Sunday, November 20, 2011

Andouille and Lobster Bread Stuffing

 Here on the Pacific Coast of Nicaragua, we get excellent fresh fish. Unfortunately, Thanksgiving doesn’t revolve around ocean products. Well, I’m going to change that this year. For this recipe, we use Spiny Lobster. It’s very tasty, but there is no claw meat, and the meat doesn’t shred easily. If you can get your hands on Maine lobster, go for it! This means that the shell number will vary. Basically, to make this recipe to scale, you want one pound of raw meat.
eat me! (little corn island, 2011)

  This recipe is perfect for the Thanksgiving potluck. It takes time: you make a stock. If you want to simply add this to the chaos that you're already preparing as the main Thanksgiving cook, I suggest making the stock the Sunday before Thanksgiving (if you are a 9-5er) and lightly poaching the lobster in the stock and keeping the cooked meat on ice until game day.

Serves 16 as a side dish.
Lobster Stock (the make ahead: you can make it the Sunday before Thanksgiving, but keep the lobster meat on ice:
6 lobster tails, shell only
1 onion, cut in quarters, paper and all
2 heads garlic, cut in half, paper and all
2 Tablespoons black peppercorns, whole
1 packed cup of celery leaves (stalked okay, too... or eat them while you cook)
2 cup white wine
1 gallon water
*bring to a boil and simmer for about 1 hour, until reduced and flavorful. Strain and cool. 
To Make The Stuffing:
2 pounds baguette, cut into 1” pieces, lightly toasted in the oven or left out overnight
1 cup butter
4 medium onion, large dice
2 pound Andouille sausage, casings removed
1 pound lobster meat, cut into 1” pieces (all of the meat taken from said tails above)
1 Tablespoon dried thyme
3 cups premade lobster stock**
1 Tablespoon Kosher salt
1 Teaspoon freshly cracked black pepper
In a large pan or dutch oven over medium heat, melt the butter. Add the onion and cover. Stir occasionally, for about 15 minutes, until the onion is wilted and slightly browned. Remove and place in a large bowl. Add the sausage, cooking and breaking up into bite size pieces with stirring utensil. If you are using precooked Andouille, cut into large dice and cook until browned in a bit more butter (yum). When almost cooked through or fully browned, add the lobster meat. Stir together and cook until the lobster meat is just cooked through. Remove and place in bowl with onions.
Stir bread into onion-sausage mixture, toss in time, salt and pepper. Then, 1/2 cup at a time, add the stock and lightly toss with a spoon until it is completely absorbed. Do not add all of the stock at once, nor add all of the stock if the bread won't absorb the last parts. This will create a mushy mess. Lightly pack into 2 greased 9 x 12 baking dishes, or one of those huge aluminum pans (easy clean up!)
Bake for about 45 minutes at 350°F, until the top is browned and crunchy.

 It’s Thanksgiving, baby! Make a lot! This recipe is simply halved for smaller occasions. That means 1 1/2 teaspoon of thyme, for the kitchen math novice.
 HERB NOTE: Dried thyme is great because you don’t have to pay $3 for a bunch and then pick off the leaves that you need in a painstaking fashion, only to have the other half of the bunch dry up in your fridge. That said, dried herbs don’t last forever. It’s like nail polish, or mascara (that you eat?). Buy small jars! When you crumble it in between your fingers, it should smell herbacious, not like dust.
*If you have fennel bulb, please, substitute for 1/2 the onion
** so over bread stuffing? substitute pre-cooked wild rice for bread, and cut bake time to 25 minutes.
***The Lobster stock makes about 2 quarts: use the leftovers for soup. What a way to spice up your Thanksgiving leftovers!
****Not Thanksgiving, but interested in making this anyway? It’s a great side dish to Pan Fried Jumbo Shrimp, Rosemary Roasted Pork Loin or served as a main course with a spicy Arugula, raisin and lemon salad.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

show me your pics!

Social media and smart phones make it so easy to take photos, anytime, any place. It’s pretty ridiculous. Even being abroad, I hear the backlash of nay sayers who get sick of friends and acquaintances posting photos of food. Food. Really? 

 Well, as for me, I love seeing your food pictures! Food is not just nourishment, but a craft, an adventure, and a way to bring people together. The photos you share can be artful, or educational. What you’ve grown, created, or been served... It may be you eating a McRib. I think that counts big-time as an adventurous food. Sometimes they’re blurry. Eh. Work on that one, would’ja?
 But what I love even more than photos of food, are photos of seeing you enjoy it! I’ve been cooking professionally for 7 years. But, although you might not believe it, I’ve been eating for my entire life! And the best part of mealtime is that it brings people together. 
 During the holidays at Club P we sing (in the most awkward “happy birthday”-esque voices; I channel Tina Turner), a song called “We Gather Together,” a sung Grace that acknowledges gratitude for where our food comes from and where it takes us. It’s a cheesy tradition that, more than it’s spiritual aspects, signifies the warmth and joy of the simplicity that is being with loved ones.
 Because more important than your technique, presentation, or how expensive or organic your meal was, 
 is the love behind it. It’s contagious. here’s some of the love I saw during my trip to California; both in human and inanimate form:

Aimee helping mom plate sundaes with the most delicious homemade butterscotch brownie on the bottom
Dickie P searing Rib Eyes for the fam

Zack digging into a meatball and fava green stew 
Mateo wolfing his burger, "animal style"

greens aplenty for daily salads courtesy of Aimee's Best Raised Beds

Will plating up caramelized brussels sprouts

Summer savoring a rich chocolate cake

All American homemade strawberry shortcakes

Erin, Mat and I at Mat's new tapas restaurant in SF, Canela
Buen provecho & Happy Thanksgiving!

Thursday, September 8, 2011


definition: the act of renouncing: to formally declare one's abandonment of (a claim, right, or possession).
Have you ever thought: oh my god i need to go for a run otherwise i might get a muffin top and need new to buy new jeans, how embarrassing.
Try the Hunger Challenge (ahem starts this Sunday, September 11th. sign up for the hunger challenge HERE). I won’t even get into all of the good fortune that thought conveys. Psych: I will: 
1) the obvious: you’re well fed
2) you can afford running shoes, jeans, and new jeans
3) your schedule, stresses and lifestyle includes time to exercise and focus on your physical well being
4) you have time to focus on your physical appearance
I started my blog in order to increase awareness and support the SF Food Bank 2009 Hunger Challenge. It’s a week of eating/drinking on the same amount of money that people who require assistance from the SFFB and Food Stamps use.
I live for food. You know how some people think about what they want for dinner, right after lunch? or even breakfast? I’m days ahead.
 This has become increasingly more apparent since I’ve moved to Nicaragua and often need to plan in advance (sometimes by 2 weeks) to get groceries in a rural/island community. But this is not just for work:I can tell you right now that I have a Trader Joe’s Panang Tuna Tasty Bite and I am going to save until Sunday night so I don’t have to share it with my brother because he’ll be out of town (sorry, Mateo). 
gluttony knows no bounds:
 it takes 2 servers to bring out
a double order of our already huge nachos
(pictured: 1 lb. beef) to the bar
I waver. I volunteer with my community but I work in high end restaurants. I want to cook gastronomically but I also want to save the world. It’s a tough balance. I remember cooking at Google, with all of the included snacks, like Vitamin Water, Lara Bars, things that were free at work at we’d take advantage of (as in, take home), because, these treats were expensive, and, we deserve them ALL the time, not just during working hours, right? Eesh. But not everyone said this, anyway, I don’t remember one dishwasher I worked with sharing this thought with me. And FYI, there’s no limit to the type of people that Hunger affects:  kids, senior citizens, families; and one heartbreaking story after another affirms that there is such a thing as bad luck ((see: they should just... no, it's not that simple)). Not bad luck, like, 'oh, I'll take a staycation to save more money, or wait to get an iphone 4 because things are pretty tight...
So. Hunger Challenge (sign up for the hunger challenge HERE).Give it a shot, eh? What!!! No way. A whole week?! But I already have dinner plans on Tuesday! (Guess what, cancel them. Say no. Withhold. Besides the great conversation piece of, Oh, I can’t because I am on the Hunger Challenge, yada yada ... is the deeper, more influential feeling of having to say No to something that you want. Bienvenidos al Mundo Injusto!  Aha... awareness comes in...
Okay, I’m not convincing. And you don’t even live in San Francisco and don’t want to google your own city and participate in a local challenge.
how about ONE MEAL.
When I participated in the Hunger Challenge in 2009, the hardest part for me was being social on $4/day. September 17 is a nationwide awareness event that you can host in your own home- with friends! Show that slow food can be inexpensive, too; and sign up for the slow food $5 potluck challenge HERE
for yous guyz up for the challenge ( sign up for the hunger challenge HERE), here be:
my tips for the week:
Utilize legumes! (mix with grains: rice/bread/corn tortillas for a whole protein meal)
I am talking more than beans, here. I have nightmares reminding me of bloggers that forget to presoak the beans and end up without dinner... but what about others?
why? healthy, tasty, variety, inexpensive, and no need to pre-soak! can be cooked in under 30 minutes! Leftover legumes make great patties to fry up as you would a meatball! It’s less expensive to eat vegetarian, and these offer color, texture and variety.
* split pea soup with chopped ham
* garlicky green lentils with hardboiled egg
* golden lentils simmered with carrot and pepper chicken thighs (bone-in)
* PS: pinto beans are delicate and don’t need a presoak! Boil ‘em up!
I hope you eat pork! Sausage, bacon and ham are a great way to add a little flavor and protein to any meal. If you can swing it, poultry substitutes can have the same effect.
If you’re going to go the pasta/canned sauce route: here’s how to jazz it up and make it super tasty:
*in saute pan over medium heat, warm about 2 Tbs. of oil (any kind will do). 
*add 2 chopped garlic cloves, cook for about 30 seconds, then:
*add can of tomato sauce, stir and cook for about 1 minute
 *frying the sauce will help get rid of a tinny flavor and the garlic will punch out some freshness!

in general: cook in bulk, but not too much bulk. Say, no more than 2 meals worth of food at once. It's a great concept: BUT you are probably trying new recipes that you've never made and making weird modifications because of budget, and don't want to get stuck eating gluey potatoes for 4 days (or throwing them away at the end of the week when you go back to 'real life').
buena suerte, and let me know if you need an extra push or any advice!

Mark Bittman can do it. click here.

Monday, September 5, 2011

it's the time of the season

Like the rainstorms here, in Nicaragua, fruits of the season come in hard, fast, in overwhelming amounts, and then clear out.
 Fruit of the week: Sapote!

 not to be confused with Zapota, or Níspero, a common mistake (“anyone who's anyone can tell the difference, puh-lease!” she guffawed half-heartedly, her martini spilling as her shoulders moved up and down, “ha. ha. ha.” )
 The outside looks like a russet potato, but inside is bright orange, soft with a stone-fruit pit. The inside texture is often soft, like the Hachiya (bell shaped) persimmon, that you only want to eat when very soft to ensure the absence of astringent mouth feel. 
But, unlike the bell persimmon, have no fear in the fruit being slightly firm. I can’t think of another fruit that tastes so good and similar if firm or ripened. YUM. The taste is that of a fuyu (squatty) persimmon mixed with pumpkin. The locals here eat the fruit as a snack. The soft texture reminded me of Libby’s pumpkin purée, so I used the classic Libby’s recipe off the back of a can (well, the internet), and subbed in sapote- DELICIOUS. I’ve got a few Americans swearing it’s better than thanksgiving pumpkin pie. It’s also great because it is rainy, cooler and somewhat autumnal compared to other times of year in Nicaragua, which makes eating this fruit even more worthwhile.
Silvia humoring me for a photo
 I am also fortunate to work in a location with a garden the size of an Olympic sized swimming pool. Silvia and her team have worked with a Canadian organic farmer to train and learn about new products, but she’s got a natural green thumb. Being so rural, getting some fresh produce within walking distance is a great treat. 
oKra. no, no free cars
 Right now, the garden is full of okra, basil, dill, radishes, chiles, tomatillos, and more foods are sprouting up by the day. I give her seeds and pits from fruit we use to asembrar (plant) more. I use them in specials and encourage staff to use them in our employee meals, too. 

Speaking of which, let’s get real with our produce for a second. How do I get staff to eat it? For our staff meals, the best I can get on a plate for vegetables is boiled carrots or cabbage salad. Like, one tiny piece. 
 I want our staff meals to be more than filling, but hearty and healthy! I’ve got pie charts showing how much vegetable I want doled out on the plate, and our current staff meal menu now has tips on the bottom of each day, like: 
add radish to the cabbage salad! roast carrots in oven with a little oil, salt and pepper until caramelized, or add cilantro, lime and sour cream to the beets for a cold salad
dishwashers Katia and Frankie standing in front of the menu and pie charts:
one is for whiteys and one is for nationals (more rice and beans)
the slogan says: "don't be afraid to have more vegetables, they are good for your health"

lastly, one more fruit: with it’s durable, thick skin, passion fruit (calala) has a long season here. It’s also pretty well known, and may be available in foreign markets. It’s great for juice, but I’ve found it is quite tasty and popular as:
passion fruit dressing - try it at home!
*1 cup fresh passion fruit juice
1/4 cup white sugar
1 cup vegetable or soybean oil
1 Tbs. dijon mustard
1 Tbs. chopped mint leaves
salt and pepper
*Make the juice by scooping the flesh and seeds of about 8 fruit into the blender, puréeing and straining, no water added.
Add juice and remaining ingredients back to clean blender and purée until smooth. 
server Maria with a tasty calala beet salad
This dressing goes well with so many salads, even the blue cheese and bacon in a classic Cobb, but I like mine with:
roasted beets
mixed greens
toasted walnuts
feta cheese and 
grilled shrimp

and if you dare, challenge me to sing it with the modified lyrics 
(with practiced hands
to show you how to paint 
and make lanyards...) 
neverforget*copyright B. Johnson 2001

Monday, August 29, 2011

op ed

Bourdain: Always cracks me up. He’s a bitter old line cook who eats crazy food around the world. His latest hijinx, when asked, “who’s the worst food network chef,” involved a monologue debasing mogul Paula Deen, for her [terrible food and encouragement of US obesity], in short.

US Obesity: The debate of fault reminds me of the tragedy of Columbine and the blame placed on Marilyn Manson. If L&O SVU has taught me anything, it’s the fact that Deen never put the fried chicken in the hands of the obese. I side with the group that says that both Deen and Bourdain are entertainers. Her show, “Paula’s Home Cooking,” is not meant for everyday food, just as eating an 18 course French Laundry meal (also calorie heavy as well as pocketbook breaking) is not meant for everyday food. After working at Williams-Sonoma, one of the main things that I took away is: meat sells. cream sells. Vegetarian, Healthy, Fish accouterments get the nix before they even get tested. Maybe Deen can have an influence on the health of America, and I hope that she tries something to help Americans with food discipline. Wouldn’t that be wonderful? I’m in the mind, though, that it’s not just food we overindulge on (technology, cars, jets, salaries, bigger, faster, greed, sigh).
Bougie Foodies: Ugh. This is something that I actually do not miss, at all, from the Bay Area. It’s like living and working in a land of Monday morning quarterbacks. I think it is wonderful that anyone and everyone who can take time to make meals at home, experiment and share, does. I love seeing facebook photos of what people eat, have made, or blogs about kitchen disasters. But the ‘bougiefoodie’ is a pretty descriptive stereotype of self-made food critics with no culinary background and a subscription to some Michael Pollan newsletter, someone not in “Middle America.”
In the food service industry, most of my staffs have never eaten in a fine dining restaurant, including the one that we work in. In “Medium Raw,” Bourdain takes a butcher from a busy NYC restaurant to dine in the same restaurant, and ponders the class division: how can this man, who works with fish for 8 hours a day, never have the chance to try it? Cooking, albeit with so much fame, to make decent living out of it is tough, especially for people who want to spend time with loved ones. It’s also not all glamorous and sous vide. The USARMY doesn’t even peel their potatoes anymore. How this is outsourced is a different topic entirely, but I mention it just to note that “cooking” requires so many facets, and many of them are not exciting or intellectually challenging.
Living in Nicaragua, there is no competitive food industry, nor a competitive food knowledge non-industry (see: bougiefoodies). It is less complicated for me to balance my home eating, what I cook for clients and what I teach others to cook, all with with simple, organic & clean products and techniques. I am working in small ways, like teaching my staff to cook a great filet mignon, but also, how to give lots of vegetables (definition: produce with a bright color) to load our employee meals with healthy vitamins. Obesity is not a problem here, nor are snotty culinary-know-it-alls. 
2 great things about Paula Deen: #1: her family. She may cook with a ton of butter, but her kids and grandkids are always helping out, which is so heartwarming. Eating light and healthy is important, but the most important ingredient for a meal is love and sharing it, too (see, Carla from Top Chef). This goes for a shaved saffon geleé, or just cooking for friends at a backyard BBQ. #2: Paula Deen’s retort for Bourdain’s comments was just amazing: “[Maybe] someone had just peed in his bowl of cereal that morning and he was mad.”

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

A Pie For Mikey

huh? Who is Mikey? click here.

Today's blog is inspired by the healing process of Jennie. Jennie is a woman I've never met. She writes a food blog. I've never read it. A friend posted something about her blog on facebook. As it turns out,  her husband, who loves peanut butter pie, recently passed away. There's a quasi-food-blog-movement last week to create this pie in memory of Jennie's late husband, and as a reminder to live in each moment, share your love with others, and enjoy some pie!

I've never made peanut butter pie until today. I've been sharing it with friends, my brother, and coworkers, too. Luckily, it is a natural pairing for Nicaraguan ingredients- I've added some fresh bananas and dark rum to my custard. The real peanut-y flavor comes from the crust, as the custard is a lighter pudding.

Enjoy this pie with loved ones, laughter, and hugs.

Nicaraguan Peanut Butter Pie

Peanut Cookie Crust
1 1/2 cup crushed cookies (I use Galletas Maria)
1 cup crushed peanuts
12 Tbs. butter, melted

Peanut Butter Custard
1 cup peanut butter (chunky)
1 tsp vanilla
1 can of homemade dulce de leche (can sub 1 cup of brown sugar)
1/2 cup sugar
pinch salt
1 Tbs. dark rum
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
2 eggs
2 cups milk
3 bananas, sliced

1. Preheat oven to 350° F.
2.  For the crust, in a medium bowl, combine cookies, peanuts and butter. Press into a 10" round cake pan, creating a cohesive crust long the bottom and sides of the pan.
3. For the custard, combine together peanut butter, vanilla, dulce de leche, sugar, salt, dark rum, cinnamon and eggs. Once combined, stir in 2 cups of milk.
4. Lay bananas in a layer, pressing them into the crust. Pour the custard mixture over the bananas. A few will float to the top, that's fine.
5. Bake for about 40 minutes, until the pie firms and center barely jiggles.
6. Let cool at room temperature for 30 minutes and then move to the refrigerator for 2 hours, or overnight.
7. Serve with a large helping of whipped cream and a big hug.

for the CNN story, click here.
for the facebook group, click here

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

ah, THIS is why.

I get scared, frustrated and nervous living and working in Nicaragua.
  The external stresses are different than what I'd grown accustomed to, but the feelings in me they evoke are the same. All it takes is a few simple moments for me to remember why I do it. Why I do anything, really.

so proud of training team members with great attitudes  (Brenda does not always look so fierce)
a moment to myself with nature.

getting to say, "hey hermano" daily. this reason is the best of all.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

watermelon man

Dickie P enjoying a summer treat

Shout out to my dad, the biggest watermelon fan that I know. Dickie P prefers his watermelon plain, with a pinch of salt. BUT, if you are in the mood to get a little creative with some on hand ingredients, this salad is prefect for a summer afternoon! You can get hoity toity and cut it up tiny on little fried chips, make it into a salsa, or serve it on fancy plates, but I like it best in big, cold chunks with torn leaves of basil. The key is to serve the syrup on top last minute, so the watermelon stays pink and the syrup dark and thick. 

(click the caption for a little mood music)

Summer Watermelon Salad
2 cups balsamic vinegar
1 cup white sugar
1/2 medium watermelon cut into 3” wide planks
20 torn basil leaves
1 cup sliced feta cheese
First, bring the vinegar and sugar to a boil in a small saucepan. Lower heat and simmer until thick and syrupy, about 10 minutes more. Let the syrup cool at room temperature.

Next, arrange about 3-5 pieces of watermelon on each plate. Layer with leaves of basil and feta cheese. Repeat this process one more time on each plate to create a stacked composed salad. Finish each dish with a generous drizzle of balsamic syrup.
Serves 4 as a first course.

Dad, thanks, always for your support. I love cooking with you and for you, and I hope you try this recipe with some basil from your raised beds!

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

here I go again...

I feel so Doogie, writing in my blog tonight after a long day.
Here we go again... 
 I’m at a new restaurant, consulting for about 8 months. This spot is located on the gorgeous southwest coast of Nicaragua.
windy and wonderful beachfront minutes from home and work.
I’ve been here almost 2 weeks. The restaurant has been open for years, with cooks coming and going, but they’ve never had a real leader in the kitchen. Some of the troubles are very simple, like; no hand rags (for cleaning and drying), no clock, no storage containers (get this stuff out of pink Chinatown bags!), not one large spoon for serving sauces (at least, one without holes). This can be fixed once some new supplies get in, I hope. But then, also, the restaurant is open from the time staff get in (7am) until 10pm, leaving no time for any prep. The menu is WAY too big and kind of all over the place. Every staff member kind of helps with everything, leaving dishes and prep constantly (and overwhelmingly) behind. The crew is constantly running, and now I’ve joined them. 
Today I started my morning, in at 7am to help with the fish order that Felix is going to put together. Felix “pops” (as fast as a broken jack in the box would) over to the local fishing village to buy fish for the next few days and then comes back to filet it. I prepped the specials for lunch and found out that our dinner cook has a doctor’s note for 2 days, so decided to take a quick break before going back in for the long haul of the night. When I come back, Felix is still hanging around, still not fileting the fish he bought, for reason that, he is about to. Give me a break. Serenity now.
did I mention that I couldn’t find my flip flops this morning? Turns out some animal came by at dragged them to the other side of the house and ate the straps. This place is rural. Rural like the Caribbean, but there’s not even a pulperia within walking distance (That’s one of the reasons the menu is so big, because it tries to accomodate every whim of diners and homeowners nearby without focusing on quality food leaving the kitchen. In my meager opinion.).
what ate my flip flops? IT'S NOT EVEN MONDAY!

The night was a trainwreck... which I foresaw as soon as the unexpected party of 20 walked in. Woooonderful. Electricity coming and going... obviously. The front of house staff is nice and all, but, professional? Well, they tuck their shirts in! That’s a start. 
YES we now serve fresh lobster for grilling and salad (now I am working through using the last 40 pounds that we have frozen for a puree’d soup). The staff is now being trained in sanitation, from raw meats, washing veggies, and washing hands! We label products with the date made and I will not rest until we use FIFO (first in, first out) for each item. As I explained today, if I see two open vinegars again, one almost empty right next to the almost full, I may have no more hair because I will have pulled it out. There is a new, amazing and huge kitchen being built to open in November, but for now, I’ve got to make this small, crowded, semi-functional space work.
I have a smaller menu ready to print, but with 8 million (like, 15) servers and 10 people in the kitchen to train, it is a small feat to change. Not to mention the guests. It seems absurd that people wouldn’t mind some change to have delicious and timely food, but what do I know. yada yada, yada...

Gordon Ramsey has a team. A few teams. They revamp, modify the actual restaurant and layout half the time, then have a new team to come in, prep, train... and Ramsey deals with the deliquence and showtime-type stuff. I don’t have a crew to come in and take care of the dirty work, or access to equipment and tools to get in a day's notice. I do have wonderful family and friends supporting me, as always, and thank you for that.

But still, why do I keep doing this? This is the fourth spot in Nicaragua that I’ve helped, and they are all different and great and frustrating in their own way. I feel like I am a birthmother in the Giver (Lois Lowry, advanced kid’s book? anyone?)... like, I have the dirty work duty, then, when things are fixed up and rockin’, I’m on my way! I suppose I do it for the challenge as well as teaching what I know, and growing as a person and chef along the way, too. Maybe it's more like Mary Poppins.

Yeah, I’ll have to sing more.

Monday, June 20, 2011

6 foot, 7 foot, 8 foot, bunch!

Plantains. Wow. I use these suckers all the time. Plantains are one of the few items of produce that is available year-round, whether it is rainy or dry. There's only so many plantain chips that I can handle, so, time to get creative. 

The recipe in this blog is a fusion of Nicaraguan and American comfort. The people I've cooked for are excited to try new things, but don't want to jump out of the plane without a parachute. Also, tourists to Nicaragua are increasingly more 'crunchy' and/or health conscious and/or simply vegetarian, so they appreciate the thought that goes into creative and local vegetarian plates. Down with the "grilled vegetable medley!"

The lasagna I make with the ripe, sweet plantains is simple and vegetarian. It's easy to adapt and modify, and always tasty! The key is cooking it covered long enough to make sure that the starchy plantains cook all the way through.

Plantain Lasagna
2 cups grated mozzarella cheese
1 cup grated Nicaraguan “queso seco”
1 recipe of Simple Tomato Sauce, below
3 ripe, yellow plantains, sliced 1/8” thin on a mandolin
2 cups arugula

  1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Prepare a 9 inch loaf pan by lining it with foil overhanging the edges. This will create a sling to remove the finished lasagna. Next, lightly oil all 4 sides of the pan.
  2. In a medium bowl, mix together the mozzarella and queso seco.
  3. Using about 1/8th of each ingredient, begin to layer the food. Begin with a few spoonfuls of sauce along the bottom. Next, place a layer of plantain, followed by arugula and cheese. Repeat 7 more times, ending with the cheese.
  4. Cover pan with foil and place in center of oven. Bake for about 30 minutes, until a knife can be inserted into the lasagna without feeling any resistance. This means that the plantains are fully cooked. Remove foil and broil for about 5 minutes, until top layer of cheese is bubbling and golden brown.
  5. Let cool for about 20 minutes before removing lasagna from foil. Slice into 4 portions and serve with a fresh herb salad.

serves 3 as a second course.

Simple Tomato Sauce
1/4 cup olive oil
2 cups diced onion
2 Tbs. finely chopped garlic
1/4 cup tomato paste
1 cup red wine
1 Tbs. finely chopped basil
1 Tbs. finely chopped (Cuban) oregano
1 tsp. chile flake
4 cups canned, diced tomato with juice (about two 16-ounce cans, I like Muir Glen)
salt and pepper to taste

  1. In a large, heavy bottomed pot over medium heat, warm the olive oil. Add onions and garlic and sweat for about 10 minutes, until tender and slightly browned.
  2. Add tomato paste and stir until incorporated. Next, add red wine and reduce until almost dry.
  3. Add the basil, oregano, chile flake and tomato. Reduce heat to low and cook for about 20 minutes more, until sauce is thick and tomato flavor is rich. Season with salt and pepper.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

traffic report

... for this morning's commute:
"road" conditions moderate to muddy.
accident of unknown origin caused 1 fatality (see photo). due to this obstruction, traffic both east and westbound has been diverted to the shoulder.
this guy did not survive last night's heavy rains, and became a major road block that "everyone" was talking about
just another day's walk to town on the dirt path to work. it's about 20 minutes to think about the day. I'm currently training an existing kitchen staff of a local cafe- expanding the menu, working on hygiene, sanitation, food costs, etc. and organization. The more places I work at down here, the more I feel like GRN (gordon ramsey of nicaragua). I'm constantly learning and pushing my patience threshold. In addition, I am teaching a lot, and learning from each person that I encounter. As usual, it's a lot of work, but a lot of fun.

this evening's commute home: light traffic in both directions, one bike and 3 carpenters westbound, just me heading eastbound. Just another day in paradise...

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

"the secret"

Did I win "the secret" or what? A few years back I tried my hand at working in a corporate setting. Well, twice I suppose. After spending some time endulging in the oohs and aahs of the Wonka factory that is Google Headquarters, I opted for a shorter commute inside the gorgeous SF city limits. A 9-5 job at that! Now, it was still cooking... but on a floor with no windows. My first week I "created" some! 

Did looking at them everyday really 'inspire' me? 
For details, watch below:


**note, the above video is not meant to but overshadow the chaos that IS running a kitchen in a third world country, but, man, what a gorgeous setting!