Ecuadorian cuisine with Chef Alejandra

Today I volunteered to assist an Ecuadorean-born, French-trained chef Alejandra Espinoza with teaching her class on Ecuadorean cuisine. Chef Alejandra puts a slight French twist on traditional Ecuadorean dishes, like seasoning the fish with lime juice and piment d’Espelet, or using shallots, white wine, and cream to turn an otherwise simple quinoa with vegetables into a delicious risotto. She uses freshest local seasonal ingredients for her menus, but her pantry items come from South America, Europe, and all over the world.

The menu:
Guacamole, green plantain chips
Shrimp ceviche with chulpi

Grilled ling cod in lime sauce
Quinoa risotto with squash, white corn, pecorino cheese

Tres leches with fresh strawberries

The beauty of working alongside a chef with such a unique and diverse background is that you learn a lot.

– Use slightly overripe avocados for easy mashing into a guacamole
– You can get the best, freshest local catch if you come to Pier 33 very early in the morning
– Ecuadorean ceviche is not spicy (unlike the Peruvian ceviche that I was familiar with). The aromatic broth used to cook the shrimps is then strained, chilled, and added to the marinade, alongside the lime juice, red onions, and cilantro. No chilies!
– Ecuadorean guacamole, on the other hand, is almost too hot for me to eat
– Green plantain, thinly sliced and deep fried, makes wonderful crunchy chips
– Chulpi, the South American snack of salted roasted corn of a particular variety, is dangerously addictive
– Having a housecleaner help during a cooking class makes the chef’s work 100x easier. Thank you, Dina!
– Parking in Cow Hollow is a nightmare, but it’s doable after 6 pm

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Location:San Francisco, CA


Here is the interview that Chef Garbo did with me for the Personal Chef magazine:
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A night of music and food

Last week I got a call from Bettina Devin, she needed help with food for a party. One of her favorite students, talented and beautiful singer/songwriter Chloe Jean had released her first album, the release party was happening in a new stylish San Francisco night club Hawthorn on Thursday, November 6, and Bettina was responsible for the party appetizers for a little over 200 people who RSVPd for the event. Of course, I wanted to help!

After a brief brainstorming session we came up with a menu that was elegant and satisfying, and could be executed and served to a hungry mid-week crowd on a short notice and tight budget, in a club with no kitchen, with the help of a few friends and students.

Bettina put in long hours making tons of chicken liver pate and 200 deviled eggs, three different flavors. One of her students enlisted her whole family to make a huge tray of lumpia, Filipino fried rolls. I searched Bay Area ethnic stores for interesting finger foods, and prepared a few spreads to serve on toast, and two flavors of homemade hummus. Just before leaving for the party, I put 200 cherry tomatoes, basil leaves, and mozzarella balls (my basil plant is gone, cut to the ground; the local stores are out of mozzarella balls), and 200 sausage bites with cornichons, on skewers.

We set up the food serving station in the back room bar. The star herself, Chloe, came over when she had a minute to help us to set up the tables!

Then the guests arrived, the music was beautiful, we danced, and everybody loved the food!

The menu:

Marinated green and black olives
Deviled eggs (Dijon, curry, wasabi)
Smoked salmon spread on rice crackers
Stuffed grape leaves
Chicken liver pate on water crackers
Crudite with hummus (mild or spicy)
Cannellini beans bruschetta with pickled red onions
Minted green pea and ricotta bruschetta
Caprese skewers
Smoked sausage skewers
Cream puffs

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Location:San Francisco, CA

Semi-vegetarian menu today

Chickpea burgers, heirloom tomato, caramelized onion, mint yogurt sauce
Summer fruit salad

Stuffed portabello mushrooms
Sautéed potatoes with thyme and rosemary

Chicken and vegetables stir-fry
Vegetable fried rice

Lasagna rolls
Sautéed Romano beans

One thing that I especially enjoyed preparing today (and yesterday, and almost every day last week) is a simple salad of fresh summer fruits. Everything is good now: strawberries are still going strong, cherries are at their peak, apricots are excellent, peaches and nectarines are entering the market, several varieties of small melons are already available and tasting good, and my absolute favorite, the fig, is finally here!

There is really no recipe for this salad – just select a few fruits and berries at the farmers market that taste the best, go for a variety of flavors, colors, and textures, slice into bite-size pieces, serve! Try to avoid overripe fruits, they are the sweetest, but they are best eaten out of hand, they won’t hold their shape in a salad. A few under-ripe fruits are fine, they’ll add acidity and crunch (this is where peaches and nectarines are now), but make sure that most of your fruits and berries are ripe and sweet.

A fruit salad can be served
– on it’s own as a snack or an addition to a lunch box
– dressed with a balsamic or white wine vinaigrette, to start the meal (add salt and pepper, shallots, chives, mint, lemon balm, edible flowers)
– as a side dish for roasted or grilled dishes
– dressed with cognac or a fruit liqueur, on it’s own or with shortbreads, cookies, or vanilla ice cream, for dessert (add nuts, fruit preserves, soft cheese)

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Location:San Francisco, CA

Spring into summer: semi-vegetarian menu today

It’s this time of the year. We still feel like spring, but the days are already long, the sun is warm, and the first summer vegetables begin to appear.

The first white corn corn is still rare and expensive, but it’s as sweet and juicy as it will ever be. And now is the time to get baby corn, if you can find it!

Tender, crunchy zucchinis bear little resemblance to the tough overgrown monsters that everybody will be tired of by the end of August.

Large heirloom tomatoes and sweet peppers are not really here yet, but the miniature varieties are already on the market.

The early season Roma tomatoes are not as flavorful as they will be by the end of summer, so they are perfect roasted or sun-dried (both treatments concentrate the flavor).

At the same time, we can still enjoy the spring vegetables like English peas, fava beans, asparagus, leafy greens – just long enough to say good bye to them, till next spring.

I used fresh Romano beans, together with dried black and red kidney beans, for my three-bean chili, just because I can – the first Romano beans hit the market a couple of days ago. Treat them the same way as regular green beans. They have more interesting texture, and the best flavor of all green beans!


Roasted tomato soup
Heirloom tomato tart
Zucchini and carrot salad
Mini peppers stuffed with ricotta
Swiss chard gratin

Creamy chicken stew with cauliflower and peas
Mashed potatoes and carrots
Three bean chili
Fresh corn ragout

Mini peppers stuffed with ricotta
Serve 6 as appetizer, 3 as the main dish
18 mini sweet bell peppers, assorted colors
12 oz baby spinach
2 Tbsp olive oil
1 cup whole milk ricotta
2 Tbsp shredded Parmesan
2 Tbsp Panko breadcrumbs
1 large clove garlic, minced
Salt, pepper

Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Prepare another large pot or bowl with ice water. Cut off the tops from the peppers, scrape out the seeds. Place the peppers in a metal colander (or a pasta cooking basket). Lower the peppers into the boiling water, cook about 2 minutes, to soften. Remove the colander from the boiling water, dip into the ice water, drain, set the peppers aside.

Place spinach into the same colander, dip into the boiling water for a few seconds, just to wilt it. Dip into the ice water, drain, squeeze out as much water as you can, chop the spinach.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Grease a baking dish with olive oil.

In a bowl, stir together spinach, ricotta, Parmesan, breadcrumbs, and garlic, season with salt and pepper.

Using a coffee spoon, stuff the cheese mixture into the peppers, place the peppers into the baking dish, bake until the cheeses have melted and the tops of the peppers browned, 15-20 minutes

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Location:San Francisco, CA

Menu today

It’s technically the last day of winter (although the winter storms are just starting to hit California), so today’s menu was a combination of winter comfort foods and cheerful spring dishes. I am very excited about new asparagus and spring herbs, but not ready to let go of broccolini, kale, and Brussels sprouts yet.

Menu 2/28/2014

Winter minestrone soup

Forager’s mushroom tarts
Roasted Brussels sprouts

Dijon chicken
Braised leeks

Chicken stuffed with sun-dried tomatoes, spinach, and goat cheese
Roasted asparagus and broccolini

Savoy cabbage braised with sausage and caraway
Twice-baked potatoes

The twice-baked potato recipe I adapted from the “21-Day Tummy” diet cookbook that my other client uses for weight loss. These potatoes were such a hit with her that she already ordered them four times. And good potatoes they are! The balance of flavors and textures is wonderful; it just works 🙂 When a diet dish comes out so tasty, you have to try it even if you are not on a diet, so I altered the recipe a little bit, and I am making it for other clients too.

Large baking potatoes are halved lengthwise, baked in the microwave until soft (allow about 6 minutes for two potatoes). The flesh is scooped out of the skins, mixed with toasted chia seeds, sautéed red bell peppers and green onions, and Parmesan, seasoned with salt and pepper, then stuffed back into the potato skins. The stuffed potatoes are topped with more Parmesan, then baked in a 400 degree oven until the cheese melts and turns golden, about 15 minutes. Try it.

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Location:San Francisco, CA

The first menu of the year

Here it is, my first menu of 2014, cooling down in the bay breeze, getting ready for the client’s refrigerator:

Menu January, 3

Green lentil soup

Braised cabbage with bacon and caraway
Roasted fingerling potatoes

Spinach and mushrooms frittata
Sweet potato and farro salad

Chicken stew with onion, tomato, and roasted garlic
Mashed parsnips

Beef and vegetables sauté
Brown rice pilaf

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Location:San Francisco, CA

Late Fall menu today

I only realized how much the short days and foggy mornings of November affect me when I saw a line of gratin dishes forming on the counter, waiting for their time in the oven. Almost everything is au gratin today! Well, another influence on this menu was the client’s kids, who love everything with cheese on it, and always beg for more cheese. They are probably affected by the season too.

The roasted vegetables soup is based on homemade chicken stock that I prepare with the carcass, the wings, and the legs of an organic chicken (the breasts go into Dijon chicken), and the trimmings of the vegetables that go into the other dishes, flavored with bay leaf, thyme, parsley, black peppercorns, clove, and konbu seaweed. While the stock is simmering, I roast chopped carrot, celery, onion, garlic, turnips, parsnips, and butternut squash with olive oil and sea salt in a 400 degree oven until soft and caramelized. I then strain the stock, discard the stock vegetables, take chicken meat off the bones and chop it, add the roasted vegetables, chicken meat, and broken up spaghetti (or other pasta shapes) back to the stock, cook until the pasta is done (7-10 minutes). Adjust the salt.


Chicken soup with roasted vegetables and pasta

Shrimp and pasta casserole
Creamed Swiss chard

Black bean and butternut squash enchiladas
Wild and brown rice

Dijon chicken
Potatoes and fennel gratin

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Location:San Francisco, CA

It’s Fall! (menu today)

Sweet potato coconut curry soup

Sea scallops with spinach and feta
Sautéed cauliflower

Acorn squash stuffed with goat cheese and vegetables
Garlic and lemon green beans

Chicken cacciatore
Roasted spaghetti squash

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Location:San Francisco, CA

Fall menus this week

The weather the last couple of days was like a memory of the summer, but the day are short, the summer produce is leaving the market (I hold on the heirloom tomatoes and king salmon as long as I can, but they will be gone soon), and the Fall fruits and vegetables are out there in force. So while still using my beloved summer produce, I am beginning to introduce more comfort dishes to take you through long dark evenings, and make the best of the abundant winter squashes, kales, cabbages, and Fall fruits.

Here are the menus that I made this week so far:

Menu November, 5
No dietary restrictions, but the clients don’t like seafood. One day a week they have a grill party and grill the meats that I marinate for them.

Chicken Florentine

Brown rice pilaf

Stuffed peppers

Quinoa and orange salad
For the grill: beef steaks with mustard-herb rub
Sautéed bell peppers; herbed potatoes

Pesto-stuffed pork roast wrapped in bacon
Carrots and peas

Menu November, 6
Semi-vegetarian menu, no red meat.

Butternut squash gratin
Braised greens
Penne with cannellini beans

Quiche with cheese, leeks, mushrooms and peppers
Potato and fennel salad
Mustard-glazed salmon

Buckwheat pancakes
Chicken Florentine
Quinoa with orange

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Location:San Francisco