Spring Blossoms

Rose Vinegar

We have been blessed with an early, sunny and warm Spring in the Pacific Northwest. Tons of rain interspersed with sun has left our yard loaded with blossoms. My new rose bushes are absolutely bursting at the seams, which means that every room in our house is loaded with fresh, fragrant bouquets. 

The house is filled with roses.

The only problem, is that I’ve found it really difficult to part with the still beautiful, nearly spent petals. They are too pretty to dump in the compost. So, I decided to make use of them!

There are tons of ideas on the internet and lots of ways to make roses into edible masterpieces. Most importantly, you need to make sure that your roses are spray free. You don’t want to poison yourself with pesticides;) I decided to start with rose vinegar, because it was the simplest.

Rose petals!

I filled a clean jar with a hefty handful of fresh rose petals and thyme blossoms, filled the jar with champagne vinegar and let it sit for 1-2 weeks. No measurements needed!

Thyme blossoms

Within the first day, the vinegar had already started to turn a beautiful shade of pink. I turned the jar upside down every so often for good measure and after about 2 weeks, strained the petals and blossoms and poured the gorgeously fragrant vinegar into a clean jar. I’ll keep it in the fridge, just to be safe, but I have the feeling it will be gone by the end of the day:))

 

Rose Vinegar

Rose Vinegar
Make use of your beautiful excess rose petals, with this easy vinegar recipe.
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Prep Time
5 min
Prep Time
5 min
Ingredients
  1. 1-2 cups of organic, spray free rose petals
  2. 2 cups of champagne or white wine vinegar
  3. 3 sprigs of fresh herbs, or herb blossoms of your choice
Instructions
  1. Place petals and herbs into small glass jar or mason jar. Cover with vinegar. Seal jar and let it sit at room temperature for no more than 2 weeks. Strain vinegar, removing petals and herbs and place into a clean mason jar. Store in refrigerator and use for salad dressing.
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Cuba and the Art of Simplicity

Market in Cuba

 

Cuba. Forbidden. Mysterious. A place that time has forgotten. All of these images come to mind when one thinks of Cuba. With the recent progression in Cuban and American relations, we decided to make the journey to visit the amazing city of Havana before the mega resorts and American business men move in and destroy it. The landscapes, culture, the food…they were all a preconceived notion to me. We actually booked the trip a year ago, as a fitness retreat with Escape to Shape. Access to Cuba is cumbersome and the only way we could enter the country legally was to come as a cultural exchange. We left the leg work with the experts at Escape to Shape. The owner, Erica Gragg, has led us on multiple adventures into the unknown. We trusted her implicitly to get us in to Cuba smoothly, to organize a fantastic itinerary, to eat amazing food and surprise us with off the beaten track adventures. She did not disappoint.

I could write all day about the kindness of the Cuban people, the fascinating and growing art scene, the intoxicating music, the tropical landscapes, the deep history and the decaying elegance of Havana….but this is a food blog.

So I will stick to the topic of gastronomy and hopefully, succeed in weaving in a bit of interesting commentary for you!

I had been warned, that the food in Cuba is boring. Beans, rice, chicken, fish and mojitos. It would make sense, considering that single biggest challenge to the chefs of Cuba is their access to a wide variety of food. There simply is not a lot of food products available.

And contrary to many other Latin American countries, Cuban food is not spicy. Not at all. All of this being said, my experience with the food in Cuba was surprisingly good.

For our very first meal, we had straightforward, traditional Cuban cuisine in the fishing village of Cojimar. This village was the inspiration for Hemingway’s ‘Old Man and the Sea’.

Cojimar, Cuba
Cojimar, Cuba
Classic Car
Classic Car
Cuban Rhythms
Cuban Rhythms

As we walked down the dusty sidewalk and entered the Ajiaco Cafe. As with most of our Cuban meals, everything was served family style, down the center of a long table.

Ajiaco Cafe
Ajiaco Cafe

As soon as we walked in, we were handed a mojito, their national cocktail. Everyone generally makes a mojito the same way, but not this place! My compliments to the chef who thought of adding honey instead of sugar and a single sweet pepper to these mojitos! It was un unexpected and tasty twist;)

Mojito at Ajiaco Cafe
Mojito at Ajiaco Cafe

Our feast started with a large basket of freshly baked bread, served with whipped pineapple butter. I did not taste the bread, but with the ever growing sounds of approving “yum”s, I tasted a bit of the butter. It was amazing! This is the perfect example of how common food in Cuba was integrated into something different. It had just the slightest hint of sweetness and was whipped into creamy perfection. I will definitely attempt to make it at home:)

Next came some cheese croquettes and the soup. We were told that the soup was a common countryside soup made with root vegetables (taro, yucca, potatoes), guaco and “many other ingredients”. Guaco is a vine-like plant whose leaves are said to have medicinal properties. I’m not sure what all the other flavors were, but it was simple and tasty.

Traditional Croquettes and Empanadas.
Traditional Croquettes and Empanadas.
Cuban Peasant Soup
Cuban Peasant Soup

The main entree was the Ropa Vieja (old rope), a shredded beef dish that is a staple in Cuba. The meat was tender and flavored lightly with onions. This was served with beans, rice and taro root with pickled onions.

Taro Root with Pickled Onions.
Taro Root with Pickled Onions.

For dessert they served rice pudding (another use for rice) with a sugared rim and spoon of lime sorbet, which was a perfect palate cleanser.

Rice Pudding
Rice Pudding

They also served my favorite Cuban Coffee from the entire trip. Not only was the technique fascinating to watch, it had a nice presentation, served in a small, rustic metal cup. The taste was sweet, but potent!

No matter whether it was lunch or dinner, casual or formal, most of our meals were closely matched to this meal, with different combinations of meats including ropa vieja, chicken, pork, swordfish and lobster. Nearly every meal was served with beans and rice and root vegetables or another vegetables. Rarely was there a salad included with our meal, just some shredded cabbage with tomato and some oil and vinegar…. if you were lucky.

Cuban Version of a salad!
Cuban Version of a salad!

The main difference between each meal was in the preparation of the meats (sautéed, versus grilled), the addition of sauces and multiple adaptions of root vegetable preparations (fried, sautéed, pureed and mashed).

Fish over a root vegetable puree at La Moneda, Havana.
Fish over a root vegetable puree.
Shrimp with mashed taro root and a balsamic reduction at El Sarao.
Shrimp with .mashed taro root and a balsamic reduction

It really was inspiring to see the many combinations that were made out of the same ingredients. Some of my favorite meals, in this traditional style were dinner at Le Chansonnier and Atelier and lunch at Ajiaco Cafe, our outdoor lunch La Moneda and Casa del Campesino near the Sierra del Rosario area (all complete with live music).

IMG_4496
An elegant dinner, surrounded by art at Le Chansonnier.

Of course there were a few restaurants that were more creative with their cuisine. El Cocinero offers an inventive menu, in a lively setting, with a large outdoor terrace.

I loved their adaptation of rice pudding, shaped into sushi rolls, with raisins in the the center, a condensed milk dipping sauce and chop sticks for eating.

IMG_5372

La Guarida (www.laguarida.com) was my absolute favorite meal in Havana, not only because of the wonderful food, but because of the gorgeous 20th Century building it resides in and the manner in which the restoration was accomplished. It is considered a paladar, a privately owned, in home and family operated restaurant (as opposed to a government run restaurant).

Interestingly, part of it remains a multifamily dwelling. Much of the lower half of the building is left in elegant decay, with colorful tiled floors and an beautiful marble staircase, surrounded by thick, intricate wrought iron. Up, up, up the stairs you go, four flights up.

Every angle of your journey showcases a unique view, through a window, a door, a hallway, until you finally reach the restaurant, which has been lovingly restored, and is thick with modern art, crystal chandeliers, large wood paned windows, and multiple outdoor terraces that offer panoramic views of Havana.

Surrounded by art at La Guardia.
Surrounded by art at La Guarida.

The place is hopping, even as we finally finish our meal, well past midnight.

The dinner was our most decadent. It started with an appetizer of eggplant caviar, a shot of pumpkin puree and a small salad of candied pecans, pineapple, dried apricots and cheese.

Appetizers
Appetizers

Every bit was delicious and a complete departure from all of our meals in Havana. Next came a spinach crepe, filled with chicken and drizzled with a red pepper sauce. The main course was Lobster Beurre Blanc, served with beans and rice, fried plantains and (my favorite) yucca root, doused in copious amounts of butter. For dessert, we had a deconstructed lemon meringue pie with a chocolate tart. Unfortunately, the food was too dark to photograph. It was amazing. A night dreams are made of….

Cheers!
Cheers!

One more thing. The street food. It is best not to tempt fate and end up sick while visiting Cuba. Just don’t do it, unless it’s coconut ice cream served in it’s own shell. The heat is really intense and this little piece of heaven can literally, save you:)

 

Coconut Ice cream!
Coconut Ice cream!

So there you have it! I can’t wait to see how the food culture in Havana explodes once there is better access to more ingredients. The chefs of Havana have already created an impressive array of culinary choices, under the harshest of circumstances. It will only get better from here! For more information on the food culture in Havana, check out this article printed in Saveur in October, 2015 http://www.saveur.com/best-paladares-restaurants-in-havana-cuba 

 

A Weekend in Palm Springs

Palm Springs is Calling!
Palm Springs is Calling!
Palms Springs is Calling!

The weather in the Pacific Northwest tends to drag you down towards Mid-Winter. The holidays are far behind you, the snow is melting on the mountain range and the weather forecast is rain, rain, rain. I am thankful for the abundant precipitation, but it is time to get away to the sun for a bit! Thankfully, Jason has a car auction he’s working in Palm Springs, so I decide to tag along:) The flight is as easy, as can be from Portland, so a quick weekend trip is a breeze!

We always include breakfast at the Portland Airport in our travel plans. In case you didn’t know, the Portland Airport is one of the best airports the country. And because Portland is a foodie mecca,  there are tons of great food options to choose from for breakfast, lunch and dinner. My favorite stop for my preflight breakfast is The Country Cat. They have a brick and mortar establishment in the SE part of Portland as well, if you want to check it out! The menu at the airport is limited, but still amazing. I ended up with the Eggs Benedict with salmon, minus the biscuit.

Eggs Benedict
Eggs Benedict

At lunch I go for the kale salad with smoked chicken (which is not offered on their regular menu). It’s perfect for a light lunch or dinner….and tastes a heck of a lot better than a Big Mac! They also have a grab and go counter that has some great snacks and drinks to carry onto your flight, if you are pressed for time! My favorite, is the chia pudding.

Country Cat Chia Pudding and Kombucha
Country Cat Chia Pudding and Kombucha

It looks weird, but tastes divine! Yogurt and chia seeds, topped with nuts, dried fruit and apple sauce. (Thanks to my friend Elizabeth for this find!) It’s a tasty treat that’s great anytime of day and it’s good for you!

I found this amazing little hotel for our last minute getaway, called Sparrows Lodge. Originally built as Castle’s Red Barn in 1952 by MGM actor Don Castle and his wife Zetta, it was one of the original resort getaways for Hollywood elite. It was completely and lovingly restored in 2013. It has a completely different vibe than the other hotels in the area. We loved the laid-back vibe, kilim rugs, tasty food, relaxing pool scene. There was great care to make sure we were content and comfy throughout our stay! So many special touches!

We arrived right before lunch and made our way through a small, lodge like room. It was comfortably decorated with a small couch, leather butterfly chairs and a stone fireplace. The back end opened up to a beautiful pool area, surrounded with cushioned pool loungers and hotel rooms along each side. The air was scented with jasmine and seemed to cool off immediately with the misters. We walked past a few sunbathers to the beautiful red barn, which functioned as the lobby, bar and communal sitting area. Our room wasn’t quite ready. No worries. We were offered lunch and a complimentary sangria while we waited.

The menu was short and simple. Everything sounded good. Jason ordered the Chicken Salad Sando (sandwich) and I opted for a light snack of veggies and green goddess dressing for dipping. We were not disappointed, everything was tasty and fresh. By the time we finished our meal, we could check in;) The best news was that we got upgraded to a garden room, which was larger and more quiet than the pool room.

Our room was a mixture of rustic and modern, with its own private patio, open air shower and deep horse trough bath tub. Simple and comfortable. I spent the rest of the afternoon sitting in the shade, reading by the pool. Mid-afternoon, we were all offered popsicles.

Mid Afternoon Popsicle
Mid Afternoon Popsicle

It was the perfect treat to beat the heat;)

By the time I came back to the room, Jason was ready for a mid-afternoon snack. So, in continuing my food research, I ordered the hummus plate and the fruit salad with burrata. it did not disappoint!

Fruit Salad with Burrata
Fruit Salad with Burrata

Nap time….

There are a ton of restaurants to choose from for dinner. Luckily, I was able to do a bit of research ahead of time! We decided Workshop Kitchen + Bar* for dinner. It can best be described a chic farm-to-table restaurant. Book early, or you will end up at the long (but gorgeous) communal table inside. We lucked out and had an amazing alfresco meal, surrounded by gaslit heaters (even though it was 77 degrees) in their courtyard dining room. The menu was filled with seasonal, fresh and inventive food and cocktail preparations. Best of all, it offered tons of gluten free and vegetarian options, as well as a lot of meat and fish. It was difficult to make a decision! We both selected a salad to start, followed by a main entree and then, shared a dessert.

Champagne Cocktail
Champagne Cocktail

I wish that I had better pictures to post, but the lighting was very dim! You are just going to have to trust me. By the time we were leaving, the place was hopping! I look forward to coming back again, soon.

In the morning we were greeted to a simple (and complimentary) continental breakfast in the barn. Coffee, fruit, granola, toast and hardboiled eggs.

Simple Breakfast
Simple Breakfast

It’s all we needed. That desert heat has a way of depleting one’s appetite and I knew we should leave some room for brunch.

And I DID enjoy brunch, in the oasis of the outdoor courtyard at The Tropicale. A great Bloody Mary. A fresh Chinese Salad with ‘big ass’ shrimp (seriously, it said that on the menu). Nothing complicated. Simple and good.

Palm Springs Brunch
Palm Springs Brunch

Need I say more?
Time to head back to the hotel and relax by the pool.

Dinner that night was kind of a hit or miss. Great food, beautiful dining areas and design, but a really noisy and chaotic atmosphere.

Gorgeous Food
Gorgeous Food

You’d never guess it from this picture. I recommend going there for a party, not for a romantic dinner. Eight4Nine It might be for you…

Chocolate Ricotta Cake

Chocolate and Ricotta Cake! Served warm with vanilla ice cream:)

These last few weeks have been a rollercoaster ride! Lots of ups and downs, a wedding and birthday, travel and fun, mixed in with one head cold, a life changing diagnosis and the stomach flu:/ Oh, but I digress…. In the midst of the carnival ride that is my life, I had the opportunity to make a birthday cake for Jason.

Chocolate Ricotta Cake
Chocolate Ricotta Cake

Jason turned 46 this year and when I think of the 28 birthdays we’ve shared, there is one element that remains constant……No fuss. He’s just not into the fanfare, the parties and the singing (ok, maybe just a little). This year, created an added challenge, when he also happened to get a nasty cold. This would be a mellow celebration, if ever there was one!

My solution? I would bake Jason a simple birthday cake from scratch. Even if his poor taste buds were malfunctioning, I figured a cake could save the day:) I had made a fantastic cake last year using ricotta cheese and almond flour. This would be the perfect base for my gluten free chocolate cake! I decided to adapt the recipe and make it my own, with the addition of a finely grated chocolate bar and some raw cacao powder.

Dark Chocolate Bar
Dark Chocolate Bar

The key to infusing rich, chocolate flavor into the cake, is to use your favorite chocolate bar. I prefer 70% semisweet cacao, which is rich and dark. Because you are mixing the chocolate into a bland mix of ricotta and almond flour, the richness of the chocolate, is tempered. It creates a balanced and lighter batter. So, even if you are not a fan of dark chocolate, I would still recommend it!

Another important element is grating the chocolate as finely as possible. I have this lovely microplane grater, which is also ideal for citrus zest, garlic and hard cheeses.

Use a microplane for the finest, grated chocolate!
Use a microplane for the finest, grated chocolate!

There is some patience required at this step, but it actually, only takes about 5 minutes of time! It’s so worth it, I promise! I also added a small amount of raw cacao powder to the mix. I recommend raw organic cacao.

Organic Cacao Powder
Organic Cacao Powder

It’s worth spending the extra money. It’s potent, unsweetened and will last a long time!

We were so excited to eat it, I barely let it cool. I added a small scoop and we enjoyed it warm. It was yummy and not too rich;) I even had it for breakfast the next day! So simple and delicious! Enjoy!

Chocolate and Ricotta Cake! Served warm with vanilla ice cream:)
Chocolate and Ricotta Cake! Served warm with vanilla ice cream:)
Chocolate Ricotta Cake
An easy and delicious gluten free chocolate cake!
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Prep Time
15 min
Cook Time
20 min
Total Time
35 min
Prep Time
15 min
Cook Time
20 min
Total Time
35 min
Ingredients
  1. 3 eggs
  2. 3/4 cup sugar
  3. 1/2 cup finely ground almond meal
  4. 1/3 cup of salted butter melted
  5. 3/4 cup whole milk ricotta
  6. 1/2 cup brown rice flour
  7. A 2 oz chocolate bar (70% dark cacao) grated
  8. 1/8 cup organic cacao powder
Instructions
  1. Whisk the eggs and sugar for a few minutes and then add the almond meal. Add the melted butter to the mixture. Add the ricotta, mixing it well. Then add the brown rice flour, grated chocolate and cacao powder. Pour the batter into a greased pie dish and bake at 350 degrees for about 20-25 minutes. You can enjoy it warm or at room temperature. The flavors seem to be more rich and flavorful at room temperature. Store any leftovers in the refrigerator for up to 3 days! Enjoy!
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French Lentils with Cream, Mushrooms and Greens

So good!
Simple ingredients make the best food!
Simple ingredients make the best food!

I’ve been working really hard to shift us to a plant based diet for the New Year. For the first two weeks, I was obsessed with everything Japanese. Clean broths, lots of fish and veggies. Everything was squeaky clean. Perhaps too clean. Poor Jason was beginning to look famished. So this week, I’ve gone back to my cooking roots and I’ve been working on more familiar inspiration. I decided to start with lentils. Why lentils? Lentils have the second highest ratio of protein per calorie of any legume, except for soybeans. So, it’s a great plant based protein source:)

French Lentils
French Lentils

Have you cooked with lentils? Most people tend to simply use lentils in soup, but they are so adaptable and can be used in so many other dishes. There are tons of varieties available. The colors range from yellow to red-orange to green, brown and black. It can get very confusing if are not familiar with the differences between them. The French lentil is a good option for this recipe because they are sturdy and don’t fall apart.

So, I stumbled onto this amazing looking lentil recipe on Pinterest. I didn’t have the exact ingredients, but I decided to swing it anyway. The most important part of the recipe was the French lentils. the next key ingredient was mushrooms and I had a huge batch of chanterelle mushrooms that I needed to use.

Chanterelle Mushrooms!
Chanterelles

The recipe also called for kale. Given my recent Japanese food kick, I had a bunch of baby bok choy, so I decided to use it.

Shallots and garlic add a lot of great flavor.
Shallots and garlic add lots of flavor.

Feel free to use the mushrooms or greens of your choice. They will work!

Baby bok choy and chanterelle mushrooms. Don't forget the wine!
Baby bok choy and chanterelle mushrooms.

Ok, so as the the recipe states, it contains cream. Yes, cream. Actually, a lot of cream. Here’s the thing. There is nothing like eating real food to get your glow on! Live it up and enjoy the deliciousness of whole milk, butter and CREAM.

Plenty of cream!
Plenty of cream!

These ingredients are great to have in a diet that is comprised of fresh whole foods. Go ahead. Eat like royalty (at least once in awhile), as long as the ingredients you use include lots of delicious organic veggies, herbs and nutritious proteins like lentils!

So good!
The finished product!

The recipe is actually very easy, but does occupy 3 pans. It was worth it!

French Lentils with Cream, Chanterelles and Greens
Serves 2
Cream braised French lentils. Simply delicious and decadent!
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Prep Time
10 min
Cook Time
40 min
Total Time
50 min
Prep Time
10 min
Cook Time
40 min
Total Time
50 min
Ingredients
  1. 1/2 cup French lentils
  2. 3 cups vegetable broth
  3. 3 TBS unsalted butter
  4. 1 small shallot, diced
  5. 8 ounces chanterelle mushrooms
  6. 1 tsp kosher salt
  7. 2 cloves of garlic, minced
  8. 1/4 cup of dry white wine
  9. 3/4 cup heavy whipping cream
  10. 1 TBS olive oil
  11. 2 eggs
  12. 6 baby bok choy, chopped, ends removed
  13. Parmesan to finish
Instructions
  1. Rinse lentils. Simmer in vegetable broth for 30 minutes. Lentils should be al dente. In a large skillet, at medium-high heat, brown butter. Add shallot. Cook until about a minute. Add mushrooms and 1/2 of the salt. Then add garlic. Cook until it starts to slightly stick to the bottom of the pan. Do not burn. Deglaze with the wine. Reduce until nearly dry. Add cream and simmer until cream just begins to thicken up. Add lentils and the remaining salt. Cover and simmer for 5 minutes.
  2. In a separate pan, add enough oil to cook the 2 eggs. Cook eggs to your liking. And place on a separate plate, until lentils are done. Add the chopped bok choy to the lentils. Do not overcook, keep them green. Season lentils if needed. Serve 2 equal portions, with an egg on each. Top with freshly grated parmesan. Yum!
Adapted from From Ashley Rodriguez's "Date Night"
Adapted from From Ashley Rodriguez's "Date Night"
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