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.


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.



I Cooked This! Grilled Teriyaki Skewers

teriyaki skewers

It’s the 4th of July weekend–and one of my favorite pastime is firing up the grill before firing up the fireworks. There’s more to grilling than just burgers.

Whether you call them skewers or kebabs, serving food on a stick is fun. And the end result is portable. Add some Asian flare to your ‘cue with these teriyaki skewers. Most skewer recipes use chicken breasts, but I prefer to use chicken thighs. Not only are they less expensive, but chicken thighs are more juicy. Chicken breasts have very little fat and collagen, thus there is a higher risk of them overcooking and drying out while they’re on the grill.

Teriyaki Chicken Skewers

  • 4-5 boneless skinless chicken thighs, cut into bite-sized chunks (no bigger than about one inch)
  • ½ cup Kikoman Teriyaki Marinade (If you do not have marinade, you can simply use soy sauce or tempura sauce)
  • 1 14.5 oz can of pineapple chunks
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 3 TBS brown sugar
  • ½ tsp ground ginger (you can add more or less to taste)
  • ¼- ⅓ tsp ground black pepper
  • A pinch or two of salt (Do not use more than a pinch or two. Soy sauce is naturally salty, so not much is needed)



  1. For the marinade, combine all ingredients in a non-corrosive dish. Stir to make sure sugar is absorbed into the liquid.  Add chicken skewers. Cover and refrigerate for at least an hour or overnight. This gives a chance for the marinade to work its flavors into the meat.
  2. If using wooden skewers, soak them in water for at least 30 minutes. This will help prevent your skewers from  burning on the grill. The tips of the skewers may still get a little charred, but they won’t turn into a burned crisp.
  3. Alternately thread chicken and pineapple chunks onto the skewers.
  4. Preheat your grill to a medium high setting. Make sure to spray your grill with some non-stick grill spray to prevent your skewers from sticking. Alternatively, you can swab a tea towel with vegetable oil and rub it on your grill grates.
  5. Place chicken skewers on the grill and cook for about 3-4 minutes per side. If desired, brush more marinade onto skewers during the cooking process. Serve alone or over white rice.


Have You Seen This Pig? “Polly” The Pig Stolen From the Ranch House BBQ and Steak House

Some news about the Ranch House BBQ and Steak House I blogged about last month: Their mascot, “Polly” the Pig, has been STOLEN! 


“Penny” the pig, is the identical twin of “Polly” the pig statue that was stolen from the Ranch House BBQ and Steak House in Olympia. The Ranch House Steak BBQ and Steak House is on Highway 8, in between Thurston and Grays Harbor Counties.

Some little piggies go to market. Other little piggies stay home. But one particular little piggy was stolen and her owners want her back.

“Polly,” the brown resin pig statue that for years greeted hungry diners at the entrance of the Ranch House BBQ and Steak House, was pig-napped nearly a year ago, and employees at the restaurant have not stopped searching for her.

They’ve put up posters around the restaurant and posted her picture on their Facebook page. They even filed a police report, to no avail.


Ranch House owner, founder and pit master, Amy Anderson sits on top of “Penny” the Pig statue. Penny greets customers in the lobby. She is also the identical twin statue of “Polly” the pig, who was stolen last year. Her owners have not given up the search.

“Polly is a symbol of the beginning of our restaurant and where we want to be,” said Ranch House owner, chef and World Champion Pitmaster, Amy Anderson. “We’d love to have her back with her family.”

Polly’s Arrival

Polly was originally purchased in late 2006. Anderson says she was driving down for what would have been the restaurant’s “Express” location in downtown Olympia. However, massive rainstorms in 2007 triggered a mudslide that destroyed the original Ranch House, located on Kennedy Creek Road near Summit Lake. The restaurant was run out of Olympia’s Governor Hotel during the rebuild. When the restaurant re-opened on Kennedy Creek Road the following year, Polly was placed at the entrance to serve as the restaurant’s “greeter.”

Polly was also the restaurant’s mascot. Staff brought her to barbecue competitions and booths at local farmer’s markets. She even came along to weddings and events at which the restaurant catered.

“She was a memory-maker,” recalls General Manager and Pitmaster Joe Gutierrerz. “People took pictures with her. I’ve had customers tell me they remember when their son was 3 and climbed up and was riding on her.”

Night of The ‘Napping

Polly disappeared last year sometime during the night of April 24, 2014. Staffers arrived in the morning and began their pre-opening routine: checking to see if the parking lot is clean start to prep food for the day. It didn’t take long to notice something was amiss.

Gutierrez stepped outside to go to the parking lot and discovered an empty spot beside the bench where Polly used to sit. He and staffers walked all around the restaurant. The only thing that remained of Polly was a broken hoof.

A broken hoof is the only clue left by the pig-nappers.

A broken hoof is the only clue left by the pig-nappers.

“At first I thought it was a practical joke,” Anderson said. “They left the hoof and we were expecting a ransom note.”

The staff have had a few theories as to whodunit. Polly weighs well over 100 pounds, so they think there were at least two co-conspirators.

“It was right around graduation time, so we thought that maybe some of the high schoolers were pulling a prank,” Gutierrez said.

He said employees have investigated tips they have received from customers. Once they thought they might have found Polly in front of another restaurant. But after driving there to inspect it, discovered it was a different pig.

He also said he heard a story of a Thurston County resident who once had a lawn gnome stolen. A year later the gnome reappeared at its owner’s home–with a scrapbook. Apparently, the thief had taken a road trip and, brought the gnome as a travelling companion and took pictures of the gnome at every stop.

But more than a year passed, with neither a scrapbook, nor any further clues as to Polly’s whereabouts.

Gutierrez says it may have been funny at first, but “it’s been a year and it’s not really funny anymore.”

Polly used to travel with staff to farmer's markets, cooking competitions and other community events before she was stolen.

Polly used to travel with staff to farmer’s markets, cooking competitions and other community events before she was stolen.

Other Pigs

The Ranch House has many other pigs in and around the restaurant. Several concrete pigs adorn the garden and walls around the outdoor patio. Wooden pig-shaped cutting boards are hung next to the many trophies and ribbons the restaurant has won in cooking competitions over the years. “Cash,” a giant pig wearing a chef’s hat stands in the lobby. If customers want to know what Polly looked like, they can simply gaze upon “Penny.” Penny is Polly’s identical twin, big, brown and with red handkerchief around her neck.

Since Polly’s disappearance, Anderson purchased “Hope,” a tall, metal pig that now greets diners in the Ranch House’s parking lot. It can easily be seen from the freeway and is probably harder to steal because of its massive size. However, Anderson says Hope won’t fill the void left behind by Polly.

“We got Hope two weeks after (Polly was taken),” Anderson said. “But we didn’t make a big deal about it because we’ve been so bummed about Polly being stolen.”

If you know where Polly is or have any tips that might lead to Polly’s whereabouts, call the Ranch House BBQ and Steakhouse at 360-866-8704.

The "Wanted" Poster describing Polly and what little details are known about the night of her disappearance.

The “Wanted” Poster describing Polly and what little details are known about the night of her disappearance.

I Ate Here: Five Guys Now Has Milk Shakes!

Five Guys now has milk shakes!

Five Guys now has milk shakes!

Puget Sound is about to get hit with a heat wave this weekend, with temps in the mid-to-high 90s. One way to  cool off is with a classic summertime treat–the milk shake. Five Guys burgers now has milk shakes. For $3.99 you can get a basic vanilla shake and for no extra cost you can add as many mix-ins as you like such as Oreo Cookies, strawberries, chocolate, salted caramel and malted milk. For my first shake, I mixed in chocolate and malted milk. It takes a few minutes for the flavors to meld. I sipped mine slowly during my meal and by  the end, I could taste the malt a little better than when I had first ordered it. My finance had the Oreo cookies. Note: The mix-ins are blended really finely, so if you get the Oreo cookies, it’s more like Oreo cookie powder, rather than chunks. Still flavorful, I just prefer that my Oreo cookie shakes have more texture.

The Debate: The Difference Between Malts and Shakes

What’s your favorite milk shake flavor? Comment with your favorite!

I Cooked This! Grilled Cedar Plank Salmon


Many South Sound Foodies would say you’re not a true Northwesterner until you’ve cooked and eaten salmon.  I recently found a set of cedar grilling planks for $2 at a garage sale, so I vowed to myself I would try my hand at grilling salmon the moment I saw it on sale at the market. I tried the recipe that came with the cedar planks. It is the first time I cooked salon, so I am no longer a salmon virgin! The paprika and cracked black pepper give the rub a strong, robust, flavor. And the cedar planks infuse a wonderful aroma and delightfully smoky undertones.

Level: Moderate

Cook time: Prep: 4 hours 15 minutes. Cook time: 8-22 minutes



1. Prepare your cedar plank. In a flat container such as a roasting pan, submerge your cedar plank in water. Make sure to put a weight such as a brick on top of the plank to keep it submerged. If desired, mix in a few tablespoons of salt in the water. Some chefs say the salt enhances the flavor of the cedar when it comes time to cook the salmon.  Allow to soak in water for 4 hours

2. Prepare your Dry Rub Seasoning

Dry Rub Seasoning:

In a bowl Combine:

  • 1 TSP ground black pepper
  • 1 TSP granulated garlic
  • 1 TSP dried basil
  • 1 TBS paprika
  • 1 TBS Kosher Salt
  • 2 TBS light brown sugar
  1. De-bone your salmon filet. Video: How to filet a salmon. If you’ve gotten a pre-cut filet from your supermarket or fish monger, you may still need to remove some of the pin bones. To do this, feel along the upper part of the filet. You will feel some hard spots where the bones are located and will see little white spots where the bones may be protruding. Remove these with tweezers. At this point, you may remove the skin, but it is not necessary. During cooking the skin will add an extra layer of flavor and crisp up to add additional texture to the fish. It will slide off easily after the fish is cooked.


4. Place your salmon filet on a sheet of wax paper and coat both sides of the salon, pressing gently to make sure the rub sticks to the fish. Squeeze juice of one small lemon on fish. Keep in the fridge, uncovered, until ready to cook.

dry rub

  1. Preheat your grill.
  • To light a gas grill, open the lid. Turn the gas valve to “on” and ignite the grill as directed by the manufacturer. Turn the burners on high. Close the lid and preheat the grill for 10 to 15 minutes.
  • Reduce heat to medium.

Tip: To test the level of heat, carefully place the palm of your hand at the level of the grill rack and count the number of seconds you can hold it in that position. If the heat is low, you should be able to hold your hand in the position for 6 seconds. If the heat is medium, you should be able to hold your hand in the position for about 4 seconds. If the heat is high, you should be able to hold your hand in the position for 2 seconds.

For charcoal grills,  arrange coals evenly across the bottom of the grill, covering an area 3 inches larger on all sides than the plank the coals are too hot, raise the grill rack, spread the coals apart, close the vents halfway, or remove some briquettes.

  • If the coals are too cool, use long-handled tongs to tap ashes off the burning coals, move coals together, add briquettes, lower the rack, or open the vents. MORE TIPS ON GRILLING
  1. Place your plank on the grill and allow it to heat for five minutes. You know you are ready to cook when you hear a crackling sound and the plank begins to smoke.
  1. Place salmon on the grill and close the lid. Allow to cook anywhere from 8-22 minutes, depending on size and thickness of your salmon. You know your filet is cooked when the meat begins to flake easily when you insert a fork into the thickest part of the filet.
  1. Serve garnished with lemon slices or topped with pesto sauce. Salmon can  be eaten alone or used in a variety of ways. You can top toast with it, use it as a protein in an omlet, add it to salads or pasta or substitute it for chicken in a quesadilla!

Note: This recipe used sockeye salmon, but any variety may be used.