Monday, July 5, 2010


So this week's story has its roots in events that transpired around Christmas.  As long-term readers know, I am gradually attempting to learn candy-making.  A coworker who also knew this went home for Christmas, and while there helped her family clear out her late grandmother's possessions.  Among her grandmother's belongings were some candy molds.  She texted me and asked if I wanted the molds, adding that they were going to be thrown out if I didn't want them.  "Sure!"  I replied.  Fast forward to a few weeks ago, and boxes start arriving at work.  Big boxes.  Full of chocolate molds. 
My coworker did say "There are a LOT of molds." She wasn't kidding.  These boxes are a treasure trove of molds - holiday themed, kid themed, character molds, just about anything you can imagine. 

I sorted through them and weeded out most of the duplicates, which I offered to another lady at work who sometimes makes candy too. 
Since these things came to work, everyone else got into the act and demanded chocolates.  I resolved to make some candy for the lady who gave me the molds and some for work friends, and we'll see for everyone else.  Maybe eventually. 
Now I have tried various caramels and toffee and that sort of thing, but no chocolates so far.  Why?  Because when I read about it, there was a whole bunch of stuff about tempering and maintaining precise temperatures and other stuff that made me nervous. 
But now I kind of have to do it, so I got myself to Michael's and bought a bunch of candy disks in a variety of colors and a couple of different flavors. 

Knowing that if I let myself think about it too much I'd stall, I went right home and threw some chocolate disks into the top of a double boiler.  I set the burner to medium low and started stirring.  In no time at all, it was smoothly melted and ready to be spooned into the molds. 
It turned out to be not that hard at all!  You spoon the chocolate into the molds, then tap them (the molds) on the counter a couple of time to shake loose any bubbles, then chuck them into the fridge to firm up. I gave the lady who gave me the molds got a couple batches of chocolate, and I owe her a lot more.  When she tried her first piece, she said "This tastes just like Grandma's", which was pretty cool.  The recipients enjoyed their chocolate, I'm over my fear, and I have a kitchen full of molds. 
There are plenty more steps to take down this road.  There's filled chocolates, chocolates with flavorings added, and chocolates with different colors painted into the molds so they look all artsy.  So plenty of candy adventures left to have!

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Stand Off II - Because there was so much uneaten food from the last time

Today's odyssey of grazing took us to Downtown Market.  For those of you playing along from the Anchorage area, this is the market on 3rd and E streets. Our visit was divided between buying food for later and buying food to eat there - never let it said we lack focus. 
 Our first stop was at Capriccio Spices, to pick up some much needed supplies.  They are local purveyors of just about any herb, seasoning or tea you could possibly want.  Just next door is a specialty meat stand that we think was Indian Valley, but did not think to make a note of the name.  Mr EA got landjager meat sticks, which he loved very, very much.  They have other products made of specialty meats (elk, reindeer, etc), so if you like that sort of thing, look them up! Right next to that is a stand for plucky local dairy, Mat-Su Creamery.  They had plenty of their cheese curds, string cheese, and mild and sharp cheddar.  The guy staffing the booth says that their ice cream will shortly be available at New Sagaya market, but their butter is mostly sold at the factory.  So there's something to keep in mind, dairy fans!  Of course, we stocked up - they have darn good cheese.  Shopping done, it was time for lunch.
   We made our way to the food aisle, where the crowds made it clear tourist season has begun.
We started with the ever-popular corn fritters with honey butter, which are pretty much what it sounds like.  They are tasty little deep-fried nuggets of batter with sweet corn kernels embedded in them.  The crispy outer layer gives way to a sweet, tender interior.   They are dished up with whipped honey butter in copious amounts, and are well worth a stop.  As you can see from the picture, they also do fried halibut.  Mr EA has had it and liked it quite a bit in previous visits. 

Next up was the Slider Shack, where shared an order of sliders. The burgers are juicy and meaty, topped with cheese and some tender flavorful onions, all on sweet Hawaiian rolls.  Mmmm! Usually I need to condiment up my burgers, but these are perfect just they way they are.  We were hoping for some of their fries as well, but there was a pretty long wait, so we skipped them for this trip.
Then we went across the aisle to Latino Grill for an order of their brochettas - or "cubes of meat on a stick".  Resisting the siren song of a combo platter, we got an order of beef sticks, which had a good beef flavor, but could have used just a bit more time on the grill. They are served with chimichurri sauce, which was a little more acidy than my platonic ideal chimichurri sauce, but still was pretty darn tasty. 

Our last stop of the day took us to the Gyro stand for a ...if you guessed gyro, you guessed right!  And it was a pretty good gyro - the sauce was tasty and the veggies were fresh and the meat was crispy.  It was not the best gyro I have ever had, but it was pretty good!
On the way out, we stopped at the Nut House for a bag of tasty cashews for later - if you like flavored nuts, this stand is a good bet.  Also, their nuts come wrapped in cute little American-flag paper cones.  The adorableness almost makes the nuts taste even better :)

In short, your biggest food problem at the Downtown Market is going to be chosing which delicious option you are going to take.  Good luck and happy grazing!

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Stand Off!

A Tour of the Downtown Dog carts, Part I
There are many signs of spring here in Anchorage - citizens shedding layers of clothing, flowers sprouting in flowerbeds and planter boxes, and the hot dog carts appearing downtown.  Only one of these signs is in our purview, so that is where our story starts today. 
Our hot dog adventures started today at Tia's stand, next to the PAC on the side closest to the Egan center. 

We were originally going to try the same thing at every stand, but quickly concluded that then we would be eating a lot of the same thing, which would get pretty boring pretty fast.  So we decided to try whatever we were hungry for when we were standing in front of the stand.  Not the most scientific method, but why not?
  Anyway - Tia's. 
The thing Tia seemed to be emphasizing the most was her reindeer dogs.  For those of you not from the Anchorage area, this is a taste of Alaska which you will not find anywhere else, as far as I know. They are actually made of reindeer, which are farmed near here.  As I have written previously, it is a unique taste sensation, kind of beefy, kind of slim-jim-y.  Mostly it just tastes like itself.  It is pretty good.  Tia's reindeer dog was precooked when she fished it out of the depths of the cart, but then she split it and threw it on the grill to char a bit.  She also grilled the bun a bit, then put it all together with some cooked onion.  The sweet, soft onions were a good complement to the hearty meat of the 'deer. Generally reindeer is a bit too meaty for me, but it was so good I took two or three bites, instead of my usual one, before ceding the rest to Mr EA.  Tia also says she will be getting reindeer and elk steaks for her stand, so there's something to look forward to!

Our next stop was MA's stand by the Federal Building.  MA was featured as the signature Alaska dog vendor in The Great American Hot Dog book, making him famous among people who read books about hot dogs (which, I must confess, includes me.  I read books about hot dogs on a fairly regular basis.) 

As you approach MA's stand, you can't help but notice a series of wacky signs with directives telling you to stop conversing with your party and get off your cell phone while ordering your dog, and I was getting ready for a Soup Nazi-like experience.  However, the proprietor was pretty pleasant, and nothing untoward happened, except for he was playing something on his stereo system that sounded like Celtic rap.  But that was actually kind of fun. 
Anyway, from MA we got a kosher beef hot dog, with grilled onions.  It too was precooked, then grilled after we ordered and topped with a lavish amount of onion.  He also asked if we were splitting our dog, and as we said yes, gave it to us cut in half crosswise, which I thought was nice of him.  Especially since I like a little hot dog with my mustard, while Mr EA is a bit more restrained with his condiments.  The dog itself was tasty and juicy, with the nice texture of  quality hotdog.  (And yes, I do know what's in hot dogs.  I just want it ground up fine enough that I don't need to think about it.) MA's onions really elevate the dog above the ordinary - they are mellow and oniony without being sharp. 

Our last stop of the day was not dog-related, but was instead Smitty's stand, situated near the big sun (start of the planet walk). Smitty's is a fine purveyor of many things, but their big claim to fame is poutine!  I had read about this dish, but never got to try it.  It was everything I hoped for, and so much more :)

So what's poutine?  For those of you playing along not from Canada, poutine is french fries and cheese curd covered with gravy.  Mmmmmmmm!  I will be honest with you - this dish will not do your arteries any favors, but your taste buds will be happier than you can imagine.  The personable young man staffing Smitty's dishes up a sizable cup of crispy delicious fries, tops them with a generous portion of cheese curds, and then ladles savory gravy over the whole thing.  He made sure we took forks, without which we would still be washing our hands.  This dish was the most delicious fast food I have had in a good long while.  The gravy was richly beefy and oniony and the cheese curds started out as a cool contrast to the rest of the dish, and then melted into cheesy goodness.  It was one of those things where you are involuntarily mmmmming, even with your mouth full.  I urge you to drive downtown right now and try it.  You'll be glad you did.  Also, to make sure they will be there when you are, friend them on Facebook - they post when they will be there and when they will not - this is good to know, as they don't plan to head out in rain or poor weather. 
We plan to visit more carts next weekend, or whenever we get back downtown.  So there's something to look forward to!

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Another chance to eat for a good cause!

    Well, the days are getting warmer, the temperature is above freezing more often than not...and that means it's charity walk/run time again!  Since there is roughly one of these events a day in the warmer months, even the most dedicated walker needs to pick and choose which to participate in.  For the foodie with a heart, may I suggest Graze to Raise - the Alaska Visitor Industry Charity Walk .
   Held on May 7th in Anchorage and May 8th in Fairbanks, this walk raises money for a variety of charities and offers participants a good time as well!  It is organized by Alaska's Visitor Industry, and billed as "the only walk in Anchorage where participants probably won't lose any weight."  Sponsors have food and beverage booths out for walkers, and I'm told in past years there have been some pretty good eats. 
  Teams can register, as can individuals.  You are encouraged to get sponsors and raise as much as possible, but you can just sponsor yourself for a fee - go to the website to get specifics.  Individuals and groups who raise money above a minimum level (again, see the website for details) can specify what local charity gets their money!  However, even if you don't get to specify where your donation goes, your money still goes to nonprofits here in Alaska. 
    So to have a good time while doing good, sign up to Graze to Raise.  We'll see you there!

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Yes. Yes, we DO heart bacon.

Mr EA and I recently revisited the Spenard Roadhouse, of earlier post fame, in order to check out this month's Bacon of the Month appetizer. Yes, you read that right - bacon of the month.
    We split the aforementioned appetizer, a Cubano sandwich with tater tots (Mr EA's favorite sandwich ever) and a dessert which I will get into later.  The Bacon of the Month turned out to be crispy cheese and bacon croquettes with a tomato dipping sauce also enriched with bacon.  It was not what we were expecting, but it was delicious anyway!  (On their website, the menu listed the bacon of the month as a fondue with bacon, Granny Smith apple slices and toast points.  That sounds awesome, too.  We 'll look for it to come around again some time.)
   The Cubano was awesome, as always, as were the tots. Served on a ciabatta, the sandwich is a rich taste treat consisting of pulled barbecued pork, ham, Swiss cheese, pickled onions and dill pickle.  It is a sloppy, delicious sandwich that will fill you up - which is why we started sharing dishes at the Roadhouse in the first place.  The tots were crispy and delicious as always, and perfectly set off by the ketchep that comes with them in little dipping cups.  Mmmmm.!
    Then to round out our lunch, we chose Maple Apple Bread Pudding, which is served warm with bourbon caramel sauce.  What was so interesting about this dessert?  For a couple of dollars more, you can get it with ice cream and/or...bacon!  Obviously, we got the bacon.  This is our second experience with bacon-maple based dessert, and I have to say, so far its worked out pretty well for us.  The saltiness of the bacon worked perfectly with the sweetness of the caramel bourbon sauce and the maple-apple flavor of the bread pudding itself. 
    So, in short, if you're in the mood for some bacon, head on over to the Spenard Roadhouse - you'll be glad you did! 

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Eating Japan

Mr. EA will be guest-writing this post. Enjoy!

In February, I had the opportunity to go to Japan for work. We stayed in Yokohama, where there are many great places to eat. It should be noted that the place we stayed in was the waterfront area – it’s a tourist area, very Westernized, so we had a difficult time finding Japanese food. In particular, we never got to try any actual sushi while we were there, because everyplace was either very, very high-priced or looked untrustworthy. One of the interesting characteristics of restaurants in Japan is that they display models of the food outside. These are realistic, 3D representations of the dishes they serve. This is a big help for ordering, as there is a significant language gap. I’d like to describe the things we ate – and I’m going to take it day by day.

The 7 of us traveling arrived Friday night on February 12. After a very long day of travel we met three of our coworkers who were already there, and who were familiar with the area from previous experience. We were pretty tired and didn’t want to make any decisions, so we went to a favorite place of theirs, called the Kirin Beer Hall. Kirin is a Japanese beer brand. I can’t comment on any of the beers or other drinks available in Japan, because as a rule I don’t drink when I’m away from home. My dinner that night was billed as Beef and Scallions. It actually was Beef and Garlic. It consisted of 1 x 2 thin slices of meat, sautĂ©ed in butter and garlic. Some scallions were sprinkled on it, hence the name. I am a huge fan of garlic, so this one was a particular treat for me. The dish was delivered on a sizzling cast-iron plate, fajita-style.

Saturday, Feb 13.

Saturday morning began with a stop at the Starbucks in our hotel, a ritual we repeated every day. We then went out to our worksite by train, and there discovered one of the most wonderful things about Japan. Everything, and I mean everything, is available via vending machines, banks of which can be found at every building. I got a can of hot coffee for about 100 yen (roughly $1).

Dinner Saturday night took us a long time to find. There was a difficulty reaching a consensus on where to eat, so we walked around for a while looking at different places. We wound up at a place called Beer Dock, where I had a grilled tuna dish that was really good. Two of our party ordered garlic bread, which for some reason was made long and thin and delivered in a stein.

Sunday, Feb 14

Sunday was a day off. So we took most of the day to explore the harbor area in Yokohama, scouting out places to eat and generally tourist-ing. We had lunch in an all-you-can-eat place in our hotel (Washington Sakuragicho). The restaurant featured American and Japanese breakfast foods. I ate American stuff, which I suppose isn’t that interesting for this blog. We ate supper at an American chain called Jonathan’s which was not very good, so not much to report there.

Monday, Feb 15

Supper was the culinary highlight of my trip. We ate at a most astounding restaurant on the third floor of our hotel (which had a LOT of restaurants). The restaurant was called Seiryumon. Its interior is decorated to look like – and I’m not making this up-a sewer (or an old subway system or similar), complete with rounded brick ceiling, pipes, and cast iron hatches. The food here was excellent – I returned several times during the week. I had their version of my old Chinese favorite, Ma Po Tofu. I think it was the best I ever had. However, the highlight of dinner was the “show”. They quite literally “flush” the restaurant. The lights go out, and the sound system starts to play rumbling noises like explosions. Lights begin to flash, and a big valve at one end of the room opens, pouring gallons of water into a channel on the floor (which during dry times is the middle aisle of the restaurant). We were told this demonstration commemorates the bombing of Yokohama during the war, in which the inhabitants took shelter in the sewers.

Tuesday, Feb 16

A strange thing happened Tuesday night. Almost every business and restaurant in Yokohama was closed. We still have no explanation for this. However, we lucked into one restaurant that was open, the name of which escapes me. It was an Italian restaurant run by a young Japanese guy whose name was Tommy. Tommy spoke very good English and spent a lot of time talking with us. He also did not know why everyone was closed. I had grilled chicken with herb salt – it was quite good! We were served some more weird breadsticks, which were essentially extruded to the width of a single electron, but were tasty anyway. Tommy told us his dream was to fish for salmon in Alaska! My boss left Tommy his card – we hope to see him someday.

Wednesday, Feb 17

Lunch – I went to McDonald’s. The only reason I bothered to go to McDonald’s in Japan is that I was told that they use a different frying medium and that the burgers and fries taste better than they do here. I’ll say that they were different and good, but not necessarily better than here. I would describe it as tasting a little fattier, but not greasier. It is also comforting to note that #3 is a Quarter Pounder with cheese in Japan as well as here!

Dinner was at a place called Beer Next. Gentle reader – at this point you are probably noticing a certain undercurrent in our dining choices. What can I say? My coworkers like a lot of beer. This surprisingly exceptional restaurant is located in the “Red Brick Warehouse” on the waterfront. I don’t recall the actual name of the dish I had, but I would describe it as “flaming chicken”. I think I recall 5 of us in the same party ordered the same dish which was prepared flambĂ©-style at our table.

Thursday, Feb 18

For lunch I went back to “The Sewer”. I had a dish that was the rough equivalent of another Chinese favorite called Seafood Triple, which was pretty good. I also had a side of Gozya, which are long, flat dumplings filled with meat and spices. I highly recommend these! I passed on supper Thursday, as I had a cold and didn’t feel good enough to venture out.

Friday, Feb 19

Lunch was at a Thai place, again in our hotel. I had a dish called Cam To, and a side of very peppery miso soup. Cam To was sort of fried chicken in a salad. The miso soup was good and made me feel better. This was OK, but only passing. I wound us wishing I had gone back to The Sewer.

Dinner. Finally! A Japanese restaurant! I don’t recall the name, but it was on level B2 of the Landmark Tower, the tallest building in Japan. The restaurant specialized in yakitori, which is stuff on sticks. But since most of these were unidentifiable and I’m kind of a picky eater, I wimped out. I had a dish that was like southern fried chicken with garlic.

Saturday, Feb 20

Back to the Sewer for lunch for my beloved MaPo Tofu. I skipped supper again, still due to the cold.

Sunday, Feb 21

Another day off! The guys and I went touristing to the nearby town of Kamakura. We did a lot of walking this day, all before having anything to eat. Happily though, this day of touring included a lot of back-street, authentic Japanese food. We were well off the tourist track and it paid off.

Lunch was, with a nod to the Marx brothers, duck soup. I had Kamonanban – hot soba noodles with tender breast of duck and Welsh onion. This was at a little mom-and-pop restaurant on a side street in Kamakura. We did some souvenir shopping then and stopped for coffee at a little shop in an alley. I had a "Blue Mountain" Coffee that was 800 Yen! Basically, an $8 cup of coffee. I have to say that was the best cup of coffee I ever had! It was worth $8 easily. Now I'm looking to get some Blue Mountain here but cannot find any. Supper, also in Kamakura but at a different place, was called Batu Soba. Essentially noodles and pork. This was another performance restaurant, where our food was cooked before us on a giant griddle. My supper was pretty good. I also got to try a bit of calamari from my neighbor’s plate. That was pretty good too – kind of like fish gum.

Most of the second week was unremarkable – mostly return visits to places I had been before.

Wednesday the 24th was our last night in Japan. We returned to the Kirin Beer Hall, where I bookended my trip with the same beef and scallions dish. Starting Thursday morning and for the next 24 hours, it was airline food and snacks, and then I was home.

If you visit Yokohama, you’ll have no shortage of places to eat, but if you stay in the tourist area, what you’ll find is Western food, Westernized food and food from other places in the world than Japan. To get the good Japanese food, go out into what the locals call “real Japan”. In Sakuragicho, it’s just on the other side of the train station from the hotels. If you’re feeling adventurous, take the train a few stops in any direction and start looking. The Japanese have a lot of good food, especially seafood, but if you don’t see pictures or models of the food you may have a hard time ordering (unless you speak the language). Do not expect the local to speak English, most of them don’t. But be polite, and they’ll be happy to help you. They are very friendly and inviting people.

PS - A sign on the table at the All-U-Can Eat place.....You figure out what it means...

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Paris Bakery and Cafe

Last week Mr EA and I met some friends for dinner at Paris Bakery and Cafe.  We had been reading good things about it for a while, but -like so many other places - didn't manage to get there until recently.  Although nothing here is that far away from anything else, it is about as far away from our house as you can get and still be in Anchorage.  But it was worth the trip!
     Our friendly waitress brought some bread, which was OK but not amazing. It took us a while to get through the menu, which had a lot of temping choices.  In the end, I had eggplant parmesan and Mr EA had pork chops.  Our friends has ginger scallops and the special of the day, which was orange roughy crepes. My eggplant parm was very good - thinly sliced, lightly breaded eggplant with tasty sauce and just enough cheese.  Mr EA's pork chops were also very tasty and moist, thereby missing two frequent problems with pork chops. Our friend's scallops were sweet-ish and also very well done, and our other friend's crepes were very good.  He said the fish was perfectly cooked - not overdone, but not underdone - and the flavors of the dish were subtle and delicate.  Overall, our entrees were very well done.  While I don't think any of us experienced a culinary revelation, we all had good, tasty food at reasonable prices for that level of dining. 
     However, on another level, the desserts were fantastic!  I had and orange and chocolate cake that presented a perfect balance of sweet and sour, richness and lightness.  Mr EA had a concoction of cake layers interspersed with chocolate and almond cremes.  Our friends had a rich chocolate dessert and a small lemon meringue tart, which they reported were also delicious.  The desserts too were reasonably priced and extremely tasty.  Overall, a good midlevel dining experience.  Check it out - particularly the desserts - you'll be glad you did!