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Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Queso Crazy

One of my favorite comfort foods on earth is a really good grilled cheese sandwich. What comes into your mind when you think of this sandwich? Two pieces of white bread slathered with margarine and a piece of American cheese in the middle and pan fried to a golden brown, maybe with a side of ketchup to dip in right? This was what dreams were made of when we were kids but we have matured a bit since then. Many of us haven seen a grilled cheese sandwich in years (unless you have to make them for your kids like I do). We can find this sandwich of our dreams in grown up technicolor by keeping the everything we love about the sandwich, with some new and tastier ingredients.
First step to building your big kid grilled cheese is the bread. We definitely can do better than the white over processed white bread of our youth. Start with some staples in our repertoire like sourdough, or baguettes, rye, challah, and artisan breads. When cutting these breads, make sure you cut them with the core of the bread exposed and not the crust so that they can brown or toast well. Next for the piece de resistance and that would be the cheese.
There are many who love American cheese, even in the professional culinary world, some chefs feel it has its place. In my opinion it is not cheese, it is cheese food, a fake, a phony. In other words, NOT REAL. **takes deep breath** You have every right to put in your mouth what you like, this is just my opinion. Now back to the wonderful subject at hand, cheese. They are so many choices, there is not enough room or time to list them all so I will only list a few of my favorites; Bree, Sharp Cheddar, Manchego, Majon, Tetilla, Gouda, Comte, Gruyere, Boursin, Stilton, Panela, Asadero, Oaxaca, and Chihuahua. All of these cheeses are great for melting.
The ideas of other ingredients are endless from sliced meats and charcuterie,  pickled and fresh veggies and chiles, even fruit. You can also add some great spreads from pesto to cream cheese or yogurt.
Here are some sandwich ideas, my mouth and belly endorse;

Mexican talera bread-toasted and buttered
manchego and Monterrey jack cheese
roasted hatch green chile strips

Artisan multi grain bread buttered and toasted
Boursin and Stilton cheeses
Thinly sliced Bartlett pears (ripe)
fresh spinach leaves

Dark Rye bread buttered and toasted
Jarlsberg cheese
Black forest ham

Beer bread buttered and toasted
Sharp Cheddar
Pulled pork
homemade mac and cheese

Ciabatta bread olive oiled and toasted
mozzarella and Parmesan (sliced not shredded)
Roma tomatoes and basil salsa

have fun with your food creations, just remember to KEEP IT REAL, KEEP IT FRESH, AND KEEP IT SUSTAINABLE.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Thats a bunch of crock!

A lot of you have been inquiring about cooking methods and it made me think that sharing some simple food preparation skills might help with making it easier to cook for your families at home. One of the ways of cooking at the heart of the slow food movement is slow and low cooking, and mainly braising. 
Braising is the process of browning or searing meat or vegetables and letting them simmer at low temperature for a long period of time. This cooking method makes cheaper cuts of meat that would normally be a little tougher, melt in your mouth tender. It also tends to meld and mellow flavors into a richness that cannot be achieved without the slow simmering of this method.  Most or many of Americans family memories of comfort food use this method of cooking. Think pot roast, soups of all kinds, stews, chowders, and short ribs, Also many world cultural dishes we are familiar with like osso buco, Lamb shanks, Tagine dishes, and chochinita pibil.
Here are some easy steps to braising meat and veggies;
(1) Season your meat and/or veggies with salt and pepper.
(2) Heat a splash of oil in a heavy bottomed pan or Dutch oven.
(3) Saute meat or vegetables in the pan on medium-high heat until the meat browns. Stir minimally to maximize browning
(4) Deglaze the pan by pouring broth, beef stock, wine or juice and scrape any pieces of meat that are stuck to the pan and stir. All those little burnt bits stuck to the bottom of the pan are the yummies that will give your broth color and flavor.
(5) Add cooking liquid (water, stock, wine, juice or some combination) to the half-way point of the main ingredient. If using wine the bitterness of the tannins with be cooked out making for a mellow and rich sauce.
(6) Cover and place the pot on the middle of a rack in an oven that has been pre-heated to 350F.
(7) Cook until completely tender. This can range from 1 hour to 6 hours, depending on what you are cooking.
(8) Remove the pan from the oven and strain the meat and vegetables out of the liquid.
(9) Remove the excess fat floating in the liquid using a paper towel placed on top and repeated or with a baster, and then reduce the sauce to desired thickness by cooking it down over low heat until it thickens. Or, make gravy by adding a mix of equal parts fat and flour (a roux).
Some wonderful, less expensive cuts of meat, that can turn into the best thing you have ever tasted are beef ribs, short ribs, brisket, chuck, blade or seven bone roasts, shanks, or any part that has a lot of connective tissue and fat. Bones are also a wonderful flavoring. Pork also has its favorites in the braising world from Boston but, to picnic or shoulder roast, hams (non-cured), ribs, and cheeks. Some other ideas are chicken, turkey, wild game, octopus, meatier fish like shark, swordfish or sea bass, just make sure the come from reputable and sustainable sources.
All these ideas can be made even more simple by prepping your ingredients the night before and placing them in your crock pot or slow cooker, and flip it on right before you leave for work, just make sure you have a crock pot that has a hold setting after the cooking cycle or an auto off as to not over cook, which is really hard to do. Nothing better than to come home to the smell of a slow cooked meal.
Now get cookin'! And remember to KEEP IT REAL, KEEP IT FRESH, AND KEEP IT SUSTAINABLE.

Monday, February 27, 2012

No gas and fast

With spring in full bloom and summer just around the corner, grilling and BBQ comes to mind (and no I wasn't being repetitive, they are very different things). I tend to cook outside all year round, but living in Arizona makes that much easier.
Cooking outside over the grill or pit, classically, has been the domain of the man (beat hairy chest and roar like king kong).  But times are changing and more and more women are mastering the flame. I see more and more women not only grilling but BBQing and smoking with great finesse. So get out there ladies and take back the tongs and show the boys it is not only a man's world out there.
Now back to the subject at hand and that is Grilling and BBQing, and mastering the flames.
Any food can be grilled, most can be BBQed. Anything you cook in your kitchen can be done outside. That being said there are just as many ways to cook outside as there are in the kitchen. To secret to both is mastering the flame. Most that grill do it over a gas grill. Grilling over gas is as easy as it gets, you turn the gas on and push the button and voila! the flame is made, with a turn of the gas knob it is controlled. This is a great way to start with your cooking adventures outside. But once you have a steak or a burger or veggies cooked over wood, or charcoal with its smokey loveliness, you will be spoiled forever. There is a saying in the culinary world that says, "Fat is flavor!", But I must say that smoke is its twin sister.
As you can see I am a little partial to cooking with charcoal and wood, but even here thing can go horribly wrong.
Those who have been spoiled by charcoal cooked smoky foods tend to dive right in and try and recreate it by the ideals of our past and that is buying a bag of briquette charcoal dousing it with lighter fluid and kaboom!!! Then they think if there is a flame it is time to cook, right? WRONG! One lighter fluid is the enemy when cooking. Most lighter fluid is made of petroleum products which in turn made your food taste like petroleum smoke (think what comes out of your car's tail pipe). Being an advocate of less and more natural food, this is the not ideal. You would be better grilling with gas.  Briquette charcoal has a lot of these same petroleum products in them too so they either need to be burned off or you should use natural wood charcoal, each has their own fallowing, for different reasons. Next how do you get them started and to the proper state in which to cook on.
When the charcoal is ready to cook on it, it is not the flaming grill but one with glowing red and grayed over charcoals. The best and easiest way to get your coals to that state without using chemicals is a chimney starter. The chimney starter is a short metal cylinder with a handle and a cone shaped grate at the bottom to hold the charcoal. This method of starting your coals maximizes the heat by funneling it into a confined and upward manner, the same way turbines do in jet engines.
Start by placing some crumpled paper in the bottom under the grate and placing it standing up on the bottom of your grill (take the top cooking grate off to access) fill the chimney with your charcoal of choice. Works for both briquettes and natural wood charcoal, (do not use self-lighting charcoal, they are pre-saturated in lighter fluid). Once most of the coals have grayed over (top coals may be a little dark still, this is ok), using caution because of the extreme heat, pour the charcoals into grill. Your coals are now ready to use, rake to cover the area needed to cook on.
You may now add water soaked wood chip or chunks for that great smoke flavor. If you don't have a charcoal grill you can add that smoke flavor to a gas grill by making your self a smoke pouch made of aluminum foil and water soaked wood chips and place directly on your gas burner under the cooking grate or you can do the same with a metal or iron smokebox purchased at your grilling accessory store.
Now get out there and get cooking, and stay away from that nasty lighter fluid.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Fish Fridays

Many of us are forgoing red meats today. Many will be making choices of to fish or not to fish. In actuality fish is a great meal anytime, but we must be cognisant of what we are buying and eating. Many run to the stand buy fish stick or even the breaded fish fillet with a side of tartar sauce. I know that many are fearful of trying to cook fish if it is not the breaded variety that we throw in the oven on a sheet pan. There are many ways to cook fish; pan fry, poach, grill. smoke, bake, or broil, the list goes on. Today is a good day to head over to your fishmonger, butcher, or supermarket and try something new. Ask your fish provider questions about the variety and flavor profile of the different fishes they offer. If they wont answer your questions, have great tips or have a good variety of fish, head to another store. A store who doesn't care about these things probably wont care about the quality or the sustainability of the product they are selling either.
Try new ways of cooking you have never tried and you will discover new flavors in the same piece of fish. Also feel good about the fish that you are eating by supporting sustainability by only buying fish that is not being over fished and taken and transported in a safe and fresh manner. An easy to access and free app available on your smart phones is Seafood Watch or you could go to; This site or app provides a great resource for what fish are optimal and also proves some great recipes. The best thing about it, it is free.
Seafood and shellfish are also another great alternative to red meats. You can add clams or shrimp to your favorite pasta or boil some crab, crayfish, shrimp, corn, baby red potatoes with some spices (try a crab boil spice bag, available at most grocery stores) tonight for a Low Country Boil. Maybe some clam chowder or shrimp and grits is calling you more if you live in an area that is still in the grip of winter.
My suggestion for today (since I love to BBQ) is Cedar Plank Salmon;

  • One 2-3 pound Salmon fillet, make sure you buy sustainable Salmon that is fresh
  • a cedar plank that will allow at least 2 inches around the fillet, cedar planks are now available at most stores. look in the BBQ section (i.e..where the charcoal and grill accessories are)
  • 1/2 cup of brown sugar
  • 3 tablespoons of your oil of choice
  • 1 teaspoon of each paprika, granulated garlic, paprika, ground pepper, and dill. mix together well. 
  • Soak your cedar planks in water for minimum of one hour. 
  • Preheat your charcoal or gas grill to medium.Place the cedar plank on the grill grate for 5 minutes. In the meantime, combine brown sugar and spice rub and place one side of your fillet.
  • Place the prepared salmon onto the cedar plank, skin side down.
  • Smoke or grill for about 25-30 minutes, or until salmon turns light in color and is firm and  flaky
  • Using a smoke box in your gas grill or adding wood chunks or chips to your charcoal adds an incredible flavor as an extra kicker.                                                                                                   
HAPPY FRIDAY!!! Remember to keep it REAL, keep it fresh, and keep it sustainable!
If you need ideas or have questions feel free to ask! 

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Morning Glory

One of the meals that gets the worst overlook in our diets is breakfast. We all have heard that breakfast is the most important meal of the day, and yet we still seem to gloss over this advice and choose poor foods, if we choose to eat at all.
The idea of the pastoral breakfast of fresh squeezed OJ, eggs, warm biscuits, pancakes, Bacon (yes I capitalize it, because it is worthy), seems like such a far fetched idea or one reserved for a lazy weekend.
We grab a hot drink or energy drink and a doughnut, hit a fast food drive through, or see what is in the vending machine. **shivers** and think that something is better than nothing.
Breakfast does exactly as it says it does it breaks the fast we have been partaking in during the eight or less hours of sleep. Our body is needing nutrition, and we go from a prone position to the frantic morning rush without feeding ourselves or feeding it junk. This is a recipe for disaster that causes havoc in our bodies.
We can prevent this with a few simple preparation ideas forgiving ourselves that kick start that we need in the morning.
One of the simplest ways to do this is the age old breakfast in a bowl, and that is cereal. Cereal hot or cold can be our worst enemy or our best friend when it comes to a morning meal.
As a kid, I would wake up to a plethora of brightly colored, flashy cartoon embossed boxes of sugar, screaming of prizes that waited inside or telling me of the coolest movie or toy on the back. What I mean to say is I was breakfast cereal fan, no addict.
Little did I know that these boxes were more sugar than anything else, and by the time I was in school for a couple of hours I was wanting to sleep.
Cereal should be processed as least as possible, just like the rest of your food. Look at the side of the box and if there are more things in it you don't know than are recognized as food, you might want to make a better choice. Simple rule of thumb is if you look at your food and you can see what is made of, you are probably making some good choices.
Granola, organic cereals or oatmeal are good choices. Add some fruit or raw honey to sweeten.
The next thing you can do is to choose a really good unprocessed bread and make yourself some toast instead of reaching for a doughnut or pastry. Spread some natural fruit preserve or REAL butter. I know that butter is high in fat and cholesterol but if the alternative is margarine I would rather have it dry. Margarine has been proven to be worse for you with all the hydrogenated junk and fillers that make it try and taste creamy and buttery. Just use the real stuff, you will thank me later.
Another option is just make yourself a smoothie. Cut all the fruit and ingredients the night before and put this and yogurt or vegetables in a bag all together the night before. Pull out the blender and set it out on the counter. Make everything as easy as possible so that in the midst of the morning rush, all you have to do is dump the bag in the blender and push the button
Some more ideas are making your own granola or granola bars in advance. Chop of some veggies and whisk some eggs and place in a bowl and cover with plastic wrap the night before so that you can just dump in a skillet and cook in the morning cutting down on your time and stress.
Making the morning as simple as possible through a little preparation will help you make better choices in the morning  by getting your day and metabolism a kick start with real food.
If you need any more ideas, information or recipes, let me know in the comments. Ask away!

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Mundane Mid Week

After Mardi Gras/Carnival, most are either recovering or just plain worn out. These are the times when we feel weak and go for something cheap, fast, and easy. (enter joke here) We tend to find ourselves going for fast food for lunch or just pick something up for the family for dinner. It is times of weakness that we set ourselves on a course of falling into the old habits we leaned upon.
If you didn't bring your lunch to work today, buy local buy healthy, and buy REAL food. If you prepped food for the week for your family go ahead and make it tonight and fight the urge to pick up something from the drive through.
Good simple ideas for dinner are;
Make your own salads or tacos or even taco salads for the family.
Breakfast for dinner. Pancakes, eggs, bacon (bacon makes everything better), french toast, etc.
Asian themed lettuce wraps (chicken or beef, scallions, garlic, teriyaki or ponzu sauce, peanuts) and steamed rice.
Pasta with browned butter and mizithra cheese or Parmesan, with broccoli

Keep it simple and get over the hump of the mundane mid-week. let me know if you need any recipes for these meals or questions on how to prepare them, I would be happy to help.
Keep it REAL! Keep it FRESH! Keep it SEASONAL!

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Farm Fresh

Do you know where your food comes from? Not from the supermarket or from the city on the package...
We as a culture have become the boneless, skinless, breaded, packaged and over sauced food consumer, that has no idea, (and most don't want to know), what their food is, or where it comes from.
There is a funny story that I think of, one of the children in our family was eating fish sticks that her mother had just given her, and asked "what are fish sticks made of?", in which her mother promptly answering, half laughing, "FISH...silly!" I can just imagine her shock and thinking this little girl was saying in her head "I just ate Nemo!"
We as a society have become so removed from the genesis of our food and the farm, that we have lost the respect, value, and the effort it takes to produce that food. It seems the companies that produce that food have answered back by providing cheap and unhealthy food that is packaged and sold in a way that supports the seperation of what is going on behind that curtain of how they make it and your plate.
Imagine for a moment what is takes to create a REAL hamburger. The cattle rearing cost of food, and land. Transportation of that beef to market, butchering costs, etc. The bun, with the wheat and baking cost. The lettuce and tomato, ketchup and mustard, and farm needed to produce them along with labor cost. How much should a hamburger cost??? It has to be more than 99 cents. Where do you think there are cutting the cost? Not the buildings they sell them in, not the marketing and commercials, not the packaging, and the special toys that come with them. Guess where they cut the costs? Do you really know where your food comes from and what it's made of???
We live in a time where soft drinks are cheaper than water and fast food cheaper than and apple. How are we to find respite in our attempts to eating REAL food that we cook at home? How are we to afford an organic meal, that maximizes nutrients to feed our sick and malnourished bodies?
The key is to start small.
Start with keeping your food simple. Can you see everything your meal is made of? If we make a conscientious when we make our purchases, we can affect what we are being sold. We can change the supply if we change our demand.
Cook at home with as many fresh ingredients. It does not have to be organic, yet. Buy your food in a state that is as close to its natural state, most of the time it is cheaper. (think celery stocks as opposed to celery hearts)
Bring your lunch or support your local establishments. These small businesses can afford to create the frankenfood that larger companies can and in turn serve more REAL food.
Get a little closer to the farm by finding a local butcher for your meat or a famers market, give your kids a farm tour.
The simplest thing you can do is educate yourself. Find out more about what you put in your body and your kids bodies. Ask questions from your butcher or farmer, they have great advice on what to use and how to prepare many of the foods they are selling.
We can make a difference and take our food back to a place where we have trust that it is good for us.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Confidence in the kitchen

Many of those who do not cook very often have to overcome the fear of cooking stovetop. Afraid to start a fire, under cook something and get sick, or even to getting burned.
Many of these fears came be overcome and prevented by understanding three key components of cooking; understanding what you are cooking and how to properly cook it, how to control fire or temperature, and finally understanding your equipment and having the proper items needed.
Lets start with knowing what and how to cook the food you are making. Many people watch a show on the food channel or look up a recipe and just dive in thinking they will just follow what they just skimmed over, just to realize they are missing an ingredient or a spice or forgot to chop or prep ahead an item needed. They find themselves trying to handle too many things and end up encountering their worst fears. Take time to read the recipes, make sure you have every ingredient you need and the proper equipment to prepare it. Prep your food by having everything chopped and in easy to access containers. Know what your food tastes like when its properly cooked. When it is time to cook you will be prepared with the knowledge and items needed to create a great meal.
The biggest mistake people make is they over or undercook food due to a lack of understanding heat. Most people turn the heat all the way up, put a cold pan on the burner and throw their oil and food right in the pan. The pan comes to a smoking hot mess and you frantically turn down the heat and burn the outside of food leaving the inside raw...sound familiar??? All could have been prevented by taking a little extra time and pre-heating the pan to the temp you want to cook at, so you can make small adjustments rather than frantic big ones.
Lastly understanding your equipment. Does your burner run a little hot on this a little cool in the back?, or do I need oil in this pan or use a non stick pan?Does my oven run accurate to the temp I set it to or should I get a thermometer to put in there? Is this pan big enough for everything I am gonna put in it? Should I use a chef knife on this bread or a serrated one? Having and using the right equipment and know how it works will open up new skills you thought you never had.
Following these simple guidelines with make tackling your next recipe or cooking adventure a little less fearful. It will make cooking a lot more easy and fun. Find your confidence and you will find a happy, no stress kitchen. NOW GET COOKIN'!!!

Sunday, February 19, 2012

A friend in food, is a friend indeed

Today is sunday, a day to warm your family with a home cooked meal. We all have a friend who may also be in need of some warmth of heart. Inviting a friend or family member over to share a home cooked meal can, not only build relationships, but is a way to make the meal special in many ways. When making meals at home we sometimes find ourselves becoming complacent in the menu items or presentation. Inviting company over has a way of kicking our creativity in gear. We are more likely to search after a new recipe and show off our cooking prowess.
Another idea is partaking in an age old potluck. Invite another family over or a group of friends and ask them to bring their "family special" or an old family recipe. Maybe ask your guests to try and prepare an item they have never made or eaten before. This provides a wonderful opportunity to share your family's food culture or to create new ones. You never know when you might find a recipe that stays in your family for generations.
Make each recipe yours by changing an ingredient or create a different way of preparing it, instead of frying the item, grill it, or instead of sugar using honey. Try changing the protein item from chicken to salmon or pork. Try to make a vegetarian option. The possibilities are endless. The most important thing is to have fun making and sharing a little piece of who you are and sharing it.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Local Support

I will be adding my review of local establishments that I think are noteworthy once a month. I feel that although I am an advocate of cooking more at home, I am also supportive of those individuals who strike out on their own and fulfill one of the American dreams, and that is owning your own business. It has become extremely difficult to compete against multi-million dollar companies with the advertisement budget to match. They also set their establishments next to ma&pa shops in lower rent mini-malls and strip malls that used to be the domain of the small business owner.
Small bistros and restaurants sharing family recipes and labor intensive foods cooked with heart and soul are becoming extinct, as well as their wonderful recipes. These restaurants not only provide a wonderful dining experience they provide a personal sense of customer service, they also provide foods that are less processed and cooked in manner that you can try and replicate in your own homes.
This month I will start with an establishment that is offering an item especially close to my heart...BBQ. When I say that, I do not mean grilled or covered in sauce. I am talking about smoked slow and low, with real wood smoke billowing from a real seasoned black pit, beckoning you, no commanding you, to enter and eat!
Allison's Texas BBQ recently opened up in Arizona at the end of 2011 and has been serving up some of the best Hill County Texas BBQ I have had outside of Texas. The brisket, Pork shoulders, chicken and Ribs are smoked slow and low right outside the back door on a custom smoker trailer that is carefully tended by the owner himself. The simplicity of the salt and pepper rub prior to smoking, lends to the confidence they have in the quality of meat they are serving. The ribs which were my favorite lived up to their motto "it's so good, you will want seconds, so you can lick your finger's twice!" No sauce needed! Although if sauce is what you desire there were a selection of three sauces on the table (sweet, sassy, and spicy), but you will have to try them for yourself, the smoke was good enough for me. The King Ranch Beans were good enough for my wife, who isn't really a fan of BBQ beans, to steal most of them from me, and the Nannie's Corn Souffle was so good, a crumb had yet to found on my plate.
Give them a try, I guarantee you will be back.
You can find them and their menu at:

Allison's Texas BBQ

6750 E. Main St Suite 101
Mesa, AZ 85205

Friday, February 17, 2012

From BOX to ROCKS!

I have two beautiful girls who love mac and cheese. This ubiquitous dish is loved by so many children and the most famous version of it, comes in a blue box. It got my wife and I thinking about the many foods we feed children and how many of them are processed and lacking compared to the real thing. We sacrifice the quality of food in exchange for convenience and simplicity. This trade off is justified because we say we never have enough time, but in reality many of this foods can be made in just a couple of more minutes or the same amount of time with the proper prepping and planning. Think of the things we feed our children on a daily basis, and ask yourself, can I make this in my own kitchen? Many of us in my generation grew up on process foods and therefore have fond memories of blue box mac and cheese or canned soup, or jarred spaghetti sauce, or packaged chocolate chip cookies. We have been indoctrinated to think that this is home cooking if it did come wrapped in paper with a side of fries in a box with a smile on the side. This has become our food culture. It is time for us to change this thought pattern and realize this is not what food was 50 years ago, and what it should not be. We see the outcome of this misguided thinking in the health of our generation and in the effect we are seeing way too early in the next. We can do better. I will use two examples of options you can try and replace, and implore you to think of other foods we feed our families that you can go from box to ROCKS!
Mac and cheese; Boil some elbow macaroni, drain and melt some butter in the drained pasta and toss. Add sour cream and shredded cheddar, a splash of milk and salt and pepper to taste. Place in casserole dish and top with some more shredded cheddar, and bake for 30 minutes at 375F.  Try different and fun pastas like cavatappi (corkscrew) pasta or add cubed ham. This can all be prepped days in advance, so all you have to do is pop it in the oven.
Spaghetti sauce: In a non stick saute pan, add 4 tsp of olive oil and add 1/4 cup each of onion and bell pepper until they are translucent (no browning) , add a can of organic can of crushed tomatoes (Muir Glen is a good option), and one clove of finely chopped garlic, and dry oregano and salt and pepper to taste. Simmer for 15 minutes and add to favorite pasta. Sauce can be keep in air tight container up to four days or frozen in an air tight container for up to 20 days.
These are not gourmet versions, it is my wean kids off of box and can versions, and an easy way to start you off on making real food in your own kitchens.
Make real food and be a Rockstar!

Thursday, February 16, 2012


When I lived in Mexico and Central America, one of my favorite refreshments on a hot day was not soda or bottled water, it was aguas de fruta or liquados. This translates to "waters of fruit" or smoothies. The abundance of fresh fruit and staggering number of different types straight from the tropical jungle was such an eye opener that we are not exposed to here in the states. We are also not exposed to the different tastes of these fruits and their many combos of flavor or freshness. Sure we have smoothie places with the same 3 or four types of frozen fruits mixed with some sherbet or a scoop of energy, weight loss powder of unknown origin. Don't hear me wrong these are WAY better for you than a diet soda or an energy drink in a can.
The wonderful creations you can make at home for you and your family with fresh fruit and a blender in the comfort in your home may amaze you.
The recipe is as simple as cutting fresh seasonal fruit into cubes placing water to cover and creating a puree.
Add this water until you get the consistency of a light juice.
You can add different combos of fruit or squeeze citrus juice like lemon or lime to the mix which are favorites in Latin America, they even go as far as adding a stick of cinnamon or a mix of salt and chili powder to the rim of the glass.
Some of my favorites are watermelon mixed with a touch of lime juice, or cantaloupe water.
Try mango with strawberries, or papaya with a touch of salt and chili powder. The options are endless.
Start simple with making your own lemonade and add some mashed strawberries or a limonade with raspberries,
You will end up having a great time thinking of the possibilities and you will be getting all the wonderful health benefits of fresh raw fruit. These drinks are also a wonderful spin while entertaining friends.
Have a great day and remember to buy seasonal, buy local, and try something new!

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Back to Basics

One of my commenter's asked me about the preparation of refried beans and Chile con Carne and it got me thinking about a basic food item that used to be the cornerstone of every kitchen and on the literal back burner of every stove. That item being a good pot of beans.
That pot of beans transcends into many cultures and many homes, be it Navy, White, Kidney, Black, Lima, Garbanzo, Black Eye Peas, Broad, Lentils, Adzuki, or in my family, Pintos. The legume in all its forms gives rice a run for its money, in feeding hungry mouths worldwide. A pot of beans is home, comfort.
In my family, a process took place, that brings back fond memories for me. This process can and should be applied to your own pot of beans in all their forms.
Most of the beans begin their journey in our homes as a dry bag of beans. No Cans need apply=) In my family the beans were taken out of their bag and emptied on a counter or a table and the sorting begins. Sorting is something that the whole family can do, and an easy way to get the kids involved.
Most beans even in today's markets are not ready for the pot. They are imperfect, broken, bad or shriveled beans in the bag and must be sorted and thrown away. Along with the occasional clod of mud, dirt and even pebbles from the ground they were grown in.
The next step in the process is soaking the beans for at least 12 hours in cold clean water. There are many reasons for this, for example, taking the flatulent aspect we all associate with eating beans out by helping to remove the indigestible complex sugars called oligosaccharides from outside of the beans. But as my wife would say...TMI, science nerd! The two main reasons to soak your beans is to clean them from all pesticide residue and dirt, and to cut cooking time in half. Once the soak is done thoroughly rinse with clean water and place in a pot with clean water.
Bring to a rolling boil for 30 minutes.
Different flavors go with different beans but it is hard to go wrong with an onion that has been peeled and halved. The pintos in our family were also boiled with salt to taste, garlic powder and piece of pork, be it bacon, salt pork or ham hock. You can choose your own flavors be it with herbs or bones, or other meats.

Once this pot has filled your home with the sense of home, there are many things you can do with them. In my family the beans and the boiling broth are added to a bowl with  chopped white onion, green bell pepper, jalapenos, and cilantro for Charro beans. Another option is they are drained and mashed and fried with bacon grease or lard and topped with melting cheese of choice for the best refried beans you ever had.
Save that back burner for a pot of beans, and you will open up your home to memories and good food.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Happy Valentines Day

On this day of love, treat your sweetie to something decadent, or treat yourself to something indulgent. Remember to buy local, buy seasonal, buy fresh. If anyone needs help making that special meal shoot me questions early. Have a great day, and don't forget to spread the love!

Monday, February 13, 2012

Valentine's Day Ideas

Today is the last day to prep for the Day of Love! Ideas to consider that are not only romantic but can save you money. Consider cooking a romantic dinner, followed by a decadent dessert. Try new things like dining by only candle light, which accentuate your senses, like taste, and smell, making your meal even more enjoyable. Another ideas are eating alfresco, the weather is really nice, (at least here in AZ). Make a picnic of fresh fruit, and exotic cheeses, make some homemade lemonade with fresh strawberries.
Make the one you love feel loved with a treat from the heart.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Family Sunday

Sunday in many cultures is a day of rest and spending time with family. It is a time to gather around the dinner table and share a meal. A meal that has been cooked in a way indicative of the sentiment of Sunday. This sentiment is slow and relaxed, bubbling warm and long, with heart, soul and love. It is a time to share and eat a little comfort.
Think of some of the wonderful dishes you grew up with in your home. These traditions are your food culture, they are the soul of the kitchen, the memories that warm your hearts and bellies. Continue these traditions and cultures by cooking a meal with heart and soul today.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Weekend Ideas

The weekend is upon us and now is the time to get adventurous. Try and cook a new meal or plan easy ones for your week. Saturdays are good days to try and find a farmers market. Farmers markets are a good way to get into buying locally and seasonal, you may even have organic options. Meet your farmer or producer and ask questions. Try a new vegetable that you never used in a dish you are familiar with. If you see or buy something, and are interested in cooking with it or just want to know what dishes it is used in, ask me. I have tons of recipes and love sharing.
Another option for food adventure is get out of your comfort zone and try and Asian or Latin market. Most of these places have meats and fish, and produce you normally don't see in your big chain supermarkets. A lot of the ethnic markets have a deli or bistro where you can buy ready made food try a new dish.
Lastly, if you are going out to eat, try a new privately owned establishment or try a new ethnic cuisine. Open your food horizons, get adventurous, and build your taste palate!

Friday, February 10, 2012

Good DOobie

If you didn't bring your lunch to work and have to go out to grab something to eat. Try and support a private establishment. Those ma&pa shops usually have less processed foods and interesting new dishes to try. It is also supporting not only a family instead of a Corp, but your local economy!

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Welcome to Ask Chef Dave!

This started as a conversation with some of my friends on facebook, and turned into a blog...
Here are some of the comments from that conversation;

  • Clancy Pence Montgomery Awesome! I love quick, easy and unique food recipes. I especially love clean recipes with few ingredients. So sick of recipes with canned soup in them. Too much sodium, they all taste the same and they aren't healthy! Mixing pre-made items isn't considered homemade in my book! Simple~clean~fresh! Do it!
    Yesterday at 3:50pm ·  ·  1
  • David Garza Clancy Pence Montgomery, first canned soups are horribly high in fat and most of all sodium, but the thing you have to remember is that all things in a can are not all bad but the do go through pasteurization which involves high heat, which can destroy many of the foods original nutrients (i.e., Vit C) start with the food your mother or grandmother or family made you as a child, and find the comfort in home cooked meals. Then start small. I am so wasteful when I go to the store once a week and stock up, in other words I let things spoil or wilt. Start with the weekend meals of incorporating fresh non-processed food into your meals then tackle the weekdays. Find your food culture within your family and you will find home.
    Yesterday at 4:05pm ·  ·  2
  • Janet Smith Fried mash potatoes balls that are puffy, or are they baked?
    Yesterday at 4:38pm · 
  • David Garza ‎@Janet the puffy is all in the mash. Over mashing causes the starches in the potato to gum. Also depending on the crunch coating you want you may want to coat. I prefer light egg wash with penko (Japanese bread crumbs) coat. Light fry but you can bake as well, penko packs a crunch either way
    Yesterday at 4:46pm · 
  • Julie Espinosa Armando Espinosa asks: what is the perfect cheese table? And if you layer in combining the cheeses with charcuterie, how does your answer change?
    Yesterday at 5:27pm · 
  • Janet Smith Didn't use the egg wash. Will try, thanks!
    Yesterday at 5:37pm · 
  • David Garza Julie Espinosa A cheese table should always have a theme (taster, region, flavor profile, etc) I have always been very into the terroir (taste of the land or region) of regions when creating a cheese table. I like using the culture create the diversity of the plate. think cheeses from northern Ireland as opposed to England or Cheeses from Normandy as opposed to Champagne or all the wonderful regions of Spain from Manchego to Teta. Start with the cheese first and them add the charcuterie, let the wine dictate the pairing.
    Yesterday at 6:07pm · 
  • David Garza Janet Smith Having the potatoes cool a bit helps also using a 1 or 2 ounce scooper makes the work light
    Yesterday at 6:08pm · 
  • Gerilyn Trulove-Mellor ‎1. You could really turn this into a job... Start a website and charge a "member fee" I love that I know someone I can ask these questions to!
    Yesterday at 6:13pm · 
  • Gerilyn Trulove-Mellor ‎2. I buy canned tomatoes... is that bad? Should I just cut up and freeze tomatoes or does that high water content lead to bad tomatoes.. I'm afraid of canning tomatoes myself... I have had food poisoning from bad jarred tomatoes..
    Yesterday at 6:15pm · 
  • David Garza I actually love canned tomatoes actually better than fresh. Muir Glen is a great company to buy from and is easy to find they have some great organic and fire roasted options that I use for my salsas. if you are going to make a killer marinara anything from san marzano region is the best! Buying in can tomatoes usually is a better bet if tomatoes are not in season. perfect tomatoes out of season are usually GMO or flavorless, always buy in season. Freezing is an option if you vacuum seal them as tomatoes can easily by ruined by freezer burn or taking on a flavor of the smells of the icebox.
    Yesterday at 6:56pm · 
  • Jeanie Towne Gentry How do you make homemade caramel sauce??????
    21 hours ago · 
  • Amber Funk How do you carmalize Butternut Squash without any animal based product?
    9 hours ago · 
  • Mireille Nicole Gibbons I have little time for meal prep during the week. I’d like to be able to prep completely (or mostly) on the weekend for all meals for the following week. Do you know of healthy meals with fresh veggies & other ingredients that can be prepped days in advance? Or meals that require 15min (or less) prep.
    8 hours ago · 
  • Mireille Nicole Gibbons Or complete meals I can cook on the weekend that will freeze/reheat nicely later.
    8 hours ago · 
  • David Garza Jeanie Towne GentryCaramel sauce consistes of three things sugar, milk or cream, and butter. heat a thick bottomed pan and pour the sugar in and spread out it will liquify or melt and eventually brown. There is a fine line between perfect and burnt. also be careful melted sugar is a skin melter. make sure you agitate the melted sugar until it is the right color for you. Keep agitating and take off heat add salted butter careful as it will bubble followed by 1 (cream) to 4 ratio of cream let cool before serving. There are cheat recipes with cans of sweetened condensed milk, that you boil the cans unopened in water and when you opened the cooled can the milk has caramelized into dulce de leche, but I would not condone anyone boiling a sealed can.....kaboom!
    6 hours ago · 
  • David Garza Amber Funk Depending on what you call caramelizing. If you mean cooking it to color or do you mean actually candying the squash. you can do both with a canola oil which has a high smoke point and has very little flavor as to not inhibit the squash's natural flavor. Caramelizing occurs when the sugars that are already in the food begin to brown, this is done much easier when the squash is dry.
    5 hours ago · 
  • David Garza Mireille Nicole Gibbons Just by trying to cook at home, you have overcome a major hurdle. prepping can be simple and fun. you can start the week by setting up what we call in the business as Mis En Place or just "meez" as we like to say in the kitchen. This is a set up work place where all ingredients are chopped, ready for cooking and easily accessible. This is the secret of how those cooks throw together delicious meal in no time flat. make yourself a list a meals for the week and prep all the foods in little baggies or airtight containers for the week and place each meal together. So that when you get home all you have to do is cook the food which actually is not that long. less than 20 min in most cases. Keep your meals simple during the week and keep your culinary adventures for the weekends. Most meals can be made in 2 pans and are the staples even in professional kitchens. Make them your best friend. The first being a non stick skillet. Get a big heavy bottomed one, that you can easily pick up and move around. 75% of everything cooked in professional kitchen is made in this. stir fry, sauces, veg, even most meats. you can saute up a one pan meal during the week in a jiffy, if your "meez" is ready to go. The second one is a small deep sided pot, for pasta, soups and braising.