Wednesday, March 31, 2010

San Francisco's Ultimate Chinatown Tours

       photo courtesy of Shirley Fong-Torres

Within moments after joining Shirley Fong-Torres on a tour of her beloved Chinatown, it’s easy to understand why, in 2007, San Francisco Weekly named her company, Wok Wiz Chinatown Tours and Cooking Company, 'The Best Chinatown Tour in San Francisco.' The New York Times, Gourmet, and Cooking Light also have called the tours top San Francisco attractions.
Photo courtesy of Kenny Wardell

Fong-Torres lives and breathes Chinese history, culture, and cuisine as she shares the area she knows so well, coupled with a dazzling smile and boundless energy. She and her guides enchant visitors during the Wok Wiz Daily Tour, and the I Can't Believe I Ate My Way Through Chinatown! tour. 

photo courtesy of Shirley Fong-Torres

Because each tour leader speaks fluent Cantonese, visitors can experience some of Chinatown’s oldest restaurants. A traditional Chinese breakfast or dim sum luncheon; visits to a Chinese temple or a neighborhood farmer’s market; history lessons about Chinese immigration to the area, and tips regarding the best places to shop, are only a few tour highlights.

If Wok Wiz tours can help participants achieve a greater understanding of Chinese immigrants and their contributions to American life – while introducing them to great food – then Fong-Torres believes she has accomplished her mission.

While this 5’2” human dynamo lights up San Francisco’s culinary and cultural world, Wok Wiz is far from her only pursuit. Fong-Torres is a passionate food-lover and traveler who also has shared her infectious enthusiasm with Good Morning America, the Food Network, the Discovery Channel, Fine Living TV, PBS, and Rachel Ray viewers, plus European and Australian networks. She frequently gives talks and seminars, and has been a guest chef at food fairs such as Goldsboro, North Carolina’s "Feast in the East,” and the Iowa State Fair.

Fong-Torres’ books include her most recent, The Woman Who Ate CHINATOWN: A San Francisco Odyssey. This freelance travel writer also has appeared on the History and Discovery Channels and in (in-flight) videos for Qantas and Hawaiian Airlines, and JetBlue.

The next time you visit San Francisco, sign up for a tour of Chinatown with Fong-Torres. You'll learn a lot, eat well - and have a blast!
photo courtesy of Shirley Fong-Torres

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Author of 101 Optimal Life Foods Talks Nutrition

David Grotto's second book, 101 Optimal Life Foods, debuted in January 2010 with a forward by Montel Williams, and rave reviews by MORE magazine and John La Puma, MD, director, Santa Barbara Institute for Medical Nutrition and Healthy Weight and co-author of ChefMD’s Big Book of Culinary Medicine and The Real Age Diet, among others. His 2007 book, 101 Foods That Could Save Your Life, has already been translated into 16 different languages.

Not bad for a fellow who initially wanted to be a rock and roll accordion player or a broadcaster. But a comment by a customer in the health food store where he worked changed all that.

"Someone came in and noticed that I was kind of chubby and asked me if I ever ate fruits and vegetables - and I acted on his advice," Grotto says. He later owned and operated another natural foods store. As his broadcasting degree program wound down, family and friends encouraged him to follow his passion for nutrition. He graduated from the University of Chicago with honors, and a degree in dietetics and nutrition , and never looked back.

"First and foremost, I love food more than I love nutrition," Grotto says. "My major focus is on 'taste + doability + familiarity + cost = sustainability.' And what I've noticed for about the last five years is that people are coming to me about quality of life challenges."
A radio call-in show host for 10 years (Let's Talk Health, CHICAGO!), and host of the national television show Health and Lifestyles, Weekly, for two, Grotto currently offers nutrition counseling and spokesperson services, recipe and menu development, and corporate wellness programs.

He has high hopes for his second book too. 101 Optimal Life Foods provides loads of suggestions about foods that people can eat to improve their skin quality, sexual performance, or sleep as well as blood circulation and heart health; restore tired muscles, reduce stress, and protect their bones or eyes.

"[I believe] that what's good for the heart is good for every other part - it's more of a nod to a Mediterranean lifestyle," Grotto says.


Saturday, March 20, 2010

Birthday Baking With Chocolate and Coffee

My birthday was coming up in several days and my husband, Mark, asked how I wanted to celebrate. Among other things, I mentioned that I might want a birthday cake.

But then this baking enthusiast realized that Mark wouldn't want to make a cake - great grilling and awesome breakfast food are his favorite kinds of cooking - and I really didn't want him to buy a cake. So I decided to combine two of my favorite flavors - chocolate and coffee - while celebrating my birthday and my joy in baking.

I started with a Chocolate Buttermilk 'Sheet Cake' recipe from Better Homes and Gardens NEW COOK BOOK and the tweaking began, with substitution of whole wheat pastry flour for unbleached flour and olive oil for half of the butter, a little less sugar, the addition of coffee. Then I put the batter in round cake pans so that I could create a layered cake with loads of frosting. See what you think:

Lisa's Dark Chocolate Layer Cake
Makes 16-20 servings

2 cups whole wheat pastry flour
1 3/4 cups sugar
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup butter
1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 cup water
1/2 cup olive oil
2 eggs
1/2 cup buttermilk
2 tablespoons strong coffee
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla

Grease and flour two 9-inch round cake pans and preheat oven to 350 degrees. Then combine flour, sugar, baking soda and salt; set aside.

In a medium saucepan combine butter, cocoa powder and water. Bring mixture just to boiling, stirring constantly. Add and incorporate olive oil. Add chocolate mixture to flour mixture and beat with an electric mixer on medium to high speed, until thoroughly combined. Add eggs, coffee, buttermilk and vanilla. Beat for 1 minute - batter will be thin.

Pour batter into the prepared pans. Bake 25-30 minutes until toothpick comes out clean; do not overbake. Cool completely, remove from pans (VOE-be very patient as you remove the cakes, they're quite tender and may break easily) and allow to rest on parchment paper.

Put one layer on cake plate or tray and spread thick layer of frosting on top (see recipe below). Place second cake layer on top of frosting and then frost entire outside of cake. Keep refrigerated until 15-20 minutes before serving, allowing to reach room temperature. ENJOY!

Chocolate frosting

4 tablespoons butter, softened
4 ounces low-fat cream cheese, softened
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 tablespoons strong coffee
1/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon cocoa
2  1/4-2 1/2 cups confectioners sugar

milk as needed

Combine butter and cream cheese  until smooth and creamy. Add vanilla, coffee and cocoa and mix thoroughly.  Slowly add confectioners sugar, stirring to combine until all sugar is incorporated. Add milk by the tablespoon to thin, if needed.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Winter Harvest at Seghesio Family Vineyards

Pete Seghesio (center) continues his family traditions with fellow wine growers.

For Pete Seghesio, nothing tastes better than freshly made sausage served atop a slice of crusty bread, with a glass of Zinfandel, at 10 o’clock in the morning. It’s a flavorful way to celebrate two family traditions – making wine and handcrafting Italian sausage.

Seghesio Family Vineyards, located in Sonoma County, has long been known for quality wines, including their 2007 Zinfandel, which appeared on Wine Spectator’s list of the top 100 wines. But when harvest season has ended each year, the family shares another tradition - making sausage amidst the wine barrels.

The Seghesio family creates 2,000 pounds of sausage every December. They use Boston butt with 10 percent fat blended back in, because pork is much leaner now than when Pete’s grandmother created this recipe. Once the meat has been spread across a long table, family members pour a mixture of Zinfandel and fresh garlic across every 100 pounds of meat. Healthy doses of salt, pepper, nutmeg, clove, and allspice follow. Then dozens of gloved hands knead the meat to incorporate the seasonings.
The sausage machine (circa 1859) that has been used by the family since the late 1800s

In the early days, the Seghesios used an 1859 sausage machine. Although their grinding machines are newer now, filling the casings still requires plenty of hands-on attention. Pete blows into a sheath of cow intestine before placing it on a spout and then holds it tightly as meat fills the long casing. Expert hands tie-off the casing in six-inch lengths and then hang dozens of sausages on clotheslines near the wine barrels.
                                                Pete Seghesio fills cow intestine with sausage

The Seghesio family also has turned this event into an annual party, attended by many members of their Centennial (wine) Club; some even help to make the sausage. As everyone works the wine flows, finished sausages sizzle in frying pans and neighbor, Frank Passalacqua, cooks risotto to accompany the freshly made meat. Pete shares samples of his own Sicilian-inspired sausage recipe with friends, full of fennel, fennel pollen, red pepper flakes, pepper, fresh garlic and secret ingredients.
         Ed Seghesio, Chef Jon Helquist, Will and Pete Seghesio taste testing in the winery kitchen.

If you’d like to learn more about this lovely winter tradition, see their YouTube video,

Lisa visited Seghesio Family Vineyards during a press trip, in February 2008

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Broadmoor Culinary Students Create Stellar Cuisine

Early each morning, during the school year for the Shawnee Mission School District, a fully-equipped professional kitchen springs to life as high school culinary students begin another day of hands-on learning. These Overland Park, Kansas kids have decided, early on, that they're passionate about cooking. And they receive an incomparable education at Broadmoor Technical Center and their professional restaurant - Broadmoor Bistro.
In fact, this program has been nationally recognized for the exceptional culinary education it provides, for nearly a decade, and recently became an affiliate of the James Beard Foundation. Under the direction of Chef Bob Brassard and Chef David Finn, who both have plenty of professional restaurant experience, students create original recipes, prepare food for the Bistro, and then run the restaurant on nights when it is opened to the public. And that's in addition to the basic food prep skills, which they learn and hone daily.
Fresh ingredients, inventive flavor combinations and meticulous preparation result in restaurant menus such as: Porcini Dusted Roasted Poussin; Shrimp Cocktail with Assorted Sauces; La Rosa Lettuces Tossed with Smoked Grape Tomatoes, Baby Fennel and Peppered  Goat Cheese; and Chocolate Flourless Cake, Raspberry Ganach or Mini Truffle. Students also sell freshly baked pies, tarts, cookies and cakes during designated Broadmoor Baking Fridays.
These students often win national culinary competitions and they also are highly sought after by professional, post high school culinary programs including Johnson and Wales. In fact, program graduates have already received upwards of $750,000 in culinary scholarships.

Experienced culinary instructors, world-class facilities, and passionate students make Broadmoor Technical Center's culinary arts and baking programs among the best in the nation; and Overland Park diners among the most privileged.


Lisa has previously worked with Broadmoor Bistro through the Kansas City Originals - a group of locally owned restaurants.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Slow Food Kansas City Hosts Pork 102

Nearly 50 people gathered on the cozy enclosed porch at Jasper's Restaurant, overlooking Indian Creek, to enjoy a multi-course dinner titled 'Pork 102.' Presented by Slow Food Kansas City and Chef Jasper Mirabile and Chef Kay Johnston Tucker, the event was both educational and delicious.
Throughout our meal, we enjoyed wine pairings provided by Dennis and Cindy Reynolds, of Somerset Ridge Vineyard and Winery. Much to my amazement, I found myself sitting beside a dear friend who I'd reconnected with only a few weeks earlier, and a young woman who had attended my older daughter's slumber parties during high school.
Our pork feast began with small cups of Jasper's Kitchen Cookbook Tuscan Bean Soup - a tasty and aromatic 'brew' that was served with Somerset Ridge Traminette and adorable Salt and Pepper Crunchy Pig Crackers provided by local purveyor, Meadowlark AcresTuscan Pork Pate with Red Currant Sauce, Copa de Teste with Somerset Ridge Port Reduction, and Chef Kay Tucker's Zampone (head cheese) came next.
Mama Mirabile's Sunday Sauce served with neck bones was one of my favorite dishes. Somerset Ridge Signature Focaccia with Olive Oil, Butter and Traminette accompanied the dish, along with Schiacciata alla'uva - Grape Harvest Focaccia, and glasses of crisp Somerset Ridge Chardonel.

More and more dishes arrived, from Pasta del Giorno served with Somerset Ridge FlyBoy Red wine, to a salad of Wild Greens with Guanciale (pork) Balsamic Reduction, and Tuscan Porchetta. Jasper said that Tuscan Porchetta often is found on sandwich carts in Italy, made with rosemary, fennel, garlic, Chardonel, red pepper, carrots, onions and garlic. The meat fell apart with the slightest touch and sat atop rich, creamy Gorgonzola Potatoes.
My second favorite course was ultra-moist XV Olive Oil and Limoncello Cake, with a side of Caramelized Pancetta Gelato that had a tiny burst of salt and crunch. Piggy Pops (Grand Marnier Glazed Cake Bites Dipped in Chocolate) and Somerset Ridge Tawny Port completed our fantastic meal.

Can't wait for Pork 103!


Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Molten Chocolate Cake With Candied Walnuts

I only learned that February is National Chocolate Month a couple of days ago and I absolutely had to make something with dark chocolate today - despite the fact that we're still working on a small pan of brownies from last weekend. Some whipped cream remained from last week's citrus curd tart and there was plenty of chocolate in my cupboard so I got busy this afternoon.

I've been craving molten chocolate cake for quite a while. I visited my recipe file and sorted through a few different options before I settled on this one, from and Terlato Wines International.

I've given you the entire original recipe. However, I'm not a huge fan of candied nuts so I didn't use that part of the directions, myself. But this is one easy and luscious dessert - whether or not you add nuts. The recipe is also something that you can prepare ahead and then bake just before you share it with appreciative dinner guests.

Molten Chocolate Cake with Candied Walnuts
Makes 8 servings

6 ounces semi-sweet chocolate
2 ounces bittersweet chocolate
3/4 cup unsalted butter
3 egg yolks
3 whole eggs
3/4 cup sugar
3/4 cup whole wheat pastry flour

cocoa powder (my addition)

Butter 8 six-ounce ceramic ramekins and dust with flour. In a bowl over a double boiler, melt butter and chocolate, set aside and let cool.

In a mixing bowl, use electric mixer to combine eggs and sugar until pale yellow batter holds shape and forms ribbon on beaters.
Blend flour into egg-sugar mixture with the mixer for 3 minutes. Add chocolate mixture, being careful to incorporate everything; mix for 2 more minutes.

Pour about 6 ounces of batter into each ramekin and refrigerate for 1 hour (VOE - I cooked one after an hour of refrigeration and then several more after three hours of refrigeration and the creamy, gooey texture was the same in both cases).

In preheated 475 degree oven, bake ramekins on a cookie sheet for 10-12 minutes, or until they are puffed up and don't jiggle when moved. Remove from oven and serve immediately (VOE - despite the high temperature, these babies cool off quickly so you'll only need to let them rest for about five minutes before serving). Can be served with chocolate sauce or cocoa powder, whipped cream and candied walnuts (see below).
For walnuts:

3 cups walnuts, toasted
1 3/4 cups sugar
pinch of kosher salt

Cook sugar until melted and slightly amber colored. Mix walnuts, sugar and salt together, being sure to coat the nuts and let cool on a non-stick surface such as a slit pad or baker's paper.


Monday, February 22, 2010

Aldaco's Mexican Cuisine - Blanca Aldaco

I met Blanca Aldaco at Aldaco's Mexican Cuisine, in San Antonio's Historic Sunset Station, during a spring 2008 press trip. Her eyes sparkled and she spoke enthusiastically as she taught each of us how to make the ultimate margarita under her watchful eye. Aldaco then circulated through the dining room as we sat down to dinner, and served us the restaurant's signature avocado margarita.
Ever since Aldaco opened her first restaurant, nearly 21 years ago, she has taken inspiration from childhood experiences in Guadalajara. And Aldaco's has become a San Antonio favorite and a Zagat-rated dining destination.
"We ate with my grandmother and grandfather every Wednesday and Friday," Aldaco says. "She had a cook and it was very formal, with soup, salad, entree, and dessert. On Sundays we went to the club, and you could smell steaks cooking outdoors. When I came to the U.S. I knew how to make a great salsa, and tacos, and I had a great, great palate."

Nowadays, Aldaco spends most of her time at her bustling two-year-old second location, on Stone Oak Parkway.  Here, customers can enjoy steaks grilled outdoors, and billiards plus a Bloody Mary bar on many Saturdays and Sundays. 

Aldaco has added 'lighter' items to both menus. One of the newest dishes, Arrachera a la Brava, combines beef skirt steak with a marinade of lime, fresh jalapeno, garlic and one secret ingredient. The restaurants also offer items for individuals with celiac disease and gluten intolerance.

"I want [dining at Aldaco's] to be an experience, rather than just an outing," Aldaco says. "I also want to cultivate friendships."

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

The Savory Spoon Cooking School and Marketplace

Morning sun illuminated whitewashed cabinets and gleaming stainless steel appliances as our press group of 15 people donned aprons and washed our hands. Dressed in chef whites and standing behind a butcher-block countertop owner, Janice Thomas, a member of the International Association of Culinary Professionals, gave us prep instructions for the morning. We divided into five small groups that each prepared a dish together, from
Swiss Chard and Black Olive Tart to Roasted Apple, Pecan, Cherry and Black River Blue Salad, Green Beans with Orange and Toasted Maple Pecans,
Pork Tenderloin Medallions with Cherry Sauce and
Fresh Blueberry Tart. An hour later, we savored our feast.

The Savory Spoon Cooking School and Marketplace, in Ellison Bay, Door County, Wisconsin, has offered cooking classes since 2003, often with a focus on locally produced foods such as cherries, cheese, and whitefish. Housed in a circa 1879 schoolhouse renovated by Thomas' husband, The Savory Spoon offers cooking classes from June through October. State-of-the-art kitchens feature SubZero/Wolf cooking and refrigeration appliances, plus the finest culinary tools and small appliances. 

“We’re a hands-on cooking school,” Thomas said during my August 2008 visit. “And August is a big month for local foods.” Other classes range from India’s Melting Pot to Truffles Galore and Timpano Delight. The school also hosts private events. The Marketplace offers kitchenwares, cookbooks, artisanal cheeses and cured meats, fresh baguettes/pastries, treats from in-house chocolatier, The Sweet Spot, and specialty foods, from quiche to sticky buns.

When The Savory Spoon is closed, Thomas leads annual culinary trips to France, Italy, and China, with a new Mexican destination added for 2010.
Whether you want to hone your own cooking skills or explore the cuisine of other cultures, check out Door County's The Savory Spoon Cooking School and Marketplace.

Citrus Curd Tart

Two ancient limes and an equally old lemon stared at me accusingly every time I opened the refrigerator fruit drawer. After I learned that I could still safely use them, from a local cooking expert, I began to consider possible flavor combinations.

As those of us living throughout the Kansas City area endure one of the coldest, most snow-filled winters in recent memory, a tropical-tasting dessert sounded like the perfect solution. So I tracked down a lemon curd recipe (unfortunately, I have no idea where it came from, for attribution) - and decided that I could use a combination of lemon and lime instead. I then located a simple recipe for no-bake graham cracker crust, in my Better Homes & Gardens New Cook Book. Here's the result:

Citrus Curd Tart
Makes 8 servings


3 eggs
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup fresh lemon & lime juice
1/4 cup butter or margarine
1 tablespoon grated lemon and/or lime peel

In the top of a double boiler, beat eggs and sugar together. Stir in citrus juices, butter and lemon peel. Bring water to a boil, reduce to simmer and cook/stir continuously for 15 minutes, or until thickened. Pour warm curd into another bowl and set aside.
Graham crust:

1/3 cup butter
1/4 cup sugar
1 1/4 cups finely crushed graham crackers (about 18)

Melt butter and stir in sugar. Add crushed crackers, toss to mix well. Spread evenly into a 9-inch pie plate. Press onto bottom and sides to form a firm even crust. Chill about 1 hour or until firm (or, bake in a 375 degree oven for 4-5 minutes or till edge is lightly browned. Cool on a wire rack before filling.)
Pour curd into chilled (or baked/cooled) crust. Chill overnight. When ready to serve, top with lightly sweetened whipped cream,* and lemon or lime zest. 

*VOE - Although I have a big sweet tooth, the curd + crust seemed too sweet even for my tastes. The whipped cream helps tone down the sweetness a bit. Add only 3 (or 4) tablespoons of confectioners (or granulated) sugar to one cup of whipped cream. Then spoon a big dollop onto your slice and ENJOY!

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Jasper Mirabile Jr.'s Applecello

When Jasper Mirabile, Jr., had too many apples and too much cider from Louisburg Cider Mill in Louisburg, Kansas, six years ago, he created Applecello. Then he introduced it to customers of his family's five-decade-old family restaurant in nearby Kansas City, Missouri (which he co-owns with his brother, Leonard) - Jasper's Ristorante.

A veteran maker of homemade limoncello (as well as mozzarella, pasta sauce, salad dressings and more), Jasper combined excess apples and cider with sugar, vodka, and grain alcohol, and then flavored the brew with cloves and cinnamon sticks - and he's been doing it ever since. This year's brew features Louisburg Cider Mill's Honey Crisp apples.  
Customers at the restaurant can't seem to get enough of this luscious stuff. Each fall they consume more than seven gallons of Applecello, in everything from Applecello Martinis to Applecello & Cream. Jasper adds Applecello to fruit-based breads and cakes (including his signature Applecello cake), pours it over fruit salad, and serves it warm, beside apple strudel and vanilla bean gelato. "It reminds me of fall," Jasper says. "It tastes like mulled cider with a little kick to it."
Want to make Applecello yourself? Here's the recipe:

Jasper's Missouri Applecello
Makes 1 1/2 gallons

6 apples, seeded and crushed
8 ounces apple cider
12 cloves
4 cinnamon sticks
6 tablespoons sugar
10 ounces vodka
10 ounces grain alcohol

Tools: 2, 32-ounce Mason jars, 2-quart stockpot, 1 gallon jug with a cork or cap, very fine strainer, 1-ounce glasses
Place all ingredients, except vodka and grain alcohol, in stockpot. Bring to a boil, lower heat and let steep for 15 minutes.
Pour mixture into a sterilized 1-gallon jug and then add vodka and grain alcohol. Place cork or cap on jug and store in a cool, dry, dark room. Let the mixture sit for 14 days.
Strain mixture and place in Mason jars, let sit for 14 more days, and then refrigerate until ready to use. Serve chilled.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Easy Homemade Hash Browns

My husband, Mark, and I. have been empty nesters for about 4 1/2 years. About two years ago, we began a Sunday tradition of sharing a big, homemade breakfast. I most often make French toast or pancakes while Mark fries turkey bacon or sausage, and cooks fried eggs or a two-person omelet. Once in awhile we enjoy biscuits and gravy or a sweet homemade bread.

Last week, Mark said that he wanted to try making hash browns for our Sunday breakfast. I had Yukon gold potatoes on hand but we agreed that russets would probably provide a better texture. So I grabbed the largest russet that I could find during my weekend shopping trip. Then, yesterday, Mark made us a huge pan of easy and delicious hash browns, reminding him of his days as a short-order cook. With toast made from English muffin bread, eggs, and juice, we enjoyed a weekend feast.

If you like hash browns too, give these a try!

Homemade Hashbrowns
Makes 2-3 servings
1 large russet potato, approximately 6 inches long
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons olive oil
salt and pepper to taste

Prick potato frequently with a knife, cover with water in a large saucepan. and then bring to a rolling boil. Turn down heat and simmer for 20 minutes.
Remove potato from saucepan and cool completely. Peel off skin. Using a hand grater - or the grater blade of a food processor - grate entire potato, put in a large bowl, and set aside.
Using an iron or nonstick skillet, oil lightly to minimize sticking, and set over medium high heat.

Add butter and oil and warm until butter melts. Place grated potato in the skillet and cook potatoes to golden brown. If using an oven-safe skillet, place the hash browns in a warm oven until ready to serve.

Enjoy with ketchup, hot sauce, sour cream or any other favorite condiment.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Breakfast Trail Ride at Tanque Verde Ranch Resort

Our breakfast trail ride at Tanque Verde Ranch Resort, outside of Tucson, began on a gorgeous, warm morning in mid-October. I had slathered loads of sunscreen on my arms, shoulders, neck, and face and retrieved a baseball cap to shield against the desert sun. We met at the stables where, based on my riding experience, the horse handlers paired me with a gentle white/gray horse named Dale. 
above image courtesy of photographer
at Tanque Verde Ranch Resort

Before long, our press group had entered a sea of saguaro cacti, which I thought of as a 'transparent forest.' We rode to a high hilltop, with the gentle Dale navigating rock, sand, cacti, narrow trails and steep inclines as I gently pulled him away from tasty bushes along the way. By the time we reached our breakfast site, everyone was hungry. And what a feast awaited us!
The staff had transported a huge cookstove and grill up the mountain, where regular and blueberry pancakes turned golden brown, with crispy hash browns, chile and cheese-spiked scrambled eggs, bacon, sausage and fresh, flaky biscuits on the side. Coffee woke us up and lemonade cooled us off. But, perhaps the most impressive part of this breakfast feast was how they served it - on gingham tablecloths atop picnic tables - plus sturdy plastic plates and real silverware.
The temperature hovered near 90 degrees as we cleared the tables, and looked down on miles of cacti. Then we headed back to the stables, ready for shade but happy for a great start to our day.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Portobello Spaghetti Sauce

What is it about gray winter days that makes pasta and sauce so appealing? Maybe it's the soft and filling noodles that are as versatile as the flavors you pair them with.

But how can you enjoy vegetarian spaghetti sauce while still satisfying a meat lover? Try using portobello mushrooms. Saute 1/2 a pound of sliced portobellos and then chop them in a food processor until they have a similar texture to ground beef. The rest of this recipe is pretty familiar, from pureed tomatoes and tomato paste, to fresh basil and garlic - and quite delicious.

Portobello Spaghetti Sauce

1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil
8 ounces portobellos, sliced

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 medium onion, diced
3 cloves of garlic, minced
4 tablespoons fresh basil, minced
28 ounces imported crushed tomatoes in heavy puree
        (VOE - they're lower in salt than many domestic varieties)
6 ounces tomato paste
2 tablespoons fresh oregano, minced
2 tablespoons fresh thyme, minced
1-2 tablespoons dry red wine
1-2 teaspoons honey

In a large skillet, warm 1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil over medium heat and then saute portobellos until lightly browned and soft. Place portobellos in food processor and chop fine. Set aside.

Warm 1 tablespoon olive oil in skillet, over medium heat, and then saute onion and garlic until they become translucent. Add tomatoes, tomato paste, oregano, thyme, wine and honey and stir thoroughly to combine.

Heat to slow boil until steaming, turn down heat, and then simmer on low for 20 minutes. Adjust seasoning and serve over your favorite pasta.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

San Antonio's Sunset Station

We reached San Antonio's Sunset Station at St. Paul Square around dusk, and wound our way through an enormous crowd that drank, sampled appetizers, and socialized on the expansive patio at The Depot. We were headed to Aldaco's Mexican Cuisine - a Zagat-rated restaurant owned by the vivacious Blanca Aldaco, for lessons in margarita-making and an authentic Mexican meal.

The complex is a National Historic Landmark that includes 10 acres, 100,000 square feet of indoor and outdoor space for events of all sizes, and a fully restored train depot, which reflects the grandeur of the early 1900s - when trains that passed through here linked San Francisco to New Orleans and San Antonio.

After we finished our meal, our host gave us a tour through The Depot, which has undergone a multi-million dollar renovation and transformation, complete with enormous stained glass windows, a grand staircase and amazing woodwork, painted with painstaking accuracy.

Yet, despite the grandeur of this stunning room, it managed to feel inviting and even cozy. And I could definitely envision a bride walking down those gorgeous stairs.