Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Market Watch.

Hello out there to all you farmer's market junkies!  I just wanted to shoot out a new post letting everyone know that NOW is the time to hit up your local farmer's markets... The food is bountiful, practically overflowing from vendors stalls and prices are insanely affordable due to the bursting summer season's fruits, veggies and flowers.  Just today I visited the Todos Santos Farmer's Market and came home armloads of goodies...

I bought  a bushel of fire-orange dahlia's (I couldn't resist!) along with two tufts of sweetpea and a few stems of a gorgeous purple flower that I didn't catch the name of.  The flowers are awesome during this time of year, absolutely gorgeous and fragrant.  I also picked up some fresh lettuces, garlic, yellow onions, yukon potatoes, green onions and my favorite, 3 pounds of assorted peppers.  I grabbed serrano, anaheim, jalapeno, poblano, bell and Thai chili's- all for only $1.50!  Apparently peppers are relatively light-weight, so I took total advantage because I adore them.

I also found some California Crazy Curd "Lonely Goat Garlic" cheese from Achadinha Cheese Company-  a great cheese for melting into mashed potatoes or on top of a nice, crusty bread.  We'll be using this in our beef tacos tomorrow night.

Later this week, I'll be making some fresh crab cakes, that I plan on topping with Bistro Blend of Napa Valley's "Hot Bistro Oil"- a blend of balsamic vinegar, extra virgin olive oil, garlic and peppers.  Great for dipping, stir-fry or as a saute oil on meats and seafood.  Yum.

That's all I really have for today, just some fun info on local finds.  Coming up this week I'll be reviewing La Note in Berkeley and Toast in Oakland.  Can't wait!

Happy Tuesday,

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Daytrip Napa Valley- Last stop.

Oh Dean & Deluca, how I love thee?  A place where I could spend hours upon hours exploring.  So many foods, so many kitchen tools, so many wines.  How does a person sum up their visit to D&D?  I can't, so I'm letting them tell their story...

"The corner grocery store grew up with the neighborhood, and occupies a busy corner in SoHo in what has become the most vibrant artists' haven in the world. In the early days, Joel Dean and Giorgio DeLuca traipsed around the world to find artisan-produced foods that pleased their customers, not to mention themselves. They wanted products that fired their imaginations, challenged their tastes and turned dinner into a creative exercise."

"Giorgio and Joel's dream of a place that would offer customers a sumptuous celebration of food, a place to experience all of the pleasures that cooking and eating can bring, the original DEAN & DELUCA, opened for business in September 1977. Artist and founding partner Jack Ceglic designed the original store to evoke a turn of the century food department, with high ceiling fans spinning over a vast array of products that lined the high, white walls. Joel Dean and Giorgio DeLuca searched for handcrafted products and artisan foods and imported their discoveries into their enchanting emporium. On display was a staggering variety of produce and foodstuffs, including many never previously sold in this country."

"In 1977, a need for more space began the expansion to the 10,000 square feet of an Army/Navy store, and to Jack Ceglic's plan for a new outdoor marketplace concept."

"The result? Massive exposed columns, Carrarra marble floors, white tile walls, stainless steel shelving and display cases, ample room for meat and fish, bakery and pastry, cheese, candy and coffee display counters."

"The new DEAN & DELUCA opened in 1988 with four times the space. Soon, smaller retail outlets were to follow, in Manhattan's Rockefeller Plaza and in the Paramount Hotel. Espresso Bars were opened in locations around New York and in Washington, D.C., and in 1993, a second store with 10,000 square feet opened on Market Street in Washington, D.C.'s Georgetown District. Since then, DEAN & DELUCA has opened stores in Charlotte, Kansas City, Napa Valley and Tokyo that have become epicenters of epicurean excellence in their locations."

"Today, DEAN & DELUCA still offers the very best in service, quality and of course, selection. Epicurean treats for cooking, eating and entertaining abound even as they did in the original DEAN & DELUCA back in the '70s. DEAN & DELUCA has a team of International food experts who search for the best and newest food products from around the globe. They also have launched a new wine division and can recommend the best food and wine pairings for any event or for that special dinner at home. Please stop in for a visit."

This was the first time I actually stopped in to the Napa Valley Dean & Deluca.  Overwhelmed by the sheer size and spectrum of their collection, all I could do was take photos.  To touch base on all of the products I was interested in would mean to write a novel.  So instead, I give you pictures.

The Entry.

Some namesake spices.

How many different styles of tomato based products can you count?

Bread, bread and more bread.

The hubbs would be in heaven.

I about fell over at the sight of all the candy jars.

Chocolate anyone?

Oh dear.  This is problematic.  I'll take them all.

The beautiful view from the lawn.

Not much more I can say, I just can't wait to go back with a full wallet and a very large shopping basket.  I so look forward to returning!  Thank you Dean & Deluca for dazzling me. 

Enjoy the weekend,

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Daytrip Napa Valley- Part Two.

My second stop on my drive up valley was at the new St. Helena Restaurant, French Blue.  I was hungry for breakfast and this seemed like a good option, as I've been wanting to try it for a while.   Located right off of Main Street, French Blue "is a welcoming all-day neighborhood restaurant located in the heart of downtown St. Helena, serving Napa Valley home cooking from Chef Philip Wang."  I'd like to start by saying, first and foremost, the food is wonderful.  Wang hails from some of the most respected and well known restaurants in the bay area, with a resume that includes local haunts such as Jardiniere, Rubicon, Charlie Trotter, Hilltop @ The Carneros Inn and Fog City Diner- the man clearly knows his food.

"The menu features rustic, wood-fired cooking, seasonally inspired from Rudd Farms’ local gardens – the best ingredients, simply prepared. The food is matched by a carefully edited selection of Northern California wines and handcrafted cocktails."

The restaurant itself is absolutely beautiful. elegant, well decorated in a sophisticated bistro style.  The theme is decidedly cream colored, with, of course, French Blue detailing in the form of pinstripes, linens and fine details.  Cool brushed aluminum lines the bookcases, bar and counter tops giving it a refined farmstead feel.  The main dining room looks as though it could be someones living room, or the lobby of an incredibly chic hotel with squishy armchairs and buckets full of freshly cut flowers adorning the tables.  When I walked indoors, it literally took my breath away with it's ambiance. 

The outdoor patio is small, but cozy with a rustic feel.  Plump banquette benches with built in heaters near your feet line the outer walls of the patio, accompanied by dainty bistro style tables and chairs.  Thankfully, there is a white linen awning to protect patrons from the intense summer sunlight, a successful attempt at shielding while still letting light in.  There are fresh herbs in pot gardens and fresh cut greens resting on the tables, giving the patio a well-loved look. 

*At first, I was completely happy with my choice of sitting outside that day, feeling comfortable and satisfied with my arrangements.  I quickly learned of my mistake.  I blame the awkward weather changes, shifting constantly between hot and cold temperatures on a daily basis this year, for the excessive (and I do mean excessive) amount of flies on the patio.  Not just one or two, try in the double digits, and that's only counting the insects at my table.  I overheard displeasure coming from three other outdoor dining patrons in the 45 minutes I was seated for breakfast.  One woman even requested to be moved inside mid-meal.  Completely understandable.  While the environment is lovely, the flies are not.  One of the waitress's kindly explained to another customer that they were aware of the problem and in the midst of finding a solution.  To French Blue's credit- here in the East Bay, the flies have been obscene, once again due to climate changes.  I trust the restaurant is working on the little issue and will hopefully resolve it soon.*

Moving on...  Breakfast!  Service at French Blue has the feeling of "newbie" about it.  A restaurant working out the kinks of having only been open a couple of months.  While the waitress was friendly and courteous, I found the overall experience a little cold.  She kept things very clear and concise, without much to add and I was left alone to contemplate the menu.  I ordered one of their Pink Mimosa's, a blend of grapefruit juice and champagne, to start out with.  It tasted exactly like it sounds.  Refreshing and light.  I'd be curious to know what champagne they use in their mimosa, because at $10 a glass, that's only $2 less than my entire meal that morning.

To fill my tummy, I chose the Fresh Chorizo & Baked Farm Eggs with soft polenta and sauteed swiss chard.  This was an excellent dish.  The eggs were baked perfectly, colliding with the smooth polenta, a combo that quickly became a new favorite of mine.  The chard was savory, soft and incredibly fresh tasting.  The chorizo was clearly homemade and had a taste all it's own, spicy and rich with a nutty flavor.  The levain toast was to die for, smothered in hand churned butter.  Delicious.  The whole plate cost $12 and arrived on a piping hot Staub skillet, complete with oak barrel charger underneath.  Love the presentation, loved the food even more. 

About halfway through my meal the waitress brought me my check, a move I admit made me feel a little rushed.  Seating at the restaurant is first come, first serve (no reservations) I understand, but that morning was pretty slow, without a wait.  I graciously placed an adequate amount of cash on the clipboard right away, more so because I needed change.  Much to my dismay, the waitress returned the clipboard to me without exact change (coins).  Example:  Bill was $37.17, I gave $60 expecting smaller bills for tipping and random loose change.  No change was received.  I was brought back $22.  I understand the need to eliminate change jangling about, but shouldn't that be left up to the customer?  Am I to assume that the change counts towards the tip?  That's eighty-three cents, almost an entire dollar, that the restaurant claimed.  Myself, not knowing quite how to react, left a normal 20% tip in fear that I would look like I shorted the waitress, even though my eighty three cents was held from me.  I should have accounted for it while totalling up the bill, but I was embarrassed and puzzled.  The women seated next to me exclaimed, "so, they didn't bring you change either?  I think that's just weird!"  I smiled politely, folded my napkin and walked back to my car.

Overall, my experience at French Blue was "good".  Some would probably call it "ok" but I'm sticking with "good" because I feel that like many other new restaurants, they're just working through the kinks of being being freshly opened to the public.  I'll most certainly give them a second chance, hopefully for dinner next time- I'd love to sample the entrees and see the main dining area lit up at night.  I think that once they find their groove, this restaurant will be a top notch destination for locals and tourists alike.  The potential is definitely there for it to be a "great" place to dine, enjoy the company of friends and soak in the St. Helena vibe.  Best wishes to French Blue.

Visit French Blue at 1429 Main Street • St. Helena, California • {707} 968-9200

Coming up next, a visit to the renowned Dean & Deluca, with photos galore...

Eat well, be well,

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Daytrip Napa Valley- First Stop.

I woke up the other morning feeling restless, like I needed a drive in the country.  Not wanting to venture too far off I decided that the Napa Valley would do nicely and would also satisfy my craving for exploring new foodie ventures.  It was about eight o'clock in the morning when I hit the pavement, warm and sunny in the east bay with a crisp edge to the air, thanks to a light breeze.  As I plowed down 680 towards interstate 80 I noticed a significant fog blanket hovering over the valley- much to my dismay.  I had dressed myself in a summery ensemble because I was convinced it was going to be a hot day in the valley but now was doubting my July Northern California weather knowledge at the sight of it.  Thankfully by the time I reached highway 29 the fog was slowly, surely melting away like cotton candy, revealing a azulene colored sky. 

As I made the trek up valley I noticed that it was mostly locals on the road with me, on their way to work at the various vineyards and estates for the day.  Being smack dab in the middle of tourist season was my only fear, but I soon realized that tourists, bless their hearts, don't get up early.  Those on vacation in Napa tend to sleep in, have a languid breakfast and then arrive expectantly (and thirsty) at the cellar door of one of the hundreds of wineries that dot the valley around noon.  This makes exploring easy, fun and traffic-free if you are willing to get up and get out there before the crowds wash over the two lane thoroughfare.

My first stop was the decades old destination, Oakville Grocery.  I've visited numerous times throughout the years, but this Historic Napa Valley Landmark (circa 1881) recently went through a complete structural renovation starting in January and was re-opened in May.  For those of you familiar with the Napa Valley, that is a very long time for Oakville Grocery to be closed- I'm sure there were people out there going through withdrawals.  I was eager to check out the "new" Oakville Grocery, so I made it a priority to stop by while the parking lot was still empty. 

The exterior remains the same, but with a new fresh coat of paint and some architectural improvements.  The familiar hand painted Coca-Cola advertisement still graces the southern facing exterior, a beacon to parched travellers in need of sustenance.  I adore the old world kitsch of this iconic Napa Valley photo op favorite.  Visitors come from far and wide to stand in front of it and smile for the camera, announcing their arrival to the gorgeous wine region we all know and love.  I snapped a couple more pictures of some lovely details...

The market itself has only changed if you knew what it looked like before the renovation, although the new outdoor pick-up window is a great addition for you morning coffee fans.  Here's what the good folks at Oakville Grocery have to say about their little bustling market:

"Our shelves are overflowing with exclusively curated gourmet food products sourced from California artisans and purveyors, with a focus on Napa and Sonoma Valleys. We also offer a high quality yet accessible collection of our neighbors’ wines for purchase by the glass or by the bottle. Not only are we a favorite stop for visitors, we are a center of the community and a place where our neighbors come to gather and shop throughout the day."

Inside, the market is warm and classically appointed.  There is a large deli counter as the centerpiece of the one room grocery- you are greeted by the most enticing cheese display in the valley, full of local, international and artisan cheeses for your picnic basket.  Along with the cheeses, there's an enticing charcuterie assortment that was literally making my mouth water.  They have fresh breads, snack foods, wines, ice creams and other sweet treats, as well as a great selection of prepared foods for you to take out back and enjoy out on their cozy umbrella laden patio.  And for you coffee lovers, you'll be sure to enjoy their selection of fine espresso drinks, teas and morning (or any time) pastries.

It was not, unfortunately, a "shopping trip" for me or I would've piled the goods high and laughed maniacally as I stacked yet another jar of jam or mustard, bread sticks or caramels in my basket.  I was delighted to see so many different local brands represented- an true testament to the beauty that is Northern California.  Where else would you be able to find so many different artisanal foods housed under one tiny roof, presented in such a tummy tempting manner?  Only Oakville Grocery, a classic stop for people young and old.  Stop by, say hello and give the "new" market a good walk through-  it's worth the trip and you'll walk away with an amazing deli sandwich in hand as you wave "Hi!" to the passers-by who are scrambling to pull a U-turn to check it out themselves.  Did I mention they do catering as well? 

*Great tip: Feel free to call ahead to their dedicated sandwich line to place an order in advance. 707-944-9453... and enjoy!

Oakville Grocery, Napa Valley
7856 St. Helena Highway
Oakville, CA 94562 (Map)
Tel: (707) 944-8802
Fax: (707) 944-1844

More of my Daytrip Napa Valley to come... Next up, breakfast at St. Helena's French Blue, a visit to famous Dean & Deluca and an exploration of the city of Napa's Oxbow Public Market. 

Be well,

Btw, it ended up being almost 80 degrees and completely clear that day.  Gorgeous. 



Monday, July 23, 2012

The Oils of Round Pond.

I was recently sent a selection of Round Pond Estate olive oils to sample, much to my delight.  Having just completed a previous article on various olive oils from around the world, I wanted to give the Round Pond Estate oils their own write-up due to elegant nature of their product.  It didn't seem fair to group this oil in with a broad spectrum review of local and international oils.  The oils that Round Pond sent and  I so graciously received were a set of their special "herb infused" flavors, a variety of tastes that deserve a review all on their own.  First, a little history on Round Pond Estate...

"Located in the acclaimed Rutherford region of Napa Valley, California, Round Pond is a family-owned and operated estate designed around our world-class vineyards, gardens and orchards. In an area renowned for the depth and complexity of its Cabernet Sauvignon, the extraordinary artisan olive oils, vinegars, and limited-production wines produced from our estate reflect our family’s dedication to crafting the finest specialty food items while working to preserve the natural integrity of this esteemed property."

Here's what Round Pond Estate has to say about their distinguished, original oils:

"Ripened in the rich soils of Rutherford, California, the imported Mediterranean olive trees of Round Pond Estate bestow upon fruit of extraordinary purity, flavor and character. Each of our four estate olive oils is crafted from a meticulous selection of hand-harvested olives using our signature pressing methods, which combine traditional stone mill techniques with state-of-the-art technology. Master blending in small lots, and bottling only on demand ensures that each gourmet olive oil is delivered to our customers at the height of vibrant freshness. We are also pleased to announce the release of three new, complementary herb infused oils, made from the very finest California extra virgin olive oil and hand blended at the Estate. We invite you to savor the goodness of our artisan oils."

"Graced with the Rutherford region’s rich soils and temperate climate, our orchards have proven ideal for eight distinctive varietals of Italian and Spanish olive trees, each selected for their flavors, aromas, superior reputations, and compatibility with the Napa Valley’s unique micro climate.
Round Pond began importing and planting its carefully selected olive trees in 1998. Today, our olive orchards span 12 acres, for a total of 2,200 trees, some over 100 years old. These estate-grown olive trees produce rich and fragrant extra virgin olive oils. Offering an array of flavors, from the Tuscan-style fruity, green essence of Leccino olives to the rich and buttery flavors of our Spanish Sevillano olives, Round Pond oils are blended to emulate the finest Italian and Spanish oils, while setting a new standard for olive oil production in North America."

The first sample I tried was the Garlic olive oil.  I'm a big fan of anything garlic, but I find that too many olive oils become overpowered by this herb's strong scent and flavor.  Not this one.  Round Pond has found a way to combine the essence of garlic with light, airy taste of their extra virgin olive oil.  The perfect blend of infused flavor that complements just about any dish out there with its savory, velvety taste. 

"Our garlic olive oil is a wonderful fusion of extra virgin olive oil with a must-have in anyone’s kitchen, delicious garlic! With an unmistakable aroma of roasted garlic, the Round Pond Garlic Olive Oil captures the signature scent and flavor of fresh garlic. And with the right underlying, balanced notes of buttery, lush olive oil to complement the garlic, this winning combination will be sure to please."

I used the Garlic olive oil in my favorite caprese salad, along with cherry tomatoes, cigliani mozzarella and fresh sliced basil leaves.

Next, we have the Rosemary olive oil.  Immediately I noticed the scent of coniferous plant life in this oil, the undeniable aroma of a Northern California forest.  With it's herbaceous aroma and tangy flavor, this oil would be perfect in a marinade or accompanying a slice of toasted, crusty potato bread.

"With an essence of pine needles, cedar and spruce, the Round Pond Rosemary Olive Oil is ideal as both a dipping oil and a complement to many favorite family recipes. Whether accompanying your roasted pork tenderloin or rack of lamb at your holiday table or simply drizzled on top of your go-to weeknight minestrone, the Rosemary oil will add a tasty zing and finish to your dishes."

Lastly, there is the Basil olive oil, in all its green, leafy glory.  Indeed, I find this to be my favorite dipping oil from Round Pond.  I love the flavor and aftertaste it leaves in my mouth, almost like summer in a bottle.  Fresh, zesty and fragrant, it pairs perfectly with breads and veggies.  Tonight I will be using it to dress our organic salmon filets, paired with haricot vert and portabello mushrooms. 

"With enticing notes of eucalyptus, opal basil and mint, the Round Pond Basil Olive Oil captures the essence of fresh basil in a bottle. Whether using it as a condiment or simply for dipping bread, it is as varied in its uses as an olive oil can be! We simply love the impact this fresh hint of basil adds to almost anything we’re cooking and know you will enjoy it too."

I was thrilled to be able to partake in sampling Round Pond Estate's olive oils- a special thank you to Michelle Fleming at Benson Marketing for sharing these delicious, refined oils with me.  I enjoyed incorporating them into my everyday food recipes and look forward to making the remainder of the oils last as long as possible-  and when those run out, I will certainly be visiting Round Pond to pick up more!

Simply irresistible...

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Classic Yum.

Today I managed to get up off the couch and take a short trip to the Walnut Creek Farmer's Market, despite the intense heat and crowds.  After being cooped up and generally immobile for the last few days, I was determined to get outside and at least try to walk around a little.  I figured the market was a good place to start...

My mission was simple.  I want to cook a mean a cheeseburger tonight.  A classic, simple, juicy, delicious all-American style burger that melts in my mouth and gets my hands messy.  Yes, I know I've written about burgers before, several times, but I can't help myself.  It's rare that I crave ground red meat to begin with, but for some reason, during the summer especially, I want cheeseburgers.  Like mom and dad use to make- cheeseburgers that scream "it's summertime!" 

The quintessential mid July meal for our families has always been burgers, piled high with cheese, tomato, lettuce, onions, pickles, mayo and a slice of avocado if we're lucky.  Hot dogs are covered in relish, mustard, onions, cheese and chili.  There are usually baked beans, potato salad, pasta salad, cheese dip, homemade pickles, grilled corn, bowls of plump olives (black for fingertips, green with pimiento for brave souls and Graber's if you are blessed enough to be able to find a can somewhere- thanks Mom.)  We never really bothered with extraneous "actual" salads- for some reason, they seem like too much trouble.  Eating a bowl of lettuce while lounging around with a brewskie or a glass of wine in 100 degree weather?  Hmm... Call me a summertime purist, but I'd rather be scarfing down deviled eggs and cream cheese walnut filled celery sticks.   

Weekends here are spent in our backyard, with the good grace of friendly company, roasting in the sun under the heavy limbs of our neighboring black oak trees.  With the addition of Pug's electric blue plastic baby pool, we now have a way to keep a little bit cooler.  It's a normal weekend activity for us to sit in the patio chairs, feet submerged, sunglasses on, sunblock in hand as Pug floats beside us in a relieved state.  The sun seems to saturate every inch of our yard and our souls with dry, radiating heat.  We batten down the hatches of our 90 year old craftsman, sealing it shut during the daytime to preserve the shade inside and we keep our fingers crossed that the wind doesn't die down at sunset.  If we are lucky, a breeze in the evening cools down the near desperate temperatures we tolerate indoors, together, wrapped in wet towels, laying on the linoleum.  It's a way of life, and we love it.

Back to the beauty of the classic cheeseburger.  The whole point of this article was to emphasize just how fun and wonderful (if not hot) summer can be in California.  As the hubbs and I hobbled our way through the market this morning, I watched the people carrying sunflowers, bags of cherries, baskets of peaches, fresh loaves of bread, bushels of daisies and freshly picked peppers-  I realized that this time of year is magical.  People are out in droves, happy, feeling energized by the sun and loving the fact that flip-flops are acceptable footwear no matter where you go.  Women in sundresses, men in their linen shirts, kids wearing nothing but bathing suits and jelly sandals.  To me, there is something special realizing that half of the people we saw out there this morning are headed home to fire up the grill, jump in the pool, lay in the sun and, well, devour cheeseburgers.  Classic summer.

The hubbs and I gathered the following goodies for dinner tonight- best part, all of the ingredients are locally produced and farmed.  How awesome is that?

The buns...  Freshly baked brioche hamburger buns from La Boulange in Lafayette.
The meat...  100% grass-fed organic ground beef from Panorama Meats.
The maters... Organic rainbow heirlooms from the farmer's market.
The cheese...  Clover Organic Farms white cheddar.
The pickles...  Fresh from Mama Donna's kitchen, vintage 7/31/10.
The onion... Straight out of Grandpa Fiorelli's garden, hand picked.
The chips...  Casa Sanchez thin & light tortilla chips. 
The salsa...  Medium Chipotle dip from Salsa for All Seasons.
The wine... Rainbow Orchards 2009 Chardonnay from El Dorado county.

Considering that I've been totally hibernating these last couple days, I'm really looking forward to a mellow night on the patio, warm air on my face and the smell of the BBQ filling my lungs.  I want to sit with my Pug, sip a small glass of bubbly with the hubbs and enjoy the summer air.  It may be the end to a weekend, but it's the beginning to a new week, and that's what matters.

Relish the day,


Friday, July 20, 2012

Weekend Tamales.

Finally, an RSWS article on tamales! 

Last time I made them I was using Global Grub's "Red Chili Tamale" starter kit , which served its purpose and I loved to pieces, but I really wanted to come up with a spin on the popular tamale that was quick, easy and fresh from the market- one that I wouldn't have to read word for word to be successful making on my own.  And, I wasn't able to photograph them for proof that a pot full of tamales was ever produced, so this time I'm doing just that. 

I came across a great recipe for homemade tamales that sounded ideal for the most part (with a few plus/minus steps) and I altered it a little to my liking.  The resulting tamale is the perfect combo of hearty, wonderful flavor and a simple mix of easy to find ingredients that most will find delicious...

*Roasted Corn Chorizo Tamales with Chili Sauce"
25 dried corn husks
2 cups canned organic (no salt added) yellow corn
2 tbsp olive oil
3 tsp salt
4 dried chipotle chilies, seeded
4 dried ancho chilies, seeded
4 dried New Mexico chilies, seeded
1 white onion, quartered
4 garlic cloves, chopped
1 lb ground chorizo sausage
2 lbs ground corn meal
1 tbsp baking powder
3/4 cup vegetable shortening, whipped
1-3 cups organic free range chicken stock

In a large bowl, soak 23 husks in warm water (held down by a heavy plate) for 30 minutes min.  Tear remaining 2 husks into 23 half inch wide strings for tying.

Toss frozen corn with olive oil and 1 tsp of salt, then spread over cookie sheet.  Roast in broiler set at medium high for 10 minutes or until corn is golden brown.

In medium saucepan, bring 3 cups of water to a rolling boil.  Once boiling, drop all dried chilies into hot water, turn off heat and place lid on top.  Let soak for 5 minutes and drain. 

Puree the chilies along with 1/2 cup of hot water, onion and garlic until smooth and salt to taste.  Comb ground chorizo and about a cup of chili puree in small bowl.  Set aside other 2 cups of chili puree to use as topping once tamales are cooked. 

In a large bowl, combine the cornmeal, baking powder and the remaining salt.  Add the shortening, chorizo/chili mixture and corn.  Stir in chicken stock gradually until mixture has the consistency of mashed potatoes.  (It's fun to use your hands to *really* get things blended.)

Spoon 1/4 cup of the filling into the center of each corn husk.  Fold pointed edge of husk up, then roll each side of husk over to completely envelop filling and tie with corn husk string to keep pouch closed.  Repeat until mixture is gone, in this case (counting a few torn husks) I got 20 tamales.

Line a steamer (or large dutch oven pot with steamer basket) with a portion of remaining husks, add tamales and cover with any leftover husks and the lid.  Steam until tender, approximately 1 hour.  Top with warm chili sauce and serve.  Can be frozen as well.

I honestly always used to think that homemade tamales were WAY too hard for me to make, but after trying it out a couple times I've come to the conclusion that really, you just need to allow yourself the time to make them.  The whole process last at least an hour or so- and that's really moving fast.  If you give about 2 hours, you can have more fun playing with the ingredients and taking your time. 

We adore these spicy treats with their own sauce, a dollop of sour cream and some freshly minced jalapenos.  The hubbs is crazy for tamale night and I can eat about 6 of the little bad boys, which sounds like a ton but they are a bit smaller than you are probably thinking.  Leave the guilt behind and dig in because you are going to be wishing that you made about 25 more than you actually did.  Plan for next time!



Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Hot Hot Hot.

The thing about having too much time on your hands during the week is that you come up with some really funny things to write about.  During our normal Monday night Mexican meal, my husband expressed some significant distress over the lack of hot sauce in our fridge.  This normally isn't a problem, I just hadn't hit up the the condiment aisle at our local market recently.  As he handed me the sad remnants of one bottle, I thought to myself, "this is a problem, shame on me for letting our collection get so low!"

Thus, the hot sauce tasting.  I went out to the store that day and bought about 15 different bottles, ranging from very mild to blow your head off HOT.  We stood around our kitchen island, contemplating the various flavors, laughing, tearing up and waving our hands furiously in front of our mouths as the heat increased.  There's nothing more amusing than seeing the shock of a creeper hot sauce finally cross the palate and hit the throat.  This was a wacky way to spend a weeknight, but I did manage to find some super awesome sauces that we both insist occupy the top two shelves of our refrigerator door going forward- let's start with the most mellow...

The classic Cholula.  "Cholula Hot Sauce Original is all about Flavor, Fire and Fun. More than any other Hot Sauce, Cholula's delicious blend of piquin peppers, chile arbol and signature spices enhances food flavors without overpowering them. It's a combination that has defined Cholula as The Flavorful Fire. Cholula makes your enjoyment of eggs, omelets, soups, pizza, dips, appetizers, drinks - virtually all your favorite foods - a more festive experience you will want to share with others."  I don't think anyone who loves sauces would argue that this is a staple condiment for any kitchen.

Next we have one of my favorites, which I absolutely always have stocked is Tapatio.  I could probably just pour this sauce in a glass and drink it but that would make me a little weird.  Who doesn't love Tapatio??  It's mild, savory, saucy goodness! It lasts forever! It tastes good on just about everything from tortilla chips to fruit!  Go buy a bottle, or a case for that matter, of 24 for $20 bucks on their website.

I don't purposefully go out of my way to purchase Valentina but it always happens.  When I'm grocery shopping, almost anywhere, I end up with a bottle of this stuff in my cart.  This one is a good everyday sauce, not too spicy but still packed with flavor.  This is probably one of the only Mexican style sauces that you can find at practically any store out there- I even found some amongst the hundreds of Asian style hot sauces at our local Asian market, which made me giggle.  A solid sauce that's been around for a long time- worth having around.

A friend brought this sauce back from North Carolina for me, but you can find Texas Pete online as well.  According to their website, their "famous blend of 3 different types of peppers, aged to perfection to bring out the natural, bold flavor. The result is a rich, delicious sauce with strong cayenne overtones. This is the sauce that true hot sauce lovers have used since the 1930's to spice up barbecue, eggs, pizza, chicken, veggies, and just about everything else."  Both the hubbs and I like having this sauce around, but it's not nearly as spicy as other options.  It does, in fact, make a good addition to other sauces, like BBQ sauce, and I always use it in my meatloaf recipe to give it a little kick.

I'll have to admit, this label got my attention- I'm not usually sucked in my marketing ploys, but I really wanted to believe the faces on this bottle of Pain is Good Jalapeno Hot Sauce.  "The pain gang is at it again! The Sultan's of Sizzle have been scheming together and concocting their secret recipes to bring you the latest in their line of hot! They've taken a break from their signature sauces to bring you back to a simpler, more traditional style of sauce. So whether you're eatin' some crawdads, eggs, tacos or a big fat juicy ribeye steak, this jalapeno hot sauce will do you just fine, so enjoy!"  This is a good, mild-medium sauce that is perfect to pour on a bit of bite.

Ah, the spicy vinegar tastiness that is Trappey's Red Devil Cayenne Pepper Sauce.  This sauce can be easily found at most major grocers and is well worth the purchase.  "Trappey's is one of the oldest hot sauce brands in the United States. It is produced by the New Iberia, Louisiana-based company Trappey's Fine Foods, Inc.  The company was founded in 1898, when Louisiana entrepreneur (and former McIlhenny Company employee) B.F. Trappey grew tabasco chilies from Avery Island seed."  Both the hubbs and I were surprised by the spice in this one- it's an unexpected spice burn that sneaks up on you after a few seconds.  I use this in seafood dishes for a traditional southern slap to the tastebuds.

Speaking of the McIlhenny Company, let's chat about Tabasco.  "TABASCO® Sauce is still made on Avery Island, Louisiana, to this day. In fact, about half of the company’s 200 employees actually live on Avery Island, with many of their parents and grandparents having worked and lived there as well. Paul McIlhenny, the current Chairman of the Board and CEO, is the sixth McIlhenny in a chain of direct descendants who have strived to preserve the legacy and traditions of the company’s creator."  I decided to give their Habanero sauce a try- we of course will always have classic Tabasco sauce on hand at all times in our home, but I'd never sampled the HOT hot version.  All I can say is quality, heat and good flavor in this little bitty bottle.  Whew!

I have to give a shout out to Trader Joe's for producing their very own shockingly hot version of a Habanero sauce.  I stupidly assumed that because it was just an in-house TJ's sauce that perhaps it wouldn't measure up to the other big boys of the hot sauce world.  Boy, was I wrong.  I chuckled as the cashier asked "have you tried this stuff before?" in a suspicious manner.  I answered, "naw, is it good?"  She retorted, "if you like your tongue to be numb!"  Sweet.  Sounds good, sign me up.  Both the hubbs and I were blown away by the intensity and strong Habanero flavor- an almost homemade taste, which is awesome.  A great sauce overall, we will be buying it again.

I chose this next sauce for originality, Brother Bru Bru's African Chili Pepper Sauce.  "Brother Bru-Bru is a fun-loving, robust fellow who has spent a large portion of his life in the pursuit of wine, women, song, food, etc. His lifestyle caught up with him in his 50′s; a routine medical check-up revealed a severe case of high blood pressure, a common diagnosis for many African Americans. When his doctor told him to lose weight and, worse yet, sentenced him to a life term of salt-free food, he was devastated. Almost all his favorite recipes called for salt, and the commercial hot sauces to which he was addicted were all loaded with salt. He was determined to put some joy back into his diet, so he started experimenting, researching, collecting and blending peppers and spices. Bru-Bru was a lover of African culture and music, having played with Hugh Masekela and Olatunji among others. Well- traveled, he was familiar with many of the exotic flavors of the mother continent and started incorporating them into his emerging blend. Brother Bru-Bru realized that he had fallen into an almost magical potion that would take your taste buds on an exotic journey, give you an intense, endorphin-pumping, habanero-powered heat rush, earn you the respect and admiration of your friends (for being able to endure so much heat) and make you healthy, all at the same time."  Long story short, both the hubbs and I LOVED this sauce.  Smoky, savory- the perfect blend of flavors.  Can't wait to use this when we BBQ.

I was curious about Panama Red Hot Sauce due to the incredibly shiny sticker that read "Winner 2012 Fiery Food Challenge."  How could I not be?  "PanCali Foods began with two cousins who share a love for all things spicy. With Panama Red, Mike and Eddie have brought the same authentic Panamanian Aji Chombo Hot Sauce their family has made and enjoyed for generations and made it available to all who want an alternative to the common hot sauce or one that only brings heat and not flavor.  We use only the highest quality all natural ingredients available to ensure that you and your family will enjoy our hot sauce as much as ours does. We stand behind every bottle made and guarantee your satisfaction."  This sauce is fiery alright, and thick.  Very thick.  It's almost salsa-rific.  The hubbs kept pouring it onto tortilla chips, which means he highly approves.

This sauce was shelved with the BBQ sauces in the grocery store, which was confusing.  Busha Browne's Pukka Hot Pepper Sauce "is the ultimate sauce for devotees of wickedly hot food. Made from fragrant fresh Jamaican Scotch Bonnet peppers, this sauce has stamina and an outstanding and an flavour. The term "Pukka" comes from India and means "authentic, genuine, and first class," truly applicable to this prize winning sauce.  Pukka does not burn the mouth. It warms the heart and soul."  I was pleased with the smokiness of this sauce, although I'm still not sure why it was sitting next to regular BBQ sauces- suggestive perhaps, as it would be great slathered on some ribs.

Another Busha Browne's sauce- Spicy Jerk.  I've just recently ventured into the realm of jerk chicken, which I've fallen in love with.  Although I don't believe this should necessarily be grouped in with traditional hot sauces, it's still one spicy sauce.  "An aged sauce of prestige, this sinful blend of mangoes, raisins, onions, tamarinds, peppers and spices, adds a curiously delightful flavour to casseroles, stews , meats, poultry and seafood dishes."  You can definitely taste the quality in Busha Browne's products.

Venturing into the oh-my-goodness heat world, I picked up some of Melinda's Red Savina Fiery Hot Pepper Sauce. "Melinda’s® Original Habanero Pepper Sauce is credited with making the Habanero a household name. Melinda’s mission is to continue to produce products with integrity, quality, freshness and a dedication to balancing heat and flavor."  Part of the reason I bought this sauce is because I'd never heard of "Red Savina" so I figured, hey, that must be hot.  The Red Savina pepper is a cultivar of the habanero chili (Capsicum chinense Jacquin), which has been selectively bred to produce hotter, heavier, and larger fruit.  And yes, to answer the question, this sauce is hot hot hot.  I think this is the first sauce to make the hubbs turn a bit pink when he tried it. 

Another Melinda's sauce fell into my basket, the Naga Jolokia Pepper Sauce.  "Melinda’s Original Naga Jolokia Pepper Sauce is pure heat. Our hottest offering by far, the Naga Jolokia is confirmed by the Guinness Book of Records to be the hottest chili in the world (1,041,427 Scoville Units), unseating the Red Savina for the title. Also known as the Bhut Jolokia (Ghost Chile), the Raja Mirchi (King Chile) and the Naga Morich, this chili is grown primarily in the Northeastern region of India. The names are different depending on region, however, one thing remains the same — these peppers are hot and should be consumed with caution."  This is basically where the laughter began.  Laughter, tears and deep breathing.  This sauce is borderline 3 alarm fire, causing significant tongue tingling and watery eyes.  Love it!

And now, the hottest of hot sauces.  It's kind of a tie, for varying reasons.  Dave's Insanity Sauce has been mentioned so many times, in so many different articles, online and in print.  When you read about a product as often as I have about this "insanity sauce" you can't help but wonder, "is it true?"  Yes my friends, yes it is true.  Very true.  Dave's got this to say, "this is the original hottest sauce in the Universe and our best seller. In fact, it is the only sauce ever banned from the National Fiery Food Show."  Now that's some hot hot hot stuff.  The hubbs even had a problem getting this stuff down, but was laughing the entire time.  We then shared it with friends last weekend who both had trouble eating a little more than a drip on a chip.  This is a fabulous, smoky hot sauce that only the bravest of sauce lovers need try.

Furthermore, the good people at Dave's Gourmet decided to up the anty with Dave's Ghost Pepper Hot Sauce.  I don 't even really know what to say about this sauce- I've never tasted anything like it.  Again, using the Naga Jolokia pepper to create a sweet, fruity undertones and some serious fire, this is the sauce of sauces as far as I'm concerned.  Nostril burning intensity mixed with a mouth on fire is the perfect way to describe this bomb of bottled tears.  By far one of the most sizzling, silly (but spectacular) sauces both the hubbs and I have tried.  Yowza!!

After all this hot sauce tasting I feel like I should be chugging a gallon of milk and reaching for a box of Kleenex, but man it was a fun review to cover.  We're always looking for new and fun foods to try out and are certainly interested in discovering even more hot sauces in the future.  It seems like everywhere I turn these days I'm stumbling across new and different brands- too many to cover in one article.  Perhaps this article should be titled "Hot Hot Hot #1"?