Friday, December 10, 2010

Roasted Green Chiles

One of the tastiest aspects of the autumn season is the Roasted Green Chile! They just might be the best compensation for the weather going yuck & gray! Lately, my family has been utilizing fresh roasted chiles in dishes breakfast, lunch and dinner. We were given taste buds, so we´re inclined to believe it's always good to use them! And when and if you burn out on the¨heat,¨the beverage that most effectively cools the palate is Horchata (cinnamon rice milk). So refreshing you´ll crave yet another portion of roasted green chiles! And most anything else!

Monday, December 6, 2010

One Persimmon Paradise!

Buy one Persimmon, peel and de-seed (there are only 8) and cut into chunks. In a saucepan, put a few tbsps of sugar and a few thimbles full of water and heat. Add fruit and a dram of Rum. Once you've made this simple compote, spoon warm onto favorite Cheesecake or ice cream or one another! You'll be so happy you did!

Foto courtesy of:

© Mick Huerta 2011. All Rights Reserved.

Cheese, Please!!!

Last night around the table, we had lively conversation regarding cheeses used in Latin dishes. Here in Santa Fe, NM many cooks utilize yellow cheese as a topping that melts. Our hostess assured us she grew up (in Las Truchas, NM) with the yellow stuff. "Everyone here did," she added. The topic moved to Mexican cheeses and substitutes available in US markets. I shared the link with them and now with you. The information readily clears any mysteries and just may spark a little cooking in your kitchen. Couldn’t be any better, no?

Monday, November 29, 2010

Seafood Thanksgiving - Charleston, SC

A Sunday afternoon on the Savannah Highway (U.S. Route 17) slipping east into Charleston, we saw men landscaping a colorfully painted seafood store while others cleaned bags of oysters just 'round back. Being out-of-towners arriving for the Thanksgiving Holiday, we mistakenly assumed we could get seafood on a Sunday, any Sunday. We jumped out of the car filled with greetings and chat. The men pointed to one jovial sort who explained that they were closed but if we wanted crab-meat "we can take care of y'all." He keyed the door, turned on the lights and sold us the best quality lump crab-meat, oysters and also red, red tuna steaks. He went out of his way! And he was perfectly cheerful about taking care of us! Ravenel Fresh Seafood - above and beyond? Oh Yeah! Kindness like this sweetens any visit to anywhere. But it happened just outside Charleston. And on our holiday we had one more thing to be thankful for!

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

The Sultan was Good to Us! - Istanbul, Turkey

In one month, we stayed twice. The Sultan's Inn is not the poshest but it is homey and certainly is strategically located (& price is right). Close to everything we wanted to see in Istanbul, all the legendary sites were within walking distance (we cared to be in the center of things). Mr. Hakan Varan at the reception, wears many hats (city information, cultural guide and master of Istanbul logistics - ferries, taxis, trams). The amazingly informed Hakan is superlative! Also, the unflappable Mr. Kamil Kaya in reservations, made room for us and a surprise friend (at a busy time) upon return to Istanbul. Without a hitch, it all came together airport transfers and accommodation. At the Sultan Inn, we met people from all over the world. Many were repeat guests who love the Sultan and the breakfast on the rooftop patio with views of the Marmara Sea on one side and the Blue Mosque on the other. I believe when guests treat a hotel as their own home away from home, there can be no better recommendation!

If fully booked try their sister hotels, Deniz Houses & Naz Wooden House Inn – each a perfect example of the famed Wooden Houses of old Istanbul. We visited these (very nice) yet preferred the Sultan Inn for the exceptionally kind staff…

Friday, October 8, 2010

To Romania with Love, Love, Love!

Ours is a tale of four friends, big appetites and a bit of gear, touring in a small automobile in the last days of autumn 2010. Well prepared, we were off to experience the best of Romania beginning with the Tranfagarasan Road (dubbed the TF). Regarded by many as "The best road in the world," we found Romania’s TF pocked and potholed but yet easily one of the most dramatic roadways in Europe. Sporting Arefu's castle, the glacier Balea Lake, viaducts & tunnels, the narrow two lane route twisted and turned 90 km through the tallest sections of the Carpathian Mountains.

Just three months out of the year the TF is open and due to few other travelers it became obvious we were amongst the last of the season. We were enthralled with the scenery but our attention fixed on the dashboard thermometer signaling an alarming fall of mercury, conditions deteriorated rapidly. Moving up, up and up, the white weather on snowy peaks dropped to envelope us as we made our way over the range into Transylvania. Lack of vision provokes its own set of emotions but it was the combination of precipices and a road reduced to a tight sinuous track by high winds, snow and hail that prompted our hearts to pound. In a cocoon, we could see neither high nor low but solely focused on the slick hairpin turns in front of us. In our silence one unspoken thought guided us upward, “Just peak and drop, just peak and drop into Transylvania.” Once at the summit we scrambled out of the car laughing, taking photos and eating falling flakes. Throwing off tension and throwing snow balls we knew we’d be alright on the way down. Exhilarated we got back in and began the descent.

We were en route to see a cluster of Painted Orthodox Monasteries which are designated as a UNESCO World Heritage site because of highly stylized mural paintings that for centuries have adorned the exterior walls of the buildings. Also, in the region are the Wooden Churches of Maramures, which are unique examples of combined Gothic style and traditional timber construction. They’re an incredible sight, monasteries and churches all!

We loved the countryside, the horse drawn wagons, the farming people and the extraordinary natural foods prepared with an attitude that fresh ingredients are the cornerstone of every kitchen. Nothing frozen, microwaved or pre-packaged would do. It’s a huge commitment to quality, but surely this is the best approach when coaxing flavors out of unprocessed foodstuffs. In Northern Romania at Hilde’s Residence, even the chicken soup requires 24 hours’ notice and a minimum of four orders. Seems they kill a hen and hand-make the noodles for each order taken. The exceptional flavor went a long way to moderate our guilt for having played a part in “Chicken-cide.”

Continuing on we were fortunate to perfectly hit Mushroom Season. All along the wooded roadsides, vendors offered what they had foraged that morning. We bought a large amount to be cooked at our next B&B, only to be told the variety was very strong and best for pickling. We made a gift of them to the cook who rewarded our generosity with bowls of her own Mushroom Soup and fresh baked hunks of Country Bread. With our spirits lifted, we asked for more and received it! All too tasty to be shy!

Next day after hours of early driving we needed to stretch. We pulled over at the appealingly named “Happy Fish” which was tucked in a tall stand of trees. Inspiration for the name became clear upon seeing the restaurant was built on pilings over fish farming ponds, each chock full of a different size baby trout. Mounting the stairs, we looked with surprise onto schools swimming under the entire eatery and beyond. Inside we were greeted by tables of rough-hewn hunters who were having beer. But being late morning we turned a blind eye to the local pilsner and the varied fish plates and opted for crepe-like pancakes slathered in homemade currant jam and powdered with sugar. Punctuated by strong coffee this was a rest long to be cherished.

Later armed with the best detailed map available we barreled through rustic villages beside the River Tisa on the border with the Ukraine. In just a few kilometers, the paved road reduced to a mucky track between cornfields which rendered us red faced & holding a map that hadn’t indicated that when it rains it’s a no go! Shortly thereafter we encountered a family group of four generations, all women and who had seen our debacle. They put us back on track (one spoke Spanish, which I speak) and telling jokes at our expense they laughed with us and shared their Grappa. Gifting us a bottle they waved and kissed us goodbye.

Traveling in a country with a three thousand year history of wine making heightened our curiosity and desire to sip the local production. Now according to legend, Plato acknowledged Thrace’s vineyards (present day Romania) as being the finest in the world. At the very same time, Dionysus was the god most revered there. And being the divine task of Dionysus was to bring an end to cares, worry and woe; I think his mission has found good expression in Alba Iulia. The Alba Iulia vineyard, surrounded by mountains, makes good use of a cool climate to produce fruity white wines. The vineyard has been active since the 1st century BC and the ancient catacombs traditionally utilized for keeping wine are still in use today and are open for wine tasting tours. Personally I found the wines crisp and easy to enjoy. Any light menu would readily be enhanced by their inclusion.

Rounding back to the capital, we found that the medieval city of Brasov bubbles with energy. And there we experienced two great gifts of kindness the very first day. Upon entering the city we were swept up in traffic running swiftly through beautiful avenues. It was simply effortless to be disoriented while driving, consulting a map and reading street signs simultaneously. Overwhelmed, we parked next to a family where upon asking directions the husband abandoned his brood with mama & grandpa to drive us to the front door of our hotel. Later being famished and having little local currency (our cards hadn’t worked well there), the hotel receptionist Alex jumped into a taxi swooping us off to his bank, used his personal account to exchange our dollars for Romanian New Lei and then suggested a tremendous restaurant, as well! Above and beyond the call of duty? Yes, but that’s the attitude of present day Brasov. It’s odd to think that in 1989, this is the city that began the country’s overthrow of communism by mass revolt. In those difficult days others could have been embittered but never Brasov. Here you’ll find the triumphant spirit I enjoy in people and when you visit you’ll find it exciting too. I anticipate that the future holds good things for this city.

From Bucharest back to Bucharest in seven days, I sit early morning in the Airport Angelo Hotel. The light filters gray through the window as I watch sheep and cows heading out to graze, while cocks crow and first flights rise off to points unknown. A Romanian folk saying often used to express perfect fulfillment comes to me, “Ate well, drank well, in the morning woke up dead.” Truth be told, having traveled a large circle, eating, drinking and laughing our way through the countryside of Romania, we honestly thought we’d died and gone to heaven.

Friday, September 10, 2010

"Until you've tried a Peach."

"An apple is an excellent thing - until you have tried a peach."
George du Maurier (1834-1896)

I've taken three peaches shirtless to the kitchen sink in rural Georgia. No need to peel or fuss. I wash them with clear water that runs just cool of warm and the fruit is ready. And so am I ready. This is to be my first experience eating the famed Georgia peaches, and timed just right for the height of the harvest. Juicy run down your face fleshy, luscious peaches and such big, big flagrant flavor. I'm a sticky succulent mess, but well worth every mouthful. I lick my lips. Guess I should clean up. Wipe off the keyboard, too. Tomorrow I'll pick three more...

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Always Twice as Nice with the Rice

Touring the Southern United States has been a revelation. I have never really spent much time here nor with the people of the South. However, the very first time was in 1974 traveling on a Greyhound "Ameri-Pass". It was a bus pass valid for 3 Summer months, any bus, any direction at anytime. To me that little paper ticket represented three months of unlimited, unfettered freedom, something I wasn't overly familiar with as a newly graduated high school student. I held that paper pass in my hand and felt I could go anywhere. So I bolted South and those tales of seeking America's music (Blues, Jazz and Dixieland) & general catawallowin' good times, I'll leave for another time.

Now moving to the present, today's journey is a different experience altogether. Traveling in a Toyota Rav4 vehicle stacked with camping gear, road atlas and a GPS device we call Ms. Garmin (Pss, Ms. Garmin could use a different voice, anything other than insistent grade school teacher would be an improvement, thank you). Put that one irritant aside, this trip has been exhilarating.

Having gathered a few tomes to accompany and enlighten us along the way, we were fortunate to have packed The Carolina Rice Kitchen. Being one of our destinations is Charleston South Carolina this historical treatment has been timely and insightful. Tracing rice from the Far East all the way to The Carolinas is a great feat, but the manner in which it is done by Karen Hess is light and clever. Reading this admittedly will have one sure outcome. I'll be looking forward to Carolina Gullah Rice dishes once we arrive in that great city. Rice as sustenance, rice as culture and rice as a connection to the ancient past, all in one book. No other author has been so thorough.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Rakatanga - Paella Fiesta

Few days contain all the ingredientes for a lifetime memory, those that do are shared with friends!

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Crisp Tostada & Succulent Ceviche

When appetite is sparked by the light, fresh, quick and inexpensive, be assured, you can be satisfied. And perfectly it all can be done at El Paisa taco cart on State Street in Salt Lake City, UT. There are many such carts on corners throughout the city but one, just one is owned by two brothers (Julio and Felipe) from a town on the Pacific Coast of Mexico. Being boys who have grown up in a village facing the sea they know fish and Ceviche. Unlike other street carts (owned principally by Nortenos, meaning big meat), they bring their knowledge of Ceviche to this little Utah town. Oh, you can get the big meat at El Paisa too, but it's not greasy. Being fish lovers, all items offered are fresh, clean and not heavy. And after an informal survey, they are the only street vendors who serve CEVICHE in SLC. Now my question is that if I were to bring a good white wine in a sippy cup could I reach seafood Nirvana right there on the corner of 9th South and State Street? Or if I ordered "to go", I think I might get rather close. And so can you and we'll see you there soon.

Friday, June 11, 2010


"Ayoba" is South African slang for "Super" or "Cool". I haven't been in South Africa for years yet I remember this word clearly. I was there with clear intention of chasing wine and seafood. Anyone familiar with my writings would not be in the least bit surprised. Now presently watching the 2010 World Cup televised from the new stadium expressly built in Cape Town to accommodate this frenzy of football, I am awash in memories. However, there are some things that are different. Much like the overwhelming characteristic of this year's contest will be the sound of the "Vuvuzela", a simple, one note trumpet made of plastic. I saw them when visiting but at that time they were in the hands of boys playing in the street. It was nothing more than a fun and funny toy for kids. Now during the 2010 World Cup the sound of the "Vuvuzela" is front and center. It is the instrument to express pride and joy of place and produces the din that you will hear in the background of every match coming to us from South Africa! All I can say is "Ayoba"!

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Neptune's Salsa Marinara

Calamares are the fastest seafood to cook. Olive oil, mince of onion and garlic flashed together with tentacles and rings then placed as a topper on your favorite pasta and Marinara Sauce. Now that's taking a trip to the shore without leaving the house!

Pairs nicely with Spanish Rosé wines (rosados) or Portuguese Green Wine (vinho verde).

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Saturday Night Spicy with Paella and Prawns!

And you said you'd be happy with a Sloppy Joe. Not on your life, Papito! My brother Joe Huerta is a very good and varied cook, one that will investigate and go deep into the foods of a country, cook a complete meal and share with family and friends. He's a perfect example of why it's always mouthwatering to surround yourself with the kitchen active. It's a situation that adds the adjective "succulent" to surprise!

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Paella Gods (Paella Kings of SLC) & Cosmology

Chaos | Greek Mythology

"Chaos was the original void of existence (although sometimes described as being a confusing, shapeless entity which was later ordered, creating the cosmos."

In addition, the theory held by the Paella Gods (Paella Kings of SLC) was that order was brought to the world with Saffron. That one civilizing element provided humankind with:

Risotto alla Milanese, Bouillabaisse, Tagine, Thai Vegetable Soup, Biryani and PAELLA!

This world view can readily be summed up with one statement: We cook, therefore, we are!

We are the Paella Gods - fighting chaos with Saffron!

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

The Third Chowder!

Rather famous are the creamy New England and the tomato-based Manhattan Chowders. However, perhaps due to it's high percentage of Italian and Portuguese residents, Rhode Island has a little spin in-store for those who hunger for Ocean-in-a-Bowl, a clear broth Clam Chowder featuring the Quahog (also, known as the Hard-shell Clam, Cherrystone and Littleneck).

Being a lover of seafood, I crave dishes that do not mask the seafood. I ask that any cook allows the natural flavors to be augmented, heightened and highlighted. And please don't ever overwhelm or disguise the very flavor I love most! This food attitude explains why I am inclined toward The Rhode Island (clear-broth) Quahog Clam Chowder. In yesterday morning's snow storm, scrambling to cover the tomato plants, I was inspired to chowder the cold away. You can do no better than a chowder from Rhode Island. Thanks to the fresh approach of the Italians and Portuguese residents who live and cook there! Bravo!

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Salsa Garden - Caged Passion

On Friday, it hailed here (a pounding hail) in the Avenues of Salt Lake City. Saturday and Sunday the weeds were pulled, soil double dug and turned. The tomatoes, tomatillos, chiles, onions and herbs were planted. And the cages set (I hope not to upset proponents of Free-Range Tomatoes). Today's rain nurtures the small plants and allows time for roots to take hold before temperatures soar in the high desert. Timing excellent.

After surveying the scene a neighbor asked if I'd planted my own Salsa Garden? I confirmed his assumption with a smile. There is method to every madness and this garden brings me closer to mine. Salsa!

Monday, May 17, 2010

RED IGUANA - 1,2,3!!!

My dear friend Helen called from her office in Manhattan. She was frustrated that there is so little good Mexican food in the Big Apple! She had just lunched at a new place that promised the flavors of Mexico and delivered frou-frou nothingness on a plate. "Could you, please, just overnight some Mole Poblano from the Red Iguana." she cried over the phone. It was her plea (albeit tongue in cheek) that prompted me to think about my attachment to the Cardenas family and the Red Iguana.

My love of the Red Iguana began decades ago with the first location on 3rd West in Salt Lake City. Ramon Cardenas Jr. served patrons while his parents, Maria and Ramon Sr., conjured up their signature dishes. Sadly that restaurant burnt to the ground but precipitated the move to the current flagship location on North Temple. I met Ramon Jr. in the studios of community radio station KRCL above the Blue Mouse Cinema where we both were DJs in the ‘80s. I subsequently met Lucy Cardenas, his sister, on the campus of the University of Utah. She was then and still is incredibly vivacious and dynamic.

My family, the Huertas, and the Cardenas family would go on to become friends. Over the years, we have shared many experiences and have many tales to tell. They range from Ramon Jr. and my brother Roberto traveling with me through Mexico by bus; to making and eating Pizza Neapolitana with Lucy and her husband Bill in the home of my brother Joe; to the Red Iguana Employee Halloween Pumpkin-Carving Contest where I was the judge for years. The contestants took part in an activity that (unbeknownst to everyone) was part of their cultural acclimation to the USA; or watching the Oscars with Lucy and Ramon Sr. at the old Cardenas family cabin. The evening punctuated by catered foods and fresh margaritas from the Red Iguana.

All the stories flavor our past and our present. And I just don’t know how to separate the people from the food. Passion, big flavors, wonderful aromas and the ever present phrase "Please, be careful the plate is hot!" I believe the adjectives qualify both, food and the people. I will always enjoy the Red Iguana #1 at 736 West North Temple, Salt Lake City, UT, where after their respective shows we hung out with Santana, Los Lobos and the Paladins. Yet I’ve come to love Red Iguana #2 at 866 W South Temple, Salt Lake City, UT, same great food but a Choo-Choo train runs through it or rather right outside the front door. Just like the little boy at the next table who asked; “Daddy, when’s the train coming?” I have the same sense of anticipation while I have a meal and keep an eye out for the train. I made a point of going to the "Taste of the Red Iguana" (#3) at 28 South State Street, Salt Lake City, UT. The menu is shorter and the food faster but it redefines having something quick to eat in a mall. Nothing better!

Family, food, friends and fun - These are the things I associate with the Red Iguana. Pick a location. Bring your friends and family and expect to make memories. You’ll not be disappointed! Unlike my friend Helen in NYC (who doesn't have Red Iguana 1,2 or 3!).

Photo #1 courtesy of Michael Roberts

Red Iguana on Urbanspoon

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Epic Brewing - SLC, UT

Foto courtesy of Mike Riedel...

I drove by the EPIC Brewery today at 825 S. State Street, Salt Lake City, UT 84111. There I chatted with one of the co-founders, David Cole, about the EPIC BREWERY and the Grand Opening tomorrow morning at 11am! Thought I'd pass on the information so I can see you there sometime soon!

Epic's Grand Opening Week

Join EPIC Brewing May 17 - 22nd in celebrating Utah’s first retail brewery since prohibition to brew exclusively high alcohol content beer. EPIC handcrafts and carefully bottles unique ales and lagers from its State Street brewery. Visit the cold cases atjavascript:void(0) EPIC during the Opening Week. Be one of the first to get an EPIC! Store hours: Mon–Thurs from 11am – 9pm; Fri–Sat from 10am – 11pm; Closed Sunday

Also, CHECK OUT Mike Riedel for more news on Utah's Beers produced "Behind the Zion Curtain" (that being a cryptic shout out to Brad Collins of Raunch Records)

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Holy Posole!

During your Cinco de Mayo celebration, "Holy Posole" is just the dish to warm the hearth and heart.

I have an EZ Recipe for Chicken Posole that your family will love. Being your taste-buds are invited to the party, you'll need to use them. So I'll give you the recipe in the way my grandmother Tomasa would! All Accordin'!

Reconstitute dry Guajillo chiles in hot water. Once soft, puree with a mince of onion, garlic and the water in which the chiles were soaked. Heat a saute pan on high flame with a tsp of oil. Add chile puree and lower flame to low and allow puree to cook and reduce. Boil chicken breasts in water with bay leaf. Remove chicken when cooked through, cool then shred and reintroduce to broth. Add a large can of hominy corn with liquid. Add a bit of pureed Guajillo chile and chicken bouillion al gusto. On high flame bring back to simmer.

Place reduced Guajillo chile puree, dried Mexico oregano (it really does taste different), finely shredded cabbage, thinly slice radishes in separate bowls as toppings so that each guest can adjust his/her portion to taste. Also, cut limes for the final squuueze that sparks freshness!

Try it! So fast, so ez, you'll make this hearty soup on more days then just Cinco de Mayo. Viva Mexico!

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Croque monsieur - Croque madame

A little rain and I take cover in the kitchen. Seems like the warmest spot in the house and provides ample reward for little effort. Who's to turn up their nose at that idea! * Croque monsieur - Croque madame: These two sandwiches are "EZ Eats" and have been part of my default lazy menu for many years now. Everyone should have a menu for those times when you're too tired to cook a proper dinner or too lazy to do much else. I propose you consider these two quickies. Click the embedded "Links" above for recipes!

Not much on ham? Substitute a slice of turkey. Or if you're veggie inclined combine grilled eggplant with the cheese and continue with the recipe. Your taste-buds will be glad you did!

* The Monte Cristo is a variation of the French Croque-monsieur.

Friday, April 30, 2010

Apply Saffron

Apply saffron directly to your life. You'll see immediate and positive results... and a cadre of new friends!

Garden Snowflake

Another morning of freeze warnings and snowflakes.

For a time now, the gardener within could not resist prepping soil and throwing seed. Recently, I connected with a like minded spirit who wanted to share seeds she had harvested last fall. Because of her I have now planted Mexican Hat and Silver Dollar. We share a connection with the soil and from gardener to gardener, I thank her for the offering. When together I expressed my gratitude but I don't think she realized just what she had gifted me. She gave me an opportunity to go into the garden with purpose, cultivate a sense of renewal, begin with the Spring Season. Later when the seeds sprout plants and then throw flowers, I'll think of her while appreciating the results of her kindness.

This Winter has been long and Spring long in coming. And as a consequence I have held the saying "Hope Springs Eternal" very close to the heart. It has given me a sense of patience. However, cabin fever can only be truly mitigated by hands in the soil and by the planting of tomatoes, chiles, cebollina and herbs. By virtue of that, this wet morning I see snowflakes and dream of tomatillos! Thank you again, Betty, my new gardening friend

"No winter lasts forever; no spring skips its turn."
Hal Borland

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Beaner's Breakfast Club

With a Spring morning snowstorm raging at this moment, there can be nothing better then frijoles, topped with a fried egg over-ez, roasted-peeled Poblano Chiles and just a little of the Habanero Salsa we canned last year! A small bitter coffee makes a wonderful companion! Don't forget a few tortillas to complete your morning snow fall! Bien Provecho!

Monday, April 12, 2010

In Search of Saffron!

Thus the season begins. I review my ingredients for Paella and notice that the saffron stores are low. Currently, friend and Paella god "Markito" is visiting family in Barcelona and the arrival of saffron is imminent. He is to return in a matter of days which puts me at ease, somewhat.

Hibernate for the winter - then comes the sun. It's the change of season that spins my way of thinking. Spring weather by nature is inclement; cold days followed by brilliant sunshine. Combine the weekend with clear skies and the back-garden will see much activity. Big salads and fresh breads and chunks of cheese to sate the guests 'til the Paella has cooked and been given ten minutes of repose. In the resting, all flavors blend and the rice mellows while sucking up olive oil, saffron and seafood.

Pictured above is a recent Paella made in the home of my good friend Peter. The indoor variety is good but lacks the savoriness of a Paella exposed to smoke. Yes, I long for a wood-fire in the open air to undertake the next Paella but I shall forever remember the words spoken to me by an old man in the south of Spain; "The best Paella, is the one you have in front of you!" I agree wholeheartedly but cooking out of doors and over fire gives flavor to everything. Most notably, it gives flavor to life.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Highway Ceviche

Imagine, a road that runs from Alaska all the way down to Tierra del Fuego inspiring wanderlust along the way. The Pan-American Highway is just that, it’s approximately 29,800 miles in length and goes through many countries and even more cultures. My knowledge of this incredible motorway extends from the Mexico-U.S. border to the most extreme southerly tip of the South American Continent, where the highway terminates at the beautiful little town of Ushuaia, Argentina.

Many have taken-on the journey from end to end; much like a very blonde German couple dressed in black leather heading south to Patagonia on matching his-and-hers BMW motorcycles with whom I drank much wine. Also on that road, I dined with Adrian from Quebec, who was traveling in a more modest fashion. Laughing he mentioned the entire bicycle trip could be written-off his taxes being he’d met suppliers to his Canada-based organic fertilizer business. Seems the north of Chile is Mecca for buyers and sellers of guano.

As for me, I’ve covered only portions of the highway dictated by desires. More specifically, there are two overwhelming magnetic elements that tug at my compass, wine and seafood. And in the Americas these sensibilities intersect geographically at Chile. On the Pan-America Highway, just North of the Atacama Desert (50 times drier than Death Valley) near the border with Peru, is a small town called Arica. Arica is an eater’s town. It’s an absolute shock to find people living in the driest place on the planet yet this town consistently surprises with locally produced melons, olives, ruby tomatoes, chickens and prawns. Also, ever present is my life long favorite dish, ceviche!

Ceviche is citrus-marinated seafood. The country of origin is unclear and is the core of an on-going culinary tussle between Peru and Ecuador. More importantly, many in Latin America have adopted it and have created their own versions. The citric acid pickles the proteins in the seafood or "cooks" the fish without heat making this a perfect dish for any hot day.

True, many are famous for ceviche yet they offer no wine of note. Or rather no wine I’d want to pair with seafood. So Chile, renown for both seafood and wine, has my vote. I like that Chile’s version of ceviche is simple and doesn’t obscure the flavor of the fish with a barrage of ingredients. And through the alchemy of combining good food with good wine, a heavenly experience can be achieved.

Freshness is essential when speaking of ceviche. So I prefer to enjoy it with a view of the ocean and consider salty sea air an integral part of the recipe. My friend Miguel is one of the fishmongers in kiosks that face the docks. After first light, the fishing fleet arrives to off-load the day’s catch. Miguel and all the cooks of Arica select fish for their clientele. And in those early hours, fish is filleted and cut into ½ inch pieces and put to limejuice, with a mince of onion and tomato, salt and parsley. The ceviche is refrigerated along side bottles of white. And by noon, the ceviche and the wine are ready to come together as the perfect lunch. With fresh bread, the meal is complete. Miguel shares his recipe below:

Miguel’s Ceviche Recipe
· 2 lbs of deboned firm-fleshed fish, cut into 1/2 inch pieces
· 1 cup of fresh squeezed lime juice
· 1/2 red onion, finely diced
· 1 cup of chopped fresh seeded tomatoes
· 2 teaspoons of salt
· Fresh chopped parsley or cilantro or mint

Allow it to sit for several hours in the refrigerator, giving time for the flavors to blend. Serve with favorite hot sauce and allow each guest to adjust his or her own level of piquant. On the side, offer a green salad and popcorn for a gathering that is light and uncomplicated.

Turning our attention to wine, I suggest a dry Chilean white to heighten the enjoyment of the fish, the company and even the popcorn! Much like Italy’s Pinot Grigio (gray pinot), Cabernet Sauvignon Gris is a classic white that has been put onto red grape skins to augment flavor and give color. This gray wine delivers a lemon-lime flavor with just enough fruitiness to complement ceviche and most anything else. It’s really a perfect upscale wine for little money, very clean, very crisp. Through extensive investigation, I’ve found these three examples to be exceptional:

Cousino Macul Sauvignon Gris 2006

Casa Marin Sauvignon Gris Estero 2006

Casa Silva Sauvignon Gris 2008

If you’re inspired by a highway that stretches the length of the Americas or enjoy the beach or merely love to entertain, you can easily take your guests on a seaside holiday by putting together this straightforward meal. And all of it can happen on your patio. No ocean where you live? No problem. Good company and good food are the best memory makers and when you add the perfect wine you’ll easily enhance the occasion and be transported elsewhere. With warm weather coming, I encourage you to get out, cook out and share as much as you can. As the Spanish saying goes; “Life is short but it can be, oh, so very wide!”

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Four Pizzas for Two on a Thursday Night

A few days ago, I made pizza dough and divided the large ball into four smaller. I always bag the balls separately, splash them with olive oil and reserve them in the back of the refrigerator. I find that dough given time to slowly rise delivers greater flavor. With a few leftovers and simple deli items the pizzas quickly roll out of the oven even on a work night! Tonight's results were a White Pizza; Red Sauce with Brie, Anchovy and Capers; Pesto and a simple Red Sauce & Four Cheeses. I threw around some Pine Nuts just for good measure! The side salad was a fast and furious tomato, cucumber, sprigs of watercress (just now arriving at the Mexican green grocer's) and mince of red onion dressed with a home-made basic vinaigrette (with salt & pepper). A little prep goes a long way when you want the very best pizza available, and the best always is fresh from your kitchen. And perhaps the greatest satisfaction of all is saying goodbye to the delivery guy!

On the Trail of Pisco Sour

Generally speaking, Latin American Cocktails utilize the same principal ingredients – lime juice, sugar and a hearty portion of locally distilled spirits. Peru’s national cocktail, the Pisco Sour, falls right in line but contains a few delicious surprises!

Touching down at Lima's Jorge Chavez International Airport, I looked forward to reacquainting myself with this acclaimed libation. Checking in and stowing gear, I swooped directly to near-by Bar Cordano for a late lunch. Upon arrival the affable manager, Don Odilon, delivered news that an exhibition on the history of Pisco Sour was in full swing. He made a gift of the event poster and suggested we have Hector, the head-barman, sign it. Hector is a relative newcomer with only 21 years mixing Pisco Sour. But with his putting pen to poster, the idea was born to seek out the signatures of the Greats, the Maestros of Pisco Sour, those who keep tradition alive.

At this point let's flesh out the Pisco Sour story. The creator, Victor Vaughn Morris, was born and raised in Salt Lake City, Utah. His brother Richard P. Morris was SLC mayor, 1904-1905. In 1903 before his brother would go on to win the election, Morris left to work in Peru with a railroad company. There he made the first Pisco Sour as a replacement for Whiskey Sour (whiskey not being readily available in Peru at the time). Yet the true innovation was adding egg white and bitters to the mix. The results were so enjoyable that in little time the Pisco Sour became the emblematic national cocktail and continues to be held high as a matter of patriotic pride.

Thrilled! I had four days slated for Lima, a Moleskine notebook and a camera. I was also armed with an event poster, a list of iconic bars and the names of old guard bartenders. Next stop, the Bar Maury looking for Eloy Cordova. He has 47 years experience and most were spent at the Maury. I ordered a Pisco Sour and explained my mission. He approved and promptly signed the poster. Pointing to a jovial group, he confided that his friend Jorge Kanashiro with 50 years as a barman was there. Eloy made the introductions and I joined Jorge's table. Yet another signature. I spent the next hour sipping while receiving a lesson in history and proper bar technique. Seems Pisco Sour made with granulated sugar is grainy, much better with simple bar syrup to achieve a silky viscosity which never leaves a residue of sugar at the bottom of the glass. In conversation it was mentioned that Maestro Jorge Kanashiro (winner of the 1994 International Bartenders Competition in Italy) was to be the exhibition’s keynote speaker the very next day. He insisted that I attend with him.

Next afternoon after much fanfare, awards bestowed & flowery speeches, we taxied to Bar Queirolo on Quilca Street. The Queirolo has been a fixture on Lima's social scene since 1880. They serve a full traditional menu but emphasis is on the Pisco they produce. Jorge’s friend is the barman there. Another signature. Getting together yet again for lunch the following day, we were off to the Bar Hotel Bolivar, which has open-air seating with a view of the Plaza San Martin. It is rumored that Ernest Hemingway still holds the record there for "most Pisco Sours consumed in one sitting and walking out unassisted." Jorge’s friend is the barman. Another signature. Each barman suggested another stop and lauded the Maestro there. We followed the path and sought out locations throughout the city collecting signatures all along the way. Now the poster is filled with signatures of the Maestros of Pisco Sour each nominated by colleagues. In four intensely social days, I was just beginning to peek into the real Lima and understand the significance of Pisco Sour in Peruvian life. However, I had a strong feeling that further investigation was best left to a future visit. My four days spent, I needed to leave...

Years before, prior to the devastating earthquake on Aug 15th 2007, I had visited the rich valley of Ica (where the bulk of Pisco Brandy is produced) and loved it. Since that catastrophic day just over two years ago, I had longed to return to the epicenter of the quake and see how they had fared. By bus, I traveled south on the Pan-American Highway. I arrived again through rows and rows of grapevines not unlike any roadside vista in wine country. Sitting in the shade, sipping Pisco Sour and speaking with the locals, an elderly man told me that in the quake they’d lost over 500 neighbors and many important historic buildings; “All the loss is very, very sad..." He shook his head resignedly. "However, the grape is forever." I, respectfully, echo his sentiments. And by extension I believe Pisco Sour is forever.

Pisco Sour Recipe 
by Maestro Jorge Kanashiro 

 Makes two cocktails:
4oz Pisco Brandy
2oz Lime Juice
1/2oz Bar Syrup
1 Egg White
1 or 2 Dash(es) of Bitters

Shake ingredients vigorously with ice (or use blender). Strain into stemmed glassware; add bitters to taste.

Copyright © Mick Huerta 2012. All Rights Reserved.
All Accordin' - Travel, Culture, Food & Wines!

Monday, March 15, 2010


Red Iguana 2 is a triumph! Everything you've loved about the original location but now they have a (choo-choo) train running just outside the front door! Very cool!