The Fantastic Mr. Feedbag

A website celebrating and enumerating Juneau, Alaska's food culture

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Blonde Lasagna

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Blonde Lasagna

One of the best reasons for me to travel is to pick up ideas for recipes by sampling Northwest restaurants, and this is a fine example. It calls for a butternut sauce instead of a red sauce and pecans in place of sausage. Here it is, with a nod to the Skylark menu for a starting place.

On a quiet brick-paved alley in the Fairhaven section of Bellingham sits Skylark’s Hidden Café. We were drawn into the alley by the aroma of fresh-baked focaccia and sat down at the outside tables on a rare sunny day. I really just wanted the focaccia but couldn’t resist trying the lasagna, and when we returned to Juneau found that I couldn’t get it out of my mind.

Coincidentally, our newest addition to the family is a determined but flexible vegetarian. She doesn’t mind cheese, eggs, or fish, so she isn’t vegan, just sensible. So when her family from Spokane flew up to meet the Juneau crew, I wanted to prepare a welcoming feast that anyone could eat. Since the Skylark lasagna is a veggie dish, it fit the bill but needed some tinkering, something that delights me.

Ingredients:
Whole grain brown rice lasagna noodles (one package) or actually any lasagna noodles
1 pound of mozzarella or Italian blend cheese
1 pound of ricotta
1 yellow onion
3-4 cloves of garlic
1 smallish butternut squash or 4 or 5 sweet potatoes
3 tablespoons of flour
3 tablespoons olive oil
3 eggs
1 cup of pecans
basil and sage for seasoning (chopped fresh leaves if possible)
salt and pepper

You’ll want the squash or sweet potato to be a pulp, so the squash cut in half lengthwise with the seeds removed goes into a glass cake pan with about a half-inch of water. Bake for 40 minutes, or if it’s small enough, microwave it till it’s soft– same with sweet potatoes. Either way, peel off the skin and what’s left should be beaten like pumpkin whipped up for pie. Let it ride on the side while the sauce gets fried.

Chop onion into ¼ inch pieces.
Heat olive oil on medium temperature in a large skillet (mine is a ninety-year-old cast iron 12-incher.) Add the onion and let it sweat.
While that’s going on, chop garlic.

Time out for garlic reminder: A simple way to manage garlic is to smash the cloves with the side of your knife—just lay the side of the blade on the clove and smash down on it with your fist—the husks will fall away. Sometimes the clove will shoot across the kitchen, so watch it—you could shoot your eye out with that thing. OR just chop the cloves, and the husks will separate anyway. Tip #2: sprinkle the chopped cloves with a teaspoon of salt and use your knife to grind the salt into the garlic until it becomes pulp. This makes it easy to add salt and garlic to your sauce without big bits.

Now back to our regularly scheduled program—When the onion in the olive oil is softened but not burned, add the salted garlic and let it “swap around,” as Huck Finn says. It’s a good time to add some pepper, too. Mix in the squash/sweet potato pulp. If it’s too thick, add some water; think red sauce consistency. That’s your sauce, and you may need to experiment a bit to get about 3 or 4 cups of sauce. Don’t worry if it’s thin because the dry noodles will soak it up.

As usual with lasagna, mix the eggs with ricotta, basil and sage, but this time add pecans and a little more salt.

Assembly:
Splash a little olive oil in the bottom of your cake or lasagna pan and spread a thin layer of the sauce, then nestle a layer of dry noodles in it. Add a layer of the egg/ricotta/pecans, a layer of cheese, and cover it with 1/3 of the sauce. Add a second layer of noodles, the rest of the egg/ricotta/pecans, and cheese; cover the whole thing with the rest of the sauce. Because we’re using dry noodles, it’s important that the noodles are covered with liquid sauce. This may take some experimenting; I have even added a bit of veggie broth around the edges. Cover the baking pan with foil and bake it for about an hour at 350 degrees. Bake uncovered for the last 10 minutes; don’t be surprised if this dish is flatter than usual.

Options:
If dry noodles make you nervous, boil and drain them according to package directions first. You won’t need quite so much liquid sauce.
This is terrific using chicken breast instead of pecans, and adding chicken broth in the sauce.

Written by drmrru12

November 10, 2011 at 9:20 am

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La Brigada -or- Foraging in the Meatwise city of good winds

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La Brigada is described in Time Out Argentina as being one of the best Parrillas in the city. Conveniently located in the hood that I am staying, San Telmo, I gave it  whirl the other night despite the fact that I´m not a big time steak fan.

The place is classy in the way that an upscale sports bar would be if such a thing existed in the States. There is an odd juxtaposition of white table cloths and futbol memorabilia going on. Pennants of various clubs from the Premiership, Spanish and local sides coat the walls like a second lacquering of wall paper. The obligatory signed Maradona jersey is stationed in the entryway. The wait staff wear dark black get-ups with brown fleur-de-lis paneling blossoming on the chest. A very beast mode 1970´s fashion styling.

I ordered a corn empanada and waldorf salad as starters.

The empanada was a refreshing departure from the normally meat heavy standard issue empanadas that are all over the city. It was like a tasty corn chowder inside of a crispy shell.

The waldorf salad, besides having an amazing name, is a personal favorite of mine. The version served at La Brigada was sort of minimalist take on the ´dorf but great in its own right. It came without any kind of ruffage with apple and celery chunks being the only vegetable / fruit components.

The apples and the celery in the salad were both very light, if that makes sense. The celery was almost white in color and wasn´t nearly as overwhelming in flavor as some of the bright green varieties you commonly see in the States. This led to both of the textures being quite similar and a subtle interplay of flavors. The dressing was a liquid-y mayo with big chunks of bleu cheese with some walnuts tossed in there to crunch things up.

The server recommended that I order a T-Bone. I thought that it was probably going to be to massive from the menu description, but I went with it. It was gnarly. I felt like I could actually visualize the part of the cow that the steak came off of because I had so much surface area to work with. I should´ve known what I was getting myself into when I noticed the menus were covered in cow hide, but shit… When in Rome.

I ordered it medium-rare, which was pretty rare for me. I generally don´t like eating beef chunks that are still kind of squishy raw. The steak was very tender but I think I´m a poor judge for this type of food because it is just too John Wayne for me.

I am glad that I gave this guy a go, but I think I´ll be sticking to slightly less red meat. I sat next to a trio of oil and gas guys that worked down in Buenos Aires and lived in the States and they told me that next time I should try the roast pork shoulder or some of the dicier sounding selections on the menu like the bull testes or the tripe containing monstrosities. I honestly don´t know if I´m cut out, meatwise, for this whole beef adventure.

I walked into a mixed bag at Estados Unidos 465 and walked out a few small steps closer to needing a colonoscopy, but I gave it the old College try and sometimes that´s all that matters.

7 Feedbags out of 10!

Written by The Fantastic Mr. Feedbag

October 9, 2011 at 10:21 am

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Swashbuckling like a sushi-loving space pirate -or- Kwakisurpineku?!?!

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I remember eating Chinese food in Paris once and afterwards feeling poisoned and like I was going to die from MSG overload.

It felt like being a kite knocked down by stiff wind. Traveling can be like that sometimes. Becoming entranced in simple activities like walking through a crowd and trying to discern all the alien faces and voices makes you feel like a newborn ghost and abruptly everything can tilt to where you are no longer sublimated into the landscape and instead you become aware of how fragile and tenuous everything is in a place where the language falls apart in your ears like driftwood shipwrecks and your internal compass spins like a polar explorer´s. Getting sick overseas is a real buzzkill.

It is with this once burnt mentality that I order out-of-place foods, like Asian food in Europe or, say, South America. You don´t want to just wander into any old Chifa and start slumming on some sloppy chow mein.

Serendipity is a Zen creature. Confluences always seem to occur when you are unconcious of their possibility. This is a story about how I found the best sushi in the world.

Through the touchscreen of my iPhone, gifted from on high by saintly, dearly departed Steve Jobs, I discovered BuenosAiresDelivery.com. It is a restaraunt delivery service that is amazingly intuitive to use and comes with English and Spanish language pages. You just plunk in your address and what kind of food you want and the oracle of wingfooted comestibles supplies a construct of the available universe and the website also saves your information for future orders.

Through the magical conduits of the Rube Goldberg machine that I visualize as being a snaking tableau of Mario Brothers chrome green portal tubes spanning the earth like Tesla electricity, I found Hoshi, address Guatemala 5841. The sushi I ordered, Roll Di Parma Rice, was described thusly by the menu:

Seaweed and shrimp tempura and avocado, covered with scallops, topped with Parmesan cheese and teriyaki sauce.

I feel like I could live in a blank white room in the Himalayas for a millenia, racking my brain and pacing and drinking pots of scalding mud brown caffeine under the influence of burning bushels of aromatic incence and not be able to come up with a more appetizing-sounding conglomeration of things to roll up in rice.

I have been missing the Seong´s sushi acutely here in BsAs. The crunch roll is in my experience a superior form of sushi. Also, the Mongolian beef there is simply narcotic. I have had sushi in a good many places and Seong´s has always seemed unrivaled to me, maybe because it was the first sushi that I really experienced and therefore it cultivated my specific taste in the dish.

This sushi reminded me a little of the crunch roll because of the tempura shrimp, and that was partly what attracted me to it in the first place. But the flavor profile is more memorable. I can´t believe this heresy I speak, but the parmesan cheese, while just a note in the symphony, added a contrast of savory salt flavor to complement the avocados. The scallops also perfectly counterbalanced the crunchy shrimp with a fleshy subtle seafood compliment. It was what the comic book villain Two Face would be like if he was sushi instead of a foil for Batman. The crispy shrimp is evil and seductive while the scallops are wholesome and heavenly imbued, but each ingredient isn´t a simple one dimensional note. Shimp is sort of saintly, too, and scallops are most defintely a little scandalous.

If this is even possible, the dessert I had might have been even better.

I am one of those people who loves lemon meringue pie and lemon jolly ranchers and lemon jelly-filled donuts. Lemon can do no wrong by me, so when I see an interesting lemon dessert I am on it like cops on Rodney King. This little guy is a lemon cheese cake, or so it was described on the menu, with a sesame crust and a red berry sauce with interspersed almonds. It was, to me, almost more of an ice cream cake that had an extra reserve of creaminess. The crust on the bottom was such a perfect counter heft to the lemon ice cream. It was kind of like one of those sesame bars you buy at Rainbow Foods that are sweet and savory, but the crust was transmorgrified into something softer and more pastry-like. The almonds and berry sauce were like two guys you take on a road trip so they can sit in the back seat and entertain you with intermittant banter and man the iPod soundtrack to the Ride. Not crucial to the navigation or propulsion of the craft, but indispensible at certain moments and thus part of the harmony. The Greek Chorus, if you will, of the lemon cheesecake experience.

Call the cops. This place is better than ten liquor store breakfasts and a punch in the kisser, hence my carefully devised rating.

10 out of 10 Feedbags!

Written by The Fantastic Mr. Feedbag

October 6, 2011 at 9:17 am

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Eater of worlds -or- Love in the time of no Taco Bell

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Being hopelessly lost is Buenos Aires is a pleasant experience. Every once and a while you find your bearings like tires finding purchase and slowly the turf becomes navigable.

There are a profusion of local restaurants that serve a limited range of cuisine that really isn´t that appealing to my food prefences, which trend towards endless breakfasts at Denny´s or hot and spicy ethnic dishes.

Empanadas and pizza conspiculously missing the garlic and roasted sides of beef are all well and good but Moons Over My Hammy they are not.

In the absence of the possibility of stumbling across a Taco Bell or pancake house, the thing I most was craving when I arrived here was something spicy. I´ve noticed that the Argentines don´t really go in for the spicy stuff. Even their fries are unsalted. It is disorienting to say the least.

Enter the Gibraltar in San Telmo.

It is an English pub that plays Premiership soccer and rugby on a muted flatscreen TV during the daytime. The ambiance is sort of shabby-chic Victorian and the music goes from Tom Waits and Merle Haggard in the daytime to electronic at night. There is a large main room with black leather couches in the front and bench seating under the gaze of stately portraits of stiff-lipped, long dead Brits. Above the bar is a library or study room that does not appear to have any stairs or ladders leading up to it. There are what appears to be leather bound books and perhaps even fine mahogany and ornate wooden cabinets. The bar is like some amazing hipster anthropomorphism that looks studious and temperate but is really a daytime drunk.

If you head to the back, you pass an open view of the kitchen and find yourself in a smaller room with a billard table that leads to an outside backyard area where smokers congregate on stone benches. I really love these styles of “indoor courtyards” that are walled-in and always seem to have plant life crawling up to a square of sky suspended above.

In the travel guide Time Out Argentina, the Gibraltar was mentioned as being a place for genuinely spicy currys and I was surprised having had a drink there the previous night when it was slammed with people. The Gibraltar is something of a living, evolving creature each day. It opens and noon and if you go there early it serves a proper English breakfast of sausages and baked beans. There are a few people lingering, usually expats reading books and slowly imbibing pints. In the early afternoon foot traffic picks up. At some magical moment each early evening, patrons pour in from work and parts unknown and pack the place to the gills and a doorman materializes outside to regulate the amount of people in the bar.

The picture above is a green curry. I have so far taken in the green and red currys, the pad thai with shrimp and chicken, the hotjunglecurrybeef with noodles and the beef and ale pie on a lark. All were amazing. The pad thai and the currys are rustic and fresh. Green beans are a big component and hold up well in the spicy broth of the curry. The Gibraltar likes to garnish everything with cilantro, so in a way it is like an infinitely superior version of Pel Menis. You know, if Pel Menis (Menis… is that pronounced like penis?) had more than one menu item and served booze and attracted a cosmopolitan crowd and had some atmosphere, it´d be the same place. If you are drunk and spiritually debased enough, you couldn´t tell the difference.

Apros pos of nothing, I´ve been writing this in a shitty internet cafe listening to the Cranberries and Sufjan Stevens on youtube.

The red curry had some real heft. I ate this plate, devastated it really, in a few savage minutes and shambled home to take a nap. It was that transcendent. The roasted peanuts and water cress are so crunchy good. I took to dunking chunks of the perfectly sticky rice into the broth and soaking in the spice like a human vacuum sealer. Before, meet after:

I think it is all the more impressive that I did all this damage with chopsticks.

Buenos Aires is a beautiful place. The people are so cool. I mean like Johnny Depp cool. They stay up late because it´s much easier on one´s constitution. But they aren´t really down with the exotic foods, which is so puzzling. I guess this is coming from the same mind that growing up assumed that all of Latin America ate some version of Mexican food. Not so. There is not, nor will there ever likely be, an unending proliferation of Taco Bell-themed restaurants resplendent in wild neon colors covering the Southern Hemisphere. And it is for the better. But, like all fantasies, it is hard not to seek out small bits of cognitive dissonance involving innermost secret desires.

The Gibraltar in San Telmo, address Peru 895, is one of these fragmentary dream scapes. I couldn´t recommend it more highly.

10 out of 10 Feedbags!

Written by The Fantastic Mr. Feedbag

October 4, 2011 at 10:40 am

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Rainbow Foods -or- Shall I compare thee to a summer’s salad?

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I go to Rainbow Foods almost every day.

Lots of times, I go there in the morning to get fruit and a Hi-Ball energy drink, which is like a Red Bull minus the Flintstones vitamins-flavoring and the sugar.

Rainbow Foods is an amazing little microcosm of Juneau.

To go there on lunch is to witness a jamboree of State workers and the staunch hippie quotient that is apparently required for Rainbow to be able to exist on this plane and not float out into oblivion.

There are always three hippies at Rainbow.

Not the same three hippies, mind you, but three, nonetheless. I imagine a hippie consulate assembling in a carved-out tree-trunk somewhere in the deep forests of the Tongass. They are like the AFL-CIO for hippies, and like any good union they make sure their posts are staffed, and Rainbow Foods is the epicenter for the Juneau breed of granolas.

And god bless them. Every one.

But for me, mornings are the best at Rainbow. The store doesn’t open until nine, which is amazing to me but makes sense in terms of the laissez-faire organization of the place. Hippies don’t do mornings, really, so if you show up around nine, the staffing from hippie central casting hasn’t arrived yet.

The store is almost disquietingly empty, but I have come to enjoy the few people that are around.

Read on if you want to know how many Feedbags, Mr. Feedbag gives Rainbow Foods -> !

Written by The Fantastic Mr. Feedbag

April 30, 2011 at 4:25 am

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The Rookery –or– Stranger in a strange place

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Muffins!

This evening I watched an episode of the classic television program The Twilight Zone.

As I was “…traveling through another dimension, a dimension not only of sight and sound, but of mind…”, according to the show’s intro,  I had an astonishing thought.

I know. Weird. No one in the history of the world has ever been stoned watching The Twilight Zone and had a perceived epiphany.

Grant me the poetic license, if you will, for my great and luminous vision didn’t concern the solution for six minute abs or a path to peace in the Middle East.

My vision was about muffins.

Or, rather, to be more accurate… cupcakes. Why these heavenly creations aren’t called by the more sweetly sonorous term muffincakes, I will never understand.

I digress…

I thought of cupcakes during The Twilight Zone because I consumed one from The Rookery café earlier today that lit up the addiction centers of my brain like a triple gold nugget jackpot on a slot machine. It was so delicious and exactly what I needed at that moment in time. I have been pining for something different and beguiling to experience in this town of lowered expectations.

It was red velvet cupcake armature enveloped in a sheath of cream cheese frosting covering the top of the cake like a wildly distended white yarmulke of sweet and savory cloth.

It was different than any muffin-type cake I have ever consumed, and that is what made it so harmonic. I didn’t know exactly what I was getting into with a red velvet cupcake, but I was intrigued.

Sort of like “The Invaders”, the episode of The Twilight Zone that shimmered across my moist eyeballs earlier this eve. From the episode description on my TV guide:

“The Invaders”, (1961), There is no dialogue in this story of a rural woman (Agnes Moorehead) who battles to repel two creatures from another planet. (Sci-Fi).

When I started watching the episode, I was wary of the strange description. How can there be an episode of The Twilight Zone, a show where everything has to be explained in breathless mouthfuls of science fiction jargon, without anyone talking? How can there be a cupcake constructed out of red velvet, a material seemingly better suited for classy sportcoats or Elvis portraiture?

I pressed play and sat transfixed. Magic burst across my screen in the guise of a series of moving pictures from 50 years ago, filmed during the 365 day period that encompassed JFK’s moon speech and the film West Side Story and the ascent to #1 on the Billboard Top 100 rankings of the song “Runaway” by Del Shannon.

The lone character in the episode outside of some robot antagonists is a crazed, feral-looking woman. In act one, we see her glumly stirring a giant pot of some sort of sustenance. Great plumes of stage smoke emerge from the edges of the foreboding black cauldron.

In many ways, the episode of The Twilight Zone that I just watched could have been dedicated to film at any point in between the advent of moving pictures in the late 19th century and modern day. One could say that the idea is timeless, even, with the old-fashioned elements like the woman whose acting is straight out of a talkie from the dawn of cinema.

In many ways, the cupcake that I just ate could have been made at any point in between the advent of cupcakes in the late 19th century and modern day. One could say that the idea is timeless, even, with the old-fashioned elements like the cream cheese frosting.

God, I love cream cheese frosting.

In short, what I am trying to get across through the use of extended metaphor is that the cupcakes at The Rookery are cosmic.

The cupcakes are my current obsession, but I would also beseech you to try the croissants, which are buttery and always fresh and completely fulfilling. I love the filled varieties, including the ham and cheese and the turkey and swiss.

The Rookery is, for my money, the best bakery and coffee house in this woebegone city of dead-end food options. They stock many of my favorite coffees, including the excellent Stumptown line from PDX. Stumptown’s coffee houses in Portland use a French press to make all or almost all of the coffee sold in-store to their cult following of shameless hipsters and serious connoisseurs, and the Rook also offers French press service, which is truly a revelation in Juneau.

They are unearthly and from another dimension.

A dimension as vast as space and as timeless as infinity that can only be found at 111 Seward Street, Monday through Saturday from 7am until 8pm.

A dimension called…

The Rookery.

Or is it The Twilight Zone? I’m confused.

10 out of 10 Feedbags!

Written by The Fantastic Mr. Feedbag

March 12, 2011 at 2:50 am

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Birthday Love & Wordless Wednesday

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At the glacier

Written by Patrice Helmar

January 26, 2011 at 2:18 pm

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