As you might have noticed we have started again to post regularly. We also have been very busy working on the first version of the recipe viewer, and as we work on it we have been broadening the scope of the core product. What started as simple way to share recipes will grow into a much more useful product for the cooking enthusiast community. It is a bit too early to start listing too many features, but let me assure you it will be a nice product that will be worthwhile to wait for. With the help of Kurtito in Austria, who by the way still has not delivered the blog entries he had promised me, I am building the core database of the product. To help make creating recipes easier we are creating a logically-arranged list of ingredients that we will be able to use in the recipes. We have gone through 3 revisions already and hopefully we will finalize the final structure in the coming days.
The primary database, as most of our software is, will be in English, French, Spanish, and German since they are the languages in which we work internally in our group. Other languages will later be added as we get demand and find external resources to translate. We are also currently working on a universal unit converter so recipes written using one system of units can be transparently converted to the user’s system of choice.
Once this basic database is completed, we will release the first version of the basic free viewer and all our posted recipes in the .rxf format. We also plan to establish a repository of recipes on our main website at www.igourmand.com. I will keep you posted regularly as we progress on this project.
A week and a half ago we celebrated our 5th wedding anniversary. For the occasion I prepared a special meal and we decided to celebrate the occasion alone together and renew our vows in a nice ceremony we designed. Normita had told me that she wanted some cream soup to start the meal, so I designed a special recipe that we tried for the first time that afternoon. It was both stunning and filling. We each had a solid bowl of it and then we were so stuffed that we barely touched the main course. I would recommend that this soup be served in smaller portions than a lighter soup. It makes a great starter for a late autumn meal when you want to bundle up in front of the fireplace and relax.
4 tbs butter
1 tbs sunflower oil
1 1/2 cup salted cashews
1 large leek cleaned and chopped
2 cups chicken stock (can be made from powder)
1/4 cup sweet cooking sherry
1 cup milk
3/4 cup heavy cream
2 Oz brandy
Salt and Pepper to taste
Chopped chives for garnish
1. Put butter and oil in a pot and melt
2. Add chopped leek and cashew and cook covered until the leek in nice and golden (~10 minutes)
3. Add 1 Oz of the brandy and carefully light to flambÃ©
4. Once the flames die down add the chicken stock, the milk, and the cooking sherry and simmer for 20 minutes
5. Once the cashews are nice and tender purÃ©e the soup in a blender until very smooth
6. Strain the soup back into your cleaned pot and add the heavy cream and the rest of the brandy
7. Fold the cream in and add salt and pepper to taste
8. Simmer for a few minutes more
9. Serve with chopped chives as garnish on top of the soup
Later this week, if time permits, I will be posting a fist draft of the recipe exchange software program. This first version will be a simple recipe viewer running on the Windows platform. It also will be able to create files in the Recipe eXchange Format (.rxf) that people can submit to this site or trade with others. This program will be a free viewer that will be regularly updated with new features. I have a good idea where we are going with the software, but before announcing any specific plans, I prefer testing those advanced features internally to make sure that they are useful and that we are going in the right direction. The ultimate goal will be to create a useful suite of tools that can be used by everybody from people who are interested in cooking to professional chefs. As all the software we design it will be modular in nature and users will be able to customize it to suit their exact needs, and add features as they need them. The basic viewer and tools will always remain free and unencumbered by advertisement or other forms of annoyance. I do not like using software that nags me all the time or that is always trying to push things down my throat. We will eventually release some commercial versions of the software that will build on the basic set of features. The method of distribution or the exact features still remain to be determined and will ultimately be decided based upon the feedback from users. We will setup a discussion forum for the software once the project starts to be operational, and a user base is established. I’ll have more on this project later today or tomorrow once I have time to prepare things for distribution.
There are some recipes that are born from combinations of favorites with a twist. Some years back we used to make ‘Penne alla Vodka’ pretty regularly and liked the tangy burn that the vodka brought to a simple pasta dish. When we moved to Mexico, to work with local flavors, we tried it with some tequila with tasty results. More recently we were doing, once in a while, some pasta with spinach and blue cheese and one day I added some tequila to yield fantastic results. It is one of those dishes that can be made in less than half an hour for some very fancy results with minimal efforts. The perfect dish for a Friday night when you are not going out after work and want something to eat that is a little more upscale but without the fuss of preparation. To save you the effort of washing and removing the stems of the spinach, you can pick up a bag of washed baby spinach and cut the most time-consuming part of the recipe. Paired with a robust red like a Madiran to hold it’s own against the strong flavors it is a stunning meal that is both quick and easy to prepare. If you want to treat yourself warm us some nice thick-crust rustic bread and some nice butter mixed fresh basil and all of your worries will go away. The ultimate comfort food.
1/2 pound dried pasta of your choice
3 quarts water
1 tbs coarse salt
1/2 pound spinach well washed, stemmed and chopped if large
2 tbs butter
1/4 pound blue cheese
2 oz tequila
2 tbs pine nuts toasted and finely chopped
Salt and white pepper to taste
Freshly grated parmesan cheese for garnish
1. In a large pot put water and salt and bring to boil at high eat.
2. When the water is boiling, reduce heat and put the pasta in it and cook according to the package until tender.
3. When the pasta is almost ready put the spinach in and blanch for 30 seconds until wilted.
4. Drain the water from the pot return it to the fire with the pasta leaving a few tablespoons of the cooking water.
5. Put the butter, the blue cheese, the pine nuts, and the tequila on the pasta and stir until melted and well incorporated.
6. Serve topped with a white pepper and some grated parmesan.
We are finally back online after over a month of fun getting things ready in the office. We decided to move the blog from our Blogger account to our in-house server on a new website we are in the process of designing. The transition did not go as smoothly as planned as we were busy at the beginning of the month with family visiting from Canada for a few days, and then we were plagued by a series of hardware problems one after another. First my main monitor blew up on me, then the server started freezing intermittently due to a failing power supply, it stabilized for a while then started freezing again so I changed the guts of the system and it seems to work more smoothly now. Let’s hope that things will now go well so that we do not have any further problems with the hardware.
As you should have noticed we extensively redesigned the blog and the host site. This is a first draft and we will make some further refinements over the next few weeks once we have time to settle comfortably into this new home.
While things were going crazy in the last month we also had put a halt in the development of the recipe viewer and other features we plan to add to the site. There was just not enough time in the day to work on the blog, redesign the site, do our regular work, and attend to all the problems with the hardware. Things should be a little less hectic in the coming weeks so that we will have to move forward instead of backward with all the new projects.
Keep an eye on the blog as we will try to start posting daily starting today. Normita had finally written a short introduction a few weeks back, and I am now trying to convince our Padrino in Vienna to introduce himself and start posting interesting stories from Europe.
A lot of new things will soon be ready, so stick with us and enjoy the fun.
A few weeks ago we were exploring the surrounding areas of the new ‘Colonia’, or neighborhood, where we recently moved to and we found a ‘Mercado’ not too far from where we now live. Those ‘Mercados’ are the permanent versions of the street markets or ‘tianguis’ which are normally setup on fixed days on blocked sections of streets. Most ‘Colonias’ have them once of twice a week. They are great sources for fresh produce, chicken, meat, seafood, and everything else from clothing to pirated DVDs. On that day we found some very nice large shrimps with heads on (15-20 count to a pound) at a decent price and we picked up half a kilo for the main meal of the day, which here means the ‘Comida’ which is normally taken at 2-3pm. Since we had been shopping all day, when we returned home we were too exhausted to do anything too involved in the kitchen, so I decided to prepare the shrimps very simply. I decided to sautÃ© them in a neutral oil with just a bit of ‘Chile Guajillo’ and chopped garlic. The ‘Guajillos’ are medium-sized dried red chilies with a very nice deep flavor and very mild in spiciness. They should be available in most Hispanic grocery stores. They give a nice red tinge to the food and a wonderful flavor. We paired the shrimps with a simple pilaf rice and we had the meal ready in about 30-40 minutes. The only bottle of wine we had was a crisp cheap sauvignon blanc from Chile and it proved to be a nice match to the wonderful dish.
3/4 pound large shrimps, shelled, deveined, and butterflied
2 ‘Chile Guajillos’ seeded cut into thin rings
2 small cloves of garlic chopped finely
1 tbs sunflower oil
1. Remove the heads and shell the shrimps
2. Clean in a bowl of cold water and devein them, then deepen the incision to butterfly them
3. Pat dry on some paper towels
4. Heat a large frying pan or wok over high eat
5. Add the oil and quickly put the garlic and rings of chili
6. Stir 15 seconds and then add the shrimps
7. Let them sit for 30 seconds to take the eat then start stirring them with a wooden spatula more and more rapidly
8. Cook on both sides until tender and opaque, about 2-5 minutes total depending on the heat of you stove
9. Serve with the garlic and chilies rings on top
A lot of people tell me that they always are having problems coming up with new things to cook. This is a common problem for most of us, and when I was involved in the food business day to day I found that even professional feels the same a lot of the time. I cannot count the number of times when chefs confessed to me that they had problems completing a new menu due to lack of inspiration. The worst thing to do is to get into a routine, with pre-planned meals always on the same days. That totally kills inspiration. Since we have moved here to Mexico a few years back I have tended to suffer from the same problem for two reasons. First the kitchen in the small condo where we used to live was very small and it was a real pain to do any type of cooking, so I tended to enjoy it a lot less. Luckily the new place is still small but we organized it to make cooking fun. Second, and most important, due to our schedule in recent times we used to go food shopping only once a week, and this was normally on weekends when things were very crowded. It is difficult to enjoy food shopping when you cannot get to the food. That was compounded with not having any decent shopping in our area and no car to move around. Luckily the new place has lots of decent shopping nearby and a large street market (tianguis) once a week with a huge amount of fresh produce. Normita tends to be extremely organized and likes to plan things ahead. I am at the opposite and I have no idea what I will feel like eating tonight, let alone next Friday. I have found that the best way to get out of a food rut is to go food shopping either daily or every few days. In a way it might be a pain to do so, but it creates an environment that is conductive for variety. When I used to do this on a regular basis, we had something different on the table every day. Normita used to ask me what I planned to cook, and I could not tell her until we looked at available fresh ingredients. I like to look at fresh produce, meat, fish, poultry, etc. and what looks appetizing changes every day. I get inspiration from what is available when we shop, and at times you find new things that you have no idea how to prepare, and then I normally spend a short time on the Internet researching the background on a specific new product. I then try to improvise something in the style I am in the mood for that day. I rarely follow a recipe, but normally get inspired by a few of them, then add something based on my own experience. In this way ideas tend to be fresh and inspiration always challenged. Another important point is that it is always good to have reliable favorite dishes and the main ingredient to make them at hand, so when somebody drops by unexpectedly or you do not feel inspired due to time or mood, you have something reliable to cook. An example of this is that lazy mushroom pasta recipe I posted recently. We always have dried pasta, cans of mushrooms, and a jar of tomato sauce in the larder. In this way we are always ready to make that dish if we do not have anything else handy. One of the most rewarding pleasures of cooking is to look for new things and experiment with them. Also the sight of fresh products in a good market always inspire me to try something new, or something old in a different way. The next time you ask yourself ‘what are we going to eat today?’, either make one of your old standbys that you have all the ingredients at hand, or go food shopping with an open mind and see what inspires you. Try to experiment with something new, or a variation of an old favorite recipe with whatever ingredients that inspires you that day. Lucito
Finally I have managed to catch up with the world just in time for the weekend. Normita will be off on Monday so that it will be a nice long one for a change. I hope that we can manage to relax and enjoy life a bit. The following recipe is a very easy one to do, and it is one of our favorite to prepare when we are too lazy to seriously cook up a storm, but energetic enough not to be tempted to order out or walk to a restaurant for a bite. We normally prepare it with whatever fresh mushrooms we have in hand, or with a can of mushrooms if it is an emergency and we do not have anything else. The type of pasta to use is irrelevant and we have made it with about anything we have in the cupboard depending on what our mood was. Last Saturday we made it with tricolor eliches and three different types of mushrooms (button, cremini, and oyster) in equal quantities. It takes about half an hour to prepare, maybe a tad longer if your pasta is of a type that takes a while to cook. I normally prepare the sauce in the same pot I cooked the pasta, after I drained the pasta in a colander to save on washing dishes, but last weekend I wanted to try one of the new large pans, so I dirtied up the kitchen a bit more. We ended up enjoying the meal with a half decent bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon from Baja California, a local Mexican wine we found at the supermarket a few weeks back that was surprisingly decent for the price. If some of you are scared about the amount of chilies, do not worry, you do not have to eat them and we normally remove them before serving as well as the bay leaves. They are there just a few minutes to give some flavor to the sauce. Please try and enjoy this quick meal, and let us know if you liked it in the comments . Ingredients Pasta ½ pound dried pasta of your choice 3 quarts water 1 tbs coarse salt Sauce 1 tbs butter ½ tsp dried basil ½ tsp dried oregano ¼ tsp mustard powder 1 tsp brown sugar 2 cloves finely chopped garlic 5 thin red dried Italian chilies or chile de arbol 2 bay leaves 2 small or 1 large tomato roughly cubed ¾ pound roughly chopped fresh mushrooms 1 pound jar of Italian tomato sauce Salt and pepper to taste Freshly grated parmesan cheese for garnish Preparation 1. In a large pot put water and salt and bring to boil at high eat. 2. While the water is heating up chop the mushrooms roughly and reserve. 3. Place basil, oregano, mustard powder, sugar, garlic, bay leaves, and washed chilies in a small bowl. 4. When the water is boiling, reduce heat and put the pasta in it and cook according to the package until tender. 5. When the pasta is ready pour the entire pot in a large colander placed in the sink and return the pot to the fire. 6. Put the butter in the pot and when melted cook the mushrooms for 3-4 minutes until nice and juicy. 7. When the mushrooms are ready add the spices and tomatoes from the bowl and stir in thoroughly for a few minutes. 8.Add the jar of tomato sauce and bring to a simmer and when it is warmed through pour in the cooked pasta. 9. Gently fold the pasta until the sauce and mushrooms coats it well. 10. Serve after removing the chilies and bay leaves, and top with a grating of fresh pepper and some grated parmesan.
The last few days were busy with work here, so posting has been light. We managed to relax a bit on Sunday, a first after many months of craziness, and the last few days have been very busy with programming work in the office. Over the weekend we also managed to baptize the new kitchen and we prepared great dishes. Those recipes will be up shortly. For now we will not be posting pictures of the cooking process as we planned. The digital camera just died on us and I need to research what is available on the local market and do some shopping for a new one.
While preparing the recipes for posting I decided to try to standardize the format so postings will be consistent from the start. I still have a bit of refining to do before the format is final. Iâ€™m waiting for input on this from a few people. In the coming weeks I will also start posting links to downloadable recipe files that I will host on our internal server. These file will be in a format that will permit easy recipe exchange, and at the same time I will release a free recipe viewer that I am currently building. This will permit people to view and exchange recipes easily as well as search them and do various other things. We will keep updating it to add features and also permit submission of recipes to enhance interactivity on the site. More on that as the development progressâ€¦
I will call it quits early tonight so that we can catch up on some relaxation. We have been going non-stop for the last few years and we really need a break. We plan to take some extended weekends off over the next few months so that we can recharge the batteries, and also to give us time to work on some new features for the site and try and enjoy some great recipes.
Iâ€™m taking a short break between doing some work in the office and cleaning the old aquarium. A very cheerful combination of tasks for a grayish Saturday. Normita should be here in about an hour or so, and she will bring some things so that we can prepare a decent meal. More on that recipe laterâ€¦
Yesterday I went to a trade show about restaurants, bars, and hotels. They offered a wide variety of food supplies, equipment, and services for the trade. I was there for a quick run around the exhibition floor, as I only wanted to check a few things, mainly what was available locally for restaurant/bar management software. Of course I kept an eye open for dishes, glassware, and kitchen gadgets, as well as potential suppliers of foodstuff. I also spent a few minutes looking and drooling at commercial ranges as I plan to install one in our next kitchen when we move to a new house in a few years.
I met with the people representing an extensive line of kitchen gadgets and knives and I particularly liked their line of commercial kitchen knives. The sales rep told me to come back a bit later, as since it was the last day of the show they were planning to sell everything at deep discounts so they did not have to bring back everything with them again through customs.
Of course, you know what that means; I stopped by on my way out of the show and left with 5 new knives. Luckily I had not brought much cash with me, as I was not expecting to shop there, so I did not come back with more gadgets that I have room in the kitchen. The only thing I want to know is why food people are so addicted to buying so many thingsâ€¦ I know about it, I even wrote about it a few days ago, and I still went along and bought more knives. I think that I will go finish cleaning the kitchen so that I can actually use them, or at least one or two of themâ€¦ Iâ€™ll have report on them if they turn out to work as well as they lookâ€¦