Wednesday, March 31, 2010


I have been away from Spain for 2 years now. I think about it often though. Very often.

I had lunch today, here in Manhattan, with an old friend from my life back in Palma de Mallorca. We played catch up for hours, filling in all the missing gaps in our 2-year hiatus from one another. Sitting face to face in an über healthy, hippy, vegan café in Union Square. We sipped kombuchas, barefoot, at a large communal wood table. Our bodies still zinging with juicy post-yoga vibes. Quite American of us indeed, and very far from our old Spanish ways. Our conversation danced from life as of late to life way back when. From albondigas and paella, to tofu and quinoa. Remembering tasty moments of croquetas de bacaloa, tortilla Espanola, gambas al ajillo, café con leches, and jamon, jamon, jamon….

I would have paid BIG money at that moment to have one of those hemp-wearing, new age, crystal worshiping employees change the Om-Jaya-Shiva-Yaya music to European Techno, and to have my macrobiotic bowl doused in a boat-load of garlicky aioli. Ah, to be back in Spain….

Much has changed in life since leaving the island of Mallorca, for both of us. Our tight group of friends have all scattered themselves across the globe, and our favorite little café where we would congregate to spill our lives out in tales over a cappuccino, has since shut it’s doors for good. Life is a trip, and the cards it deals you can be so captivating and yet so paralyzing at the same time.

My dear friend reminded me of how precious this life of ours really is- the past, the present, and the future that it holds. How living in the moment is the only time we have, and it really can be the best part of our lives. To expect the unexpected, and to always find the time to relive the memories that still make us smile. I don’t take enough time to do that because I’m just “too busy” for appreciation all the time- Gotta change that.

Almost 2 years to the date, we’ve gone from toasting glasses of vino tinto around my dining room table, to clinking glasses of fermented hippy tea around a large wood table on a different continent. The table allows an outlet to pour out joy, sorrow, advice, concern, laughter, and nourishment of all forms, from one part of the world to the next. And the table -la mesa- hosted us on a sweet trip down memory lane. A trip all the way over to España.

-Tortilla Española -
(what I always make when my Spanish meter is running low)

1 1/2 cups oil
2 1/2 pounds boiling potatoes, peeled and cut into 1/3-inch dice
2 1/2 cups chopped onion
1 tablespoon coarse salt
10 large eggs

Heat oil in a 12-inch nonstick skillet over moderate heat until hot but not smoking and add potatoes, onion, and half of salt. Cook over moderately low heat, stirring occasionally, until vegetables are very tender but not colored, about 45 minutes. Drain vegetables in a large colander set over a bowl and cool 5 minutes. Lightly beat eggs in a large bowl. Gently stir in vegetables with 1 tablespoon oil, salt, and pepper to taste.
Return 1 tablespoon oil to skillet and add mixture, pressing potatoes flush with eggs. Cook over low heat, covered, 12 to 15 minutes, or until almost set. Turn off heat and let stand, covered, 15 minutes. Shake skillet gently to make sure tortilla is set on bottom and not sticking to skillet. Invert tortilla onto a large flat plate and slide back into skillet, bottom side up. (Alternatively, especially if top is still loose at this point, slide tortilla onto plate first. Cover it with skillet and invert tortilla back into skillet.) Round edge with a rubber spatula and cook over low heat, covered, 15 minutes more, or until set. Slide tortilla onto a serving plate and serve warm or at room temperature.

This recipe is best enjoyed with a long lost friend, a cold beer, and doused in a boat-load of garlicky aioli.
Bon Provecho!

Friday, March 26, 2010

In Love

With a bagel.

And with a pizza.

I've been in New York City now for only 6 days and I'm already in Love. Ok, I'm a cheap date. This I know. But I have truly never met a bagel like this before. It's special. And it lives just across the street from where I'm staying. Which basically means that this bagel practically stands out my window throwing pebbles and serenading me to come join it in a beautiful morning embrace of scallion cream cheese, followed by a food coma and a cup of coffee. My love drug of choice- Whole wheat everything bagel (warm and fresh out the water bath) lathered with creamy, fluffy scallion cream cheese. Slightly crisp on the outside, and perfectly chewy in the middle. Happiness achieved. For the girl that has never really been "in to" bagels in her life, this relationship is a big deal. I seem to always pass a date with a bagel for a blueberry scone or bran muffin romance instead. But this bagel, Ess-a-Bagel, has taken the lead role in my breakfast bliss..... and will probably take the lead role in the extra 5 lbs of body weight gained this month.

Now, for this pizza........ wow!
Bizarre love triangle, you say? A bagel, and a pizza in 6 days? Yeah, I must be pumping out an extra set of foodie pheromones this month or something. The pizza and I met just last night. I stood in line at Artichoke for 20 minutes at midnight for this slice of Heaven. A steaming hot wedge of pizza was sliced to my order and placed in a togo box for $4. I walked it home, flirting with the aromas that wafted from the warm box. This slice of happiness, the size of my forearm was thin crust (New York style,) perfectly chewy, and slightly charred on the bottom. The way I like it! It's topped with a heavy hand of creamy artichoke hearts, garlic, spinach and cheese. Think of warm, spinach and artichoke dip on top of pizza- GENIUS!

Other than pizza and bagels, I have been enjoying this city for all the other joys that it offers. Drinks and appetizers at this and this classic New York establishments. Incredible dinner here- Grilled bacon with sauerkraut and horseradish cream? Yes please! A long awaited Momofuku meal here- skate with preserved lemon and yuzu, old bay fingerlings, and spicy aioli. And my favorite homestyle, cozy little joint called Northern Spy- A kale salad of butternut squash, almonds and pecorino that was oh, so perfectly balanced.

And I still have a healthy few weeks of edible opportunities to come! That's if I'll ever get over the bagel and the pizza...

Sunday, March 14, 2010

On the Horizon

I'm a Pisces- Total dreamer.

Dreaming up my future is a full time job, and one that I love to have. When people ask me where I'm off to next, and my answer consists of at least 12 countries on 5 seperate continents, even I start to wonder if the dreaming is at all reality based. But then when the ideas start to actually fall into place, I begin to realize that it might really be possible to live the dream afterall.

Currently dreaming about....... Morocco.
I shouldn't say current though, because I have been lusting over the land of flavorful tagines, warm African winds, and colorful spices piled in perfect pyramids for years now. I want you, Morocco!

I recently got to spend time with two of my senior mentor chefs- Kim Schiffer and Peggy Markel
Both of which have significantly paved my way in the food industry, and have inspired me daily in my quest to live and travel through the art of good food. Peggy came to Santa Barbara recently to visit her dear friend Kim, and to teach a Moroccan cooking course. One that I got to participate in! After a meal of chicken tagine with preserved lemon and olives, baked eggs in a pool of aromatic tomatos, and lemon curd with pistachios- I was closing my eyes and releasing myself to the Pisces brain of Moroccan dreams yet again.

Peggy and Kim both teach cooking courses in on this beautiful planet. Kim has a course in Andaluicia, Spain. And Peggy has courses in Italy, Morocco and India..... And my current goal in life is to attend all of them. Ok fine, I'll start with Italy, Spain and Morocco and see how it goes from there.

I highly suggest you check out all of Peggy and Kims adventures here and join me this fall!

And untill those dreams pan out the way I want them to, I'll be wandering around the Big Apple for the next month of my life with these cool foodie friends of mine. I leave tomorrow morning, and I am quite ready for my taste buds to be rocked in the epicenter of good food. It's like traveling the world in one city! I'm hungry for you, New York.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

I made a cake

I made a chocolate cake.

This chocolate cake was for a job in fact, so i did not eat this chocolate cake. But I do need to talk about it.

I hate chocolate cake. In fact, I've hated chocolate up until maybe a few years ago. Yes, my Swiss Grandmother has questioned our relation over this issue in the past... But I do believe that my negativity towards the love of cacao (especially in cake form) stemmed back from my childhood. Way back when going to a fellow 6 year olds birthday party at the park ended with a big Costco or Vons shiny chocolate cake. All dressed up in a circus of neon piped frosting, confetti sprinkles and a fatty star-tipped chocolate boarder (at least 2 inches high) that amazingly would never melt in in the hot sun for 5 hours! I would sit on my little park picnic bench, swinging my little legs around bellow, and observe my fellow 6 year olds while still basking in my supreme glory of hitting the piñata much harder than the boys. One more adjustment to my obnoxious party hat string while I waiting for this apparently VERY highly anticipated birthday cake. The effects of these cakes were lasting on me. This dry, crumbly "cake" that was apparently just a glorified vessel for the 6" of frosting that lay on top of it. I remember these cakes coating my mouth in an abnormally greasy way, leaving an uncomfortable film around the entire inside of my mouth for hours. Why was there SO much excitement that surrounded such a terrible dessert! I couldn't understand it- so I gave it up, and hated chocolate from there on out.

Then I moved to Europe and had proper 70% dark chocolate in Austria- SOLD!

So this cake is one that I tried a few months back when my senior Chef, Kim made it for a party we were catering. I took some home, and it stayed moist for almost a week! I have never had a better tasting chocolate cake before in my life.

I was frosting this cake yesterday morning at home, in my slippers, with a large cup of Stumptown café au lait and Long Distance Runaround by YES playing on my stereo. And I thought abound how my fondness for chocolate cake has really changed. But it really does take THAT one chocolate cake to do it. And this one is THAT. Literally- the chocolate cakes name in the cookbook is "That Chocolate Cake." And it really is.

Check it out in The Essence of Chocolate cookbook by Scharffen Berger. It'll make you as excited as a 6 year old in the park. Without the awkward-fatty-film-coated mouth thing...

Friday, March 5, 2010

Remembering Zibibbo

2 years ago to the date, I was interning at a beautiful restaurant in Florence Italy. Zibibbo is her name.

I had come back to Florence after spending 6 months living and cooking in Palma de Mallorca, Spain. I had been working for a supremely bitter, clichéd, French chef in Mallorca (you know the type.) And this man really did make it his current life goal to make his fresh little American intern miserable, cry (which he never did) and hate food all together. That’s right- he tried to make ME hate FOOD! I was so surprised that someone would try so hard to make my life passion-less, that by the time I reached Florence, I had a mighty guard up to protect myself from any supremely bitter, clichéd, Italian chef that I may encounter there. I found everything but.

This tiny, home-style restaurant owned by Benedetta Vitali was every bit of the bandaid I’d needed. And it was entirely the European internship that I wanted from the beginning. I walked into this restaurant with creaky wood floors under my feet and the smell of sweet onions and garlic stewing away in golden olive oil. I was welcomed every morning at the restaurant for my shift with a “Bon Giourno Ashley, cappuccino?” and greeted every evening for my second shift with a “Buona Sera Ashley, macchiato?” After exchanging genuine smiles, I respond “Si, Gracie!” I remember Zibibbo as a place that kept me smiling, kept me tasting new things everyday, kept me highly caffeinated, asking as many questions as my heart desired, and had me going to bed with sore feet and a passion for food again. I will forever be in debt to Benedetta and the crew at Zibibbo for reminding me why it is so important to love food and to love what you do.

Benedetta just came to Santa Barbara 2 weeks ago, and I had the privilege of cooking with her again. We danced in the kitchen making butternut parmigana, stuffing Cornish game hens with pancetta and dried apricots, and topping the classic Zibibbo mascarpone cheese cake with bitter orange marmalade- the same that I was making just 2 years ago on far away, Italian soil. Her graceful nature, happiness with food, and familiar smell of Italian cigarettes on her clothes had me re-booting my passion for cooking all over again, just like when I was back in Firenze. I left that night feeling truly high, happy and missing my long lost Italian life more than ever.

Its funny how just a 2 year gap in your life can feel more like a past life, and so easily untouchable. That life I lead way back when…. when I had replaced my common English words with those that made you want to skip while saying them. When gaining 10 lbs in Italian pastries, whole milk cappuccinos, and multiple gelatos a day, was without a question entirely intentional. When hearing “Ciao Bella!” on every street corner from old, round, balding, short Italian men felt like the most genuine flirtatious compliment I’d ever received. When rolling out long sheets of silky pasta dough for hours could get you totally, and romantically blissed-out.

Benedetta was a beautiful reminder of my past life, and of that piece of my soul that needs to be reignited directly someday soon. Italy and I are, and always will be very, very, very compatible with one another. We just understand the real fundamentals in living a quality life- caffeine, gelato, and ego stroking by strangers.

Oh, and plenty of pasta dough romances.