la vida comida

food. life.

Category: General

A culinary tribute to my father on his birthday

* This post was originally published on April 22, 2011. I’m reposting it to honor my dad, who would’ve been 87 years old today.  

April 22, 2011

This is only my third blog post, and already I’m straying off-topic… but I have good reason, I promise.

Today, April 22nd, is my father’s birthday. He would have been 83. We lost him to cancer six months ago, after a valiant two-year fight that only highlighted his strength, grace and dignity. I still struggle to accept that he is gone. It’s like accepting that I’ll never see the moon again. 

Today, I celebrate my father with food… because while my mother apprenticed me in the skill of cooking (for which I am eternally grateful), it was my father who taught me the art and pure joy of eating.

My father was Swedish, German, and English. His first loves were cultivated at home, and early: smoked salmon, pickled herring, fresh fish, dark rye bread, creamy wursts and pâtés, sausages, thick stews, strong cheeses. And candy.

He grew up in New Rochelle, New York, and worked for over fifty years in Midtown East Manhattan.  The Lorson family business had been located in an office suite in Rockefeller Center since the early 1900s (which my dad sadly vacated in the 1980s, when he semi-retired). We’d sometimes accompany him to work on Saturdays.  We’d talk to the impassive elevator-man, plunk on the massive typewriters, spin each other on office chairs until we were nauseous… then run to the café downstairs for lunch and hot chocolate (and do a bit of skating, if it was the season).

When we lived in Pelham, he would pick up teawurst and still-warm onion bread every Sunday afternoon from the German deli. I dreaded church… but eagerly anticipated the earthly reward for behaving during mass! For a rare treat, we would go to the Italian deli in New Rochelle, and get bread and fresh mozzarella – and sometimes, a grapefruit-sized manteca. We dug out salty butter and spread it on fresh-baked Italian bread, and topped it with slabs of pungent cheese… there is no better definition of heaven. Yes, Sundays were good when I was a child.

For our birthdays every year, each of us got to pick any restaurant in Manhattan and have a “date” with just our parents.  We dressed up, took the train to Grand Central, marveled at the constellations. We ate at the Rainbow Room, the Brasserie, Flutie’s, other places which have faded into the landscape. It sure made each of us five kids feel like we were the center of the universe, if only for one day.

He was on a first-name basis with the people at Caviarteria while they were in Grand Central. When they left, he had a steady stream of shipments arriving almost weekly.  In his later years, crème fraiche and caviars were a staple of his diet. And mine, thanks to him.

Manhattan is my father.

Later, after he and my mom moved to Connecticut, and ventured into the city less often, Dad found a wonderful cheese shop, The Villa Gourmet in Milford. The delicious treats – and Linda, the sweet owner – offered my father a brief respite from the devastating rigors of chemo. I truly believe that for a while, those rich, fattening cheeses helped to keep his weight up… and looking forward to them helped sustain him in a way no other meal ever could have.

My father definitely had caviar and champagne tastes… but he didn’t like pasta, rice, vegetables, and most fruits. He replaced those with junk food.  Cheese puffs, potato chips, and his all-time favorites, M&Ms and Reese’s peanut butter cups, were never more than an arm’s reach away. His constant working and striding across Manhattan kept him from ever becoming heavy; it also helped that he was 6’2” and absolutely never stopped moving.

My dad knew pretty early that I was his snack-mate. I liked everything he liked (except scotch, thank God!). When we grilled steak, my father would share the rarest, juiciest pieces with me; and would give me a big slab of “bread and gravy” (salty blood-soaked bread). When he discovered a new cheese, a new pâté, a new gourmet shop – or got a fresh batch of Andes mints – I was the first to know. I inherited his mash-up tastes:  when I first started learning about wine, my first impulse was to find a dessert wine to accompany my Hostess cupcakes. I never would have become so fascinated by food – and certainly not so adventurous – if it hadn’t been for him. He has made me who I am, in so many ways – but this particularly was a precious gift that continues to shape my life… and the life of my daughter as well.

While my heart breaks a little every day that he is not here – and every day that passes carries me further from the time that he was on this earth – I know how very lucky I am to have had such a wonderful father for 42 years of my life. Whenever I miss him, I can share one of our much-loved treats and smile, knowing he is looking on approvingly (and with a bit of jealousy).

So today, I’m going to nibble a bit of caviar and good cheese, scarf down a Reese’s and a handful of M&Ms, and sip a glass of wine (for which he longed since quitting drinking nearly 30 years before he died, but refused even on his deathbed) to honor the memory of a kind, loving, neurotic, quirky, impatient, passionate and utterly human father… who made colossal mistakes, but gave his complete unconditional love without a second thought… who lived every single day without looking forward or back, with the pure joy of a child, and the savoring appreciation of an old man all at once. He made every simple moment special.

Skål, Dad. I wish you were here.

Donde Peruco

Seafood / ceviche, Northern Peruvian (norteña)
(4 / 5)
$$
review date: 12/24/2014
+51 1 4491030
Calle María Elena Moyano (La Merced) 178, Santiago de Surco 15038, Perú

 
 

My husband’s sister Susi and brother-in-law David brought us to Donde Peruco for Christmas Eve lunch, saying that if we couldn’t get up to my husband’s northern hometown of Piura, Donde Peruco had some good norteña dishes, and some great seafood too.

The restaurant’s located on a side street in Surco, Lima’s largest district. Mistura and Apega signs hang prominently outside the restaurant, proclaiming the restaurant’s participation in the country’s largest food festival (and by association, its quality).

Outside, the small, winding street was packed with cars (and attendants looking to help you park for a few nuevo soles); but the restaurant’s interior – while smallish – had a rustic, breezy feel. There was a little alcove bar which looked cozy.

The server was extremely polite, and swiftly served us beers, and a pitcher of sweet, clove-y chicha morada. We munched on the provided cancha (fried maize kernels) and chifles (plantain chips), then started with leche de tigre – for which chefs and home cooks alike have their own special recipe. Often this consists of strained ceviche marinade, while sometimes it is made on its own; still others use a combination of these two. Donde Peruco’s, to me, was more like a ceviche in a glass, with extra marinade – but I’m not complaining. The tart creaminess of the marinade, the inimitable floral, tangy-sweet Peruvian lime, fresh sea bass, and crisp red onion… my mouth waters just thinking about it, and I’m not even exaggerating.

This led into our main dishes, the first of which was a mild ceviche de pescado (which was nearly identical to the leche de tigre, I think). I personally like my ceviche much spicier, but it was still delicious.

The lomo saltado was incredible. Those who’ve had it before may think this phrase is an oxymoron! It’s a simple dish, certainly – strips of beef and bell pepper, with a lot of garlic and a hint of soy sauce, a nod to the many Asian influences in Peruvian cuisine. But the beef was filet mignon-tender, the sauce so flavorful, with just the right balance of salt and garlic. Even my husband said it was the best he’d ever had.

We also shared a plate of jalea, a plate of battered fried seafood and yucca, with homemade mayonnaise for dipping. Hot, light, crisp… yum.

Our arroz con mariscos had a dark, rich seafood sauce, with shrimp, squid, calamari, mussels, and a paella-like rice. It was very good.

We also sampled a few of the norteño dishes. I’d never had seco de chabelo before, and it was… well, interesting. It was like smashed tostones with fresh dried beef (charqui, or jerky), and chifles stuck in the top. There’s no question it was well-made; I’m just on the fence about tostones, which I find to be bland and dry. I greatly prefer ripe, moist plantains, fried to a dark caramel on the outside, and that sweet, deep yellow creaminess on the inside… well, I digress. If you’re not a fan of unripe plantains, you may want to skip this one. (My husband says that in his hometown, they do not put chifles, and they use chicha de jora to make it more moist and flavorful.)

Majado de yucca is another northern specialty. Now I’m a yucca freak, and I could pretty much eat fried yucca (with an assortment of dipping sauces of course) every day of the year. But this was similar to the seco de chabelo, only with yucca. Like the chabelo, it was very good – just not my thing.

For dessert, we went to a gelateria, though we’ll be sure to try Donde Peruco’s postres (and the arroz con pato, the one norteña dish we didn’t get to try) next time. 

For a restaurant in Lima, the prices might be considered middle of the road. For American visitors, the prices are quite reasonable; almost all of the entrées are priced between $8 and $9 American dollars.

Donde Peruco is simply an excellent restaurant. I can’t say one negative thing about it. Every single dish was well-made, perfectly seasoned, nicely presented, and served quickly and courteously. I absolutely recommend it, and plan to go back as soon as we return to Lima.

Sancocho

As most everyone knows, New York’s winter has been especially brutal this year. Subzero temperatures, weekly snowstorms, blustery gray days that blend into one another… it feels like winter will never end.

My husband’s friend Will is a Nuyorican who has lived in Albany for many years. He’s helped us out of many a jam, not the least of which has been digging us out of every snowstorm.

After the last storm, I gratefully asked Will what I could make to repay him. He immediately answered, “Sancocho!”

I wasn’t even sure what it was. But after a little investigation, I learned that sancocho is another ubiquitous culinary term: most countries in and near the Caribbean have their own version. (Peru’s sancochado is a soup – not quite the same.)

Some cite sancocho’s origin as the Canary Islands: slaves brought to the Caribbean by the Spanish brought the dish (originally made with fish) along with them. Others elaborate, asserting that African slaves set a pot of sancocho to simmer in the morning, so they would have a hearty stew to sustain themselves after toiling in the scorching heat. (It also alludes to the individuals themselves, boiling under the hot sun.) Still others credit the indigenous Taino peoples with introducing the Spanish to their root vegetable stew.

Like most food history, things have a tendency to get muddled over time. There’s surely truth in each version.

But it is important to remember – especially now, in honor of Black History Month – that each Latin American country’s cuisine was not created by only indigenous and Spanish food cultures. African slaves prepared, influenced – and truly, invented – many dishes for the viceroy and upper class households. This vastly influenced the mainstream cuisine of many countries. African contribution to Latin American cuisine simply cannot be overstated.

Will says his family always used oxtails – which is usually used in the Colombian version – and included tomatoes. This version, based on Will’s family recipe, is a meat-heavy stew, full of earthy roots, sweet squash, and of course, sofrito.

Sofrito is a central ingredient in sancocho. Every Latin American culture has at least one version of sofrito. (Truly, almost every food culture has a similar culinary staple: a mix of aromatic vegetables which form the foundation of a dish’s flavor. Think pre-cooked, Latin American mirepoix. (Recaíto, a cilantro-based sofrito, is usually used for Puerto Rican sancocho.)

When I asked Will if his family’s recipe was traditional, he said that each family had its own version; but added: “Does it taste good? Then it’s traditional.” Truer words were never said!

It was such a hit, I’ve made it three more times in the last month! I can’t think of a more satisfying comfort food for this frigid weather – or for a loyal friend.

Sancocho
Servings Prep Time
8people 30minutes
Cook Time
1.5hours
Servings Prep Time
8people 30minutes
Cook Time
1.5hours
Ingredients
Browning meat:
  • 2packets Goya Sazon seasoning
  • 1/2 tsp black pepper, ground
  • 1pound oxtails or beef shin bones
  • 1pound beef short ribs
  • 1pound beef neck bones
  • 2pounds beef eye or top round,cubed
  • 1 ham hock
Stew base:
  • 2 Tbsp. vegetable oil
  • 1large yellow onionmedium dice
  • 10cloves garlicminced
  • 1medium green peppermedium dice
  • 1/2can tomato paste(6 oz.)
  • 1pint Sofritofresh or frozen Goya
  • 2quarts beef stock
  • 1 1/2 quarts water
  • 1packet Goya Jamon seasoning
  • 1tsp. Goya Adobo seasoning
  • 1tsp. achiote, ground
Vegetables:
  • 4medium yellow potatoespeeled and quartered
  • 1large sweet potatopeeled and quartered
  • 1pound yucca,frozen, defrosted, strings removed
  • 1large batata (yam)peeled and quartered
  • 1large plantain,cut in quarter width-wise
  • 1 pound butternut squashfresh or frozen, large dice
  • 2whole corn cobs,cut in thirds width-wise
  • 1bunch cilantrochopped
  • salt and black pepperto taste
Instructions
Mise en place:
  1. Gather / measure all ingredients.
Browning Meats:
  1. Sprinkle meats with the two Sazon packets and ½ tsp. black pepper. Heat oil in a very large, heavy-bottomed stockpot, over medium-high heat. Brown meats, starting with the fattiest meats (oxtail / shin bones, neck bones, then boneless diced meat). Lightly brown pork bone. Remove meat from pot with slotted spoon.
Base:
  1. Lower heat to medium. Add onions to oil; sauté until transparent (3-4 minutes). Add garlic; sauté 2-3 minutes. Add green pepper; sauté until soft (3-4 more minutes).
  2. Add tomato paste; sauté until paste darkens and has a distinctive, rich aroma (pincé), about 3-4 minutes.
  3. Add liquids; deglaze pot. Add sofrito; stir. Bring liquid to a boil, then add meats and pork bone to the broth.
  4. Turn heat back down to medium; partially cover (but allow some steam to escape). Simmer meat for 45 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  5. Check that all meats are tender. (They do not need to be completely fork tender, since the stew will continue to cook. But if they are still firm, continue to cook. Check every 10 minutes until meats are just starting to become fork tender (fork will penetrate meat, but will not sink all the way through with no effort).
  6. Remove cover. Add all vegetables except butternut squash, corn, and cilantro. Simmer for another 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  7. Check that all starches are fork tender. If not, continue to cook until they are tender; but be careful not to overcook, or they will disintegrate.
  8. Add squash and corn; cook 7-10 more minutes, until squash is tender and corn is done. (Be careful not to overcook squash, or it will fall apart).
  9. Taste the sancocho. Add Adobo, salt, and/or black pepper to taste, if desired. Stir in cilantro. Remove from heat and serve immediately.
Recipe Notes

You can find Goya (and other) brand sofrito, recaíto, and yucca (cassava) in most grocery stores.

Goya frozen sofrito has a very strong oregano flavor and aroma.

If using recaíto instead of sofrito, omit the tomato paste.

You can substitute 1 can yellow hominy (rinsed) or 1 cup frozen and defrosted corn nibs for the cobs, if desired.

Panchita

Criollo Peruvian cuisine

(3 / 5)

$$

review date: 1/2/2015

Menu: Facebook 

+51 1 4478272

Calle 2 de Mayo 298, Miraflores District, Lima

My husband's sweet cousin Mili brought me, my husband, daughter, and mother-in-law to Panchita for lunch. Panchita is one of renowned chef / restauranteur Gastón Acurio's casual dining restaurants, located in the Miraflores district of Lima. It has a fun vibe, with traditional ceramics and posters of Peruvian expressions throughout. The first thing you see when you walk in is the refrigerated case of marinating meats and fish, giving the impression that Acurio means to showcase the traditional criollio Peruvian food from the outset.

Our courteous server greeted the five of us immediately, and we while we perused the large menu, we ordered drinks: passionfruit and regular pisco sours, and a pitcher of chicha morada. The sours were good, with just the right amount of pisco and egg white froth. The chicha was very subtly spiced, and not too sweet; I don’t care for it personally, but my husband and daughter really liked it.

As we had walked to our table, we’d passed the huge bread oven, a red-mosaic monstrosity with a concrete wall around it. It glared with heat and promise. We were told that all the restaurant’s breads were baked in this oven, and I could not wait to try them. We were quickly served a variety of breads and condiments on a wooden tray: a large, fluffy loaf of potato bread; two round, crusty white rolls;  an unleavened bread made of beans; and another bread made of corn.

What a disappointment.  The potato bread was sweet and cottony-soft, but nearly flavorless, and reminded me distinctly of store-bought potato bread. The other breads had a nice chewy texture, but also lacked flavor, with barely a trace of the earthy stone-hearth aroma I would have expected from that oven. Even more, I was shocked to discover (after the fact) that we had been charged $7 soles per person for the one tray of bread we’d all shared, which was never even refilled! That makes $35 soles for four rolls and one four-serving loaf of bread. That’s outrageous. Though the price is on the menu, many people (especially Americans, including myself) would just assume bread was free, especially when it’s simply plunked down on your table without a comment. (Note 7/2016: apparently this “bread tax” is a common practice in restaurants; so you may wish to check the menu or ask the server at each restaurant you visit in Peru.)

We decided to share an assortment of appetizers. We began with Piqueo Doña Pancha, a sampler plate of appetizers: anticuchos de corazón; causa; chicharrón; tamal verde; choclo a la huancaína; and a papita rellena, accompanied by salsa criolla and fried sweet potato. We all agreed that each appetizer was exceptionally good. The tamal verde – moist and delicate, full of fresh cilantro flavor – was one of the best I’ve had. The anticuchos de corazón – marinated, skewered, and grilled beef hearts – stole the show: so tender, with a taste like a cross between a ribeye steak and a mild liver, and just a slight hint of game in the aftertaste. Add hot pepper paste, spices, and smoky char from the grill… simply amazing. Try them. You won’t be sorry.

Next came Jarana Criolla, or an assortment of stewed dishes which were largely created by Peruvian African slaves: olluquito (a stew made with olluco, a root vegetable that tastes to me like a cross between white potato and cabbage); ají de gallina; carapulcra (dried potato and beef jerky stew); cau cau (tripe); sangrecita (fried beef blood); patita con maní (pig’s feet with peanut); chanfainita (an organ meat stew); and frijoles con jugo y arroz (black beans with rice). All were very good, but the star was the pig’s feet – the meat was rich and sweet, and the peanut was a perfect accompaniment. However, a few of these were extremely salty, especially the beans.

We also ordered a plate of anticuchos de paiche, with tostones. Paiche is a massive South American river fish that is white and sweet, much like cod (indeed, it’s sometimes called the “cod of the Amazon”); but has a bit of chewy bite to it, making it strong enough to withstand the grill. It was marinated in lime juice, pepper paste, and spices, and cooked absolutely perfectly, plucked off the grill just at the point when it was cooked through. It was juicy, bursting with flavor, yet still delicate. This was one of the best fish dishes I’ve ever eaten, bar none – and I don’t say that lightly.

My daughter ordered a plate of pesto pasta for herself; she said it was good. I tasted it and thought it was decent. (This might work for a vegetarian, as well as the breads / condiments, and possibly the bean stews – but ask which dishes are made with meat stock; I bet most are.)

For dessert, we all shared a plate of picarones, deep-fried beignets/doughnuts made of pumpkin, sweet potato, and sweet spices like cinnamon and clove. They were fresh and light, with most of its sweetness lent by the generous pouring of miel (molasses syrup). It was a perfect end to our lunch.

The service was excellent: friendly, knowledgeable, prompt, and unobtrusive. They cheerfully obliged our every request, even when I (very annoyingly) asked to take pictures of everyone and everything. They even took pictures on each of our phones.

Overall I found Panchita provided a very good meal for a reasonable price (with the exception of the bread). The entire meal for 5 people, including drinks, came to just over $400 soles – about $130 American dollars. Now that is a bargain, even with a steep “bread tax.”

Keep in mind this is more casual fare. It’s a good place for a fun lunch or happy hour with friends. We’ll definitely give it another try next time we’re in Lima, and sample some of the main dishes. I would recommend it.

New posts soon… I promise!

Hello again… I’m sorry – I know I’ve been neglecting my blog! It’s been far too long since my last post. In my defense, it’s been an incredibly busy time:  we’re selling our house and planning a move; and I just started working full-time on my master’s degree in Food Studies. I underestimated how busy I would be! I’m simply a stressed-out mess, to be honest!

But I am working on new content, and I promise I will be posting again soon. Now that I have a school break, I will definitely have some new posts this month.

Many thanks to all the people who have checked out my blog, subscribed or emailed, and given me such positive feedback. If you have any suggestions, questions, comments, or requests for a particular culture or recipe, please feel free to contact me anytime.

Hasta pronto!

Holy crap, I’m on TV!…

… for three minutes, anyway.

Today my blog was featured on the local New York NBC affiliate TV station, WNYT-Albany, in a segment called “Today’s Women.”  The featured recipe is tacu tacu con apanado, an Afro-Peruvian dish that highlights the significant contribution the African slaves made to Peruvian cuisine.

Here’s the video:

I was honored to be chosen, and I’m grateful to Elaine Houston and WNYT News Channel 13 for helping spread the word about my blog! I hope people will visit and learn something new about Latin American cuisine!

If you’re checking out my blog for the first time, welcome! I hope you’ll return often – or feel free to subscribe via RSS at the top of the page. If you like this site, please click the “like” Facebook button too!

Questions, comments, suggestions, and requests are always welcome. Please feel free to email me via the Contact page.

Thanks for reading!

Locro / Andean Squash Stew

Locro (ruqru in Quechua) is a pre-Colombian Incan meal that originated in the Andes Mountains. In Peru, it is a stew of pumpkin or squash, potatoes, corn and cheese (which was added after the Spanish conquest). It’s usually a winter dish; but I thought it would be perfect for this gloomy, rainy spell we’ve been enduring here in New York.

[In Ecuador, locro is a potato and cheese soup served with avocado. There is also a dish called locro in Argentina; but it is more of a meat-and-potatoes stew.]

I imagine some might turn up their noses at a “plain old squash” stew – I thought I would, too. But the hearty but clean, simple flavors shine through. I love this dish – I bet you will too!

 

Locro / Peruvian Pumpkin Stew
Servings Prep Time
4people 15minutes
Cook Time
70minutes
Servings Prep Time
4people 15minutes
Cook Time
70minutes
Ingredients
  • ¼ cup olive oilextra virgin
  • 2pounds acorn squash,peeled, large dice (about 2 small squashes)
  • 1medium yellow onionsmall dice
  • 3cloves garlicminced
  • 1Tbsp. ají amarillo paste
  • 1tsp. flour, all-purpose
  • 2medium yellow potatoespeeled, quartered
  • 8oz. peas,fresh or frozen and defrosted
  • 8oz. queso fresco(for stew)
  • 4oz. queso fresco(for garnish)
  • 2cups stock,chicken or vegetable
  • 1/2cup heavy cream(or evaporated milk)
  • 1Tbsp. butter
  • 1/2tsp. Kosher salt
  • 1/4tsp. white pepper
  • 1Tbsp. huacataypaste (or fresh, if possible)
  • 6large olives,Peruvian or kalamata, sliced
Instructions
Mise en place:
  1. Gather / measure / prep all ingredients.
Stew:
  1. Heat the oil; sauté the onion until translucent (4-5 minutes).
  2. Add the garlic and ají amarillo paste; cook for 2-3 minutes.
  3. Add the flour; stir to incorporate, and cook for one minute.
  4. Deglaze with stock, whisking constantly. Add salt and pepper.
  5. Bring to a low boil. Reduce to a simmer; then add the squash. Cook for 15-20 minutes.
  6. Add potatoes; cook for 20-25 minutes more (until potatoes are just tender).
  7. Add peas and corn; cook for 10-15 minutes.
  8. Stir in milk or cream and butter; blend. Gently fold in cheese. Adjust seasoning to taste.
  9. Serve with white rice; garnish with chopped oregano, sliced olives and cubes of cheese.
Recipe Notes

This recipe makes a pea-soupy consistency. For a thicker stew, use ½ the amount of stock and milk.

Butternut squash is particularly good substitution. Pumpkin can also be used.

This hearty stew is a great vegetarian meal option.

For a vegan locro: substitute vegan vegetable stock, tofu cheese, and almond milk; use olive or vegetable oil instead of butter.

Copyright © 2011 la vida comida.
Recipe by Jennifer Ramos Lorson.

Bienvenidos a mi cocinita! / Welcome to my kitchen!

Welcome to my little kitchen. Please make yourself at home!

It’s not a professional kitchen; it’s not richly appointed; it’s certainly not state-of-the-art; and you won’t find many expensive tools. But it works for me.

When we first looked at this house, I balked. One of my only requirements was a nice, roomy kitchen, with lots of workspace. Not only was this one small and narrow, but also it had a 1955 GE oven, avocado carpeting, and an ancient nonworking dishwasher. Eduardo assured me we could update it, but I was doubtful. Still, we chose this house; so I decided to make the best of it.

I found that it was deceptively functional – and quickly realized why. Most restaurants have a line (a galley-type kitchen), because the cook has everything within easy reach: cooler, sink, stove, prep area. Minimal steps are required to get from point A to point B. I could prep, cook and serve everything almost standing still. It also had some clever 1960s innovations: a garbage chute under the sink; a pullout butcher’s block; a buzzer to call kids to dinner! Now that’s state-of-the-art!

The diminutive dimensions required that I downsize my equipment and utensils – something I certainly didn’t view as a plus at first. But it forced me to see just how much unnecessary crap I was holding onto. I pared down to the bare essentials, even discarding some small appliances I’d thought were indispensable – which required me to do a little extra prep work…. but that allowed me to focus on the food, which is the whole point in the first place.

A splash of yellow paint, a new floor and some new appliances, and we’re good to go! Some food bloggers’ kitchens look like an upscale appliance showroom… and yes, I do feel a twinge of envy sometimes. But when I’m done cooking and photographing my food, my family sits down to eat it… because this is our home, and these are our daily meals. In our house, we live what we cook. And I’m quite content with that.

I gradually came to love my sunshiny little kitchen, even more than some of the really cool kitchens I’ve worked in. I hope you will too!

About me

Let me tell you a little bit about myself, and how I became so enthralled with Latin American and Peruvian cooking.

I’m a second-generation chef. My mom was a catering chef; and every one of her five children has been involved in food service since childhood – in just about every front and back of the house position you can imagine. Even now, my brother Ted and his wife Sheila compete in national barbecue competitions; my brother Cristiaan is a restaurant owner / manager in Chappaqua, New York; and our sister Kathleen works in the front of the house there.

I myself began catering with my mom at the age of eleven; and later worked with her at Estherwood Mansion in Dobbs Ferry, New York. I continued to work in restaurants and catering, even throughout college and a very rewarding foray into the human services field. I’ve been a dishwasher, busser, waitress, and hostess. I’ve butchered, prepped, line-cooked, and expedited.  You name it – if it involves food, I’ve probably done it. I fulfilled a lifelong dream in 1998, when I finally attended the Culinary Institute of America. I graduated in 2000; then worked in New York, Connecticut and Vail hotels till 2003, when I returned to be with my family in Connecticut.

Then, while I was Pastry Chef at Zinc in New Haven, I reconnected with an old friend – and married him. My husband, Eduardo, came to this country from Peru in 1988; we met at work in 1993, and kept in touch. I left my completely awesome job at Zinc (which I still miss!) to return to Albany, New York to live… which I swore I’d never do.  But you make sacrifices for love that you would never consider otherwise. (No offense, Albany-ites….)

So now I was jobless, living somewhere I really didn’t like, and – since my husband worked long hours – pretty lonely. To pass the time, I started indulging another passion of mine, cake and sugar art. (I’ve moonlighted as a cake designer ever since, even doing it as a full-time job on occasion.)

Around this time, a late wedding present arrived in the mail. My sister-in-law Susi sent me The Art of Peruvian Cuisine by Tony Custer, so I could learn to make my new husband’s favorite meals. I was happy to have another cookbook – what chef isn’t? – and I was more than happy to spoil my new husband with food. But I figured, hey, I’m a chef. What’s to learn? Since I had nothing but time on my hands, I dove in.

Choclo? Ají? What the hell is lucuma? I was immediately stunned by the multitude of ingredients I hadn’t even known existed. The more I read, the more I realized that I knew absolutely nothing about world cuisines, other than the brief overview I’d received at school (which at that time centered on European and Asian cuisines, though I am happy to see that they have begun to remedy this wonderfully in the last few years). Soon, I was pretty shamed by my own sheltered ignorance. (I had a lot to learn about being married to a Peruvian-American man, too. But that’s another story!)

I was completely won over by our very first Peruvian meal. It was amazing how a few simple ingredients could be transformed in a way that I’d never experienced before. Sure, it was exotic because it was new; but that wasn’t all. It just worked. It was fresh, vibrant, eclectic and just plain good. I was totally hooked.

I’ve spent the last nearly eight years researching and testing Peruvian and Latin American foods and recipes. I’ve learned enough Spanish to carry on a reasonable conversation with my mother-in-law, who doesn’t speak a word of English. And most importantly, I’ve expanded my view of the world and the people who inhabit it. It has been the most enlightening, enjoyable and fulfilling journey of my life (outside of our marriage and daughter, that is). That cookbook was the best gift I was given – not the actual book, per se; but the knowledge of other cultures, other places, other spheres of reference outside my very narrow American comfort-zone bubble.

I’ve grown more as a person in the last eight years that I had in my entire life previous.  And I want to share what I’ve learned with everyone – not just the food and the recipes, but also the great respect for other cultures… and that wonderful feeling of inter-connectedness we could and should share as fellow human beings on this planet.

I hope that you enjoy reading this blog just as much as I enjoy writing it! Thanks so much for being here.

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