Monday, June 29, 2009

Potato Pancakes


First thing's first, I love potatoes. They are versatile, they are delicious, and they are not completely void of nutrients either. In fact, you might not have been hip to this, but last year was the year of the potato!

One of the ways I enjoy preparing this nightshade tuber is to make a pancake. For breakfast, as a snack, or as a side dish, these lil' cakes can take many forms. Well, not really, they're usually flat... but you can flavor them in many ways (that's what I was getting at). This time, I am playing with smoke. The cake gets smoke from Spain, and the sauce gets smoke from México.

The first step is to grate the papa, Papi. Once you have a pile of grated tuber, you'll need to squeeze out any and all of the water (freshly harvested potatoes are about 80% water). Of the 20% of dry matter, about 60-80% is starch, which could act as binder on its own to glue our shreds together as they cook. I, however, will add additional binders; egg, and cheese. I beat 1 egg, and grated a little (mostly for added flavor) Pecorino Romano, along with freshly ground black pepper and some smoked paprika.

The Italian word pecora, means 'sheep', the milk from which is used to make this delicious, salty cheese.

This day I used only 1 large potato, which resulted in a more "eggy" cake. The paprika gives such a wonderfully rich and smoky flavor to this dish. I use the Chiquilin brand, and I love it. In fact, I have to try to not use it in everything as of late.

Heat up some oil (or butter if you want to get crazy) in a non-stick pan over medium heat, and flatten your pancake as much as possible. After about 5 minutes on one side, shake it loose and give her a flip!

It would be lovely on its own, but I like a little extra saucy sauce. So I whipped up a spicy mayo with some fresh herbs from the garden. 2 tablespoons of mayonnaise, chipotle or other hot sauce to taste (I used a little less than 1 tablespoon), dos gotas (2 drops) of lemon juice, some minced chives and epazote. Nothing fancy, but a great stand-by. I like to and tend to make most of my sauces from scratch, because they taste great and are not always that difficult. Even so, having a handful of ready-to-go ingredients and/or sauces is essential. Mayonnaise is one, and hot sauce is another. All you have to do to make things interesting is add a little flare. (I also like having an assortment of oils and vinegars, pickle-y things like capers or ginger or onions, tomato paste, anchovy paste, good quality mustard, and other products that I can quickly mince or simply whisk into a sauce of sorts) If I had a touch more patience I could have made my own mayo in a snap (here's a link to 'My French Cuisine' for a recipe). It's really not that hard to get the mortar and pestle (or the food processor) and grind a clove of garlic and some oil. Another thing I like doing is making a 'flash' ketchup with tomato paste and sugar and vinegar. Mmmm.


Alas, I reached for the store-bought to help cut down my cooking time and feed my potato pancake needs. Now, don't get me wrong, I ain't no Rachel Ray, but you don't always have hours to prep. In Marcus Samuelsson's book, The Soul of a New Cuisine, he mentions the difference between cooking behind the line in a restaurant and cooking at home. The distinction for him being the logistics of cooking a meal at home (prep time, dishes, drop-of-a-hat-attention from a sous chef if need be...) are limited as compared to that of a chef. I love to cook like a chef, but alas, or perhaps thankfully, I am only a cook. As a cook, 'easy' is a nice ingredient to have in your cupboard, as long as it doesn't compromise your integrity.

Well, I digress. This is a such an easy snack. As I mentioned above, I also love making potato pancakes as a side dish to an entrée, in which case I cut it up into pie shaped pieces and fan them on the plate. Today, though, I just slid the whole thing on to a plate, dropped a dollop of my easy chipotle mayo on top, and devoured it.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Roasted Pork Loin with Cherry Sauce

Mmmmm...cherries.

Which came first, the chicken or the egg?
The food or the wine?
The sauce or the meat?

As always, I think the answer is somewhere in between. This time, though, the idea for the sauce really came first, and then the meal was built around it. The idea...cherries. I saw them right when I walked into the store.

Now, what to do with them? Chicken? Duck? Pork. Yes, roasted pork loin. Stuffed? Sauce? Yes, sauce. A simple roast with a cheery cherry sauce. I decided (easily) to roast it in my tagine. I rubbed it with salt, pepper and dry mustard, then browned it all over in a non-stick pan (don't wash the pan...we'll use it for our sauce), then into the tagine and popped in a 300° oven for almost an hour, or until the internal temp. of the roast reaches 135°. This is what it looked like when it was done.

While the pork was roasting, I began making the sauce and cooking some rice. For the sauce, I first brought 1 cup of chicken broth and 1 cup of wine (I had some rosé in the fridge that I used) to a boil, and then.....added two of these tea bags to steep. Blackberry sage black tea. This will add some depth of flavor to our sauce. Next I halved and pitted about 2 cups of the bing cherries. The non-stick pan was reheated and I poured in the tea-broth and added the cherries, scraping up any browned bits left over from the pork. I also tossed in a sprig of lemon thyme. This was left on medium heat to reduce.

Now the rice. I love Lundberg's Black Japonica Blend Wild Rice. I heated a tablespoon of butter in a saucepan, and sauteéd some minced ginger. I then added the rice, stirred it to coat, and then threw in 1 cinnamon stick, along with 2 cups of chicken broth. Bring to a boil, cover, reduce to a simmer, and let cook for 45 minutes.

After the pork reached 135°, I transferred it to a plate and tented it with foil to sit for 15 minutes. Meanwhile, the sauce had reduced and become a beautiful, deep red color. Although the flavors had also deepened and intensified, it was still quite tart, so I added 2 tablespoons of cherry jam I happened to have on hand, and just before I served it, I stirred in some minced preserved lemon to brighten it up. Yo yo!!

I had some broccolini that I had blanched and then cooled in an ice bath, that were to be sauteéd with minced garlic and chili flakes. E voilà! Roasted pork loin with cherry sauce, ginger rice infused with cinnamon, and garlic chili broccolini.


Oh, and by the way.....leftovers make killer BBQ sandwiches!

Monday, June 22, 2009

La Misión de Nuestro Seráfico Padre San Francisco de Asís a la Laguna de los Dolores.

Helluva name for a church, Juniper. The title of this post refers to the name dedicated to the Mission Dolores in the year 1776. The bay itself had already been given the name San Francisco in 1595, seeing as the Spanish government had entrusted the Order of Friars Minor (Franciscans) with the spiritual care of California. But enough about you, let's talk about me.

Well, me and my lady got gifted a weekend hotel stay in the city of Saint Francis. My mom (to my delight) wants to give experiential, as opposed to material, gifts. She treated us to two nights in the Villa Florence, just south of Union Square. Thanks Mom!!

So we set out to the north in search of...well, what were we in search of really? Experiences, I guess, is the umbrella answer. One thing I wanted to do is spend an absorbent amount of money on a meal at a fabulous restaurant. (Being a teacher in Santa Cruz, CA does not provide me the opportunity to do such a thing on the regular.)

Masa's, was the establishment that did, indeed, absorb my money and provide a fabulous experience. And when I say fabulous, I do mean it with regard to its etymological definition. It is almost as if the dinner didn't actually occur. The five course tasting menu (really eight, including amuse bouche, complimentary small salad and candy cart) with the master sommelier's suggested wine pairings was extraordinary. We do have some wonderful restaurants in and around Santa Cruz (Soif, Oswald, and Theo's come to mind) but nothing quite this fancy. Definitely an experience to be had. And it was.

Another experience that we enjoyed-although not necessarily a new one-was just wandering around the city and snapping photos of the urban world around us. I loved the movie American Beauty. The character Ricky Fitts, played by Wes Bentley, enchanted me with his fascination with the plastic bag:
"It was one of those days when it's a minute away from snowing and there's this electricity in the air, you can almost hear it. And this bag was, like, dancing with me. Like a little kid begging me to play with it. For fifteen minutes. And that's the day I knew there was this entire life behind things, and... this incredibly benevolent force, that wanted me to know there was no reason to be afraid, ever. Video's a poor excuse, I know. But it helps me remember... and I need to remember... Sometimes there's so much beauty in the world I feel like I can't take it, like my heart's going to cave in."
video

That's exactly how I feel so often in cities. We walked in to Nordstroms in the Westfield Mall, where there is, like, six floors, each filled with a myriad of, stuff...you can look down from the top floor all the way the bottom floor. I stood there and watched all of the elevators moving synchronistically. Awesome. Just like the plastic bag in American Beauty, it could have been something that I would have glanced at momentarily and moved on, untouched. But I stood there, instead, moved. Technology, mechanics, population, consumerism, history, lives, stories...experiences. Awesome.
Day 2: Walked down to the Ferry Building. We learned from our legendary friend Dick, that the clock tower was modeled after the 12th century Giralda of the cathedral in Seville, which, in turn, was modeled after the minaret of the Koutoubia Mosque in Marrakech, Morocco.

While we made our way to the bay, we marveled at the many other architectural feats that have been erected on what used to be a vast wetlands inhabited by the Ohlone peoples circa 500 AD. (For those of you who are interested in the early history of the native peoples of the San Francisco Bay Area, read, if you haven't already The Ohlone Way by Malcolm Margolin).

We had a lovely time cruising around the fantastic culinary showcase that is the Ferry Building Plaza Farmer's Market and Marketplace, and had to stop for a Blue Bottle Coffee recharge.

After more city meandering we met up with my good friend Amy for a Boobatorium Party at her place in the Mission/Potrero Hill. We enjoyed a cocktail as we strolled through the garden and caught up, and then made a clay boob as per the gathering's intention. Good times.

Then, back to the hotel to refresh and head to Chinatown! I had a restaurant in mind, but it was closed by the time we arrived (9:30!..wtf?). Fortunately, for us, there are a thousand great places to eat in the city and we happened to stumble upon one of them. Gitane! On Claude Lane, just off of Bush or Sutter Streets near the intersection of Kearny St. Great food, magical ambiance, and a perfect end to our Saturday night.

We continued on, stumbling through the dimly lit streets of Saint Francis feeling so blessed to be alive and abuzz and in love...noticing all of the minute details that comprise the whole of the city. A sleeping bum, a passing trolley, a wailing siren. I got there, somehow, and now, I am back.



"I praise the bridge that carried me over"
-George Coleman

Salad

After a fabulously decadent jaunt to the city, we came home to the Cruz seeking something simple. A workout at the gym and a big salad did the trick. During my stroll through the produce section, I stumbled upon something I have never seen before...fresh chickpeas! The chickpea, also known as garbanzo bean, is a legume from the family Fabaceae. It is high in protein, and one of the earliest cultivated vegetables.



So I run into these dandy little pea pods and decide that they are definitely becoming part of our salad. I also grabbed a red pepper, a cucumber, an avocado, some baby carrots, a couple handfuls of arugula, and a wedge of drunken goat cheese.

My first thought was to simply shuck the green beans and toss them in, but then I thought about grinding some of them in a mortar to use as a dressing as well. So, grind them I did. A small handful of the beans and a clove of garlic (pow!). I decided to invite Dijon and Sherry along for the ride....
I introduced them to my friend from Utah, salt. Pepper and paprika showed up, too. They always make things fun...spice up the vibes, you know? Sherry grew up in Napa, but was born and raised in southern Spain. One of her friends from España happened to be in town for a while and she promised me that it wouldn't be a party without him.

O.K., I digress. So this "friend from Spain" is oil. A gift from my friends Ricardo and Karen. Real deal Spanish olive oil, deep green, nutty, rich, and NOT to be used for cooking (you'd get a Spanish smack-down for that). Spain grows lots and lots of olives (4.7 million acres of olive trees under cultivation). In fact, I have heard that most of the olives that are used to make oil in Italy and Greece come from Spain. Karen told me that, much to the shigrin of the Spaniards, the best olives and oil are typically sold off to Italia. Nonetheless, this oil is wonderful. ¡Gracias amigos míos, por un regalo tan sabroso!



Where was I? Oh, yeah...so that's the dressing over there.

Slice the peppers, quarter and slice the cucumber, quarter the carrotinho, a handful of the green garbanzos, cube half an avo, dress, and toss. Some sliced yellow onion on top, serve. Delicioso.

I love salads. In Europe, in fact, I think all over the world, people tend to have a much broader definition of what defines a salad. Think potato salad, rice salad...in short, it doesn't need to have lettuce in it. That said, the big, Californian green salad can be such a delightful meal. My hesitation, though, is to not get carried away with putting too many strong flavored ingredients in one bowl. I think that I have achieved some nice balance here. We have some nutty, spicy, smoky flavors going on with the arugula, garbanzos, oil and paprika. A little punch from the garlic and sherry vinegar. The avocado and cheese gives us some rich smoothness that, along with the carrot, cucumber and pepper is the weight, the base of the meal.

We might as well enjoy a nice glass of wine while we're at it, too. I picked up a bottle from Vinum cellars. A Chenin Blanc and Viognier blend; very crisp, apple, melon and honey on the nose, and nice body. This wine is very slightly sparkling with plenty of acid which worked well with our salad. Salads dressed with vinegar-based dressings can be tough to pair with wine. I always try to find a wine with some acidity to stand up to the zing. This one was perfect. Nice price, too.



A lovely way to ease back in to Santa Cruz after a (happily) hedonistic Frisco get-away. I will be posting some photos and reflections on this jaunt of ours soon enough, by the way.

Ciao ciao for now.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Holy Cross

When my high school career was nearing its end and it came time for me to look at colleges, I considered two schools in the Northwestern U.S., four in the Northeastern U.S., and one in California. After trips out to New York and Boston, Oregon and Washington, I decided that I liked California. I still do. The University of California at Santa Cruz is where I landed. My college experience, I suppose, was not unlike others in many ways, with its dorm life, parties, all-nighters and exams. I don't know, however, how many other college freshman had the opportunity to be awoken by the sun in a fairy-circle of Giant Redwoods on a Tuesday morning, pack up their sleeping bag and head back for a shower before class. Full-moon drum circles in the woods, climbing a 100-foot Spruce Pine to an ocean view, psychedelic cave exploration, these are some of the memories of a UCSC graduate.

I decided to study abroad for my third year in college, and opened my eyes one morning in Barcelona. Living in another country for a year has proven to be the single most transformative experience in my life. Learning to commune, socialize, speak, and think in terms set by a different peoples and history shatters your entire conception of reality. That conception is then reshaped, but it is painted with much broader strokes.

One of the consequences of living abroad (which I have found to be a different animal altogether than traveling abroad) is a heightened ability to compare, contrast, and critically analyze the functional realities of the culture in which one lives. There are social tendencies in Spain that seemed to me so natural, and so beautiful, that I seldom or never see in The States.

The Butanero, for example, walking up and down the streets on Sundays, with his bright orange butane tanks clanging from the strike of a rod, letting all know of his presence. I would go to the window and yell down to him, 'We need one, up here.' That's how you get the gas to heat your home and cook your food. If you miss him, you wait until next week, or borrow a tank from your neighbor. Oh, and if you forgot to buy groceries on Saturday, you have to wait until Monday. Nothing is open on Sundays. NOTHING! At first, these things can be frustrating to an American. We have immediate gratification coursing through our veins. "Wait 24 hours until I can shop again!!??" To the Spaniard, though, this rhythm of life is the 'clave' in their 'son.' It's impossible to imagine one without the other. That said, there are also (plenty of) tendencies that were very difficult for me to adjust to and/or accept about Spanish and Catalan culture. Needless to say, the first part of my year there was not easy for me. In the end, though, I fell in love with Barcelona. Va escoltar això, Barna? T'estimo tant.

In the same manner, along with all of the things that made me uncomfortable about the cultural tendencies of my own homeland, upon my return I fell in love again with California, and with Santa Cruz. Coming home to flip-flops, and smiling faces, and the "pack your trash, bro" attitude of Santa Cruz was as refreshing as a clara con limón on an August afternoon en España. My time abroad had given me the ability to appreciate more fully the things about my own culture that I truly treasure. Santa Cruz is a great place to live.

I remember once meeting a man in a small town in Finland called Padasjoki. My family had planned a mini-vacation during my year in Spain, and rented a lovely little lakeside cabin complete with sauna. So, I was chatting with this Finnish man, and he asked where I was from. "California," I said, "I live in Santa Cruz." His jaw dropped, "What are doing here in Padasjoki?" This same situation has played out many times for me since then. The places where I spend my days working and playing, fortunately for me, are the same places that people on the other side of the world dream of visiting.

I went to Cafe Brasil with some friends yesterday, and one of them-who, coincidentally, is about to move to Spain-was recounting her recent experience at a Santa Cruz City Council meeting. She was brought to tears as community members came up to share how city-supported social service programs have helped them survive and thrive. "You don't see things like this in Brazil or in Spain," said Karen, "this community is amazing." It really is. I feel so fortunate to be a member of a progressive community, where people are involved, and open and caring.

In addition to the appealing socio-political atmosphere, one need only open their eyes to be struck by the extraordinary environmental beauty that abounds on the central coast. The largest marine sanctuary in the United States, a backyard filled with the tallest trees on earth, a moderate Mediterranean climate, and a plethora of state parks and beaches make Santa Cruz an ideal place for the naturalist.

I often make a conscious effort to appreciate my life and surroundings as if I were a tourist; a fresh perspective, seeing for the first time the splendor before me. This is how I want to live my life.

I know much of this post probably sounds like something out a travel brochure, but I do feel blessed to live in such a beautiful place and I wanted to acknowledge that. Although traveling to, and even living in, other spots on the globe is a priority for me, Santa Cruz will always be a home for me. A place I respect and admire, somewhere I love, and feel loved.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Infusions

I was living in Spain when the distinction was first made clear to me. "Tea" is a plant. Specifically, it is the Camellia sinensis plant. So when I asked for a "chamomile tea," you can imagine the frustration and discomfort of the poor Spanish lady behind the counter of the bar. "Es una infusión" she said, It's an infusion. We don't get too hung up on the distinction here in the states, it seems, but it is one that I have come to appreciate. It is also known as a tisane, or a ptisan.

I have also come to appreciate the infusions themselves. As I love to grow things, and love to eat and drink things, I naturally love to grow things I can eat and drink. Herbs are some of those things. I am so content to stroll through my little garden and snip a little of this and a little of that, create an infusion, and sip on it.



Just the other day we went over to Susie's house for dinner with her and Ka. I had made an infusion earlier in the day and had chilled it in the fridge. As we were cooking (I made an Italian-style pork fried rice with porcini mushrooms to go with our grilled chicken) I poured some of the tea..er, I mean, infusion for us. Ka was pretty excited. "What is this? How did you make it?"

All you need is the herbs. It can take a while to get started, but once you do, you're all set! The picture above is of lemon balm, and this one here is anise hyssop.
In this tisane I also used hyssop, spearmint, peppermint, salvia elegans (pineapple sage), salvia spathacea, raspberry leaf, and rosemary.

Some other faves are mullein, calendula, lavender, prunella...

My go-to book for herbal tonics of all sorts, and their medicinal benefits is Healing Tonics, by Jeanine Pollak. Definitely check it out if you are interested in using herbs and making tinctures or tonics or tisanes.

I also dissolved a tablespoon of heaven. Oh, you've never tried heaven?!
Well, you should. Uh-mazing. My girlfriend isn't a big fan of honey, but when I made her try this...big fan.


When I use fresh herbs for infusions I let the water cool a bit after it has boiled before I add them in. Let it steep for 10 minutes or so, and you're done. Enjoy it hot, or let chill and sip it iced on a hot day.

Friday, June 12, 2009

¡Che boludo!



I have never been to South America, nor have I traveled to Central America! ¿Pecado, no? Being an hispanoparlante, I want to get down there as soon as I can. I want to find me an old Argentinian man out in the campo who'll rant about the ways of the world and stories of days past. As we sit, we'll sip on some fantastic wine, like, for example, this one:

2007 Clos de los Siete, Mendoza, Malbec/Merlot/Cab Sauvignon/Syrah

On the nose, I am picking up pine, licorice, strawberry, almost getting a cherry cough syrup aroma (not in a bad way).

In my mouth, plenty of black fruits , tar, pine, spice. Firm tannins, this wine will age nicely for quite a while, but it's still approachable right now.

Beautiful deep purple color in the glass, by the way.

Here is a link to the fabulous K&L Wine Merchants for more purchasing and other info.




Well, what else to eat with an awesome Argentine wine but beef!

I picked up a couple of Porterhouse steaks from Shopper's Corner, made a big caesar salad, sauteéd a couple of porcini mushrooms, and watched a Soprano's DVD with my baby. Classic in so many ways. And yes, I said porcini.

Oh yeah, a quick tip I learned about cooking Porterhouses...have the New York portion sit over the hotter part of the grill so the filet stays more rare. It came out perfect tonight!


Bueno, ya está, otra exposición de lo que se cocina en mi casa. Espero que les haya gustado.

Chow!

En Miquel.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Thursday


Coconut. According to Cândido Figueiredo (via Wikipedia), the word comes from Portuguese coco, the myth of a scary witch. They say El Coco used to hide under the beds of naughty children and EAT THEM if they didn't eat their vegetables!!! Reminds me of the Far Side comic..."you kids better be quiet or I'll knock three times and summon the floating head of death!" (a balloon that dad controls from the downstairs window, with a wicked face drawn on it).


Needless to say, Vasco De Gama was stoked when he and the crew set foot in India because his son Vasquihno never ate his couve (collard greens)!

"I am coming for to getche you, Vasquinho!"

The seed of the Cocos nucifera plant, is what we eat. Specifically, the albuminous endosperm, is our beloved coconut "meat." In addition to being delicious, coconuts are rich in lauric acid, which has antiviral, antibacterial and antifungal properties, as well an immune system booster. High fiber, high fat, good amount of minerals. If you did happen to find yourself on a deserted island....

When I was young, I remember hating coconut (I guess I never had a macaroon from the Buttery!), but now I love it young, mature, the water, the oil, I love it all.

Soooooo, in our final stretch of last days, graduations and grading, Lissa says, "Let's eat a big salad tonight, with prawns or something." Enter coconut.

Coconut prawns with Thai-inspired dipping sauce, and a refreshing 'Asian' salad. Yes.

The prawns were simple. Peel, devein, and cut deep along the ridge, then toss them in an egg bath, coat with grated coconut and toss in a (medium heat) non-stick pan with a couple tablespoons of coconut oil. É fácil. Oh wait, this is supposed to be a Thai-ish thing. Um, hold on...quick trip to thai-language.com yields... Ngaay ngaay! Easy!

Are you serious? Yes Siam!
Here is what I used for the dipping sauce:
  • 2 inch piece of ginger, peeled and minced
  • 1/4 cup pineapple coconut juice (or substitute other juice, or wine, or...)
  • 1/4 cup white wine
  • 1 tablespoon fish sauce
  • 1 tablespoon lime juice
  • 1 tablespoon ginger pepper jelly (or substitute brown sugar)
Once the prawns had nicely browned all over, I put them on a plate to stay warm in the oven. Then I swiped out any burnt coconut bits, turned the heat up to high, and toasted the ginger. Toss as it cooks for minute or so, then pour in the rest of the goods. Stir to dissolve, lower the heat to med/med-low, and reduce.



Served with a bright salad consisting of mixed greens and edible flowers from Happy Boy Farms, mung bean sprouts, carrots and green onions (both sliced diagonally-a common and subtle technique in Asian cooking). For the dressing I dissolved a pinch of salt and a pinch of sugar in a tablespoon or so of brown rice vinegar, and whisked in two teaspoons of sesame oil (or substitute safflower or canola oil). Toss, serve and enjoy.

Khaawp khoon khrap, coconut.