Dreaming of Peru, Stirring up Quinoa

The Rio Urubamba carves a sharp canyon beneath Machu Picchu, a deceivingly calm slosh-and-gurgle coming from its general direction. A rickety bridge crosses to a derelict train station and open market where tourists don fanny packs and over-pay for miniature alpaca figurines, feeling like seasoned world travelers.  My father and I find a shaded restaurant patio and chug our Cusquena lagers as alien gnats draw blood in perfect little dots on our ankles; we gaze upward, looking for the Lost Cities, talking about last night’s supper of guinea pig. A few minutes from then we would climb a dangerously steep set of stone stairs to check in at our tree-house hostel, home to what would be my first (and only and best) cooking class.

 

In a tree house kitchen beneath the behemoth Machu Picchu, my father and I learn to make quinoa risotto.

Now, this was a handful of years ago, before even a whisper of quinoa popularity in the United States. Whole Foods had yet to flood its shelves with the stuff. What had we done before quinoa?! The damn Incas were keeping the whole lot to themselves! And I could see why, that first night, as I stirred it into cream and broth, adding velvety mushrooms and sweet onion. Our instructor took us up to a darker corner of the restaurant, and we gorged ourselves on our creations, sipping wine and talking until the candles burned the length of their wicks, and the rain ceased its patter on the tin roof.

Quinoa is not rice. Therefore this can’t quite be called a risotto. Rice it may not be, but quinoa is a source of complete protein, has wondrous fiber, is high in iron and magnesium, and believe it or not is a true source of calcium. Oh, and its gluten free.

How lucky are we that something so versatile and healthy is so delicious!? Dreaming of Peru, I set out to make a summery quinotto…filled with sweet kernels of late-summer corn, succulent slow roasted tomatoes, and delicate cipollini onions.

 

 

Quinotto with Slow Roasted Tomatoes, Corn, and Cipollini Onions

6 medium sized tomatoes

1.5 cups quinoa

1.5 cups corn

Olive oil

3 cipollini onions

Vegetable broth

.5 – 1 tbsp butter (shhhh!)

Salt, pepper

Chili powder

Garlic

Basil, fresh

Cheese for grating (I used pecorino)

Firstly, before anything, the tomatoes. Pre-heat your oven to 375 degrees.  Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or foil. Slice your tomatoes length wise and lay them skin-side-down on the sheet. Drizzle with olive oil and season with salt, pepper, and a smidge of chili powder. Pop them in the oven and let them roast for 1.5-2 hours.

When your tomatoes are bout half way through roasting, you can probably start on your quinotto. Over medium heat, drizzle about 2 tbsp of olive oil in your pot and add the onions and garlic, seasoned with salt and pepper. Just when the mix is turning golden brown, add your quinoa and toast for 3-4 minutes while stirring constantly. Next, add enough vegetable broth to cover the quinoa by about an inch, set the heat to low, and cover the pot. Steam the quinoa for 10 minutes or until cooked. Remove the lid; add your corn, butter, and 1 more cup of broth. Stir occasionally over low heat, until most of the liquid is gone and a light-but- creamy sauce remains. Take your tomatoes from the oven, slice, and add to the finished quinoa. Serve with fresh basil and grated pecorino cheese!

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Once Upon a Time in Utah….

It was a weekend of meeting new friends, re-uniting with old friends, sleeping in, room service, lounging around in the hot dry sun near an oasis of a pool, hungover brunches, romance, dancing, and skirting around the finnicky laws of consuming alcohol in the state of Utah. It was a destination wedding. It was vacation.

After a short flight and a few we-are-on-vacation-bloody-marys, we landed safely in Salt Lake City. Already sweating in the arid heat, we were immediately whisked away in the comfort of my friend’s air conditioned car to our first destination: Park City. An aspen-like resort town by winter, the streets of Park City seemed quiet and deserted on that late-summer Friday. To satisfy our growling tummies, we popped in to a little place called High West, and settled on their shaded patio for lunch. It was so lovely- the interior of the restaurant was rustic and had the charm of an old mining-town saloon. More importantly, it is the oldest distillery in Utah, and features it’s own home-made whiskeys and vodka! Hearing this, I was itching to take a look at their cocktail menu. I was certainly not disappointed.

 

 

 

 

I ordered the High West Lemonade – they make their own lemonade concoction infused with cinnamon, clove, vanilla and nutmeg to compliment the double rye whiskey. It. Was. Delicious.

And the food? Oh my.

 

 

 

 

Buffalo burgers, thick golden liberally salted fries, a BLT built with gorgeous heirloom tomatoes and served with warm tomato soup for dipping.

After we consumed all that we could and were topped off with bourbon, we took to the streets to walk it all off. The shops here are gorgeous, though obscenely over priced. We peeked in to several, and window shopped the wares of others. We stopped in one more cozy chalet for a quick glass of wine, and then it was back down the hill to Salt Lake, and the luscious air conditioning of our hotel.

Mike and I had booked a room at the Little America Hotel, which turned out to be far more grand than it’s name. Our room was enormous for the mere $99 per night they charge – two separate sitting areas, quaint dining table, gorgeous writing desk, king-size been laden with soft comforters, and a very luxurious bathroom. It was a lovely retreat. We spent a good chunk of the weekend lazing around their outdoor garden pool (they have two).

 

 

 

Besides lounging poolside and pre-wedding cocktail hours with  friends, there was a bit of exploring to be done! Mike and I took to the streets and plodded through the heat, stopping to admire seemingly historical landmarks and such. There were beers to be had at the charming Trolley Square. There were macarons and cupcakes from a little shop in a hotel across the street. There were gardens and parks and rides on public transportation. Salt Lake City was turning out to be more charming than I had ever expected!

 

 

Yes, he’s quite mature, I assure you.

 

After all of the tom-foolery, a wedding was to be had. My date wore a handsome suit and I wore a pretty dress. We toasted with room-service wine, called a taxi, and were off!

 

 

 

 

It was gorgeous.

SHE was gorgeous.

I cried, I danced, I drank, I ate, I laughed, I marveled at love. I shared a beautiful night with my friends and with the man of my dreams.

 

 

 

 

 

 

We got home late Sunday night, but in my mind I’m still on vacation.

xo

 

 

THAI-ING THE KNOT WITH CURRY

It was a very, very difficult afternoon of lazing by the pool with a glass of wine; a slow warm burn on the back of my calves as I leafed through a Pottery Barn catalogue, then Sunset magazine. A whisp of a breeze rippled the surface of the pool, and sailboats rocked sleepily along docks in the distance. I watched a toddler flop about in his water-wings, giggling at himself. Mike was stretched out beside me, alternating between reading a book and staring off into the afternoon sun.

Eventually we dragged our sun-drenched selves back into the crisp air-conditioning of the apartment, and I started on dinner. Four hours early.  See, I knew this marinade would boast it’s most successful outcome if given the chance to work for several hours; and most importantly, I had never made anything remotely Thai before and wanted to allow extra time for myself……just……in case.

I have been craving Thai food like mad for weeks now, but the unfamiliar spices and techniques of the far-east tropics have always seemed too daunting for my own kitchen. I was in luck though, when my mother recommended a simple-sounding Thai inspired marinade that she saw on a recent episode of The Chew. (View the full recipe here)

Earlier that morning, I had popped on over to the local market and picked up a few plump shrimp and chicken breasts, a couple cans of organic coconut milk, some curry powder, and lemongrass. I had the recipe in front of me, but took a chance on some minor simplifying adjustments:

Coconut Curry Marinade

2 cans organic coconut milk

Salt and Pepper to taste (approx. 1 tbsp each)

2 tbsp garlic powder

4-5 tbsp Sriracha

5 stalks lemongrass (or 2-3 tbsp pre-made lemongrass: find it next to the herbs in your market)

5 tbsp curry powder

 

I whisked this all together in two dishes, one for the shrimp and one for the chicken. Covering them in tinfoil, I popped the dishes in the refrigerator until dinnertime.

Coming back to the kitchen a few hours later, I decided on making little skewers of the chicken, keeping them as drenched in the marinade as possible as I set them on the grill. For the shrimp, you may choose to wrap them up in foil packets with a very good amount of the marinade and set on the back of the grill, or skewer them as well! I did both!

I served the heaping plate of coconut-curry-skewers with brown rice and roasted broccoli, and we set out on the patio as the sun melted away, the soulful croon of Doc Watson in the background.  

Mar’sel, at Terranea Resort

What was to be a somewhat ordinary Thursday turned right around into something not-so-ordinary-after-all! I was happy enough to excuse myself from work an hour early, and drove north to San Pedro for the ribbon cutting ceremony on a high school Mike had helped build. Not an ordinary high school, mind you. This $60 million behemoth is perched on a sea-side cliff, boasting pristine amenities that left me begging to go back to high school. I could pass for 17, right? Not.

Yet as stunning as the campus was, Mike surprised me with something even better: reservations at one of Terranea Resort’s restaurants, Mar’sel. I had never been to the resort, but Mike had previously given rave reviews of the golf course and generally spectacular location. As we drove along a winding road, leading out to the cliff, I watched Terranea stretch out in front of us, settling on the coastline like a blanket laid out for a picnic. We parked, and decided to take a meandering walk before dinner. The sun was just beginning its descent, and the brisk saline breeze was picking up. We spotted the perfect future picnic site, and fantasized about ditching our apartments and moving in to a resort penthouse.

Soon the chill on the air shooed us into the restaurant for a pre-dinner cocktail at the bar. As I settled in to an oversized leather bar-chair, I took in the ambience. The bar itself is separate from the dining room, and gives off the vibe of a dark mahogany library or smoking room. The yellow backlight of the bar, the coffered ceiling and paneled walls, the thick wood-and-granite bar. It was classic. I fancied a manhattan, and Mike asked for a vodka martini (blue cheese stuffed olives for this man). I struck up a chat with a man who turned out to be the sommelier and beverage director for the resort. Steven Ashworth shared an incredible wealth of information about mixology, infusing spirits at home, and pairing. He then stepped behind the bar and told us he was going to make us the best margarita we’ve ever tasted. He was right. He made his own creation of a salt-infused foam with hints of lemongrass, then poured a citrus tequila concoction right over. It was divine.

The effects of our cocktails warmed me as we scooted on off to our table for dinner. Every table in this restaurant has an ocean view, provided by the oversized wrap-around windows. You dine with a view of the water, with a crackling fireplace at your back. Very sea-side lodge.

For starters, Mike chose a little plate of Wagyu meatballs with tomato sauce and a roasted-garlic and parmesan aioli. I ordered the slow-braised pork cheek with wild mushroom barley risotto, soft cooked egg, and black truffle. As a wee surprise, our waitress also brought us a little heap of tender chicken oysters, cleverly drizzled in a take on buffalo sauce, with a home-made buttermilk blue cheese dip! Not to forget the basket of hot-out-of-the-oven english muffins they bring to each table!

(Pardon the dark photos – the ambience didn’t quite suit the clearest photography)

We ordered our entrees next, my belly already swelling after the onslaught of appetizers. I asked for the roasted California duck breast with black grapes, wild arugula, hen-of-the-woods mushrooms and kendall farms creme fraiche. Mike decided upon the brandt farms prime hangar steak with brussel sprouts, fuji apples, crispy potato cake, and horseradish cream!

Sipping on the last few drops of our red wine, and nibbling on just one more english muffin, we decided to throw in the white flag. I could not fit one more morsel in my very happy tummy. It had been an incredible evening, and I left feeling so blessed to have been able to share the night with Mike, and so fortunate.

I can’t praise Mar’sel enough, and if you ever find yourself in Palos Verdes, stop in. If nothing else, have a drink at the bar, and ask if Steve Ashworth is around to regale you with tales of mixology.