Robert and I have fallen into a pretty steadfast routine of dining out every Friday and Saturday and cooking meals at home Sunday through Wednesday. Thursday has always been our “do your own thing” night. Leftovers, frozen dinners, whatever random collection of edible items you can scrounge together are yours for the taking. As much as I enjoy cooking and dining out, I secretly look forward to Thursdays since it is sort of a night off for me. Since I’m not a fan of frozen dinners and I tend to save leftovers for lunch, I usually still end up doing some cooking. The key is finding meals that can be prepared in 20 minutes or less with minimal effort. My favorite Thursday meal is frozen potato pierogies with a side of sautéed cabbage and onions. It’s healthy-ish and quick to make. I can’t eat this every Thursday so I’m always on the lookout for new quick dinners. Enter Doenjang Jjigae.

Doenjang jjigae is a Korean tofu stew made using fermented bean paste. It may not be as well known in this country as bulgogi and bi bim bap, but doenjang jjigae is a staple everyday dish in many Korean homes. The primary ingredient in doenjang jjigae is doenjang paste, a fermented soybean paste similar to miso although with a much coarser texture. In addition jjigae, doenjang paste is used as a general condiment and to make ssamjang, a sauce for Korean lettuce wraps. It is quite pungent and salty and may not be to everyone’s liking. If you love stinky, fermented foods like I do, you will probably enjoy this. Doenjang paste is sold in plastic tubs in Asian markets.

Few people follow a strict recipe for doenjang jjigae—there are as many different ways to make it as there are cooks. The general procedure is simple. You start by making a broth. Koreans usually make their broth by boiling dried anchovies and kelp in water—a small handful of anchovies should be enough to flavor 2 to 3 cups of water. While the broth is going, portion out a spoonful of doenjang paste into a bowl. Start with a small amount and work your way up—it is quite salty so you don’t want to overdo it. If you like, you can also add a dollop of the spicy red chili paste known as gochujang to the bowl along with the doenjang. After the broth has cooked for 10 minutes or so, strain out the anchovies and kelp. Add a small amount of the hot broth to the bowl and mash the doenjang paste with a fork to break it up. Add that mixture back to the pot along with whatever vegetables and proteins you are using and boil until done!

This is such an easy dish to prepare, and it’s so versatile. Most recipes call for potato, onion, zucchini and tofu, but I use this dish as a way to use up whatever ingredients I have leftover in the fridge that week. Doenjang jjigae can be made with anything from shrimp and corn and jalapeños to beef and shiitake mushrooms. I’ve tried it using a broth made from bonito flakes instead of anchovies—it was good but didn’t have the same pungent aroma (much to Robert’s delight, I’m sure). Doenjang jjigae isn’t meant to be served spicy, but I’ve been known to throw in some cayenne pepper when I’m craving something hot. The one ingredient I do always try to include is the tofu just to keep things somewhat traditional and because tofu is so good for you. For a while now, I’ve been saying that Korean food will be the next big thing. Once people discover doenjang jjigae, it’s only a matter of time. This quick, adaptable, comforting dish is perfect for my Thursday night meals!

I’ve been a fan of whiskey-based cocktails for my entire adult life, but I have never enjoyed drinking whiskey straight. In fact, I’ve always found it to be pretty vile. One tiny sip of scotch or bourbon was enough to make me gag. Something must have clicked in me this year because I am now a full-fledged whiskey convert. These days, I’m just as likely drink whiskey straight as I am to mix it into a cocktail. Here is a roundup of what I’ve been sipping on lately.

Bourbon: My parents gave Robert a bottle of Blanton’s Single Barrel Bourbon for Christmas this year. Blanton’s, which came onto the market in 1984, was the very first single barrel bourbon in the country. Most distillers blend bourbons from different barrels in order to achieve a uniform & reliable whiskey. Blanton’s bourbon is not blended; instead, individual barrels are constantly monitored so that each one can be bottled at the peak of perfection. Because every barrel ages a little bit differently, each bottle of Blanton’s is unique. Blanton’s is not cheap, but it is an exceptional bourbon and worth every penny. If you are on a budget, a great option is Russell’s Reserve. Russell’s Reserve is a 10 year old bourbon distilled by Wild Turkey’s master distiller, Jimmy Russell. It isn’t nearly as rich or full-bodied as Blanton’s but, for the price, it is a surprisingly good sipping bourbon. And because it is relatively inexpensive, you won’t feel bad using it for cocktails. Russell’s has become the go to bourbon in our household. Splurging on a high-end bourbon might not always be possible, but having a bottle Russell’s on hand is a solid alternative.

Scotch: While perusing the scotch offerings at Dinette recently, Robert noticed a scotch that he was unfamiliar with: McCarthy’s by Oregon’s Clear Creek Distillery. Scotch…from Oregon? That’s heresy! OK, so it isn’t really a scotch—no whiskey outside of Scotland is allowed to be called scotch—but it is a single malt made from peat-malted Scottish barley and it does claim to be made in the Islay tradition. That sounds pretty darn close to scotch to me. We couldn’t resist trying it and boy are we glad we did! It was buttery and caramely and incredibly smooth. And like a good Islay scotch, it was heavy on the peat. I couldn’t stop smelling the glass long after the last drop was gone. I picked up a bottle at my local liquor store the very next day. I was prepared to hang my head in shame at the idea of buying this “scotch” from Oregon, but the gentleman behind the counter couldn’t say enough nice things about it. Neither can I. I love to rip on all things Oregon, but they got this one right! Pick up a bottle of McCarthy’s as a surprise for your scotch-loving friends.

Rye: After prohibition, rye whiskey fell out of favor and almost disappeared entirely. It has been experiencing a bit of a revival lately, and new brands of rye are cropping up across the country. It can still be hard to find a good bottle of rye in Washington State so we were surprised to see at least five or six different options on the menu at our neighborhood bar, Liberty. Our bartender had us sample several including Whistlepig Straight Rye, Pappy Van Winkle Rye and High West Rendezvous Rye from Utah State. The High West was our favorite hands down. Utah may not be known for its alcohol, but this rye was lovely—sweet and smooth with a perfect amount of that spicy, dry character rye is known for. This well-balanced whiskey is a great choice for anyone who is new to rye. If you want to try a more rugged rye, I suggest Hudson Manhattan Rye by Tuthilltown Spirits in New York State. This was the first rye whiskey to be made in New York since prohibition. It is strikingly different from anything I’ve had before. Unlike most whiskeys which tend to be sweet up front with slowly emerging bitter flavors, the Hudson Rye hits you with a bitterness right away and then finishes sweeter (though not too sweet…this is rye after all). Hudson Rye’s bold taste might not be for everyone. I’ve enjoyed sipping it neat, but I’m really looking forward to mixing it with some Carpano Antica and one of my homemade maraschino cherries for a truly deluxe Manhattan. In less than a year, I’ve gone from hating the sweetest of bourbons to being able to enjoy an assertive rye whiskey. A new world of rich and delicious drinking has been opened up to me, and I am loving it!

Another Christmas and another fantastic Christmas Eve dinner! In my family, we do things a little bit differently for Christmas. If you’ve read my previous holiday entries, you know that each year we choose a different regional theme for our Christmas Eve feast. Past years have included Scandinavian, Indian, Cajun, and Greek. We’ve been doing this for a long time now and have nearly covered the globe. While it’s fun to choose a brand new locale, every few years we return to Mexico. Everyone in my family loves to eat tamales at Christmas, and we can only go so many years without having them. This year, I had a brilliant idea—instead of doing a generic Mexican meal, we could focus specifically on the foods of the Yucatan! I ate lots of delicious dishes when I visited that region earlier this year so I knew it would be a good choice. It would allow us to explore a new cuisine while still providing a venue for our beloved tamales.

Yucatecan cuisine blends local Mayan flavors with Caribbean, Mexican, European and Middle Eastern influences resulting in what some argue is the world’s first fusion cuisine. It is very distinct from what we typically think of as Mexican food. Perhaps the most famous dish from this region is cochinita pibil, a rich and flavorful pork stew. Robert sampled cochinita pibil in Tulum and loved it. In fact, that dish was the primary reason that I suggested doing a Yucatan feast in the first place. The key to cochinita pibil is recado rojo, a seasoning paste made from annatto seeds (which give it a striking red color) and various spices including cinnamon, allspice and cumin. Recado rojo is a critical component of Mayan cuisine—we used it in at least three of our dishes. To make cochinita pibil, you marinate cubes of pork overnight in the recado and some fresh citrus juice (we did a combination of grapefruit, orange and lime). Then you line a casserole dish with banana leaves and bake the pork until it falls apart. It can be served as a stew over rice or, like we did, as a filling for fresh corn tortillas. Either way, cochinita pibil wouldn’t be complete without the essential garnish of pickled red onions. They provide a bright flavor contrast to the rich stew and are pretty too!

The other major dish this Christmas was, not surprisingly, the tamales! Tamales in the Yucatan are different from tamales in other parts of Mexico. The masa dough in Yucatecan tamales is typically flavored with the all-important recado rojo. Diced tomatoes are usually present, either in the masa or in the filling. Also, the filling is commonly thickened by cooking some of the masa dough in broth (this masa-thickened sauce is called a kol). For our tamales, we simmered chicken with fresh tomato and recado rojo and then shredded it. Next, we thickened the leftover broth with the masa and added the shredded chicken back in. I could have eaten a big bowl of this on its own with a spoon, but it was even better inside tamales. Our masa dough wasn’t too shabby either. We were unable to obtain quality fresh masa so we tried Rick Bayless‘ substitute masa which is made by mixing pulverized corn grits with the powdered masa that you find in big bags in Mexican markets. This is supposed to do a better job of mimicking the masa dough that you typically see in Mexico. It had a more subtle corn taste than what I’m used to, but the texture was light and airy and perfect! Our Christmas Eve tamales came pretty darn close to the wonderful fresh tamales Robert and I ate in Xcalak last winter.

Rounding out the meal was a terrific coconut fish stew made with green plantains, sweet bell pepper and—you guessed it—more recado rojo. We also made black beans with epazote, white rice (pilaf-style, as is the custom in Mexico), and a simple spinach salad topped with oranges and jicama. To drink, we served up a family favorite: sangria. It wasn’t as elaborate as some of our past meals have been, but it was certainly delicious and memorable. In my family, if there are tamales on the table, it is guaranteed to be a slam dunk! Happy holidays!

I’m always on the lookout for festive, colorful cocktails this time of year. Unfortunately, such cocktails are usually laden with sugary syrups and fruit juices and are inevitably too sweet for my tastes. Last month, my friend Jen hosted a fabulous cocktail party. As soon as I arrived, she was urging me to sample some of her beet-infused vodka. I’ll admit that I was initially shocked. I’ve heard of vodka being infused with all kinds of different things: vanilla, citrus, blueberries, even exotics like kaffir lime leaves, but never beets (in hindsight, I probably should have seen this coming—people are putting beets into everything these days!)

Almost immediately, I began warming up to the idea. I’m not much of a vodka drinker, but this combination sounded unusual and I could picture myself becoming a convert. Jen whipped up a drink for me using a hefty pour of beet vodka, fresh lemon and lime juice, simple syrup and a splash of raspberry liqueur. It was seriously beety…and absolutely delicious! The sweet raspberry flavor was perfectly offset by the earthiness of the beets. It tasted great and seemed almost healthy. Beets and citrus are supposed to be good for your liver so it makes perfect sense to mix them with alcohol. I started referring to this drink as “The Detox”!

The next morning, my eyes drifted up toward a bottle of vodka that had been gathering dust on top of my fridge for, oh, the last five years or so. It was time to put it to good use. I headed down to the farmers’ market to pick up some fresh red beets for my own beet-infused vodka. Making beet vodka couldn’t be easier. Simply add three or four peeled and quartered beets to a jar, fill with vodka and let sit for three days, stirring occasionally. Strain out the beets and you’re done! Easy and entertaining too. It’s fun to watch the vodka go from a lovely fuchsia color to a deep, rich red. You can pour the vodka into a nice bottle if you wish although it looks quite striking in the the jar—like something you might find in a mad scientist’s kitchen or a biology lab.

Now that my beet-infused vodka was ready, it was time for some experimentation. First up, a beety Manhattan for Robert. For this, I simply replaced the vermouth in my Manhattan recipe with beet vodka. This makes for a pretty serious drink: dry, spicy and earthy with none of the sweetness that vermouth normally provides. Robert likes hearty drinks so he enjoyed it. For myself, I went in a completely different direction. I placed a small rosemary sprig and a few slices of fresh ginger into a cocktail shaker along with beet vodka, lime juice and a touch of simple syrup. I shook it up, strained it into a chilled martini glass and garnished with a rosemary sprig. To intensify the aroma of the rosemary, I quickly ran a lit match along its needles before dropping it in the glass. This isn’t necessary, but it’s a nice touch. The piney fragrance of the rosemary and the heat and spice from the ginger complemented the earthy beets well. With its beautiful ruby red color and enticing pine scent, my beet-rosemary cocktail proved to be a perfect choice for this holiday season!

Red chili is the cornerstone of Northern New Mexican cooking. If you’ve ever traveled to New Mexico, you’ve no doubt sampled it in one form or another. The word chili usually conjures up images of chunky meat and bean stews. In New Mexico, when someone says chili they are usually referring to a chili sauce made from red or green chilies. Outside of New Mexico, I typically call it chili sauce for clarity’s sake. Around our house, we just call it red for short as in “those tamales would be way better with a little red on top.” Red chili is most commonly used as a sauce for enchiladas, but you can smother virtually any New Mexican and many non-New Mexican dishes with it. In homes, it is offered as a general condiment, available to be drizzled on whatever you happen to be eating that day. Tacos, corn chips, fried potatoes…it all tastes better with a dash of red chili. I personally love it over beans and fried eggs.

When I first visited New Mexico, I had no experience with red chili other than on enchiladas. Even then, the sauce that I was used to was a milder, tomato-based concoction. I was slightly taken aback by this thick, spicy, deeply red chili sauce that I kept seeing all over Santa Fe. I was even more surprised when Robert’s family offered it to me as a topping for mashed potatoes at their Thanksgiving feast. What, no gravy? I was hooked immediately. These days, I can’t imagine mashed potatoes without red chili. This has since become a traditional Thanksgiving dish in my family as well. It is delicious and also adds a much needed splash of color to the plate (let’s face it, outside of cranberry sauce, Thanksgiving dinner tends to be a little beige).

In its most basic form, red chili is little more than dried red chilies blended with water and perhaps a chopped onion or some garlic. As with all basic recipes, numerous variations exist. Some people make their red chili from whole dried chili pods whereas others prefer the convenience of powdered chilies. Some people add tomatoes, some use stock in place of water, some even add chopped pine nuts! Although Chiles de Ristra (a.k.a. New Mexican red chilies) are the conventional choice, you can make red chili from nearly any type of dried chili. Depending on what you use, your chili may be hot, mild, smoky, or even a tad sweet. Everyone’s got their own family recipe and, not surprisingly, no two are alike.

This Thanksgiving, I wanted to make sure my red chili was extra delicious. I have always been somewhat timid about how much chili powder I use, but I was inspired by the intense red chili I had at The Shed when we were in Santa Fe. I decided it was time to go bold and that meant doubling the amount of chili in my recipe to a whopping ½ cup! My adjustment paid off and my chili turned out fantastic, just like the reds I’d had in New Mexico. My family raved about it at Thanksgiving dinner. I finally have a red chili recipe worth writing home about. The only downside is that we are now going to blow through our precious stash of powdered red chili faster than ever!

Click here for my red chili recipe»

Robert and I just returned from another wonderful trip to Santa Fe, New Mexico. We had some outstanding fall weather while we were there—sunny and warm nearly every day. The wonderful October days were perfect for zipping around town in Robert’s mom’s beautifully restored 1972 VW Bug. We took advantage of the nice weather by taking a side trip to see the ancient cliff dwellings at Bandelier National Monument. They are awe-inspiring, and I highly recommend a visit if you are ever in the area. As usual, there was plenty of delicious food to be had in Santa Fe. One night in particular stands out with dinner at The Shed followed by cocktails at the Secreto Bar & Loggia.

Nestled among downtown Santa Fe’s historic buildings, The Shed has been open since 1953. This Santa Fe landmark is well-regarded by locals and visitors alike. Despite its reputation for excellence, The Shed is not at all fancy—just as fleece wouldn’t be out of place in most Seattle restaurants, blue jeans and boots are the requisite attire when dining at The Shed. It is an utterly charming restaurant. The vibrant, hand-painted wooden sign at the entryway and a series of small, quiet rooms connected by extremely low doorways gives the place a funky, casual vibe (just be sure to watch your head!)

The Shed’s menu consists of New Mexico standbys such as tacos, burritos and blue corn enchiladas. Of course, since this is New Mexico, you can order anything on the menu red, green or “Christmas-style” (for the uninitiated, that means with red chili, green chili or a little of each). Since I can’t go to The Shed on any old weekend, I was happy to see that they offer combo plates which allow you to sample several different items. I ordered one red enchilada (The Shed’s specialty) and one turkey sausage taco smothered in green chili. I am not lying when I say that this was the best enchilada I have ever had! Most enchiladas are made with a milder, tomato-y red sauce but The Shed’s red is all about the chili—smoky and spicy and perfect! The green was amazing too, and my taco was literally drowning in it. I would have licked my plate clean. Fortunately, The Shed provides each table with garlic bread for sopping up the chili—it may not be traditional, but you certainly don’t want any of that delicious chili to go to waste.

After dinner, we headed across the plaza to the Secreto Bar & Loggia at the St. Francis Hotel. There, we met up with Robert’s friend Natalie of The Liquid Muse. Natalie is a cocktail authority so we trusted that she had directed us to the hippest sipping spot in Santa Fe. As expected, we were in good hands with expert mixologist Chris Milligan behind the bar. Serious mixologists are popping up all over Seattle these days, but I did not anticipate finding one in Santa Fe! We grabbed a couple of seats at the bar and chatted with Chris about our favorite liquors and flavors. He worked his mixologist magic and produced a series of amazing cocktails suited exactly to my tastes.

I started off with a cocktail based on rum and house-made falernum. Falernum is a spiced rum made with any number of ingredients but most commonly with almond, vanilla, allspice, clove and lime. Quality falernum isn’t readily available in stores so many bartenders make their own. It lends a spicy, sweet flavor to drinks and the cocktail Chris made for me was no exception. It was a perfect drink for sipping by the fire on a chilly evening—a little reminder that the holidays are not far off.

As intrigued as I was by the house-made falernum, it doesn’t compare to my level of curiosity upon spying a bottle labeled “choke shrub.” Robert’s mom makes choke cherry jam every year so I knew that choke cherries were a popular fruit in New Mexico. But what on earth is a shrub? Well, it turns out that a shrub is a tart and sweet vinegar-based syrup made most often using fresh berries. Noting my interest, Chris whipped up another cocktail for me using anejo tequila, choke shrub, mole bitters and fresh sage leaves. It sounds odd, but it was really delicious. Fittingly, it tasted like the desert! This drink is actually going to be featured in an upcoming edition of New Mexico Magazine as part of their holiday drinks special. How exciting, getting a sneak peek at a new cocktail! If you ever find yourself in Santa Fe and love creative, well-prepared cocktails as much as I do, be sure to visit Chris at the Secreto. As we stumbled out into the cold autumn night, with the smell of piñon in the air all around us and a stomach full of spicy chili and amazing cocktails, I couldn’t imagine being any happier.

I realized the other day that I had somehow managed to get through my adult years having never tried one of the most classic of all drinks: The Manhattan. As a cocktail enthusiast, this was an embarrassing oversight. The truth is, I’ve never much cared for whiskey and its variants; not in mixed drinks and certainly not straight (tequila is my liquor of choice followed closely by gin and rum). I strive to be well-rounded so I recently started to sample more whiskey-based drinks. It didn’t take long for me to officially become a whiskey convert! I’ve been making whiskey drinks at home the last few weekends. My timing seems off. Summer evenings are meant for refreshing Gin & Tonics and Margaritas, not wintry Maple Leafs and Tipperarys. I decided it was high time to try a Manhattan, a perfect drink anytime of year.

The Manhattan is a simple as it gets: whiskey, sweet vermouth, bitters and a cherry garnish. As is the case with most classic drinks, variations abound. A Dry Manhattan uses dry vermouth instead of sweet vermouth whereas a Perfect Manhattan uses a combination of the two. Manhattans can be made using rye whiskey, blended whiskey, bourbon, etc. In place of the traditional Angostura bitters, bartenders may change things up by using orange bitters or Peychaud’s bitters. Oftentimes, bartenders will come up with their very own signature Manhattan. For my first time, I decided to stick with a Classic Manhattan using rye whiskey and sweet vermouth.

Prior to Prohibition, rye was the dominant whiskey in America. By the time Prohibition was repealed, people no longer had a taste for rye and it nearly disappeared completely. Although it can still be difficult to find, rye has been experiencing a small revival of late. Bartenders are rediscovering it for its fantastic mixability. Rye is spicier and drier than other whiskeys making it an ideal choice for mixed drinks. I realized that many of the cocktail recipes that I was anxious to try called for rye. So, I finally picked up a bottle of Old Overholt which is generally regarded as a reliable brand (and, incidentally, one of the few that survived Prohibition).

Sweet vermouth is another recent addition to my liquor cabinet. Robert bought me a bottle of Martini & Rossi sweet vermouth for my birthday and now I can’t imagine life without it. It reminds me a little bit of port but with a subtle herbal undertone. In fact, if you don’t have any sweet vermouth lying around, you can make yet another variation on the Manhattan: the Ruby Manhattan which uses port in place of the vermouth.

I had my rye, I had my sweet vermouth, and I dusted off my old bottle of Angostura bitters. Now, all I needed were the cherries. I don’t garnish every cocktail I make at home. I understand that the garnish sometimes makes the drink, but I usually can’t justify paying $1 for a lemon just for one or two twists. This time, I decided to go all out by garnishing not just with a cherry but with my very own homemade maraschino cherries! Let’s be honest – store bought maraschino cherries are pretty frightening with their fake fluorescent red color and sickly sweet taste. Homemade cherries were sure to be better. Some people macerate cherries in brandy with spices, but I decided to go a more traditional route by using maraschino liqueur. Maraschino liqueur, which hails from Croatia, is sweet with a rich cherry and almond flavor. I gently heated up the liqueur and then added some cherries that I had picked up that day at the farmer’s market. I sealed it all up in a jar, put in the fridge and two weeks later – voilà – homemade maraschino cherries!

I was finally ready to make my first Manhattan. The Manhattan is one of the easiest drinks to put together. I love that you don’t have to squeeze any citrus or sugar any glasses. You don’t even have to shake it! Simply put all of the ingredients in a mixing glass with ice, stir, strain into a cocktail glass and top off with a cherry. Ready in mere seconds, the Manhattan is a lovely cocktail. The rye adds a nice spiciness while the vermouth adds sweet and earthy notes. My maraschino cherries were quite rich and sweet. After sitting in a Manhattan soaking up even more booze, these cherries packed a punch and were like a little decadent dessert at the end of your drink. I think they would be delicious over ice cream. I enjoyed the classic Manhattan so much that I also tried a Perfect Manhattan using both sweet and dry vermouth. Next time, perhaps I’ll try coming up with my very own signature Manhattan.

Wednesday night, we attended FareStart’s 6th Annual Guest Chef on the Waterfront – a food & wine extravaganza in support of FareStart. FareStart is a non-profit organization in Seattle whose mission is to help homeless and disadvantaged men and women obtain the skills necessary to find employment in the food service industry. Their intensive 16-week culinary program combines on-the-job training with classroom instruction and job placement services. FareStart provides meals to childcare centers and homeless shelters around the Seattle area every day of the year, an endeavor that provides students with valuable training opportunities. Hands-on training also occurs at the FareStart Restaurant located at 7th & Virginia in downtown Seattle. The FareStart Restaurant offers students the chance to prepare meals for hungry workers and downtown shoppers. The restaurant is open every weekday for lunch. On Thursday evenings, the restaurant hosts Guest Chef Night where one of Seattle’s premier chefs heads into the FareStart kitchen and works directly with the students to produce a delicious meal for a restaurant full of diners. The wait staff on Guest Chef Night is comprised of volunteers from local businesses (my company participated in this twice and had a blast each time). Guest Chef Night is a popular event; reservations are strongly recommended.

Another highly anticipated FareStart event is their annual Guest Chef on the Waterfront, a celebration featuring the local chefs and restaurants that support them throughout the year. Some have referred to it as the foodie event of the summer. Guest Chef at the Waterfront brings together over 70 of the region’s best chefs, breweries and wineries. This year’s participating restaurants included relative newcomers Tilikum Place Cafe, Urbane and Cantinetta as well as old Seattle standbys such as Ivar’s and Salty’s on Alki. Beverage purveyors ranged from Caffé Vita Coffee Roasting Co. to DrySoda to Georgetown Brewing Company. Of course, there was also wine. Lots and lots of wine courtesy of the Rhone Rangers, non-profit organization dedicated to promoting American Rhone varietal wines. As with the FareStart restaurant, all proceeds from Guest Chef on the Waterfront directly benefit FareStart’s job training and placement programs. Helping the community with delicious food and drink is a cause I can get behind!

Guest Chef on the Waterfront is held on Seattle’s Pier 66. The weather was absolutely perfect this year; it was so nice just to be on the pier looking out over the water and mountains. The best part of all, however, was the wonderful food and wine! Food and beverage stands were set up in long rows inside Bell Harbor’s Elliott Hall with even more stands located outside on the sunny pier. Upon entering the building, you are given a tray and an empty wine glass and are set free to start eating and drinking. The place was packed! It was pretty challenging getting to some of the food. There was very little room to move, and people were bumping into each other right and left. I’m pretty sure everyone in attendance either spilled food or was spilled upon at some point during the night. After a while, things seemed to ease up, and I was able to sit back and enjoy some delicious nibbles.

Food was served in small portions – just a few perfect bites allowing you to sample many different things. This being Seattle, the dishes were weighted heavily towards seafood. Ceviche was a popular choice. I sampled two: a spicy Moroccan-inspired scallop ceviche and a mixed seafood ceviche in a bloody mary marinade (complete with bloody mary style garnishes of olives and spicy peppers). Lemongrass-scented salmon vichyssoise, halibut cheeks with corn salsa and swordfish with kimchi were among the other seafood dishes I tried. Robert particularly enjoyed 2100 Bistro‘s miniature lamb patty served atop Vietnamese rice noodles. Urbane‘s corn dog also received high praise from our group. Like the food, wine was served in tiny samples. I excitedly tried several varietals I hadn’t had before including Marsanne, Mourvedre and Roussanne. After filling up on dinner and drinks, it was time for dessert. I don’t normally do dessert, but there was no way I was going to pass up fried-to-order nutella-stuffed beignets. The line for beignets was long but worth it. They were incredible! Guest Chef at the Waterfront may be over for this year, but I encourage you to check out lunch or Guest Chef Night at FareStart – it’s good for the students, the community, and your belly!

Have you ever tried natto? If so, then you are most likely doing one of two things right now: salivating or plugging your nose and reaching to close your browser. Natto is one of those polarizing foods like cilantro and okra. People who have tried it tend to have extremely strong feelings about it. Natto is a traditional Japanese food consisting of soybeans that have been fermented with the bacteria, Bacillus subtilis. It is stinky in the same manner as some pungent cheeses (think Limburger). It is also known for its slimy, sticky texture. When stirred, natto develops lots of long, gooey strings. People go on and on about the smell, but I think it’s the unusual texture that really gets to folks. Don’t you want to try it now?

I saw “natto gnocchi” on a restaurant menu recently, and it got me thinking about natto. My mom used to eat natto when I was a kid. Of course, back then I thought it was the worst thing ever. I would run out of the kitchen in horror every time she opened up a package. As an adult, I have grown to love all kinds of fermented foods. Kimchi, fish sauce, stinky cheeses – the riper and moldier it is, the better! I decided it was time to give natto another shot.

I picked up a package of organic natto at Uwajimaya. In order to experience the true taste of natto my first time out, I decided to keep things simple by serving it over rice with soy sauce and a touch of spicy mustard. This is one of the most common ways of eating natto; so common, in fact, that most boxes of natto come with tiny packets of soy sauce and mustard inside. I can’t say that I loved it, but it certainly wasn’t terrible. It was surprisingly mild: stinky, yes, but not as much as certain cheeses. The beans themselves were quite bland. I think I enjoyed it less for its flavor and more for the thrill that comes with eating something others wince at. Plus, it is really fun to stir the natto and watch its crazy stringy texture develop. People typically either love natto or hate it, but strangely enough, I fall somewhere in the middle.

Today, I was feeling experimental. I had some extra odds and ends in my pantry, and I thought, “why not mix them all together with some spaghetti and natto?” In a small bowl, I whipped the natto into a stringy, bubbling frenzy. Then I stirred in spicy mustard, tamari and a raw egg. I tossed this with hot spaghetti until it thickened into a sauce and coated all of the noodles. Then I added some edamame and chopped kimchi (because the natto wasn’t quite stinky enough for me). A drizzle of sesame oil and a sprinkling of black sesame seeds completed the dish. It may sound horrific, but it was actually pretty tasty. It reminded me a little bit of sesame noodles, albeit with a slimier texture and a flavor only a natto fan could love. If you like unusual foods, I dare urge you to try natto!

Unless you’ve been living under a rock (or possibly down in a Dharma hatch) you’ve no doubt heard the news that Lost is ending tonight. People are hosting Lost parties all across the country in celebration of the series finale. I’ve been a fan of the show since the very beginning so I decided to do it justice in my own way: by preparing a Lost-inspired dinner. There are many routes one could take when planning a Lost-themed meal. The most appropriate choice would probably be wild boar cooked over a campfire. You could also do Korean food in honor of Jin and Sun. Or how about Mr. Cluck’s Chicken or Dharma issue ranch dressing for Hurley? Since the show is filmed in Hawaii, I decided to I decided to whip up a bunch of Hawaiian snacks. No Hawaiian snack tray would be complete without Hawaii’s famous surfer treat: Spam Musubi. Sushi rice topped with fried Spam – what’s not to love there? In addition, I chose to make Ahi Poke and Okinawan Sweet Potatoes with Miso-Tahini Dip. Rounding out the ensemble cast were steamed edamame and wedges of fresh mango. To drink, we kept it simple with Dharma-brand micro brews (OK, these weren’t real Dharma beers – Robert made some Dharma labels and slapped them on a couple of Ninkasi IPAs!) It is unlikely that the Lost finale will live up to everyone’s expectations. Regardless of what happens, at least I’ll have a delicious meal to look back on!

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