Thursday, March 31, 2011

Barracuda Taqueria

There is an amazing amount of good Mexican food in and around my hometown (Santa Cruz, California) and as good as La Carta de Oaxaca is, there really is no comparison in Seattle. Barracuda Taqueria was the most recent Mexican restaurant (in a long list) that didn't meet my expectations. If I could fly down to Santa Cruz and bring you some fish tacos, or a carnitas burrito from one of the local Taquerias, you would raise your hand to the sky and start cursing the lack of good Mexican food in Seattle.

At Barracuda, we ordered chips and guacamole, the kids quesadilla, a picadillo taco, a carnitas taco, a chicken mole taco and a chipotle brisket taco. A very generous basket was  delivered to our table full of hot and crisp golden chips. With it came a bowl of smooth and tangy salsa and fresh guacamole that I liked but that my husband thought was lacking. The kids quesadilla was a beautiful golden color  (picture above) with bright orange cheddar oozing out the sides. It was as delicious  as it looks with a crunchy exterior and moist melted cheese. The Picadillo Taco was ground beef served with chunks of potatoes and it was full of spice and flavor.  It was decorated with salsa fresca and cheese.

The other three tacos were all very similar in taste. The chipotle spiced brisket really had no chipotle taste to it at all. It was moist and dripping, with caramelized onions sprinkled on top, but without a chipotle flavor. The chicken had a very faint mole taste to it. Even the carnitas could have been carved from a roast prepared anywhere but Mexico.

This restaurant seems like it could fix this issue without too much work and I hope they do because I loved a lot of things about Barracuda. The chips were fantastic, the salsa was delicious, the service was great, the restaurant is cheery and unique and all constructs of the taco (with the exception of the meat) were excellent.

Barracuda Taqueria on Urbanspoon

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Planning a Meal for 85 People

I was at the meeting for my daughter's school auction and there wasn't anybody assigned to food. I wanted to do something for the auction and cooking seemed like a natural way for me to help so I offered to plan and prepare the auction dinner. After a lot of recipe reading and talking to friends, I decided on an Italian Menu.  I went on a lasagna exploratory adventure and settled on a cheese lasagna and a lasagna bolognese as the central point of the meal. 

I prepared and cooked all the lasagna the day before the auction. At one point I had two pots of lasagna noodles going, two pans of bechamel and two lasagnas in the oven. I worked from 6:30 PM until 1:30 in the morning making lasagna. I would have been done faster with more than 4 burners and more oven space but I had to work with what I had. The most difficult part was not the cooking but estimating the correct amount of food. The event was from 6:30 - 9:30, so prime dinner time, but we didn't charge for the event so there wasn't an assumption that dinner would be served.

Below are the recipes, links and descriptions of the meal. I didn't love the white bean dip from Bittman, I would probably sub out something else if I was going to do this again. I would also replace the cheeseboard with something else because there was cheese at every turn in this menu. I also ended up with too much dip, too much green salad and too many prepared meatballs so the recipes below outline the amount of food slightly above what was consumed instead of what I made, which was a little too much. Would I do this again? Yes I would! It was fun and so, so interesting. I am not, however interested in becoming a professional caterer and I have a new respect for people that do that job. But I loved it; making 85 people feel content and full of delicious food.


Cheese Lasagna
Lasagna Bolognese
Gluten Free Cheese Lasagna
Tortellini Salad
Cheeseboard (4 lbs. of assorted cheese set out next to the bruschetta bar)
Green Salad
Bruschetta Bar (Artichoke Dip, Tapenade, White Bean Dip, Whipped Ricotta with Fresh Herbs)
Pre-Made Meatballs from Trader Joe's

Tortellini Salad

7 9 - 10 ounce Boxes of pre-made tortellini (a mix of two different colors and flavors)
5 cans of black olives, drained
2 containers Cherry Tomatoes (the large ones from TJs), washed
10 ounce chunk of Salami
1/4 Cup Red Wine Vinegar
1/4 Cup Lemon Juice
1 Cup Olive Oil
1 Cup loosely packed Basil

Cook tortellini. Drain and gently toss with a very small amount of Olive Oil to prevent sticking. Mix in cherry tomatoes and black olives. Chop Salami into small 1/3 inch cubes. Place Salami into a separate bowl (if you want to offer a vegetarian version) or drop it in the big bowl (if you don't). In a blender puree the remaining ingredients and mix into the salad(s).


Three pans of this Cheese Lasagna.

One pan of the same Cheese Lasagna made with gluten free lasagna noodles.

Three pans of Lasagna Bolognese. I used this Bolognese recipe. For constructing the lasagna I followed this recipe subbing out my own Bolognese sauce. It is great for making the day before because it is on the wet side which you need if you are going to pre-bake and re-warm.

Green Salad

3 16 ounce containers of mixed greens, washed and spun dry
4 heads of iceberg lettuce, torn or cut into bite-sized pieces, washed and spun dry
6 English Cucumbers, washed and cut into bite sized pieces
3 Red Onions (you don't want strong ones, find sweet red onions, taste them!), sliced into thin rounds and separated
2.5 times Bouchon's Basic Dijon Vinaigrette, adding Salt and Pepper.

Toss everything together.

For the Bruschetta Bar:

Except for cooking the artichoke dip, everything can be prepared ahead of time.


7 Baguettes, sliced into 1/4" pieces
Olive Oil

Reheat the oven to 400 degrees. Brush both sides of each piece with olive oil. Toast them for 10 minutes, turning over half way through until they start to turn golden. After cooling, place them in a ziploc bag and seal.

Bruschetta Toppings

Three jars of Olive Tapenade from Trader Joe's.
A double recipe of Paula Deen's Three Cheese Artichoke Dip.
One recipe of Mark Bittman's White Bean Spread. Not my favorite though.
Whipped ricotta wish fresh herbs: 1 Tub of high quality ricotta beaten. Mix in a small handful of chopped fresh herbs (I used basil), some lemon juice and/or lemon zest, salt and pepper.

Trader Joe's Frozen Meatballs

I don't think I would use these again if I had to repeat this event but about 4 bags of them were eaten.

Friday, March 25, 2011

D'Ambrosio Gelato

D'Ambrosio Gelato reminds me of the gelato shops in London. The store has a very clean modern look and it doesn't feel like your neighborhood ice cream store. Their small serving size, which is extremely generous, allows you 2 different flavors. I generally turn straight to chocolate but it wasn't so easy with the choices they offered. They had a malt flavor, vanilla, a berry that was a swirl of purple and white, hazelnut, chocolate and a few novel ones like Caramel & Figs. I really wanted to try four different flavors but I had to pick two so I settled on chocolate and berry (pictured above). The gelato is creamy, soft and flavorful. My husband got the Malt which he found a little disappointing. It tasted delicious but not like malt. The closest description we could come up with was salted caramel. The kids stuck with chocolate and vanilla. The vanilla had a very strong vanilla flavor to it and the color was beautiful, a warm yellow, like buttercream.  It lived up to its appearance and was possibly the most delicious vanilla gelato I have ever tasted.

D'Ambrosio Gelato on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Bolognese Sauce

I made 11 pans of lasagna this week. Two were experimental, two were test runs and seven were for an auction that I prepared food for. The first two pans of lasagna were vegetarian and made with a white sauce. I really struggled with them. I have come to the conclusion that vegetarian lasagna needs the acidity of tomatoes and the texture from ricotta. I love the leek and artichoke vegetarian lasagna from Greens cookbook but it has ricotta in it. I will keep experimenting but so far, I haven't found a "true white sauce" (i.e. no ricotta and no tomato sauce) vegetarian lasagna that I like.

The third lasagna of the week was a basic cheese lasagna with a pound of mozzarella, a pound of ricotta, parmesan, noodles and marinara. This is a great fast eats recipe that can be made in ten minutes. You could spend longer, if you wished to, making a great marinara from scratch with vegetable add-ins or mix fresh herbs into the ricotta or mix spinach into the ricotta or all of the above. Coming to the conclusion that vegetarian lasagna works best with ricotta was hard for me to admit because I recently embraced lasagna bolognese. Real lasagna bolognese, with no ricotta. It is hands down my favorite kind of lasagna. After my vegetarian lasagna endeavors I returned to this favorite and made enough bolognese sauce for three 10 x 15 pans of lasagna. Here is the recipe that I ended up with.

Bolognese Sauce

3 T Olive Oil
2 pounds ground beef
2 pounds ground pork
1 pounds Italian Sausage, casings removed
1.5 cups dry white wine
4 28 ounce cans of crushed tomatoes
4 onions, finely chopped
4 carrots, finely chopped
4 celery sticks, finely chopped
1.5 tsp crushed fennel seeds
1 T dried oregano
1 T dried thyme

Yields enough for three large pans of lasagna

Pour the Olive Oil into a large pan set over medium low heat. Add the onions, carrots and celery and stir, cooking, until the onion is translucent. Transfer the vegetable mixture to a bowl. Add the meat to the pan, breaking it up with a wooden spoon and stirring until there are no pieces of meat bigger than a lima bean. Cook over medium heat until the meat is no longer red. At this point you will most likely need to drain off all the fat. You can do this by transferring the meat with a slotted spoon to a bowl or by pouring the meat into a fine sieved colander placed over a bowl and letting it drain. Put the meat and vegetables back in the pan and turn the heat up to medium to medium high. Add the wine and stir, scraping the bottom of the pan. Boil off almost all of the wine and then add the rest of the ingredients. Bring to a simmer, taste and add salt and pepper. Stir every 10 - 20 minutes,  for about two hours.

Note: If you like a looser sauce you can stop after an hour. For Lasagna Bolognese or a thicker sauce, cook longer until more liquid has evaporated off. I would also recommend that you taste and add salt and pepper (if needed) every thirty minutes or so.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Seattle Knife Sharpening Service

My favorite knife was given to me by a good friend, it is very light and feels comfortable in my hand. It is also my favorite and most frequently used kitchen tool. All of my knives were hopelessly dull though so I did some research online for local knife sharpening services and Seattle Knife Sharpening Service run by Bob Tate seemed to have a good reputation. We had also heard good things about the service through some friends. One of their knives had been left in a slightly dull state but the rest were had been nicely sharpened. Taking the one dull blade as a fluke, I decided to give Bob a try. We live in Capitol Hill, so after boxing up my knives I headed over to the local UPS store on the corner of Broadway and East Pike and dropped them off. There are two other locations for drop-off and you can also mail them to him if you live out of the area.

A couple of days later I came home to a message on my machine telling me my knives were ready. He also said that he didn't sharpen the paring knife and then he instructed me to throw it away. The way he talked about the paring knife made me envision Bob staring at that knife and just shaking his head. And when I got the box back and looked at the knife, I got what he was saying. I never really noticed just how bent it was so I followed Bob's instructions and threw it away. Whatever your knife sin is, Bob will find out and ask you to cleanse yourself of it. The friends who referred us were berated for not using the steel on their knives enough.

Bob did a great job on my knives, they are all shiny and sharp. Now that I've crossed over to having super sharp knives in my kitchen, it seems like it will be hard to go back. My step-dad keeps my mom's knives nice and sharp but he was in Florida and unable to sharpen my knives so I went with Bob. I would suggest you give him a try if you feel like your knives aren't living up to their potential.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Lunchbox Laboratory

Walking into the Lunchbox Laboratory feels promising; there are cheery decorations, huge windows and happy looking people munching on burgers and fries. The door didn't even finish closing before the hostess was there greeting us. After being seated in a comfy booth, we were handed our menus and our waitress stopped by to take our drink orders. I ordered a coke. She responded with something I couldn't quite understand. "Sugar or fountain coke," at least that is what I heard her say. I asked what the difference was and it turns out it is Mexican Coke and coke made in the United States which has, (drum roll), corn syrup in it. I get it. Corn Syrup is evil. Why are they serving it then? She enunciated 'Mexican' really slowly as if she wasn't sure we would understand her reference to this strange, foreign land. And then after saying the fountain soda had corn syrup in it she stared at me as if daring me to order this soda from the dark side, so I did. After that very intense moment of trying to order a coke, the whole rest of the meal was lovely as was the (same) waitress.

We ordered a Native New Yorker, a Naked Basic and a Burger of the Gods. The New Yorker is a 1/4 lb Kobe beef burger with Monterey Jack, Lunchbox Onions and spicy Buffalo Ketchup and Ranch. My husband loved this burger, the chewy bun and the sauce it was smothered with. He doesn't like mayonnaise but this burger made him happy despite the mayonnaise origins of the ranch dressing. They serve all their burgers just as burgers should be served, with a pile of crisp lettuce, tomato, onion and pickle next to them. The basic Kobe is a basic burger but because we ordered it for our daughter, the same burger is served to you at a kid's meal price. The Burger of the Gods is accurately named, it is covered with blue cheese, balsamic onions and creamy gorgonzola sauce. It is a dripping, intense succulent burger.

The burgers come with your choice of skinny fries, home-made potato chips, sweet potato fries, potato salad or tater tots.  I love that they have fries and home-made chips. I don't think I have ever been to a burger restaurant that makes their very own beautiful, golden, crispy, salted potato chips and offers (fantastic) french fries too. Beyond getting that right (sometimes you just really want fries with your burger no matter how good the chips are), they also satisfy other urges by offering the tater tots, sweet potato fries and potato salad. 

Go! Eat! Enjoy!

Lunchbox Laboratory on Urbanspoon