Archives for April 2010

la carta de oaxaca

Mexican food is necessary for my survival. When I begin to become deficient, my body starts to lag, sputter and spout off puffs of smoke. “Time for a top off,” Husband says, and he takes me to one of my favorite joints to be replenished.

Aside: Could we make cars that run strictly off of Mexican food? Seattle hippies, get on it. Obama? Give them money, please. Watch for me next year on Time’s 100 Most Influential People list. Rainy Day Gal, the woman who founded the movement for clean-burning enchiladas.

I am so freaking smart sometimes that I blow my own mind.

This is one of said favorite joints, or it is now. Being the Mexican food junkie that I am, it may surprise many of you that I had never visited here before. According to Mexican food savants, It’s pretty much the end-all, be-all of Seattle’s Mexican food scene.

Deep in the heart of Ballard, surrounded by a slew of bars, pubs, restaurants and shops, Carta (as locals call it) can get crazy-busy—it’s in a happenin ‘hood. But unlike the number of establishments that stay in business around here because of frat boys and friday nights, it’s here for exactly what it promises: southern Mexican cuisine. And it does a damn good job at it.

I didn’t intend to order the halibut tacos when I dreamed up a trip to this place. In fact, it’s really the last thing that I would order to judge a Mexican restaurant. But when I read the little blurb on the menu that described tender grilled fish topped with fresh pico and a sweet, spicy chipotle sauce, I knew they had to be mine.

The halibut itself was truly the highlight—incredibly fresh and not over-seasoned, not fried and not disguised in a tartar-esque sauce. Simply grilled, served on fresh tortillas with a sweet, tangy sauce. This is how fish tacos should always be. Always. Do we need another movement here? I will call this one, “The Movement for Delicious, Non-Fried Fish Tacos.”

My brother, who works in the area and was able to join us for lunch, went with the Molotes: a sausage and potato blend wrapped in tortilla and fried, topped with house made mole, hot sauce and guac. I’m not usually one for two starches in one dish (potato plus tortilla, in this case), but I thought that the filling was nicely complimented by the fresh corn taste of the tortilla breading. And the mole sauce? Oh my. It was richer and more intensely flavored than any other mole I have ever tried. I could actually taste the chocolate and it gave the sauce a beautifully rounded flavor, as opposed to chain restaurant mole that tastes more like watered down beans mixed with cocoa powder.

Let the “Movement for Exceptional Mole Sauce and Riddance of Bean-Flavored Mole Impostors” begin. Sign my petition at the bottom of the page.

Husband chose the Tacos Enchilados: mini chicken enchiladas fried and topped with that gorgeous mole sauce and queso fresco. Very tasty and not overly-stuffed. Light, crisp, and covered in that addictive spicy chocolate sauce.

I’m all out of creative movement names. Just eat these dang things. It will change your life.

And little bear? She happily noshed on little bites of everything we were having, plus one of mom’s makeup brushes swiped from a bathroom drawer at home. She’s so damn cute she won’t ever need that makeup stuff.

But in the spirit of full disclosure, I’ll tell ya that she dropped my favorite makeup brush in a pile of cigarette butts as we were walking down the street after lunch. I considered replacing it, remembered that it cost $30, and then promptly soaked it in a bath of shampoo and disinfectant once we returned home. But I’ll never put on my blush without thinking of where that dang brush has been ever again.

Oh, is that two makeup brushes you see in her hands? Yep. One is a freebie Clinique, a.k.a. “Lucy’s brush” from now on. The other is clean, de-contaminated, and under lock and key in my makeup drawer.

Brush debacles aside, I’m pleased to say that I’ve found a new fill-up station for when my tank starts to run low. Do you think a body could run on mole sauce alone? It’s worth a shot, right?

And Jamie Oliver, watch out. There’s a new revolutionary in town, and I’m taking this movement guerilla-style.


lamb stew with purple prairie barley

Have I ever told you that I try to cook with one unfamiliar ingredient a week? Probably not. It’s not because I don’t love ya—it’s just that sometimes I fail miserably at cooking with said ingredient and it’s not a blog-worthy post. I’m not even going tell you what I’ve tried to concoct because it will either make you laugh (at me), cry (of shame) or never read this blog again (because you’ll think I’m weird).

Last week, I gave purple barley a go for the first time. Purple prairie barley, to be exact—I would never touch the stuff if it came from a plain, a basin, or a mesa. Come on. Even I have standards.

What resulted was a fresh and hearty stew that will easily have a permanent home in my recipe box.

To make it you’ll need a few carrots, one onion, garlic, a few sprigs of fresh oregano and a little salt and pepper.

Lamb. It’s the star of the show in this dish, so make it quality meat. I picked up two pounds of stew meat from the butcher.

The first time my parents tried to serve us lamb as kids I was livid. I decided to step up on my animal-rights soapbox and refused to eat the stuff. I believe a children’s picture book entitled Little Lamb was also strategically placed on the kitchen counter by my ten-year-old hands.

I don’t know what got into me. It was very temporary.

And here’s my experimental ingredient: purple prairie barley. I ran across it at the grocery while searching for new grains to try. It’s purple! What’s not to love?

You’ll want to start by browning the lamb in a little oil. Make sure to season it with salt and pepper first.

While the meat is browning, chop your veggies. Then transfer the meat to a plate, brown the garlic, and cook the onions and carrots for a few minutes. Remove the veggies, de-glaze the pan with a little red wine, and then pile all of the ingredients (including a little chicken, beef, or better yet, lamb stock) into the pot. Simmer for about 2 hours.

15 minutes before you’re ready to serve, finish by adjusting the seasonings and stirring in the fresh oregano.

Mmmmm. Tender, slow-cooked lamb….

…teeny, tiny punchy grains of barley…

…and a whole lotta I gotta get this in my belly NOW. I wish photos had smell-o-vision so I could impart to you the incredible scent of this stew.

I love the contrast between the tender meat and the crunchy little grains. The purple barley was much nuttier and more flavorful than I expected—no mushy, overcooked kernels here. The broth lent a hearty, rich flavor with notes of garlic and wine.

Try this soon. It’s different! It’s delicious! It’s experimental! And it worked! My toe hurts! And I can’t stop using exclamations!


Lamb Stew with Purple Prairie Barley

  • 2 pounds lamb stew meat cut into 1″ chunks
  • 2 cups uncooked purple prairie barley (found on the grain aisle of most hippie grocers)
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 3 carrots, peeled and chopped
  • 4 cups chicken, beef or lamb stock
  • 1 cup red wine
  • 1 tablespoon fresh chopped oregano
  • 2 tablespoons oil, divided
  • salt and pepper to taste

Heat one tablespoon oil in a large pot or dutch oven over medium heat. Season the lamb with salt and pepper and lightly brown on all sides, about 5-6 minutes total. Transfer meat to a plate.

Add the remaining tablespoon of oil and saute the garlic for 1 minute. Add the carrots and onion and cook for 3 minutes, or until onion begins to become tender. Remove vegetables from pan.

Pour the red wine into the pan and de-glaze by stirring rapidly to incorporate all of the browned bits. Pour in the stock and add the vegetables, lamb and barley. Bring to a boil, and then cover and simmer for 2 hours, stirring twice during cooking. Season with salt and pepper to taste, add oregano and simmer for 15 minutes more*. Serve garnished with fresh oregano and a slice of crusty bread.

Serves 6.

*If you’d like a thicker broth, simmer stew uncovered for the last 15-30 minutes of cooking or add a 1:1 flour and water mixture in small increments, stirring well after each addition.

You’re pretty awesome.

brownies, as they should be

This may not come as a surprise to any of you, but I am very particular about my baked goods. Muffins, scones, croissants, cookies—they all have to have that certain je ne sais quoi or else I will throw them out the window. Of a moving car. During rush hour. At some old lady piloting a Cadillac El Dorado. So really, exceptional baked goods are a concern of safety in my world.

Perfect brownies are illusive creatures by nature—it’s difficult to find a recipe that isn’t too cakey or too batter-y. It’s even harder to find a good brownie at a bakery. I find that they either taste like brownie-shaped paste or are just chocolate cake residing under an alias.

Part of my brownie issues stem from the fact that since I was a wee little baker in my mother’s kitchen, my dear Ma has been concocting the world’s best brownies. Or so my own picky palate tells me. I simply can’t eat another brownie because they never measure up to these fudgy (but not pasty), rich (but not batter-y) double-chocolate numbers with rich chocolate chips strewn throughout. They’re my one brownie true love.

To make them, you’ll need the basics: chocolate chips (bittersweet for a richer brownie and semi-sweet for a normal batch), sugar, flour, eggs, butter, vanilla, a titch of water, baking soda and salt.

Mix together the flour, salt and baking soda and stir to combine.

Next, grab a big ol’ saucepan and melt the butter with the sugar and water.

It never ceases to amaze me how the fluorescent lighting over my stove mars every single photo I snap there.

Stir in the chocolate chips until smooth…

…and then add the eggs one at a time, stirring after each addition. Soon it’ll be shmooove and purdy.

Whisk in the flour mixture.

I won’t judge you if you take a little taste.

Do you think there’a a job somewhere in the world where my title could be “Professional Batter Taster?” I’d be really good at it.

Finally, stir in the other half of the chocolate chips. You could also add some nuts if you’re that type o person. I usually add chopped walnuts, but this particular batch was for a party in which I didn’t know if the attendees were nut lovers or not.

Hee hee. I just said “nut lovers.”

At least I amuse myself.

Spread into a greased 9×13 pan and bake for 30-35 minutes at 325F.

And when they’re done?

Photogenic, and darn tasty, double-chocolate brownies.

The texture of these bad boys is close to perfection: a lightly crisp top layer…

…with rich, dense middles. I try not to cut the squares too big since they are fairly potent (and will inevitably land on your hips). This tactic usually backfires since I therefore eat 6 squares instead of 2. I’m not very good at math.

I adore biting into a chocolate chip now and then—it keeps life interesting.

Do you guys have a brownie recipe that you love? I’d love to hear it! Someone has to de-throne the brownies I’ve been eating since childhood.

Or not. They are my brownie mate. It’s getting serious. And I would never, ever throw them from a moving vehicle.

Happy friday!


Double Chocolate Brownies

This recipe is adapted from one printed on a scrap of an old chocolate chip bag in Mom’s kitchen. Possibly 1980’s Nestle? At any rate, neither Mom or I can take the credit for these delicious brownies. Makes one large batch (24 or more brownies) in a 9×13″ pan–see notes below on making a half batch. The temptation is always to cut them too soon, but if you do, they’ll completely fall apart and you’ll be left with a big brownie mess. Give it patience. The chocolate chips need a chance to solidify again.

  • 1 1/2 cups flour
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 2/3 cup butter
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • 4 tbsp water
  • 2 12 oz packages semi-sweet or bittersweet chocolate chips (I use Ghiradelli 60% Cacao)
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 4 eggs
  • 1 cup chopped nuts (optional)

Preheat oven to 325F. Combine flour, baking soda and salt in a small bowl and mix to combine. In a large saucepan, melt the butter with the sugar and water. Bring just to a boil and remove from heat. Stir in one package of the chocolate chips and the vanilla extract. Whisk in the eggs one at a time, mixing well after each addition. Slowly blend in the flour mixture, and then add the remaining package of chocolate chips and the chopped nuts. Pour into a greased 9×13″ pan* and bake for 30-40 minutes, or until toothpick inserted comes out clean. Be careful not to over-bake, and make sure that your toothpick is coated with uncooked batter and not melted chocolate chips if you’re going to continue baking longer. Let cool at least 2 hours before serving.

*To make a half-batch, halve all amounts and use a greased 9×9″ square pan and bake for 30-35 minutes.

raising healthy eaters: part 2

Last week I told you about a lecture I attended by healthy food guru Cynthia Lair. It was informative. Daunting. Overwhelming. Interesting. At times, hilarious. And more than anything, made me question what I feed myself and my family. If you haven’t already, read part 1 from the link above and then come back and join me right here.

The quick and dirty recap of last week: listen to what your body really needs when it’s hungry and eat a diet that mostly consists of whole foods (whole grains, animal proteins, nuts and seeds, dairy, fruits, and vegetables). And a reminder/disclaimer: this is what I gleaned from Cynthia’s talk. It’s not verbatim, and I’m not attempting to put words in her mouth. I’m simply relaying what I learned from her, and I hope that it’s helpful for you as it was for me.

Before I get right down into it, I have to tell you a quick little aside. Husband and I snuck a date night this weekend and took in, ironically enough, Date Night with Tina Fey and Steve Carell.

I may or may not have peed my pants a teeny, tiny bit.

But hilarity, wet pants and car chases aside, one scene reminded me of what we’re about to discuss. Tina Fey’s character is complaining about how tired she is as a mom and how every night getting her kids to put on their pajamas turns into a huge argument, as if every single night it’s an utter surprise that they have to wear pajamas. How many of you can relate?

When it comes to the food issue, this is something that I absolutely, positively want to avoid. I don’t want squabbles every night (or at all) about what we’re eating, why it’s edible (or inedible), why I have to try it, why I can’t have pizza, why can’t the dog eat it, and why Timmy’s mom lets him have all the Flavor-Blasted BBQ Ranch Cheetos he wants.

Thankfully, our lovely expert had some words of wisdom about this tornado that is dinnertime, and how to emerge with (most of) your sanity in tact.

So here goes. After the ravishing Miss Lair discussed what our diets should (ideally) look like, she got into some of the more pesky issues that we as parents face around the dinner table. She began by laying out a set of general guidelines that she recommends families to follow.

Setting boundaries around food for kids:

  1. Honor mealtimes. Eat together at the table as much as is humanly possible. Studies have shown that families eat more healthfully when they eat together at home, and also that kids raised this way have higher self-esteem and are at lower risk for eating disorders and substance abuse.
  2. Provide excellent choices. You’re the adult. Not them—they won’t make healthy choices on their own, especially given the amount of junk foods that media and society is throwing in their faces every day. Provide healthy meals at home, and they’ll learn what is good for them and what is not.
  3. Make one meal. If Ms. Lair stressed anything, it’s this. If they don’t want to eat it, tough cookies. Expect some tantrums if this is a new rule for your family. There might be crying, tortured looks of hunger, stomping feet and lots of pouting. But don’t give in and open up that box of mac n cheese. Let them know that their dinner will be waiting for them whenever they’re ready to eat it.
  4. That being said, make sure to include a “winner” at every meal: something they recognize and like. Even if it’s bread and butter that’s the constant on the table every night, she explained, kids will eventually try new things as long as there is something that is not foreign served alongside of it. Sort of a security blanket, if you will.
  5. Keep your mouth shut, eat your dinner, and enjoy it. No, not the kids: YOU. Kids learn by example. If they see you eating and enjoying healthy foods, they’ll do the same.
  6. NO bribing, rewarding, or punishing with food. Yep, this means no “you’ll get your dessert once you clean your plate.” Not only can it lead to eating disorders, but it teaches them that eating is a game and that the parents are the players.
  7. Set clear rules about treats and “non-nutritious” meals. If you go order from Pizza Hut on fridays, set a clear boundary: this meal is only on fridays. This will prevent arguing and let your kids know what to expect when it comes to treats.
  8. 1 through 7 aside, listen and let them know that you are listening. When they say “I think broccoli is the devil,” acknowledge their statement and move on. No arguing, but let them know that they’ve been heard.
  9. My blogging software is automatically changing this list into roman numerals. And I apologize. I can’t help it.

Got all that? I sure don’t. Have you seen my daughter’s face? Let’s take a look:

Are you going to be the one to tell her that she can’t have that chocolate chip cookie until friday? Good. Cuz I don’t want to take the fall.

Even though you’ve got rules laid out and tricks up your sleeve, Miss Lair explains, you’ve still got to serve food that generally tastes good. After all, you’ll be eating it too. And when it comes to those pesky green things on the side of the plate that we like to call “vegetables,” as parents we can run into a bit of a dilemma. We’ve got to make them taste great. And here’s how.

Making vegetables attractive:

  • Butter and spices are totally allowed! They add to the flavor. No one says that you have to eat the green stuff only raw or steamed. If it’s a going in your mouth, for pete sakes, make it taste good. If the rest of your meal is relatively healthy, you can afford a little butter on your broccoli.
  • Invite your child to help you pick out and cook new vegetables. If they grab an eggplant from the produce aisle, roast it up. If they like the look of red Swiss chard, throw it in the frying pan. It will, if nothing else, keep vegetables interesting. And they might find one that they love!

But for every toddler who will eat spinach by the truckload, there are some who won’t touch a green food (or many foods, for that matter) with a ten-foot Lego. But Cynthia believes that picky eaters are preventable, and here’s how:

  • Picky eaters are created, and it starts from their first taste of “solids.” When you feed babies pre-packaged foods out of a jar, it teaches them that they get separate foods and that they taste bland.
  • “Kid food” in general (in restaurants, grocery stores, cafeterias) is poorer quality and and less healthy. When you go out to restaurants, don’t give them the kid’s menu—let them choose whatever they want from the regular one.
  • Don’t ask “what do you want to eat?” unless you have a short-order cook on staff. Give them two choices: this or that. It will prevent arguing, only allow for healthy choices, and make you less crazed around mealtimes. Plus, too many decisions is not great for kids; it can be overwhelming and stressful.

Whew. I know that’s a lot of info. And a whole heck of a lot to take into consideration when you’re more worried about running out of diapers than what to put on the dinner table. But I hope that Cynthia and I gave you something, for lack of a better phrase, to chew on.

And here are the take home messages that she’d like you to remember:

  1. Be a good role model.
  2. Read labels.
  3. Eat foods that could be prepared at home in your own kitchen. If you have an in-house chemical lab, that means that you can make all of the Flavor-Blasted BBQ Ranch Cheetos you want.

And here are the take home messages that I’d like you to remember:

  1. I had too much sushi for dinner. Or not enough. I can never tell.
  2. I’m not an expert on this subject. If you’d like to get your info directly from Cynthia Lair, who actually is an expert, you can read her blog and watch her cooking videos right here.
  3. Butter is necessary in life.
  4. Make one meal. For pete sakes.
  5. I love Steve Carell. But I love Mark Wahlberg much, much more.
  6. Roman numerals are a stupid, stupid way to make a list.

Oh, and here are some related links that are cool and awesome:

I love ya’ll. And I’m sorry for spewing you with hippie propaganda for the umpteenth time. I promise that my next post will be filled with mayonnaise of Paula Deen-esque proportions.


oatmeal bread

I am a carb monster. Bread, bagels, pasta, croissants, muffins, sandwiches—this is the stuff that I would live off of if my love handles would quit telling me that I couldn’t. I don’t bake bread often because I will eat the entire loaf straight out of the oven. Give me a stick of butter and a knife and you’ll see a plump 5′ 4″ woman instantly morph into a gaunt, hobbit-sized creature. “The breadses.We wants it. We needs it. My precioussss!”

But when I stumbled across this recipe for a light oatmeal bread, I couldn’t resist. It reminded me of a dense oatmeal loaf that my pops had made a few months back, except this version promised to be lighter and better for sandwiches and toast.

I always think it’s funny that people are afraid of making bread (you know who you are—just admit it). As soon as you say the words yeast and knead, folks assume that it’s some impossible task that they’ll only screw up. But here’s the thing: bread is easy. And if you have a stand mixer, you don’t even have to knead the dough at all. Yes, you have to let it rise. But you don’t have to stand there and watch it. You can go watch Real Housewives and I won’t even tell anyone.

If you’ve got some basic ingredients, a bread pan, and an oven, you can have a freshly baked loaf (and a house that smells like a bakery) in two hours or less.

Ready? I sure as heck am.

Here’s what you’ll need. Easy, eh? The only thing that you’ll need to be mindful of is that your yeast is still good. If you don’t bake a lot, check the date on that packet of yeast that’s been sitting in your pantry for two years. If it’s past it’s expiration date, it likely won’t work and your bread won’t rise properly. Or at all.

Combine the butter, oats (reserving a few tablespoons for sprinkling over the top of the bread) and brown sugar in the bowl of your stand mixer and add some hot water. Give it a good stir and let it sit until the mixture is lukewarm.

Sprinkle on the yeast…

…and let sit until it gets foamy. This is where you can tell if your yeast is good or not: if it doesn’t foam up after 5-10 minutes, get a fresh packet and start over.

Combine the flour and salt and add most of the mixture to the dough. Stir it a bit by hand before fitting your mixer with the dough hook to prevent any flour explosions all over your kitchen.

Begin on low speed, and then increase to medium-low once the dough has formed a cohesive mass. Add the remaining flour in small increments if necessary until most of the dough sticks to itself and not the sides of the bowl.

Let the mixer work it’s magic for about 15 minutes, or until the dough is smooth and elastic.

Did you know that pretty much any dough that requires kneading you can stick in a stand mixer? I didn’t discover this until recently. Just mix on low to medium-low for the required kneading time plus a half. No floured surface, no tired hands. Just awesome bread.

Lightly oil a loaf pan and press the dough into the bottom. Beat the egg, brush on about 1/3 of it…

…and finish by sprinkling with the remaining oats.

Cover with a kitchen towel and let rise in a warm place for about an hour or until the dough has doubled in size.

I usually check yeast doughs about halfway through rising, just to make sure that I’ve got it in a warm enough place. If all else fails, you can always stick it in your dryer filled with warm towels or an oven that’s been turned off but still warm.

Once it’s risen, bake in a 375F oven for about 45 minutes.

Gorgeous. Just gorgeous.

I love the oats sprinkled across the top of the loaf—so pretty and adds a nice crunch when you bite into it.

This bread is a looker! Plus, now your house smells like Macrina.

Perfect texture: soft, moist, and not overly dense.

It’s wonderful plain, spread with butter or jam…

…or made into one heck of a grilled cheese.

I mean, seriously. It should have been illegal how good this sandwich is.

“We wants it. We needs it. The grilled cheeses on oatmeal breadses! My preciousssss!”


Oatmeal Bread, adapted from the Trapp Family Lodge recipe

  • 1/4 stick (1/8 cup) unsalted butter, softened
  • 1/4 cup firmly packed brown sugar
  • 1 cup old-fashioned rolled oats
  • 1 1/4 cups hot water
  • one 1/4-ounce package (2 1/2 teaspoons) active dry yeast
  • 2 1/2 to 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 egg, beaten lightly, for brushing dough

In bowl of stand mixer combine butter, sugar, and oats (reserving two tablespoons of the oats for later). Stir in hot water and let mixture stand until lukewarm. Sprinkle yeast over mixture and let stand until foamy, about 5 minutes. Stir in 2 1/2 cups flour and salt and fit mixer with dough hook attachment. Mix on low to medium-low for 15 minutes or until dough is smooth and elastic.

Lightly oil one loaf pan and press dough into bottom of pan. Brush surface of with egg and sprinkle with remaining oats. Let dough rise in a warm place until doubled in bulk, about 1 hour.

Preheat oven to 375°F.

Bake bread in middle of oven 35 to 45 minutes, or until browned and bottom sounds hollow when tapped. Turn bread out onto rack to cool completely.