Five Places for Great Mexican Food in the South Sound

pacos tacos enchilada plate

Happy #CincoDeMayo! To celebrate, here is a list of my favorite Mexican restaurants in the South Puget Sound. I’m originally from Eastern Washington, where there was a high Latino population and great Mexican food could be found on every corner, so I’ve become kind of a Mexican food snob. It’s difficult to find places that are both locally-owned and authentic. Here are a few of my favorites:

Paco’s Tacos 4520 Lacey Blvd. Lacey, WA

pacos tacos closuep enchiladas

Paco’s Taco’s is kind of hole-in-the-wall on Lacey Boulevard, and doesn’t have a whole lot for décor except for come colorful laminated tablecloths and pictures of some of the featured specials.

The menu features shrimp bowls, hard tacos, chilequiles, (corn chip strips covered in sauce and seasoned picadillo—pilled pork) carne asada and enchiladas. The enchiladas can be filled with all types of meat, beef, pulled pork and if you’re feeling adventurous lengua (tongue), My favorite is the chicken. Something magical happens when they prepare their chicken to put in their enchiladas. It is the MOISTEST chicken I’ve ever had in an enchilada.

California Taco Truck Lacey & Olympia

Looking for Mexican food on the go? Look no further than California Tacos. They have four locations in Thurston County—two in Lacey and two in Olympia. Their taco and quesadillas are served on fresh white corn tortillas, and are topped with your choice of meat and cilantro. They also have tortas—which are Mexican sandwiches stuffed with meat, cheese and vegetables.   Make it a combo with refried beans and rice. They also have portable tables and chairs with limited seating, which makes a great outdoor dining option on a sunny day.

Ramirez Mexican Store, 5105 Capitol Blvd. SW #C Tumwater

A homemade chicken tamale smothered in salsa rojo, crema and cotija cheese.

A homemade chicken tamale smothered in salsa rojo, crema and cotija cheese.

I’ve written about the Ramirez Mexican Store, located on Tumwater Blvd., just south of the Costco/Freddy’s complex on Trosper. It’s both an eatery and a store to buy Mexican spices, fresh salsa and pan dulce (sweet Mexican doughnuts).  What they’re best known for is their tamales. For about $3 each, they’re longer than the length of your hand, smothered in either red tomato salsa or green roasted tomatillo salsa, drizzled with crema—a smooth dairy sauce and topped with cotija cheese.

El Toro, Tacoma

With multiple locations in Lakewood and Tacoma, this Mexican restaurant LOVES CHEESE. Everything is covered in a thick, melty layer of jack and cheddar cheeses. And best of all—they have two kinds of salsa—green tomatillo/jalapeno and red tomato salsa.

La Salvadorena, 122 H St. Aberdeen

salvadorena 1 salvadorena 2

Ok. So this place sells Salvadorian food and does not technically qualify as Mexican food. But Salvadorian cooking is very similar to Mexican cooking, with staples like tacos and enchiladas. What sets Salvadorian restaurants apart from Mexican restaurants is the papusa. (Pa-poo-SA). Papusas are thick, homemade corn stuffed with cheese and various fillings. La Salvadorena has nearly a dozen filling combinations including jalapenos, beef, cheese, chicken,  chorizo (Mexican sausage) and lengua. They have also recently expanded their menu to include desserts like fried plantains and flan.

I Ate Here: Lanai Cafe Olympia, WA

Thurston County is saying ‘aloha’ to Hawaiian flavors. The Lanai Café opened in downtown Olympia less than six months ago. Though the owners are from the Pacific Northwest, their business partners are from Maui and Oahu.

Lanai Pulled Pork Main

As the name suggests, this pork dish is marinated and braised with Kalua. It has a deep, smokey flavor and tender texture.

The menu features items like a savory pulled pork that is slow cooked and shredded. It can be eaten on its own or put inside pulled pork sliders. There are braised Kali short ribs, fried pork loin, chicken katsu (a breaded fried chicken breast with a tonkatsu—barbecue sauce) Spam appetizers, Hawaiian sweet bread, and Kona coffee drinks, just to name a few. All combos are served with Asian sesame salad and steamed white rice, or for a little extra, you can order pineapple fried rice.

Lanai Platter 1

Kalua Pork platter served with Asian sesame salad, steamed white rice and a slice of pineapple

One of the biggest surprises was the lumpia, which is traditionally a Filipino appetizer. It’s like an eggroll, but filled with meat and served in a rice flour wrapper (as opposed to a regular flour wrapper), which makes them extra crispy.  I make this dish often, with a recipe passed down from my mother’s side of the family for generations, so I was curious to see what the Hawaiian take was on it.

Lumpia at the Lanai Cafe. Though a traditional Filipino dish, the Lanai offers a Hawaiian take on the dish from the Philippine Islands

Lumpia at the Lanai Cafe. Though a traditional Filipino dish, the Lanai offers a Hawaiian take on the dish from the Philippine Islands

The Hawaiian version is made with beef, and instead of using a simple salt and pepper seasoning the Hawaiians use a jerk seasoning blend—which is a hodge podge of sweet and slightly spicy seasonings including cinnamon, cloves, brown sugar and garlic, which gave the savory appetizer a slightly sweet and spicy, almost peppery undertone, which was a delightful departure from the Filipino version I am used to. (It’s still not as good as the Filipino version I make, but since I am Filipino, I will always think the Filipino version is better) It is the best lumpia I’ve eaten so far at a restaurant.

The Lani Café

514 Capitol Way S. Olympia

Hours:

Mon-Th 11 a.m.- 8 p.m.

Fri-Sat 11a.m. -10 p.m.

Entrée Price Range: $7-15

 

Bruce Lee Ate Here: Tai Tung Restaurant, Seattle

 

Bruce Lee ate here. And now I have too. For a Christmas gift, I took my husband to the Wing Luke Asian history museum in Seattle for an interactive walking tour about Bruce Lee and his past haunts in Seattle, which included a Chinese performing arts theater, an apartment which used to house his dojo in the basement, and of course, one of his favorite Chinese restaurants, the Tai Tung.

tai tung sign

Built in 1935, the Tai Tung is the oldest Chinese restaurant in Seattle. There are large circular tables with lazs Suzans for group dining. Bruce was born in San Francisco, lived in Hong Kong and then moved to Seattle and lived there for a number of years long before he gained a major following as a movie star in the U.S.  He attended, though did not complete college at the University of Washington and met and later married his wife, Linda in Seattle. Our tour guide told us the Tai Tung was one of Bruce’s favorite places to eat .

The Tai Tung were three other couples who joined us on the tour, which made for easy family-style dining. The meal included in the tour started out with a simple bowl of chicken stock with wilted cabbage leaves. Basically won-ton soup without the won-tons. Apparently, Bruce chose this lighter soup to serve as more of an appetizer, something to whet your mouth before the main course.  The second appetizer was Chinese fried chicken wings. Unlike Southern fried chicken wings which are dredged in all-purpose flour, Chinese chicken wings are dredged in a rice flour, which gives the wings a lighter and crunchier texture.

friedchicken1

Chinese fried chicken is crunchier and lighter than traditional fried chicken because it is dredged in rice flour.

Chinese fried chicken

Chinese fried chicken

The main courses included a  glazed garlic shrimp stir-fry. The garlic was amply-sized and tender and the garlic glaze was neither overly-salty nor overly garlic. It allowed the fishy, sea brininess of the shrimp to shine. Our tour guide tells us this was one of Bruce Lee’s favorite dishes, which his wife Linda learned to cook for him.

Garlic shrimp, one of Bruce Lee's favorites

Garlic shrimp, one of Bruce Lee’s favorites

chow mein

pork chow mein with sliced mushtooms and pan fried noodles

The other components of the meal included a sampling of other menu items, which may or may not have been Bruce’s favorites, but are popular with the locals. There was a pan fried pork chow mein. The noodles had a soft texture sort of like spaghetti, not the harder gelatinous texture found on most other menus. There was also a grilled, marinated pork  dish with plenty of sauce to pair with sticky Calrose rice and sweet and sour chicken. 


Glazed pork stir fry

Glazed pork stir fry

The tour also includes all-day admission to all the exhibits in the Wing Luke Museum and the guided historic hotel tour, located next to the museum. It served as both as an Asian-run general store and as a place to live for Asian immigrants and refugees.

Me (left), My husband, Steven (right) with Cardboard Bruce Lee (center) at the Wing Luke Musem

Me (left), My husband, Steven (right) with Cardboard Bruce Lee (center) at the Wing Luke Musem

The Bruce Lee Tour is $41.95 per adult, plus tax.

The Tai Tung Restauranunt

659 S. King St, Seattle

Hours

Mon-Thurs 11 a.m.-10:30 p.m.; Fri-Sat: 11 a.m.-midnight; Sun 11 a.m.-10 p.m.

Price Range: $8-14

 

 

 

I cooked this! Ham Bone Soup with Smashed Navy Beans

Christmas is over, but don’t throw away that ham bone! You can use your leftover ham as the base for this wonderfully hearty, soup. It takes about 2-3 hours on a low simmer to get the ham to the point to where it falls clean off the bone and it’s hard not to eat any of it while it’s cooking–it fills your house with the sweet, smoky aroma of ham!

Category: Easy  Prep Time: 10 minutes   Cook Time: 3 hours

Leftover ham bones from holiday dinners serve as the base for this simple, yet flavorful soup. alternatively, you an use 1-2 ham hocks if you don't want to prepare a whole ham.

Leftover ham bones from holiday dinners serve as the base for this simple, yet flavorful soup. alternatively, you an use 1-2 ham hocks if you don’t want to prepare a whole ham.

Ingredients:

  • Bone from cooked ham with remnants of meat attached. About 1 ½-2 lbs
  • 1 pound Navy Beans, rinsed and drained
  • 10 sprigs fresh parsley
  • 1 small onion, diced
  • l large clove garlic, roughly chopped
  • 10 sprigs fresh thyme or 1 Tbs. dry thyme
  • salt and pepper to taste
ham bone soup stock

ham bone soup stock

Directions

  1. Place navy beans inside a large stockpot or Dutch oven and cover with 2-21/2 inches of water. Bring beans to a boil. Reduce heat and let simmer for 5 minutes. Turn off the heat and cover for one hour. DO NOT DRAIN.
  2. After beans have cooked for an hour, add the rest of your ingredients. Place ham on top. Turn heat back to medium high–just enough to get the contents simmering again. Cover and let simmer for 2-3 hours or until meat falls off the bone easily when scraped with a fork.
  3. Remove ham from pot and place on a platter. Using two forks scrape off the meat from the bone and shred the ham. Add the ham back to the stock pot. Using a masher, slightly mash the beans. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Note: Soup will be thick. For a thinner consistency add more water during cook time. Refrigerated leftover soup may thicken up. Add water 1 tablespoon at a time and stir until you get desired consistency. Then reheat on high for 2 minutes or until hot.

I Ate Here: Pellegrino’s Italian Kitchen: Tumwater

Filled with old world Italian charm, Pellegrino’s Italian Kitchen in Tumwater is a great place for a fresh and satisfying lunch. The menu features an assortment of gourmet sandwiches and pasta entrees. The chef, Sam Pellegrino has been a chef and restaurateur for over 30 years. He’s catered several fine dining events in Thurston County, including more than 1,500 Japanese and American guests during the governor’s sister state reception in the Capitol Rotunda.

pellegrinos sign

The portion sizes are perfect for lunch. They are served in bowls that are not two or three times the size of a normal bowl. You can eat a salad, a soft, warm ciabatta roll with a side of balsamic vinegar and olive oil for dipping that comes with the pasta and not be too full by the time the pasta arrives. You can finish the pasta and feel satisfied, not so full like you are going to explode.

The spaghetti bolognese is cooked to al dente perfection (there’s also a gluten free pasta for $1 more) and is covered in slow-simmered tomato sauce that is light, creamy and sweet. It is mixed with tender, seasoned ground beef and topped with shiny dollops of fluffy ricotta cheese.

SPAGHETTI PELLEGRINOS

spaghetti bolognese

The antipasto salad is light, fresh and features an assortment of green lettuces and marinated vegetables such as celery, onions and mushrooms.

pellegrinos salad

antipasto salad

This month, the menu also features a “sausagefest” assortment of sandwiches with grilled garlic ciabatta bread and your choice of four sausages featuring four types of sausages including a milder andouille sausage to a super spicy Louisiana hot sausage.

They also have a large catering menu,a friendly staff with extensive menu knowledge,  dining on two floors and a banquet room that can seat up to 30 people for special events.

The only weird thing about the restaurant is that it’s right across the cemetery. On a bright, sunny day, it looks like a lovely park lined with flowers, trees and the tombstones are simply a side note. On a gray, rainy day or after dark, it might look like the setting for the beginning of the zombie apocalypse, but in either case is entertaining stare at while eating.

Pellegrino’s Italian Kitchen.

205 Cleveland Ave SE, Tumwater

360-709-9020

Lunch: Weekdays 11-4, Sat. Sun. 11-2

Dinner: Mon-Thursday 4-9; Fri 4-10, Sat. 2-10, Sun 2-9

Check out the video tour.

Is Geoduck the Latest Culinary Trend?

Geoduck–The Next Culinary Trend?

geoduck

Geoduck: The Giant Clam.

I’ve always been fascinated by strange-looking food and been brave enough to try things that aren’t typically thought of as mainstream American fare. Perhaps it comes from my Filipino side of the family and being exposed to things like pickled pigs feet and watching my mom eat balut (a Filipino delicacy that is an egg containing a fertilized duck embryo).

The latest food fad in the Pacific Northwest appears to be geoduck (pronounced GOOEY-duck), a giant clam that looks more like the male genitalia than something to cook with. The phallically-shaped bivalve is the largest and longest of the clam species weighs in at nearly two pounds and has a crop cycle of about six years.  

Geoduck is popping up at restaurants and seafood shops all over the state. KING 5 recently broadcasted a story featuring Olympic Mountain Ice Cream that used the ingredient in ice cream. (Author’s note: although I have not yet personally tried the geoduck ice cream, the company has more than 30 flavors of ice cream that are sold in several Puget Sound retailers as well as produces a sweet and refreshing lavender honey flavor sold at the Sequim Lavender Festival each summer that I have tried, and is wonderful). Robert Irvine was once forced to make a Geoduck and Mushroom salad on an episode of Dinner: Impossible. And there are a growing number of Seattle restaurants that use the item regularly on their menus.

So, why is a seemingly ugly,unappetizing, and quite frankly, freaky ingredient making its way onto our plates?

Maybe its the fact that their size can produce a lot of servings per bivalve.  Maybe its because like most shellfish, it’s low in saturated fat and a good source of protein.  Or maybe people are becoming more adventurous with their food.

I decided to find out for the latter reason. As we were driving home from a business conference this week, my husband and I decided to stop by Taylor Shellfish Farms in Shelton, to try a bowl of geoduck clam chowder.

geoduck chowder

Overall, I was rather disappointed with the chowder. It was a hearty, stew with many colorful diced ingredients: potatoes, carrots, celery and generous amounts of cracked black pepper, I found very little geoduck. The geoduck chunks were so tiny, I at first thought they were chunks of potato. The geoduck had a surprisingly un-clam-like texture–soft and silky instead of the firm and chewy, chunky texture I’d expect from clams in razor clam chowders from the Washington coast. (side note: I spent several years as a reporter in Ocean Shores sampling varieties of chowder restaurants use to compete in its Razor Clam Festival) The little geoduck chunks that I were able to find, did not have the fishy, seafood flavor I’ve come to expect from chowder. In fact, the geoduck hardly had any flavor at all.  Although the broth was a bit too thin for my preferance of chowder, allowed the flavors of the other components to come through nicely, just not the geoduck.

So I’m kind of reluctant to try it in other forms–in salad, fried, steamed, in ice cream. I NEED YOUR FEEDBACK, DEAR READERS.

 Is this the way geoduck is supposed to taste? What’s your favorite way to eat geoduck? Who serves the best geoduck in the Puget Sound? Got any recipes to share? Post your recommendations in the comments below.

South Canadian Foodie Girl Ate Here–Best Places to Eat in Victoria, B.C.

South Canadian Foodie Girl: Victoria, B. C.

Standing in front of the Parliament building in Victoria, British Columbia

Standing in front of the Parliament building in Victoria, British Columbia

Hello loyal South Sound Foodies! I apologize for my nearly month-long absence. I was getting married to my loving, loyal man of seven years! We honeymooned in Victoria, British Columbia.  Fun Fact: Victoria, B.C. has the most restaurants per capita in North America, second to only San Francisco. So for my triumphant return to my SSFG blog, I give you South Canadian Foodie Girl: Best Places to Eat in Victoria, B.C.

The Fairmont Empress Hotel –721 Government St.

Delights on the Afternoon Tea Platter at The Fairmont Empress Tea Room

Delights on the Afternoon Tea Platter at The Fairmont Empress Tea Room

There are tea houses all over Canada, but one of the best places to drink tea while experiencing historical ambiance is at the Fairmont Empress Hotel. The Fairmont Empress has been serving Afternoon Tea for over 105 years. Guests from around the world have experienced Afternoon Tea precisely how Anna, Duchess of Bedford intended it to be when she first invited her guests for tea and scones. Over the years our pastry chefs have perfected the scones, shortbread and rest of the delicacies to truly delight the senses. The china which you will be served with today was first used by The Empress in 1939 for the Royal visit of King George VI and Queen Elizabeth. This pattern is now produced exclusively for the Empress Tea Lobby.

According to the Empress website,

…the Empress blend (of tea) is a selection of seasonal, quality teas, created exclusively for The Fairmont Empress by the Metropolitan Tea Company. With components from Assam (thick malty and full-bodied), Kenya (floral-like flavour and a golden coppery infusion), South India (superb fruity and sprightly flavour), Ceylon (airy, almost piquant flavour), and China (burgundy depth with light oaky notes), it is truly one of the finest blends in the world.

tea

The menu included fresh blueberries with cream, a delightful assortment of finger sandwiches that included: Smoked Salmon Pinwheel with Dill Cream Cheese Roasted Honey Ham with Tarragon Dijonnaise Free Range Egg Salad Croissant Cucumber & Ginger Mascarpone on Butter Brioche Moroccan Spiced Coronation Chicken on Marble Rye and THE BEST. SCONES. EVER. They were light, fluffy, and soft. The ones at most carnivals are dense and dry out easily. I’ve tried re-creating the scones at home with Bisquick mix, with minimal success.The flavors are there using the Bisquick recipe, but it is a bit more dense and can the bottoms can burn more easily. I filled the scones with Empress Cream and imported strawberry preserves from England.

Pagliacci’s-1101 Broad St.

Located just blocks from the harbor and downtown Victoria, my husband and I took a chance on Pagliacci’s because a couple of friends on our Facebook pages recommended it to us. The walls are decorated with autographed photos of American actors. The menu items are named after actors or Hollywood movies: Bill Murray’s Meatballs, Men Who Stare At Goat Cheese, Prawns Al Capone.

italian

I had “The Cabinet of Dr. Capetelli.” a bowl filled with tortelloni pasta filled with beef, Parmesan, cottage and mozzarella cheeses, tossed in a chunky tomato sauce, mushrooms,onions and red wine topped with baked Parmesan and mozzarella. So. much. cheese. The half portions are enough for two meals. Eat anything on the menu and you’ll be in a deviously delightful food coma. And the bread sticks are soft with a crunchy texture of herbed cornmeal crumbs. On a weekend, the line goes out the door and the wait time could be more than half an hour, so plan ahead. The wait it totally worth the rustic Italian style dinners.

Blue’s Bayou Cafe-899 Marchant Rd.

Southern food is probably the furthest thing from your mind when you think of Canada. Blue’s Bayou Cafe has some of the best cajun food you’ll find thousands of miles north of the Big Easy. Located just minutes away from Butchart Gardens on Brentwood Bay, Blue’s Bayou Cafe is hidden away behind a grove of trees on the marina.

blackened chicken wrap with cajun mayo and bean sprouts

blackened chicken wrap with cajun mayo and bean sprouts

The owners took a trip to New Oreleans in 1999 and fell in love the culture and cuisine and decided to bring it to British Columbia. Every year they bring some sort knick-knack to hang in the restaurant–marti gras masks, alligators.  The menu features Po’boys (with whatever the meat of the season is—fish, alligator, oysters) jambalya, Mississippi Smoked cracked Pepper Ribs. I chose the blackened chicken cajun wrap with chioptotle mayo and fresh bean sprouts with a side of alligator gumbo! The chicken was moist and tender, blackened but not bitter and the chipotle gave it a hint of spice that was pronounced but not overpowering. The gumbo was filled with fluffy rice, cilantro, chunks of roasted tomatoes and tender chunks of alligator.

Alligator Gumbo

Alligator Gumbo

Barb’s Fish And Chips 1 Dallas Rd.

fish and chiips

fish and chips

Barb’s Fish And Chips is probably the BUSIEST restaurant at Fisherman’s Wharf. The menu has an assortment of fresh, steamed seafood–Dungeness crab, mussels, clams, salmon and both fresh and fried cod. The fish and chips are done in a batter with seltzer water–the classic English way, so the batter is light and crisp. The joint has been popular with the locals for 31 years and has been voted one of the best dockside seafood restaurants in Sunset magazine.

Barb's Seafood Chowder

Barb’s Seafood Chowder

One of the best things on the menu is the seafood chowder. It’s made with a variety of fish, clams and other odds and ends of seafood from the harbor with a creamy broth with chopped herbs and corn. The corn adds extra texture and sweetness and each serving comes with a couple of slices of baked garlic bread for dipping. The chowder is a great way to warm you up after a day of whale watching.

I Ate Here: Ramirez Mexican Store, Tumwater, WA

Ramirez Mexican Store Offers Tamales y Comida Muy Autentica (Very Authentic Food)

A plate of chicken tamales and pork enchiladas at Ramirez Mexican store in Tumwater, Wash.

A plate of chicken tamales and pork enchiladas at Ramirez Mexican store in Tumwater, Wash.

I’m originally from Yakima, Wash., a city wthose population is nearly half Hispanic. On nearly every corner, you can find flavorful, authentic Mexican, food in the form of restaurants and outdoor“taco wagons,” food carts where you can watch cooks prepare the food in front of you.

Since moving to western Washington seven years ago, I’ve often struggled to find great Mexican food that rivaled that of my hometown, particularly tamales (a most street food made of a ground corn substance called masa that’s filled with a variety of meats and wrapped inside a corn husk and steamed.) Tamales sold at many restaurants and supermarkets have tamales that are grainy and dry. But Ramirez Mexican Store in Tumwater got it right!.

For $2.95 diners can eat a tamale that comes stuffed with your choice of chicken or pork. Each tamale is  slathered in rijo (red) or verde (green sauce). Chicken tamales have a traditional tomato-based red sauce, while the pork comes with the green tomatillo sauce. The tamale is finished with a drizzling of smooth crema and cotija cheese crumnbles. (Cotija is a cow’s milk cheese that has a texture similar to feta) Each tamale is moist and melts in your mouth! Best of all is the value for your money. Most tamales are small and can fit in your hand. These tamales are served on a big dinner plate and are about 1 ½ times the length of your hand (unless you have big hands like Shaq, then maybe it’s just one). On Mondays, you can spend about $10 to get the two tamale lunch special that comes with a side of rice and beans. Some of the beans in the refried beans have not been crushed all the way, so there are delightful chunks of beans with every bite.

A homemade chicken tamale smothered in salsa rojo, crema and cotija cheese.

A homemade chicken tamale smothered in salsa rojo, crema and cotija cheese.

Other items on the menu include tacos, enchiladas, wet burritos, and quesadillas that can be filled with a variety of meats such as asada (steak), barbacoa (shredded pork), chicken, pulled pork carnitas, chile verde, ground beef, or lengua (beef tongue). When you dine in, make sure to fill up on the complimentary chips. Their chips are quite different than chips you would get at most Mexican restaurants. They are quite a bit thicker–almost like a pita chip and they have seeds in them (I suspect either chia or flax seeds).

After you’re done eating, stop by the Mexican store and panaderia (bakery). The bakery has a wide selection of pan dulce (Mexican donuts) that are topped with a rainbow of sugar. Some are stuffed with cream, others chocolate. The churros are rolled in white sugar and cinnamon and filled with different flavors. Each one is a surprise. The one I ate was pineapple. The store has some of their fresh baked tortillas and lots of hard to find latin ingredients like chile de arbol, spanish adobo seasoning, and dried rose buds.

In additon to the main tumwater store, there is also a smaller Ramirez to Go location in West Olympia that is open for breakfast. (Breakfast burritos, huevos rancheros–eggs)

 

Ramirez Mexican Store

Most Entres $8-$10, sides about $4

Ramirez Mexican Store

5105 Capitol Blvd. SW #C

Tumwater, WA 98501

Store Hours

Mon-Thurs: 9:00am-8:00pm

Fri-Sat: 9:00am-9:00pm

Sun: 9:00am-7:00pm

Ramirez To Go

2400 Harrison Ave SW

Olympia, WA 98501

Note: Hours for the Ramirez To Go location were not listed on the website. It’s advisable to call in advance for hours. (360) 753-1829

 

I Cooked This! Alton Brown’s Green Bean Casserole

For #throwbackthursday, I’m sharing a classic recipe: Green Bean Casserole. In February, I went to @AltonBrown’s #edibleinevitable tour when he stopped in Seattle. Audience members live tweeted Alton some questions and one person asked Alton if there were any other dishes besides cornbread that could be made with a cast iron skillet. The whole audience hissed. Alton said this was culinary blasphemy! Quicker versions of the dish use a couple cans of cream of mushroom soup, but on a weekend, take the time to use fresh mushrooms. And go easy on the salt. A little bit of kosher salt packs a lot of punch in this recipe, from  Alton Brown’s Good Eats: The Early Years.

Green Bean Casserole ala Rachel ala Alton

Green Bean Casserole ala Rachel ala Alton

2 medium onions, thinly sliced

1/4 cup all-purpose flour

2 tablespoons panko bread crumbs

1 teaspoon kosher salt

Nonstick cooking spray

For beans and sauce:

2 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon kosher salt, divided

1 pound fresh green beans, rinsed, trimmed and halved

2 tablespoons unsalted butter

12 ounces mushrooms, trimmed and cut into 1/2-inch pieces

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

2 cloves garlic, minced

1/4 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg

2 tablespoons all-purpose flour

1 cup chicken broth

1 cup half-and-half

Preheat the oven to 475 degrees F.

Combine the onions, flour, panko and salt in a large mixing bowl and toss to combine. Coat a sheet pan with nonstick cooking spray and evenly spread the onions on the pan. Place the pan on the middle rack of the oven and bake until golden brown, approximately 30 minutes. Toss the onions 2 to 3 times during cooking. Once done, remove from the oven and set aside until ready to use. Turn the oven down to 400 degrees F.

While the onions are cooking, prepare the beans. Bring a gallon of water and 2 tablespoons of salt to a boil in an 8-quart saucepan. Add the beans and blanch for 5 minutes. Drain in a colander and immediately plunge the beans into a large bowl of ice water to stop the cooking. Drain and set aside.

Melt the butter in a 12-inch cast iron skillet set over medium-high heat. Add the mushrooms, 1 teaspoon salt and pepper and cook, stirring occasionally, until the mushrooms begin to give up some of their liquid, approximately 4 to 5 minutes. Add the garlic and nutmeg and continue to cook for another 1 to 2 minutes. Sprinkle the flour over the mixture and stir to combine. Cook for 1 minute. Add the broth and simmer for 1 minute. Decrease the heat to medium-low and add the half-and-half. Cook until the mixture thickens, stirring occasionally, approximately 6 to 8 minutes.

Remove from the heat and stir in 1/4 of the onions and all of the green beans. Top with the remaining onions. Place into the oven and bake until bubbly, approximately 15 minutes. Remove and serve immediately.
Read more at: http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/alton-brown/best-ever-green-bean-casserole-recipe.html?oc=linkback

Alton Brown signs my copy of his book while answering my question about brining!

Alton Brown signs my copy of his book while answering my question about brining!


I just died and went to food network heaven. Me with Mr.Good Eats, Alton Brown!

I just died and went to food network heaven. Me with Mr.Good Eats, Alton Brown!

I Ate Here: Mac N’More, Lacey, WA

Mac N’More Offers ‘Slightly Twisted’ Take on Comfort Food

Mac And More (4 of 5)

Mac N’More is an “Urban Mac N’Cheese House,”located in Hawk Prairie in Thurston County. The Macaroni and cheese is extra creamy and features a blend of three cheeses, including pacific northwest favorite, Tillamook cheddar.

Crayfish tails and green onions or a blend of beef and pork meatloaf aren’t ingredients most come cooks would think of adding to macaroni and cheese.

It’s a concept Steve Cobb hopes will catch on among Thurston County diners. The 52-year old owner of the Mac N’ More restaurant in Lacey has spent the last few years integrating combinations of ingredients to one of America’s favorite comfort foods.

“I strive to serve original food, stuff you can’t get anywhere else in town,” Cobb said. “We’re taking mac and cheese, which is a traditional side dish and elevating it to a sophisticated main dish. We’re also slightly twisted, off the normal path and want to appeal to foodies out there who are looking for something interesting and daring.”

Mac N’ More has a menu featuring eight or nine macaroni and cheese skillets. Each dish begins with a portion of traditional elbow macaroni smothered in a smooth, creamy sauce with a slightly smoky undertone featuring a blend of four cheeses including Tillamook aged extra sharp cheddar. Various ingredients such as crayfish and green onions (The “Mudbug”), tender chicken strips coated in a tangy buffalo sauce and blue cheese (the “Buffalo”) are cooked along with the macaroni and cheese rather than simply tossed on top–a process Cobb says creates a marriage of flavor profiles. The dishes are finished with finely crushed corn flake crumbs to add a crunchy texture. Other combinations include “the loaded potato mac” (bacon, potatoes, green onion and cheddar cheese) and a mac and cheese meatloaf with a beef and pork meat blend, tomatoes, green onions and bacon. There’s also a “garden” option featuring spinach, black olives, tomatoes and green onions.

Customers also have the option of channeling their internal macaroni artist by creating unique combinations using a choice of ingredients such as pickled jalapenos, hard boiled eggs, avocados, mushrooms, pesto and chili beans. And of course, there’s always the original mac and cheese option with no mix-ins.

Cobb says with all the various ingredients and combinations on the menu, there are more than 1,000 different mac and cheese combinations.

the "California Mac:" Grilled calimari, steak, capers, garlic, artichoke, parmesan pesto, served with grilled sour dough bread and dpesto butter

the “California Mac:” Grilled calimari, steak, capers, garlic, artichoke, parmesan pesto, served with grilled sour dough bread and dpesto butter

Rise of the Mac

Steve Cobb and his wife had always dreamed of opening their own restaurant, but career and travel prevented them from doing so. His wife, Kati Cobb, was an Army soldier, and Cobb says he and his family lived as “nomads” for close to 26 years. Kati Cobb served three terms of deployment in Iraq. For a while, Steve was a stay-at home dad, and when his kids grew older, he held many positions in the restaurant industry and spent years refining his culinary skills before opening Mac N’ More in 2011.

Eventually, Kati’s military career brought them to the Pacific Northwest. Steve spent some time cooking for soldiers at JBLM. He studied some old recipes on Army recipe cards and made several dishes using their cooking techniques. He eventually rose to a shift leader, supervising eight cooks. Together they made thousands of meals for soldiers out in the field. Sometimes, they would make up to 1,000 meals per meal period. After leaving JBLM, he continued his career at Elyse’s Catering in Tumwater for two years, where he became head chef. He also spent some time at the Dome Deli on the capitol campus cooking mainly when the legislature was in session.

By then, Kati had returned from her deployments in Iraq, and had risen to the rank of a First Sergeant. After three deployments, Kati decided it was time to retire. It was then that she and Steve revisited their dream that was more than two decades in the making.

“We always said that once she retired, we could open our own place,” Steve said.

Opening a restaurant required a lot of planning, determination and research. Steve said he did a lot of market research about what kind of restaurant people would want in Thurston County that wasn’t already there. He even spent time polling random passersby on the street. He also did research on various types of restaurants throughout the country, in larger cities. One restaurant he came across was S’Mac restaurant in New York City, where the menu featured macaroni and cheese as a main dish. He says macaroni and cheese restaurants were popular in larger cities and areas near universities, mostly because it was often an affordable late-night bar food dish, and it appealed to mass populations because it was a traditional comfort food. He says the restaurants were often called “urban mac and cheese houses.”

Classic Mac N Cheese with pickled jalapenos

Classic Mac N Cheese with pickled jalapenos

“The concept was copied in big cities but not here,” Steve said. And so the idea for Mac N’ More was born.

Running Mac N’ More has been truly a family affair, Steve said.

His son, Theo, often helps cook in the kitchen. Sam, the couple’s daughter, who is a Washington State University business graduate helped develop the marketing plan. And his other daughter, Jordan has dreams of one day opening her own bakery and many of her baked treats are available at the restaurant.

“I’m all proud. They’re a chip off the old block,” he said of his children.

He also said he eventually wants to open five restaurants, including one in West Olympia and start offering gluten-free options.

‘N More

Mac and cheese isn’t the only thing on the menu. It also features a wide selection of American diner fare. There’s fresh salads with crisp vegetables and homemade dressings such as champagne vinaigrette thousand island. There’s soup, chili, meatloaf, buttermilk marinated chicken breast and a variety of classic sandwiches and burgers served on a giant English muffin.

The food isn’t the only thing customers can enjoy. Each table is painted with a chalkboard friendly paint so you can draw on the tables with chalk while you eat.

Mac N More also has a wide selection of diner fare. Their burgers, like this bacon cheese burger, come on a freshly-baked jumbo English muffin from a local bakery.

Mac N More also has a wide selection of diner fare. Their burgers, like this bacon cheese burger, come on a freshly-baked jumbo English muffin from a local bakery.

Recommendations:

For a light, yet satisfying lunch, I recommend a half order of the classic mac and cheese with 1-2 of your desired mix-ins, with a side garden salad. The salads are green and crisp with a a selection of homemade dressings. The one I tried was a white raspberry vinaigrette. The raspberry puree in the vinaigrette complimented the sourness of the vinegar for a perfectly balanced, tangy dressing.

Mac And More (1 of 5)

House Garden salad with olives, croutons and a white balsamic vinaigrette dressing.

 

Mac N’ More

9323 Martin Way in Lacey

Hours: 10:30 a.m. – 8:30 p.m. Monday-Friday

9:00 a.m. – 8:00 p.m. Saturday and Sunday

Follow the restaurant on Facebook.

Average Price For an Entree: $8-10. Mix-ins range from 35 cents to 75 cents.