Monday, November 15, 2010

Tomato Soup for the Soul

The weather is beginning its transition from thick, nearly palpable air to its frigid winds that cut like knives. It’s the kind of weather that calls for hearty soups and hot cocoa topped with homemade whipped cream. It will be my first winter here in Victoria. And from the looks of it, it may be a cold one. Despite the climate and location further south, its nearness to the coast and humidity will affect the dew point and therefore the way that it feels. The digital thermometer that so commonly comes with newer model cars may read 52°F outside, but I am pretty sure that you’ll take a step outside and wonder why you didn’t grab a heavier jacket and maybe even that wool scarf your sister got you last Christmas.

With that said, I had a hankering to make some tomato basil soup for the past week and I finally did, tonight. I got out of work later than I had hoped to, ran into a few glitches in the works and am now questioning my ability as a professional – but that’s a different entry. It was a quarter after midnight when I stepped in the door to my apartment and I already had the gears greased and fully in motion about how to go about it. I knew that I wanted to make a tomato basil soup, so I had already purchased everything that I was going to need to get cooking, literally. I don’t quite have the access or the funds to use all fresh ingredients, I have three student loan payments and a healthy serving of credit card debt, so I had to settle for some canned goods and dried herbs. The quality of canned and dried ingredients is also questionable because of said budget.

So I started with some slivered garlic sautéed just slightly in a small pat of butter. To that I added some dried herbs: basil, oregano, parsley and a bay leaf. I let the garlic infuse a little and then poured some chicken broth in the pot. The pork fried rice that I cooked earlier on my break used some broth, so there wasn’t as much as I would have liked to have had in the soup for a base and some depth. I let the flavors meld for a few minutes and then I added a can of diced tomatoes.

In stride with the ever-changing habits of consumers, the variety of canned goods has grown in the last decade. Choices of cream soups, canned vegetables, even canned meats, have evolved and nearly every label wears a recipe or offers a variety of vitamins or other important substances for healthy lifestyles. Case in point, H-E-B specifically has “canned tomatoes” on one of its signs directing consumers to an array of canned tomatoes. You may think to yourself, “And?” Well my friend, as I assume you are since you’re reading my blog, allow me to spill the tomato sauce and stain that brain of yours with the variety of canned tomatoes out there.

Let me start by saying that tomatoes are included in a vast list of culinary cuisines that require tomatoes as the base. There are soups (tomato basil), pastas (spaghetti), chili (Tex-Mex), casseroles dishes (eggplant Parmesan), rice dishes (paella),et cetera. I won’t even touch on the number of brands out there, I solely shop according to price. If its inexpensive, its in the basket. OK, so let us begin.

First off, there is the style of canned tomato. There are the whole, diced, halved, pureed, pasted, sauced, crushed, quartered and stewed kinds. Then the consumer gets into the specifics: seasoned or left alone; salt-added or no salt-added; are other ingredients added, like garlic, parsley, mushrooms, et cetera; or how they are canned, in water, oil, or other liquids. And the seasoning alone can be a tricky one. You only have a label to go by, so I say you follow your gut and go with the product that resembles its natural self as closely as possible. I go with the diced or halved variety with no salt-added, or even low-sodium, variety in water. If you follow the route that I've chosen, you can chose your spices and adjust that as you like.

To eliminate the larger pieces of tomato. I used my immersion blender to puree the soup some and create a more bisque-like texture. I don't like my soups so creamy, because I like the idea of having some texture, otherwise I feel like I should be drinking it through a straw.

In the end, I would call it a successful first attempt. It was tomato soup. Perhaps not exactly what I had envisioned when I first started thinking about the recipe, it was soup, made with tomatoes – which was the goal at hand, right? Right.

The next time I make some soup, however, I am going to purchase a nice sieve. I was chewing – though I took steps to achieve texture – on the dried herbs more than anything else. If I had a sieve I could have eliminated those pieces while retaining the texture that I wanted. If I had a variety of sieves I could even make for a creamier soup, for instances like a potato soup or even a gazpacho.

All in all, it was delicious. I shared it with a friend and even enjoyed a grilled cheese sandwich made with Swiss to help mellow the acidity. Swiss is a more creamy-flavored cheese than cheddar, though cheddar would have provided a different kind of note against the tomatoes. Using an herb-butter for the grilled cheese would have also been a nice complement to the soup, but the soup was well-seasoned as it was.

I'll be trying more soups here in the near future as it continues to get colder and I begin to see less of the sun. I look forward to it.

Friday, October 15, 2010

First try at blueberry pie

Today I made two blueberry pies. Yum. It was my first try at blueberry pie and I had a few ideas that I wanted to try out.

First, I wanted to use sage infused sugar for the sweetening agent. I bought some fresh sage and then placed some sprigs in plastic bag with some sugar. The trick is to rub the sugar with the sage leaves to get pull the natural oils out and into the sugar. Sage has a subtle flavor to it that I thought might go well with the tartness of the fruit.

Second, I wanted to use a different acid source than the typical lemon juice that most pies call for. Last week, I purchased two bottles of red wine – one that I enjoyed and the other, not so much. The kind of wine I enjoyed escapes me, but the second was a petite sirah. It was really acidic. There was quite a bite packed in there. A splash of water would have fixed that, I just opted to use it for cooking versus drinking. Since it was so acidic I figured I could use it in the pie.

Third, I want wanted to make a crumble for this pie instead of using a second crust. The textures of the blueberries is much different those of the apples and parsnips. I also wanted to use the sage sugar in the crumb topping.

On a last-minute decision, I decided to use some plums and an overripe nectarine in the pie as well. The other night, I decided to soak some aging plums in the petite sirah and was planning on eating them up after dinner that evening. Things didn't happen that way so they ended up soaking up the wine for an extra night. I tested a piece of plum this morning when I was preparing to hit the local H-E-B for groceries, and was delighted how the plums had mellowed out the wine. I had a bruised and overripe nectarine on my dinner table, that I wasn't going to eat – a texture thing, it was too soft for my liking – so I through in the wine bath. As Emeril Lagasse would say, they would be getting happy... or is that Mario Batalli. I can't remember, I haven't watched the boob in a few months.

I added the drunken stone fruit to the blueberry mix and they provided some extra body and some contrasting flavors. Yum. I also added a chiffonade of sage to the blueberries to add an additional hint of the herb. It was a success. Everyone in the newsroom enjoyed it. I even served it with the cinnamon whipped cream I made for the apple and parsnip pie.

While I was making this set of pies, I started thinking that it may be nice to open a small dessert bakery with early hours and closing at 1 p.m. so that I can go to work. Maybe I can open my sandwich shop here for a trial run. Then a few other options started to weave their way into the thicket of my thoughts and the daydreams began to develop just as the edges of the crusts were browning.

Another option would be to open a catering business. I could maybe even rent the kitchen here at the Advocate to prepare pies for people that wanted them. However, if I decide to go that route, I have to get a certified to handle and sell food. I can do that at the local college if I really wanted to pursue that. I have a friend, Marc, who wants to open up a pizza in the near future. I could see if he'll let me bake some pies and make some desserts for him. I can make some awesome sweets, let him try them out and see if he would like to give them a try at his pizza eatery. That could be exciting. If only he would let me do that I would be thrilled. Right now, I just have to keep practicing and perfecting my recipes.

In retrospect, I think I may have used a bit too much wine in the first pie or at least I think I could have omitted the lemon juice. The pie was little more runny than the second pie. The first pie was a little more saturated in sugar than the second, which I ended up adding some reserve berries too when I realized there wasn't enough berries in the mix. Also, I think that the crumble could have crunchier. I added some store bought granola to it, it added some texture like I wanted. Next time, I think I'll add some slivered almonds, crushed walnuts, or some oats. That might be nice.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Apple and Parsnip Pie

Hurrah! It was a hit. It was something that I had been wanting to test for a while, and I finally had a chance to make it before work. I'm so glad. I brought it into work for some feedback and to feed my co-workers – journalists love free eats, I told you that didn't I? They enjoyed it so much, I didn't even get a chance to taste it. I'm excited about perfecting it. Or at least getting the texture down. I think that I need to try some different apples next time. I don't think that they Gala apples have enough pectin in them to produce the nice gelatinous consistency found in those Blue-ribbon winners.

I know that I can add some gelatin to the apple mixture, but I would love to be able to rely solely on the apple's natural integrity. I didn't add a lot of other ingredients to it, since I didn't want to adulterate the flavors too much. though I think that the parsnips hold more moisture than they look like they do, or at least they don't contain any pectin to provide body for the filling..

I even made a cinnamon whipped cream to go with it, but I forgot it at home. When I got home though, I tried it and realized I put too much sugar in the container, however, I now have some cinnamon frosting to use for cookies or cupcakes. I think a Chai pumpkin pie will be in the works coming up..

Last Thanksgiving I made a simply, scrumptious pumpkin pie with an almond cookie crust and a Chai ice cream. I think that would be perfect for the whipped cream, if I can salvage it. I don't know if adding more cream will transform the frosting into a whipped cream. I'll let you know how the cookies, or cupcakes, or possibly, pies come out.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Kolache Fest, a Date with Gretchen and more

I had the pleasure of enjoying a kolache last weekend during a shift at the newspaper. I guess the presentation editor had a hankering, so she left and returned with a box of assorted fruit Kolaches.

Kolache, eh? When I first heard the word, I imagined a custard-like dessert. Like a flan or something like that.

So here is a box of these little pastry delights, and my editor sends out an e-mail to the newsroom saying she brought some kolaches. Before I could get my paws on them, the multimedia cats were taking their pick and everything was nearly gone. Journalists – of every profession: photographers, reporters, copy editors, designers, etc. – love anything free. So when the goodies arrive – literature, tickets to a local show, kolaches – they don't last long. However, I was able to snag me a piece of a strawberry one, and boy was it good. I enjoyed every minute of its sticky, strawberry, sweetness.

According to the short preview piece that ran in our paper, they are Czech pastries with fruit fillings. I guess they remind me of Danishes, but lighter in texture and oozing with gooey fruit and syrupy, sugar coating. They literally glisten in the light with all the sugar liberally applied.

Well, this weekend, Halletsville is holding its 16th annual Kolache Fest Friday and Saturday. If I can play my cards right, I'll be heading that way after work in the morning after my shift at Denny's. It starts at eight o'clock with a 42 tournament and then the food and regular festivities start at 9. So, I really want to go. The only thing is that I have to go to work at 2 p.m. for the paper and then work at Denny's when I get off. It will be a long few days to come.

But what can I say, the little fat kid in me wants to go and check it out. I also want to learn how to make them. They'll have two demonstrations that day, one at noon and again at 2 p.m. I invited a friend to come with, but he has to be at work by o1 p.m., and I want to stay and see what its like and to photograph the event. I haven't picked up Gretchen (my D80) in a while so I want to get back into the swing of things. I can't have her, or my brain, developing cobwebs where there was once an abundance of activity.

To get back into the habit (of cruising on my board as well), I took my longboard out and I popped Gretchen in my bag and took a cruise around the downtown area. It was chill. I broke a sweat, took some artsy fartsy photographs and I even had some time to read and grub down on a sub. Currently, I'm reading "The Jungle" by Upton Sinclair, but am hoping to bring it to the killing beds this next week. I want to read more about food. I was thinking about picking up a book from M.F.K. Fisher or Rachel Reichl. Both authors wrote/write about their adventures in the culinary world. Also, one of my good friends, Paul O'Connell, recommended I read anything by Fisher.

My list is growing and I need to get going on it. And by list, I'm talking about list of things to do with my life: read like "Fahrenheit 451" were coming to fruition, capture beautiful things on my camera and share them, get out and cruise (by foot, car, longboard, surf board or snowboard), experience life, and cook and eat well. I'll get there soon enough. I'll get there and when I do, it's going to be awesome.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Pollan's Poison

Hello from Victoria, Texas. That's right, I've moved again. I recently moved here from Rio Rancho, N.M. to pursue a career at their newspaper, the Victoria Advocate. I dig it. I work on the copy desk as a copy editor putting in the grueling hours after everyone has left the office already. Nah, it's not that bad. I come to work at 2 p.m. and leave around 11ish – depending on the day's news and the shiftwork.

I've been here for about a month now and things are going smoothly. I cook my own meals and am thoroughly enjoying that. I've had the opportunity to put together some recipes that I've had on the back burner for a while. I didn't pack a television so all I do to entertain myself before I go to work is read. Since I moved out here, I think I've read at least four books. For me, that is very good. A very good friend of mine, John, bought me two books by Michael Pollan, In Defense of Food and An Eater's Manual, for my birthday and I have been enjoying the chance to catch up on some much needed reading.

Last year I read Pollan's The Omnivore's Dilemma and loved it. In the midst of the market's struggle to revert to unprocessed foods and and organic farming Pollan seeks the answer to one of the most basic of questions that we as humans constantly have to ask: What should we eat? The book was really well written and I enjoyed following him in his adventures.

The following book he wrote was In Defense of Food, which delves deeper into the questions that surfaced during his adventures to the feedlot, the corn fields and so on. Well, I'm not done with the book yet – I'm about half-way through it –but already he has brought up some points that make me think more than twice about what I am putting in my mouth and throwing into the pot on the stove.

A recurring theme the two books cover is the fact that much of what the U.S. consumers eat is comprised of corn- and soy-based products. The animals that we eat are fed corn, the sugar we have in our soft drinks is corn-based, the oils that we cook with are corn- or soy-based, etc. The vast majority of what we are eating these days is made – even packaged – of one of the two products. The problem with that is that the processes that the foods we eat are no longer as healthy for us as they were. They lack certain nutrients that our bodies need. And despite the fact that nutritionist and food scientists, dressed in their white lab coats made of Polypropylene (not natural fibers), are altering the genetics to include some of the valuable nutrients that we need or adding vitamins and minerals to the things that we eat on an almost daily basis – milk, bread and cheeses – food is not as nutritious for us as things used to be decades ago.

I mean if you think about it, corn today has gone through years of genetic alterations and is no longer as vitamin or mineral bearing as it once was. There was a point in corn's long history where you could pluck an ear of corn right off a stalk and eat it then and there. Nowadays, it would be inedible – or at least close to it.

Aside from that, the books lay out a set of guidelines to follow to help make sure that what you're eating is something that you should be eating. In Food Rules, Pollan lays out around 60 rules (I think its 63) that are easy follow and simple enough to commit to memory. He explains that they are more like guidelines and don't need to be followed strictly, but at least considered. A few of the ones that I have remembered easily are:

– Don't eat anything your (great- or great, great-) grandmother wouldn't recognize: His example is Go-Gurt. I don't know if yogurt is popular in the Philippines as it is, but, nonetheless, I don't thing my lola would know what to do with it. In paraphrasing Pollan, "she might mistaken it for a tube of toothpaste if she saw it."

– Don't eat anything with ingredients that are unfamiliar to you or that you are unable to pronounce: A good way to visualize this is to imagine what goes into your food. At home, you don't add polysorbate 60 or cellulose gum (two ingredients in the indestructible Twinkie) to anything you cook, right? And, and most things that you do add to your meals are things that you can pronounce – for the most part, unless its something that you bought in the international foods aisle.

– Do eat wild foods, with consideration to those that are endangered or in danger of becoming endangered: Wild fish, game and plants have most likely fed on or been fed things found in natural rather than processed feed or grains or chemical fertilizers, which makes them less tainted by the effects of processed foods and influence of mankind's constant effort to make things more efficient, nutrient-wise and the time it takes to raise or grow them.

–Eat meals: It may sound easy, but according to his research and the research of others Americans have created this idea of a fourth meal. Not Taco Bell's idea of a fourth meal but instead the act of constant grazing. People eat constantly between meals, whether it's a bag of chips, followed by a candy bar, followed by a soft drink – you get my point.

The list goes on, but those are just a few of the good ones that I think make sense and are easy enough to follow. On another note, I must admit how much this has ruined my experience at the grocery store.

With his easy-to-follow guidelines, I find myself cringing at the sight of the random ingredients thrown into foods that I may have purchased no more than two weeks ago. I've fallen prey to the "nutrition-ism" society that he covers in his books. But in a good way. I'm not picking up foods that make health claims, or are endorsed by health organizations and associations, but rather I am purchasing things that are grown in nature – at least to as much a degree that I can. I may shop at the local H-E-B, but I am buying more perishable foods from fruits and veggies to meats and seafood.

This new wave of thinking has also given me the opportunity to tinker with recipes that I have never had the chance to try. I made a rad seafood soup the other day with catfish and mussels and even roasted up some turnips with potatoes for my dinner a few nights ago. And trust me,turnips and parsnips are two vegetables that you would ever find in my parents' refrigerator, so I get to branch out.

Along with this new school of thought, is a second job.

Wednesday through Sunday do my thing at the newspaper, building the pages and all that jazz, and Friday and Saturday nights I work the graveyard shift at the local Denny's. That's right, Denny's – of all places to work. And as my good friend John has to point out, it makes ma hypocrite – just a bit. In my defense, I told John that even though I work there, it's not like I'm there telling people not to eat there, and that the food is bad for them. I am simply working there for the extra cash and serving them what they want to eat. It is their life, and their diet, right? Perhaps.

However, John does have a valid point. I could very well be working at a restaurant that serves fresh vegetables and not the kind that come from a vacuum-sealed bag, or biscuits that are frozen and then cooked in the oven. What can I say, my schedule wasn't too flexible and there aren't a lot of restaurants to work with out here.

Since reading Pollan's books, I did have a chance to look at the labels on the different foodstuffs that the kitchen prepares and it's pretty bad. Let me just say that the hash browns that everyone, and their mother, so often orders are not just potatoes. Sorry to break it to you hon, but there are more than five on unpronounceable, and incredibly unfamiliar, ingredients on the box. And not to mention the oil they use to cook it in is not the healthiest either. I wouldn't be bursting your bubble if I told you it wasn't extra virgin olive oil or butter, would I?

Anyhow, it has been interesting revelation. And with any sort of change in lifestyle, it takes quite a bit of effort to lock it down. I have to admit that sometimes I stray from Pollan's Food Rules, but I am only human. I also live in a society that is enveloped by convenience. There are fast food joints on every block, sometimes encompassing the entire block, there are convenience foods and assorted foodstuffs in every aisle and beckoning every purchaser as they peruse the grocery stores. You have quick-marinades, microwaveable rice, oatmeal, pasta, sauces, etc., instant this and that, and you can bet that most of those things will either, never perish (another rule: Eat perishable foods.) or could last years without damaging the item's integrity.

It makes you think about where we're headed when it comes to what we put in our bodies for nourishment whether it be food or supplements.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Condiment of the day: Catch-up

A few weeks ago, I hopped on a plane and flew across the country to Boston, Mass. to attend a food writing workshop hosted by It was a short seminar, scheduled to last three hours, and it was clear that I was the only one that traveled more than half an hour to be there – or so I assume. The seminar was straight to the point, titled 'Breaking into Food-Writing', covering pitch-letters in every aspect from how to write them and who to send them to and how to develop a story to pitch to a publication. It was pretty informative considering I have yet to put together a pitch-letter or better yet, come up with a story piece all on my own.

Aside from the three hours I spent in that small, windowless room at the Boston Center for Arts learning little tidbits of information about the students and how to piece together a pitch-letter for the likes of magazine editors, I putted around on the subway and got lost on the streets of Cambridge and Allston.

For the duration of my visit, I couched it (or futon-ed it) at a friend's place. My friend Stephen Hammond was gracious enough to let my New Mexican butt sleep on the futon for a few days equipped with a sleeping bag and a pillow. I was happy, I had a place to shower, brush my teeth and plug in my laptop. We were also just a few steps from Harvard Avenue where there was an abundance of eateries and watering holes for hungry and thirsty.

Conveniently enough, I worked with Stephen at the Tavern and now Stephen works with Paul at Chez Henri. There's the connection–we all worked together last summer on the Vineyard. And so it was only natural that I found my way to Chez a few times during my visit and enjoy a cocktail or two and had the pleasure of watching real chefs do their magic on the line. No microwaves, vacuum sealed meals. Just real food.

I had the opportunity to watch
Scott Gates, another friend from the Vineyard, work saute. I saw him start three to four dishes at a time using several pans, some on the range, some in the oven. Plating was always fun for me to watch. A spoonful of celery root puree spread with the back of a spoon and then topped with seared trout and haricot vert. Or there was the seafood appetizer with mussels, pieces of fresh fish, tomatoes, onions, herbs and a light broth. Even the kids pasta was made from fresh pasta and just a pat of butter–or more if Paul was cooking.

When Paul was cooking on the line he was working grill. Or at least for a few plates. He had this awesome looking grill, that had a sort of iron shelf on top of it that would allow for different distributions of heat. Just as a backyard grill has the hanging rack on the lid that can be used to keep things warm or to cook things slowly, the shelf had the same purpose. I even saw another chef use it to blister some tomatoes for another dish. I was impressed and made a mental note for my own kitchen, if I decide to have a grill.

Other than the observations I made of the chefs, the use of flavors and the plating, I was able to try some pretty good eats. Though I didn't visit the places that I had originally planned on visiting, I did get to eat some good food. Of the things I ate, the fresh oysters were probably the best and the beers were definitely awesome.

Paul brought me to the North End, also known as 'Little Italy' to tourists like myself, to eat at this tiny, yet huge in taste, restaurant. It couldn't have been much larger than a two-car garage in width and the seating may have been just about two cars deep. The seating was definitely limited but I dug how they would seat you elbow to elbow with cats you don't know. You had to get to know them, and that is exactly what I saw happen. People would just sit down and when the food started coming people would ask each other what they were eating and then the conversations kept flowing like the wine, or as steadily as the young lady in the front of the store could open fresh oysters, clams and crack open crab claws. This girl had it down to a rhythm that she probably could have done in her sleep.

I can't remember the names of the oysters I ate that day, but if you're an oyster pro, maybe you can identify them from the photo. I know it was five different varieties of oysters from the New England Coastline. They all had different profiles and were delicious each in their own way. We also had some mussels and Suzanne ordered a blue crab salad to start. Once the starters were done, we moved on to the real meal. Paul ordered the Monday special, a lobster spaghettini, Suzanne ordered the vitello tonnato, a sandwich with tuna tartar, roasted veal and a cucumber salad, and I–in hopes to rekindle some memories of the Vineyard–ordered a lobster roll, though instead of the mayo it was just served with warm butter.

And everything was stellar. I enjoyed every bite of it—even the last few bites that I gave to CJ, the guy that delivered the week's fresh bushels of oysters, clams and mussels. He was really chill, he even took a small bite from Paul's spaghettini.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Boston's Got Breweries

I've made recent discovery about myself these last few years as a result of my beer consumption—My favorite beers are those that prove hard to see through or that allow little light to pass through it. Recently that list has been known to include your wheat beers with their hazy, cloudy appearances and stouts and porters. Mmmmm, I do thoroughly enjoy a nicely done stout or porter. 

Last week, I had a day off so I took the opportunity to head north to Santa Fe to visit my  boyfriend John. He took me out to play some Frisbee golf for the first time and brought along some awesome local brews. Santa Fe Brewing Company has this awesome Java Stout that I fell in love with at the first side-sip (I like to drink my brews out of the side of my mouth). We're actually going to make some cake with that same stout tomorrow. I'll let you know how that goes. Coffee and chocolate pair well together–throw some great beer in there and I am positive that it will be phenomenal. 

Ahem. Back to the subject at hand, yeah? So in my attempt to devise a plan for this little trip of mine I looked up some of Boston's breweries. I don't know why I didn't think about it sooner, but of course Samuel Adams–brought to us by the Boston Beer Company– is a big company that has a brewery there.  Their brewery offers tours that show the entire process of brewing their craft beers. You can taste the malts, smell the hops and test some brews. How could I pass that up, I can't. According to their website under the 'extreme beers' they have more than just the usual variety of beers worth trying. Among the handful of special brews, two caught my eye for sure: the Chocolate Bock and the Triple Bock. 

The Chocolate Bock (just the sound of it rocks my world–I love chocolate and I love bocks) is a special brew that incorporates chocolate nibs into the brewing process, which add a subtle sweetness to the beer. I'm stoked about that. The Triple Bock is a brew that is compared to 'a vintage port, sherry or a cognac. I actually bought me and John a bottle of port for a sweet close to a nice night of good food and good company a few weeks ago for a date and I dug it a lot. He likes cognac so I bought us a Tawny Port, though the name of the bottle escapes me. Perhaps I'll pick one up to bring home to share with him. 

Harpoon Brewery is another brewery on my list of places to visit if time permits. I had the pleasure of enjoying some Harpoon brews this summer. During my Vineyard internship, the editor planned a catamaran party for us and bought all the booze and brews to go along with us when we left the Edgartown Harbor. Equipped with some pizzas, a few six-packs of the Harpoon IPA and grip of Bud Light–the Harpoons were the first to meet the bottom the trash cans. It was obviously a horrible brew. From the looks of their website, they have a few year-round,seasonal and limited edition brews that sound awesome too. I hope they still have some of their Island Creek Oyster Stout, which is a part of the Harpoon 100 Barrel Series–it sounds exciting. 

I hope I can fit them into my trip. I know its only two breweries, but I will be flying solo in a place I've never been, so I could get lost in that big city. I can already feel the cold, refrigerated air of the processing rooms, taste the bitterness and the malty flavors of the brews and the sound of glasses clinking in the tasting room. I'm in for a truly, tasty treat next week–great beer, great food and a great experience. Mmmmmm. 

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Mexican Food in Boston?

Hmmmm? That sounds interesting.

In my search of things to do– and of course, places to eat– in Boston, I came across The Best of Boston 2009 list from It had a variety of categories from best restaurants & food to best of shopping and even homes (designers, contractors, etc.). Under the heading of restaurants & food, I was intrigued to find the category: Mexican. Granted I may be acting a bit close-minded, but I must say that during my stay on Martha's Vineyard– just a few hours south of Boston– I had the opportunity to partake in sampling some 'Mexican food'. 

Perhaps the cartoon shark on the building should have been some sort of indication to how serious this place was going to take their Mexican food– he was wearing a sombrero, a pair of shades and holding a margarita with a giant grin on his face– but I didn't think anything of it at the time. Sharky's Cantina, as it was so justly named, was one of the two places on the Vineyard that claimed stake in offering Mexican food to its visitors. While the menu announced its 'world famous house made salsa', otherwise known as pico de gallo, to be an award-winner,  I was hardly impressed. If I remember correctly (as I do remember the disappointment vividly) it was a whole bunch of tomatoes with just a few specs of what I think, and hope, were jalapenos. If this is what Mexican food is on the East coast, I'm going to in for quite a letdown. 

However, after perusing the menu of The Best of Boston 2009 Mexican winner, Olé, seems to know what's up. Not that I am an expert in all things that are Mexican, or for that matter New Mexican, I've had my share of both and liked what I read. I have always been a fan of Molé, before I even tasted it to the plates to had in Zacatecas, Mexico, and Olé has just that– but with some flair. 

Chef Erwin Ramos has created a Molé substituting chicken with roast duck served with garlic spinach and cilantro rice. Mmmmm, sounds delectable. Among other items on the menu, are pozole (yes, with a 'z' instead of an 's' as it is spelled here), chiles rellenos (yes, with an 's' at the end of chile), enchiladas served with Mexican rice and black beans and more. I'm excited to give them a try– I may only be in Boston a few days, but its possible I could get homesick... and by homesick, I mean missing Las Cruces and the eats there versus the Filipino eats I get at the homestead. 

Monday, April 12, 2010

This Week: Anything Boston

In an attempt to pump myself up for my trip to Boston next week, I am going to dedicate my next few posts to anything Boston-related. I'm not entirely certain what that will consist of, but I am certain that eating a Boston Cream Pie from Flying Star would be a nice place to start.

Despite what the name entails, Boston Cream Pie is actually a cake. The original recipe, also known as "American Pudding Cake", was often cooked in pie tins as cake pans were not so common in kitchens of the mid 1800's.

The Flying Star version of the alleged 'pie' consists of three layers of soft spongecake separated by velvety, vanilla custard, coated in chocolate icing and decorated with mini cream puffs filled with the vanilla custard and covered in caramel. It's a tall slice of cake and I'm afraid it may take me two sittings to tackle it. I'm surviving this economy on a sushi server's wage, so I'm not used to all this 'richness'. For me, it is a very rich cake, but for others, it's probably not too rich.
Its a dessert that is perfect for enjoying an afternoon at a cafe watching the cars drive by on an adjacent street or in the kind of company that doesn't require endless conversation and encourages pauses of silence long enough to take a small bite and let the cake dissolve in your mouth.

Boston Cream Pie has the same kind of consistency of Tres Leches Cake, it's light and fluffy and has a very delicate flavor. Aside from the ganache on the 'pie', it has similar flavors–the cool cream has an easy-going vanilla flavor and the cake has a mellow taste. For those of you who haven't had the pleasure of enjoying this cake, it is truly a delectable dessert. Tres Leches translates from Spanish to "three milks", as the original recipe is made with three kinds of milk– evaporated milk, sweetened-condensed milk and heavy cream. Though it may sound like a heavy dessert, the cake itself is usually a sponge cake or butter cake. The frosting is often made with the same milks used for soaking the cake. I'll have to make sure that I put some time aside to visit some places that have Massachusetts' state dessert.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Would I be Chopped?

I watch a lot of Food Network in my spare time and when I was growing up. Family time when I was growing up always consisted of eating, cooking or watching cooking shows. This was the start of my predilection for food, cooking and eating—I love to read about food, I love to cook and I love to eat.

Whenever I watch the Food Network "Chopped", I have to wonder to myself, "Would I be chopped?" I wonder. I always like to think about what I would do with the ingredients and whether or not it would work together. For this episode, the first set of ingredients were Macadamia nuts, oysters and apricots. Granted its kind of like cheating, but I always thinks of a different dish after seeing what they do. However, I think I would have been able to put together a fried oyster with Macadamia nut coating and an apricot chutney. Sounds good yeah? I would take the nuts and ground them up and add it to some batter of flour, add some pepper and little bit of milk. the chutney would be made with the apricots, some caramelized onions, brown sugar and a some orange juice. I think that would work out. The presentation would be simple: fried oysters placed in trio, or a triangle, with the chutney pooled under it or drizzled over it. Mmmmm? Perhaps.

The second round for the entree was buttermilk, pork loin, and jackfruit. Crazy right? We eat jackfruit, but usually in a Halo Halo, a Filipino version of the snowcone–so that was a hard one to think of... Or to be completely honest, I'm not sure if I've thought of one yet.

For the dessert, the three ingredients were chocolate, sugar cookie dough, figs and yellow miso paste. That's right, miso paste, otherwise known as soybean paste for soup. Hmmmm. I got nothing on that. But the contestants came up with pretty good ideas. One contestant made a chocolate pudding (though it didn't set up right because there wasn't enough time), with caramelized figs and miso sugar cookies or wafers. I think the other contestant tried to make a sort of Napoleon, a French dessert with layers of puff pastry and cream filling, out of the cookie dough, miso filling, figs and chocolate. I don't think I could have come up with a dessert with those specific components. I think I've only had figs fresh, and that was only once, a long, long time ago.

At least I know I could have come up with a rad appetizer—at least I think it would have been rad. Who knows? I'll just have to make it one of these days.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Pho Night

So like I said in mt last post, I picked up some ingredients for the making of Pho, a Vietnamese soup usually made with a broth, rice noodles and your choice of toppings. However, I cheated a little and bought a jar of beef broth paste. You add a few spoonfuls to some boiling water and Viola! You have 'instant' Pho. But I think the best part of Pho is the variety of toppings or add-ins.

The toppings or add-ins will change with every palate just as the toppings and mix-ins for ice cream will change for every person. For Pho, you can add sprouts, fresh basil, fresh cilantro, jalapenos, lime juice, fish sauce, Sriracha, garlic, sugar, etc. Its going to be different for everyone. My brother adds sugar, my sister likes to add oyster sauce, and I like mine bowl of Pho salty with a lot of sprouts.

I made sure to add some thinly sliced beef to the broth as it cooked so as to take away from the possible 'instant' taste or appearance if I hadn't put any meat in it (you can't get beef broth without the beef unless it was an instant recipe, right?). So I let that simmer a while, and let the flavors meld. After a few quick tastes, I added some green onions to the pot and some fish sauce for some extra saltiness. Once that was done, I pulled the noodles out of the pack and placed them in hot water. I wanted to soften them just enough before marrying the broth and the noodles so that they didn't overcook—I failed.

The noodles ended up being too hard and need to be boiled in the broth just a bit longer. We all ended up having to wait an extra 10 or 15 minutes before it could be eaten. But in the end, it was well worthwhile. The broth was almost on spot, I'm sure if I had the time and the meat to cook down in a broth for a few hours it would have been awesome. The noodles also set me back a bit since I have to cook them in the broth. Next time I will boil them in a separate pot and then take them out before they're overdone and then just spoon the broth over the noodles.

It turned out pretty well for a jar version versus the traditional hours over the stove boiling meat, bones and spices to achieve the right taste. I had a few other options other than the jar, they had little packets and boxes of what I would assume were similar to beef bouillon squares. I went for the jar since there were oils and seasonings in there that I thought would have tasted better than the dehydrated version. I want to try and make some Pad Thai next time. I think that would be great.

When I was living on Martha's Vineyard, I had such a strong craving for it that I think I ate it three times in one week once. The last time I had it there was a street fair in Oak Bluffs on Circuit Avenue, and this Thai restaurant had a set up outside. The chef just through in some chicken in a wok, some coconut milk, and let that cook, added sprouts, peanuts, and noodles. I love sprouts, chicken and coconut milk. It looked so easy. I know there is more to it but I think I can finagle a recipe or at least grab one off the Internet. I'll let you know how it goes.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Treasures in Talin

Today I went to Talin to do some exploring. I picked up a 25-pound bag of Jasmine rice for the house, some tea, Pho noodles, and other related ingredients, some baked goods, and snacks–but probably spent about a good hour there just walking around. I was like a bookworm in a library or a fat kid at buffet–I just wanted to everything.

When we were younger, Talin was located just across the parking lot in a smaller, split-level building that reeked of Durian fruits, fish and other fragrances emitted from the foreign produce. I remember playing with the live blue crabs, picking them up with the tongs and trying to get them to fight one another, or following my parents around the aisles looking for something exciting. Back then it was always the baked goods or the colorful gum and candies. Now its the different foods–the variety of noodles, canned foods, jarred vegetables and fruits, and house ware–that catch my attention.

I think I spent a good half hour or so alone in the tea section located at the front of the store. Originally an Oriental store or Asian market (whichever you prefer to call it), Talin has a large selection of Eastern teas: Jasmine, Green, Pu-reh, Oolong to name a few. They have the loose variety, and the individually bagged versions. They also sell other mixes of teas from Earl Grey to Darjeeling to Scottish Breakfast Tea.

Having just moved back to Rio Rancho this past November, it had been a good while since my last visit to Talin. I would say a few years. What I don't remember is the Tea Bar. When I stepped out past the tea section, to my surprise you I found a group of people chatting away at a bar where a young lady was preparing some tea. I was thrilled. Had I not had a drink (a locally brewed Kombucha drink from Santa Fe–more on that later) in the car, I would have took the time to enjoy a nice warm beverage.

I finally settled on a can of some loose Oolong Tea and a box of some Pu-erh Tea. Oolong being a fairly traditional or popular flavor of tea, and Pu-erh being something that I just recently stumbled upon. After researching some local tea, I found the NM Tea Company. They had some Pu-erh on the website and I was interested in trying it. Pu-erh is almost the opposite of the loose leaf-style tea. As far as my understanding of Pu-erh, it's a small piece of packed tea leaves. The version that I bought claims to have digestive properties and may even breakdown certain fats and cholesterol. The pieces are about the size of a marble and break into many pieces when steeped. I need to invest in a new teacup that will allow me to steep and drink out of the same vessel. I'll do that on my next visit to Talin.

After my departure from the tea section, I lallygagged through the aisles examining packages as if I were going to learn what it was through osmosis. Each aisle represents just a small portion of foods from appropriate region of the world: Saigon, Tokyo, Manila, etc. I picked up a jar of 'instant beef Pho flavor' and a some Pho noodles. Tomorrow I'm going to give it a try. I know Julie isn't as excited about it as I am, since she's had the real thing from scratch, but I told her I wanted to test it out. I don't know how to make it all from scratch, so a little help from a jar can't hurt, right? I picked up some sweet basil, some sprouts and had my fingers crossed that pa had some beef that I could cut up in the freezer. I'm excited. I think it will turn out okay. I'll let you know. On that note. I am going to hit the sack and dream about tomorrow evening's meal.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Hamachi Kama

Fish collar, its what was for dinner today at work. I was excited. As I mentioned a few posts back, fish collar is said to be quite a treat in the Eastern countries. Naturally, when I heard the question, "We're having tuna collar for dinner, you want some?" I answered, "Hell yeah!" All I could imagine was the big C-shaped piece of fish sizzling away on the grill. 

Well, I was close—the chefs cooked the collars in pans with a little bit of oil and seasoned with black pepper and salt. When finished, they served it with teriyaki sauce. I was a little disappointed with the teriyaki sauce but it was still delicious. The meat was very tender and had a lot of flavor. Despite the occasional scales and picking apart the flaky meat from the bones, it was good. Accompanied with some spicy kimchi, the sweetness of the sauce evened out and was much more enjoyable. 

I was surprised to see just how much meat was still left on the collar. Like I started saying in the other post, most American cooks or eaters, are only accustomed to preparing or eating fish fillets that they purchase from the store. So the amount of meat left behind from the collar can make a meal all on its own. I didn't even finish my own piece, but I did box it up for myself to eat later. I even threw some kimchi in the box too. My taste buds have fallen for kimchi, I want to make it at home and eat it with everything. 

But I digress, so we had Yellowtail collar pan-seared with salt and pepper. I'm interested in trying some at a Japanese restaurant, where (as far as I know) the tradition originated. I was talking to the head sushi chef, a Korean man not much taller than I am (brother of the infamous Suzy) named Jin, and he said that fish collar is an expensive meal at some Japanese restaurants. I think also that it's possible to purchase fish collars at markets where fresh fish are sold. I know Albuquerque doesn't sound like the best place for that, but I think its possible if its researched well. Talin sells live crabs and other uncommon foods, so they may sell fish collar there. I'm sure that the collars would make a great component in soup too. 

I think I'll have to take a trip to Talin and see what they have to offer. I haven't been there in a while–maybe a few years at that. They'll probably have a bunch of things that I can't read or even imagine what they are, but I know that I can find some awesome loose teas and ramens too. I'll let you know what I find. I think I'll go this weekend. 

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

I'm Going to Boston

Here I come Beantown! Scary idea huh?  Yup. It sure was a spur of the moment idea. Well, let me explain. It's not a vacation or anything like that. I like to think of it as an educational adventure. While I'm there, I am going to be attending a food writing workshop hosted by Naomi Kooker of Boston Common. How exciting, yeah? I think so.
However, I am really nervous. I don't take my writing as seriously as I should and I know that I will be among people who do. Also, I'm hoping to make some contacts and maybe even find a grown up job there. Perhaps, America's Test Kitchen will have an opening for a writer or an intern, or Edible Boston. I'll be sure to spruce up my resume and my portfolio too. 

Just think—Boston is one of the biggest cities for food, music and sports and my main interest being food it's a perfect setting for the seminar. That and I have a few friends that I can crash with while I visit. That'll make things easier on the wallet. I think if I can set aside at least $40 a week until my trip I should be set to eat like a princess and see enjoy myself. Don't worry, I will definitely keep up with the posts and everything. I'm excited! 

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

I Heart Ramen Noodles Too!

Some time last week, the NY Times published an article about the ramen craze in Japan. The article tells of numerous noodleries in Japan that offer up simple to spectacular bowls of goodness. It got me thinking about ramen noodles and how satisfying a bowl can be. I often have a craving for a bowl of the original beef flavor. I also enjoy the different varieties of flavors that there are—especially in the oriental stores. Talin, Albuquerque's own International Marketplace, has a plethora of different flavors from spicy seafood to flavors that I can't even translate. 

My dad makes a style of ramen called 'mome', pronounced 'mommy'. He just uses the noodles from a pack of ready to prepare ramen noodles and makes his own broth and toppings. Usually, a chicken based broth, maybe with some garlic and spices, and toppings like charred or fried chopped garlic, scallions, shredded chicken and a boiled egg. Delicious. I really enjoy how the yoke makes the broth creamy, and the bite of the garlic provides a complimentary background to it and some texture. 

I find it fun to create my own flavor of ramen too. Throw some ingredients in the pot and see what comes out. It's really all in what you like; throw an egg in the broth, some water chestnuts, some chinese sausage—whatevers clever. It really hard to go wrong.

With the accessibility to the Internet, you can look up different recipes or mix and match some ideas. Try websites like, or for recipes or personal experiences of noodleries in Japan and other countries. According to the NY Times article, ramen in the East is larger than the combination love for pizza, hamburgers and hotdogs in New York and some Southern barbeque–and that's only a portion of the craze in Japan. That's quite a craze. The writer, Matt Gross (of the Frugal Traveler blog), also writes that people will wait in line for hours for a bowl of ramen. I have yet to wait in line for something that spectacular, but I hope to be wearing comfortable shoes when I do. It just might be worth a trip to Tokyo to experience that. I'll be sure to let you know when I do, until then eat, slurp and heart ramen. 

Sunday, January 31, 2010

Holy Mole!!

After a day of snowboarding in the Sandia Mountains, Julie and her best friend, Mandeep, and I were ready for a warm meal. All the talk about red enchiladas with an egg over easy, sour cream, guacamole and onions last Sunday had Mandeep and me craving some dank Mexican food. But following my six year stint in Las Cruces, its hard to find the same kind of Mexican eats you find closer to the border. The salsa was spicier, the chiles were heartier and it seemed like the meats were much more savory. 

However, the thing with most Mexican restaurants is that they close on Sundays–being a day for worship and time with family (or at least that was my reasoning behind it). So we ended up driving around to a bunch of different places that were listed on Mandeep's cell phone when we googled some places. I think the first five places on the list were closed and we ended up just driving around in search of a place to sit down. Destiny had apparently lead us to El Sarape, the restaurant right next door to my former place of employment, Fuji Yama. Ironic yeah? Perhaps. Fate? Not so much. 

At first we lingered in the car trying to decide if this was where we were going to eat or not, then we dragged our feet from the car to the building where we were pleasantly greeted by a mad who spoke little english but was very friendly. He sat us in the corner and gave us some time to look the menu over. With thoughts of many of the restaurants in Las Cruces racing through my head I perused the menu hoping that something was going to pop out at me–and it did just that. 

The menu was primarily written in Spanish with an English translation following each menu item's description. Hurray! This just brought me back to living in Zacatecas, Mexico while I studied Spanish a few years ago. For me it was also a confirmation that the food was going to be stellar. Thinking back to one of my first dishes that I ate in Zacatecas I looked for a mole plate and sure enough there it was. I was so excited. I haven't had mole since I visited my friend, Josh, in Harlingen, Texas in October and before that since I cooked it at home with Dusty during school. 

Since we were all starving too, we decided to get a small shrimp cocktail and a small bowl of the Azteca soup—bad idea for our bellies, great idea for our tastebuds. The soup was simple considering it had four basic components: toasted tortilla strips, cheese, avocado and a chile sauce. That was all it need too. The cheese and the avocado provided a slightly creamy contrast to the spicy sauce and the tortilla strips gave a nice textural component to it. 

The shrimp cocktail was equally satisfying. It has a typical cocktail sauce for a Mexican-style cocktail–a slightly runny mixture with lime juice, cliantro and avocado (sometimes cucumbers) with whole shrimp chilling on the bottom. None of that popcorn shrimp that you find at other place either. The sauce comes together with a sweet but salty tasty with just enough acidity to work with the avocado's mild flavor. It was a refreshing combination too, reminding me of summer. 

Our dishes came shortly after we had admitted that we were getting full and had no more room for our tacos, enchiladas and mole. But we were thinking, "If the soup and the cocktail were that good, the other food must just as good if not better, right?" So we dug in—at least as far as we could. My mole was great. Totally brought me back to Zacatecas and home with Dusty eating chicken mole (not that I know of any other kind of mole). The shredded chicken was served in the mole sauce accompanied by a side of rice, refried beans and warm corn tortillas. Despite the description saying that there would be sesame and pumpkin seeds on top, I was still excited for was lay ahead. I took a bite of the chicken and was taken to a state of nostalgia. 

For those of you who have not had mole, I suggest giving it a try. Its a different taste than what most people are used to when it comes to Mexican food–or at least the connotation of Mexican food. Though there is chile in the sauce, it has a range of flavors including chocolate and other spices. Though chocolate is almost always the first flavor that comes to mind, it is not an overwhelming flavor. The sauce has a slightly savory, yet sweet taste to it. As far as I know, the process of making mole at home takes a good amount of time and patience. I've also heard that its an all-day process of slaving over the stove and putting a lot of love and care into making it right. I'll have to keep that in mind for another post. 

I'm glad that we decided to go there for dinner, it was great. We were seriously stuffed—in a good way at that. And now I know where to get some good Mexican eats when I have a hankering for it. 

Friday, January 29, 2010

Some Sort of Sushi

One thing about my job that I can't complain about is the never-ending desire to eat sushi. I just can't get enough of it. The possibilities are nearly endless—add fish here, sub vegetables there, take away the crab and throw in some freshwater eel too. And don't forget about they style of preparation—let's fry this roll in tempura batter or lets put this one in a soy wrapper. On top of that are the sauces used to dress the rolls up—eel sauce and spicy mayo to name two. At Sushi & Sake, they love the sauces. One of the most popular rolls, the Nob Hill (named after its location in Nob Hill, a popular destination in the downtown area), has all the sauces on it: eel sauce, wasabi sauce, spicy mayo and not to mention that there is Sriracha (the well-known Thai red chile sauce) in the spicy tuna mixture. The Amigo, made with a cream cheese stuffed chile that is fried in tempura, is covered in the wasabi sauce, a chili oil and eel sauce. The sauce is apparently boss. 

I've fallen head over heels for the tempura maki roll. It has a combination of tuna, salmon, and avocado in the center, with rice and nori (seaweed) on the outside. Of course, its dipped in tempura batter and then fried. They throw a few zigzags of eel sauce on top and sprinkle the roll with toasted sesame seeds. Delicious I tell you. The tempura is a nice contrast of the texture from the sticky rice and the soft fish and avocado. Also the slightly sweet flavor of the eel sauce and the lightly salted tempura batter provides a well-balanced background of flavor. I love rolls with that fried component. I'm big on textures–remember, I can't even eat a banana. 

Tonight I had a chance to order roll before I headed home so I asked one of the chefs to surprise me with something that he equally enjoys himself. My only stipulation was that it had to be fried in tempura batter. You see, we have a few of other rolls that are fried but the others are rolled in panko crumbs–I don't like that kind of texture, or at least thats what I've decided so far. He told me that he would make me a 'Multiple Orgasm'. As with anything dealing food, I quickly responded with an 'okay'. I was down. 

When it arrived, I was visually pleased–it was not only fried in tempura batter but it was also toasted in the oven. Yum. It was smothered in spicy mayo and eel sauce and had a toasted sesame seeds on it for the final presentation. I was thrilled. My first bite was bit hard to grab with my chopsticks, but I was victorious. I'm no professional when it comes to chopsticks so I often end up losing half of me piece or experience an avalanche of rice and fish down my chin at the last minute. Neatly nestled in the center were salmon, avocado and cream cheese. The avocado was slightly overripe (or maybe it was just the heat breaking it down), the salmon was at a medium temp and the cream cheese was nice and soft, not so firm like it so often is. 

The flavors were very strong–each one speaking out at the proper opportunity—the cream cheese at first, then the cream avocado, the light earthy, salty flavor of the salmon ending with the sauces, tempura and sweetened rice dancing together on my tongue. It was a 'multiple orgasm' of flavors. So many tastes all in one roll. Next time I may feel ready to try the Nob Hill. One of my co-workers says that its too many different flavors—I think she may be right. I'll have to take baby steps. 

On another note, Kelly's Brewery does not sell growlers. I swung by tonight to grab one for my sister and me but no go. Apparently Nob Hill doesn't allow it. I was thoroughly disappointed. 

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Heightening the Taste of Food

Today my sister, Julie, was going through all her books and I came across a bunch of book about Siddhartha and other related books about meditation and life. While I was pilfering through the ones I decided that I was going to read, I began thinking about another article I read on the Dining & Wine page of The New York Times Website, "When Chocolate and Chakras Collide". 

It got me thinking about the concept of marrying food and yoga in the same class. The article tells of a disagreement in yoga communities about the marriage. Some argue that since the path of practicing yoga leads followers to enlightenment, then why not heighten their sense of taste or 'enlighten' themselves while eating and tasting different foods. On the other end of the spectrum, some firmly follow the earliest teachings of yoga, supporting that yoga forbids the eating of meat and the teachings of yoga which forbid pain for others, where the 'others' may include the sources of our food. 

While I understand that both sides of the argument, I have to admit that I agree with these new innovators of these food and yoga classes. I think its a great idea. Among other ideas that are similarly designed, the idea of heightening the senses and enjoying the food's flavors for what they are, is a wonderful gift for people who love food and people who are willing to try new things. 

In some big cities, there are places that try to heighten those senses in a different way–not so much through meditation but more so through the elimination of other senses. Since the five senses include  hearing, tasting, touching, seeing and smelling, the easiest to eliminate would be sight, right? These places create dining areas–whether they be typical dining settings with tables and chairs or low tables where diners sit on cushions–where the lights are turned off or where diners can wear masks to cover their eyes. Unable to see their food, diners must rely on the other three senses (considering that they're not cooking the food, there is no sizzling or crunching involved, or at least enough to determine the taste of their food) to taste the meal. 

Smell has been proven to be a significant part of taste so smell is a big factor and touching or feeling food can play an equally significant factor in determining agreeable or disagreeable tastes. For instance, I don't like the taste of bananas because I don't like the texture or the smell. Its a slimely, yet thick, texture with a very sweet, nearly floral smell that I can't handle. I can only eat half a banana—on a good day. 

I think that when people can get down to the meditation and tranquility of uniting with one's self, I think that the taste of food would definitely be magnified. When people can achieve peace with themselves, only can they truly enjoy what others–and food– have to offer, right? Or at least something like that. I believe there is truth behind that. If there were a similar class here in the Duke City, I definitely participate. 

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Growlers Are Great

Every Wednesday, newspapers across the country publish my favorite section–the food section. Referred to differently in different papers, The New York Times Dining & Wine section to read and is also my homepage on my MacBook. With the easy access to the Internet and the accessibility of publishing during different times of the day, the website is constantly updated with pieces that may not appear in the Wednesday version of the paper. Today there was a story about the 'return' of growlers. 

Like I said on my last post, while enjoying some pizza at Il Vicino I decided to bring home a growler of the Slow Down Brown. When I told him that I was going to buy one, he told me that he had no idea what a growler was. To my dismay, there are a healthy handful of people who don't know what they are. The NY Times story "The New Old Way to Tote Your Beer" goes into some detail of the history of the 64 oz. jugs and provides reasons for their 'return'. I say 'return' because though I am merely 24 years old, I have been purchasing or participating in the purchasing of growlers for close to five years. 

While I was attending New Mexico State University, my ex-boyfriend and I would buy growlers for us to split or to bring to a friends house to share. Being a fairly small town, Las Cruces only had one brewery, High Desert Brewery. They had some delicious beers on tap. Of course, given the season they had a ever-changing list of brews on tap. One of my favorites was their Wheat beer or their ESB–the Extra Special Bitter. Lip-smackingly tasty. 

Here in Albuquerque, as far as I know, there are at least five breweries. Il Vicino is one of my new favorites (with refills costing $10), Turtle Mountain, being the first to introduce me to the growler when my pa would bring them home, Chama River (has some really good eats too), their sister company Marble Brewing and Kelly's, which is conveniently located just next door to my place of employment. Note to self: pick up a growler after work tomorrow night. 

Some breweries will even fill up other companies growlers, at least so I've heard. I have yet to test this myth. My pa has a growler from Turtle Mountain from 1999 so I am a little scared to bring it in–they may trade it out. I want the classic bottle for display.  I also have a Soccorro Springs growler from the brewery in Soccorro. We would stop in on the way north or south from Cruces. And now I have my Il Vicino Growler, which I plan on filling up fairly often. I think I may try and do that tonight actually. I took the Beer Brewing and Society course at State and loved it. I love trying new beers and believe I'm pretty able to tell them apart... Perhaps at least. Also I want to try brewing some brews sometime. Its an expensive hobby, but then again, I think it can pay for itself in the end. I may have to leave that for another post. 

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Pizza Night

For some strange reason I have had this crazy craving for pizza. I've been thinking about before my breaks at work and I've been seeing it on the boob tube too. I even went to the Il Vicino the other day with my friend and still had the craving. Or at least until tonight. I think I have been satiated—at least for the moment. 

One day, I was talking about pizza at work with the sushi chefs and one of them had suggested Il Vicino or Saggio's so I was thinking about stopping in when I had a chance. I never made it on my break but I finally had a
 single shift and was able to enjoy my evening not working. A friend and I went to Il Vicino on in the heights which was sort of in an unfortunate location. Or at least it appeared to be at first glance, obviously people knew they were there so they get business and they have a few locations in Albuquerque so they aren't lacking the clientele. 

One of the awesome things about Il Vicino, other than they rad wood ovens they have, is that they also brew their own beer. When I went in they had a selection of about five or so beers on tap along with a nice selection wines–local and national labels (I think). Their selection of pizzas is pretty impressive too. They had personal pizza, paninis calzones and more. I don't think I need to tell you, but I ordered a pizza. Number 11, the Molta Carne. It just sounds grand yeah? It had Kalamata olives, pepperoni, sausage, capocollo ham and mushrooms with a 
marinara sauce and fresh oregano. A nice little personal meat-lover's pizza. Delicious. And to make the experience even better, being that cold weather is perfect for brewing dark beers, I ordered a 22 oz. Porter (the formal name escapes me, but the taste lingers still). It was a great brew. Unlike their distant relatives, Stouts, Porters have a more chocolate, less roasted taste or bitterness. Their brew was very smooth with a slightly sweet finish to it. I even took home a growler of the Slow Down Brown for me and my dad to drink. It was an equally crafted brew. I was thoroughly excited about the pizza, but the beer was a plus. 

Today was my first full day off in a few weeks so I took the opportunity to cook something. I decided that pizza sounded easy and pleasing enough for everyone in the house
hold. My sister moved back home and my parents are usually home–aside from their short little visits to the Santa Ana Casino. So I picked up some the ingredients for the pizzas after my best friend, Kelly Robertson, and I watched Avatar. Definitely recommend it–awesome flick! 

My ex-boyfriend and I used to cook pizza a few times a month since it was so easy. It may not have been all-the-way-made-from-scratch, but it was close enough. We always bought a box or two of the Jiffy Pizza Crust Mix at the grocery store to plan ahead and usually had the rest of the ingredients in the fridge or picked them up as we planned for dinner: a big can of spaghetti sauce, veggies (usually mushrooms, onions and spinach) and some sort of meat (chicken or pepperoni). 

The spaghetti sauce is just as tasty, if not more so, and the pizza crust was easy to add any sort of flavors too. I like to throw some Italian seasoning in there and some garlic powder. Some minced garlic and sesame seeds around the crust make for nice textural and flav
or components. Go wild–just think of the boxed crust mixes as a piece of white bread for you to add some flavor too. You could very well make a dessert pizza with it too. 

My brother, Robert, was going to come by for dinner so I was planning for at least six or seven mouths to feed–he has an entourage you see. I made two pizzas tonight, one with Italian sausage and one with pepperoni; both with red onions and mushrooms, topped with mozzarella and cheddar cheeses. I tried to toast the crusts before topping 
them, but I think my oven was at too low a heat to achieve the crust I wanted. Other than that, the pizzas came out great. I love how the onions will caramelize and give off a nice charred flavor. and the sesame seeds were a nice, nutty contrast in taste from the creamy cheese and the salty sauce.

I think my hankering has subsided so I think I'll be good for a while. Or at least until morning—I have a few slices in the refrigerator waiting for me to eat them for breakfast. I love pizza leftovers–they're the best reheated. 

Monday, January 25, 2010

Let's try this again—again

So much for keeping up with this blog on my trip back to N.M. It was a tough trip. I was driving alone and I thoroughly failed at planning any sort of route and ended up wasting time getting lost, among other things. However,  I had a blast! And according to my friend, James Steves, I now have some life experience to prepare me for getting a grown up job—or at least something like it. 
The trip took me about 12 days, I think, and I saw a lot of things and did a bunch of things I'd never done before. I saw the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island, saw most of the monuments in D.C., I stayed in a hostel for the first time, I drove through a dozen states and only got pulled over twice in Texas, plus I lost my ATM card in the midst of my adventure. All in all it was an awesome trip. Next time, I want to drive along the Pacific 101 and camp out in the Redwood National parks, visit the beaches and of course, grub down on some killer eats. 

But until then, I'm living back at home with my parental units and working at a sushi joint that shares the same rood with a Korean restaurant. Sushi & Sake and the Korean B.B.Q. House are one entity run by an unwieldy Korean lady named Suzy. For being someone that stands no more than a few inches taller (if that) than my 4-foot-9 1/2-inch self, she has quite a bite and a heavy hand (metaphorically speaking).  I've only just begun working for Suzy this year so my skin is still sensitive to you her strict scrutiny and and serious demeanor. Before that I was working at another sushi joint up the street, Fuji Yama. 

Fuji Yama is a new Japanese restaurant located on the busy strip of Central Avenue in Albuquerque that lives in the shadow of the Chinatown buffet that formerly occupied the building. I worked there for a just over a month, last Friday being my last day. Suzy told me that if I didn't quite working for Fuji Yama she was going to have to fire me, so that ended my time there. I assumed it was a conflict of interest but later discovered that it was a matter of personal conflict.

The problem wasn't that Fuji Yama was a sushi joint but that there were some personal matters involved as well. The owners of Fuji Yama are Korean and attend the Korean United Methodist Church. Suzy's sister also attends this church and apparently my former employers are no longer nice to Suzy's sister... At least this is according to what Suzy says. I don't really know what their deal is, but I think its funny. 

Yeah. So where does the gastronomy fall into this? Well while working at both places, I think I've gotten a minimal glimpse of what the the Korean eats are like. Even though Fuji Yama is a 'Japanese' restaurant, I primarily ate Korean food there. During our shifts, the owners would allow us an opportunity for a break and chow down before the dinner rush. Almost everyday we would have our kimchi, our rice and something else. It was usually some sort of soup, egg dish, or fish dish. On occasion, the cook (a Mexican gentleman) would make some variety of fried rice or burritos with egg or chicken. Among all the foods that I ate there, I fell in love with the fish. 

Being a sushi joint, the chef would butcher the salmon and and use portion out what he needed. To avoid being wasteful, they would cook what was left and serve it for lunch. Though it was just the bones of the fish with just a thin layer of pink meat, I discovered my favorite piece of the fish—the fatty portion of meat just beneath the dorsal fin. It is delicious. Its very moist and juicy,comes right off the bone and contains a lot of flavor. They would take these bones of the fish and  grill them, which left the meat of the flesh a little dry, but that part of the fish is delectable. 

I may be wrong, but I don't think that a lot of people know about this part of the fish. Living in America, we have the luxury of buying just the filets of fish or just the breasts of a chicken or the ribs of a cow. I would go so far as to make the claim that not many home chefs know how to break down an entire chicken or butcher a fresh caught fish. I've also seen the chefs cook up the fish collar– either in a soup or grilled. I haven't had any of it, but from what I've seen on television, the meat on the collar is supposed to be very flavorful and quite tasty. 

Working at Fuji Yama, I also learned how to make kimchi. Mmmmm! Love that stuff. Despite my move to Sushi & Sake, I like Fuji Yama's rendition of the traditional side dish much better. Only because at Fuji Yama they don't as saucy or runny. I also enjoy the fresh version of kimchi, with less soaking time for the cabbage and a more coarse blend of the chile. They we were very encouraging when it came to my questions and my observing while they cooked and prepared other Korean eats. 

I'll be sure to let you know how it goes when I make some kimchi for the first time without the supervision of a seasoned Korean telling me what to do. Hopefully that will be soon. But as for right now. I find myself on a diet of sushi, Korean and Filipino cooking. I love my life. At least the part where I get fed awesome and diverse foods.