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Liz Pearson

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San Antonio, Texas

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Liz Pearson returned to her native Texas after a long stint in New York City, where she was the kitchen director for Saveur magazine. A contributor to the Los Angeles Times, “Every Day With Rachael Ray”, Fine Cooking and O, the Oprah Magazine, she also consults regularly with the global headquarters of Whole Foods Market as a writer, recipe developer and food stylist. A graduate of the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park and Bard College, Liz has appeared on BBC’s “The World” to chat about candy bars in Indonesia, “Good Day Chicago” to pick the South Side’s best collard greens and sweet potato pie, and “Restaurant Guys Radio Show” to discuss the trials of taking an octopus on the subway.

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Trademark Recipes Are a Must-Have For Every Cook Image

The one and only thing Victoria Beckham and I have in common is that the first weeks of fall launch a thrilling event for both of us: fashion season for V-Becks and food season for me. Not that I don’t eat well year-round, but the hallmark of the next three months is endless grazing, crowned with gatherings of friends who are ready to toast, to nosh, to dig in. We’ve also crashed headlong into cold and flu season, and at least in my family, there’s a mind-numbing roster of birthdays to fête, too.

I’m from the South, so for each of these occasions I’ll need to bring a dish. In the coming weeks, I’ll make upward of 3,647 craggily casseroles, frosted cakes and pots of whatnot for boozed-up friends, snifflers and sneezers, and endless family. Expressly for this sort of convergence, I keep a handful of signature recipes up my sleeve that I can whip up on the fly.

Have trademark recipes for many occasions

I often look to other cooks for inspiration, but I always tweak things as I go. It’s narcissistic, I know, but that way no one can ever duplicate the dish without me. (Except for you, dear reader. The gems with an asterisk have recipes listed below.) I keep one of these recipes tucked away for each manner of occasion: a dynamite potluck casserole (vegetable bread pudding is my go-to), a candle-worthy layer cake*, a fragrant and soothing soup, an ooey-gooey cookie and a pitcher cocktail to gift in a fat Mason jar*.

Everyone needs at least one recipe under their belt, no matter their cooking prowess, and a trademark dish should hit these high notes:

1. A dish for which you don’t mind becoming known. (Meaning that you’ll have to make it again and again.)

2. Something comforting, wholly satisfying and decadent.

3. Food that is relative to your own skills in the kitchen.

4. A use for affordable ingredients, most of which you can easily keep stocked.

5. A choice that travels well and can be made ahead. (Here, have this soggy Pavlova that I made for you yesterday!)

My mother makes Swedish meatballs to die for, my husband always brings a vat of perfect, lime-spiked guacamole to a party, my sister is famous for her baked macaroni riddled with fresh goat cheese, and my friend Celeste keeps a bowl of unapologetically rich cookie dough* in the fridge for all manner of seasonal emergencies. Each specialty inspires whispers when the cook walks through the door: “I hope she brought that (insert dish name here) this time …”

Bourbon Apple Cider

This cocktail is equally lauded at a party or a sick friend’s abode. Maybe a smaller batch is in order for the sick friend, but then again, maybe not.

Ingredients

2 quarts apple cider

6 cinnamon sticks

6 star anise

4-inch piece of ginger, unpeeled and thinly sliced

3 or 4 wide swaths of orange peel, removed with a vegetable peeler

A small palmful each crushed cardamom pods, whole cloves and whole allspice

1½ cups bourbon

Directions

Put all ingredients except for bourbon into a large pot and bring just to a boil. Cover, reduce heat to medium-low and simmer for 20 minutes. Uncover, set aside off the heat to let cool until just warm, and then strain through a fine sieve, discarding the solids. Add bourbon (use 1 cup instead if you’re a recovering teetotaler) to a 2-quart Mason jar and top off with the spiced cider. Drink up the smidge that doesn’t fit, and then close the jar with a tight-fitting lid and chill until ready to serve, preferably over ice.

Buttermilk Blueberry Layer Cake

This is the quintessential birthday cake. Years ago, I started with the vanilla birthday cake recipe from New York City’s Magnolia Bakery and I’ve since turned it into a fruit-pocked buttermilk number. The blueberries are killer, but omit them if it suits you. If you use frozen ones, the cake will take slightly longer to bake.

Ingredients

1 pound (2 cups) unsalted butter, softened, divided, plus more for the pans

1¼ cups all-purpose flour, plus more for the pans and blueberries

2 cups granulated sugar

4 eggs

2 tablespoons pure vanilla extract, divided

1½ cups self-rising flour

1 teaspoon kosher salt, divided

1 cup buttermilk

2 cups fresh or frozen blueberries

2 pounds plus 1½ cups confectioners’ sugar, divided

½ cup whole milk

Directions

1. Preheat oven to 350 F. Butter three 9-inch round cake pans, line the bottoms with parchment paper and then butter again and coat with flour, tapping out any excess; set aside.

2. In a large bowl, beat 1 cup butter with an electric mixer on medium speed until smooth. Add granulated sugar and beat again until fluffy, 2 to 3 minutes. Add 1 tablespoon vanilla and eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. In a large bowl, whisk together flours and ¾ teaspoon salt and then add to butter mixture in three parts, alternating with the buttermilk, until well combined. In a medium bowl, toss blueberries with 1 tablespoon flour and then gently fold into batter.

3. Transfer batter equally to prepared pans, spread out evenly and bake until golden brown and a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean, about 25 minutes. Set aside to let cool.

4. In a large bowl, beat remaining 1 cup butter with about half of the confectioners’ sugar, whole milk and remaining 1 tablespoon vanilla and ¼ teaspoon salt with an electric mixer on medium speed until well combined. Continue to beat, gradually adding remaining confectioners’ sugar, until very fluffy, 4 to 5 minutes more.

5. Once cakes are completely cool, loosen edges, remove from pans and discard parchment paper. Stack cakes on a large plate, frosting in between each layer, and then around the top and sides to cover completely. (If you like, trim the cake tops before frosting, and stack them upside down to ensure a more even, level cake.)

Chocolate Chip Cookies

As her jumping-off point, Celeste uses a recipe adapted from one by the pastry great Jacque Torres. In 2008, in The New York Times, David Leite called it “the consummate chocolate chip cookie.” I couldn’t agree more. Find the recipe here

Buttermilk Blueberry Layer Cake. Credit: Liz Pearson

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The New Home Cooking Image

Two recently released cookbooks, each with a cult following, reawaken home cooking. At first glance, they have little in common. “The Family Meal,” by Ferran Adrià, is big, glossy and well-funded, while “Canal House Cooking: La Dolce Vita,” is the seventh volume in a self-published, soft cover series by Christopher Hirsheimer and Melissa Hamilton. But the two meet on delicious middle ground, nudging readers to take the time to make their home-cooked meals better, all the while ushering in the best, new classics.

In Adrià’s kitchen

Before the reader turns to the first page, a note tucked away on the inside cover of “The Family Meal” reads: “What does the world’s best chef eat for dinner?” As it turns out, he’s eating a lot of the same things that you are; his versions are just better.

Shuttered last July, elBulli, Adrià’s iconic Spanish restaurant that defined contemporary eating and reinspired the culinary pilgrimage, put out loads of books, many documenting the whimsical dishes served at the restaurant over its 25-odd years with Adrià at the helm. But in “The Family Meal,” Adrià and his crack team give adoring fans accessible recipes for the home kitchen. They succeed at it, too, albeit via a circuitous route past the foams and syringes, straight into their own bellies. The book is an account of what was served to those who made the restaurant run, during the 30 minutes religiously slotted each night for supper and coffee before service.

A staff that dines together …

The family meal is the universal term for the food that gets dished out to a restaurant’s staff before they start serving guests. Let’s be honest; most family meals are bits of leftovers scraped together, shoveled into the gullets of overworked line cooks while they feverishly continue their prep work. But remember the adage about judging a restaurant by the cleanliness of its bathroom? What about the respect with which its own cooks are fed?

 

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Bread with Chocolate. Credit: “The Family Meal”

“Ferran says that he learned the importance of the staff meal from his first cooking job, working for a chef named Miquel Moy at the Hotel Playafels, down the coast from the Barcelona airport,” says Colman Andrews, author of “Ferran: The Inside Story of El Bulli and The Man Who Reinvented Food.” “The idea behind feeding staff well is that they learn the importance of food on every level. One of Ferran’s basic tenets is that there is no innate hierarchy of ingredients: beans are worth as much as lobster.”

In photographs that induce palpitations in the hearts of true followers, “The Family Meal” peeks behind the proverbial veil to reveal a staff of 75 that supped together — in unison, of course — with scrumptious three-course meals that any of us would be thrilled to eat: tagliatelle carbonara, cod and green pepper sandwiches, and almond soup with ice cream for dessert, or vichyssoise, lamb with mint and mustard, and chocolate truffles. It comes as no surprise that the recipes were tested, photographed and documented as painstakingly as those on the restaurant’s menu, which ran upward of 30 courses at a sitting.

Get the squid ink ready

Organized as a sort of shell game, recipes are bundled into three-course meals, but can easily be rearranged to fit individual tastes. Forgive Adrià his occasionally faulty assumptions, like the idea that the layman’s pantry includes ras el hanout and achiote paste, and that homemade romesco sauce, squid ink and nougat ice cream are at the ready in freezers everywhere. Use the suggestions as a means to invigorate your daily chow. Sure, you’ve never kept a soda siphon in your kitchen cabinet, but what have you got to lose?

With curious revelations like potato chip omelets and watermelon with crushed menthol candies, the book is a page turner, evenly peppered with Spanish treats such as gazpacho and almond-flavored Santiago cake, and elevated versions of international comfort foods such as guacamole, burgers and caramel pudding. (The staff was culled from around the world, and Adrià gladly allowed their tastes to influence offerings.)

A note in the introduction reads, “If you leave out dessert, preparation times rarely exceed 30 minutes.” Let’s not go that far. Many of these recipes do take some time, but an hour or two set aside to cook on even a Wednesday night is never a bad use of time. Start with the simple, moan-worthy bread with chocolate and olive oil on page 274, because in Adrià’s world there’s always time for dessert.

A trip to Tuscany

The same line, “Welcome to Canal House … ” opens each volume of “Canal House Cooking.” It feels a bit like you’re a very lucky guest in a very special house. Writer and photographer Christopher Hirsheimer and her atelier partner Melissa Hamilton, a food stylist and chef, have worked together in one capacity or another for years. To say that time has been good to these women is an understatement. With each forkful of roasted guinea hen and sip of icy gin with lemon taken under the sunny windows of their New Jersey kitchen and workshop, they find something more to offer loyal readers. This triannual series, which debuted in 2009, continues to blossom with the seasons.

For “Canal House Cooking, Volume No. 7: La Dolce Vita,” the two gals set themselves up for a month in a rented country home in Tuscany. Their aim was simply to cook, embracing all things Italian, with local ingredients leading the way and no TV, phones or Internet to distract from their enviable goal. It sounds like a big-screen romantic comedy for lonely heart Americans. “We looked at each other and laughed, surprised that we could imagine doing such a thing,” they write. “But that’s just what we did.” In their case, the love interest isn’t some charming innamorato. It’s the food.

Photos to dine for

On the handsomely-designed, matte pages of this compact book, friendly faces peek out in Hirsheimer’s photographs: a mushroom vendor at the market, mustachioed butchers, fishermen arranging their nets. Big, warm hands present sheets of pasta, rice with roasted chicken and spinach, and a mountain of shaved chestnuts and bittersweet chocolate. Intimidating recipes like risotto or fresh pasta (and even intimidating ingredients like salt cod and fresh eel) are made simple through chatty, common sense instruction.

Maybe sensing that the previous volume or two in the series had inevitably begun to echo the first, the writers have switched directions, focusing on one cuisine. But smartly, the book’s small but eye-opening lessons translate to all manner of cooking. Grate fresh citrus zest into sandwiches, poach dense fish in olive oil to keep it moist, and let go of tired mealtime hangups, in this case a distaste for the maligned sparkling wines called Lambrusco. (Colman Andrews, quoted above in regard to Adrià, is also a longtime friend of Hirsheimer and Hamilton, and contributed their book’s essay, “Dazzling Italian Sparklers.” Play “Seven Degrees of Colman Andrews” and you can arrive at anyone in the food world.)

Plenty of cookbooks out there preach the simplicity and joyfulness of Italian food, but the handmade feel of this one reads like a private travelogue. Over this and the last six volumes of “Canal House Cooking,” the authors have been forthcoming with personal tales, unapologetic preferences and self-deprecating lessons, meaning that readers now know these formidable women as well as they know their recipes. Like a series of tasty novels, you’ll be drawn to go back to Volume 1 and get caught up.

Buy Ferran Adria’s “The Family Meal” Now!

Buy Christopher Hirsheimer and Melissa Hamilton’s “Canal House Cooking: La Dolce Vita” Now!


Zester Daily contributor Liz Pearson is a writer, consultant, food stylist and contributor to the Los Angeles Times, “Every Day With Rachael Ray” and Saveur. She lives in Texas.

Photos from top:

Photo composite: “Canal House, Volume No. 7″ and “The Family Meal.” Credits: Courtesy of publishers, Canal House and Phaidon Press

Slide show: Photos from the “Family Meal” by Francesc Guillamet; Canal House-related photos by Christopher Hirsheimer

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Texas to the Table Image

Ask anyone north of the Texas-Oklahoma border about cowboy cooking and you’ll get an earful about Dutch-oven biscuits, cast-iron seared ribeyes and soupy, slow-cooked beans. It’s no secret that the cuisine has fallen on kitschy times since chefs like Grady Spears swaggered onto the scene in the ’90s peddling apple pan dowdy and cream gravy dreams. Cowboy cooking isn’t food that even the most enthusiastic eaters seek out in restaurants, but rather the stuff folks expect to encounter at a dude ranch or when the kids beg Uncle Doc, up from Lubbock, to make his famous chili.

Louis Lambert's buttermilk biscuits

That’s a crying shame since Texas chef Louis Lambert’s first book, “Big Ranch, Big City Cookbook (Ten Speed Press, 2011), deserves a spot on kitchen shelves, whether you live in town or out on the farm. Many will wrongly dismiss it as more chuck-wagon cookery, but to get the full value of this self-described memoir, you’ve got to forget the label and consider the cook.

Raised in Odessa, the dusty West Texas bastion of high school football, Lambert comes from seven generations of cattle ranchers (i.e., the dust on his spurs is real). In his younger years, he left it all in the rear-view mirror to study at the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, N.Y., and to hone his chops at Wolfgang Puck’s Postrio in San Francisco before returning to God’s country. Maybe because of that, these days Lambert isn’t as concerned with the size of his belt buckle as with the smoky char on his legendary achiote-seared chickpeas.

Of the 125 or so recipes in the cookbook, most are decidedly on the heavy side, what Lambert calls, “big, burly foods with deep flavors and rich textures.” Be warned: The first recipe in the salads chapter lists 3 pounds of flat-cut beef brisket at the top of its ingredient list. Not to be overlooked are the more refined dishes, many made famous at the chef’s Austin and Fort Worth restaurants, which include a steakhouse, a coffeeshop, a burger joint and an upscale barbecue mecca. Revelations like fennel salsa verde, romesco-crusted snapper, grilled asparagus with broken tomato vinaigrette, chile-and coffee-rubbed beef and buttermilk-honey ice cream are accessible to home cooks and worth every effort.

Lambert pork stew

“Big Ranch, Big City Cookbook” also tackles the treasured techniques of that rare star chef who actually still cooks in his restaurants. Its pages are stacked with glossaries for soup stock and roux, sidebars on yeast and sausage casings, how-tos on roasting chiles and properly mashing potatoes (there really is a right and a wrong way), and even includes a three-part lesson on “the science of baking,” which addresses the best varieties of flour, butter and sugar for home cooks to have on hand.

For each protein – fish, poultry, brisket, lamb and game among them – Lambert has written a guide with notes on discerning the best cuts, and the ideal way to prepare each once you get them home. Don’t expect Harold McGee-type insights, but it’s nice to be so easily forgiven if you don’t know your hominy from a hole in the ground. In the land of coffee-table kitchen tomes by Heston Blumenthal and Grant Achatz, that inclusive, teaching voice is refreshing.

“Big Ranch, Big City Cookbook” is informed by Lambert’s work outside of restaurants, too, including his co-founding of the nonprofit Foodways Texas, which aims to “preserve, promote, and celebrate” the state’s diverse food cultures. Worth noting also are the wildly successful collaborations with his sister, the Austin hotelier and taste-maker Liz Lambert. The latest evidence can be tasted at Ocho, a new hipster-friendly cocktail lounge within San Antonio’s Hotel Havana, where ethereal, chile-spiced potato chips and huitlacoche quesadillas grace plates, and Lambert’s juicy-sweet pulled pork, similar to a recipe in his cookbook, is tucked into the pressed Cubans.

Lambert parmesan potato gratin

Lambert doesn’t go at it alone, getting help from June Naylor, a food and travel writer (she also co-authored Grady Spears’ “Texas Cowboy Kitchen” and “Cooking the Cowboy Way”). Photographer Ralph Lauer worked on the book, though you’ll have to push past the requisite photos of prairie grass rolling on for miles, and Lambert posed next to his double-cab pickup to get to the food shots. Do your best not to lick page 172, with its crisp-edged fried egg crowning a stack of deep, dark chili con carne enchiladas, or page 220, where the gingered pear fried hand pie shares real estate with melting ice cream and a snowfall of powdered sugar.

The range of recipes is varied, hitting on upmarket zingers like broiled oysters with spinach, bacon and Pernod, and down-home belt-busters like three-cheese macaroni with country ham, and chicken pot pie with tart apples and country sausage. Lambert considers beurre blanc, three kinds of barbecue sauce, fruited grain mustard and ancho mole among his sauce arsenal, which means the occasional recipe does seem out of place. Though it’s not to say that they aren’t done well, Lambert isn’t the go-to guy for shrimp rigatoni puttanesca or curried chicken and potato stew, but they still grace the pages. Some readers may wish that he had stayed on a more loyal course.

If, after baskets of his Governor’s Mansion potato rolls; plates of grilled, bacon-wrapped quail; and bowls of green chile grits, you still crave those cowboy beans, biscuits and ribeyes, well, “Big Ranch, Big City Cookbook” has those, too. But Lambert’s steaks are medium-rare, crusted with maple sugar and mustard, and can easily be made on your backyard grill. No campfire necessary.

Buy Louis Lambert’s “Big Ranch, Big City Cookbook” Now!

Buy June Naylor and Grady Spears’ “Texas Cowboy Kitchen”


Zester Daily contributor Liz Pearson is a writer, consultant, food stylist and contributor to the Los Angeles Times, “Every Day With Rachael Ray” and Saveur. She lives in Texas.

Photos from top:

Big Ranch, Big City Cookbook. Credit: Liz Pearson

Brunch Butter milk biscuits, New Mexico Pork and Green Chile Stew, Parmesan Potato Gratin. Credit: Ralph Lauer

 

 


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Papabubble’s Candy Magic Image

In what could easily double as a mad scientist’s laboratory, tall shelves are lined with glass jars, test tubes and silver bags filled with impossibly tiny crystalline candies whose bold flavors include passion fruit, kiwi and soda. They’re crammed next to avant-garde pulled candy sculptures as artful as any Venetian blown glass; candy sushi (complete with chopsticks); life-size candy jamon iberico; sugary sabertooth tigers, bears, rabbits and ducks, and elegant twists of gold and topaz candy shaped into abstract pret a porter rings. In the corner, a woman stretches and pulls hot candy on a wall hook, while another breaks apart glassy black licorice sweets on the counter and hands them to customers, still warm.

Chances are, you’ve never seen anything like Papabubble, a shop that makes you feel like a sugar-crazed Indiana Jones, Willy Wonka’s luckiest apprentice, and a very hungry kid all at once. Started in 2004 by Australians Tommy Tang and Chris King, Papabubble began as an artisan candy shop in Barcelona. “They were looking for something different, unique…a sweet way to make the people in this world happier,” says Alejandro Siniawski, who took over the business in 2008 and now owns the worldwide chain.

Papabubble has locations in Tokyo, Amsterdam, Seoul, Taipei and Lisbon as well as a shop wedged between Little Italy and Soho in New York City, and there are plans to open stores in Moscow, Sao Paolo and Hong Kong later this year. The company employs 45 people worldwide, most of whom are hired for their enthusiasm, then trained onsite in the art of old-fashioned candy making – if what they do at Papabubble can be called old-fashioned.

Video of candy making at Papabubble in New York by Max Strebel. Music by Nico Korolog.

In the stores or online, customers snatch up vibrantly colored oversized lollipops, all manner of acid drops and soda-filled hard candies – each delicately hand-crafted and impeccably flavored. But Siniawski and his staff owe much of Papabubble’s success to customized offerings, everything from minuscule candies with customers’ names written inside to edible body parts “from almost every part of the human anatomy,” he says. “Every part.”

Papabubble’s candy makers have crafted candy trees and even a life-size 8-year-old girl made entirely of candy. According to Siniawski, whose previous and more staid career in management for companies like Cadbury didn’t likely involve sugar-and-glucose human beings, the best part of the whole process is seeing the looks on customers’ faces. “Sometimes you have to tell them to close their mouths,” he laughs. Luckily for those open mouths, Papabubble also sells gargantuan toothbrushes (topped with toothpaste, of course) and dentures made of sugar — though your dentist probably wouldn’t approve.

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Zester Daily contributor Liz Pearson is a writer, consultant, food stylist and contributor to the Los Angeles Times, “Every Day With Rachael Ray” and Saveur. She lives in Texas.


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CIA Goes to San Antonio Image

 

The Culinary Institute of America (CIA) is considered one of the world’s most lauded and revered cooking schools. (Full disclosure: I’m a graduate.) Michael Ruhlman wrote a book about the frenzied rigors of being a student there, its halls have inspired TV shows, including the PBS series “Cooking Secrets of the CIA,” food world characters like Anthony Bourdain (’78) and Grant Achatz (’94) are among the alumni, and chef Thomas Keller of the French Laundry was recently named to is its board of trustees.

Continuing its influence on culinary trends worldwide, with schools in Napa, Calif., and Hyde Park, N.Y., the CIA has committed to changing the perception of Latin American cuisines by cutting the ribbon on its third location, known as “El Sueño” (“The Dream”). Set in San Antonio, a city where more than half the residents are Hispanic or Latino, the 30,000-square-foot campus is situated along River Walk in the shadow of the towering Pearl Brewery. It houses the school’s Center for Foods of the Americas and offers a 30-week certificate program, as well as two- to five-day boot camps for the public, focused on indigenous cooking from countries like Mexico, Argentina, Peru and Cuba.

“The CIA,” says Dr. Tim Ryan, the school’s president, “is here to support an important mission ­– to elevate Latin American cuisines to their rightful places among the great cuisines of the world, and to provide access to a world-class CIA education to young Latinos, so that they can assume the mantle of culinary leadership in the generations to come.”

El Sueño began largely as the dream of Christopher “Kit” Goldsbury, a billionaire who started on the production line for Pace Foods (makers of Pace Picante Sauce) and later became the company’s president. In 2007, Goldsbury donated $35 million to the CIA with the stipulation that to celebrate the foods to which he owed much of his career success, the gift be earmarked for teaching Latin American cuisines.

Paramount to the success of Goldsbury’s goal is El Sueño’s Center for Foods of the Americas, a multifaceted research arm of the institute overseen by chef-instructors Iliana de la Vega and Elizabeth Johnson-Kossick. Their focus is to document the ethnography of cooking techniques and recipes that too often vanish over time. “We travel to Latin American countries and interview the cooks. We go to the fields because it’s important to know what our foods were like before, and how we have come to them now,” says de la Vega, a Mexico City native. “If we hear of a unique ingredient, we’ll hike in the mountains to learn more about it. If someone’s making an exceptional dish, we go there to capture it on video and paper, and bring it back to our students.”

The Alamo City campus is vibrantly influenced by countries due south with features like an outdoor wood-fired clay comal for tortillas, and a parrilla grill and barbacoa pit for roasting. Indoors, students benefit from a Latin Foods demonstration theater, cooking suites, a professional bakeshop, conference space, a computer lab and library and forward-thinking amenities like ionized water for cleaning, a composting machine, solar-generated electricity and a recycled water tower, as well as a cafe and bakery slated to open this fall. Preliminary plans for an onsite restaurant to open in 2012 are also in the works.

To taste for yourself what El Sueño students are learning, make Peruvian Ceviche with Leche de Tigre (Tiger’s Milk)


Zester Daily contributor Liz Pearson is a writer, consultant, food stylist and contributor to the Los Angeles Times, “Every Day With Rachael Ray” and Saveur. She lives in Texas.

Photo: The CIA’s El Sueno, in San Antonio.

Credit: Courtesy of the Culinary Institute of America, San Antonio

 


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Barcelona’s La Boqueria Image

A cafe con leche and a xuixo (pronounced choo-choo), a sugar-crusted, cream-filled pastry, make a fine breakfast. Enjoying the heavenly combo at one of only a dozen stools at Bar Pinotxo, one of the most beloved stalls just inside the main entrance of Barcelona’s Mercat de la Boqueria – also called Mercat de Sant Josep, or more simply the Boqueria – ensures you’re in for a delicious summer morning in Spain.

Tourists and locals alike shop at the Boqueria, a labyrinth of more than 250 stalls and bars with a history that dates back hundreds of years. Steps away from the tangle of shoppers and street buskers on La Rambla, one of Barcelona’s central thoroughfares, the market’s vendors gather under an enormous metal roof to sell all manner of fresh and cured meats (including the native Iberico ham) and seafood, as well as a dizzying array of produce, cheese, nuts, baked goods and tapas. A small stall specializing in pork sits just to the left of the main entrance. Arranged in a neat row, four suckling pigs smile from the case like mascots.

 

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Sugar-crusted xuixo at Bar Pinotxo. Liz Pearson.

The early din of grumbling stall keepers mixes with the shuffling feet of hundreds of shoppers who’ve arrived promptly at 8 a.m. A hurried man pours bowls of crushed ice over a rainbow of fresh fruit juices packaged to-go with straws. As the mercury rises, sticky patrons will snatch up these thirst quenchers as they navigate the market’s tight aisles.

On the far right side of the Boqueria, a gaggle of customers crowds a few sun-drenched tables just outside the market’s cover. Sweet, white-fleshed melons sit alongside tiny pears, plump peaches and plums and fragrant apricots. Lacy summer lettuces go fast, as do the rest of summer’s gems: golden zucchini flowers, pimientos de padron (small, sweet peppers, occasionally spicy, often served fried and salted), shining cherries, delicate berries no bigger than English peas, brick red tomatoes, a dozen varieties of mushrooms and fat, fist-sized figs.

On an island in the center of the market, curt, grandmotherly women in flowered aprons wield daunting fish knives, divvying out gallo (a fish that, like several others, is also sold as John Dory) and monkfish, breaking only long enough to take a bite off the end of their bocadillo (a long Spanish sandwich on crusty white bread), or to shoo away shutter-happy tourists by asking, “¿Que quieres comprar?,” or “What do you want to buy?” The women and their helpers arrange fresh fish, much of it from the nearby Barceloneta port, next to octopus and squid, long razor clams, percebe (prehistoric-looking goose barnacles), boquerones (the addictive finger-length fish on menus all over town), ruby-colored shrimp and canailla (a type of spiky-shelled snail).

Stools at the market’s bars fill with gray-haired locals in search of almuerzo, a “second breakfast,” and hung-over twentysomethings who start with beer instead of coffee. One bar displays chickpeas with blood sausage, another, bowls of baby squid. A third catches the eye of every shopper walking by; each of its counters is crowned by a platter piled 8 inches high with raw mushrooms waiting to be cooked. All this to eat — and it’s barely 10 a.m.


Zester Daily contributor Liz Pearson is a writer, consultant, food stylist and contributor to the Los Angeles Times, “Every Day With Rachael Ray” and Saveur. She lives in Texas.

Photo: Entrance to La Boqueria. Credit: Liz Pearson


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