You Gonna Eat All That?

A fork in one hand, a pen in the other.

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Location: Virginia, United States

(Biscuit Girl)

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Christmas Dinner 2007 - Roast Capon with Saffron and Lemon

Last month I won vanilla beans from Jaden at Steamy Kitchen and the company sending me the vanilla included a little packet of saffron. MMMM..... Thoughts of paella, saffron rice and other yummy meals began running through my head. I finally settled on a roasted capon with saffron and lemon.

And as luck would have it, our local Safeway had frozen capons! I thought I'd have to check out one of the high end places like Whole Foods (a.k.a. whole paycheck) so I was quite pleased when we found our bird.

Jim lent a hand fixing dinner since I'm still under doctor's orders and am restricted from lifting much. Actually....Jim did just about everything, and I didn't complain a bit. Once the bird was roasting, he put together some saffron rice and cooked up a few Brussels Sprouts. I set the table and impatiently waited for dinner.The skin got a little more done than we expected (because I didn't think to tent it halfway through the cooking. Nonetheless, it was good and crispy. I'm not one that usually will go after the skin but this one was an exception. The flavor was unbelievable. Lemony, tangy and crunchy. Even Sophie enjoyed a few nibbles from the table. The meat itself was very tasty, especially the legs and wings and some of the breast meat that was just under the skin. We probably could have cooked it a little less as some of the breast meat was a tad on the dry side, but it didn't stop us from cleaning our plates. And tonight we get to have the leftovers. I'm getting hungry just thinking about it.

The recipe couldn't have been any easier and I'd make it again with a regular roasting chicken or Cornish game hens if I don't want to schlep all over town for a capon.

Roast Chicken with Saffron and Lemons - adapted from Saveur Magazine

1 7-8-lb. capon
2 large pinches saffron threads, toasted
4 tsp. salt
1⁄2 tsp. black peppercorns
2 lemons, thinly sliced
fresh rosemary

1. Preheat oven to 400°. Wash and gently pat dry the capon.
2. Grind toasted saffron threads, salt, and peppercorns in a grinder (we use a coffee grinder). Gently separate the skin from the flesh of the capon with your fingers. Rub spices over and under the skin, and inside the cavity. Place lemon slices and rosemary under the skin and inside the cavity.

3. Tuck the wings under the back and tie the bird with a kitchen string to hold the legs together for even cooking. Place in a baking pan and roast for 2 hours. You may want to tent the capon after the first hour to keep the skin from getting too dark.

4. Once the temperature between the leg and the breast reaches 165 F, take the bird out of the oven and let it rest for about 15 minutes. Carve and serve.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Merry Christmas - Christmas Eve 2007

Yesterday was a very nice day. As I mentioned in the last post, we had planned to spend the day much like we did on our first Christmas in DC by ourselves. And we did.

Our first stop was the ice rink just outside the National Gallery of Art . It was pretty crowded with skaters and we enjoyed watching everyone having fun. Although Jim really wanted to see the Zamboni. After we finished watching the skaters, we headed over to the museum to see the Edward Hopper exhibit. Nighthawks is one of his most famous paintings and it was really something to see it for real.

Once we were done with that we headed towards the National Christmas tree.....but wait! They were clearing the ice rink.....could it be? Yes!! They were bringing out the Zamboni. Jim's inner child took over so I told him to go on and run ahead, I'd catch up. Camera in hand, he trotted off. He cracks me up sometimes. We sat on the cold ledge of the ice rink while the Zamboni driver smoothed out the ice. When he was finally done the skaters were chomping at the bit to get back on the ice. After watching them resume skating we got up to continue our stroll to see the tree.

We arrived at the tree just as the sun began to set. Jim took this picture of the back of the White House. I love how he caught the last rays of sun reflecting off the building. He also took this one of the Washington Monument.
Then we turned our focus on the National Christmas Tree and all the little state trees that surround it. The National Tree is a live tree planted in the 1970's and now stands just over 41 feet in height.Both of us are from Tennessee so we took this shot of the Tennessee State tree decorated with purple iris, the state flower.Now remember be mentioning that we sat on the cold ledge of ice rink? Well, my ass was still frozen from it so I headed over to the Yule Log, actually a huge pit filled with huge logs and very toasty warm. A few minutes facing the fire then a few minutes with my back facing the warmth and I felt much better.By now the sun was set, the full moon on the rise and we had dinner reservations at Corduroy waiting for us. It was about a 7 block walk and I debated taking a cab since I was a little tired. After spending 4 weeks laid up with my neck problems, I wasn't completely back up to par. But after a few minutes rest on a bench in front of the White House I decided to walk. It was a nice evening, the streets weren't crowded and we took our time.

We arrived at Corduroy with enough spare time to enjoy a pre-dinner drink. Champagne for me and Murphy's Stout for Jim. (Oh, ok, we had two each). By the time our glasses were empty it was time for dinner. My favorite appetizer of all on the menu is the lobster salad with basil oil. OMG it's so good. Diced lobster meat mixed topped with micro greens and drizzled with basil oil. The only other appetizers that tempt me are the soups which change seasonally or the Salad of Beets, Baby Carrots and Goat Cheese.

Since we were both ordering seafood as our entrees, we selected a bottle of Aubry Brut Champagne to go with it. Wonderful stuff and like most of the wine list at Corduroy, the mark up isn't bad at all.

Jim selected the Striped Bass served with kabocha squash seasoned with Thai spices. The bass, as always, was cooked to perfection. The squash was very tasty and had a nice light bite of heat to it from the Thai seasoning. I ordered my favorite entree, Seared Sea Scallops, Garlic Mashed Potatoes and Chardonnay sauce. Sweet delicious scallops each sitting atop a pillow of the smoothest, creamiest garlic mashed potatoes ever and surrounded by the rich, tasty Chardonnay sauce and mushrooms. It's heaven on a plate.Too full for dessert, we ask Katt, our server extraordinaire, for our bill and wished her a Merry Christmas. We were full, happy and tired. It was a great way to spend Christmas Eve together. After we got home we spent a little bit watching TV then went to bed. I slept like a rock and don't even remember my head hitting the pillow.

Merry Christmas everyone. Tomorrow I'll post about our Christmas dinner, roasted capon with saffron and lemon. I'll just say this much tonight, *brpp* it was delicious.


Monday, December 24, 2007

Christmas Eve Memories

Today Jim and I will spend the day like we did several years ago. We will be spending the holiday in DC by ourselves and the memory of our first Christmas Eve up here is one of my most favorite memories. If I could have planned a perfect Christmas Eve, that day would be it.

Like I said, several years ago, Jim and I spent Christmas here in DC by ourselves. It was the first time either one of us wouldn't be with our family for the holiday. I had to work on Christmas Eve and the day after Christmas so going home to be with our families wasn't going to happen. While we were sad about not seeing everyone, we were also looking forward to spending the holiday just by ourselves. We were pretty much still newlyweds having only been married for a year and a half.

The library closed at 1:00 that day and Jim was going to take off at 2:00. We planned to meet at the Botanic Gardens near the US Capital and stroll around the lush tropical foliage before heading out for a late lunch. After admiring all the beautiful plants, we went outside and it started snowing, awwwww. Only dressed in a sweater, I was cold but totally enjoying strolling arm in arm with Jim as we walked to Red Sage for lunch (Red Sage sadly closed recently). As we ate lunch we looked out the window as the snow continued to fall, gently coating awnings of the buildings across the street. When we were finished eating we walked a few blocks over to the National Christmas Tree. Still snowing, we slip-slided our way around the tree, me huddled close to Jim because I was freezing. After admiring the tree as well as all the little state trees that ring the big one, we headed to the nearest Metro station and headed home. Once there, we warmed up and sat in the living room with the Christmas tree lights on. It will always be my favorite Christmas Eve.

Today, we will head out to the National Gallery of Art to see the Edward Hopper exhibit then walk down the National Mall to see the National Christmas tree. After that we'll meet a few friends at our favorite restaurant, Corduroy, for a holiday drink or two then dinner in the dining room afterwards.


Sunday, December 23, 2007

Carne Asada Tacos

Carne Asada Tacos. In a word, YUM! We first tinkered with this recipe using some left over pork tenderloin. A warm tortilla, some heated up leftover pork, lettuce, sour cream and freshly fire roasted jalapeños. We couldn't fix them fast enough.

Our second venture was with flap steak which is readily available at any of the local markets in our area such as Grand Mart, El Grande, and Best Way. While it was very tasty, the meat can be stringy and tough. That is unless you marinate it.

Which is exactly what we did tonight. Jim put together a marinade (listed below) this morning then tossed it and the flap steak pieces into a big zip top bag and set it in the fridge for about 6 hours.

To fix them indoors (which is how we prepare them), heat up an iron skillet* to medium-high to high. Once heated, put the flap steak pieces in a few at a time without overcrowding the pan. You want them to get a good sear on the outside, about 2-3 minutes per side. When they are done, let them rest about 10 minutes then slice against the grain in 1/4 inch slices.
*An iron skillet is preferable so you can heat it very hot to quickly sear the meat. You can also try cooking it on a grill, although we've never done it this way.

While doing this, take an onion that you've cut into 6-8 wedges and sautee them until they just begin to wilt. Set them aside for the assembly.
Once sliced, you're all set to assemble. Some meat, sour cream, lettuce, and onions. Now Jim prefers freshly fire roasted jalapeños on his while I prefer Texas Pete or Choula hot sauce. (I think he likes the jalapenos because he can play with the open flame on the gas stove. You know the whole man/fire thing....lots of grunting, scratching, etc.) .

Now that you have that lovely image in your head.....(Sorry, here's a nicer one), here is the marinade recipe. Enjoy!

Carne Asada Marinade
One-quarter cup each:
  • Soy sauce
  • Beer
  • Canola or olive oil
  • Juice of one lime
  • 2 Tablespoons fresh black pepper
  • 3 cloves garlic, crused
  • 1 tablespoon dried onion
Mix everything together, place in a large zipper top bag, add the meat and marinate for 6-8 hours.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Mexico – Conclusion

(By Jim)

So should I do something trite and end this series with quotes from the lyrics of James Taylor's song Mexico? Nah. But I did think about it, and I've got Jimmy Buffett's version on my MP3 player right now.

The rest of the trip was uneventful as we steamed the 1,100 miles back up to San Diego. We already talked about the cruise part of the trip, so no more really needs to be said of that. No one had to be medevac-ed off the ship (unlike this week). I spent a lot of time reading on the sofa or on our balcony, having a cigar and a drink on the deck, or just watching TV.

As the guide José said, Mexico is a country of contrasts. You have million-dollar homes just south of Puerto Vallarta, the envy of any US city, not far from tin-roof shacks with dirt floors. You have your time-share salesmen, your folks hustling to put an iguana on your neck for pictures and tips (sometimes uninvited – fortunately, Barbara isn't squeamish about reptiles.) But then get out of the tourist zones, into the central market, or a couple of blocks off of the main drag and you'll see things change.

If you're only coming for the climate and don't care about connecting with where you are, then take the cruise. But if you want to do things differently than you do them at home, then skip the ship and instead look into flying in and renting an apartment for a week. Preferably in the Centro, with the cultural attractions, but even in the tourist zones, as long as you go outside these areas to the market to see what local people eat and how they live.

We're going back sometime, and hopefully sooner than later. I'd like to give Cabo another try, because I don't think we had figured out the get the hell away from the tourist areas strategy completely there. Maybe next time we'd stay in San Jose del Cabo. Or go further up Baja California to Loreto or La Paz, and do some sea kayaking in the Sea of Cortez. But before that we'll go back to Mazatlán or Puerto Vallarta, rent a place in downtown, and see what new things we can find when we have an entire week to explore.

Mexico is still there, peeking around the corner, smiling at you. All you have to do is go around the corner and find it.

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Monday, December 17, 2007

Puerto Vallarta

(By Jim)

Puerto Vallarta
Our port day in Puerto Vallarta was the longest time we would spend in one port, from 8 AM to 10 PM. We figured that we'd take a tour, then head back into downtown where we could explore on our own.

The ship docked on time, and from our balcony we could see the friendly glow of the Wal-Mart across the street. If I were spending multiple weeks onboard in a back-to-back-to-back itinerary, then reprovisioning at Del Wally Mundo would be more important. As it is, though, it was just a reminder that sometimes you can't get away from home for long, even if you are 1,100 miles southeast of San Diego.

But, there was another scene I didn't expect. What's this little critter? (A three week old baby burro).

Barbara got to hold the burrito, but we didn't get a pic as they were only letting the ship's photographer take pictures (and $5 US wouldn't talk). The picture they took was awful.

At 10 AM, we boarded buses for our tour into the city, then out to the Tequila hacienda for lunch and a demonstration. Our first stop was a strip mall in the hotel zone where we could shop for silver and jewelry, I'm sure with a good bonus for our guide and driver. There was, however, a liquor store at the end of the strip. The owner, a Canadian, was passionate about tequila and willing to talk your ear off about it. A nice guy, he gave me a couple of samples, and I bought a couple of miniatures to bring home. Barbara wandered off to shop while I talked tequila.

After this, we went into town. Our guide José led us around the Centro/Downtown area.

We toured the Malecon, the sculptures along the seafront, the Cathedral,

and then a walk down some narrow streets to meet our bus.

He also pointed out big fat iguanas lounging in the trees near the bridge over the river.
We were driven over to the "Tile Factory", which struck me as more of a tile store with a little activity going on upstairs painting the tiles. Barbara bought us a picture frame there.

Following this was the main attraction, the part that made me put up with a bus tour. Tequila! We were driven out to the countryside, where there was a small estate producing tequila, and only selling it at their estate. (Except now I've found that they have an importer to the US online.) They first served us lunch, chicken and beef tacos and taquitos.
After lunch, we went through a demonstration of the distillery, where they pressure cook and roast the agave, mash, ferment, and distill the spirits. I didn't see much aging going on, but they probably had a warehouse somewhere else and who wants to see a warehouse. We then sampled their tequilas, from blanco to reposado to añejo. My pronouncement was that they were decent, but pretty ordinary examples of the types.

After we got back around 3 in the afternoon, we knew the lay of the land and snagged a cab to head back downtown. Take us to the Malecon, the sculpture of Los Delfins (The Dolphins). We knocked around town, did some shopping for silver.
Then we stopped at a couple of places to have extremely expensive beers ($3 US?!?! An outrage!) We walked the Malecon, and took pictures of the statues. Barbara's favorite is "Neptune and Neriad".
I was fond of "In Search Of Reason." I could imagine the little figures going "Have you found it yet?"
We had planned to have dinner in town, and so as the sun was setting we decided to wander off the main drag, see if we could find anything that piqued our interest. A couple of blocks uphill, my nose said "This place smells good!" We walked around a little longer, and couldn't find anywere else that smelled better, so we headed back to Melissa's, on Calle Josefa Ortiz de Dominguez. If you visit PV, I assure you that this is excellent food and a bargain. Beers were cold and cheap, a margarita suitable for floating several rubber duckies was 40 pesos, and the food was fresh and excellent. How cheap? Here's the tab. Garlic mahi-mahi, garlic shrimp, a smoked marlin taco, two beers and a margarita for 245 pesos, or about $22 US.

This was the best meal we had out on the town in any of our ports. And we were the only people in there. I hope they stay in business.

Traffic was heavy as we cabbed it back to the ship. The driver pulled some tricks trying to dodge the crowds, and we talked about how I would do that when trying to get around traffic getting onto 395 in the city. We walked back from the gate to the ship, for the last time on Mexican soil before the end of the trip, and got some good pictures of the other ship in port and our ship.

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Saturday, December 15, 2007

I'm almost back

I'm trying to get back into the kitchen as soon as possible so I can resume posting on my own. Jim has one more cruise post to put up for our last port of call, Puerto Vallarta. Plus he'll still put up the occasional post now and then. However, without his love and support, I don't know how I would have made it through all of this. He's my rock.

For those of you who don't know why I have been MIA, I have been laid up with a bulging disc in my neck. It's a pain worse than I could have ever imagined. After four weeks of being in increasingly worse pain, I was finally able to get a steroid shot in my neck to help relieve the bulge and the inflammation it's caused to the nerve. My doctor said it may take a few days before I felt any relief but I felt it almost immediately! By that evening the pain level I had been on was less than half of what it had been for the past month. And I finally got to sleep in my own bed painfree! It was the most glorious nine hours sleep ever! Up until then I had been in Jim's recliner day and night. (needless to say he's happy to have his recliner back and happy to be rid of it).

I hope to be posting again very soon so stay tuned.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Intermission - A simple dinner

By Jim

Sunday night dinner, and we wanted something simple. Brussels sprouts and garlic sauteed, with cooked pasta tossed in, then the grape tomatoes sliced in half and tossed in to get warm and just a little softer. Finished with Parmesan and crushed red peppers. The kind of meal that just makes you happy, soothes you after a long day.

Mazatlán - Warning, Long Post

By Jim

Mazatlán’s nickname is the “Pacific Pearl”, and this is also the name of their English language newspaper. We had heard more about Mazatlán than the other ports we visited, thanks to tour guides online like Mazatlán Frank and King David tours and comments on the cruise critic webpage and guide books. This was surprising as Mazatlán is the least-touristy of the destinations in my opinion. There is other industry there (For one, the Pacífico Brewery), and the port is the largest commercial port between Los Angeles and the Panama Canal, and Mexico’s largest commercial port.

We laid out our gameplan for Mazatlán the night before. Barbara didn’t want to climb up the hill to the lighthouse, so I would get out as soon as we tied up and take advantage of the morning cool to do that. Then I’d come back to the ship, pick up Barbara, and we’d head to the Mazatlan Aquarium. After that, we’d either head to the Golden Zone (tourist hotels, beaches) or to the old city (cathedral, market, beach, cliff divers).

I awoke as we were pulling into the harbor. The view off our balcony was of the lighthouse and hill.

Water taxis and tour boats

Tanker in port, note the "No Smoking" signs

Golden Princess in port ahead of us

Once we had tied up, I headed down and took the little tram from the ship to the cruise ship terminal. There were more hawkers for timeshares, inside there were little shops, and on the other side were taxis and vans all wanting to take me somewhere. I passed them all, walked outside, and caught a pulmonia outside the terminal area.

A pulmonia is a taxi unique to Mazatlán. It is an open-air cab with a surrey top (think a white VW Thing with a cloth top) and may or may not have doors, hence the name which literally means pneumonia. Negotiate the rate before you get in.

The driver dropped me at the foot of the hill. The Mazatlán lighthouse is the second-highest natural lighthouse in the world, after the Gibraltar There was a dirt road for half of the walk up, a fairly easy walk. Much more difficult was the second half of stairs. The total walk was only two-thirds of a mile, but up 515 feet as well, just shy of the height of the Washington Monument. It took the wind out of me for sure. On the way I ran into a couple of tourists who said “It isn’t much farther, and it’s worth it.” It certainly was. The view was spectacular. If you do make the hike, the lighthouse keeper sells bottled water and sodas. I wouldn’t want to carry it up. Also, do it in the morning.

Cruise ships from the walk up

The city - it was hazy that morning

The lighthouse itself

The walk back to the port was nice. I met several dogs and cats, walked by the sportfishing marina, the place where the water taxis run to Stone Island, and back to the port. From leaving the ship to back, it took about two hours. I took a quick shower to wash the red dirt from the road off my legs, then was ready to head out again.

Our next stop was the Mazatlán Aquarium (Acuario Mazatlán). It was small compared to the National Aquarium in Baltimore, but very nicely set up. We got there in time to wander the exhibits and see the fish-feeding show with a diver feeding the fish, then picking up the nurse shark and scratching its belly.

Barbara had another goal in mind, though. She found out that after the Sea Lion show, you could get a kiss from a sea lion.

They were cute. Ely’s nose was soft and her breath smelled of herring.

After the Aquarium, we headed back to the cathedral in the city center. It has a beautifully painted altar area.

Next up was the central market. If you’ve been to an Asian market in a large city, you would be comfortable. If you think all meat comes on Styrofoam from a Safeway, you’ll see some things you’ve never seen before. One of our dinner table-mates fell into the latter category, and was a little freaked out. I wish I had taken some pictures there-it was very interesting.

We had lunch above the market at one of the many small restaurants there. It had more people eating there, that’s why I picked it. Barbara had enchiladas, I had shrimp in spicy sauce. Hers were better than mine, but mine weren’t bad. And lunch was around $12 dollars, even with two Cokes each.

After lunch, we headed back through town, walking down to the ocean and to where the cliff divers do there thing. I was told it wasn’t as impressive as the ones in Acapulco, but I haven’t been there, so I was impressed.

By then, we had been walking in the hot afternoon sun for a long time, and it was time to refresh. We passed by El Shrimp Bucket and I remembered that one of our guides recommended a place just a few blocks past, where the beer was cheaper and colder and the food better. El Marismeño on Olas Altas. Beers were 2 for 20 pesos, less than $1 each. Barbara got some guacamole and chips to snack on (40 pesos), and I got shrimp ceviche. For 70 pesos, I expected a small portion, but I got something that looked like it could feed a family of four as an appetizer, or two as an entrée. It was the best ceviche I’ve ever had. The shrimp were fresh, marinated with lime juice, red onion, cilantro, tomatoes, and Serrano chiles. Fantastic stuff.

After 3 or 4 beers, ceviche, and a cigar, we hopped in a pulmonia to take us back to the ship.

The skyline was beautiful as we departed.

I'm ready to go back. I'm ready to buy a little townhouse in the Centro for $80,000, and run a shrimp boat. They will call me Shrimper Jim.

Next: Puerto Vallarta!

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