Monday, October 19, 2009

Number One Rule in Dating

I’ve always wondered why people think Italian food is a great choice for a dinner date. Sure, the wine and candles and ambiance at most Italian restaurants is ‘romantic,’ and if you were to slurp down the same spaghetti noodle and end in a kiss Lady and the Tramp style, that would be cute… but in reality, spaghetti is messy and difficult to eat. I guess I never learned the fancy noodle-fork-twirl or something, but I guarantee you I don’t look sexy eating pasta.

This is what I look like when I eat Spaghetti... and humans.

I’m probably the last person to dole out dating advice though, since I’ve been in a relationship with the same guy since I was 18 (with the exception of a short break that I have to throw in there, or Amanda will call me a liar). I also don’t have lots of good tips for where one should go to eat on a date, since I’m not one of those girls that ate daintily on dates or ordered the side salad to look lady-like. I’ve always been more of the ‘order everything on the menu, and finish my date’s meal’ type of gal. I probably finish the food on Evan’s plate (after finishing my own) nine out of ten times.

While I can’t give you the best advice on where to eat for your first date, I can tell you that if you’re lookin’ for a kiss at the end of the night, you should probably avoid Puerto Rican restaurants, or at least make sure you both order the tostones with mojo. Actually, Puerto Rican is probably an excellent choice for a date, with spicy flavors, sultry music, and super sexy Latin flare. One of our favorite date-night restaurants is La Isla, an amazing Puerto Rican restaurant and rum bar just down the street from us, where we go a little too often (for his wallet and my hips). If Evan and I have learned anything about how to make a relationship work though, it’s that we don’t eat the mojo alone…something we learned it the hard way.

Tostones are twice fried plantains, served with mojo (or mojito)- a raw garlic dipping sauce. If you think you’ve had garlic breath before, you just wait until you’ve had mojo. The worst part… it tastes so good you just can’t resist. In the beginning of our love affair with La Isla, we were so obsessed we went all the time, with or without each other. Until the day Evan had the mojo without me. It’s one thing if you’re both garlicky… but let’s just say that vampires steered clear of Evan…no- Ballard…no- SEATTLE for at least 3 days after the mojo madness. I couldn’t kiss him for a week, let alone be in the same room as him! The garlic smell was literally oozing from his skin and hair. It was so bad I felt nauseous just being around him (never a good thing in a relationship). If you want a goodnight kiss after a dinner date at a Puerto Rican place, make sure you both eat the mojo.

Garlic breath aside, Puerto Rican cuisine is muy delicioso. For dinner at La Isla, Evan gets the fiery Bistec Encebollado, a steak, marinated in a spicy olive oil, garlic, and vinegar sauce, topped with sautéed onions. I usually get something with Pernil- slow roasted Puerto Rican pulled pork. Sometimes I just go crazy with the Pernil bowl, other times I get the Pastelon, a sweet and savory plantain and pernil ‘lasagna.’ For lunch we get the blackened salmon salads, or the amazing Guisada bowls. Guisada is Puerto Rican stew, made with either pollo or carne, and a mix of green olives, potatoes, and sofrito, served over rice and beans. We also get tasty empanadillas filled with cheese or saucy meat for appetizers, and we always get pink beans and rice, and tostones with mojo if we’re there together.

Along with the Food 52 Fig Challenge, I entered the week’s challenge for ‘Your Best Stew with Olives.’ I couldn’t think of a better stew with olives than carne guisada- Puerto Rican beef stew. In my version, green olives with pimentos, peppers, onions, garlic, oregano, cilantro, tomatoes, and capers are used in two ways- blended to make sofrito- the base of the stew, and left chunky to create yummy bites of texture. I also added sweet potato to my recipe, which basically melts into the stew, adding a bit of creaminess and hints of sweetness. Serve over rice and beans, garnished with avocado and sour cream.

If you’re eating with your date or flying solo, be sure to whip up some easy to make tostones and mojo to go with this awesome guisada! (Once again) my recipe didn’t win, but Amanda, Evan, and I all thought it was a winner- see for yourself!

2 green plantains
Oil (for frying)
Heat the oil to 375 degrees.
Peel and cut the plantains into 3/4 inch slices.
Fry the slices in the hot oil for 2-3 minutes, until golden-yellow and soft.
Remove the plantain slices with a slotted spoon and drain on paper towels.
When the slices are cool enough to touch, smash them into flat rounds.
Fry the rounds in the hot oil for 1-2 minutes on each side, until crisp and golden-brown.
Remove with a slotted spoon and drain on paper towels. Salt to taste.

1 cup olive oil, warmed
4 cloves to 1 head of garlic peeled, crushed and finely chopped (adjust to your liking)
1 cup cilantro, finely chopped
juice of 1 lemon
juice of 1 lime
salt to taste

Blend all the ingredients together with a food processor or blender, in a nonreactive bowl. Serve in small bowls for each person.

Carne Guisada
Serves 4-6
1 red bell pepper
1 green bell pepper
1 cubanelle (or other mild sweet pepper)
1 small hot chili pepper
1 large yellow or white onion
5 cloves garlic
1.5 cups cilantro
2 teaspoons dried oregano
1.5 cups spanish green olives (with pimentos)
1/4th cup capers
2 medium size tomatoes
salt & pepper
1 large sweet potato or yam
2 russet potatoes
1.5 pounds beef stew meat- cut in 1 inch chunks
1 tablespoon cider vinegar
1 tablespoon olive oil
3/4th cups tomato paste

Dice and combine peppers, onion, garlic, cilantro, oregano, 1 cup green olives, capers, and tomatoes. salt and pepper to taste. Separate in two bowls- set one aside. (Leave 1/2 cup of olives whole, set aside).
To one bowl of diced veggie mixture, add vinegar, and blend (in food processor, blender, or with hand blender) until smooth.
Heat olive oil in large pot to medium heat. Add Beef and brown for 10 minutes.
Add both bowls of veggies (blended and diced) to pot. Cook on medium heat for 3o minutes.
Peel and cube potatoes and yam. Add potatoes, yam, tomato paste, and whole olives to pot. Bring to a boil and reduce heat to a simmer (add water to thin if necessary).
Simmer on low for an hour. Add salt and pepper to taste. Garnish with fresh avocado slices and a dollop of sour cream.
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