My 10th USAnniversary!

bilbo quote

August marked 10 years since my arrival in the USA and I have found myself reflecting and reminiscing a lot lately. As a result, today’s post is very different than normal as I set the scene for a week of some of my favourite eateries from our summer vacation.

It is still strange to me sometimes when I think about how this little wandering Greek- Cypriot Londoner finally found her home with a tall southern gentleman at the foot of the Smokey Mountains, in a little town just north of Chattanooga, TN. And, little did I know that I would have to leave that majestic view to graze in the flat lands of Texas, just a few years later, while my husband finishes his doctoral work. That is life my friends. You never know how it is going to unravel as each foot is placed in front of the other.  You just move, hoping, trusting, squinting into the distance and believing somehow that you will look back at the end of your life and feel peace with all you have learned and experienced. Even those who meticulously plan 10 years at a time can never truly know what is ahead. I think somewhere deep down that is my favourite thing about life; the mystery. It’s the peace we find when things aren’t as we imagined. The hope, and knowledge, that things can change means we can focus on present moments that are still positive and draw strength for the patience required as we wait for the up and coming. It is also the hope of all the adventure that is yet to come.

 

Ski Lift

In the summer of 2003, when I was still living in London and a month away from moving to the States, I had the pleasure of attending a conference at the ski resort of Pamporovo in Bulgaria. Being July, we were not there to ski but an afternoon outing had been arranged to ride the ski lifts across the beautiful mountains. I learnt something monumental that day as our journey unfolded. The first ski lift at which we arrived was pretty modern with large cushioned seats, a thick strong safety bar that locked into place, and a short little ride to the first mountain. Being slightly afraid of heights, I felt as safe as possible under the circumstances and decided to move with the flow of people making their way to the lift. It was rather quite pleasant as we smoothly sailed up to the tops of the trees, enjoying the crisp summer air, and landed safely on the other side of the valley.  

However, the next ski lift was not as sturdy-looking and a little older than the first. The view from the mountains was stunning and, despite my trembling knees and the strong desire to go back alone, I decided to hop on this next set of ski lifts and just grip the flimsy bar with all my might. As we bobbed along the line, I could not get enough of the natural beauty around me. I have always loved the mountains and these were stunning.

Once we reached the final ski lift, at the very height of the resort, I was pretty mortified at the sight of the contraption that would be carrying us down. The safety bar was a thin rope of metal that came half way across the body, the entire chair was paint pealed and somewhat rusty, and as each empty seat rolled around the top of that highest mountain, it swung wildly, squeaking and taunting its next victim. Even though I could hear my heart pounding in my head, I somehow managed to muster the courage and rode this lift of death to the bottom of the mountain. The view was silently breathtaking and completely distracting from the fear I had initially experienced. It is an experience I will never forget.

Every moment of the journey that day was only visible as I approached each leg and for that, I am so very thankful. If I had seen that final terrifying lift from the beginning, I would have turned around and mulled on back to the hotel with the few others who did not want to go into the mountains. Instead, each stage was revealed gradually and I managed to find just enough courage and strength to get to the next point and experience some of the most incredible scenery. One month later, I arrived in the States for what was to be two short years and here I am ten years later, with so many hill top moments behind me, and still enjoying the ride!

Why do I tell you all this? Because it seems fitting to celebrate my USAnniversary by highlighting the food in a city that became a very significant mountain top for me during the early years of my life in this country. I will be spending this week focusing on the wonderful eateries we love so much in Chattanooga and I truly hope to inspire you to visit this beloved city. Who knows, maybe one of life’s ski lifts will take you there someday too.

chattanooga

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An Afternoon Tea Party with English Scones

What better way to celebrate the upcoming arrival of your friend’s baby girl than to throw an afternoon tea party shower. Pretty flowers, little cups and saucers, small sandwiches and scones, great friends sitting around the table together laughing, and sharing in the wonder of new life. Some friends and I had the pleasure of arranging this intimate little gathering full of tiny pink frilly outfits and baby bows with bling. It was such great fun.

tea party

I absolutely love the collaborative efforts that go into this wonderful American tradition of helping to provide and prepare for a baby’s arrival. I am especially honoured to be surrounded by friends who go to such great lengths to take care of each other. This shower was just another example of how blessed John and I are to be here at Baylor.

Our tea party consisted of delicious fruit salad, classic cucumber sandwiches with the edges cut off

Cucumber Sandwiches

and English tea scones.

scones above

served with jam and lemon curd of course!

scones above with jam

(sadly I could not find any clotted cream but I have since found a recipe for homemade clotted cream that I will be trying very soon). This tea party made me rather homesick and triggered hours of nostalgically seeking out recipes for all the other British classic desserts like cherry bakewell tarts, hot cross buns, fondant fancies, and Eccles cakes. I am sure some of these will be turning up on The Grumbling Belly in the coming weeks and months!

English scones are not like the American ones you find at coffee shops. They lean slightly towards breakfast biscuits with some added sweetness.  Typically, scones are either plain or with raisins/currants. The ones I made for this shower are sort of an American-British marriage as I added dried cranberries with the raisins as well as a few other small modifications! If you want to make a classic recipe just omit the cranberries, zest and vanilla.

Tea Scones

English tea scones

1/2 cup of raisins

1/2 cup of dried cranberries

1 tsp orange zest

2 tbsp of sugar

4 cups of self-raising flour

2 tsp baking powder

1/4 tsp salt

1 stick of butter (1/2 cup)

2 eggs

dash of vanilla extract (optional)

1/2 cup of milk (plus a little extra for brushing)

Preheat oven to 375 F. Sift flower, baking powder, salt and sugar together in a large bowl. Cut butter into cubes and the rub into the flour mix until you have a breadcrumb texture. In a separate bowl, beat the eggs with the milk, then add orange zest, vanilla if using, raisins and cranberries. Make a well in the center of the flour and add the milk-egg mix. Gently work the wet mixture into the dry ingredients until just incorporated into a dough consistency. Roll out onto a floured surface and cut out scones circles. It is really important when cutting into the dough that you do not move the cutter around as this will prevent the scones from rising. Simply press straight down and release. Brush the top of the scones with milk and place on baking sheet with a little space between them. Bake for about 15-20 minutes until they are golden brown. You can freeze the scones as soon as they are cool in a ziplock bag to preserve their freshness. Or, serve them as soon as possible with jam, clotted cream or lemon curd.

scones close

(Thanks to Hannah King and Mike Trozzo for taking beautiful pictures)

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Pride and Prejudice Pasta!

Today, I am excited to share a story and delicious recipe from my dear friend Sodoulla in Cyprus. This story is actually about the both of us during my first stint on the island from 1993-1997  as a teenager. (I lived in Cyprus a second time from 2005-2007 after Grad school- yes it can be confusing!) We were both Greek- Cypriot kids who were born in London and whose parents had returned to live in Cyprus for various reasons. We were instant friends when we met in high school, sharing a common misunderstood dark British humour and dry wit as well as many other things. Needless to say she is still one of my best friends to this day even though there are so many miles between us and life is very different from those early days. I was absolutely thrilled when she wanted to contribute to The Grumbling Belly and I am sure you will enjoy this trip down memory lane with us.

Happy Mondays Pasta for Mr. Darcy

Pesto Garlic Cream Pasta

When Leia started her family and friends posts I couldn’t resist reminding her about our Monday night get togethers back in 1996. We were just out of school and I had moved from my parents house on the beach town of Larnaca to the central city of Nicosia for college. This meant I was closer to all my high school friends and in particular, Leia. Although she and I had our fair share of parties and going-out nights, Mondays were strictly reserved for our other two passions: English classics and food.

Much to mine and Leia’s delight the not-so-wonderful Cypriot Broadcast Corporation decided by some miracle (or perhaps someone on the board actually had good taste)  to show  the BBC’s six part series of Pride and Prejudice every Monday night, starring the original Mr. Darcy, Colin Firth, and the under acclaimed Jennifer Ehle as Elizabeth Bennet.

So I’d get over to Leia’s house a good couple of hours before the show would start and we would raise havoc in her mum’s huge kitchen (has she ever mentioned that her parent’s house in Cyprus is a parsonage that used to be a school? Thus you can imagine the size of each room, not to mention there are separate guest toilets for men and women!) We would chop up the garlic, mushrooms and onions while telling each other our sad love-life updates (or lack thereof!) and of course we’ll never know if we cried because of the onions or because of our tales. Then we would get out the pots and pans  and cook up our amazing signature dish that we were so proud of at the time. For us back then, diets started on Tuesdays…

ingredients

Finally, we would sit glued to the television and eat until bursting point while watching the courageous Elizabeth sticking to her guns and the quiet Mr Darcy falling frustratingly in love with her. If I remember correctly, (I did say this was back in 1996) we would finish off the evening with a quick game of scrabble.

Needless to say the series finished after six weeks but we continued Monday evening pasta for quite a while. I can safely say that it was probably the only time in my life when I actually really looked forward to Mondays and I have my best friend Leia and, of course Mr Darcy, to thank for that.

Now to be totally honest, the recipe for our spinach pasta is a bit foggy (again, 1996) we were young and never really thought about writing it down. Being Cypriots we kind of just “played by ear” (my mum is an excellent Cypriot cook and she doesn’t have a single recipe written down, which I now find extremely frustrating, but I guess I’m like her in a lot of ways).

However the other day knowing I was going to write about it, I tested out our Monday Pasta and this is what I came up with:

Garlic Pesto Cream Pasta
(serves 2)
200g pasta (we used to use cheese tortellini or tagliatelle but use your favourite)
1 bunch of fresh spinach, chopped
1 medium onion (or half a Spanish one), chopped
chopped fresh mushrooms (optional but strongly recommended, quantity is up to you)
2 cloves garlic, chopped or mashed
2 (ok, maybe 3!) heaped tablespoons of good pesto (I now would use homemade as my husband does the best pesto but back then we used store bought)
a drizzle of good olive oil (please don’t substitute with another oil)
250ml fresh cream
half a glass of white wine
salt and pepper to taste
Parmesan to grate on top

Gently sweat the onion in a hot pan drizzled with olive oil and then add the mushrooms and garlic. Sauté for a couple of minutes, making sure the mushrooms don’t produce too much water.

spinach-going-in

Add the spinach and wine stir until all the spinach is hot and starts to cook down, cover the pan and let the spinach cook until its tender and reduced.

spinach-wilted

Add the pesto, season with salt and pepper; stir well so that everything is covered in pesto. Finally, when the wine is reduced to a thick sauce,

cream-going-in

add the fresh cream and stir again, let it cook and thicken.

finished-sauce

Cook the pasta to your desired tendency and mix well into the sauce, grate cheese on top and serve with garlic bread.

Pesto Garlic Cream Pasta

We strongly recommend sharing this pasta dish with your best friend for added comfort.

Pinteresting Easter Monday!

This was the first holiday John and I have spent alone and although that makes it sound like a sad occasion, it was actually by choice. The most exciting part of this decision was the chance to cook an entire special meal from start to finish. Usually, because we are with family, we just contribute a side dish or dessert so, despite all my cooking and baking experience, I have never been the person solely responsible for an all out holiday meal until yesterday. We talked through some options, looked over Pinterest, recalled some of the best dishes from our favourite restaurants, and came up with a menu: Whiskey Beef Stew with Yorkshire Puddings, Roasted Parsnips and Crunchy Lemon Basil Brussels Sprouts. 

Easter Dinner

The first part of our meal was a recipe I came across on Pinterest so I have decided to share it with you all for Pinteresting Easter Monday. I am not usually a fan of stews and pot roasts so for me to actually find one I love is a big deal!. What really struck me about this recipe was the whisky (need I say more?) and Yorkshire puddings (which to me are synonymous with holiday meals). Once we had settled on this recipe, it seemed only natural to go in the way of a British theme so Parsnips and Brussels Sprouts were quickly added to the menu. For the parsnips, I just roasted them with some olive oil, salt and pepper for 45 minutes in a 375 F oven. As amazing as the stew was, and as much as we love parsnips, the real star of the show ended up being the Brussels Sprouts which I will share with you more thoroughly later this week as they deserve a post entirely their own. In the meantime, here is the original recipe for the stew with my notes in bold.

Whiskey, Beef and Mushroom Stew in a Yorkshire Pudding Bowl  (from Elizabeth’s Kitchen)

Whiskey Beef Stew with Mushrooms and Potatoes

Serves 2 (I actually found that this will serve more like 4 people)

400g (1 lb) stewing beef or casserole steak, cubed
flour
sea salt & freshly ground black pepper
oil for frying 
2 onions, thickly sliced
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 heaped tsp paprika
1 tsp dried herbs de provence (this is typically a mixture of Rosemary, Thyme, Fennel Seed and sometimes Lavendar. I just used Rosemary and Thyme)
1 bay leaf
1 large potato, peeled and cubed
13 button mushrooms, cleaned
70ml (about a quarter cup) whisky 
1 pint beef stock (2 cups)

Mix flour with salt & pepper. Dredge meat cubes, shake off excess and set aside. Heat oil in a frying pan and fry beef in batches until each side is seared. Remove with a slotted spoon and place into a large pot. Fry onions and garlic in the oil until the onions soften.  Stir in paprika and fry a further minute. Transfer to the pot. Add potato, mushrooms and remaining herbs. Pour whiskey and stock into the frying pan and bring to the boil, scraping up all the little bits on the bottom. Transfer to the pot. Cook on a medium heat for at least an hour. Alternatively, cook in a slow cooker for 8 hours on low. When the meat is tender thicken with some cornflour if desired, although I feel it’s perfect just as is. I decided I didn’t want to dirty two pans so after dredging the meat, I seared it in my deep non-stick pan with 1 tbsp olive oil. I removed the meat and softened the onions in the same oil. I put the meat back in with the onions, added the mushrooms, potatoes and remaining spices, deglazed with the whiskey and then added the stock. It simmered in this same pan for 1 hour.  

Serve with Yorkshire puddings.

300ml full fat milk (1 1/4 cups)
4 eggs
pinch of salt
freshly ground black pepper
250g plain flour, sifted (1 cup)
dripping

Whisk together milk, eggs, salt and pepper and leave to stand for 15 minutes. Meanwhile, heat your dishes with dripping in the oven until very, very hot. I used an 18cm Le Cruset pan to make the Yorkshire ‘bowl’. Stir flour into the egg/milk mixture and pour into the very hot pan.  (I don’t have this size pan so I just made smaller puddings in a muffin pan with a tbsp of drippings/oil and -once hot- 3/4 full of batter ) Bake for 20 minutes. 

Whiskey Beef Stew with Mushrooms and Potatoes There are several reasons why you should try this stew:

1) it’s easy and delicious

2) whiskey…but seriously though!

3) it can be adapted for the crock pot making it even easier

4) it will make your house smell amazing while it’s bubbling away

5) except for the whiskey (depending on your pantry), it is really quite inexpensive, hearty and all the ingredients are probably sitting in your fridge and cupboard at this very moment!

Hotel Chocolat- trying to do the right thing

Chocolate

Chocolate…could we imagine life without it? We’ve all wanted to drink from the Wonka River at some point. But this dark delight also has a darker side hidden at the cocoa farms in places like Cote d’Ivore (The Ivory Coast). One of the things that impressed me most about England during my return over Christmas was the amount of ethically sourced chocolate easily available. Here in the States, most people I meet have never heard of the human right’s issues surrounding the cocoa industry. To be honest I am not surprised when you consider that the major chocolate companies in this country are the ones continuing to fuel the problem. It’s hard for us to accept in our modern society that chocolate is a luxury item when we consume such massive amounts. Even more so, in this difficult economy, we aren’t interested in paying more money for something that you can find everywhere for much cheaper prices. But the truth is, that chocolate is a luxury item and the only reason it has become such a predominant part of our lives is because cocoa is being harvested in harsh conditions and mostly on the backs of child workers, a lot of whom are slaves, so it can be a cheaper commodity.

chocolate

Just for a moment think about all the ease with which we find chocolate and use it in daily life…..desserts at restaurants, in healthy snacks as well as indulgent ones, baked goods, in coffee drinks, chocolate milk, and breakfast cereals not to mention all the holidays that focus on candy and chocolate….Halloween, Valentine’s Day, Christmas and Easter. You then start to realize why this issue is not being brought to the forefront as much as other human rights issues. Can you imagine the impact on the cocoa industry?….No but seriously, can you imagine the impact on the cocoa industry? Our choices make all the difference for other people around the world. I think as consumers we feel so powerless against these corporate giants. It almost reminds me of the Disney-Pixar movie A Bug’s Life where all the ants think that the grasshoppers have this terrifying  control over them. But, there’s the great moment when the ants suddenly get it…..there are more of them, they are the ones who provide food and they have the real power after all. We are the ants….there are more of us than there are greedy corporations and our money and purchase power are what they depend on. If a company starts losing profits, and their shareholders are not happy, you can guarantee that they will change tactics to get their ‘piece of the pie’. Just look at the ‘organic’ industry and all that has changed in the last 10 years. Once sales for non-organic items began to drop, smart companies realized they needed to start producing more organic items to recoup their profits. Already, we are beginning to see the pressure in some parts of the country and in the UK and it’s forcing companies not to turn a blind eye anymore but to take responsibility for their cocoa farmers/suppliers practices. And, although not enough change has happened yet, there are several cocoa companies, such as Divine (on-line and specialty stored) and Green & Blacks (only one available at major grocery chains), specializing in producing chocolate in ethical ways.

Slave Free Chocolate

While in England my brother introduced us to the masterful world of Hotel Chocolat and you can imagine my delight when I discovered that they are making it part of their mission to treat and pay their farmers as valued employees and investing in their well being and success.  I then felt totally free to wander round their little Cambridge boutique and admire the ingenious chocolate creations. Here are the ones my generous brother purchased for us to sample. Needless to say they were amazing!

Hotel Chocolat

Some of you may not have heard about the issue of child labour and slavery in the cocoa industry, and probably have lots of questions There are obviously many factors contributing to these problems and I have only touched the surface so here are some helpful links to aid you in your own research. 

Hotel Chocolat

Crossing Borders Fair Trade

CNN Freedom Project

Food is Power

Finally, I understand that it can be quite overwhelming when you begin to learn about this issue and might be uncertain about what to do next. Even if it is informing others, trading out just one of your usual candy bar choices for a slave-free one, or going all out and only purchasing/consuming slave-free options, everything is beneficial in sending the message that these kinds of practices are not acceptable. It is a long road ahead to make the world slave-free but the worst thing we can do is remain ignorant and not do anything.

Not Your Grandma’s Pancake Day!

Yesterday was one of my favourite English ‘holidays’. Pancake Day is not a hyped up, marketing holiday designed for companies to make millions, but an inexpensive celebration that draws the family together for a meal of pancakes (crepes). Those simple and humble ingredients of milk, flour and eggs can be combined to make an irresistible treat. Of course, getting the basic recipe is vital but let’s face it, the reason crepes have become a huge hit across the globe is really more to do with the fillings and toppings. Sweet and Savoury alike, the possibilities are endless and even though Nutella is probably the most popular of indulgences, there is something to be said about the sour crunch of the English classic with  sprinkled sugar and lemon juice.

However, in true Grumbling Belly fashion, where darkness and moments of brilliance collide, I decided to explore some new flavour options last night. One was inspired by my love affair with lemon curd, and the other was born from my need to use up some leftover pumpkin and sage. This certainly wasn’t the usual holiday fare but it was fun and delicious.

What are some of your favourite crepe fillings and toppings?

Basic Crepe Recipe

(makes about 8-10 crepes)

1 cup of plain (AP) flour

1 egg

1/2 tbsp melted butter

pinch of salt

1 cup of milk

1/2 tbsp butter

(Mix all ingredients until smooth and place in the fridge for a couple of hours before cooking. For more tips on crepes see Peppermint Chocolate Crepe Cake)

Drunken Pumpkin Crepe Filling (savoury)

Drunken Pumpkin Crepes

(makes about 4 servings)

1 tbsp butter

1 tbsp olive oil

1 large shallot chopped

1 large garlic clove chopped

1 tbsp of finely chopped fresh sage

1 tsp grated orange zest

2 tbsp whiskey

1 tbsp brown sugar

1/2 can of pumpkin puree (not pie filling)

2 tbsp of grated Parmesan cheese

(toasted pine nuts- optional)

salt and pepper to taste

4 slices of prosciutto

Heat butter and oil on medium heat. Add shallots, and brown for about a minute, then add garlic and sage. Stir for another minute. Mix in orange zest and remove from heat to incorporate alcohol (make sure you always remove your pan from heat when adding alcohol). Immediately add whisky. It will bubble up quite furiously but will start to settle. Put back on heat and sprinkle in sugar. Stir occasionally as it simmers and begins to reduce. After about 5 minutes add the pumpkin and simmer for another couple of minutes. The colour should get darker as the pumpkin absorbs the sauce. Then stir in the Parmesan, and add salt and pepper to taste. (If you want to use pine nuts, go ahead and add them into the pumpkin mixture at the end)

Lay crepe out flat and place a slice of prosciutto down the middle. Spread 1/4 of the pumpkin mixture on top of the prosciutto and then fold each side of the crepe over the middle (almost like a burrito).

Drunken Pumpkin Crepes

 White Chocolate Raspberry Lemon Crepe Filling

White Chocolate Raspberry Lemon Crepes

(makes about 6 servings)

1 cup of fresh (or defrosted unsweetened) raspberries

1/2 jar of lemon curd (available in the jam section of the grocery store)

1 cup of white chocolate chips

2 tbsp of ricotta cheese

Mix the raspberries with the ricotta. (If using frozen, defrost them in a sieve so the excess water can drain away.) Spread the chocolate chips over the fresh hot crepe and allow them to begin to melt for a minute. Add a few healthy dollops of lemon curd, and the ricotta raspberry mix. Fold over and indulge!

White Chocolate Raspberry Lemon Crepes

The Best Thing(s) I Ever Ate

I love the show ‘The Best Thing I Ever Ate’ on Food Network. It’s a fun game to play with the hubs and friends but because I have traveled (and lived in) a few different countries and various US States a fair bit, know good food and love seeking it out, answering this question about any food category can sometimes take a while.

At first I was nervous about making this statement but then I really thought long and hard about it and decided that as a whole experience, La Raza in Cambridge (England) has some of the best food I have ever eaten. Usually, when devouring your favourite food item, there comes a moment when the law of diminishing returns sets in and the pleasure lessens with each bite, OR you just get too full/sick to keep eating. This does not happen when we visit La Raza. What eventually happens is we have eaten, ordered seconds of almost everything and have already spent too much money and are forced to stop!

Ok, it is a tapas style restaurant so in fairness their dishes are on the small side to begin with BUT our bellies definitely don’t send any alert messages to our brains and I still involuntarily sink into my seat, throw my head back, close my eyes and say mmmm with each taste of shrimp, chorizo, bread, sauce, fig, mussel…you get the point.

My brother, the foodie extraordinaire, first took us here almost 6 years ago for my father’s 60th birthday celebration. Every restaurant I have visited since, particularly ones serving tapas, I have unfairly compared with La Raza and each and every one has been a disappointment. They were not bad restaurants, their food was very good. It just wasn’t as good as La Raza’s. I have not visited England once since this time WITHOUT going to La Raza (thanks to my bro). Just writing about this is so challenging, not only because I am salivating all over the keyboard making it difficult to type, but because I know I have to wait a very long time until I am next in England to be able to enjoy my favourite meal. Health-wise this is probably a good thing when I look at the menu items we inhaled during our last visit.

Baked Fig

Baked figs with Monte Enebro goats cheese, drizzled with orange blossom honey

Mussles

Fresh mussels steamed with white wine, herbs and cream

Tiger Prawns

Tiger prawns cooked in garlic, chilli and sea salt butter

lamb cutlets

Pan fried lamb cutlets marinated with garlic and rosemary served with ciabatta fingers (let’s just mention here that I HATE HATE HATE lamb- another big Greek shameful secret – but I could not stop eating this dish at La Raza)

Chorizo, black sausage and chicken livers

(Foreground) Baked mini chorizo dulce with morcilla de burgos (black pudding) served with ciabatta fingers. (Background) Pan-fried chicken livers with a sherry and cream sauce on country toast

In fact, it isn’t just the lamb that I would normally refuse, but I have never been able to eat liver or black pudding until I ate them here and fell in love…in love I tell you…with chicken livers! And it may not be the craziest or most creatively crafted menu I have ever seen (except perhaps for their cocktails…Bacon infused Old Fashioned anyone?) but each dish is made to outstanding perfection and it is, for that reason, unforgettable.

If you are ever even within a whiff of Cambridge, you should make it your mission to find La Raza downtown and stop for lunch, dinner or even a cocktail and a snack! Looking round Cambridge is great too which is fortunate because you can wonder for a few hours being a tourist and then pop back in to La Raza for a second meal! Really and truly it is THAT good!