Just Peachy!

I’m back!  I know I have been really MIA lately, but I’ve had alot on my plate the past few weeks.  In between some fabulous meals out at Jose Andres’s Bazaar, and Nobu, I found time to add a few more letters to my name in the form of a PhD!  Just call me Dr. Rachel!  I had the most amazing week of celebrations, champagne filled days, gastronomic feasts out, and a wonderful party with my nearest and dearest people (which of course featured amazing eats!).  It was a whirlwhind, but a fabulous one at that, and while it was over far too quickly, it’s a time that I will cherish forever.  Now, I’m going to keep you all in suspense for a few more weeks regarding my over the top fantastic dinner at Bazaar – no this is not to torture you all, but I want to bring you a mini-series of restaurant reviews which will include my upcoming trip to San Fran and Napa!  Dan and I are going to a very exciting restaurant up there which I will tell you all about, so stay tuned the first week of September for my rave reviews of my amazing food fueled summer fun!  Just to give you a hint- what do you get if you add cotton candy+foie gras???  There’s a maths problem for you all to ponder. 

 

 

  When all the celebrations came to an end, and the balloons finally lost their air, I was left with tons and tons of food.  Not that I’m complaining, but I hate to see food go to waste and I set about to devise a way to use up any extra food that was about to expire.  For this tasty dessert, you don’t have to travel any further than your local supermarket (or farmer’s market if you have one!).  Growing up, one of my favorite desserts was a fruit crumble (that’s cobbler in American) that my mum used to make.  She would use any kind of fruit that was available, apples, blackberries, peaches, ruhbarb…the list could go on and on.  There is something about that sweet stewed fruit topped with the sweet, crunch, melt in your mouth topping that made me go back for more every time!  So, as I was checking out my fruit bowl tonight, I noticed my last peach getting a bit soft and bruised around the edges.  Feeling inspired from the hours of Food Network I’ve been watching, I decided to re-create the fruit crumble of my childhood (and if I have to be honest, my adult life thus far, as I think we had one not too long ago on a visit home!).  And so, I bring to you, peach crumble!  The best thing about this dessert is the following (ok, well 2 things in fact): (1) it uses ingredients that you are likely to have at home already, and (2) it took me about 20 min to make! 

 Here is one of the simplest recipes ever – using one peach made me 2 desserts: 

Melt some butter in a small pan.  While melting, cut a peach into small, bite sized pieces, and add to the warm butter.  Stew gently, and add brown sugar to taste.  While the peaches are stewing, you have plenty of time to make your topping.  Disclaimer: I am terrible at following recipes and measuring ingredients so all I can say for this is, make as much topping as you wish!  The topping consists of : butter, flour and brown sugar.  If you have oats on hand, you can add these too for a bit of texture.  Mix the butter, flour, sugar and oats if you have them in a small bowl until the mixture becomes crumbly (hence the name- ‘crumble’).  You want about equal parts flour and sugar I would say- not overtly sweet, but not too floury either.  Once the peaches are stewed well, distribute them to the bottom of some ovenproof dishes (you can use individual sizes like I did, or scale up the recipe and make a large family style dessert).  Sprinkle the crumbly topping on top of the fruit, and bake in the oven at 350 F.  For my individual desserts, I baked them for about 12 minutes until the fruit was bubbling through the topping and it felt nice and crispy (but NOT burnt!).  Take them out and let them cool for a bit before delving in.  For an additional sweet touch, serve with some cream or ice cream!  Yum, peachy goodness!  This dessert works so well with any good stewing fruit, so be creative!  My favorite in the autumn is blackberry and apple.  

 I’m off to eat my creation!  I promise now that I will have more time for foodie filled adventures and recipes now, and don’t forget to check back for my miniseries of restaurant reviews! xxxxx     

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Guest Writing, ‘fast’ food, and dissertations

Phew.  I’m sitting here with a cup of tea wondering how the weeks have flown by!  When I started this blog I did NOT intend it to be a laundry list of my life but I feel as if I owe some sort of explanation for my disappearance!  Plus, in between the craziness, I do have some food and travel inspired news to pass along.  First things first.  I have less than 2 weeks to go until I defend my dissertation to get my PhD!  Thus, it goes without saying that I have been doing more writing, revising and planning than cooking and it’s times like these, that one has to put some extra effort into food choices. 

When I was a wee teenager, I went to Morocco for the day.  We took the ferry from Algericas, Spain over to Tangier, and stepped out into an amazing magical world.  We were immediately whisked into town by a very reputable tour guide, and he became my bestest friend when he took us to a cafe for a mid-morning snack!  As if that wasn’t good enough, he suggested we order toasted cheese bread and it did not disappoint.  For a cheese lover like myself, there is something deliciously simple yet amazing about warm, gooey cheese on toasted bread.  We walked around the markets all afternoon, visited a rug shop where we were served sweet mint tea, and even saw a breathtaking palace just outside the city, yet one of my most vivid memories from that day was our mid-morning snack.  What can I say…I heart cheese!  And so, when I’m busy with life/school/work/etc, my go-to 5 minute meal is always to re-create my Moroccan snack.  Sometimes I get creative and go all out panini style, sometimes it’s simple cheese and bread, but it’s always satisfying!  Try adding in some harissa inspired sauce for a Middle Eastern twist, or use some interesting bread like rosemary and olive oil, or nut and raisin!  I promise you it will hit the spot!

In between my cheese heaven, I was asked to guest write for Do It While You’re Young, an amazing travel blog that I’ve been following for a while now.  I was so excited to share my experiences with all of her readers, and look forward to writing for it again soon.  Check it out at  http://bit.ly/aI9jb4

I’m counting down the days until I finish graduate school and will have more time for travel and food fun!  Check back in a few weeks to hear about my dinner at Bazaar, a Jose Andres restaurant!  Jose Andres trained with the famous Ferran Adria and I’m beyond excited to try his molecular gastronomy inspired eats!

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Re-thinking our food choices one soup at a time!

I just saw Food Inc.  And I wished I hadn’t eaten out beforehand.  As what I write about is influenced largely by food, I felt compelled to add my two cents.  Now, I don’t want to get all preachy on you, because this blog is about enjoying food, not fearing it.  However, I’d like to provide you with an example, which I alluded to in my previous posts, and offer you a healthy, meat-free, organic (if you choose), raw delicious soup. 

I must admit to you all that I am by no means a vegetarian — I have been known to clean a plate of ribs or indulge in a cheeseburger.  However, I don’t eat a great amount of meat, and I usually cook meat free meals for myself simply out of convenience, preference, and cost.  The thought of coming home after work and wrestling with 6 chicken breasts or a huge steak is tiring, to say the least, and guarantees that I’ll be eating the same thing for the next week (or waste food, which is a tragedy considering how many people go without).  In the same vein, I’ve never been one to jump on the organic food bandwagon.  I find organic food expensive and the hype surrounding it annoys me, especially the people who swear by organic food yet have no knowledge of why they buy except that celebrities tell them to do so.  I’ve engaged in numerous debates on this issue, and I was not willing to part with my money until I believed 100%.  That being said, I am starting to warm to the idea of homegrown natural tomatoes, versus those ripened with chemicals.  So, in the spirit of Food Inc, I urge you all to do your homework.  Find out what you are comfortable with and what makes your stomach turn, and then do something about it.  My friend has a great rule: buy organic for anything you can’t peel.  Example: bananas are ok because you remove the peel; strawberries you should buy organic because no amount of water will wash away those chemicals.  You get the idea?  But like I said, make your own decisions based on what you feel comfortable with.

Ok, enough ranting….time to get to the good stuff.  On my first visit to Playa Blanca, I had my first experience with true organic food.  The food we ate was beyond organic, it was simply 100% local (from our garden and our neighbors garden) and completely free of anything but sunlight and good old fashioned dirt.  Any fish we ate, we caught ourselves (there’s me trying to fish!), deboned it in the kitchen, and cooked it within an hour.  Our Christmas lamb lived in the back garden and saw no metal machines or factory floors (I hope I didn’t offend anyone here!).   We eat like kings when we are down there, and every time, I marvel at how wonderful I feel after these meals.  We eat how nature intended us to eat – we eat what is available and what is fresh.  And it is pure heaven.

 ingredients for gazpacho- yum!

And so, in the spirit of healthy food, I introduce to you a dish so inherent to Spain, that it is found in 5 star restaurants all over the world, in cartons at the supermarket in Spain, and in tiny tapas bars.  I give to you: Gazpacho Andaluz.  Gazpacho is a tomato based raw vegetable soup that originated in Andalucia, the southern region of Spain.  In its most basic description, Gazpacho is a blended salad, but I promise you, it tastes infinitely better than that description!!  The history of Gazpacho is an interesting one, and theory suggests either an Arabic or Roman origin.  It’s thought that Gazpacho started as a soup consisting of bread (stale bread makes a good thickening agent), olive oil, water, and garlic.  The Romans may have used vinegar as well.  Tomatoes were not eaten in Europe until around the 1700s, and only because of a famine that forced people to begin eating tomatoes (which had been previously thought to be poisonous).  Gazpacho has remained popular to this day, and is often served during the summertime.  In my opinion, the most interesting part about Gazpacho is the garnish. 

Thomas Keller serves his gazpacho with a balsamic vinegar reduction, while Ferran Adrià, the famous chef behind El Bulli, once served his with jamón serrano (and has been known to serve up gazpacho popsicles!).  I’ve served mine with crab, melon, shrimp, avocado, or sometimes just some crunchy French bread.  The best part about this dish is that you can choose what you garnish with to suit your mood, and you can directly control exactly what goes in to your soup.  The laundry list recipe is as follows: tomatoes, bell pepper, onion, garlic, cucumber, tomato paste, and tomato juice (which you can make yourself by blending tomatoes with some stock or water).  You simply cut up all the vegetables and put into a big bowl and cover with the tomato paste, juice, and a healthy slug of olive oil.  Season with salt, cayenne pepper and a squeeze of lime/lemon juice, and let sit overnight (as Thomas Keller suggests!).  The next day, blend your “salad”, taste test (and adjust accordingly) and serve with your garnish of choice!  You couldn’t ask for a more simple, healthier dish, and it can be 100% organic, if you so desire.  

 

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The power of cilantro

It’s amazing what cilantro can do.  For some, a few leaves of cilantro can be the final touch on an award winning bowl of guacamole, while for others, it can be like swallowing a bar of soap.  Having grown up eating food heavily influenced by Latin American culture, I was eating cilantro in my mashed potato and pea mush while other children were eating spaghetti-o’s and mashed banana.  I grew up with cilantro, and therefore it has become an integral part of my food, making appearances in many of my dishes, providing what I thought was a deep, aromatic flavor to my black beans, guacamole and rice dishes.  What I didn’t know until recently, was that to some people, cilantro tastes like the equivalent of having your mouth washed out with soap.  For at least a year, I cooked heavily with cilantro until my boyfriend admitted to me that he thought cilantro tasted like soap!  Even the New York Times weighed in on this matter.

Cilantro leaves come from the coriander plant, and is also known as Chinese parsley (cilantro being the Spanish name for the plant).  Cilantro is used in food from around the world including Indian, Latin American, Mexican, Asian and Mediterranean, and the coriander seeds are even used in some beers — talk about a useful plant!  In addition to its flavor, coriander has been used in folk medicine for anxiety, insomnia and digestion.  It’s even been suggested that it may be useful for diabetics and can help to lower cholesterol.  Now, this may all be an old wives tale, but I’ll add a few more sprigs to my next meal, just in case!

In the spirit of good, healthy food, I cooked a typical Peruvian dish over the weekend in which cilantro was the star.  This little plant was, I believe, the secret ingredient to my Arroz con Pollo, which wowed my guests (unless they were just being polite!).  Rice dishes feature heavily in Peruvian cuisine, and as I mentioned, this may well come from the Asian inspired cuisine found in this country.  I chose a rice dish, Arroz con Pato (rice with duck) from my gorgeous Peruvian cookbook, seduced by the intense green cilantro rice shown in the picture.  The rice, mixed with peppers, onion, peas and of course, cilantro, promised not to disappoint, and I knew I had to give it a go.  I chose to substitute the duck with chicken, as I have yet to perfect my duck cooking abilities.  That will be saved for another day.  Intriguingly, the recipe called for 4 bunches of cilantro.  Yes that’s right -4.  Assuming that the American “bunch” was probably much larger than the Peruvian “bunch”, I opted for 2, and got to cooking.  Now, I’ll let you in on a little secret: I pureed my cilantro with chicken broth and used it as the liquid to cook my rice, along with some of the broth from the simmering chicken on the stove top.  This savory mix was enough to render my rice a deep green, and provide it flavor I never knew existed.  Without giving away the whole recipe (which I am sure the author of my cookbook would appreciate), my cilantro rice included the following: onions, red peppers, cilantro puree — to this, the rice was added, and then cooked in the “green broth” left over from the cilantro/chicken broth puree.  The slow cooked chicken was added to the rice at the last minute before serving, and what emerge was part paella, part risotto and pure Peruvian.  I even got word from my Aunt that Arroz con Pato is most definitely a plato tipico!!  Luckily my guests were in the cilantro loving club!!   This is one recipe that I will most definitely make again, and I am proud to say that I am firmly in the cilantro loving club myself.  But for those of you who don’t like Arroz con Soap, I’ll search for an alternative secret ingredient.  Just give me some warning!

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Peru=culinary delight

Of all the places I’ve been, I have to say that Peru is at the top of the list for its amazing eats.  Peruvian cuisine draws influences from the ancient Quechuan civilizations, Chinese immigrants, and Japanese culture, resulting in a truly unique blend of flavors.  As we sped through the outskirts of Lima from the airport, I spotted “Chifa” signs on every street — evidence of the strong Chinese culinary influence.  Chifa, which means “to eat rice” in Chinese, is a Chinese restaurant which serves the popular Arroz Chaufa, a true fusion of Peruvian and Chinese food.  On my first day in Lima, we had the most delicious sushi for lunch, rivaling most of the sushi I’ve had here in California.  Of course Peruvian cooking is not all Asian inspired, and much of the traditional dishes take advantage of the amazing local produce including corn, potatoes (of all sizes and colours), and wonderful seafoods and meat. 

Ceviche is considered one of the national dishes (if not THE national dish) of Peru, and the history of Ceviche rivals that of the Empanada.  The Incas ate marinated and salted fish, and the Spaniards brought the Mediterranean addition of lemons and onions.  Just like the Empanada, ceviche is a true blend of cultures, and there exist hundreds of variations on the dish.  Ceviche can be made with a firm, white fish, or with camarones (shrimp), and is often served with sweet potatoes and corn.  Fun fact= in Ecuador, ceviche is sometimes served with popcorn, while the ceviche I had in Lima was served with Cancha (similar to salted corn nuts).  However it’s served, ceviche is a truly refreshing dish that is perfect on a hot summer day.  There are 5 main ingredients for ceviche, making it a simple dish to prepare:

 (1) fish

(2) lime juice (you can use a mixture of lemons, limes and oranges)

(3) salt

(4) onion

(5) aji (hot spicy pepper)

Talk about simple, fresh ingredients!  See the whole recipe here.

When you aren’t eating your seafood raw, you are equally likely to come across it in another popular dish known as Causa.  This was by far my favorite dish that I tasted in Peru, and unfortunately the most difficult to make back at home, due to the lack of Peruvian potatoes.  Causa is a cool mashed yellow (or purple) potato cake accompanied with seafood fillings (ranging anywhere from crab, shrimp and octopus) and usually avocado and other garnishes.  The most amazing thing about Causa (after the exquisite taste) is the presentation- every restaurant I went to in Lima seemed to outdo the last, with gravity defying presentation that I was convinced I would never be able to repeat at home.  And to prove it to you- first the Peruvian version, then my not so beautiful version.  I must admit it did taste delicious, but with the limited variety of potatoes here (although I was able to find purple ones!), I may wait until my next visit to Peru. 

Potatoes in Peru are everywhere, and there are over 2,000 varieties!  Potatoes have been a staple of Peruvian culture for as long as we know, and for good reason — they are rich in nutrients and some people believe them to have medicinal value.  More Causa is just what the doctor ordered!

I could go on and on about Peruvian cuisine, and I have been happy to see more and more Peruvian restaurants popping up all over the place — clearly the Peruvians are a force to be reckoned with in the gastronomical world, and I am counting down the days until I return and have my beloved Causa and Pisco Sour.  Stay tuned for more on Peruvian food and recipes after the weekend!

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Discovering my inner Child

If I’ve learned anything in the past few years, it’s that life is uncertain and unpredictable, often in the best kind of way.  Not to get into the details, but I have spent the past 9 years acquiring knowledge and preparing myself for my career- 4 years of undergraduate study and 5 years of post-graduate study.  All of this will culminate in the completion of my PhD this summer, and a wealth of scientific and technical expertise tucked under my belt.  Now, I didn’t start this post to be a life story or anything, but I realized the other day the importance of doing what you love and having a well-rounded life full of hobbies and interests other than work/school.  Last week, on a lazy Sunday evening, I turned on Julie and Julia with Meryl Streep.  The movie had mixed reviews so I wasn’t expecting much, and, as is often the case, I was pleasantly surprised!  How I admire Julia Child, for her ambition, passion and drive to go after what she loved and make a life out of it.  As the only woman in the “professional” cooking class at Le Cordon Bleu, she was not content with being in the shadows, and even cut a bushel of onions for practice!  Julie, the present day blogger, was able to harness the power of Julia Child and discover her inner Child, launching a wildly popular blog and transforming her mundane life into an exciting food filled adventure. 

So, as I end one chapter of my life, I am excited by the possibilities that lie before me- the possibility to develop my interests (that I had precious little time for as a graduate student!) and delve into the world of food and travel.  Funnily enough, science and food do have a connection, and an interesting one at that, resulting in Molecular Gastronomy.  This branch of science (or should I say gastronomy) brings together scientists and chefs to study new cooking methods, tools, and ingredients — experiments with food!  Molecular Gastronomy is the reason why my Ajo blanco was topped with “espuma de jamon” in Toledo, and why my egg was cooked to perfection as boiling soup was poured over it.  Fascinating experiments with even better outcomes!!

As I begin to discover my inner Child, I look to the future with excitement and optimism, taking solace in the fact that I can always conduct my experiments in the comfort of my own kitchen.  And so, as a tribute to Julia Child, I attempted a rather complicated ‘macaron’ recipe (French for macaroons) over the weekend.  I am happy to report, that my preliminary experiment had excellent results, documented by the appearance of the “pied”, an integral part of the macaron.  Here’s hoping that the results will be reproducible!!

 

Check back for some fabulous Peruvian cusine and a mini history/cultural lesson as well!

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Hacienda Los Lingues- tales of colonial Chile

I must say that I’ve been so pleased with all the traffic to my newly launched blog!  Thank you everyone!  Please leave comments and thoughts, as I am always eager to hear about your travel and food experiences. 

With all the empanada talk yesterday, I was reminded of my visit to a magical place called Hacienda Los Lingues.   Located between San Fernando and Santa Rosa de Pelequén, Hacienda Los Lingues is an unforgettable experience.  Coming from noisy, bustling Santiago, Los Lingues was like a breath of fresh air, 10,000 acres nestled in the beautiful Chilean countryside.  The name “Los Lingues” refers to a native Chilean tree which scattered the countryside.  We pulled up to the large country estate and felt as if we had stepped back in time.  We were immediately ushered into a cool subterranean stone room (that used to be a barn!) for lunch where steaming hot empanadas awaited us!  I was impressed! 

Hacienda Los Lingues is the oldest family owned business in Chile, and has been in the same family for over 4 centuries.  The most amazing part about Los Lingues is that it has been restored to reflect its history, while providing amazing amenities and service.  After lunch we wandered around the massive grounds and witnessed a traditional Chilean rodeo with the huasos (Chilean cowboys).  As the dust swirled about their feet and the horses paraded around the ring, I was overcome by the incredible history of this place.  What an oasis this place must have been in the middle of the countryside!  With the Chilean music blaring and the hot summer sun on my back, I felt transported to a different time.  We spent the last few hours of the afternoon cooling off at the pool, with the distant sounds of animals and insects buzzing in our ears.  Enough to lull me to sleep in this peaceful place. 

Being the food lover that I am, I was beside myself with excitement for dinner which would be served in the 17th century dining room.  We sat out in the courtyard to have a pre-dinner drink and take in the natural beauty of the place, the courtyard filled with gorgeous plants and flowers.  Los Lingues actually has their own wine, and it was the perfect way to start the evening.  The main dining hall was spectacular-with a huge mahogany table that was far too large for the four of us!  We had a delicious 4 course dinner (served on hand painted plates) including paté and gazpacho, with sorbet between courses, and finished off with coffee, served in the very same coffee set that once belonged to the original owners!  It was a gastronomical delight, with a history lesson as well!  Check out that wallpaper and the nativity scene for Christmas in the dining room.

I slept well that night after our marathon dinner, wrapped up in antique lace bedspreads with visions of huasos and colonial women wandering the grounds.  We had a delicious breakfast in the courtyard and before I knew it, it was time to pack up.  I was sad to leave this calm oasis and vowed I’d be back again one day.  As we piled into the car and headed south towards Playa Blanca, I took faith in the fact that if it hadn’t changed much in 4 centuries, then I could be assured of another wonderful visit in years to come.

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