“the table is empty without corn tortillas.”

i have been in Mexico since the beginning of November and at my disposal are fresh, homemade tortillas. i can drive two minutes to the very small corner store that carries wine, milk, water, dog food and also find warm, handmade tortillas.  who is better than me?!

tortillas are a main staple in the Mexican diet. they are used in combination with different sauces, meats, cheeses, and vegetables; and they are used to prepare numerous dishes such as enchiladas, tacos, quesedillas, chilaquiles (my favorite Mexican breakfast!), tostados and flautas. tortillas are served at every meal in the Mexican household. and most folks here in Mexico make them fresh, even for breakfast–requiring whoever is preparing breakfast to wake up in the wee hours of the morning to have warm tortillas at the breakfast table.

i have been feeling a little under the weather; and my heart has been longing for home—for my house; for my kitchen; for my bed; for my dog; for my boyfriend. i was in need of a pot of soup to nurse the cold coming on and my heavy heart. and well, while in Mexico…..i went into the kitchen and made a pot of tortilla soup. the tortillas are used to thicken the soup and as a garnish. i like to add any vegetables i may have in the fridge to make this soup more hearty.  i had some carrots that were losing their snap so in the soup they went. so, in addition to what is in this recipe, feel free to add any veggies you like.

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Tortilla Soup

6 tablespoons canola oil

8 6-inch corn tortillas, halved and cut crosswise into 1/4-inch strips

1 medium yellow onion, chopped

5 large cloves garlic, smashed

1 tablespoon smoked paprika

2 teaspoons ground cumin

1 teaspoon ground coriander

1 teaspoon chili powder

1/4 teaspoon cayenne

4 and 1/2 cups  low-sodium chicken broth

one 28-ounce can of crushed tomatoes

3 bay leaves

2 1/2 teaspoons salt

1/4 cup lightly-packed cilantro leaves

2 pounds of boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut into 3/4-inch pieces

1 cup of 1-inch sliced carrots

1 avocado, cut into 1/2-inch dice

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in a large pot, heat the oil over moderately high heat. add half the tortilla strips and cook, stirring, until pale golden, about 1 minute. remove with a slotted spoon and drain on paper towels. repeat with the remaining tortilla strips.

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reduce the heat to moderately low. add the onion, garlic, and spices; cook, stirring, for 5 minutes. add the broth, tomatoes, bay leaves, salt, cilantro leaves, and one-third of the tortilla strips. bring to a simmer. cook, uncovered, for 30 minutes; remove the bay leaves.

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puree the soup in batches in a blender or food processor; pour it back into the pot. add the chicken and carrots and bring the soup back to a simmer, and cook for approximately 45 minutes. stir in the diced avocado.

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to serve, ladle the soup into bowls, top with remaining tortilla chips, cilantro leaves, avocado and a lime wedge.

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“i had the blues but i shook them loose.”

on October 22, i hit the road to drive across the country to Mexico. with an over-packed car, the man in the passenger seat and a dancing heart, i pulled away from my house and began the drive to Alexandria VA, my first stop on this adventure. for weeks leading up to my departure i had been bombarded with “aren’t you afraid?”, “be careful!”, and “aren’t you going to miss Marvin and Moonshine?”.  of course, there were those that were celebrating my adventurous nature, but there were definitely more folks who were questioning my sanity. i had resigned from my 14 year, upper 2-figure salary government job as a social worker; i had met a woman via the internet who would be meeting me in Phoenix to drive through Mexico with me; and i would be leaving two of the most precious things on earth–my man and my dog, for 2 and 1/2 months. i was throwing complete caution to the wind; i was throwing my life into the winds of the universe, assuring myself that the universe will take care of me; that everything will fall into the place that it is supposed to once this adventure is over.

several days into the trek across the country i dropped my boyfriend off at the Nashville airport. he, unlike me had responsibilities–a job and single dogparenthood for the next few months. my heart started to hurt soon after we left our rented east Nashville apartment and headed toward the airport. girl puh-lease! you have been through worse; and you celebrate your independent nature. don’t you dare cry. but cry, i did.

i pride myself on my independent nature, my adventurous spirit and my bravery. i have always been independent; i had no choice. my single parent suffered from mental illness and i had to learn to take care of myself at a very young age. and up until now there was never a man in my life that i could count on, that i could lean on should i need to. so, i have always had to take care of myself and very rarely asked anyone for any help.

my adventurous spirit and my bravery are another thing. when you grow up poor there is not much exposure to life outside of your neighborhood. and experiencing anything that is different from what you know can be terrifying. we did not have a car, so our neighborhood really was pretty much all i saw. the little exposure beyond my neighborhood were vacations with my aunt and uncle to Old Orchard Beach, Maine and visits to my uncle’s brother’s home in Nashua, New Hampshire. i remember being overwhelmed with fear that something bad was going to happen to my dad while we were gone, and feeling so insecure at times while visiting my uncle’s family in New Hampshire. his family was always so kind to me and my brother. but, when you grow up poor, poverty is a monkey on your back. no matter how far you have come there are times when that monkey will remind you of the days of a rumbling belly and cold showers; it will bring the shame of being poor to the forefront. whenever my uncle’s niece or nephews had friends over when we were visiting, that monkey would dance on my head. my clothes did not look like their clothes. my hair was an unruly catastrophe. my sneakers had holes in them….i remember peering out the front door window at my uncle’s niece and nephew playing with their friends. my uncle’s sister-in-law said, “go outside and play with them.” i looked at her and said that i did not want to. when she asked why, these words came out of my mouth: because i’m ugly. poverty causes many medical ailments but it can also emotionally whip your behind.

while attending community college, i lived in relatively the same area that i grew up in. when i transferred to the university in town, i decided to move on campus as it was the cheaper alternative to renting an apartment. two weeks before moving across town to my dormitory, i had lost damn near 20 pounds due to the anxiety-induced stomach ailments i dealt with.  because of my earlier life, the idea of moving mere blocks away from what i knew terrified me. but i forced myself to suck it up; and praise the goddess it was one of the best things i have ever done. that was just a step…it would take many years to develop my current adventurous and brave spirit.

during, and for many years after college, my main focus was survival. i was one of one. i alone was solely responsible for my life. there was no one i could turn to when i had but one sausage dog in my freezer until payday…eventually i secured a job with state government as a social worker and soon after i bought my house. for the first time ever, i felt a sense of security; i felt my roots finally being planted. i had a decent paying job, my own house and my dog. and i thrived on that sense of security. i became unnaturally attached to that security and planted my roots way deeper than they had to be. other than going to work, i hated being away from my house and my dog. that monkey was always on my back reminding me that something could happen to rip me of my security. add to that dancing monkey on my back: my father had died of cancer when i was still a teenager and my only sibling died of a heroin overdose in 1997. maternal abandonment as a baby, childhood poverty and the loss of my father and brother stirred the pot that would become the Insecurity-Anxiety Stew. i hated being away from my home for any extended time. seriously, friends can attest to this. i felt so safe and secure in my home with my beloved dog, Asia at my feet and i didn’t want any interruptions in the security that i had been longing for all of my life. i now look back at that woman and i do not recognize her.

as i have told before, it took a really bad night with my ex-boyfriend to prompt me, on a whim, to book a flight to Costa Rica and make a reservation at an artist boutique hotel in Costa Rica (http://thefoodanista.com/we-should-all-start-to-live-before-we-get-too-old). yes, this woman who had never been out of the country; yes, this woman who thrived in the confinement of her home said fuck it in a really big way.

and i have not looked back since. my adventurous spirit started to bloom that night in February 2011 and it has just continued to explode with beautiful colors. this adventure is like nothing i have ever done: quit my job, drive across the country and live in another country alone for 2 months.

return to the scene of dropping my boyfriend off at the Nashville airport. while i allowed myself to enjoy my travels after my boyfriend returned home, i longed for him. i longed for our dog. i longed to be in our bed. i longed for the security and comfort of our routine. by the time i reached Phoenix i was an emotional, irrational mess. i had spent the two days prior in the fabulous, quirky town of Bisbee in Arizona (to give you an idea of the quirkiness, its nickname is Mayberry on Acid). i fell in love with it. i had booked one night in a just as fabulous and just as quirky cottage. i was not quite sure what my plans were after my one night in Bisbee, so i had made no other reservations. apparently, Halloween is legendary in Bisbee. and well, it was Halloween. so, i scrambled to find a room for the night. it was in a building with several rooms with shared bathrooms and it boasts as having the smallest bar in Arizona. and that smallest bar was in the room right next to mine. i did not get a wink of sleep. there was a horrific odor that stayed in my nostrils for days; and even if i was able to close my eyes and fall asleep i would have been afraid of what might crawl on my bed……at 3 AM i left and drove to Phoenix. my travel partner that would be driving through Mexico with me was expecting me to pick her up at the airport at 12 noon and then we would drive to El Centro, CA for the night where we would meet a 3rd woman, before we crossed the border as a caravan and began our drive through Mexico. well, she missed her flight. and i had to roam around Phoenix until 9:00 PM until her new flight arrived. i was exhausted. i was already feeling the pangs of homesickness. my physical exhaustion just pushed me over the emotional cliff. i cried on the phone to my boyfriend that i was miserable; that i wanted to get on a flight and come back home……nose running, eyes swollen red….it was not pretty. in fact, it was downright ugly.

but, i carried on. and we drove 3 days through Mexico to get to my destination. and things did not get easier. the first day of driving went pretty smooth; however the next day was supposed to be about a 7 hour drive; it turned into a 15 hour day and near the very end of the drive i was alone in my car following my two fellow travelers in another car. they went through military check-point without an issue. as soon as i pulled up i was ordered to get out of my vehicle and my car was being thoroughly checked—-glove compartment, bags and boxes being opened and rummaged through; all the while i am standing with three military officers with machine guns slung across their chests who were flirting with me in broken English. finally one of my travel companions walked up to my car speaking to the men in Spanish. once they realized that i was indeed not alone, i was free to be on my way. the entire scene was quite unnerving. i know i was targeted because they assumed that i was a female traveling alone. and what if i had been traveling alone??? soldiers were rummaging through my belongings and several officers with machine guns across their chests were flirting with me. inside i was indignant; yet i knew i had absolutely no power in the situation. i was at their mercy. i can not tell you how thankful i was that i indeed was not traveling through Mexico alone. we drove another 40 minutes or so until we reached Loreto where we found rooms for the night. as i was falling asleep that night, i said out loud what the fuck am i doing?

the next day we had reached our destination. hallelujah (that hallelujah would be short-lived). i spent my first night in Todos Santos at the home of one of my travel companions. i was up bright and early the next day to meet a mutual friend of mine and the homeowners whose house i would be living in for the next two months. i arrived at our meeting place early.  i was anxious to get settled after living on the road for the past two weeks. well, my friend forgot that she was supposed to meet me; i drove to her house the next town over and got stuck in 3 feet of sand (a result of the category 4 hurricane that had terrorized this region back in September); the protective plastic on the bottom of my car was pulled off by a large rock on the road leading to the house i would be staying in (another result of the hurricane). but, eventually i turned the key to what would be my writing sanctuary.

the pangs of homesickness stayed with me for days. internet service was down at the house which prevented me from doing any “writing” as all my documents are cloud based; it prevented communication with my boyfriend. i was feeling pretty sorry for myself. then one morning, i walked out my back door and walked about 300 feet to my backyard: the pacific ocean. i was overwhelmed by the beauty. i breathed soul-deep breaths; i closed my eyes; listened to the crashing waves while the sea mist fell upon me. i was standing in a foreign country being hugged by natural beauty. me. the once motherless little girl. me. the once little girl whose childhood was filled with hunger, rats, cold showers….me. the young woman who fought hard to make it to and through college. me. who has worked with folks who will never know life outside of their impoverished neighborhoods. me. whose brother was unable to survive our childhood dysfunction and will never have the opportunity to be adventurous. well, it was at that moment that i shook my blues loose.

what i know is that you can not grow if you give into your fears. what i know is you have to be uncomfortable and afraid at times in order to grow. what i know is that had i given into my fears and ran from changes that made me uncomfortable, i would still be that the poor little girl in a grown woman’s body.

be brave.

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“got taken in. we feasted on olives from the fridge. we stood alone and we ate….”

i’m snacker. i can’t help it. i get an urge for something salty or something sweet and i have no control; i must feed that urge. so, i like to keep things on hand for snacking to avoid feeding my urges with snacks that are store bought and filled with preservatives. therefore, every couple of weeks i spend a day in my kitchen making snacks to have on hand so that i do not run to the store and buy a box of yankee doodles or a bag of pork rinds (cold yankee doodles are divinity as far as i am concerned! and if necessary i will drive all over town in search of a bag of pork rinds.).

one of my favorite snack staples is marinated olives. first off, i love, love, love olives– all that salty, cured goodness exploding in my mouth—there are no adequate words to describe what it does to me. my marinated olives take them to a level that should be illegal. they are salty and savory…they are just packed with immense flavor. sometimes i just take a fork and eat them right from the jar. other times, i throw some in my mini food processor and make a tapenade and spread it on a piece of a baguette.  i also serve these olives during cocktail hour at my house. sure, you can buy a jar of olives and place them in a bowl for your guests, but serving these olives will have your guests believe that you spent more than the 10-15 minute it takes to make them; and your guests will feel pretty special that you put the effort in.

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Marinated Olives

1 cup of Kalamata Olives, drained and rinsed

1 cup of Green Olives, drained and rinsed

1 tablespoon of Herbs de Provence

1 teaspoon of crushed Red Pepper Flakes

2 Dried Chilis

1 teaspoon of Fennel Seed

4 Cloves of Garlic, crushed

Zest of one Orange, removed in large strips with a vegetable peeler

1/4 cup of Olive Oil

place the olive oil in all of the ingredients EXCEPT the olives in a skillet over low heat. let the ingredients infuse into the olive oil for 8-10 minutes (be careful that the garlic does not burn!).

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add the olives and allow the olives to steep over low heat for 10 minutes.

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you can serve these right away and they are FABULOUS served warm. or, place in a sealed jar. i prefer letting the olives sit for several days. the longer you let the olives sit, the deeper the flavor.

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“kissing don’t last but cookery do.”

listen, my man loves my 5 inch stilettos and my sexy vintage dresses. he loves my signature red lipstick. he loves when i pucker those red lips and place them upon his. but, trust me he remembers me chopping, dicing, sauteing in my 5 inch heels; he remembers my stained red lips being cleaned by my tongue while tasting a recipe that i am preparing; he remembers the flavors that waltzed on his tongue and shimmied down to his tummy much more than the kiss i gave him before he left work this morning….and trust me, i am a good kisser. my man knows that i have put my heart and soul into meals that i prepare for him. he recalls meals out loud that i have made him and succinctly describes the flavors and how the dish made him feel. the proof is in the pudding, y’all and it is true that kissing don’t last but cookery do.

this dish is quite a task but i make it easier by doing all of the preparations the night before so that when i set out to cook the dish all that tedium is taken care of. i throw on the Cuban station on Pandora, pour a glass of red and prepare this meal with the help of Perez Prado, Beny More’ and Celia Cruz. and the results have slaying power; you will be the recipient of long, deep thankful kisses–even if the kissing is sadly not bound to last.  but, at least you now know how to garner those kisses.

Mojo Pork Chops

1 cup plus 1/4 cup orange juice, divided
1/2 cup plus 1/4 cup fresh lime juice, divided
1/4 cup of white wine vinegar
4 1-inch-thick bone-in pork chops
1 tablespoon freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons kosher salt
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 tablespoon garlic powder
1 tablespoon onion powder
1 tablespoon dried oregano
3 tablespoons of canola oil
1/2 cup chopped red onion
4 cloves garlic, chopped
1/2 cup white wine
chopped avocado, chopped tomato and cilantro for garnish

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combine 1 cup orange juice, 1/2 cup lime juice, and vinegar. place the pork chops in a large zip lock bag, pour the orange juice/lime/vinegar mixture over the pork chops and marinate for 1 and 1/2 hours in the refrigerator.

in a small bowl, combine all dried spices. pat the pork chops dry with a paper towel and rub with the dry spice mixture.

heat the canola oil in a large pan over high heat. place the pork chops in the pan and sear on 1 side until brown. flip over and turn the heat down to medium-low. add the red onion and saute for 2 minutes. add the garlic and continue to cook until garlic begins to brown. pour in the remaining 1/4 cup orange juice, 1/4 cup lime juice, and 1/2 cup of white wine. simmer until the liquid is slightly reduced and begins to thicken. the pork chops should be cooked through at this point.

remove the pork chops from the pan and put on a warm plate and tent with foil. continue to cook the juices in pan until they are reduced by half. plate the pork chops and garnish with chopped avocado and tomato. 

this recipe goes perfect with Latin Potatoes:  http://thefoodanista.com/keep-calm-and-put-sofrito-in-it

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“keep calm and put sofrito in it.”

sofrito is what makes Latin food so flavorful and robust; it is what makes you stop mid-chew and say damn that is good. sofrito consists of diced vegetables, spices and herbs that are sautéed in oil. it is the foundation of many Latin dishes. no Latin kitchen would be without a supply of homemade sofrito available at all times. you may be tempted to run to the grocery store and buy a jar of sofrito. i beg of you, DON”T DO IT. sofrito is very easy to make and the quality of the dish you add it to jumps ten-fold when you use homemade sofrito. how can i say this….sofrito is the butter on your bread; the tomatoes in your ketchup; the 5 inch sexy stiletto on your foot;  the red lips on the pin-up girl….have i made myself clear?

there are many variations of sofrito and you can find many in cookbooks and via a quick google search. or like me, gather the recipes from your Latin friends–many of which have been handed down from one generation to the next.  below is the recipe for Latin Potatoes which uses a quick sofrito. this sofrito is not one that i would keep jarred in my fridge. but with the cream and sherry in it, it works perfectly for the purpose of adding it to potatoes.

i love serving these potatoes with grilled steaks that have been marinated in a Latin inspired dry-rub. these potatoes also are perfect with Mojo Pork Chops: http://thefoodanista.com/kissing-dont-last-but-cookery-do

tip: a great breakfast dish: form the leftover potatoes into small patties and fry them in some olive oil until they are crispy and warmed through and serve with eggs and chorizo.

Latin Potatoes 

2 tablespoons salt
2 pounds of Yukon Gold potatoes
3 tablespoons of vegetable oil
1/2 cup chopped red onions
1 red bell pepper, chopped
1 green bell pepper, chopped
3 tablespoons chopped garlic
2 tablespoons of tomato paste
1/4 cup of Sherry
6 tablespoons of tomato sauce (i use Goya tomato sauce)
3 tablespoons of unsalted butter
1/2 cup of heavy cream
3 tablespoons of salt
salt and pepper to taste
2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro leaves

*optional i love heat in my food, so i also use 1 seeded and diced jalapeno

photo 4 (1)cook the potatoes in a large pot of water and the two tablespoons of salt. cook the potatoes until they are fork tender.


while the potatoes are cooking, heat oil in a sauce pan over medium heat. when the oil is hot, add the red onions and peppers and saute for 4 minutes. add the garlic and cook until the garlic begins to brown.

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lower the heat and add tomato paste and stir for 3 to 5 minutes. deglaze the pan with the white wine and reduce by half.

photo 2 (2)add the tomato sauce and bring to simmer for 5 minutes. stir in the butter and cream and set aside. cover the pan to keep warm.

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when the potatoes are fork tender, drain the water and mash slowly adding the sofrito mixture. mix in the cilantro. season with salt and pepper to taste. 

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“these collard greens is goin’ quicker than the forests are evergreen….”

i love me some collard greens! this beautiful leafy vegetable can do no wrong as far as i am concerned. collard greens are packed with nutritional value and are mighty tasty.

if you’re looking for a vegetable that’s a great source of calcium, collard greens are it. one cup of cooked collard greens has more calcium than a glass of skim milk.  collard greens are also high in the carotenoids lutein and zeaxanthin, which are important for eye health; they’re very high in vitamins A and C, manganese, folate and dietary fiber; and they’re a good source of potassium and vitamins B2 and B6.

if the health benefits are not enough to get you to your local farmer’s market and pick a bunch up, let me entice you with how delicious and diverse they are! collard greens hold up very well to heat which makes them an option for many dishes. you can add them to soups and stews; you can saute them; you can prepare them the good old soul food way by slow cooking them with some salt pork, ham or bacon. you can make stuffed collard greens (stuffed with herbs and rice); you can slow cook the collards with onions and then toss with pasta; you can use collards in Asian stir-fry. you can replace lasagna noodles with collard green leaves. really folks, your options are endless. 

this recipe is a fabulous accompaniment to Asian dishes. i made these greens this past weekend to accompany chicken satay and peanut dipping sauce.

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this recipe is so hearty and filling, it can be a main dish with a piece of crusty bread.

Indonesian Coconut Collard Greens

1½ teaspoon of ground turmeric 
7 shallots, roughly chopped 
6 cloves garlic, roughly chopped 
2 red Thai chiles, minced 
1 4″ piece ginger, peeled and thinly sliced 
2 large fresh stalks lemongrass 
3 tablespoon canola oil 
2 teaspoons of sugar 
1 teaspoon of kosher salt, plus more to taste 
1 14-oz. can unsweetened coconut milk 
2 lbs. collard greens, stemmed/cut crosswise into ½ strips (make sure you wash the greens very well!) 

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combine turmeric, shallots, garlic, chiles, and ginger in a small food processor and purée, adding up to 4 tbsp. water, to form a smooth paste; set aside.

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trim the tips and root ends of the lemongrass stalks and remove the tough outer layer. smash lemongrass to flatten and tie it all together with a piece of kitchen twine (you can use a mallet; a cast iron pan…i use a brick for all my kitchen smashing needs).

heat the oil in a medium-sized pot over medium-low heat; add reserved paste and lemongrass; cook, stirring often, until very fragrant, 10–12 minutes.

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add the sugar, salt, and coconut milk and bring to a simmer over medium heat.

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add the collard greens and cook, stirring occasionally, until just tender, about 45 minutes.

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remove lemongrass; season with salt and pepper.

photo (95)NOTE: when i re-heat leftovers, i add some coconut milk.

“life is a blank canvas, and you need to throw all the paint on it you can.”

i desire to live life fully; to throw as many colors and shades of colors onto the canvas of my life. i want to hold paint brushes in both hands and just splatter away. i want to get naked and roll around in the colors of the world; to feel the green grass kissing my skin; to be embraced by the salty aqua waters of the earth….i can not imagine living my life without adventure and exploration. as a child, the world for me was within the confinements of my poor, urban community. i had no idea of the beautiful canvases full of color and life right within my own city. my life became more fulfilling once i decided that the world is a bookcase full of books that must be read; that i must dive in and read every book.

and i do so through my travels and making friends across the globe. i do so by reading. i do so by trying new things often. and i frequently do so in my kitchen. i love experimenting with new spices and ingredients; to whip up dishes from across the globe. i pride myself on being brave and adventurous and this crosses over into the kitchen.  the adventure, for me, is the entire process—from shopping for ingredients to tasting something i have never tasted before.

if i am making an Indian dish, i do not shop at the local grocery store; i drive twenty minutes to the Indian market. if i am making an African dish, i drive across town to the African store. if i am making a Polish dish, i head back to my childhood neighborhood and go to the Polish market that has been there since i was a child. could i get the ingredients i need in the aisles of Stop and Shop? probably…..but, i hear stories and learn ways of preparing dishes when i shop at the international markets. i have learned about so many spices, herbs, vegetables, beans, etc. that i would not have known existed had i not shopped at the international markets. i have learned the uses of such spices and herbs; and about the preparation of such beans and vegetables by immersing myself in recipes, shopping at the international markets and getting into the kitchen and preparing a meal.

i recently experimented with a Korean condiment: gochujang. what is gochujang you ask? well, it is a staple in every Korean kitchen. it is used in stews, soups, stir-fries, to marinate meat, as is for a condiment to many dishes, and it is used in one of my favorite Korean dishes–bibimbap.  it is savory, pungent, sweet and has a kick to it. it is made from red chili, glutinous rice, fermented soybeans and salt.

Gochujang

many years ago, it was naturally fermented  outside in clay pots over several months; however once it began being made commercially the practice of naturally fermenting it slowed down drastically.  here is a link to a great blog post about gochujang and choosing a good gochujang:

http://oneforkonespoon.wordpress.com/2010/07/14/the-best-gochujang/

gochujang fermenting in clay pots

gochujang fermenting in clay pots

this marinade recipe is delicious and versatile. most recently i used it to marinate pork tenderloin chops that i purchased from a wonderful butcher here in Connecticut. the chops were from a local free-range pig; it cost me about $35 for 7 chops. however, i have used this marinade on pork-butt steaks that cost me $7.00 for 3.  the marinade is amazing for chicken wings and chicken thighs.

i have marinated my meat and chicken for at least three hours and up to two days.

pork-butt steaks slathered with the marinade

pork-butt steaks slathered with the marinade

i found all the ingredients except the Saki at my local Asian grocery store: Hong Kong Market on Whitney Avenue in New Haven, CT. you will have to buy the Saki at a wine shop. i have fried, baked and grilled the meats and chicken that i have marinated and by far, my favorite is grilling. i love biting into a piece of charred gochujang marinade. but, baking and frying deliver delicious outcomes, as well.

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Spicy Gochujang Marinade

10 garlic cloves, peeled, crushed
3 inch piece of ginger, peeled, sliced
½ cup dry sake
½ cup gochujang 
½ cup mirin
¼ cup vegetable oil

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place all of the ingredients into a food processor and puree until it is the consistency of a smooth marinade. now, get marinating!!!

***i always put about 1/2 cup of the marinade aside to use for basting during the cooking process.

grilled, marinated pork loin chop

grilled, marinated pork loin chop

“good soup is one of the prime ingredients of good living. for soup can do more to lift the spirits and stimulate the appetite than any other one dish.”

when one is in need of comfort and uplifting, a pot of soup is what comes to mind. there is something about a bowl filled with hearty ingredients that just puts the mind and heart at ease.  a bowl of soup placed in front of you, conjures up memories of childhood: steamy soup after hours of playing in the snow; a bowl of soup made with love to “feed your cold” as you lay in bed watching cartoons….. a bowl of hot soup can warm us on bitter cold, winter days; and a bowl of cold soup can cool us on a scorching, hot day.

this soup recipe can be served hot or cold. and it is packed with great health value from the quinoa.

quinoa

Curry Quinoa Soup

Soup

1  tablespoon of olive oil
1 large yellow onion, chopped
4 medium cloves garlic, chopped
1 tablespoon of  Madras curry powder
1 cup dry white wine
1 28-oz. can whole peeled tomatoes in juice
4 cups low sodium vegetable broth
1 tablespoon finely minced fresh ginger
1 teaspoon of whole fennel seed
kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

heat the oil in a saucepan over medium heat. add the onion, garlic, and curry powder and cook, stirring occasionally, until the onion is soft, about 4 minutes.

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add the wine and boil to reduce by half, scraping up any brown bits on the bottom of the pan, about 4 minutes.

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crush the tomatoes with your hands and add them and their juice to the pan along with the broth, ginger, fennel seed, and 1/2 teaspoon of salt.

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simmer for 20 minutes. season with salt and pepper, and remove from the heat.

Quinoa
2 cups low sodium vegetable broth
1 cup white quinoa, well rinsed
1 tablespoon of unsalted butter
5 quarter-size slices fresh ginger
2 whole star anise
2 large cloves of garlic, lightly crushed and peeled
1 3-inch cinnamon stick
1/2 teaspoon of ground cumin
kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
thinly sliced basil leaves
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combine the broth, quinoa, butter, ginger, star anise, garlic, cinnamon, cumin, and 1/4 teaspoon each salt and pepper in a 2- to 3-quart saucepan and bring to a simmer. turn the heat to medium low, cover, and cook until the quinoa is tender and the liquid is absorbed, about 10 to 15 minutes. remove from the heat and let stand for 3 to 5 minutes. uncover, discard the aromatics, and fluff with a fork.

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to serve hot, reheat the soup, stir in the quinoa, ladle the soup into bowls, and garnish with the basil leaves.

to serve cold, chill the soup after adding the quinoa. once chilled, ladle the soup into bowls and garnish with the basil leaves.

“well, i like to eat, sleep, drink, and be in love. i like to work, read, learn, and understand life.”

it seems like i have reunited with an old friend…..its been some time since i have written. but there have been vacations, summer colds and life contemplations; there has been the 9 to 5, getting lost in piles of books, and writing about life; there has been love, wine, great food and weekends of late morning slumber. it is very hard to step out of such a lovely haze and sit at a computer. but, last night’s dinner was so tasty and easy i just have to share it.

photo (87)

Lettuce Wraps

2 tsp of olive oil
1 pound ground beef
3 inch knob of fresh ginger, peeled and finely grated
3 scallions, chopped
3 garlic cloves, finely minced
2 Tbsp. soy sauce
1 tsp. crushed red pepper flakes
¼ cup hoisin sauce
kosher salt
ground black pepper
Boston, leaves washed and dried
1/2 cup salted peanuts, chopped and chopped scallions for garnish

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in a large skillet, heat oil over medium-high heat. add the ground beef and cook until browned, about 10 minutes. stir in ginger, scallions, garlic, soy sauce, red pepper flakes and hoisin sauce. cook for about 10 minutes. season, if needed, with salt and black pepper. 

photo (85)layer two lettuce leaves per wrap. place a heaping spoonful of beef mixture into each lettuce cup, sprinkle with peanuts, and chopped scallions.photo (88)

“like all magnificent things, it’s very simple.”

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polenta…..so very simple….water, milk and cream, corn meal….and it is magnificent.

this simple divinity has its roots in Northern Italy. it is very true that a nation of people identify themselves as a distinct culture by the traditional foods they eat. for the Italians, it is often both pasta and pizza that are the cornerstones of what makes Italian food Italian. however, polenta is a humble staple food of Northern Italy that does not get the accolades it deserves, but it certainly should be considered the third cornerstone that completes the Italian food trinity. polenta is so very versatile and deep-deep-deep soul satisfying. 

the key ingredient for polenta, yellow cornmeal is a staple in my pantry. it is cheap and it goes a long way, especially when you use it to make polenta.  polenta is the foundation on which you can build magnificent meals. you can spoon it into a bowl in its creamy form and top it with thick soups and stews; you can make casseroles with polenta; top with nuts, seeds, dried and fresh fruits and milk for a hearty breakfast; top with pasta sauce and meatballs; replace your baked potato with polenta and top with your favorite baked potato toppings….seriously your options are endless.

i love to make a pot of polenta and make polenta rounds. i get about ten rounds and utilizing them for various meals (breakfast, lunch and dinner) they last me about four days. there are so many topping options for polenta rounds; and the rounds work well as an hors d’oeuvres, as lunch (with a side salad), as a side dish or a full meal. last week, i topped a grilled polenta cake with shredded leftover slow cooked pork ribs, black beans, mashed avocado and sour cream. one polenta cake topped with all of that goodness was enough for each person at my dinner table. you can top polenta rounds with fresh fruit, yogurt and honey for breakfast or top with a crispy fried egg, crumbled sausage and a drizzle of hot sauce for breakfast; and good god, a poached egg over crispy polenta….there are no words.

polenta is the foundation for whatever food masterpiece you wish to create.

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the kind of pot you use for cooking polenta makes a huge difference. to prevent the polenta from sticking and scorching, make sure you use a heavy pot. unless you have a copper polenta pot, enameled cast iron is the best choice when making polenta.

this is one of my favorite polenta round recipes. i will serve it as a side dish or as an hors d’oeuvre. the ingredients are simple and it is so easy to make. the key with polenta is to add the cornmeal slowly, otherwise you will have very lumpy polenta. and, while i do not mind lumps when i am using my polenta as a base for stew or soups (i can’t help myself, sometimes i just love biting into a thick polenta jewel), for the rounds, you want the polenta to be smooth.  you can make the polenta rounds and the onions up to two days ahead. just reheat the onions and pan grill the polenta rounds when ready to serve. if you can, purchase local cheese and local honey; it gives such a snap of freshness.

Grilled Polenta Cakes with Caramelized Red Onions and Goat Cheese

Polenta

1 cup of whole milk 1 cup of heavy cream 2 cups of water 1 teaspoon of kosher salt 1 cup of polenta 2 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil (divided)

  • Onions

1 tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil 1 tablespoon of unsalted butter 1 medium red onion, thinly sliced

Topping

2 ounces of goat cheese, crumbled honey to drizzle

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Polenta

prepare a 9×13 pan for the polenta by coating it with 1 tablespoon of olive oil.

in a large pot, bring the water, milk, heavy cream, and salt to a boil. slowly whisk in the polenta. turn the heat to low, and continue whisking for 5 minutes, or until polenta is smooth and creamy. spread the polenta in a 9×13 baking dish, and set aside to cool.

Polenta

Onions

while the polenta is setting, add the butter and olive oil to a cast iron pan (or other heavy bottomed pan) and set the heat to  medium-low heat. add the sliced onions and a sprinkle of kosher salt. cook, stirring occasionally until soft and caramelized- about 25-30  minutes. redonions

Grilled Polenta Cakes

put the remaining 1 tablespoon of olive oil into a skillet, set over medium heat. using a 3″ round cookie cutter, cut circles out of the firm polenta, and place in the heated skillet. cook until slightly browned and crusty on one side, about 2 minutes, then flip and cook the other sides another two minutes. 10293653_10203066414734155_6620713100702553552_o   grilled-polenta

Assembly

to assemble the polenta cakes, place grilled polenta cakes on plates, add one tablespoon of caramelized red onions to each cake, top each with about one teaspoon of crumbled goat cheese, and drizzle with honey. 1507518_10203066409094014_4799470990853380379_o