Thursday, January 31, 2013

Restaurant Review: Mediterrano (Pittsburgh, PA)

I have a tendency to hold grudges where food and restaurants are concerned. This was the case with Mediterrano, a restaurant located in Pittsburgh's northern suburbs. The first time I tried to go there was on a late Sunday afternoon. Although it was not normal dinner hours (it was around 4:30 PM) I  assumed that a small suburban restaurant would serve all day. I was mistaken. (Ironically and annoyingly enough, the restaurant now opens at 4 PM for dinner.) My second attempt at dining there was met with defeat as we did not have reservations. Once again I assumed that a small restaurant in the 'burbs would not require reservations (many do not). However, in the spirit of letting bygones be bygones, I decided to dine there (this time I made sure to make reservations) during Pittsburgh's Winter Restaurant Week.

Mediterrano is located on a somewhat bland and overly commercial stretch of road but has a decidedly pleasant interior. Its decor matches the restaurant's Mediterranean cuisine-prints of what appear to be Greece adorn the walls, bottles of wine and vases of lemon grace the shelves.

I had always planned on ordering from the Restaurant Week menu which features three courses for $20, even though countless other options on the standard menu sounded delicious. The first course was your choice of either soup or salad. Although avgolemono is one of Greece's most famous soups, I'm not the biggest fan and instead decided to go with the Elliniki Salata  (Greek salad). The house vinaigrette was extremely tart (it really opened up one's nasal passages) but the vegetables were moist and succulent. Not to mention I just enjoy eating fresh vegetables whenever possible and you can never go wrong with large chunks of feta cheese.

The second course consisted of your choice of entree,  either wild sockeye salmon that was pan-seared and topped with roasted leek and pepper sauce over wild rice, or roasted lamb shoulder-stuffed ravioli that featured a lamb gravy and was topped with fresh house pulled mozzarella. (I went with this).) Although I do like to be more adventurous when dining out where fish is concerned, I usually limit these experiences to vacation and I'm somewhere really unique (i.e. mahi mahi on the Hawaiian island of Maui) and not 10 miles from home. The ravioli were delicious and not anything like the Italian kind (they were homemade and more resembled pillows than neatly folded and tucked Italian ravioli).

The third course was dessert and diners got to select between traditional, chocolate, or raspberry baklava. I went with the raspberry flavor for something different. Rich, sinful, and decadent.

D's dessert: (phyllo goodness):

My only critique (and it's oh so minor) is that we ordered an appetizer of hummus to share, not realizing that the complimentary bread was pita and hummus. Had we known this we would have gone for our other favorite appetizer, babah gonoush. It was certainly not a travesty since the hummus was different (traditional versus a red pepper variety). I just thought it was something the waitress could have mentioned, although perhaps we should have known better than to think we would be getting standard bread and butter in a Mediterranean restaurant.

For his entree D ordered the Patitsio, a layered Greek pasta featuring a meat sauce and baked in a bechamel sauce. It came with two sides of which D selected the rice pilaf and roasted lemon potatoes (other options included green beans, spinach and Greek style fries).

For a rather unassuming restaurant, it was one of the best meals I had had in a long time and the service could not have been any more friendly or attentive.

2193 Babcock Boulevard
Pittssburgh, PA. 15209

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Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Radiant Red-an international photo essay

Finding "red" photos was a lot harder than I thought-it was definitely not as easy as last week's green. I clearly need to travel to more places where red is a dominant color...I'm thinking a souk or two in Morocco will do. 

Poppies in Palatine Hill-Rome, Italy

Monet's The Red Kerchief (Cleveland Museum of Art)

Se Cathedral-Lisbon, Portugal

Tio Pepe-best sherry in Spain (Madrid's Plaza Mayor)

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Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Harper's Ferry, West Virginia-a beacon of history

Even though I could never live full-time in a small town or rural area, I sure do love visiting one, especially if it's located in an area as physically stunning as Harper's Ferry, West Virginia. Set against the backdrop of the Appalachian Mountains, Harper's Ferry is home to the meeting place of three states-West Virginia, Virginia, and Maryland. It's also situated at the confluence of the Potomac and Shenandoah Rivers and is one of only a few towns the Appalachian Trail passes directly through. With the mountains in the background and the waters of the rivers rushing into the steep gorge below the view if both beautiful and breathtaking.

I first visited Harper's Ferry in middle school as part of a Civil War-themed trip. I was so enchanted with the town's incredible vistas and the friendliness of the locals that I visited again with my mom years later on a weekend getaway that included both the town and the nearby battlefield of Antietam (the drive between the two places is roughly 30 minutes, making it the perfect Civil War road trip).

While today it is a sleepy town of less than 300 residents, 200 years ago Harper's Ferry was a thriving industrial center. It was home to the United States Armory and Arsenal, one of only two such facilities in the country (the other was located in Springfield, Massachusetts). During its heyday, the armory produced more than 600,000 muskets, rifles, and pistols. As famous as it was for its industrial past, it's the events that occurred there on the evening of October 16, 1859 that most people will remember the town of Harper's Ferry for.

The first shots of the Civil War didn't begin until April 1861 but in 1859, a radical abolitionist by the name of John Brown led a group of 21 men in a raid on the Harper's Ferry Arsenal. Unlike other northern abolitionists who promoted peaceful resistance to those in support of slavery, Brown sought violent action against the slave-owning South. He had hoped to use the captured weapons to begin a slave uprising throughout the South. However, Brown's plans in West Virginia failed miserably. When the Federal Government first heard about the attack on the arsenal, waves of panic swept over the South with people fearing for their way of life (i.e. being solely dependent on the institution of slavery in order to live their lives). The raid was considered so dire that even a unit of the United States Marines led by Robert E. Lee was ordered to Harper's Ferry to fully contain it. After negotiations failed, the marines stormed the house where Brown and his remaining men had held up. In little more than a day, Brown's men had either fled, been killed or captured. Before the end of the year Brown was tried for treason against the State of Virginia, convicted, and hanged in nearby Charles Town.

When you walk the hilly streets of Harper's Ferry, it seems surreal that in the 1860s armies were literally fighting right there on its streets and surrounding mountains. The Battle of Harper's Ferry (a town that both the Union and Confederate Armies coveted) made the surrender at Harper's Ferry by the Union Army the largest surrender of United States military personnel until the Battle of Bataan in World War II.

One of my favorite things about Harper's Ferry is something that has nothing to do with the Civil War. In fact, the significance of this site dates back more than 75 years before John Brown and his band of raiders ever arrived in the town. Jefferson Rock is a formation on the Appalachian Trail above lower Harper's Ferry in Harper's Ferry National Historic Park. It consists of several large masses of shale rock, piled one upon the other, that overlook the Shenandoah River. The name of this famous landmark is tied to Thomas Jefferson, who stood there on October 25, 1783. In Notes on the State of Virginia, Jefferson wrote that "this scene is worth a voyage across the Atlantic." The first time I saw the view standing there I definitely concurred with Jefferson. It's also one of those views that has stayed the same for centuries, a non-changing testament of time. At one time this western section of what was then the state of Virginia was "the west," the "unknown."

West Virginia may not have cosmopolitan cities or other world renowned attractions. However, its natural beauty is unparalleled and its Civil War past immensely rich. Harper's Ferry is a delightful little town and one I encourage you to explore some day. What other small town has been visited by so many historical greats-George Washington (visited the area when searching for a waterway to ship goods west), Thomas Jefferson, Meriwether Lewis (he procured most of the weaponry and associated hardware that would be needed for THE Lewis and Clark Expedition at the armory in Harper's Ferry), Robert E. Lee, W.E. DuBois-the visitor list is endless and you too should be added to it.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Diego Rivera Murals-Mexico City National Palace

On my first trip to Mexico City (the Federal District) I for once hadn't planned anything or done any research in advance. I had journeyed to the national capital with a friend from the orphanage where I volunteered to see the Mexican musical group RBD in concert there. Since the concert wasn't until the evening my friend had recommended heading to the city early to do some touring.

When we arrived at the Plaza de la Constitucion (more commonly known as the Zocalo) I was amazed by the image in front of me. Although I hadn't yet traveled to Brussels and gazed at the stunning Grand Place, I had a similar feeling that day in Mexico. Such an enormous outdoor space, such grandoise buildings, such incredible history the site had borne witness to for centuries.

Although I had desperately wanted to visit La Casa Azul (the blue house), once home to legendary Frida Kahlo, my friend wasn't interested in going since it's located away from the city center. (Thankfully I would make it to the house on my next visit to Mexico City.) However, little did I know that some of the country's most famous murals, created by none other than Kahlo's husband Diego Rivera, were inside the National Palace, seat of the Federal Executive in Mexico, and the most famous building in the Zocalo.

The stairwell of the main building of the palace is adorned with murals that Rivera created. They were painted between 1929 and 1935 and depict the history of Mexico from 1521 to 1930, 1521 being the year the Spanish invasion of Mexico was declared victorious. Later on I read that the work is divided like a triptych, with each being partially autonomous, which I understood better after looking at them again. The mural features everything from pre-Hispanic Mexico, concentrating around the Aztec god Quetzalcoatl to the battle for independence from Spain, Mexico's fight against American and French invaders, its reform period and its revolution in the early 20th century. Rivera also strikingly includes as a focal point the brutal nature and devastating effects of the Conquest, the rape and torture of Mexico's indigenous peoples at the hands of the conquistadors.

While words on a page can certainly teach you about a country and its history, staring at what some say is Rivera's most renowned work is a better way to learn about Mexico's history; it's all right there on the wall. I don't want to make this post anymore text heavy since the beauty of the mural is what you should take away from reading this.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Silent Sunday (almost)

A place I want to visit this year (somewhat of a big hopefully):
(The Hawaiian island of Moloka'i)
A drink I want to sample this year:
Kentucky bourbon (in Kentucky obviously)
A restaurant I want to review this year:

Zahav Restaurant in Philadelphia
A language I want to speak this year in a native setting:
 Antigua, Guatemala...
Hopefully some (all) will be checked off come
December 31, 2013

Friday, January 25, 2013

Friday Fun Facts-of where?

For this week's fun facts I decided to do it slightly different. I recently (finally) booked plane tickets for our big trip of the year (I can't even begin to tell you how much I deliberated on this). So without revealing the destination from the get go, I thought it would be more fun if you could guess it. Although I will say that Google takes the fun out of guessing anymore so no googling!

-The only royal palace on American soil can be found here.

-The island is home to what some consider to be one of the most dangerous waves in the world (for this reason surfers love it).

-You'll find the largest maze in the world right here.

Any guesses? 

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Glorious Green-an international photo essay

My participation in the Capture the Colour photography contest from last summer (you can see my submissions by clicking here) inspired me to create posts on multiple photos of just one color. I decided to start with green since it's one of my favorite colors, various hues of it and all!

Patio de los Naranjos (Court of the Oranges)-Seville, Spain

A dish at Remy, an exclusive French restaurant 
on the Disney Dream Cruise Ship

The Colosseum-Rome, Italy

A street in Colonia del Sacramento-Uruguay

Garden of Remembrance-Dublin Ireland
(while obviously there is a lot of green in this photo I specifically chose it for
 the green in the flag of the Republic of Ireland)

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Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Corn & Chile Strata with Mexican Chorizo-American Southwest

In case you can't tell or have only recently discovered my blog, I'm on a bit of an eggs kick as only last week  I had made the ubiquitous Mexican dish chilaquiles featuring a  tomatillo (green) salsa. This week I "journeyed" north of Mexico and ventured into the cocinas (kitchens) of the American Southwest, a region home to many culinary influences from Mexico.

I made a corn and chile strata (well I omitted the corn since I can't eat it) with Mexican chorizo. For anyone not familiar, a strata is a wonderful combination (i.e. a casserole) of eggs, bread, cheese, and other ingredients. It's a popular (i.e. simple and convenient) brunch dish since one can make it the night before and then bake it the next morning.

Along with some maple glazed bacon I whipped up it was a great Friday night meal. And obviously for any vegetarians out there you can certainly omit the chorizo and have a delicious egg casserole dish at your disposal. For two people it made more then plenty and will serve its role as weeknight leftovers sometime soon.

recipe courtesy of the cookbook Williams-Sonoma Breakfast Comforts by Rick Rodgers

3 poblano chiles
1 1/2 cups fresh or thawed frozen corn kernels
1 tablespoon olive oil, plus more for cooking
1 lb. fresh Mexican-style chorizo sausage, casings removed
1 white onion, chopped
2 cups whole milk
8 large eggs
1/2 teaspoon hot pepper sauce
Kosher salt
12 slices day-old baguette
2 cups shredded Cheddar cheese

-Preheat the broiler. Place the chiles on a baking sheet and broil, turning occasionally until blackened on all sides, about 12 minutes. Transfer to a cutting board and let cool until easy to handle. Peel off the blackened skin. Discard the stem, seeds, and ribs, and chop the chiles. Transfer to a bowl and add the corn. 

-Meanwhile, in a large, frying pan, heat the 1 tablespoon oil over medium heat. Add the chorizo and cook, breaking it up with the side of a wooden spoon, until it begins to brown, about 8 minutes. Add the onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until the onion softens, about 3 minutes more. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the sausage mixture to paper towels to drain. Discard the fat in the pan. 

-Lightly oil a 3-quart baking dish. In a large bowl, whisk together the milk, eggs, hot pepper sauce, and 3/4 teaspoon salt until combined. Arrange 6 of the bread slices in a single layer on the bottom of the prepared dish, tearing the slices to fit, if needed. Top evenly with half of the chorizo mixture, half of the chile mixture, and half of the cheese. Repeat with the remaining bread slices, chorizo and chile mixtures, and cheese. 

-Slowly pour the milk mixture over the layers. Wrap securely in plastic wrap. Press gently on the plastic to submerge the layers in the milk mixture. Refrigerate for at least 2 hours or up to overnight. 

-Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Uncover and bake until the strata puffs and becomes golden brown, about 1 hour. Transfer to a wire rack and let cool for 5 minutes. Serve warm.   


Monday, January 21, 2013

Public Bus Riding in Latin America

One of my most viewed posts is on subway systems, and while the underground is indeed my favorite form of public transportation, I thought it unfair to not mention the bus which is the dominant form of public transit in most Latin American countries, a region where I have spent considerable time.

From the illustrious resort areas of Cancun, Mexico to the nitty gritty Central American capital of San Jose, Costa Rica, to the dusty highways of Nicaragua, I've ridden public buses. While they varied greatly in terms of appearance and comfort, every one I rode had come from somewhere else as in they were de segunda mano (second hand). When buses are deemed eligible for retirement status in the United States, or in some instances, unsafe to be operating/too expensive to repair, they often end up in developing nations like Guatemala and Honduras, where parts are either sold or the bus is recommissioned.
When I visited Cancun for the first time, I ended up riding the public bus that went up and down the famed Hotel Zone and eventually into the heart of Cancun, the side where tourists never traverse but where most of the local population lives. (Although there are taxis for tourists to take them to other hotels and restaurants, they could be on the pricier side, especially if you didn't know enough Spanish to not be taken in and had to go with the final fare the driver quoted.) Unlike in the United States buses have a precise mechanism and order of doing things (an "air tight" machine that receives your coins and bills, an electrical system that allows you to alert the driver when you want to get off), in Cancun, you simply yelled "para" as loud as you could. The other thing unlike American public buses is that music in Latin American countries is completely permitted (by the driver that is) and sometimes the driver has the music up so loud, one needs to yell over the volume in order to be heard.

Living in San Jose meant that I rode the public buses a lot. While I occasionally took inexpensive  taxis during my semester living there, I still rode the bus more. It was in Costa Rica that I saw every kind of public bus imaginable. In my first month there, I took classes at a center that was about three miles away from my host family's house. Every morning I walked a block to the bus that would take me into the center of San Pedro, a suburb of San Jose. Some days it would be former American school buses, just like the ones I used to ride as a child (some even had the school district labeling on the side). However, unlike the golden buses from my childhood, these were completely different; some had been painted over with bright colors while others simply featured wild spray paint designs. One day to my shocking surprise, a Greyhound bus rolled up. It was comical to see a bus that big and relatively fancy (well, for a residential Central American neighborhood) being slowly driving down the pot-hole ridden streets. Unlike in American cities where exact change is required (most cities, in fact, have done away altogether with money on buses with passengers using fare cards instead), you could get change on the spot for your fare and incredibly, the money was just sitting out. Granted, while fares on Costa Rican buses were significantly less than a dollar so the money in a fare box was not comparable to what's found in a bank safe, in a city where crime is rampant, it was still "open season" all the same.
During my visit to Nicaragua, I went with friends one day to the famous Masaya market. Getting from Granada, where we were staying to Masaya was decidedly "developing world" (we went in a "private" taxi, private in the sense that a guy on the street was drumming up business and when he deemed he had packed in enough people, he went). Getting back however, was a stereotype fulfilled. We took a public bus and, unlike in neighboring Costa Rica where fares were at least collected in the normal manner (right when you board), fares on Nicaraguan buses were collected mid-ride. Even though every seat was taken and all aisle space was occupied as well, along with a random chicken in a cage on someone's lap, a teenage boy walked up and down the aisles collecting fares. I thought this ridiculous for a couple of reasons-1) it was dangerous 2) I didn't know how the worker could possibly keep track of everyone considering how mobbed the bus was and 3) when he had to climb over/push into people in order to get by and collect his fares, it made the already hot ride that much more unpleasant.

I've not been to a Latin American country since 2008 and with the possible exception of riding public buses at the glitzy resorts there, I think my public bus riding days in Latin America are over. When you live abroad, there are just some experiences you can never replicate as a tourist. And while I cringed on many a bus ride over fears of being pickpocketed  or broke into a panic when thinking I wouldn't be able to get off in time, bus riding in Latin America, regardless of the country is a unique experience.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Saturdays in Spain

While it's hard to choose just one since Seville had so many, Plaza de España might just have been my place spot in the entire city. Although it was "new" (it was built in 1928) compared to some of Seville's other famous attractions (the Cathedral was built in the 15th century for reference), Plaza de España is still a "show stopper"-utterly stunning and utterly magnificent.

Plaza de España was constructed for the Ibero-American Exposition of 1929 and is a landmark example of the Renaissance Revival style in Spanish architecture. However, due to the Great Depression that swept across the entire globe, the exposition was not the grand success organizers had envisioned it to be and it closed shortly after. Today, Plaza de España mainly consists of government buildings; however, for tourists and photographers alike, it's a visual masterpiece.

I first visited Plaza de España shortly after I had arrived in Seville. This was in early February and while it was certainly "mild" compared to winter temperatures I was accostomed to back in the northeastern United States, it was still "cold" for Spain (daily temperatures were in the low 50s during the winter months). I enjoyed myself and yet I still visited there alone and was also contending with a head cold so I had somewhat willed myself to make it there. Although it was a free, outdoor attraction I didn't visit again until two months later when my dad came to Spain. What a difference the weather made and even though I was sick again (this time recovering from food poisoning), having company made all the difference. The striking architecture, the beautiful tiles, and the gushing waters of the fountain in the center of the plaza are all reasons why I loved it so.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Restaurant review-Aji Picante (Pittsburgh)

Sometimes it takes me a while to try out a new restaurant as was the case with Squirrel Hill's Aji Picante. While Pittsburgh has been home to various Peruvian restaurants for sometime (Chicken Latino in the Strip District and AJ's in the Oakland section of the city, both of which are casual, inexpensive eateries), Aji marks the entrance of more upscale Peruvian fare onto the Pittsburgh dining scene. D and I tried out Aji for the first time last month and had a terrific meal ranging from the delicious appetizer special we ordered, consisting of scallops and plantains-two of my favorite things-to our entrees to lastly, the warm and friendly service. When my parents came in for the holidays I thought this would be the perfect place to take them, especially since Aji is BYOB which is an added plus for my wine toting mom and dad.

Aji is owned by the same woman who brought the city the beloved breakfast spot, Pamela's (she's the Pamela, Pamela Cohen). In addition she and a Peruvian also own a small eatery that offers mostly Peruvian fare and  artisan goods called La Feria, which is a small space in the city's Shadyside neighborhood. I had eaten at La Feria a couple of times and while good, it's more of a cafe and excluding the beautiful looking crafts and other wares, the food never seemed that authentic. So when I heard about Aji and the fact that the chef was Peruvian, I was stoked.

Although my first experience with the Peruvian soft drink Inka Gold made me want to gag (I don't recommend trying this), thankfully this toxic drink was not on Aji's menu. They did feature agua fresca (flavors change nightly according to the menu). Although each time we dined there it was sandia (watermelon),  that was fine with me since I am a watermelon fan. D ordered the chicha morada, which is a sweet beverage in Peru made from purple corn and spices. Its use and consumption date back to the pre-colonial era of Peru, even before the creation of the Inca empire. D likened it to a grape fruit tasting chai drink and I concurred. While not a warm beverage, it still had a soothing taste to it.

Although the menu at Aji is somewhat on the smaller side, there is however a decent selection of nightly specials. The first time we ate there we went with a special for our starter course, while on my second visit, D and I split an empanada ($4) filled with aji de gallina, a classic Peruvian dish made with aji peppers, chicken, and a cream sauce. My dad ordered a mushroom and cheese empanada. Other tantalizing appetizer selections include causas which are "silky mashed potatoes, seasoned with aji amarillo, lime, and served slightly chilled." Your options with these include either shrimp ($5) or grilled baby octopus ($6).

The raw seafood cocktail ceviche is Peru's thing, so there are vast ceviche options to select from. In addition, Aji also offers three fish dishes and two vegetarian dishes, one of which is locro de zapallo ($19), Andean butternut squash stew with feta cheese, peas, corn, and potatoes and baked in an acorn squash. I've passed up this dish two times now so on my next visit to Aji I simply must order it.

For my entree I went with the seco de cerdo ($19) which when translated literally from Spanish means "dry pork." It consisted of crisped pork shank confit served over a bean puree,  topped with caramelized butternut squash, carrots, and peas and cooked in a dark beer and cilantro sauce. I loved the accompaniments, the pork to a lesser degree. It was a good selection but one I probably wouldn't choose again. (My dad also ordered this.)

My mom selected aji de gallina ($17) which was what I had ordered the first time I dined there (and also was the filling for my empanada). It's flavored with hot peppers, cheese, and peanuts, served over rice and topped with olives and eggs. On a cold winter night it's a great dish; I can see why it's so popular in the Andes, which get very cold at night.

D opted for the pollo al horno ($18), a monstrous crispy, roasted half of a chicken, and marinated in aji panca, along with Argentinian chimichurri and ají amarillo aïoli for dipping. His dish also came with two sides. Each visit he went with the fries (very tasty and crisp, just like in Belgium) and on this most recent visit, he also selected corn in cumin butter, which he said was a bit spicy.

And unlike on our first visit, we did opt for the dessert this time. D and I split a Peruvian style rice pudding (it was not at all what I expected as one didn't taste rice grains at all) and my parents went with an extremely non-Peruvian sweet finish, creme brulee.

I have loved each dining experience at Aji and I am just so glad that a Pittsburgh native forged such a love for the country of Peru-its culture, its food, its sights-and is now sharing it with the people of Pittsburgh. While a trip to Peru is still at the top of my wish list, dining at Aji will help in filling the void in the meantime.

Aji Picante on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Chilaquiles w/Tomatillo Salsa and Eggs-Mexico

Mi querida Mexico,

I fell in love with your people when I spent a month there in high school and lived with an extremely kind and welcoming host family.

I fell in love with your incredible history when I had the chance to visit the Mayan ruins of Chichen Itza during a stay in Cancun.

I fell in love your amazing cuisine when I volunteered at an orphanage and was finally brave enough to be adventurous in regards to my culinary palate.

Most importantly, I fell in love with you since my first ever trip there and will be in love with you forever more.

Chilaquiles with Tomatillo Salsa and Eggs

recipe courtesy of the cookbook Breakfast Comforts: With Enticing Recipes for the Morning, including Favorite Dishes from Restaurants Around the Country by Rick Rodgers

14 corn tortillas, each cut into sixths
2 cups canola oil
2 lb. tomatillos, papery husks removed
1 1/2 cups chopped white onions
1/2 cup chicken stock or low-sodium chicken broth
1/3 cup packed fresh cilantro leaves, plus chopped cilantro for garnish
4 cloves garlic, coarsely chopped
1 jalapeno chile, seeded and minced
Salt and freshly ground pepper
3 tablespoons olive oil
6 large eggs
Minced red onion for garnish
Grated cotija or aged goat cheese for garnish
Crema or sour cream for garnish

-Preheat the oven to 300 degrees F. Position one rack in the middle of the oven and a second rack in the top-third of the oven. Spread the tortilla wedges on 2 rimmed baking sheets. Bake until the tortillas begin to dry out, about 15 minutes. Remove from the oven and let cool completely. 

-In a heavy frying pan, heat the canola oil over medium-high heat until it shimmers. Working in batches, add the tortilla wedges and fry until golden on one side, about 30 seconds. Turn and fry until golden on the second side, 15-20 seconds. Transfer to paper towels to drain. Repeat with the remaining wedges. Discard the oil in the pan. 

-Bring a large saucepan of water to a boil over high heat. Reduce the heat to medium-high, add the tomatillos, and cook until they soften and become paler in color (but before they burst), about 5 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the tomatillos to a blender or food processor. Add the white onions, chicken stock, cilantro leaves, garlic, and chile and process until pureed. Season with salt and pepper. 

-Add 2 tablespoons of the olive oil to the pan and heat over medium heat. Add the tomatillo sauce (it will splatter) and bring to a boil. Cook, stirring often, until the sauce has thickened and is reduced by about one-third, about 10 minutes. Reduce the heat to medium-low. A handful at a time, add the tortillas, pressing them with a wooden spoon to submerge them under the shimmering sauce. Cook until the tortillas are softened, about 3 minutes. Remove from the heat and cover to keep warm. 

-In a bowl, whisk together the eggs, 3/4 teaspoon salt, and 1/4 teaspoon pepper just until thoroughly blended. Do not overbeat. In a frying pan, preferably nonstick, warm the remaining 1 tablespoon olive oil over medium-low heat. Add the egg mixture to the pan and cook until the eggs begin to set, about 20 seconds. Stir with a heatproof spatula, scraping up the eggs on the bottom and sides of the pan and folding them towards the center. Repeat until the eggs are barely cooked into moist curds. Remove the pan from the heat and let the eggs stand in the pan to allow the residual heat to finish cooking them, about 1 minute. 

-Spoon the chilaquiles and eggs onto plates. Sprinkle with the red onion, cheese, and cilantro, and drizzle with crema. Serve at once.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Children's Book Review-Bon Appetit! The delicious life of Julia Child

If you were to show a young child a picture or even television footage of Julia Child, he may giggle, perhaps even thinking she is a giant (she was after all six feet tall, an enormous height for a woman). However, were you to read with a child the children's book Bon Appetit! The delicious life of Julia Child by Jessie Hartland (who also did the illustrations), she might come to a different conclusion. Adding to the newly popular "picture book biography" group, Hartland's book is a great way for children to learn about one of the cooking field's most popular and well known figures. Although it's a picture book, it is quite text heavy, with the font difficult at times to read (at least it was for me on some pages) so I would definitely recommend an adult to read the book with a child as opposed to a child reading it themselves. The illustrations, while not "fancy," are more whimsical and from what I've read of Julia and her personality, the whimsical seems to suit her better.

The book covers Child's life from start to finish and for many adults, when the book gets to the part of Julia and her husband Paul moving to Paris for Paul's job, it's like reading an abridged version of Julia's autobiography, My Life in France. Hartland incorporates a slew of items that would offer innumerable learning benefits to young children, including the use of French words and phrases with the translations featured below, historical references (the book progresses in chronological order of Julia's life) like when televisions were first invented, and the mentioning of foods that many children would not be familiar with.

Obviously I read this book from an adult perspective and yet I could just imagine the wonderment that would escape from a child upon reading it. There are countless biographies for children on the more well known American figures (past presidents like George Washington and Abraham Lincoln, Louisa May Alcott, Helen Keller) and yet Julia is certainly a timeless figure too. Although cooking may not be everyone's thing, a children's book about the first female to truly break into what had been up until her time, a male dominated field, might show young boys and girls that cooking should not be tied to gender stereotypes, that it can be anyone's dream if they want it to. And even if they have no prior background experience, like Julia when she first began her cooking endeavors, nothing is ever impossible.

As an adult I love reading children's books, especially if it is a terrific biography of one of my heroes and also my name twin.