7 Jun

Cheap, Fatty Fish – Delicious and Nutritious

One thing I really dig about modern food trends is we seem to finally be moving away from the idea that all fat is bad. I may hate how we’re now demonizing all carbohydrates, but at least we can have our fat. Really, if you’re fat, don’t blame the fat, ’cause fat is good. Whether it’s the unsaturated fats and antioxidants in extra-virgin olive oil or the omega-3 fatty acids in oily fish, fat, like most things, is excellent in moderation.

I’m speaking here today about the oily fish. Fish are delicious, healthy sources of protein. Many of these fish are also placed in the category of “oily,” meaning high in fat and particularly rich in omega-3 fatty acids. The experts talk about all the health benefits of omega-3’s, but the main effect is better blood flow, which has all sorts of healthy implications all throughout the body. Healthy heart, circulation, blood pressure, energy levels, and maybe even weight loss, can all be attributed to omega-3 oils found in these fish. So, we should eat more of it. Furthermore – it is also quite delicious. Otherwise I wouldn’t be talking about it, now would I?

For an all-around healthy diet, you really can’t go wrong with Alton Brown’s series of lists. In this particular episode, he goes on to talk about sardines and how amazing they are to fill your weekly oily fish requirement. Simple idea, right? Sardines aren’t for everyone, though. They carry a strong flavor all their own. You could certainly follow Brown’s advice and drop the big bucks on Brislings (smaller, milder sardines which are not quite as “fishy”), but I’d like to present my favorite alternative, since I’m not the biggest canned sardine fan, either.

IMG_0520Instead of sardines, I’m fond of the canned smoked herring from Trader Joe’s. Inexpensive, minimal “fishiness,” a delightful smoky flavor, and loads of those healthy fish oils we love. I eat these pretty damn often – a fillet on a piece of toast with some avocado and a squeeze of lemon, or served atop crackers with cream cheese and capers.

Since they’re a full-flavored, preserved fish, I also developed a recipe inspired by the traditional salt cod cakes of Newfoundland.

Ingredients are as follows:

-A medium Yukon Gold potato, cooked and mashed. Keep the skin, it’s good for you.
-A handful of parsley, chopped
-About half a lemon’s worth of zest
-Half a small onion, chopped
-A garlic clove, microplane-grated or super-finely minced
-One 6.7 oz can of smoked herring, drained of excess oil
-One large chicken egg
-A pinch of dried thyme (use Savory here if you want to be really traditional)
-Salt and pepper to taste
-Breadcrumbs, for dredging – you can use Panko here; I had some stale bread laying around, so I made my own.

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Combine everything but the breadcrumbs in a bowl and mix really well – you want to break up the fish into flakes and thoroughly combine. Once you do, divide into patties – I made four big ones; I wouldn’t go much bigger since these fritters are hard to handle and fall to pieces easily. Dredge them all in the breadcrumbs and fry them in olive oil over medium heat. Don’t touch them for a while during cooking – you want to get a really nice crust on them and you want the egg to set properly; otherwise they’ll just fall apart. After several minutes on each side, they’re ready to eat.

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These are amazing little fritters – rustic, flavorful and slightly smoky. These are certainly not low-fat, but I’ll be damned if they aren’t healthy. Serve them with a salad, or whatever else you want. If you really want to make them sexy, top them with a gremolata – some chopped parsley, lemon, garlic and capers. Mmm. I’m going to do that next time.

As I said, canned sardines are not my favorite – these canned herring fillets have exactly what I like about sardines and nothing that I hate about them. I stock up on a few cans whenever I make it to Trader Joe’s. Of course, this is just my favorite weeknight oily-fish ingredient – the possibilities are many and varied.

By the way, who else loves pickled herring? ‘Cause I do. :)


16 May

Chickpea Recipe #1845: Falafel

70273050b39b11e29ecd22000aaa08de_7I’m not exactly kidding when I throw that number out there. Chickpeas are amazing. Seriously, those cans of chickpeas I get for 80 cents a pop at Trader Joe’s don’t last very long without being eaten. There are more things to do with chickpeas than humans can fathom with our feeble minds. I’m not even here to talk about canned chickpeas, today – Besides, dry chickpeas are cheaper, aren’t they?

When I have a giant pile of dry chickpeas and don’t feel like making the effort of cooking them in a pressure cooker, falafel is the best. Yet another middle-eastern classic that has invaded American food culture in a wonderful way. In downtown Seattle near Pike Place, Zaina is a restaurant that will serve reliably amazing falafel. And further amazingly, I will keep going back there and paying dollar after dollar despite their product costing only cents to make, because it’s just that good.

Falafel only works with dried chickpeas, prepared in a certain way. Don’t try and use pre-cooked, canned, frozen, or otherwise – the laws of nature just don’t seem to allow for this, and your poor soul will regret the decision. The cheapest option, dried chickpeas, soaked in water for 24 hours, is the only way to make perfect falafel.

I’m not one to complain about this, though – If I’m allowed the cheapest ingredients and my only requirement is to plan 24 hours ahead, with next to zero additional effort? Hell yes. So here we go. Take a little less than 2 cups of chickpeas – about 1 3/4 cups – and cover them with water by a few inches. Then put them on the counter and leave them alone.

Just walk away, and don’t come back until the sun (or moon; look outside if you’re wondering which one to look for here) is around the same place as it was the previous day. Osmosis will work its magic and you’ll have perfect falafel-makings.

When you’re ready to make the falafel, start heating at least two inches of neutral vegetable oil (canola, soybean, grapeseed, peanut, or what-have-you) in a large pot to 350 degrees.

1d5faedeb39511e29a5722000a9f3079_7The chickpeas will be bigger- about double or triple their original volume. You can even eat them now – they’ll be crunchy and taste kind of like a pea. You don’t want to eat them like this, though – you’ll want your delicious falafel mix. Throw them into a food processor with…. stuff.

What kind of stuff? The only requirement here is a half-teaspoon of baking powder and a tablespoon of lemon juice or another acid, like white wine vinegar, along with some salt ad pepper. Although I shouldn’t have to mention salt and pepper. You already add those by default, right? Right.

Anyway, what other stuff? I personally like Mark Bittman’s recipe. Half an onion, a couple cloves of garlic, a teaspoon of ground coriander and a tablespoon of cumin, a little less than a teaspoon of cayenne, and a big handful of parsley. Throw all of this together into the food processor.

Sadly, I haven’t found a way to do this without a food processor. But they’re an incredibly nice gadget to have, if you don’t own one already. I’m sure you’ve seen countless recipes involving one, so it will never collect dust. Ever.

8f74c86eb39611e2b98822000aaa0338_7Anyway, pulse this all together until finely minced, but not quite pureed. Drizzle a little bit of water in if it needs a little help coming together – It should basically be a fine paste of tiny chickpea chunks. You know it is ready when you can squeeze a handful together and it clumps easily. That means the falafel won’t fall apart during cooking. You now have delicious, amazing falafel mix.

Form this mixture into small, round-ish shapes about the size of a golf ball. I like them a little more puck-shaped, so I flatten them a bit – it makes them easier to serve later, and it’s a bit non-standard, which is also appealing. Squeeze as much water as you can out of the balls as you’re forming them – the less water in the falafel, the less they’ll fall apart during cooking.

Once you have the whole mixture in attractive ball-shapes, tend to your frying oil. It should reach 350 degrees – if you don’t have a thermometer, get one. If you think I’m stupid and you don’t want to get one, then at least heat it up until a little bit of the falafel mix sizzles nicely when you throw some into the oil.

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Once the oil is up to temperature, fry the falafel, moving it in and out of the oil with a slotted spoon or spider, until floating, brown, crispy, and delicious. You’ll be doing this in batches, so don’t crowd the falafel – only fry as much as you can manage at one time. When one batch is done, check the oil, then fry the next. Eventually, everything will be done, and you’ll have a pile of delicious.

By the way, at this point, if you used any kind of pre-cooked chickpea variety, it would have just fallen apart in the oil and made a huge mess. No good.

ae341740b39c11e2b93522000a1f96b2_7Now, eat. If you don’t want to eat these with your hands directly out of the fryer, which is a perfectly valid option, I guess you could put them on stuff. Pita bread with hummus or tzatziki sauce and veggies is classic. In my case, I put them between two pieces of bread with homemade sauce of greek yogurt, mint, and olive oil, along with some spring greens I had in my fridge at the time. Just like meatballs, the possibilities are endless. I guess this also appeals to the vegetarians among us, but falafel is amazing no matter what your dietary choices are.

30 Apr

Rabbit – Tastes like chicken. Better chicken.

I’ve been at my current place of work for almost eight months. During that time, I’ve established myself as a food-oriented person, as I tend to do wherever I go. Mostly because I love to talk about food, and I love hearing other people talk about food. However, with cooking itself, it’s sometimes best to let actions (or flavors) speak for themselves.

When I first met my coworkers several months back, a chili cook-off appeared out of nowhere, maybe a week after I arrived. I completely missed it. I vowed to never miss a potluck at work again, and I wouldn’t hesitate to make something awesome. At some point, another event came along, and I stole my old catering chef’s recipe for onion & goat cheese tarts. Those went over quite well, but that’s a creation for another day. I’m here to talk about the potluck last week.

Allow me to establish that potlucks are awesome. I enjoy cooking and being cooked for – potlucks offer the best of both worlds. In this case, the theme was foods that begin with the letter “R.” So, Rice. Risotto. Radishes. Roasted anything. Romaine. Rabbit. That last one was mine.

I had to make rabbit. I got some odd reactions when I mentioned it…

“Rabbit? You’re kidding.”
“Nope, not kidding. Totally making rabbit.”
“Where will you get it? How will you cook it? What the hell are you thinking?”

This post will cover my answers to all three of those questions.

IMG_0428Just like any specialty meat, the best place to get it is the place where specialty foods are king: the Pike Place Market. For my readers outside of Seattle, ask around at any somewhat high-end market. Look around in the freezer section, too – some markets have a rabbit or two in the frozen meat aisle. Pike Place was amazing, however – ask for rabbit, you get a rabbit. No questions asked. They even cut it up for me, saving quite a bit of manual labor.

Cooking was another question entirely. For inspiration for this dish, I looked to Gordon Ramsay’s Rabbit Fricassee – since this would be many of my co-workers’ first experience with rabbit, filling the dish with bacon and cream seemed like a pretty solid choice. Also, if any culture can cook rabbit, or any small game-meat for that matter, it’s definitely the British.

photo(14)The dish itself was pretty simple. A fricassee is just small chunks of sauteed meat braised with a white sauce. The hard part was tackling the rabbit. I’m glad the butcher gave me a head start, because these things are tough to get a knife through. I followed Chef Ramsay’s lead and only took a knife to the center piece, separating the loin and belly flap from the outer bones. Everything else could be poached, and separated easily from the bones after some long, slow cooking. I covered the legs and ribs with chicken stock, along with a bit of parsley, bay leaf and black pepper. I poached these for an hour, set aside some of the stock, and let them cool. In the meantime I sauteed the loins, liver and kidneys in a pan until golden brown and cooked through. Once cool, I pulled the poached meat right off the bone – no painful butchering required.

Once the meat was cooked, off the bone and in bite-size pieces, the dish was a very simple process, again following Chef Ramsay’s lead: cook bacon and shallots together in a pan until nice and brown, then add some quartered mushrooms. Once these were cooked, I started on the sauce – I added white wine to deglaze and reduce by half, then chicken stock to reduce by half, then some cream to reduce until thickened. I finished the sauce with mustard, rosemary, thyme and parsley, and finally combined all of it with the rabbit chunks to complete the fricassee.

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This was a great dish for a potluck, and not just because it was a bacon-filled crowd-pleaser. I did everything the night before – All I did after this was put it in the fridge. In the morning, I transferred it to a crock pot and gently reheated it before the potluck. I finished the whole thing off with some egg noodles I had cooked that morning.

I like pushing the envelope and challenging expectations about food. Even if it’s just in a small way – making a classic dish with a kind of meat someone may not have had before – being a little playful and adventurous with food is part of what makes cooking so much fun. Call it risky to take this kind of experimentation to a potluck, but I don’t regret a thing. Also, foods that begin with “R”? I took the low-hanging fruit, as far as I’m concerned.

That being said, the dish went over very well! The only thing I took home was an empty crock pot. Rabbit is easy to dress up – the flavor is basically a more interesting chicken. Lean, delicate, and ever so slightly gamey. I was even bold enough to throw the liver and kidneys in the pan, which, amazingly enough, got some good reviews. My coworkers are refreshingly open-minded about food; now I can’t decide if I should use that as an excuse to do something even crazier next time.




17 Apr

Meatball Method

photo(12)Meatballs are probably one of my favorite things to make on a weeknight. They’re easy, cost effective, and versatile. They’re supposed to be, of course – they were created, in so many different cultures around the world, to be an inexpensive way for us measly peasants to use scraps and leftovers. To this day, that’s is how they taste best – no pretentious foodie bullshit required.

Speaking of culture, I definitely make a multi-national meatball variety here. I’ve taken the best of what I’ve found in various recipes, from Italy to Sweden, to make my favorite version. But, like all methods discussed on this blog, it is very malleable. Hell, I’ll probably change this recipe tomorrow, if you ask me about it.

They don’t even take that long! Especially, you know, if you’re not grinding your own meat and taking photos the entire time.

Yep, I grind my own meat. I’ll walk through that first, since it’s really damned fun and makes everything so much more delicious. If you buy your meat already ground, like a sane person, you may skip this first part. Or read it anyway, because I’m just so captivating.

photo(1)Let’s start with the meat – I’ve tried a single variety, but as many recipes will say, I believe a blend is best. Different kinds of meat offer a contribution to the overall flavor and texture, so my ideal meatball blend this time is pork and beef. half-and-half. About a pound of meat total, so everything in this recipe is proportional to the pound.

So, a half pound of each, cut into cubes and pushed twice through a meat grinder will do the trick nicely. Fatty, tough, cheap cuts are best here. I used pork shoulder and beef chuck. They have the best texture when ground, and if you find them on sale, they may only cost around two bucks a pound. Of course, if you want to buy your meat already ground, don’t let me stop you. This is your own personal decision…


Still, doesn’t this just look like so much fun? Either way, mix both of these beasts together, and you’ll end up with the picture on the right. Delicious beef and pork mix, ready for meatballing. Moving on…

photo(5)Let’s talk a bit about bread, the second most essential meatball ingredient. The idea here is to add in some bread for tenderness, and so the moisture in the meat can be retained like a sponge when cooked. This can be pretty much any kind of bread – A day-old baguette or even some old hamburger buns. It can even be a little bit whole-grain – just nothing too seedy, or it’ll throw the texture off.

The amount of bread will vary based on which Italian grandmother you talk to. The great Mario Batali claims that the best meatballs have a 50-50 bread-to-meat ratio. I require a bit less, since I like mine a bit meatier; for me, about a cup of dry bread cubes per pound of meat is best. I dry my bread in the microwave (2 minutes at 30 second increments), give it a quick soak in water or milk, drain, and squeeze it out to get a nice congealed mass of bread-slop – a perfect companion to the meat. Set this aside as you prepare the other ingredients.

And, what are the “other ingredients? You can get pretty creative here. My final list, for my pound of meat:

1 egg, beaten
Handful of grated pecorino romano, maybe 1/2 cup
Half a bunch of parsley, chopped fine
Small handful of walnuts, again chopped fine
Dry basil, chili powder, garlic powder, about a rounded half-teaspoon of each
Salt and lots of black pepper

The only requirements here are the egg and the seasoning. Everything else is just there to make things sexy. If you have your own set of kinks, there’s a lot of room to mess around – Alton Brown’s recipe has drained frozen spinach instead of parsley. Parmesan or any other dense, hard cheese can be used for the pecorino. The walnuts can be substituted or omitted altogether. The herbs and spices can be extensively varied. If you have anything in your kitchen that might also go well here, add it. Experimentation is very forgiving.

Now to combine: Unlike the rest of this article, this is an intricate, detailed part of the process that must be strictly followed. Any discrepancy here will render the final product ruined and horribly inedible.

Pay close attention to the following photos:


Ok. Did you get all that? Good. Don’t mess it up.

Seriously now – Just mix it all up. Use your hands.

Once this is combined, using slightly wet hands, divide the mixture into spheres about the size of golf balls – maybe a little bigger.


Cooking method is an oft-debated part of meatball-making. The classic American “spaghetti & meatballs” technique calls for simmering them in the tomato sauce they’ll be served with. Swedish meatballs are often deep-fried. Many recipes call for just setting them on a baking sheet and roasting them as-is.

I don’t think sauce-simmering adds anything to the sauce and certainly not to the meatballs themselves. These also are not swedish meatballs; I’ll save those for another post. For these, I prefer a two-stage process – I brown them in a pan and finish them in the oven. This gives a tender meatball with a nice caramelized crust.

I like to use a cast-iron pan. Heat enough oil to coat the bottom of the pan until shimmery – the oil should be pretty damn hot here, since the meatballs are pretty moist and need a little help in order to brown. Add the meatballs without crowding them too much, and brown them for a couple of minutes before turning them. I like to use tongs here – you can re-shape them if necessary, since they may attempt to fall apart in the pan. Just try to keep them as round as possible. Or not, I’m not your boss.



Meatballs make incredible leftovers in so many different applications, so I like to make a big batch. I’m sure they would freeze well, too – although I havent had them last long enough to require it.

photo(11)For serving, I just put them on a bed of sauteed kale (see top photo), since it’s healthy and what I was in the mood for. But, like I said, these are versatile – put them with some pasta, on top of potatoes, on a salad, in a sandwich, as an appetizer, or even straight out of the fridge in the middle of the night. The possibilities are endless.

This is not a unique method – just like a true American boy, I ate my share of spaghetti and meatballs. Every family seems to have their own secret recipe, which may be similar to this one, or completely different. I’ve received plenty of feedback at the mere mention of this post, so I’d like to continue this discussion. Any other ideas for this rustic classic we can share?

3 Apr

The Big Ol’ Dinner Salad

IMG_0366Salads are amazing. People, back me up on this: when it comes to healthy eating, salads are what make the world go round. I think everyone can agree with that – If a salad is meant to be healthy, it probably is. I added this little addendum to rule out the dressing-smothered iceberg salads served at every fast-food place imaginable. Those were never meant to be healthy, no matter what the menu says. A salad you make at home will tend to be healthy, if a healthy salad is your goal.

Salad-philosophy takes a turn here, of course – it doesn’t have to be healthy. Potato salad smothered in mayonnaise-buttermilk dressing probably isn’t the healthy choice in large quantities – although it’s damned delicious. What I’m talking about here is the salad the size of your head that you can eat and then feel immortal.

I’m going to break down the salad-structure that guides my existence. This will not only help the home cook avoid the expensive, ammonia-washed salad mixes at the supermarket, but will also foster creativity and variety, and knowledge – to me, these are the most important bits.

I made one of these the other night so I could have some nice visuals – it was a beautiful salad indeed. I followed these steps, really – greens, protein, crunch, vinaigrette, and a little something extra. This works for endless combinations:

IMG_0353The Greens

As long as it’s not Iceberg, which pretty much nutrient-free, this can be pretty much anything – lettuce, spinach, spring mix, whatever. My favorite is a mix of basil and arugula – this time I went the super-health route and used red kale.

The trick here is to buy the whole head – the cheapest and healthiest route. All that’s needed is a quick rinse, and they’re ready to prep. If it’s lettuce, cut off the root and chop into manageable pieces. For spinach, arugula and the like, cut off the bottom part of the stem and leave the rest as-is. For kale, like I used, cut out the inner rib – good for braising, not to eat raw. You can save these for another application… or don’t. I’m not your boss.

By the way, for all of these, I highly recommend a knife. Some places tell you to tear the lettuce into pieces – I find that this tears along the fibers and makes for some inconvenient shapes. As long as the knife is decently sharp, there shouldn’t be any bruising – especially not with kale.

The Protein

I have quite a few things I tend to do here, all are good. The idea here is to add some nutritional balance – tastiness, too! It’s hard to go wrong here:

– For the lazy, A handful of sliced almonds or walnuts. That’s what I did here, and it’s my favorite. Always easy, always tasty, always in the pantry.

– A handful of chickpeas or some other hearty bean works very well. Also very easy, also very delicious.

– Tofu – pound-for-pound, some of the cheapest protein around. Cut into pieces, throw into salad. Not quite as easy, but it gets the job done.

– Chicken – Those tenderloins under the breasts from a whole chicken are perfect here, but I’ll describe that in another post. I like to lightly bread it, bake it, and slice.


Croutons are awesome. I used croutons here.

I will also never buy packaged croutons. You can, if you want. But still, you really shouldn’t. Trust me.

Before these went in the pan, they were bread. Then they were cut into cubes. Then they were fried in olive oil with some salt and pepper until golden brown, in about five minutes. Some garlic powder thrown in right at the end does wonders, too.

The crunch can also be something like diced bell peppers or carrots – anything with a little texture to offset the greens. Nothing wrong with some croutons every now and then, though.


Technically, I should just call this dressing – but if we’re going for an easy, cheap homemade salad method, this is the best. If you keep oil, vinegar and mustard on hand, you have vinaigrette.

1 part vinegar. 2-3 parts oil. Small spoon of mustard. Salt & pepper. Combine in small container. Shake well – I use a small plastic bottle I picked up at the restaurant supply store.

In this case, I used balsamic vinegar, extra-virgin olive oil, and dijon. If you don’t like mustard, no worries – you won’t taste it aside from a satisfying tang, and it’s main purpose is to act as an emulsifier to make the dressing well-blended, creamy and delicious. Lemon juice is also good here; and don’t be afraid to throw in some herbs.

The Extra

Before this, you have a complete salad. Here’s my rule for the extra stuff – stand back for a moment, and look at your salad. Then look in your fridge/pantry. Then back at your salad. If you feel like something is needed to push the salad over the top in some way, then by all means, do it. In this case, I had some Pecorino Romano cheese in the fridge. I remember when I’ve added a little diced avocado. Bacon is good to. Bacon is always good.

To hell with it, I added bacon, too.

If you’re feeling uninspired or have nothing more to offer, skip this step – the extra stuff is a bit of optional creativity.

IMG_0364Putting Everything Together

Until you dress the salad, things just have to look right – take a bowl full of your greens, add a handful of crunch, and a handful of the extra stuff – if you’re using nuts or beans as your protein, throw them in here, too. I like to arrange chicken and tofu on the salad later on.

Add a bit of vinaigrette and start tossing – start small and add more, if you need. You only need enough dressing to lightly coat the leaves. Once all the leaves are lightly coated and everything looks mixed, you can probably guess that it’s done. Put it in an ornate serving bowl, or if you’re like me and you’re eating alone, just put it all on a plate.

Something like this has become a go-to weeknight meal for me. It has all the components – Good, fast, easy, and cheap. The green are the most expensive part, and all things considered, this mega-healthy, hippie kale salad cost about $2.00 for a whole meal. If you use another kind of green, like a regular person, it will cost even less.

As long as you start with something green, add some texture, a little protein, a handful of something you love, and bring it together with some good, homemade dressing, a salad can give you exactly what you want from it – a complete meal, as healthy as you need it to be.


24 Mar

Matcha: Powerful Green Stuff


I’m a huge advocate of breakfast. We’re no strangers to the health-nut mantra that if you want to stay healthy, lose weight, gain energy, and get rich quick, you should eat breakfast every day. I certainly agree, and a big part of the morning consumption routine often involves caffeine.

I come from a family of coffee and tea drinkers alike. I am now under no delusion – I had a phase in my life where I thought I “didn’t need” caffeine in the morning, that it was pointless, that I would be a better person if I cut it out altogether and just let my body wake up “naturally.” That was a terrible time in my life. I’m sure some folks love to exist this way, but I will never deprive myself of my coffee again. Morning caffeine is an amazing thing… especially living on Capitol Hill, the Seattle coffee wonderland. But that’s a discussion for another day.

In addition to my completely rational and harmless coffee addiction, my morning routine usually involves matcha.

A while back, I was doing a little homework about the health benefits of green tea. As many important experts have said, green tea happens to be really good for you. This is especially true of matcha – a type of Japanese green tea that is ground to a very fine powder and mixed with hot water to make a eerily green, opaque, and downright potent beverage. I’ve grown to absolutely love the stuff for both health and flavor.

One of my first sources for this was ZenMatcha, for the tea itself and a wealth of information about it. I was a skeptic at first, as I tend to be – the entire site definitely has a bias towards massive matcha consumption, and is hardly objective. Luckily, at the time of my discovery a few years ago, the owner of the site was a sweet woman named Naomi, and she was very responsive to questions. We sent three or four emails back and forth and I decided to buy a couple of tins. I also got my hands on a matcha bowl, matcha spoon and a bamboo whisk used in “traditional” matcha preparation (pictured). If I was gonna try this stuff out, I wanted to do it right. Because, you know, science.

I drank it semi-regularly in college, and nowadays, I drink it every day. The real question: is this tea worth it, and does it actually work? The ZenMatcha website has a whole list of health benefits – and if sources are to be believed, matcha does everything short of cure cancer. Oh wait, apparently it does that, too. Let’s break down the list here, according to the website:

  • Significantly increases energy (over 8-10 hours) without the caffeine “jitters”
  • Improves mental alertness (L-theanine component)
  • Increases calmness and reduces stress (L-theanine component)
  • Boosts metabolic rate by 35-40% in regular drinkers, facilitating weight loss
  • Powerful “anti-aging” activity due to super-charged antioxidants
  • Lowers blood pressure
  • Decreases levels of LDL or “bad” cholesterol
  • Minimizes symptoms of PMS
  • Super cancer-fighting activity due to high levels of polyphenols and catechins
  • Stabilizes blood sugar levels
  • Powerful anti-biotic and anti-viral activity
  • Strong blood cleanser/detoxifier and alkalyzer due to high chlorophyll content

Yep, this stuff is the secret potion to become a sexy god among humans – Unfortunately, this list doesn’t link to any peer-reviewed data, which is what made me a skeptic in the first place. However, plenty of sources can be found elsewhere – This article on another matcha website, among all the fancy stock photos of women being healthy, actually sites a few scientific studies. I chose to buy from ZenMatcha when Naomi explained her suppliers and assured me that I was getting authentic Japanese matcha, in addition to a pretty damned affordable price.

Drinking matcha every day feels good. It actually has a low amount of caffeine, compared to coffee – only about 35mg per gram of powder, and I use around 2 grams per cup. However, it also throws L-theanine into the mix, which gives a calm, alert feeling while the caffeine gives just the right amount of kick. Sometimes I supplement with coffee if it doesn’t feel like enough – but then again, I also love coffee.

I’m no scientist, but I do notice a good thing when I see it. Drinking this tea every morning has had the expected caffeinated effects, and I feel more alert and less jittery than with coffee alone. It’s also good before a workout – I drink it in the early morning before I go to the gym and it gives me just the right kind of energy.

Since this is a cooking blog, here’s my method of preparation: I heat 1/2 cup (4 ounces) of water to hot, but not quite boiling – about 175 degrees, to be exact. A thermometer is a good idea here, since this tea is delicate stuff. I put about two scoops (equivalent to around 2 grams, or a little more than a teaspoon) of matcha powder in a small bowl or mug and dry-whisk it a little bit to prevent any clumps in the final product. I then add the water, and by the suggestion of every matcha recipe ever, whisk vigorously in a zig-zag motion to give the tea an attractive, frothy head. Drinking then commences, after only enough time to heat up some water.

There are plenty of preparations to be found elsewhere, too — smoothies, lattes, baked goods and the like. I find that the above preparation is the best for regular consumption, giving good flavor and a good kick of tea, but as always, I encourage experimentation. Any other tea-obsessives out there who have given matcha a try on a regular basis?

Next time – I dropped most of my knives off at Seattle Edge yesterday, or as I call it: the luxury knife spa. Once I get them back I’ll be doing some pretty cool things here, so stay tuned!


18 Mar

The Feast of Saint Patrick

If Saint Patrick’s Day falls on a weekend, Friday and Saturday usually become the holiday by default. This is especially apparent at bars trying to milk the festive faux-Irish party goers for all the beer money they’ve got, given our Western obsession with nighttime-drinking.

I tend to prefer celebrating on the holiday itself, which means that I’m a cranky party-pooper. Since it fell on a Sunday this year, an obvious problem was presented: having to go to work and assume adult responsibilities the very next day. And I really don’t like making Monday any more unpleasant than it needs to be.

Solution? Party during the day! It’s strange to me that this is so uncommon – you can still get in the amount of revelry appropriate for the occasion, but also sober up before bed to prevent any unpleasant side-effects the next morning.

I held a last-minute gathering at my apartment, since we decided that we didn’t want to deal with going out to the crowded Seattle pubs. This also gave me the opportunity to cook, and I never pass up the chance to be a complete showoff.

In addition to Irish Carbombs — the Irish-American classic of a shot glass with Jameson and Bailey’s dropped into a glass of Guinness and chugged before it curdles — I also cooked up my favorite British-Isles fare for everyone — Cottage pie.

While the dish is more commonly known today as shepherd’s pie, made with lamb instead of beef, cottage pie has earlier origins by almost a century. In addition to the authenticity, it’s also cheaper. It doesn’t get much simpler, either — a sauteed mix of ground beef and veggies covered in a dark sauce and baked with a mashed potato topping.

I originally learned to make this watching Gordon Ramsay’s F-Word (still, in my opinion, the greatest food show of all time that nobody in the United States knows about). He has the recipe published somewhere, I’m sure, but I just watched Chef Ramsay make it on TV and just kinda made it to taste. It’s hard to make this recipe taste bad. Here’s what I did this time. Start with the beef:

Beef Mixture

  • 2 lbs ground beef – Use the 20% fatty stuff. Trust me. It’s cheaper, it’ll keep the beef from drying out, and you’ll drain most of it off, anyway.
  • 1 large or 2 medium carrots, grated – Peel them first. Or don’t; I’m not your boss.
  • 1 large onion, grated
  • 2-4 cloves garlic, grated
  • About 2 tbsp tomato paste – I buy this stuff in a tube at Trader Joe’s, and it lasts forever. No need to bother with the cans.
  • 1 tsp dry thyme – use 1 tbsp fresh, if you have it.
  • 1 tsp dry rosemary – or 1 tbsp fresh
  • A few dashes Worchestershire sauce
  • Equal parts stock and red wine, as needed (The specifics here are up to you – chicken stock is usually the best unless you’re using homemade beef stock. Veggie stock also works in a pinch. Use a decent dry red wine that isn’t too complicated or fruity – Merlot works well enough for me)
  • Salt & pepper, to taste

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Heat a large skillet on medium high and add the beef when hot, and season with salt and pepper. Cook it, stirring occasionally, to brown it a bit and render out some of the fat. Once this happens, drain the fat off, or the final product will be unpleasantly greasy.

Return the pan to the heat and mix in the grated carrots, onion, garlic, and tomato paste. Stir this together until combined and the vegetables are wilted. After baking, these will break down and combine with the beef and sauce in a truly delicious way.

Finally, mix in the herbs and the Worchestershire sauce, and add enough stock and red wine to heavily moisten. The mixture should be wet, but not soupy. Adjust seasoning to taste, and cook for about four minutes. You can either transfer this mixture to a casserole dish, or just leave it in the pan as long as it’s oven-safe. Set this aside while you make the potato topping…

Potato Topping

  • 2 lbs potatoes, cut into 1-inch cubes – I used Yukon Golds, but Russets would be fine, too
  • 1/4 cup butter
  • 1/4 cup milk, plus more as needed – Whole milk is ideal here. You can even use half-and-half or cream if you’re feeling kinky
  • 2 egg yolks
  • 1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese, plus more for topping – This makes the topping nice and brown. Don’t skimp.
  • Salt & pepper, to taste

Cover the potatoes with water in an appropriately sized pot, and bring to a boil. reduce to a simmer and cook until you can easily pierce them with a fork. Be careful not to overcook. Transfer to a colander and set aside to drain.

Combine butter and milk in the pot. When the butter melts and the milk is hot, add the potatoes by running them through a food mill or a ricer. If all you have is a potato masher, you can use that too – just be super careful not to overwork the potatoes. Once the starch gets agitated, they can become gummy and unpleasant. Add in remaining ingredients, season to taste, and stir to combine. Add more milk if the mixture is too thick.

Spread the potato topping onto the beef mixture with a spatula and make sure it is spread evenly. Sprinkle with more grated parmesan cheese, and pierce several holes in the top with a fork. This will give some ventilation to reduce the sauce, as well as a nice rustic presentation.

Toss this in the 375-degree oven and bake for 30 minutes, or until the top is golden brown and the sauce is bubbly. This may vary based on the size of your pan, so keep an eye on it.

Let cool and dig in! Tented with foil, this will remain a good temperature to serve for about an hour — especially if, like me, you used a cast-iron cooking vessel.

I know it’s a little rude of me to post this after the Feast has already passed, but it was kind of a last-minute decision and this stuff is good any day of the year. So, we’re good, right?

Okay, okay… If you really want a festive application, an upcoming use would be the Feast of Saint George – Patron Saint of England. This is on April 23rd. Enjoy!

13 Mar

Good Times at Poppy

It was my Mom’s birthday last night, so I’d like to begin with a little shout-out to her. She’s one of my biggest cooking influences, as mothers tend to be.

Everyone in my immediate family is a pretty big food nerd. For her birthday, Mom decided that we go to Poppy on Capitol Hill. This restaurant was a great choice for a couple of reasons. First of all, it’s right down the street from my parents’ house. Secondly, it specializes in plates called thalis — an Indian and Nepalese individual serving style consisting of many different small dishes put together on one plate. For us, this is ideal; we’re all notorious tasters and plate-poachers, so we each ordered a completely different thali and just picked at each other’s individual components. The results were delicious and fascinating.

There’s little point in tracking which one was on each thali, and some were repeated, but here’s a list of the individual items served to the four of us (deep breath):

black cod with carrot sauce and cucumber shiso salad
butternut, kumquat and fennel soup
grilled radicchio, leek and lentil salad
delicata squash and black-eyed peas with berbere
cauliflower with toasted garlic, horseradish and currants
fennel, orange and sichuan pepper pickle
nigella-poppy naan
lavender-rubbed duck leg with tart cherries, sage and parsnip
roasted beet, black olive and feta salad
corona beans with house-cured bacon
fennel kimchi
braised beef cheek and sauerkraut with pickled mustard seed
mushroom bisque with chestnuts
grits spoonbread with ricotta and sun dried tomato
mushroom-crusted paneer with spiced nettles, chard and apple
yams with scallions and coconut crisp
burdock pickle

So yeah, each of these were individually plated and impressively arranged on the thalis for each of us. Add in the fig, onion, blue cheese and sage tart and the fried mussels with celery-seed aioli that we had as an appetizer, and it made for a pretty incredible meal.

Dessert was another amazing experience altogether. Again, this was served as a thali — a chocolate truffle torte with caramel, buckwheat crumbs and lime frozen yogurt (my favorite) and a chocolate malt sundae were featured, and were accompanied by mango-lime marshmallows, “nutter-butter” squares, grape and rosemary pate, and orange chocolate “crunch” (basically a swanky, orange-flavored krackle bar).

The atmosphere in the dining room was modern, yet comfortable. We also had an amazing server, even if I can’t recall her name — She was friendly, knew the menu and wine list very well, and loved talking about food. The entire meal was an experience, from the welcoming environment to the eclectic fusion cuisine. This is an especially great place if you like sharing your food.

speaking of “eclectic fusion cuisine,” to use the foodie bullshit vernacular — the menu here was a very interesting and refreshing mix. The plating and presentation were decidedly Indian, while the food was a very broad Indian-Asian-European fusion. However, it never felt messy – every sphere of influence felt defined and respected. Beef cheek with sauerkraut, black cod with shiso, duck with cherries and parsnips, and all the smaller dishes in between — none of these seem to come from any one culture, but the flavors still worked together in harmony without seeming like an awkward mash-up, even when combined with the other small components on the thali.

This is where fusion really shines — when the different cultures are visible and self-spoken, yet they come together to create something completely new, delicious and even thought-provoking. This is not something you see every day, and I thought Poppy accomplished it beautifully. I’d definitely go here again — funds permitting, of course.

8 Mar

This Is How Awesome I Was in College

It’s always fun as a writer to look back on old work to see how much I’ve changed. However, it’s a pretty humbling experience to post that old work for everyone to see. In this case, I felt like the context demanded it, and I didn’t want to start entirely from scratch. I wanted a foundation to build on, even if that foundation has a few cracks that need to be fixed.

A few things jumped out at me when I was re-reading my old archives. First of all, I’m almost offended that I used the word “foodie” so rampantly, considering how much I hate that word nowadays. Secondly, like many college kids, I was hyperbolic and pretentious. Also, some of my “recipes” really sucked. I understand that making terrible food is a big part of becoming a skilled cook, but man, I actually published those.

That’s not to say there weren’t good ones. The chickpea-potato curry is still awesome, even if I’ve developed the recipe a little bit since then. But canned salmon and orange juice? Never again, America. Never again!

Ok, I’m sure I’ll post a bad recipe every now and then. I’ll look back on it a few months later, and wonder what the hell I was thinking, especially if I posted it after a few drinks. I like to think that I’ll never take anything down, though — the worst way to learn from a mistake is to brush it under the rug.

This blog is a personal journey as a cook and a writer, and I plan on being honest with myself and my audience. Here’s where it begins.

Take a moment to read my About page. It’ll give a decent amount of perspective.

Farewell for now!

6 Mar

The Archives (of doom)

Hello, everyone!

Before I delve into actually writing new content and sharing new ideas, I thought I’d begin by doing a sort of blog-migration. While the pieces are old, they are important to the history of this project and how I’ve changed as a writer and a food-obsessive. What follows here is a selection of posts from my first food blog from back in college, Cuisine Academia. Stay with me! It will all be over soon and the cool shit will begin.

Oh yeah, and once this is over, I’ll dedicate another post to retrospection. You’ll have to sit through that too, i guess.

Next up: So It Begins