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Tacos Al Pastor

Al pastor is one of our favorite styles of meat when dining at a Mexican restaurant.  The actual making of the special pork marinade and the tacos themselves is not all that difficult.  What’s difficult is waiting for hours for delicious food while the meat marinates for up to a day in the fridge!

tacos al pastor

tacos al pastor

Makes 12 tacos

2 lbs. of 1/4″-thick sliced pork sholder

12 corn tortillas

1 1/2 cup of chopped fresh pineapple

1 roughly chopped white onion

3 dried ancho chili peppers

3 dried guajillo chili peppers

3 chipotle chili peppers (from a can of adobo sauce)

2 tbs. of adobo sauce

2 tbs. of apple cider vinegar

2 tbs. of extra virgin olive oil, plus 1 tbs.

2 tsp. of kosher salt

1 tbs. of butter

1 tsp. of ground cumin

1 tsp. of Mexican oregano

1/2 tsp. of ground cinnamon

Salt to taste



Boil about 5-6 cups of water in a small saucepan to rehydrate the dried peppers.  Once the water is boiling, remove it from heat, then add the ancho and guajillo peppers and let sit for 10 minutes.  Drain from the water, remove the stems, split in half lengthwise, and remove the seeds.  Put all ingredients except the meat, tortillas, onion, 1 tbs. of olive oil, butter, and salt in a food processor, and pulse until smooth.

getting ready to sit in the fridge

getting ready to sit in the fridge

Coat the meat with the sauce on all sides.  Marinate in the refrigerator for 8-12 hours in a glass or ceramic dish covered with plastic wrap – do not let marinate on metal, because the pineapple would soak up a metallic taste.  The longer you marinate, the deeper the flavor.  However, if you happen to use canned pineapple even when the recipe calls for fresh, you will need to marinate the meat for at least 24 hours.

mostly grilled

mostly grilled

After marinating, you can either grill the meat on a propane grill over high heat for roughly 3 minutes on each side, or pan fry in a nonstick skillet, also over high heat and for about 3 minutes on each side.  Remove the heat from the heat source – at this point they are nearly 2/3 cooked – and transfer to a cutting board.

Trim away any excess fat and take the meat off the bones.  Cut the meat into 1/4″ pieces.  Heat the remaining 1 tbs. of olive oil and butter to a frying pan over medium-low heat, and cook the chopped onion for about 10 minutes until roughly caramelized.  At this time, turn the heat up to high and add the chopped meat.  Cook for another 5-6 minutes until the meat gets nicely brown and caramelized.

Warm the tortillas on an ungreased nonstick frying pan or griddle.  Load up the tortillas and add some optional garnishes: lime wedges, chopped cilantro, sour cream or crema mexicana, salsa verde, cotija cheese, Oaxacan cheese, guacamole, and pico de gallo.

Master Series Dinner: Vive La France with François Payard, Vegas Uncork’d 2013

caesar's palace is ready for the food-themed events

caesar’s palace is ready for the food-themed events

For four days in May, Las Vegas buzzes with food excitement more so than it already does through the rest of the year.  Vegas Uncork’d is a series of events put on by Las Vegas’s finest chefs and restaurants and hosted by Bon Appetit, with the goal of showcasing top food, wine, and spirits.  We came into town this afternoon for the first of three individual events that we’ll attend between now and Saturday.  Caesar’s Palace was the natural choice for the location of tonight’s dinner, since the five-course meal was put on by François Payard in his own restaurant inside the resort casino.

Being our first time at Vegas Uncork’d, we didn’t know that schwag would be part of the meal.  We were excited to find these boxes of chocolates from the master himself awaiting us at our table settings.

quenelles de lyon

quenelles de lyon

A quenelle is essentially a meat cake.  It can be made with creamed fish, chicken, or red meat, combined with egg binding and sometimes breadcrumbs.  Tonight we each had a pike quenelle in truffled lobster bisque.  The quenelle had a smooth and velvety texture, slightly buttery in flavor and not overwhelmingly fishy; strong fish flavor is the result of losing freshness, so we appreciate that landlocked Las Vegas serves seafood of the caliber of coastal areas, indicating its quality.  What August liked about the bisque was that it was true to the unadulterated lobster flavor – not overcompensatingly sweet, and not so maritime briny, either.  The truffle provided a pleasant aftertaste, as well.

baked dover sole a la meunière

baked dover sole a la meunière

The sole was flaky and moist, drizzled with a caper herb butter sauce which was balanced enough to allow the fish to still be the main feature of the plate.  It was served with saffron potatoes, thick yet fork-tender, dense while al dente.  We just wish there were a couple more pieces because they were so simple, but delectable.  The orange streak was a mousse of carrot and ginger.  There was a mild spicy bite from the ginger, blending with the sweet earthiness of the carrot.  It was a palate cleanser for those who were more adverse to the fish flavor, but that’s not us.  We love fish, and found that the mousse enhanced the sole when eaten in the same bite.

colorado rack of lamb

colorado rack of lamb

Thank you, Chef Payard, for having domestic lamb!  It makes a big difference for August, morally and flavor-wise, since her Basque great-grandfather and grandfather were sheepherders and therefore through her family she recognizes quality lamb.  It was extremely tender and buttery, a wonderful texture for rare meat, with the added bonus of a pistachio crust.  The seasonal vegetables under and around the lamb included white asparagus, fava beans, scallions, and yellow carrots plus a bit of summer truffle.  The white asparagus was crunchy, unlike the jarred and marinated kind that August is used to.  The mint jus pool was very robust and enjoyable, when usually she refuses mint with lamb.

“Hot coconut rum foam & pineapple-mango-passion fruit syrup” delighted us, and got all the tables talking to one another.  August has always hated coconut and loved pineapple, mango, and passion fruit but this time she liked the coconut, too!  Sipping this was like taking our palate on a tiny trip to French Polynesia.

"the orchard'

“the orchard’

Roasting a pear caramelizes the natural fruit sugars, which mellows the tartness yet brings out more of the true pear flavor.  It sat on a moist almond dacquoise, which in turn was atop a super flaky bescuit base.  A dollop of Mexican vanilla bean ice cream perched on its own mini dacquoise.  Caramelized pecans sat amidst a warm maple syrup.  Delicious throughout, and not at all heavy.

what's france without wine?

what’s france without wine?

We can’t forget that this was also a wine pairing dinner.  From left to right, pre-dinner started with a nice prosecco.  With the quenelles we had Copain, Viognier, Tous Ensemble, Mendocino County 2009.  The sole was served with Domaine Philippe Plantevin, Côtes du Rhône Blanc, 2009.  Red wine is a must for lamb, and the Domaine Santa Duc, Gigondas, Rhone Valley 2009 was excellent.  For dessert we got Presidential, Tawny 20 Year Old Port.

chocolate epiphany and simply sensational desserts

chocolate epiphany and simply sensational desserts

We thought that the chocolates were a wonderful surprise, but we had no idea that we also got signed cookbooks from Chef Payard, Chocolate Epiphany and Simply Sensational Desserts.  We are so happy to have these in our collection, and Zach can’t wait to start going through the recipes!

vive la france 128The staff at Payard was extremely accommodating and knowledgeable.  We appreciated the attention and information from Sam Berkley and Michele Re.  Chef Payard came out with each course to chat with all the diners, and we all had an enlightening time talking with him, for he is very passionate, thoughtful, and articulate.  Quality in detail, ingredients, and presentation usually is found at a high price, but Chef Payard is realistic and his main goal is for his guests’ palates, appetites, pocketbooks, and hearts to all be beyond satisfied.

Ceviche and Truffled Chips

This Cinco de Mayo we stayed at home instead of celebrating the 151st anniversary of the Battle of Puebla in public with lots of reveling Oakland denizens.  We didn’t go all out to do a party or anything, but instead Zach put a gourmet twist on two Central American standards for a snack lunch.  We try to follow sustainable seafood guidelines, so the ingredients used were with thought towards the impact on the environment.

ceviche and truffled chips

ceviche and truffled chips

Makes enough for 4-6

• For the chips:

3 liters of peanut oil for frying

18 corn tortillas, white or yellow, sliced into sixths

Truffle salt for seasoning to taste, but you’ll probably use at least 1 tbs.

Heat oil to 370 degrees F in a deep fryer (it’s possible to fry in a cast iron pan or a dutch oven, but then you’ll have to monitor the temperature with a candy thermometer).  Cut the tortillas in half, then slice each half into thirds, creating evenly-sized triangles.

Place one fourth of all the triangles in the fryer at a time so as to make small, thoroughly cooked batches.  Cook for about 4-5 minutes but stir a couple times with a skimmer.

If you have a sturdy fry basket, shake and/or tap it to knock off any excess oil, and let drip for about 20 seconds before tossing the chips in a stainless steel bowl with truffle salt.  Transfer to another bowl lined with paper or cloth towels (to be green) to soak up the remaining oil.  Chips will stay good in a sealed sandwich bag for days!

• For the ceviche (all local ingredients except the Hawaiian pineapple):

1/2 lb. of line-caught Californian halibut

1/2 lb. of line-caught Pacific salmon

1 cup of pineapple

3/4 cup of freshly squeezed lime juice

1/2 cup of Roma tomatoes

1 extra large jalapeño pepper

1 shallot

1/4 cup of minced cilantro

Salt to taste

Cube the fish 1/4″ pieces, and soak in lime juice for 30 minutes in the refrigerator.

Dice the pineapple and tomatoes in the same size as the fish, first removing the tomato seeds.  Remove the seeds from the jalapeño, and cut into 1/8″ pieces.  Finely mince the shallot and cilantro like the jalapeño.

After the fish has finished soaking, drain with a strainer and discard the lime juice, shaking off any excess juice.

Toss all ingredients together, tasting for desired saltiness, and serve cold in Arakawa Pottery.