Unlikely Duo

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(Above: Grapefruit, Coconut and Avocado Toast on whole grain bread, Crimini Mushroom and Chevre Frittata w/ Oven Roasted Tuscan Kale)

Sometimes, shouldn’t get complicated.  An unlikely and wonderful friendship happens when two creamy components come together.

Crunchy warm toast, coconut oil, avocado, olive oil, black pepper, sea salt…

What just happened??? A really great snack just happened.  I spent the night at a friend’s house and she pulled out the ingredients listed above, among a random array of fruits and vegetables.  Breakfast à la hung over girls happened.

It was strangely addictive.

I have to add ingredients really matter with this simple concoction.  Coconut butter will not work.  The neutral quality of coconut oil is the best when making this snack.  I also recommend using a whole grain wheat or seeded bread to toast, a creamy & ripe avocado, flaked sea salt, a good olive oil, and fresh cracked pepper.

Coconut Oil and Avocado Toast

1. Toast Bread

2. Spread 1/2 T. Coconut Oil on toast while warm.

3. Spread ripe avocado.

4. Sprinkle lightly with flaked sea salt, fresh cracked pepper and a drizzle of a good olive oil.

 

 

Tina Loves Italy

I’m back.  My first time traveling alone unraveled lots of insecurities and falsities that stresses in life have given me.   I fell in love with Italy when it opened up to me, or was it when I opened up to it.

Unorganized, unplanned and it was just what I wanted.  I encountered the traveler with just a ticket, the organized boutique traveler, the backpacker, the traveler to whom just wanted that passport littered with stamps, the lusty traveler, the party traveler, the farmer traveler, the other persona traveler…

Traveling is part relaxation, part adventure, and part learning about the people the places and the culture.  Of course that always includes the food.

What traveler was I?  I was the naïve traveler, the unorganized traveler, the lonely traveler, the one to be ignored, the voyeur.  The one who really wanted to sit down in someones home and eat a home cooked meal.

Traveling unraveled itself in my 20’s when I worked as a waitress at a local Irish bar, I met countless people who backpacked, or traveled through Europe, Asia, South America.  I vicariously lived through their stories and as my glazed eyes stared into space, I placed myself in a time when I could finally do this myself.

I flew into Heathrow and found out that my room in Rome was already rented, and that my money was refunded.  There was no time to assess my surroundings, I had landed and planted myself at Roma Termini, and I quickly had a love hate affair with Rome.   The train station slapped me in the face.  My body felt weightless, like being suspended on a bed of clouds, still trying to take in the fact that I had no bed secured for the night…

I highly romanticized Rome, and thus far the act of the lonesome traveler…I had no idea what I would be expecting.

Freshly jet lagged and tired from carrying a heavy backpack through terminal after terminal, I was ready to tear up.  Frustration peaked through and made me weak.

In my first Roman taxi, the driver questioned why I did not know the language and it was only then that I opened myself up tospeaking the language.  My voice trembled and my adrenaline rushed when I told him “Io non capisco l’Italiano”,  I felt like jumping out of the taxi and not paying him after that comment, but I understand.  After coming across so many tourist that just speak English and don’t even make an effort, flocks of disrespectful tourist is a recipe for the angry taxi driver.  To him I was just a number, until I made that effort.

In Italy… I met a stranger and together we ventured off to Cinque Terre and Venice, stayed at an all women’s hostel formerly ran by nuns sleeping in a room with 13 other women, then there were magical times like waking up to the sounds of church bells, hearing Italian children whining for their mothers in the early morning, beautiful seaside towns, Venetian alleys, seeing an a little old woman canning tomato sauce, but of course I also had encounters with aggressive men, sleeping at an airport, holding the frail hand of an Italian nonna, went to the hospital and got treated for dehydration in Milan, drinking prosecco and valpolicella while eating lunch with an Italian family, drinking lots of wine, trying horse meat, and donkey meat in one sitting,   walking…walking…walking…pizza pizza …pasta… pasta…

It was in Milan and Verona that I felt the safest and the most at home.  I can’t give thanks to Mateo and Valentina enough, I can’t tell you how much I fell in love with Dido, Antoinetta, Domenico, Anna, Nico, and their whole community of friends and family.

When asked what I would do differently, my response would be absolutely nothing…but it would have been nice to just have more money on the trip.  Especially when I saw that hefty green wool Dries Van Noten coat that was heavily discounted at a little boutique in Verona. Most importantly after feeling so weak, I was able to gain back the strength that laid dormant after my father passed away.

While laying in bed I found myself planning my day…should I walk to the Duomo and head to the Pinacoteca today?  Should I go walk to the park? What else can I do?  Still in a bit of a dream state…still waking up.  I miss most, the sounds of Italian conversations, and the hand gestures, and the cheeky kisses

I’ve gotten the bug.

Gone Farmin’

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All healed. I am on the last leg of my journey, about 1 more week before I board that plane back to San Francisco. This week I am heading to a farm forty minutes outside of Milano.
I loved all the people that I have met, and can’t wait to tell you more.

I also miss this guy…

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Ciao amore!

P.S drink lots of water when traveling! And I am very grateful for the healthcare access in Italy.

Italy…

 

 

I finally have some time, rest and a computer to write on.  So far it has been 19 days since I last stepped foot on American soil, the delays, the waits, the confusion with my first time traveling were at a point unbearable.    My trip has been nothing less than an amazing experience.  Seems like all emotions have been put forth on a platter, and i’ve given myself the opportunity to take it all in, and leave some excess behind.

I won’t be posting much until I get back to the states, then I can sit down and write stories that accompany the pictures that I have taken.  Even though I am a cook, I did not come to Italy to only seek out food, I came to seek out the culture, the people, the language and to fulfill my fascination with this country.  The food…uhhhh the food, I think I have to do a total detox when I get back to the states.  There was one night when I ate so much charcuterie, that I felt really sick.  Forget about EAT PRAY LOVE…that was NOT the reason why I wanted to spend 35 days in this beautiful country.

Milano is my base right now, and I have the greatest host.  Matteo Musci  who has given me an Italy that I would have not been able to experience, if I were to be alone.  His community of childhood friends, family, and everyone in between has been warm, gracious, caring and open.  This trip has really made me want to study the Italian language.

My backpack can tell stories, and so can my Iphone camera, but all those just do not give the moments spent alone justice.  When my Lonely Planet guide could not help me, and when Io no capisco Italiano was all I knew.

I worked in a small bites bar called a cichetteria in Venice, I got yelled at by a lady in Corniglia for petting a sleeping cat, I met a solo traveler named Aaza and followed her to Cinque Terre and it was in Venice where we got ourselves into a little bit of a mess.

Ah yes, traveling alone also consisted of me crying to complete strangers.  When my frustrations built up, when my knowledge of the Italian language was just shitty, when even walking into a pastry shop seemed like an ordeal.   When nothing seemed to work out, but then when it started to work out…

All moments on this trip so far have been eye opening and amazing, and as I continue on the days, time, and everything becomes even more surreal and it becomes segmented by experiences and towns as opposed to days and time.  Oh yes, I am only a little over halfway into my journey.

I have been losing sight of reality, as everything seems to be totally dreamy...sognante.  In a dream, in a daze, and all I want to do is cook…for anyone and everyone that I come across.

When I open up a conversation with, food here, the locals go on a bit of a tangent.  Where is your favorite place to eat, what region, where did you grow up…FOOD becomes the language that I speak.  Hand gestures, and words that I have learned from cooking has really helped me to get in touch with strangers.  We all love food, and everyone in Italy seems to want to show me their favorite food, favorite place to eat, secrets that the Lonely Planet guides could never tell me about.

Every city I come across has been my favorite…but it was in Verona that my hosts Anna and Nico were so inviting that I contemplated a move.   They have the cutest shop called FOLKS where the most outrageous collections of Vans Shoes can be found.  I wish I had the time to tell you more…

Ciao!! Off to Torino tomorrow then to Florence then???? Until next time…

Music choice by Matteo.

Big Sur Dinner

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Just cooked a feast in beautiful Big Sur at Caroline and Werner’s getaway (Big Sur Getaway).  We had such a good time, and I can’t stop thinking about how well everything turned out, and how warm and gracious all the guests were.  Such a good time.

Also, thank you to photographers Jamie Street + Michelle Pullman who took shots of the event.  Pictures to come.  Visit Rad+ In Love  for their wedding photography.

Menu:

• Cumin Roasted Sweet Potatoes and Heirloom Carrots
• Grilled Dandelion Greens and Braised Leeks
• Radicchio, Fennel and Arugula Salad. Mustard Anchovy Vin. Pecorino Romano
• Farro Salad. Melted leeks, Wild Mushrooms and Delicata Squash
• Garbanzo Bean Ragout Braised in Red Wine, San Marzano Tomatoes and Herbs
• Fettucini tossed in an Olive Tapenade w/ Broccolini and fresh Early Girl Tomatoes
• Jicama Apple and Cucumber Salad w/ Fresh Garden Herbs
• Oven Pickled Yellow Beets Parfumed w/ cloves and topped w/ Goat Cheese
• Sumac and Pomegranate Mollasses Leg of Lamb w/ Charmoula and Lamb Jus
• Pound Cake w/ Meyer Lemon Curd and Whipped Cream

Cooking Class

A couple of things happened…

A friend called me up a couple of weeks ago, and asked me how I made this granola.  Then I posted a picture up on Instagram, and a few minutes after that same friend called me, and asked how I made my jam.   I didn’t have time to go through the complications of trying to explain to her two different recipes in 15 minutes, so instead I offered her a class.  We haven’t been able to hang out for a while, so it was definitely positive for both of us. I then offered it to other friends, and found that within a day my little class would be booked.  The last time I had a cooking class, it was probably about 5 years ago…

We started the day with a nice breakfast, and had every one sit around the table to sample some already made granola and jam.

Breakfast: Whole Grain Toast w/ Avocado, Heirloom Tomatoes, Poached Egg Sea Salt, Soy Sauce & Black Pepper

The first student was my friend Chona, and we had an impromptu egg poaching lesson before everyone got to the house.  When everyone finally arrived, we ate, then went to hike.  The berry excursion was a good one, as the students fruitfully filled their baskets with dark berries, it seemed like the cotton of our shirts were hooking onto every branch and berry with gentle warnings of the treacherous fall down the Bernal slopes.  Luckily the overcast day and the mild warmth gave way to a great adventure in city berry picking.  Unstained and hungry we headed back to the house.

We divided the project into 2 groups – Jam and Granola.  I gave them instructions and let them ask questions as I cooked them lunch.

Lunch- Penne w/ Walnut Pesto and Pecorino Romano & Mixed Lettuces w/ Honey Shallot Vin.

MUSIC CHOICE VIA BENJAMIN KASMAN

What a great class!!! Love Love Love to Chona, Jennifer, Dee, Noah and Benjamin.

Homemade Granola

Ingredients

  • 2 C. Oats
  • 1/2 C. Coconut Flakes
  • 1/4 C. Brown Sugar
  • 1/4 C. Honey Or Maple Syrup
  • 1 tsp. Honey
  • 1/4 C. Flax Meal
  • 1/4 C. Coconut Butter
  • 1/2 tsp. Cinnamon or ground ginger
  • 1/8 C. Sesame Seeds
  • pinch of salt
  • other ingredients to add – Nuts, seeds, dried fruits, dried berries etc.  For this class I used a raw trail mix blend, which I added at the end of the toasting after the granola has been cooled.

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees.
  2. Combine coconut butter, vanilla, honey, sugar and salt bring to simmer and dissolve.
  3. In a large bowl, combine oats, coconut flakes, sesame seeds, cinnamon.
  4. Combine wet and dry ingredients together till well coated
  5. Spread in sheet pan and bake.  Stirring occasionally to even toasting.  20-30 minutes
  6. Let cool to dry.  Mix nuts, trail mix, or your blend of choice.

Chicken and Clams

Nothing goes together like chicken and clams.  Nevermind…

Surf and turf they call it.  Long associated with stained red lobster claws and tails, a hunk of juicy aged steak butter and potatoes.  Nothing says steak house like good ol’ drawn butter a bib and meat.   I like the flavor that clams and other seafood creatures lend to land critters when thrown together in a pot.  Just when I thought I was cooking for two, I then found out that I would be welcoming a third, so I decided to head down to my local seafood monger and bought some clams.   As I tasted the broth I knew that clams would be a great addition, not only would it stretch my meal but it would also give the braise additional broth when the clams open.

There is a heavy Italian influence here.  The kitchen staples to work, aromatics to start with and creating an inviting and aromatic dish.  This recipe allows the avid home cook to gain access to cooking a basic and delicious nonchalant dinner.  From this simple dish you can add olives, lemons, different meats,  different herbs.  Allow yourself to experiment with other root vegetables, as well as spices,  as well as using canned verses fresh tomatoes.

The marjoram and fresh herbs in this dish as well as the freshness of the tiny plum tomatoes sweeten and freshen the braise.  Instead of a braise it becomes a juicy stew, and thus is lighter than a thick and unctuous sauce.   Served over rice, or over pasta, maybe cous-cous, and even polenta it creates a delicious dinner for a mildly breezy summer night.

My pantry needs, Olive Oil, Salt, Pepper, Lemons, Onions, Garlic, eggs, herbs, and canned tomatoes.  If I have that I can make and create a dinner in no time.  .

Chicken and Clam Stew w/Plum Tomatoes and Herbs over fresh Tagliarini
Serves 2-4
 
3-4 Chicken Legs
12-16 Manila Clams
1 C. Red Wine
1/4 C. Red Wine Vinegar
1 Medium Yellow Onion
1 C. Carrots
3 Cloves Garlic
1 T Each – Marjoram, Oregano, Thyme
Capers
1 1/2 C. Plum or Cherry Tomatoes
Olive Oil 
Salt 
 
You will need a pot that could go from stovetop to oven.   Salt and pepper chicken, let sit, pay dry.  Heat pan, add Olive Oil.  Add chicken and brown well.  
Remove chicken when skin side is well seared and browned.  Remove some fat from pan.  Add a bit more olive oil, and add onions and garlic and salt.  After about 4 minutes, add red wine, vinegar scrape pan.  Add herbs, carrots, tomatoes and 1 C. of water-cover and simmer on low for 20 minutes till tomatoes blister and pop.   Assist the popping by puncturing the tomatoes with a fork if needed.  Add Chicken, capers continue to cook for another 20 in a 375° oven. Take out of oven and add clams, place back into oven for another 10 min or so just enough until the clams pop open.  
 
Place atop fresh pasta and drizzle with some young olive oil. Yum.
 
 
[youtube http://youtu.be/AdimD8Z-ppY]

City Hike

I went on a little city hike yesterday.   Tuna sandwich, cherries, and guava juice.  I huffed and heaved hoed my way up the hill and came upon bushes and bushes of thorny branches, filled with ripe and unripe berries galore.  I grabbed a couple,  climbed over some railings and foretold of a bloody fall.   Backing away from the sloping hill I grabbed what I could.

I continued up the hike to see more berries!  Not now…I waited till I finished my hike before I succumbed to my greed.   Berries…berries…berries! Some where not the sweetest nor were they the easiest to pluck.  I put my sandwich bag to use, these downward facing hills wouldn’t detour me from dreams of making a city jam, but maybe the constant pricking of thorns might help.

My jam fantasy came true, my city hike gave me a mini bounty of fragrant dark gems to bring home.  I had just enough time to cook and jar them before I went off into the night.

*I never add pectin into my jams.  I add a little more sugar and leach out as much of the juices as I can then I reduce and reduce.  The lemon always adds a nice brightness.  The natural pectin from the pith as well as the acid always helps with thickening.  Jams are not very complicated.   Stir, watch it, and reduce it.  For the home cook, nothing should be very complicated about making a jam.  Just don’t burn it.  A special copper pan would be nice, and a thermometer would be nice and that spoon test…forget about it all and just watch your jam like you would watch over a toddler in a kiddie pool.  

 
Blackberry City Jam
 
2 1/2 C. Blackberries
1 1/2 C. Sugar 
1 Lemon
 
Rinse blackberries of dirt and debris.  Cut whole lemon into thirds or quarters remove seeds.  Place berries & lemon in pot, add sugar.   Cook on medium heat.  Stir to ensure that nothing sticks to the bottom of your pan.  At this point you will see your berries shrivel and the majority of your pot will be taken over by the juices of the berry.   This is a time to really watch your heat!  Gently stir bottom of pan and sides.  Turn heat to med-low, and just let this reduce to thicken.  I recommend 20+min.   Thicken it to about less than 1/2.  If you insist on doing that spoon trick-stick a metal spoon into the freezer.  Put some jam on the spoon and place back into the freezer, from here you can quickly see the gelling as well as desired thickness.  Before placing into jars remove lemons and squeeze excess.  Want it thicker? Cook it more-but be very mindful of not scorching your molten jam by stirring the bottom of the pan. 
 
 
 
Put into a clean sterilized jar eat and enjoy. 
 
 

Green

When I first stepped into a commercial kitchen I was blasted with the sights and sounds of what I had always dreamed about.  What I always wanted to be right in the middle of…

Green…”Your a little green”,  said the sous, trying not to sound too much like a novice I shrugged my shoulders, and ignored the statement.   He told me that green meant fresh and that I was still very new.  Why yes, yes I was and I still am.  Every time I enter a new kitchen I do feel green, and I find that feeling appealing!  It’s a as though I am taking a cooking 101 class all over again, a refresher course on what to do, say, and what to ask in these different environments.

I am also very new to the act of creating a soup for a restaurant…from start to finish.  I mean how much, how will it taste, what will the restrictions be, will there even be any restrictions???  Little did I know that I would be  asked back to Zuni Cafe to cover some line shift and even more surprisingly, asked to make some soups for service. It’s a pretty incredible feeling to see my creations on the menu. My sense of self was quickly restored, and with some guidance froms my Chef De Cuisine any worries or restrictions that I had were thrown out the window.  START TO FINISH.

Potato and Celery with a Basil Pistou, Black Lentil with  Roasted Pasilla Pepper Oregano and Orange Oil, English Pea Soup with Minted Yogurt, Artichoke Soup with a Fromage Blanc Crouton and Green Peppercorns, Roasted Poblano and Spinach Soup with Lime Crema.

Here is a recipe for one of my favorite soups from that week.

Roasted Poblano and Spinach Soup w/Lime Crema 

1 Quart Chicken Stock.
1 Pint Water. 
2 C. Yellow Onions (diced or sliced)
2 Large Poblanos
1 lb. Spinach 
1 Stick Butter 
Olive Oil
Coriander
Green Peppercorn (white peppercorns can be a nice substitute)
Creme Fraiche
1 Lime (1/2 its juice and zest)
Salt 
 
Oil and Salt Poblano.  Set in broiler or on on direct heat to blister (If your lucky to have a wood burning oven, this is the ideal environment for doing so).  When they are ready take them out of the oven, cover them and let sit. 
In a heavy soup or cast iron enameled pot add butter and onions and 1 T. of Salt.  Melt the onions on medium heat stirring and watching heat to ensure that your onions do not brown or get any color.   The onions should cook for 10-15 minutes on low-medium heat. 
Make a bouquet garnie consisting of lightly crushed coriander, and lightly crushed green peppercorns.   Add this to the onions, also add the pint of water and chicken stock  Let simmer.  After 15-20 minutes add spinach.  Add Spinach. Using a blender or a hand blender.  Pulse till desired consistency.  Season to taste. 
 
For Lime Crema:  
Add 1 Tablespoon of lime juice, Salt to taste, whisk in Olive oil.  Drizzle over soup and serve. 
 

Included in this post is a recipe for a lime-aid.   The heated summers in Southern California in conjunction with strict parents lead me to experiment and spend lots of time in the kitchen of our home.  So you know the saying, when life gives you…I made lemonade, and various juice drinks using what was lying around the house.  I often made granitas during those very hot Southern California summers.  Here is a more adult rendition using Piloncio, a Mexican unrefined sugar that you can get at your local specialty market.  I was inspired to make this while working at Nopalito.  Enjoy.

Piloncio Lime-Aid 

1/2  lb. Piloncio Sugar 
2 1/2 Cups Lime Juice
3 C. Filtered Water 
1 Lime to garnish – cut into whole rounds.
 
Combine water and sugar in a pot, bring to simmer making sure sugar is dissolved.  Juice enough fresh limes to make 2 1/2 cups.  
Grab your favorite tumbler, fill with ice of your choice (I really like crushed ice).  Place one or two lime garnishes.  Fill 1/2 of the way with lime juice and the other 1/2 with the simple syrup concoction.  Stir and maybe let sit for a moment to meld together and SIP SIP SIP AWAY on a hot hot hot summers day.  
 
Because this is fairly concentrated I suggest maybe adding even spritzer water to your drink or a shake to dissolve.
 
*Crushed mint or Basil would also be delicious in this refreshing beverage.   *Rum, Tequila, Vodka, Gin or Bourbon would also be a great addition.
*Alternative sweeteners could be brown sugar, turbonado, Agave, and or Honey.