Thursday, March 31, 2011


Around here, any night could be taco night. My latest obsession? Fish tacos.

Actually, my latest obsession is the trout I have been buying from Willy Street Coop.
It is amazing! I had no idea that trout is in the "salmonoid" family. I simply asked for something good and affordable, which ruled out about 90% of the case. The knowledgeable and friendly fish mongers at Willy Street Coop suggested trout at $7/pound. If it is full of toxins, I don't want to know.

What I do know is that it is delicious. Tonight I made a Mayan-style fish, called Tik n Xic, and combined it with all sorts of toppings; pickled onions (of course), guac, sauteed tomatoes and onions, mango salsa, chopped cilantro and lime wedges. I put this meal together in about 45 minutes, minus marinating time. (I already had pickled onions in the fridge.) On your mark, get set...go!

Step1. Marinate fish
Step 2. Make pickled onions (or buy them)
Step 3. Chop cilantro, cut lime wedges and grate cheese. Set aside.
Step 4. Make Mango Salsa (recipe below)
Step 5. Make Guacamole (recipe below)
Step 6. Cook fish
Step 7. Sautee onions and tomatoes (same pan that you cooked fish)
Step 8. Heat tortillas and assemble tacos

TIK N XIC (Mayan Fish)

3/4 pound trout, or other firm fish
2 tbsp achiote paste/powder (find at Latin market, also called annatto)
1 clove garlic, crushed
2 tsp salt

Rib fish with achiote, crushed garlic and salt. Set aside in fridge for about 3 hours.
When ready to cook, heat about 3 tbsp oil in skillet, fry skin side down for about 5 minutes, then flip and finish cooking about 5 more minutes, or so until done. You can grill this if you prefer.


1 ripe mango, diced
1/2 red bell pepper, diced
1 jalapeno, diced (seeds removed)
1/4 cup chopped cilantro
1 clove garlic crushed
juice of 1 lime
1/2 tsp salt

Mix it all together.


2 ripe avocados
1 clove garlic
1 tsp salt
juice 1-2 limes
1/4 cup chopped tomatoes

Mix it all together.

Tomato and onion mix
Sautee chopped onions and tomatoes with a pinch of salt until soft. I cooked these in the same pan I used for fish after I removed the fish.

Heat tortillas briefly over flame or in skillet
Fill with fish, guacamole, sauteed tomatoes, and top with pickled onions, mango salsa, and cilantro. Squeeze a bit of lime over and enjoy!!

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Pizza Tuesday

You know those days when it's dinner time and you realize you have nothing to eat, no food in the fridge, and a hungry family?

It happens in our house almost every Tuesday. My husband and I leave to teach dance class shortly after he arrives home from work, and I always seem to head into the dinner hour empty handed and stressed--which is why receiving coupons for free pizza from Home Run Inn was like a dream come true. Frozen pizza? The perfect dinner when's there's no time to cook, and no food in the house. Actually, my son thinks it is the perfect food any day, any time.

With two coupons in hand I decided to try a Ultra Thin Margherita pizza, which features just a simple red sauce and some cheese and fresh herbs, which I love. My son selected the Classic Uncured (yea!!) Pepperoni and Sausage pizza, which he favors. We were pretty sure my husband and daughter would like those, too.

Home Run Inn's frozen pies use the same recipes and ingredients used in their Chicago pizzerias. You know what that means? I understand every word in the ingredient list; they are made without preservatives or additives. We all know Chicago pizzas are the best (oops, did I open a can of worms?), and these were no exception. The Margherita pizza was super crispy, with the flavors of the fresh tomato, mozzarella and basil melding perfectly. The Sausage and Pepperoni pizza had just enough meat to satisfy the meat eaters, but not so much that it overwhelmed the slice. Oh, and I cooked them on my new pizza stone from Orange Tree Imports, which meant a perfectly cooked crust.

Simply put, the pizza is delicious; after all, Home Run Inn has over 60 years experience making pizzas! All I had to do was throw together a salad (which no one ate), and voilà—dinner is served.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Culinary Tour 2011-A Fabulous Finale

We arrived back from Valldolid on Wednesday night. Thursday, despite our itinerary which said “Boat trip to Isla Contoy—weather permitting” no one wanted to leave Casa de Las Palmas. Not to mention the weather was not permitting. We hung out by the pool, sat around the large kitchen table, and napped in the hammocks on the big veranda while the storm clouds rolled in.

Our afternoon class featured a tamale-making lesson by Chef Lori. By 5 pm Lori had showed us how to mix the tamale dough and wrap the tamales. A large pot of water boiled on the stove ready to steam the tamales, and we all paused to fill some glasses with refreshments (read tequila and juice).

The distant thunder suddenly broke into a full-fledged storm. Rain poured down and lightening blazed. All of the sudden darkness enveloped us—the electricity was out.

The group of foodie tour goers took action at once. Flashlights to see the tamales, check; candles for the table, check. We proceeded with the class, realizing that we couldn't blend our salsas in the blender, but no one cared. The mood of the dinner was wonderful, and everyone appreciated the “real Mexican” adventure.

The last full day, many people again chose to relax at the beach, or by the pool, or shop for gifts. Lori and I planned out farewell dinner--a Mexican Fiesta. We celebrated friends made, meals eaten and adventures enjoyed. We set out plates of grilled mango and panela cheese, followed by a chicken caldo with pasilla chiles. We then moved on to enchilada “stackers”, with potatoes, poblanos, chayote, nopales and garlic shrimp, topped with a mango salsa and sweet chiptole sauce. A Spanish-influenced dessert ended the meal—bluecheese “cheesecake” with tamarind-balsamic reduction served with sweet crackers.

All in all this was a wonderful culinary tour, with great people and delicious food. I can't wait until the next one. Maybe I'll see you there! Hasta la proxima vez!

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Ancho-Honey Pork Torta

I loved the taco and torta (sandwich) stands in Mexico. Most of them open early in the morning, and offer all kinds of fresh grilled meats and toppings. If you are not a morning sandwich eater, this easy torta would work just as well for lunch or dinner (and can be made with chicken, too)! torta can get you through quite a bit of the day. Just sayin'.

Ancho-Honey Pork Torta

Pork with Ancho-Honey Sauce (can be made ahead) serves 4
Preheat oven to 325

2 pieces pork loin ( I love Willow Creek)
1 onion sliced
salt and pepper

For sauce:
3 ancho chiles, soaked in hot water, and de-seeded
1 14 oz can fire roasted tomatoes
1 small white onion, sliced
1 clove garlic
2 tsp crushed hoja santa leaf (can omit if you have to, but really helps flavor. Look at your local latin market)
2 tbsp honey
1 tbsp Worcestershire sauce

Sautee one onion and garlic in skillet until soft, and slightly browned.
Add to blender with tomatoes and chiles, blend.
Heat 2 tbsp vegetable oil over medium heat in a skillet, and pour blended sauce into skillet.
Heat sauce for about 5 minutes, letting it sizzle, then add honey, worcestershire sauce and spices, salt to taste.
Simmer for about 5 more minutes. Set aside.

Season two pork loin pieces liberally with salt and pepper.
Sear in an oiled skillet until browned on each side, about 2 minutes per side.
Add the other onion in with the pork and let soften while pork is searing.

Add a cup of the sauce over top of the pork, cover well and place in oven at 325 for about 30-40 minutes.

Now you can ...Make the sandwich!
Keep oven heated...

Ingredients (make or purchase premade):
ancho-honey pork
salsa fresca
refried black beans
pickled onions
sour cream

Get some really nice soft rolls or country white bread and slice if needed. I love Tribeca Ovens rustic Hero.
Cut the pork into 1/2 inch cubes.
Spread a bit of black beans on one side and heap some pork, with plenty of sauce, onto the other.
Spread some guacamole onto the bread, too, and heat the sandwich for about 5 minutes in hot oven.
Remove and spoon on some salsa fresca, pickled onions and sour cream. Add hot sauce if you like.


Thursday, March 10, 2011

Culinary Tour: The Yucatan

Culinary Tour Day 3 and 4:

We headed out early on Tuesday morning, aptly named Fat Tuesday, seemingly in recognition of the quantity of food we are ingesting on this tour. We rode the ADO bus from Cancun to Valladolid, a small town in the Yucatan, that was bursting with life—lots of young kids milled about the town square in the soft evening light, flirting with their novios.

We skimped on breakfast Tuesday morning, enjoy a smoothie of mamey fruit and bagels. Once we arrived in Valladolid, we walked to one of the town's swimming holes, or cenote, for a meal and a swim. It was beautiful. A cenote is a sink hole that is full of cool, clear water. The food at Cenote Zaci was delicious, including typical Yucateca Mayan dishes such as poc chuk, queso relleno, chicken pibil, and longaniza sausage.

The local kids were wet enough, celebrating Mardi Gras by throwing water balloons—and even water melon---at each other.

Which brings me to our favorite dish in Valladolid. We enjoyed food at the Taberna de las Frieres Tuesday night. Situated over a cenote, the restaurant boasted the best appetizer ever, in our foodie opinions. The grilled watermelon salad had us all swooning. Layer of chimichurri brushed watermelon, grilled and placed on grilled panela cheese with thin tomato slices. The topper was a delicious sauce which we managed to find out was made with papaya and tamarind.

On Wednesday we started our day of fasting with cappuccinos and empanadas of corn and squash, then headed to the local market to browse the produce—and shoe shop. Stall upon stall of shoes, clothes, trinkets, meat, fruits, vegetables and honey filled the large municipal building. I bought various spice mixtures and a few types of honey. When I asked one of the vendors how to prepare food with the ingredients, she simply asked me, “Do you have a servant?” “No”, I replied. She shrugged her shoulders and turned to the next customer. Do I appear that hopeless?

I grabbed a torta from a small food cart to fill my surprisingly empty stomach. Marinated grilled pork with beans, guacamole, tomatoes, pickled onions and salsa on fresh french bread. Delicious!

After marveling at the ruins of Ek Balam, we enjoyed a late lunch at the gorgeous restaurant Casona. I sampled the relleno negro, a black pepper mixture over stewed chicken.

I am looking forward to getting back to cooking classes on Isla Mujeres; my one regret on this side trip to Valladolid is that we didn't have someone to teach us how to cook with all of the wonderful local foods and spices. Guess I'll just have to come back next year.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Culinary Tour: The First Days

The first two days of the World of Flavors culinary tour have been wonderful, embracing the foods, culture and activities on the island with a spirit of adventure.

It's Carnival here, and a few of us have managed to catch the local dance troupes performing on the street as they pile out of their trucks, Flash Mob style. The sequins and lycra shine and shimmer as the dancers shine and shimmy.

We have explored a few local restaurants, including a neighborhood favorite Basto's Grill, and of course delved into our cooking classes.

Day 1: we enjoyed Mango Cafe's famous Concha “french toast” (more like a bread pudding) and yogurt with Yucutan Honey.

Our lunch lesson was titled “Stuffed Things” and also “Things with Peppers”. Call it what you want, chefs Lori Dumm and Leo Lunes helped us cook up a delicious meal. We made poppers and rellenos with a variety of peppers and fillings, all of which left us feeling a bit like a stuffed pepper ourselves. A sweet chipotle sauce, guajillo sauce and tomatillo salsa topped them off. A simple mango, jicama and red pepper salad accompanied the meal. We called it Rasta Slaw. We swore off dinner, but ended up at Rolandi's for their wood-fired pizza.

Day 2: We fueled up for our lunch cooking class (“Things with Masa”) with an amazing breakfast of eggs and biscuit with portabella gravy and roasted potatoes. Chef Leo showed us the many things you can make with masa, such as tortillas, huaraches and sopes. We filled them with a simple sauteed shrimp, leftover cochinitos (pulled pork), guacamole and pickled onions. We decided that the class was like an art class for grown-ups. Maybe we should call it "Fun with Masa." After hitting the beach, we finished off the day at Mango Cafe for their popular BarBQ nite. What a blast. Tomorrow, off we go to the Yucutan...Stay tuned, and meanwhile, check out more photos here.

In case you want to taste a flavor of the Caribbean at home, here is a delicious recipe for jalapeno poppers you can make.


6 large jalapenos, top cut partway, and sliced down the middle on one side.

Grated Monterey jack cheese

Goat cheese


Sweet potatoes or plantains, sliced into 1/4 inch thick wedges and fried. (optional)


Diced sweet red pepper

bacon, cooked and diced

3 eggs

2 cups of flour and masa (equal parts each)

corn flakes (not sweetened)

oil to fry

1. Remove all seeds and veins from jalapenos

2. Boil jalapenos in sugar water (about 4 tbsp sugar to 6 cups water) for 20 minutes.

3. Prepare fillings and set out on table.

4. stuff your pepper as you like, or try a different type of cheese with the monterey jack. I like, plantain, red pepper, goat cheese. Do not overstuff.

5. Roll jalapeno first in flour/masa mix.

6. Dip in egg, roll again in flour, dip in egg (alternate hands), then dip finally in cornflakes. Pack the cornflakes on well.

7. Fry in oil until golden about 5 minutes

8. Top with salsa and eat.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

The Art of Communal Eating

For some of us, managing to sit around a table with friends or family is as close as we will come to communal eating.

In much of Africa eating together is an important part of building relationships—and goes well beyond simply sharing a table. In Mali, and many other countries, you eat with your hands, most likely sharing a few germs (builds the immune system). You share stories, laughs and I think that some saliva is shared as well. As one Malian woman told me after I saw her nurse another woman's child, “We share everything.”

Eating communally entails more than just digging in to a delicious meal: there are some rules. I hope to provide you with a simple guide to help you next time you are invited to share a meal in West Africa. Or, if you are feeling adventurous, you might even try this in your own home. Ko barika!

  1. Serve the meal on a large shallow platter (about 18-20”) on a small table or the floor. You might be surprised to find that you can eat anything with your hands—but slightly sticky dishes work best, such as fried rice, or rice with okra sauce, or rice with peanut sauce, or rice with chicken. Get the picture? Or use bread.

  2. Have everyone wash their hands in a bowl of clean water. Use the right hand only to eat. In Bamana (a language in Mali), the right hand is called kini bolo, or rice-eating hand. The left hand is called numan bolo, or nose-picking hand. Yep, and nose picking is the least of it. Only the right hand to eat.

  3. Wait until everyone is seated or squatting around the plate before you start. Mentally divide the dish into quadrants, or sections. Your section is directly in front of you, not in front of me. Don't reach across for my rice, please.

  4. If there are vegetable or meat that you would like, and there is not enough for everyone, then break off a piece for yourself, and leave the rest. If you have something in front of you that you would like to share, place it in the middle of the dish, or in front of the person you want to share it with. Share is the key word, because when there are 8 hungry people, and 2 pieces of meat, you gotta share. That's kindergarden stuff, right?

  5. To use your hands, grab a small handful of food in your palm, and sort of form it into a ball. Quickly and confidently turn your palm up and scoop the food into your mouth--”overhand”. Do not use your hand like a backhoe, or risk laughing and teasing. You kind of lick the top of your fingers as you pull your hand out of your mouth.

  6. If there is anything you can't chew, or bones to spit out, do not put them on anyone else's plate (that's universal, right?), just set them beside the plate on the table. Never let food drop back into the communal plate.

  7. When you are done, say “ko barika”. The response is “barika allah ye". You know, thanks and blessings. Get up and wash your hands. Feed leftovers to hungry children.

Next time you gather your friends and family around a table to eat, why not try African-style communal eating? Nothing tastes better than a shared meal—eaten with your (right) hands.