Please Pass the Biscuits

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , on March 2, 2011 by Donna Arriaga

Today I received a very sweet email that was forwarded from my husband, Paul. The story is a charming little tale that reminds us about the tenderness of life — despite the bitter stressors that pop up around the corner. Enter: The Burnt Biscuit Story.

After a quick Google search, it appears as though this Burnt Biscuit has been passed around quite a bit. But, it’s a meme worth continuing. So, without further ado, here’s the Burnt Biscuit story…

When I was a kid, my mom liked to make breakfast food for dinner every now and then. And I remember one night in particular when she had made breakfast after a long, hard day at work. On that evening so long ago, my mom placed a plate of eggs, sausage, and extremely burned biscuits in front of my dad. I remember waiting to see if anyone noticed! Yet all my dad did was reach for his biscuit, smile at my mom and ask me how my day was at school.

I don’t remember what I told him that night, but I do remember hearing my mom apologize to my dad for burning the biscuits. And I’ll never forget what he said: “Honey, I love burned biscuits.”

Later that night, I went to kiss Daddy good night and I asked him if he really liked his biscuits burned. He wrapped me in his arms and said, “Your momma put in a long hard day at work today and she’s real tired. And besides… A burnt biscuit never hurt anyone!”

You know, life is full of imperfect things… And imperfect people. I’m not the best at hardly anything, and I forget birthdays and anniversaries just like everyone else. What I’ve learned over the years is that learning to accept each other’s faults and choosing to celebrate each other’s differences, is one of the most important keys to creating a healthy, growing, and lasting relationship.

So…please pass me a biscuit. And yes, the burned one will do just fine!

Fair Food Showdown

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , on September 18, 2010 by Donna Arriaga

It’s that time of year when state fairs across the country are coming to a close.  And that means, there’s no end to the number newly developed artery clogging, calorie-loaded fatty bombs that have found their way into our minds, mouths and tummies.

Any discussion of state fairs and fried food must, without a doubt, include the Texas State Fair.  The State Fair of Texas has even registered it’s unofficial tagline: “The Fried Food Capital of Texas.”

True to it’s tagline, Big Tex did not disappoint.  Here are three deep fried sensations that made it onto the 2010 Big Tex Choice Awards:

Texas Fried FRITOS Pie — Winner of Best Taste

Imagine taking a bite out of the Texas Fried Fritos Pie — a greasy, Fritos-battered popper filled with chili and sharp cheddar. Mmm.

The Big Tex site says that this smooth medley of hot, meaty, crunchy, salty, cheesy, oozing goodness will transport you back to the golden age of Fair Food.

Sounds interesting, but I’m not convinced these Pies will transport me back to the “golden age” of fair food.  All it would take to accomplish that feat is to wave a freshly fried corn dog right in front of me.  And no, not those bastard corndogs that you find in the frozen section, but good old meat on a stick that’s freshly dunked in cornmeal batter and deep fried right before my very eyes.

Fried Beer — Winner of Most Creative

This creation is a deep fried, beer-filled pretzel pocket.  Supposedly, one bite into the crisp, golden pocket delivers a gushing, all-in-one dipping sauce for that freshly fried pretzel.

Certainly creative. But I can’t stop myself from obsessing over one fatal flaw… who wants warm, er, hot beer?

Deep Fried S’mores Pop Tart

The base for this concoction is a s’mores flavored pop tart that’s battered and deep fried.  The dish is served up with a drizzling of chocolate syrup and whipped cream.

Out of all eight winners of the 2010 Big Tex Choice Awards, this dish seems most deserving of a “Least Creative Award”.  The only thing that really stands out with this dish is that — once again — someone decided to plop yet another edible item into a vat of very hot oil.  Oh but wait,  it’s also drizzled with chocolate and served up with a dollop of whipped cream.

Garnish or no garnish, this one is certainly nowhere as creative as the fried beer, or deep fried frozen margarita, or Fernie’s fried club salad — all of which made it onto the 2010 Big Tex Choice Awards short list.  Yeah.  You read it right. That last one was fried salad.

BBQ Showdown: 3 Ways to Grill Sweet Corn

Posted in Portland with tags , , on July 11, 2010 by Donna Arriaga

Grilling Sweet CornWhen summer rolls around, there’s nothing that sings out delicious home-sweet-home more beautifully than a perfect ear of sweet corn.  It’s those those Midwestern roots of mine that invoke powerful cravings for fresh corn on the cob.  (Though I’m sure pregnancy likely plays a contributing roll as well.)  There’s quite truly no better place in the world that grows sweet corn as deliciously tender and sweet than right in the heart of the Midwest.

So, when these Midwestern cravings are sandwiched amidst the culinary haven of the Pacific Northwest, perfection is sure to be just around the corner… that is, with a little help from a bit of home-spun scientific taste testing.


Nearly everybody has their tried-and-true “perfect” way to grill sweet corn.  Oh, you’ve gotta try it this way, one person says.  The next person you talk to about grilling sweet golden deliciousness tells you, oh no… this way is much, much better. Trust me.

Well, last night, my husband Paul and I began a quest to set aside our biases and put a few methods to the empirical taste test.  Here are our methods…

  • Husks On. Plain and simple. Just grab your ear of corn and place it right on a hot BBQ. Grill for about 20 minutes, turning occasionally.
  • Husks On + Pre-Soaking. Soak ears of corn in salted water for about 20 – 30 minutes. Then grill for about 20 minutes, turning occasionally.
  • Shucked and in Foil. Shuck sweet corn, cover in foil and grill for about 20 minutes.


Grilled Sweet Corn
Husks On. This method resulted in sweet corn with a delicate smoky flavor throughout the ear.  Kernels were cooked well and retained their juiciness.  Multiple spots of kernels along the cob also had a toasted flavor that emerged above the smokiness.  (These spots are the lighter brownish kernels in the photo above.)

Shucked and in Foil. This method produced the least desirable effects.  Kernels cooked unevenly compared to the two husks-on methods.  Uneven cooking is likely due to inconsistent layers of foil between the corn and grill grates.  When I wrapped the corn in foil, one side had a little more foil than the other due to slight overlap.  This slight overlap was enough to cause a noticeable difference in doneness.  However, the most disappointing result of this method was that kernels turned out more chewy than juicy.

Husks On + Pre-Soaking. This method produced corn that was, overall, pretty similar to the straight husks on method.  However, the delicate smoky flavor tended to be limited to the very tips of the cob and did not permeate throughout the length of the ear.  Also, the base-half of the ear (closest to the stock) completely lacked both toasted overtones and smokiness which were characteristic of the straight husks on method.


Husks On was definitely the winner. Just place that beautiful ear of sweet corn straight on the grill.  No soaking and no pre-husking necessary.

It Takes More Than One…

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , on April 26, 2010 by Donna Arriaga

…dedicated and wildly creative person to throw a seriously magnificent Beast Feast.

Major props to Cat — co-mother of Beast Feast and to Dan — who is the beast and co-planner.

Thanks for joining forces for a terrific 2nd Annual Beast Feast!

The Story of Beast Feast

Posted in Portland with tags , , , , on April 24, 2010 by Donna Arriaga

Over the course of hundreds and thousands of years, the original Beast Feast villagers scattered across the globe. Eventually their culture and heritage — including this festive celebration — faded into the lost annals of history.

…until now, when Molly Johnson (aka @piratemolly) brings to us The Second Annual Beast Feast — a momentous revival of a lost tradition.

And, as designated historian, I am obligated to tell the story of The Beast Feast…

Long ago, a horrible beast creature was gobbling up people. I mean really gobbling them… Like ultra hungry ogres herding lambs to the uber-commercialized-disassembly-line-style slaughter house.

Not a pretty sight. The beast made man kabobs, deep-fried man, grilled Sam and Sally sandwiches w/ a side of slaw… the list goes on. Its culinary creativity was rivaled only by its insatiable blood lust.

Some have theorized that the beast had an eating disorder. And, being the only one of its kind, had succumbed to binge eating as a way to mask its painful isolation. That it binged on humans is thought to be merely a matter of coincidence, as the village was conveniently located next to the beast’s lair. Others have proposed that the beast’s man-flesh carnage was due to a physiological drug-induced addiction. The theorized culprit: the human pituitary gland. All it took was one. Just one little pituitary gland. After that, there was no curbing the craving.

In a desperate and rather unsophisticated act of defense, the villagers resorted to beating the man-eating beast with long sticks. This startled the creature. But it was eventually the beast’s severe allergy to sap from the Juniper tree which was its ultimate undoing. After many beatings with sticks plucked from the village Juniper trees, the beast finally fell (as did the overly and brutishly pruned Juniper trees).

After destroying the beast, the people feasted – bare handed – on its magnificent meat, both tender and juicy. (It’s suspected that the juniper helped flavor and tenderize the beast flesh – not to omit the likely tenderizing effect of the beatings.)

Since the villagers’ victory, the people vouched to commemorate the slaying and the feasting on the beast with an annual celebration. A reenactment of slaying the beast with sticks is carried out. And, true to the people’s barehanded consumption of roasted beast, the commemorations always called for feasting merrily on foods using no silverware.

Hence, the piñata and sans silverware convivium at the annual Beast Feast.

2nd Annual Beast Feast is Upon Us

Posted in Portland with tags , , , , , on April 24, 2010 by Donna Arriaga

The 2nd Annual Beast Feast is slated to kick off tonight, right here in Portland, Oregon! Be prepared to consume a delectable array of food stuff — all with your bare hands.  Oh yes, and channel those aggressive tendencies because you’ll need them when it comes time to ferociously whack at the traditional Beast Feast piñata — which very well may be filled with little plastic army guys, carrots and random paying cards.

But really, what is Beast Feast you ask? Here’s the official event notice pulled straight from the Beast Feast event page on FaceBook…

The Second Annual Beast Feast…!!

Food without utensils (meat! pie! meat pie!), yummy jello-shooters, Beast Feast Cake, a piñata with mystery prizes, 2nd quarter resolutions, and the Beast Feast activity (TBA). Other ridiculous Beast Feast holiday rituals to be announced…or not.

Please bring:
1. Food item to share that can be eaten with fingers but isn’t necessarily meant to be. No stews or soups, please, unless you bring your own tarp.

2. A beer/alcoholic liquid/cola if you don’t like two buck chuck or coors. Or jello.

3. A friend. Or three. Just RSVP–or you may not get your treat from the Beast.

*Suggestions for activities this year’s festival holiday are welcome though the committee will make all final decisions.

To give you a better idea of Beast Feast, here are a few windows into last year’s celebration…




THE Piñata


Many thanks to Molly for organizing last year’s and this year’s Beast Feast!

Restaurant at the End of the Universe

Posted in Portland with tags , , , on January 17, 2010 by Donna Arriaga

Alright, so the Space Room Lounge isn’t at the end of the Universe, but the ambiance of this Portland classic still manages to pack a pretty unique punch.

The first out-of-this-world visual to greet you is a massive, brushed metal UFO perched just above the brunch counter. Another wall is adorned with overly sized alien prints.

Space Room Lounge

But wait, that’s not it… Every table at the Space Room Lounge sports its own scifi-themed decoupage tabletop.  Table themes range from full-on Trek, to Star Wars, to pulp scifi, to a large center table covered with newspaper clippings of UFO sightings.

Paul and I had the distinct pleasure of sitting at the pulp scifi table.


The only thing that could improve upon this spectacular atmosphere is their choice of programs airing on four big-screen TV’s.  While we were dining, a football game was airing in the background.  I’ve gotta say… It was the one inconsistency in this otherwise spot-on Space Lounge.

My recommendation: Keep those tellies glued to the SyFy channel.  Or better yet — much better — run back-to-back classic scifi flicks.

So clearly, I was much taken in by the look and feel of this lounge. But what about the food… Right???

Well, their Space Menu consists of Out of this World Entrées and All-Day Breakfast plates as well as Extraterrestrial Appetizers and Fresh from the Starship Deli items.

Paul ordered the Ciabatta Chicken Burger — chicken breast, onion, tomato, lettuce, Havarti, and pesto sauce.  He gives this burger a 3.5 out of 5 intergalactic stars.

I ordered the Chicken Pannini — chicken, sun dried tomatoes, cheese, and pesto on grilled ciabatta bread. I give this sandwich a 3 out of 5 intergalactic stars.  With that said, a couple strips of bacon and ciabatta bread that was actually grilled is all it would take for a full 5 stars.  (The bread tasted as though it was lightly toasted on a griddle.)

The fries, on the other hand, were truly out of this world! The battered French fries were served up golden and wonderfully crispy.

Khmer Dessert for a Very Special Birthday Wish

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , on January 11, 2010 by Donna Arriaga

Today is Beth Kanter’s Birthday! Beth is a passionate, inspirational leader in nonprofit tech.  Her blog inspires thousands of people working in nonprofits to use technology in a way that helps them achieve their missions.

Beth turns 53 this year, and she has a very special birthday wish: Raise funds to send Cambodian children to school.

In celebration of Beth’s birthday and in honor of her special birthday wish, I prepared a Khmer Dessert.

Fried Banana Nuggets (Num Chet Chien)
Fried Banana Nuggets (Num Chet Chien)

These banana nuggets were amazing enough on their own. But they’re even better when garnished with coconut ice cream, a tiny dollop of pineapple preserves, and a drizzling of caramel sauce. Mmmm.

Fried Banana Nuggets (Num Chet Chien)

  • 2 Large Bananas
  • 2 Teaspoons of Sugar
  • 1/2 Teaspoon of Vanilla Extract
  • 12 Sheets small-size Spring Roll Shells
  • 1 Cup cooking oil for deep-frying

Cut bananas in half lengthwise. Cut each banana into 12 pieces. In a small bowl, mix the bananas with sugar and vanilla.  Cut the spring roll shells in half. Wrap each banana piece in a spring roll shell.

Heat the oil in a small saucepan.  When oil is hot, drop in the banana pieces. Fry until golden brown. Remove pieces and drain them on a paper towel.

Serve with coconut ice cream, caramel sauce and dollop of pineapple preserves.


And a very happy birthday to Beth Kanter!!!

Escape from Abhorrent Arborio Prices

Posted in Portland with tags , , , , , , , , , on January 10, 2010 by Donna Arriaga

Arborio for $8.89Home cooked risotto was on the menu last night.  So earlier that afternoon, I decided to jaunt on over to the local grocery store with a quest for arborio.

But what I found left me flabbergasted.

$8.89 for a little over two pounds of rice!!! Now, I knew arborio sold for a pretty penny, but I didn’t think I’d have to shell out eight hundred and eighty nine of them.

Despite how badly I wanted risotto, $8.89 was a price point that I just couldn’t justify for rice. After a scan of the rice selection, I quickly found short grain rice (aka pearl rice) at $2.39 for two pounds and decided to use it a substitute for the overpriced arborio.

Here’s why I knew it would be okay to use short grain white rice as a substitute for arborio:

  • Arborio is a short grain rice.  It’s an Italian short grain variety with a crazy-high starch content.  This starch content is what makes risotto so creamy. (btw… Never, ever rinse your arborio. You’ll wash away some of that great starch.)
  • Pearl rice, or short grain white rice, also has a pretty impressive starch content. It too can absorb massive amounts of liquid without becoming soggy.

Differences that lead me to proceed with caution:

  • While pearl rice does have a high starch content and it absorbs massive amounts of liquid, it does neither quite as supremely as arborio.  So, I knew I’d have to scale back my liquid – slightly.  And, I would have to push these little rice grains to their liquid holding capacity, without causing them to become soggy.

And the result? Absolutely fabulous!

Our Mushroom Risotto was velvety smooth, rich and creamy.  The pearl rice held up wonderfully well… one cup of rice absorbed about four cups of broth and the integrity and texture of individual grains were perfect (no soggy rice here).

Braised Chicken & Mushroom Risotto

The recipes…

Mushroom Risotto

  • 1 small onion, diced
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 1/2 tbs olive oil
  • 1/2 tsp thyme
  • 1/3 lb shiitake mushrooms, thinly sliced
  • 1/2 lb cremini mushrooms, thinly sliced
  • 1 cup short grain white rice
  • 1/2 cup port
  • 3 – 4 cups chicken broth, simmering (Mis en place: Keep a pot of hot chicken broth and a ladle on your back burner)
  • Season w/ salt & pepper

Sauté onion and garlic in olive oil. Add thyme and mushrooms.  When mushrooms are cooked through, add port and reduce till pan is nearly dry. Add rice and sauté.

Now, the painstaking dedication comes in. Finish the risotto in the traditional, arm-numbing way: Add one ladle of hot broth to the rice; stir till absorbed; repeat until rice is cooked.

Braised Chicken with Figs

  • 2 chicken breast, boneless & skinless
  • 3/4 cup Port
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 2 tbs olive oil
  • 1 tsp balsamic vinegar
  • salt & pepper
  • 12 Mission Figs
  • Additional olive oil for braising

Combine all ingredients together in a zip lock bag. Marinate for 2 – 4 hours.

Heat heavy pan (preferrably cast iron) on high heat. Pat chicken breasts dry. Add olive oil to pan. Add chicken and sear both sides. Add marinateing liquid (including figs). Cover and reduce heat to low. Cook until internal temp on chicken is 165 degrees.

Remove chicken from pan and set aside to keep warm. Thicken remaining juices in pan with cornstarch slurry. Serve sauce and figs over chicken.

Singapore Noodles on the Brain

Posted in Portland with tags , , , , , , on January 6, 2010 by Donna Arriaga

Last week, I had Singapore Noodles on the Brain.  More precisely, my daydreams of these yellow curried noodles inevitably lead to tingling taste buds, conditioned salivation, and yes, a stomach rumble.

One problem. Singapore Noodles are on my cooking nemesis list.  Meaning, despite my tenacity, a straight out flop (or something less than perfection) is often the ending result.

My problem with Singapore Noodles?

Well, it’s those super thin rice stick noodles. After I’ve reached that final point of adding soaked noodles to my wok, the whole thing goes down hill.  I inadvertently overcook the poor things.  So, what should be a delectable dish of beautifully seasoned noodles is instead a very tasty clump of noodles.

But I had a craving, and that craving needed a solution.  The solution:

Singapore (inspired) Fried Rice

  • 1 c white rice + 2 c water
  • olive oil for sautéing
  • 1/2 c carrots, small dice
  • 1/2 c celery, small dice
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 12 dried shrimp, ground
  • 2 tsp Madras curry powder
  • 2 tbs soy sauce

First step is to cook the rice.  Then, sauté carrot and celery over high heat. You want some nice color to those veges; a little caramelization goes a long way. Then, add garlic, dried shrimp, and curry powder. Turn the heat down to medium so those spices don’t go up in smoke.  After the spices have bloomed, add the soy sauce.  At this point, I added a little bit more olive oil and then added the rice.

Whatever you do, don’t skip the dried shrimp. They really are the “secret” ingredient, and fresh shrimp are terrific but won’t yield the same flavor.  I know, dried shrimps aren’t the easiest things to come by and you may have to make a special trek to your local Asian grocery store. But it’s definitely worth it!

Full disclosure…

Okay. Okay, so in all honesty, my solution was a complete bastardization of Singapore Noodles.  But then again, “Singapore Noodles” aren’t even Singaporean! Besides, creativity is fueled by inspiration. And Singapore Noodles were certainly an inspiration.