Sunday, May 12, 2019

Café Columbia – March 2019
I have travelled to most of the South American countries except Venezuela and Columbia.  Now I was heading to Columbia!!  Travelled SNA to DFW and finally got to Bogota about 2 A.M.  Taxi had a hard time finding my airbnb but fortunately the host answered our call for help and directed us to a lovely loft on the 29th floor of a very nice building.  After a quick shower and rest I headed to the hip Candeleria area of Bogota, stopping first for coffee and cake at Oma Café, a chain of coffee cafes.

Walked down Calle 7 to Museo Botero to see many of his paintings and sculptures as well as works by Renoir, Picasso, etc.  Stopped for a delicious lunch at Prudencia, a delightful restaurant filled with people.  My three course lunch was tofu smoked with fenugreek and date sauce/wood fired butternut squash, red onions, broccoli, almonds and whipped feta/zucchini Caesar salad and chocolate mousse with orange marmalade.  Took some of the wood fired bread and some local honey which they gifted and it was delicious for breakfast the following day.

Walked to the Plaza de Boliver surrounded by historical buildings and into the cathedral primada, Bogota’s largest and on to Museo Santa Clara,  a richly decorated church and Bogota’s oldest, built between 1629 and 1674.  The walls are entirely covered by 148 paintings and sculptures of saints – pretty amazing.  Stopped by Iglesia de San Francisco to see its gilded main altarpiece and finally back down Calle 7 and up the hill to find where Azave Azul, a fun little restaurant I was planning to go to the following evening, was located.

After my delicious wood fired bread and honey the following morning I walked to the Museo del oro where I spent about 3 hours.  It contains more than 55,000 pieces of gold and other materials from the pre-hispanic cultures in Columbia.  I also watched a video which showed how figures were formed in bee’s wax, cast in plaster, filled with gold after the wax melted out and then took a guided tour. 

Needed a break so walked to nearby Quinua y Amaranto, a vegetarian restaurant run by two ladies in an open kitchen.  Sat at a little table with a Columbia gal and we had a very fresh and delicious lunch, i.e. pumpkin soup, rice, red beans and salad with avocado salsa and a couple very tiny candied oranges.  Wandered around the mural covered streets and shops and returned to the gold museum to learn more about the legends, shamans, etc.

Later that evening I walked up to Agave Azul and rang the bell on the door with no sign.  My name was checked off the list and I was admitted into the very cute little home with about 8 tables.  I had a lovely meal which Chef Tatiana Navarro prepared. The tasting menu was:  fried cheese/sesame dumplings with tomatillo salsa/ceviche with passion fruit syrup/basket of homemade tortillas and guacamole/fried fish taco with avocado sauce/crisp pork taco with cabbage on top/spicy lamb taco and a  moist and very yummy slice of chocolate cake.  A delightful evening.  One of the waiters walked me partway down the hill until it was lit and I knew my way back after that.

Walked to Azimos café which I had seen yesterday on my way up to Agave Azul.  A very ecletic café with great coffee and delicious croissants au chocolat.  Packed my bags, took the tram to Calle 63 and checked into Hotel Villar in the Chapinera Alta district of Bogota where our Intrepid group would meet that evening.

Stopped for lunch at nearby Cantina y Punto owned by Michelin star Mexican chef Roberto Ruiz and had two delicious beef bricket tacos.  Took the bus to the Jardin botanico filled with palm trees, large ferns and tropical plants and then met two young Columbia gals who walked to the nearby park and around the lake with me for a couple hours.  Wish I could have understood a bit more of what they were saying but we had a lot of fun. 

Met our group of 12 that evening composed of Australians, Swiss, Americans and British.  Our guide is a very enthusiastic Columbian and will be with us the whole three weeks.  Decided not to dine with everyone and instead walked around the corner to D Café Bar Universal recommended by Chef Tatiana and it was a bustling, very busy restaurant with great vibes.  I had a very delicious tuna ceviche with shiitake mushrooms following by a warm chocolate tart.

Took a walk around this new area in the morning after breakfast and then we took a quick flight to Armenia and on to the beautiful village of Salento.  Had some free time to stroll through the quaint streets and admire the unique colored buildings.  All met for dinner at a cute little restaurant and everyone had the grilled trout and crispy plantain “bread” which was excellent.

Early morning breakfast and then travelled by jeep into the Cocora valley, home of the towering wax palm.  Walked about 5 hours hiking up to Acaime Reserve where the hummingbirds feed.  We rented “wellingtons” as it was pretty muddy.  We Crossed some swinging bridges, climbed some very steep hills and stopped for our box lunch and some local cheese.  Returned to our jeeps and drove to the nearby coffee estancia where dinner awaited us, i.e. pumpkin soup, chicken with rice and vegetables and homemade carrot cake.  All particularly tasty after such a long day…

Very nice breakfast of boiled eggs, toast and lots of fruit.  Took a beautiful walk up into the hills and then we all met for a tour of the coffee plantation.  Thanks to its tropical altitude and fertile volcanic soil, Colombia is one of the world’s largest coffee producers.  We learned so much about how the beans are grown, harvested, processed, dried, roasted and ground and even had a lesson on preparing different types of coffee.  Once home I discarded my electric coffee maker and now grind my own beans and use a French press!!  Another delicious dinner awaited us upon our return, i.e. pork with mashed potatoes and rice pudding.

After breakfast we took a very long bus ride to Medellin, stopping for a quick cheese pastry for lunch.  Arrived in town about 5:30 p.m. and had an orientation walk in this very beautiful city.  At one time it was considered one of the world’s most dangerous cities (thanks to Pablo Escobar’s infamous drug cartel) but has turned itself around to become one of the most exciting cities in South America.  Had a lovely rice dish with octopus, shrimp and plantains served in a coconut shell at Restaurant Alambique followed by a little chocolate dessert.

Took the bus in the morning to the Minorista market where we visited the fruit section and bought some exotic local fruits, i.e. feijoa, araza, guanabana, maracuya and lulo which we tried fresh and also in drinks.  Some were quite nice!!!  Took a cable car ride up to San Javier, sailing up the mountain over brick houses and corrugated metal roofs and met a hip hop guide who showed us around Comuna 13 which was at one time a very dangerous neighborhood.  It has undergone an impressive transformation especially the area around the escaleras electricas.  There are beautiful murals and graffiti surrounding the six sets of escaleras and guys doing break dancing, singing hip hop, etc. everywhere.  Stopped at one of the little cafes for banana cake and coffee while our guide sang hip hop for us!!  It was great fun.

In the evening several of us walked nearby to El Cielo where we had an exquisite dinner, i.e. 9 courses plus 6 flights of wine.  We started with crisp pastries with cheese and mushrooms, plantain rolls, salmon with crisp blue rice crackers, chicken in a rich sauce, pork with cheese and flowers on top, crisp thin meringues with ice cream and fruit with custard and cookies.  One of the most interesting courses was warm chocolate which they poured over our hands (over a bowl), sprinkled them with sugar and asked us to rub them together and lick off the chocolate.  Fabulous!!

In the morning we drove to a flower farm in Santa Elena where we met a local “silletero” (chair maker).  The silletero makes the flower displays that compete every year in the “fiesta de las flores”.  We learned the history and evolution of the “silleta” culture, where the flowers grow and saw how a small chair of flowers was made. 

Back in town I had a wonderful lunch at Carmen, i.e. grilled octopus in peanut sauce with cauliflower and a pecan nut tart.  Took the metro to berrio park to see the Botero statues and then visited the Museo de Antioquia to see more of his paintings and sculptures.  Wandered around the area to see a couple churches and the Bank of Murals depicting antioquia’s history and development created by Pedro Nel Gomez in 1956.  Took the metro back to town, stopping at a little café for coffee and cake.

Met a couple travelers from our group later in the evening and we took a taxi to the Medellin Teatro Metropolitano where we heard a some hip hoppers sing and break dance to the music of the Orquesta Filamonica de Medellin which was very interesting.

Early breakfast and to the airport for a flight to Cartagena.  Our hotel is outside the walled city so we took a walking tour inside to get familiar with all the little streets.  The town, founded in 1533 by Spaniard Don Pedro de Heredia, was a major center of early Spanish settlement in the Americas and its walled fort was built to protect both shipping and the slave trade.  Stopped for ceviches at El Boliche with a few others and shared three excellent seafood ceviches and then wandered around a bit.  Stopped at Iglesia de Pedro Claver, a Spanish monk who helped the black slaves.  There was a wedding in the church next door but very few people were there.  Our guide later told us that the church was cursed and most of the people who married there divorced!!!

Dinner later at Interno, a 60-seat restaurant in a prison that is the last stop for women before they are released.  It has helped inmates learn skills designed to aid reintegration into society and some were trained under Michelin starred chef Koldo Miranda.    It was an interesting experience but the food was mediocre at best…

After breakfast I walked to the Castillo de San Felipe de Barajas which dominates an entire section of Cartagena’s city scape today.    Construction began in 1762 and it was truly impregnable and never taken.  Walked around the walls of the city and then got in line for lunch at Cevicherie, a very popular café.  Had delicious ceviche with fish and shellfish in a citrus marinade.

Later that evening I walked back into town to visit the Modern Art Museum which was quite small but interesting.  Dinner at La Perla was delicious, i.e. grilled octopus with mashed yucca and banana cake with ice cream and candied fruit.  I will be sad to leave this very interesting city…

Walked to the clock tower in the morning before taking a bus to Tayrona Park where the second part of the Colombia trip would begin…

Saturday, April 27, 2019

Warm Barley Salad with roasted pears
3 ripe firm Bartlett pears, cored and cut into ¾-inch cubes
3 Tbsp. olive oil (1 Tbsp., 2 Tbsp.)
1 Tbsp. fresh thyme leaves
salt and pepper to taste
¼ lb. thinly sliced prosciutto
1 Tbsp. sugar
1C barley, cooked
1/2C wheat berries, cooked
1 onion, thinly sliced
2/3C white wine
4C baby kale
1/2C toasted hazelnuts, chopped
3 Tbsp. pear vinegar
1 Tbsp. raspberry vinegar
2 tsp. honey mustard
salt and pepper to taste
6 Tbsp. olive oil

Shake vinaigrette ingredients together in a jar and set aside.  Preheat oven to 425F.  In a large bowl, gently toss the pears, one tablespoon olive oil thyme, salt and pepper to taste and spread out on a foil-line baking sheet.  Roast, turning occasionally, until golden brown, about 25 minutes.  Remove and allow to cool.  On a large, parchment-lined cooking sheet, arrange the prosciutto slices, making sure they do not touch.  Sprinkle with sugar evenly over the slices.  Bake until the slices are caramelized and glossy, 8 to 10 minutes.  Rotate the sheet while baking for even coloring.  Watch carefully!!!  Remove and allow to crisp and cool completely. 
Meanwhile, heat two tablespoons of olive oil in a sauté pan; add the onions and cook, stirring often, until golden brown.  Add the wine and cook until most of the wine is absorbed.  Let cool.

In a large bowl, combine the pears with the onions, barley and wheat berries with vinaigrette to coat.  Add the kale and toss again adding more vinaigrette as necessary.  Add the hazelnuts and divide among plates.  Crumble the candied prosciutto over the top of each salad.
MAKES:  8 servings

Wednesday, February 27, 2019

Chicken Breasts with honey-raisin compote
3/4C dark raisins
1/4C red wine vinegar
1C chicken stock
1 Tbsp. unsalted butter
1 medium shallot, peeled and minced
2 Tbsp. honey
1 tsp. finely chopped rosemary
1 tsp. finely chopped thyme
6 chicken breast halves, trimmed well
2 Tbsp. olive oil
2 tsp. spice rub of choice
1 Tbsp. thyme leaves
3 Tbsp. unsalted butter
salt and pepper to taste

In a small bowl, cover the raisins with vinegar and 1/2C of stock and
let stand 10 minutes.

Melt butter in a sauté pan, add shallot and cook until softened, add raisin mixture along with honey and herbs and simmer until syrupy, about 5 minutes.  Let cool, then transfer to a food processor and coarsely puree.

Preheat oven to 425F.  Heat olive oil in a sauté pan.  Toss chicken breasts with spice rub and sear on both sides until golden.  Place the pan in the oven and finish cooking chicken breasts – about 6 – 8 minutes.  Remove the chicken and set aside.  Add ½ chicken stock to the pan and reduce by half.  Add the raisin mixture and 1 Tbsp. thyme leaves and cook over moderate heat just until thickened, about one minute.  Add butter and swirl in.  Season with salt and pepper.  Slice chicken and divide among plates.  Spoon Sauce over and serve.
MAKES:  6 servings

Saturday, February 9, 2019

Cauliflower Pilaf with toasted pine nuts
one head cauliflower (about 2-1/2 lb.), cored removed
2 Tbsp. olive oil
salt and freshly ground pepper
1/4C toasted pine nuts
small onion, peeled and thinly sliced
1 tsp. spices
1 Tbsp. unsalted butter
3/4C basmati rice
1-1/4C chicken stock
1/4C dried currants
1/4C Italian parsley leaves, coarsely chopped
2 Tbsp. melted butter
½ tsp. smoked paprika

Preheat oven to 400F.  Separate the cauliflower into florets and cut in half so they lay flat.  Toss with olive oil, spices and salt and pepper to taste.  Roast for 15 – 20 minutes, turning once, until golden and tender.
Coarsely chop half the cauliflower.

Heat the butter in a pan, add the onion and cook over moderate heat, stirring occasionally, until just beginning to brown.  Add the rice and stir to coat.  Add the stock and bring to a boil.  Reduce heat, cover and simmer 15 minutes or until rice is tender.  Transfer rice to a bowl and toss in the chopped cauliflower, Italian parsley, pine nuts and currants.  Transfer to a 2 quart soufflé dish and press lightly on top.  Arrange remaining florets on top.  Combine melted butter and paprika in a small bowl and brush half of it over the cauliflower.  Bake until heated through – about 15 minutes.  Preheat the broiler.  Brush the cauliflower with remaining butter and broil, about 6 inches from the heat, until lightly browned, about 5 minutes.  Serve hot or warm.
MAKES:  6 servings

Thursday, January 3, 2019

Port Tenderloin with Merlot vinaigrette
2 pork tenderloins (about 1 lb. each), trimmed
2 Tbsp. Italian parsley leaves, chopped
2 Tbsp. basil leaves, chopped
1 Tbsp. olive oil (plus more for sautéing)
salt and pepper to taste

1-1/2C Merlot
6 Tbsp. olive oil
3 Tbsp. red wine vinegar
salt and pepper to taste
2 Tbsp. Italian parsley leaves, chopped

Reduce the Merlot to ¼ cup in a medium pan.  Remove from the heat and whisk in olive oil, vinegar, salt and pepper to taste.  Stir in the parsley.  Preheat oven to 400F.

Mix the parsley, basil and 1 tablespoon olive oil together and rub into the port tenderloins.  Cut each in half crosswise.  Heat an ovenproof pan, add 2 tablespoons olive oil.  Sear the tenderloins on all sides.  Lightly cover with foil and place in the oven to roast for 10 – 15 minutes or until cooked through.  Remove from the oven and let rest for 5 minutes.  Add any juices to the Merlot mixture.  Slice pork and serve with Merlot sauce.
MAKES:  6 servings