Pig Talk

The 289 lb pig carcass laid on the chef’s counter, cut in half from torso to tail, bagged, and headless. The head, I heard, sat in the walking refrigerator outside the restaurant, where the delivery person from the farm left it a few minutes before I arrived.

Part of the curriculum of the class I taught during spring semester included meats and fish, and the art of butchering, a knowledge not associated with those of us who spend our time with flour and sugar, and building cakes and tarts, and I had a few weeks to learn a lifetime of skills.

Pig trotters

For weeks, I had recurring nightmares of butchering the animals into inadequate and unrecognizable pieces, or having the slippery fish coming back to life to chew my fingers off as I tried to skin it in a classroom full of students.

At that point my choices were:

  • Call in sick the day before each protein class and risk loosing my job,
  • Take sleeping pills so at least the nightmares would go away, even if my skills didn’t improve,
  • Spend hundreds of dollars buying entire hogs and countless fish, plus the refrigeration system to store them
  • Or, Find experts who could instruct me in the art of butchering

Continue reading Pig Talk

Carrot Greens and Madras Curry “Pesto”

carrot greens and curry pesto

The garden glows. Spring harvest past its prime with the last few peas the bunnies stole and the bolted radishes and arugula left behind, giving way to beans, tomatoes, squashes, peppers, and the heat of summer.

potted eggplant

The farmers’ market bustles. With growers from Boulder, Longmont, Hygiene, Larkspur and more towns I can’t even recall, and patrons eager to taste the local harvest.

garden lavender

This season I’m striving to try every vegetable I see and every new, to me, idea I’ve read, like using carrot tops, for example. I’m guilty of composting the tops of many vegetables, unaware of their delicious possibilities in the kitchen. It makes me wonder, what do Colombians do with all of those tops? Feed them to animals? I have never seen a beet or radish green in the markets there and it never occurred to me they could be used in cooking.

using carrot greens

Continue reading Carrot Greens and Madras Curry “Pesto”

Decoding the Artichoke

I worked with a master chef who once told me, “Artichokes are romance food. You serve a roasted artichoke with a small bowl of olive oil to a table of two and watch the lovers pick the leaves and scrape the meat on the bottom with their teeth, while looking at each other with a smile.”

My first encounter with an artichoke was less “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” and more “The Godfather”.

artichokes

Continue reading Decoding the Artichoke

Spring Pea and Mushroom Orzo Pasta

An impostor! That’s how I felt. How could I attempt to teach others to make healthier food choices and cook at home if I can’t find my groove with one full-time job plus a part-time teaching gig? “This is what everyday people go through,” I told myself, “and I’m not even a parent,” well, Mr. Miles would think otherwise, however I don’t have to cook for him.

I started a full-time job three weeks ago with Cooking Matters Colorado, whose mission is to teach families how to cook healthy meals on a budget, shopping smart and meal planning to alleviate stress, which can help them make more nutritious food choices. Yet the first couple of weeks I wasn’t alleviating any of my stress.

After working for myself for seven years and then shifting to two years as a student, where I still had rein over my schedule, being strapped to a new place away from home, and the comforts of the known, shuffled me.

“What’s for breakfast?” my husband asked,

“Eggs?” I replied

“Nope, no eggs” he said.

Shoot!

There was one cup of cereal left, a banana, two bruised potatoes, a few carrots, mushrooms, peas, dried pasta, sourdough bread, jam, butter and yogurt.

“What are you taking for lunch?” he asked, as I was walking out the door.

orzopastawithpeasandmushrooms

Continue reading Spring Pea and Mushroom Orzo Pasta

Cali, Colombia: Visiting My Home City

As an expat living in the states and married to a non-Colombian, I see Cali with the familiarity and critical eye of an estranged daughter.
Cali is growing and changing, the expanding infrastructure, the new public transit system and the desire for progress that fuels the spirit of a city and its people ready to shed their past and proudly wear a new face. It has been an uphill battle with a reputation gained during decades of violence that froze the city, its development and the dream of many, finally thawing out, and a with a younger generation ready to showcase Cali’s potential.

andes mountains cali colombia

Cali’s constant festive atmosphere with its feathery palm trees, fruit stands on every corner, the hot-from-the-oven pandebonos and the backdrop of the Andean mountains embodies the passionate Caleños. You can start with two days in Cali, exploring the various small neighborhoods near the city center where some of the cultural sites have stood for decades like Museo Arqueológico La Merced, Teatro Municipal and Iglesia La Ermita; and where new developments, like the Ermita Boulevard, are opening the door for artists, chefs and business owners to set up shop and repaint the façade of the old Cali.

Stay and Explore

san antonio neighborhood cali colombia

Located west of the city’s center, the historic San Antonio neighborhood with its colonial style homes of stucco façades, iron and wood spindles is a personal favorite. Locals and tourist alike pass the time strolling around its steep streets peppered with small art galleries, independent theaters, restaurants, cafés and boutique hotels.
Stay at the San Antonio Hotel Boutique a renovated, colonial house with the traditional fountain and courtyard in the middle of the main room, a tranquil atmosphere and attentive service. Visit the San Antonio Church on top of the hill, built on 1747, a gathering place to view the city at night and buy crafts.

El Peñon neighborhood sits on the lower edge of San Antonio surrounded by a canopy of mature trees and fenced by the river. It offers plenty of small boutique shops and a vibrant restaurant scene and nightlife for every taste, from bars to dance clubs. I love to sit in one of the many cozy coffee shops to read a book and cool down with the river’s breeze before visiting the Museo de Arte La Tertulia’s latest exhibition, or the zoo if I’m out with the my brother’s little ones.

cali zoo

Across the river is the base of the mountain and the Normandia neighborhood, where dozens of sports enthusiasts gather every Saturday and Sunday, early morning before the heat of the day and the massive crowds awake, to hike to the Cerro de las Tres Cruces. It’s a steep hike to the 4850ft summit, ideal for those looking to join the locals, eat some sliced fruit on the way, and gain a different perspective of the city.

Eat

ajiaco colombiano

Caleños love to eat, a statement made by the bakeries in every corner, street-food joints offering favorites like empanadas, morcilla and arepas, and restaurants of every size and styles, from traditional menus to modernist cuisine. El Peñon de San Antonio (Calle 2, Cra 4 #1-108) is an unassuming, picturesque restaurant that offers traditional Colombian cuisine like Sancocho de Gallina, Bandeja Paisa, and the best Tamales Vallunos to please my mother’s difficult palate. La Casa del Pandeyuca (Ave 6A No. 26 N-22, a cab-ride away from San Antonio) is a local favorite for traditional breakfast items like pandebonos, buñuelos and pintado – coffee with hot milk; or a mid-afternoon snack of the best empanadas on this side of the city.

la guacharaca restaurant cali colombia

La Guacharaca Café, (Cra 6 #7-12, (+57+2 8833344) is the dream of Pablo Ravazza, a Caleño chef, and Luis Domínguez, a Spanish-born chef; their impressive résumés include a culinary education in Barcelona followed by work with renowned chefs like Alan Ducasse and pastry chef Laurent Duchamp (MOF). I was enamored with the historical building in the center of the city, an area few would dare to go let alone open a brilliant restaurant.

greenpapayasaladlaguacharacarestaurantecali

The chef’s use of local ingredients in their more avant-garde cuisine bows to the culture’s favorites while giving them a newfound exciting approach; like guarapo, a drink made from sugar cane, use in the vinaigrette for the green papaya salad with wine-poached calamari, or the cochinillo confitado con papitas criollas and guayaba – a local favorite, a small pig they source from a farm nearby, cooked slowly in its own fat, served with small yellow potatoes, indigenous of Colombia, and guava sauce.

elflasoolivorestaurantcali

El Falso Olivo, (Calle 16 # 103-00, +57+318 8585182) from Caleño chef/owner Lukas Garcés, a literature major whose passion for cooking took him to Le Cordon Blue in Paris, and in 2013 to open a restaurant as a dream to offer a new concept to the city.

elfalsoolivorestaurantcali

This beautiful, modern restaurant is located in a residential area south of the city, offering contemporary, eclectic cuisine incorporating local and indigenous ingredients, like the coconut and nut torte with thin layers of dragon fruit, chontaduro- an indigenous fruit, and agraz puree – an Andean berry. The cocktail menu also relishes with the vast variety of Colombian fruits like passion fruit and pineapple; and a well-curated wine list heavy on Spanish and Latin American labels. This restaurant has become on of the favorites amongst the youngsters in my family.

Drinks Alfresco

After dinner head to Penélope Martini, an open air cocktail lounge in El Peñon neighborhood, where music and load conversation mix with the refreshing Cali night breeze courtesy of the nearby river. A great place to warm up and get the party started before the dancing begins. Caleños hit the clubs later in the evening; no decent dance floor shows its potential before 11 p.m. or even midnight, so a few drinks before aids with time and dancing skills.

Salsa Dancing

No better place in Cali to try your salsa moves without reservations than Tin Tin Deo, a nightclub with an international crowd. Here all visitors, including my husband who loves this place, enjoy the beat of the clave, congas and timbale, and the intricate sound of Richie Ray and Bobby Cruz and their Sonido Bestial, and locals shout of pride with Grupo Niche’s Cali Pachangero; all in a comfortable atmosphere adorned with pictures of salsa heroes like Celia Cruz and Tito Puente. Arrive after 11p.m., grab a table close to the dance floor, enjoy the ease and finesse of the locals’ dance moves, and order a bottle of Aguardiente. Open Thursday to Saturday from 8p.m. to 3a.m.

Tips

  • Order taxi services through reputable companies rather than flagging one on the street.
  • Keep your valuables safe, including your smartphone, like in any big city there’s always the chance to get taken for an unaware tourist
  • Hydrate! Cali is hot and humid and walking around under the blistering sun can be detrimental to the night festivities. Juices are readily available and nothing beats the heat like a cold lulo or maracuya juice.

If you have more time and would like to explore around the city, you can:

  • Go for a bike ride either early morning or late at night with the many groups of bikers that meet around the city. Group biking ensures you have others watching your back, plus the places they visit are outside the tourist’s rounds. bikeridepicodelorocalicolombia
  • Visit the Sugar Cane Museum, located about 1 hour drive from Cali in a lush area surrounded by the Andes Mountains. There are many tours available, or you can find your way and take your time stopping by the roadside stands for juices or fresh cut fruit.museodelacañadeazucarcolombia

~ Paula

cali colombia

sugar cane museum valle colombia

exotic flowers colombia

 

 

Budget Grocery Shopping

One of the assignments for one of the classes I teach at the school is a scavenger’s hunt. The students have to go to different grocery stores and look for the price of different cuts of meats from different animals, analyze and compare. They found that there are “less desirable” cuts of meat, like chicken legs or shoulder-blade chops, to name just a couple, that have great amounts of flavor and are sold at a much lower price per pound than, say, chicken breast or pork tenderloin, because they require too much cooking or are perceived as difficult to cook.

ingredients for vegetarian french cassoulet

The most interesting part of this exercise, to me, is that in many cases the prices don’t change drastically from store chain to store chain. It does, however, change based on the quality and demand of the product. For example, organic, boneless chicken breast, the most popular piece of animal protein in the U.S., is between $5.99-$6.99 dollars per pound across the different store chains, compared to chicken legs at $2.49 dollars per pound at whole foods.

If we do the same thing for other items, like legumes, for example, we can see that 1-15 oz can of black beans costs an average $1.50 dollars, at any store, twice as much if it’s an organic product, $2.50-3.00 dollars. Now, the net weight specified on the label is not the food weight we get, consumer report did a test and found that most canned foods have an average of 40% of that weight in the liquid that we throw down the drain, so we end up with a little over a cup of cooked beans.

In comparison, a pound of organic dried black beans costs an average $2.25 dollars. Continue reading Budget Grocery Shopping

Whole Grain Banana-Chocolate Bundt cakes

Once in a while the grocery store where I shop has ‘brownish’ bananas on sale, as it happened a couple of weeks ago, so I buy enough to make a few loaves of banana bread.

The desperate look of the in-need-of-a-home bananas brakes me every time and I end up sheltering more than enough to make the usual banana bread, plus some other quick bread variation that I could serve for afternoon tea or even dinner; banana-chocolate bread baked in mini bundt pans fools anyone into thinking is dessert.

chocolatebananabread

The whole wheat and rye flours hide behind the dark {extra-brut} cocoa powder and the chunks of 68% chocolate giving it a sense of indulgence, plus lowering the sugar allows the chocolate flavor to shine and support the bananas as the first act.

chocolatebananaminibunts

Continue reading Whole Grain Banana-Chocolate Bundt cakes

Curried-Yellow Pea “Hummus”

For 25 years I have cooked pulses {dried beans, peas and lentils} and yet, I still find road blocks from time to time, this time it was of the yellow pea kind.

After soaking the peas for a few hours, I proceeded to cook them as always. They cooked, and they cooked, and hours past, and they kept on cooking, never getting beyond “al dente”.

“What happened to the peas?” asked my husband,
“They toughened up and formed a conspiracy against me,” I replied.

Left with a pot of yellow peas, with a personality disorder that gave them the texture of a raw jicama, posed two possible outcomes:

1- Compost them and forget the incident ever happened, after all I have to protect my reputation

2- Puree them into a hummus-like spread and pretend it was intentional

And so, Curried-Yellow Pea hummus was born.

peahummus

Continue reading Curried-Yellow Pea “Hummus”

A Weekend in Los Angeles

The scent of the orange, mandarin and lemon trees’ blossoms from the backyard of our friend’s house in Los Angeles filled the air with the sweetness of a long-awaited California beach vacation.

fresh of the tree oranges

The morning sun and the eight pound dogs running around the house woke us up as the bed covers insisted we stayed in a little longer after a night of blackberry and bubbles’ slushy cocktails at a nearby bar with an outdoor game room and an adjacent art gallery filled with millennials taking selfies and playing video games on a giant screen. My head empty with sleep and only the ocean waiting with a dose of sun and adventure could break my inertia.

The Hike
We drove to Malibu looking for the Solstice Canyon National park, right off the Pacific 1 Highway. Continue reading A Weekend in Los Angeles

Apple-Cream Tarts, A Pastry Lesson

Pretty desserts, the one reason why I decided to venture on to pastry instead of the hot kitchen. Well, the sweaty hours chained to a grill or a sauté station helped further convince me that my future was where the pretty things live, the pastry kitchen. That became the topic for a talk I gave at a culinary school in Oaxaca, Mexico last week, a trip I’ll share in a post in the coming weeks.

apple cream tart

Of those pretty pastry things I have a certain infatuation with tarts – of any shape and size. I love the intricacy of the simple looking tart. The crunchy shell with the delicate ruffles, like a well-made princess dress. The layers of creams, fruit, chocolate, caramel, nuts, and anything else one can imagine.

Continue reading Apple-Cream Tarts, A Pastry Lesson