Friday, August 29, 2008

San Antonio's Mexican Market

Since the 1700s, San Antonio's Market Square has operated under the influence of German, Polish, Italian and Mexican immigrants. But take a stroll through the main plaza and you'll swear you hopped a plane to the heart of Mexico. Sample luscious baked goods at Mi Tierra Cafe and Bakery, where Christmas lights glow year round and mariachi musicians often entertain. At La Margarita Restaurant and Oyster Bar more mariachis, fresh oysters and renowned sizzling fajitas delight customers.

Shoppers will find seemingly endless rows of brilliant hued skirts, hand-painted clay pottery, and festive pinatas inside the brilliant teal walls of El Mercado. This is the place to buy an authentic sombrero, hand woven table runner, or colorful tote bag. Sparkling sterling and turquoise, butter-soft leather, and hand-blown glass fill shelves, cases, and storefronts within the building - the largest Mexican marketplace that operates outside of Mexico.

Fisherman's Wharf's Chocolate Mecca

Ghirardelli Square at Fisherman's Wharf has been home turf for renowned chocolatier, Ghirardelli, since its founding, in 1852. The square is actually a collection of buildings that host numerous food and beverage venues, from the classic Lori's Diner to Cellar360, the ultimate wine retailer, and McCormick and Kuleto's, with its Crabcake Lounge overlooking San Francisco Bay. There are also cupcakes, an Irish pub and several other vendors. And, with the recent addition of Fairmont Heritage Place, the Square has added a luxury private residence club too.

But chocolate still rules at Ghirardelli Square. Of the more than four million people who visit each year many stop to indulge at Ghirardelli, where enormous palettes of new products fill the adjacent sidewalk each morning before most people have had a cup of coffee. Chocolate lovers, young and old, feast on signature squares of filled milk and dark chocolate, savor slices of decadent flourless mocha torte, or chase away a chill with rich hot chocolate - all where this sweet legend began.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Artichokes + Garlic = Heaven

Inspiration can strike at the oddest times. As I shopped with a friend in a culinary store, we happened upon 'Artichoke Garlic Sauce,' and I decided to create my own version the next time I played in my kitchen. That time was this afternoon, and the result was smooth and seductive with a bit of bite and chunkiness.

This combination is more of a spread, but the flavors are unmistakable. My taste testers and I tried some atop buttered bread slices that were broiled crisp, on whole wheat crackers, and right off of the spoon. We also thought it would make a good pizza 'sauce,' or a sandwich spread paired with provolone cheese and romaine. A glass of Chardonnay is a perfect complement. See what you think of this Artichoke Garlic Spread:

3-4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
6 large garlic cloves, minced
2 tablespoons butter
1 can artichoke hearts, diced fine
2 teaspoons lemon juice
1 teaspoon fresh ground pepper

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

Saute garlic in olive oil over medium high heat, until slightly browned. Add two tablespoons butter and stir until melted. Add artichoke hearts, lemon juice, and pepper. Combine thoroughly and cook uncovered, over medium heat, for 15-20 minutes or until extra liquid has evaporated. This should yield approximately 3/4 cups. Set aside.

Put half of this mixture in a food processor with 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, and puree. Remove puree from processor and stir in remaining artichoke mixture. Spread and enjoy. Generously covers five large slices of French bread.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

New Mexico Light

Ever since Georgia O'Keefe painted Northern New Mexico images in bright, bold brush strokes, the area has been known for the natural light that suffuses every element of life throughout this area. Whether snow blankets the streets of Santa Fe, cholla bloom bright pink against spindly, spiked branches near Ojo Caliente Mineral Springs, mid-summer heat bakes the town of Taos or golden leaves decorate trees along the road to Chimayo, bright blue skies provide a frequent backdrop.

Sometimes man-made color pops against Northern New Mexico's natural beauty too. One day, as a friend and I departed a Taos cafe on a surprisingly warm September day, we noticed pink umbrellas above the sunken front patio. My camera and I could not resist this shot.