Thursday, November 25, 2010


Marseille?  Where is that? I've never heard of that place.  For those of you who don't know, it is a small port town on the Mediterranean coast in France.  What drew you to that place? In all honesty, it was Julia Child.  In her book, My Life in France, she describes the food of Marseille in such detail, that it made my list of places to go when I was in Europe (a 20 euro round trip flight doesn't hurt either).  The last few trips I have been on, I have traveled alone.  This time I was accompanied by my new friend Charleen (or Char Char as she is know to her close friends).  I am all up for exploring and going on adventures solo, but I thoroughly enjoyed having someone to eat with, travel with, and most importantly, someone to have interesting conversations with.
Our first order of business after finding our hostel was to find somewhere to eat. We asked the women at the fron desk for recommendations and she suggested Dos Hermanos.  Wary of the name, I ask "this is not a Spanish restaurant right?"  She assures me that the restaurant serves typical French dishes.  We set out to find this elusive Spanish named French food restaurant.  Unfortunately, we went in the wrong direction for 20 minutes and then once we adjusted our course had to walk up hill and up a set of stairs.  Needless to say, it took us about an hour to find the place, the entire time I was thinking "this better be worth it."  Oh the irony, the restaurant was in fact a tapas bar.  I like Spanish food well enough but I am in France, I want some French food dammit.  Luckily, there was one platter of the day that was French.  The benefit to being in a tapas bar is that the staff spoke Spanish which was a blessing as our French were extremely below par.  The meal was thoroughly enjoyable, I mean who can resist a gratin of potatoes, cream, cheese, and lardons with white sangria??  Not me!
For dinner, we enjoyed a savory and a sweet galette (similar to a crepe). The savory galette was filled with Provencal ratatouille and cheese and the sweet galette was with chocolate, bananas, and whipped cream. Our palettes were spoiled that first night. Our "French" was so terrible that by the end of the night I was saying grazie (I don't speak Italian) and Charleen was mumbling words reminiscent of Spanish (no alcohol was involved).

That night a storm erupted like I have never heard, thunder, lighting, the whole bit. We experienced intermediate spurts of varying degrees of rain and even hail at one point for the rest of the trip. However, Charleen and I were not going to let the discomfort of wet shoes stop us from exploring the city. We even braved the beach on Sunday. On Saturday morning, we went to the fish market. I have never seen fresher fish on display and of such variety, a lot of them were still alive in the containers. The fishermen and women cleaned the fish right there and then for you. It was pretty amazing.
To commemorate our adventure to the fish market, we ate Marseille's national dish, bouillabaisse, a rich fish stew served with rouille (a thick sauce made with garlic and saffron) and croutons. This was the reason I came to Marseille, just to try this stew. Is that crazy? Absolutely but definitely essential for my gourmet growth. The broth was a rich fish stock with 4 different kinds of local fish. You could taste the freshness of the fish which I was not expecting. The traditional way to eat the soup is to put the rouille on the crouton and let it soak up all that borthy goodness. Eat a piece of the crouton with a piece of fish and by ready for an explosion of flavor in your mouth. No wonder its so famous, everyone was eating the same thing in the restaurant. That's when you know it's good.
And how can I forget the lovely pastries. On every corner instead of a liquor store you find a patisserie. All I can say is that it was a good thing I was walking so much because I was eating way too many sweets. If Marseille was bad, I can't imagine how Paris will be when I go in January. Every pastry was so beautiful, a small piece of edible art.  Eating for research is the best job in the world.
Whenever I arrive home from my trips, I am always reflective of my experience. This time I felt that I was born in the wrong time period. That maybe I should have been a child of the 50's so that I could have been a key player in the American food revolution of the 70's. Maybe it is my own fault because I have been reading books from the "Greats" in the food industry telling tales of when being a foodie or a gourmand was a budding concept; envying the ease with which connections and lifetime friendships were made. France was still the culinary mecca of the world at this time and we (Americans) had yet to discover the spicy pleasures of Chinese and Thai food or the majesty of hand made pasta. The culinary community was small and interconnected (compared to now). How is it possible that Julia Child and James Beard became the best of friends until the end of their days? That Craig Claiborne and Gael Greene shared so many intimate dinners together? Or how did Ruth Reichl have not one but three coveted positions in the food world, LA times food critic, NY times food critic, and Gourmet editor in chief? I mean, it seems that they have earned their jobs without a hiccup, is it coincidence, hardwork, sheer luck, a combination of all three? I want to read about the hardships, about the difficulties you experienced getting to the top of the food pyramid. It shows you are human and gives me hope that I too will make it, even if the industry is flooded. I can only hope that there is light at the end of the tunnel, a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, a ray of sunshine on a cloudy day, that I can make an impact and be remembered.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Portugal: The land of my ancestors, bacalhau, and pastéis de Belém

    If you have been reading my posts, you may have noticed that I have been quite the busy bee.  Traveling all over Europe, taking full advantage of being on a continent that is half the size of the U.S. with plane tickets for even less then that (5 Euros!).  This puente took me to Portugal, more specifically to Porto and Lisboa.  I feel that this country is highly underrated, it is just stunning.  I almost didn't want to go back to Madrid.  I must confess though, that being Brasilian with Portuguese ancestors, does play a role.  My great-grandfather was Portuguese with blue eyes (although that's the extent of my family's knowledge of him).  Needless to say, I felt connected by family, history and language.  It felt exhilarating to speak Portuguese, I didn't realize how much I missed it.  I already am making plans to go back!

     My first 2 days were spent in Porto and yes as the name indicates this city is famous for Port wine.  There are several Porto caves that give tours and tastings.  Luckly (didn't have to spend money) and unluckly (didn't get to bring anything back) for me I couldn't buy any of Portugal's amazing wines or liquors.  Portuguese airlines don't understand the need for foodie travelers to bring back these sort of culinary treasures in their small carry on bag.  I learned that 3 types of Ports exist, a white, a tawny, and a ruby.  I enjoyed all of them but I think the white wins.  It is sweet and citrusy, very refreshing as a dessert cocktail.

The food, unfortunately, was less memorable. It was too heavy for my own taste. I had the strangest meal of my life there. It was steak with melted cheese on top, thinly cut french fries on top of that and topped with cooked cabbage. It wasn't that it tasted bad, I just wasn't sure what to make of it. I had to order a salad to counter the greasiness of the fries. My waiter, Ricardo, mislead me with his recommendation.

In Lisboa, the food improved considerably. They really love their pastries and bacalhau (salted cod). Portugal is the highest consumer of bacalhau in the world- that's how you know they really love it.  However, the fish I most enjoyed was whole grilled sardines.  I can't begin to explain the amazingness that happened in my mouth with the first bite.  This was the kind of food I had been waiting to taste.  To me, it symbolized Portugal more than bacalhau because it was fresh from the sea and cooked simply on the grill with olive oil and salt.  It was one of those rare times in my life where tradition and culture ran through the entire dish.  So delicious, so satisfying, I need to eat more.

I of course cannot forget to mention the famous pastéis de Belém.  People just come to Portugal to eat these cream filled pastries.  The line is straight out the door and once inside you have to wait like a vulture to get a table.  All your morals go out the window, basically you don't let the 80 year lady go ahead of you.  In my mind, I thought "well she has had them before, probably for the last 80 years."  These pastries have a thin crust, similar to phyllo but not quite as delicate with a custard filling.  The best part is they come out fresh, piping hot.  Most enjoyable with a cup of coffee.

As with everything, my trip was coming to end but there was one more thing I had to try- The Francesinha. I had been avoiding this dish since the beginning of my trip for reasons none other than it looked like a heart attack on a plate.  But how could I call myself a foodie or a food researcher if I didn't try this iconic Northern Portuguese dish.  I only had one night left and dedicated it to finding the best damn Francesinha which happened to be at Capa Negra.  Basically this sandwich can be classified as a heavyweight grilled cheese.  There was steak, hot dog, ham, mortadella, another meat I couldn't identify and cheese, all topped with gravy.  Now this might seem extravagant but I didn't come close.  Try it with fries and an egg on top.  Eating it was pretty anticlimactic, I don't think it will be something I'll crave in the future or eat again.  Mission complete.

Leaving Portugal was more difficult then I had anticipated. While I was there, I felt connected to my family which later led to a wave of homesickness when I returned to Madrid. Don't get me wrong, I feel EXTREMELY grateful for this opportunity abroad, but there are those days when you just want to be back home with all the people you love and care about. Also, these emotions had to do with the uncertainty of my living situation and feeling like I had lost control of my life. My parents (love those guys) reminded me to "remember where my feet are" and to "keep on doing the footwork" (a lot of feet references). Essentially, enjoy the time I have right now and keep doing things I need to do and don't worry about the rest. This lesson keeps recurring in my life and is a difficult one for me to accept. As always, they were right and everything worked out in its own time.  Portugal taught me to let go.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Salone del Gusto 2010

I spent this weekend in Turin, Italy, attending the Salone del Gusto.  This is an event put on by Slow Food International which invites food producers from all over Italy and other parts of the world to share their "good,clean, and fair" products.  These artisans range from cheesemakers, butchers, olive oil producers etc...In other words, it was a food convention on steroids.  You are immediately overwhelmed by all the booths and the infinitesimal amount of free samples.  But before I divulge more details, I should mention that this was the first time I have truly traveled by myself.  In the past, two key things have been in place: 1. I spoke the language and 2. I would be meeting others at my destination.  This time I was going all on my own with no knowledge of Italian extending beyond chao (which is used for hello and goodbye), pasta, and pizza.  When I arrived to the airport, I was quite nervous.  The pit in my stomach persisted until I was safely on a bus in Italy heading towards the convention. Needless to say, I arrived safe and sound without a hitch.
The view of the Alps from my window

Next to the Lingotto convention center, is Slow Food's grocery store, EATALY.  As if the convention wasn't overwhelming enough, this store has any Italian product you could possibly want.  Dare I say that it is better than Whole Foods.  All the foods were fresh and of the utmost quality.  I mean what other grocery store sells swordfish with its sword still attached.  I've never seen it.
Every department has its own eatery.  For example, in the pasta section you could buy about 100 different kinds of pasta and eat it too.  I splurged and got linguine with white truffle and butter.  Utterly indulgent and delicious.  Hey, you cannot visit the Piedmont region during truffle season and not try it.  A lot of the items offered in the store were also available at the Salone del Gusto.
This is just one section, there are another 4 rows just like it

White truffle 220.00 Euros per 100 Kilos

My most memorable meal
After the shock of the amazingness of this store and the Salone del Gusto wore off, Mrs. Commonsense came to visit and first told me not to buy anything because I had no way to bring it back to Madrid.  Second, she made me think of the relationship between this store, Slow Food, and the public.  I mean is Slow Food only about promoting sustainability of foodstuffs or is it also about the accessibility of the products as well.  This is the controversy we see in the U.S. regarding Whole Foods.  Is it enough to offer quality products at a relatively high price or should we (slow fooders) be working towards food justice, availability, and affordability as well?  Because even though the sauces, cheeses, and prosciutto were excellent, would the average person "cough up the dough" and buy it on a regular basis?  I don't know and local Italians seemed to resent the enterprise because of this conflict.  It was a discourse I definitely pondered and discussed with others throughout my trip.  I haven't come to a completely satisfying conclusion however I will say that Slow Food does have good intentions and maybe as it becomes larger, it will be able to offer better pricing.  A major highlight of my trip was meeting Alice Waters again.  I was only able to speak to her for a minute but it was nice to find that needle in the haystack of people.  It is funny because I don't recognize celebrities on Hollywood Blvd. but I can spot her in a crowd. I loved every minute of my visit, and enjoyed being surrounded by people who cared about food as much as I do.  Whether it was food culture preservation, continuing a family tradition or starting one, or just being proud of your local product, it was very inspiring.  I found this quote which I think sums up my experience in Italy:  "No one who cooks, cooks alone.  Even at her most solitary, a cook in the kitchen is surrounded by generations of cooks past, the advice and menus of cooks present, and the wisdom of cookbook writers" (Laurie Colwin).  I think the Salone del Gusto showed me that food's history is never ending, it has a complicated past and continues to expand into the present and is a subject of interest for the future.

Me and the Slow Food snail

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

El Camino de Santiago: Camp for Grown-Ups

I realize that this blog is dedicated to my love of food but I feel compelled to share my experience on the Camino de Santiago.  For those of you who don't know, this is a pilgrimage that has traditionally started  from St. Jean Pied de Port in France to Santiago de Compostela in Galicia, Spain.  The route is approximately 820km and takes a little over 30 days if you are walking.  However, now there are routes all over Europe that take you to Santiago de Compostela.  Now keep in mind that you can do this on a bike or horseback.  I was not that ambitious nor did I have the time so I did 115km from Sarria, Spain.  To receive the Compostela (certificate of completion), you must walk at least 100km, so it is a popular starting point for most Spaniards.  There is a very long history of this pilgrimage but I won't go into here, you can research it yourself on wikipedia.  Doing the Camino was a big deal for me because it was a physically as well as a mentally taxing.  For those of you who know me personally, I don't think you would classify me as "active" or "outdoorsy" and would view this endeavor as outside my character.  Then again, you would also know that I appreciate a challenge. Maybe I wouldn't of done it but because I met a fellow Fulbrighter Emily who wanted to go, plans were set.  We arrived in Sarria on October 8th at about 7:30 in the morning, after being on a bus for the past 8 hours.  It was dark and we had no idea where we were going.  After having a cup of coffee, we see a sign leading us in the direction of the Camino.

You will sometimes see a clear sign showing you the path but more commonly, you will see yellow arrows pointing the way. Instead of the following the yellow brick road, you follow the yellow arrows. They are the most handy guide you are going to have.
Know what you are getting yourself into.  Or maybe in my case, better that I didn't.  Yes, its just walking but you are not walking on a nicely paved flat road, you are walking through forests, up and down mountain sides and through small farm towns.  A paved road is considered a blessing after 20 km of rocky hillsides.  You are mostly by yourself during the Camino.   I went with Emily but we spent a lot of time walking in silence as you will see many other pilgrims doing.  You spend time listening to the sound of the ground crunching beneath your feet, the roosters crowing in the morning, the wind rustling the trees and the rhythmic sound of your walking stick as you take each new step.  The Camino is very much an individual experience.  Everyone has their own Camino, there own reasons for doing it, religious or otherwise.  You will have plenty of time to think.  Think about yourself, your family and friends, your problems, your beliefs, your future or sometimes of nothing.  There were many times where I just chanted 1,2,3,4 to myself  just so I could get through the steep hill I was currently climbing.  I found that my emotions were ever changing.  Some mornings I woke up with enthusiasm and was ready to walk, and other days I cursed myself for taking on the Camino.  As my friend Janel says "if there is something going on within you, it will come out on the Camino if you let it."  You will be sore and your body will definitely hurt all over.  Places hurt that I didn't even know existed.  Where the pain started in the beginning of the day, would inevitably move to a different part of my body by the end.   However, I got up every morning and continued on despite the discomfort, and for that I am proud.
I know you haven't asked this question but it's bound to come at some point, "what was my favorite part about the Camino?"  I would have to respond by saying, the scenery.  Galicia is absolutely stunning.  Every town was picture perfect in its own way.  Sometimes I would have to remind myself to stop looking at my feet and take in the views around me.  I love the city but I have to admit that it was wonderful to get away from the craziness that is Madrid and live a simple life.  All I did was walk, eat, drink, and sleep for 5 days.  My life was reduced to a backpack and basic life sustaining activities, it was great!

On October 11th, Emily and I walked 40km in one day to be able to arrive in Santiago that night.  If I am completely honest, Santiago de Compostela was my least favorite part of the Camino.  After experiencing the peaceful Camino, it is hard to be thrown back into the bustling city. I felt accomplished when I first stepped within the city limits but it quickly evaporated when I had to fight my way through crowds to reach the cathedral.  We received the Compostela but, to me its not about the certificate but rather the journey to get there, that to me is what the Camino is all about.  It's amazing what happens when you put yourself outside your comfort zone; soon enough you begin to change before your very eyes.  I was told that people saw the "Camino growing on me."   I won't say that the Camino de Santiago changed my life forever but I will say that I came home with a new set of lenses, camino lenses, for which to view Madrid and my experience here.  And that is good enough for now.  Perhaps in the future I will consider doing the whole thing.
On the Camino, people signed their names and made dedications on signs, under bridges, on rocks, really just about any surface that they could write on.  I did not come equipped with a sharpie or spray paint so I was not able to add to the graffiti.  I will make my dedication here.  I dedicate my Camino first and foremost to myself.  I set a goal and accomplished it, no matter the circumstances.  I dedicate my Camino to my family for helping to shape me into the person I am today.  I am not sure I could have taken on the Camino without the sturdy foundation that you have provided me.  I dedicate my Camino to my fiance, for never doubting me and always knowing that I can do anything, even when I don't.  Finally, I dedicate my Camino to all the pilgrims who have done the Camino de Santiago, we are one hell of a bunch.  We are of all ages, of all nationalities and of all walks of life who take on this task despite the difficulties we face along the way.  To all of you who plan to do the Camino in the future, I say  Buen Camino!

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Beer, Chips and Chorizo: A simple meal with complex conversation

      "What would your magnum opus be and how would it inspire people?" asks Janel.  Now this is a heavy question, how would my life's work be a window for people to change and experience life differently?   Honestly I am not sure at this point what my magnum opus will be, I am so young with so many dreams.  I guess you won't know what it is until the end of your days but even then I presume you will still be building on it.  Needless to say I decided to root my answer in what is important to me now and will continue to be in the future.  I said I would like for people to always remember how important family relationships are.  So many times I hear "I haven't talked to my brother for 30 years" or "my mom and I hate eachother, we just don't get along" and it just kills me that people have reached that point, that realization that it's just not worth it.  I know what I am proposing is not easy and at times feels like a hopeless endeavor, but there is usually light at the end of the tunnel.  Sometimes that light takes longer to grow and shine but it does exist.  I know from experience.
        This conversation resonated with me and prompted me to ponder other intimate facets of myself.  To think about this blog and the way I portray myself to my audience.  I realized that it's pretty dry and without much real emotion.  I write about the food but in such a general way that I don't even leave hungry for what I have just spent 2 hours explaining.  Sitting in the bar, I understood that in academia or as an academic writer, you are trained to take ourselves out of whatever we are writing about.  As such, the writing becomes about the subject of study.  Now all of the sudden I am expected to put myself forth and let my personality shine through.  Granted I have purposely put myself in this position but I made this blog to expand myself and share my passion with others.  I need to include those things that are deep within me, my thoughts, my feelings, my emotions, my opinions, and through that expression, I believe that the great passion within me will explode onto the page.  I am grateful to have friends here that ask probing questions that put me outside of my comfort zone and make me take a hard look at who I am in this space.  I am a women in Spain, I am a Brazilian-American in Spain, I am a Fulbright Grantee in Spain, I am an anthropologist in Spain, I am a foodie in Spain.  All of these parts of myself are cogs in a large bodily clock constantly working together to shape my experience in Spain and in turn how I translate those experiences onto the page.  This is an honest post about an honest realization.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Tasty Toledo

After being in Madrid for 3 weeks, a few friends and I decided to get out of the big city and visit Spain's previous capital Toledo.  This city has a kind of charm that can only be bestowed to one settled in the 7th century B.C.  Immediately upon arrival you are transported back in time.  You are walking on cobblestone streets, through narrow walkways, and of course the immense cathedral with its intricate carvings and architecture.  One of my friends, who is involved the group Couchsurfing, organized a tour with a fellow couchsurfer.  The first order of business was lunch.  Now if travel shows have taught me anything, it's that locals know the best places to eat.  He took us to a hidden cafe, that we would have definitely not found on our own.  The thing I appreciate about eating with Spanish people is that they prefer eating family style.  This way we have a variety for people to choose from but especially allows someone like me to try many dishes at once. This is what we feasted on:

Jamón ibérico with Manchego Cheese

Ensalada de Ventresca (piquillo peppers, mackerel, and egg)
Salmonejo (similar to gazpacho)
Carcamusas (pork)
Etrufado de Ciervo (venison)
Picadillo de Morcilla (blood sausage)
Tortilla (Spanish omelet with potatoes)

The best part about this meal must have been the bread that the restaurant provided to sop up all the sauce from the different dishes.  I tried to recreate the piquillo pepper salad the next day at home but it just wasn't the same.  I will keep working on it, a recipe coming soon.  Besides its history, Toledo is famous for 2 things: swords and marzipan.  Now the swords were interesting to look at but not practical to buy at this stage in my life.  Maybe if I convert into a hunter/gather and live in the forests of England...but probably not.  However, I do highly recommend buying the amazing marzipan.  Its unlike any I have ever had in the States.  Its buttery and soft, my favorite were those filled with apricot jam. 
Marzipan from Santo Tomé's
It was truly a relaxing day of sightseeing and great food.  I look forward to visiting more small towns in Spain and throughout Europe. I wonder where my next adventure will take me......

Check out this view from the other side of the river

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

The Craze that is 100 Montaditos

When you think that the sandwich or bocadillo (as they are called here in Spain) cannot be reinvented anymore, here comes a chain that totally sends you up in a tornado and lands you in something like bocadillo heaven. 100 Montaditos has literally 100 choices and the best part is that you get to buy more than one. This has something for everyone. Fillings range from chorizo and tortilla, gambas (small eels) with aioli, or chocolate with fruit preserves.  For those indulgent types, like myself, they also have foie gras on the menu. Their success is based on the fact that they use a few quality ingredients in each bocadillo and that are traditional to Spain.  Yes, local and fresh ingredients.
And an added bonus is that every order is served with fresh potato chips.  You can choose to eat in the restaurant and enjoy a cerveza with your bocadillos but these bit size sandwiches are perfect for a picnic in Retiro park.  I think the most magnificent advantage that this restaurant has is it that these delights are cheap, ranging from 1 Euro to 1,50 Euro.  So it is great for travelers on a budget or locals who want a cheap lunch.  This chain is all over Spain so I encourage all visitors to come and check it out.  When you do one thing really well, you don't need anything else and I think 100 Montaditos has found that niche.  I do realize that I sound like a cheerleader for this place and that they might be paying me for this post but in reality I am just really excited about it!

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Spanish Extravaganza

This blog is moving in a new direction as have I. I was recently awarded a scholarship to study in Spain for 9 months doing research on the Mediterranean diet, but I mean, who are we kidding, what else would I study besides FOOD! I have met other grantees who are as obsessed with food as I am. I am very excited to have a group of people to eat out with as well as to experience national delicacies. Madrid has the highest number of bars and restaurants per inhabitant in Europe. I believe the current figure is 171 people per restaurant. I believe it. There is literally a bar with mostly decent food on every corner. This is an eating culture. People spend 2 hours at lunch enjoying different small plates and chatting about their lives. It seems that this a time for the Spanish to relax and enjoy the moment. This is a Spanish attribute that I am aspiring to embody and take home with me. If nothing else I want memories of good food and great friends. I am determined to recount my experience as an American in a completely different food culture and (maybe for those who read me) inspire myself and others to adopt some new customs. Come to Madrid, grab a few tapas and some vino, and enjoy the ride .

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Truck Watch

This weekend, on a trip to Vroman's Bookstore in Pasadena, I was lucky enough to stumble upon THE GRILLED CHEESE truck. Food Trucks have sprouted all over L.A. in the last couple of years. I have seen the original taco truck to Vietnamese, to Korean BBQ, to Dim Sum, to Burgers and Hot Dogs, and now the Grilled Cheese. In my opinion, what makes the food truck so popular is its obvious convenience but also its offering of either comfort food like a grilled cheese or a dish that is unique and interesting like the Korean BBQ taco. These trucks are no longer grease mobiles but actually offer high quality gourmet food. The best way to find one of these fun eateries is to follow them on twitter. They tweet their location and the time they'll be there. I've seen them on Wilshire Blvd., 3rd street in Santa Monica, and downtown. If you decide to go on the adventure, be prepared to wait in line especially if it's the weekend. The line for the Grilled Cheese truck was about 45 minutes. But, if you are a foodie, its definitely worth the wait.
Their menu spans from the classic grilled cheese to caprese grilled cheese, to the "Harvest Melt" with butternut squash, gruyere cheese, and a balsamic reduction. Dare I say they even have a dessert sandwich with marshmallow, Nutella, and banana-sooooo good! However, the cream of the crop is their "Signature Melt." Mac and cheese, caramelized onions, and BBQ smoked pork between two grilled pieces of bread, honestly I don't know if it gets any better than that. It just goes to show that if you can do one thing really well with a few variations,that's all you need for success. So keep an eye out for the bright orange truck or any truck for that matter, and try something different. I guarantee you'll be pleasantly surprised.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Lunch at Chinois

When we think about Wolfgang Puck's restaurants, we think about Spago, Cut, or his chain of bistros. Rarely does Chinois come to mind. I find Chinois to be more discrete and hidden then most of his other restaurants but special nonetheless. Wolfgang Puck has found a winning combination of Asian flavors and French technique with a bit of California flair. This Asian-fusion restaurant has an open kitchen so you can see the chef prepare your meal and everyone else's. I find this to be helpful when ordering because you can see what people like and what's popular on the menu. Another nice thing is that the restaurant is open for lunch or dinner and is affordable. A 4 course chef's choice menu (for lunch) only costs 37.50 per person. I recommend visiting the Santa Monica Farmer's Market and heading down to Chinois for a nice lunch. Here is what I ate:

1. Chinois Chicken salad- a variation on the Chinese Chicken salad but with a creamy dressing

2. Crab Cakes topped with jumbo shrimp and lobster sauce- DELICIOUS!

3. Grilled Szechwan Beef with a shallot-cilantro sauce- Super tasty.

4. Whole Sizzling Catfish with Ginger and Ponzu sauce- Very impresssive, I usually don't like catfish but the flavors were spot on.

5. Stir-fried haricots verts with black bean sauce and garlic- probably the best Asian vegetable side dish I have ever had- not an exaggeration.

6. An array of desserts including 3 different flavors of creme brulee, a macadamia nut tart, banana cake, chocolate cake with whipped cream and chocolate cookies.

After eating my scrumptious meal, my group had a chance to talk to the staff. Most of the people working there- the waitstaff, line cooks, the pastry chef, the manager, and the head chef-most have been there for 15 years or more. To me, a restaurant is only as good as the people who work there. These people really love what their doing and in turn make Chinois the pleasant eatery it is today.

Friday, April 30, 2010

Fresh From the Farmer's Market

With movements such as Locavore Nation and Eating Organic, a cook cannot help but to be inspired by the produce of the season. Spring is such an exciting time because we can put away the bitter winter greens and take advantage of the spring trio: fresh asparagus, beautiful global artichokes, and sweet peas. These veggies are so tasty on their own that they hardly need any additional flavors. Here are some ideas for these spring vegetables:

Peas: Make a classic risotto and add fresh peas and Parmesan cheese at the end, use peas as the base for a pesto and substitute some of the basil for mint (you can use this as a sandwich spread or for crostini), or make a fresh pea sauce that can be served with fish such as halibut or branzino.

Fresh Pea Sauce (Recipe courtesy of Tiffany O'Reilly)

3 cups blanched shelled peas
1 cup chicken stock
2 tablespoons minced shallots
1 teaspoon minced garlic
4 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons mint chopped
salt and pepper to taste

In a saucepan, add the shelled peas, chicken stock, shallots, and garlic. Bring the liquid to a boil and reduce to a simmer. Simmer sauce for 5 to 6 minutes or until peas are tender. Remove from heat. Using a blender*, add the mint and puree the sauce until smooth. Place into a bowl and whisk in the butter. Strain the sauce through a chinois or other fine mesh sieve. Serve while hot.

* Remember when adding a hot liquid to a blender, do not fill it up all the way or the sauce will explode all over you and the kitchen.

**The dish shown in the picture was served at my culinary school graduation. The pea sauce was paired with a sage beurre blanc and fresh peas and asparagus. It was a huge hit with our guests.

Asparagus: Cook a batch of wide pasta such as pappardelle and add blanched asparagus cut into 1 inch pieces, crispy pancetta, cream that has been reduced (simmered in a pot for a few minutes until thick) and Parmesan cheese, dip whole asparagus stalks into a tempura batter, fry, and serve with a lemon aioli, or wrap asparagus in proscuitto* and grill.

*You may need a toothpick to keep it together

Artichoke: Steam the whole artichoke and eat the leaves with garlic butter, trim the artichokes and make a cream of artichoke soup, cutthe center heart of a steamed artichoke into a small dice and add it to a savory tart with herbs, cheese, and dijon mustard.

Don't be afraid to try different varietals of these veggies such as purple and white asparagus or Jerusalem artichokes. I encourage all of you to visit your local farmers market and create a meal based on the seasonal produce you find. You might be surprised of what delicious creations you come up with. Happy Eating!

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Hello Fellow Bloggers and Blogees

As I sit at my kitchen table writing into cyberspace, a batch of chicken stock is bubbling away on the stove. Anyone who claims to love food and cooking as much as I do should know how to make a decent chicken stock. It is the basis for so many tasty dishes. The thought of something being homemade, even something as simple as chicken stock, increases its goodness points by at least 10. You (readers) can expect me to be cooking up a storm and writing about my culinary adventures. I will admit my culinary failures and triumph in my delicious successes. I have waited a long time to have a blog. I promised myself when I started college that I could only have a blog once I finished or else I would not get any work done. I am proud to announce that I graduated from UCLA. Now I have to start my "real" life and have no idea where I am going. For the first time, I do not have a path, a plan for the future. The only thing I know is that I want food to be at the center. This blog is a way for me to share my passion with others.

What I hope to accomplish with this blog:

1. Share my recipes

2. Document my Foodie experiences

3. Provide reviews of cookbooks

4. Post interesting tidbits of culinary information

5. Whatever else comes my way

Join me on my food journey and get into the kitchen!