Sunday, May 31, 2009

Let's talk about chicken.

Let's talk about chicken. I cook chicken quite often. It's inexpensive (even the happy, no hormone, free-range chickens I like to buy aren't too bad), it's easy to find locally raised, it's versatile, it's lean, it's mean...

Here's the thing, though. I don't want to eat no dry chicken. I want flavor. I want moisture.
Well, I usually get exactly what I want when I cook it like this:

First, you get yourself some boneless skinless breasts and you preheat your oven to 350º F. Could be 1/2 a breast we have here, could be 2 whole breasts, could be somewhere in betwixt. Next, you season those breasts up; could be as simple as salt and pepper, but you could also add any herbs and spices to the mix, or even bread them thangs. Now, pan sear these breastssess over med-high heat in an oiled non-stick pan. Don't move them, just let them brown up for a couple of minutes. Turn and brown on the other side for another 2-4 minutes. Oooooh, it looks so pretty already.

Now you pop them thangs in the oven for 20 minutes, 25 minutes if they are real biggins.

You can throw some fixins in the pan for a sauce: tomatoes, capers, olives, and red wine is a fave, or make a sauce in a seperate pan (especially if you breaded them). Anything goes with chicken.

With these pictured here on the left, I floured them, dipped in egg, then breaded with bread crumbs, salt and pepper. Same drill...sear on both sides, 350 oven for 20 min. Moist and delicious. I drizzled a little balsamic reduction on the plate and pulled a couple chives from the garden...fresh green salad and roasted beet salad with strawberries and mint

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Bacon Wrapped Prawns and Cabbage Salad

Mmmmmmm....I love good fresh prawns. And I love bacon. What's that? Papaya sauce? O.K. I also served a beautiful cabbage salad with a little shredded chicken and toasted almonds, and some sound Riesling (2007 Rudolf Müller, Pfalz). A word on the wine, which was very reasonably priced...just off-dry, nice acidity (to
stand up to our salad), crisp apple and peaches. Great value, and a solid go to wine for our little Asian-fusion dishes here.

For the shrimp, I partially cooked bacon (low heat so it didn't crisp up too fast) and then rolled up them lil' shrampfs. Salt, pepper, sear on both sides. I had made a papaya sauce beforehand:

-finely minced ginger and lemongrass
-2 cups fresh or 1 can diced papaya
-splash of mirin
-splash of white wine
-dash of salt twist of pepper

Heat any mild-flavored oil (I used coconut oil) in a saucepan, add ginger and lemongrass and cook until softened (1-2 minutes), add papaya and cook 4-5 minutes, splash & dash & twist. Whisk it smooth or throw it in the food processor, and voila. Bomb dizz. Awesome tropical flavors with the coconut and sweet tangy papaya playing with smoky salty bacon. I sliced up some scallions to finish the plate. Happy.

For the salad (basically a Chinese Chicken Salad), I shredded, cabbage, carrots, and chicken. Tossed the chicken in a sweet sesame vinaigrette: brown sugar, rice wine vinegar, toasted sesame oil, soy sauce, and toasted sliced almonds. Tossed the cabbage and carrots with a splash of vinegar, oil, salt pepper, to the plate...and there she is. A real beaut. Awesome summer meal.

Bon Profit! (That means eat it)

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Cuba Linda

"Cuba linda, Cuba hermosa, Cuba linda siempre te recordaré. Yo quisiera ver te ahora, como la primera vez. Cuba linda, Cuba hermosa, Cuba linda siempre te recordaré."

Translation: Beautiful Cuba, lovely Cuba, beautiful Cuba I will always remember you. I want to see you now, like it's the first time. Beautiful Cuba, lovely Cuba, beautiful Cuba I will always remember you.

So it is...Summer of 2008, despite the hypocritical decree of the Treasury Department of the United States of America ('Cuba is a socialist regime that denies its people freedom, so we must revoke your right to give them any money, and thus, to travel there), we made our way to the beautiful island of Cuba.

One of the most outstanding memories I have is that of singing. It seems that music spills out of the streets in Cuba. Everyone is a poet, a musician, a singer. And no one is shy about letting sounds of song fill the air, or dancing in the street at the drop of a hat. We met a man one night, el poeta (the poet). After a long, meaningful conversation, we slowly walked with him to his bus stop. As we strolled, he began to sing. One of his favorite songs, he said, made popular by one of America's great men, Louis Armstrong. What a Wonderful World. Indeed, it is. Gracias, Poeta.

Oh yeah, and COLOR! Colors are everywhere. Bright, bold, beautiful colors. Doors, clothes, buildings, cars, are all pastel blue, bright pink, ochre yellow. One must wonder if the soul of a people spawns such use of color or if the presence of colors inspire the soul of a people, but the probable truth is they are so intertwined that the line that separates the two eventually disappears.

The socio-economic reality Cuba is real and often grim. The cultural-emotional grit and brilliance is astounding. One must wonder, again, if these two partners are as inextricably dependent as the dance between color and soul. It certainly does seem so. In my experience, the times when I have witnessed the greatest richness of character and spirit, have most often been those times when financial and material are scarce, non-existent or of minimal importance.

One day we stopped for a quick bite at a restaurant that had a covered outdoor patio that sheltered us from the rain. As we sat there sipping our mojitos, a policeman holding an umbrella walked by. Coming from behind him was a young man walking rather quickly and getting quite wet. The young man gestured for the policeman to let him under the umbrella, which the policeman gladly did. I rarely see this kind of solidarity in the U.S., even in happy shining Santa Cruz, CA.

When nobody has anything (or, at most, very little) you are practically forced to share. You understand what it's like to go without luxuries, and even sometimes without necessities. I like to dub it 'soulidarity.' It is another outstanding Cuban quality that I feel blessed to have witnessed, and one that I deeply hope to be able to incorporate into my life without having to suffer from poverty.

"Si tu vecina quiere hacer arroz con pollo, y necesita que tu le prestes ingredientes, 'si yo lo tengo lo resuelto urgenetemente yo te lo di porque yo soy muy buena gente.'"..... "Y no te asombres si mis manos están vacías, pero que voy a hacer, si así son las manos mias."

--Juan Formell y Los Van Van

Translation: If your neighbor wants to make rice with chicken, and needs you to lend her ingredients, 'If I have them, I'll round them up right away and give them to you because I am good people.' .... Don't be surprised if my hands are empty, but what can I do, if that's the way my hands are.

Like a family feud, our relationship with Cuba seems distant due not to fundamental idealistic disparity as much as it does to ego and arrogance.

I met an Israeli ex-pat once who once told me that if ever met anyone who claimed that the practice of government, any government, was the greater good of the people, that they know not the truth and reality of the matter at hand. "Governments", he said, "are in the business of money and power, period." It was, for me, a sad but poignant observation, and a powerful that has yet to be disproved in my mind. His views on governance were brought on by my questioning his feelings on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, to which he began, "Look, Israelis and Palestinians get along fine."

Sad, but poignant observation...

Thank God I went to Cuba to see for myself. A flawed government, not unlike mine in some ways...a beautiful people, not unlike mine in many ways. For, even if the systems that govern a people only provide lip service to virtue, the footsteps of those people, must line up with their words. Gracias mi Cuba.

There is written on a wall by the Malecón in La Habana Vieja, words from the great poet and writer Jose Marti..."De la virtud se hacen los pueblos." From virtue, is made a people.

De la virtud.

Yummy Pancakes

Who knew that gluten/egg/dairy-free pancakes could be so amazingly good! The first time I made these, my girlfriend looked up at me after she took her first bite. Her eyes widened..."Oh my god!" ...or something to that effect. The edges get crispy and the insides are moist and slightly chewy and delicious. I make these all the time now.

1 cup Arrowhead Mills gluten-free pancake and baking mix
1 teaspoon Ener-G Egg Replacer, mixed with 1 tablespoon lukewarm water
1 tablespoon canola oil
1/4 cup almond milk
1 banana, mashed
dash of salt

Combine ingredients in a medium-sized mixing bowls until smooth. Heat a tablespoon or so of canola oil non-stick skillet over med to med-high heat. Ladle a cup of the batter into the skillet. Flip when edges brown and/or bubbles burst. Makes about six six-inch thin pancakes.

I keep my pancakes on a couple of plates in a warm oven until I'm ready to serve them. I like to chop up some fresh fruit and simmer it with maple syrup (I used blueberries here).