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09 April 2019

Tonight's Episode: Eating Local in a Tourist Trap (Fiji Edition)


Fiji. Four simple letters that combine to immediately transport your mind to Paradise. Clear waters, warm beaches, epic sunsets.....Fiji. So you book your flight, enjoy your 11 hour nap, and arrive at Nadi International Airport. At this point, unless you stayed where we did (post to come) you will likely end up at Denarau Island. Either you will stay on Denarau Island for one of its eight large resorts or, if you are the more adventurous type, you will be boarding a boat for one of the many smaller island resorts. Either way you will quickly see that the Marina (and island at large) is one large tourist trap ready to separate you from your money as fast as possible. But if you walk quickly past the souvenir shops and Hard Rock Cafe to the back corner of the shopping center, you will find a warm and authentic welcome at Nadina Authentic Fijian Restaurant.

In our week on the Fijian main island of Veti Levu we dined at Nadina 3 times. This entailed a 45 minute drive each way through the rural expanse of the West coast, and was so worth it every time. Our first trip was to visit Denarau's shops, our second and third trips were in spite of them. Nadina's food, and people, kept calling us back.

Now before I dive into the food, I need to talk about the family at Nadina. I don't mean blood relations, I mean the amazingly warm and loving employees who immediately make you feel at home. While the entire staff was amazing, you will remember Aggie, in particular, for the rest of your life. A striking woman with a larger than life personality, who puts you at ease with her warm demeanor and makes you feel at home with her teasing manner. At our last meal before heading to the airport, we exchanged contact info, hugs, and tears with this woman who we thought was just here to feed our bellies, not our hearts.

Local rum, with more local rum, and a third local rum. And some juice. 

Ok, on to the food! Nadina focuses on locally grown and foraged ingredients and techniques. The signature Kovu ($38-65 Fijian dollars) is probably the dish you think of when you think of South Pacific cooking. Fresh meat, seasoned with coconut and spices, wrapped in banana leaves....don't be put off by the 40 minute cooking time. It is worth it for these delicious packets of fresh and bright flavors. There are multiple proteins to choose from, but my favorite was the walu (fish). The slaw side dish was also incredible with cabbage, local pumpkin, other veg, and a squeeze of bush lemon juice. It was one of my favorite things I ate the entire trip.


The Fijian curries ($30-37 FJD) are also exemplary and a favorite of the Girl. The prawn and coconut curry in particular is a stand out, with its mild-in-heat but heavy-in-spicing flavor. Another standout on the menu is the Kokoda. Best understood as the Fijian equivalent of ceviche, and available in appetizer and entree sizes ($19-40 FJD), Kokoda is deep water walu fish cured in bush lemon juice and miti (Fiji's coconut based condiment that makes kokoda creamy as opposed to the vinegar bite of ceviche). The Kokoda at Nadina is so good that I stopped eating the version at the resort for fear of ruining the flavor for me.


The final dish I want to talk about are not only the single best tasting dish of the entire trip, but one of the top 10 best dishes of my entire life: RouRou Balls ($30 FJD). RouRou balls are actually a vegetarian dish that starts with taro leaves torn into small pieces and cooked down for more than an hour before being combined with onion and garlic. The balls are lightly breaded and shallow fried before then being simmered in coconut cream. Earthy, fragrant, garlicky, and sweet from the coconut, the rourou balls are almost a tropical play on a Swedish meatball and so singularly delicious.

Walking out of Nadina for the last time was far more difficult than leaving the lush resort. The incredible food and real comforting warmth of everyone made each visit uniquely special, and the memories of each meal will linger far longer than even the best Fijian sunset. I just hope one day soon I will hear Aggie say "Bula" before welcoming me home again.

04 April 2019

Recipe: Instant Pot Shrimp Risotto


So in my last recipe, I gave you the keys to cooking a traditional style risotto with a far more forgiving base than the traditional Arborio rice. That recipe still took all the time and effort of a risotto, but it reduced the likelihood of dinner being ruined through inattention. But what if you still want that umptious traditional rice risotto without all that endless stirring and ladling in of stock? That's where the Instant Pot swoops in to save dinner.

Utilizing the Instant Pot's sauté and pressure cooking functions, you can achieve nearly flawless risotto with a minimum of effort. So put that wooden spoon back in the drawer, and pour yourself a glass of wine (just save a cup for the risotto), and let technology do most of the work for you.

Ingredients

4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided into 2-2 tablespoon quantities
2 shallots, finely chopped
1 carrot, finely chopped
1 stalk celery, finely chopped
3 cloves garlic, peeled and diced
1 1/2 cups Arborio rice
1/2 cup dry white wine such as Sauvignon Blanc
1 quart seafood stock
1 pound medium shrimp, deveined and peeled (You can use uncooked shrimp if you wish but pre cooked work just fine and is one less step)
1/2 teaspoon Fenugreek 
3 stalks thyme
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1 cup frozen peas, thawed
1/4 cup grated parmesan
1/4 shredded parmesan
2 tablespoons thinly sliced chives

Preparation

1. Set Instant Pot to sauté  add 2 tablespoons olive oil. Once heated add shallots, carrot, and celery. Cook until soft, about 5 minutes, stirring frequently. 

2. Add rice and garlic, and stir to coat before adding wine. Cook 1 minute

3. Add Seafood stock and thyme. Close lid and set to High Pressure on manual for 9 minutes.

4. After starting the Instant Pot, heat a large non-stick pan on medium heat with the remaining olive oil. Season the shrimp with salt, pepper, and fenugreek. Add to pan and warm the shrimp, about 3 minutes.

4. Add the peas to the shrimp, cook 1 minute.

5. Once the Instant Pot has finished cooking, open the pressure valve for rapid release. Add the shrimp, peas, chives, and grated parmesan. Remove woody thyme stems. Serve with shredded parmesan and a cheese crostini. 






20 March 2019

Tonight's Episode: The Most Interesting Appetizer in Scotland


My mother was from Scotland, born and raised. This gave me an insider's knowledge of the two main culinary achievements from the land of William Wallace and the Loch Ness Monster: batter and fry it or shove it in a sheep gut and boil it. The former being such delicacies as deep fried Mars bars, deep fried pizza, and deep fried kababs (all real things). The later is, of course, the dreaded haggis.

If you are somehow unaware of haggis, it is a savory pudding (fairly close to a sausage) that starts with sheep heart, lung, and liver. These are then minced with oatmeal, suet, and spices, loaded into a sheep stomach, boiled, sliced, then fried. If you are now wondering why this is even a thing, I refer you to Charlie from So I Married an Axe Murderer: "Most Scottish cuisine is based on a dare."

I'm actually a defender of haggis, the national dish of Scotland, and it is having something of a moment. It is rare to find a high end restaurant in Scotland that doesn't have an artisan farm-to-table haggis on the menu. This brings us to the single most interesting appetizer in all of Scotland, the Haggis Italiano from La Vita Pizzeria, Glasgow.

The base is a perfectly toasted crostini of homemade Italian bread. The haggis is then perfectly grilled, topped with an over easy fried egg, peppery arugula, and an aged balsamic drizzle. The richness of the egg gives a much needed moisture to the haggis, the crostini adds great texture, the arugula's peppery bite and freshness cuts through the heaviness, and the sweet balsamic mutes the minerality of the pudding.

I'm not sure what madman decided a marriage between Italian flavors and.....haggis....would work, but boy does it ever work. This isn't the only dish at La Vita that plays with Scottish-Italian fusion. There is a haggis carbonara, a black pudding linguine, even a black pudding pizza! But it is this simple, perfect little appetizer that not only sets the mood for the menu but shows you that haggis isn't only for a lost dare.


La Vita Pizzaria, George Square, Glasgow

10 March 2019

Recipe: Mushroom and Barley Risotto


Some days you just want a decadent, luscious risotto. You can either put on pants and head to that fancy Italian restaurant and spend $30 on a plate, or you could make it yourself and wonder why the rice is still more crunchy than al dente. But wait. What if there was one simple (and incredibly cheap) substitution you could make to ensure you can have a luxurious risotto without the temperamental rice? Well, I guess since you read the title of the recipe you already know the answer is dried barley. It is far more forgiving than rice, you don't need to hit that perfect sweet spot of doneness. If you walk away and it dries up, just add more stock. So invest that $1 in a bag of barley, and treat yourself to an umptious bowl of happiness.

INGREDIENTS: 1/4 cup butter 3 cups vegetable stock 1/2 yellow onion, diced 4 ounces shiitake mushrooms, sliced
4 ounces baby bella mushrooms, sliced
1/4 dry white wine 2 cloves garlic, smashed
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce 2 sage leaves, chopped 1/2 cup barley Shaved Parmesan cheese to taste
Black Hawaiian Sea Salt (optional)

STEPS:
1.) In a deep-sided, large pan melt the butter on medium low heat. In a separate sauce pan bring the stock to a simmer and keep on low. 2.) Add the onion, mushrooms, and garlic to the butter pan and cook until soft, 5-8 minutes. 3.) Stir in sage and barley. Cook for one minute.
4.) Add wine, stir. 5.) Add one cup of stock, and simmer until liquid is absorbed. 6.) Continue adding stock 1/4 cup at a time, allowing each amount of liquid to absorb before adding more, stirring occasionally. 6.) Continue until all the stock is used and barley is done cooking, 30-35 minutes.
7.) Top with fresh shaved parmesan and black sea salt, if desired.

OPTIONAL:
Some of my favorite meat options to top this risotto include:

Sage butter beef tenderloin
Rosemary grilled pork tenderloin
Seared wild boar (No, seriously, this is the way to go.)





06 December 2018

South Seattle Spotlight: Wicked Chopstix

Today I want to launch a new feature, one that I have been contemplating since moving to our current home in the Rainier Beach neighborhood of Seattle. South Seattle Spotlight will feature the dishes from the restaurants on the south side of the city that really speak to my heart. So much is written about the restaurants of Ballard, Fremont, Capital Hill, and the Downtown core, but head just a bit south and you find a bounty of diverse restaurants fully deserving of acclaim.

First up is a relative newcomer to the Othello neighborhood, Wicked Chopstix. Located on MLK Blvd in the heart of one of America's most diverse zip codes, this modern minimalist restaurant is a bastion for the cuisine of the northern Vietnamese port city of Hai Phong. The single sheet menu is packed with tasty classics such as Bánh Bao Bà Chi (classic pork steam buns), Com Gà Thap Cám (Chicken clay pot), and the dish that won the heart of a President, Bún Chà Obama (Obama Noodles).

Now all of these are amazing and should be enough for a stop, but they aren't what I keep coming back for. For me it's all about the Phó, and specifically the Phó Tai. I know, how boring, everyone has a good Phó...but trust me this one finds a way to elevate above the rest. To most people Phó Tai is the entry level. Sliced rare tenderloin beef is considered the least exotic meat option for this Vietnamese staple. To me, however, it's the perfect protein vehicle to move the stunningly deep and complex broth from the bowl to my mouth. The abundant delicate slices of meat cook quickly in the broth, and the aromatic punch is mouthwatering. The broth itself has a beautiful earthy bottom with strong notes of star anise and charred onion, and a light sweetness that rounds it out. There is a familiarity to the taste, something I can't put my finger on, that seems so comforting and safe. As the days get darker and wetter, nothing in Seattle warms me up or soothes my cold better. And that is why I keep coming back.





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