Thursday, May 29, 2008

the woods and the toad

little toad on the damp forest floor.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Italian Roast Espresso

Saturday mornings are the only time some of us have to relax. Or at least try. For those in the food biz its nerve wrecking, as you know a busy night is ahead of you. I never really gave up my Saturday mornings though. When your growing up Saturday mornings are for sugary cereal in front of the television. Its a great feeling knowing another week of hard work has gone by.Even if you do work weekends, you should always take time to enjoy Saturday morning. Make time to do whatever it is that makes you feel at home, and at peace. Let it be a time of healing. We all have different rituals. Some the sugary cereal in front of the tv, for me its a strong Italian Roast espresso the American way, watered down and sugary. I know , I know its awful to water down a good espresso, but it is what I enjoy while reading the latest issue of bon appetit, or the latest blog entry of my favorite bloggers (Orangette)while staying in bed for hours. Italian roast, being an intensely robust roast, give the South American beans a smoky, rich, bold flavor that makes cafe Americano work. No cream, and just a sprinkle of Raw sugar. (sigh) cant wait for Saturday morning!

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Vicky Cristina Barcelona

directed by woody allen , starring Penelope cruz , and scarlett johansson.

Monday, May 12, 2008


Like its distant Mediterranean cousin Mahon cheese, Ibores is also coated in olive oil and paprika during its two month aging period. Ibores comes from the rugged, hot province of Extremadura in western Spain. Extremadura borders Portugal in the west. It is mountainous and famous for its goats. Ibores is made with rich goats milk, and is a great alternative to fresh goat cheese, it packs the same delicious tangy flavor. Its a dry aged cheese with a crumbly dry texture not like any other goat cheese I have tasted. Its perfect with a dry white wine and some salted almonds. perfect for hot weather! Overall I loved Ibores, but I must say Garrotxa is still king of Spain's goat cheeses to me.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Mahon Curado

I never imagined you could improve the rich, salty flavor of Mahon cheese. It really never accrued to me that it was possible to magnify its salty, buttery flavor. There was no need. Yet, the delicious cheese from Menorca, Spain did improve itself. How? By aging. Traditionally made with unpasteurized cow's milk, this amazing cheese has been produced by generations of artisans since the 15th century. Mahon has a rich buttery, salty, nutty flavor. After aging its called Anejo, and it acquires a stronger flavor. A much more intense cheese than its kid brother, Mahon Curado is perfect for true cheese enthusiast! I love eating mine with a mango chutney or a sweet fig jam or simply by drizzling it with extra virgin olive oil.


This artisinal cheese, made of a blend of Sheep's and Goat's milk, has been made in the same traditional manner for centuries. Tronchón is named after the town in which it is produced. Tronchón is a town of only 103 inhabitants situated in the Spanish province of Teruel. Its population has drastically decreased in the last 100 years because of a mass migration to industrialized cities in Spain. The cheese itself is very subtle and fresh. It has a unique shape with a peculiar dent in the middle. It is very buttery. Its a semi-soft cheese. The town has raised Sheep and Goats for centuries, thus the creation of this blended cheese. Today it can be also made with cows milk incorporated to the blend. It is definitely one of my personal favorites.


Garrotxa is a raw goats' milk cheese from the Catalonia region of Spain. It is an intense but not overwhelming cheese. A bit tangy, salty yet pleasant to the palate. Its a perfect late night snack, yummy with a good Sherry. The best thing about it is its accessibility in the states. Too often we are denied the riches of Spain, but thank god, cheese is an exemption.

White Fish

White Fish is under rated. It is grunted upon because of its cost and simplicity. I personally love white fish. Recently I was fortunate to dine at Avec, my new favorite restaurant here in Chicago. I had an amazing Galician style White Fish. It was beyond anything I could have imagined. It was perfectly crisp and not over cooked. I prepared mine in a much sweeter palate. This is my twist on a wonderful dish we serve at Azucar tapas. Its paired with sweet and earthy squash, parsnips and crispy shallots. It all comes together with a sweet and tangy Orange Thyme pan sauce. I used Kabocha, or Japanese pumpkin and cooked it a bit longer covered to make a delicate mash. It was perfect.

6 ounce white fish fillets, skin on
fresh thyme
kabocha squash, organic
orange juice
add about one quart of orange juice into a small sauce pan. add one shallot, thinly sliced, along with crushed garlic and a couple sprigs of fresh thyme. reduce down to about half. cool and strain. set aside.
carefully cube the squash into even small pieces. peel and chop parsnips into the same size. toss with salt and bake covered in 375 degree oven until tender, about 20 minutes. caramelize shallots and mix into kabocha and parsnips, using a fork, mix to make a rustic mash.
salt fish on both side, on high heat, sear skin side first.
deglaze pan with orange sauce, add some butter and fresh thyme.let reduce.


Olives are ancient. Olives are not meant for everyone. Only to be enjoyed by a most refined palate. For centuries, the Romans nurtured on their fruit. Its very branch became a universal symbol of peace. Olives are more than a peace offering. Fat, notoriously evil, can nurture when extracted from a plump Olive. I have enjoyed many Olives, and Olive mixes in my lifetime, but this is by far my favorite. This mix harmoniously balances itself to give an unforgettable culinary experience.

Best Olive mix

Cuquillo olives

Black Moroccan oil cured olives

Casatlevetrano olives

Spanish Manzanilla olives

fresh rosemary

Valencia oranges, sliced

bay leaves

Mix all of the olives and their brine. Add desired rosemary, oranges (alot of both), and a couple bay leaves. Let sit in refrigerator overnight.
recipe by Matt Sacarro

Fennel coca

I have grown very fond of cocas. I Love them! They are versatile, they're a blank canvas for us kitchen artists. Ive tried them with a large array of colorful toppings from roasted bell peppers to Spanish cured meats.However, I came to realize that less is always more. The dough is always the same, carefully dressed with a sweet garlic oil and dusted with chopped rosemary and thyme. My favorite topping however is definitely sweet caramelized onion with tender caramelized fennel. Fennel is great fresh, crunchy and anise flavored. Cooking it makes it tender and sweet. Hinojo is fennel in Spanish. Fennel is a prominent ingredient in Mediterranean cuisine. This coca is delightful paired with a Manzanilla sherry. So look back to the basic coca dough recipe from a previous blog and get cooking!!

Coca amb pebres

Cocas are crispy, yummy flat breads native to the Balearic Islands in the Mediterranean. They can be traced back to the middle ages. This yeast based dough can either be wafer thin or thick and doughy. The rich topping varies by region and personal taste. At Azucar! we serve it with a sweet garlic oil, shredded Garottxa and Mahon cheeses. Then, grilled artichoke hearts are layered over the cheeses and topped off with cherry tomatoes. It then gets a fresh arugula garnish when its plated. The first time we prepared this, Chef Matt and I, we had no idea how the dough would turn out. The recipe is very simple and easy to make. At first, it seems a bit dry. Eventually it comes together to form a spongy dough. Traditionally, its rolled out and then topped off with the fillings.We adapted the recipe in order to successfully prepare it on the line in the restaurant. The dough is first par baked and then pre-portioned. Its prepared to order and this results in a much crispier flat bread. Some dare to compare it to pizza. I believe a flat bread is a flat bread. So remember to always brush it with a sweet garlic oil sauce and never ever tomato sauce!

Coca yeast dough base:

20g dry active yeasta

pinch of sugar

4 1/2 cups of flour

1 tsp of salt

2 tbsp olive oil

2 tbsp white wine/ 1 oz

flour for dusting work surface

add the dry yeast to a mixing bowl and add in a Little lukewarm water and a pinch of sugar.let sit for a few minutes. then add in the 4 1/2 cups of flour, the olive oil and white wine. using the dough hook attachment, begin to mix the ingredients together. slowly add one cup of warm water while mixing to bring the dough together. add the salt and allow to mix until it all comes together into a ball. turn off mixer and let sit in a warm place until it doubles in volume. then, on a floured surface roll out to a thin rectangle, trimming off the edges. bake in a sheet pan lined with parchment paper in a 390 degree oven for about 10 minutes or until the dough is par baked (touch the surface of the bread to make sure its hardened and resembles pizza crust, however it should be a light color) pull out of oven and let cool. Brush the top with a garlic oil, dust with some rosemary and thyme. layer your favorite toppings on top and bake in the oven until its crispy and a golden color. its best to bake it right on the rack to get a crispier crust.

I used a traditional topping of roasted bell peppers and caramelized onions, Coca amb pebres in Catalan.
By far my favorite flat bread recipe. Authentic Spanish cuisine. Enjoy with a sweet Amontillado sherry.

pad thai

Cooking traditional, delicious pad thai from scratch can be very tricky but worth while. Most fried noodle dishes I've had in the past have been heavy, greasy and always leave a guilty feeling behind. Pad thai promises to do the opposite. Thailand, situated along the equator, is a never ending summer paradise. After a long, hard winter of hearty eating one cant help but feel heavy and bloated. As it gets warmer and the days get longer, hearty winter food abruptly stops being appetizing. This thai dish is so light and crisp , it'll definitely lift your spirits after a long winter. This is my take on sweet and sour pad thai.

Stir-Fried Thai Noodles: Pad Thai

1-ounce tamarind paste
3/4 cup boiling water
2 tablespoons fish sauce
2 tablespoons palm sugar
1 tablespoon rice wine vinegar
4 ounces rice stick noodles3 tablespoons peanut oil
1 1/2 pounds large shrimp
4 garlic cloves, finely chopped
2 shallots, sliced
1 large egg, lightly beaten
1 cup fresh bean sprouts1 cup snow peas1 cup sugar snap peas1/2 cup chopped unsalted roasted peanuts
1 lime, cut into small wedges

Soak the dried rice noodles in cool or lukewarm water for 30 minutes, or until they're limp but still firm to the touch; later cooking in the wok will soften them more. Drain the noodles thoroughly in a colander and set aside while preparing the other ingredients.In a small bowl, mix the fish sauce, tamarind paste, water and sugar; stir well to melt the sugar. Taste and adjust flavors to the desired combination of salty, sour, and sweet.Heat a wok over medium-high heat until it is smoking hot. Add 1 tablespoon of the oil and quickly stir-fry the shrimp until they turn pink and are almost cooked through; 1 to 2 minutes. Remove the shrimp to a plate and cover to keep warm.Add the remaining oil to the wok and toss in the garlic, shallots, stir-fry for 30 seconds. Push the garlic and shallots to 1 side of the wok and pour the egg into the center. Scramble the egg lightly until set, breaking it up into pieces with a spatula. Add the drained noodles to the wok, stirring and tossing quickly with 2 spatulas to separate the strands. Pour in the fish sauce mixture, tossing well to coat the noodles and keep them from sticking (if the noodles are still too firm, drizzle with 1 to 2 tablespoons of water to help them cook.) When the noodles are in good shape, toss in 1/2 of the bean sprouts, snowpeas , sugar snap peas and peanuts; save the remaining for garnish. Continue to stir-fry, to combine. Return the shrimp to the wok and toss the pad thai together to warm everything through. Serve the pad thai with the remaining bean sprouts and peanuts on 1 side of the dish and garnish with the lime wedges. Squeeze lime juice over each portion before eating.

Miso and Garlic Marinated Beef with Bok Choy

Imagine you could have your favorite gourmet dish from your favorite restaurant in the intimacy of your own Love nest. Once in a while I tend to sway away from my Spanish cuisine and conquer new ones. Asian cuisines are some of my particular favorites. Recently my boyfriend and I dined at a little Japanese bistro here in Chicago, Oysy. We had a delicious Miso marinated steak. It was to die for! Salty, moist , tender. It was perfect. I'm not a big fan of beef, I'm such a seafood person. This steak was surprisingly good and from what I later discovered a very popular modern Japanese dish. Japanese cuisine is so much more than just sushi and rice dishes. At Oysy, this Miso Steak is served with grilled asparagus. Delicious, yet at the Asian market I found some fresh, crispy baby Bok Choy. I had a recipe for baby Bok Choy and shallots so I gave it a try. Perfect pairing. My point is, don't be afraid and attempt to recreate that special dish at home. Isn't that what dining out is about? Get inspired. Get cooking!
Miso and garlic marinated flank steak
6 oz. Flank Steak (1 per person)
2 Tbs. miso creamed with 2 TB. Sake (or dry sherry)
1 tsp. chopped garlic
1 tsp. sugar
1/8 tsp. pepper
and a little water
For marinate: combine all ingredients until the red miso is dissolved. Marinade flank steak for at least an hour. Grill over high heat.
I recommend using the equally delicious Red Miso paste from Korea. Its a bit more affordable and much much easier to find than the Japanese counterpart. If you do come upon Japanese Miso use it, its only about a two dollar diffrence.

Bok Choy with fried shallots
Bok Choy
Olive oil
In skillet cook sliced shallot. Half a shallot per bok Choy ratio. Remove and season. Cook bok choy and serve with shallots as garnish.


Cava is a sparkling wine form Spain. Its a less sweet, more refreshing, lighter version of Champagne. I just recently tried it and instantly fell in Love! You can drink it by itself or in an array of cocktails. Don't let its light, refreshing taste fool you its pretty strong.
Cava is made in the Penedes region of Catalonia, Spain. Cava means cellar in Catalan. The Pendes region is an area of predominantly rocky terrain, and has been home to vineyards since the Greeks settled there in antiquity.
Cava was created in 1872 by Joseph Raventós.