Saturday, January 19, 2013

Sage's Brunch House (Olympia, WA)

 Wow. I love this place. This is exactly the kind of restaurant that reminds me why so many people love Olympia - it's just so frickin' hip for such a small town! Who knows why...something about it being the capitol of a blue state and also the home of one of the top-rated public liberal arts universities in the country - sort of a mecca for hippies who want to go hiking... And maybe have a few extra bucks... Which brings me to Sage's. It's the sort of restaurant I would be on the lookout for in Berkeley or San Francisco, but I'm all the more delighted to find it tucked away back home, waiting for me to stop by. I personally love the gourmet thing. And I love it more when it's prepared in a small and open kitchen, a 2-woman show (one for the cooking, one for the floor), with no feeling of pretension despite the quality of the food. Oh yeah, and every ingredient is local or made on the spot (as I learned was the case with the sausage, pun intended) - e.g. I saw the tortilla guy coming in from a nearby town with a truck, and even the hot sauce was made around the corner.

And well, I think I can just let the food speak for itself....
Beneficial Benedict

Friday, August 10, 2012

A few helpings of Costa Rica, and a dash of Panama

I just returned from a wonderful and wonderfully delicious 3 week journey through Costa Rica, followed by a quick hop and a skip through Panama City.  I thought I would take to my blog and show off a few of the tasty dishes that slid down my gullet and are currently causing me a substantial amount of foodstalgia. Ah Central win this one.

Vegetarian casado
The traditional plate of Costa Rica is called Casado, which actually translates to "married," referring to the pretty much inseparable staple ingredients of black beans and rice. It can be served with a wide range of proteins, but the beans and rice stick together. Awwwww. On this trip, we were lucky enough to partake in several vegetarian casados, perhaps a reflection of changing health standards on a global scale  or just a push to meet the influx of tourists and their standards (?). Maybe they've been there the whole time and I was just too meat-hungry to notice...Either way, we were pretty happy about the options, and very satisfied with what we were served. In addition to beans and rice, veggie casado comes with starch (usually ripe or green plantains) and a touch of salad: often the cheapest thing on a menu, and well worth it.

Costa Rican fruits
Menus are also littered with fresh fruits, in raw and juice forms. Many of the names escape me, but there is no denying the gigantic avocados, ripe lychees, mangoes, jugos de piña y tamarindo, and my favorite of them all = maracuya. Maracuya is golden passion-fruit, and while I have never seen it in such abundance as in Ecuador, you can still find the fruit in select locations in Costa Rica and Panama. Everything about it is amazing...from the naturally occurring bowl it arrives in, to the fact that you can eat the seeds as the pulp pulls right out, to the tangy, unmatchable flavor. Yes, it's the big golden fruit with the black seeds. Some prefer it topped with sugar, I go with salt, and either way, you are guaranteed a good-morning refresher like only the tropics can serve. Oh maracuya, let's face it...I basically keep traveling down south just for another taste of your vibrant citrus. And don't talk to me about this passion fruit pulp BS, because that shit is saturated with sugar and doesn't taste anything like the original = boo!!! NOTE: for a Tesla secret, fresh maracuya juice and rum is probably the most fantastic cocktail combination in if you ever find yourself in a land rich enough with passion fruit, please start juicing.
Fried chicken, patacones and tortillas in Panama

All this talk of veggie casados and fruity frutas doesn't mean I forsook the meat entirely.  For me, no trip to Latin America is complete without the satisfying crunch of pollo frito.  My aversion to meat is primarily based on the dubious platform of the way it's raised, treated and butchered here in the United States. But small restaurants in Central America tend to get their meat from mom&pop farms, and that manages to alleviate just enough guilt for me to gorge myself on their fatty fried flesh. At least that's what I tell myself.  Mmmmm... French fries, patacones, and yellow corn meal tortillas are all delicious accompaniments.

Heart of palm salad
While we're on the fast food topic, I must confess that we gave in and ordered a few such items, and ate them so quickly that I forgot to take photos...Costa Rican tacos are prolific, but don't be fooled by the name..down there it's nothing more than meat in rolled and fried tortilla, topped with cabbage, ketchup and mayonnaise. Sinfully delicious and oh, so, awkward. We also found ourselves in front of a pizza one night and it was epic. Half was covered with fresh pineapple chunks = yes!!! And the other half was littered with a huge range of veggies including cauliflower, broccoli, mushrooms, onions, bell peppers and the always scintillating palmitas...Oh how I love hearts of palm, because let's face it, love and hearts go hand in hand. I got a bigger helping of the delicacy via ensalada de palmita which was littered with giant slices of the tangy temptation. Don't worry = palms are farmed in Costa Rica, so there's much less of the over-harvesting worry at much more of a reasonable price. You just can't get hearts of palm like you can in CR.

Ceviche in Panama City
 And then there's the fish... I have about zero qualms eating fish wherever I am, so I dug into my aquatic friends quite mercilessly, often (literally) staring into their eyes with each bite. Yes, it's no wonder I needed a few days to adjust myself back to silverware, because let me tell you, it just doesn't seem possible to get at all that munchable meat without using the primate's greatest weapon. The fish we found ourselves face to face with was most often red snapper, followed by a healthy dose of dorado (known as mahi-mahi up here) and corvina. I enjoyed them all, and most of all when they were fresh off the boat. The Panama City fish market, located near Casco Viejo on Balboa, is certainly a place to find such wonders. And even there, in the big city, at the biggest fish market, they won't charge more than $7 for a whole fried fish and patacone-accessories.
Corvina and patacones at the Panama City Fish Market
This is also a wonderful place to pick up some ceviche, and a small paper cup costs between $1.25 and $3.25 depending on what sort of marine life you want inside. NOTE: Panamanian and Costa Rican ceviche is very comparable = heavy on the acid and spicy with onions. But for the freshest of the fresh, you often don't even have to swim to shore since it only takes a squeeze of lemon to act as a cooking agent.

Fried yucca with garlic

This is a metaphor that holds nicely, as some of the tastiest food on the trip was prepared not in a restaurant, or at a market, but in a friendly household kitchen. We were able to try some experimental Costa Rican concoctions thanks to our lovely friends in San Jose, including:
  • fried yucca with garlic
  • garbanzo beans and potatoes in a soy, ginger, cilantro sauce; yes, they love cilantro
  • sauteed yucca flowers with carrots
  • and lasagna made with a white and red sauce, cheese and using tortillas instead of noodles.
¡Wow! ¡Que rica!

Overall, this was a wonderful trip in more ways than one, and certainly because of more than one dish. I was introduced to quite a few new recipes, and I'm looking forward to trying them out Stateside. But, to be quite honest, I never want to master them completely, because I am always looking for a reason to head back down South.
Garbanzo beans with potatoes
Pura Vida. Con paz y amor.
Tortilla lasagna
Yucca flowers with carrots

Tortilla lasagna

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Armenian Yogurt

Yogurt is one of those foods that seems epically scary for really no reason at all - I guess I always just assumed it would be hard to make? In actuality,  it's ridiculously easy to make yogurt and so even the most inept of chefs (cough cough) feel pretty much like a pro. The key to a delicious yogurt is, no surprise, the starter. I have even heard rumors of some mystical munchery in San Francisco where they feature a 2,000 year old line of yogurt....
I guess I personally don't really know where to recommend getting a yogurt starter.  But if anyone happens to offer one to you, 'jump on it!' I say. That's what happened to me at least - while at a delicious Armenian feast the other day (omg so good = bell pepper and mint salad, armenian cheese, sour plums, zaxtar bread, crispy bread rice and herby stew!), my host said "You should take some of my dad's sour yogurt and make your own batch." How could I say no? I couldn't in fact, and a few days later, I found myself in the kitchen with a friend, a 1/2 gallon of milk, and yogurt on the brain.

So how exactly do you go about making your own...?

1) I started with 1/2 gallon of 2% milk

2) I brought it to a boil, slowly, while stirring pretty regularly

3) Boil for no more than 5 minutes, stirring constantly

(SIDENOTE: if you keep taking the forming milk skin layer and stack it on a plate, you will end up with a creamy, buttery, basic cheese that is ridiculously tasty)

4) I let the milk cool for about 20 minutes, until I could put my pinky finger in it and it felt like a warm bath (so around 100 degrees)

5) As part of my prep, I had taken the yogurt out of the fridge, let it warm up a bit, and spread 2 spoonfuls all around the bottom of a large ceramic bowl

Day 1 Yogurt
6) Pour the warm milk into the bowl

7) Cover with a cloth or perforated tin-foil

8) Let it sit overnight at room temperature (stick it in the oven to preserve warmth if you think the house will chill down a bit that night)

9) And then stick it in the fridge to settle for a day or two

NOTE: Do Not Mix at any time after pouring. After 12 hours, you can separate out some of the yogurt (for friend-distribution, changing containers, or the like), but it will stop souring. If you want your yogurt as sour as the original, be sure and let it sit for 2-3 days straight without disturbing. Also, the original pour should be in ceramic if you want to limit random lumps.

Day 3 Yogurt

And Voila! Delicious sour yogurt! So easy, so tasty and really quite healthy. People keep asking me what the difference is between Armenian yogurt and other yogurts, but unfortunately I am no yogurt expert. It's really sour and tangy, so that would be my first guess. And I hear that Armenians are the traditional transporters of yogurt to North America. Also, I got it from an Armenian...=does that count?

"As one of Armenian ancestry, I had heard stories of the difficulty in bringing in, through U.S. customs, the bacterial culture that is needed to make yogurt. As immigrants were processed at Ellis Island, the INS officers would look at the little jars of yogurt starter carried by the immigrants. they would have most certainly opened the jars and smelled the sour, acrid odor of the bacterial culture. It was of course immediately thrown into the trash. In correspondence to the old country, one Armenian immigrant bemoaned the fact that they could neither buy or make this diet staple they had enjoyed for centuries. An enterprising woman in Turkish-Armenia, who was shortly leaving for America, came up with a solution to the problem. She took clean white handkerchiefs and dipped them into a large bowl of yogurt and then hung them out to dry. She then carefully folded them with her other linen and packed them in her trunk. After she got to the U.S. she had no difficulty in going through customs with clean white hankies. Once settled, she dipped these hankies in warm milk and thus freed the bacteria to culture and make yogurt." - via

Or to learn from the real professionals....

Please note: The translation is incorrect. The first child says "My favorite food is Tolma"

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Adventures in Crockpot Cooking: Burmese Curry

So I was gifted with a Crockpot a ways back, and I was a little unsure how to make best use of this crafty culinary machine. It kinda of seems like something that can only be used to create a stew of some kind. Lo-and-behold, my first attempt of Crockpot cooking was none other than the legendary vegetarian chili. Scrumdidiliumptious. This is when I realized that the gift of the Crockpot is that you can make something delicious for $10 and then eat it for a week straight! A metaphorical Jesus figure for the monetarily disadvantaged! And Crockpot cooking can really be extended to really any sort of saucy dish. And so my curry was birthed. I based this beauty on a Burmese egg and okra curry from one of my new favorite restaurants, Burma Superstar. Of course, my idea of referencing a dish is having at least 45% of the same ingredients (omg, it's almost like Taco Bell....). Basically, I fried up a bunch of onions, garlic, carrots, jalapenos and other assorted peppers, fresh ginger and spices and then pureed it and threw in the Crockpot with bell peppers, tomatoes, a bunch of coconut milk, more spices (mostly cayenne, tumeric, chili powder, pepper and salt) and some okra. Apparently the key to okra is laying it out to dry on paper towel for 30 minutes to avoid sliminess. It's my new goal to try and use as many of the vegetables at my local markets as possible. And it might be a lofty one since I have zero idea what to do with a durian or a bitter melon! Oooh. And I also cracked two eggs right into the Crockpot and let them cook with the curry = delish! Finally, I sauteed some mushrooms with butter and threw that in towards the end. All in all, a very successful dish. And perfect for the wonders of the Crockpot! Who knows what else I'll cook up.....literally!

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Saturday, January 29, 2011

Peruvian Picarones!

Every country that I have visited has at least one food that I just cannot get out of my head. I may have some luke-warm memories about the food overall (cough cough Peru), but man oh man, there has to be at least one gooey or glorious concoction that haunts my dreams. Picarones are that Peruvian perfection. Granted, there is no way I could ever live up to the sizzling standard of that little old woman, sitting on a stool next to a giant pot of boiling oil, poking at the dough with her wooden stick and letting those babies float in the oil till they turn golden brown. But, I just had to try. So onto the baking. Picarones are essentially squash donuts, and the recipe is not that complicated (especially when you make it tesla-style). I cubed one of those squash crescents that you can get at the market for a buck (easier than splitting one yourself) and boiled it in water with a bunch of cinnamon for 10min. Then I mashed it together with a couple of eggs and some salt. I let 2 cups of the water cool down to yeasting temperature and proceeded to mix it with one of those packages of yeast. After the yeasting, I added the water to the squash and eggs, and then slowly added flour until it was a good, sort of post-pancake/pre-bread texture. Oh, and you probably want some sugar to sweeten things up a bit. Let it sit for an hour and shazam! you're ready for frying. The best part about these donuts (ok, one of the best parts) is that they fit perfectly into the toaster for days to come! The other best part is that they have squash in them so I can pretend like they're healthy! Really, you can't go wrong. Mmmm.....Picarones. Oh, and I threw in this picture of well-executed picarones so you can see how the tesla-substitute compares. All of my food may look wonky on the outside, but on one hand, I haven't been frying picarones by the side of the road for the last 40 years, and on the other hand, it tastes good and that's what counts? Right? At least when I'm cooking....I think I probably should have cut down the recipe a bunch and gone for a thicker texture, but damn! it was calling for a friggin' pound of flour!

So yes. Add more yeast and flour for fluffier picarones. Top with honey, jam, peanut butter, nutella, cinnamon and sugar....or all of the above concurrently. Here's an official recipe if you are interested.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Fajita Fiesta

Ahhhh, fajitas. I know that it's overly dramatic to say that I live or die by fajitas, but some days it certainly feels true. If everyone has that one sure-fire staple, the food you can eat day in and day out, then staple me with fajitas baby. They are just so.....delicious....and cheap.....and easy (an excellent combination in many situations)....and delicious....and surprisingly healthy. At least, that's what I tell my stomach. I'm mostly a veggie girl myself: throw in some diced bell peppers, squash, onions, and you have yourself a bonafide vegetarian dinner. But as with all good things, the gloriousness of fajitas comes in the mix-n-match. This picture, for example, is a result of an evening of meat sharing (another wonderful activity) between myself and the roomie. Our ingredients combined and wahla! a delicious fried chicken fajita feast. I also have been known to enjoy carrots, potatoes and even green beans in my fajitas, although the bells are pretty much a requirement. Let's see....what else do you need? Oh yes, Masa is definitely the way to go here people. It may seem scary, but the whole making-fresh-tortillas thing actually is mostly painless. You buy the Masa flour from Safeway (or the like) and mix it with water and some salt. Once it is a dough that is not sticking to your fingers, flatten it out on a piece of plastic wrap and throw it into the frying pan. Presto! (I'm digging the magician theme today...). Cheese and avocado top me off, but I recommend sprinkling all sorts of things on top of that puppy. Fajitas are the neverending gift! The best part is, the tortillas last in the fridge for like a week. And any God-Fearing American knows all the wonderful things that can result from a tortilla!

And yes.....that's a Mexican magician.

Friday, November 5, 2010


I've been encouraged to expand my food posts to those articles which can be prepared and consumed by the humble student with little money and no time to trek across the city for delicious food. So here I am, ready to share my most secret and delicious of personal grad-school recipes with you. I'll start off with a glorious Ecuadorian delicacy, a recipe I learned while living with a family in Bahia de Caraquez, a coastal city. These are panqueques, quite literally "pancakes." In contrast to the U.S. style, Ecuadorian panqueques are savory and can be eaten at any time of day. They are also perfect for fulfilling cravings for fried foods, and they can be transported, reheated and many other useful verbs that make them, overall, quite a wonderful thing. You make them just like regular pancakes: flour, sugar, salt, egg, dash of oil, a bit of milk, and water to texture. If you're feeling especially lazy or out of ingredients, you can actually just use boxed pancake mix. There's no shame. Then you add the cheese. In Ecuador, they have a special Farmer's cheese that is super salty and comes in little chunks sold in bags. While there are many queso granjeros through which to sort at my neighborhood groceria, I have found that often the easiest and safest cheese route is through the land of feta. Any kind will do. I've been buying the cheap "domestic feta" at about $6 a pound. So then you crumble in the cheese, oh delicious cheese. Throw some vegetable oil in the pan and commence frying! The rest should be easy. I recommend a dash of salt on top, although the possibilities really are endless. Speaking of which....I left a couple of panqueques in the pan and I'm thinking of heading back into the kitchen. Or as the Rangers would say (no..don't boo! not those Rangers!), "leave no man behind." And....break.