Slow Cooker Kalua Pork – Aloha!

Slow Cooker Kalua Pork – Aloha!

Kalua pork with chopped cabbage and chestnut rice

‘Tis the season for slow cookers — while I love stews, soups and all sorts of chili, I can’t help but start Crock-Pot Season with a little bit of the Aloha spirit.  Simply take a tender roast pork with a light hint of sea salt and great smokey flavor and you’ve got the mainstay of a Hawaiian luau: kalua pork.

When I say kalua, people assume I’m talking about the cordial.  Kalua is the Hawaiian word for a roasting technique that involves cooking underground with leaves and hot coals.  Kahlua, on the other hand, is a coffee liquer, and seems to play a role in every 20-something’s life (OMG I remember those B-52 shots).  But do keep your mudslides, White Russians and chocolate martini concoctions close-by, because this recipe is so easy, you’ll need something to pass the time.

Trader Joe’s Himalayan Pink Salt with built-in grinder

Like any slow cooker recipe, careful preparation and timing will yield fantastic results with very little work.  My advice is to simply prep the meat, stick it in the refrigerator, then start it in your crock-pot the night before, typically when you go to sleep.  Use a slow-cooker liner and you’ll have even less to clean-up.  The pork takes about 10 minutes to prepare, 16 hours to cook and plenty of forks to enjoy.

A couple of notes on the ingredients: first, there are only four.  Don’t try to add more or get fancy.  Simple and straightforward will give you the most authentic flavors.  Also, most grocery stores will carry banana leaves in the freezer section.  An Asian or Latin market will also have them.  If you can’t find them, you can omit from the recipe.  Hawaiian Sea Salt is the most authentic way to prepare the pork, but if you don’t have easy access to it, I recommend Himalayan Rock Salt or any coarse Sea Salt.  Use a spice grinder or mortar and pestle to turn the crystals into loose powder.  Some salts are bottled with a built in grinder, making it even easier to enjoy.

I use two forks and a deep baking dish to shred the pork

Once it’s ready, you can serve the kalua pork with rice and cabbage (as they do in Hawaii) or do it luau style, with sweet bread rolls and macaroni salad.  If you have a lot of leftovers, you can try your hand at making manapua.  Personally, I happen to love the pork on a sweet roll, with a combination of spicy sriracha and creamy mayonnaise, smashed together with sour dill pickles and a drizzle of teriyaki sauce.  Be as traditional or creative as you like.  I’ve even seen the pork grilled between tortillas and rolled up into quesadillas, or served on top of fried wonton chips and smothered in cheese and green onions for a Pacific twist on nachos.

‘Tis the season for good eating, right?  Enjoy this easy recipe.

Give the pork a generous coating of the salt and work it into the slits

Slow Cooker Kalua Pork
Yields: 8-10 servings
Cook Time: 16 hours

4 pounds pork shoulder roast, also known as pork butt
4 teaspoons liquid smoke
Coarse Sea Salt or Hawaiian Rock Salt (lightly ground)
Banana Leaves, enough to wrap meat
Butcher’s twine

Optional Serving Ideas: steamed rice, shredded cabbage, sweet rolls and macaroni salad

  1. Using a small knife, cut small slits in the roast.  Coat the roast generously with the salt, rubbing salt into the slits.  Sea salt is not pungent like table salt, so coat the meat well.

    The pork wrapped in banana leaf and secured with twine

  2. Place two banana leaves together so they are overlapping (you may need kitchen scissors to cut the leaves down to size).  Lay the roast in the center of the leaves.  Pour all four teaspoons of the liquid smoke over the meat.  Wrap the meat in the banana leaves and tie with butcher’s twine to secure.  Refrigerate until ready to cook.
  3. When ready to cook, place the meat in a slow cooker set on LOW.  Cook, covered and un-disturbed, for 16 hours.
  4. Remove meat from slow cooker and place in a dish or plate with a rim (I use a 13 x 9 rectangular baking dish).  Carefully unwrap the meat and allow to rest, 15 minutes.
  5. Pour all the juices from the slow cooker into a fat separator or similar shaped tool, such as a liquid measuring cup.  Skim off fat.  Bring 2 cups of water to a boil in a pot.  Add the remaining juices and 1 teaspoon liquid smoke.  Taste and season as desired.
  6. With two forks, shred the pork.  Pour the juices from the slow cooker evenly over the pork.  Serve hot or cold.
Orange Almond Olive Oil Cake

Orange Almond Olive Oil Cake

Photo credit: Chef Adriel Zahniser

All good things must be shared — especially when it comes to recipes.  Lucky for me, I have a great group of friends who are talented chefs, and we regularly exchange our best recipes.  Such was the case last week, when my good friend Chef Malin Parker told me about Chef Laurie Crueley’s delicious olive oil cake.

I was so excited to make it (and of course, put my own spin on it) that I haphazardly forgot a crucial ingredient: milk.  As the cakes were baking in the oven and I started to clean-up the kitchen, I realized I forgot to add the milk.  Slightly panicked, I began to think of possible outcomes — I knew that without milk, the cakes would be heavy and dense.  My mind raced to think of ways to alleviate the heaviness and slowly but surely, an improvised topping was created.

With Chefs Adriel Zahniser and Malin Parker

My first inclination was to create a warm almond milk mixture and pour it over the hot cakes (similar to what you see in tres leche cake recipes) but in keeping with the Mediterranean inspired olive oil cake, I decided to do a mixture of fresh orange juice, honey and nuts.  The result was simply fantastic.

I am posting an updated version of Chef Laurie’s recipe below.  It combines her cake recipe (yes, with the milk) and my nutty honey based topping.  I also like an addition of coarsely ground almonds to the cake.  The nuts add a rich, buttery taste to the batter and compliments the flavor of olive oil nicely.  For the cake, I recommend using the best olive oil you can find, as this will greatly enhance the outcome.

With Chefs Mary Beth Rodriguez and Laurie Crueley

Since this is the time of year many people enjoy warm drinks such as tea, hot cider, or coffee, this cake will compliment your mugs very nicely.  And while you’re enjoying your tea and cake, feel free to watch this video of Laurie and I in the kitchen.  Enjoy!

Orange Almond Olive Oil Cake
Inspired by Laurie Crueley, Updated by Chris Kohatsu

Yield: 1 cake (9 inch round)

For the cake:

2 large eggs (room temperature)
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
Zest of 1 orange (finely grated)
1/3 cup whole milk
3/4 cup good olive oil (extra virgin is fine)
1/3 cup marsala wine
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1 cup almonds (coarsely ground)

For the topping:

1 cup each walnuts, almonds, pine nuts (chopped)
1/2 cup freshly squeezed orange juice
1/2 cup golden raisins
1 cup honey
1 tablespoon orange blossom water
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon

  1. Pre-heat the oven to 375 degrees.  Grease a 9 inch cake pan or 8 x 8 square and set aside.
  2. Mix the eggs and sugar until incorporated and foamy, then add the zest, milk, marsala, olive oil and salt.
  3. In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour and baking powder.  Slowly add the flour mixture to the egg mixture, while the mixer is running, until all the flour is added and a nice cake batter is formed.  Stir the chopped almonds into the batter.
  4. Transfer batter to prepared cake pan.  Tap pan to release any air bubbles.
  5. Bake for 30-40 minutes.  Cake is ready when a toothpick or knife comes out clean.  Set the cake aside to cool slightly, and prepare the topping.
  6. Combine the raisins and orange blossom water in a small bowl.  Add a few tablespoons of hot water (just enough to cover) to allow the raisins to plump.
  7. Heat a large saute pan.  Once hot, add all of the nuts and toast, about 1-2 minutes.
  8. Add the honey, orange juice, cinnamon and raisins to the nuts.  Lower the heat and stir until well combined, about 1 minute.
  9. Turn out the cake onto a large serving dish or baking sheet.  Pour the hot nut mixture over the cake and spread into an even layer.
  10. Slice and serve warm cake immediately.  Drizzle with more honey and sprinkle with cinnamon if desired.
Caldo Gallego: Soup from Spain and Emilio’s Special Recipe

Caldo Gallego: Soup from Spain and Emilio’s Special Recipe

Emilio’s delicious Caldo Gallego

Whenever I feel the need to laugh or share a smile, I pick up my mobile and text my friends.  Our exchanges are filled with wacky updates, snarky attitudes and silly responses.  One day, I’m going to publish these texts into a photo album and call it Words with Friends.  But that’s an idea for another day.

Today, my thoughts and palate are focused on my friend Emilio, who shares his recipe for Caldo Gallego, the historic hearty soup from the hills of Spain.  Emilio and I were texting about food and memories, and he shared that during his childhood, he refused to eat caldo gallego.  His great aunt (who immigrated from Spain to D.C.) would spend hours in the kitchen tending to the soup, and when it was ready, she would call him in from playing in the street.  Like most kids, Emilio would squeamishly refuse to eat anything made with spinach and frowned at the sight of tender meat falling off a ham bone.  I smiled when I learned this, because at one point in my childhood, I refused to eat sushi.  The reply Emilio sent me had me howling with laughter.

Emilio and I share a hug in the kitchen

Thankfully, tastebuds mature and change with our bodies, and Emilio and I are no exception to this.  By recalling the memory, Emilio found himself longing for the soup – made with creamy potatoes, salty pork and earthy spinach – and decided to re-create it in his kitchen.  It seems the best memories make the best recipes; I’m so thankful Emilio is willing to share his recipe here.

This soup comes together easily in one pot.  If you have a pressure cooker, you can make it (from the dry beans to boiling the ham hock) in less than an hour.  However, if you want to cook it traditionally on the stovetop, Emilio’s tips and instructions guide you through the process.  When I made the soup, I savored all the wonderful aromas that filled the house. I also decided to use fingerling potatoes, left whole, instead of dicing them up.  Emilio called that an “interesting twist” but it’s up to you to decide how hearty you want your soup to be.

I lift a bowl to celebrate Spain’s glorious Euro Cup win, but mostly, to celebrate my friend, the laughter and all the fun — I’m so grateful for our phone calls and text messages when we’re apart.

The finished Caldo Gallego

Caldo Gallego
by Emilio Rouco
Makes 4-6 servings


For the Rostrido (a traditional Spanish sauce which adds flavor to soup):

3-4 Tablespoons olive oil – enough to fry garlic
4 cloves garlic, sliced
2 tsp paprika (sweet, Spanish paprika is best)
¼ cup white wine (optional)

  1. In a frying pan with olive oil, gently fry sliced garlic until lightly golden brown (be vigilant, as garlic burns very easily).
  2. Take the pan off the heat and allow to cool for a minute or two – then mix in the sweet paprika – the cooling off period is important, if you don’t do it the paprika will burn.

Emilio’s Note: Stick to Spanish paprika for this, it’s way better than the Hungarian variety. Stir until well blended. At this point you can remove the sauce from the heat or you can add the optional white wine. If you add the wine, leave the sauce on heat and simmer  gently until wine is completely evaporated.

For the Soup:

1 lb medium dry white beans (you may substitute 2 cans of beans for a quicker recipe)
2 1/2 quarts water
1/2 lb salt pork, cubed*
2 smoked ham hocks
6 small white potatoes, peeled and diced
1 bunch fresh spinach
4 Spanish chorizo sausage
Salt, if needed

* Cubing the salt pork is optional.

Emilio’s Note: Salt pork can be a wee bit too ‘real’ for some. It’s fatty. I recommend NOT cubing it. Rather, remove skin and discard. Throw salt pork in whole then remove and discard when soup is done. You can also substitute ½ lbs of bacon, whole, not sliced, for the salt pork.

To Make the Soup:

  1. Rinse beans, cover with 6 cups of water and soak overnight. (If using canned beans, simply rinse and drain and place beans in a large pot with 6 cups water).
  2. When beans are ready to cook, add additional 1 quart water with the salt pork and ham bone.
  3. Bring to a boil. Cover, reduce heat and simmer about 2.5 hours or until beans are tender (if using canned beans, simmer for about an hour).
  4. Add potatoes and Rostrido sauce. Simmer an additional 20 minutes.
  5. Slice chorizo into 1-inch pieces. Add chorizo and spinach to beans and cook ten minutes more. Taste and add salt (if needed). If the soup is too salty, add additional water.Remove salt pork and discard (if using bacon, remove it). Remove ham hocks. Cut meat from ham bones, discard bones and return meat to stew. Serve in soup bowls with buttered, crusty bread.

Emilio’s Note: The taste and consistency improves if the soup is allowed to rest, partially covered, for a few hours before serving.

Breakfast Torta: Chorizo, Egg, Black Bean and Cheese Sandwich

Breakfast Torta: Chorizo, Egg, Black Bean and Cheese Sandwich

Tortas in a cast iron grill pan

Red, Green or Christmas?  That’s a question you get asked a lot in New Mexico.  The answer has nothing to do with the holiday spirit or festive lights.  It’s about salsa, the Spanish word for sauce, which accompanies just about everything you can possibly order at a restaurant.  Personally, I find Christmas, using both red and green salsa, to be the best option — especially in the morning.  New Mexico has the BEST breakfast burritos!

Prickly pear cactus margaritas in Chimayo, NM

I happen to love spicy foods, especially during Summer.  When the weather heats up, I long for hot weather cuisines such as Jamaican, Ethiopian, Indian and Mexican.  The capsaicin found in chilies and peppers have long been known to boost circulation and cool the body, but beyond these health benefits, I find that spicy foods make me eat less and drink more.  And there’s nothing wrong with that!

Recently, my friends Charles and Tim told me they were hungry for breakfast.  It was the middle of a hot and sticky night and they needed an energy boost.  While sipping on a cold beer, my thoughts drifted to my travels in New Mexico, which made me smile and offer to cook.  In less than 15 minutes I whipped up a handful of breakfast burritos, and I’ll never forget how much fun Charles, Tim, Ivana, Joel and I had while eating them.

In Old Town Albuquerque

Since I can’t leave well enough alone, I decided to improve my breakfast burrito recipe.  It started off with the basics: eggs, shredded potatoes, hot sauce, bacon, salsa and tortillas — and has grown into a Breakfast Torta recipe.  Torta, is the Spanish word for bread, and in Mexican cuisine, tortas are hefty sandwiches.  My breakfast torta is inspired by New Mexico foods, with ingredients like crumbled chorizo, black beans, diced onions, a fried egg, and of course, plenty of salsa.

This breakfast torta is intended to wake up all of your senses in the morning by being spicy, savory, hearty, fragrant and flavorful.  I use a panini press to bring it all together, but you can use a heavy pan or even a foil lined brick to toast the sandwich.  You can also make and refrigerate the chorizo filling before hand, in order to save time in the morning.  However, if you find yourself playing short order cook in the middle of the night, taking orders for after-hours eats, this torta will surely keep the party going.

Breakfast Torta
Serves 4 hungry people

Food photography by Stephanie Cameron.

2    Bolillo Rolls (or 4 small ciabatta or kaiser rolls)
1    pound fresh chorizo, casing removed
1    small yellow onion, diced
2  cloves of garlic, chopped
1   14.5-ounce can black beans, drained
8   ounces queso fresco or cotija queso (or equal parts grated fresh mozzarella and crumbled goat cheese)
4  eggs
1   cup red salsa
1   cup green salsa (Hatch chile preferred, but tomatillo is a good substitute)

  1. In a cast-iron or heavy skillet, crumble the chorizo into small bits over medium-high heat. When the sausage is mostly cooked, after 3–4 minutes, add the diced onions and garlic, and cook until onions are clear and transparent, about 3 minutes more. Add the drained black beans, and stir well to combine.  Adjust flavors if needed (using seasonings such as salt, pepper, cumin and oregano) and remove from heat.
  2. Split the bread rolls in half. Use your fingers to remove the inside breading. Save this bread for breadcrumbs or for garnish for soup at a later time. Slice, grate or crumble the cheese as needed.
  3. Heat a panini press or flat griddle pan.
  4. In a separate pan, fry the eggs (I prefer over-easy, to a medium softness, but scrambled works too).
  5. Fill the bread cavities with the chorizo mixture then top with eggs and cheese. Add the remaining sliced bread to create a sandwich. Place sandwich in panini press or on heated griddle. If using a griddle, be sure to weigh the sandwich down with the bottom of a heavy pan, plate or brick. You will need to flip the sandwich to toast both sides.
  6. Once sandwich is toasted, allow to rest for 1 minute then slice diagonally.  Serve with two salsas for dipping.

My talented friend, photographer and New Mexico native, the incredible Stephanie Cameron

Storytelling with Michael Laiskonis

Storytelling with Michael Laiskonis

Chef Laiskonis’s dessert, inspired by the D.R.

“The best chefs are great storytellers,” says Michael Laiskonis, “and pastry chefs are no exception.”

It’s Tuesday morning at Johnson & Wales University and Chef Laiskonis is assembling a dessert he created while visiting a plantation in the Dominican Republic.  While he is carefully and meticulously describing the technical aspects of the dish, I am awestruck by his ability to artfully recreate and share his experiences.  “The crumbled sable represents the dirt roads,” he says and then spoons a streak of roasted chocolate on the dish “to represent the cocoa found everywhere.”

As Chef Laiskonis continues, I find my own mind wondering and wandering — how would I create and interpret some of my favorite stories?  If I wanted to talk about the time my girlfriends and I discovered “Just Dance” for the Wii — it would be colorful, fun and sweet (maybe spheres of fresh fruit sorbets) served in birdbath champagne glasses with shaved bits of chocolate.  Perhaps I’d like to share about the first trip I took to Paris on my own, an homage to turning 21, that included my first ride on the bateaux mouche with a baguette and bottle of Muscadet in hand.  To tell that story, I’d probably create some sort of fruit and cheese board, along with small cordial shots of sweet wine and alcohol laced purees, and a pile of fleur de sol, to represent the salty smell of the Seine.

Chef Michael’s mango spheres in white chocolate

As we begin a long Memorial Day weekend, there will be many opportunities to pause and reflect on stories and experiences that shape who we are as a nation and a provide us a deep sense of history and service.  While many of us will be firing up the grill and spending the day in the sunlight, take a moment to challenge yourself to tell a story through a dish.  It could be in context, relating to a service member you know, or it could be abstract, with your interpretation of history or a geographic location.

Whatever it is, push yourself to visually represent, structurally balance it physically, and then, of course, allow the flavors to dance and delight upon tasting.  To make a dish that is visually pleasing but even better tasting, is your goal, and like a true chef, you must be ready to tell its story.  That’s the mark of  true storyteller in the kitchen.

Perla NYC: Dining in the West Village Gets Even Better

Perla NYC: Dining in the West Village Gets Even Better

Alain and I at Perla NYC

When Alain Joseph says he wants to visit a restaurant, I instantly smile and take his arm.  Alain will never steer me wrong when it comes to food.  He’s been a chef for nearly 20 years (14 of which are and currently still with Emeril Lagasse) and when I’m with Alain, I know I’m going to enjoy whatever is put in front of me.

Without objection, he and I set off Saturday night into the West Village and walked through the doors of Perla, the latest creation from the team behind great restaurants like Joseph Leonard, Fedora and Jeffrey’s Grocery.  Led by Executive Chef Michael Toscano (of Eataly and Babbo) Perla is a modern take on old-world Tuscan cuisine.  Small and narrow, with a wood burning brick oven, open kitchen, booth tables and bar stools, it’s cozy and un-pretentious.  The staff is warm and friendly and the candlelit dining room creates a very relaxed environment.  However, all of the warm snuggly feelings do very little to prepare you for the hurricane of flavors that will come rushing at you through the food.

The wonderful rabbit entree

We tempted our palates with a trio of Island Creek Oysters.  While Alain and I talked about how boring mignonette sauces have become, Chef Michael surprised us by delivering the oysters with an Italian styled kim-chee.  The savory herbs mixed with pickled brine and gentle spices enhanced the beautiful oysters and we cherished every bite.  To our delight, Chef Michael treated us to a foie gras tramezzini, which is his playful rendition of a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.  Between slices of soft white bread, was a generous portion of rich foie gras, topped with sweet cherry preserves and a nutty pistachio spread.  It was by far the best finger food I have ever experienced.

A glass of champagne was sent to cleanse our tastebuds, then a hearty plate of emerald green brussels sprouts with mushrooms, charred scallion and goat’s milk ricotta cheese reminded us how much we love darkly roasted vegetables.  Alain ordered a bottle of Vermentino to join our tasting of the linguine with razor clams, prosciutto and ramps, followed by the house specialty meatballs, and the special of the day: head-on, tail-on rock shrimp, served in a chilled tomato cream sauce.  To say we were in a food lover’s paradise was to put it mildly!

Executive Chef Michael Toscano

As we rested to relish and recover from every delicious bite, Chef Michael encouraged us to order an entree.  Who were we to argue with the chef?  A plate of rabbit tenderloin wrapped in pancetta was placed in front of me, while a New York strip with parsnips, escarole, mushrooms and bone marrow agrodolce arrived for Alain.  I couldn’t believe how tender and flavorful the rabbit was, complimented ever so delicately by the pancetta.  Alain warned me I wouldn’t be ready for the steak — and he was right.  It was cooked perfectly, tender and moist, but it was the flavor — the powerful rush of the bone marrow gravy coating my tongue and creating the softest mouth sensation — that had me swooning.

As if that wasn’t enough, Chef Michael asked us to try a pizza from the wood burning oven.  Before we could object, a beautiful pizza, with golden brown cheese, bubbling crisp crust and buttery yellow mushrooms arrived in front of us, and we knew we would be foolish not to partake.  Although we could have done without dessert, I insisted we celebrate Alain’s birthday.  So we did, with a polenta apple cake and after dinner cocktails to boot!

I told Chef Michael that when chefs don’t want to leave his restaurant, it’s to be taken as a compliment.  He laughed and said it was duly noted.  I also congratulated Chef Michael on his James Beard nomination for Rising Star Chef (oh yes, folks, take notice!) And to the birthday boy, my good friend Alain, I can’t believe we have shared in another wonderful meal together.  I’ll be talking about this for a long, long time to come.  Happy Birthday, dear Alain!

Guinness Stew: It’s Good for You

Guinness Stew: It’s Good for You

If the thought of stringy corned beef with soggy cabbage sobers up your St. Patrick’s Day festivities, try making a Guinness Stew instead.  I happen to love the dark rich beer paired with soft, tender beef and blanketed in a savory broth.  My favorite way to serve Guinness Stew is over a bowl of buttered noodles with freshly chopped herbs — and a dollop of spicy mustard — how’s that for flavorful?  Makes me want a pint of beer right now!

Braising meat in beer is fairly common in European countries.  In Germany, fuhrmannsbraten is a flavorful pot roast made with a rich amber lager, while the French have carbonnade, made from caramelized onions, fresh herbs and tangy mustard.  Not to be outdone, the Italians do beef alla birra, with thick chunks of smoky bacon, smooth chicken stock and plenty of fresh thyme.

However, it is time for St. Patrick’s Day, and true to the spirit of the holiday, I will be cooking with Irish ingredients while raising a few pints as well (but no green beer for me, yick!)  Last year, I posted an authentic Irish recipe: boxty (potato pancakes) while reminiscing about my favorite kebab stand in Dublin.  Although I debated about another Irish recipe (colcannon) I am going with the dish that makes my stomach feels most welcome — a bowl of Guinness Stew has a way of kissing your tastebuds while bringing pure satisfaction to your soul.  My recipe aims to incorporate the best of all the above listed countries and their dishes, while allowing Guinness to be the star of the show.  It is indeed, comfort food for the Irish, but especially for those of us who love and appreciate that wonderful, magical country.

Sláinte chuig na fir, agus go mairfidh na mná go deo!

Guinness Stew
Serves 6


3 pounds chuck roast, cut into large cubes (2 inches)
6-8 slices thick bacon, diced
1 onion, quartered and separated into large pieces
2 cups baby carrots
4-6 red potatoes (if large, cut in half)
4 garlic cloves, minced
2 tablespoons flour
14.9 fluid ounces Guinness
3 cups chicken stock
6 fresh thyme stalks, leaves removed from stem
2 bay leaves
1 cup frozen peas
Oil for browning meat
Salt and Pepper to taste

Optional Garnishes:
Egg noodles, buttered and covered with freshly chopped herbs like parsley, dill and chives
Stone ground mustard
Freshly baked crusty bread

  1. In a large cast iron enamel or heavy stockpot, add a little bit of oil and brown the meat on all sides.  Work in batches if needed.  Remove meat from heat and set aside.
  2. Add the bacon and allow fat to render.  When bacon begins to crisp, add the onions. Sprinkle the flour over the onions and scrape up any bits from the bottom of the pot.
  3. Add the Guinness and the chicken stock.  Return the beef to the pot and add the thyme and bay leaves.  Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to a simmer.  Cover and allow to cook for one hour.
  4. Stir the stew and add the potatoes.  Continue to simmer, covered, for an additional 30 minutes.
  5. Remove the bay leaves and adjust seasonings as necessary.  Add the carrots and cook for 15 minutes more.
  6. Stir in the peas and cook for 5 minutes.  Serve hot with noodles or fresh bread and plenty of cold Guinness.
Day 5: No Fear – Part 2

Day 5: No Fear – Part 2

Don't mess with the chef!

“Es stupido!”  Chef Estela is saying sternly.  “No one has ever harassed my students, and no one ever will again!”

She is stomping around the kitchen, angry at the turn of events that happened last night.  “I will not stand for this,” she says over and over.

I am making tamales.  Chef Estela is on the phone with the Governor’s office. Look out!

Day 4: No Fear

Day 4: No Fear

Dirty cop - el bastardo!

I was all set to write about my lesson today on making Chiles en Nogada (the national dish of Mexico) however, it’s almost midnight, I’m somewhat tipsy, and the tequila in my system is the only thing that’s calming my anger right now.

Today, I ventured into the City of Puebla with two other travelers.  We had a great day of sightseeing and shopping at the markets.  We hired a personal driver to stay with us wherever we went.  When we decided we had enough, we asked him to take us back to Tlaxcala.  Just before we entered the ramp for the highway, we were greeted with a siren, flashing lights and instructions to pull over.

Our taxi driver immediately left the car and presented his license to the officer.  A verbal exchange took place, and the officer then went into his car and took out pliers, screwdrivers and a hammer.  Our driver continued to beg and plead with him.  Then the officer got back into his car and stayed there.  At this point our driver came to us and said: “Dinero….. CASH.”

Apparently, the officer wanted $400 for us to be let go.  Luckily, none of us scare easily.  Instead of paying him, I whipped out my mobile phone and took a picture of the cop, his car and his license plate.  My buddy opened his wallet and handed over 200 pesos, which is just under $20 bucks.  “No more,” my friend sternly said, and the driver took the cash and handed it to the officer.

The officer then got mad, got in his car, sped around our car and practically hit us from behind.  The officer got out of the car and started to rip the license plate off of the taxi.  Our driver then pulled out his wallet and paid him more cash.  The cop quickly sped away.

While we were on the road, I showed our driver the photo I took of the cop.  “Please, senorita,” he said to me, “do not make trouble for me.”  He explained that if I reported the cop to the authorities, he would have problems every time he went into Puebla.  He said that this is the way things are in Mexico, and that really, we should just forget about it.

Well, I couldn’t leave well enough alone.  I decided that our driver needed to learn English.  For the rest of the ride, he learned the words: Motherf*$cker, bull-$hit, @sshole and the phrase “don’t F*)(k with me!”  And when we reached our destination, we tripled the fare and paid him more than enough for the shakedown money.

Because I promised our driver I would not make trouble for him, I have not filed a report.  But I am left angry and saddened for someone who works so hard only to be stepped on by someone who is supposed to protect him.  I am also convinced that whenever and wherever I travel, I’m not going to be afraid.  I had every right to snap that picture of the cop and his car, and I’m not going to apologize for that.  My buddy Ted was right in saying “no more.”  Sometimes, you just have to stand your ground.

I maybe rolling over for my driver, but I’m not going to be afraid to share my story or my experience.  This kind of bullying isn’t going to stop my vacation.  There are more good people in this world than bad and I refuse to believe otherwise.  Whoever that cop is, I wish him a lifetime of heartache and hemorroids.  Tomorrow is another day.

Day 3: To Market We Go!

Day 3: To Market We Go!

Chef Estela at the market

A Mexican marketplace is such a feast for the eyes — everywhere you look, there are colors, bins, stalls and food (lots and lots of food!) wherever you turn.  Approaching a marketplace is a bit chaotic; cars are everywhere, people are in every direction and the outside of the marketplace looks like a dumpy warehouse.  But go inside the market and you’ll find rows and rows of unique stalls, each selling various goods and treats.

The nice part about the market is that it is pretty much organized by zone.  In one area, there is a dry goods section, another a carniceria (fresh meats butcher), household items, shoes, textiles, flowers, fruits and even pastries.  If you walk slowly through the market, the vendors call out to you hoping that you’ll stop and buy their goods.  For the most part, you can ignore them, until you decide to give in.  Which is exactly what I did, and when the fun began!

A molinillo

Estela was a great help to me at the market.  She pointed out her favorite vendors and helped translate things I wanted.  I picked up all kinds of dried chiles, concentrated mole, several spice packets and even several molinillo’s. A molinillo is an interesting kitchen tool.  It’s shaped like a pestle, yet acts like a whisk.  Molinillo’s are used to make Mexican hot chocolate.  The distinct characteristic of Mexican hot chocolate is that it’s flavored with cinammon and it’s extra frothy.  The bubbly texture is created by a molinillo.  I’m so happy to have a few in my posession!

As we headed back from the market, we noticed smoke rising from a nearby volcano.  It was magnificent to watch.  Another fun day  comes to a close in central Mexico.


View of the volcano from my bedroom