Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Get stuffed! Stuffed Grape Leaves, that is...

"They look real! Like real grape leaves! Like, real grape leaves you'd eat at a restaurant!"

When trying to pose as a seasoned and well accomplished cook *cough ahem snort* one probably shouldn't act completely shocked and surprised when a dish actually turns out looking and tasting delicious.

But it's so hard not to. I mean look at those grape leaves! I want to reach out and pinch their little perfect-looking grape leaf cheeks. "Who's mommy's little grape leaf? You are! Oh yes you are!"

As some of you may know, I am involved in a top secret cooking club (don't worry gang! no one really reads the Internet) that aims to meet once a month. We rotate homes, and the host gets to pick the cuisine of the month, and we all cook together in perfect harmony. Usually. I mean, there has only been one fatal knife fight.

Anyway, this month's theme was Greek -- hence the adorable stuffed grape leaves. They turned out amazing, if I do say so myself. Better than any I've ever had. I stuffed them with savory cumin-scented Jasmine rice, studded with caramelized onions, garlic, toasted pine nuts, and a flurry of fresh farmers market mint and parsley.

The white sauce drizzled on top (we drizzled for the photo, but in "real life" we plunged the little bundles deep into the sauce bowl) is plain yogurt marinated with more fresh chopped mint, black pepper and chopped raw garlic.

Here's the recipe I used:


*Note: I omitted the currents (wasn't in a sweet mood) and substituted vegetable broth for the chicken (accommodating a vegetarian). I bought the grape leaves at The Souk in Pike Place Market, & the 28-leaf jar was the perfect amount.

As for some of the other cooking accomplishments of the night, that's a triangle of spanikopita posing sexily next to my PERFECT grape leaves. Nice lookin' couple dontcha think? Maker-of-spanikopita over-baked her dish by *gasp* four whole minutes and deemed her spinach/cheese pie "too crispy." I found it to be internally luscious and appropriately flaky.

But reader? The kitchen wasn't all rainbows and lollipops that night. There was a true Greek tragedy. Actually it was just the sort of kitchen blunder you'd expect from Uncle Jesse on an episode of Full House.

Ever notice how salt and sugar look exactly the same? No, really, they do. Well, one cooking club member has learned that valuable lesson. His entire batch of baklava was ruined when he seasoned it up with a cup and a half of salt. As you can see from the photo, we ripped our little claws through the bad baklava, looking for secret pockets of sweet. There were none. It was disgusting.

We ate stuffed grape leaves for dessert instead.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Avocado Curry! A long overdue trip to Araya's Vegetarian Place.

Avocado curry. Yeah, I didn't stutter. It exists. And it has existed in Seattle for two decades, and I am only just now tasting it. It's like someone has tried to purposely keep me from the creamiest, savoriest, most avocado-green curry in the world. Um, I guess that's not true. A total and complete lie, in fact.

Like most everyone who drives up and down NE 45th Street between Wallingford and the U-District, I have always noticed the square, spinning Araya sign. "It spins!" I thought to myself, always a clear genius of observation. But I always drove on by.

Well, readers, the Geo Prism had to stop eventually. And it did. I parked my face right in front of the Avocado Curry (and about five other steaming plates of food, because that's how I roll).

The curry comes in a nice, deep bowl. Soft cubes of tofu, fried triangles of tofu, broccoli (sweetly suggested by the waitress when we requested a bell pepper ban) , basil and "veggie beef" happily bobbing up and down in the Avocado Curry swimming pool. Ladle it on top of a mound of nutty, brown rice and you've got your taste and texture covered for the day.

But reader? There is one thing. One tiny glitch. A black fly in my Chardonnay (That's right. I quoted Alanis Morissette *shoves fist dangerously close to your face* You got a problem with that? I didn't think so.) It's the "veggie beef." A total and complete oxymoron. But that's not the point.

I've eaten lots of fake meat before. Even a fake shrimp, realistically painted with stripey pink lines. But this "veggie beef" looked, mouth-felt and tasted like slices of...SPAM. With juuuust a hint of wet cat food.

I don't want to brag, but I know my SPAM. After all, I did judge the Spam cook-off at the Puyallup County Fair this summer:


But I digress.

Long story short: gross. The slimy half-moons of look-a-like Spam should be avoided.

But a trip to Araya's Vegatarian Place should not.


p.s. The avocado curry was camera shy (total introvert) but the crispy, photogenic spring rolls we tried agreed to appear on this blog.

And you are?

I'm the proud new owner of Eat. Eat. Eat. Enjoy! Which means I'm a brand spankin' new Seattle food blogger. Clearly, this is just what the world needs.

I'm Rachel Belle, the co-voice of Stick A Fork In It - a restaurant review heard every Friday and Saturday morning on Newstalk 710 KIRO. http://710kiro.com/sectional.asp?id=9421

I'm a gal who thinks about food as many times a day as the average man thinks about sex.

I'm a gal who enjoys reading restaurant menus, while sitting on the couch snacking on bits of cheese.

I'm a gal who guiltily eats sour cream by the spoonful, out of the container, while standing in front of the glowing light of the refrigerator. Shut up. No judging. It's frikkin' delicious.

I'm a gal who hopes to entertain you by using my food fanaticism for good, instead of evil.