Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Katie's Cashew Carmel Corn

6 quarts of popped popcorn
1 8 oz. can cashew halves and pieces
3 cups packed brown sugar
1 1/2 cups butter
3/4 cup light corn syrup
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 1/2 teaspoons soda

Heat oven to 250.
Mix popcorn and nuts together in a large roasting pan. Heat sugar, butter, corn syrup and salt in a large sauce pan.  Stir occassionally until bubbly around edges.  Continue cooking over medium hear for 5 minutes.  Remove from heat and stir in soda until foamy.  Pour on popcorn and nuts and mix well to coat.  Bake for one hour, stirring every 15 minutes. Spread on three parchment lined cookie sheets and cool.

Friday, November 18, 2011

French Dip Sandwiches

3-4 lbs. pot roast
1-2 Tablespoons olive oil
1 14.5-oz. can beef broth
1 can water
1 package dry onion soup mix
1 bottle Guinness
Salt and pepper
6 French rolls

Season the roast with salt and pepper.  In a large pot, sear meat in olive oil until brown on both sides.  Add broth, water, soup mix, and Guinness.  Bring to a boil over high heat, reduce heat, and simmer for 3 hours or place pot in oven at 350 for 2-3 hours, until meat is tender.  Pour broth into a fat separator. Serve sliced meat on French rolls and use the broth for dipping.  Great with French fries.
Serves 6

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Ribs in 3

All you need to make mouth-watering baby back ribs are the ribs, of course, a bottle of purchased BBQ sauce and 3 hours at 300--so easy.  Slather the ribs with the sauce and put in the oven, covered.  Check each hour, turning and adding more sauce.  I served them with cornbread that I baked with a small can of chopped green chiles and about 1/2 cup corn.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Easy Peasy Roasted Lamb Chops

Combine 1 tablespoon each of chopped fresh marjoram, rosemary and thyme with 2 cloves of minced garlic.  Rub chops with olive oil, and herb/garlic mixture.  Cover and refrigerate 3-4 hours. Preheat oven to 425, and remove chops from refrigerator.   Heat about 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a pan over medium heat.  Place chops in pan and cook until brown, about 2-3 minutes on each side.  If you have an oven proof pan, place the chops in the oven, if not, put them on a baking sheet and roast for 10 minutes.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Chicken and Spinach Soup

3 carrots, sliced
2 stalks celery, sliced
1 onion, chopped
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon butter
2 quarts chicken broth
1-2 cooked chicken breasts, chopped
¾ bunch spinach, washed, stems removed
2 Bay leaves
1 T. Herbs de Provence
6 oz. small pasta
Parmesan cheese (optional)

Sauté vegetables in olive oil and butter.  Add remaining ingredients except pasta.  Simmer for 30 minutes.  Add pasta and cook until al dente.  Serve with parmesan cheese if desired.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Pork Chop and Spinach Dinner for One

Last night I was cooking just for myself, which means I was experimenting with what was on hand.   I had a single pork chop in the fridge, some spinach, and a wonderfully fresh tomato that I bought at the Farmer’s Market.  I also had a nice chunk of parmesan cheese.  So this is what I did for myself (it could easily be multiplied for two or more):

Drizzled olive oil in a small skillet and set on medium-high heat.
Sprinkled pork chop with garlic salt, pepper, and dried thyme leaves.
Cooked chop in heated pan until brown on each side.
Reduced heat and covered until done, about 5-8 minutes.
While the chop cooked, put two cups of spinach in a sauce pan and added about
one tablespoon of water.
Cooked spinach over medium-high heat until the leaves begin to wilt. Removed
            from heat and covered.
Chopped a tomato into medium dice.
Grated a generous helping of parmesan cheese.
Plated chop and spinach.  Topped spinach with cheese and tomato.
Served with baguette slices and a glass of wine.
Didn’t even think about taking a picture for Transcendental Kitchen.

Friday, May 13, 2011

The Sun Bird's Roasted Pepper Soup

Every year, people  from cold climates (aka Snow Birds) descend upon Arizona in order to avoid bad winter weather and snow.  I know because my daughter lives in Mesa.  I, on the other hand, go north in the summer to avoid the sun of Las Vegas.  I think that makes me a Sun Bird. 

So, I arrived in Denver last weekend, and to my surprise, we had snow yesterday.  I was probably the only person in the entire city who was delighted to have snow in May!  It was the perfect day for staying indoors and cooking.  I made some strawberry orange jam, which tastes great, but the recipe needs more work before I post it.  I also made one of my favorite soups, and that recipe follows.

Roasted Pepper Soup

6 peppers (red, yellow, or orange)
3 Tablespoons olive oil
1 onion, chopped
1 14-0z can chicken broth
2 C. water
1 teaspoon Kosher salt
Pinch of red pepper flakes
Juice of one lemon
Garlic and herb goat cheese for garnish (optional)

Cut pepper in half and remove stem, ribs and seeds.  Place cut side down on a  rimmed cookie sheet.  Roast peppers under a broiler until charred.  Place peppers in a paper bag, or in a bowl covered with plastic wrap. 

Pour olive oil in a stock pot and set to medium heat.  Sauté onions until translucent.  Add chicken wroth, water, salt, and pepper flakes. 

Remove skins from peppers and cut in chunks.  Add to pot and simmer for 20 minutes.  Use an immersion blender to puree the soup.  Stir in the lemon juice.  Serve in bowls and garnish with the goat cheese.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Juliette Fay

I just finished reading Shelter Me by Juliette Fay, and I recommend it highly.  The story of a feisty young widow trying to cope after her husband dies in a bicycle accident, is a sad one—expect to cry—but it is really a story of perseverance in the face of tragedy, of grace given in the most unexpected places, and of the grief we all feel from a variety of sources. 

The story works because it is sparked with humor.  Like I do when I see the rubber chicken of stock comedy shows, I have to laugh every time I read the name of Janie’s church:  Our Lady, Comforter of the Afflicted Church.  Janie may be sarcastic and “prickly” at times, but her humor serves her well, and we can see the really good woman who lies under the surface of her barbed remarks. I promise that you will enjoy getting to know her.
So how does this great read fit in a blog about food?  Well, check out the recipes for Pology Cake, Peanut Butter Blossoms, and Struffoli that are given in the back.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Rigatoni Ready

I love cooking, but sometimes I feel like switching things up a bit, and preparing dinner earlier than normal, so the kitchen will be clean before dinner is served.  Then, I'm ready to relax and read a book or have fun watching the Food Network, Hell's Kitchen, or American Idol. 

Baked Rigatoni

1 lb. Italian turkey sausage cut in 1" pieces
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
Salt and pepper
2 small zucchini, sliced in 1/4" rounds
1 yellow squash, sliced in 1/4" rounds
6 oz. Baby Bella mushrooms, cut in quarters or eighths, depending on the size
1 24-oz, jar pasta sauce such as Classico Spicy Tomato and Basil
1/4 cup red wine
1 lb. rigatoni
2 cups shredded mozzarella

Pour olive oil in a Dutch oven.  Add sausage, onions, garlic, and salt and pepper to taste. Sauté until sausage is browned and onions are translucent.  Add zucchini, yellow squash, mushrooms, pasta sauce, and wine.  Simmer gently while heating a large pot of salted water for the rigatoni.  When the rigatoni is al dente, drain, and add it to the sauce. Pour into a 15 x 10 baking dish and sprinkle with mozzarella.  Cover and refrigerate until ready to use.  Heat oven to 350.  Bake for 45 minutes or until the sauce is bubbly and the top is browned.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Easy Birthday Fruit Tart

Yesterday was my birthday, so I decided to keep it easy, and to still create a yummy dessert.  I had a tart crust in the freezer, so I thawed it, rolled it to an oval shape, placed it on a parchment-paper-lined baking sheet, then pinched up the sides to create an edge.  (If you don't have your own frozen dough, purchased puff pastry is also good.) 

Next, I peeled four Granny Smith apples and used my new handy dandy Dial-a-Slice Apple Divider (http://www.williams-sonoma.com/search/results.html?words=dial-a-slice%20apple%20divider ) to cut them into small segments.  I then started layering the slices around the edge and worked my way to the middle.  It actually looked like a giant rose.  Then, I sprinkled about 1/3 cup of granulated sugar over the apples, and dotted the tart with 1/4 cup of butter.  I baked it at 400 for 40 minutes. 

When the tart was browned, I removed it from the oven and let it cool. The final step was to combine 1/4 cup of black raspberry seedless preserves with 1 tablespoon of dark rum in a saucepan and to stir until warm.  I used a silicone pastry brush to slather the apples with the boozy mixture.  It was fantastic!

Monday, April 4, 2011

Great Find for Your Cookbook Collection

From Our House to Yours: Comfort Food to Give and Share" I found this cookbook at a library sale last summer, and it has been handier than I thought possible. The book is a compilation of recipes by the Editors of Chronicle Books, and benefits Meals On Wheels of San Francisco.  The recipes are from famous cookbook authors or chefs such as the recipe for Potato and Portobello Mushroom Casserole by Hubert Keller of Fleur de Lys restaurant.  I have used this book several times when trying to get ideas about food that travels well.  I highly recommend it if you need a quick and tasty dish for someone just home from the hospital, to welcome a new neighbor, or to hold an old school potluck dinner.  Here is a recipe I recently developed that was inspired by From Our House to Yours.

Robyn's Stuffed Peppers
6 large bell peppers
1 lb. mild Italian sausage
1 lb. hamburger
Garlic salt and pepper to taste
8 oz. mushrooms, cut into chunks
1 14-oz. can Italian diced tomatoes
1 small onion, chopped
1 T. oregano or Italian spices
Slice tops off peppers, and clean out seeds and ribs.  Bring a large pot of salted water to boil.  Boil the peppers for 5 minutes.   Drain and sprinkle salt on the inside of each.
Mix the meats together thoroughly.  Place in a large frying pan and sprinkle with garlic salt and pepper.  Add onions, and cook over medium heat until brown.  Stir in mushrooms and cook for 2 more minutes.  Drain.  Add tomatoes with juices and oregano. 
Spoon mixture into bell peppers.
Bake uncovered at 350° for 20-25 minutes.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Chef Imbibes Regis Jesuit Values

If anyone has imbibed the Regis mission to serve others through “distinguished professional work,” it is Chef Joseph Wrede. Wrede graduated cum laude in Sociology from Regis College in 1990 and continued his studies at Peter Kump’s New York Cooking School in Manhattan.
He is the culinary genius behind Joseph’s Table in Taos, the Old Blinking Light in Highlands Ranch and Taos, Lamberts of Taos, Brett House Catering in Taos, and the 2000 Food & Wine “Best New Chef.” Chef Wrede is now offering his services as a consultant to the Edelweiss Lodge at the Taos Ski Valley.  Specifically, he is helping The Blond Bear Tavern and Café Naranja to “find their identity and to function with good, healthy food” by using his skills to write menus, to hire capable, hard-working chefs, and to provide the owners information through his network of contacts. 
Besides consulting, Chef Wrede also enjoys mentoring. He is proud of his protégée at the Old Blinking Light in Highlands Ranch, Joey Meyers.  Chef Wrede recollects when “Joey’s mom dropped him at the door saying that he wanted to be a chef.”  He tutored the young man, whom he feared was too quiet to be a good chef, but who had a good palate and was a good technician, to succeed.  At first a dishwasher, Meyers is now executive chef.
Chef Wrede’s business acumen and world views stem from his liberal arts degree, which he says gave him the math and business skills necessary to run multiple restaurants and “an appreciation for things other than his own discipline, an understanding for other people’s art and lives, and the ability to see the beauty of the world.”  Chef Wrede comments:  “It is necessary to see the world as a bigger place.  That is what literature and religion do for students.” He also credits the Sociology Department for giving him a humanistic view of the world, and the English Department for teaching him not to be afraid of opposing views, which he believes we need. 
Chef Wrede admits he would have liked to write poetry, but while working his way through college, he found that cooking offered him the means to artistic expression with “no resistance.”  He loves the “multi-tasking of moving pans and sequencing” which give him a “creative rhythm.”
Ironically, Regis also influenced Chef Wrede’s decision to locate restaurants in Taos.  He remembers a class field trip to Taos with Dr. Victoria McCabe where the “mythology connected with the Santos planted a romantic seed” in him.  When he got the opportunity to open a restaurant in Taos, he did so because he “wanted the art, beauty, and simplicity of the Santos.”
On the back burner for Chef Wrede is a move to Santa Fe.   He would like to live in city with the beauty of Taos that also has a robust dining scene.  Wrede confesses he would also like the opportunity to “swing pans” with other talented chefs.
Chef Joseph Wrede’s Charred Kale, Shallots, and Leeks in Oven-Roasted Tomato Vinaigrette

Serves two

Kale, Chard, Shallots, and Leeks
            1 tablespoon olive oil
            1/2 cup shallots, thinly sliced
            1/2 cup leeks, thinly sliced
            6 cups tightly packed kale and Swiss chard*
            2 tablespoons oven-roasted tomato vinaigrette (see recipe below)
            pinch of salt and black pepper
            extra virgin olive oil (optional)

1)      Warm a large sauté pan over high heat and allow the pan to heat to a translucent smoke. Put olive oil in hot pan, and add shallots and leeks, stirring until the leeks are golden and the shallots are almost translucent, then add the chard and kale.
2)      Fold the greens into the pan, bringing up the shallots and leeks from bottom. Continue folding in the greens until they begin to have a sheen on them.
3)      Add the oven-roasted tomato vinaigrette and cook for another minute before adding a small pinch of both salt and pepper.
4)      When serving the greens, drizzle with extra virgin olive oil.

*After thoroughly washing the kale and chard, remove the stem at the point where it meets the leaf.

oven-roasted tomato vinagairette
            2 cups oven-roasted tomatoes (see recipe)
            1 shallot, peeled and thinly sliced
            1 clove garlic thinly sliced
            2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
            1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
            1/2 cup olive oil
            1/2 teaspoon salt
            1/2 teaspoon pepper

To roast tomatoes: After using the oven for at least 1 hour to make another dish, raise the temperature to 500° for 20 minutes, then turn the oven off. Cut plum tomatoes in half and place skin-side down on a sheet tray. Lightly coat the tomatoes with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Put the tomatoes in the oven overnight (8 to 10 hours). Remove from the oven and if you are not using the tomatoes right away, store in a jar, covered with olive oil, and refrigerate until ready to use. (NOTE: Oven roasting brings out the natural sugar and sweetness of tomatoes. It is also a good way to use less than fresh tomatoes.)

1)      Put tomatoes, shallot, garlic, and both vinegars in food processor and pulse.
2)      Add olive oil in steady slow stream the size of a number-two pencil as pureeing.
3)      Add salt and pepper, continue pureeing for 10 seconds.
4)      Taste and add more salt and pepper if needed.
5)      Puree the mixture for a couple of minutes until it is the consistency of a smooth paste.
6)      Store in a glass jar (will keep for up to five days). The vinegar will dull after 48 hours, but can be refreshed by stirring in a teaspoon of vinegar just before using.

Monday, January 31, 2011

Salt of the Earth: Salt is No Longer an Unpretentious Condiment

There used to be two kinds of salt from which to choose at supermarkets: plain or iodized.    Now shoppers face a number of decisions when buying salt.  Should they stick to the regulars or try sea salt?  If so, what grind? What flavor? Should they buy a box or a grinder?  Is it important that the salt be from the Mediterranean?
These same consumers must also make choices when dining out.  In fact, gourmet restaurants are beginning to employ salt sommeliers to help diners make decisions about which salt to add to their steaks or seafood.  For example, The Anantara Resort in the Maldives’ salt sommelier, Nasrulla, helps guests to choose the right salt to bring out the flavor of their food. 
In Las Vegas, Envy Steakhouse doesn’t have a salt sommelier, but they do instruct their serving staff about which salts choices to bring to the table for their guests’ meat and seafood courses. Common choices at Envy are Alaea Hawaiian Red Clay, Hawaiian Black Lava, and Himalayan Pink Salt.  General Manager, Ryan Wolf comments, “Salish salt, an Alderwood smoked sea salt from the Pacific Northwest, is one of the more desirable picks, but diners also enjoy Murray River, a flake salt from Australia with high mineral content.”  The restaurant sometimes has White Truffle infused sea salt, but Wolf notes, “it is expensive.” http://www.envysteakhouse.com/
Black Truffle sea salt is used by chefs at Beverly’s in Coeur D’Alene, Idaho, as part of their tenderloin accoutrement tray, and for their signature fries.  They also use smoked sea salt for their Bison Carpaccio, and Fleur de Sel for a number of preparations. 
Beverly’s buys salt from SaltWorks, a Woodinville, Washington, company. SaltWorks sells a five-pound bag of Black Truffle sea salt for $170.  The company, which was founded in 200l, stocks 100 varieties of salt.  While their financial report is private, President Naomi Novotny discusses their very successful business, calling it “one of America’s fastest growing companies,” and noting that when the company began nine years ago, it needed a 1,000 square-foot warehouse for storage.  Today, they have a 70,000 square-foot building to hold four million pounds of salt.
To help perplexed buyers make up their minds about which of the 100 salts to select, SaltWorks lists 15 salts in their online guide:  Coarse Salt, Finishing Salt, Flake Salt, Fleur de Sel, French Sea Salt, Grey Salt, Grinder Salt, Hawaiian Sea Salt, Italian Sea Salt, Kala Namak, Kosher Salt, Organic Salt, Sea Salt, Smoked Sea Salt, and Table Salt.

These 15 categories, however, are just a few of the grains in SaltWorks’ shaker.  A quick look at Smoked Sea Salt shows five different varieties:  Halen Nom Smoked Sea Salt, Maine Smoked Sea Salt, Salish Alderwood Smoked Salt (the one they offer at Envy Restaurant), Bali Coconut & Lime Smoked Salt, and Matiz Mediterraneo.  The more modest Hawaiian Sea Salt offers two choices.  Alaea Sea Salt contains a natural mineral, Alae, which is volcanic baked red clay and is added to the salt for its red color.  Black Hawaiian sea salt, also called Hiwa Kai, gets its color from activated charcoal.
Another black salt, Kala Namak, also called Sanchal, is an unrefined mineral salt from India that has a sulfuric flavor and aroma.  According to SaltWorks’ website, “Vegan chefs have made this salt popular for adding in egg-y flavor to dishes like tofu scrambles.”
Chefs are not the only people interested in new salts.  Major food companies are adding sea salt to their products, hoping to convince consumers that sea salt is tastier or better for them.  Wendy’s new French fries are “Naturally-cut from whole Russet potatoes, cooked skin on, and served up hot and crispy with a sprinkle of sea salt for a taste as real as it gets.”  Campbell’s Soup has a line of 25% less sodium soups, in which it uses “lower sodium natural sea salt, so they taste great!”
The soups may contain less sodium, but this is not necessarily from the use of sea salt.  Katherine Zeratsky, R.D., L.D. of the MayoClinic.com explains, “The real differences between sea salt and table salt are in their taste, texture, and processing not their chemical makeup…. By weight, sea salt and table salt contain about the same amount of sodium chloride.”
Sea salt, therefore, is not achieving its current popularity because of its health benefits.  Rather, chefs and home cooks alike are buying the salts because they offer new textures and flavors in place of  what was once an unpretentious, common, and cheap condiment.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Rancho de Chimayó

Posole.  Calabacitas.  Bizcochitos.  Sopaipillas.  These words make my mouth water and my spirit hunger for New Mexico, a land whose culture and cuisine embody both Mexican and Pueblo traditions.  The words also bring back fond memories of beautiful Sunday drives to a restaurant located about 25 miles north of Santa Fe, the Rancho de Chimayó.
The landscape on the way to the Rancho de Chimayó is almost worth the trip itself.  It is the stuff of a Georgia O’Keefe painting:  the stark Sangre de Cristo mountains standing sentinel to mesas, rock formations, and a high desert of rusts, browns, and golds.  To contemplate the scenery is to think of art, but it is also to be reminded that the land, the people, and the Rancho de Chimayó are steeped in history and tradition.
The restaurant began as the home of Hermenegildo M. Jaramillo, who built it ca. 1890.  Subsequent generations expanded the original three-room house into a sprawling hacienda.  In 1965, Hermenegildo’s grandson, Autoro and his wife, Florence, turned the 18-acre ranch into a restaurant.
Stepping inside the Rancho de Chimayó is like stepping into the home of a wealthy nineteenth century Hidalgo.  I am enthralled by the thick adobe walls, tiled floors, ceilings of vigas and latillas, corner fireplaces, family portraits, and abundant ristras.  
Yet, however much I love the décor, the food is always my main focus.   I study the menu of traditional New Mexican foods in great depth.  I mentally debate between the Carne Asada and the Sopaipilla Relleno.  I order a Margarita and guacamole and take more time go over descriptions.  Then, because it was my intention since the start, I choose the Chicken Enchiladas with Blue Corn Tortillas and Green Chile as my entre.  I love the nutty flavor of the blue corn tortillas combined with the fire of the green chiles, the sweetness of the tender chicken, and the sharpness of the cheese.  I also like the way they are prepared in New Mexico.
According to Rancho de Chimayó owner Florence Jaramillo, it is traditional to make enchiladas using three layered flat tortillas.  Even though it is a little more complicated to make enchiladas this way, the layering gives the dish an added depth and richness that can only be described as delicioso.
I no longer live in New Mexico, so Sunday drives to Chimayó are not a possibility.  Thanks to Florence Jaramillo, however, who gave me her family recipes, I can make the enchiladas at home.  And, as I cut into the cheesy layers, inhale the fragrance of the smoky green chile, and savor a bite of blue corn tortillas, I feel once again that I am in the Land of Enchantment.

Chicken Enchiladas with Blue Corn Tortillas and Green Chile
Makes 1 serving

3 5-inch blue corn tortillas
Oil, preferably canola or corn, to a depth of 1 inch
¼ cup finely shredded poached chicken breast
1 teaspoon minced white onion
½ cup Vegetarian Green Chile Sauce (recipe follows)
¼ cup cheddar cheese

Arrange several layers of paper towels near the stove.  Pour the oil into a skillet at least 6 inches in diameter.  Heat the oil until it ripples.
            With tongs, dip each tortilla into the hot oil.  In a matter of seconds, the tortilla will become limp.  Remove it immediately and drain it on the paper towels.  If you don’t act quickly enough, the tortilla will become crisp.  Repeat the process with the rest of the tortillas.
            Warm the chile sauce and the chicken.  To layer the ingredients, top the first tortilla with half of the chicken and onion, and one-third of the chile sauce and cheese.  Repeat for the second layer.  Top the stack with the third tortilla, then add the remaining chile sauce and sprinkle cheese over all.  Run the enchilada under a broiler until the cheese melts.  Serve piping hot.

Vegetarian Green Chile Sauce
Makes approximately 5 cups

4 cups water
2 cups chopped, roasted green chile
1 cup crushed tomatoes
1 tablespoon diced onion
1 teaspoon garlic salt--add to taste
1 teaspoon vegetable base or use 4 cups vegetable stock
3 tablespoons corn starch dissolved in cool water

Combine all ingredients in stock pot except for corn starch.  Bring to a boil over medium heat and cook for about 15 minutes.

Dissolve starch in about 1/4 cup water and pour into sauce, bringing to a boil.  The sauce should thicken lightly as it boils and your sauce is ready to serve. 

Don't Call Me a Foodie

I eschew the word “Foodie.”  For some time now, I have heard the term used to loosely describe people who are interested in food.  I’m interested in food, but I still don’t like the word.  I don’t know if it is the diminutive nature of the word, or that it sometimes seems pretentious. 
For example, last Christmas my husband and I were at a dinner party where most of the guests were bragging about their culinary adventures.  A gentleman in his seventies was discussing his best method for making cheesecake in a self-deprecating sort of way.  While the cake looked beautiful, he claimed that it wasn’t quite right.  Personally, I was impressed that he had made the cake at all.
Then the hostess introduced us to her Foodie friend, a woman wearing a red and white Christmas vest with matching candy cane earrings.  The Foodie enlightened the group about how she macerated the cherries in her pie, and felt like it was her best effort to date.  I had the impression that she spent a lot of time making cherry pies.  This would have been great if her cooking matched her claims.  The pie was cloyingly sweet, and I didn’t know what to do with the rest of my serving.  They didn’t have a dog.
While I don’t consider myself a Foodie, I do love to cook, and to read cookbooks, and memoirs, and novels that involve food.  I like cooking because it involves creativity and gives me a sense of accomplishment.  Cooking brings joy to my senses:  it is beautiful to look at, to smell, to touch, and especially to taste.  Cooking makes me feel like a good human being, especially when I share it with others.
What should you call me, then? If you must, I guess a “Cooky” might do.  Just don’t spell it with a K.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Las Caletas

One of the great things about food is the memories it evokes.  I am making paella, and my mind is jumping back to a trip I took several years ago with my daughter, Jenny.
We met in Puerto Vallarata on a sultry July day.  I flew in from Las Vegas; Jenny, from Denver.  After making our way through the throng of time-share hawkers, we arrived at our own venue, which was astonishingly beautiful.  The reservation desk was in a large open-air room and halls led to manicured green lawns and pathways that took guests to restaurants, stores, pools, and the beach.
After a welcoming Margarita, we studied the tour options that Jenny had carefully researched.  I opted out of the jungle zip line, but was enthusiastic about the trip to Las Caletas, which promised a boat ride to a private cove, snorkeling, a jungle hike, and a paella cooking lesson.
When we arrived at the private cove that was once the home of John Huston, we learned how to put on our snorkeling equipment and to walk backwards into the water, which was easier said than done.  I’ve always been leery of swimming in the ocean.  I just don’t like the idea of things I can’t see—like jelly fish and sharks—lurking somewhere near my legs.  But to my surprise, I loved snorkeling.  Even when I saw an eel on the ocean floor, I was delighted by its beauty and not at all worried by its proximity. 
After the snorkeling lesson, we headed to an outdoor kitchen that was composed of several brick charcoal barbecues.  Here we were handed a recipe for seafood paella.  I don’t know why I had a pen in my beach bag, but I did, and as I stood there in my swimsuit and shorts, I began to take meticulous, graduate-school-type notes as our guide described the ingredients and techniques for the paella.  Even though I had made paella for years before this, I learned several really important things that day.  One is to use the ingredients at hand.  Our guide pointed to the ocean as he said this.  Well, there isn’t an ocean in Las Vegas, so I interpreted this to mean what was readily available at my supermarket.  (This is important because in the past, I have literally driven myself crazy running from one store to another to find the exact ingredients called for in a paella recipe.)
The second thing I learned was to cook it in one pan as the Spaniards surely did when they prepared the dish.  I sighed with relief when I learned this.  I had been using a recipe that make the dish in multiple steps and involved a lot of labor.  This new technique set me free.
The third thing I learned was to use parboiled rice.  It doesn’t stick, so it gives good results every time
When the cooking lesson ended, I put my notes in my beach bag, and we headed into the jungle for a nature hike.  We learned about the flora and the birds and viewed a magnificent orchid garden.  Then, we went to a center where we could touch parrots and monkeys.  I literally had a monkey on my back that day.
After the hike, we went back to camp.  The smell of paella with its unique aroma of saffron, rice, onions, peppers, tomatoes, and seafood greeted us.  As I lifted the first bite to my mouth, I decided it was truly a day in paradise, a perfect combination of scenery, food, and family, the stuff memories are made of.

The following is my adaptation of the recipe from Las Caletas.  You can get the original recipe at www.vallarta-adventures.com.

Seafood Paella

3 ¾ C. hot water
1 chicken bouillon cube
3 T. olive oil
1 yellow onion, chopped
1 green pepper, chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 C. parboiled white rice
2-4 tomatoes, chopped
½ lb. bay scallops
½ lb. squid rings
½ lb. monk fish or other white fish
1 pinch saffron, softened in ¼ C. hot water
1 C. fresh or frozen peas, defrosted
½ lb. medium shrimp—defrosted raw peeled and deveined with tails on
12-15 mussels

Dissolve the bouillon cube in the hot water. Heat the olive oil in a large, deep frying pan or paella pan on medium-high. Add the onion, peppers and garlic, and cook until the onions are translucent. Stir in the rice and brown slightly.  Add the tomatoes, scallops, squid, and monk fish and stir. Next, add the saffron and its water, the 3 ¾ C of water, the bouillon cube and the peas.  Stir well.  Place the shrimp and mussels into the top of the rice mixture.  Reduce heat.  Cover with a lid or foil and simmer until most of the liquid is absorbed and the rice is tender (approximately 30 minutes).  Discard any mussels that do not open and serve from the pan.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Molto Mario’s Farmers’ Market: Iron Chef Helps Las Vegas Find Sustainable Agriculture

Las Vegas has taken the trend for fresh farm produce to a new level.  While cities across the nation are opening weekend farmers’ markets in parks or town centers, Las Vegas is hosting a farmers’ market in a warehouse leased by Mario Batali.  Dubbed Molto Vegas Farmers’ Market, the warehouse opens every Thursday from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.   It is located just a block away from the Strip, and it was created to support sustainable agriculture.
According to Doug Taylor, chef for Batali, who appears on a YouTube production about the market, it began first for chefs, but later opened to the public. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I0J0OLDrl2o The market serves about 200 people a week and offers fresh fruit and produce from farms located within a 150-mile radius of Las Vegas including North Las Vegas (apples), southern Utah, southern California, and Arizona. 
Shoppers choose from crates that are staked near boxes containing stored items from Batali’s three Vegas restaurants:  Enoteca San Marco, Carnevino, and B&B Ristorante.  The warehouse also houses freezers for Batali’s famous dry-aged beef.
In a city whose summer temperatures often reach 115, an indoor, air-conditioned Farmers’ Market is the perfect solution for those cooks who want to have naturally grown, farm-fresh products.