Thursday, December 31, 2009

Lucky Eats - New Year's Day feasts

I'm sure most people have some form of good-luck rituals they perform at various times of the year, but the most universal of all seems to be a special meal on New Year's Day.  A big one that seems to be widely known is black-eyed peas or Hoppin' John.  I have read several explanations of why this dish is lucky, but am personally content to just agree that it is.
    My own family, of Pennsylvania Dutch origin, always eats pork and saurkraut and mashed potatoes for New Year's Day.  Pork because pigs root forward, symbolizing moving forward or ahead, and also for health (I have also read and heard conflicting reasons on the health issues - it just is, OK?).  The saurkraut is, of course, cabbage, which = money.  Saurkraut is also healthy, probably because there are some vitamins rattling around in there.  And the mashed potatoes because they taste good with pork and saurkraut. :)   Here is how we make this meal.  Portions given are approximate - if you are feeding big eaters, increase portion sizes.  I wouldn't decrease them, though.  Leftovers will be even more tasty for lunch the next day.  Specific times and amounts are not given because this is a flexible feast, and assumes you know the level of doneness you like in various foods. 


PA Dutch Lucky New Year's Pork and Saurkraut
1 pork chop per person
1-2 bags of saurkraut (Do NOT use the canned kind.  If bagged, refrigerated saurkraut is unavailable, jarred is an OK substitute.) 
1 tsp. butter
1 potato per person

In a heavy pan or dutch oven big enough to hold all your pork, melt the butter and brown your pork chops on both sides.  If you can avoid it, try not to use nonstick cookware here, because the crusty brown bits will be an important component later on in the process.  Once the pork chops are browned, remove them from the pan.  Add your saurkraut to the pan.  If you like a bit less sourness, you can rinse the kraut off in a colander before cooking.  I like it vinegary, so I never do that, but suit your own taste.  It is important that there be a good bit of moisture in with your cabbage, so do not wring out too much.  When your saukraut has been added, stir to evenly heat.  The moisture from the kraut will deglaze your pan somewhat, so take full advantage and mix the browned pork bits in well.  Place your pork chops back in the pan, on top of the kraut.  Cover the pan, turn the heat to medium/low, and let simmer, stirring the kraut occasionally, until the pork chops are done.  Use a meat thermometer and make sure the pork is done to USDA recommended temperature.  If you need to moisten the kraut during the cooking process, you can use broth, water, or white wine if you would like a bit of sweetness in the mix. 
Meanwhile, make mashed potatoes however you like.  I prefer to peel and quarter the potatoes, then cook them, drain them, and mash them with an old wire masher.  I mix in milk and butter during mashing.  Other people like to do them other ways, and you should suit yourself in this matter.  When the pork chops are thoroughly cooked, serve each person a chop, a good helping of saurkraut and a mound of mashed potatoes.  Then you know that whatever else the future holds, you will be lucky enough to enjoy a great New Year's dinner!

And here's what my own lucky lunch looked like today :)  I wish you all healthy, wealthy, happy and wise!

Pho #1

...is the name of the restaurant and also what you will say when you eat there.
A little place in the Northway Mall near the JoAnne's, Pho #1 is unassuming in appearance, but has very good food.  During a visit yesterday to the Wednesday market, we were trying to decide between the Cajun place and Pho #1. We kind of wandered back and forth across the mall, trying to choose, when a freind whose taste we trust appeared and definitively recommended Pho #1.  He further recommended some dishes, not all of which we were able to try on this visit.
     We got spring rolls to start - which came out approximately the size the big cigars and sizzling hot.  They were tasty on their own, and were accompanied by an intriguing dipping sauce that made them taste even better - shredded carrot and some other veg in a sweet vinegar concoction.  The sauce made an intriguing contrast with the hot, savory rolls. I also got young coconut juice to try it out - very tasty and refreshing.  It has a definite coconut flavor (which it should, as there are hunks of coconut floating in it), but is not overly sweet.  It has a mild, vegetal sort of flavor - delicious!  I also got soup - mildly spicy and very flavorful, I got lemongrass and mushroom soup with tofu cubes.  There was ample tofu in the dish, and also lots of mushrooms - great big chunks of them, meaty and with a deep smoky flavor.  The broth itself was also delicious, complex without being overwhelming, layers of flavor developing with each mouthful.  This is a complex cuisine, and you can definitely taste it in this dish.  Mr. EA got pad Thai with tasty pork and noodles, and garnishes of crushed peanuts, cilantro, lime, and sprouts.  He enjoyed it very much - also a tasty dish.  The garnishes provide intriguing contrasts in flavor and texture, and it was a delicious dish. 
Sadly, we did not have anywhere near enough room to try one of their house special sandwiches, also recommended by our friend, but we'll be back!

Sunday, December 27, 2009

The Cake Studio and other downtown news

On a rare solo expedition, I went downtown in Anchorage this past Saturday to roam around a bit, and in due course, eat!  Downtown was surprisingly empty - not too many citizens roaming around, and a surprising number of small stores and restaurants were closed.  Happily, The Cake Studio, a new bakery on 4th street, was open.  The bakery and boutique is a warm and inviting space filled with tantalizing smells and intriguing sights.  The first thing you will have to do is make some decisions - the long display case is full of gourmet candies, then there is a variety of baked goods and other sweets on display.  The variety makes it very hard to choose.  After quite a few minutes of dithering, I decided on a peppermint dome and a cup of plain coffee.  A note on the coffee - they serve Raven's Brew!  The peppermint dome was amazingly delicious - a tender cookie base with a mound of peppermint mousse and a coating of chocolate with a garnish of peppermint hard candy bits.  It was so delicious I think I briefly went into a trance.  It was not heavy or cloying - just perfectly balanced.  The mellow Raven's Brew was a wonderful complement to this mildly sweet treat. 
       After enjoying my treat, I wandered around a bit to check out the items on sale in the boutique.  There are a few cute tea towels and tablecloths, lots of fancy candles, some specialty baking supplies and some specialty candies.  I wouldn't count on  stocking up your kitchen with their supplies, but if you want specialty items (flavored extracts, fancy sugars, that sort of thing), I would definitely check them out!
  
On another note, Cafe Savannah (of earlier post fame) is gone - in it's place is a Wings and Things.  A sad thing for tapas fans. 

Friday, December 25, 2009

Eating Florida - or, Christmas for Big Eaters

This year Mr EA and I talked most of our loved ones in distant climes into exchanging family rather than individual presents, and we further talked them into exchanging local-food gifts.  I know the recent complaint has been that there aren't any local foods, and everything is all homogeneous and bland.  Food writers and locavores claim that nowhere in America is regional food prevalent. As a person who has travelled a reasonable amount and now been a local in two different areas of the country - I can tell you that's not true.  Oh, you can live your life like that if you want to.  You can eat only at McDonald's or TGI Friday's and never eat a bite of local food no matter where you go.  However, in most places, that's your choice.
     I cannot reveal what we sent out to our families, as most of the boxes have not gotten to their destinations yet, though they were sent weeks ago (damn you, USPS!).  However, I can reveal the care package we got from my family in Florida...

On the left and across the bottom are salt water taff and flavored coconut patties, the products of Anastatia Confections of Orlando. In the very center of the bottom is some Slim Jim-like devices made of gator!  You will not find this just anywhere - they are the specialy of Alligator Bob's of Thonotosassa, FL.  Mr. EA will be reporting back on those! The marmalade, honey, and citrus candy are from Davidson's of Dundee. Also present and accounted for are a bottle of key lime juice, which really does taste different(slight salty, and kind of musky - in a good way) than regular lime juice.  If you have never had any, I urge you to spring for the higher price and try some.  Last but not least is Pelican Poop coconut candies - the Alaskan analog is moose or reindeer poop. I already dug into these - they are full of coconutty goodness!
     As soon as our Alaskan treat packages arrive at their destination, I will reveal their contents!  So that's something to look forward to :)
   
  

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Kebab and Curry

This past Tuesday, Mr EA and I and some friends went to the newest addition to Anchorage's Indian restaurant lineup.  Kebab and Curry opened December 14th, according to their website - and still has a few new-restaurant kinks to iron out.  However, the food is delicious! 
   The building in which it is situated is smallish, and does not have acres of parking.  The interior is cheerful, with bright orange walls and a tasteful smattering of Indian art and posters of Beautiful India on the walls.  There are something like 12 tables, and the place was buzzing the entire time we were there, so their suggestion that you make reservations is a good one!  We hadn't, but by luck got seated right away. 
     Once you are seated, you will have some decisions to make.  The impressively hefty menus list an impressively large variety of delicious-sounding things to eat.  There are a good variety of vegetarian options for appetizers and main courses, but there's plenty for meat-eaters as well.  I sat looking at this menu for a good 15 minutes, paralyzed by choice - and that's a good thing! 
     In the end, Mr EA has machhi tikka, spicy catfish kebabs.  He said it was very flavorful, and the fish was perfectly cooked.  He had been hoping for the mixed grill, but they were out of some of the elements of it, so he tried the fish.  We already have plans to come back and the mixed grill is on his list for next time!  I had paneer korma, chunks of fresh cheese in a subtle cashew onion sauce.  The paneer was very good - firm and mild.  The sauce, of which there was literally a bucket, was delicious.  There was a very subtle onion flavor and a complex spice mix that tantalized but did not overwhelm.  The cashew element lent more richness than flavor, which was fine.  The sauce was so good I finished with a spoon and some of the naan we ordered on the side.  Our friends ordered chicken korma and a kebab that I am forgetting the name of.  They also enjoyed theirs very much. 
     The timing was a bit uneven, with things coming out to the table in a weird kind of way.  This is not unusual for new restaurants and is a minor issue but still something to be aware of if you intend to go - which you should if you like Indian. The food was wonderful, and there are so many choices there is sure to be something for everyone.  Go there, you'll be glad you did!

Monday, December 21, 2009

Yet another Locavore event post!

This past Sunday evening, Mr. EA and I attended a locavore soiree hosted by Spenard Roadhouse of earlier post fame. This shindig was in conjunction to the screening of yet another locavore film, Ingredients, which was shown at UAA earlier that day. We did not go see the film, as I feel I am already pretty well up to speed on local eating issues, and Mr. EA does not care.


Anyway, the context of the dinner was that Spenard Roadhouse‘s chef Shane Moore, in collusion with “Delicious” Dave Thorne, came up with a four course meal featuring locally grown and made foods. 25 spots were available, and they were all taken - hopefully this bodes well for more of this kind of thing. You could opt to have your dinner paired with Alaskan beers, or not. Since Mr. EA is always the designated driver, I let this be his turn to drink.

Since we skipped out on the movie, we got to the restaurant way early, but fortunately they were ready for the locavore horde, and let us sit right down. The rest of the place was packed to the rafters - I sincerely hope we made it worth their while to give up a whole section of the restaurant on such a busy night! As the rest of the crew began to arrive, we noted that the crowd seemed to be more hippies than foodies, which was kind of interesting and did not bode well for us having much to talk about with our table-mates. I heard a lot of complaints about how the food tasted as though it had salt in it (not too much salt, mind you, but any salt), which is pretty much the specialty of people who hate flavor. Indeed, this impression turned out to be correct, with the rest of our fellow diners talking more about whether or not the food was organically grown than about how extremely tasty it was.

The hors d’oeuvres was a large, seared scallop served on a disk of tasty polenta, topped with a dollop of onion relish, surrounded by a moat of tomato broth and garnished with house-cured bacon. If that sounds like there was a lot going on, that’s because there was. The scallop was meltingly tender and flavorful, the polenta was just seasoned enough to not taste like cornmeal mush, and the zingy tomato puree and onion relish really sparked up the dish. The bacon was bacon - 'nuff said! This course was paired with Kenai River Brewing Co Pillars Pale Ale, which Mr. EA did not like by itself but did like with the food.

Next came the Soup & Salad Trio. This consisted of a thin-ish slice of bruschetta with cheese curd, chopped tomato and basil, a marinated beet salad with goat cheese, and a small bowl of pumpkin bisque. I liked all of this quite a lot. The goat cheese was a good counterpoint to the beets, and the pumpkin bisque was quite complex with a variety of flavors complementing one another. Mr EA enjoyed the bruschetta, and said that the soup and salad were “not bad”. He is not a fan of pumpkin or beets, so that was high praise for him. The beer for this course was Denali Brewing Company’s Hibernale, which was his favorite of the evening.

The main course brought a surprise - braised bison agnolotti and roasted celery roots, carrots and Brussels sprouts with brown butter and au jus. For some reason, in reading the menu I totally ignored the word “agnolotti”, as did many of our fellow diners. We were all expecting a hunk of bison with some vegetables piled on the side and some au jus to dip it all in. Instead, we got largish pasta hunks ( shape is difficult to describe - kind of like a bishop’s hat, but not really) with minced bison in it, diced roasted veggies with Brussels sprouts leaves, and what I believe was a puree of the same veggies with the au jus and brown butter. This was all delicious, and had simply a bucket of sauce, which made me very happy - I loooooove sauce! A minor quibble I had with this course is that the pasta was perhaps a bit heftier than was optimal, but that is a very minor quibble considering. This was paired with Moose’s Tooth Prince William Porter, which everyone drinking agreed had an anise finish. So take note, liquorish fans! Mr. EA liked this beer better on its own than he did with the food.

Dessert was a tender and mildly sweet almond buttermilk biscuit with strawberry and wild blueberry coulis, fresh currents and cranberries, and real whipped cream. It was paired with Kassik’s Kenai Brew Stop Imperial Spiced Honey Wheat. Overall, a great finish to a great meal.

In keeping with the theme of the evening, the menu listed the ingredient sourcing as follows:

 Vegetables and fruits from VanderWeele Farms

 Bison from Pitchfork Ranch

 Dairy from Matanuska Creamery

 Scallops from Kodiak

 Bruschetta from Fire Island Bakery



In all fairness, this dinner cannot have been created solely from local product - I am fairly sure we don’t produce any cooking oils, salt, or flour. However, it was close enough to make a point.  While I certainly support local agriculture and hope that others here in Alaska do as well, there's no point in being a nut about it. The chefs put a great deal of care and thought into a creative meal that was extremely tasty as well as illustrating a point. There were some elements of surprise, and a good deal of inventiveness. I don’t mean inventiveness in the form of molecular gastronomy or anything of that sort, but simply taking local ingredients to a higher plane than might usually be the case. The chefs came out at the end of the meal, and I’m glad to say we gave them a rousing chorus of applause, which they surely deserved. I hope all the other attendees enjoyed it as much as we did, and I hope the Spenard Roadhouse runs more of these dinners. If you get a chance to attend such an event in the future, go and don’t look back. You’ll be glad you did!

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Firetap Alehouse

Thursday night we finally made it out to the Firetap Alehouse - it's been open for a few months but a series of misadventures kept us from trying it out.
We went on Wednesday night, and the place was hopping.  The interior is very nice - very modern alehouse with an uncluttered decor.   The hostess and our waiter were both excellent - on the ball, but not overly so. We still got seated right away, and were immediately confronted with a mid-size food menu and an equivalent beer and wine menu.  Passing over the sandwiches and pizza, Mr EA got Cajun Fettucini and I got Melanzan al Parmesan.  We declined beer, although it was tempting.  The next table got some nifty beer sampler sets that looked pretty interesting.  However, we were grocery shopping after dinner, and friends don't let friends shop drunk.
     We started off with a garlic bread appetiser with marinara sauce for dipping.  Rather than traditional bread, it was slices of pizza crust with garlic and oil and an herbal mix.  This was a delicious and different appetizer, which was nicely complemented with the marinara.  Mr EA's pasta was very good, rich with chicken and sausage and featured a spicy, creamy sauce.  My meal was supposed to come with a side of pasta, for which I substituted a small chopped salad.  The salad was delicious and fresh with a good mix of veggies.  My eggplant, however, was somewhat unfortunate.  The cheese and sauce parts were very good, but there was very little eggplant.  What there was quite a lot of was breading.  Lots and lots of soggy breading.  I found myself wishing that I had ordered a sandwich or that we had split a pizza, as had everyone at the surrounding tables.  Everyone around me was enjoying good-smelling and delicious looking sandwiches and burgers and pizza and appetizer, which was kind of dispiriting. On the whole, it was a middling experience.  We will probably give it another try, but next time we'll go for the pizza. 

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Cheesecake - Alaskified!

Mr EA's birthday was this past week, and in addition to cooking a favorite meal, I also made him his favorite cake for desert.  As it happens, his favorite cake is cheesecake, and his favorite form of it is little mini individual cheesecakes.  We arrived at this conclusion after years of me making a cheesecake, then him not eating it quickly enough, and me having to throw 1/4 of it away, followed by weeping and lamentations.  By making the little mini cheesecakes, I can freeze most of them, and he can thaw them out and have one whenever he wants. 
     The recipe I use is from an old recipe book I got from Kraft/Philadelphia Cream Cheese, entitled Ultimate Philly Cream Cheese Cheesecakes.  Guess what it is about! I will go ahead and post the recipe, because this book is at least 1.5 decades old, and possibly older. 

Philly 3-step Mini Cheesecakes
2 packages (8 oz. each) of Philadelphia Brand cream cheese, softened
1/2 cup of sugar
1/2 tsp. of vanilla
2 eggs
2 packages (4 oz each) of Keebler Ready-Crust single serve graham cracker Pie Crusts (total of 12 crusts)
Optional: whipped cream, little candies, whatever other junk you like to put on cheesecake. 

Special New Alaskan Addition:
1 Tbsp. birch syrup

Preheat oven to 350 F.  Mix cream cheese, sugar and vanilla until well blended.  Add eggs, mix until blended again.  Pour mixture into pie crusts.  Divide the birch syrup between the cakes, pouring a little into each. When the birch syrup has been poured over the pies, swirl or stripe it in, using a table knife to create whatever patterns you like best.  Bake for 20 minutes or until centers are set.  Cool cakes and refrigerate. 


Result, 12 delicious little single serve treats!  Also, we like to use the lightened cream cheese to make it a little less fatty, but you know, sometimes you have to live a little. 

Saturday, December 5, 2009

The Local - Chips!

Like any sector of America with the slightest hint of local pride, Alaska is home to its own local brand of chips.  Chips are usually the tip of the local-snack iceberg, so I'll be keeping an eye out for other Alaska snack opportunities (other than jerky - been there, done that). 
  Alaska Chip Company is based here in Anchorage, and proudly uses Mat-Su Valley Potatoes (of earlier, eating-local-post fame).  They come in a variety of flavors, each with a cutesy Alaska-y name.  Chilkoot Chips, pictured here, are sour cream and chive.  Grizzly is barbecue flavor, which although tasty was briefly disappointing, as I had hoped they would be bear flavored.  Tragically, not so.  But the barbecue is pretty good, even so.  They have four flavors, all of which are available at various places in the area.  They also sell popcorn, but I don't generally like bagged popcorn, so haven't tried it.  The chips themselves are kettle-style, with a good solid crunch and a nice potato flavor.  Also, the humorous origin story on the bag is something fun to read while you crunch your tasty chips.  The flavors are not crazy, like Pennsyvania' Herr's brand, which basically sells itself on its willingness to give its snack products wacky flavors like pickle or ketchup. If eating local and patronizing a quirky hometown manufacturer is something you believe in, the Alaska Chip Company will amply reward your civic vitue. 


Coming in from slightly further afield, from our suburb to the southeast (Washington State), we also have Tim's Chips.  Tim's is a bit more established and has a wider variety of product, with both Tim's and the Hawaiian Chips lines to their name. Both lines feature good thick kettle style chips with impressive crunch and good flavors that don't overpower the deep-fried potato flavor.   The Hawaiian line features slightly more exotic flavors, and different bag art, but otherwise are the same chips.  The Tim's flavor I like best so far is the Johnny's Seasoned Salt flavor.  Which reminds me I've got to track down some of that salt!

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

I try to buy King Arthur Flour - Denied!

Well, OK, not denied, but grossly overcharged. 
     I am originally from the Mid-Atlantic states, and used to occasionally buy King Arthur Flour co products - they have pretty good stuff, and it's hard not to be carried away by their enthusiasm.  So I need some baking supplies, and naturally turn to their website. 
     I'm going along, blithely putting purchases in my cart, until I had everything I wanted plus a few things I didn't even know I needed until I got to their site.  At this point, shipping charges are $8, which seemed fair enough.  Then I get to checkout and put in my address, and the shipping changes to $17.50!!!
     I know Alaska's far away and all, but seriously?  We're not on the moon, you know.  Also, the post office has those awesome new flat rate shipping boxes - there's no reason for this.  It's an outrage!  Or a cause for slight pique, at the least. 
 This is the sort of thing that kind of reminds me why there are so many independent providers of goods and services here - shipping has always been a big expense for this state.  So anyway, I am just going to do without my special flavoring things and boiled cider.  For those prices, I will just boil my own darn cider! 
Does anyone know of a west coast provider of baking supplies?  One that understands that AK is part of America?

Sourdough Chronicles - Fail II

Ok, so I found another way that won't work.  It looked so lively for the first few days, then it lapsed into unconsciousness, then it began to decay.  I just washed the terrifying murky liquid down the sink and escorted the rest out to the garbage. 
Well, back to the drawing board!  I have another method in mind to try, so later this week we'll see if it leads to brilliant success or to the senseless waste of another 2 cups of flour and water!

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Thanksgiving

The traditional Thanksgiving meal, of course, is a turkey (roasted or deepfried or grilled or whatever) and a wide variety of side.  The tradition persists in the face of historical protestations that the pilgrims couldn't have had those foods, in the face of vegetarians not wanting to eat turkey, in the face of the untasty nature of turkey itself.  At least that's what I had always thought.
     An informal survey of several of my coworkers revealed that many were planning roast pork tenderloin, chicken, or beef roast.  I would be interested in finding out if that's because:
1) we are out west now and that pilgrim stuff doesn't matter so much here
2) the turkey tradition is fading
3) I work with odd people
4) or what. 
Mr EA and I are celebrating with homemade pizza and a movie marathon (Lord of the Rings trilogy, for those of you playing along at home), and we are very thankful for it!  We have done this for years and enjoy it very much.  Also, Mr EA enjoys carving the roast 'za :)



As a concession to the holiday, I made a pumpkin pie because we both like it, and a cranberry relish because I like cranberry. 
Anyway, what did you do for your Thanksgiving feast?

  

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Sourdough Chronicles - Take 2

Well, after a crazy week, I finally had time yesterday to get back on the sourdough horse (? too much metaphor?).  Anyway, this time I opted for the simplest method, which was to mix 2 cups of flour, 2 cups of water, and a packet of yeast in the container, place it someplace warm and stride briskly away. 
It succeeded brilliantly, at least in this initial phase...

It's ALIVE!  Ahh ha ha ha ha !
But seriously.  I decided to do this yesterday because the oven was going to be going to some degree or another for a couple of hours, and I figured the warmth would do the starter some good.  It seems to have worked, at least at this point.  We'll give it a couple of days and see how it looks then.  But anyway, sourdough, at about 75%!  Keep your fingers crossed...

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Sourdough Chronicles - Temporary Setback

Well, the sourdough starter from the tourist pack didn't work.  It just never took off, but rather sort of lay there being polite.  And then started decomposing.  There could have been a number of reasons why not:
1) starter no longer good
2) starter was never any good, but was instead cruel hoax
3) too cool in house (we keep it around 60F)
4) destiny
...or who knows.
But anyway, back to the drawing board! 
    Thanks to my earlier research, I have about 5 other methods to try.  Since it isn't like I'm gambling with rare and costly ingredients, I decided I am going to just try one method at a time, in a random order, and see what happens. Eventually something will work.  Or else it won't, which will condemn me to a lifetime of shame and buying sourdough bread at the store.
      As soon as the jar is washed out, we're on to method 2, which is yet to be determined.  Stay tuned to see what daring adventures await flour and water in the next installment of...
The Sourdough Chronicles.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Middle Way Cafe

Mr EA and I got up at the crack of dawn today (OK, really 8 am) to meet friends for breakfast at the Middle Way Cafe.  For those of you playing along from Anchorage, it is located in midtown in the same mall as REI and Title Wave. 
Inside, the place is a great big room made cheerful by brightly colored walls and a wide array of art on the walls (which seemed to be available for purchase).  It is semi-cafeteria style, in that you go to the counter to place your order, but then staff bring it out to you.  The menu is semi-hippy, but there is something for everyone.  Our friends had been there several times for lunch and had very much enjoyed the sandwiches and salads available, but breakfast was new territory for them as well. 
   Mr EA got a regular breakfast (don't recall the name of it) which consisted of two eggs, bacon, toast and homefries.  I got an omelette which I believe was called the Shepherd's omelette.  It was filled with spinach, onions, roasted red peppers and feta cheese and topped with a sprinkling of pine nuts. My omelette was very good, and also very large.  I started with the home fries, which was an enormous serving.  Their "home fries" consisted of halved or quartered new potatoes cooked through and fried to a crisp.  Mr EA did not like the potatoes, but I liked them very much.  My omelette was very tasty, with vegetables cooked just enough to be soft, but not completely mushy. It could have used a bit more cheese, but that is a minor complaint.  Mr EA loved his bacon, which was thickcut and delicious.  His eggs were also fine.  We each also got an enormous slab of sourdough toast, which were tasty as well.  The prices were reasonable, and so was the food.  All in all, breakfast was not stunning, but it was certainly tasty enough and well cooked.  Add the charm of a funky and unique restaurant, and you have a winning breakfast experience.  If you haven't been there, try it out.  You'll be glad you did!

Friday, November 13, 2009

Ginger...snap!

     Last night Mr EA and I and some friends went downtown to try out Ginger, a sophisticated pan-Asian restaurant.  Ginger is trying hard and mostly succeeding.  The decor is elegant and clean without being super-severe. 
     I started out with a cup of banana and lemongrass soup, which tasted much more normal than I thought it would.  It was more of a tangy curry soup with an undercurrent of sourness here and there.  There was no "banana" flavor in the form of the sweet fruit.  There was a slight starchiness and a texture that suggested more of a plaintain version on banana.  There was also some crab bits in, which contributed some flavor and texture but did not overwhelm.  No one else at our table had an appetizer, which made things a bit awkward for me. 
     Mr EA got the Garlic Barbecue Ribs and I got the Panang Beef Curry.  Our friends got the Baked Sea Scallops and the Duck Breast Chinois, which they said were pretty good.  My beef curry was pretty good, with buckets of delicious sauce, strips of tasty but tough beef, savory crimini mushroom chunks, and crisp fresh bean sprouts.  There was also some perfect jasmine rice, which proved not only tasty, but useful in mopping up the sauce.  Mr EA was less thrilled with his ribs, which were very fatty and tentatively flavored.  They weren't bad, but they weren't wonderful either.  For dessert, I had Chinese Five-Spice Chocolate cake, and Mr EA had Ginger Pear Cheesecake, both of which were delicious!
     On the whole, while it is a great atmosphere and the food is certainly good, it is not as delicious as the prices would suggest it should be.  We found that neither of us thought about it today, which would not be the case if it was excellent. However, and I can't emphasize this enough, it was tasty enough and also a very pleasant atmosphere. If you want a nice place to go with some pretty good food, you could definitely do worse than Ginger. 

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Better red than...thirsty

On our last visit to our local Fred Meyer, we spotted a big display of weird soda ("weird" meaning "not a major name brand") and had to try some out.  Neither of us are big fans of soda, with the exception of eastern PA's A-Treat brand weird soda.  However, some of these promised to be interesting.  We got a Cheerwine (cherry cola), various Jack Black pirate-branded sodas, and this selection...
Leninade!
So we had to try it.  It actually tastes pretty good, and the bottle and cap are comedy gold.  With various slogans urging you to "Join the Party" and "Get Hammered and Sickled" it was (and still is) a source of mild but continuous amusement in our house.  It's not the best soda I ever tasted, but if you are in the market for a carbonated, citrus-y beverage with entertaining packaging, Leninade might be the way to go.  Here's the other side...


Monday, November 9, 2009

Sourdough Chronicles - Day 2


This is how the sourdough mix looked today - separated into clearish and dense liquid.  There was a sort of yeasty smell, and a bunch of condensation on the sides of the jar.
A brief, brisk stir evened things out...
So far, so good!

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Sourdough Chronicles

Around this time last year, I began an ill-fated foray into the world of sourdough.  I did too much research and was frozen into inaction by the overabundance of conflicting source material.  This time around, I just went about it in as hasty and unprepared a fashion as I could.  So we'll see how this one turns out!
I started with a pack of sourdough starter which we purchased in the tourist section of Target, and a great big glass jar we bought at Habitat.  (All the directions would say is stoneware or glass, and given a choice I will generally go for glass - I like to see what is going on.)

I threw in the starter, 2 cups of flour, and 2 cups of warm water, as directed.

See how much stuff is unmixed?  That's why I like glass.


Then I mixed it with a wooden spoon.  The directions say metal won't work - which made me wonder if that was malarky or really true, and if it is true, why?  Is it like how fairies die when you touch them with steel?  Inquiring minds want to know.


Then the directions said to cover it up with plastic wrap and a kitchen towel, which I did, even though the jar I bought has a lid.  So my next steps are to stir twice a day and wait, and then cook delicious things with my new sourdough. 
     However, as simple as that sounds, this is possibly my 3rd or 4th attempt to make sourdough (as mentioned in an earlier post) and those other attempts were not successful.  So we'll see.  My previous efforts may have been hindered by my tendency to overthink.  Let's see what underthinking will do for me!

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Experimental Candy

...because I just can't leave well enough alone.

After the Turkish Delight debacle of earlier post fame, I obtained a new candy thermometer.  Oddly, I decided to break it in on an experimental recipe that I just made up myself.  I am aware that this means I have no way of telling if the candy turns out the way it's supposed to, because the candy itself is an unknown quantity.  However, it's all over now, so I can say that as far as I can tell, the new thermometer works great! 
Anyway.  To start at the beginning.  The story of my new candy recipe starts some months ago, when a conversation with my parents reminded me of a beverage mix we always used to keep around the house, Russian Tea.  As near as I can tell, this was a popular thing back in the 70's, although the mix recipe is readily available on the net.  Here is the one that most closely matches the one we used to use at home:

Russian Tea Mix
1 cup instant tea powder
1 cup unsweetened lemonade powder
2 cups orange-flavored drink mix (ie. Tang)
2 cups granulated sugar
2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp. ground cloves

Mix it all up in a BIG container.  To drink hot, put a couple of Tbsp in a mug and add hot water.  To drink cold, put a couple of Tbsp. in a glass and add cold water.  There!  I should also add that you should shake it up pretty good before you scoop any out to make your drink, or you will wind up with a mug of hot Tang or hot sugar water, etc.  Not that there's anything wrong with that, but it kind of loses the Russian Tea-ness.  Basically, it tastes like moderately sweetened, very citrusy tea.  Although I quite like it, as you can imagine from the quantities given above, it makes a LOT of drink mix.  I know you can cut it in half and so on, but I didn't.  The end result being that I have a lot of Russian Tea mix hanging around. 

To move on with my little story, you may notice there's a lot of sugar in the mix...  and candy is mostly sugar, so...  I wondered what would happen if I made candy out of some of my drink mix.  Here's what did happen.

There's a lot of extra stuff in with the sugar, so it didn't melt as clean as when you cook just plain sugar.  Kind of murky, isn't it?



No thermal weirdness ensued, with the heat going up, just the way it was supposed to!  I thought it was going to boil over, but it stayed in the pan.  Whew!  Sugar candy is not that hard to clean up, but it is pretty sticky and messy until it's gone.


And then, being very careful of the terrifying sugar lava, I poured it in a pan to cool. Then I waited a good long while for it to cool off.  Since I am in Alaska, I didn't have to wait that long, but your results may vary.   I just broke it up and tried a piece.  Surprise!  It tastes like citrusy tea.  If that sounds like a good thing to you, you might want to try this out:

Russian Tea Hard Candy
2 cups Russian Tea mix (from mix recipe given above)
1 cup of light corn syrup
1/4 cup of water

Equipment:  Big pot with tall sides, candy thermometer, hot pads, etc, metal pan with sides to cool candy in (baking pan, jelly roll pan, etc).
Proceed as for any cooked hard candy (basically, after the ingredients, the directions for this type are always the same).  If you do not have directions or recipe, I direct you to this basic recipe at Cooks.com .  Also, if you are inclined to experiment in this type of cooking, this is a great starting point.  Although I should point out that this recipe doesn't involve the covering with powdered sugar or cutting up the cooled candy with a scissors part.  Although I don't really see why you couldn't, if you want to.  Anyway.  Candy!

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Old favorites revisited

Although I've written about all of our favorites in the past, several of them deserve another mention, for various reasons. 
Moose's Tooth - as always - Best.  Pizza. Ever! 
Also, we were there for lunch this past Saturday, and got intrigued into trying a dessert listed on their specials menu - Maple Bacon cake.  I know - it sounds weird, but bear with me.  When it arrived, it was a layer cake with two layers of maple-flavored cake with tasty bits of bacon liberally scattered throughout.  A reasonable 1/4" stripe of peanut-buttercream icing joined the layers together.  The cake itself was modestly sweet with a pronounced maple flavor.  The bacon cut the sweetness with salty, smoky bacon-osity.  A bite of the cake itself strongly suggested a pancake and bacon breakfast with maply syrup over both.  The peanutbutter icing, which I avoided at first, actually augmented the flavors, adding both saltiness and sweetness.  All in all, this is an unusual treat.  If it sounds like something you'd like, it probably is.  But don't wait too long - it's only on the specials menu, so it probably is limited time only.  Try it - you'll be glad you did!
Arctic Roadrunner - Local Burgerman
This is one place I wrote about early in the life of this blog, when I was not really sure how in-depth I wanted to get with stuff.  In the year and a bit since, we have been back to Arctic Roadrunner many, many times, and have grown to love it more every time.  The decor is a major part of the charm.  The building is basically a big log cabin, and wood is a prominent decorative motif.  In season, outdoor dining is available.  You get to sit next to a beautiful stream, so it's worth doing if possible.  The time we ate outside, a gang of roving ducks was working the tables, and we wound up throwing them most of our fries in self-defense!  But it was still a beautiful place to set and eat.  The best part, though, is the pictures and life stories of patrons and friends of Arctic Roadrunner.  Everywhere you look, pictures of couples, fisherfolk, service pictures, family pictures.  With most of the pictures, a sort of life-story and ususally the date they started coming to the restaurant.  We like to sit at a different table every time we go, so we get to see different pictures. 
     However, as cool as the pictures are, the food is still the main attraction.  It is a burger and sandwich joint, and there isn't a bad thing on the menu.  Although vegetarians will find slim pickings, there is a really good toasted cheese sandwich on the menu, so there is something at any rate.  There are many varieties of burger, with an interesting array of toppings available.  There are also breaded fish sandwiches and a couple of other sandwiches.  It is worth your while to check out the specials board - we have had some awesome sandwiches that are not on the regular menu - a beef au jus most notably.  The sides are likewise exceptional - the fries are pretty good, and the onion rings are perfect - real onion!  If you are in the mood for a great burger or sandwich, Arctic Roadrunner is a great place.  Try it - I bet you'll like it!

Yo ho ho and bottle of...

As you might expect of two childless adults with a tiki room in their house, Mr EA and I like to keep a bottle of rum on hand.  Just in case we need a tiki drink.  Actually, it would be more accurate to say we like to keep a couple of bottles of rum around.  For our regular rums, we generally keep one or another of the Bacardi varieties around.  (I support them because of their pro-bat stance.)  We also like to keep Captain Morgan's spiced rum on hand, because it is one of the more flavorful rums around.  (Also, Mr EA appreciates their pro-fictional-pirate stance.)
Anyway.  This weekend we decided to try out Cruzan's Black Strap Rum just because it looked interesting.  And we're extremely glad we did!  It is a strongly flavored dark rum that is great either straight or as part of mixed drinks.  There is a pronounced molasses flavor, as well as hints of smoke and pepper.  Rum in general tastes pretty good, but this stuff is such a step above it makes you drink slowly and savor.  If this sort of thing appeals to you, give it a try. 

1 out of 1 yard-pirates agree - it's Aaarrrr restingly delicious!

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Happy Halloween!


Friday, October 30, 2009

Potluck Pandemonium - Part II

Mr EA's entry in his company chili cook-off was one of our favorites from the Sterns' Chili Nation , American Chop Suey Chili. This is an unorthodox chili - the general ingredients are hamburger, celery, onion, macaroni and various seasonings - among other things. It is served with cheddar shreds and chow mein noodles (!). It is strange, but delicious.
It's not a spicy-hot chili, but there is a complex mix of seasonings. He picked this one because he wanted to have something a little different from the usual chilis.

He was supposed to cook it himself, so he really did all of it. I made a move to pick up the spoon one time, and he stopped me! "Don't touch that! I'm supposed to cook it myself!" I just walked away. :)

As you can see, it looks pretty good. And it tastes even better than it looks. I will let him tell how it went over:

Mr EA

Our chili seemed well received and was good tasting. The flavors kinda vanished overnight so I pumped it with some tobasco before the tasting. The office broke at lunch and spent about an hour goofing around and eating. Then we voted. The chilis were not so hot (except one) and they were all good. We did not win, alas, but the winners were pretty good. About a third of it came home with me and made a great supper. I'm already looking forward to next year's cookoff.....

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Potluck Pandemonium - Part I

Mr EA and I had a lot of cooking to do tonight! Both our places of work are having potlucks tomorrow, and we had to get ready. Mr EA's work is having a chili cookoff, and mine is having just a plain Halloween potluck. We'll post Mr EA's part tomorrow, since the competition is supposed to be anonymous. Here is my part:


The Devil's Eggs!


12 eggs
2 tsp. Jack Daniel's Smoky Mustard
2 tsp white wine vinegar
1/2 c. mayonnaise
12 olives


Hard boil eggs. Cool eggs quickly in cold water. When eggs are chilled, peel them. Halve the eggs, putting the whites on a plate and separating yolks into a bowl.


Mash up the yolks until they are the down to crumb-size bits. Mix the mustard, vinegar and mayonnaise into the mashed yolks. Blend until fully mixed. Spoon or pipe mixture back into the egg whites. That is where you would stop for nice, normal devilled eggs. However, these are special Halloween eggs. For Halloween, you would take the olives and insert them into the eggs, like this...




Creepy eye eggs!
In past years, I have made even weirder eggs. Like this...

You can make them look pretty creepy by just soaking the whites in water with food coloring in it :) However, I think that's a little much for the crowd I work in, so we'll go with regular eyeballs.

Update:

The devilled eggs went over pretty well! They were gone pretty quickly, and everyone seemed to like them.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Candy Girl - FAIL

I have always liked Turkish Delight aka Locum, although it is somewhat hard to find. Since I am now trying out candy-making, it seemed like a natural thing to experiment with. There isn't a recipe in my shiny new Jane Sharrock book, so again, in the face of all logic and sense, I chose to sail the perilous seas of internet recipes. Today's experiment was based on the recipe at ethnicrecipes.com . I have a bottle of rosewater from a recent trip to either New Sagaya or the International Market in Eagle River, so I am ready to roll. Things started out sedately enough with me stirring lava-hot sugar water, while the auxiliary ingredients waited next to me.


Then I get to the inevitable stage where I think it's never going to end. I'm stirring, I'm stirring. The temperature is staying the same, it's never going to get to 240 (soft ball stage). OMG! So I turn up the heat one notch. Then a weird thing happens. The burner is glowing red, the proto-candy is blooping away even more energetically, and actually starting to brown in spots. And the temperature is going down! As you read this, say it in the same voice you would say "The calls are coming from inside the house!", because that's kind of how I was feeling about the situation. So I turned the heat up one more notch. And the temperature went up about a degree, and then went down again! Well, this is monkey-paw level freaky. So I turned off the burner, dumped the mix in the prepared pan, and walked away. I didn't know if suddenly an anomoly in the space-time continuum had formed in our kitchen, reversing the laws of physics; or that unbeknownst to me, hot sugar water forms a mysterious 6th state of matter, or what. I just knew I was done with it, at least for the moment. This was several hours ago. So I just came back to the kitchen to see if anything could be salvaged of my Turkish delight.


Two pieces of good news awaited me. 1) No extradimensional creatures were hanging around the kitchen, having burst through the freakish temperature wormhole, and 2) the Turkish delight tastes fine - just sweet enough, with a lovely rose perfume. The bad news is that it is really way too soft. But I cut it up and shook it around with some powdered sugar and cornstarch anyway, because why not.
Then I decided to see if a more mundane explanation might be the cause of the problem. I took the same pan I had used for the candy (now shiny clean through the good offices of Mr EA) and the same thermometer. I clipped the thermometer on the pan, which I then filled with cold water. Heated the water to boiling, and hey presto - the thermometer is off! (We are at sea-level, rendering temperature readings extremely easy.) Although I feel a little silly about the fact that this was not my immediate assumption in this circumstance, well, I figured it out eventually. And I guess that counts for something. So, a new candy thermometer is on the shopping list, and as soon as I have it, I'll be giving this recipe another go. So that's something to look forward to!

Cookbook Corner - Cooking Alaska

When I first arrived here in Anchorage, Mr EA (who had moved up here a few weeks before me) greeted me at the airport with this book. This may not sound like a thoughtful gift, but it was. He did this because I collect cookbooks, so he figured it would be a nice way to welcome me to our new home. Also, we had been hearing tales of whale blubber and woe from some of our East Coast loved ones, and this was a subtle way of telling me "See, there's real food to eat here - although, yes, some of it is moose-based!"
Cooking Alaskan (By Alaskans) is a wonderful book, which I cannot recommend strongly enough for the curious. Put together from a wide variety of sources, it is probably the most complete snapshot of how Alaskans of all stripes cook and eat. There are native recipes for hunted and gathered subsistence fare, recipes featuring packaged food used alone or in combination with native foods, recipes left over from Russia's tenure as landlord, and recipes attempting to cuisine-up native foods. A fair amount of this cookbook is written for people who have just come into possession of a moose ( a whole moose) or a boatload of fish. Because they or their spouse just went out and got it. It starts at that assumption and tells you what to do from there. However, there are also recipes for folks who went to Fred Myer's and bought a frozen fish filet. In short, there's something for everyone!
Along with recipes, there are tips and stories, all in the original voice of the authors - many of which are well worth the price of admission by themselves. As I read this, I find myself thinking of a coworker who was born and raised here, the daughter of two government employees, who grew up in Homer and has lived all over the state. She was here during the '64 quake - was downtown shopping for a prom dress, as a matter of fact. She has a lot of really interesting stories, a fair number of which are about food. She once told me that she had never had beef-steak until she was in her late teens, and she still hates the smell of it, though she has gotten used to the flavor over the years. Although I am not (and probably will never be) an Alaskan to that level, there is a lot in this cookbook even for me. I have used it several times when confronted with unusual ingredients, and I plan to try out more whenever possible.
If you visit Alaska (or live here), you will not have to work hard to find a copy. Despite being roughly the same size and shape as the Anchorage phone book, it is prominently positioned for sale at most of the major tourist shops and the airport as well as in local bookshops and grocery stores. If you are curious about what real Alaskans eat, outside the range of what everyone in America eats, then this book is a good place to start.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Sahara - Guess the ethnicity!

If you guessed Middle Eastern, you're right!
Anyway, we have driven past this restaurant (on C street in midtown) quite a few times, but just never got around to it until this evening. Which is odd, because we really like middle eastern food in general.
Anyway. Although Sahara doesn't look like much from the outside, inside it is quite nice, with a tasteful smattering of hoke accented by an enormous TV on the wall playing Arabic TV (MBC ?), which we could not understand but which we found mesmerizing anyway. If you are familiar with middle eastern food, the menu will not hold much that is startling for you - and that's a good thing. If you are not familiar, all the menu items are well described, and vegetarian options are clearly marked.
While we perused our menus, our waitress brought us spicy, fried pita chips and a savory tomato-based dip - it was delicious and we devoured it in minutes flat. Mr EA and I decided on a Shish Kebab Combo for 2 and also a small pot of Arabic coffee. First out was a big plate of salad, which was a nice mix of greens, herbs, and a very light vinaigrette-like dressing. Next was a big plate of hummus, accented with a decorative pattern of parsley, paprika and olive oil and an accompanying basket of warm pitas. I had the hummus to myself, as Mr EA flatly refuses to try it. But that was OK - it was great! It has a very smooth texture, a rich taste with just a hint of bitterness.... Mmmmmm! Hummus!
Then came the main course - a platter of kebabed meat and a big platter of rice. The meat included chicken, lamb, and kafta (which has a semi-unfortunate appearance, but tastes great). The chicken was lightly coated with a yogurt and paprika sauce and grilled to juicy perfection. The lamb is lightly spiced as well and nicely grilled - just done enough. The kafta had a good mix of meat, onions, and herbs and also was crispy but not dry. The rice was a treat as well, cooked to a soft texture but not mushy and lightly spiced with cinnamon and/or cardamom. (How can I not say for sure? There was a lot going on in that meal.) The coffee was perfect as well - black as midnight on a moonless night (that's pretty dark....), and very lightly sweetened with a caramelized, burnt- sugar taste. Although at this point we were afraid to eat even a wafer-thin portion of anything, we split an order of baklava. It too was perfect. Flaky, crisp filo, a good layer of nuts, and just enough syrup throughout to sweeten it, but not enough to make it soggy and limp.
So all in all, if you like middle eastern food, or you are feeling adventurous enough to try it out, check out Sahara. You'll be glad you did!

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Crow's Nest

Tuesday evening, Mr EA and I celebrated our 14th anniversary downtown at the Crow's Nest located on the top floor of the Hotel Captain Cook. The Crow's Nest is one of Anchorage's finer dining establishments, in a class with Simon and Seaforts, Club Paris, and a few others. We very seldom eat at such a level, but it is an occasion, so we decided to splurge.

The Hotel Captain Cook appears to be quite a nice hotel, at least as far as can be told by the public spaces. At the restaurant itself, at the top of tower 3, we were greeted by the pleasant and efficient hostess, whose name I did not catch. Like the rest of the hotel, the Crow's Nest is nicely appointed and has a luxurious atmosphere. You feel like you're in a nice place, which sometimes is half of the effect. I was a little disappointed at our table, which was overlooking the city, but was not even right next to the window. If it had been busy, I wouldn't have thought anything of it, but we were there at 6 pm, and there was a bank of empty tables right next to the windows. By the time I was discontented enough to think about asking for a different table, we had drinks and amuse bouches, and it would have felt like too much of a hassle. So I just settled for passive-aggressively calling our table "steerage" and let it drop (more or less). Also, when it got dark and the city lights came up, it was a much prettier view than it was when we got there. Now, I concede that this is a wildly trivial complaint. I also fully realize there are starving people all over the world and so forth. But still, it was kind of baffling. (Mr. EA: We were hoping for a view of the Inlet but apparently that's reserved for the bar!?!?)
Anyway. The food!
As we got settled, a waiter (Mr EA: Wayne, who did a great job) came by with little servings of roasted beets with bits of crisp bacon and creme fraiche. This was a complex, deeply flavorful appetizer that was a great little treat. Then we were each given a warm roll (choice of olive bread, Parmesan bread, or french bread), which we ate with the cute little butter balls that were already in their own little bowl on the table. The bread was good - warm, with a good crust and a great crumb. In addition to the regular menu, the restaurant was offering a tasting menu (with or without paired wines), and also a prix fixe menu with two options for each of the three courses. Mr EA and I decided to go for the prix fixe menu and try all the options between us.
Mr EA got the Thai yellow curry coconut and crab soup appetizer, Thai Curry Scallops, and creme brulee. I got the Crisp Pear and Feta Salad, the Filet Mignon and Foie Gras, and a chocolate trio dessert. Mr EA's soup was a mildly spicy, light sweet soup with plentiful crab. The richness was perfectly offset by the vegetables. His scallops were very tender with a good sear. The barley with it was deeply curry flavored and intriguing in its own right, which barley often isn't. His creme brulee was a tender, flavorful custard with a good crisp topping and some perfect berries. My salad was an interesting blend of flavors and textures. Lightly bitter spinach, sweet pear crisps, salty feta. My filet mignon was probably among the top 3 pieces of beef I have ever eaten. It was perfectly cooked with a richly beefy flavor and a meltingly tender texture. The little bit of foie gras (about the size of a walnut) was interesting to me because I have been reading about this substance for years but had never had any. It was light and tasty and unctuous. I wouldn't go out of my way to have any more, but I also wouldn't pass up any that happened to land on my plate, either. The potatoes and greens that came with it were also intriguing and delicious. My dessert was a little bit of chocolate mousse with raspberry sauce, a little bit of brownie with mango sauce, and a bit of chocolate ganache with chocolate sauce.
So overall, the Crow's Nest is a great place to go for upscale dining. It does not come cheap, but the food is incredible, the service is outstanding, and the atmosphere is wonderful as well. Just make sure you ask for a table that is not in steerage class. :)

Thursday, October 15, 2009

The Greek Corner - Opa!

Mr EA and I recently got to visit another old-new eatery here in Anchorage. The Greek Corner, a fairly well-established restaurant in midtown recently moved to a new location on Northern Lights Blvd. Despite hearing good things about it, we hadn't gotten around to going to the old location, so we tried out the new!
The decor and atmosphere were discretely Attic, just enough to satisfy my fondness for hoke, but not so overdone as to merge into satire. It is done up in white and a sort of limpid mediterranean blue, accented with a tasteful smattering of Greek art and vases and so on. I smiled when we walked in the door and heard Greek folk music on the sound system. We were seated, had the specials explained to us, and examined our menus. I noted with interest that they note vegetarian recipes on the menu - they have a pretty good selection of them. The song ended. Then it began again. The same song. We looked at each other, then shrugged. We made our selections. The song ended. Then it began again. The waitress came, we ordered, she left. The song ended. Then it began again. We started giggling, and couldn't stop until the song really truly did, possibly 30-45 minutes into our visit.
I was voting to share the sampler for 2, but Mr EA declined in favor of a gyro platter. I got an order of moussaka instead. We each started with a cup of avgolemono (egg and lemon) soup. This was delicious - tart from the lemon, rich with egg and chicken, and just right as an appetizer. Mr. EA's gyro was somewhat different from other gyros we have had - served flat instead of rolled, with pitas above and below the filling - more like a sandwich. The meat was delicious, as was the tzatziki sauce. There was a little less vegetation than you normally see on a gyro as well, which was fine with Mr EA. My moussaka was good - the meat and tomato layers did not overwhelm the eggplant, and the light sauce was a good foil for the rich meat and bitter eggplant. Really tasty food!
Less impressive was the service. Our waitress was very nice and willing to answer any questions. However, I ordered but never received a cup of greek coffee (which from her description I was really excited to try), and Mr EA ordered and was charged for a gyro dinner, but actually received a gyro lunch (several sides were missing from his plate). Not a huge problem, especially with such delicious food and such a charming place. So go there - if you like Greek food, you'll be glad you did!

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Honey. Ah, sugar sugar

I am the candy girl!

As I may have mentioned recently, I have been on something of a candy-making kick. No idea why, just that I've never made any before and wondered if it was something I was going to be good at. I'm good at certain types of cooking, and need improvement on other kinds. For example, regular cooking - good. Baking, not so much. I think the reason is that I'm not what you would call a precision-oriented person. Generalities are my comfort zone. So, since candy-making is one of those fields of cooking that falls into the precision category, I was pretty sure I would be terrible. To my surprise, I'm actually doing OK. Not stunningly wonderful, but OK.

My initial guide into this endeavor was my old Better Homes and Gardens New Cook Book, which is, sadly, not the most accurate cookbook in places. From this book I attempted caramel. It turned out fine. Then I used an internet recipe to try homemade marshmallows. They got pretty good, but I decided I don't really ingest marshmallows enough to make them worth my while. Finally, I got Jane Sharrock's Who Wants Candy , which I suspect will make life much easier on the candy-making front.

So today's experiment was peanut brittle. I'm not going to post the recipe, because it is hers. I will, however, give you the thoughts of a novice candy-maker during the brittling process, along with some visuals.

Phase I - laying out your essentials. I have learned, through hard experience, that when you are doing time-sensitive stuff, it really is better to have everything all ready to go. I don't necessarily go to the extent of having premeasured amounts out in separate bowls (except for stir fry, but that is another story), but at least I get everything out on the counter.

Phase II - this is kind of fun. I'm making candy!

Phase II - Paying attention. Things happen kind of fast in this phase, so you have to focus. I can do it for a little while, but it's tough to maintain for any length of time. Here is the butter going in, the last step before...

Phase III - OMG! Will I still be alive when this candy is done?! The temperature is only at 250 F - it has to get to 280 F. Sigh. OK. Patience. I'm stirring, I'm stirring... It's still at 250 - when will it end? When!


Phase IV (Seemingly 2 hours later, but really about 10 minutes later) - Final stage. Things are happening quickly again. There is some micromanaging of the heat to be done, peanuts to stir in, then some baking soda - both of which have to be evenly distributed. Then the mixture needs to be spread onto two baking pans to cool. You would think it would just sort of spread out, but that is not the case. You need to spread it around. It attempts to clump up. That would probably be fine, but I try to get it even-ish anyway.

Phase V - waiting to try the brittle! And you really do have to wait. It is roughly as hot as the sun's molten surface. Really - and sticky as well. I'm waiting, I'm waiting...

Phase VI - enjoying your peanut brittle! It is crunchy and buttery and delicious. It is not overly sweet, has a little saltiness and bitterness going for it. Yes, not bad for a first try. I give the recipe most of the credit, of course.

The candy chronicles will continue!

Unless I lose interest and move on to something else. :)

Friday, October 9, 2009

Birch, birch, birch

We were recently introduced to birch syrup, one of the few truly Alaskan specialties that is also commercially available. (You try finding whale blubber.) Although we had been vaguely aware of its existence for a little while, we just kept getting distracted and forgetting to try it. However, we finally tried some at the Alaska State Fair, and quickly became devotees.
Based on my extensive research, which consisted of talking to the lady staffing the birch booth at the fair and roughly 10 minutes of web searching, I can tell you that birch syrup is pretty rare, is produced by very few manufacturers, and takes twice as much raw sap to make as maple syrup. I can also tell you that is very tasty!
Birch syrup is darker and stonger than maple, and also somewhat bittersweet. If I needed to compare it another sweetener, I would say it is like if maple and molasses had a baby...
It is delicious as a sweetner, but that's only a start. As with maple syrup, birch can be added to mustard and other similar substances, and also be turned into various candies.

One of our favorites is birch caramel, which is available for order here.

This has quickly become a favorite treat for our loved ones elsewhere in the country as well. We have standing orders from family members for these caramels - and we like to keep them around our house, as well.
In honor of being Alaskans, we adapted one of Mr EA's favorite recipes, Black Diamond Steak, to include birch syrup. We call it Black Dimond - did we mis-spell? No. Click the link for the story of Anthony J. Dimond. There's a lot of stuff named for him around here. And here's one more thing!
Anyway, without further ado...
Black Dimond Steak
For the marinade:
2 Tbsp. corn oil
1/4 cup soy sauce
1/4 cup birch syrup
2 Tbsp. brown sugar
2 Tbsp. vinegar
1 1/2 tsp. ginger-root, fresh, minced
1 pinch garlic powder
1 lb. New York strip steak
Mix together marinade ingredients. Immerse steak in the mixture, making sure to keep it covered. Marinade at least 6 hours, but overnight is better. Grill to desired doneness.
Enjoy!

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Fresh & End of the Line

Spent most of Monday night at the Local Food Festival of earlier post fame. The movies showing that night were, as advertised in the title of this post, Fresh and End of the Line. I have to admit, I had kind of expected them to be wildly slanted and partisan and using more emotional than intellectual appeal. Welcome to Low Expectation Theater! However, they were both thoughtfully done, and presented a reasonably balanced perspective on the issues they examined. Each film had a slant, make no mistake, but they each made a reasonable attempt to be balanced. I was very pleasantly surprised, and thoroughly enjoyed both films.
Fresh looks at Factory vs. Sustainable farming. Guess which side wins! No, seriously. The case is made thoughtfully, and no one is presented as a bad person - even people who participate in factory farming. However, farmers, economists, ecologists, and a bevy of other representative folks all make their cases pretty convincingly. The questions I had concerned the practicality of this type of agriculture sustaining the global population. Again, the case that it can work is pretty convincing - watch the movie to see why. It probably helps my perspective that I basically agree with most of the filmmakers' points. The biggest one for me is humanely raising animals. Non-cannibalistic food, water, some grass to run around on and some fresh air to breathe are all cows and pigs and poultry ask of us. It seems entirely reasonable to me, and I can't see why they can't have it. Maybe that's bleeding heart-y of me, but that's what I think. The film also addresses industrial plant farming as well, so that's something to look forward to. If you are on the fence about this issue or need more information, I recommend Fresh. If you disagree with this perspective, the movie might give you some things to think about. Or else it will make you really mad. Your choice!
End of the Line is about how we are fishing the oceans empty. Again, it is the big industrial fishermen who are wrecking everything for everyone else. Regular small catch and/or indigenous fisherfolk are not hurting anything (except when they are stupid, but that is a whole other issue). I really eat very little fish, so I was starting to feel pretty smug, when they got to the blue fin tuna part. Hmmm. I like tuna = now I'm part of the problem. Well, I reasoned to myself, surely my little bit of fish... Nope, that's exactly the kind of reasoning leads us down a slippery slope. Then I thought, Ah! I'll just buy farmed fish. Nope, the filmmakers knew we would think that. Farmed fish is no better. Watch the film to find out why. One bright ray of hope, however, Alaska fish resource management was cited as an excellent example to sustainably maintain a resource while still allowing fishing. Go us!
So I came home determined to immediately cease and desist all meat eatery until I can find sources who raise their animals right. Mr. EA was not thrilled to hear this, until I told him it would be as easy as following this link the Alaska state Dept. of Ag ...and then taking it from there.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Gourmet Magazine Closing Down!

Nooooooooooooooo!
Full details here

While Gourmet was certainly not the most practical magazine to cook from, it was one of the most informative. I sure hope Saveur keep publishing! Even though most of us are mainly interested in the daily tasks of getting food on the table, the food world will be poorer if there is no forum for thoughtful food writing as well.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Eating Alaska - the movie!

Mr EA and I just got back from the Bear Tooth, where we watched the Anchorage showing of Eating Alaska! This film, locally created and produced by film maker Ellen Frankenstein, was presented as part of the Eating Local Film Festival of earlier post fame.
Told from a personal perspective, this movie is an intelligent, down-to-earth view of eating sustainably and locally here in Alaska. The film maker, formerly a vegetarian, asks pertinent questions about how we get what we eat here. She asks everyone, from Native school kids to a vegetarian group in the Mat-Su valley, penetrating questions about why they eat what they do, and how they get it. Another hard question she examines is that of toxins - a very real concern when you are looking at subsistence hunting and living.
Many of the points she makes while discussing agriculture here are points I have wondered about (and written about) as well. We don't have a lot of local agriculture - there aren't a lot of farms and there is a very abbreviated growing season. This presents some real challenges on the local eating front. Hunting and fishing are a reasonable and locally popular way to get your protein - Mr EA and I work office jobs here in the city of Anchorage, and we both work with a LOT of people who fish and hunt for part of their food.
On a personal level, there is a moment early in the film where Ellen is at a farmer's market elsewhere, and she is discussing the point of the film she is right then making with another woman. The woman asks if we grow vegetables here, and then makes a remark about how we can just eat whale blubber. Very similar statements to us from loved ones back in the lower 48 where what inspired me to start writing this blog. So I am not the only one who reacts strongly to blubber remarks!
The film presents a balanced, good-natured view of the issues discussed, and raises questions and sparks discussion without presenting a dictatorial set of answers. There was also a reasonable humor level, which is refreshing in a documentary. I can honestly say it was a wonderful movie, and I enjoyed it immensely. If you are at all interested in the issues of sustainable local eating, I cannot urge you strongly enough to see the film.

Sacks Cafe and a bonus recipe!

Went downtown to do the First Friday Art Walk with some friends - had a great time, looked at some neat art in the galleries. For those of you in the Anchorage area, it's well worth the effort to get out and see some of what downtown has to offer! Anyway, the snacks on offer at the galleries were not quite doing the trick, so we started talking about all the great places downtown has to eat. My friends had both been to Sacks Cafe, and insisted we try it. The place was packed with other art walkers, and we almost didn't get a seat. We finally wheedled our way in by promising we would clear off in an hour, the point at which the table was reserved.
The entrees were pricey, although the descriptions in the menu made them sound incredible. In the end though, we decided on getting a bunch of appetisers and sharing. We got the olive sampler, the Alaskan scallops, baked Brie en croute, and the cheese plate. After placing our order, we enjoyed the ambiance (sophisticated cafe) and the art (varied and pretty good). After a short wait, we got out food. We looked at our plates, looked at each other, and just started laughing. There were these tiny little islands of food on these vast white china planes... the table was covered, but it was with dishware more than anything else. At this point, we were somewhat disillusioned - the surly guy at the front counter, the tiny portions... But then we started eating, and all that was forgotten.
The olives were delicious - warm and unctuous and rich. The cheese plate had a rich hard cheese and a strong goat cheese, along with a complex gastrique, slices of bright strawberries and some glazed nuts. All together it was a well-chosen collection for tasting the cheeses at their best. The baked brie was also wonderful. It is pretty hard to screw up Brie, and this plate enhanced it artfully. The cheese itself was delicious, warm and buttery with its crisp flaky crust. The olive tapenade provided a wonderfully salty and sharp counter point. Roasted garlic provided an earthy base to the light cheese. And apricots and strawberries were bright and sweet next to the cheese. Altogether another hit.
Then we got to the scallops. I don't like seafood in general, and have never eaten a scallop. However, my friends double-dog-dared me, so I tried one. It was very good! So I have no basis as to whether this particular scallop was superior in any way to other scallops. I just know that one was pretty good. They were served with a mango curry puree, which was also delicious, and a mini-salad served in a little Parmesan-crisp bowl. The salad was also delicious, and the bitterness of the cheese crisp was a neat addition to the fresh greens.
About midway through our meal, we realized that there was indeed plenty on our plates, it was just that the dishes were so terrifyingly huge that it made the appetizers look so tiny and forlorn. The three of us just barely managed to finish, and we were wishing we hadn't gotten so much - although there wasn't one thing we had regretted eating!
Then one of my friends ordered a desert - her favorite, which she has only ever gotten here. It was Russian Cream. Out came a creamy orange desert - custardy in texture, served cold - with a fruit sauce over it. We puzzled over what was in it, and my friend challenged me to figure it out. After I got home, I did just that. I have to confess, I cheated a little - I found a recipe that was close, and changed it up some to get it closer still. It's still not exact, but the flavor is right, and the texture is darn close. Just in case you want to try it, here's the recipe...

Russian Cream with Tangy Fruit Salsa

Ingredients
3/4 cup sugar
1 envelope unflavored gelatin
1/2 cup + 1 tbsp cold water
1 orange
1 cup heavy whipping cream
1 1/2 cups vanilla yogurt
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 can pineapple chunks
1/4 tsp. salt


  1. Start by grating the peel off the orange. This is going in the cream part of the desert. Reserve the rest of the orange for the fruit salsa.
  2. Soften the gelatin in a small bowl with the tbsp of cold water - use a little more water if necessary.
  3. Mix the sugar, the half cup of water and the orange peel in a pan and heat just until boiling, stirring steadily.
  4. Remove the pan from the heat and mix in the gelatin - stir steadily to make sure the gelatin is even mixed in. There shouldn't be any gelatin lumps when you stop stirring.
  5. Mix in the cream and the yogurt. Again, whisk until it is completely mixed together and all is incorporated.
  6. Finally, add the vanilla, making sure to blend thoroughly.
  7. Divide the cream mixture into molds or bowl, cover tightly, and refrigerate for at least 3 hours.

The original recipe said this made 6 servings. That was not the case in our house! Maybe for tiny eaters.

Once the cream in gelling in the fridge, start the fruit salsa. Dice up the pineapple chunks very small, but do not crush them. You want to leave some texture in the fruit. Then the orange. For me, this was the most tedious part of the operation. Peel the orange, then section it, removing the membrane from around each section. Then break up each section into smallish parts but again, trying to maintain the texture. Mix the fruit chunks in a bowl, and very very lightly salt it. Taste for flavor - you may want to add a little of the pineapple juice to the mix.

When the cream has gelled, top with the salsa and enjoy!