Sunday, July 20, 2014

Summer Red & Refreshing

Living close to local farms as a teenager in the Netherlands, seasonal harvesting jobs were a way to earn some money. Beans, sugar beets, corn, whatever was in season (and wasn't harvested mechanically) had me and my brother on our bicycles off to the farmers' fields to help with the harvest. Summertime planted us in the strawberry fields, where we sat on our knees, moving down the rows of strawberry bushes all day picking ripe strawberries. Payment was per full box picked, so any you ate, or time you took to rest, meant less money in your pocket. The very first time I went, I ate too many, and moved too slow. In no time, I was well behind in my row, and at the end of the day, I had not even 10 "box slips" compared to the 50 or more of others. That didn't happen again. Every day, my hands still smelled of strawberry even after a shower, and after a week, the sun had colored my face just about as red.
Summer has been in full hot swing for weeks and weeks here in Houston. Strawberry season was celebrated earlier in the summer, with strawberry festivals adding live music to the sweet scent of ripe red summer kings. Big now (and quite literally so) are watermelons: colossal green oblongs girdling juicy red flesh. Nothing beats a slice of fresh watermelon on a hot summer day, when its free-run juices bring relief to a parched palate.

It's a coming and going of strawberry and watermelon in my kitchen this summer. Little strawberry custard tartlets, my SummerFLing strawberry-lemonade cocktail with gin and campari, strawberry risotto, gallons of the best thirst-quencher: fresh watermelon juice, and a new popular summer soup in our house: watermelon gazpacho.

Also popular at our lunch or dinner table is this refreshing summertime salad. Strawberry and watermelon combine with beetroot and fresh herbs, a hint of lemon and the crunch of sea salt flakes. Once you've tried it, you'll be making it all summer long.

Strawberry, Watermelon & Beetroot Salad
(serves 3-4 as appetizer)
1 cup strawberries, quartered
1 cup diced watermelon
1 cup julienne-cut raw red beetroot

1 tbsp handful fresh mint (small leaves)
1 tbsp handful fresh basil (small leaves)

1 tbsp lemon oil (homemade or store-bought, or use olive oil + a sprinkling of grated lemon zest)
1 tsp white balsamic vinegar
a good sprinkle of sea salt flakes
1/2 cup good quality crumbly goat cheese (optional)

How easy is this salad? Just build the layers: beetroot first, strawberry and watermelon next, herbs and raw onion and crumbled goat cheese divided on top. The lemon juice, sea salt and citrus oil are sprinkled over the salad very last minute. Serve as is for prettiness, but toss before you eat to infuse all the flavors.

ps. instead of goat cheese, try this watermelon, strawberry & beetroot salad alongside smoked salmon, or even better: with your own cured Pacific wild salamon (recipe here).

Or try the strawberry, watermelon & beetroot salad as a garnish with watermelon gazpacho for a beautiful flavor range of summer red.

Watermelon Gazpacho
1 cup chopped watermelon
1 cup peeled tomato
1/2 cup chopped fennel
1/2 cup chopped cucumber
1/2 cup chopped onion
juice of 1 lemon
1 garlic clove
1/2 serrano chili peper (or other green chili)
salt/pepper to taste

Whizz all in the blender, taste and adjust if needed, et voila.
Simple and in Season - enter your post on mycustardpie.com
This recipe was inspired by a series initiated by Ren Behan's Simple & In Season, and My Custard Pie.

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Monday, July 14, 2014

A New Love, Peruvian Tiradito

Any raw-fish lover is bound to be smitten with even the most basic concoction of raw fish, lime juice, chili pepper and sliced red onions. I have tried different versions of ceviche, including some that had as much to do with ceviche as coconut-based fish stew with bouillabaisse. It may be disputed where ceviche originated, but ceviche is considered a national dish in Peru. Yet until recently, I never really knew the full range of flavors of a Peruvian ceviche, let alone taste a Tiradito. Until I booked a table at Latin Bites Cafe.

In the domain of Peruvian born, raised, and culinary educated chef Roberto Castre, I had a Peruvian Cebiche that presented an exhilarating range of flavors and textures. Fresh and pure, the flavors connected naturally, like pieces of a puzzle. The well-shaped quenelle of sweet potato, its sweetness destined to counter-balance the acidity. The choclo (big Andean corn kernels), fried yucca dice, crispy calamari, tender morsels of octopus, and raw sliced red onions, all had a textural dance with the velvety soft fish, each adding its own flavor to the spectrum. A pleasant heat came from Peruvian chili pepper aji rocoto. And the rich, creamy and lime-juicy marinade was good enough to slurp on its own.

Not just the Cebiche had me hooked. At Latin Bites I also found a new raw fish love: Tiradito. "Italians have carpaccio, Japanese have sashimi, Peruvians have tiradito" it says on the menu.

The Passion Fruit Tiradito came as a stunning contemporary creation of thin sliced Hamachi floating in a creamy, silky smooth leche de tigre, deliciously yellow from the infusion with fresh passion fruit. Again here, the dish was a fresh and pure build-up of flavors and textures. Pleasing to the eye just as much as the palate, the dish was garnished with a colorful combination of sweet potato puree, crispy quinoa, the crunch of fresh radish, big yet tender choclo, and micro greens. Chef Roberto Castre's saporous Passion Fruit Tiradito single-handedly sold me on Peruvian cuisine.

Leche de Tigre is the Peruvian name for the citrus-based marinade that cooks* the raw fish in both ceviche and tirado. It translates as "tiger milk". Any Leche de Tigre varies with each creator's influence. Some emulsify with (olive) oil, others add evaporated milk for creaminess. Some add fish stock, or pureed fish to make the marinade, or even add different flavor ingredients to the mix. Latin Bites, for instance, makes a Botija Leche de Tigre (made with Peruvian olives), and of course the one I lapped up by the spoonfuls: Passion Fruit Leche de Tigre.

*the cooking is not done by heat: it is a chemical reaction between citric acid and raw fish that causes fish meat to feel and look cooked.
Peruvian Pisco Sour
"Ce pisco, c'est le plus beau jour de ma vie" (Captain Haddock).
Pisco is the grape-based spirit produced in the wine regions of Peru and Chile. Mixed with lime juice and simple syrup, the Peruvian Pisco Sour is a tempting cocktail enriched with a dash of angostura bitter and crowned with foamy whipped egg whites. At Latin Bites, it is one of eight (!) Pisco-based cocktails, including one that infuses refreshing cucumber with a kick of Aji pepper heat. What a place! Divine food, cocktails galore, a chef with an artistic flair for presentation, and an ambiance that made us feel relaxed, Latin Bites Cafe put a big smile on my face.

Menu and details of Latin Bites Cafe: www.latinbitescafe.com. I've tried only a fraction of a menu where practically everything was speaking to me. I'll be back.


I will be going to the 2014 Salone del Gusto in Turin (October). One of the cooking sessions I'm attending is about Peruvian Cebiches. More to talk about later!

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Sunday, July 6, 2014

A Short Story of Alpine Cheese


Something writhes on the cheese board with the ripe, oozing Reblochon. You can barely see them for their white, almost translucent tiny wiggly-worm shape, but there they are. Two of them. Maggots. We've stopped for lunch in a thick-walled stone chalet with a rustic but not unpleasant barnyard smell high above Orcieres on the edge of Les Ecrins in the French Alps. Not at all fazed by our startled expressions, the hut keeper flicks them away with an encouraging "c'est bon." Scrutinizing the Reblochon for any more maggots, I do try the cheese. It looks and smells too good not to. Its runny ripeness drapes deliciously over the crusty bread and erases any remaining thoughts of maggots. 

Hiking in the Savoie is like following an epicurean cheese trail. Here and across the border into Switzerland is where traditional Alpine cheeses like AbondanceBeaufort, Tomme de Savoie, GruyereEmmenthal, and Reblochon are made. Chances are you come across an alpage: the high Alpine pastures where huge cows with big bells around their necks defy gravity. Most just ignore you, quietly girdling their tongue around the fresh grasses, abundant with wildflowers and herbs. They chew slowly, almost as if they're reflecting on the aromas these Alpine grasses are going to give their milk. Every now and then, one of them looks up with beautiful dark eyes, sounding off a "moo" that echoes in the mountain air. The bells around their necks clunk as they sway gently, a sound so synonymous with the Alps for me. Caked cow pats dot the trail, and the smell is almost invigorating. 
Cows are herded up to the alpage at the beginning of summer, where they graze freely until the days shorten, and temperatures drop to announce the end of summer. Every day, the cows are gathered for milking at the alpage barn. Traditionally, the alpage was also the location where the cheese was made, distinguishing between summer (alpage) and winter (barn) cheese. Alpine cheeses like Gruyere and Emmentaler today are largely made by cooperations in the valley. In the Beaufortain, however, the old traditions of making cheese up on the alpage remain. We visited an alpage de Beaufort in the Tarentaise (Vanoise) near Bourg Saint Maurice. It is an easy walk up from the parking lot in beautiful scenery. Vast vistas, rolling meadows, climbing rocky trails. Closer to the alpage barn, the smell of dairy becomes more pervasive. It is a sweet and sour milk smell that mingles with the herbal and grassy air all around. If "rustic" needed a smell definition, this would be it: a melee of fresh grasses, dried cow pats, raw milk and clean mountain air. It is the aroma you find in authentic Alpine cheese, made with the milk of cows nourished an entire summer on the Alps' green goodness. We took a tour of the cheese making facilities at the Beaufort Alpage, and learned a little more about the process of making Beaufort. How the milk is collected in big "tubs", stirred, and heated gently. The curds separating from the whey are collected, strained through cheese cloth, and pressed into moulds to harden. The hardened cheeses are then moved to shelves in a dark, thick-stoned barn to ripen. This, of course, is the briefest of summaries of how Beaufort cheese is made. You can taste and buy the cheese directly from the alpage. To taste alpage Beaufort right there, with the big brown makers of the milk grazing not a stone's throw away, is one unforgettable experience. 

The Alpage de Beaufort we visited was a Fromagerie des Alpages de La Plagne, near Bourg Saint Maurice in the Tarentaise. Read more about the Beaufortain here and Beaufort cheese making here (website in French). If you visit the Savoie, make sure you try at least once a Fondue Savoyarde: made with traditional cheese like Beaufort, Comte, and Abondance, it often has Savoy's white wine Apremont at the basis, and in season you might just be lucky enough to find a Savoyarde cheese fondue enriched with fresh morels. 

This story is a pre-taster of a longer post "Vanoise to Val Gardena: Hiking and Eating in the Alps" coming up next. 

Two other Cheese Stories you may like:
Slow Shepherds and the Cheese Resistance: authentic, artisanal cheese from various regions in Italy discussed at the Salone del Gusto 2012

Dreaming of Cheese: the passion of a cheese connoisseur and delicatessen shop owner in Amsterdam as he explores artisanal cheese making in collaboration with Dutch organic dairy farmers.

Monday, June 30, 2014

Discovering Slow Houston: Fat Cat Creamery

A couple of years ago, on a trip to the Venezuelan Andes, I found myself staring at an ice cream menu of hundreds of flavors at Heladeria Coromoto in Merida. Among them some seriously fishy flavors, including salmon, sardines, chipi chipi and cuttlefish. A quick google reveals that with nearly 900 flavors, this legendary Merida ice cream parlor still churns out "the most ice cream flavors in the world".

In the tiny little pastry kitchen of Houston's Fat Cat Creamery, artisan ice cream maker Julia thinks about her weirdest ice cream and says "probably a ham and pineapple ice cream I made for Christmas once". Our group sounds a collective hum of appreciation, mimicking a mental taste of that ice cream.

Fat Cat Creamery in the Houston Heights is not about score boards of flavors, neither in record numbers nor outlandish combinations. Fat Cat Creamery is about the best handmade ice cream from great, local ingredients. That is not to say their flavors are straightforward. The Milk Chocolate Stout, for instance, leans on the bold flavor of a Texas dark beer to intensify the chocolate.

You can't swing a cat in that kitchen, yet everything is made fresh in-house, from the custard to the waffle cones. The kitchen smells of fresh baked chocolate brownies, laced with wafts of sweet dairy and toffee. At any given moment something bubbles on the stove: a fresh strawberry jam, melting chocolate, simmering chai. The recipe book is ready on the spotless clean counter, ingredients are arranged efficiently on overhead shelves. The sweet smells grow even stronger when the waffle-maker presses down hot on the homemade batter. We gather around the centerpiece ice cream machine, and watch as a fresh batch of the Fat Cat's popular salted caramel ice cream fills up a container. Slow in the making, the machine churns about a gallon per 8 minutes.
The Fat Cat uses 2000-3000 eggs per week. The eggs come from The Barry Farm where the Fat Cat adopted its own free-running happy hens. It is a community-support effort: the Barry Farm provides the fresh pasture for the hens to roam, and the "sponsors" receive fresh eggs delivered weekly. The moment the eggs come in, they are separated. The egg whites are sold on, wanted by local weight trainers for energy smoothies. The collected egg yolks are used to make custard, which is then stored in the chiller to use when ready. Chef Julia is thrilled with what she calls her "miracle machine". This machine makes the life of an artisan ice cream maker a little easier: it emulsifies fresh egg yolks, milk, heavy cream, sugar and a pinch of salt, into a great custard.

The milk used is whole milk from Texas grass-fed cows, and pasteurized at low temperature. This so-called low temp pasteurization yields a full-flavored, rich milk. It does make your ice cream taste even better.

Fat Cat Creamery is a really cute place to have an ice cream. It is easy to find (for Houstonians: on a corner lot of 19th and N Shepherd), with ample parking and even an outdoor terrace. The Fat Cat also shares the love of handmade ice cream around Houston. It's on the dessert menu at Downhouse. The Fat Cat has its paw in Saint Arnold's Brewery Root Beer Float. You can get it at Revival Market. Or from food trucks Htown strEats and Bernie's Burger Bus. Check their website for a full listing and more information: www.fatcatcreamery.com


I visited the Fat Cat Creamery as part of a food education event organized by Slow Food Houston. For more information: info@slowfoodhouston.com

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Sunday, June 15, 2014

Hot Springs, Red Earth, and The Turquoise Trail

Four days in and around Santa Fe.

I fell in love with New Mexico. Four days was all it took. It is the enchanting landscape, the red earth, the snow-peaked mountains in the distance, the adobe houses with their turquoise touches and bundled red chiles hanging from the beams. From the plane, descending into Albuquerque, the landscape looks vast, empty, and arid, except for the green belt on either side of the meandering Rio Grande. It is heavily overcast, and raining, which is extremely unusual, or so we are told by everyone we meet. The locals relish this rain: the land needs it.

The first stop is Ojo Caliente, an hour onwards from Santa Fe. The road forks in Espanola, and we branch off the wrong one. We are well on our way to Taos before we notice, and pull into the parking lot of the visitor center for the Orilla Verde/Rio Grande Gorge. The ranger behind the desk ever so kindly guides us on the map to a road that will take us through the mountains' spectacular scenery to our destination. It is a road that hugs the Rio Grande, until you cross it on a low bridge. Despite the rainy cold, the river is busy with white water rafters and kayakers. After the bridge, the road climbs, crosses the high plains, and connects with the road we were supposed to be on. Shortly after, we arrive at the Ojo Caliente Mineral Springs Resort & Spa, where we spent the night. It is one of the oldest natural hot spring resorts in the USA, dating back to the 1860s. The waters pouring straight from the mountain into the pools are naturally hot, sulphur-free, and rich in natural minerals: Lithium, Iron, Soda, and Arsenic. In keeping with the historic hotel and bath house tradition, the rooms in the main hotel have no private bathroom (other than a toilet and sink). The idea is that you use the bath house facilities, and soak in the natural hot springs, have a mud bath, a steam bath, sweat it out in the sauna, and hang in the hammock gazing at the infinite sky. It beats any private bathroom.
For the energetic (and those dragged along), there are various hiking trails. We follow the one that leads to the archeological site of an ancient pueblo, dating back to the 13th Century: the Posi-Ouinge Ruins. The area is strewn with pottery shards, collected and displayed on barren rocks to be admired by passers-by. It is a place to contemplate and imagine: the views take you far across the landscape, and you can imagine hunters on distant mesa tops, villagers going down to the river below, dwellings where you are standing right now. We walk back via the arroyo (or wadi, as junior still calls it after his life in the Middle East). The gully is carved steep and deep into the soft rock wall. My geologist cannot resist and neither can junior: the two drift off to look at the outcrops, and terminology flies as they discuss the presence of igneous, metamorphous and sedimentary rock in and among the layers ("strata, mom") of conglomerate rock. This volcanic region must be geology heaven, but I urge them on. Bandelier National Monument is waiting. Reluctantly, they leave the outcrops behind, and I can tell from the body language that plans are being made to return for a full-on geology trip.

Several years ago, we visited the cliff dwellings of Mesa Verde. It is probably why it feels deja vu when we enter Bandelier National Monument. Or maybe this is a flash of a happy memory, when junior was still a baby and stared at the rocks from his elevated backpack carrier position. Bandelier National Monument is a beautiful canyon where cliff dwellings and petroglyphs draw visitors on a pleasant loop walk to peek into ancient living quarters carved into the soft rock. The archeological sites of Bandelier are best enjoyed at leisure, climbing the ladders to sit in one of the cave dwellings. Stare at the cliff face to discover ancient drawings. Human history here in this territory of mesas and canyons goes back more than 10,000 years, and it is good to pause and feel the breeze of old cultures circle your mind.


We stay two nights in Santa Fe, meeting friends for dinner at La Boca for the first night. It is a cool place. Intimate enough, pleasantly decorated. We occupy a large table right in the middle, and take our time eating through the tapas menu. I found the restaurant browsing through Farm To Table New Mexico. It is also how I found our restaurant for the second evening: La Casa Sena. It is a charming place, residing in an old hacienda adobe. Dating back to 1868, it is one of the oldest remaining houses in Santa Fe. The entrance is through a courtyard oozing with atmosphere, as does the restaurant with its thick walls, high ceilings and dark wood. The food is fresh and local, the wine list extensive.

Santa Fe's old town has charm and history, and its streets are made to be explored on foot. As for me, I feel quite drawn to Canyon Road with its myriad of art galleries and boutiques on either side, all housed in a small adobe-style or colorful cottage. Many have a dreamlike garden full of art sculptures that are open to stroll in. We lounge a long time on the lovely patio of El Farol on Canyon Road, where we indulge liberally in the tasty tapas menu. We happily spoon a delightfully chunky, refreshing gazpacho, relish the delicate flash-fried avocado with its contrasting lime yogurt sauce harboring a hint of green pepper, nibble on fried chorizo and sliced pork loin with marinated black figs, and dip crispy calamari in the accompanying romesco and aioli.
The Museum of Indian Arts & Culture is one of the museums on Santa Fe's "Museum Hill". It is an inspiring museum that exhibits the arts, cultures, and lifestyle of the Pueblo people. One of the highlight is the pottery gallery. In a 20-minute video, you can watch legendary pottery artist Maria Martinez at work. The video follows the artist (well into her 80s at the time of filming) as she collects sand, honoring the land in the traditions of her people. She makes the clay by hand, like a dough. She takes a piece, sets it before her, and starts shaping and molding her famous pottery. Her hands move swift and expertly, making it look ever so easy. The video details the processes involved, including the intricate building of a blazing hot fire, just long enough to create the prized pitch-black pottery. Wandering down to the current exhibition of Turquoise, Water, Sky: The Stone and its Meaning, we are again enchanted by a video of an artist at work. Sitting among a collection of natural turquoise in all shapes and forms - from rough and uncut, to polished and set - we gain a little insight into the work and artistry involved to shave, sharpen, polish and set a turquoise gemstone.

We travel back to the airport in Albuquerque on our last day via the Turquoise Trail. It is a scenic byway that takes you past and even through historic mining towns. Some are veritable ghost towns, others have capitalized on past and present, and "boom" once more. Cerrillos is an example of the first: it has a "mining museum", an odd treasure trove of artifacts and antiques found in and around the mines and mining community, from gold machines, saw heads, and wanted-posters to chuck wagon skillets, water troughs, and a mind-boggling variety of barbed wire, amulets, drill bits, bottlenecks (literally), and horse shoes. The dusty Front Street with its saloon and general store is still erect, and served as decor in Young Guns. We stand in the middle of the washboard dirtroad, and pretend to be Rango versus the Rattlesnake.

Madrid, a little further on the Turquoise Trail, is a revived old mining town, and many of its historic clapboard cabins and stores are renovated and now house shops and galleries. Madrid is home to one of the true classic locomotives used in The Lone Ranger, and also served as the backdrop for many a Hollywood movie, including Paul (a scene filmed in the Mine Shaft Tavern) and Wild Hogs with John Travolta. Madrid is a perfect little town for roaming around, and popping into an odd store here and art gallery there. When I sit on a bench in one of the galleries gardens, I hear a couple passing me by talking agitatedly and I pick up the word "snake". I see the lady gesturing in the general direction of a bush not far from where I am sitting, and I am out of the garden.

Just before we finally head for the airport back home, we drive up the winding road to the Sandia Crest for a view of the surrounding area. At 3255 meter (10678ft), the air is a tad thin, but on this gorgeous clear day, it is also crisp and affording hundred mile-views in every direction. Albuquerque is spread out below us, a mile or so straight down. I feel a little sad, looking around: I don't want to leave just yet.


links to some of the venues, places and restaurants mentioned in this post:


In My Kitchen: A Taste of the Southwest is my previous post zooming in on some of the region's fiery flavors, as found not only when tasting, but also in a gorgeous new book: Foods of the Southwest Indian Nations. Find the link here.

Hope you enjoyed this post! I sure enjoyed writing it, traveling to New Mexico again through my mind's eye. There is so much more to see and do, and I can't wait to travel to New Mexico again. What is a must-see/do/taste for a next time?

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Saturday, June 7, 2014

In My Kitchen: A Taste of the Southwest

I just returned from a four-day trip to New Mexico. This land enchanted me with its vast vistas, natural colors and fiery flavors. My eye was drawn every time to the stringed dried red chiles, hanging from every other patio and porch. I wanted to bring back one such string, but was warned against it: taken on an airplane, the fragile peppers would very likely crumble. You'd be left with chile flakes, and angry co-passengers fighting pepper-teary eyes in the dry cabin.

What I did bring back to my kitchen (or rather, got as a present from my lovely husband), is a great book on an ancient cuisine: Foods Of The Southwest Indian Nations by Lois Ellen Frank (here). It is a colorful book in many ways: in its descriptions, recipes, photography, and food culture focus. With this book came an insight into a native cuisine that has influenced many of today's flavors and dishes of America's Southwest. It also gave me inspiration to try and replicate some of the fabulous foods we ate while touring the beautiful region around Santa Fe. Such as blue corn & pinon pancakes, or an aromatic, not too fiery green chile sauce to eat with your breakfast burrito, typically a soft flour tortilla stuffed with any combination of scrambled eggs, beans, and possibly potatoes, and as breakfast version said to have originated in New Mexico.

In my kitchen this weekend we make our own breakfast burritos, modeled after the one we had in the historic dining room of one of America's oldest hot spring resorts, dating back to 1868, in Ojo Caliente.

Green Chile
They say in New Mexico, green chile goes into everything, from breakfast burrito to dessert pie. It must be true, as I had green chile even in my beer. It was a Taos Green Chile pale ale from Eske's Brew Pub, and I loved it! We did indeed have ample tastings of New Mexico green chile. Not to be confused with a salsa, a green chile is more like a stew of New Mexico chile peppers, mild to hot heat from the variety used, thickened and often served warm. New Mexico Chile varieties were developed some 100 years ago, and one of its varieties (though named after it was introduced in California), is the Anaheim chile.

In my kitchen fridge I have Poblano peppers, that I will cut into strips, dip in a simple batter and fry crisp. It is inspired by green chile fries we came across: mild to hot green pepper strips that were batter-dipped and deep-fried.  Also in my kitchen are tomatillos (still waxy in their husks), fresh jalapeno peppers, cilantro (as fresh koriander is called in the States), and lime. It is waiting to be whizzed into an Indian Salsa, the recipe for which I found in Foods of the Southwest Indian Nations.

Blue Corn
What makes blue corn different from yellow or white corn (other than the color)? It is an ancient food, developed by Hopi (descendants of the ancient pueblo people who inhabited the Southwestern region since the 11th Century). More than a staple food, blue corn is part of local native culture and has been attributed with symbolic and ceremonial significance. Blue corn has a higher, more complex protein content than yellow or white corn, and a lower glycemic index. The taste is nuttier and sweeter when ground and used in making tortillas or pancakes. Blue Corn today is a permanent fixture in Southwestern cuisine. Loving both taste and their attractive dark blue color, I view the bag of blue corn chips in my pantry with more esteem now.

Pricklies
In the dry mountain desert land, cacti and pines do well. And so, the edible parts from these trees have always been part of native cuisine since ancient times, such as pinons (or pine kernels), prickly pear, and cactus pads (nopali). Pinons graced the blue corn pancakes we had for breakfast one morning with an aromatic nuttiness and pleasant soft-crunchy texture. Prickly Pear are in season late summer. It is when they are harvested and eaten either fresh, or made into a syrup, an ice cream, a juice. I've had prickly pear before, living in the Middle East. I've also made the beginner's mistake of underestimating the tiny spines that feel fine at first, but start to irritate like a rash that you don't see, but can't seem to get rid off. The taste of prickly pear is refreshing, the color a hot pink that turns soft when used as a syrup and thinned with water.

Foods of the Southwest Indian Nations has a traditional recipe for blue corn & pinon pancakes with prickly pear syrup (for which it also lists a recipe). There is also a recipe for prickly pear ice cream, and cactus pad salad. I love that this book is in my kitchen, especially since many of the ingredients can be found in Houston, from ground blue corn to cactus pads and the widest variety of chile .

Native Seeds Bank
Not in my kitchen, but something worth mentioning. I came across it when visiting the Indian Culture Museum in Santa Fe. A beautiful museum, by the way, that runs a Turquoise exhibition until 2016. In a display about life and agriculture in the Southwest, my eye fell on this text: "A child planting a traditional crop seed from the seed bank, continues the cycle began hundreds of years ago, to be continued, hopefully, by a child of the future". The Native Seeds/SEARCH is a nonprofit organization committed to building and expanding "the desert's genetic library of varieties of corn, squash, beans, and other crops", a dedicated effort to conserve local and regional traditional crop varieties.

OK, enough with the writing. In My Kitchen it is now time to cook! Starting with corn tortillas, using yellow corn flour or masa harina (Foods of the Southwest Indian Nations includes both a recipe for the tortillas, as one to make corn flour from scratch). I am also using my new kitchen toy: a tortilla press!

What's cooking in your kitchen this June?

In My Kitchen is a monthly series initiated by the lovely Celia@Fig Jam & Lime Cordial (link).

Back to back, here is a post sharing some of our travel experiences of this same New Mexico trip, from one of America's oldest natural hot springs resorts to the ghost towns on the scenic byway called the Turquoise Trail: Hot Springs, Red Earth and The Turquoise Trail

ps. chile or chili: it's a matter of spelling. The first is Spanish, the second English-American (British English tends to spell "chilli"). This post is about the Southwest of the US, so I am sticking here to the local spelling chile. 

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Thursday, May 29, 2014

New Orleans' National WWII Museum

This year marks the 70th anniversary of D-Day: the landing of allied forces on the coast of Normandy on June 6, 1944. It was the beginning of the end of World War II in Europe. My own dad, a young boy at the time, was one of so many who rejoiced when the allied troops invaded Normandy. It was a mere 450 miles (730 km) from his hometown, yet it would take almost another year of fierce battle, and a winter of famine before his part of the Netherlands was liberated in May 1945. The events of D-Day, in personal accounts, photographs, film, and artifacts, are part of the National World War II Museum in New Orleans, which opened on June 6, 2000, originally as the National D-Day Museum.

"Can I have a word with you?" a senior gentleman beckons, sitting behind a desk near the replica of a Higgins Boat in the entrance hall of the National WWII Museum. He is a veteran paratrooper and wants a chat with my son. Paratroopers were the ones who on D-Day June 6, 1944 were dropped behind enemy lines in total darkness. They fought the German army towards to Normandy coast, to clear the way for the troops landing in the amphibious vehicles. The veteran and junior engage in deep conversation, with a lot of nodding back and forth. In the veteran's hand (which is missing a couple of fingers), he is holding a clicker. He explains to my son that they landed in the dark, and needed to be able to tell friend from foe. The weathered face of the paratrooper shares expressions of danger as he describes the scene: the pitch-dark night, the sound of someone approaching. A soldier, just like you. But is he one of yours? You click, once. A reply comes, two clicks. You know it's alright, he's with the Allied Forces. "Now," the veteran's voice grows more intense. He grabs my son's hand, holds it tight and looks him in the eye straight:,"what if you hear no click back?" "Erm, it's a German soldier?", he sounds a little unsure. "So what do you do?" he leans forward, almost as if insisting on an immediate answer. "Go on, you know the answer." Reluctantly, my son replies: "Erm... you shoot?", his voice gone even quieter. "That's right. If there is no click-click, he's not one of you. And you shoot him, before he shoots you." My son looks at the veteran in silent admiration. History just came to life for him, in a very personal way. The veteran's other hand now covers my son's hand in a tender, reassuring way. They bid farewell, and I quickly wipe a little tear away.

The National WWII Museum is located in New Orleans' Warehouse District. Since I left in 2002, the area developed into a vibrant art and museum district full of renovated warehouses, art galleries, boutiques, and restaurants. The Contemporary Arts Museum sits as colorful as ever right around the corner of Julia Street and its many galleries. Across the WWII Museum is the Ogden Museum for Southern Art, opened in 2002. I used to volunteer for the Ogden Museum when it was housed in one of the galleries on Julia Street, and passed almost daily by the D-Day Museum (as it was called at the time). It was a single gallery museum then, focused on the Higgins Boats, the amphibious vehicles that made the invasion in Normandy over sea possible. These landing crafts were designed and manufactured in New Orleans by local boat builder Andrew Higgins and company, and the reason why the museum found a home in New Orleans. Over the years, the museum expanded and grew into the complex museum it is today: an eye-catching construction of concrete, steel, and glass to house a complex of galleries and a multi-stories high atrium where you can admire original war planes. The museum was renamed in 2003 to become the National WWII Museum.
It is a museum that will engage you to the fullest. The museum covers the war as it was fought both in Europe and the Pacific. You can listen to personal accounts in one of the audio rooms, or watch historical film material; there are detailed displays about decision-making processes involved, and the choices that had to be made. You see the faces behind the stories, stare at the staggering number of casualties listed, understand more of the plight of those who stayed behind, and the sacrifices they made. It is one reason you need your time to visit this museum: you need a moment to let it all sink in. We saw only one of the two 4-D films: Beyond All Boundaries. Guided by the pleasant voice of Tom Hanks, Beyond All Boundaries takes you through the war years. I remain vague on purpose: this is a film to be experienced. One tip: if you enter from the hall (most likely after standing in a long line), you enter the pre-screen area. Don't sit down, but stand close to either side door: these are the doors that lead into the main cinema, and you'll be one of the first to pick a seat.

Everything in and around the museum is done with attention to detail. From the "train" you enter to each of the displays, the artifacts, the airplanes, the sounds you hear, and to the very design of the building(s). It doesn't stop there: this museum has a restaurant that does it proud. It "ticks all the boxes" of what a good museum restaurant can offer: a style, ambiance and menu that reflect the very nature of the museum, and above all: good, fresh food. 

Lunch At The Museum
I have complained before that some museums lack a good restaurant, and instead offer fast food options only (Magna Carta & McNuggets). Not so the National WWII Museum. In fact, the restaurant alone is worth a visit, lunch or dinner. The American Sector is a unique restaurant that is in ambiance, design and menu a testimony to the WWII Museum. It is also a John Besh restaurant, one of New Orleans' top chefs, and winner of many James Beard awards.

The American Sector by John Besh has a vintage "diner style" menu, a tribute to the second world war era. It offers an eclectic mix of food from the 1940s and local cuisine, with name references to war fronts in Europe and the Pacific. Ingredients are sourced locally, food is made fresh. There are intriguing appetizers like the crispy fried chicken gizzards: poached sous-vide in the immersion circulator for three days, the gizzards - by then supertender - are soaked in buttermilk, breaded and deep-fried. Served with a tangy creole mustard, it's a must-try. Among the gourmet burgers is the North-African (Two Run Farm lamb with harissa mayonaise), the Frenchie (duck confit, foie gras and pickled onions), and the Pichon (lump crab meat cake with remoulade). There is a divine shrimp and sausage gumbo, beef short ribs with house mac-n-cheese, braised pork belly ramen, house pickles to nibble on, and so much more. We sit at the large, central bar. The restaurant is incredibly spacious, with soaring high ceilings and a 1940s ambiance complete with period black-and-white photographs on the walls, and parts of aircraft suspended from the ceiling.

June 6, 2014, marks the 70th Anniversary of D-Day. The National WWII Museum honors D-Day with a special program that starts at 6am with an H-Hour Ceremony, and runs throughout the weekend. For the full list of activities: http://www.nww2m.com/2014/02/the-national-wwii-museum-commemorates-d-day-70/



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Monday, May 19, 2014

Slow Food: The Next Chapter

Not one taste the world over, but a world of tastes
Slow Food for me is appreciating food in all its diversity. It is discovering regional cuisines and local ingredients. Raising a child to know the chicken, not the nuggets. Favoring individual chef-owner restaurants where the cooking is good and done with passion. It is a good wine, a microbrew beer, a signature cocktail. It is crusty great-smelling bread, artisan cheese, traditional charcuterie, and the ripe freshness of seasonal, local produce. It is always cooking fresh food at home (I believe the buzzword is "real food"), and taking time to enjoy food together. Slow is more than food. Slow is an unhurried lifestyle, even if you are in a rush. It means taking time for things and someones that matter to you. Slow is setting your alarm to watch the moon be eclipsed in a red-hued shadow, even if you have an early rise the next day. Slow is living the dream, when the dream is to cherish the life you live. 

I thought about what Slow Food is to me after I watched a documentary. Slow Food Story: A 25 Year Gastronomic Revolution. It follows Slow Food founder and visionary Carlo Petrini in his mission to preserve local food traditions and gastronomic culture against the onslaught of fast food and associated "eat and run" lifestyle. Since 1989, when the first Slow Food Manifesto was signed by delegates from all over the world, Slow Food developed into a healthy and growing international, multi-tiered network. Slow Food today has more than 150,000 members in over 150 countries. Its numerous local chapters link the global mission to support good, clean and fair back to a local, community-based level.

I became a member of Slow Food after I visited Bra in 2007. A mutual friend had suggested I should meet her friend, who worked for Slow Food. She showed us around the office, and we went to have lunch in the first Slow restaurant: Osteria del Boccondivino. The food was good, fresh, and well-prepared, and I fell in love with the concept of a "slow restaurant": when you see the "slow snail" on a restaurant door, you know you will find good, clean, and fair food rooted in the chef's culinary heritage and/or local gastronomic traditions.
the beauty of biodiversity: some varieties of rice
Slow Food USA: The Houston Chapter
When I moved to Houston, I changed my membership to Slow Food USA. A new chapter for me, I am on the lookout for slow in fast-paced Houston, where too much time is spent navigating the concrete mikado of multi-lane highways. Houston does have an exciting amount of slow to discover: local and creative chef-owner restaurants, small artisan food businesses, small-scale art and culture venues, not to mention farmers markets and good food events going on! A recent example is the Bayou Food & Film Festival, a full weekend event built around food, science, art & culture on the Gulf coast. It took place the first weekend of May, and I definitely hope it is going to be an annual event (if it isn't already). The festival brought short food films by the University of Houston, tastings by local small-scale producers like Houston Dairy Maids, and a lively panel discussion on Why Food Matters with representatives from the university, the editor of Sugar & Rice (online magazine for food & culture on the Gulf Coast), and local chefs like Monica Pope and Benjy Mason. The events took place in the delightful 14Pews, so named because of the pews that line the little white wooden church, now converted into an art cinema/theater space in the Houston Heights. (link here). 

A Local Farm
Above all, I was very happy to find Slow Food Houston in the process of being revived: it had been in deep dormancy, until three driven women stepped in and began building a fresh new Houston-based chapter. Slow Food Houston (SFH) is liaised directly with Slow Food USA, which has 170 (and counting) local chapters throughout the US, as well as a strong national Slow Food's Youth Network. The best kind of investment in a good food future, after all, is to educate today's young. 

When Slow Food Houston organized a working day at a local farm, I signed up without thinking twice. It was a vegetable and fruit farm, and we would be working in the fig orchard: trimming, pruning, shoveling compost and mulch. Knopp Branch Farm is not just any farm: it is a slice of paradise. It breathes slow in very root, stalk, and leaf. The slow is in the big bonfire pit surrounded with inviting lazy wooden chairs, the tranquility and ambiance, the stroll through the meadow down to the river for a refreshing dip. Knopp Branch is the dream-come-true of a couple retiring in the countryside. Vegetable gardening a passion, the retirement dream soon erupted into a full-fledged and successful organic vegetable and fruit farm, selling at the weekly Urban Harvest farmers market in Houston, and supplying Houston's finest farm-to-fork restaurants. Oxheart's okras I raved about (here) came from Knopp Branch Farm. The yellow figs that will bear heavy on the branches come July are spoken for by Underbelly. And Treadsack (Downhouse) chefs Benjy Mason, Mark Decker and Richard Knight came to Knopp Branch Farm to cook a slow farm lunch that began with fire-roasted spring onions and traditional Catalan romesco sauce. Very much slow fish was their waste-not-want-not creative use of bycatch: "salted fish" bearded brotula served warm over Puy lentils loaded with the pure freshness of Knopp Branch vegetables, harvested just that morning.The fork rarely comes any closer to the farm than that!
Knopp Branch Farm: a slice of paradise just 2 hours southwest of Houston
For Your Agenda

Slow Food Houston organizes events and happy hours. Their April happy hour was at The League of Extraordinary Brewers. It is a collective of brewers working together in what owner and founder of the Kitchen Incubator explains is a "Incubator Brewery": a co-working brewery that nurtures and inspires a group of aspiring brewers to develop. There are brewing techniques, a brand name, and contacts in the industry to take from the "incubator brewery". A great concept in the heart of Houston's downtown, walking distance from Market Square, the League Brew Pub is a small,  intimate, community brew pub where you can chat with the brewer, enjoy a tasting flight, or (once up and running) can go into the game lounge and have an informal bite to eat (link here).


The upcoming Happy Hour will be May 22 and is hosted at D&T Drive Inn. Sign up for more info and updates: info@slowfoodhouston.com

related links

www.facebook.com/SlowFoodHouston
www.slowfoodusa.org
www.knoppbranchfarm.com
www.leaguebrewpub.com
www.treadsack.com (Down House, D&T Drive Inn, and two new ventures opening in 2014: Hunky Dory, and Foreign Correspondents)

And of course: www.slowfood.com

some related posts
A Slow Lobster
The Nordic Food Lab
Slow Shepherds and the Cheese Resistance
Pianeta Terra, an example of Slow Food's Alliance between Chefs and Small-scale Producers


Being a member of Slow Food is being part of a growing international community who support good, clean and fair food.

What is Slow Food to you?

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Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Jazz Fest New Orleans And Its Heritage of Food



At the 45th edition of Jazz Fest, the air resonates with brass bands, gospel songs, jazz tunes and blues riffs. It comes alive with the catching sound of Cajun accordions, the washboard-beat of Zydeco, and the steady drum of the Mardi Gras Indians. Santana salutes Duke Ellington, and his performance at the very first Jazz Fest. "Man that's a way to start something". The year was 1970. Eight years later, in 1978, four young New Orleans jazz musicians performed here for the first time as Astral Project, and have been playing at the Fest since. The deep-rooted musical heritage of the Crescent City is but one aspect of the annual New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival. As much as it is a world-class music festival, it's the heritage of food that grabs a fervent gourmand even more. The combination of it all makes for festival heaven.

Remember the shrimp-scene from Forrest Gump? Overwrite "shrimp" with "crawfish" and that's me going around the New Orleans 2014 Jazz Fest. Crawfish Beignets. Crawfish Monica. Crawfish Remoulade. Even if they played the polka all day long every day, I'd still love the Fest. Crawfish Po'Boy. Crawfish Bisque. Crawfish Bread. Of course there is shrimp too.

In fact, at Jazz Fest you can sample all of Louisiana's "four seasons": crawfish, shrimp, oyster and crab. Soft-shell crab, to be precise. Not a fan of seafood? Go for the Alligator Pie, Muffaleta, Spinach Artichoke Casserole, Cajun Duck Po'Boy, BBQ Pork Ribs, a traditional Red Beans & Rice, or move away from Louisiana food and go for Vietnamese springrolls, Brazilian Acaraje, or Jamila's Lamb Tajine and Merguez. Quench your thirst with Rosemint Herbal Iced Tea or Strawberry Lemonade. Satisfy your sweet tooth with any number of pies, bread pudding, pecan praline, sno' balls or mango freeze. Too bad you can't borrow someone else's taste buds and belly space to eat more, and more of more.

John Hiatt's soulful gritty voice sounds from the Fais-Do-Do stage. Swaying to my favorite Cry Love, I ladle juicy chunks of pheasant and quail from the eye-popping good cup of gumbo in my hand. Jazz Fest made perfect. Eric Clapton is about to start on the Acura stage, but the Houston-bound flight is calling. As we walk away from the Fairground festival fields, we hear Clapton's guitar howl its opening tunes.

From a melted-cheese hot-crusted uber-delicious toasted crawfish bread for breakfast, must-eat Crawfish Monicameaty and moreish white beans with BBQ pork ribs to crisp sugar-dusted original Cafe du Monde beignets, we tried a lot. Here's a random rundown of a few favorites:
soft shell crab
Po-Boys Galore
Not all the breads I tasted this year at Jazz Fest were crisp in crust and fluffy at heart, but the stuffing invariably was oh so goo-hood! Plump flash-fried oysters, raw with a delicate crust. Succulent slow roasted cochon de lait. Cracking good fried alligator meat. Crispy curled-up crawfish tails coated in light, spiced breading. And the best one yet: crunchy fried whole soft shell crab.

A Taste of Alligator
"If gator is said to taste like chicken, it must be a chicken who likes seafood," was my son's comment. I've only once tried alligator meat before, minced in boudin. Hesitant about the "whole pieces of gator meat", I was glad he ordered it, and had me venture a taste. I'm all the richer for it. The fried alligator meat was sensational: firm with a taste spectrum that spanned from juicy chicken to fleshy shrimp. Alligator meat also made a tender-stewed appearance in a traditional Louisiana sauce piquante. It is a tomato-based sauce that simmers for hours and embraces the depth of spice and "holy trinity" (a mirepoix of celery, onion, and bell pepper) of Cajun cooking. The alligator meat was chopped, stewed in this sauce piquante and served with mushrooms over white rice. Loved it!

The Sack, The Beignet & The Pattie 
Talk about a festival staple: for decades, fest-goers have carried a plate of Patton's trio to the far reaches of the fairgrounds: Crawfish Beignets, Crawfish Sack & Oyster Pattie. It's been twelve years since the last time I waited patiently in line to finally parade away with mine, only to find my then-toddler single-mindedly going for my crawfish beignets. Couldn't tell him off either, trying to be the kind of mother who encouraged the child's culinary explorations. Today, at my insistent request, he totters off to queue on my behalf. Crawfish beignets are addictive fried doughy bites, drizzled with a creole remoulade. The Oyster Pattie has sea-soft oysters swimming in a creamy ragout and spilling over the rims of a puff pastry vol-au-vent. The Crawfish Sack is a crisp-fried pastry pouch holding the tasty tiny tails.

Louisiana Food Traditions
French for "suckling pig", Cochon de Lait in Louisiana is so much more than falling off the bone roast pork with the best ever crackling. Roasting a cochon de lait is a social event in Louisiana: as the split pig slowly cooks in front of an open wood fire, families pass the time eating and dancing to Cajun music - a lively and infectious music that even the most determined non-dancer will find hard to resist. Cochon de Lait even has its own annual festival, celebrating its 40th edition this year. But then, in Louisiana, everything edible seems to have a dedicated festival, including the mirleton (pronounced, like often in New Orleans, not like you'd think: it's "mellaton"). Needless to say, our delicious Cochon de Lait was pulled from its po'boy in no eatin' time!

Pheasant Quail & Andouille Gumbo
Warm dark brown, silky soft and convincingly divine, the Pheasant Quail & Andouille Gumbo is sensational. The flavors run deep and sumptuous, the meats are juicy and tender. That deep dark color with its lush shine comes from the famous Lousiana dark oil-based roux, where flour cooks in smoking hot oil before a "holy trinity of Cajun cooking" adds a traditional layer of flavor. I still cannot believe I shared my only cup of that gumbo...

Veggies At The Fest
Sweet potato pone (easier to order without a risk of embarrassing spoonerisms than corn pone) is almost like a cake, full of sweet spice. It comes from the same vendor who also sells a creamy, lush artichoke and spinach casserole, and the combination makes for very happy taste buds. The stuffed artichoke is chockfull with a crumbly stuffing of parmesan, herbs, and garlic. Wrapped in foil, the artichoke is baked until soft. Plonked in our fold-out chairs near the Jazz & Heritage Stage, we also shared a plate of fried green tomatoes: crisp crust, gorgeous acidic firm green flesh, they didn't need the remoulade that came with it. I haven't tried the Mirleton Casserole. Maybe you did and will tell me about it?
pheasant quail and andouille laden gourmet gumbo
where y'at John Hiatt?

crawfish beignets

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ps. these are all I-Phone photos - hands full with drink in one and food in other, the big camera never made it out of its bag...

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Texas Local Meat - In My Kitchen

A couple of weeks ago we drove around the countryside near Brenham, amidst rolling hills and cattle ranches. Brenham in Washington County is considered to be the birthplace of Texas. It is a region for Texas wines, lavender fields, heritage trails, and home of the Blue Bell creameries. We have only sniffed at the region, going back for more soon. Cruising around this scenic land with its vast pastures and free-roaming cattle, I remembered the "pledge" I made to myself when I first arrived in Houston: find a local organic farmer who delivers directly to consumers. And I did.
I found a long list of local farms through the detailed and informative database of EatWild.com. Founded some ten years ago, this is a site dedicated to present-day foods that are grown, cultivated and/or raised so it has the nutritional value (not to mention taste) you would find in foods grown and/or roaming wild. EatWild shares related articles, food-for-thought, and background information. And then there is their state-by-state directory: a coveted list of local organic farms who sell directly to consumers. It is here that I found the link to a local farm who delivers to my house: A Better Way Beef.

And so, in my kitchen this April, I have a box of various cuts of beef, lamb, pork, and chicken. All from a ranch not far from Houston. Where hills are rolling and fields in Spring are vibrant with the flaming red of Indian Paintbrush, and the delicate blue of Texas' state flower: the blue bonnet.

Less is more: lean meat
My son has this joke: say "milk" ten times. Then answer the question: what does a cow eat? Growing up in the Netherlands, my answer automatically and invariably is: grass. A Better Way Beef is grass-fed meat. Their cattle (and lamb) roam freely on grassy pastures rich in herbs and wildflowers. The ranch uses two local facilities to process their meat. Slaughtered humanely, under state inspection, the meat is dry-aged on site for two weeks. Dry-aging makes for lean, meaty meat. Think of dry-aging as ripening: instead of packaging the meat straight away, nature gets a chance to intensify the flavors of the slaughtered meat before it is sold.

I unpack my box. There is ground beef, a T-Bone, a sirloin steak, pork ribs, lamb ribs, ground lamb, lamb chops, and 4 quarter chicken. It's the latter I stare at the longest. One quarter chicken is the size of what I normally buy as a whole chicken. I pick up a humongous leg, and I know it will love me if I cook it ever so slow.

I do love meat, but I also know you don't have to eat large slabs of it to feel satisfied. Growing up, money was tight, and meat was a luxury item on our dinner table. My mother always insisted you don't need more than 100gr (3-4 oz) of meat per person, and you don't need it every day. Carnivores among you will gasp at the notion. My son one of them. Meat portions in my kitchen are not that mean, but they're not huge either. And not daily: meat meals are balanced against vegetarian and seafood. It is a nano-contribution to sustainable food: slow down demand, and demand good meat.
What I have done with the meat so far:

Sirloin Steak
Allowed to come to room temperature 2 hours before, the steak is looking relaxed with its deep-dark red meat, soft to the touch, and with creamy white fat. The smell is good too: it is the smell of fresh, raw meat. I feel the meat, and love the promise of a velvety texture. I don't think it needs any acidity to tenderize. No vinegar, no wine. I season the steak with coarse sea salt grains, let it sit for 30 minutes as the grill heats up. It grills on high heat until I feel enough resistance when I poke it gently with my finger. It looks whitish, but then I remember: in dry aging, moisture slowly evaporates. It smells good, the resistance of the meat feels medium-rare, the fat looks cooked, so off it goes to rest for 20-30 minutes. When I slice it, my food heart jumps with joy: it is beautiful meat. Tender, velvety, and oh so full of meaty flavor.
Pork Ribs & Herbs
A beautiful slab of pork ribs looks good: the meat is dark pink, the fat creamy white. I will try something other than the BBQ: I rub the ribs lightly with mustard, sprinkle with coarse salt, fennel seeds, and freshly ground black pepper, and place them on a bed of rough sliced red onion and halved garlic bulbs. Add a splash of white wine if you like. Fresh sage and thyme from my own herb bed share their aromatic love on top, and covered with heavy foil it goes into a moderate oven for about 2 hours. After that, the foil comes off and the ribs roast uncovered until crisp. The meat falls off the bone, infused with the aromatics around it. The sage and garlic (now crisp and roasted) go into a base of cream and stock. Rotini get to roll in it, and together with roasted sprouts this is one very good meal.

juicy tender jerked chicken, try it with corn & poblano quinoa (recipe here
Love That Chicken
One chicken quarter fed the three of us generously. I marinated it overnight in a homemade Ancho-Chile BBQ sauce with added fresh orange juice for acidity. It "jerked" off-heat for almost 4 hours. What we ended up with, was a chicken that in taste and texture raised the bar high for any future chicken. Rich, firm, tasteful meat, you will never ever want to eat the bland meat of inflated bio-industry chicken ever again.

Lamb Kofte
When meat smells good enough to eat raw, close your eyes and you can almost picture the animal running around in a meadow rich with grasses and wildflowers. The delicious raw meatiness of this ground lamb begged for fresh herbs, for natural sweetness, for a hint of spiciness. It longed for a gentle roll on the hot grill. This lamb also sought a tantalizing liaison with the vibrant colors and crisp flavors of fresh vegetables, and the fragrance of saffron in rice. The full recipe, including the colorful salad and saffron rice, is available here (The Food Lane Recipes).

As I write this, one humongous chicken leg is defrosting. This one I will ever so gently braise in coconut milk fragrant with lemon grass, lime leaf, fresh ginger, and red chili. Wanna come for dinner in my kitchen?

Links
www.abetterwaybeef.com: a Texas ranch where cattle and lamb roam free, chickens chase grasshoppers, pigs roll in mud. Check for deliveries, orders are a minimum of 25lbs (meat comes portioned, wrapped, and ready for the freezer).
www.eatwild.com, getting wild nutrition from modern foods: a great website bursting with listings for local organic farms, free range meats, great reads and background information.

In My Kitchen is a foodblogger-sharing series initiated by Celia @ Fig Jam and Lime Cordial: www.figjamandlimecordial.com/in-my-kitchen

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