Mastering Peruvian 101

Last weekend was another brilliant themed cooking dinner party! To tell the truth, when the theme of Peruvian food first came up, I was a bit skeptical because I was unfamiliar with the cuisine. As I looked online for recipes to make, I saw a lot of seafood recipes. I love seafood, but I don’t have a lot of experience with it. When the website piscotrail.com was shared with the group, it opened up a new world. The writer, Nico is a Peruvian native who resides in San Francisco. Peruvian food consists of a fusion of various cultures including Inca, Spanish, African, and Chinese. I had no idea that pisco, the alcohol used in many cocktails originated in Peru.  

So when the Italians immigrated to Peru, they brought a dish called Tallarin con Pollo (chicken and pasta) and this is Nico’s grandma’s recipe and the one I chose to make last weekend.
Ingredients

  • 6 chicken thighs skin and bone in
  • 16 oz can of San Marzano tomatoes
  • 1 cup coarsely chopped carrots
  • 1/2 cup coarsely chopped red pepper
  • 1/2 cup coarsely chopped celery
  • 1 cup diced red onion
  • 4 cloves garlic
  • 3 cups chicken stock
  • bay leaf
  • cinnamon stick
  • salt, pepper, cumin, oregano
  • 1 cup grated parmesan cheese
  • 1 lb angel hair pasta

Instructions

Season the chicken thighs thoroughly with salt and pepper. In a large skillet, heat approximately 3 tablespoons of olive oil over medium heat. When heated, place the chicken skin side down until golden brown for about 5 minutes. Turn and cook the other side for another 5 minutes. Remove the chicken onto a plate.   

Using the same pan, sauté the onion and garlic. Season with salt (1/2 tsp) , pepper (1/4 tsp), cumin (1/4 tsp), and oregano (1/2 tsp). Add the chopped carrot, red pepper, and celery, and continue to sauté until it begins to brown. Remove from heat. 

In a blender, puree a 16 oz can of San Marzano tomatoes. Add the sautéed vegetables and blend until smooth.   

Dump the purée back into the pan with 3 cups of chicken stock. Heat until it boils and place the chicken back in to pan with a bay leaf and a cinnamon stick.   

Cover the pan and reduce to a slow simmer and cook for thirty minutes. During the last ten minutes, cook the pasta. In a separate pot, boil enough water to cook the pasta. Angel hair pasta only takes five minutes cooking time. Drain the pasta.

When the chicken is done, remove it from the pan. Mix in the parmesan cheese to the sauce to thicken it and remove from heat. Blend the cooked pasta to the sauce. Plate the pasta and the chicken on top and garnish with more parmesan cheese.

I enjoyed my dish because the sauce was light and flavorful, the chicken was tender, and overall comforting and easy enough of a dish to cook again. The hardest part was all the chopping prep beforehand. It was also a good balance with all the other dishes that evening. My fellow cooks did an amazing job and here’s a look at some of the wonderful Peruvian dishes we gorged on. Many of the recipes can be found at piscotrail.com.  

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Revival Bar & Kitchen: Downtown Berkeley

On a recent weekday night, I had dinner with a friend at Revival Bar & Kitchen in Downtown Berkeley. It was our first time dining there, but we both knew we had been to this location before. Revival has been there for about five years, but before that it was a Restaurant called Downtown.    

The bar was pretty busy when we arrived. I had reservations so we were seated in the main dining area which was less busy at the time. I had a bad taste in my mouth at the start because we were told we couldn’t participate in the happy hour menu unless we were at the bar. I ended up skipping on the cocktail and went straight for a glass of wine to compliment my dinner.  
The menu lists small plates, large plates, sides, and cheeses. After reviewing the menu, we decided to order a bunch of small plates.  
Our first dish was the chopped curly kale caesar salad. I’ve noticed kale salads are becoming popular on menus lately. Revival’s version had kale, quinoa, almonds, fennel, avocado, turnip, romanesco, and pecorino cheese tossed in an anchovy vinaigrette. This beautiful salad was fresh, crispy, and deliciously flavorful. I really enjoyed all the textures. My friend absolutely loved it and tried to get the recipe. The chef told her the key is massaging the kale. 
 Our next dish was the fried soft shell crab. I hardly ever see this on a menu unless I’m at a Japanese restaurant so I wanted to give this a try. The crab was laying on top of a deviled egg sauce, lentils, and mushrooms. The crab was good, but the deviled egg sauce really elevated the dish.  
 We ordered the housemade lamb sausage meatballs. It came with a two bean succotash, green harissa, and smoked habanero honey. These meatballs were quite unique. They were coated, dense, and had exotic flavors.  
 My favorite dish was the spicy mushroom pho flatbread. It had yam purée, housemade ricotta, savoy cabbage slaw, porcini gastrique, fried onion, and serrano chili. The combination of ingredients on this flatbread was perfectly harmonious.   
 For dessert we shared the rhubarb upside down cake which was complimented with a carrot sorbet, puffed black rice, and buttermilk ice cream. This creative plate was really fun and pleasing to the palette.
 At the end of dinner the Warriors game was coming to an end so we moved to the bar to watch the last few minutes. I ordered a Cactus Red Cider which had a very pretty color. It was a bit on the sour side, but enjoyable.  
 We had a great dinner at Revival Bar & Kitchen. The chef is creating dynamic dishes that are both creative and delicious. I highly recommend dining here. It would make the perfect spot for pre-theater dining in Berkeley.

Be Greek for a Day: Oakland Greek Festival

 

This weekend is the Oakland Greek Festival, an annual festival held at the Greek Orthodox Cathedral in the Oakland Hills.   I am embarrassed to say that this is my first year attending even though it’s been held in my hometown for 43 years!   If you look to the East and into the hills from practically any vantage point in the Bay Area, you can locate the Mormon Temple.  The Greek Orthodox shares a space right below it.  So now that you know where it is, bring your cash so you can exchange it for tokens to spend at vendor stations selling food, drinks, desserts, or gifts. 

I love Greek lamb chops so knew I would be having some with a glass of red wine from Greece.  I was a bit shocked by the size of them, but then quickly realized I had plenty of room to try other items.  The lamb was good, but a tad salty.  It was good thing I had the piece of bread that came with it and my wine.
 My next course was grilled haloumi cheese.  The cheese is grilled and placed on grilled pita bread and topped with a slice of tomato and some type of vinaigrette dressing.  This was really tasty and much more impressive than the lamb chops.  
 I also picked up one of my favorite soups, avgolemono, a chicken rice soup with egg and lemon.    The soup is meant to be tart.   I always enjoy it because it’s comforting to me and I was not disappointed.  
 Now it was time to search out the desserts.  I had contemplated getting the loukoumades,  golden fried dough bathed in honey and cinnamon.  Instead, I was brought to the dessert room where they were making fresh Greek coffee. 

 It was a difficult decision but I was sold on the galaktobureko, milk custard with layered phyllo dough and honey.  I enjoyed the crispy texture of the phyllo against the soft custard.  It was very sweet and quite rich, so I packed my leftovers. I didn’t enjoy the coffee.  Even with the addition of more sugar, I never got it to the right balance.  As I got the bottom, I was left with a thick black residue.  I should have just had a regular cup of coffee.
 With some hits and misses, it is still a fun event learning about Greek culture.  It’s a great place to people watch as everyone is getting their Greek on with food, drinks, music, and dancing!  There is a lot to explore that if you can’t get it done in one weekend, there’s always next year.
The Oakland Greek Festival runs through today (11am-9pm).  Entry fee is $6 for adults and free for kids 12 and under. If you bring a can food donation, you can get $1 off.  If you bring a ticket stub from any A’s home game from April 28 through May 17, you can receive free admission.  I’m not sure what will be left, but it’s also free after 5pm today.  

Fist of Flour Doughjo: Ain’t No Martial Arts Studio

Fist of Flour Pizza Company launched in 2010 as a food truck. At the time, it rented a kitchen in Berkeley to conduct all their food prep. In January 2014, they opened what they call a “Doughjo” on the corner of MacArthur and Maybelle Street in the Laurel District of Oakland. Fist of Flour Doughjo is not a martial arts studio, but a pizzeria and the location where they do all the prep work for their two traveling food trucks.
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At Fist of Flour Doughjo, you can order pizza by the slice or order whole pies that are 14″ or 18″. They have a number of specialty pies or you can build your own pizza.
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They also have a lunch special from 12-4pm daily where you can get two slices of pizza and a soda or one slice of pizza, a salad, and a soda for $7.

I ordered a 14″ Classico, one of their specialty pizzas which has pepperoni, cremini mushrooms, chopped garlic, tomato sauce, fresh and aged mozzarella, and basil. I waited about ten minutes for my pizza to be made. The pizza was thin with a crispy crust and the blend of toppings were complimentary in flavor.
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I’m happy to have the “Doughjo” in the neighborhood and to see this pizza business thrive.

Plan to Go: Plan Check Kitchen + Bar

I’m at the Burbank airport waiting for my extremely delayed flight. Instead of being negative, I am reflecting on my favorite meal of the weekend in Los Angeles. Hands down it was dinner on Friday evening at Plan Check Kitchen + Bar. It’s not a fancy restaurant, but a gastropub in the Beverly Grove, a pretty hip area in L.A. It was a last minute decision to go there and was anything but planned.

My friend and I started out with cocktails and shared a few items. Feeling like balancing our meal, I ordered the kale caesar salad which was made up of chopped kale, hearts of palm, parmesan cheese, and croutons in a caesar dressing. The kale was crunchy, but not tough. It was a bit heavy on the parmesan, but after a quick toss was quite tasty.
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I ordered the smokey fried chicken to share which came with yam preserves and spicy pickled okra. The chicken was crisp, tender, and permeated a smokey flavor. The smokey flavor was unusual and I loved it.
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My friend ordered the short rib pot roast which came with a bone marrow turnover. I tasted the short rib and it was good, but not special.
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I was excited about the turnover, so my friend gave me half. It is an interesting concept to put bone marrow in a turnover. I thought the pastry was dry and the marrow lacked flavor so I was disappointed in this dish.
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I was a bit intimidated with the description of the chefs favorite burger which has cheese two ways, bacon two ways, a fried egg, hot sauce, and ketchup leather. I decided to go with it and I was so glad I did. It was probably one of the best burgers I have had in my life. It was juicy and balanced in both flavor and texture. I liked the idea of the parmesan crisp on the burger. I also really enjoyed the ketchup leather. Imagine a fruit roll up made out of ketchup. I thought it was pretty cool because you don’t need to worry about ketchup dripping on you. I gave my friend half so he could enjoy it too.
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Plan Check Kitchen + Bar is fun and innovative. With three locations in the Los Angeles area, I highly recommend it for locals and visitors.