Out and about

Anamaris 4 Comments

Hello there! Guess who’s playing hooky? Yep, that’s right. The Hubbz, the pup and I are taking a few days off and enjoy the Texas hill country. Unfortunately, things were so hectic at work the days leading up to our break, that I never got around to writing a post. Sorry.

Not all is lost. If you follow me on Twitter, I’ll be sharing the sights and tastes throughout the day. You can find me @chefityourself or just click any of the Tweet links on the sidebar.

PS: I’ll be hitting as many vineyards as humanly and humanely possible.

Relaxingly yours,

Photography: how does my camera work?

Anamaris 2 Comments

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?)

Tamales Mexicanos… I did it my way

Anamaris 5 Comments

Even though Mexican food is readily available in Houston, that doesn’t mean you get good tamales. For years I enjoyed the Rolls Royce of tamales, but most restaurants here serve tamales that are closer to a Yugo. My ex-mother-in-law made the best tamales I’ve eaten to date. She made them every year and would give each of her sons a few dozens to enjoy. I cherished those days, they only came around once or twice a year, so I had a lot of time to think and dream about them. Alicia was a generous woman, but she kept her method and recipe for tamales very close to the vest.  Fast forward some 15 years, you’ll find me trying my hand at recreating the coveted tamales.

Off to the interworld I went looking for recipes and tips. I found lots and lots of them, all calling for chili powder as seasoning. For some reason, I can’t picture my mother in law dumping chili powder to season her pork or chicken. So, I’m going to make this up as I go, combine some of the ingredients I saw her utilize in other dishes and see what happens. It all begins with the chilies. I used 3 different dried chiles:

  • Chile Ancho is pretty mild by comparison to other dried peppers, it has a smoky fruity flavor. This isn’t surprising when you realize that Anchos are dried red poblano peppers.
  • Chile Guajillo also a mildly flavored chile, that seems to bring out the best in its companions. Fruity, but with sweeter undertones than other peppers. Interestingly, guajillos are also used to make Harissa paste, a condiment popular in North African dishes.
  • Chile Pasilla are very dark and wrinkled like a raisin, they’re also pretty mild heat & fruity.

I used all three chilies a few different ways. First, to braise the pork and chicken. Yes. I made 2 different types of tamales, I had to. Both meats were cooked separately and slowly with onions, garlic, cumin, cilantro and 1 or 2 of each chili. I made sure to add plenty of water for braising, because that very broth flavors the masa later. Once the meat is fork tender, I allowed it cool before shredding.

I also made additional chili sauce. One thing I remember about Alicia’s tamales, is that the dough was always very flavorful and colorful. For the chili sauce, I cooked the same aromatics: cilantro, chilies, onions, garlic, cumin and added tomatoes. Once everything had softened, I pureed and seasoned the sauce.

Now let’s talk about the masa. I opted to use premixed masa instead of starting off with the dry corn stuff. But first I made lard. Yep, there’s a LOT of lard in tamales. The lard helps flavor the masa and makes it lighter, fluffier. So, I got some pork fat trimmings and rendered that fat down.

Before combining the lard and masa, I beat the lard until it was fluffy and added salt, pepper and pinch of cumin. I then worked the masa in and worked on its consistency by adding chile sauce and broth until it was about  the consistency of softened ice cream.

The tamales are cooked in corn husks, these are sold in packs and need to be rehydrated before use. Once they are pliable again, you can begin the exciting task of stuffing or making the tamales. Its not a difficult process, but it is a tedious one, which is probably why it is customary to have a few friends or family members pitch in at this point.

Once your tamales are stuffed, you can stack’em into a steamer pan. I took a vegetable steamer and placed it at the bottom of the pan, built a few layers with empty corn husks, this prevents the water from seeping through and ruining the tamales at the bottom and it also add to the flavor of finished tamales.

After about 40 minutes, you’ll end up with perfectly cooked, delicious tamales. Look at that gorgeous baby.

I also made some salsa and we sprinkled some queso fresco on top. I’m not offering a recipe here, I really kept adding and tasting things until they were right. I will say these weren’t quite Rolls Royce tamales, but I think I made it to Benz status.


There are lots more pictures, you can see them here.

Cookingly yours,

Another year, the first challenge

Anamaris 4 Comments

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.


Frozen fingers

Anamaris 2 Comments

It’s cold in Houston. Like freezing cold. As much as I love the cold, it makes very, what’s the word…? Lazy. Yep. I’ve got a ton of already prepared, shot and eaten dishes to tell you about, but with all the real work I’ve been doing, I’ve not been able to sit before the puter to type ‘em up.

So, we’re going to the mattresses. I mean, the archives. This is what I do when I’ve not had a chance to come up with a new post and when I think there’s something yummy you may have missed in my early days.

This one is really good, it is a creamy and spicy chicken dish with Mexican flair. This is Pollo con Crema Poblana (Chicken with Poblano Cream Sauce). For the recipe, click the link.

Lazily yours,

Chef Morimoto vs Chef It Yourself

Anamaris 2 Comments

Last week Houston enjoyed a healthy dose of real Winter weather (finally!), on Wednesday I was manning a booth for Dress For Success Houston at my neighborhood Whole Foods, the location was appropriate for food thoughts. There I was trying to figure out what to make for dinner, I knew that The Hubbz would enjoy something warm and comforting as much as I would, so a soup of some sort seemed in order. Something creamy, rich, with fish and Panamanian flavor, that’s what I wanted. CHOWDER!

I quickly started jotting things down, instead of clams, fish. No potatoes, let’s use chayote instead. Skip the cream and go for some coconut milk and some salty, fatty pork was mandatory. So I ended up with El Fish Chowder-o. It was delicious, I used some leftover rice to thicken it up a bit and should’ve ran it through the blender, but I got lazy and hungry. Aside: Hubbz, if I had a handy immersion blender I would’ve never skipped this step…, hint, hint. No matter. I took a whisk and made sure all the rice grains were completely obliterated and it was pretty velvety.

You may be wondering what any of this has to do with Iron Chef Morimoto. Well, let me tell you. I know you will have some doubts about this part of the story, but I’ve never lied to you and never will. On day 2 of El Chowder-o, The Hubbz and I were watching Iron Chef Morimoto battle Chef Mehta, the mystery ingredient: Coconut. Morimoto proceeds to work his magic with coconut in every conceivable variation and then it happened. He started making a clam chowder. He cooked a bit of rice in coconut milk and used it as a thickener for the chowder and added more coconut milk to make the broth. Of course my dish styling wasn’t as gorgeous as his, but I had a Morimoto genius moment!

El Fish Chowder-O

1 lb fish (I used some striped bass and salmon), cubed
Salt pork or bacon, diced
2 garlic cloves, crushed
3 culantro leaves or 3 cilantro sprigs
about 6 cps broth
1/2 cp rice, cooked
1 can coconut milk
2 chayotes, peeled & cubed
3 green onions, diced
Salt & black pepper

In medium pot, render the fat from the bacon, add the garlic and cook until soften, add the coconut milk, broth and rice, season with salt and pepper, simmer for about 30 minutes until rice disintegrates. At this point you can run it through the blender to get a smooth broth.

Return to the pot and add the chayote, allowing to cook until fork tender. Once the chayote is cooked, add the fish and 1/2 of the green onions. Simmer for about 10-15 minutes until the fish is cooked and flaky. Add the rest of the green onions and serve with crusty French bread.

Cookingly yours,

Eating out in Houston: Nielsens Deli

Anamaris 1 Comment

At the corner or Richmond and Mid Lane sits an unassuming establishment called Nielsens Deli. I had driven by this place countless times since moving to Houston, but never thought about stopping by, I imagined it was just a deli selling deli meats. Recently, a good friend invited me out for a quick lunch promising me I would have the best potato salad and deviled eggs EVAH! Off to Nielsens we went.

As you walk into the stand-alone building, you’ll come into a long narrow room, the deli counter will be just a couple of feet and directly across from the front door, that’s where you place your order, unless you’ve called it in. Turn right and to the opposite end of the room, pick up some chips and pay for your order. If you’re dining in, you can grab one of the stools lined up against the storefront glass. If you’re feeling particularly playful, tease the incoming customers as they come up to the counter.

Ok, this is a food blog, right? Let’s talk shop. First, I was tickled by the lingo I heard as I approached the counter. The customers, regulars no doubt, have learned how to properly order their meals: ‘a Jr Corned beef, extra spread on rye and a pixie potato salad‘. It made me think of a kinder, gentler soup Nazi.

I’m not a big sandwich person, it just doesn’t seem like a meal, but these sandwiches are awesome! I had the corned beef on white with extra spread (they make their own mayo…OHMY!), an egg and a pixie of egg salad. Let me tell you, this corned beef was good and piled high on the homemade bread. No skimping here.

Anni had the turkey on white, extra spread an egg and a pixie of potato salad. I had a bite of her turkey and was surprised by how flavorful it was. They’ve been roasting their own turkey breasts since the deli opened in 1952, I think they have it down.

Now. For the really exciting part. Those sides. I love potato salad, but not the mustardy kind and not with a bunch of stuff in it. KISS (keep it simple, sweetie) is my motto. And KISS it they do. Loads of their amazing homemade mayo, piled with eggs and celery for some crunch, this potato salad ROCKS! It is so good that years ago Gourmet magazine sent a letter requesting their recipe!

Then we go into the deviled egg territory. Insanity, that is all I can say about it. Next time I go, I will have the chicken salad sandwich, apparently it is incredible. And I believe it, because I had a pixie of the egg salad… it was as if they just chopped the deviled eggs and stirred it all up.

If you’re from Houston, you should definitely visit this Houston institution, do it soon! It’s just inside the loop at Richmond. If you’re coming to Houston for a visit, put this one on the list.

Nielsen’s Deli (daily from 8:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m)
4500 Richmond Avenue

Eating around,

Picture Wednesday

Anamaris 0 Comments

Here it is, another Wednesday, another shot. If you’re following my photo challenge, you’ll remember that all the shots for Shutterboo’s challenge are here.

This week was all about color. Here’s a tease, but to see the shot I submitted, you’ll have to go here or here.

See ya next time!


Culinary tour: Turkey

Anamaris 7 Comments

This week Foodalogue’s Culinary Tour will take us to the Republic of Turkey. Do you have your passport? It’s ok, you don’t really need it, I can get you through. We’re going to Turkey this week. Not the bird, the country. Turkey calls Bulgaria, Greece and Syria neighbors–among others. Turkey is a relatively young country, established in 1923 after the defeat of the Ottoman empire. I’ve never been, but I hear it is simply breathtaking and exciting.

I can’t say I am intimately familiar with Turkish cuisine, but Google is my friend and I know more about it today than I did yesterday. Since Turkey was ruled by the Ottomans for a while, you will notice their cuisine harmonizes with that of Central Asia, the Middle East and the Balkans. As with most countries, the cuisine will vary from region to region, but there are still some common ingredients, such as eggplant, green peppers, lentils, pistachios and a number of herbs.

There is also an emphasis on desserts. Turns out, baklava is a Turkish specialty! Yes, I know. I always thought this was a Greek specialty, just as I thought it was always made with honey. How did I ever survive without the Internet, I will never know. What I do know is that baklava has strong ties to Turkey, that there are other desserts similar to it and they don’t have to include honey!!! A definite win in my book.

Wikipedia provided a very detailed compilation of Turkish desserts. The list started off with baklava and then mentioned other similar treats. Enter Sobiyet. I’m going to say that Sobiyet is the baklava’s uppity cousin. Or the fat one. Just like baklava, Sobiyet starts off with layers upon layers of buttery pastry, but it is then crowned with a creamy filling. I found an excellent recipe here.

Following Joan’s Culinary Tour, I have a choice as to how I honor the destination. I can:

  • go traditional: make one of the country’s national or traditional dishes.
  • choose a contemporary approach: take a traditional recipe and contemporize  it.
  • or go for a wild card and use the flavors and techniques of the country we are visiting, and create my own recipe.

This time I opted for a contemporary approach and tweaked the traditional Turkish recipe by substituting with my Latin stuff. Actually, I Panamanianized it, as the substitutions are very common ingredients in Panama. I added cashews, instead of using regular sugar or honey, I went for raspadura–unrefined sugar cane and I also added orange peel, cinnamon sticks and cloves for aromatics.

Cashew & Pistachio Sobiyet

I came across a delicious recipe by Mercedes over at Dessert Candy and followed it pretty closely except for the following changes:

For the custard filling: I allowed the milk to steep with a few cloves and a cinnamon stick, which I strained before adding the semolina. Once the custard had thickened, I added a bit of nutmeg and pureed raw cashews.

For the syrup: I replaced the sugar with raspadura, added the zest and of an orange, and a bit of vanilla extract.

For the assembly:  I sprinkled chopped cashews and pistachios over the custard. Also, when I had 2 or 3 sheets left, I topped the layer with more pistachios, I wanted the color to show through the top. I finished with more buttery phyllo.

I kinda free-formed it into a round; once all the layers were in place, I used the last 2 layers to  tuck all the edges under.

The result was a crisp, moist, sticky pastry that was (still is, there are a few pieces left) just sweet enough. The raspadura gave it a taste of caramel that seems to be perfumed with anise. It makes me think of toffee. Well, there are a lot more shots, if you care to look here.

This was an exciting destination, be sure to stop by and visit with my fellow travelers. Joan made a sinful looking dish with eggplant and my dear Norma made a 2-layer rice pudding. Join us at the next destination, Japan.

Cookingly yours,

Mangalitsa and a secret

Anamaris 9 Comments

Just before Xmas one of my recipes was chosen by the folks at Marx Foods as their favorite use of cured Mangalitsa ham. To my surprise, they sent me more Mangalitsa goodness! Only, this time, it was a fresh, not cured, piece of meat. A neck roll, to be precise. This was a gift from Marx Foods and Heath Putnam Farms (they raise the piggies).

After some research, I learned that this cut is known as Secreto (secret) in Spain because it is the butchers’ best kept secret and I can understand why they keep this cut to themselves. Per Heath, this cut is known as pork collar or coppa and it is all the rage at the  fancy eateries these days. He suggested preparing the roll in a couple different ways. First, I should slice a few pieces and sear them in a pan, then roast the rest. I listened and took his advice to heart; boy am I glad I did.

Since it arrived just around the holidays, my intention was to prepare and share with you another dish rooted in my Panamanian heritage , but, alas! I was so busy towards the end of the year, I never got around to posting it, though I did cook and eat it. Oh yes we did! I kept thinking about lomo relleno (stuffed loin), which is a dish typically served around the holidays. It can be beef or pork loin and it is generally stuffed with carrots, olives, raisins and many variations after that. Let’s talk pig!

Stuffed Mangalitsa Pork Collar

I wanted to make sure the meat itself was seasoned, so I made a nice rub for it. I combined Spanish paprika, pureed garlic, sea salt and black pepper with a bit of extra virgin olive oil and rubbed onto the pork collar, allowing it to marinate for a few hours.

For the stuffing I chopped and rendered the fat out of some bacon, then cooked in some chopped onions, garlic, cilantro and prunes. I did allow this to cool completely before stuffing the pork. I didn’t go fancy butterflying route, instead, I simply sliced the pork collar, just shy of about an inch from the opposite end and piled it with the stuffing*.

A little twine helped keep everything even and in place for searing and roasting. You can opt-out of pan searing and simply cook it at 450° for the first 15 minutes, then lowering the temperature to 300° for the remainder of the roasting time.

I placed it on a roasting rack with some carrots, onions and garlic strewn about the bottom of the pan. This was a 4-lb piece of meat an it roasted for about 3 hours or so, until the thermometer read 145°. I then removed it from the oven and allowed it to rest for about 15 minutes covered with foil. Believe me, we had a REALLY tough time staying away from it that long.

*Following Heath’s suggestion, and to keep us at bay while this baby roasted, I sliced off a few pieces of the collar before I made the cut for the stuffing. I heated a saute pan and added just a dab of olive oil and seared those little collar cutlets, they were about 1/2-inch thick and cooked for 2 minutes or so on each side, we still wanted them to be pink. That’s how we like our piggy. And…Oh.eM.Gee!!! We thought we’d died and gone to heaven.

Let me just try to explain something about Mangalitsa pork. It is obnoxiously delicious! I mean, I just know those little pigs trot around the pen mocking the other pigs and telling them how much better tasting they are. And you know what? THEY ARE!!! The Hubbz said this was better than beef tenderloin, yep. THAT good. The fat in the Mangalitsa is almost creamy buttery.  And the meat has a slight gamey sweetness to it. I don’t know what to say or think about it, all I know is this is some really good sh#t!

Back to the roast. Once it rested and all the juices had redistributed around, we snipped off the twine and began slicing the roast.

Undoubtedly, the prunes added a delicious sweetness to the meat, just a hint, don’t worry. We feasted on this roast for a couple of days. By the time we were down to just a few bits and ends, I pan fried them to get a bit of a crust on the meat and used it to topped toasts points that had been toasted with olive oil and gotten a light spread of a fig & olive tapennade. JOOOOOOOOOYYYYY!!!! Sorry, no pictures of that madness.

I will admit that we are completely in love with Mangalitsa and with the Secreto cut. I also have to admit this will be one of those things we purchase once a year for VERY special occasions, but purchase it we will! I’d like to thank Marx Foods and Heath Putnam Farms again for such a generous and DELICIOUS treat. You can see all the porky shots here.

Mangalitsa longingly yours,