We’re moving on up…

Not to the East side, but to our own private Idaho. Ok, not there either. We’re moving to our own piece of the internet. Yes, we are! I’ve done all the packing, no worries. The movers have come by, loaded the boxes and unloaded at the new location. The walls are painted and the place is cozy, though I’m sure I’ll find new trinkets and improvements to make as we do our living there.

All that’s left, is to have a housewarming. That’s where you come in. Take note of the new address: chefITyourself.com. Make the necessary changes in your little black book, then just drop by and say HOLA!

Can’t wait to see you on the other side!

Cooking elsewhere,
Anamaris

Marx Madness

Remember last year when my foodie obsession with Marx Foods began? I remember it like it was just yesterday, aahh that Mangalitsa ham *sigh*. Well, thanks to that very gorgeous piece of ham, I’ve been lucky enough to receive samples of their products as rewards for creating recipes. I’ve gotten so many goodies, it’s madness! The best part is that it allows me to stretch my foodie wings and palate and that makes me a better (and bigger) foodie, cook, aficionada, etc, etc.

Tellicherry Peppercorns from Marx Foods

I submitted recipes for more of their contests, which means I’ve gotten more goodies. I have a box of yummy things in my pantry. Since work has been so hectic, I’ve not had much time to experiment in the kitchen, even less time to share the results with you guys. But I’ve been dying to tell you about a couple of dishes I came up with using some of my loot. This post is not a very good step-by-step one. I blame it on work and exhaustion, that said, these two dishes are way too good not to share with you! Oh.eM.Gee!!! These were sooooo good! I’m drooling  just thinking about them.

 Keep in mind, many of the spices were gifts from the good Marx Foods peeps, they are not paying me to say good things about them. What they do want is some honest feedback about their products and hopefully, if all is good, that may generate new customers for them. I know I’m onboard. OK, that’s my little disclaimer, on with the food!
I made two separate dishes for this evening, a Chayote and Mushroom Cream as an appetizer and, for the entrée, Beef Cheeks with Ancho & Guajillo Peppers over White Truffle Rice Cakes. Yeah. Uhuh. Sounds über
good, doesn’t it? I can’t tell you how good they both were, but I’m gonna try.

Let’s start with the soup. You probably know I’m a huge fan of chayote squash, it was one of the few veggies my Mami could get me to eat when I was a kid. As of late, I’ve been using them in a few new-to-me ways, you can find some really good recipes on my blog by doing a ‘chayote’ search. This little vegetable has a very mild taste most similar to a yellow squash IMO.

Chayote and Mushroom Cream

For the soup, I used a variety of dehydrated mushrooms, oyster, porcini and shitake, from Marx Foods. I steeped them in hot water for about an hour, then strained them out and used the reserved liquid to cook the chayotes. I ran the mushroom broth through a coffee filter to catch any grit–though there was none to be found.

Oyster, Shitake and Porcini Mushrooms

I peeled and cubed 3 chayotes, then cooked them until tender in the mushroom broth (you may need to add a bit more water, just enough to cover the chayotes. The broth was seasoned with Smoked Salt. Once the chayotes are tender, run them through the blender to puree the soup. Return to the pot and add heavy cream, about 1/2 cp or to taste.

Smoked Salt and Tellicherry Peppercorns

While the chayotes cooked, I roughly chopped the mushrooms and sautéed them in 2-3 tbsp of butter. I added 1 tsp ground Tellicherry Peppercorns, more Smoked Salt and about 1/2 cp of dry sherry that was cooked into the mushrooms. Keep warm.

To plate: pour the cream in your bowl, top with a dollop of  the sautéed mushrooms, a sprinkling of the Smoked Salt and grated Manchego or Parmesan cheese.

Now, what can I tell you about the entrée…??? I had never cooked beef cheeks before, but I find myself obsessed with them now. I will admit it isn’t one of those things you can make on the fly, because that meat needs to be brought into submission before making it magical. I certainly hope you give it a try, the rewards are indescribable. The meat is melt in your mouth tender and possesses a sweet unctuousness about it.

Ancho & Guajillo Chilies

For this recipe I finished the cheeks with Guajillo & Ancho Peppers and a bit of Fennel Pollen, this gave the final dish a perfect balance of sweet, savory and spiciness that had The Hubbz and I swooning over our plates. The above decadence sat atop rice cakes that had been laced with White Truffle Oil and cream before being crisped in butter.

Fennel Polen from Marx Foods

The scent and taste of the Truffle Oil was so rich and intoxicating, it played beautifully against the other ingredients. I then channelled Iron Chef Symon and topped this concoction with a watercress salad that helped cut through this incredibly rich plate. Let’s get to it, shall we?

Beef Cheeks with Ancho & Guajillo Peppers and White Truffle Rice Cakes

To prepare the beef cheeks, I removed any excess fat and tendons early in the day, just before allowing it to braise for an hour or so in water that was seasoned with a couple cloves of garlic (peels and all), bay leaf, salt & pepper. Once tender, cut into cubes, but make sure to reserve the broth produced.

I simmered 2 guajillos and 2 anchos in about 1 cp of the reserved broth, just until they became soft, about 10-15 minutes. If you want to minimize the heat in the dish, remove the seeds before steeping the peppers. I allowed the peppers to cool just enough to handle and chopped them up and added them to a hot pan with about 1tbsp of extra virgin olive oil, followed by 2 tsps of Fennel Pollen, the zest of 1 orange, 1/4 cp of dry sherry, the cubed meat and seasoned with salt & pepper. I added enough of the reserved broth to simmer the beef until it was melt-in-my-mouth tender, about 30-40 minutes.

While the cheeks cooked, I added 1 tbsp of  White Truffle Oil and 3 tbsp of heavy cream  and 2 tbsp of finely chopped chives to about 2 cps of cooked leftover jasmine rice. I formed the mixture into 4 patties and placed them in the freezer for about an hour to make them easier to handle. Once they were firm on the outside, I  ran them through a breading station: flour-egg-panko crumbs. These were then crisped in a skillet in a combo of butter and oil until golden brown.

I made a make-shift vinaigrette for the watercress, by combining the juice of the orange with a bit of Truffle Oil (probably less than 2 tsps), I dressed the watercress with the vinaigrette and a sprinkling of salt & pepper just before serving.

To plate: I placed 2 rice cakes on the plate, topped them with the beef braise and topped that with the watercress salad. Once you make this and take the first bite, you really will think you died and went on to happy orgasmic heaven.

About the Marx Foods ingredients aka The Loot:

Tellicherry Peppercorns: I love these and will be adding them to my pepper mill. Its black peppers on roids! Really big, bold peppery goodness. A must have.

Smoked Salt: I think it is really cool just to look at, but the flavor it adds to your food is surprising. It really makes it taste smoky. Really excited to have my hands on this one.

Dried mushrooms : These were good, but I wasn’t wild about the texture of them, it made me think of seaweed. I still have some left and will try them again, because I think I might’ve not reconstituted them properly. For now, I’m sticking to the fresh stuff.

Dried Guajillo and Ancho Peppers: I simply love these and I’m pretty familiar with them and have them available at almost every grocery store here in town. I did notice that these seemed ‘cleaner’?? Sometimes when I pick them up at the grocers here they look ‘dusty’ and I rinse them before use. The Marx peppers were ready to go.

Fennel Pollen: Yeah, another keeper. This was the second time I incorporated it into a recipe and I absolutely love it!

White Truffle Oil: This baby is sooo good, it should come with its own choir so that you here them chant ‘aaaaaaaaah’ everytime you open the bottle. Gimme, gimme!

There’s more Marx Goodness to come, so stay tuned.

Cookingly yours,
Anamaris

Challenges, challenges, challenges!

I told you there would be an opportunity for you to play along in the Marx Foods challenge. It’s about that time, my friends. Voting time. Go check out all the incredible entries for the Ridiculously Delicious Challenge, there’s some really good stuff there. Then pick a recipe and vote for it. 15 participants will move on to the next round. Hurry, go vote!

aaaaaaaand…, it’s Wednesday! That means I have an entry for Shutterboo’s photo challenge. The theme this week was Large. What do you think? Go here to see this week’s submission.

There were rides and games.

Largely yours,

Anamaris

PS: Don’t forget to vote!

A Ridiculously Delicious Challenge

Here we are at the 2nd part of my first Marx Foods challenge of the year. The Ridiculously Delicious Challenge is divided into multiple rounds. The first one was to choose 3 ingredients we would like as our prize should we win the final. My chosen 3 were Wild Boar, Heirloom Potatoes and Saffron Strands. I really hope I get a chance to play with all of those.

This is the second round: create an original recipe using 2 of the ingredients sent to us in the mystery box we received as a gift when we made it through the first round. It was an interesting choice of ingredients, as usual. It included things like Iranian saffron, several types of chilies, juniper berries, dried cherries, grains of paradise and dill pollen. Several of the ingredients were a first for me, which is exactly why I love participating in Marx challenges.

I wanted to make sure I used the ingredients in a recipe that would highlight my Latin heritage. I really had to think about it: sweet, savory, sweet, savory. In the end, I settled on savory, a play on Arroz con Pollo. I wanted to use something more exciting than chicken, though. In the absence of duck, I went for lamb. As for the mystery box, juniper berries, grains of paradise and dried cherries would be the other willing participants.

This was an easy dish to put together, but it doesn’t taste or look like it. WOW! So much flavor. First let me tell you about the mystery ingredients. Grains of Paradise taste like herby peppercorns. Then there is the Juniper Berries, biting into one is like sniffing good gin, they have an inherent briny taste. Finally, Dried Tart Cherries. Exactly what they sound like, sweet and tart, perfect substitutes for raisins and prunes. I picked lamb shoulder chops, I wanted the flavor the bones would add to the broth and also a cut of meat with some fat. OK, let’s cook!

Arroz con Cordero (Lamb & Spicy Rice)
6-8 servings

Approx 2lbs lamb shoulder chops
For marinade:
12 juniper berries
1-1/2 tsp grains of paradise
1-1/2 tsp sea salt
2 cloves garlic
1 tsp thyme
1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
2 tbsp cooking sherry
I put all of these in my grinder then rubbed it on the lamb and allowed it to sit for about 20 minutes or so while I prepared the rest of the vegetables needed to braise the lamb.

Braising broth:
2 tomatoes, quartered
2 carrots, quartered
1/2 cp cilantro, coarsely chopped
3 green onions, coarsely chopped
about 1 tbsp olive oil
1/2 cp sherry
water

Heat a medium-sized Dutch oven over medium high heat and brown the lamb on both sides. Once all the lamb chops have been browned, deglaze the pan with the sherry, scraping the bottom to loosen the bits that are stuck. Add the vegetables and lamb and enough water to cover everything. Bring to a slow boil, lower temperature to a simmer and cook until the lamb is tender. Remove the lamb from the broth and allow it to cool.

Run the broth and vegetables through the blender to get everything smooth. Debone the lamb and chop it into bite-size pieces. Set aside.

For the rice:
3 cps long grain rice
1 cp baby carrots, halved
1/2 cp olives, pitted and chopped
2/3 cp dried cherries
1 roasted pepper, sliced
1/2 cp cilantro, finely chopped
3 tbsp vegetable oil
Reserved broth

In the same dutch-oven, add enough oil to cover the bottom of the pan. Rinse and drain the rice before adding it to the hot oil. Stir well, making sure the oil coats all the grains and they turn from translucent to chalky white.

Add this time you can add 5 cps of broth, check the seasoning and adjust as necessary. Once the broth has almost completely evaporated, layer the remaining ingredients. DO NOT disturb the rice, don’t stir it or you’ll end up with unevenly cooked, mushy rice. Top with the lamb, carrots, peppers, olives, 2/3 of the cilantro and the cherries. Reduce the temperature to low, cover with a tight-fitting lid and allow it to cook/steam UNDISTURBED for another 20 minutes.

At the end of that time, remove the lid and mix in all the ingredients. Serve with a salad and top with fresh cilantro. Enjoy! Be sure to stop by MarxFoods.com to see the other contestants throwdown. Also, I’ll keep you posted, but you’ll get to decide which of the yummy recipes move on to the next round. Yep, it’s voting time…, soon. Not yet.

Cookingly yours,
Anamaris

Photography: how does my camera work?

Let me start off by saying, I don’t know the answer to that question. I know nothing, or rather, I understand nothing when it comes to camera functions. I don’t really know how the camera does the things it does or how, as the camera operator, you make the camera do certain things. OK, I may be exaggerating a bit, but not much. I understand what the camera does: it controls light and speed to create an image. But I don’t know how that happens inside the shell of my Sony Cybershot. I know what terms like aperture, shutter speed, DOF (depth of field) and  macro mean, but I can’t really say I have much experience in manually making these things work for me. I can’t say I’ve had much success with it either.

A few years ago, I attempted a photography class, one of those offered by a local company that specializes in leisure classes for adults. I went to class for 5 weeks, at the time I was using a manual camera. I shot picture after picture trying to utilize the manual settings and was dismayed when I saw the results. Lots and lots of blur and things out of focus; a tantrum ensued and I didn’t make it to the last class, the one when we would have to ‘show’ our work. And, I quit trying to use the manual settings and continued taking pictures I was happy with, and even proud of, using my camera’s auto function. But I still longed for the ability to do more with my camera. The funny thing is, I held myself back. I cheated myself out of the joy of learning because of my fear of failure. Ain’t hindsight just grand?!

So, this year I decided to sign up for another class and I vowed to stick to it no matter what. The first class was… overwhelming. Lots of talk about mechanics and technical stuff. One thing I did learn was that my lighting sucks hard, so over the next few weeks I’ll be working on that. The second class was much better, still lots to do with the ‘how things work’, but more having to do with how your camera works. I did find it necessary to ask the instructor a typical Anamaris question. Is there a magic setting one can use to take foolproof pictures? I’m sure you know the answer to that one. That’s a big NOPE! I could feel the darn butterflies begin to fly around my stomach and I could see and hear the evil fairy on my shoulder taunting me with ‘nah nah na na’. That bastid!

This past Saturday I took heed of my instructor’s advice, threw caution to the 45-degree wind and started fidgeting around with my manual controls and shooting picture after jittery picture. No manual shots allowed. I was very excited about some of the shots, then I got home to see this.

and this…

Believe me when I say, that is not what my myopic eyes saw when I shot the pictures. Not all was lost, though. I did manage to make some shots work. Mind you, I intentionally haven’t enhanced any of these.

and this

I was still disappointed, but also pleasantly surprised. I have to say digital is a godsend and I will probably never shoot with a manual camera until I’m close to perfect using a digital camera. Sunday I went to a place called Forbidden Gardens here in Houston. Mark, our instructor, had mentioned this place will be closing their doors permanently and that there might be an opportunity for some interesting shots. Off to see the warriors I went.

And you know what? I scored! A few times. Still miles of room for improvement, but…, tell me what YOU think.

The theme for Shutterboo’s challenge was repetition this week, here are 2 of my runner ups.

this too.

But, I won’t show you my final pick. For that one, you’ll have to go to my photo challenge page, or to Shutterboo’s flicker stream. You can also see a few other shots I took those 2 days, here.

I wonder what next week’s theme will be.

Manually yours, (does that sound dirty?)
Anamaris

Another year, the first challenge

That’s right, the first challenge of the year. I love these cooking challenges, they make me stretch my creativity, especially when Marx Foods sponsors it. Not only does it mean I get goodies, but I really have to challenge myself to best use the ingredients they provide. This year I’m going to add to my challenge and force myself to give the recipe a Latin flair.

To participate in the Ridiculously Delicious Challenge, I have to let the good folks at Marx Foods know what I would do with 3 of the ingredients they’re offering as loot. The idea here is to move them with either an enticing recipe, a funny, naughty, or depressing story, it doesn’t really matter to them. Make an impression, that’s my task. There will be tough competition, as expected, so here I go. To be honest, I want them all, but since my hand has been forced, I’ll follow instructions and pick 3, abandon all those other beauties and be responsible for their ensuing inferiority complex. I’m a terrible human being.

My choices were based on my relationship: the TX wild boar represents my Hubbz. Wild boars can be traced to Germany and they’re strong and resourceful, just like my honey. I would definitely say he’s sweet and slightly nutty, more similarities. We both enjoy all things Latin, Latin America wouldn’t be what it is were it not for Spain’s influence. How appropriate then to have that gamey, nutty, sweet boar basking in the glory of a Spanish saffron sauce. Finally, I just have to check out those Heirloom potatoes, I mean, seriously. One is called Maris and the other is a German butterball, coincidence? I think NOT.

Almost 2 years ago, our reception

Here’s hoping we get to go on another Marx adventure, I’ll keep you posted.

Anamaris