Tuesday, July 23, 2013

A culinary exploration thru the eyes of a curious traveler: This blog is to share my love of food, drink, travel, art and life with the world!

My Love Affair with the Pacific Northwest!

Oh how I LOVE to travel!I love the smell of a new land and seeking out the things that make a place special. The hidden gems, pop culture spots and mom n pop markets worldwide. There's nothing quite like the satisfaction of helping family owned businesses succeed across the globe!
One of my favorite things to do is sample local cuisine, then come home and make it in my own kitchen. In this section I'll take you with me to the Pacific Northwest where we traveled in May 2013. It was one of those trips that was really hard to come home from. Oh, who am I kidding? I think all getaways are like that for me, I just wanna GO GO GO!!
But on this trip in particular, I really felt like we got spoiled on that part of the country's unique approach toward food. The seafood, the FRESHNESS of every single thing we sampled and the love and care/heart and soul that you could taste in every dish! 
YUM! I heart u Seattle, Portland and San Juan Island!!

Our tour started with 3 days in Seattle, WA. NOWHERE long enough in my opinion but we had a lot of ground to cover. I have an especially soft spot in my heart for Seattle as I lived there in the early 90s for almost 5 years. It was my first big move away from home and what an AWESOME experience. 

My BFF Justine and I set out for the Emerald City chasing the dream of a grunge lifestyle; Nirvana, Soundgarden, Alice in Chains, Seaweed blaring from our speakers as we made our way toward our lush new home. And it didn't disappoint. Many nights we spent rockin out to some really amazing bands just before they hit the big time and you could still see them in small, shitty venues for just 5 bucks. Ah...those were the days! We were dirt poor and rarely had 2 nickels to rub together, and when we did, we most certainly didn't spend them on decent food or drink. So this trip was a little different. Even though the landscape was the same, my priorities had definitely changed! Our focus was on finding good beer (which we did!), good food (which we did!) and good people! Which we most definitely did!
We stayed with my husband's brother and his beautiful family, playing best aunt and uncle in the world to their adorable kids. We visited his brother's in-laws who live in Kirkland and had some really amazing seafood then walked along the homey streets of their quaint little town. I never made my way over to Kirkland before as I didn't have a car then, so I had no idea what a cute lil town it was. There's a little boardwalk area just packed with people on any given evening. Kids running around giggling, a troupe of young b-boys gettin down with a boom box and plenty of young lovers stealing kisses under the gazebo. Perfect summer night!
After spending some time with family we headed straight to Capitol Hill, my old stomping grounds. The first thing I did was to take Gregg (my hubs) on a tour of all the apartments I lived in. 
This used to be the home of Olive tree Pizzeria and it was sooo good. My apartment was directly above it and always smelled of fresh garlic and basil!

 It was great! I love doing that, it's so cool to see that not much has really changed and makes all those memories come rushing back!

We then cruised Broadway and although it didn't look like much had changed...it was clear that I had! The drug filled debauchery that lines sidewalks and store fronts, which once dazzled me with some kind of starry-eyed false glamour, now just made me feel like I needed a shower...and a beer! So that was our mission. We settled in at De Luxe all the way at the end of the strip, which was usually our turn around point back in the day, it now serves as a great spot to sit on the patio, away from all of the gutter punks and change grubbers, and observe the vibrant LGBT culture that thrives in that city and have a great craft beer. I was more than happy to find that they had a SOUNDGARDEN Hefeweizen, seeing as hefes aren't really that big in Denver. And it was delicious!!
It reminded me that was where I developed my love for hefeweizens, sharing my first one with my good friend Sherry. With a huge orange slice on the side of the glass, it was my first "expensive" beer and I remember looking at her and thinking, "Oh, u fancy, huh?".
Anyway, the SG Hefe was amazing and probably one of my all time favorites! 

From there we were off to Pike Place Market! My heart just skips a beat with the mere mention of that place. There's nothing like it! (That I know of) but I'm more than willing to try n find it! :)
PPM covers several city blocks along the "Mudflats" where we used to say all of Seattle's hills came to an end in one magnificent place! I could seriously live there. 
On the surface is a partially outdoor farmer's market consisting of many booths with varied vendors peddling their wares, whereas underneath is a labyrinth of shops and restaurants, old timey newsstands, bodegas, luggage shops, comic book stores, jewelry, asian grocery, toy stores, shoe shines, shall I go on? We went down there a LOT when I lived in Seatown and I ALWAYS got lost. There used to be the coolest little tobacconist down there somewhere and every time I went, I'd try to find it. I think I was only successful 2 or 3 times. The place is a mystery, an anomaly, a beautiful place to begin a love affair with a city and a style of commerce that seems to have fallen on the wayside.

The upper deck includes 2 fresh seafood booths, the likes of which I'd never seen before then, or since for that matter, and the ones you may have seen on TV where they yell a whole lot and throw huge fish thru the air dazzling the tourists. It's magnificent. The most beautiful fresh flower stand, sticky gooey teriyaki meat on sticks, stinky cheese shop, my favorite hippy shop filled with herbs and extracts and potions with buddha statues and waves of nag champa billowing into the halls...LOVE it! 

But my all time favorite thing about PPM is the fresh lil donut shop. Back in the day it was just a little cart which I would literally pray wasn't covered in a sheet and closed for the day after making a trek all the way down there. It's now a full-on booth and supplies you with the most scrumptious lil gems of tongue burning sugar you could ever imagine. I was pleased to see that they were still served to you in a simple little brown bag that was soon covered in grease oozing out of these lil beauties. Piping hot and served either plain or covered in plain, powdered or cinnamon sugar. At something like $3 a dozen it's not much more than the $1.25 I paid in the 90's, and still just as good. We went there TWICE during our 3 day stay!

The floors of the market are lined with thousands upon thousands of little tiles that were available for purchase as a way of donating to the cause and solidifying your name in history forever. 
Gregg just happened to look down and see this one at his feet amongst the vast sea of tiles! Aww...Seattle loves me back!!

The best thing about Lowell's is that they advertise as "Almost Classy" and I think I used to work there but I'm not exactly sure! 
When you go there, be sure to sample some fresh oysters at Emmett's across the street or at Lowell's which has an amazing view of the Puget Sound and be sure to take the path near the corner of the market which leads out to the back side alone Western Ave, it's a great spot to kind of "take it all in".

During the next 2 days, we did (and ate) a lot! 

We trekked over to Fremont to see the troll who lives under the bridge just a few blocks from my old apartment. Ordinarily I'd never miss out on the chance to eat at Yak's Teriyaki, which is across the street from my old place and on a good day there was a constant stream of ridiculously good smells blowing thru my bedroom window. I couldn't wait til payday when I'd go get a huge to-go container of sticky gooey rice covered with the best bright pink teriyaki sauce I've ever had and what was probably an entire chicken. That styrofoam box of goodness kept me fed for 3 whole days!
Yak's Teriyaki on UrbanspoonPaseo on Urbanspoon
"Paseo" a hidden lil gem in Fremont

But this time we had other plans, and I know we'll be back again so I wasn't worried. We were on the hunt for PaseoA secret little spot we saw on some cooking channel show years ago and had to seek out. It's one of those spots with no real sign and you'd most definitely miss it when you were driving down Fremont if you didn't know it was there. It opens at 11AM and got there just in time, we were 2nd or 3rd in line and within minutes there was a line down the block behind us. (Not so secret after all, eh?) We had some of the most delicious cuban sandwiches ever! And they're HUGE! We took them over to the bridge and ate with the troll :) 

When making our way back to Seatown Proper, we took a detour to avoid rush hour traffic and stumbled upon Fremont Brewing Company! And thank god we did!! Despite the name, it's actually in Wallingford, right on the water, with a fantastic patio and an awesome bunch o people working there. They were so welcoming and their beer...fantastic!
The "Smoked Tea" was awesome and would be a perfect marinade for brats!

 We got the sampler before I settled on a hefeweizen, of course! The perfect end to a perfect day of Northwestern adventure!

Seattle has a great sense of humor 

Seattle has a very rich artistic vibe and a great sense of humor, You'll notice it everywhere you go. EVERYWHERE you look, you'll see somebody's idea of art and tons of public art installments, which I LOVE and think is absolutely vital to raising a healthy city. PPM is a great example of this, if you walk out the backside, as I instructed, you'll see a bunch of little silver people coming out of the side of the building. They're awesome and pictures don't really do them justice at all. They're so cool.

 They're everywhere! And I just love that someone took the time to do something so random and so cool.

And then...there's POST ALLEY!! Which is kind of underneath the market and absolutely magical. It's just an explosion of art and randomness that's truly inspiring. One wall is made of chewed up gum and has been growing for decades! People come along and stick their gum on the wall, some comprised of SEVERAL pieces, they're huge! There are sculptures stuck to the wall using gum, gum marriage proposals, you name it! It's awesome!

The opposite wall is entirely dedicated to wheat paste. If you're not familiar with wheat pasting, it's a medium which is widely popular in graffiti culture and has long been a way to get away with graffiti without actually spray painting. Not that it's necessarily legal, but it seems to be more widely accepted, maybe due to the fact that it's often comical nature. Banksy is a great example of this. But this wall is INCREDIBLE! And once again, pictures do no do it justice.
Post Alley is also comprised of shops and restaurants and there's just something completely dreamy and European about it. If I was homeless, I'd live there and pretend I was in Italy!
Rolling fresh pierogies at the market

They have all kinds of wonderful fillings and smell incredible! We'll definitely have to try them next time!

Beautiful fresh flowers from the flower cart

My friend, the pig. Pigs are all over the market, and Seattle for that matter. Another story for another time!

The remainder of our trip featuring San Juan Island and Portland coming soon......

Sunday July 21, 2013

Today I finally conquered........

 Steamed Duck Buns!!
Well...kinda. I've long been a fan of the buns and think the first time I had one that really knocked my socks off was at Linger.
Linger's Mongolian BBQ Duck Buns...a squishy bit o heaven!
Since then I've been wanting to recreate them. The reason I say "kinda" is because I'm going to make them from BBQ chicken thighs rather than duck and I'm not taking the time today to make steamed buns from scratch. We took a bike ride into downtown Denver yesterday and stopped at the Pacific Mercantile
 in Sakura Square on 19th and Lawrence.
LOVE this place! I used to go down there all the time when I was a budding foodie and my curiosity to explore new worlds led me to all kinds of exotic little markets. This one has always held a special place in my heart.

Back then, in what was probably the mid-nineties, there was scarcely any English on any of the packaging. It was just kind of a crap shoot. Many of the packages were opaque as well, so you couldn't even see what you were getting. Needless to say, I ended up with some pretty interesting dishes. Some of which I'll never know what they were...but they were good!
 Nowadays, it's very user friendly and they're more than willing to help you find what you need. There's a great bulk section too where I always get my sesame seeds and stock up on herbs n spices as well.

They're WAY cheaper than getting them in those tiny little spice jars at King Soopers!
There's also a great little sundries type section in the back where you can get incense, gigantic colanders, saki sets, Hello Kitty schwag, sushi rollers, whisks, you name it. I think I've even gotten bamboo sandals there before! Anyway...go!

Ok, so MY version, as I said before, will be using BBQ Chicken Thighs rather than duck. So my first step is to marinate the thighs. I use boneless, skinless thighs. They're much easier to work with and grill up nice n crispy, fast too! I marinade them in hoisin, bbq, or Veri Veri Teriyaki, or a combination of the three. Sometimes I add a little honey and ginger too!

Grill em up until the juices run clear.
After grilling the thighs, cover with foil and set aside. Just before building your buns, pull em out and slice them. I didn't do that this time and wish that I had.

While you're thighs are grillin' u can steam your buns. I'm sure there's a joke in there somewhere ;) 
While I would like to master making them myself one day, I thought it'd be best to try it first with the premade version.
I just steamed mine in a veggie steamer basket for about 10 minutes.
  They were really good...and came out huge! I'd make them 1/2 the size if I made em from scratch.
I added the chicken, then topped with tons of cilantro, bok choy sautéed in sesame oil (yum all by itself!), scallions, sliced green apples and sriracha mayo. Oh em gee! Awesome!!

Served with a side of my famous...Sesame Honey Carrot Slaw, which I've been making for years now. I use this awesome grater thingy I got at IKEA a million years ago, it was like $3 and some of the best money I've ever spent. It's a plastic oval dish with a lid and 2 attachments. You just take off the lid and replace it with either the large or fine grater lid and grate the day away, you can then mix everything in that bowl or put the lid on it n it'll keep fresh. So simple and smart, love it!

Just grate the carrots, then fresh ginger. Stir in sesame oil, honey, sesame seeds and S&P. That's it! The longer it marinates, the better it gets. I eat the leftovers for lunch all the time.
Sesame Honey Carrot Slaw...what??

Monday July 22, 2013

And for today's feature...
Sweet Salmon Spring Rolls with Lemon Soy Wasabi Mayo 

I guess you could say, I'm "in a mood". An asian mood! Their flare for fresh flavors, crisp veggies n spicy sidekicks are just the ticket for a 100 degree day in Denver. OK, it's not quite 100, but it's close! Either way...it's HOT and I aim to cool us off with some crisp, cool vegetables and healthy salmon wrapped in a crunchy spring roll. I think I'll try to bake them rather then fry for a less greasy version! 

I started by marinating the salmon in a little soy, mayo, lemon and wasabi.(KILLER!)

Soak your noodles in cold water for 20 mins before cooking.
While your salmon is marinating, cook up your rice noodles, I used rice vermicelli this time around. After cooking your noodles al dente,(Cook until noodles are white and soft inside but still slightly resilient, about 5 minutes.) rinse with cool water and refrigerate. Stir every now and then to prevent them from getting mushy on the bottom.

Henry says "Spring rolls? When?"

You'll then dip your wrappers in water completely for a few seconds before adding your filling. 
This is definitely one of those situations where you'll want to have all your ingredients ready in sort of an assembly line....trust me!

Pull the bottom up to cover as much of the filling as you can, then fold the sides over making a rectangle. Then roll up from the bottom until you have a tight roll.
Bake at 350 for 30-40 mins
-Mayo, wasabi, lemon and soy marinated salmon...YUM! (make extra for dipping)
-carrot slaw
-pickled radishes

-vermicelli noodles

Tuesday July 23, 2013

 My very first live cooking demo!
At the Broomfield Farmer's market

I needed to find a recipe that would use fresh produce from the market and possibly bread from 2 different vendors. I wanted something light, crisp and summery. This is what I chose.

Neicy's Garbanzo Tomato & Cilantro Salad with Chile Lime Cumin Vinaigrette 

Ingredients:          Serves 4-6

1 Can Garbanzo Beans (chickpeas), rinse well and drain

4 Tomatoes or 1 Cup Cherry Tomatoes, diced 

2 stalks of Green Onion, sliced

1 Cup Fresh Cilantro, chopped (1/2 will go into dressing)

1/2 Cup Fresh Mint, chopped (1/2 will go into dressing)


2 T Fresh Squeezed Lime Juice
2 T Extra-Virgin Olive Oil
1/2 tsp Ground Chili Powder
1/4 tsp Cayenne Pepper
1/4 tsp Fresh Ground Coriander Seed
1/2 tsp Ground Cumin
1/2-1 tsp or more (I like a LOT) Freshly Ground Whole Cumin Seed (Grinding Cumin Seed with a mortar & pestle really bring out the flavors!)
1/2 tsp Onion Powder
Zest from one lime
1/2 Cup of Cilantro
1/4 Cup Fresh Mint
Sea Salt & Fresh Ground Pepper to taste


1. Drain beans into colander and rinse until no foam remains. Drain well. 
2. In a large bowl, whisk together lime juice, olive oil, then remaining ingredients. Marinate for at least an hour.
3. Chop tomatoes and green onions and add to bowl. Mix well.
4. Add cilantro and mint then S&P to taste. Now you're ready to serve! I've also added avocado and it was delicious!!
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It was a huge hit and my samples went like hotcakes. Photos to follow!

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