Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Burger Cache

For the past year and a half, I have occasionally driven past the Burger Cache on Northern Lights and thought "That looks interesting..." but then never quite managed to check it out.  It looks a bit like a dive, and possibly abandoned as well.  However, a group of people from work ordered in today, and I'm sure glad we did. 
Burger Cache is another one of those places, which are fairly common up here, that have a kind of weird variety of items on their menu.  In this case, American and Chinese fast-food favorites.  There's a fairly large selection in each category, so there's something for everyone.  My coworkers and I ordered from the American section, getting a selection of burgers and deep-fried treats on the side. 
Their burger selection is intriguing, including a Hawaiian burger (pineapple and a bunch of other stuff), a Taste Burger, a New York burger, and a Cache burger, which had such a huge selection of toppings on it that it seemed like it would either be inedible or the best burger ever in the history of meat sandwiches.  It had pepperoni and ham and cheese and onions and mushrooms - and possibly some other things I'm not remembering.  I was tempted, but in the end went with a mushroom cheeseburger, and added bacon on for an extra $1.50.  I also got a side of fried mushrooms, which come with ranch dipping sauce.  The burger was amazing - meaty and moist and flavorful.  The toppings (bacon, mushrooms, cheese, onion, and possibly some mayo) were present in enough force that I could taste them, but not piled on to the point where I could taste nothing else.  All in all, an outstanding burger!  The fried mushrooms were not that awesome, sadly.  The breading next to the mushrooms was soggy and kind of icky.  Fried mushrooms are kind of hard to get, though.  I did get to try some of their fries ( both regular and steak fries), which are beer battered and really delicious.  When choosing a side, I urge you to go for the fries - of the two things I tasted, they are definitely the better option. 
     I am continually amazed by the sheer volume of funky little joints all around Anchorage where you can get great, interestingly unique fast food.  Burger Cache just got added to my personal list, along with Arctic Roadrunner and  White Spot.  I still need to check out Burger Jim and Wee Bs.  Anchorage readers - got any other favorites?  Let me know!

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Learn to cook - the Allen & Petersen way!

Last night I went with some friends from work to Allen & Petersen's to attend a session of their Viking cooking school. Our class, picked more at less at random from the dizzying array of classes available, was Argentine Steakhouse.  Two of the aforementioned friends recently went to another of their classes and had such an awesome time that they came in to work the next day and recruited a few more of us into their cult.  We had to decide fast, as they had 10% off coupons that only lasted a day, besides which these classes seem to sell out FAST. 
     I am glad we picked this class, though, because of one specific recipe we walked away with...chimichurri sauce.  A few years ago I worked as a software trainer, and my job took me to Ft. Lauderdale for a couple of months.  When I went to lunch with the folks with whom I was working, we often went to a local place that had a vat of chimichurri sauce right by the cash register, and my hosts would ladle this stuff all over everything on their plates - meat, sandwiches, mashed potatoes, pasta...everything.  After one taste, I put it all over everything too.  Since that time, I have been hunting for this recipe.  I looked online, at epicurious and Gourmet and Saveur's websites.  I looked in cookbooks and magazines.  And I found plenty of chimichurri recipes, but not the same one.  They were all either too acidy or too oily or too... well, too something.  So I had a little bit of a mission in going to this class, but also hoped to have a good time with my friends as well. 
      So we showed up at A&P's fabulous midtown showroom at around 5:30 and cruised around the store, salivating over all the shiny toys.  My kitchen philosophy veers between the austere and the gadget-hound - I'm somewhere in the middle right now.  I should point out that A&P  is a high-end store, with high-end prices.  I'm not a high-end girl, but there were a lot of extremely tempting gadgets for sale.  Eventually, I wrenched myself away from the shopportunities and went upstairs to the beautiful kitchen/classroom.  A staff member ushered us into the dining area sector of the upstairs, where we found our welcome packets.  We each got a Viking apron, a recipe booklet, a 10% off coupon (good for that night only) and an evaluation sheet.  We also got an appetizer, a little chorizo sandwich with...chimichurri on it!  One bite told me that my gamble had paid off - this was the chimichurri I was looking for.  Happily chewing away, we listened to the opening spiel.  Our teachers introduced themselves - one lady is an experienced cook who has been doing this for some time, the other is just finishing up her culinary arts degree at UAA.  Also assisting was a lady who cleaned up as we went, made sure everything was right in place as needed, and just generally ran the show from the background.  These three made a great team and backed each other up pretty well.
     We had an ambitious class schedule lined up in front of us.  In about 2 1/2 - 3 hours, we were making empanadas, grilled skirt steak with chimichurri sauce, roasted marinated sweet peppers, oven-roasted potatoes, and flan.  We started with the flan, then went to the empanadas, and mixed in working on all the other stuff on the way.  The teachers were very knowledgeable, and gave lots of great tips and info about the food we were working on.  The classroom space itself is absolutely astounding - well laid out and beautiful as well.  During the course of the event, the teachers would occasionally demo some gadget or the other and point out that it was available for sale downstairs.  Also, the class itself was sort of an ad for Viking ranges and other appliances.  The pitches were kind of darling in their straightforwardness, but I have to say they worked.  More than one of us left with a garlic-chopping gadget or similar item.  Also, I have to say I see now what all the fuss is over Viking stoves.  I rate it as highly unlikely that I will personally ever own a Viking stove.  When the same amount of money will get you either a stove or a luxury cruise through the south Pacific for two...well, I won't be going for that stove.  However, the ones we were using were pretty damn impressive.  So we watched and then did, getting occasional feedback and coaching from the teachers.  We chopped, we stirred - it became a part of us.  At the end of the class, we served ourselves from the big platters of food.  Here is what my plate's worth looked like...
And it tasted even better than it looks!  I did not get a picture of the flan, because I was far too busy feeding my face by that point.  However, that looked and tasted wonderful as well. 
So at the end of the day, I got some good recipes, a good meal and a good time.  Are these classes for everyone?  No.  They are spendy, and honestly not that informative if you are an experienced cook.  However, they are a good time, especially if you are there with friends.  However, if you like to cook and can afford it, gather up a friend or two, check their catalog for a class that interest you, and go! 

Empty Bowl Coming Up!

The Empty Bowl is a fundraiser for Beans Cafe, an Anchorage institution and a wonderful cause.  Follow the link to find out more about Beans Cafe and the Empty Bowl in general.  Tickets are $18, for which you get a handmade ceramic bowl and some soup and extremely good cornbread. 
A few things to be aware of:
  •  Bring cash for your tickets. I bought mine at Borders, and they wanted cash. 
  •  People line up early to get in, because the first thing you do is pick out your bowl.  If you do not care what kind of bowl you get, or if you don't want a bowl, save yourself some stress and go late. 
  • When you get in, you will find tables laden with ceramic bowls of varying styles.  Choosing one can be pretty daunting, but you'll find one you like.  They move pretty quick, so if you see one you love, don't hesitate! 
  • Also, when you go (and you really, really should), bring bunches of extra cash with you.  In addition to the meal, there are plenty of shopping opportunities at the event itself.  Last year there were bean soup mix bags and really nice T-shirts for sale. 
  • Also, you will have the opportunity to bid on some extremely nice pottery pieces made by local potters.  
 All these purchases also go to support Beans, which is well worth supporting.  Be a foodie with a heart - check out the Empty Bowl.  You'll be glad you did!

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Chocoholics, rejoice!

Happy Valentine's Day!
Hope everyone is either having a romantic dinner or some good chocolates, or both!

Cookbook Corner - new book edition

     So I recently decided to clear out a block of free time in the evenings to really focus on bread baking and either get it down or determine that it's not my thing and let it go.  Toward that end, I "had" to go to Barnes and Noble to get one of the many no-knead bread books on the shelves.   I have been hearing about this new "no knead" bread method for quite a while, but just hadn't gotten around to trying it out.  Mr EA and I considered Artisan Bread Baking in 5 minutes a Day  and My Bread by Jim Lahey.  While they both offered a credible set of recipes and method explanation, we felt that Artisan Bread has more items we would use.  Also, we had the impression there were more varieties of bread and less bread-adjacent stuff.  We already have things to go with bread, we just wanted bread. 
     In the past week and a half, I have made two batches of dough, which came out to something like 7-8 loaves of bread, and one batch of bagel dough.  I have been baking up a storm, and it has all been good!  The authors have presented a great new way to bake bread that is easier and less hassle, and yeilds excellent results.  The title is somewhat misleading, however.  Baking a loaf of bread takes more than 5 minutes, although your personal involvement will be around 5 minutes, unless you hover a lot.  I don't want to give away the end, but basically what you do is mix up a big batch of dough - about 4 loaves worth - and let it rise in the fridge for a while.  Then when you want to bake up a loaf, just whack off a chunk of dough, shape it and let it rise, and pop it in the over with a pan of water for steam.  It is much easier, and I have gotten much better results than with traditional methods.
     I wasn't a horrible bread baker before this, but my bread was usually heavier than I would have liked, and results were somewhat hit or miss.  I don't have a lot of counter space for kneading, so I kind of gave it short shrift.  Now that I don't have to knead, and I can mix one batch and bake bread off of that for days, I do a lot more than I had in the past. 
     There are a lot of recipes I haven't gotten into yet - nothing but the basic white bread and the bagels, really.  I sort of wanted to make sure the basic recipe worked before I got into esoteric stuff.  However, I am heartened by my success, and will be branching out - I'll let you know how it works out when I do! 
     Is this book for everyone?  No, probably not.  People who are afraid of carbs, or don't want to bake, or are already accomplished bakers will not find much here that they are interested in.  However, if you have an interest in being a better baker and/or are lazy (as I am), check it out - you'll be glad you did!

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Cookbook Corner

Among other hobbies, I collect cookbooks.  Surprise!  From what I've read, lots of people collect cookbooks - they like to collect books from a certain author or a certain region (Southern US) or a style of cooking. I tend to lack that kind of focus, and get whatever looks interesting and organize it as I go along.  International cookbooks were my main passion for awhile.  I do like to cook from them when possible, but sometimes it's just interesting to read them and wonder who first thought that a certain food (rotted shark, sea urchin roe) would be a good thing to eat.  In some cases (rotted shark), I wonder why no one has thought maybe it would be a good thing to stop eating.  (Rotted shark fans, I welcome your responses!  If it's really super-tasty, that would be an interesting thing to know.) 
   For awhile I wanted to get some Canadian and Australian cookbooks to compare with generalized American ones.  Since all three nations began as English colonies but landed in different climates with different resources, I thought it might  be interesting to look at the differences and similarities in the cuisines.  Not now, since everyone is all globalized, but maybe between 1940-1970 or thereabouts.  But years of pestering online cookbook enthusiasts from those two countries did not yield a suggestion for a good cookbook or two to represent their nations.  I have no idea why, but I could not get a straightforward response.  So I gradually let it go, for the most part. 
     Right now, I'm mostly interested in local community cookbooks.  Again, not recent ones, for the most part.  Those are mostly full of things people got off of epicurious.com or out of magazines, and don't really represent any kind of regional cuisine in any meaningful way.  Oh, occasionally you'll get a gator casserole from a Florida book or mooseburgers from Maine, but usually that's one recipe out of 200 or so.  That's a long run for a short slide.  Also, I'm suspicious they are in there for a joke.  No, I like old cookbooks.  And Mr EA and I found a doozy in a recent trip to Value Village (we like junking).
     It is the awesomest, darlingest book I have seen in a good long while.  Originally published in 1959, my version was printed in 1969 and has a few bits that had been added on.   One of the things I love about these books is that they are a window into another time with their chatty introductory notes and household tips.  The recipes themselves are also interesting, even where they aren't really reproducable.  For instance, this tome contains recipes for making pickles out of sea kelp. One starts with instructions for gathering the stuff.  Apparently, the Alaska version of "first catch your rabbit" is "first, get out your rowboat".  Of course there are many, many salmon and seafood recipes.  Almost every mention of vegetables refers to canned vegetables, which jibes with what I have been told life was like by friends that grew up here. As is usually the case with this kind of cookbook, I have some recipes bookmarked to try, but the whole thing was a fascinating read.  I have no idea how available copies of this book are, but if you like this sort of thing too and  have a chance, I strongly urge you to grab one if you see it.  In the meantime, I'm thinking about getting a rowboat - there's kelp to pickle! 

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Day 7 - a pretty good finish!

This evening I went to the freezer and found, among other things, a pound of frozen ground lamb and a bag of frozen chopped spinach.  Then I checked the spice rack and auxiliary spice rack and found the appropriate seasonings and created the following dish:

Greek-ish Lamb-Stravaganza

1 tsp. olive oil
1 lb ground lamb
1 onion, slivered or chopped
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 package frozen chopped spinach (I used a 16 oz bag, but whatever should work)
1/4 cup lemon juice
1 1/2 tsp salt (or more to taste)
1 Tbsp oregano
1 tsp lemon peel ( I used dried, but fresh would probably be even better)

Saute the onion and garlic in the olive oil until starting to soften.  Add the lamb to the pan and break up into small bits, but not too small.  Try not to drool from the delicious scents that will be wafting from your pan about now!  When the lamb is not showing any more pink, add the spinach.  Stir well and add the rest of the ingredients.
Eat with rice and/or pita bread.  If I do say so myself, it tastes pretty awesome!

Now if you'll excuse me, I have a week's worth of meals to plan...

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Day 6 - Back in the saddle again!

Today we regrouped with stuffed peppers - sort of.  We didn't have some of the things I normally stuff peppers with - corn and limas and hot peppers and Monterey Jack cheese.  However, we did have rice and canned tomatoes, so we just used that.  It got pretty good - I will have to remember this combo when we don't necessarily want the full-blown veggistravaganza I normally make. 
One more day of this, and I can get back to my normal life!

Monday, February 1, 2010

Day 5 - We give up, via the eating out method

We ate out tonight.  Tomorrow night, we pick up some bits and pieces from Fred Meyer's on the way home and try the non-planned cooking thing again. 
In other news, I picked up a couple of new cookbooks tonight in an attempt to master my old nemesis, baking.  I'll let you know how they are in a future report, so that's something to look forward to!