Use your hands.

Use your hands.

In addition to other items at dinner, we have eaten Padron peppers three days in a row. These nibbles of green are actually pretty mild and addictive. My favorite part is being able to eat them when they are still hot, while the juices and the seeds gallop into your mouth like a flavorful injection, dispersing themselves onto your taste buds. I like to eat them whole, stem and all. It’s a satisfying feeling, like being able to to leave no trace of what was left on your plate. YUM.

When these pods of scrumptiousness come around, they come in abundance.

They are clean, with little flesh yet meaty with a thin skin. They do cook up quickly. The sizzle of oil and moisture released onto the pan as it sears the pepper lends a smokey flavor. Sometimes you get that one or two or three that can tingle and burn your mouth. Every cook I know often comments on those being the “lucky” ones. The coveted ones.

Padrons are best when cooked in a very hot pan, quickly and simply tossed with olive oil and finished with sea salt or even flavored salts like citrus salts, or smoked salts. Although accompaniments like zest and cheeses are delicious too. Soft crumbles of cheeses, chopped nuts, and fruits go well with Padrons

The other night I heated up a saute pan, tossed the Padrons and Shitake mushrooms in olive oil and placed them in the hot smoking pan. Being sure not to overcrowd and to toss every minute or so, I looked for the good char on the skin and looked for the mushrooms to soften then quickly placed onto a plate. Drizzled with some Olive oil, some flaked sea salt and a squeeze of lemon. They become a great snack or starter.

Sitting around a table, using your hands and pummeling through them with friends is the best way to eat padronsespecially on a warm summer night.

Carnitas!

Daniel eating Clams and Head On Shrimp over Israeli Cous Cous

So Daniel my love brought up a good point stating that my kitchen is actually more like a test kitchen…Well why I never thought of that lord only knows.  I find it really hard to remember recipes that I have conjured up.  We are even contemplating painting a wall within the kitchen that all black  paint that turns into an instant chalkboard.

Theres nothing like it.  Theres nothing like the feeling of accomplishment when I finish a dish and taste it’s oh so satisfying combination of flavors. That just make me so happy!  In this latest recipe I call for a somewhat more complicated array of ingredients that simply meld together so well.  Here you don’t lose the lovely pork flavor.  The pork butt cut is so succulent but add to that all these other ingredients then well…you get this interesting mix of flavors and texture!

Dee (I sometimes call her Dee Dee Ramone) my good friend Danielle had a going away party, and what better way to connect before her departure than some time spent cooking together in my kitchen.  So we made CARNITAS!!! Aye aye aye! It was delicious ! Better than any carnitas that I have had.  It’s probably something that a bit more complicated than your normal recipe but it was a sure to please

Oh and thank you Wikipedia for defining the pork butt vs. shoulder.   The butt contrary to popular belief is actually the lower part of the shoulder and is well marbled and fatty!  You need that fat and that glutenous quality, because without it you would be stuck with a big hunk of undesirable cooked meat.

Serve with warm corn tortillas- garnish with salsa roja, cilantro, wedges of lime, slivers of radishes, and diced white onions.

If you don’t have lard or pork fat handy just don’t use it! You dont have to but it’s much better if you do.  And if you can’t find Chayote squash just dont use it!  Use 1/2 a carrot instead.   It imparts a really nice sweetness.

Also, think of this salsa as a SAUCE! In traditional Mexican cooking some recipes can call for broth in order to add more of a savory body to the salsa.

Dee Dee Ramone cooking up some goodness

Carnitas

4 lbs Pork BUTT!
1 Stick Cinnamon
4 wedges of an orange
1/2 C. pork fat
2 bay leaf
1/2 T Green Peppercorns
1/2 T. Coriander
1/2 C. Orange Juice
1 C. Water
1 Chayote Squash
1 T Ground Coffee
3 Sprigs of Sage
 
salt
pepper
 
Directions:
Cut the pork butt according to the size of your pan.  A large 4 lb cut that I used was cut into quarters.   Rub the meat well with salt, pepper, coffee grinds and pork fat.  AND THEN…
 
 
Go ahead and just add EVERYTHING in the pot at once.  That’s right all at once to be able to let everything steep, and steam together in that covered pot.
Cover and cook on medium heat.  Cook for 20 minutes on this cooking time and turn down to low simmer with the cover still on.  Let cook and simmer slowly till liquid fully evaporates and meat is tender and still juicy.  1 hour or so.   You are looking for something that is going to fall apart yet when it does the juices and other aromatics will combine in the bottom of the pot to create a lusty and enticing aromatic crust of pork crispness.
When the meat is tender enough to fall apart just loosely fork through it and continue to cook.
 
TIP:  When the liquid in the pan has evaporated but the pork still isn’t tender add more liquid…stock would be a great option here…pork or chicken but water is great…and continue to slowly cook covered on low heat.
But what if you have too  much liquid on the bottom of the pan and your meat is already tender??  Turn up that heat and take the cover off and let that evaporate.  As that liquid evaporates the fat stays and so does the flavor.  Since the fat stays then the meat will crisp nicely.

Roasted Salsa Roja

 
I like to serve this alongside a lovely salsa using some of the pork liquid that I steal from the pot of Carnitas in its middle cooking stage.
 
 
1/2 C. Pork liquid ( you can substitute with beef stock or chicken stock if this is not handy.)
1 whole Serrano
1 Small White Onion
1/2 C. Chopped Cilantro
1/2 C. Lime Juice
4-5 Semi Ripe Tomatoes
2 Cloves Garlic
Olive Oil
 
Salt
Pepper
 
 
Cut your Tomatoes in half, wedge your onions , and lightly smash your garlic clove, remove the stem of the chile.   Lay these ingredients on a baking sheet and roast on high at 425º for 20 minutes or until serrano becomes blistered and tomatoes have a slight char.
 
Add all ingredients except your cilantro and lime zest into a bowl and puree until you have reached your desired consistency.  Add Lime zest and Cilantro at the very end and pulse for a quick 3 seconds.  Season accordingly to your palate.
 
 
The end result is a delicious and bright salsa.
 
I like my Salsa Roja to be bright, limey and well seasoned and savory.  But here salt plays a major role to bind the subjects together.  That tart, tangy, and savory salsa won’t be that savory without the well-rounded balance of salt.  So add just enough but not too much.
 
Now go and enjoy your summer- with all the fix-ins and Yeasayer!  I am enamored with these guys!  Can I somehow cook for them too?  I love the tremor in his voice…the melodies and the lively and epic beat.
 
 

It’s not as easy as it once was before….

I was once told that my blog is “TOO MUCH WRITING”…”It reads more like a journal than it does a blog”.  So what makes up a blog?  I’ll end up letting this blog redefine itself.

I AM INSPIRED over and over and over.  Sometimes…well lets see…ALL THE TIME I find it really hard to express or communicate properly without overindulging on hand motions and going through a tirade of words till finally it takes the other person to finish off the meaning.  My blog is a bit like that…

Going through the endless list of internet pages I am bombarded one after another with images and images stacked upon images.  But where’s the text?   Some pages take an extreme amount of time to load because they are just laquered with images.  I don’t know what this blog is anymore.  It’s become a mish mash of this and that and frankly I like it.

I lay here with my Mac book typing away trying to figure out what else could inspire me.  I heard my father’s voice briefly.  I tried to catch it and it flickered away.  How soon…how soon did i forget what his voice sounds like.  I hear my mother’s voice all the time, she calls me incessantly and leaves me voicemails when I do not pick up.  I find comfort as well as discomfort when she leaves me voicemails.

But my father’s voice…I am trying to remember it…I can’t…I am trying to replay stories…sayings…laughter…I cant…I just have images of him..smiling…laughing…yawning…silence…my heart is still so sore after 4 years of him not being physically present.  But it pushes me harder each day to work harder.

I was tempted to go back to a 9-5…

true love will find you in the end.

Piece O’ Cake

Photo by Daniel Dent

Wedding cakes.  Never did I ever think that I would be the go to person when it comes to wedding cakes, but so far I’ve been lucky enough to experience what its like be able to sweeten up two couples weddings.   My first attempt came about in May of 2009 when a statuesque blonde with bands of tattoos asked me to make her wedding cupcakes.  70 cupcakes, and a 4 tiered cake and a broken KitchenAid later the first special occasion cake was introduced to the world. The cake would be a fluffy Meyer Lemon cake with a lemon and orange blossom glaze slathered with whipped cream and garnished with slices of strawberries and candied kumquat.  FIRST TIME!  With some excellent help from my good friend Danielle, my roommate’s KitchenAid Appliance, and tips from my Pastry Chef Jen along with some last-minute necessities I was off for a bit of an adventure!

Danielle Patrice Arazaga - pastry assistant extraordinaire!

Armed and ready with butter, flour, sugar, eggs, honey, and garnishes within 3 hours I was able to whip out those lovely delicate cakes.  But of course something had to happen.  Dee (Danielle) dropped the kitchen aid on the LAST batch!  Whew I thought, it’s okay because that was the last batch, but what about the frosting??? Mixer = Broken. Fell to its death. “Ohhh no I don’t have the money to pay for another kitchen aid” said Dee. “STOP! We’ll worry about that later”.  With two whisk, A sunny San Francisco day, a back yard and some stairs we began to whisk the honeyed whipped cream into the light and airy frosting.  The cake came out beautifully for a Spring Wedding! And of course delicious!

Second came about early June 2009. A couple overheard that I did a wedding cake and they asked me if I would want to do theirs? Suuurree I thought…later  I received an email from the grooms mother asking me to make a grooms cake.  With some handy-dandy research tools I was able to find out that a groom’s cake was a very southern tradition.   Usually a very decadent or whimsical cake that is used to represent the groom.

Karl and Halo had a beautiful wedding on their family’s ranch July 4th 2009.  Needless to say there were insufficient modern-day tools to help me with this one.  I baked the vanilla cakes a day ahead and was able to pack everything in neat little containers so that the next day all I would need to do was assemble the 5 tiered cake.  The cake would consist of Vanilla cake, with layers of whipped cream, strawberries and a milk and honey concoction.  The outer would be slathered with whipped cream, bits of pecan praline, and shavings of chocolate.  IT WAS A SUCCESS!!! But of course mishaps occurred.

Photo by Daniel Dent

No…absolutely no kitchen aid, no whisk, and no bowls present at the ranch.  The local convenience store, and grocery store had only 2 1/2 pint containers of whipping cream.  We had to drive 30-45 minutes away to two different locations to buy 10 1/2 pint containers of heavy

whipping cream.  Daniel who was also photographing the wedding ended up also being my knight in shining armor and my driver.  The local breakfast joint/lunch and dinner spot was kind enough to let me borrow a giant whisk and a very large bowl to whisk the cream, a bowl that Paul Bunion must have used himself.  Assembling the cake was easssssssssy.  4- 8 inch round tiers of cake moistened with a milk and honey syrup (which I found was a symbol of long-lasting love in Persian culture), slices of fresh strawberries,  hand whipped honey cream and a top-tier about 5 inches in circumference was the cherry on top.  assembled 1.5 hours ahead of schedule I went off to take a shower and ready myself for the wedding.

Photo by Daniel Dent

Y’all better head back to the house I think something’s happened to the cake!!” So with whipped cream still in my hair,  my eyes bulged, and I took a gulp.   WHAT COULD HAVE HAPPENED!!!   I ran into the house.  It felt like I had just walked into a bad hospital scene.  All the nurses inside just bowed their heads down in silence as I walked through the archaic kitchen, walking through the sea of women in the kitchen to see my patient on its side 1/2 the body torn.  The tiny fridge which held the large cake was pretty much at room temp.    I faintly opened the refrigerator door only to find that half the cake had disastrously plunged to its sweet death.  WHAT WAS I TO DO? the chocolate shavings the praline, the cake!!! THE CAKE!!!  The electricity on the ranch was not up to par with modern-day standards. Daniel who by now was running around like a mad man shooting odds and ends of the wedding came to my side and offered me a suggestion as I went completely numb from shock.  1 hour till the wedding, no working oven, no supplies, no extra ANYTHING!

Photo by Daniel Dent

“JUSTICE LEAGUE” said Daniel “Lets just…do this…and that…and we’ll…and then…VOILA” the HALL OF JUSTICE was born.  Karl the groom wanted a cake that would show his love for comic books, so he presented me with a few Justice League characters in the form of Lego figurines.  This was to be the whimsical and decorative element of the cake.  The tippy top of the cake was salvaged from the wreck.  Somehow we jimmied the two leftover portions of the cake together.  I can’t really explain how we did it but we d

id.  With all the separate components now becoming one as the frosting suddenly the HALL OF JUSTICE appeared! No one was the wiser.  The cake was better than the original and in fact matched perfectly what a grooms cake was all about.

“Are you the young woman who made the cake?”  asked the grooms mother.  An angelic woman of magnificent grace and beauty. “Yes…but I have to admit the cake didn’t turn out the way I wanted it to so I won’t charge you anything for it.”  I braced her with what had happened, held her warm hand and led her into the kitchen.  Her eyes lit up and she seemed completely shocked.  I almost had to lift up her lower jaw from the floor!

She loved it, and she didn’t understand what was wrong with it in the first place! It was such a long SIGHHHHHHHHHHHHH of relief.

Both occasions I learned how important it is to roll with the punches and with downs always there is an upside to things. Nothin’ beats a little positive thinking, quick thinking and ingenuity.  Nothing beats teamwork.

And a little song:

Alexander McQueeeeeeeeeeeeen

I was inspired to draw a connection with the recent Spring/ Summer 2010 Alexander McQueen runway.

sp-about-mainimageHE IS AMAZING.  His conceptual response to fashion and the runway is major with it’s Avante Garde staging as an installation.   Going through his archival of runway shows I find myself saying over and over again “WOW” or “Oh my GOD!” even “WOWIE” was proclaimed.   Each show is  a meeting of massive multi dimensional morphing! Pure visual imagery and pleasure.  MY GOAL is to go through each runway show and create a multi faceted menu:

Just read the didactics from Fall/Winter 08: “

Based on the British Empire, the Queens of England, the Duke of Wellington, toy soldiers and punk princesses, this fashion fairy tale is dominated by an ancient tulle-wrapped tree referencing the work of the artist, Christo. For the first half of the show our heroine is dressed in beautiful rags: nipped waisted jackets, Victorian-line dresses with S-bend corseted tops, textured, hand-knitted mohair and washed tweeds all in dark or neutral colours lend a make-do-and-mend feel to the proceedings. It isn’t long, though, before our Princess meets her Prince Charming, at which point she descends from her treetop habitat and finds all the riches of the world at her disposal. Her clothing duly explodes into colour and references everything from the wardrobe of the young Princess Elizabeth –crimson velvet New Look dresses, ermine wraps and a bastardised Union Jack print – to the palaces of the Maharajas – a draped, predominantly empire-line silhouette finished with paper-flat embroidered slippers, each pair bespoke and created to complement its own outfit.”

Brilliant!  Is there a possibility that food and the runway can go hand in hand?  Of course!  The dark into bright juxtaposition of layers and layers evolves and just conjures up so many ideas that I could play with.  But with my food knowledge being only so modest what will I conjure up?  His details and his thoughtful selection of staging is just so inspiring.  The other day at work someone offered me a taste of Vietnamese yogurt to which I replied “It tastes like Hello Kitty…Theres that artificial sweetness” . I often times will taste and see food, which is why I have to close my eyes from other distractions and to focus on my palate…

In this link is McQueen’s 2010 line titled PLATO”S ATLANTIS I find playful inspiration sparking up inside me again. Haunting and awe inspiring, it revives my imagination so that it doesn’t relocate to a less creative space…and that BUILDUP!

YUMM.  This futuristic, reptilian, aquatic and hedonistic, fetish bound concept of this particular line sparked a vision of what I would be able to do with food.  Most the time food at its purist form is the most attractive and this connection with wildly exotic can conjure up rich stews, pastas, bountiful and beautiful greens layers of flavor, seafood game meats…It’s beautiful really, it evokes a playful passion that imparts the same attraction when viewed, and surely enough thats relevant with food.

Spellbound. WOW

the agony of being undefeated…

I’m going to go nowhere with this now.    Without thinking too much I will write.  About the oohhs and plenty of ahhs that I have had thus far in the kitchen.  You know when there is excitement to something it often wains but never ends…sudden change or impact will eventually pulsate life back into that, that what once got you excited.

I always said I would never write about the bad, and that meant that I would never write negatively about anyone or anyplace.  With that being said, I can, however, write about my disagreements with the unfairness and imbalance that there is in the kitchen…versus the front of the house.  It’s mostly a money issue here, there isn’t much fairness when it comes to money and working in a restaurant.  Hostesses and most front of house staff will end up making so much more money than those that are back of the house.  Where is the tip out system??

Should I ever be punished for doing what I love?  Money is not the issue here.  I am grateful for this job and this bright and full filling opportunity learning so much at this eager time of my life but I also know how difficult it is to make this switch and to feel the economic burdens.  So I suck it up.  I’ve focused too much in my past about making money, and I never left work as exuberant as I do now.

As the sun gleams brightly just outside my window and the warmth breathes against my back, I am given slight chills when I think about the uncertainty with my career and future.   It’s no hesitation or fears it’s just ….just…well I still can’t figure it out.

I had a wonderful day at work today; I remember when I asked my chef if I would be able to stage there just one day…That day, I said to him “I have no glamorized thoughts of glory or fame of becoming a TOP CHEF…I just want to hone my knife skills and learn as much as I can about the line…”.  We both sat and shared stories about why he got into cooking, and why I wanted to.  It ended with a handshake and a call a few days later.   I have spent my time there wisely and yes I have gained more knife skills, I am faster and more efficient and even though I still can cut a nail or a finger once in a while, eventually the healing time in between has lengthened.  I take my skills from one place and use it for the other…I left work with a huge air of confidence.  Never arrogance.

While all of this is endearing to my heart, nothing is ever more satisfying than knowing that within the past couple of months I have made all of this possible with determination, and the support from some of the most important people in my life has helped me extremely.  People have often referenced the furrowed brows colliding on top of my forehead as being a look of annoyance, my roommate has stated that it’s actually a look of determination.  “You look like your on your way to conquer something.”  Maybe I am…though conquer is not the word I would use.  A goal is a goal, I want to ACCOMPLISH and feel success and satisfaction…conquer isn’t the word.  I want a life without regret.

Yesterday I went on a bike ride.  25 miles.  NONSTOP.  On my city bike, turquoise with a cute basket.  As my friend raced in front of me in her spandex gear and helmet I held on tight to my rickety bike as cars passed me by.  The wind howling and pushing me sometimes forwards, sideways and blowing not so harshly for me to turn back.  I huffed and I puffed and I pushed and pushed…through it all I said…no no you’ve gone this far… My yellow scarf blowing, my basket shaking, my jeans sweating and my sweater flopping through the wind.  GO GO GO GO GO…!!

The slight uphill, the narrow roads, the sweat beads…and the aching and numbing knees and thighs… from San Francisco to cross the bridge through Sausalito through the highways and all the way to a wonderful oceanic view of San Francisco in the lovely town of Tiburon…then back to Sausalito.

Throughout the ride back…I envisioned myself getting off that bike, with one thumb up “SF BOUND” the thumb would say. My burning thighs were telling me to hail down the next truck with an empty truck bed climb in and head home.  I didn’t.  Could it be in my blood? Is it the Vietnamese resilience?  Could it be due to proper breathing technique?  Things will or will not get worst and or harder.  I just have to think…One day at a time Tina…I learned from Daniel the other day to never look back while I was on my bike because that could cause an accident on my bike.

The night I lay still on the hospital bed I had received massive head trauma, a slight coma and some seizures I lay rudely awakened.  That day as I raced down that hill on my snowboard, in the year 1999…my mistake was looking back at my competition.  My head was swollen that day and so was my ego.  I learned to never look back.  So yesterday on my bike ride when I was towards the very last stretttttttttttchhh I looked forward to the horizon, focusing intently on the road ahead of me, heart pumping and hair not so flowing.  I tilted my head down and began to breathe heavily and pushed forth.   The days when my mind will tell me “I can’t do it”  I look forth to that distant yet vividly bright future…and to that never-ending light that shines towards my goal…whatever it is.

Better…than never…

Its been a while since my fingers felt the erratic taps of the keyboard.  There is something that I miss when I can’t find my inspiration to write.  I always have the urge…searching and seeking for another experience to write about.  Maybe, like much of my thoughts I should focus.  Something will come…

The rain has erupted a bit of silence…and so has this bit of stability,  but as new change slowly veers it’s shy head around the corner I find my heart beating again.  Beating to an exciting new beat.  A serious one.