up: Northern Italian! yum)

PS--Kinda nice to see the Stranger taking restaurant reviews seriously. They used to let anybody write about restaurants, whether they knew anything about the food they were "reviewing" or not. No longer, and I'm happy to see it.

[where: 98103]

Monday, October 8, 2007

Eating In: Rosemary crusted leg of lamb

The lamb feasting continues! Mom and dad had a 7lb bone-in leg of lamb from the whole lamb they'd bought at auction in Ellensburg. And knowing how much we love to cook (and eat) lamb, they decided to hand it over to us to cook for a big family dinner. Score.

What a beautiful piece of meat it was. I had to do a little trimming of silver skin, but not much. We left a good amount of fat on the meat (which we scored so that it'd render more easily) and did a very simple rosemary-lemon-garlic salt rub. We also threw a thick-sliced onion and some sliced fennel into the bottom of the roasting pan (to cook in the lamb juices). Yum.

It was perfect--I wouldn't change a thing.

Rosemary Crusted Leg of Lamb
1 6-7lb leg of lamb, bone-in
4 T rosemary needles
8 cloves garlic
Zest of 1 lemon
1 T kosher salt
1 1/2 tsp fresh ground pepper
olive oil
1 large yellow onion, thickly sliced (optional)
1 fennel bulb, thinly sliced (optional)

Prepare salt:
In a small food-processor, chop 6 cloves of garlic, all of the rosemary, lemon zest, salt and pepper. Process until rosemary is very fine and all garlic is chopped fine. Set aside.

Prepare lamb:
Score fat on lamb in a criss-cross pattern with a sharp knife, getting down to the meat level with your knife. This allows the fat to render, which marinates the meat and gives the finished roast a crispy thin crust (as opposed to a thick fatty crust).

Rub the lamb with the rosemary-lemon-garlic salt. Thinly slice the 2 remaining cloves of garlic and, using a long narrow knife, cut slits into the lamb, placing slices of garlic into the slits and pushing them in with your finger. Wrap in plastic and refrigerate for 1 to 4 hours.

Remove roast from refrigerator 1/2 hour before cooking, to come to room temperature.

Preheat oven to 425. Place oven rack towards the bottom of the oven (you want the lamb to sit in the middle of the oven, not towards the top). Scatter onions and fennel in bottom of roasting pan, drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle lightly with salt.

Remove plastic from meat and place lamb on a roasting rack. Place rack into the roasting pan (or you can place the roast directly onto the fennel and onions) and roast for 25 minutes. Reduce heat to 350 and roast for another hour to 75 minutes, or until a thermometer reads 130 in the thickest part of the roast. Remove from oven and allow meat to rest, tented with foil, for 20 minutes.

While our lamb was resting we had a beet-walnut-goat cheese salad (with gorgeous beets from mom and dad's garden). We served our lamb with roasted "Ruby" fingerling potatoes with shallots, the lamb-juicy onions and fennel, creamed spinach and warm rosemary bread. Everyone had a great time; Ruby even ate some lamb. Strawberry-rhubarb pie ala mode for dessert. We were stuffed.

Ed couldn't stop talking about how much fun it is having a big family dinner on a cold, rainy Sunday evening. I couldn't agree more.

[where: 98118]