June 2010 Archives

Ceviche needs Fresh Fish

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Making Ceviche at Home:

ceviche-whole-foods-fish.jpgIf you can made a trip to Whole Foods, you'll find the freshest fish available anywhere in this country. Quality can't be guaranteed just by sheer proximity to oceans and streams. We spent a month on the Pacific coast in California and only found one place selling local fresh fish. At Whole Foods, they own fishing boats and fly their catch all around the county the same day it's caught. Sometimes, a type of fish is frozen on the boat and transported, and the real person behind the counter cutting and serving your fish will tell you all about each any every thing they sell.

Fresh fish is imperative for good ceviche. And there is another market in Denver where the fish is ordinarily even better than Whole Foods and that's Marczyk's on 17th and Washington. Their selection might be narrower, but you can trust them more than any other place to have great fish.

 Why I'm devoting so much time to where to buy fish for this recipe is that quality is key to producing good Ceviche.  If your choices at the market are good, and your sense of foods flavor balance is adequate, your Ceviche will be a show stopper.

You can get fish that you are going to barbeque, stew or fry at Costco, or some other place where it is wrapped in plastic, but for Ceviche it's best to speak to a real fish monger.

Buy what's come in that day and get small quantities - say ¼ of a serving - and buy four different things. Or 1/3 serving from one from each of these three classes: Shellfish: shrimp, crab or squid; a firm fish like halibut, tuna, cod and something creamy like lobster, scallops or monkfish.

Choose a crisp vegetable (pepper, cucumber, radish); something from the onion family, something spicy (habanera, jalapeño - chop most fine); something soft usually avocado, and something sweet: tomato, peach, mango.  I go for whatever is fresh, great and, if I'm lucky, being promoted with a good price.

This week it was cherries. So we cut the meat off a big handful of cherries, which resulted in nice bite-sized pieces. Chopped a whole red pepper in pieces the size of my little finger nail. Cut thin rings of spring onions, ½ jalepeno in very small pieces, quartered about a dozen baby heirloom tomatoes, and scored into pieces 2 ripe avocados.

Boil water and pour over shrimp or other shell fish if you have any qualms about eating these rare. Then chopped these and the other fish into pieces that will easily scoop onto a cracker or bread. And pour the juice of four limes over it. Refrigerate for at least ½ hour.

 Cover the vegetables with the juice of another lime and the empty rinds. Do cover the chopped avocado with lime rinds or juice to keep it from turning brown. Refrigerate this separately and mix together after the fish has had its half-hour or more cooking in the acidity of the lime juice.

Add a little chopped cilantro, parsley or other fresh herb, a little good sea salt and serve on crackers or sliced good bread.

These amount of vegetables and ½ lb halibut, 8 shrimp, 2 scallops made enough Ceviche for five people. Served with a small salad it was a complete dinner fit for company.

Lunch at Los Mayas

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mayas.jpgOld Style Food at Los Mayas, Santa Fe:

The main dining room is open enchiladaMaya.jpgair, and at night someone plays classical guitar at Los Mayas, a very funky building on Guadeloupe and Alameda aAdobado.jpgcross from the Hotel Eldorado.

They are open on Sundays for lunch we found out as we stumbled in. Los Mayas is old Hispanic influenced American food, not New Mexican. So, enchiladas are not their specialty. The cheese ones with red sauce were good. The relleno was small -- made from a small poblano chili rather than the big, long Anaheim, or  New Mexico chili, as they call them in New Mexico since they were first grown here, and then transplanted to Anaheim, California.
The relleno was very tasty, battered and fried with a nice enough green chili vegetable sauce. But it was small. The adovado plate - adovado is chili caribe stewed pork - had all the right flavor and tenderness on the teeth. And just a bit too much salt. On my plate was the fish of the day. A fried red snapper with a green olive caper sauce. We'd all decided it was a risk worth taking - getting the fish -- because the menu talked about how they selected local and fresh ingredients and had an interesting sounding ceviche. It was the best choice of the four.

Cafe Pascal Words of Warning

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Do's & Don't's at Pasquals:

Café Pasquals. We'd been there for lunch in April and had a wonderful experience. Many times, I've waited outside for nearly an hour for breakfast. Everyone know Pasqual's grand reputation and one of our group had never eaten at this long standing Santa Fe restaurant right on Don Gaspar and Water St. So we go, midweek, June 2010.

"They're pretty proud of their breakfasts," said the one who was new to the place. The prices were shocking me, too.

I'd had enchiladas last time and the red sauce was wonderful. It was covering one half of the Huevos Rancheros one of us ordered with both red and green chili. The red one was the best half. The green chili was chilies only, not a real thing in itself. The black beans were slightly undercooked.

I had the Huevos with a Relleno. It was okay, a nice chili stuffed with cotijas cheese. In the interest of healthiness, it wasn't fried but baked and the batter was a little like a crepe. Not bad, but not the best choice in this fresh-oriented restaurant. My mistake. I think the waiter may have forgotten to bring me a tortilla ... as he'd forgotten that two of the four of us would also be needing silverware.

The chorizo burrito was good, fresh, probably local sausage and the roasted tomato sauce on it and my relleno was different - like a warm fresh salsa -- and very good. The toast on the traditional two-egg and potato breakfast was home-made, thick and golden brown. Raspberry jelly was high quality.  

There was not too much food, but after spending $20 per person, we felt this would have to serve as lunch and probably dinner, too.

Do: go for lunch in the off season. Order red chili, enchiladas, fresh vegetables, homemade desserts.
Don't: hold out for their breakfast, read their menu like you are in a Mexican restaurant, expect to stay on budget.

Tarragon Martinis

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martini-tarragon.jpgcrush-tarragon-vodka.jpgvodka-tarragon.jpgpour-martini-tarragon.jpgHeaven in a smell; vodka in the glass.
By mid May our tarragon was two feet tall and so thick it feels like we planted a magic tarragon stalk three summers ago.   Sure, it's great with fish, great in a chicken soup, and I even use a few sprigs in a vase of flowers, but there's so much and it's so tender it's almost sweet this time of year. Dried tarragon is such a bitter relative and what we could harvest now and eat fresh.

Martinis. Tarragon martinis.

I topped about four stalks, washed them, twisted them in my hands to release their flavor and put them in a big bowl and covered them with vodka I'd kept in the freezer. We used both Idol, a French vodka made from grapes, and a local Colorado vodka called Goat, made from grains and sweet Corn from Olathe, Colorado.

For our first attempt we only let the tarragon sit in the vodka for about 20 minutes, poured it over ice and a big twist of lime. The martini experience was one big whiff of tarragon and the taste of the delicate Idol vodka with a hint of lime and the faint licorice note of the tarragon. 

For the second attempt, the tarragon sat in the vodka for about two hours. Ice was added just before serving, stirred and poured into cold glasses with a twist and slice of cucumber. For some non-tarragon lovers the flavor was too strong, so we cut it down to a nice balance with a heavy squeeze of lime.