Start the Day Right. World-Class Oatmeal.

I ask you, “What could be a more right way to start the day than to wake up and find breakfast already cooked?” I personally like that very quality about this little breakfast that I whip up a couple of times a week. It is 4 servings, and leftovers keep in the fridge.

And, by the way…I apologize for neglecting this blog. I have honestly been pretty fascinated with Instagram and have been spending time learning to love my iPhone camera. As to FaceBook, I am still avoiding engaging. Somehow, the whole Instagram thing seems to have helped me get over a creative block, and one of the creative things I’m getting into is cooking. It’s hard to get in a cooking groove in a town like San Miguel de Allende, where there are so many good restaurants that are affordable and fun. (For example…Aguamiel.) But, there is nothing like a good home-cooked meal and an evening of just hanging in the house.

But, let’s get back to breakfast. Fred and I rarely go out for breakfast. We both like to eat and read the news and just sit around a bit before we officially start the day. So, we have leisurely mornings. But, sometimes I’m not in the mood for a lot of cooking, and I’m happy to have this ready. If you find your mornings rushed, this one is just right for you. You start this one the night before. It is wheat-free, sugar-free, dairy-free, and full of goodness.

In a pan on top of the stove, heat 2 T. coconut oil.                                                                                 Add 1 large green-skinned apple, chopped.                                                                                             Saute the apple for about three minutes, then bring 3 cups of oat milk to a boil.(Or any dairy-free milk of your choice. Just no rice milk because it is made with white rice and turns to sugar quickly.)                                                                                                                                   Add a good sprinkle of cinnamon, salt to taste, and 1/4 tea vanilla.

When the  milk comes to a boil, add one cup of steel-cut oats. Turn off the heat and put a lid on the pan. If you are stoned, double check on turning off the heat, otherwise you’ll lie in bed and think about it. This recipe is to help you look forward to getting up and pretending that the cooking angels have visited your kitchen over night. Now, when you get up in the morning all you have to do is heat this up, put it in a bowl, and top it with chopped pecans. Buen provecho.

A Little Trip to Sicily in the Campo of San Miguel

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Justin Marino, Laura’s husband and partner in creating wonderful events. This guy can do more things than I could list. Again, a whole other story. Laura Buccheri is in the top photo. She is the force in the kitchen, but she is so charming and beautiful you’ll love her appearances in the dining room as well.

The most exciting thing that I know about that is happening here in San Miguel on the restaurant scene is the soon-to-be-opened Trattoria da Laura, in a new facility at Rancho Los Mezquites. This will serve as an event space for private parties, and I did notice a helicopter landing pad as we drove around the property. But, the good news is that Laura and Justin will be open by reservation  for  an early Saturday dinner (sunsets will be spectacular) and Sunday lunch, to all us hungry souls who are yearning for some of her out-of-this-world cooking.

Fred and I had the pleasure of visiting with Justin and Laura the other day for lunch, which in itself was a pleasure. They live not far from the new restaurant/event space. We had visited them before when they lived further out in the campo. Many people in San Miguel will remember them as La Cucina di Afrodita, when they opened the patio of their home and served lunch on Saturdays and Sundays. Fred and I made it to one of those and it was a delightful afternoon. But, the thing that blew my mind was seeing Laura cook and work her magic in the tiny kitchen of the house.

That is all about to change…and change in a big way. The new building has a magnificent kitchen underway. It is about a 15 minute drive from Centro, and I can already see us there on a Saturday evening watching a sunset as only San Miguel can serve, or perhaps heading out for a Sunday lunch and some time in the wide open spaces that surround San Miguel. But the main motivation for this drive would be to enjoy the cooking and hospitality of Laura Buccheri and Justin Marino, a beautiful couple from Sicily who ended up in Mexico.

All of their many enterprises remain under the brand of La Cucina di Afrodita, and they are very busy right now. In addition to the restaurant, they do a service called Chef at  Home. They will come to your house and wow your friends by preparing the food on the spot. They are also available for catering for your events. They have a  collection of special hand-made cheeses from Justin (who is also an expert with olive trees, and that expertise is what landed them in this happy situation. But, that’s a whole other story). They will be opening another San Miguel venue for sampling a bit of their wonderful food creations at the Mercado Sano, a food haven that’s about to open where the original Don Pedro’s was. It will be called La Spaghetteria, and I think the name says it all. It should open in August.

Much of the produce served at Trattoria da Laura will be grown on the rancho where they live. The menu will be mostly Italian, and will change every week. They are keeping alive the wonderful atmosphere of the meals they used to serve right out of their own small kitchen…the community table, where people can make new friends, the excellent and personal service, and the feeling that you are at a lovely dinner party in a home. To quote Laura, “It’s really not a restaurant. It is more like you are coming to my house to eat. I will decide the menu. Just trust me.” And, I have to say that every time I have had a chance to do that, I have always left with a smile.

Aguamiel…Our Favorite in San Miguel

DSCF5968webWhen Fred and I first arrived in San Miguel, one of the first restaurants we wanted to try was Aguamiel. We had heard a lot of good things about it, and it was in the neighborhood of our temporary rental, San Antonio.

We had a bit of a hard time finding it, but once we did, we wanted to return. The pictures for this piece were actually taken in November, on our second visit to this charming restaurant. We immediately felt like old friends with Jennifer, the “front of the house,” and her partner, Gaby, the chef. Since that visit I couldn’t count how many times we’ve been to Agua Miel. Whenever we have an out-of-town guest, they have to go to Agua Miel. If we are getting together for a night out with some of our local friends, we usually suggest Aguamiel. Whenever it’s just a night that we want to go out and have not only a delicious meal, but also a lovely dining experience, it’s Aguamiel. 

The menu is interesting, and seriously caters to vegan and vegetarian needs. But we recently took an extreme carnivore there and she had a grand time with some short ribs. This morning for brunch all I wanted was two poached eggs, some tortillas, and avocado…certainly not an order that would excite many chefs. But, did Gaby ever pull it off. I was presented with a beautiful plate, exactly what I had requested, and done to perfection. To me, the real test of a chef is not how well they can do something fancy. It’s how well they can do the simple things with excellence.

November seems very far away to me now. Lots has happened in the meantime. One of the things that has happened is that Jennifer and Gaby have become our friends, and Aguamiel  has become our go-to favorite place in San Miguel. (As a reference for our Nashville friends, a lot like Margot Cafe.)

Aguamiel Cocina Rustica   Chef Gaby Green   Pipila 3A   Colonia San Antonio   San Miguel de Allende, MX.   415 150 7387  Open Fridays, Saturdays, and Mondays from 3-9. Sunday 11-3

La Cucina di Afrodita, a lunch in the country

justin.jpgLast year when we visited in San Miguel de Allende, we met a charming couple from Sicily, who had just moved here and were living out in the country at Rancho Jaguar. We really enjoyed their company and realized very soon that Laura was a spectacular cook. Right about the time we left they had started a catering business, and were beginning to serve meals in their home, which is located close to Atotonilco. Part of the fun of visiting  them is the setting, which is on the property of an amazing nursery of very beautiful desert plants. Chickens and turkeys and various friendly dogs and cats complete the picture…you are really out in the campo.

The  meals that are served at the home of Laura and her handsome husband Justin, have the atmosphere of an intimate party at the home of a friend…a friend who can really cook. We were excited this afternoon to join the group that gathered there for lunch. People are seated at two long tables, and encouraged to chat and visit with each other. You arrive anticipating a wonderful meal, which you will definitely have, and you leave having made new friends. They have a garden there as well, so much of the produce is grown on site. They can comfortably serve about 20 people and focus on late lunches on Saturdays and Sundays, but can be booked for other times as well. There is a welcome cocktail when you arrive, which is served while you mingle with the other guests, and wine is served with the meal. Laura is a magician in the kitchen and Justin turns on the charm in the front of the house. Her kitchen is tiny but the food is a big production, and impeccable. They make everything….the bread, the cheese, even the limoncello. These two are a real gift to San Miguel and if you live here, or if you plan to visit, this is a must-do experience. They have a website as well as a FaceBook page, La Cucina di Afrodita. Check them out for more information. And, by all means get their newsletter. http://lacucinadiafrodita.wix.com/lacucinadiafrodita#!

The meal today was Tomato Soup with housemade ricotta cheese and fresh baked croutons, followed by Blueberry Risotto with porcini mushrooms that they brought back from Italy. While this sounds like a rather strange combination, just trust me, it works. Next was a gorgeous salad with greens so fresh they seemed to sing, Roasted  Salmon with a wonderful looking pistachio crust and sauce of potatoes (for Fred), an incredible dessert called Blanco y Negro, which involved a puff pastry, whipped cream and chocolate mousse. I have never been a big fan of Limoncello, but this one was phenomenal.    (Sorry these pictures are out of order). Many thanks to our host and hostess for a wonderful afternoon and an unforgettable meal.salad.jpgrisotto.jpgblanco y negro.jpglemoncello.jpgsalmon.jpg

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Rustic Tomato and Pimiento Soup

Rustic Tomato-Pimiento Soup

The other day I found some absolutely beautiful organic heirloom tomatoes at the market and was inspired to make a big pot of tomato soup. Tomato soup is one of my favorite comfort foods and it is impossible to find my go-to version (Amy’s) here in San Miguel. I had originally planned to do a smooth version…peel and seed the tomatoes, blend it all after cooking…that version. But, as usual, last night we wanted a quick and easy dinner, so I decided to improvise and came up with a new one that is chunky, rustic, and very satisfying.
I didn’t peel or seed the tomatoes, and I didn’t blend. It took 30 minutes to get it all in the pot, and another 15 for it to simmer. I’m sure this could have been done faster, I just tend to be slow in the kitchen because cooking is like meditation for me.
As in all my recipes, measurements are not rocket science. A little more or less of anything is not an issue. And if you want to throw in something else, be my guest. Or, call me, and I’ll be your guest.

Start with about 4 T. of good olive oil in a soup pot, and put over medium heat. Coarsely chop one large sweet onion
Sautée in the oil while you chop 6 large cloves of garlic
And either 1 large or 2 medium red bell peppers, also chopped with seeds removed, and about 1/3 cup fresh basil.
Throw these in with the onion and continue to cook over medium flame,
while you cut away the parts of the tomatoes you don’t want in the soup.
I used about 12 medium tomatoes
Cut away stems, cores, any unattractive parts. Don’t worry about peels and seeds.
There you have it. Salt and pepper to taste.
I added about 3 cups water, brought to a boil, and then continued to simmer for about 15-20 minutes. You can judge time by how thick you want the soup to be. The thickness is controlled by how much water you add and how long you simmer the soup.
Garnish with a nice piece of cheese toast…whatever kind of cheese you like. You could also throw on a basil leaf if you have one left. I didn’t, so I sprinkled it with smoked paprika.
I served it with a side of cole slaw.
This serves 4. Next time I’m going to double it and have more left over.

blvd..World-Class Wonderful at a Belmont Bistro

Today Fred and I had a Labor Day lunch at blvd, Arnold Myint’s neighborhood restaurant on Belmont Boulevard. The meal I had was an explosion of perfection–some of my very favorite things all in one meal–pimento cheese, watermelon, street corn, and yes, a Mexican Coke! How could I ask for more? Easy…I took a piece of apple pie home for dessert later. (That pie is the best apple pie ever, and I consider myself an expert on apple pie.)

Arnold has been quite busy lately. He did extremely well on the recent series of Food Network Star and always has several projects in the works. When he came back from Los Angeles a few days ago he literally hit the ground running. He has been working on the menu and in the kitchen at blvd and the results are pretty swell. In fact, the food there has never been better. I am really enjoying the changes. There are plenty of options for a vegan/vegetarian and the carnivores will also be very well-fed. There are choices for happy hour snacks (2 for $8), Sunday brunch, lunch, and dinner. Each occasion has its own menu. I can’t possibly mention everything, but I will tell you about some the things I have tried. There is a green bean and pine nut salad that I have had twice. It is very generous, and very delicious balanced meal. There is an entree that is pure poetry; he calls it a “charred cabbage steak.” Even if you aren’t a vegetarian, you should give this one a try. And the other entrees go all the way from shrimp and grits to a New York strip steak. With many (well portioned) small plates—do not, I repeat, do not, miss the okra fries, decadence worth every fat gram—to choose from along with salads, and sides, you can put together a table top feast. All the prices are reasonable, and the servings are not stingy. This is not one of those places where you drop a small fortune and leave hungry.

There are some wonderful Sunday brunch options, too. I really wouldn’t miss anything that has to do with biscuits. Fred and I had a brief visit with Arnold yesterday (probably one of the few times he has sat down since being back in Nashville) and he talked about making biscuits. It was a very sensuous conversation. I woke up this morning and started thinking about those biscuits. He is perhaps the only person I have ever known who could describe making biscuits in such a way that makes you just want to roll up your sleeves, get your hands in the dough and the biscuits in your mouth. But, I think I’ll just skip the rolling up the sleeves, hands in the dough part and let Arnold do the cooking.

If you are in the mood for a drink, blvd is your bar. The cocktail menu is remarkable. I am partial to the Pinky Lee, a pink grapefruit nectar that can be done with vodka, gin, or tequila. (Of course, I have only tried it with tequila.) There is a rim on the glass with kaffir salt and sugar. It is a perfect balance of sweet and salty. The wine list is mostly French, and pretty extensive for an unpretentious neighborhood bistro. There is also a wide variety of beers, and some interesting non-alcoholic drinks as well. I could forgo my afternoon cocktail easily for one of those Sprecher’s sodas–I haven’t tried them all because I can’t get past the ginger ale. And speaking of French—the fries here are simply the best in town. There is a variety, and they will all make you happy. One more thought; while you’re there you just might want to do some shopping. There are some fun food products for sale, especially Arnold’s Smoked Salt, Smoked Vinegar, and Herbs de Provence.

The restaurant at 2013 Belmont Blvd is becoming my go-to place. If it’s been a while since you’ve been there, or if you’ve never tried it, you really need to check it out. Open every day from 11 am until 11 pm, with Sunday brunch served 11-5. And, note, there are half-priced bottles of wine on Sundays. Reservations are first come, first served. You might decide you’d like to sit outdoors and watch the world go by on Belmont Blvd. And don’t worry about parking because there is a valet.

Perfect Poaching….a close up of a beautiful thing.

Time for a little cooking around this house. Here is a beautiful meal that is wonderful for breakfast, lunch, or a light, easy dinner…Avocado Toast with an Egg. This one is so easy you don’t need a recipe. Just look at the picture. Toast your favorite bread, find a perfectly ripe avocado and mush it up, and top with a beautifully poached egg. Your side dish can be anything you like….here we have sautéed greens and mushrooms. It could have been chopped tomatoes, steamed asparagus, or no side at all.

For most people, poaching eggs is a great mystery. I pride myself on this skill, and that is the way I usually cook them. I recently poached 15 eggs at once (a pan on every burner) and that was quite a feat. I am enclosing a video for you about poaching eggs. (I have never tried the method using cling wrap.) Give egg poaching a trial and error. It may take a few errors to get it down, but once you do, it’s quite easy.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pAWduxoCgVk       This is the link to the egg poaching video. And, I do have to add a disclaimer….the dish in this photo was prepared by my friends, Candace Keller and Arnold Myint. I just was around to eat it.

A Mid-Summer Night’s Dream…Serving Fabulous

This being my birthday week, I decided to have a very small dinner party on July 3. I like to keep the group small enough so that everyone can interact around the table. When I mentioned this to my friend, Arnold Myint (who is an amazing celebrity chef–catch him on Food Network Star, Sundays at 8), it started his wheels turning. In fact, he decided to turn it into a fantasy trip to someplace far more exotic than our back porch. I always love to be involved in Arnold’s projects because his inspiration always inspires me. He is an artist, and food is his medium. He starts with whatever the menu idea is and builds a whole ambiance around it and he doesn’t miss a detail. He works fast. He enjoys people and loves to feed them. And, no matter what he is serving, it will come out looking like a picture. There is nothing like having Arnold take charge of the kitchen.

We moved all the furniture off the porch and set up low tables and pillows. Everything was candle light. The feeling was intimate and the food was delicious. We had Persian Pickled Cucumbers, Radishes with Feta Dip, Mushroom Caviar, Pea Salad with Dill and Mint, Cauliflower with Chickpeas and Lemon, Curried Cabbage, Mashed Lentils with Red Pepper, and Naan Flat Bread. The dessert was a beautiful Green Tea and Lime Cheesecake that we picked up at Avo. Everything was perfect as the late afternoon drifted into evening and we sat on the pillows, eating and drinking and enjoying each other’s company on a perfect summer night.

You Just Can’t Keep Him Out of the Kitchen….That’s Arnold Myint

This past March, Fred and I were staying in a lovely house in San Cristobal in Chiapas, Mexico. We always invite our friends to join us when we are in Mexico, and we were delighted when our friend Arnold, who is currently competing on the FoodNetwork Star show, had a break in filming and decided to head South. Fred and I gave some serious thought as to where we’d take Arnold to eat while he was with us there for five days. We put together a list of places we’d found. San Cristobal is not the food town that Oaxaca is, but there are some interesting places to try local food.

When Arnold arrived he was a bit tired from his long layover in Mexico City and his first activity was a little nap. But then, when he got up he announced that he felt like cooking. Well, Fred and I have known and loved Arnold (and his cooking) for years and we would never say no to that offer. So, off Arnold and I went to the markets to gather our ingredients. And then back to the house where the magic happened. A great meal and wonderful evening with three close friends.

He is doing really well on Food Network Star, which airs on Sunday nights at 8. In fact, he has been in the top three for the first three shows. He is a genius in the kitchen, and I love it when we just hang out and he cooks. Not just because the food is always delicious, no matter how simple, but also because watching him do it is like seeing a moving meditation.

An Easy Summer Dinner…..Pasta with Peas, Morels, and Parmesan

pastaYesterday morning I saw a recipe in the New York Times that really got my attention. Very few ingredients, seemed quick and easy, and sounded delicious. Sometimes I see recipes and food ideas, think they look great, store them in my iWork, then forget them. But this time I headed to Whole Foods, got the peas, mushrooms, pasta, and parmesan and last night I gave it a go. Fred and I both agreed that it was one of the most perfect pasta dishes we’d had. I found a container of fresh gluten-free fusilli (RP’s Pasta Company) and I highly recommend it. I’m sure you could use any mushroom here, but I think it needs to be a wild one, and it is nice for the color of the mushroom to be dark to add depth to this simple dish. I think I used about 1 and 1/2 times as many mushrooms as the recipe calls for. I used frozen peas that I microwaved with a little water for 2 minutes. The recipe calls for lots of parmesan, and don’t hold back on the cheese. I bought a really good imported one, but I did go for already grated because one of the beauties of this dish is how fast and easy it is to make. For the same reason, I would just go with the frozen peas. So, here you go. Thanks, New York Times. I love your food section.

One note about this recipe….it serves two hungry people. So, if you are cooking for more, multiply accordingly.

Pasta with Peas, Morels, and Parmesan

INGREDIENTS
Salt and ground black pepper

1⁄2 cup fresh shelled peas

4 tablespoons butter
1⁄4 pound morels, about 8 medium
8 ounces pasta
1 cup finely grated Parmesan
PREPARATION
Bring to a boil 2 pots of water, one small and one large, and salt both. Cook the peas for 1 minute in the small pot; drain and cool quickly by submerging in ice water.
Meanwhile, melt half the butter in a skillet. Cut the morels into 4 pieces each, the long way, and brown them lightly in the butter, seasoning them with salt and pepper.
Cook the pasta until it is nearly done. Just before draining, toss the peas and remaining butter with the morels and turn the heat to medium. Drain the pasta, reserving a little of the cooking water. Toss the pasta with the morels and peas, adding a little water if necessary to make the mixture saucy. Toss with the Parmesan and lots of black pepper and serve immediately.