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Thursday, November 15, 2012

Feeling guilty

Sorry I haven't posted in a while. I have been busy building a new business venture. I am going into the food truck business. It provides me a free reign to cook local and sustainable food. It will also bring me great joy to be back in the kitchen again. Stay tuned for updated posts. Thanks for the patience.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Been awhile...

It is been a while since my last blog. I've been quite busy preparing to start a business. I'm starting a food truck. In my endeavors in starting this food truck, and looking for food distributors, I have found difficulties in finding good honest food. I find that finding food wholesale almost always requires a large processed food manufacturer. I am also finding that farms and businesses who support organic whole and honest food are struggling in today's economy. Many of these food distribution our farms and have had to fall into non organics, pesticides, and GMO seeds to supply their products due to cost and availability. With large multinational companies forcing these farmers to use their products due to trademarks and hybrids, it is almost impossible for these farmers to not continue using GMO seeds due to feral cross pollination.
I am implore you, if you find a farmer or a business, or food distributor that supplies organic whole and healthy food, please support them. Also realize when you go to farmers markets, you have more control over what is being sold, because the law of supply and demand directly affects what farmers will provide. I had the pleasure to visit a farm with my family, this weekend. The farms name was superstition Farms. It is located here in Mesa Arizona. During my visit to a farmers market, they had available on Thursday's I learned much about this farm. They not only provide a location for local vendors to sell their wares and foods, they also have a food truck and their own creamery on-site. The best thing about this trip to superstition Farms was, the unbelievably welcoming feeling I got. The workers and owners of the farm or not only there to provide a place for this market but to educate those came. The open up their farm to educate and teach families the value of the need for farms, the importance of knowing where and who your food comes from, but also to taste what real food is. As my girls walked around, pink cheeked from the heat, it was great to see my girls faces light up when someone brought them a little chick to experience first hand, and to pet a calf and horse, and to walk with a rooster in the garden made their day, the vanilla honey ice cream cooled them down enough to romp on a hay bale. All I can say is thanks.
If you would like to know more about the farm you can look them up at and come out on Thursdays from 4:30-7:30PM perfect times to grab dinner at the food truck or to buy and support some local vendors with honest ingredients to make at home. And as always...

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Sauce Boss

Here in the states, we have become dependent on sauces and dips for food. We head over to the grocery store to buy these dips, sauces, etc., and never really pay attention of what is actually in the bottle. Many of our sauces are filled with artificial ingredients, preservatives, and high fructose corn syrup. Most of our favorite sauces can actually be made it home for less money than you're paying at the grocery store and will be better for you because you know what's in the bottle.
America's favorite condiment contrary to popular belief is not ketchup but salsa, this can be easily made at home in your kitchen with four simple ingredients, chopped tomatoes, onions chiles, and cilantro. The flavor enhancers such as spices like, garlic, cumin, lime juice and as always salt are up to you and your imagination and taste preference. Check previous posts for some of my favorite recipes.
Now lets tackle the kids condiment king, Ketchup. Kids want it with fries, hamburgers, hot dogs, chicken nuggets, eggs, and I am pretty sure everyone has seen a kid trying to use it as a beverage.
Here is a simple recipe to make your own.
2 (6 ounce) cans tomato paste
1/2 cup white vinegar
4 tablespoons brown sugar
1 tablespoon garlic powder
1 tablespoon onion powder
1/4 teaspoon allspice
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon molasses
1 teaspoon agave nectar
2 1/2 cups water
Add to a covered sauce pan and simmer on low for two hours until reduced.
You can additional spices to make BBQ sauces from this base or to top your meatloaf.
So next time you think you have to buy a dip because you don't think you can save yourself money and make it in a more healthy and just as delicious way, stop and think anything is possible to make at home. If you need help recreating your own home version, feel free to ask in the comments below.
And don't forget...

Chef Dave

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Comfort; the good the bad and the possible.

Lets get it out there…I have a FEW pounds to lose. I have always been a macho man who never would have thought of dieting, but in the last decade, I am learning a lot more about my body than I had in college (Biology major), and what it needs to not only survive but to thrive.
Most of my life I have been a meatatarian, the belief that there is no need for the life of senseless slaughter of vegetables for the sustenance of mankind. That mankind has all its dietary needs met by the consumption of the major food groups of my youth, being, all pork products, most beef products and some poultry mixed in with duck and bacon being superfoods.
Now in the inception of my midlife, I realize I was wrong, and my gut is proof enough.
When it comes to dieting, we have created a world of false plastic "foods" that are lower in calories and fat and higher in chemicals and salt and and other unspeakables. We have moved so far away from real foods and food traditions and left a lasting culture of plasticine, quasi foods for our children to accept as normal and the new real. We need to focus on rebuilding our health one bite at a time, we need to be concerned less about what we cant eat or eating less of it, and set our eyes on the prize of giving it what it needs…nutrition. If we give our hungry and sick bodies what they need in their simplest forms, it will heal itself. It will shed the additional adipose fat it holds on to, and mend the damage caused by foolish living and eating. If we start to eat real foods in their natural states, using real ingredients, we can learn to make real food for ourselves and our families. The choices outside the home are a far cry from real, and by cooking at home you can ensure the contents of your meal, you also can control your portions, and build of food culture in your home by filling your home with comfort in the smells sounds, and lessons of a real meal cooking in the kitchen. Mend your not only your body but your family bonds around a dinner table with plates of comfort and the ones you love.
I will tackle one of America's most beloved of comfort foods in our current era, the wonderful blue box of Macaroni and Cheese. I was one of those kids that craved this bowl of luminescent orange bowl of comfort as a kid and especially as a college student. But as I matured and travelled I began to crave home cooked meals and while traveling and eating in the south I found how truly misguided I was in thinking my comfort standard of mac and cheese was home cooked, and how much more amazing real home cooked mac and cheese could be, and realize that most of the foods we eat are emulations and some flat out facades of what food should be.
I began to understand comfort in foods and the power food holds in our psyche, it brought me back to some of the home cooked foods my mother made and how they could heal my soul. As a child, when I was sick to my stomach, my mother used to make me Arroz con leche, a rice dish similar to rich pudding but soupier, lightly sweetened and doused with cinnamon, served warm, it would sooth me like no pill or dose a medicine ever could, just the smell can settle my aches. We can create the soothing comfort of home in our own kitchens and create fond memories for our family, through a legacy of real foods. I implore to try.
Michael Pollan said it best "eat real foods, not to much and mostly plants" and in his 7 rules of health;
  1. Don't eat anything your great grandmother wouldn't recognize as food. "When you pick up that box of portable yogurt tubes, or eat something with 15 ingredients you can't pronounce, ask yourself, "What are those things doing there?" Pollan says.
  2. Don’t eat anything with more than five ingredients, or ingredients you can't pronounce.
  3. Stay out of the middle of the supermarket; shop on the perimeter of the store. Real food tends to be on the outer edge of the store near the loading docks, where it can be replaced with fresh foods when it goes bad.
  4.  Don't eat anything that won't eventually rot. "There are exceptions -- honey -- but as a rule, things like Twinkies that never go bad aren't food," Pollan says.
  5. It is not just what you eat but how you eat. "Always leave the table a little hungry," Pollan says. "Many cultures have rules that you stop eating before you are full. In Japan, they say eat until you are four-fifths full. Islamic culture has a similar rule, and in German culture they say, 'Tie off the sack before it's full.'"
  6. Families traditionally ate together, around a table and not a TV, at regular meal times. It's a good tradition. Enjoy meals with the people you love. "Remember when eating between meals felt wrong?" Pollan asks.
  7. Don't buy food where you buy your gasoline. In the U.S., 20% of food is eaten in the car.   
You can make a difference one bite at a time, and don't forget…

Thursday, May 31, 2012


In my travels, I have learned this simple fact the hotter the climate, the spicier the food. It took me a while to understand why people who are hiding from the heat and trying to stay cool and refreshed would want to recreate the sun's surface in their mouths. As I tried more and more spicy foods, I realized I sweat more, I drank more and I was more refreshed from the endorphin rush in the sweltering energy sucking heat. This is the exact thing I should have been doing to cool down and keep myself hydrated during the summer inferno. Humans find amazing counter intuitive ways to survive. We as a species are amazing!
Here in Arizona where I call home, it is set to be a blistering *112F by days end, and every year at this time I question if this place should be condemned as uninhabitable for human existence. Nevertheless, I call it home and can and will find ways to keep cool. One way is to through some cool foods that keep you from slaving over the flames by preparing cold foods that not only stimulate your taste buds but can help lower that core temp. It is amazing that mother nature knows what we need during this time by providing some awesome seasonal fruits during this sweltering season in the form of juicy fruits and crisp veggies. 
Foods in the calescent areas of the world are spicy but usually not hot in temperature. Most of these foods blend the sweet and cool, with the spicy heat. The perfect balance of the two can play a gastronomic jig on your tongue that will have you begging for more. Here in the states the mix of salty, spicy and savory and sweet fruits have not ingrained themselves in the culinary repertoire of most Americans, but we are coming around to these delights. Here are some great ideas you should try poolside or in your home;

Melon and Prosciutto- try cantaloupe cut into thin wedges and wrap with a thin slice of prosciutto, it is mind blowing!

when I lived in Mexico and Central America, during the summer heat there was always an abundance of tropical fruits mixed with lime or lemon juice and sprinkled with salt or mouth melting chili powder or a mix of the two. Try Cold watermelon cubes and jicama cubes tossed with lime juice and chili powder and sea salt. also works with mango and papaya.

Strawberries with vanilla ice cream topped with a drizzle of balsamic vinegar glaze, cinnamon, and a dash of salt.

Spinach salad topped with cubed peaches Gruyere cheese dollops and a lime juice, cilantro, olive oil vinaigrette; Place juice of 6 limes with 1/4 bunch of chopped fresh cilantro in your blender and blend until thin paste slowly add oil to your blender with a dash of salt and pepper until emulsified consistency of dressing, serve immediately.

Pears, strawberries and bacon fruit salad
cube pears and strawberries into large chunks and mix in dollops of marscapone cheese and bacon crumbles-mmmm

Now get out there and make yourself a cool drink and one of my favorites listed above, and as always if you need help preparing any of these or need more ideas or recipes feel free to ask in the comment section below, and as always…

Monday, May 21, 2012

Check out my rack!

Continuing on with my BBQ theme for the summer, I though I would give you some tips on how to save your some money on some of my favorite eats! Ribs!!!
I continue to see people go to these national BBQ chains and pay as much as $20-$30 for a rack of ribs when you can head on over to your meat purveyor or butcher or even your local grocery story and buy a full rack of pork spare ribs at a fraction of the cost. Now I know, you are probably saying "Chef Dave, I don't have to cook them or prepare them, or I don't even know how to cook them!" well, if you have read my blog before, you know that I am trying to get you out there cooking quality food for your family with quality products for the betterment of your health and wallet, and get you and your family to have a great time doing it. Build yourself some memories by creating a family food culture and you will inexplicably change the palates and hearts of your family for generations.
Now lets talk about these precooked, vacu-packed ribs you are paying out of the wazoo for…First most of these ribs are prepared with a solution or a curing brine full of nasty things that make you think you are are eating the most juiciest ribs you have ever had. These preservatives are not even close to the fat rendered low and slow cooked BBQ ribs that burst with REAL and natural flavor of the pork and smoke and spices. We all are coming to think that good cooking is fast cooking, that a rib sandwich made of quasi-meat and who knows what else from that clown infested drive through is what BBQ should taste like, and my friend it is a sad day when we pass this ignorance to our children. we can do better for them and for us. Let me get off my soap box and get to the real thing.
Pork spare ribs come in a variety of ways at your local meat purveyor. Thanks to a great song and a horrible product in my opinion that establishment that sells "chili", everybody is hog wild over baby back ribs, but IMHO there is more meat for your money with a pork spare rib rack. The spare ribs can come as such or labeled as "St. Louis" Style. St. Louis style is a cleaned up, tip trimmed, fat trimmed version of pork spare rib racks. It is a bit more labor intensive for the butcher and in turn costs a ton more for the same cut of meat. With a little know how and a sharp knife you can have your self a st Louis style rib or if your like me and love those rib tips  keep them on there along with the fat that will render during the cooking process and make those ribs fall off the bone juicy. If you would like to make this style rib rack, hit me up in the comment section for more details on how to complete this task.
When you have your ribs in front of you washed and patted dry, you will find that there is a thick skin like membrane on the back side of the ribs. this membrane will shrink up and turn to inedible leather if left on and prevents any rubs and spices to permeate the meat. It will have to be removed. The easiest way to do this is, take a dull blunt object like the handle end of a metal table spoon and insert it between the membrane and the rib meat on one of the last ribs in the rack. gently pull up until you can take a paper towel and grip it with your hand, and slowly peel it away, until all of the membrane is removed.
Now that your ribs are ready for some flavor, here is where you differentiate what region or style you would like to have your ribs. If you are a Texas style BBQer, you are gonna go for salt and pepper only, smoked slowly over mesquite wood. if you are a st. Louis style you are gonna rub and sauce over maple or apple, if you are a Kansas City style you are gonna dry rub and mop and indirect smoke low and slow over Hickory. a simple dry rub you can make at home in bulk that works well with both chicken and pork is as follows:
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup paprika
1 tablespoon black pepper
1 tablespoon salt
1 tablespoon chili powder
1 tablespoon garlic powder
1 tablespoon onion powder
2 tablespoons ground cumin
Smoke your ribs at *225F-*260F from 3-6 hours making sure they reach a temperature of *145F
Once they have reached this temp, take them off the grill and use what we call in the business as the "Texas cheat", by placing them in aluminum foil and pouring a couple of ounces of apple juice or water and then wrapping them tightly for an additional hour. This will provide the moisture and the juiciness of braising to your ribs.  or you can return to the grill after saucing with your favorite sauce to caramelize the sugars in the sauce. watch carefully as not to allow them to burn. Allow to cool for 5-10 minutes once off the grill and cut between ribs to serve. Mix it up and try Teriyaki rib with Japanese spices or even Mexican spice rubs with a mango salsa. Serve with your favorite sides. Don't forget if you need ideas or have questions don't forget to ask in the comments below. And also don't forget to…

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Pollo by the pool

Since we just celebrated Cinco de Mayo or the celebration of the victory at the battle of Puebla (in Mexico and not Mexican Independence day) This shared Mexican and American holiday brings up a wonderful culture of Mexican cuisine, and since my theme this summer is outdoor cooking, I think Pollo, chicken in Spanish, has a proper place in Grilling Epicness.
Many of us fear two things when cooking chicken; Burning with fires caused by dripping fat, or , not cooking enough and giving all your family and guest salmonella.
I think these two go hand in hand due to the unlucky few who make these easily corrected mistakes when cooking chicken on the grill.
When getting your charcoal or gas grill ready, make sure you cook chicken by the indirect heat method, meaning not putting your chicken right over the heat source. "But Chef Dave what about those beautiful grill marks that look so appetizing?!?!" Do not fret Mr. have to have all your food look like it came from the pages of Gourmet or Food Arts, you can still sear those grill marks into your chicken on the hot side and move it to the indirect side to finish cooking and soaking up that grill flavor (smoke if you are using lump charcoal and wood chunks, which I highly recommend) This cooking method give you the safe oven method and the yumminess of cooking over flames all the while keeping the dripping fat from igniting and turning your chicken into a scorched yet raw piece of carbon.
Now on to the flavor! There is a reason everything nondescript and bland tastes like chicken, because to me that's what chicken tastes like if cooked without a little help from herbs, spices and marinades.
Poultry that has to stand up to a high heat and retain moisture and has a low fat content like a most white meat on poultry could benefit greatly from a soak in a brine. This not only helps to keep the moisture in the meat in but also allows it to be flavored from the inside out through osmosis.
Many have been jumping on the brined turkey bandwagon during thanksgiving, but never stop to think that the same process can help the chicken they eat all year round.  The wonderful thing is they have been grilling chicken and grilling it over mesquite and other woods in Mexico for years! And this Pollo preparada is some of the best chicken I have ever eaten. Now the Mexican grilled chicken joints are national chains here in the US from this same age old process, you can make this amazing chicken right on your grill with some simple steps.
The Brine; I use this formula, adjust the amount ratios based on how much chicken you are cooking and make sure the chicken parts are completely submerged
one part apple cider vinegar
two parts orange juice (cheap stuff is fine)
one part lime juice
3 parts cold water
half part salt
add adobo powder*, cumin, cut limes halves, black peppercorns, and garlic powder to taste.
Allow to soak in the refrigerator, in an airtight container (I like to use freezer bags with a container underneath to prevent leaks) for a minimum of 6 hours
*adobo powder is a seasoning mix of spices and salt that is readily available in most supermarkets, Goya makes a great version that contains cumin. Can be used with seafood, fish and pork also, usually yellow in color

Grill until the meat is firm and has reached an internal temp of  *165F, I prefer to buy chicken on bone with skin intact for more flavor but with the brined chicken even boneless skinless breasts stay moist.
Serve with corn tortillas and a mango or a green tomatillo salsa!
So lively up your pain old chicken and enjoy the summer sun, PROVECHO! (enjoy in Spanish)
If you need any assistance with cooking or for more detailed recipes and questions feel free to ask in the comments below, and remember…KEEP IT REAL, KEEP IT FRESH, AND KEEP IT SUSTAINABLE!

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Steak to my heart!

Is there anything better than the smell of a good steak searing and smoking away? There are very few smells that can melt my heart, and steak has this mystical hold over mine.
I am a strong believer in the philosophy that the meat should speak for itself. What I mean by this is no BBQ, steak, or marinade sauces need apply when enjoying a good steak. Even a heavy rub can ruin or cover the gory that is the god given natural flavor of the meat! (sorry for all those veggies that read, this one is gonna be brutal for you)
Man has been smoking meat over open flames for hundreds of thousands of years, and I think we really have not been able to fulfill our carnal desire for better than the combination of meat, flame, and smoke. The years and evolution of flavoring our meat with sauce, and spices does well to satisfy that urge somewhat but the fulfillment of desire by this age old combination has yet to be toppled.
That being said, lets get to the three main ingredients, MEAT, FLAME, AND SMOKE;
I will speak of beef in this blog, but many of these same methods and ideology, can be applied to most meats and game, including Pork, Fish steaks, wild game, elk, moose, deer, bear, and all the likes of meats that can be identified as steaks that lend well to a good searing and smoke.
There are many different types of steaks that come from the bovine, and many have sworn a blood oath to one or the other claiming that theirs is the best for the grill. I will share with you my opinion, and why. It is my opinion and I suggest going out and trying many different cuts and see what your mouth and belly declare is the best.
My choice for the best steak on the grill is the grass fed Ribeye steak bone in. It is also known as the Delmonico Steak.
First lets start at the actually cut and marbling before I get on my soap box. The ribeye comes from between rib 6 and 12 and is a cut well known for lacy marbling as well as white cap fat.
Look for a steak that is well marbled with small streaks of fat that is laced between the muscle fiber. This fat renders into a liquid keeping the meat moist and flavorful. It also keeps the fibers of the meat separated into a looser bound steak making it more tender and in turn easier to eat. This cut also tends to have larger pockets of fat known as white caps. This type of fat usually does not entirely render or melt into the meat but does provide flavor just as would the bone if attached. Many do not like having to cut around big hunks of fat in the middle of their steak but I find these fat caps usually help to make a fork tender steak and removing the fat easily with the fork is worth the flavor pay off.
Now I step onto my soapbox….the organized industrialized meat products that we find in many grocery stores rarely if any resemble the way meat tasted, or was raised and ate what it used too 100 years, less than that 50 years ago. The natural state and diet of a meat animals has drastically changed in that time to consist of feedlot, over-drugged, corn only fed, and frankly abused and mistreated animals in my opinion. Bovine are natural grazers. They are naturally made to forage and thrive on grasses and wild grains. Much of the flavor comes from an animals terroir and affects on its fat contents and flavor are drastically changes if the diet changes, especially and adversely, if that diet consists of an un-intended and un-natural diet. I am also a believer that the stress in an animals life also adversely affect the end product. The most flavorful and most health benefitting beef products I have tasted have been from grass fed, non stressed animals. The marbling is incredible and more yellow in color, and renders much more easily with much less white cap fat. It is worth the extra cost knowing your animal will taste better living a healthier, more environmentally sound, and less stressed sustainable life.
The flame I feel should also have a less processed flavor to it. If you use cheap chemical filled, lighter fluid soaked charcoal, guess what that steak will taste like? Yep, like you dipped it in a gas can. I like to use natural wood lump charcoal started in a chimney starter without the use of any type of fuel excellerant except newspaper. It light relatively quickly and evenly to red embers, and lump burn a little hotter than briquettes. Smoke would come from water soaked wood chips placed on the hot embers to smolder and smoke. Different breed of trees provide different flavored smoke. I am a fan of mesquite for a more bold peppery smoke that lends itself well to southwestern flavors and also Applewood and Hickory for a more silky almost sweet and savory flavor traditionally used in slow and low BBQ. You can mix it up or try different variations of the many types of wood and soaking liquid, like rum, whiskey, and wines added to the water.
To create those restaurant style sear marks point one tip of the steak in the direction of the front corner of your grill and once seared  make a quarter turn to face the opposing front corner, flip and repeat. Also depending on the thickness of your steak you may want to create a indirect heat area on your grill or a safety zone where you can move the steak in case of a flare up or to finish cooking to your desired doneness. and NEVER, I REPEAT NEVER CUT INTO YOUR STEAK TO CHECK FOR DONENESS!!!!, Always check the doneness of your steak by touching the center of the steak to check for firmness. The firmer the more done and cooked it is.
Make sure you allow your steak to rest  for a time on the plate off the grill. when fibers in meat are hot they tighten up and squeeze all the juices and moisture out. Allowing your steaks to rest, allows those fibers to loosen and in the interim suck up some of juices lost on the plate, making for a more moist and tender steak. There are many cuts of steaks and many ways to prepare them, if you would like to know more or have a question feel free to comment below for recipes and side ideas or if you need help finding a meat purveyor in your area, let me know. The only dumb question is the one that is never asked. Now get out there and make your family and friends proud!

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Summer Simplicity

As the days get warmer, the call of the cookout beacons. Here in the states the All-American cookout, seems to always include the ubiquitous hamburger and hot dog.
There is something wonderful about a summer day filled with swimming and cool drinks and a juicy burger or dog, coming together in memory making alchemy.
The simplicity and innocence of the experience can be marred when you think of the fear of not knowing what is in that burger or tube steak, and all the thoughts of ammoniated by-product fillers and radiated nitrate filled nether parts ground into pink slime and stuffed into a quasi-tube form. It makes me shudder, when I think of it, my degree in Biology, doesn't seem to help qualm my fears either.
Nevertheless, we can enjoy these foods without fear and regret. By understanding the origin of your food and how it was handled. One way is to buy quality meats from a trusted source. Buy meat that has been sold at a higher standard of quality checks and regulations than set by your government.  Buy local, buy fresh, buy organic. Head over to your local butcher and ask questions about farm origin, who he buys from, does he grind his own, meat grading, and fat and filler content. If he has an issue answering any of these question, head on down the road. Don't buy meat prepackaged or frozen, more then likely it came frozen from an industrial style factory that would never have the consumer best interest in mind.  
Get hands on! Buy loose unpacked ground beef and make your own patties. There are more and more health food stores like Sprouts than can provide great quality options, and are great at answering questions.
The hamburger is simply not just a hockey puck of ground beef. There are many things to consider fat content, texture of grind, mixes of different cuts not only from beef but of pig, lamb, chicken and turkey, also fillers and spices. Your meat purveyor or butcher can customize a grind and mix for you, usually at the same price as the market value of the meat or you can get the burger you want and mix in a bowl at home.
I like to use a fat content of 20%-30%, for a juicy succulent burger. I like to hand pack them into burgers that are not too thick, since these larger burgers don't seem to cook to the proper temp before they fall apart and dry out due to being on the heat for so long.
Different cuts of the beef lend themselves to a greater array of beef flavors. for example, brisket, loin, and skirt steak grind mix lend the perfect melt away fat of the brisket, the meatiness of the loin, and the beefy flavor of the skirt steak.
A mix of meats such as adding ground pork or lamb to a beef burger, provides more of a gamier more, robust flavor profile to my burger. Each of these meats can stand alone as healthier options alone.
Don't just season the outside of your burger, the goodness comes from within. While mixing your ground meat add the spices and seasoning to the meat. these flavors will meld with the meat prior to cooking and will flavor it when cooking. You also use less spices, due to the excess not falling off or burning away, while cooking. I let my sides, condiments/cheese, cooking method and type of meat dictate what spices I use. For example if I intend to use BBQ as a condiment when making my burger I can add more pork to the meat mix and use a BBQ rub as my spice. If I intend to put some charred green chiles and jack cheese on my burger I will use garlic and cumin or green chili powder in my burger mix. Mushrooms I will add some lamb, rosemary, finely dices red onion and a dash of red wine vinegar to my burger mix, the possibilities are endless! Not to forget those veggies, a stemmed balsamic marinated portabello mushroom spiked with garlic shards topped with Gruyere is the best grilled sub for meat ever, I could eat these everyday!
When it comes to the (as one of my chefs used to call it) Tube Steaks or as we like to call them here in the states…Hot Dogs, I tend to always go kosher and in its natural casing. Kosher hot dogs seem to come from cleaner establishments and tend to be less processed and have less fillers and less nasty bits that make up the dogs composition. My favorite tubesteak is in the form of linked sausages. When I buy sausages, I usually conform to the same standards I have ground meat, since it is essentially the same thing in a natural casing. The casing is quite important in my opinion, one it proves that the texture is meaty and thick enough that it would need it or it would fall apart from being to juicy (which is a good thing) as opposed to the cheap pink fingers of meat paste that we tend to try and pass as a hot dog. The second is that that casing crisps up and provides that wonderful snap when biting into it. Try making an Italian with grilled onions and bell pepper topped with provolone and banana peppers or something as crazy as a bacon Sonora dog. You can go wrong with the American mustard and relish. I am a Chicago dog fan myself with the addition of celery salt, pickle spear, tomatoes, sport peppers and diced onion.

Now get out there and grill up some summer memories for your family and friends…and ladies the grill is as much your domain as it is his so show him what you can do! Dont forget to comment or ask me questions, recipes or hints on how to make your summer a lot more yummy!

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Smoking Summer!

Here in Arizona we are already expecting *100F weather for the next week or so. The Pool has been cleaned and ready to go. The BBQ is always at the ready and the cover has been dusted and folded up until the end of the summer (or the next haboob!) I have a stack of dried aged mesquite, just need to stock up on some Lump Charcoal and Hickory, buy some pig, and we are off to a great summer!
During this season, the only way to deal with the festering inferno I call my home state, is to make good food, cranks the tunes, and stay cool in the pool. That is why for the next couple of months I will be focusing on some great ways to take your  hot cooking adventures outside, Keep the cool stuff inside and give you some great tips on seasonal fruit and veg to make summer, from  bummer to a yummer!
Lets focus on some things you will need to make this summer great!
The BBQ, the pit, the grill, the beast, fire cooker, barbie, asadero, smoker, or hibachi, what ever you call it, humans have been cooking over flames since the dawn of time.
Now I know there are rabid aficionados (myself included) that would say that grilling is not BBQ, and others (including myself) who could talk your ear off about open pit smoking, offset smoking, cast iron v.s. rolled steel, to sauce or not, vinegar or tomato or both, pig v.s. beef or both, baby back, short ribs whole hog or Boston butt. The maddening schools of cooking outside can turn your brain inside out, and will never be settled as long as humans exist.
My thought is if you are cooking with passion and enjoying what you are doing and you are not eating processed, fast food and celebrating your food culture and others, then all the better. I have many opinions and have studied the art that is BBQ. I will and can give pointers and tips on how to smoke, grill, BBQ, purchase equipment and wood throughout the summer. Ask me anything!
I think if you haven't been out to the back of the house to see what you got back there or if it works now is the time. Check your pit to make sure it is clean enough to eat something cooked in it, make sure nothing is living in it;) next once it is clean make sure it works and will continue to throughout the season. If you are using gas (LP(propane) or NG) make sure you have no leaks in your gas lines. Best way to check is get some soapy water and a pastry brush and brush your lines with the soapy water while the tank or the line is attached and turned on, if you see reoccurring bubbles you have a small leak and you should repair or replace your lines, also make sure your burners and venturi in the grill are clean and unobstructed and light and stay lit properly.
If you are using a charcoal pit make sure you didn't leave any old ashes in it, if you did, clean them out and make sure rust hasn't affected the integrity of your pit.
Once clean, to insure against rust on the inside season your grill. spray the bottom and lid of your grill lightly with veg oil and turn the burners on high and close the lid and allow to heat and smoke but not burn. This will provide a thin layer of burned in oil that provides rust protection and seals the metal.
Make sure you make yourself an outdoor kitchen set up of sorts, so that you wont have to run in and out of the house for this and that. small tables for prep, Chairs for relaxing, maybe even a radio or ice chest for  tunes and refreshment. Make yourself ready and comfortable and enjoy being outside.  Make sure you are stocked up on charcoal, wood, gas tanks are full, and proper utensils are within reach, also keep a small extinguisher at the ready, near the grill, just in case.
Now that you are ready, begin to think of the wonderful meals you will cook and go make them happen! Tune in for great recipes and ideas coming your way right here, and don't forget to ask how, what and where to get great food ideas.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

try try again!

So it has been awhile since my last blog, so those who were asking, sorry it took so long. I have been battling a virus in our family and it overtook our daughter and put her in the hospital, she is doing better. Since then, I was taking one of those silly Facebook quizzes about how many of the 100 food you should eat before dying, and I was proud to say that I have had the wonderful opportunity to try 94 of the 100. it got me thinking about food culture and the fact that I am always preaching to continue the traditions and family recipes, but never thought that it can also hinder you if you stay in that food culture comfort zone.
Many of my family and friends grew up eating home cooked meals that were of the all American meat and potato, casserole and pot roast. These meals are wholesome and comforting and way better for you than the processed fast food, boxed, preserved, chemical ridden frankenfood that a lot of us eat today. But The comfort of that food may lull you into a zone in which you think all food is weird or foreign, and you end up eating in a cycle that only allows you to eat different variations of the same ingredients.
I was one of those kids growing up who ate anything just to try it. I experimented with different foods and flavors and did not feign from food that were different in color, texture, smell, or shape. I loved mixing my sodas, and cereals, or even mixing different things into my cottage cheese and yogurts, from fruits to salsa, to skittles. I loved the mix of salty and sweet, sour and sweet, and even spicy and sweet long before I knew the cultures that thrive on them. I was the kid that noticed that the different leaves in my salad tasted different depending on shape and color, and how much sweeter ripe fruit was or how wonderful the smell of fresh cut cilantro smelled, and how it reminded me of fresh cut grass.  I was the "what the heck is that?!? I must try it!!!" kid.
I haven't changed much. I have been blessed to have been able to travel extensively and eat and study food cultures in many places, and much to my chagrin I never get tired of it, although it has bit me hard a couple of times in the digestive track area, but that is part of the adventure.
We must find our own food cultures and welcome and partake in others cultures. I have heard that the one thing that will unite us in the end is a well cooked meal and how universally it makes us feel. It can sustain and comfort us. Joy and excitement. Intoxicate with contentment and makes us feel at home no matter where we are. It can qualm the bitterest of enemies, and make you fall in love.
So get out there before it's too late, and start your adventure and taste life one mouthful at a time....
Keep it real, keep it fresh and keep it sustainable!

Chef Dave

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Sana sana

Today my girls and I are sick we have a stomach flu virus or something going on and also my girls have a cough and fever. Many of us rely so much on the medicines over-the-counter drugs and other thing, we forget that her body is able to heal itself most of the time It can heal itself most of the time. I am not against medicine and all its forms as matter of fact I am a biology major. But I do feel sometimes that we rely too much on all the over-the-counter products and not dealing with the issues of our body but rather just hiding them or masking them through these products that we think is actually feeling us but on the contrary it simply doesn't allow her body to react the way it naturally would react during its fight against a sickness or u malady that it is trying to heal. We must give our body the best chances of healing itself by giving it the weapons that it needs, we need to give it the building blocks to be able to be strong to fight off sickness and rebuild itself. The building blocks it needs is food, good food, healthy food, food that can feed our bodies in war against illness. The healthier our bodies are, the better it is able to fend off sickness, not just heal it.
We are learning more and more diet matters in the health of our body and also our immune system. We are also learning that certain components are more helpful in combating sickness than ever before. Doctors the eastern societies have known this for thousands of years, but we in western medicine are just hopping on board. After having a pill for every ill, it seems that sometimes it does more harm than good.
In today's world we are finding out through science that some of the things that have always been an old timey cure such as chicken noodle soup have incredible healing properties. We are also learning that the quality of the food that we eat matters in those healing properties. So today I would like to go over chicken noodle soup and it's simple recipe. When are the best things that we can do while cooking is keep food in its most natural form, in it's most unprocessed form. The less we mess with food the better it is for us. Keep recipe simple, let the quality of the products you were using speak for themselves.
When making my chicken noodle soup I use very little products and the end result ends up tasting great all because of the quality of products that I'm using.
When buying chicken which is an expensive meat, buy the best you can find. Try and buy free range organic chicken on the bone and whole. Learn how to quarter a chicken, so that it is more suitable to eat. Chicken in this form is usually less processed,and less expensive to purchase. Natural components of chicken such as skin and bones provide enormous amounts of flavor to the food that you are making. Keep them and take them out once the soup is cooked, if you prefer eating without them.
When making my soup I only use onion, garlic, carrots, and celery. Remember to buy fresh, organic and locally grown vegetables. The flavor profile of smaller batch grown vegetables usually organic and locally grown are more intense in comparison to the larger farms. Locally grown produce will always be fresher.
Add good water to cover and add salt and pepper to taste. You may also add spices such as, poultry seasoning, cumin, and dried parsley or oregano, depending on your taste.
Boil low and slow, simmering until chicken is fork tender and pull chicken from broth. This is the time to debone and skin the chicken. Pull chicken into bite size pieces and return to pot. I like to add ribbon egg noodles in the last ten minutes or until pasta is tender. You may also try rice as an option. For those who prefer a veggie option, eliminate the chicken and add more vegetables.
As we heal ourselves in our home we hope that you may be able to find health in your home through quality foods.
Sorry if the writing is disjointed and unabashedly unedited, as I write from a fever induced semi-coma on my phone from bed. As the old spanish rhyme says "sana sana, cola de rana. No sanas hoy, sanas maƱana"
Keep it real, Keep it fresh, Keep it sustainable!

Monday, March 26, 2012

Small Victories

Small victories have been gained in the war against fake food and over processed unhealthy food in that the USDA will now give schools the choice to have meat without pink slime. Pink slime is a meat byproduct of part of the animal that are less desirable, and usually more at risk to harbor bacteria and other nasties. They are ground into an ultra fine paste and treated with ammonia and other sorts of toxic chemicals and dyed into pink slime and frozen into blocks and shipped and used as a meat filler to stretch and lower the cost of meat. These products have most notably been used in chicken nuggets and beef,pork, and chicken patties, also bulk ground beef.
The Internet has been the bane of large companies who hide what our "food" actually contain, and how it is made. Last year an infamous picture circulated around cyberspace of a large fast food chain's manufacturing process of pink slime, and caused such an uproar that people could not believe that they themselves had been eating the snake like pink sludge coming out of a machine for years and that to keep it safe from food nasties it was cleansed with the same materials they use to clean their windows with.
That company, due to the overwhelming outcry, decided to not use pink slime anymore. We as consumers changed how a multinational billion dollar company makes its products armed only with our voices and the decisions we decide to make every time we purchase products.
This month the USDA responded with a choice for public schools to have product with the slime or not, I am assuming without will cost less or schools will have to contribute more of their own funds to stipend the better choice of the two. Also 3 major food chains have decided not to purchase products that contain the pink slime, and I really do applaud these stores, like Albertson's, and Safeway. My dollars will be headed their way, in thanks. I hope you will voice your choice for better more real foods by speaking out to your child's school, by writing your representatives regarding new legislature and bills regarding our farm regulations, organics, NON-GMO food labeling, FDA stringency and research, USDA regulatory stringency, and most of all because it speaks volumes more to deaf ears, in where your hard earned dollars are going. Make your voice be heard and flex your power of choice. Buy foods that are healthy and safe, support causes that make the purchasing of the food more available and more affordable. Support transparency in food labeling, and read the labels when they are presented. Cook for family, grow a garden, support local farmers, buy seasonal organic food, support companies trying to make a difference, and know how and what you can do to make a difference. Our generation is the first generation not expected to outlive our parents due to the status of our health. We eat worse, take more medicine, and suffer from more maladies from lack of caring for ourselves and our children. We are what we eat, and we can change, we can heal, we can thrive.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Let the good times roll

I am an advocate of buying locally, except when you live in the dessert and you want to make the fruits of the sea. It is very difficult to find good seafood here in Arizona for those who don't have restaurant food purchasers and accounts.  Never the less, we can make some choices here and elsewhere in the world by supporting traditional markets and ports that are in danger of collapse.
We all remember the debacle of Hurricane Katrina, caused not only by Mother Nature, but also from that F-word or acronym, that starts with federal and ends with agency. But that is a whole other rant, for another day.
One of the richest deltas and seafood, and rice production areas and markets was almost completely destroyed almost overnight, the two hubs of Mobile, Alabama and New Orleans, Louisiana. Hundreds maybe thousands of fishermen put out of business, with the destruction of not only their boats and their equipment, but also their catch. The natural environments and ecosystems changed and destroyed, by land shift and erosion, but also by the oil spill to come a little later. But just as we expected Mother Nature begins to rebuild, and so do the fishermen who pull her bounty from the sea, swamps and rivers. These resilient men and woman are rebuilding these wonderful areas of market with a fire in their heart and soul indicative of the magical places they live in. The land of creole, Mardi Gras, birthplace of Jazz. A land worth fighting for, brick by wind and water swept brick The food from these areas strums my heartstrings and plays a chorus in my mouth dripping with the spice of life. We, as eaters, and consumers, and purchasers, and cooks, and lovers of real, fresh, and wholesome foods and life can help with the rebuild, by making the choice to source your seafood from these areas. We can help by making simple choices like buying, cooking, and eating more of their products.
when I think of etouffe and gumbo I think of shrimp, when I think of grits I think of shrimp, some of my favorite tacos  are made with shrimp. What would a low country boil be without crabs and crayfish, and shrimp and andouille sausage. The oysters that come in a fried Po Boy sandwich are some of the most luscious you can eat!
The seafood, fin fish, rice and foodstuffs from this area have a richer, more earthy flavor than most you have tried due to being slowly matured in nutrient rich waters of the delta and gulf. This provides for flavorful finished product, and that is before you dive into some of the best creole, southern comfort recipes originated in these areas. Try some gator meat or choose redfish instead of bass or make a shrimp salad instead of tuna, when going out to dinner, you can help rebuild  this once glorious seafood honeypot.
Even if you choose not to eat meat, choose one of the many varieties of rice from this area or even buying simple things like Tabasco, or Louisiana Red Dot hot sauces. We can help, by the choices that we make and for more info go to or

Monday, March 12, 2012

table of elements of life

The title is a little indicator that I am a little bit of a science nerd, but the subject is one close to my heart. The table I speak of is not one of atomic weights and elements but the one we eat our meals at, or forget to eat at.
The Dinner table is one of the most unifying objects in your home. It is a place to be one with your family or those you care about, to share not only a meal but substance. There are many things taught at this table that have lasting effects. It is where we learn how and what to eat, it is where we find home and comfort. It is a place of reunion, after the wearing effect of the outside world. It is a refuge.
In today's fast paced world we forget how unifying food can be. It is the meal that draws us together, that warms are hearts and our bellies, and in this we find common ground worldwide.
As I look at my children, with one begging for dessert, and the other smashing food into her face and hair, I have to smile at the innocence of them. I have to be honest, I like many parents sometime do not always feel this way, when I think about the food on the floor, tray, table, clothes and hair. Or that, it will be me having to clean up this mess. I don't always wax poetic or idealistic when I toil over ways to get my 3 year old to eat her veggies or finish a meal. Not to mention the mess and all the dishes and pot and pans that have to be cleaned, after making said meal. But I need to keep the perspective of how i am influencing the way my children eat, and what they eat, right here at this wooden table. The food culture and the future of good cooking and taste traditions begins here, and will continue to influence not only my children but theirs. Am I living up to, not only my standards, but those who have gone before me in my family? It is a heavy thought.
i admit I come from a broken family, but one rich in food culture. I am Latin. I have many memories, sitting next to my mother as she made fresh handmade tortillas, waiting anxiously for one hot off the comal as she spread butter and jam and rolled it up and sent me on my way. Or when I was sick with flu or cold nothing healed me as much as hot arroz con leche.
On the other hand, I was an only child, with a single working mother. I ate many meals alone or rushed out the door, or boxed, frozen, nuked, or in a bag with a side of fries too. The stark polarity of the contrast   between the two experiences, not only mold my ideas of the effect of food, but garner an appreciation of the power it holds. It made me understand that food holds and conveys a piece of who we are.
As you go about your week, cook a meal with heart, and share it with your family or friends and convey your care for them through food, unity and conversation around your table. Create memories, Continue your culture, Renew your bonds, and heal the effects of todays world. You can change the way we live, eat, and love, one bite at a time.
Keep it real, Keep it fresh, Keep it sustainable

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Well Planned Wednesday

A lot of times, I run out of ingredients or feel like some other meal that I had ready to cook, and it seems to always fall right in the middle of the week. I am not a creature of habit, I actually thrive on variety, so even best laid plans for the week's menu fall a little flat for my taste du jour.
Sometimes as we head we think I only need a few things at the store and leave without a list, and you find yourself acting a little like a kid in a candy store, wandering aimlessly, wondering what you came to the store for. There are two outcomes of this, you either have a cart full of junk you never intended on buying or you make very little purchases, and when you forget you what you needed to begin with, you end up kicking yourself when you get home and try and prepare something, both outcomes usually ending in disappointment.
Here are some things you can do, to save yourself some time, money and frustrations;
1) KNOW YOUR PANTRY. We will never what we need, if you do not know what we have.
2) KNOW WHAT YOUR NEED FOR EACH MEAL YOU ARE PURCHASING FOR. Check your recipe and compare what you have and what you need and write it down.
3) MAKE A SHOPPING LIST AND BRING IT WITH YOU TO THE STORE.  This will prevent multiple trips to the store or incomplete meals. It also prevents you from making impulse purchases, which are usually not good for you or are not real food.

Once you have made your list add a little check next to thing you could buy organic or would like to try and buy at a local farmers market next time. Think also about some of the things that you could substitute with a new ingredient like lamb instead of beef or broccoli rabe instead of green beans.

Don't let the mid-week madness leave wondering lost in impulsiveness, your wallet waistline and world will thank you.
Don't for get to ask those questions about food prep, real food, food culture, and what you can do to help the slow food movement!

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Sizzling Salsa

What is America's favorite condiment?
Many would immediately assume it is ketchup, with all the hamburgers and fries and hot dogs that we eat.  The surprising answer is actually Salsa. 
For many years ketchup was king, fighting tooth and nail with mayonnaise, but we as a nation have fallen in love with salsa and her best friend the tortilla chip, and now she reins supreme!
The name salsa implies a vast world of raw and cooked salsas, containing an innumerable amount of ingredients. Thousands of types of chiles, vegetables, herbs, and seeds can be cut, blended, mashed roasted, mortared, and milled into these glorious sauces we call salsa.
Salsas can be used as a dip, condiment, salad, relish, garnish, ingredient, marinade, stew, broth and even used to "cook" proteins as in their use of the citrus in ceviche.
Salsa means more than red or green, it is used for more than a chip dip. So venture into the world of salsa that will open you mouths and your menu to endless possibilities.
Here are a couple of my favorites with the recipes;

Garza Family Salsa Mexicana

3-4 ripe tomatoes, diced small
1 white onion, diced small
3-4 roasted, peeled and seeded New Mexican chiles (hatch). You may also use Guero, serrano, or jalapeno
1 small bunch of cilantro (coriander leaf), chopped
1 tsp of cumin
2 tsp of garlic of garlic powder
3 tsp of salt (to taste)
1-2  key limes (juice only)
1  7.75oz can of EL PATO BRAND tomato sauce (yellow can-mexican hot style)
Mix all ingredients well-chill for 2 hours prior to serving

Salsa De Aguacate (tomatillo avocado salsa)

8-10 tomatillos husked and rinsed, quartered
1 small bunch of cilantro, coarsely chopped
1 white onion, finely diced (reserve half of diced onion)
2-3 serrano chiles, stemmed and chopped
2 ripe avacados, pitted and flesh scooped out and quartered
1 tsp garlic powder
2 tsp salt (to taste)
1/2 cup of water
Blend in food processor until course puree, add reserved finely diced onion.
Chill for 1 hour covered, and serve

Enjoy these recipes, and if you would like to lean more about how to incorporate new and different salsas into your cooking and entertaining, feel free to ask me anything.
Give your life and palate a little kick, and serve it with salsa.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Mangiare Monday

When it is time for pasta or Italian food, the first thing that pops into our head is spaghetti. Did you know there are more than 600 types of past in Italy alone and regional variations of each?
Pasta is a fast way to heartily feed people, bur we can expand our pasta horizons past spaghetti and marinara.
Most Italian pastas contain the same ingredients and are more than a pretty way to prepare the same thing. The varieties in the shape and size of Italian pasta have much function in their form. The form of the pasta serves as a base, a way to deliver the sauce they are served with. Ask any pasta connoisseur, they will adamantly disagree with you and tell you it is the pasta that is the star of the dish. I say consider both to create a beautiful marriage of the two.
Here are the things we should consider when making an incredible dish of pasta.
Start with your liquid/sauce element. There are many types of sauce elements from the standard marinara to pestos (yes there are more than one kind) and creams sauces or a mixture of two. There are pan sauces flavored with wines or broths. the possibilities are endless. Also many protein selections (meat), and veggies top top your mountain of deliciousness. Don't forget the cheese!
Next, ask yourself, what the best pasta could be used to highlight the flavor, texture and palatability of your ingredients.  Think of the pasta as a tool to maximize the conveyance of these factors in the same way you wouldn't use a fork to try and eat tomato soup.
The last and to me the most important aspect of the whole dish is the quality of the ingredients and pasta.
Both sides of the pasta/sauce argument would agree whole hearted with me when I say the better quality of the ingredients, the better the dish.
Pastas that are large shell type or tube like are great for stuffing with cheeses and charcuterie. (i.e; Manicotti, Conchiglioni, Cannelloni, and Fagottini.)
Pastas that have many ridges and swirls hold onto thinner or cream sauces better. (i.e; Fusilli, Cavatappi, Gemelli, Radiatori, and Rotini)
Pastas can even replace rice or placed in soups (i.e; Orzo, Acini, Fregula, Stelle, and Grattini)
Wider ribboned pasta, thickens sauce, and stands well to heaver bold flavors.
Try and find fresh pasta or make your own, you may never want dry past again, although some pasta designs are better suited dry, like radiatore.
Fresh homemade sauces made from fresh tomatoes is something that can take awhile to master but is definitely attainable, you can cheat a bit by buying whole can tomatoes. They come in many varieties like organic and fire roasted. If you ever encounter cans of whole tomatoes from Italian region of San Marzano, they are the absolute best caned tomatoes for Marinara in the world! Blend in your food processor, and simmer with olive oil and finely diced garlic and dried oregano, and fresh basil leaves salt and pepper to make a simple marinara. Add some red pepper flakes to add some kick. Simmer until all flavors have melded, and toss with your favorite cooked pasta.  
So try a new pasta, a new sauce, think about how to pair the two well and how it will be served. Remember it would be foolish to try and build a house without plans, why would you do the same for your meal. A well thought out meal will be rewarded in your mouth.
Adventure awaits you in your home or at your locally privately owned Italian restaurant if only you take a chance to break out of your norm.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

It's A Green Thing

I am a chest beating manly man who loves meat in all its forms and I get a little weak kneed for smoked pork products. But I must admit...with reluctance....I love salads.
This green rabbit food, we have all made to disdain and place in the category of diet food, or reserved for those veggies hanging out by the health food store, playing drums and guitars in a circle that wreaks of patchouli. Contrary to what we think, those veggies are right and this stuff is good for us in its raw form and can heal our gassy, bloated, constipated, irregular, fat laden, jiggly bellies. Now don't go thinking that Chef Dave is gonna stop eating meat and will join a drum circle, but I do condone eating a well balanced meal that is relatively healthy and sometimes we forget that, and our diet becomes a little unbalanced in today's over processed, fat, and sugar laden fast food world.
A salad is a quick and easy way to make a meal and get some raw veggies in you.
I was making a wood fired salmon dinner for my mothers birthday one year, and decided to make a salad I had made before in my profession. It became both my mother and my wife's favorite. It combined a few things I never that I thought they would try, and try to expand their flavor profiles.
My wife can be picky with what, and how she puts food her mouth. She has developed a set of rules like no sweet and savory, prefers it cooked and not raw, etc. When these foods were mixed in a salad  and in her mouth, she didn't seem to mind and actually liked combinations that would have broken her food rules.
As a chef, I am always looking for flavor combinations that pair well together and create that symphony in my mouth. One of the easiest ways to find that symphony and indulge your desire for experimentation of foods is a salad.  The combinations of salads are endless, and allows you to make the choice to take in and taste one ingredient of the salad or create a medley of flavors with each bite.
Tasting foods in their raw form lets you taste the unadulterated flavor that nature intended. In turn you will  gain a new appreciation of the different components of the foods you were already cooking, you will also realize the true quality (or lack of) of the food we are purchasing.  It may change what and how you purchase your food the next time you need to go grocery shopping.
Make a meal out of a salad. A fun and easy way to make dinner a little more enjoyable for kids is to present a make your own meal at the table. Each person creates an individual expression of what they like or an outlet to be a little adventurous. Place different greens,  chopped veggies, dressings, cheeses, meats, fruits, etc. Most of these chopped veggies can be introduced into your next meal and will be ready to cook, being already chopped.
Those who are already saying that adding meats and cheese and tons of dressing, make a salad more fattening, here are a few tips to make these mean green meals a little lighter on the calorie counter;
Use less dressing by tossing your salad with your dressing of choice. By tossing you spread the dressing out and enhance the flavor by getting it on every component of your salad not just the top, tempting you to want more dressing when you get to the bottom.
Get the dressing on the side and dip your fork in the dressing them pick up a bite of salad and bite.
Refrain from using cream based dressings, vinaigretteS are a better choice.
Make your own dressing, most of the ones in the bottle are full of chemicals, flavor enhancers, and the worst of all high fructose corn syrup-READ YOUR LABELS, it might frighten you...
Go organic, less risk of pesticides and chemicals, Radiated food, GMO foods, and out of season foods.

The indulgent salad I mentioned was my mothers favorite contains as follows;
A mix of organic spinach, rocket, frisee, and romaine lettuce
Topped with sliced red onion, yellow bell pepper, and pears and raspberries
Goat cheese crumbles and bacon crumbles, croutons
a red wine vinaigrette , dash of lemon juice and fresh cracked black pepper.

Green is the thing. Mix it up and enjoy.

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.