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Letting Others Cook for You

Sometimes it’s hard letting others cook for you, especially when you’re a chef, but being stuck in the hospital has left me no choice. It has been a pretty rough month for us. I spent a total of 12 days in the hospital, and our baby girl was in the NICU for 14 days. We are finally home and enjoying the sleepless nights and the inevitable routine that comes with having a newborn. Yes, we’re actually enjoying it! After watching our tiny baby being poked, prodded, and stuck in an incubator for two weeks, her cries are as sweet as honey.

Sometimes it's hard letting others cook for you, especially when you're a chef, but being stuck in the hospital has left me no choice.

My mom flew in from Mexico to help out and she has graciously been taking care of all of our meals and other household duties. After almost 2 weeks of hospital food I welcomed my mom’s cooking with open arms. There’s only one problem, my mom is a little out of practice when it comes to cooking. She did cook for us when we were little, but once my dad opened the restaurant there was no longer a need to cook at home, growing up we ate most of our meals there.

I find that a lot of people are intimidated when they find themselves cooking for two food professionals, but honestly, you shouldn’t be. Do we have high standards when it comes to food? Of course we do, but all of us food professionals have something in common, we love to eat. This means we love to eat anything and everything, or we’ll try it at least once. Also, most of us have some manners and won’t really tell you your food sucks, unless you ask for our honest opinion, which would then sound something like this: ” The chicken was slightly over cooked, I like my rice with a bit more salt, and I prefer vegetables on the crunchy side.”

Sometimes it's hard letting others cook for you, especially when you're a chef, but being stuck in the hospital has left me no choice.

 

Sometimes it can be hard letting others cook for you, because it means giving up control. It means that the carrots won’t be cut into perfect small dice, and the beef won’t be cooked exactly the way you like it. However, I think that we, more than most, know first hand all the work that goes into cooking and are able to recognize and appreciate a good meal when we taste one. That’s why I am so grateful for my mom and her cooking. Even though she might be a little rusty in the cooking department, the love and care she is putting into our meals is something not easily replicated, even if it’s something as simple and comforting as chicken soup.

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Making Hospital Food Look Good

This is my 6th day in the hospital. My water broke on Monday and I’m stuck here until this little one is born. It was a bit scary at first, but now we’ve kind of settled into a hospital routine. I miss my family terribly, but I’m trying to keep busy.

While stuck in the hospital, what other choice does a professional cook have than making hospital food look good with a little bit of help.

Can we talk about hospital food please? I have to say the food here is not that bad, but the options are limited and a lot of it is processed food, canned peaches, boxed mashed potatoes, and stuff like that. It’s funny how it takes something like this to happen so you can appreciate the things you have at home. I don’t cook fancy or complicated meals all the time, but almost everything is done from scratch, and boy does that make a difference!

While stuck in the hospital, what other choice does a professional cook have than making hospital food look good with a little bit of help.

Since I have all this time on my hands I’m making hospital food look good. It’s amazing what a little food styling and editing can do! Hopefully we’ll be out of here soon with a healthy baby girl and a renewed motivation for cooking good, healthy, and fresh food for our family. Please keep us in your thoughts and prayers.

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5 Things to Know Before Marrying a Chef

Working in F & B (food and beverage) is not for the faint of heart or body, but marrying a chef or someone who works in F & B is not a piece of cake either.[When I say food and beverage I mean chefs, cooks, servers, managers, anybody really who works in a restaurant, hotel, or food establishment.]

An article appeared recently in the Huffington Post about the things you should know before marrying a chef, and the article had some good points, but there are much more relevant things you should know if you are already madly in love and are planning to get married to someone in the industry. Here is my version.

5 Things to Know Before Marrying a Chef

1. You will struggle financially. Unless your husband/wife is already a celebrity chef or a high payed hotel manager, you will struggle. Most jobs in f & b are not well paid, so it is definitely not a life of luxury, especially if you have children.

2. There is no such thing as work-life balance. Work always comes first, except in matters of life or death, but otherwise your significant other will be going to work on holidays, weekends, whether they are sick or your son has a soccer game or your daughter has a dance recital. Which means, your spouse will inevitably miss out on almost everything, weddings, births, funerals, first words, first steps, and family gatherings. This can be especially hard on your relationship and your children. Days can go by without the children seeing the parent who works in the industry. If your spouse works the night shift he/she will be asleep when the kids go to school and when he/she gets home the kids will have already been asleep for several hours. It is hard for children to understand that the parent can’t simply take the time to be with them. However, there are some employers more flexible than others, so your spouse might make it to a thing a or two.

3. Expect to be on the move. If you want to be successful in the industry you will need to find the best job, even if it means moving across the country more than once. This may not always be the case, but it is a likely possibility.

4. You will be in charge of the household, and I mean everything. You will be taking care of the children, doctor’s appointments, home repairs, paying bills, cleaning, meal making, etc. When your partner in crime works 12 – 14 hr days the last thing they want to do is cook, clean, fix, or worry about anything other than sleep.

5. Communication with your spouse will need to be short and sweet. Do not try to communicate anything important to your spouse after their shift. It’s not that they don’t care what you have to say, but after a long day of work and dealing with a thousand things at the same time, the time after work is for decompressing. If you do need to inform them of something make it short, ” I need ….., I want….., give me ….., this happened….” It is even better if you do it by text message, that way there’s evidence that you did indeed asked them to do something, or informed them about something that happened at home.

Every couple and every job is different, but these are only some of the realities of a very demanding business. Is it worth it? It will only be worth it if your spouse has real passion for food and beverage, if this is what he/she loves to do, otherwise the sacrifices you and your family will have to make will be pointless. Is it possible to have a long lasting marriage? I don’t know, ask me in about 20 years! However, when I asked my mom, who has been married to restauranteur for 36 years, she emphasized that it was very important that you know that IT IS POSSIBLE, but that it will require two things: sacrifice and genuine love for your spouse.

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Mexican Confetti Eggs

Mexican Confetti eggs are an Easter tradition, in Mexico of course. They are also known as cascarones. It is a fun tradition that consists of smashing confetti filled egg shells on each others heads and letting the confetti wash over you. I have so many wonderful memories of this, that I make sure to do this every year with my kids. If I remember, I start saving the egg shells in January. The kids love it!  They are easy to make and are so much more fun than painted hard-boiled eggs. Even after living in this country for 9 years I still think painted hard boiled eggs are the weirdest thing ever. What do you do with the eggs? Are they part of the Easter egg hunt? Who eats all those eggs?

How to Make Mexican Confetti Eggs

1. Tap the top of the egg with the dull side of a knife, just enough to crack it. Using your thumb and forefinger make the hole a bit bigger. Pour egg out and wash shell. Let dry at least 24 hours.

Mexican Confetti eggs are an Easter tradition, in Mexico of course. They are also known as cascarones. It is a fun tradition the kids love.2. Once shells are dry you can paint them any way you like. I find that the vinegar paint dip that works very well with hard boiled eggs does not work well with these. You can use sharpies, acrylic paints, stickers, markers, etc.

3. Let eggs dry.

4. Cut tissue paper into 1.5 inch squares

 

Mexican Confetti eggs are an Easter tradition, in Mexico of course. They are also known as cascarones. It is a fun tradition the kids love.

Mexican Confetti eggs are an Easter tradition, in Mexico of course. They are also known as cascarones. It is a fun tradition the kids love.

5. Fill the eggs with confetti.

6. Spread glue around the opening of the already filled eggs, and place the tissue paper on top.

Mexican Confetti eggs are an Easter tradition, in Mexico of course. They are also known as cascarones. It is a fun tradition the kids love.

7. Let dry.

8. On Easter, hide the eggs and let children find them. Once everyone has collected their eggs, the fun begins. Smash an egg over a family member’s head and watch the confetti pour out all over! Repeat as many times as possible. Happy Easter!

 

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Being a Mom..

Being a mother can sometimes be overwhelming and exhausting. Oh, and you can forget about that thing called sleep. There are also the doubts and guilt that you can’t help from feeling: ” Am I being a good mother? Am I neglecting my husband?” You find yourself pulled in so many directions, followed by a to do list that is never ending, housework, work, prayer, life, love, joy, and sadness all mashed together in one weave.

There’s also the worry about being able to afford college, clothes, books, and sports. There’s never enough money or time, but there is poop, lots of poop. There will also be broken crayons, legos all over the floor, and food in every crevice imaginable, all at the feet of a 3 yr. old with an insatiable appetite for adventure. ” I wonder what will happen if I poop here? If I paint the walls with Vicks will mamá notice?,” I can almost hear him thinking.

Mamá does notice and sometimes wants to crawl right back into bed and shut the door. Yet, the wheels of life must keep turning, and meals must be made, clothes washed, and floors cleaned. At the end of the day I’m not a successful chef who runs her own restaurant, as I might of envisioned when I was younger. I’m nothing exceptional to the world, just a stay-at-home mom, but you know what? To a little 3 yr. old someone, I’m the most important person in the universe, and that’s all that matters. At least that’s all that should matter.

Being a mom can sometimes be overwhelming and exhausting. Oh, and you can forget about that thing called sleep

 

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Lunch at Chez Panisse

Waking up at 3:30 am was not what I had in mind for the start of our vacation, but if we wanted to make our reservation for lunch at Chez Panisse, we had to.

Chez Panisse is a restaurant in Berkeley, CA. It was founded by Alice Waters in 1971. It is said to be the birthplace of the farm to table,-organic-sustainable-California cuisine movement that has now swept the country. But back then it was a small house turned into an improvised restaurant, run by a couple of college graduates with hardly any experience in the industry.

The reason why Chez Panisse is so important and why we wanted to visit, is the fact that it has played such an important role in making American cuisine what it is today and forged a path in establishing a relationship with the farmers that grow our food.

At Chez Panisse the menu changes daily with the seasons and the ingredients are local and organic. We are fortunate enough that spring is in full bloom right now, so the menu included tender peas, buttery fava beans, and baby artichokes. The food was simple, unpretentious, and well executed, oh, and did I mention delicious. The ambiance and the decor was not what I expected. I though we were going to literally walk into an old house filled with a couple of tables, but instead we walked into a rustic house decorated with elegant and modern touches.

I didn’t take any pictures of the food because I find it to be an interruption to the dining experience as a whole, so sorry if you were expecting a detailed description of our lunch. The next stop on our vacation is Napa, Yountville, St. Helena, and a lot more wine drinking. Thankfully, after lunch at Chez Panisse waking up so early doesn’t seem like it was a hardship at all.

Lunch at Chez Panisse, the food was simple, unpretentious, and well executed, oh, and did I mention delicious.

Lunch at Chez Panisse, the food was simple, unpretentious, and well executed, oh, and did I mention delicious.

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Missing Ciudad Acuña

I’ve been back in Cali for a couple of days now, we’re back on our old schedule and getting on with our everyday lives. Yet, something happens every time I come back from a trip home,(Ciudad Acuña) my heart starts to ache. It aches for my family, for myself, for how life without them can be isolating and lonely. This is why I want to do one more post about Mexico before the fleeting images disappear into my memory. Wow! I didn’t mean to start this post so depressingly.

Why don’t we start over again. I just got back from spending 3 weeks with my family in Mexico, and it seemed like I could stay forever. However, I do have a husband, so we’re back in good old Orange County. Besides the inevitable sadness that results from returning from a long trip home, I also came back with an extra 3 pounds. That would be because I spent the last week touring my town a la Anthony Bourdain. We visited all our favorite food spots, ate, and took pictures. A lot of the vendors asked me quite excitedly if I was going to put the pictures up on “el facebuk“.

My parents live in a small town-city on the border with Texas. This is where I grew up. Below is a picture of the Rio Grande and the bridge that acts as a connection between Mexico and the US. As you can see, that part of the river is not very wide, but I don’t really know how difficult it would be to cross. One of the unique advantages of living in a border town is the possibility of getting a border crossing card, which allows Mexicans to visit the “other side” for recreational purposes. This means that you can go to the movies, grocery shop, eat out, or just do what you want. It’s the best of both worlds in one place.

We are missing Ciudad Acuña so much now that we are back in OC, Here is a list of places you have to visit if you happen to be there.

We are missing Ciudad Acuña so much now that we are back in OC, Here is a list of places you have to visit if you happen to be there.

We are missing Ciudad Acuña so much now that we are back in OC, Here is a list of places you have to visit if you happen to be there.

We are missing Ciudad Acuña so much now that we are back in OC, Here is a list of places you have to visit if you happen to be there.

The super nacho is from my dad’s restaurant, but it is very typical of the area. Allegedly the nacho was invented in Piedras Negras, Coahuila, which is an hour away from Acuña. As you can see they have nothing to do with the big gloppy mess most people call nachos. The chips are fried at the restaurant and each one is smeared with refried beans and topped with cheddar cheese. They’re place under the broiler in order to melt the cheese, and afterwards they’re topped with guacamole. In the center is grilled skirt steak.

We are missing Ciudad Acuña so much now that we are back in OC, Here is a list of places you have to visit if you happen to be there.

Aguas con Chabelo sells refreshing fruit drinks, usually made with water, sugar, and your fruit of choice. That particular day they had lime, melon, and pineapple available.

We are missing Ciudad Acuña so much now that we are back in OC, Here is a list of places you have to visit if you happen to be there.

Lake Amistad is known as one of the best bass fishing destinations in the US. The lake extends across the border, so there is an American and Mexican side. We spent the day on the Mexican side.

We are missing Ciudad Acuña so much now that we are back in OC, Here is a list of places you have to visit if you happen to be there.

We had lunch at the Plaza Tlaloc restaurant, where we chose our own fish from the catch of the day. There was only bass and catfish left, so we ordered both. They only serve it one way, fried. It is seasoned with a spice mix, served on a bed of lettuce, and topped with french fries.

Just so you know, Anthony Bourdain did happen to visit my town on Season 2 of No Reservations, episode 4. Sadly he only visits the Corona Club, where the movie El Mariachi and Desperado were filmed. He doesn’t even go to the lake or eat anywhere for that matter. Anyway, I know it may not seem like it, but I am glad to back.

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Cooking without Recipes

I think all us have that one friend who’s cooking is so good, they know it, you know it, and they just make it look so easy, but when you ask them  for the recipe they reply, almost smirkingly, “Oh I don’t use recipes, good cooks don’t need recipes.” Now you feel awful, you live off recipes, you spend hours looking at recipes, planning your meals and orchestrating your next project. Well, I disagree. While good cooks may not be held hostage by recipes, they certainly do need them.

A good cook doesn’t let a recipe hold them back, and they’re not afraid to improvise, but how do you think cooks learn from each other? It is impossible to be an expert in every kind of cuisine. It is impossible, even after years of experience to have infinite knowledge of all things food. It is a craft that continuously changes, yet stays true to the basic techniques taught by the French masters of the late 19th and early 20th century.

Chefs rely on recipes to establish consistency in their restaurants. Otherwise, the flavor and appearance of the dishes would vary according to the cook. Recipes are essential to transmitting the chef’s vision from raw ingredients to the finished dish served to the guest. The only way the ego-driven line cooks will ever cook something the same way twice is with a recipe. Recipes are also essential to determining food cost of each particular menu item.

All the chefs I know have a massive cookbook collections. Why? They learn new techniques, look to them for inspiration, and of course admiration. What about the home cook? The problem with home cooks is that they sometimes can’t tell a good recipe from a bad one. Most home cooks look online to find their recipes, it’s easy and convenient, and some sites even make a shopping list for you and print the recipes to various sizes. There are a lot of good recipe sites and blogs out there, but there are also a lot of bad ones.

To be a good cook, is cooking without recipes necessary? Do chefs use recipes? How can I learn to cook without them.

Cooking Without Recipes: The Nitty Gritty

I have an OK cookbook collection. Now, I rely mostly on the public library to check out the books I can’t afford to buy. The one I use the most is The Flavor Bible, which ironically is not a cookbook in the traditional sense. It has no recipes; it is merely a list of ingredients. Below each ingredient is a list of the foods that best complement it, when the ingredient is in season, the cooking techniques that best work for that particular ingredient, and examples of flavor combinations used by renowned chefs. The book gives you the resources necessary to use your knowledge of cooking to develop your own style and creativity, without using somebody else’s recipe. A book you must have is Michael Ruhlman’s book Ratio. In it you will learn all the basic formulas or ratios and techniques that will allow you to start cooking without recipes.

If you’re looking for recipes online try: Epicurious for recipes from Gourmet and Bon Appetit, Simply Recipes for detailed recipes with pictures for almost every step, Steamy Kitchen for creative recipes with an Asian touch and great photos, for Mexican recipes visit Pati’s Mexican Table, and finally for dessert try David Lebovitz.

If you are going to use somebody else’s recipe, please give them credit for it, nobody will think less of you because of it.