Cinco de…Uh-oh!

My mouth waters as I write this…

Living in Southern California afforded me the chance to not only indulge in your typical homemade Mexican fare on a daily basis, but also to learn how to make it. From salsa to guacamole to refried beans..I learned how to whip up a Mexican Feast in no time flat. Sauces? A cinch. Rolling taquitos or burritos? No problem! Making tortillas from scratch?

Making tortillas from….SCRATCH? HUH?

That WAS my attitude – past tense! Now, I’m proud to say no longer a tortilla-making novice. Not at all! The Kiwi BF and I have been so into making our favorite Mexi-Cali dishes, that we grabbed Tio Pablo’s Instant Corn Masa Mix (ok, not quite from scratch, but close enough!).

We wanted to celebrate Cinco de Mayo, except I wanted to make the tortilla’s from this mix for the authentic vibe we were aiming for with the meal. We rounded out our tortilla making kit with a press and I was good to go.

photo 2

This is my new boyfriend…Don’t tell my current one!

This was so easy…as in, ridiculously easy! The mix, which is gluten free, makes life simple: You mix 2 cups of the Corn Masa with one cup of water, mixing the ingredients until they form a firm ball. Separate into 12 smaller balls then …press away!

photo 1

So..the beans aren’t quite homemade…This time! They are gluten free, though 🙂

Pressing tip: Use parchment paper on both sides of the dough, and press. This helps keep the tortilas from sticking and makes clean up a lot easier. Lift the press and move the tortilla a quarter turn and press again, repeating these steps a few times to get the tortilla just thin enough, but not too much!

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Seriously, everyone needs a tortilla press!

 

The batch we made gave us 12 tortillas – add some grilled chicken, roasted onions and red peppers, homemade (for real!) guacamole and salsa and you get a perfect Cinco De Mayo – or anytime – meal. The tortillas we made came out soft and pliable, delicious and fresh!

Once you have food this fresh, there is no return 😉

Are you a fan of Mexican food? Share your fave dishes in the comments below..we love hearing what you think 🙂

 

 

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FOCUSED, PASSIONATE, INTENSE: MY INTERVIEW WITH TOP CHEF WINNER MICHAEL VOLTAGGIO

In January 2012, I had the honor of sitting down with the owner of ink. Restaurant, ink.sack and Top Chef champ (and fellow Frederick-tonian) Michael Voltaggio. I really wanted to re-post this piece – let’s all get our inner chef’s inspired, shall we? It’s the HOLIDAYS!!!

PS – I have the Voltaggio Brothers (yep, Michael AND Bryan!) homemade applesauce recipe..it’s SO easy to make! I’ll post it in time for Thanksgiving 🙂

 Focused, Passionate, Intense: Meet Top Chef Winner Michael Voltaggio

When entering celebrated Chef Michael Voltaggio’s new restaurant, ink., one cannot help the feeling as if interrupting a conductor who is privately guiding his orchestra through its greatest concerto. With movements that are quick and decisive it’s no wonder three words come to mind to describe Voltaggio: focused, passionate and intense.

It’s this focus, this passion and this intensity that seeps its way out of the kitchen and onto the main floor here in the home of his newest passion project. Tucked away in the corner of a non-descript brick building on famed Melrose Avenue, ink., opened in September in the heart of West Hollywood. LA’s newest eatery boasts an industrial interior with a minimalist vibe and has quickly become a must-stop for foodies and Top Chef enthusiasts alike.

When comparing ink.’s menus from one week to the next, it can be noted that a limited amount of items are part of his regular repertoire. Voltaggio prefers mixing things up weekly. Served on small plates and meant for sharing, his menu is peppered with interesting options that ring of familiar fare, yet with a culinary twist.

A dish such as the jidori chicken and waffles with hot sauce served with whipped maple syrup is his creative spin on the traditional dish of Southern fried chicken and waffles. Voltaggio also expands diner’s minds and palates by offering a kale salad tossed lightly with burrata, Asian pear, pumpkin seeds and a yuzu sauce.

Other menu items that are tempting taste buds to come out of their humdrum shells are the beef tartare that is served with horseradish snow, hearts of palm, and a sea bean chimichurri. There’s also a dish of brussels sprouts, much like a side dish served for a family dinner. Except Votaggio finishes his version with thinly sliced pig ears, house-cured lardo and apple.

As if one restaurant wasn’t enough, Voltaggio also opened a culinary sandwich shop, ink.sack, in August. In his own way, he has made the ordinary sandwich quite the opposite. The menu at ink.sack offers sandwiches such as a beef tongue Reuben and the “CLT”, his take on the traditional BLT. Voltaggio’s version has the lettuce and tomato but the similarity ends there. The “C’ is a chicken liver mousse topped with crispy chicken skin as the bacon substitute.

Voltaggio also makes sure to tip his hat to his Maryland roots, by including Maryland Crab Chips on ink.sack’s daily menu. Homemade deep-fried potato crisps dusted with Old Bay seasoning adds a new spin on the BBQ potato chip for resident Angelinos. This is definitely not your run-of-the mill sandwich shop.

Sitting down with Michael Voltaggio, you begin to understand his rise to stardom amongst other culinary favorites such as Thomas Keller or James Beard. Food enthusiasts think nothing of including his name among lists of the best. The reason?

He’s becoming one of the greats himself.

“I work the line, I cook the food, I order it, I wash the dishes if I have to. I want to be in my restaurant cooking, not be the guy that is never (there),” said Voltaggio.  “I want to focus, right now, my time in LA.”

How does he spend his time when he owns and operates not one, but two restaurants? Well, there’s a consulting gig for a to be announced project in India on the agenda and don’t forget about the cookbook, VOLTink, which he’s been on the road promoting with his brother Brian. One thing is for certain; Voltaggio’s schedule is not for the faint of heart.

In fact balance is something he finds himself struggling with on a daily basis.

“Lately, it’s been all traveling, so I really haven’t had much time to have a lot of  “fun” at all. I used to go hiking a lot. When I had time, I did things like normal people do: I’d exercise and surf, I went outside. I’d like to be able to go outside again,” he said with a grin.

In the midst of his hectic schedule, there is some light though. “I do go out to eat, I ride my Harley and I like to go to shows and concerts when I can.”

Voltaggio’s talent and passion became properly introduced when he was as a teenager, living in Frederick, Maryland, attending Thomas Johnson High School, playing football and working part-time at the Holiday Inn.

“I was in school full time, going to football practice then going to work. I think out of the whole course of my day, the part I looked forward to the most was going to work, and it wasn’t just because I was getting paid. It was fun. I was working on the line cooking food. I couldn’t wait to get there everyday.”

This education helped as he began planning his restaurant after his Top Chef win in 2009.

“I think Los Angeles is a city that has never been taken seriously as a food town. Within the past five years, (we’ve seen) this small food community start to get bigger and bigger, and grow and grow because there is a need for it. People are interested in going out to eat in LA. Food is big, but it hasn’t been as chef-driven or chef-branded.”

When asked what restaurants or nightlife he likes to imbibe in when traveling home to Frederick, Voltaggio’s grin widened as he shared, “Olde Towne Tavern and of course, I’m going to always go check out Volt.”

And where will Chef Voltaggio be in the next few years?

“Hopefully, still in LA, still running ink, maybe with a couple smaller restaurants around,” he said thoughtfully. “I missed my twenties and most likely am going to miss my thirties, so I’d really like to enjoy my forties.”

Photo credit: Alex Horner (for LA Times Magazine)

Photo credit: Alex Horner
(for LA Times Magazine)

 

 

 

Relationship Advice? Don’t Ask Cosmo!

People who dole out dating advice usually aren’t folks that are actually dating..right?

Maybe I’m stretching the truth a bit here, but I’m not the only one. Dear ole Cosmo has been outed a time or two for suggesting/publishing/advising some of the dumbest crap I’ve ever read.

And we wonder why girls these days are growing up with issues…GET THEM AWAY FROM THE MAGAZINE STAND!!

As if there wasn’t enough to worry about with diets, celebs and their DUI’s making headlines, or other “news”, we also seem to forget that magazine’s insist on offering advice for the ladies in the way of sex, dating, rituals, etc. that just SUCKS. It’s one thing to give advice in YOUR opinion, from YOUR POV (point of view, that is) but it sure as hell is another to give advice like Cosmo did in some of their past articles.

Cracked.com posted this write-up entitled “Seven Psychotic Pieces of Relationship Advice from Cosmo” and I insist that anyone who can get eyes on this does! It’s hilarious and will make you shake your head. To me, the fact that people can get away with this BS (Please reference Psychotic Tip #6, scrolling to the part about “Consequences He Can Expect) is absolutely crazy. Was this shit really in print?

Yep. I’m so irritated I said shit. I also now have a conspiracy theory where Cosmo is in cahoots with every divorce lawyer in the USA. Not kidding.

Anyway, take a read. See what you think. Then post here and let me know YOUR thoughts…Maybe you agree. That’s totally fine. I respect opinions and want to hear all of it!

I love and welcome your feedback, so feel free to bring it on!

Living Gluten Free (or why it ain’t easy…)

It happened. I got glutened.

For those of you that are intolerant to gluten, you know this is not a pretty sight to begin with, but when it actually hits you like a runaway truck, it can be downright frightening.

I’m always prepared. Really. I’m better than a Boy Scout. When dining out, I try to do my own due diligence to make sure I can eat something on the menu provided or see if I need to “load” up before I go because there are not a lot of options at said restaurant.

I was excited when I was getting a cup of soup at Le Pain Quotidien here in LA and was told by the server that there was the option of gluten free bread when I was ordering my usual gluten free tomato soup.

“Really?” I could not contain my excitement. I wanted to kiss him.

“Oh yes! It’s completely gluten free. I’ll give you some, ok?”

I was still not convinced. “Are you positive?”

“Yes! I’ll even give you extra…” His nod was so sincere and his smile so heartfelt, I was lured in, no more questions asked.

Here is where I made my mistake folks. I can’t blame him entirely because as a former server, I usually ask many more questions. This day I was so tired, hungry -and excited – that I got greedy. I watched him load my small take-out bag with my soup and gluten-free bread, took it and skipped out the door.

I enjoyed that bread. I did. It was crusty and fresh and I dipped it in my soup and used it with some dips and spreads at home. Now, as I was eating it I did notice my tummy wasn’t feeling well and I was itching some, but honestly, I brushed it to the side. The guy at Le Pain insisted it was gluten free and he wouldn’t lie to me.

Would he?

As the day progressed, I noticed other little side effects begin to present themselves…my lips hurt, my mouth felt like it had cuts inside it and the topper was when I felt my throat closing. I was having more trouble swallowing than anything, but it was enough of a shock to send me running to the closest Rite-Aid to ask the pharmacist what to do.

Luckily, the Benadryl they recommended worked immediately and I didn’t have to go to the hospital, which was our initial first thought. I pride myself on knowing how my body reacts to things, and once again I listened and caught myself before a mini-disaster occurred.

Did the counter guy at Le Pain lie? The answer to this is no – he didn’t lie. I just think he was ill informed. I found out later he took it that the spelt bread he gave me was gluten free and didn’t think to ask anyone if he was correct.

And again, I take my share of responsibility here because I knew to ask more questions. It’s not like people know about this everywhere, but I wish they did. I wish that most restaurants offered more gluten-free items or trained their servers so they were more educated on this allergy. Kind of like when I was serving and we had to learn all about peanuts and what can happen if someone ingests them.

Hopefully my mistake will help someone else out there to remember to ASK QUESTIONS. Tons. Screw it if they think we’re nuts, I don’t want to spend another Saturday night wondering if my throat is going to close.

I’ve decided that this Saturday I’m going to make some chocolate pots for my neighbors and myself – we love our sweets here and I need to be happy about something delectable again!

So, here’s a recipe I found online at Real Simple that I’m testing out  – let me know if you do, too and we can compare our desserts!

Have a wonderful weekend – and remember: No question is stupid!!!

 

 

Guess Who’s Gonna Be Gluten Free Travel Bloggin’?

I’m excited to share with you that I’ll be doing a series of blogs in association with FlipKey, an offshoot of Tripadvisor, starting in the next few weeks!

I’ve learned so much about how to travel while being gluten-free, not to mention keeping up on your health and fitness activities while on the road. It can be hectic enough trying to get from Point A to Point B, but when we figure in outside issues – watching our diets for low-fat or diabetic needs, trimming calories for our heart or other health reasons or cutting out gluten, it’s no wonder thinking about food can be taxing.

Let’s make it easier…Shall we?

And that is what I intend to do. I want to help you – and me – figure out the best way to watch our diets, no matter what they are and why we do them, so we can feel good about ourselves. Let’s also find time to sneak in a workout, shall we? Whether you are on the road for business or pleasure, we’ll find a way to keep your goals visible in front of you –  no matter what city, town or providence you may be passing through.

While prepping for my own trip, I found this fun little nugget of info for anyone traveling who is gluten-free: It’s a  list of restaurants from different airports across the country, and these particular spots either have items that can be reworked so the gluten free can enjoy them or they have options for you that are pre-made & gluten-free.

I know it’s easy to just get something at the airport, but I also want to suggest that you consider doing what I do: Pack your own food. For. Real. I’m a snacker, and when I travel I’d rather have some goodies to pull out during my travels than to take a chance at an airport diner where honestly, you could end up getting an item that is cross-contaminated by accident.

Sometimes we take our chances. For instance, show me a Wendy’s and I’ll show you a girl who loves a baked potato! Add a side salad and I can usually stop the hungries from hitting. Totally GF.

However, today I’m climbing on a red-eye and want to make sure I don’t get hit with an accidental dose of gluten – and the following gluten attack – while in the air. What’s in my bag? Well, a small baggie of gluten-free Blue Diamond Almond Nut Thins, two small packets of Justin’s Almond Butter (easy to open and easy to use!), and two Luna Protein Bars flavored with cookie dough and mint-chocolate chip (the mint chip are amazing!). I’m planning on grabbing an apple or a banana once I’m past security to add to the mix. Looking over my little bag o’treasures, I’m feeling pretty good.

Are you traveling this week for the holidays? If so, get to your local grocery or health-food store and start your travel bag of snacks for the trip. An hour two of preparation before you get to the airport will save you and hour or two of pain and misery if you get “glutened.”

Trust me.

Going Gluten-Free (as posted on “Life…My Way”, Frederick News-Post)

Going to the doctor can bring up lots of issues…well I guess it depends on what Doc you go to, huh? For me, it was a routine check-up that involved some lovely testing. I’ll just ump ahead to the part where I was told I get to eat fully gluten-free for the next three months.

I’ve had gluten-free foods a lot over the last few months on my own for other reasons, but having someone tell you that you have to do it makes it so much different (I have some commitment issues – I’ll just get that out there). Having to actually fully commit to no gluten sounds AWFUL, mainly because I hear “no bread, no beer.”

I’m not an idiot – I do know this doesn’t mean that I am going to be starving. In fact most grocery stores and a lot of restaurants actually carry many gluten-free options now, with so many folks out there having no tolerance for gluten. I’ve tried the gluten free beer before and frankly, not impressed. I will be heading back to Whole Foods in the next few days to stock up on a few supplies, so I’m hoping to find some other options available now. If not, well, I’ll just take it a day at a time.

As I get started on this journey on a personal level, I decided I’m going to take you guys with me…Why not? Let’s see what I can share every Wednesday with you all about me trying out new gluten-free products or attempting to cook. I think I may just post some pictures as well. Think good thoughts for my poor family and friends – they are the ones that might just suffer here.

In honor of my first Gluten-Free Wednesday Post, I’m posting a shopping list which is found on the The Gluten Free Chef – it’s here for anyone else wanting to give this a go. As I find other info, you can bet I’ll post it. If you want to write in and share your own discoveries or suggestions, please do! I’d love them, and I’m sure other readers would love to check out new ideas as well.

Well, time for breakfast…Thank goodness there’s gluten-free Bisquick (and this recipe for some fabulous cheesecake pancakes!) cause I’m making pancakes!

Starting On Monday!

There is this person out there – We all know them. Once you hear my tale, if you sit there and shake your head and go “No, I don’t know anyone like that”, then you need to look in a mirror because I am obviously talking about you.

These people have a case of what I like to call the “Starting on Mondays”. Every weekend they gorge in some fashion – Gluttony in it’s finest form. From binge eating to drinking, to smoking to shopping….Really does not matter. They are in the midst of a crisis and this is how they cope.

I have sat across from this person at many a Sunday brunch – I have my fruit bowl and coffee; They have their Big Ass Bulging Breakfast Burrito – stuffed with eggs, and four cheese that drips down their arm, guacamole and salsa sliding together in a puddley mess to the plate surrounded by bits of sausage and bacon that has meshed with the tortilla bits that are flailing about. As I delicately eat my paltry meal(*), my companion is shoving a honking bite of food in their face going, “Starting on Monday…..I am SO going on a diet!”

The reality in this is that – Well, NO. No you won’t be starting any kind of stupid diet because that is just not life is it? I look back at some of the greats in history and wonder what would have happened if they had decided to start something on Monday? If Clinton had waited a few days for Monica to get busy, would we have had “BlowJob-Gate”? Or Hitler, if he waited and thought about what he was up to, would there have been so much ruckus? What about Jeffrey Dahmer? Do you think that one day he went to his fridge, gazed around at all of the severed limbs of the poor people he had slaughtered and thought, “ You know what….Starting on Monday, I think I am going to have a turkey sandwich. On whole wheat – little lettuce, little tomato, easy mayo. Some apple slices. Yep. Starting on Monday.”

No, my friend. No. The one thing these men have in common is commitment. Whether it is commitment issues or commitment to their cause, they had it in spades. The next time you think you are going to “Start on Monday” – Drop the Pollyanna act. Own who you are and just get over it.

I did. I am getting over it…Well, I will be. This Monday.

(*If you know me, you know I hardly start the day with a fruit bowl!)