Maize-A Prehistoric Food / Maíz-Un Alimento Prehistórico

Maize, or corn, started as a wild grass. History tell us that the domestication and development of corn was done in diverse areas of southern and central part of México. This was a result of the creativity and wisdom of the indigenous people that occupy this soil since prehistoric times. Its domestication dates back between 5,000 and 10,000 years B.C.

My cousin Rosa, who owns a huge farm in Jalisco, México, told me corn can be cultivated in almost all climates and almost all soils. She grows corn in her farm in Mexico and she also has grown corn here in the back yard of her San Diego home. My dad also used to grow corn in our back yard. I loved to grab an ear from the plant when it was very tender, I would eat it raw...mmm, so good!

Corn grows quickly, it is easily stored and keeps well for a long time; its preparation is simple and does not require complex equipment to be consumed. There is only one species but corn has a large number of varieties which differ widely from each other. This is reflected in the size of the plants, in the number of leaves and the number of ears, in the size of these, the quantity, the color (white, yellow, red and blue or black) and type of grains. There are as many dishes that can be prepared with corn as there are varieties of it (tortillas, tamales, pinole, sopes, pozole, etc.), even more! I love corn and the many delicious foods I can prepare with it. Pozole is one of my favorites.

This pozole is an unconventional one. It was inspired by a recipe from the book, Al Calor del Sabor, but I use my own sauce and prepared my own nixtamal with blue corn. Using chanterelle mushrooms instead of meat makes this pozole a treat that even my vegetarian husband can enjoy. 

Chantarelle Pozole

1 lb. blue or white nixtamalized corn (I made my own nixtamal from dried corn but it can be bought already made; it is called hominy or pozole)
1 medium white onion
5 garlic cloves
2 sprigs fresh oregano (or 1 tsp. dried Mexican oregano)
Salt to taste

3 guajillo dried chiles
5 red New Mexico dried chiles
3 garlic cloves, with peel
1/2 medium white onion
1 tsp. dried Mexican oregano
1/2 tsp. cumin
Salt to taste

3 Tbs. olive oil
1 lb. chantarelle mushrooms, cleaned and coursely chopped
1/2 onion, chopped

For garnish:
Sliced radishes (I used black radishes but any kind will be good)
Shredded green cabbage (or iceberg lettuce)
Chopped red onion 
Lemon juice
Hot Sauce (your favorite)

Clean the nixtamal, place in a large pot and cover with water. Add onion, garlic, fresh oregano and salt. Slow cook for approximately 2 hours or until the corn has grown in size and has become soft. Add water as needed to keep corn covered.
In the meantime prepare the sauce. Clean the dried chiles, cut in half and remove the seeds and veins. In a dry cast iron skillet toast the chiles about 3 seconds on each side until aromatic. Take care not to burn them or they will be bitter. Soak the chiles in a bowl of boiling water for about 20 minutes. Meanwhile roast the onion and garlic in the same skillet until they are blackened, about 3 minutes. Peel the garlic. Transfer the onion and peeled garlic to a blender, add the oregano, cumin and salt. With tongs lift the chiles from the soaking water and add to the blender. Taste the chile water, if is not bitter add 1/2 cup of this water to the blender plus 1/4 cup of plain water. If the chile water is bitter just add 3/4 cup of plain water. Purée to a smooth sauce. Pass the sauce thought a strainer or a food mill into a bowl and set aside.

In a large dutch oven heat the olive oil and sauté the onions and mushrooms until well caramelized. Add the sauce and cook for a couple of minutes. Removed the onion, garlic and sprigs of oregano from the nixtamal and discard. Add the cooked nixtamal with its water to the mushroom mixture. Correct seasoning and cook together for about 10 more minutes until all flavors had incorporated. 

Serve hot topped with desired garnishes.


Unexpected Spuds / Hallazgo Inesperado

I love growing potatoes because when it's time to harvest, it is like digging out a buried treasure; I never know how many potatoes I will find, it is always a big surprise! 

I started growing potatoes by accident. A couple years ago around Thanksgiving I bought sweet potato to make a pie but I had one too many. I stored the extra potato in a cover in my kitchen and forgot about it. A couple weeks later I found the forgotten tuber sprouting some leaves. Its leaves looked kind of nice so I decided to place it in water and let it grow on my kitchen counter. Later I transplanted  it into one of my flower beds and, again forgot  about it. But when I saw it blooming I started watering regularly and taking care of the plant. The foliage of a sweet potato plant is beautiful! The leave have a very nice green color and the flowers are white with a purple center. I never grew potatoes so I didn't know what to expect as far as  food but I was happy just having the plant as an ornamental one. 

Several months went by and my sweet potato plant kept growing and producing beautiful flowers that eventually died and the plant started to look not so beautiful. I read about cultivating sweet potatoes and learned that it was time to harvest. What a great surprise! Rich and I started digging expecting to get three or four potatoes but we couldn't believe our eyes when we kept getting potato after potato to sum about 25. What a great feeling!

After that year, I started growing other kinds of potatoes; fingerling, purple, red and new potatoes. Some of which I planted myself and some just started growing on their own (because we bury our kitchen scraps all over our garden). This year I have several potato plants going and I have already picked a few potatoes. 

Potatoes are some of my favorite foods. I like them cooked any way but lately, I have been making potato pizza. Sometimes I make the pizza dough, sometimes I buy it at Mona Lisa,  my favorite Italian store, and sometimes I use flat bread. 

Indian flat bread brushed with avocado oil. Topped with new potatoes, asparagus, blue cheese and sprinkled with parmesan cheese and more avocado oil. 
Precook the vegetable in the microwave for 2 minutes on high. Arrange on the bread with other ingredients and bake in a 350°F oven for 10-15 minutes. Serve hot.

Pita bread brushed with olive oil. Topped with a layer of fontina cheese, purple potatoes and sprinkled with shredded parmesan cheese and more olive oil. 
Precook the vegetable in the microwave for 2 minutes on high. Arrange on the bread with other ingredients and bake in a 350°F oven for 10-15 minutes. Serve hot.

This is a dip pan pizza made with store bought pizza dough and topped with rainbow chard, onions and new potatoes.
Sauté the vegetables in a little bit of olive oil, season with salt and any spices you like. I used curry powder and a mix of a Middle Eastern spices that have cinnamon, cumin and cardamon. Shape the dough into a cast iron skillet and top with vegetables. Cover with a mix of mozzarella and parmesan cheese. Sprinkle with olive oil and bake in a 475°F oven for 25 minutes. Let cool for a few minutes before serving.


The Colors of Glass

This year the Salk Institute is celebrating its 50th anniversary with an exposition of Chihuly's blown glass sculptures. They called it Chihuly At The Salk. 

Rich and I visited the Salk Institute this week and took a guided tour of the exposition. It was spectacular!  We have been fans of this artist for quite some time so we were very happy to know that his art was going to be here in San Diego, we couldn't miss it. This is the first time I have been on the premises of the Salk Institute. The site itself is so beautiful! Knowing that there are so many genius people working there makes the atmosphere wonderful and just being there made me feel smart! The architecture of the Salk Institute is so simple but at the same time so perfect and such an amazing landmark for San Diego. And on top of that, experiencing Chihuly's art was the icing on the cake. I'm so happy we got to see this incredible art in this incredible setting!

To know more about the Salk Institute and about Dale Chihuly I encourage you to click on the links. The information about both is fascinating.

After seeing the exposition I remember a recipe that I  created a while ago. The colors of my beautiful peppers from the Farmer's Market where the same as Chihuly's amazing sunburst.

Roasted Sweet Pepper Sauce and Fresh Pasta

1 lb. sweet baby bell peppers
1 medium tomato
2 garlic cloves
1 Ts. olive oil
1/4 c. cream
Salt and pepper to taste
1/2 lb. lasagna sheets, cut in strips (or your favorite pasta)
Parmesan cheese

On a cast iron griddle at medium heat, roast the peppers, tomatoes and garlic until blackened. Place vegetables in a blender with salt and pepper and purée to a smooth sauce. In a big pot bring salted water to a rapid boil, add pasta strips and cook for 1 to 3 minutes (fresh pasta cooks very fast but follow the direction for the pasta that you are using).
In the meantime, in a large pan, heat the oil, add the sauce from the blender and heat for 1 minute. Add cream and 1/2 cup of pasta water. Correct the seasoning and cook for a couple more minutes. Drain the pasta and add it to the sauce. Toss to coat. Serve immediately and top with shavings of parmesan cheese.

Enjoy with bread and a glass of Pinot Noir or your favorite wine.