Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Grill of My Dreams Mops and Sauces

We tried out the sugarless dry rub and that one was the keeper on the pulled pork. Especially since we went with the sweet BBQ sauce. The mop was bit more sour than sweet, and man, was that an awesome flavor. The mop is important in flavoring the meat, and keeping it juicy. When the pork butt was ready, we "pulled" or shredded the meat off the bone. Served with potato salad, a corn slaw, we used a Cola BBQ sauce on the meat, very sweet stuff. Good flavor contrasts, sweet, sour, hot, and salty. Only problem was letting the sauce cook too long, it became very thick. Of course, La Vida Dulce never panics, we just added some hot water and the dark brown tangy stuff was fine. Could have used some hoisin, I was all out, darn it. We also liked seasoning the sauce and mop with the same dry rub seasonings. Well, that's all for now, gotta go make leftover pulled pork sandwiches for dinner. Good grillin' everyone!

Southern Mop - adapted from Master Cook
1 cup cider vinegar
1 cup water
1/4 cup mirin
1 tablespoon crushed dried red pepper flakes
2 tablespoons dark corn syrup
1 tablespoon dry rub
Mix all ingredients in saucepan and simmer 5 minutes. It will be sour tasting, so don't panic. Baste pork butt with the mop every 20 to 30 minutes during the last couple of hours of cooking. Boil any leftover mop sauce for 5 minutes, then pour over shredded or "pulled" pork meat just before serving.

Cola BBQ Sauce - adapted from Weber
1 tablespoon dry rub
3/4 cup ketchup, generic is just fine
3/4 cup cola, generic is also fine
2 tablespoons soy sauce, Lee Kum Kee is recommended
2 tablespoons cider vinegar
1 teaspoon crused dried red pepper flakes
2 tablespoons hoisin sauce, optional Lee Kum Kee recommended
1/2 cup bourbon, optional but darn good
Mix all ingredients in saucepan and simmer 5 minutes. Adjust seasonings for too salty or too sweet. Serve on pulled pork or on the side for dipping.

Saturday, May 27, 2006

Grill of My Dreams Dry Rubs

Peanut Butter Etouffee is hosting the "Grill of My Dreams Food Challenge" this weekend. Go to http://pbetouffee.blogspot.com for complete info. To get things started, I dug around for some good dry rub blends, and for this challenge, it has got to be outstanding. Most rubs begin with a good amount of salt, ground black pepper, paprika, and granulated garlic powder. Those seem to be the standard rub ingredients. Nearly all dry rub recipes add some chile powder for that extra kick, like ancho chile powder, New Mexico, cayenne, or your basic supermarket "chili" powder. Some go a little further and include a combination of dried herbs and spices like marjoram, oregano, coriander, cinnamon, cumin, celery seed, fennel seed, star anise, five spice powder, allspice, and others. Then we have the rubs that include sugar, both light and dark brown sugar, turbinado or raw sugar, and even palm sugar. The decision to add sugar to your rub recipes depends on how sweet you like your BBQ sauce, and how you cook your BBQ. Sauces with a large amount of molasses, hoisin, ketchup, honey, maple syrup, brown sugar, etc. taste better on meat without a sugary rub. If you've ever tasted a yucky sweet rib, now you know why, too much sugar in the rub. The rubs with sugar go much better with a tangy sauce, rather than a sweet BBQ sauce, and vice versa. For seasonings needed in such large quantities, try the Smart & Final. Costco, if you can stand the herds, is also another choice. If you are in the Los Angeles area, I highly recommend Canton Food on Alameda near 7th street downtown. They are big restaurant supply store open to the public and the choices, including meats, are amazing. So here you are, La Vida Dulce offers two dry rubs, one with sugar and one without. Mops and sauces are coming up next.
Good grillin'!

LA VIDA DULCE SWEET DRY RUB - adapted from Barbecue America
1/4 cup raw sugar
1/4 cup kosher salt
1/4 cup paprika
1 tablespoon ground black pepper
1 tablespoon granulated garlic powder
1 teaspoon ancho chile powder
1/2 teaspoon ground coriander

Mix all ingredients throughly. Store in airtight container.

LA VIDA DULCE DRY RUB - adapted from Weber
1/2 cup kosher salt
1/4 cup ground black pepper
2 tablespoons paprika
1 tablespoon granulated garlic powder
1 tablespoon onion powder
1 teaspoon chile powder, dealer's choice
1 teaspoon ground celery seed
1 teaspoon dried oregano

Mix ingredients thoroughly. Store in airtight container.
Each rub makes enough for two big pork butts or 3-4 racks of ribs.
If BBQ-ing pulled pork, sprinkle remaining rub on meat just before serving.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Save the Internet Day Letter from Sen. Boxer

This is the letter Senator Barbara Boxer sent to La Vida Dulce on Save the Internet Day:

Thank you for contacting me regarding network neutrality, which is the principle that consumers should have access to the Internet content and applications of their choice without interference by network operators. I appreciate the opportunity to hear your views on this issue.

As a longtime advocate for network neutrality, I believe that network operators should facilitate, not stifle, Americans' access to the Internet. Consumers will suffer if network operators are allowed to discriminate against their competitors' use of the network by giving certain content preferential treatment.

I believe that individuals' ability to define and shape their experiences on the Internet has led to an explosion of creativity that has greatly benefited our economy and our lives. I fear that if network operators abandon the principle of network neutrality, the next generation of Internet innovators will be harmed.

Congress is currently considering a number of bills on this issue. As a member of the Senate Commerce Committee, which has jurisdiction over broadband and telecommunications issues, please be assured that I will continue working to ensure that the Internet remains an engine of growth for commerce and ideas.

Again, thank you for writing to me. Please do not hesitate to contact me again about this or any other issue of concern to you.

Barbara Boxer
United States Senator

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Take Home Chef

There I was. Minding my own business, channel surfing, waiting for the next Food TV show, and I found him---TAKE HOME CHEF! I normally don’t watch the TLC channel, but while scrolling down the guide there was a show called, “Take Home Chef” and I had to check it out. OH MY GOSH! He’s got the sexy Aussie accent. That’s usually enough to get my interest. But wait there’s lots more. He’s tall, as in gorgeous hunk of manhood tall. He’s got the surfer dude blond spikey hair thing, but not scary tweaker looking hair, the Take Home Chef is definitely styled by a professional. He looks into the camera with those smoky bedroom eyes. Ay yay yay, dios mio! AND HE CAN COOK! Ladies, what more could we ask? Well, how about this scenario for starters. He wanders into a local grocery store, like Bristol Farms, Whole Foods, the Gelson’s, Wild Oats, with a camera and sound crew. Then he scouts out unsuspecting shoppers and chooses one to ask if they can TAKE HIM HOME to cook dinner tonight, whether it’s for family or for the significant other. And get this, he also plans the menu and pays for all the food in the shopping cart! They hop into the car together, and the entire crew follows along. Then, on the way home he stops by a fancy kitchen boutique, and selects an appropriate gift for the lucky lady. Wow! Back at home he gives a short cooking class on the menu and shows her how to prep the meal. They hurry to get everything done before the husband gets home for the big surprise, or as they say in reality TV, the big reveal. I’ve yet to see any of them get really disturbed to find their mate in the kitchen with a big sexy burrito of Aussie maleness, and an entire TV crew. Hey, these are manly Southern California men, obviously secure in their own relationships and accustomed to cameras, lights, and sound equipment in their homes. My big question is, do you think the TAKE HOME CHEF will be looking for shoppers at El Superior or Super A or other ethnic stores in the hood? Would he follow me around at my local tortilleria or the 99 Ranch Market? Nah, I don’t think so. But just in case, I’m not leaving the house without my lipstick. Oh, TAKE HOME CHEF, take me!

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Strawberry Fool on the Hill

"Do you want to know a secret?" I've waited for "this boy" since 1963. Ladies, Sir Paul McCartney is back on the market and "with a little luck" "I will" win his heart. Long ago I made a bet that he would come to his senses and "love me do", dumping those slithering tree-bark chewing golddiggers once and for all. Yeah, yeah, yeah! Hey, a girl can have "one sweet dream!" Too bad about the break up though, so "ask me why" I sincerely mean that. It's sad to think of him all alone in "misery" singing "when I'm 64" and without an evil skanky chick by his side to feed him "Birthday" birfcake. Sir Paul, here's a quick little "something" to "help" you get over "every little thing" until you find "another girl" --- have a little "Fool on the Hill" made with fresh strawberries. It's like "a taste of honey" and cream. This dessert can be made "any time at all" and served chilled. "P.S. I love you!"

Serves 2
4 Bauducco Champanhe sugar biscuits OR Italian savoiardi cookies,
broken into pieces, not completely crushed
8 oz. fresh strawberries, stemmed, hulled and sliced
2 tablespoons brown sugar, add more if needed
1 slice Chinese candied ginger, about 1-inch, very finely minced
1/2 pint heavy whipping cream
2 large whole strawberries stem on, 2 thin slices candied ginger,
plus additional sugar for garnishes

Chill two tall martini or parfait glasses in the freezer. Place cookies in a ziplock plastic bag and break into pieces, set aside. In a small bowl combine sliced strawberries and sugar, sweeten to taste. Cover with plastic wrap and place in refrigerator about 30 minutes. In mixer bowl pour whipping cream over minced candied ginger and refrigerate also for 30 minutes to infuse flavor. Strain the strawberries through a sieve, reserve liquid. Remove about half the sweetened sliced strawberries, set aside, then gently mash the remainder in the sieve, reserve liquid. Whip the cream into soft peaks. Fold the mashed drained strawberries into the whipped cream by hand, going for a marbled effect. To assemble dessert, place about 2 teaspoons of the reserved strawberry liquid on one saucer and sprinkle sugar on another. Holding by the stems, dip the rims of the chilled glasses into the liquid, then into the sugar. Place a couple of larger broken cookie pieces in the base of the glasses, add some of the reserved strawberry liquid and then a bit of the reserved sliced fruit. Top with strawberry ginger cream, then repeat the layers beginning with smaller pieces of cookie, liquid, slices, and finally more cream. To serve, garnish each glass with any remaining sweetened strawberries, and top with one whole berry and a thin slice of candied ginger. If desired, may be chilled in refrigerator before serving.

Friday, May 12, 2006

Happy Mothers' Day Coconut Cheesecake Bars

Hope you all have a good one. Treat people with love all year long, not only on the "kissing up" holidays, like Secretaries' Day, Fathers' Day, Valentines, and especially Mothers' Day. My own mother and I did not have the best relationship, but we eventually made our peace. Forgiveness is not about the other person, we do it for ourselves to heal our own broken hearts and get on with it. I am grateful for the things mom introduced into my life, in particular Julia Child, Jewish delis and bakeries, Asian food, and Las Vegas before the suits and the big corporations took it over. She adored her grandchildren and was happy they called her Granny. I am so glad we eventually had some very good times together. She loved staying up late to watch GOAT BOY on SNL, and would invite me to come over to watch with her. We shared Marie Callender's salads and pie and laughed our butts off. Years later, although weakened by a stroke, she still kept her interest in events of the day and loved to have a manicure and pedicure. She passed away a couple of years ago. I miss her sense of humor, her beauty, and her political savvy. This one is for you, Granny!

Coconut Cheesecake Bars - adapted from Eagle Brand
1 1/2 cup graham cracker crumbs OR Marias
2 tablespoons melted unsalted butter
2 packages cream cheese, 8 oz. size, softened at room temperature
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup cream of coconut
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon dark rum, it couldn't hurt
2 large eggs, beaten
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 can sweetened condensed milk, 14 oz.
1/2 cup shredded coconut, for garnish

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Lightly grease a 9x12 pan. Combine crumbs and melted butter in a bowl and press into pan. Bake for only 5 minutes, to set crust. Let cool slightly. Place remaining ingredients, except shredded coconut, into mixer and combine till smooth. Pour mixture into crust. Sprinkle with shredded coconut. Bake for 20-25 minutes till set. Remove from oven and let cool. Refrigerate at least 3 hours or overnight before serving. May be kept covered with plastic wrap in refrigerator up to three days. Serves 16.

Sunday, May 07, 2006

CIA Operations

Hey, don't get excited. I'm talking about the Culinary Institute of America, NOT the other one. The only CIA operations that interest me are within the instructions written in their recipes. This delicious bread formula comes from Kitchen & Cook, a periodical published by the CIA. Subscriptions go for $39 bucks a year, available by calling 800/513-8407. It's worth it, you gotta love a food magazine that features this bread formula, spring beer, and Passover desserts in the same issue.

WHEAT SANDWICH BREAD (pain ordinaire) - adapted from the CIA
Makes two loaves
2 teaspoons instant dry yeast OR one envelope instant yeast
2 cups warmed milk
2 tablespoons sugar
2 1/2 teaspoons plain salt
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted OR plain vegetable oil
4 cups unbleached bread flour
1 cup whole wheat flour OR King Arthur White Whole Wheat Flour*
additional butter or oil to grease loaf pans
additional flour as needed

In a sauce pan, warm milk on medium heat, just until tiny bubbles begin to form along the edge of the pan, to a temperature of about 90-110 degrees F. In the bowl of your KA stand mixer fitted with the dough hook (Arrghh, again the Pastry Pirate appears!) combine the yeast, milk, and sugar at LOWEST speed. You don't want a mess all over the place. Allow mixture to rest for a couple of minutes. Meanwhile, measure out the two flours and salt onto a large sheet of waxed paper. Add the melted butter to the mixing bowl, and starting at LOW speed, begin to add the flour mixture, holding the waxed paper, slowly pour into the bowl from the side, adding a bit at a time, not all at once. Otherwise you will be wearing the flour. Continue mixing at low speed for 5 minutes. Meanwhile lightly grease two 8-inch loaf pans and your stainless steel proofing bowl, or a "big salad" size bowl. Increase mixer speed to medium and continue kneading about 10 minutes. Dough should be smooth and elastic. Transfer dough to greased proofing bowl, turn once to coat and cover with plastic wrap. Let the dough rise until doubled in size, about 30 minutes. Remove dough and place on floured surface. Knead by hand 2-3 minutes, and divide in two. Form each piece into a smooth ball, then press into a circle, like a pizza. Starting at one end, roll into a loaf shape and pinch the seam to seal. Place each loaf in pans seam side down, pressing dough into corners. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise until doubled, about 45 minutes. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Bake for 35 to 45 minutes until crust is golden brown. To test for doneness, remove loaf from pan and tap on bottom for hollow sound. If not, place back in oven for up to another 10 minutes. When loaves are done, place on cooling rack and allow to rest for at least 30 minutes before slicing.
* available at Ralphs or online at King Arthur Flour

Friday, May 05, 2006

A Fish Tacos Tale

Many years ago we walked into a taqueria, a well-known Mexican restaurant chain which shall remain nameless. Michael and the girl-de-jour raved about it, especially about the freshness and quality. None of us ordered the large platters of food, or the specials, choosing to order ala carte. Between us we only had a couple of fish tacos, a burrito, and three sodas, with a small container of chips on the side. The food was so-so, nothing out of the ordinary. The fish tacos tasted like Mrs. Pauls or Gortons frozen "stick fish" with some wilted shredded cabbage and a sour cream sauce. They were nothing like the tacos I enjoyed in Ensenada. The bill with tax came to about $25 USD --- YIKES! I looked at the paper plates in front of us. That's it? For that kind of money, I could feed half the neighborhood, and still have money left over for brewskies! I vowed never again to eat their overpriced food. Mark liked the place, and once we stopped at a location on the way to a ballgame. He was driving, I had no choice; but no thank you, I didn't eat.

I have enjoyed grilled fish tacos with salsa, but the battered and fried versions served at some restaurants never tasted fresh to me, and the shredded cabbage was too soggy. Then I read an article in Gourmet written by Calvin Trillin about Tacos Baja Ensenada. I had to find this place, and Mark joined me. I had written down the address on a piece of paper, but left it at home, (DOH!) so we began our adventure on Whittier Blvd. near the I-710 Long Beach Freeway, and travelled east. Just past the intersection of Atlantic and Whittier, we found it. Now at this point I could go on about how the angels sang a heavenly chorus, and how the moon and stars sparkled and lit up the sky, but the article in Gourmet said it already. Apparently Mr. Trillin has been here before, his articles are framed and posted on the walls of the indoor dining area. These fish tacos are NOTHING like that other place! And I have yet to try anything that comes close. Bring your appetite and plan on staying a while to enjoy a leisurely meal of fish tacos, burritos, cocteles de mariscos, and cool drinks.

Tacos Baja Ensenada
5385 Whittier Blvd.
Los Angeles

Thursday, May 04, 2006

World's Fastest Guacamole Challenge

I will always remember the note from a customer, ordering her Mexican feast for a party. She wanted beans, rice, taquitos and "walk-o-molly" --- I couldn't stop laughing, my boss lady sent me to the back of the kitchen. Is that the Irish version of a fiesta? The customer was right, if you want to have a successful party, you gotta serve guacamole (correctly pronounced walk-a-MOE-leh) and with all the upcoming festivities for Cinco De Mayo, you want a good guac for your guests. La Vida Dulce offers two quick and easy guacamoles. For those of you who prefer the traditional method, we have from far across the Atlantic, the Hairy Bikers' Guacamole, and for the rest of us, the World's Fastest Guacamole. Amaze your family and friends with TWO guacs, and challenge them to choose which one they like best. And forget about leaving in the pit. Just squeeze a bit of lime juice to prevent excess discoloration. Our favorite tortilla chips come from Super A Market in the greater L.A. area, freshly made on site, and only $1.99 for a humongous bag in either plain or spicy hot. Andale walk-o-molly!

Hairy Bikers' Guacamole - adapted from BBC UK

4 jalapenos, seeded and ribs de-veined *see note
1 cup cilantro, chopped
2 tomatoes, finely chopped
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1 white onion, finely chopped
1-2 tbsp. water
1 medium lime, juice only
3 ripe Haas avocados, diced


1. In a molcajete or mortar & pestle, pound the chiles, cilantro, tomatoes, and onion to a fine paste. You can also use a food processor and gently pulse a couple of times. Pour into serving dish.
2. Add a little water and lime juice to thin. Mash in the avocados. Salt and pepper to taste. Serve with tortilla chips. Go easy on the salt in the guac if the chips are salty.

*Note: the heat of the chile is in the ribs, not so much in the seeds, so if you want more kick, leave it all in. Otherwise, remove the seeds and ribs. Wash your hands thoroughly after handling any kind of chile, do not touch anything or it will burn like the dickens. Wear gloves if you must, but wash all utensils and cutting boards as well.

La Vida Dulce World's Fastest Guacamole
One container at least 8 -10 ounces of your favorite fresh OR jar salsa from the supermarket
Three large Haas avocados, slightly mashed
Juice of one lime
Kosher salt and ground black pepper to taste

Combine all ingredients in bowl, add more salsa if desired, adjust seasoning and serve with Super A tortilla chips!

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Grilled Pineapple and Rum Sauce

This simple dessert is a real treat, makes people think you know what you're doing. It requires only a few ingredients, but the key is using fresh produce and good rum, don't go El Cheapo on this one. Great for backyard barbecue parties. If you have a cast iron grill pan, it works just as well indoors, to get those nice grill marks. Be sure to brush the pineapple with a neutral flavor oil, so as not to pick up anything that would clash and ruin this dessert. You can also skewer pineapple chunks, pop them on the grill and serve with the lovely rum sauce.

Grilled Pineapple and Rum Sauce - adapted from Chef2Chef

Makes 8 servings

1/2 cup ginger ale
3/4 cup sugar
1 lime, zest and juice
1 lemon, zest and juice
1 orange, zest and juice
1 tablespoon grated fresh ginger
1/2 cup dark rum, we prefer Meyers
1 large fresh pineapple

Canola or plain vegetable oil, for grilling

Vanilla ice cream, optional, we prefer Rite Aid Coconut Pineapple Ice Cream

Toasted coconut, optional garnish

Combine the first six ingredients in a sauce pan. Bring to a simmer and lower heat. Once the sugar melts, then add the rum, doing this away from the burner to avoid any flare-ups. Reduce to syrup consistency and turn off heat. Meanwhile, clean and core pineapple and cut into 1/2 inch thick rings. Brush with a little oil and grill over medium heat, turning once, about one minute per side.

Serve with citrus rum syrup drizzled over top and top with ice cream and toasted coconut, if desired.

Monday, May 01, 2006

Margarita Pie

Can there be such a thing? We have tried the margarita jello shooters, the tequila brined pork ribs, the famous margarita granita (previously posted right here at La Vida Dulce), and the wickedly fun tequila body shots. But today, arriving by e-mail we have the sweetest of sweet, the Margarita Pie along with her tart little sister, the Strawberry Margarita Pie. Don't be El Cheapo and use a frozen whipped topping. This little sweetie deserves real whipped cream. Is Cinco De Mayo too far away?
Margarita Pie - adapted from Eagle Brand
1 1/4 cups crushed Marias cookies
1/2 cup butter, room temperature
3 tablespoons granulated sugar
1 can Magnolia or Eagle Brand sweetened condensed milk
1/3 cup fresh lime juice
3 tablespoons tequila
1 tablespoon triple sec
1 tablespoon fresh orange juice
1 1/2 cups heavy whipping cream, whipped
Garnishes: whipped cream, orange, lemon, or lime twist, mint leaves
Combine cookie crumbs, butter & sugar. Press into 9-inch pie pan and chill while making pie filling. In a large bowl mix condensed milk, juices and liquors. Gently fold in the whipped cream. Spread filling into pie shell and refrigerate or freeze at least 4 hours until firm. To serve top with your choice of garnishes. Makes 6-8 servings.
Strawberry Margarita Pie: Use only 1/4 cup lime juice and add 1 cup diced fresh strawberries, folding in with whipped cream.