Do-Sa-Do!

Well a do-sa-do and to and fro to you Cafe’ friends!  We’re do-sa-do-ing at the Susitna Cafe’ today in celebration of our recent viewing of Charles M. Russell’s masterworks at the Museum of Fine Arts Houston (MFAH).

We’ve been a fan of Charles M. Russell’s artistry and humour for many, many years here at the Cafe’.  In fact, one summer, “R” and I road-tripped all the way to the boonies of Montana to visit the C. M. Russell Museum in Great Falls.  While there, we spent hours reading and viewing Charles M. Russell’s many beautifully illustrated letters.

Afterwards, I searched far and wide for a copy of his book “Good Medicine, The Illustrated Letters of Charles M. Russell”.  Since the book was published in 1930, it wasn’t easy finding a copy.  But I did find a copy, and to this day we treasure it.

So, I’m sure you can guess that when we were invited to a preview of  “The Masterworks of Charles M. Russell:  A Retrospective of Paintings and Sculpture” at the MFAH, we got there as fast as we could!

Oh my, it was great fun!  There was a really nice reception with tasty appetizers like assorted cheese and grapes…

Texas size strawberries and brie cheese…

Oh, and did I tell you there was cheese (my favorite :o)?  The exhibit was really wonderful too!

I just love Charles M. Russell’s sense of light, don’t you?

When the Land Belonged to God, 1914 oil on canvas (Courtesty of Montana Historical Society MacKay Collection, Helena, Montana)

This particular painting, When the Land Belonged to God, rarely travels from the Montana Historical Society, so we consider it a real treat to have viewed it in person.  In fact, this painting  just made all the visitors feel like dancing.  So, we did!

Seems like everyone just started do-sa-do-ing…

And to and fro-ing…

There were some singing cowboys too…

Hey, how about if you join us at the Cafe’ for a little dancin’ and cookin’?  What?  You don’t know how to cowboy dance?  No problem, just watch this video and start kicking your legs around.

Next, just start cookin’.  Let’s make Charles M. Russell proud!

Susitna Cafe’ Do-Sa-Do Pecan Tart

Makes two (2) 11 inch tarts.

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.

Shortbread Crust*

1 1/4 pounds unsalted butter, at room temperature

3/4 cup cane sugar

3 extra large eggs

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

4 1/2 cups unbleached flour

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

1/4 teaspoon salt

*Susitna Cafe’ recommends using organic ingredients whenever possible.

Begin by mixing the dry ingredients together in a large bowl, then set aside.  Next, cream the butter and sugar together with your electric mixer at medium speed.  Add the eggs, one at a time and mix well.  Add the pure vanilla extract.

Now begin adding the dry ingredients into the batter at low speed and do so until all ingredients are combined.  The dough will be fluffy and sticky.  Pour the dough into two (2) 11 inch ungreased tart pans.  Press the dough into the pans leaving a 1/2 inch wide thick crust on the edge.  The crust in the center section of the pan should thinner than the edge crust to allow room for the pecan filling.  You may wish to flour your hands to prevent the dough from sticking to your hands while you are working the crust in the tart pan.

Bake the tarts for 15 minutes.  The crust should be “set” but not brown.  Allow the crusts to cool while you prepare the pecan filling.

Pecan Filling*

1/2 pound unsalted butter

1/2 cup honey

1 1/2 cups light brown sugar, packed

2 teaspoons grated orange zest

1/8 cup heavy cream

2 teaspoon vanilla (I used Mexican vanilla in the pecan filling)

1 pound whole pecans

1 cup Ghirardelli Gourmet 72% Cacao bittersweet chocolate chips

*Susitna Cafe’ recommends using organic ingredients whenever possible.

Combine the butter, honey, brown sugar and orange zest in a heavy saucepan.  Cook over low heat to melt the butter, and stir to combine all ingredients.  Raise the heat to medium high and boil for 3 minutes.  Remove from heat and stir in the vanilla.  Allow to cool for a minute.  Meanwhile, sprinkle 1/2 cup of the chocolate chips into the each of the two (2) cooled tart crusts.

Next add the heavy cream and whole pecans to the warm filling.  Stir to combine.  Pour 1/2 of the pecan filling into each of the two (2) tart crusts.  Spread the filling evenly in the well of the crust.

Bake for 25 minutes.  Remove from the oven.  Meanwhile, this is a good time for you to practice do-sa-do-ing while the tarts are allowed to cool to room temperature.

Cut the tart into pie wedges.  Serve either at room temperature or after refrigerating until cold.  Store remaining tart (if any) in the refrigerator.

Cook’s Notes:   This recipe is adapted from “The Barefoot Contessa Cookbook” Pecan Squares recipe.  Although the Pecan Squares are absolutely delicious in the original recipe, I modified the recipe to serve as a tart containing a chocolate layer between the shortbread and pecan filling.  In addition, I’ve placed more emphasis on the orange (vs. lemon) flavoring in the filling simply because we like the combination of orange and chocolate together.  We hope you do too!

Note that if the dough in the well rises too much during the initial baking, you may scoop out any excess with a spoon.  This will ensure that you have enough room in the center for the pecan filling.

Traveler’s Note:  The Museum of Fine Arts Houston (MFAH)’s exhibit, The Masterworks of Charles M. Russell:  A Retrospective of Paintings and Sculpture,  is on view through August 29, 2010.

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Filed under June 2010

Cafe’ Menu Gallery – Spring

Guess what Susitna Cafe’ friends!  Did I tell you?  We have a new Susitna Cafe’ menu.  The menu is a collection of recipe favorites inspired by travel (of course) and gardening!

Just click on the “Cafe’ Menu Gallery” tab and take a peak for yourself!  There’s an aromatic lamb and artichoke tangine…some spring picnic foods including apple pie and a lemony herb potato salad…an al fresco bean salad…and a very delicious Thai curry.  Go ahead and browse the menu for now, and I’ll be back to take your order :o.

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Filed under May 2010

Pacific Halibut (aka Flatius Fishius)

Welcome to the Cafe’ today!  Oh, I know…I’ve been sooo quiet lately.  Well, you see, I’ve just been sooo busy…it all started with a little fishing survey that we received from the Alaska Department of Fish and Game in late March…the “Department” asked us, in a very nice way, of course, to document our fishing catch last year…

Well…last year wasn’t really a great catch year for us, as you probably know…

i’m oooh sooo very appreciative that the “Department” thought of us and all, but i’m just not understanding why they decided to send-out a survey requesting us to document our catch the ONE year that we came home from our fishing trip with just a couple of  teeny tiny Pacific Cod…do you?

Of course, being the Alaskan that I am, I decided to set my pride aside and complete the survey.  i know, i know…it was awfully big of me to do so, particularly when the survey would very likely become public record which means that anyone and their neighbor could take note of the fact that we caught 2 teeny tiny Pacific Cod last year…

Anyways…just so you understand what happened…i promptly placed the survey in our “active” pile of mail.  The “active” pile is the pile of mail that needs to be addressed, but perhaps not immediately like this second immediately.  The active pile just stays “active” while we address other priorities.  You know what i mean?  Well, things just got sooo busy…really out-of-hand busy after we received that survey…

Well that busy-ness just worked itself right thru April.  What can i say?  There were all kinds of things that had to be immediately addressed like gardening, for example.  Ohhh…i did ohhh sooo much gardening…take a peek and see for yourself….

See!  Isn’t it important that I got that done as soon as possible?

Well, of course, there was the garage too…i had to clean and reorganize our entire garage and you know how long it takes to do that especially when you pay attention to all the garage details…

Before i knew it…April had passed and May arrived along with a big envelope from the Alaska Department of Fish and Game…when I opened the envelope, the contents were oh sooo familiar…i’m sure that you can guess what it was…a fishing survey…in fact, the survey was identical to the one we received in March…

This time, however, there was a nice 8×10 color chart of “Saltwater Species Commonly Found in Alaska” enclosed.  The attached cover letter noted that the color chart had been provided to us as a special gift for our efforts in “completing the enclosed survey”…

Oh dear, i felt sooo guilty…i know that the Alaska Department of Fish and Game has no idea about how busy I’ve been….sooo busy that i just hadn’t got to the survey yet.  Of course, i had every intent on completing it!

Since we received this really nice chart with some of my MOST favorite fish on it like King and Sockeye Salmon and Pacific Halibut, i felt like i needed to complete the survey oooh sooo pretty much soon…you know what I mean?

Well this really nice chart was so nice i spent time studying it for awhile, particularly the section on Pacific Halibut.  According to the nice chart,  Pacific Halibut is known as Hippoglossus Stenolepis.

The chart described Hippoglossus Stenolepsis as “More elongated than most flatfishes, with width being about one-third the length.  Adults have both eyes on their dark or upper side.  Color on the dark side tends to assume the coloration of the ocean bottom.  The underside is lighter, often white.”

Well in all honesty Susitna Cafe’ friends, i was a bit surprised when i read the chart.  The Alaska Department of Fish and Game just didn’t have their facts straight about the Pacific Halibut.  Can you believe it?  Believe you me, i have certainly caught my fair share of Pacific Halibut over the years except for last year, so i know alot about halibut and their definition was definately not accurate and i’m not understanding what they were thinking!

SO, I decided to provide some assistance to the Alaska Department of Fish and Game…afterall, it’s really my civic duty isn’t it?  i must admit that it wasn’t easy documenting the fact that we had caught 2 teeny tiny Pacific Cod last year as i worked to complete the survey… BUT, I felt oh so good that I was able to provide the Alaska Department of Fish and Game with difficult to obtain knowledge about the Pacific Halibut…the kind of knowledge that only an experienced and well seasoned Alaskan fisherman can provide…in fact, there was a really nice “Comments” section on the survey form in which I was able to include all kinds of useful information like the following:

Pacific Halibut (Image Courtesy of National Park Service)

  • the Pacific Halibut’s real scientific name is  flatius fishius;
  • flatius fishius are related to flounder (but won’t admit it);
  • Pacific Halibut are a very optimistic fish…in fact, they’re ALWAYS looking up; and,
  • most importantly, flatius fishius are sensitive about the “weird eyes” thing, so a fisherman should never, never stare at them…

I’m sure that the Alaska Department of Fish and Game will use this information and correct their chart, don’t you agree?  In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if we get a corrected version of the chart in the mail sometime soon…

So, that’s why I’ve been sooo busy my Susitna Cafe’ friends.  But, I’m back now!  And, I’m here to share all the important facts about flatius fishius with you…like the fact that Pacific Halibut are real team players…they’re happy baked, broiled or grilled…and, oooh sooo dee-li-ciousss in  Susitna Cafe’ Flatius Fishius Salad!

Susitna Cafe’ Flatius Fishius Salad


Ingredients

1 pound halibut fillet

1 Tablespoon olive oil

1/2 Tablespoon spice mix (gourmet salt, fresh ground mixed peppercorns, dried minced garlic)

1/4 cup red onion, minced

2 Tablespoons fresh Italian parsley, chopped

1/2 Tablespoon capers

2 Tablespoons Miracle Whip Salad Dressing (or mayonnaise)

Let’s Make the Salad

Place the halibut fillet (skin side down) on a foil lined baking pan.  Rub olive oil on the surface of the fillet.  Sprinkle the salt, ground pepper and dried garlic spice mixture on top of the prepared fillet.

Broil for about 10 minutes or til the fillet is still moist but the fish is easily flaked apart with a fork.  Set the broiled fillet aside to cool.

Meanwhile, this is a good time to mince the red onion and chop your fresh Italian parsley.  Toss the onion, parsley and capers into a mixing bowl.

Now that your halibut fillet is cool, let’s remove/peel the skin from the fillet.  Flake the halibut into your mixing bowl containing the red onion, parsley and capers.  Add the Miracle Whip (or mayonnaise) to the bowl and stir all the ingredients together.

Chill.  Serve on your favorite crackers.  Mmm…Sooo…Goooood!

Cook’s Note:  This is a great recipe for leftover halibut (baked, grilled or broiled) too.  You can even serve a scoop of  halibut salad atop a fresh green tossed salad and wa-la! you have a wonderful dinner ready to serve with crusty french bread…yummmm!

Traveler’s Note:  Our most successful halibut fishing trips often take place in Resurrection Bay off the coast of Seward, Alaska with Profish-N-Sea Charters.

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Filed under May 2010

Laissez Les Bon Temps Roules!

It’s so good to see you again here at the Susitna Cafe’!  We’ve been on the road along the Gulf Coast, USA…oh my, and good times have been rolling at Mickey and Cookie’s Annual Crawfish Boil in New Orleans, LA…

Crawfish boils are entrenched in Louisiana family and cultural tradition.  The gastronomic techniques are typically passed from generation to generation.  According to Cajun (a person of French Canadian descent) legend, crawfish are descendents of the Maine lobster.  However, unlike lobster, crawfish are a freshwater shellfish.  A crawfish boil includes crawfish, sausage and an assortment of vegetables boiled and soaked in a delightfully spicy brew.

Mickey and Cookie’s Annual Crawfish Boil has been in their family for about 19 years.  Their family and friends look forward to the event every year.  Only once was “The Boil” canceled, and it required the rath of Hurricane Katrina to prevent this lively event from happening in 2006.  But even then, the spirit of Mickey and Cookie’s Annual Crawfish Boil was alive…despite Katrina, the annual t-shirts were still designed and distributed by Mickey’s family.

This year attendees traveled to “The Boil” from around Louisiana, Texas, Alabama, Florida and North Carolina to join the fun.  Lucky for us, the Susitna Cafe’ attended too!

Hey, how about if I introduce you to Mickey and Cookie?  Then we can learn about the gastronomic and other fun details of “The Boil”!

Here’s Mickey busy as a bee.  She’s organizing the troops and getting ready for the big day.

Mickey is retired from the Navy and is a New Orleans street artist.  Mickey served as the Crawfish Boil cook extraordinaire for the first 5 years.  Mickey says “Hi to Y’all!” at the Cafe’.

Oh look!  There’s Cookie getting ready for the Crawfish Boil.  Looks like she’s cleaning up and getting ready for the tents and chairs to be delivered…

She sure is a nice lady…Cookie is a retired bank VP who loves to spend time with her family…Cookie says “Hi to Y’all!” too.

Well, over the years, attendance at Mickey and Cookie’s Annual Crawfish Boil has grown to about 100.  So, now Huey does the cooking with a little help from some of his friends.

Huey is a fun lovin’ New Orleans undertaker with a great sense of humor.  He’s also an amazing Crawfish Boil cook!  Huey tends to say things like “Coooh, luk at da size o dat crawfish!”  (i.e. an expression of astonishment).  Or, he says things like “Please go get de sack o crawfish, sha.” (i.e. dear (French “cher”)).

So my Susitna Cafe’ friends, how does this big party come together?  Well, the food preparations start on the eve of “The Boil”…

First, all the veggies (yellow onions, carrots, celery, red potatoes and garlic) are prepared.

The ends of the garlic and onion are removed.  The carrots and celery are cut into 3-4″ chunks.  Afterwards, the prepared veggies are evenly distributed into 10 plastic grocery bags.  The veggie bags are stored overnight in the refrigerator awaiting the big day…

Next, the yummy artichokes (my personal favorite in the boil) and mushrooms are prepared…

Since the artichokes and mushrooms tend to separate in the boil, they are placed into nylon ladies knee highs like so…

The artichokes and mushrooms are stored overnight, with the other prepared veggies, in the refrigerator.

Next, folks take a break and enjoy refreshments…

Uh-oh…looks like there are no refreshments until tomorrow…

So, back to work…next, the butter is placed in styrofoam containers.   They’re stored in the refrigerator overnight and will be placed on the tables during “The Boil”.

Alas!  The big day arrives so there’s a bustle of activity starting early in the morning…supplies get pulled out of the attic…

The tables get set-up and dressed in ‘Who Dat’ colors (i.e. New Orleans Saints team colors), and condiments, paper towels, bibs, plates and silverware are distributed on the ‘Who Dat’ tables…

Cooking tents and gear get set-up…

Mickey prepares her special seafood dipping sauce with ketchup, horseradish, and fresh squeezed lemon juice…

The crawfish are delivered (very important that this get’s done :O)

The outdoor high-pressure propane cookers for the 60-80 gallon stainless steel boiling pots are fired-up…

The crawfish are purged and washed in water…

All the Bebs (i.e. sweetheart or darlings) provide assistance (very important)…

The stainless steel pots are filled with water and brought to a rolling boil.  Meanwhile, lemons are prepared by rolling and slicing in half.  The lemon juice is squeezed into the water along with the halved lemon sections.  The prepared veggies from the plastic grocery bags are added along with the veggies wrapped in ladies knee highs.  Salt, 2 dry bags of crawfish boil spices and 1.5 cups of liquid crawfish boil are added to0.  All the ingredients are cooked for about 10 minutes or til the potatoes are tender…

Next, the crawfish are added to the pot and the top is dusted with cayenne powder…

After the water comes to a rolling boil again, the boil cooks for about 5 minutes.   Periodically the boil is stirred with a big crawfish paddle.  The sausage, cut in 1-2 inch chunks, are added to the boil and all the tasty bits steep in the spicy brew for about 20-30 minutes…

Around noonish, the guests begin to arrive…

They hug and greet each other…

Beverages are served…

Some folks at “The Boil” label their cups so they don’t get confused with someone else’s beverage.  You know, sort of like using wine charms for wine glasses.  However, in this case, the cups are labeled like “Mr. Wonderful” or whatever else comes to mind…

People smile…

People chat…

More beverages are served…

While some folks buy raffle tickets to participate in a drawing for fun prizes…

Raffle tickets are purchased from the “Hula Girls”, of course…

Or, some folks “people watch”…

Afterall, there’s almost always something interesting to see…

After awhile, some folks say things like “I got an ahnvee  for some crawfish!” (i.e. a longing or hunger (French “envie”))…

So, the crawfish and veggies are poured into the pirogue (i.e. boat) for serving…

Folks serve themselves…

Then…they dive-in!

And everyone enjoys!

People get full…

And the pirogue gets empty…

Oh…did I tell you that people bring desserts?

Like homemade red velvet cake?

Homemade strawberry shortcake…

And Cannolis (a personal favorite :o)!!!

And Susitna Cafe’ pies…

After dessert, people wait in anticipation for the raffle drawing…

Some feel particularly lucky…

So, Mickey calls the lucky ticket numbers while Cookie helps with the prizes…

And people win!

The luckiest win Hawaiian shirts…

After the raffle, games begin…

People smile…

And they’re happy!

So my Susitna Cafe’ friends…Mickey and Cookie say “Who Dat Say Dey Got A Better Boil!”

Mickey and Cookies’ Laissez Les Bon Temps Roules! Crawfish Boil

Protein

320 pounds fresh, live crawfish

10 pounds Conecuh smoked sausage

Veggies

20 pounds #2 red potatoes

12 pounds yellow onions

4 large bags carrots

4 large bags garlic

4 packages celery

4 large cartons button mushrooms

12 artichokes

Flavoring

16 boxes dry crawfish boil seasonings (Zatarain’s Crawfish, Shrimp and Crab Boil is good)

2 gallons concentrated liquid crawfish boil (Zatarain’s Concentrated Shrimp and Crab Boil is good)

Cayenne Pepper

Salt

Other

3 packages ladies knee highs (2 pairs in each pack)

Traveler’s Notes:  Be sure to say hello to Mickey and visit her outdoor studio on Jackson Square in New Orleans, LA

Cooks Notes:  Many of the ingredients in the Crawfish Boil are at your discretion.  Add more garlic to intensify the garlicky flavor…add more artichokes if you like them…be sure to use #2 size red potatoes to be sure they conveniently cook for the same amount of time as your other veggies.  Oh, about the garlic…be sure to squeeze the cloves and spread on saltines…

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Filed under April 2010

The Dim-Sum of the Matter…

你好 (nee-how) my Susitna Cafe’ friends!  We’re talking about travel here at the Cafe’.  I know, this is no surprise to you!

Do you like to travel?  I like to travel because I like to learn.  I like to learn what a place is really like.  You know, really get into “the Dim-Sum of the matter”.

Sometimes getting to “the Dim-Sum of the matter” during a short visit can be challenging, particularly when jet-lag is involved.  Last year, we traveled to Hong Kong.  We had anticipated some jet lag.  However, I experienced serious jet lag.

Upon arrival in Hong Kong, I was absolutely sure that my body was  located in Hong Kong.  However, my brain was located elsewhere.  Timbuktu perhaps?  No telling really…

Our planned Day 1 itinerary didn’t challenge our jet lagged minds too much.  We had planned a ride on the Victoria Peak Tram, the world’s oldest funicular railway.  All of our travel guidebooks had recommended it as a “must-do” activity.

After reaching Victoria Peak, we planned to walk amidst the nature trails and enjoy the views of Victoria Harbour and Hong Kong below.  And so, that’s what we did.

Upon arrival at the Peak, we refreshed ourselves with some strong Pacific Coffee at the Peak restaurant.  And, zoom-zoom!  Off we went to enjoy our walk and fabulous vistas!

The view of  Victoria Harbour and Hong Kong below was sooo impressive…Hong Kong appeared like a modern and westernized city!

Gee, it even looked like a big city in North America (you know, that place where my brain was located…or, was that Timbuktu?).

The Peak nature trails were lovely.  Much of the vegetation was semi-tropical and familiar to us.  Gee, it sort of looked like the same vegetation found in Houston, TX…

“R” really liked the trees along the Peak trails.  According to the horticultural signage in the Park, the trees were identified as rubber trees.  Hmm…we hadn’t seen any rubber trees like that in Houston, TX…

So we walked and wandered amongst alot of rubber trees.  Although still feeling  jet-lagged, I experienced a brief moment of clarity during our walk.  I thought “Hmm…if you can find something different, like a rubber tree, amongst so much familiarity, then our distant view of Hong Kong might be like a wonton wrapper”.

I’m sure that you understand what happens to a person when you walk around and see alot of rubber trees pondering these sort of thoughts my Susitna Cafe’ friends.  As you can imagine, we had reached a decision point during our first day in Hong Kong amongst all those rubber trees.  We decided that this is “where the rubber meets the road“!  Tee-hee 😮

So, at that point on our first day in Hong Kong, we decided to break-away from our planned itinerary and dive-in to “the Dim-Sum of the matter”.  There was no time to lose, so we headed down into the heart of the city to see what was inside the Hong Kong wonton wrapper…

Upon arrival at street level, Hong Kong  appeared very modern and westernized just like our view from atop Victoria Peak.  I think we were still on the edge of the wonton wrapper…

We saw big and western style malls full of fashionable shops…

You know, a funny thing happens when you travel and explore…the more you explore, the more you discover what’s behind the wrapper (wonton wrapper that is…).  Here’s a peak inside the Hong Kong dumpling…an Asian junket amongst a modern and westernized backdrop wrapper…

After seeing the Asian junket on Victoria Harbour, we were excited to really get to “the Dim-Sum of the matter”.  So we explored further.  All of a sudden, we noted that the signage in our surroundings began to change.  Instead of modern and westernized signs, we saw neon multi-lingual signage printed with both western and Chinese characters…

As we delved into the dumpling even more, the street signs changed again.  Now there were more Asian influences…

Soon, our exploration led us to the heart of the dumpling…an evening Ladies Market where we experienced all kinds of tasty ingredients…

This is a vibrant place where locals and visitors enjoy the tasty dumplings…

A place where the friendly ingredients meld so nicely together…

Well my Susitna Cafe’ friends, as you can see, we had a wonderful first day in Hong Kong!  Sigh…there’s just nothing like getting to “the Dim-Sum of the matter” when you’re traveling!

Susitna Cafe’ Shrimp Dumplings

Ohhh…I love yummy dumplings, don’t you?  Although you can use store bought wonton wrappers for these dumplings, homemade tastes so much better!  Ohhh…they’re even better when we incorporate tasty herbs too!

Herb Wonton Wrapper Ingredients

2 cups organic unbleached flour, plus extra for pastry board

1/2 teaspoon gourmet salt

1 large egg

1/2 cup water

1/3 cup cilantro & chives, chopped fine

cornstarch

Combine flour and salt on your pastry board or countertop.  Make a well in the center of your flour and salt mixture.  Next, add egg and water into a mixing bowl.  Whisk until mixed.  Pour the egg and water mixture into your flour well.

Mix and knead the dough until it forms a smooth ball.  If the dough sticks to your pastry board, then add a little extra flour to the surface.

Now add the chopped herbs to your dough and knead to distribute herbs evenly throughout the dough.

Place the dough ball into a mixing bowl.  Set aside and cover with a damp cloth and let sit while we make the shrimp dumpling filling.

Shrimp Dumpling Filling Ingredients

1 pound peeled and deveined shrimp, chopped and dried on papertowel

1 cup chinese cabbage, chopped fine plus some extra whole leaves to line your steamer basket

3 Tablespoons carrot, minced

2 Tablespoons cilantro, chopped fine

2 Tablespoons chives, minced

2 Tablespoons green onion, minced

2 teaspoons fresh ginger, minced

3 Tablespoons oyster sauce (we use Lee Kum Kee brand with No MSG Added at the Cafe’)

1 teaspoon sesame oil

Toss all ingredients together into a mixing bowl.  Stir to combine.

Now let’s work with our herby wonton dough again.  Begin by dusting your pastry board and rolling pin with corn starch.

Next, cut your dough into quarters.  Roll-out one of your dough quarters until approximately paper thin.  Cut the dough with a biscuit cutter.  If you don’t have a biscuit cutter, you may use a 3-4 inch diameter drinking glass edge dusted with corn starch too.

Now let’s make dumplings!  Place approximately 1 teaspoon of your shrimp mixture in the center of your cut-out dumpling wrapper.

Wet the edges of the wrapper, fold-over into a half-moon shape and seal.  You may pinch the edges for a decorative effect.

Or, at the Susitna Cafe’, we often pinch up the wrapper to form a little happy package.

Then we tie our dumpling package with a little chive bow…sigh

Once you have made all of your dumpling packages, pour about 3/4 cup of water into a dutch oven and place a steamer basket inside.  Heat the dutch oven over medium heat.  When you observe steam arising, place chinese cabbage leaves on the bottom of the steamer basket.  Place enough leaves to cover the bottom of the basket.  Now place your dumpling packages in the basket and be sure that they are not touching.

Place a cover on your dutch oven and steam for about 10 minutes or until your dumplings are semi-transparent.

While the dumplings are steaming, you can continue working your 1/4 pieces of wonton dough, filling them and forming the dumplings into the shape of your choice.  If the water is low in your dutch oven, add additional water and wait until the water steams prior to adding additional dumplings in the steamer basket.

Serve with your favorite dipping sauces.  You can make a quick dipping sauce with 1/2 cup soy sauce, 1 ounce rice wine vinegar, 1 ounce cooking sake, 1/2 teaspoon sesame oil, 1/2 teaspoon chili paste, 1/2 teaspoon fresh grated ginger and 1/2 Tablespoon cilantro, chopped fine.

It’s now time to get to get to “The Dim-Sum of the Matter…”



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Filed under March 2010

Spring Forward

Top of the mornin’ to you my Susitna Cafe’ friends!  We’re just chatting and enjoying our morning coffee here today.  As usual, I’m a wee bit late getting my first cup.

Seems like our routines in the wee hours of the mornin’ are about the same at our house in Houston, TX.  Here’s an example of our wake-up routine:

1.  Get nudged by cold, wet nose*

2.  Arise out of bed

3.  Take red-head outside

4.  Bring red-head inside

5.  Grind coffee beans

6.  While grinding, note that red-head has very sad Irish-looking eyes…

7.  Stop grinding coffee beans

8.  Feed red-head

9.  Grind coffee beans

10.  While grinding, note red-head looking at me followed by a glance at the front door…

11.  Grind coffee beans

12.  Note red-head pointing at front door with cold, wet nose as if he is pointing to something that I surely must agree is of utmost importance…

*Note:  This is not my red-headed husband’s nose

After the top of the mornin’ routine is done and we have alot of ground coffee beans (but, with no coffee to drink…sigh…), my red-headed Golden Retriever, Gus, takes “R” and me on a morning walk at a nearby park.

As we walk, Gus communicates to me as he usually does in his own very happy canine way.  This morning, however, he stopped during the walk to “speak to me” for a moment.  He not only stopped, but he also flopped onto the grass and pointed his cold, wet snoz downward.

I guess I wasn’t quite “listening”, so he made an effort to do so again.  He stopped, flopped and pointed his snoz downward to be sure that I understood the importance of his communication.

Well, I understood.  Today, he communicated, is a day to celebrate green…spring forward green…Irish clover green…

It was, indeed, a wonderful and inspirational walk this morning.  We saw spring forward green all around us.  We observed it on the park trail…

In the woods…

On the ground…

On the bushes and trees…

Yes, even in the Irish clover…

Sigh…when we were done with our walk, I decided to check and see if spring forward green might be elsewhere in Houston too.

So, I loaded up my Irish-looking dog in our car and drove to Georgia’s Farm to Market.  Upon arrival at Georgia’s, I was surprised to see a couple of leprechaun farmers from Richmond, TX.

They had a pot of gold…

It was all so fresh, colorful and green sort of like a rainbow…

So I got some of the pot o’ gold from the Leprechaun farmers amongst their rainbow, and decided to spring forward green at the Cafe’ today.  Would you like to spring forward green with me, my Susitna Cafe’ friends?

Let’s cook a pot o’ gold to celebrate a wonderful green St. Patrick’s Day!  Well then, away we go lads and lassies to cook some Colcannon, an Irish potato and kale pot o’ gold dish.

Susitna Cafe’ Colcannon


Ingredients

1/4 cup olive oil

2 Tablespoons butter

2 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped

1 large sweet yellow onion, rough chopped

4 medium russet potatoes, boiled and chopped

1 bunch curly kale, washed & chopped with base stems removed

salt and ground black pepper

Heat oil and butter in frying pan over medium heat.  Add the garlic and onion.

Saute’ until the onions are transparent.  Next, add the boiled chopped potatoes (with peel) and mix with the garlic and onion mixture.

Saute’ while mashing the potatoes with the back of a fork.  Potato consistency should appear somewhat chunky.  Slowly add chopped kale, a small bunch at a time, incorporating into the potato and onion mixture.  Saute’ and allow the potatoes to brown on the bottom of the pan.

The brown bits have alot of flavor, so continue to turn the potato and kale mixture over to brown some more.  Continue to do so until the kale is wilted and the brown bits are evenly distributed throughout mixture.  Add salt and pepper to taste.

“R”, who has some Boston Irish heritage in his family, enjoys Colcannon with eggs cooked over easy for breakfast.  You may wish to serve Colcannon as a side dish to corned beef or as a main vegetarian meal.

Enjoy your pot o’ gold on this wonderful green St. Patrick’s Day!

Cook’s Note:  Try substituting chopped cabbage for the kale.  You won’t be disappointed!

Traveler’s Notes: Georgia’s Farm to Market is located at 12171 Katy Freeway, Houston, TX.  Don’t miss the farmer’s market on Wednesday and Thursday from 10 am to 2 pm.

I haven’t been to Ireland yet.  However, “R” has been there.  He tells me that the land is the greenist green you ever will see.  Someday, we are going to visit Quigley’s Point in Northern Ireland where his mother’s family originates.  We’re looking forward to this trip together in the near future…

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Filed under March 2010

Mush On!

Hi!  Welcome to the Cafe’!  Today we’re talking about our heroes.  You know, the people that have influenced us in some special way.  Do you have a hero?

Well, my hero is Susan Butcher.  She’s the four time winner of the Iditarod Dog Sled race.  She’s up there on my heroes list with Sgt. Preston of the Yukon and his dog King.

Susan was an amazing athlete.  In fact, she is the person who influenced the Alaskan slogan, “Alaska…Where Men are Men and Women Win the Iditarod”.  Funny, huh?  Alaskans have such a funny sense of humor!

Oh, by the way, just in case you didn’t know, the Iditarod is a grueling dog sled race that starts in Anchorage and ends in Nome, Alaska, a total of over 1150 miles traveled in 10 to 17 days.  The trail was originally used, beginning in the 1920’s, when settlers traveled the thoroughfare following a goldstrike.  Later, the trail was used for transporting food and mail from location to location.  In the winter, travel was typically via dog sled.

Speaking of the Iditarod…what day is it?  Oh my!  The Iditarod Race begins tomorrow, March 6 at 10 am (Alaska time), in downtown Anchorage.  Oh Joy!  We’re just in time to watch the race start-up here at the Cafe”.  Just click here:

Anchorage Webcam

Don’t you just love those enthusiastic and happy sled dogs?  Here’s a thought…how about if we make some healthy doggy treats?  After all, our pups are about to run the “The Last Great Race on Earth” (or at least dream about it like my own dog does during his many naps…).

Well then…let’s Mush On!


Susitna Cafe’ “Mush On!” Doggy Treats

Ingredients*

4 cups whole wheat flour (plus extra for your work surface)

1/8 cup canola oil

1 cup baked sweet potato, mashed

2 ounces honey

1 cup water (approximate)

*organic ingredients are preferred

Preheat your oven to 375 degrees.  Combine all ingredients, except the water, into a large mixing bowl.  Add water, a little at a time, while mixing ingredients with your hand or a pastry cutter.  Continue to add water and mix until mixture holds together and can be formed into a ball.

Turn the dough out onto a floured work surface or pastry board.  Roll out dough with a rolling pin until approximately 1/4 inch thick.

Cut into shapes with a cookie cutter.  Dog bone and heart shapes are always fun for your canine friend (and, on the most part, for you!).

Place onto a cookie sheet and bake until light golden brown (approximately 15 minutes).

Cook’s Notes:  Thanks to “R” for sharing his favorite dog treat recipe with us.  He’s a real doggy chef and musher for sure.

Traveler’s Notes:  Don’t forget to attend the March start-up of the “Last Great Race on Earth” in downtown Anchorage every year.

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Filed under March 2010

Caffe’ Ahh…Roma

Ciao!  I’m glad you’ve stopped by the Cafe’ today.  We’re discussing Italy.  Have you been?  Hmm…how about a quick culture lesson?

A very nice man, Bruno Bozzetto,  produced a video on Italian culture.  It won’t take too much of your time to view…just a few minutes…let’s watch the video together, shall we?

Oh, by the way, be sure to take notes when you see the “Coffee” section of the movie.  It’s really important.

So, what do you think?  Isn’t it just the berries that you can have sooo many coffee choices?  That’s why I like Italy, and Rome in particular.  In fact, my name is “happy-happy” when I’m around the ahh…Roma of coffee.

My view of Italy, and particularly Rome is probably different than most.  I think it has something to do with the caffe’ (pron. kahf-Feh with an accent at the end:o).

Oh don’t get me wrong.  I love Italy.  I love Rome.  I truly do.  It’s just that once you’ve tried the caffe’ in Rome, something happens to you.

It certainly happened to me.  When “R” and I were in Italy last year, we walked and wandered the streets of Rome.

It was our second trip.  We had seen many of the sights before, and it was oh so nice to see them again…

Somehow though, Rome was different on that trip.  In fact, “R” agrees too.  Rome had taken on an ahh…Roma-like personality.  You know, sort of intense and aromatic.

Ahh…Roma is everywhere in Rome.  Doesn’t seem to matter where you are…it’s just there.  After all, there is a caffe’ bar on every street and street corner.

You can just walk-in (the doors are always wide open), order your caffe’ from the barista, and sip away while standing.  It’s like a quick “happy-happy“, and then you’re off to see more of ahh-Roma!

Oh wait.  Here are some more pictures.  You’ll see what I mean about the ahh…Roma-like personality.

Oh look, there’s a Latte Macchiato.  Isn’t it lovely? sigh

Oh yes, I remember this sight.  This is Caffe’ Ristretto.

Oh Joy!  Aren’t Italian baristas just the best!  Look at the perfect swirls of milk foam on the Cappuccino!

I think there’s just one more photo…yes, here it is…a favorite of mine, the Mocacchino.  You know, the one with chocolate!

Oh my, you’re right.  There is something  missing in all these photos….Hmm…what do you think it is?

Oh, I know!  It’s that wonderful little cookie that is served with the caffe’.

No problem!  We’ll just make some.  Let’s see…let’s celebrate “happy-happy .  So, how about baking some Chocolate Caffe’ Ahh…Roma Biscotti?

To start, let’s assemble the ingredients.

Ingredients*

1 3/4 cups unbleached flour (will need some extra to dust your pastry board or work surface)

1 cup natural cane sugar

1/2 cup cacao powder (Valrhona is best for this recipe)

1 1/2 Tablespoons allspice

1 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

3 eggs

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

5 Tablespoons fresh brewed espresso

5 ounces bittersweet chocolate chips (Ghirardelli Gourmet 72% Cacao chips are wonderful in this recipe)

8 ounces pistachios

parchment paper, wax paper or silpat liners (enough for 2 large baking sheets)

*organic ingredients are preferred

Now that the ingredients are assembled, preheat your oven to 350 degrees.  Begin by adding all of your dry ingredients (flour, cane sugar, cacao powder, allspice, baking soda, and salt) into a large mixing bowl.  Stir to combine.

Next, add your liquid ingredients (eggs, vanilla, and espresso) into a small bowl and lightly beat together to combine.

Let’s now pour the combined liquid ingredients into your large mixing bowl containing the dry ingredients.  Mix until thoroughly combined.  Next, fold in the pistachios.

Transfer your dough onto your floured work surface and begin to knead.  Note that the dough will be sticky and stiff.  Add additional flour to your work surface, as necessary while kneading, to prevent the dough from sticking to your work surface.

Divide the dough into 2 balls.  Shape each ball into 2 loaves approximately 12-inches long.  Place 1 loaf onto your prepared baking sheet.

Bake the loaf until it appears cracked (about 35 minutes).  Set the loaf aside to cool.  Meanwhile, bake your 2nd loaf until it appears cracked.

After you remove your 2nd loaf from the oven, reduce your oven temperature to 300 degrees.

While you’re waiting for the 2nd loaf to cool, place your 1st loaf on a cutting board.  Using a sharp serrated bread knife, cut your loaf into 1/2 inch diagonal slices.  You will have approximately 25 biscotti slices.

Place your biscotti slices onto your baking sheet.  Bake for approximately 7 minutes, or until lightly toasted.  Once toasted, turn over the slices and bake again for 7 minutes or until toasted.

It is important at this stage, to do the following:  walk out of your kitchen for approximately 1 minute;  breathe in some fresh air; next, walk back into your kitchen; and, breathe in a Big breath of Chocolate Caffe’ Ahh…Roma Biscotti air.  Isn’t it wonderful?  Aren’t you “happy-happy“?

Now repeat the twice-baked procedure with your 2nd loaf.  You may, at this point, repeat the Big breathe-in procedure too.

Allow your biscotti to cool thoroughly so that the chocolate chunks harden.  Once cool, store in an airtight container for up to 2 weeks.  Or, freeze the extra (if there are any).

Oh…think of the possibilities…perhaps if we crushed the biscotti, we could use biscotti crumbles for a cheesecake crust…yum…

There now.  What a relief…  The photos are complete.  There is “happy-happy” biscotti with the caffe’.  Sigh

Cooks Note:  This recipe was developed after testing (and tasting) many, many chocolate biscotti recipes.  Thanks to Martha Stewart for her “Martha Stewart Living Cookbook” Double-Chocolate Biscotti recipe and to Todd English and Sally Sampson for their “Figs Table” Chocolate Hazelnut Biscotti recipe.  Their brilliance led me to adapt those recipes and ultimately develop the  “happy-happy” Chocolate Caffe’ Ahh…Roma Biscotti.

Traveler’s Notes:  Don’t miss the beautiful sites in ahh-Roma:  the Coliseum; Campo di Fiori; the Trevi Fountain; the Arch of Constantine; the Vatican Museums (and the spiraling staircase); the Pantheon; and, of course, the Spanish Steps.

S3XT5E8RRVGU

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Filed under February 2010

Cabbage Pride

I enjoy gardening, don’t you?  I started gardening when I was in grade school.  In fact, when I was 12 years old, I grew a BIG cabbage.  The BIG cabbage was my pride and joy.

Of course, I grew this cabbage in Alaska–you know, the place where everything is BIG.  In fact, my cabbage weighed 40 lbs.

After growing this pride and joy, I hadn’t thought about it much.  Mostly, I’ve lived my life knowing that I am a successful cabbage gardener.  I haven’t won any awards or even shared this tidbit of information with many of my friends.

Perhaps I’ve just lived my life feeling really proud about my gardening ability, particularly when it comes to growing cabbage.  Well, I must admit that I’ve probably been a bit arrogant about the whole ordeal.

However, last September my pride was shattered.  I was crushed.  I felt about the same as when my mother exceeded my BIG fish catch record.  In 1984, my little petite mum (she’s 4′ 11″ tall) caught a 70 lb. King Salmon in Deep Creek, Alaska.  After that occasion, life was simply not the same.

My life was shattered...

My cabbage pride (vs. my fishing pride) was shattered at the Alaska State Fair in Palmer, Alaska.  I remember the day well.

“R” and I had decided to take my mom out to lunch, then spend the afternoon walking and wandering the Fairgrounds.  It was a crisp and cool Fall day.  We entertained ourselves silly…

Alaskan Wildlife

Coffee Guys

I wish we hadn’t done it.  But, we did.  We walked and wandered into the farm animal and garden complex…

It was OK at first.  We viewed and talked about all the nice vegetables grown by local gardeners.  We even saw some large vegetables.

Rhubarb

"R"'s thumb and large zucchini

But there it was.  I remember gasping for air.  I had even wondered if I was dis-com-bob-u-lated (is that a word?  well, you know what I mean).  I closed my eyes and reopened them and saw cabbages everywhere…

Cabbage in a canoe...

"Count Veggula" cabbage...

But, there was no mistaking the BIG cabbage.  It was “The Beast” of all cabbages.  And it was, indeed, there in front of me.

"The Beast"

“The Beast” weighed 127 pounds.  Can you believe it my Cafe’ friends?  I was in awe, as you can imagine.

The Anchorage Daily News reported about “The Beast”…that “Leafy Wonder”.  But, I was unable to read all the details.  My cabbage pride had been wounded.

Time heals these wounds, however.  So, now several months later I’m upbeat again.  Why not?  You only live once!  Why not make cabbage and meatball soup to soothe one’s wounded cabbage pride and move on in life.  Shall we, my Susitna Cafe’ friends?

Cabbage and Meatball Soup (serves 6-8)

Ingredients

Ingredients

¼ cup olive oil

3 cloves garlic, chopped

1 yellow onion, chopped

2-3 small celery hearts with leaves, chopped (or, 1 celery stalk will do)

2 carrots, sliced

.25 lb Serrano ham, chopped

2 plum tomatoes, chopped

1 small head of cabbage, shredded and chopped

7-8 cups of water

2 heaping Tablespoons of Better than Bouillon Organic Vegetable Base (or 3 cubes of Rapunzel Vegan Vegetable Bouillon)

1 can cannellini beans, drained (or ½ cup dried beans soaked in 4 cups of water overnight)

Parmesan rind (or about 1/3 cup of grated parmesan)

10 meatballs (your favorite recipe or frozen will do—I often use Ikea frozen meatballs (thawed) because they are good quality, and have no preservatives)

Make Your Soup Base

Heat olive oil in large dutch oven or soup pot under medium heat.  Add garlic and sauté.  When the garlic begins to turn brown,  add the chopped onions.  Sauté and stir til transparent.  Now add your chopped celery with leaves, sliced carrots and chopped Serrano ham.  Cook for about 10 minutes.  Next, add the chopped plum tomatoes and cabbage.  Stir and sauté for another 10 minutes, and enjoy the beautiful color of this cabbage soup base.

Oooh...so nice!

Let’s Make Soup

Your soup base is prepared, so now let’s add 7 cups of water, the bouillon, cannellini beans, and the parmesan rind.  Simmer the soup for approximately 30 minutes.  If you used dried soaked beans, you may need to simmer the soup longer in order to soften the beans.  Taste, and use your own discretion.

Add your meatballs and lots of fresh ground pepper.  You may add an additional cup of water if the soup becomes too thick (note, this is a substantial soup so it will be thick).  Cook for an additional 10 minutes.  Add salt, as needed.

Garnish with shredded parmesan.  Serve with crusty sourdough bread, a hunk of your favorite cheese, and a tossed salad.

Dinner is ready!

Ode to the Cabbage

Oh, great cabbage…

Where art thou?

Not one of 5, 10, or 20 pounds…

No imposter will do!

Oh, what temerity!

Roll along now ye little ones…

We seek cabbage from the Land of the Midnight Sun!

by “R”

Traveler’s Notes:  the Alaska State Fair will be held this year from Aug. 26-Sept. 6, 2010.  Be sure to visit the BIG vegetables!

Cook’s Notes:  this recipe makes alot of soup–freeze some!  It freezes well.

13 Comments

Filed under February 2010

Hungary Anyone?

We’ve just returned from the Land of Paprika.  I don’t have a diary.  But, if I did, I would describe Day 1 as follows:

Just arrived in Budapest, Hungary feeling groggy.  The airport is much smaller than expected.  It’s mid-afternoon, Hungary-time…I’ve eaten breakfast twice…or, was it lunch that I ate twice and breakfast and dinner only once?  Even my watch, with multiple time functions, is confused.

Our Zona Cab driver, a friendly native Hungarian, promptly whisks us from the airport to Erzsebet Korut.  He is happy for us.  He wants us to love Budapest.  He’s proud of the people and  cultural heritage.  He speaks excellent English.

Thank goodness.  I’ve forgotten how to speak anything in Hungarian.  I am jet-lagged.

“We’re here” he says.  We step-out of the cab and look up.  Wow!  “R” and I have our mouths open wide.  The Hotel doorman, observing us, is surely wondering if we’re trying to speak Hungarian, and after having failed, have decided to fall back on the Charades technique to act-out our needs…

No, we are not Hungary hungry.  We are in awe.  The online hotel reviews simply did not depict the beauty of  the Corinthia Hotel.  The Hotel was described as having been “a former restored palace”…a bit “out of the way”…

As the winter sun began to set, the lights appeared all around us.  We gasped at the  Corinthia “Grand” Hotel, a beautifully restored palace, glowing on this winter day in all its splendor.

Home away from home...

We wave goodbye to our new Hungarian taxicab driver friend, and we step into the Hotel…

“R” is enthusiastic.  He wants to take my picture, although we haven’t checked-in yet.  “Limburger!”, he says while he takes a multitude of photos of me.  “R” shows them to me, and they appear a bit jet-lagged blurry.

"Limberger!"

We agree to check-in quickly, toss our baggage into our room and focus on exploring.  “R” and I love to walk when we travel.  We walk and we wander…

Our jet-lag begins to wear-off as we walk out onto Erzsebet Korut.  It is cold outside.  We take it all in…the Austro-Hungarian architecture, the stoic remains from the communist occupation, and the city dwellers walking home from work.

I take note of a cluster of locals carrying bags of groceries home.  I quietly think, oh joy!  I know there’s a grocery store nearby…Yes, my Susitna Cafe’ friends, a grocery store.  Can you believe it?

Who in the world travels all the way across the Atlantic from Houston, Texas to Budapest, Hungary to spend time in a grocery store?  We do.  Why?  Well, you would be amazed at what one can learn from the experience!

After spending about 20 minutes in the local Spar grocery store, one can assess the following:

1) the locals eat fresh foods and shop daily as typical Europeans do–this is determined by strolling around the entire store first in order to get an overall broad assessment of the situation–are we having fun yet?

2) pastries, and most particularly, cakes are popular–take note that the cracker, cookie and pastry isle is fully stocked with prepared cakes…carrot cake, chocolate cake… cake with and without marzipan…

3) there is paprika everywhere–we’re not talking about paprika in small jars.  We’re talking about paprika in bags and tubes.  If paprika is not packaged in a bag or tube, it is commonly found as an ingredient in food items.

At this point of my grocery store cultural assessment, my thoughts race as I consider all the recipes I could test and/or develop from this wonderful inspiration.

In the meantime, “R” is beginning to look tired and Hungary hungry.  I encourage him to be patient because I think I’ve found ITIT is that one source of cooking inspiration that I simply must learn about during our trip.  In this case, on our first day, IT must be paprika.  Paprika is Hungarian.  Hungary hungarians eat paprika.  We are in Hungary, so we must eat paprika.  We must learn about paprika too.

My thoughts continue to race…well, there are so many kinds of paprika to consider… special quality, delicate, excuisite delicate, pungent excuisite delicate, noble sweet, half sweet, rose AND hot paprika.  What is a girl to do?

I convinced myself to hold that thought until I could figure it out later.  After all, what is a girl to do?  So, we walk out of Spar and head towards Andrassy Ut.

Meanwhile, “R” is still Hungary hungry.  We observe many bookstores on Andrassy Ut.  We love bookstores!  We enter “Alexandra” bookstore, and I find the cookbook section quickly.  They have “Culinaria Hungary” in English!  I quickly glance at recipes and note some common ingredients…Hungarian peppers, tomatoes, paprika…

“R” waves at me wildly and encourages me to go up the escalator with him.  “R” has found food and art…

What a sight as we ride the escalator to the second floor–the ceiling is gilded.  Isn’t it marvelous?

Alexandra Guilded Ceiling

Look Up!

We are delighted as we sit at the “Alexandra Bookstore Cafe” table amongst friends.  But, there is a slight hiccup…our waitress speaks Hungarian.  We try speaking Hungarian…our waitress doesn’t understand us, and she smiles at our efforts…

Our smiling waitress then begins speaking German.  At this point, there is hope…I speak some German, and after doing so, she understands me!  We are now “connected”.  We enthusiastically order a hot tea, a latte and some sandwiches.

We dive into our sandwiches amongst the frescoes and books.  Occasionally I look up and see this:

Alexandra Bookstore Cafe Fresco

Art and Food...

I am, once again, inspired.  I become more energized by the minute.  As I bite into my sandwich, I ask the waitress, “Was ist das?” She tells me that we are eating Hungarian sausage laced with…what else?  Paprika!  Art and food…

Susitna Cafe’ Hungarian Winter Lecso (“LETCH-oh”)

Lecso is a popular Hungarian national dish.  Every Hungarian family has their own version.  The Susitna Cafe’ version includes an assortment of colorful organic vegetables combined with sausage and, of course, paprika.  It is a wonderful winter stew inspired by Day 1 in Hungary, our art and food experience.  Would you like to share the experience with me at the Susitna Cafe’?

This is what you’ll need to make Lecso that feeds 4-6 people as a main dish (feeds more if served as an appetizer):

Ingredients

Ingredients

Ingredients

1/4 cup olive oil

1 Tablespoon bacon grease*

1 medium eggplant, sliced in 1″ slices, salted, rinsed, then chopped

1 red onion, chopped

2 yellow bell peppers, chopped in 1/2 inch pieces

2-3 small zucchini squash, diced

3 plum tomatoes, chopped

3 heaping teaspoons tomato paste

2 Tablespoons Hungarian paprika (hot is preferred, but sweet will do)

1 Hungarian sausage link*, chopped (kielbasa or your favorite sausage will do)

Salt and pepper to taste

Sour cream (for serving)

*vegetarians omit these ingredients

Begin by slicing the eggplant into 1 inch slices.  Salt the tops and bottoms and leave for 10 minutes.  The salt will extract any bitterness from the eggplant.

Salted Eggplant

Salted Eggplant

Heat the oil in a dutch oven at medium-high heat.  Meanwhile, clean and chop the red onion.  Next, rinse the salt from the eggplant slices, pat them dry, and chop them.  Throw the onion and eggplant into the heated dutch oven.  Saute and stir.

While the onion and eggplant cook, clean and chop the remaining vegetables.  After the eggplant and onion are cooked soft, add the remaining chopped vegetables.  Saute and stir.

Sauteed Mixed Lecso Vegetables

Colorful Lecso Veggies

The vegetables may begin to stick to the pan, so you may add about 1/4 cup of water, as needed.  Now add the tomato paste and paprika.  Cook for about 10 minutes on medium heat, stirring occasionally.  The Lecso should have the consistency of a chunky tomato sauce.

Add the chopped sausage to the mix and continue cooking for 30 minutes.  Add salt and pepper to taste.  Less salt is required if sausage is used in the recipe.

Now, turn-off the heat and allow the Lecso to come to room temperature.  Although you may skip this step and dig-in, a little patience will reveal a richer and full-flavored Lecso.  The cooling period allows the Lecso flavors to meld.  Once the Lecso is cool, then reheat and serve.

Serve with a dollop of light sour cream on top, some crusty bread,  and a tossed green salad.

Hungary Anyone?

Traveler’s Notes:  Since writing this post, I’ve discovered that the Alexandra Bookstore Cafe’ frescoes were painted by a 19th century Hungarian painter, Karoly Lotz.

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Filed under February 2010