will work for cheese

- from my senses to your screen -

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Art Basel 101

It has been now 10 years since the Art Basel found a home in our beautiful Miami Beach. If you dare to walk the streets of Design District and South Beach during those four days, you are definitely going to be in for a treat. The city gets flooded with people from all over the world. Artsy people, way too beautiful people, very interesting looking people, very wealthy people and some normal looking people (like myself) that occasionally feel like they almost don't belong because they are not wearing some vintage Versace or look like Katy Perry when she wakes up. It is by far the most incredible catwalk like event I've ever attended. That's is from the "people watching" standpoint, but of course, the most important thing of all it's the art. World renowned galleries bring their best art pieces and displayed them all under one roof. From the most spectacular art you've seen to the raw and unedited, it is so worth every single dollar you pay and more.
The main event takes place at the Miami Convention Center and tickets run as high as $40.00 a day with a substantial discount if you are over 62 or a student. Evening tickets cost $28.00 and you can enter with these after 4pm.
There are hundreds of other exhibitions and installations around the city, but if you miss this one, you miss the main course. Don't settle just for the hors d'oevres.
Last but not least, what can be better than starting or finishing a day like that with a wonderful meal?
South Beach and Design District have the best to offer in that area. 
Check this link for a wonderful list of top restaurants.  Top three in this list, in my opinion, are: 
Senora Martinez (Chef Michelle Bernstein)
Michael's Genuine Food and drink (Chef Michael Schwartz)
Tudor House Miami (Chef Geoffrey Zakarian)

For a more urban experience, you can hit the food trucks on Friday night at the Adrienne Arscht Center.

And finally, a favorite of mine that has great atmosphere, delicious appetizers, amazing mural displays
and serves the best beers in town:http://wynwoodkitchenandbar.com/home.html 

For more information, you can check out the Home page for Art Basel Miami Beach: http://www.artbaselmiamibeach.com/go/id/ss/

Friday, November 18, 2011

tears in the kitchen

Baking is my love language. If you ever get a chocolate cake, muffins or cookies from me, you just got a big fat hug and I just said I love you right  to your face. No pressure, all you have to say back to me it's how good you think my baking was.

Not too long ago, I decided to bake a whole bunch of brownies and take them to my church to say thank you (and I love you)  to all the unbelievable and selfless volunteers that serve there. I put my hair in a ponytail, took my kitchenaid out, played Kings of Leon as loud as I could and forgot to put the timer on the oven. Crap!:@!#@#@%$#%$!!! 30 minutes later, my gooey, extra-chocolaty brownies were as hard as a rock; no melted chocolate drops, no chewiness, no magic. 

Of course I cried. It was 10:30pm and I had just spent a Saturday night messing up my always perfect brownies. I sat down on the kitchen floor and cried like a baby and ask God...Why??? Why??? This was for you! (of course he was taking care of more important things at the time!)
I got up, and defeated I shared my frustrations with my husband, ALL of my life frustrations, starting with "This is the ONE day I'm glad I listened to my father and studied Architecture instead of Culinary Arts! THE ONE DAY!) He was busy watching Sports Center and could not care less about my horrible night.
Since either God or my husband was particularly concerned about my drama, I stood up and went back in to the kitchen. Staring at the trays and with a mixture of sadness, anger and frustration started tearing down the hard brownies in pieces. Slowly, I started feeling better and as a sign from heaven, two magical words appeared in my mind and filled my spirit with so much hope....Bread Pudding. Yes. What do you do when your bread goes stale? Bread pudding. So what do you do when your brownies are hard as a rock? OH God! You were listening!!! Brownie Pudding!!!

I played some Coldplay this time and started baking again. The results? I wish you could see the people's faces the next day! I'm not trying to brag (or maybe just a little) but I have never gotten this many compliments out of a disaster in the kitchen.
I’m going to try to give you a recipe but of course, you need to burn some brownies first! (or you can just use some good old stale bread, or stale chocolate cake -not that there any left, ever- but if you use bread you would need to add an extra cup of sugar)

1 cup granulated sugar
5 large eggs
1 cup of milk
3 cups of overcooked brownies baked into pieces (I cannot believe I’m writing this)
½ cup brown sugar
½  cup of rum (or brandy/cognac)
2 teaspoons of vanilla
¾  cup of dark chocolate broken in pieces
¾ cup of walnuts
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Grease a 13 by 9 by 2-inch pan.
Mix together granulated sugar, eggs and milk in a bowl; add vanilla and rum. Pour over brownies and let sit for 10 minutes. Mix in chocolate pieces and walnuts.
Pour brownie mixture into prepared pan. Bake for 35 to 45 minutes, or until set. Remove from oven.

To top it all off, make a sauce and serve warm with your pudding. I’ll give you a quick recipe for a chocolate one or you can make a crème anglaise or brandy-butter based sauce.
The ingredients are:
1 can of condensed milk
1 can of table cream (light) 
3 Tbsp of cream cheese
1 small bag of chocolate chips -semisweet (I buy 60% cocoa from Ghirardelli)

I put all wet ingredients in a pot, slow heat and add the chocolate in after the milks and cream cheese have incorporated and they are warm,  never bubbly. Use a whisk to blend in and avoid clumps.
Bon Appétit!

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

oh Lord. Here it comes: Thanksgiving.

Yes, Thanksgiving.
I remember my first one here in the United States. I was at my cousin's home in Orlando and his family had cooked their hearts out for days which resulted on a coma like state after eating for 8 hours straight. Every single dish was delicious and very traditional. I remember that first taste of sweet potato and marshmallows, piping hot, soft, sweet, slightly crunchy, it melted in my mouth and filled my soul, and even though I did not understand how that entered the "side-dish" category (it felt more like dessert to me) I loved it with a passion.
I have a lot of respect for tradition. I believe it should be guarded and loved like the oldest, most precious family member but somehow, Thanksgiving is not always so traditional at our home and I don't know why, I keep running in circles every year trying to reinvent it. I started thinking this year about the menu and about why can't I just buy the turkey, make some nice stuffing, sweet potato casserole, pumpkin pie... You all know the drill-why can't I just go that way? It's delicious!
Maybe it's because I need to build my own tradition. I need to find myself and my family inside that special meal that says: This is who we are. I really don't want my kids to say..."I have no stinkin' clue what my mom is gonna cook this year, maybe sweet potato gnocci, duck a l'orange, hallacas, sweet plantain mash, or maybe filet mignon with cranberry sauce or she'll just make some sushi with tempura turkey and crispy pumpkin over a banana leaf....wanna come? bring a side dish!"
For as long as he remembers, my husband knew exactly what to expect on that date. He, and his whole family, looked forward to the juiciest turkey in the planet made Cuban style. That is what his mom made every single year; consistent, perfect, delicious. I remember showing up there one time with cranberry sauce for the turkey and sweet potato mash. They all looked at me like I was completely out of my freaking mind, and kept eating black beans, yucca and mojo. Yes, I was crazy, I know it now but took me a while to realize it and say it out loud. That was their tradition and I was there to sabotage it.
But now it’s my turn, I have my own family and I desperately need to find my niche in the Thanksgiving table. I’m on a quest and I know it may take several years and I may have to send my kids to therapy but I must, must know how to bring it all together; for my family’s sake and my own inner peace. No more plan “B”, no more what if’s: there comes Thanksgiving and we know what to eat!

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Mangia tutti!

Last Saturday morning, I woke up extra early with my toddler’s scream for breakfast and decided that I was going to be a very nice person and wake up everyone in the house so they would not miss the most beautiful morning of the year. Sixty degrees and sunny, we got dressed and ventured out to our local Farmer’s market in a quest for fresh croissants and some coffee. Unfortunately, the French bakery that operates there did not have any that morning so we decided to check everything else and get a taste of what was being offered that morning. In the middle of  our walk, I was pulled in one direction as a magnet in the “artisanal pasta” direction. The Italian man that was attending the station transported me into my first visit to Italy in seconds. (I could hear my sister's mother in law: "Mangia tutti! tutti!!!). Olive oil, Balsamic so sweet it tasted like figs, truffles, Parmigianno, Mozzarella, I could see it all working into a delicious dinner where the pureness and simplicity of basic ingredients shines and takes center stage. Who does not think that a good slice of a vine ripe tomato, topped with fresh mozzarella, basil, plenty of good olive oil, sea salt and pepper is one of the most delicious yet simple things in the world? Cook some fettuccine, slice some mushrooms, sauté them with olive oil, white wine, sea salt, your favorite fresh herb and toss those beautiful noodles into the hot pan, see magic happen. Yes, Italian food is by far my favorite, there is absolutely no doubt about it.
I spent about half an hour listening to the proud salesman and being seduced by the smell, taste and beauty of the ingredients he had on display. I took a deep breath and starting selecting what I was NOT going to take with me. I just wanted it ALL! One of my most precious selections was a bag of artisanal spaghettini with squid ink. I love cooking with them. To tell you all the truth, the taste of it is usually not as strong as I would wanted it to be (I just absolutely adore the taste of squid ink) but it has that hint that definitely makes a difference and acts as a gorgeous canvas for a seafood dish. As usual, I go very simplistic with what I use and let the ingredients speak for themselves. This is what I made the last time I got the “inked” pasta, I cannot wait to improvise something this weekend.

Inked Spaghettini with Shrimp and Cognac

1 pound inked spaghettini
4 tablespoons butter
4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling
½ teaspoon brown sugar
1 large shallot, finely diced
5 cloves garlic, sliced
Pinch red pepper flakes, optional
20 large shrimp, about 1 pound, peeled and deveined
oarse sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup cognac
1/4 cup finely chopped basil leaves
A couple of whole uncooked basil leaves for decoration (they look pretty and taste delicious)
For the pasta, put a large pot of water on the stove to boil. When it has come to the boil, add a couple of tablespoons of salt and the spaghettini. Stir to make sure the pasta separates; cover. When the water returns to a boil, cook for about 6 to 8 minutes or until the pasta is not quite done. Drain the pasta reserving 1 cup of water.
Meanwhile, in a large skillet, melt 2 tablespoons butter in 2 tablespoons olive oil over medium-high heat. Saute the shallots, garlic, and red pepper flakes until the shallots are translucent, about 3 to 4 minutes. Season the shrimp with salt and pepper; add them to the pan and cook until they have turned pink, about 2 to 3 minutes. Remove the shrimp from the pan; set aside and keep warm. Add cognac and sugar and bring to a boil. Add 2 tablespoons butter and 2 tablespoons oil. When the butter has melted, return the shrimp to the pan along with the parsley and cooked pasta and reserved pasta water. Stir well and season with salt and pepper. Drizzle over a bit more olive oil, top with whole basil leaves and serve immediately.
(This recipe was based on a Tyler Florence recipe for Shrimp Scampi. I gave myself the freedom to add, delete, remodel the original recipe. Tyler, please don’t sue me ;) )

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

#Fail (floating islands)

One of the trickiest desserts I have ever made is called Floating Islands. I absolutely adore it, it is actually top three in my list and I have not had it for so long. When I was little I used to rush into my grandparents kitchen to see if Abuela Tirsa had made some and a lot of times it was there. Soft and creamy custard with crispy caramel and fluffy as clouds so called "islands" made of meringue, there they were. I used to have three or four servings of it sitting by myself in the kitchen while my cousins played in the backyard.

Yesterday I woke up with those memories in my mind and decided to go on the journey of making them. So, while my baby was taking nap number one,  I started by making the custard. It turned out real well I must say. Added a little sweet rum and extra vanilla to cover the eggy taste that my husband sometimes dislikes.  I knew Santi's nap was not gonna last long, so I waited for second round nap, then I started with the meringue. It was just as I remembered it until I put it in the oven. They rose real well, beautiful islands ready to go on that sea of custard, but as soon as I got them out they started deflating like balloons. 
Yes, I remembered. This is one tricky dessert. 
Trying not to get too discouraged. I placed the sad, dessert brown islands on top of the custard and I ventured into making the caramel. Minutes after I set it up, my son wakes up screaming like a wild beast (cute one that he is) - hungry as a lion, he didn't care that my caramel was in the middle of that magic moment. Between slightly gold and amber. I sat down, told him to be quick and fed him after turning down the heat. I knew better, it was gonna get ruined. But did not know how ruined. 
Next thing I know, the fire alarm goes off, I start running into the kitchen with baby still attached to me, turn the fire off, open the door, silence the alarm, get the phone that is ringing, turn on the fan and start the extractor.... outside my window, I can see two fire trucks pulling into my driveway. Five firefighters come down and rush into the porch to only see burnt caramel and a baby in distress. 
They asked me if everything was fine, came into the kitchen, saw the damaged dessert and asked what it was (such a sad moment) made sure we were okay and as they started walking out, baby calmed down looked at them and said, clear as day: "agua, agua!!!".

I promise you all. I will conquer the floating islands. I will!

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

The Gables (part two-dessert)

Who does not love a nice dessert? I have a rule of thumb...when I first meet somebody and they tell me, they don't like dessert, I just act extra careful around them. Really? you don't like dessert? hmmm...

The second part of this nice little visit to the Gables we stopped for dessert at a great place called "Chocolate Fashion". The name automatically worked as a human size magnet for me. I looked at it from afar and saw a couple of small, cramped chairs and tables on the narrow sidewalk, right next to an ugly  and old parking lot. It was full. The food must be good I said to myself. 

Really impressed by the beauty of every dessert, I spend half an hour driving the waiter crazy, asking what every single one of those jewels was. As you could expect, there was a very ample selection of chocolate based desserts and truffles but there was also a huge selection of french pastries that looked incredible. Napoleons, fruit tarts, fraisers, opera, fruit mousses. You name it, it was there. 

I ended up ordering a passion fruit and dark chocolate double mousse that was to die for. The combination of the sour fruit with the earthiness of the mousse was spectacular! My husband ordered a chocolate tart that I was eyeing every second. Soft in texture but full in flavor, it was what a chocolate tart was all created to be. My daughter ordered a chocolate chip cookie that was bigger then her face! It was a great one, but please be more adventurous than a 5-year old! Otherwise, just save yourself some miles and go to the Starbucks close to your home; the cookies are good there too.

I cannot wait to go back and try some other goodies. They also have a good lunch menu and a very decent breakfast. All simple and very good excuses to have dessert right after!

Bon Appetit!


The Gables (part one)

There is something magical about this place. Starting with the astonishing trees that create all kinds of beautiful canopies and shades, to the manicured, historic architecture there is no place in South Florida like Coral Gables. But of course that is not it. And of course I want to talk about the food! Last week, for the first time in many years, I decided that I did not want to throw myself a party for my birthday. I just wanted to rest and marinate in a good conversation, a nice glass of wine and a tasty meal. I told my husband that I felt like eating sushi, but wanted to feel like we actually left home for a little while.

We hit a restaurant called Red Koi that my husband tried a couple of weeks before when having lunch with a friend. it-was-amazing! I know that if somebody from Japan actually went to this place, he wouldn't be very impressed-or if he was, he would not call it sushi...but who cares? It was delicious!

I have always been a huge supporter of adding fruits and nuts to all foods that agree, so I was VERY pleased to see the menu. Knowing that it was my birthday and I was bound to end up having some type of super rich dessert, I cut to the chase, did not order any appetizers and went right for the rolls.

EAT this:
HAVANA: Fish katsu, macadamian nuts, guava paste, cilantro, avocado, rolled in soy paper with spicy mayo.
MONKEY: Eel, sweet plantain, crab, cucumber, asparagus, masago, avocado with ell sauce and spicy mayo.
CARIBBEAN: Coconut shrimp, figs, asparagus, cilantro, japanese chili powder, rolled on soy paper, kimchee sauce.
What I liked the most about these rolls was that every one of those flavors stood alone. I don't know how they achieved that, granted you eat the whole piece of sushi at once, but every "chew" was different and all together was poetic!
I ordered a glass of pinot grigio and my husband the house sake. I ended up stealing my husband's drink. I am not very versed when it comes to sake and don't like fruity drinks but it really surprised me how good this pineapple sake was! and I like to be surprised!