Saturday, August 7, 2010

A Passion for Pancakes

I've been really into making pancakes lately.  It all started back in May when we went to Maui and brought back a package of Hula Girl Lemon Lavender pancake mix.  The mix was simple - just add water - but the end product was delectable.  The lemon flavor was delicate and subtle - a perfect balance for the tiny dried lavender buds that ran throughout.  For me, putting maple syrup on these pancakes seemed sacrilegious (though my family happily drowned theirs with it) so I opted to top them with honey the first time I made them and with lemon curd the next.

Fast-forward to today and of course, I don't have any of that delicious mix anymore but am craving pancakes like a madwoman.  Luckily for me, my sister gave me an electric pancake griddle for my birthday a few years ago so experimenting in this medium is pretty simple.  You already know this about me, but I have NOTHING against shortcuts, so I start with a boxed pancake mix.  Lately I've been using Trader Joe's Buttermilk Pancake & All Purpose Baking Mix.  For my family of five I mix 1.75 cups of mix, 1 cup (and a few tablespoons) of water, and 1 egg.  This creates the base, and is only the beginning!

These amounts generally result in about 10 or 11 (4 to 5 inch) pancakes (2 for each of us is ENOUGH - having pancakes is bad enough, we don't need to also pig out on them....) But (as usual) I digress...

Certain add-ins are mixed right into the batter, and others are added on top of each pancake as the first side is cooking up on the griddle.  For example, last weekend I made apple-cinnamon pancakes by mixing in a 1/2 cup of applesauce and a generous sprinkle of cinnamon before cooking.  This was a suggested variation on the mix box.  I also want to try mixing in ricotta and lemon zest.  This morning, on the other hand, I started cooking the pancakes and while the batter was still very raw on the top of each I sprinkled blueberries on the top, then flipped as usual.  This method also works very well with bananas/walnuts and (dare I say it) chocolate chips.

Another fun thing to do is water the batter down considerably to make thinner, flatter, crepe-style pancakes.  These are absolutely divine with dulce-de-leche (which I'll soon teach you guys how to make at home or where to find in Portland).  In fact, panqueques con dulce de leche (literally translated as pancakes with dulce de leche in case you couldn't figure it out) is a very popular dessert in Argentina.

To be honest with you, I've actually been really into lemon curd (the kind from Trader Joe's) lately and have only topped my pancakes with this.  It didn't work as well with the apple-cinnamon pancakes as it did with today's blueberry pancakes (YUM), but I imagine it'd be amazing over some crepe-style pancakes (or even mixed with some cream cheese and THEN drizzled on).  The possibilities are simply endless.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Why I Love Boca Burgers

Being Argentine, I am hardly a vegetarian.  I mean, come on people, the absolute staple of the Argentine diet is beef.  And like any red-blooded Argentine-American girl, I love a good burger.  But, being somewhat health conscious I do like to dabble in the non-meat variety of patties on buns.  A really tasty one is the black bean burger at Bar Carlo on Foster.  I also like the black bean burger at Burgerville.  But in terms of the buy-it-frozen-grill-at-home variety, the traditional Boca burger is my favorite.  Here are some of the reasons why:

1. It has a distinct "flame grilled" flavor.  YUM! No matter how you cook it, you'll feel like it just jumped off the charcoal BBQ grill and straight onto your bun.

2. The consistency actually tastes meaty instead of grainy or potato-y. This also makes it versatile and easy to cook without it falling apart.

3. It is delicious with all the fixin's (such as lettuce, tomato, onion, pickles, etc.) but also really delicious with just a squirt of ketchup (tastes a bit like a school cafeteria burger this way, but I'll own up to it - I liked those too)!

4. You can serve it to your vegan friends and feel good about having dished up a solid serving of protein.

5. It has only 100 calories per serving, just 1 Weight Watchers point, only 1 gram of fat, 8 grams of carbs, a whopping 6 grams of fiber and yes, 19 grams of protein.

My hubby's out of town for work this week, so I haven't been my regular old cookin' up a storm self, plus, my son had his best buddy over, so this is what I served up for dinner:

Boca burgers on whole wheat buns
Organic sweet corn
Green salad with radishes and tomatoes

That's all folks!

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Taco Tuesday

One of the first things you'll learn about me is that I am no food snob.  I am hardly a purist.  In fact, my brother Sebastian absolutely balks at some of the things I eat and some of the ways I cook (he is a hater of all things Rachel Ray, but don't tell her).

I do, however, love food (have I mentioned this?) and have somewhat refined tastes as far as certain things go.  Being a Latina who spent a good deal of my life in California (Northern and Southern) I like to think that I know good (and by this I mean tasty and somewhat authentic) Mexican food.  I've eaten at my share of taquerias, nicer Mexican restaurants, taco trucks and even stands in Rosarito and Mexico City.  In my opinion, no self-respecting taqueria calls beef tacos by any other name than "carne asada" tacos. If carnitas and al pastor aren't on the menu, well..... (if you don't have anything nice to say....bla bla bla).

Burritos are a whole other animal.  The ones at several of the decent San Francisco Mission district taquerias give even the best Mexican cocinera a run for her money.  Portland has several options of this very same caliber (plus the insanely divine spicy tempeh burrito made by Chencho at "El Nutri Taco," the taco truck he runs from his front yard on SE Woodstock (east of 82nd).  Now, I have to tell you that the 7 years I spent on the East Coast (in cities like Boston, Philadelphia and sometimes New York) were like the 7 years of famine in the bible when it comes to good, authentic Mexican food.  Not a real taco to be found.  No pickled jalapeno/onion/carrot/radish mix to garnish.  No decent salsa bars with the real thing.

But, I digress.  Back to my not being a food snob and Taco Tuesday.....  A couple of weeks ago I dropped in on my sister and brother-in-law for an impromptu happy hour (as I often do on Monday nights when my husband has class).  They were actually on their way out for dinner because they had a gift card that someone had given Joel for father's day.  They were headed to (I cringed a little) Baja Fresh on Sunnyside Rd.  They invited me and my kids along, and I honestly couldn't resist the company (even if I felt a little leary about having Mexican food at a chainy-chain place).

Well, I was very pleasantly surprised.  I ordered carnitas tacos and almost died when I bit into the first one and experienced.....THE REAL THING!!!!  I'm talking about juicy, salty, perfectly seasoned pork with authentic-tasting green salsa as well as chopped white onions and cilantro on top.  They also had an impressive salsa bar with many different selections and bottomless tortilla chips.  Another plus, they were playing classic Salsa music.  We had a great time and I really enjoyed the tacos, not to mention the chainy-chain prices.

That was on a Monday.  But when we were walking out, I noticed a sign that said "Taco Tuesdays - 99 cent Tacos."  If you know me even a tiny little bit you know that I love a bargain almost even more than I love delicious food.  So....I was hooked.  I went back with Sabrina, our friend Michelle and all the kids last night for Taco Tuesday and had a blast.  This time I had a Negra Modelo - the perfect beer to pair with tasty tacos.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

I Scream for Ice Cream

So.....this month's Portland Monthly magazine features an article entitled "Cold Fusion" which reviews (supposedly) the best licks in town - when it comes to ice cream.  This got me thinking about my fascination with exotic ice cream flavors and some of the best ones I've tried and made.  When I lived alone in a small apartment in San Francisco's Mission district, I had the good and bad luck of being directly across the street from an Indian ice cream parlor.  To say that the flavors were exotic is an understatement.  Kulfi, Cardamom, Mango, real Pistachio..... (sigh).  My favorite was Rose ice cream.  It was creamy, perfumey, girly and just plain delicious all in one taste.  I have yet to even ATTEMPT to recreate this flavor experience.

I have, on the other hand, successfully recreated my own version of an Indian Cardamom ice cream, which is insanely delicious as well as easy to make thanks to the little ice-cream machine I borrowed/stole-2-years-ago from my sister Sabrina.

I will share the recipe for this delight shortly, but first, let me tell you about some other ice cream flavors I consider to be exceptional for one reason or another.  (Also, please know that I've had ice cream in Bariloche and Buenos Aires and that my perspective is somewhat skewed as a result).

#1. Basil ice-cream at Pix Patisserie.  Now. It's been a while since I had this particular delight.  At least a year and a half, yet the very experience is burned in my memory as a sensation I will never release.  The creaminess of the ice cream along with the very fresh, very real basil flavor were a complete shock to my unsuspecting taste buds.  I have not successfully been able to recreate the recipe for basil ice cream on my own. :o(

#2. Fior di Latte.  My brother works for a major airline and is able to fly anywhere in the world pretty much free of charge.  I know, poor guy.  He recently visited Switzerland and came back raving about an ice cream flavor that blended the cold, creamy texture of a dessert we all love with the sweet, scalded milk flavor of our (not TOO distant) childhoods.  I'm not sure where he got the recipe (Google is practically no help as I recently discovered) but we made this when I visited him in San Francisco this last January and it ROCKED MY WORLD.  I have been trying to figure it out on my own in the last couple of weeks but can't seem to get the consistency just right.  I refuse to give up, so stay tuned.

#3. Lavender Lemon.  Okay, so this one is a complete fantasy and a flavor inspired by a pancake mix I picked up in Maui this last May.  I recently tried to concoct this type of ice cream (well, in this case it was frozen yogurt) by using some fresh lavender flowers, but the flavor never quite took.  Denise thinks that using lavender honey or creating a lavender syrup may help the flavor to infuse more.  On my to-do list.

#4. Finally....the recipe for Carol's Cardamom Ice Cream.....keep it close to your heart:


1 Cup Heavy Whipping Cream
2 Cups Half &Half
1 TBSP Honey
½ Cup Brown Sugar
½ Cup Sugar
1 ½  TSP Cardamom
1 ½ TSP Cinnamon
1 ¼ TSP Vanilla Extract
2 TSP Lemon Juice
1 Pinch of Salt


*Blend all ingredients together and freeze according to your ice cream maker instructions.

A Food Blog?.......But I'm No Foodie!

Okay, so I really have no idea what I'm doing right now, and I think it's kind of lame to spend time writing about (or even mentioning) that.  So, moving right along.......

I'm doing this for a couple different reasons:

#1. I love food.  Period.  Cooking it, eating it, experiencing it, talking about it.  Enough said.

#2. I was out at Mint on N. Russell with some co-workers remarking on the libations and talking about food as I often do.  Specifically, I was fantasizing about the basil ice cream at Pix Patisserie and telling them about my flubbed attempt to recreate it.....when Heather and Denise said I should start a food blog.  My response was typical...."Me?  What-ever for????? There are so many out there, why would anyone read mine???" The answers from my very young and very hip co-workers were v. kind and obviously motivating....

Just two days later, I was chatting with my sister in front of a friend and describing to her a morsel of food I'd tried (at Mint).  The friend (Juanita) remarked "no matter what the topic of always manage to bring it back to food."  I took this as a compliment.  Amazingly, the topic came up AGAIN.....(me starting a food blog).

#3. Getting my cooking & eating experiences down in this way will help me track them, remember them, share them and recreate them.

Does anyone care so far?  Maybe not.  In fact, I am betting nobody will.  BUT ----- for you (Heather, Denise, Sabrina, Juanita......) maybe others...... I'll share a little about what I cook, where I eat and drink, what I do with my Organics to You provisions, and whatever else I think of.