Thursday, December 30, 2010

Leftovers and Gifts

We have been dining mostly on leftovers since Christmas. Tonight we had HoneyBaked ham and homemade Three-Apple applesauce that we made for lunch on Christmas Eve. Since I ditched the au gratin potato recipe at the last minute that I had planned for Christmas Day, we also have plenty of potatoes, Gruyere cheese and crème fraiche. So with that in mind, tonight I made the potato pancake recipe from Squirrel Bakes. I needed to add a little variety to our leftovers.

We received quite a few cooking and food related gifts for Christmas. Eventually, I’ll share more, but for starters, from my son and daughter-in-law, we received this set of wine tools and a set of tags so that we can get our wine collection inventoried. We’ve already put the tools to good use, but the wine inventory will have to be on the list of New Year’s resolutions.
You might be surprised that I didn’t already have these next tools. Larry gave me the hand-held mandolin and my sister sent the microplane. She also thought of the gloves. Really good idea, since I’ve been know to slice a few fingers and grate a few knuckles in the past. More gift photos to follow later. It was a banner year for culinary goodies.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

A Christmas Circle

Not much cooking or blogging has been going on at my house during the holidays. I’ve spent all my time adoring my grandson Isaac. Not much sleeping going on, either. Isaac is cutting his first tooth and although it didn’t seem to hurt, he was restless and not in the mood for sleep. So we’ve all been a little sleep deprived.

 Christmas Eve dinner
Somehow, we did manage to throw together an unimpressive buffet for 16 people on Christmas Day. So unimpressive, I forgot to take photos. We were still discussing what to serve after going to bed on Christmas Eve. 

Jesus's birthday cake

Dinner on Christmas Eve with our friends next door was far more outstanding than our efforts the following day. Our friend, Paul, prepared a prime rib roast for 10 of us to enjoy. We’ve been sharing Christmas Eve dinner with these friends for many years. Paul cooks Christmas Eve and we cook Christmas Day. When Elyse, my daughter-in-law, first joined us for holidays, she was thrilled that our friends bake a cake and sing happy birthday to Jesus as part of their family tradition. She had never encountered anyone other than her family who celebrated Christmas with a birthday cake.

Elyse and Andrea - Christmas 2002
On Christmas Day, our three godchildren were among the guests, just as they have been most years since they were born. I was feeling nostalgic and brought out my photo albums for the children to see some earlier Christmases when they were much younger. One of my favorite photos is from Christmas 2002 of Elyse holding Andrea, the youngest of the children.  Andrea was not even one month old. It was on that day, seeing Elyse holding Andrea, that I began to hope and dream that someday Elyse would be the mother of my grandchildren. 

Andrea, age 3, in the wedding
At age three, Andrea and her siblings were attendants at Matt and Elyse’s wedding. As you can see, she made an adorable flower girl.

Christmas 2010 - Andrea, age 8 and Isaac 5 mo
Fast forward another four years to Christmas 2010. Here is Andrea holding Elyse’s baby, our grandson, Isaac. What a beautiful and loving circle to be closed this holiday season. What more could I ask for! My dream has come true. 


Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Cupcake Tree

Some time ago, I decided to do a cupcake tree for Christmas. We bought the tree for a birthday celebration and I thought Christmas would be the perfect occasion to use it again. Tree – Christmas – good fit! I saw some beautifully decorated red velvet cupcakes on a blog, but of course, I forgot to make a note of where I saw it. But I had a vision of the red velvet cupcakes with fluffy white icing that looked like snow.

Now, keep in mind, I have no experience at cake decorating. I did find bright red cupcake papers that would be perfect. And also, the little pearl decorations. I never found the little red balls I wanted that looked like Christmas tree ornaments.

So Larry signed up to make the cupcakes. He likes to bake. He found the recipe for red velvet cupcakes he wanted to use and started baking on Christmas Eve afternoon. I was busy with other activities. About an hour before we needed to leave for Christmas Eve dinner at the home of friends, he announced the cupcakes were done. They were large and beautiful and bright red.

But there were only 18. The tree holds 24. Where were the other six, I inquired. Larry had completely forgotten that the whole idea had been to make the Christmas cupcake tree. There were only 18 cupcakes. Everyone tried to console me and convince me that it was fine to have an incomplete tree. I wouldn’t hear it. So Larry frantically whipped up more batter and made more cupcakes.

Christmas morning arrived and it was time to make the snowdrift icing I envisioned. Easier said than done. We futzed with it for an hour, icing and de-icing multiple cupcakes trying to achieve the look I desired. The clock was ticking, there was other food to prepare. The guests would arrive soon. All we could do was laugh at our decorating ineptitude.

We finally gave up on my vision and took our best shot. The cupcakes were so large, I kept knocking the icing off, trying to fit them into the tree. Not what I had hoped for, but passable. Nevertheless, the guests seemed impressed. The children, in particular, were thrilled with cupcakes, since we usually serve more sophisticated desserts for Christmas. I think my youngest goddaughter ate three while her mother wasn’t looking. 

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Almost Christmas

It is only four days until Christmas and I am not prepared. I have 15 people, spanning four generations of three families coming for dinner and I have no idea what I’m serving. I purchased festive paper plates since I couldn’t face dragging out my 12 different patterns of Christmas china this year. And I found red wine glasses on sale for half price! I’ve wanted an excuse to buy red glassware for a long time. My blue crystal just doesn’t work for Christmas. But what are we going to eat?

While searching through my vast collection of cooking magazines and books, I came across a Hanukkah menu in an old Bon Appetit Magazine that sounded really appealing. Not for Christmas dinner, but to cook for ourselves over the weekend. It’s a good thing we didn’t try to cook it for guests, because we failed to read the recipe in advance and it actually took us two days to cook the meat. We didn’t start early enough in the day to have it ready for dinner. The latkes did not turn out well at all – they were very mushy, but the applesauce was great. And the brisket was divine. We will definitely make it again.

Saturday Night Menu (that turned into Sunday)
Brisket with Portobello Mushrooms and Dried Cranberries
Potato Pancake Wedges with Zucchini and Sage
Three–Apple Applesauce
Franciscan Merlot Napa Valley 2005

Brisket Recipe – WARNING – This takes forever to cook! But it’s worth it
4 servings

1 c dry red wine
1 c canned beef broth
½ c frozen cranberry juice cocktail, thawed
¼ c all purpose flour
1 large onion sliced
3 cloves garlic, chopped
1 ½ Tbsp fresh rosemary
2lb trimmed flat-cut brisket
6 ounces medium Portobello mushrooms, gills scraped away, thinly sliced
½ c dried cranberries
Salt and pepper

Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Whisk wine, broth, cranberry concentrate and flour to blend in medium bowl, pour into roasting pan. Mix in onion, garlic and rosemary. Sprinkle brisket on all sides with salt and pepper. Place brisket, fat side up, in roasting pan. Spoon wine mixture over. Cover pan tightly with heavy-duty foil.
Bake until very tender, basting with pan juices every hour, about 3 ½ hours. Transfer brisket to plate. Cool 1 hour at room temperature. Thinly slice brisket across the grain. Arrange slices in pan with sauce, overlapping slices slightly. Brisket can be prepared 2 days ahead. Cover and refrigerate.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Place mushrooms and cranberries around brisket in sauce. Cover pan and bake about 30 minutes until mushrooms are tender (40 minutes if it has been refrigerated).

Now, how do you get an appetizing photo of brisket?

And more importantly, WHAT AM I GOING TO SERVE FOR CHRISTMAS DINNER???!!!

Monday, December 20, 2010

I'm Published on the Smithsonian Blog!!!

It's an exciting day for me. My essay was published on Smithsonian's great blog, Food & Think. I've been an avid reader of this blog for quite a while. Once a month on Mondays, they select a topic and ask readers to submit an essay. They publish reader submissions on the subsequent Mondays. I wrote the first draft of my essay just after 3:30am the other morning when I couldn't sleep after our little earthquake. I got so busy with work, I almost forgot to finish it and submit it by the deadline. Here's the text, but you should really go check out the The Heat Goes On to see it on their website.
 December 20, 2010
For this round of Inviting Writing, we asked you to tell us about “first tastes”—interesting initial encounters with a particular food or drink. Today’s selected writer, Judy Martin of Cupertino, California, tells us about her first taste of hot peppers. Judy works for a medical device company and blogs about food at Tastemonials.
In the charitable season of the spirit, we’ve extended the submission deadline a few days! Send your stories to FoodandThink@gmail.com by Wednesday morning, Dec. 22.
The Heat Goes On
by Judy Martin
When I first moved to California in 1984, I had limited experience with ethnic cuisine. My Chinese food repertoire included fried rice, egg rolls and Chung King chow mein from a can. The new town where I moved had a main street that was like the United Nations of dining, so it wasn't long before I began to explore the unknown foods there.


Chinese food seemed approachable, and there was a restaurant where my husband and his coworkers ate lunch frequently that he thought I would enjoy. It was owned by a friendly couple who spoke very limited English. We began to dine there at least weekly and work our way through the menu. Before long, I was ready to tackle the items marked with their HOT symbol.


But as with ethnic food, I didn't have much experience with spicy. (I was raised mostly on canned and frozen food.) One night I ordered Hunan beef. It was beautiful dish, featuring a rich caramelized sauce sprinkled with little red pepper flakes. I took a bite that included some of the beef, rice, and what I thought looked like a mushroom. Right about then, the chef/owner came to our table and saw me eat the first bite.


"NO EAT PEPPER!!! " he said waving his hands wildly. "FLAVOR ONLY!!!"


Well, it was too late. I had bitten into the hottest pepper I'd ever encountered and my mouth exploded. I had never experienced such a sensation. Sweat began to stream from every pore. I grabbed my glass of water. "NO WATER!!! RICE AND SALT!!" he urgently advised and demonstrated cramming my mouth full of rice.


I survived my first hot-pepper encounter thanks to that restaurant proprietor, and rather than being daunted, I was intrigued. I returned many more times to enjoy his cooking. Hunan beef became one of my favorites, the spicier, the better. I began to explore the flavors of peppers and developed a love for heat. Give me habaneros or Brazilian malaguetas any time; I'll cook you a spicy dish that will make you sweat!


My son was five or six years old at the time of the pepper experience, and for a long time refused to eat Chinese food. The owner and his wife would come out and try to entice him with little treats, usually with no success. Once, after they had made a routine friendly visit to our table, our son asked us their names. I was embarrassed to admit that I didn't know.


"But it's on the window," my son said. I didn't understand what he meant. So he took us outside and pointed to the front window of the restaurant, which read: "Mandarin and 
Szechuan Cuisine."

After that, we always referred to them as Mr. and Mrs. Cuisine. The restaurant eventually closed and they moved away, but we still remember them and their food fondly.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Holiday Cheese School

Sunday was our second class with Palo Alto Cheese School. Once again, Chef Jaimie Casey created an exceptional afternoon experience for the attendees. We were greeted fireside in the drawing room of the Duveneck House at Hidden Villa Manor with a glass of Pomegranate Fizz to sip. Jaimie's Cheese Straws with Sage and Bacon were passed while we waited for everyone to gather.

Our first treat was a warm Twice Baked Goat Cheese Souffle with Dressed Greens that Jaimie recommended we try with both the Pomegranate Fizz and the Chandon Classic Rose Sparkling Wine. I don’t usually care for sparkling wines, but this one was an exception. I enjoyed it with the soufflé and also with the first cheese on our list for the afternoon.

We mixed and matched the following cheeses and wines as we learned about each individual cheese:

Brillat-Savarin (Triple Cream Cow’s Milk Cheese from Normandy, France)
Appleby’s Cheshire (Unpasteurized Cow’s Milk Cheese from Cheshire, UK)
Queijos Casa Matias (Unpasteurized Sheep’s Milk Cheese from Portugal)
Muffato Blue (Pasteurized Blue Cow’s Milk Cheese from Veneto, Italy)
A blue cheese cheesecake (a tasty little morsel!) 
Jaimie’s famous Dark Chocolate Goat Cheese Truffles

Chandon Classic Rose Sparkling Wine
Hahn Cabernet Franc ‘06
Quady Port Starboard Batch 88

It’s always fun to discover new cheeses, but usually I avoid the blues. The Muffato Blue was a new experience for me. Coated with mint, chamomile and marjoram, it is not too strong and a little spicy. I could eat it all day. The little cheesecakes were also great. Jaimie always shares her recipes and you can find many of them on the Palo Alto Cheese School website.

Several people didn’t make it to class which left already prepared plates and glasses on the tables. We had considerable negotiating going on at our table to determine who got which leftover cheese and wine. I got a great deal with port and half of one of the chocolate goat cheese truffles. MMmmm!!

As a holiday gift, Jaimie sent us each home with a jar of her homemade marmalade or jam. I chose the California Lemon which was divine on the gingerbread we made the other night. I can’t wait to see what cheese delights are in store in the new year.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

One Big Shake

I was awakened at 3:36am this morning by a 2.5 earthquake. That’s not such a big quake unless you’re right on top of the epicenter. Then it can be quite a jolt. First one we’ve had in a while.

I don’t usually make shakes in cold weather, but in honor of the big shake, I made this one for breakfast.*

And speaking of honor, I was honored by Amanda at Baking Without a Box with the Stylish Blogger Award. Thank you, Amanda. I am honored. I'm glad you like my stories about Isaac, my grandson, the up-and-coming foodie.

 Now I’m supposed to tell you 7 things about myself:
1. I live in earthquake country. See above. Our house is very near a small, but moderately active fault. It keeps us on our toes.
2. I moved to California from North Carolina almost 27 years ago. I prefer earthquakes to tornadoes. I still have tornado nightmares, but rarely earthquake nightmares, even though we lived through the 7.4 Loma Prieta quake in 1989.
3. Although I was raised a Southerner, I don’t like a lot of traditional Southern food like grits and greens. But, hushpuppies, YES!!
4. I really don’t like duck. I’ve tried it at least 10 different ways and I just can’t like it.
5. I don’t like beer, either. Wine is another story. I have a large collection of fabulous wines.
6. I love going to the farmers’ market. But you probably know that if you've been reading my blog.
7. I’ve been a hospice volunteer for 12 years.

Now, to pass along the award. Here are the rules as provided to me. Accepting this award is based on the following criteria:
1. Thank the person who gave you the award. Check
2. Share 7 things about yourself. Check
3. Pass the Award on to other bloggers you follow and who have inspired you. See below
4. Copy the award from my blog and then you may display it on your own blog. Check
5. Notify your selected recipients.Check

Probably some of these people with great blogs have received this award before, but if so, they deserve it again. They all have very stylish blogs:

Kim at Liv Life

* Today's Breakfast Shake included peach yogurt, banana, orange juice, frozen mango and pumpkin eggnog.

I hope everyone is having a great holiday so far!

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Back to Normal

We had quesadillas for lunch yesterday. Maybe that doesn’t sound odd to you. But it meant I cooked lunch. And I cooked dinner, too. I cooked four days in a row. Why is that so strange? Since returning from Peru, I haven’t really wanted to cook or eat. I lost 5 lbs the first week we were home. And it’s not a lingering effect of the food poisoning. This happens every time I go on a volunteer trip to a developing country. It rearranges my world for a while.

First the recipe as originally printed in Bon Appetit magazine. Then I’ll tell you what I’ve changed after making this for years.


Potato, Brie and Red Onion Quesadillas
½ c honey
½ c fresh cilantro, chopped
6 Tbsp tomato paste
2 Tbsp water
2 Tbsp canned chipotle chiles, minced
Salt and pepper
1 lb Yukon gold potatoes, peeled, cut into cubes
6 oz Brie cheese, cut into 1” pieces
8 flour tortillas
1 medium red onion, thinly sliced

Puree honey, cilantro, tomato paste, 2 Tbsp water, and chiles in processor until smooth. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Cook potatoes in boiling salted water until tender. Drain, mash in pot until smooth. Add Brie and mash until blended and smooth. Salt and pepper to taste.

Spread ¼ c Brie mixture over half of each tortilla. Arrange onion slices on top. Fold tortillas in half to close.
Heat large skillet over medium high heat. Brush lightly with olive oil. Working in batches, cook quesadillas until golden brown. Serve with chipotle honey.

Now for my version:
Although this chipotle honey is good, once when we were in a hurry (or missing an ingredient) we threw on our favorite spicy fruit salsa. End of chipotle honey. This time we used Mrs. Renfroe’s Mango Habanero Salsa, which is quite hot. We put the onions on the outside of the quesadilla (only because it’s prettier) and still add lots of fresh cilantro on top. Makes a great quick meal or if cut into smaller pieces, an appetizer.

Cooking again has helped me return to my normal. I don’t speak Spanish, but for several nights after returning home from Peru, I was dreaming in Spanish. How can that be? I don’t know, but it’s true. The same thing happened after the trips to Brazil, but at least I do speak a little Portuguese.

On the first trip, I was prepared for the culture shock of immersing myself in a completely different world and language and a standard of living that is dramatically different from my own. But it was the reverse culture shock on coming home that really took me by surprise. I was disoriented for weeks. I had become so used to living in a tiny room with nothing but beds and a few clothes, I couldn’t see why I needed anything else. I was overwhelmed by my possessions. I wanted to discard everything I owned.

And I have a lot of stuff. I’m a collector. Not a hoarder, but a collector. As I unpacked only a few of my Christmas decorations and dishes today, I realized I have lost track of how many different Christmas china patterns I have. I think it’s at least 30 place settings in about 12 different patterns. And I have a few other collections, too. The first volunteer trip dramatically changed my perspective. I just couldn't see why I needed so much stuff. I still don't, but now, after three international volunteer trips, I have learned what to expect on re-entry to my world and I am better equipped to deal with the shock.

So as I unpacked my Christmas decorations and dishes, and began to plan my holiday menus, I wonder. I wonder how I ended up here and not there. Why do I have so much and so many people have so little? Each trip we have met and worked with amazing people who have dealt with incredible hardship and poverty. So many of them make the best of what they have and are grateful. In today's world it is easy to take our abundance for granted. Working at Los Martincitos in Peru reminded me again of just how fortunate I am and that I have far more than I need. I am  grateful.

Lunch at Los Martincitos daycare for the elderly in Villa El Salvador, Peru

Finally, a Tree!

From the time I was responsible for selecting my own Christmas tree (I was first married at 19), I have obsessed each year over finding the most perfect tree. Sometimes I visited 10 tree lots before selecting just the right one. And you guessed it – often it was back at the first lot. No tradition of cutting down a tree in my family, because I must have a Noble fir and they don’t grow where I’ve lived.

Both my ex- and Larry (who has survived 27 Christmases with me) exhibited enormous patience with my Christmas tree obsession. Then came the year with two trees. Then the year with four! My obsession had grown. After about 10 years in California, we realized that we often bought the trees from the same family-owned lot, where we really like the people. Or had I just become more rationale? Then the lot disappeared. Now what? Back to 10 lots? Larry had his own solution.

We woke up to a rainy Saturday for tree shopping. Larry announced we were going to Home Depot for the tree. I refused. I swore. I pouted and sulked. I knew we’d never find the perfect tree there. But Larry was patient and ignored my behavior. He was prepared with gloves and tools so he could unfurl the trees for viewing – no waiting on busy clerks. And after about an hour of whining, I agreed to a tree. It was actually pretty nice.

The next year, same scenario, less sulking. I had to admit they had nice trees, and cheaper, too. This year we set a new record. After many errands, we arrived at Home Depot 10 minutes before closing. This was asking too much. It couldn’t be done. A perfect tree in under 10 minutes?

Over the years, Larry has developed the magic skill of tree selection. He cut the twine off a couple and there it was! The perfect tree! A Noble fir, 6 feet tall and full, but not very wide- perfect for our space.

I do miss the tree lots, but when life is so busy, sometimes you just have to let go. No more four-tree years for me. We did get to enjoy Isaac selecting his first tree this year at a tree lot. Matt clearly didn’t inherit my tree obsession. They looked at two trees, picked one and were done. Matt's never really been "into" Christmas trees - but maybe Isaac will be my protegee....

Friday, December 10, 2010

Stuffed Shells

I'm trying to shift into the Christmas mode, but I'm not making much progress. Butternut squash still seems like an autumn vegetable to me. But maybe not, maybe it can make a holiday meal as well. I just need to get some decorating started to set the mood.

Recently, I saw this recipe for Butternut Squash Stuffed Shells with Sage Browned Butter Sauce on I Don't Cook, But My Boyfriend Does! It looked relatively easy and very tasty. Check out her recipe, but I'll tell you a few changes (and mistakes) I made. I meant to halve the recipe, so I used half the squash. I cubed it and sauteed it in a pan, rather than baking it. I've used this method before- it's a little faster than baking and works just as well. Unfortunately, I was a little distracted, and forgot to halve the rest of the ingredients. It was still really good! Just a little cheesier than intended. And since I cooked the entire box of shells and I only used about a third of them, I wasted quite a few.

My shells turned out a little tough and crunchy. I haven't made stuffed shells in years, but I think I should have cut down on the boiling time of the pasta since it really needed the 30 minutes in the oven to melt the cheese. It was still really good!

This would make a fine meatless dish as originally published, but I had pancetta in the refrigerator begging to be used. Pancetta is my new addiction. Once I tasted the filling, I knew I needed to broil a couple of thin slices and crumble to go on top. Also, I don't like candied walnuts (except on honey walnut prawns), so I toasted chopped pecans to sprinkle on top. Toasted pepitas would also be a good choice.

Now if I could just get some decorating done.....

Saturday, December 4, 2010

A New Foodie

A new foodie is born. Isaac ate his first cereal this week and it was a big hit. At four months, he can't sit alone, but when you strap him into the highchair, he starts to buzz. He knows what's coming ... a tablespoon of RICE CEREAL!!!! Bring it on!!!

Food is for him and he is for food. When he sees the spoon coming, his mouth opens wide, anxious like a baby bird. No spitting it out or messing with it. Although it does still seem to go everyhere. "Bring it on, Mamma!" he'd shout if he could talk.

We haven't seen him for a month, so our first weekend back in the States, we headed for SoCal to see how much he's changed. He must be at least six inches longer. And he's balder. But he is much more vocal and can roll over back to front (sometimes). AND HE LOVES FOOD! He was definitely born into the right family for that. His mom and dad are food and wine lovers, so I can trust they will bring him up properly. With my help, of course.

It's Not Pumpkin....

...but it’s great with turkey.

Still trying to grasp the last vestiges of autumn, we are dining nightly on the remnants of our pseudo turkey feast from Tuesday. The weather is freezing and the neighbors have their Christmas lights up, but I refuse to let go of fall food just yet.

I don’t generally turn my turkey leftovers into soups and casseroles, but just eat the sliced turkey and rearrange the side dishes for the variety. For this meal, we had plenty of turkey, a salad of arugula, pine nuts, feta cheese and dried cranberries, along with this great sweet potato soup. I only meant to eat one slice of the ready-made pumpkin pie, but it was better than I expected, so I’m still eating it, too.

Sweet Potato Soup with Pancetta and Croutons – 4 servings
(adapted from Bon Appetit Magazine)

1 3oz pkg thinly sliced pancetta (I only used half this much)
3 Tbsp butter, divided
1 c thinly sliced shallots (I only used ½ cup chopped)
1 ½ tsp fresh rosemary, minced, divided
2 cups sweet potatoes, peeled and mashed
3 ½ c low sodium chicken broth
1 c ½” cubes sourdough bread

Saute pancetta in large heavy saucepan over medium high heat until crisp. Transfer to paper towels.

Add 1 ½ Tbsp butter to drippings in the same pan, add shallots and reduce heat to medium. Saute until shallots are soft and golden, about 4 minutes. Stir in 1 tsp rosemary, mashed sweet potatoes, and broth. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium low and simmer 10 minutes to blend flavors. Puree soup in blender or processor. Salt and pepper to taste.

Melt remaining 1 ½ Tbsp butter in small skillet over medium heat. Add bread cubes and remaining ½ tsp rosemary and sauté until croutons are crisp and golden, about 3 minutes.
Ladle soup in bowls. Sprinkle crumbled pancetta and croutons on top of soup to serve.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Pining for Pumpkin

The taste of sweet, rich pumpkin has haunted me the entire month of November while it was so inaccessible. I don’t really know why there is no pumpkin in Peru, but the more I thought about all the new recipes I couldn’t try and the old favorites I was missing, the more obsessed I became.

So for our first meal after arriving home, we decided to try a new pumpkin recipe. I often use canned pumpkin, but we had purchased several sugar pumpkins for decoration before we left, with the intent of cooking them as well. We didn't get around to them before departure, but the weather was so cold while we were gone, they were still in fine shape on our return.

Creamy Pumpkin and Cashew Stew
(Adapted from Bon Appetit Magazine)

2 Tbsp vegetable oil, divided
4 ½ cups ¾" cubes of sugar pumpkin
½ tsp brown mustard seeds
½ tsp dried basil (original recipe called for 8 curry leaves, but Larry didn’t want to take the time to go to the Indian grocery to find the curry leaves – they might have been an excellent choice)
2 small red onions cut into 1/3” wedges
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 Tbsp fresh ginger, finely grated
3 dried chilies de arbol
¾ c roasted, unsalted cashews
1 tsp ground turmeric
½ tsp ground cumin
1 ½ c canned unsweetened coconut milk
1 c coconut cream
½ c cilantro, coarsely chopped plus additional for garnish 
1 Tbsp fresh lime juice
Salt
Steamed basamati rice

Heat 1 Tbsp oil in large skillet over medium heat. Cook pumpkin until golden, stirring occasionally, 8 – 10 minutes. Transfer to bowl.

Add remaining 1 Tbsp oil to same skillet. Add mustard seeds and basil (or curry leaves) and cook until seeds pop and leaves sizzle, about 30 seconds. Add onions, garlic and ginger. Saute until onions are golden, about 4 minutes. Add chiles, turmeric and cumin and stir-fry 1 minute. Add coconut milk and coconut cream. Increase heat to medium high. Boil until thickened, about 2 minutes. 

Return pumpkin to pan and reduce heat to medium. Simmer until pumpkin is heated through and tender, about 4 minutes. Stir in cilantro, lime juice and cashews. Salt to taste. Serve over rice and garnish with cilantro.

I made brown basamati rice, which is not usually my favorite, but we ate so much white rice in Peru, I thought it would be healthier. It was a good choice because the stew was a little sweet and the heartier rice helped dilute the sweetness. The recipe didn’t say to chop up the chiles and stir them into the stew, but next time I will. The added heat would be a good contrast to the sweetness of the coconut. This was my first time to use coconut cream and it was really rich!

I thought I wouldn't mind missing a traditional Thanksgiving, but we also cooked a turkey and bought a ready-made pumpkin pie to have a psuedo-turkey day dinner last night.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Peruvian Thanksgiving

We started the day by visiting the outdoor market at Villa El Salvador to purchase decorations for the turkey dinner at Los Martincitos daycare center for the elderly. They wouldn’t let us take cameras since our being there at all made our local hosts very nervous. They say it is no place for gringos. The market is filled with an amazing array of meats, fish, vegetables and produce and it made me crazy that I couldn’t take any pictures.

Table centerpiece

Passion fruit for juice
We returned with colored paper and vegetables to decorate the tables for the non-Peruvian feast. They can re-purpose the food items into tomorrow's meal so that it doesn't go to waste. After decorating, I scalded my fingers scooping the pulp out of a type of passion fruit that needs to be cooked before it is made into juice. I guess passion fruit juice goes with turkey!

Tonight the cooks at our volunteer house served us a version of Thanksgiving dinner. Luisa made us excellent turkey, mashed Peruvian potatoes, mashed sweet potatoes and homemade applesauce. Since I wasn’t expecting any Thanksgiving dinner at all, I didn’t mind that cranberry sauce and pumpkin are next to impossible to find in Peru. The pumpkin in the table decoration came from a secret location, not the market.

Larry with Luisa, our cook


Our time here is almost over and I am very thankful for the opportunity to vacation in Peru, especially the highlands, and then spend the last 10 days volunteering in Lima in a wonderful program providing good food and a lot of love to indigent and lonely elderly people who are abandoned or abused by their families. I have a lot to be thankful for!

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Lake Titikaka Lunch

This post is going to be mostly photos of the best meal we’ve had so far in Peru. We took a three hour boat ride from Puno to Isla de Taquile in Lake Titikaka to see the local handicrafts and have lunch. We stopped halfway up the 500 step climb to the top (13,000 ft) to lunch on a small outdoor patio.

Traditional Peruvian bread

Best Quinoa soup ever!

Omlette with salsa and fries



All this was prepared for 28 people by a lovely 16 year old girl in this kitchen:



I am almost caught up on writing about our travels. You can read more about our vacation and and volunteer experiences on my Peru blog.

Chinchero Market

On Sundays, all the local residents and a few tourists gather at the Chinchero market in the Andes to buy, sell and trade. One section has indigenous craft items for the tourists, another section has household and clothing items and the middle section has all the local produce, herbs and flowers where residents do their weekly shopping, You can also purchase local food specialties such as flour, bread and pastries.

This market is like stepping back a couple of centuries. There is no refrigeration or electricity and most of the local residents barter, rather than purchase. There is a large variety of produce of excellent quality. It was a beautiful, warm afternoon and we enjoyed purusing the selections and watching both the local Andean people and the other tourists.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Traditional Andean Lunch

Thursday we visited a weavers’ cooperative at Amaru, at over 11,000 feet in the Andes. These delightful, friendly people invited us for lunch. They dumped bags of dried large kernel corn, fava beans and multiple varieties of potatoes onto a cloth on the ground. There was a bowl of dipping sauce made of ground fava beans and spices. They also passed around quinoa soup and chicha, their fermented corn drink. I opted out of the communal dishes since I had been sick, but the dried vegetables were pretty good. Not sure I’d want to eat it every day like they do, though.

At a later stop, they were serving chicha morada, a soft drink made from purple corn. I’ve had this before and don’t care for it too much. I do like the color, if not the taste.

I was still on a very light diet and ordered chicken soup for dinner in the hotel restaurant. Talk about a translation error- they brought me three scoops of ice cream!

Thursday, November 11, 2010

What Happened Here?

                                         Scallops in a Parmesan Crust -Was it This?

                         Aji de Gallina (chicken and potatoes in spicy cream sauce) - Was it this?

Crema Quemada de Coca (Coca leaf creme brulee) -I sure hope not, because this was divine.

What gave me such violent food poisoning? Your guess is as good as mine. It could have been these or anything else I ate in the previous day, but it came on fast and furious. So not much to report from yesterday since I had nothing but water. Except for the mashed potatoes I decided to try after 24 hours of fasting. Aren’t they beautiful?

Monday, November 8, 2010

Peruvian SURPRISE potatoes and piramide

We were so tired tonight we decided just to dine at our hotel. It was billed as an Italian restaurant, but it definitely had a Peruvian twist. I ordered an appetizer, Trio de Causas, three types of potatoes with scallops and huacaina sauce, octopus with olive oil mayonnaise and shrimp with pesto sauce. Upon arrival....... SURPRISE!!!! It was cold! I was certainly expecting hot, based on the description. Who eats cold mashed potatoes? Apparently Peruvians.



After our meal, the chef came to our table and asked if we spoke Spanish, French, English or Italian so he could discuss our meal. How embarrassing that we only speak English. He explained that he studied in Italy (among other places) and tries to combine his Peruvian heritage with Italian dishes. Peruvians eat mashed potatoes cold as an appetizer, rather than as a hot side dish as we do in the US. This appetizer was his concoction of Peruvian and Italian. I found it very interesting and different. Larry’s minestrone soup also had a Peruvian twist by having tender, tasty pork and his gnocchi entree was topped with the huacaina sauce which is a traditional Peruvian cheese sauce with a very mild chili.

We discovered more uses for lucuma today, as we had been advised to do. We lunched at a large busy deli and bakery that also served gelato. I could actually read most of the menu from my knowledge of Portuguese menus.  I tried the lucuma gelato and another traveller had one of the fabulous pastries, a piramide de lucuma con chocolate (right). I didn’t try it, but he said it was delicious. I liked the gelato, but it wasn’t as flavorful as yesterday’s pudding.

We head to Cuzco tomorrow morning. More dining adventures lie ahead.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Chorillos Fish Market and More

Did I tell you I was going to Peru? It was a bit of an ordeal getting here, but we made it. One of our first stops was the Chorillos Fish Market in Lima. This section of the city is well-known for its artisan fishermen. These businesses are family run from start to finish. They build their boats, make the nets, catch the fish and sell them in the little market. I have no clue as to the identity of most of the catch on display, but it looked beautiful and fresh with some of it still wiggling.

We had lunch at the Larco Museum. It was all quite good, but the most unique course was the dessert. Some sort of pudding that we couldn’t identify. It tasted a little like butterscotch with some maple flavoring, but had a starchy consistency, like potato. Outside, our guide pointed out a tree, bearing lucuma fruit, the main ingredient of our pudding. It is a semi-tropical fruit native to the highlands of Peru. He said we must be sure to try the lucuma ice cream as well.

I have created a separate blog to capture our travel activities on this three week trip in Peru. The first half is touring with a group, the second half is volunteering. There’s not much there yet, but if you’re interested, you can follow us at www.martinsperu.blogspot.com. Hopefully, I’ll update it after I’ve had some sleep!