Articles in Chefs w/recipe

Green and yellow plantains at Carniceria Mimi in Canas, Costa Rica. Credit: Copyright 2015 David Latt

I was intimidated by plantains. Having eaten them in Latin American restaurants, I knew they were good when served with roast chicken, rice and beans. But seeing them in the market, I had no idea how to cook them. A trip to Costa Rica changed all that when a chef demonstrated how plantains are easy to prepare and delicious.

Like bananas, their sweet cousins, plantains are naturally fibrous and a good source of potassium.

Although they look like large bananas, they are not edible unless cooked. Primarily starchy, especially when green, plantains also have a stiff, bark-like peel. Delightfully easy to cook, plantains are used to create delicious side dishes.

Available all year round and grown primarily in the southern hemisphere, plantains are cooked in a great many ways — steamed, deep fried, sautéed, boiled, baked and grilled. The same fruit is prepared differently when it is green than when it is yellow or black. The first time I visited a Mexican market in Los Angeles, I noticed bunches of very large bananas with mottled yellow and black skin. I thought the blackened fruit was spoiled. In point of fact, when the peel turns yellow and then black, the starches in the fruit have begun to convert to sugars.

Plantains, yellow or black, will never be as sweet as a banana, but when cooked in this ripened state, they produce a deliciously caramelized side dish or dessert.

In his kitchen at Villa Buena Onda, an upscale boutique hotel on the Pacific Coast in Costa Rica’s Guanacaste Provence, Chef Gabriel Navarette demonstrated in a cooking video how easy it is to prepare plantains. In fact, they are so easy to cook, now that I am home, I make them all the time.

Chef Gabriel Navarette with a plate of patacones. Credit: Copyright 2015 David Latt

Chef Gabriel Navarette with a plate of patacones. Credit: Copyright 2015 David Latt

The only difficulty with cooking plantains is finding a market that sells them. Not available in supermarkets in many U.S. cities, markets serving the Spanish-speaking community will have plantains. Seek them out because besides selling plantains, the markets will also be a good source of mangoes, papayas, tomatillos, chayote, fresh chilies, Latin spices and a good selection of dried beans and rice.

Navarette demonstrated how to prepare plantains three ways. He stuffed green plantains with cheese and baked them in the oven. He flattened green plantains and fried them twice to make patacones, thick, crispy chips served with pico de gallo, black beans, guacamole or ceviche. And, he caramelized yellow plantains to serve alongside black beans and rice on the wonderful Costa Rican dish called casado, which always has a protein such as chicken, fish, pork or beef.

Villa Buena Onda, or VBO as it is known locally, is an intimate destination. With only eight rooms, the hotel fells like a private home with a personal chef. The price of the room includes all three meals. Navarette and his fellow chefs make each dish to order.

Navarette studied at Instituto Nacional de Aprendizaje, a prominent school training professionals in many fields. He worked in resort and hotel kitchens, moving up the ranks from server to line cook, then as a sous chef and finally as the head chef at VBO for the past eight years.

Cooked yellow plantains. Credit: Copyright 2015 David Latt

Cooked yellow plantains. Credit: Copyright 2015 David Latt

What attracted me to his food, as well as that of his cousin Diego Chavarria on the weekend and Rosa Balmaceda in the morning, was that each dish tasted home cooked but was plated in the most beautiful, five-star way.

Aided by César Allonso Carballo to translate, Navarette was happy to show me how to cook plantains. I was amazed at how easy they are to cook.

Cooking yellow plantains to use as a side dish or dessert is the essence of simplicity. Simply peel each plantain, heat a half-inch of safflower or corn oil in a carbon steel or cast iron pan over a medium flame, cut the plantain into rounds or in half lengthwise and then cut into 5-inch long sections, fry on either side until lightly browned, drain on paper towels and serve. All that can be done in five to eight minutes and the result is delicious.

The crisp and savory patacones are slightly more complicated to prepare but not much more so.

Patacones from the kitchen of Villa Buena Onda

Yellow or black plantains should not be used to make patacones because they are too soft.

In the restaurant, Navarette uses a deep fryer to cook plantains. That is fast and easy so he can keep up with the orders, but I discovered at home that by using a carbon steel pan I was able to achieve the same result using less oil with an easier clean up.

The oil may be reused by straining out cooked bits and storing in a refrigerated, air-tight container.

Enjoy the patacones with an ice-cold beer and, as the Costa Ricans say, Pura vida! Life is good because everything is OK.

Prep time: 5 minutes

Cooking time: 10 minutes

Total time: 15 minutes

Yield: 4 servings


2 green plantains, washed

1 cup corn or safflower oil

Sea salt and black pepper to taste (optional)


1. Cut the ends off each green plantain. Using a sharp knife, carefully cut along the length of the tough peel being careful not to cut the flesh of the plantain. Pry off the peel and discard.

2. Preheat oil in a deep fryer to 350 F or a half-inch of oil in a large sauté pan over a medium flame.

3. Cut each plantain into 5 or 6 equal sized rounds.

4. Place the rounds into the deep fryer for 3 to 4 minutes or until lightly browned. In the sauté pan, turn frequently for even cooking, which should take about 5 to 8 minutes.

5. Remove, drain on paper towels and allow to cool.

6. Prepare one round at a time. Put the round on a prep surface. Place a sturdy plate on top of the round. Press firmly in the middle of the plate until the plantain round flattens, then do all the other rounds.

7. Place the flattened plantains back into the deep fryer for 2 minutes, or 4 minutes in the oil in a sauté pan as before. Turn as necessary in order to cook until lightly browned on all sides.

8. Remove from the oil, place on paper towels to drain and cool.

9. Season with sea salt and black pepper (optional).

10. Serve at room temperature with sides of black beans, pico de gallo, sour cream or ceviche or all four so guests can mix and match.

Main photo: Green and yellow plantains at Carniceria Mimi in Canas, Costa Rica. Credit: Copyright 2015 David Latt

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Main photo: Joanne Weir serves up fresh, seasonal food at Copita Tequileria y Comida in Sausalito, California. Credit: Credit: Copyright Chuck Miller

It all began (or shall I say culminated?) on a boat with a friendly competition between friends. We were cruising along the coast of southern Mexico on the Mindy, Larry Mindel’s beautiful yacht, when my friend and famed restaurateur challenged me to a margarita competition.


"Kitchen Gypsy: Recipes and Stories from a Lifelong Romance with Food"

By Joanne Weir,

Oxmoor House, 2015 288 pages

» Click here to buy the book

I measured my ingredients carefully into a cocktail shaker and loaded it with ice. After shaking so vigorously my hands turned numb and frost coated the metal cup, I strained the magical elixir into a chilled glass garnished with a lime wheel and handed it to Larry. In my clear-as-day memory, he took one sip and declared, “This is the best margarita I’ve ever had.” Larry tells a different tale, one in which his cocktail was the victor, but we all know tequila has a tendency to do that to people.

Regardless of the details, my way with tequila inspired Larry to propose opening a restaurant together. Though I’d never told anyone, opening my own restaurant had always topped my bucket list, but only if I had the right partner. With a résumé as long as my arm, including nearly 100 successful restaurants like Chianti in Los Angeles, Prego in San Francisco and the Il Fornaio restaurants all over the West Coast, Larry Mindel was certainly the perfect partner. He was also smart, worldly and dashingly handsome. I was thrilled and terrified, but mainly I was worried it was just the tequila talking. I desperately hoped something would actually come of Larry’s proposal.

A culinary journey

Joanne Weir's new cookbook features a rhubarb crostata with chestnut honey ice cream. Credit: Copyright 2015 Thomas J. Story

Joanne Weir’s new cookbook features a rhubarb crostata with chestnut honey ice cream. Credit: Copyright 2015 Thomas J. Story

My lifelong love affair with food began on my grandparents’ farms (yes, plural — both my maternal and paternal grandparents ran farms in New England), infusing me with a passion for seasonal, homemade, homegrown and artisanal food. I had forged a successful career in the food industry without working in a restaurant since my days as a cook at Chez Panisse in the mid-1980s. And yet I always suspected owning a restaurant was something I was destined to do.

Each step in my winding culinary journey through the world laid the foundation for restaurant ownership. During a rigorous year with Madeleine Kamman earning my Master Chef degree, I learned that loving food meant knowing it inside and out: the origin, history and science behind a dish. Madeleine taught me to sample and truly taste the nuances of individual ingredients and dishes as a whole. She was tough and didn’t take any crap, another lesson that’s served me well in the food world, and life in general.

I followed up my studies with Madeleine at Alice Waters’ Chez Panisse, my culinary mecca. At the time, Chez Panisse was at the epicenter of the California food revolution, and I was lucky enough to experience everything firsthand. Committed to serving seasonal, local, organic and sustainable food, the restaurant let California’s abundant ingredients speak for themselves without masking their flavor, a philosophy that inspires my cooking to this day. Chez Panisse confirmed what I’d intuited on the farm: highest-quality, fresh ingredients are paramount to good cuisine.

Inspired by seasonal ingredients

Goat Cheese Salad

Copita’s menu is seasonal, changing regularly based on inspiration and availability of fresh ingredients. Here, goat cheese tops a salad. Credit: Copyright 2015 Thomas J. Story

As I’ve traveled the world teaching cooking classes in some of the most picturesque locations, I continue to reaffirm that the quality of your ingredients will make or break a meal. Many of my favorite travel memories include trips to the local market — whether shopping the Rialto in Venice, the souk in Marrakech, or the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market in my adopted hometown of San Francisco, the market truly is my happy place.

Surrounded by beautiful, fresh, seasonal ingredients, I am inspired. I always take ideas home with me from my journeys — from markets, local restaurants, purveyors and friends I encounter along the way. I am literally bursting with ideas … ideas that desperately need a restaurant menu as an outlet. I’d done everything else, and the idea of a restaurant was still gnawing at my heart. I wanted to put everything I’d learned along the way from my grandfather, my mother and my travels to work all in one place and see a restaurant come to fruition. It would be fun, creative and truly the challenge I was looking for.

So when, a few months after that fated cruise and margarita competition, I found myself looking at restaurant spaces with Larry, I decided it was finally time to reach my destiny. Thirty years after my first stint in the kitchens of Chez Panisse, I’m back in the exhilarating environment of a restaurant, this time at the helm of Copita Tequileria y Comida in beautiful Sausalito, California. Our menu is seasonal, changing regularly based on inspiration and availability of fresh ingredients. I know for a fact my grandparents would be proud.

It feels like this kitchen gypsy’s culinary journey has finally landed her home. Thank goodness for friends. With boats. And margaritas.

Copita Margarita

The Copita Margarita which began Joanne Weir's path to restaurant owning. Credit: Courtesy of Copita

The Copita Margarita, which began Joanne Weir’s path to restaurant ownership. Credit: Copyright 2015 Thomas J. Story

Yield: Serves 1


2 ounces blanco tequila, 100% agave

1/2 ounce agave nectar

3/4 ounce water

1 ounce freshly squeezed lime juice

1 ice cube, 1 3/4-inch square

1 lime wheel, thinly sliced


Place the tequila, agave nectar, water, lime juice and plenty of ice in a cocktail shaker.  Shake vigorously for 5 seconds or until you see the frost on the outside of the shaker.  Place 1 ice cube in a glass. Strain the margarita into the glass and garnish with a lime wheel.

Main photo: Joanne Weir serves up fresh, seasonal food at Copita Tequileria y Comida in Sausalito, California. Credit: Copyright Chuck Miller

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The proper proofing of the croissant dough leads to a perfect result: fluffy and airy on the inside with brittle, crisp, butter-infused layers on the outside. Delicious! Credit: Copyright 2015 Hiroko Shimbo

The new year of 2016 is fast approaching. I am now trying to complete the tasks planned for this year but left unfinished, both business and personal. By doing so, I can welcome a new year as a fresh start.

This is what we do in Japan at the end of each year. But something has bothered me for long time, and I have let the years pass without fixing it in my kitchen. It is the croissant. In Japan, croissants are deeply rooted in our culinary culture and have been a part of my life, long before coming to America. So, this October I attended a class at the International Culinary Center in New York City on making authentic croissants. I can now start the new year with the proper croissant that I have dreamed of.

Falling in love with croissants

The proper proofing of the dough leads to a perfect result - fluffy, airy inside with brittle, crisp, butter infused layers on the outside. Delicious! The perfect croissant requires labor, attention and dedication. Credit: Copyright 2015 Hiroko Shimbo

The perfect croissant requires labor, attention and dedication. Credit: Copyright 2015 Hiroko Shimbo

It was 30-some years ago when I first visited Paris and instantly fell in love with croissants. Flaky, crumbling, buttery croissants at small cafés in the city became my breakfast. I can still picture myself in the mornings, standing at a long counter bar in these cafés, staring at bottles of liquor and wine on the shelves behind the counter, and then biting into shattering layers of a crispy croissant. With small sips of strong coffee, I always reached for a second croissant in the always-full basket on the counter.

The richness of the butter stayed long in my stomach, but never enough to spoil my lunch. The real croissants back then were rather small (about 6 inches long), narrow, extremely brittle on the outside and airy inside. But today, this gem seems to have disappeared from the streets of Paris.

A bit of Paris in Tokyo

A dazzling selection of authentic French pastries, including baba au rum, is made daily at this Tokoy pastry shop. Credit: Copyright 2015 Hiroko Shimbo

A dazzling selection of authentic French pastries, including baba au rum, is made daily at this Tokyo pastry shop. Credit: Copyright 2015 Hiroko Shimbo

Now, let me take you to a very special place in Japan. There is a little patisserie called Aux Bon Vieux Temps near Oyamadai station southeast of central Tokyo. I lived near this station for about three years with my husband, Buzz. On one of our weekend walks, we happened to pass by a small, very French-looking pastry store. We entered and found that it was full of the highest quality authentic French breads, pastries and chocolates. The store became our Sunday breakfast pilgrimage destination — especially for very crisp, buttery, authentic croissants and a cup of very good coffee. Because of Aux Bon Vieux Temps, I no longer had to dream about the old croissants of Paris.

No shortcuts allowed

On my latest trip to Aux Bon Vieux Temps in Tokyo, Chef Kawada greeted me from the kitchen with a charming smile. His apron was smeared with splashes of chocolate, butter, cream....the ingredients he was working with on that day. Credit: Copyright 2015 Hiroko Shimbo

On my latest trip to Aux Bon Vieux Temps in Tokyo, Chef Kawada greeted me from the kitchen with a charming smile. His apron was smeared with splashes of chocolate, butter, cream … the ingredients he was working with on that day. Credit: Copyright 2015 Hiroko Shimbo

Chef Katsuhiko Kawata, the owner and pastry chef of Aux Bon Vieux Temps, has been making authentic croissants for years in Tokyo, while the super-sized, bread-like croissants have invaded France and America. Chef Kawata apprenticed and learned the art of baking croissants in his 20s in Paris. He is 70 years old today and still working in his kitchen. His approach to producing quality, artisan croissants and pastries is the same as that of classical music player. During every available minute, he practices his art and polishes his skills. Laziness and shortcuts are out.

On our most recent trip back to Paris, I was saddened by my encounters with ugly, fatty, dense and bread-like croissants at local cafés — the Americanization of the croissant in every aspect of quality had come to France. The use of industrial dough and shortcut baking processes may be among the reasons for this demise. However, last year in March, a very welcoming article appeared in the Wall Street Journal, “Welcome Back to Authentic Croissants in Paris,” by Alexander Lobrano. That article inspired me. I should stop complaining about fake, fat croissants in the city and learn how much labor, time and care is necessary to bake a good croissant by myself.

Dough techniques

Chef Galarch at ICC showed us how to laminate the dough with butter. The temperature must be carefully controlled so that the butter and dough are pliable, but the butter does not melt. Skill, attention and patience are required. Credit: Copyright 2015 Hiroko Shimbo

Chef Gerlach at the International Culinary Center showed us how to laminate the dough with butter. The temperature must be carefully controlled so that the butter and dough are pliable but the butter does not melt. Skill, attention and patience are required. Credit: Copyright 2015 Hiroko Shimbo

The croissant class taught by chef Mark Gerlach at the International Culinary Center was only a scant five hours in duration. The correct way to make croissants requires at least a full 48 hours, the chef said. In order for the students to engage in all processes of the preparation, we used dough that had been kneaded and rested in advance.

Real croissants: It’s in the dough

Here, from the class, are seven tips on how to make real croissants:

  • Use quality ingredients.
  • Dehydrate flour properly.
  • Use butter with 83% fat.
  • Proof the dough at a temperature of 68 F and humidity of 65-70%.
  • Apply proper lamination technique (folding butter into dough multiple times to create very thin alternating layers of butter and dough).
  • Roll out the dough into correct thickness and into the proper size and shape.
  • And finally, bake it just to the state where crumbling and fluffiness meet.
After cutting the dough into proper shape, length and size I rolled it into a perfect crescent shape. After painting with egg wash, my little babies are ready for baking. Credit: Copyright 2015 Hiroko Shimbo

After cutting the dough into proper shape, length and size, I rolled it into a perfect crescent shape. Once painted with egg wash, my little babies are ready for baking. Credit: Copyright 2015 Hiroko Shimbo

Now I am committed to baking fabulous croissants in my kitchen to celebrate the start of an exciting new year. I shall start the project two days before I enjoy the end of this year properly with a bowl of traditional soba noodles on New Year’s Eve. Maybe you will, too.

Croissant Dough

Instructions on creating the croissant can be found in many places, but here is how to make the dough.

Yield: About 1700g (18-21 croissants)

Prep and resting time: 3 1/2 hours


This recipe uses international measurements, because they are more precise — and precision is very important in this recipe. (Equivalents are 1 ounce = 28 grams and 1 pound = 453 grams.)

750 grams bread flour

15 grams salt

100 grams sugar

30 grams softened butter

38 grams fresh yeast

150 grams milk

285 grams water

345 grams butter


1. Mix the flour, salt, sugar, softened butter, yeast, milk and water in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment. Mix them on low speed just to combine. Increase the speed to medium and mix for 5 minutes or until a smooth sticky dough comes together.

2. Oil the inside of a large bowl and transfer the dough to the bowl. Cover the bowl with a plastic wrap and leave at room temperature for 1 hour.

3. Remove the dough from the bowl and flatten it. Using a rolling pin, roll it out into a 12-inch square. Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and refrigerate until it is between 50 and 60 degrees F.

4. Place a block of butter between sheets of parchment paper and, using a rolling pin, shape it into a 6-inch by 12-inch shape.

5. Place the butter in the center of the dough. Pull the parchment paper away from the butter. Wrap the dough around the butter, making sure that the dough completely covers the butter but does not overlap at the seam. Lightly pound the dough with a rolling pin to make the butter more extendable.

6. Roll the dough into about a 30-inch by 8-inch rectangle. Perform a double turn.

7. Rotate the dough and roll it again into 30-inch by 8-inch rectangle. Perform 1 single turn. Roll the dough into a 12-inch by 8-inch rectangle.

8. Wrap the dough with plastic wrap and refrigerate it for 1 hour or overnight.

Main photo: The proper proofing of the croissant dough leads to a perfect result: fluffy and airy on the inside with brittle, crisp, butter-infused layers on the outside. Delicious! Credit: Copyright 2015 Hiroko Shimbo

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Chef Nicole Heaney shows her sablefish with apple puree, Brussels sprouts and farro risotto. Credit: Copyright 2015 David Latt

Cooking for dinner parties should be fun. If the occasion is a holiday, a birthday or a personal landmark, celebrating at home with a meal cements relationships with friends and family. But when preparing the meal is too much work, the fun goes away.

With relative ease, chef Nicole Heaney shows how to create a flavorful dish featuring a filet of fish that is perfect for entertaining. The key for a dinner party, as she demonstrates, is a little planning.

In the kitchen at Schooners Coastal Kitchen & Bar in Monterey, California, chef de cuisine Heaney shows how to prepare sablefish with crispy skin in a brown butter sauce. Adding flavor, Heaney pairs the rich, fatty fish with al dente Brussels sprouts, creamy farro cooked risotto-style and savory apple puree to add acid and sweetness.

Key to making the festive plate is the combination of four elements, each of which takes very little effort to create. And of the four, three can be made ahead. The Brussels sprouts, farro and apple puree can be made hours ahead of the dinner or even the day before. Then, just before serving, reheat the three components and cook the sablefish as your guests are sitting down ready for a celebration.

For a delicious vegan and vegetarian meal, leave out the fish and serve the Brussels sprouts, farro and apple puree.

A kitchen with a view

Chef Nicole Heaney preparing sable fish with apple puree, Brussels sprouts & farro risotto. Credit: Copyright 2015 David Latt

Chef Nicole Heaney preparing sablefish with apple puree, Brussels sprouts and farro risotto. Credit: Copyright 2015 David Latt

Schooners Coastal Kitchen & Bar is the main restaurant at the Monterey Plaza Hotel on Cannery Row. Working with executive chef James Waller, Heaney cooks in a kitchen with a view of Monterey Bay. Growing up in Wyoming and working in Colorado and New Mexico, Heaney was an adult before she saw the Pacific Ocean.

She confesses that, even after a year at the restaurant, when baby humpback whales swim close to the restaurant, she joins the other kitchen staff members to rush outside for a closer look from the dining patio. There they watch as the whales breach for a long moment before disappearing in the cold blue water.

Her cooking is influenced by the time she spent in Sedona at Mii amo Café. Preparing meals for health-conscious guests of the resort and spa, Heaney learned the importance of clean, fresh flavors. Fats were kept to a minimum. The kitchen did not use butter or cream. Asian ingredients and techniques were frequently used.

The regime is not as strict at Schooners, but Heaney still creates dishes with distinctive flavors and innovative ingredients like the kelp noodles she uses to make her version of pad thai.

An avid reader of Harold McGee’s “On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen,” she knows that the more you understand the chemistry of cooking, the better you can control the results. In her video demonstration, she points out the importance of using acid to round out flavors, as in the savory apple puree and farro risotto.

Apple Puree

Apples and onions poaching in apple juice and apple vinegar. Credit: Copyright 2015 David Latt

Apples and onions poaching in apple juice and apple vinegar. Credit: Copyright 2015 David Latt

The apples Heaney uses are grown locally on the Gizdich Ranch in Watsonville, California. She recommends using Gala apples in the recipe. Heaney leaves on the peels to add flavor and color. Because the apples will be pureed, there is no need to cut them precisely.

Prep time: 5 minutes

Cooking time: 15 minutes

Final assembly time: 5 minutes

Total time: 25 minutes

Yield: 3 cups sauce


4 large Gala apples, washed, pat dried, peels on

1 yellow onion, washed, peeled and trimmed, roughly chopped

2 to 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

1/2 cup bourbon (optional)

Unsweetened apple juice to cover

Freshly squeezed lemon juice to taste

Kosher salt to taste

1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar


1. Heat a large saucepan on a medium flame.

2. Cut open the apples. Remove and discard the core and seeds. Do not peel the apples. Cut the apples into large pieces.

3. Drizzle olive oil into saucepan, add onion and apples and sauté together until translucent.

4. Add bourbon (optional). Cook off the alcohol, which may catch fire. Be careful not to singe your eyebrows as chef Heaney once did.

5. Cover with unsweetened apple juice. Simmer on medium heat until reduced by half and the apples soften and begin to break down.

6. Puree in a large blender. Start blending on a low speed and progress to a higher speed until the puree is smooth.

7. Taste and season with lemon juice, apple cider vinegar and kosher salt.

8. If preparing ahead, store refrigerated in a sealed container.

9. Just before serving, reheat. Taste and adjust the seasoning and, if the puree is too thin, continue reducing on a medium flame to thicken.

Farro Risotto Fit for a Dinner Party

Farro risotto with mirepoix of minced carrots, onions and celery. Credit: Copyright 2015 David Latt

Farro risotto with mirepoix of minced carrots, onions and celery. Credit: Copyright 2015 David Latt

Cooking farro risotto-style means heating and hydrating the grain as if it were Arborio rice. Substituting farro for rice adds a nutty flavor. Heaney prefers her farro al dente but that choice is entirely personal. Many people prefer their risotto softer rather than al dente.

Better quality ingredients yield a better result. With risotto, that means using quality rice or, in this case, farro. The stock is as important. Canned stocks are available, but they are high in sodium content and can have an off-putting aroma. Homemade stocks are preferable. Any good quality stock can be used — beef, pork, chicken or seafood. For vegetarians and vegans, the farro can be prepared with vegetable broth and without the butter or Asiago cheese.

The cooking time may vary depending on the farro.

Like other whole spices, pepper has volatile oils. To preserve the freshness of its flavor, Heaney prefers to grind the peppercorns just before using.

Prep time: 5 minutes

Cooking time: 30 to 45 minutes

Final assembly time: 5 minutes

Total time: 40 to 55 minutes

Yield: serves 4


64 ounces hot stock, preferably homemade, can be vegetable, beef, pork, chicken or seafood

1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil

1 yellow onion, washed, peeled, trimmed, small dice

1 large carrot, washed, peeled, trimmed, small dice

2 large celery stalks, washed, peeled, trimmed, small dice

3 garlic cloves, washed, peeled, rimmed, minced (optional)

16 ounces farro

1/2 cup dry white wine

1 tablespoon sweet butter (optional)

1 bunch Italian parsley, washed, pat dried, leaves chopped fine

1 tablespoon chives, washed, chopped fine

1 tablespoon fresh thyme, washed, chopped fine

1 cup shredded Asiago cheese (optional)

1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice

Kosher salt to taste

Black peppercorns, freshly ground, to taste


1. In a saucepan, heat stock on a low flame.

2. Heat a separate medium saucepan over a medium flame. When hot, add olive oil and sauté onions, carrots and celery until the vegetables are translucent.

3. Add farro. Stir well and sauté until lightly toasted.

4. Add garlic (optional) and sauté until translucent but do not brown.

5. Deglaze the pan with white wine. Cook until alcohol is fully cooked out.

6. Add hot stock in 6- to 8-ounce portion. Stir well.

7. As stock is absorbed, add more stock and stir well. Do not scald the farro.

8. Each time the stock is absorbed, add more stock until the liquid becomes cloudy and the farro softens.

9. If the farro is being made ahead, when the farro is soft but not yet soft enough to eat, or 75 percent cooked, remove from the burner, allow to cool and refrigerate in a sealed container.

10. If continuing to cook or if reheating, taste and continue cooking the farro until it is al dente or to your liking. Set aside until the fish is cooked.

11. Just before serving, to finish, add sweet butter (optional) and stir into the heated farro until melted.

12. Add Asiago cheese (optional) and stir well to melt.

13. Taste and season with fresh lemon juice, salt and freshly ground black pepper.

14. Just before plating, sprinkle in chopped fine parsley, chives and thyme and stir well.

15. Serve hot and plate as described below.

Caramelized Brussels Sprouts

Caramelized halved Brussels sprouts. Credit: Copyright 2015 David Latt

Caramelized halved Brussels sprouts. Credit: Copyright 2015 David Latt

Heaney prefers her Brussels sprouts al dente. Some people like them softer, in which case, after the Brussels sprouts are washed, trimmed and halved, blanch them in salted boiling water for two minutes, drain and then sauté as directed below.

Prep time: 5 minutes

Cooking time: 10 minutes

Final assembly time: 5 minutes

Total time: 20 minutes

Yield: serves 4


1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil

1 pound medium-sized Brussels sprouts, washed, discolored leaves removed, ends trimmed, halved

Kosher salt to taste

Freshly ground black peppercorns to taste


1. Heat a large sauté pan.

2. Add extra virgin olive oil and halved Brussels sprouts.

3. Season to taste with kosher salt and black pepper.

4. Stir well to prevent burning. Sauté until Brussels sprouts are caramelized on both sides.

5. If the sprouts are to be served later or the next day, when they are cooked 75 percent, remove from the burner, allow to cool and refrigerate in an airtight container.

6. When the fish is cooking, heat the sauté pan with a small amount of olive oil. Add the cooked Brussels sprouts to reheat and plate with the fish, farro risotto and apple puree.

Crispy-Skin Sablefish in a Brown Butter Sauce

Also called black cod, sablefish is not actually cod. Heaney uses sablefish caught in nearby Morro Bay. She likes cooking the fish because it is almost “bulletproof.” The flesh is difficult to overcook and is almost always moist, flavorful and delicate.

In order to achieve a crispy skin, Heaney has developed a simple technique described in the directions. She recommends buying a wooden-handled fish spatula with a beveled edge, which helps remove the fish from the pan. The spatula is preferable to tongs, which tend to break apart the filets.

Prep time: 5 minutes

Cooking time: 5 to 10 minutes

Final assembly time: 5 minutes

Total time: 15-20 minutes

Yield: serves 4


4 6-ounce skin-on filets of sablefish or black cod, washed, pat dried

1/2 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1 tablespoon sweet butter

1 teaspoon freshly squeezed lemon juice

1 tablespoon Italian parsley, washed, pat dried, leaves only, finely chopped


1. Season each filet with kosher salt and black pepper on both sides.

2. Heat a large sauté pan on a medium-high flame. When the pan is hot, reduce the flame to medium-low.

3. Add the olive oil. Allow the oil to heat.

4. Place the filets into the pan, skin side down. Do not overcrowd the pan, allowing space between each filet. If the filets are crowded together, the skin will not crisp.

Sear but do not burn the skin.

Jiggle the pan. That will help prevent the filets from sticking to the pan. If they do stick, use the fish spatula to gently release them from the bottom of the pan.

5. Add sweet butter to the pan and swirl around the filets.

6. Let the filets cook without fussing too much. The fish is cooked when the flesh is opaque.

7. Using the fish spatula, gently flip each filet over. Swirl the filets into the melted butter, being careful to brown but not burn the butter.

After 30 seconds, use a spoon to baste the filets with the melted butter.

8. At this point, the fish is cooked. Add parsley for color and season with lemon juice.

Put the saucepan to the side.

Assembling the dish:

Plate the fish when everyone is seated at the table.

All of the elements — fish, apple puree, Brussels sprouts and farro risotto — should be hot and ready to serve.

Select a large plate. Using the back of a soup spoon, spread a tablespoon of the apple puree across the plate. Add a good portion of the farro risotto in the middle of the plate, then the caramelized Brussels sprouts.

Gently add the sablefish filet, crispy skin side up. Spoon a little bit of the brown butter on top of the filet, farro and Brussels sprouts. And as chef Heaney says, “That is it.”

Serve the dish hot with a crisp white wine and let the festivities begin.

Main photo: Chef Nicole Heaney shows her sablefish with apple puree, Brussels sprouts and farro risotto. Credit: Copyright 2015 David Latt

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Chef Ryan Swarthout's Braised Short Ribs With Mushroom Pappardelle. Credit: Copyright 2015 courtesy of Ryan Swarthout

Paso Robles, California, is gaining as much recognition of late for its cuisine as for the region’s celebrated wines, with chefs drawn to the bounty of the state’s Central Coast.

Downtown Paso Robles, ringed with fine restaurants, is anchored by the historic Paso Robles Inn, which has long been known for the traditional menu at the Steakhouse Restaurant. Now, with the arrival of Ryan Swarthout as the inn’s executive chef in April 2015, the menu is being tweaked.

While maintaining a meat-lover’s menu, Swarthout is making a few changes. “I’m bringing a bit of freshness,” he said, cradling a bowl of silky butternut squash soup garnished with green apple strips and a delicate chive blossom.

For example, the steak menu is being edited and trimmed, and the potato gratin is being made in-house. “And we took away the balsamic reduction on the halibut,” Swarthout said.

Herbs and a variety of tomatoes from the inn’s organic garden are finding their way into dishes, and Swarthout has even created a habanero jam with peppers harvested from the garden’s abundant bush.

When asked what kind of specials diners are likely to see on the fall menu, his face lights up. He mentions the butternut soup as well as braised dishes such as short ribs. He even provided the recipes (see below) and suggested that a versatile dish like the braised short ribs can be served over pappardelle or with topping potatoes, whether mashed or baked. In his version, he adds crimini mushrooms to the pasta for a heartier touch and uses a beef stock that simmers in the restaurant kitchen for several hours.

Chef’s journey one worth following

Chef Ryan Swarthout. Credit: Copyright 2015 courtesy of Ryan Swarthout

Chef Ryan Swarthout. Credit: Copyright 2015 courtesy of Ryan Swarthout

I have followed Swarthout’s culinary arc since 2005, when I first met him and tasted his wine-country cuisine at Deborah’s Room at Justin Winery. He served as executive chef there for six years and since then has done the rounds in Paso Robles, from launching a catering company and cooking for elaborate weddings at the former Eagle Castle Winery to serving as opening chef at three downtown restaurants — Robert’s Restaurant and Bar, Estrella and Second Press. I have experienced much of the versatility in his cooking, which ranges from American Bistro style to Latin fare.

Originally from El Centro, California, Swarthout got hooked on cooking when he started out as a busboy in a Mexican restaurant. “But I didn’t want to be a short-order cook,” he recalled.  After researching culinary schools, he opted to attend San Francisco’s California Culinary Academy, graduating in 1997 and going to work for chef Mark Miller in the Bay Area.

Swarthout’s food sensibilities were further elevated with trips to Europe, first as a young backpacker with his wife, Kate, and later as a chef with the U.S. Armed Forces in the Alpine town of Garmisch-Partenkirchen, a German ski resort.

“It gave me a better understanding how Old World food is steeped in tradition,” he said of the experience.

Because Kate is from San Luis Obispo, California, the couple settled in the charming town on the Central Coast and Ryan began working as a sous chef both at Gardens of Avila and Café Roma before making his move to Paso Robles.

Swarthout regards himself as a Paso Robles chef. And how does he define it?

“Paso has so much to offer, with the wineries and local farms around,” he said. The culinary flavor reflects the local bounty, including olive oil, honey, poultry, seafood and produce.

Next time you visit the Paso Robles wine region, you can get a taste of how Swarthout defines the region’s culinary style. In the meantime, try these warming Paso Robles Inn Steakhouse recipes at home.

Butternut Squash and Green Apple Soup

Butternut Squash and Green Apple Soup. Credit: Copyright 2015 courtesy of Ryan Swarthout

Butternut Squash and Green Apple Soup. Credit: Copyright 2015 courtesy of Ryan Swarthout

Prep time: 20 minutes

Cook time: 25 minutes

Total time: 45 minutes

Yield: 6 servings

Swarthout’s wine recommendation: Vintage Cowboy Grenache Blanc, Paso Robles


3 tablespoons olive oil

2 shallots, minced

1 medium butternut squash, peeled, seeded and cubed

2 large green apples, coarsely chopped

2 quarts chicken stock

1/2 teaspoon curry powder

1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg

1/2 teaspoon ground cloves

Salt and pepper to taste

For garnish:

Thinly sliced apples

Chive blossoms

Crème fraiche


  1. Heat the oil in a skillet over medium heat and add the shallots.
  2. Sauté for one minute, then add the butternut squash and apples. Sauté for 3 minutes.
  3. Add the chicken stock and spices. Reduce heat and simmer for 20 minutes.
  4. Turn off the heat. Puree with an immersion blender or in a regular blender.
  5. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Garnish with thinly sliced apples, chive blossoms and crème fraiche.

Braised Short Ribs With Mushroom Pappardelle

Prep time: 30 minutes

Cook time: 4 hours

Total time: 4 hours, 30 minutes

Yield: 8 servings

Swarthout’s wine recommendation: Daou Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon, Paso Robles


For the braised short ribs:

3 tablespoons olive oil

8 whole beef short ribs

Salt and pepper to taste

1 onion, chopped

2 carrots, chopped

3 sticks celery, chopped

2 cups red wine

2 cups beef stock

2 sprigs thyme

2 sprigs rosemary

For the mushroom pappardelle:

1 cup sliced crimini mushrooms

Salt and pepper to taste

1 (24-ounce) package of pappardelle


For the braised short ribs:

  1. Preheat oven to 350 F. Season short ribs with salt and pepper.
  2. Heat oil in an oven-proof pan over medium heat. Add short ribs and sear 3 to 5 minutes on each side.
  3. Remove ribs and set aside.
  4. Turn the heat down to medium. Add onion, carrots and celery to pan and sauté for 2 minutes.
  5. Pour in the wine and scrape bottom of the pan to release all the flavorful bits.
  6. Add the beef stock. Bring to a boil and cook for 2 minutes. Add the ribs to the liquid. They should be almost completely submerged. Add thyme and rosemary.
  7. Cover the pan with a lid and place in the preheated oven. Cook at 350 F for 3 hours. The ribs should be fork tender when done.
  8. Remove pan from the oven. Remove the ribs and set aside.
  9. Skim the fat off the top of the liquid in the pan and bring the liquid to a boil. Reduce the liquid by half and set aside.

For the mushroom pappardelle:

  1. Heat the oil in a skillet over medium heat.
  2. Add the mushrooms and sauté them for five minutes. Season with salt and pepper. (Mushrooms can be done ahead of time and set aside.)
  3. Cook the pappardelle according to package directions. Drain and transfer to a serving dish.
  4. Serve the ribs over pappardelle tossed in the reduced braising liquid and mushrooms.

Main photo: Chef Ryan Swarthout’s Braised Short Ribs With Mushroom Pappardelle. Credit: Copyright 2015 courtesy of Ryan Swarthout

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Red O Restaurant Thanksgiving succotash made with corn, poblano chilies, butternut squash, onion, cotija cheese, cilantro. Credit: Copyright 2015 David Latt

Thanksgiving is the best of times. Friends and family gather together to celebrate one another and the season. And yet there is the nagging problem of devising a menu that protects tradition but still surprises. Chef Keith Stich has an answer. Use the flavors of Mexico. In his kitchen at Red O Restaurant in Santa Monica, California, Stich demonstrated how to spice up a traditional succotash by adding Mexican ingredients.

The Santa Monica restaurant is one of a dozen restaurants and bistros opened by chef Rick Bayless, well known for his many awards, cookbooks and television appearances. When Bayless was looking for a chef to help him expand his Southern California operation, he searched for chefs who shared his passion for Mexican cooking. Stich was selected for a cook-off in Chicago at Bayless’ Frontera Grill.

Inspired for succotash fusion

Chef Keith Stich, Red O Restaurant Santa Monica with his Thanksgiving succotash. Credit: Copyright 2015 David Latt

Chef Keith Stich of Red O Restaurant Santa Monica, with his Thanksgiving succotash. Credit: Copyright 2015 David Latt

Growing up, Stich loved eating Mexican food. As a young chef, he specialized in the preparation of steak and seafood in restaurants in Colorado and California. He learned to cook dishes with strong, clean flavors. For the competition at Frontera Grill, Stich had to prepare one entrée. Four chefs competed. Stich would win or lose the job based on whether Bayless liked his lobster enchiladas.

The competition among the chefs was tough. But Bayless was impressed. He hired Stich to open Red O in Newport Beach. In a competitive setting, the restaurant did very well. After Newport Beach, Stich was asked to open the restaurant across from the Santa Monica pier, a prime tourist destination, and as corporate executive chef to oversee all three of the Southern California restaurants with more planned in the future.

Celebrating fresh, seasonal ingredients

Boiled and grilled corn kernels are used to make chef Keith Stich's Thanksgiving succotash at Red O Restaurant Santa Monica. Credit: Copyright 2015 David Latt

Boiled and grilled corn kernels are used to make chef Keith Stich’s Thanksgiving succotash at Red O Restaurant Santa Monica. Credit: Copyright 2015 David Latt

As the seasons change and the cooks come up with innovations, Stich proposes new dishes to Bayless either over the phone or in person. Sometimes he’ll fly to Chicago and prepare the dishes in the Frontera Grill kitchen. Once Bayless signs off on the new dishes, Stich updates the Red O menus on the West Coast.

Making everything from scratch is an essential part of the Red O identity. Fresh limes and oranges are juiced in-house. All the salsas and sauces are made fresh. The produce comes from local purveyors and the farmers markets. In that sense, the West Coast cooks have a distinct advantage over their Midwestern colleagues. Leafy greens are available in abundance in January at the farmers markets in Los Angeles long before they appear in the Chicago markets.

Adding a Mexican twist to a classic

Chopped butternut squash and grated cotija cheese go into chef Keith Stich's Thanksgiving succotash at Red O Restaurant Santa Monica. Credit: Copyright 2015 David Latt

Chopped butternut squash and grated cotija cheese go into chef Keith Stich’s Thanksgiving succotash at Red O Restaurant Santa Monica. Credit: Copyright 2015 David Latt

To create a flavorful side dish that would go well with traditional Thanksgiving dishes, Stich used butternut squash, the quintessential fall vegetable, as a substitute for beans in succotash. He gave the dish a flavor boost by adapting the restaurant’s street corn side dish. To the squash he added dry-salty cotija cheese, earthy poblano peppers and spicy cilantro.

So this Thanksgiving as you help yourself to slices of turkey, Brussels sprouts, mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce, roasted sweet potatoes and green bean casserole, now you can add spice to tradition with a large serving of Mexican succotash.

Street Corn and Butternut Squash Succotash

Thanksgiving Succotash, poblano chilies, butternut squash, corn, onion, cotija cheese. Credit: Copyright 2015 David Latt

Thanksgiving succotash features poblano chilies, butternut squash, corn, onion, cotija cheese. Credit: Copyright 2015 David Latt

Given how busy Thanksgiving Day can be, an advantage of Stich’s succotash is that all the elements can be cooked the day ahead and refrigerated in airtight containers. Just before serving, when the turkey is resting and the gravy is simmering, the succotash can be given a final sauté on the stove and served with the other dishes.

Poblano chilies and cotija cheese are available in Latin markets. In order to achieve the Mexican flavor profile, the chilies cannot be substituted with green bell peppers; nor can the cotija cheese be replaced with feta cheese.

Because corn season is ending, Stich suggests buying fresh corn now if possible, boiling the cobs as directed, cutting off the kernels and freezing in corn stock, which is made as described below. Cover the kernels with the stock, seal and freeze. The stock will protect the kernels from freezer burn. The day before using, defrost the containers. Strain out the kernels and use them as indicated in the recipe. Reserve and refreeze the corn stock to use in soups and stocks.

When fresh corn is not available in the markets, frozen corn may be substituted, but not canned corn.

Prep time: 15 minutes

Cooking time: 40 minutes

Final assembly time: 5 minutes

Total time: 60 minutes

Yield: 4 servings


3 ears of yellow corn, shucked, washed

1 small butternut squash, washed, seeded, diced, yielding 1½ cups

1 small red onion, washed, peeled, trimmed, diced, yielding ½ cup

1 roasted large poblano chili, washed, charred, seeded, cleaned, yielding ¾ cup cooked

2 tablespoon grated cotija cheese plus ½ tablespoon as garnish

½ tablespoon fresh cilantro, washed, leaves only, finely chopped

½ teaspoon kosher salt

1 tablespoon canola oil

Sea salt to taste

1 tablespoon micro cilantro (optional)

2 tablespoons sour cream or Mexican creama (optional)


1. Preheat a grill.

2. Boil the corn on the cobs in water uncovered for 30 minutes.

3. Remove the corn from the water. Using tongs, place the corn on the hot grill. Turn frequently until the outside is slightly charred.

4. Place the grilled ears of corn into a bowl of water with two cups of ice cubes.

5. Once the corn is chilled, use a sharp knife and cut off the kernels. As much as possible, keep the kernels together in slabs. Set aside and if not using until the next day, place in an airtight container and refrigerate.

6. If the kernels are to be frozen, place the cobs back in the hot water. Boil another 30 minutes or until the liquid is reduced by half. Set aside to cool. Then place the cooked kernels in an airtight container and cover with the corn stock. Seal and freeze.

7. Peel the butternut squash, removing the outer skin, seeds and fibers inside. Discard. Using a sharp knife, cut the squash into ¼-inch dice.

8. Add the kosher salt to a pot of water. Bring to a boil. Add the diced squash and cook quickly, approximately 45 to 60 seconds or until fork tender.

9. Prepare an ice bath. Strain the cooked squash and place into the ice bath to chill. Set aside and if not using until the next day, refrigerate in an airtight container.

10. Place the poblano chili over a high flame on the stove burner. Char the outside, turning often to evenly blister the skin. Remove and place under running water. Rinse off the blackened skin. Cut open the chili. Remove the stem and all the seeds and discard. Cut the poblano into ¼-inch dice.

11. Finely grate the cotija cheese. Set aside and if not using until the next day, refrigerate in an airtight container.

12. With all the elements cooked and prepped, all that is needed is to combine and lightly sauté the ingredients. Heat a large saucepan. Add the canola oil.

13. Sauté the diced red onion until translucent and lightly browned. Add the poblano chili, stir well to heat, then add butternut squash and corn kernels until all ingredients are hot.

14. Sprinkle the cotija cheese on top and heat until the cheese melts. Mix in the chopped cilantro.

15. Transfer the succotash to a serving bowl. Garnish with more grated cotija. Decorate with dollops of sour cream or Mexican creama (optional) and micro cilantro (optional). Serve hot.

Main photo: Red O Restaurant Thanksgiving succotash made with corn, poblano chilies, butternut squash, onion, cotija cheese and cilantro. Credit: Copyright 2015 David Latt

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Main photo: Amalia Moreno-Damgaard's salpícon. Credit: Copyright 2015 Martha Landry.

It’s not easy to capture an entire country’s cuisine in one cookbook — especially when the author lives 3,000 miles away. So when Amalia Moreno-Damgaard began writing her cookbook about Guatemalan cuisine, she knew she would have to make compromises. The challenge was finding substitutes that wouldn’t compromise the integrity of the cuisine.

Peppers can be used instead of chilies. It’s fine to use store-bought chicken broth instead of making your own with chicken bones. To make a meal healthier, oils can be substituted for lard — a trick Moreno-Damgaard learned from her grandmother many years ago in Guatemala City.

The Author

Martha Landry is a social media intern for Round Earth Media. She is also a Travel Ambassador for GoOverseas and photo corps member. In the future, Landry hopes to be an environmental journalist.

Martha Landry is a social media intern for Round Earth Media in St. Paul, Minn. She is also a Travel Ambassador for GoOverseas and photo corps member. In the future, Landry hopes to be an environmental journalist.

But don’t even think of using anything other than a corn tortilla. “The tortilla is king,” Moreno-Damgaard declares.

It’s that kind of homegrown knowledge that fills Moreno-Damgaard’s cookbook, “Amalia’s Guatemalan Kitchen — Gourmet Cuisine with a Cultural Flair,” which was published in 2012. The 420-page cookbook not only provides readers with an array of Guatemalan recipes, it also introduces them to the culture of the country, exploring street foods, breakfast dishes and holiday specialties.

The cuisine highlights Latin American culture, Moreno-Damgaard says, a culture she wants to celebrate. Too often, she says, it’s the stories of violence and corruption that make the headlines.

“Someone needed to go out there and say wonderful things about Guatemala,” Moreno-Damgaard says. She believes she can convey the many positive attributes of her home country by exposing Americans to authentic Guatemalan cuisine beyond the typical rice-and-bean dish.

To gather material for the book, Moreno-Damgaard traveled back and forth from her home in Minneapolis to Guatemala City, where she was born and raised.

“Guatemalan food is a combination of native cuisine and Spanish cuisine, which is the story of Latin America,” she says. And that mixture is a result of four distinctly different regions of Guatemala, each with its own distinct food.

The southern shores offer the freshest seafood; the east produces unique fruits and vegetables; the northern mountains still celebrate Mayan cooking and traditions, and the west coast is home to the Garifuna people — descendants of Africans and indigenous Arawak people from the Caribbean — who bring their own cooking style to the region, including lots of chowders and rice dishes with coconut and plantain flavors.

The woman behind the book

In 1981, Moreno-Damgaard, then just 19, left her home to visit her brother in the United States. She ended up staying, getting her bachelor’s degree in business administration from Fontbonne University in St. Louis, and her master’s degree in international business and culture from Saint Louis University. After college, she built a successful career in international banking, holding a variety of senior-level positions.

Since 2001, she has lived with her husband, Kenn Damgaard, in the Minneapolis area.

Sixteen years ago, when their son, Jens, was born, she decided to give up her banking career to spend more time at home. Moreno-Damgaard says she couldn’t imagine missing her son’s first steps or first words. But with quite a bit of free time on her hands, she concentrated on cooking, making it more than a hobby.

Moreno-Damgaard enrolled in Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts Minneapolis/St. Paul in Mendota, Minn., for her professional culinary arts degree in classic French cuisine.

Then she plunged into a professional career, starting out as a cooking teacher — something she continues to do today. She gives cooking demonstrations at culinary events and benefits, as well as private lessons.

“Teaching keeps me on my toes, because I continue to learn,” Moreno-Damgaard says. “You never stop learning, even about an area you specialize in.”

Nora Tycast recently attended one of Moreno-Damgaard’s cooking classes in Minneapolis. Tycast’s three daughters — all adopted from Guatemala — joined her.

The family has attended many of Moreno-Damgaard’s events, Tycast says, because it gives her daughters a chance to learn and identify with their native culture.

“It’s nice for the girls to see a professional chef, and it’s nice (for them) to see someone who looks like them,” Tycast says. “It’s good to have someone (from Guatemala) up in front of them and being an example.”

In additional to teaching classes, Moreno-Damgaard runs her own business and serves on the board of directors for Common Hope, the Latino Economic Development Center, Women Entrepreneurs of Minnesota and Le Cordon Bleu Alumni Association.

Latin American cuisine

When Moreno-Damgaard moved to the Twin Cities, she says it was hard to find Latin American cuisine or interest in diverse foods. She says she missed the tastes and textures she had grown up with.

“When … we first came to Minnesota, we really struggled to find a Latin American restaurant,” she says. “Even a good Mexican restaurant was hard to find.”

Today, Moreno-Damgaard sees more of an appreciation of international cuisine because the Internet has opened up access to different parts of the world, including Guatemala. She said the wealth of information on the Web about different cultures has sparked an interest in foreign countries and cuisines, and the influx of immigrants to the Twin Cities has exposed the local population to Latin American food.

She says she has more to tell people about Latin America, so she’s writing a second cookbook about Guatemala. She plans to detail more specific aspects of the cuisine as well as provide a more in-depth look at the culture. In recent trips to Guatemala, Moreno-Damgaard spent time with chefs — both professional and hobbyists — to gather local knowledge. She also spent time exploring rural Guatemala to more clearly define its regions.

Because of the influences from Spain, the Caribbean and the Mayans, Guatemalan food is “the deepest, the most diverse, and the most delicious” in Latin America, Moreno-Damgaard says. She says the flavors, ingredients and history are the most varied in the region. She is excited to be sharing the cuisine with those who relate to her passion for healthy and flavorful food.

Pepián Negro (Spicy Chicken and Pork Vegetable Stew)

Pepián negro (black pepián) is from Guatemala department, which includes Guatemala City, in the south-central part of the country. It takes its name from the blackened tortillas used in the sauce. There are also red and yellow pepián with varying ingredients, made with turkey, chicken, beef or pork, in Quetzaltenango, Suchitepequez and other regions. All varieties have some ingredients in common, such as pan-roasted seeds, peppers, cinnamon and tomatoes, but they may have different finishing touches. Pepián can be made with any kind of protein. Serve it with Arroz Guatemalteco (Guatemalan vegetable rice) and Tamalitos de Queso (fresh cheese mini tamales in banana leaves), which provide a nice break between spicy bites.

Prep time: 20 minutes

Cook time: 25 minutes

Total time: 45 minutes

Yield: 4 servings


3 skinless, boneless chicken thighs, cut into 2-inch pieces

1/2 pound pork butt or shoulder, cut into 2-inch pieces

2 cups fat-free, low-sodium chicken stock

1 small, whole yellow onion, peeled and t-scored*

1/2 cup unchopped cilantro, include stems and leaves

1 cup quartered Roma tomatoes (about 2 large tomatoes)

1/2 cup husked, quartered tomatillos (3 to 4 large tomatillos)

1 small yellow onion, cut into thick slices

2 large garlic cloves, peeled

1 guaque (guajillo) chile, seeded

1 zambo (mulato) chile, seeded

Para Espesar (Thickeners)

Choose one of the following:

2 corn tortillas blackened in toaster oven to medium brown, soaked in hot stock for 10 minutes;

or 2 tablespoons instant corn masa flour, browned in a dry pan over medium-low heat until medium brown;

or 2 tablespoons white rice, browned in a dry pan over medium-low heat until medium brown, then soaked in cold water 10 minutes

1 tablespoon canola oil

Sazón (Seasonings)

1 tablespoon ground pan-roasted pumpkin seeds

1 tablespoon ground pan-roasted sesame seeds

1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/8 teaspoon ground cloves

1 teaspoon kosher salt

Freshly ground black pepper

1/2 cup small cubes of potatoes, cooked al dente

1/2 cup fresh green beans cut into 1-inch pieces, cooked al dente

1/2 cup carrots sliced on the diagonal, cooked al dente

1/2 cup güisquil (chayote squash) cut into 1-inch cubes, cooked al dente

1 cup loosely packed, finely chopped fresh cilantro leaves

Cilantro leaves, finely chopped, as garnish


1. In a medium pot, cook the chicken and pork in the stock with the yellow onion and cilantro over low heat until the chicken and pork are done, about 30 to 45 minutes. Remove and reserve the onion and the cilantro. Set aside the pot of chicken, pork and stock.

2. Heat a skillet for 2 minutes over medium heat and add the tomatoes, tomatillos, onion and garlic. Adjust the heat to medium-low and pan roast the vegetables until they are charred all over and mushy, about 8 minutes.

3. Separately, pan roast the chilies over medium-low heat for about 3 minutes. Keep a close eye on the chilies, as they burn easily. Then soak the roasted chilies in 1 cup of very hot water for 10 minutes.

4. Combine the roasted vegetables, the reserved onion and cilantro, the soaked chilies, half the soaking water, and 3/4 cup of the hot stock in a blender. Add the thickener of your choice and purée to a fine consistency. The purée should look smooth and velvety.

5. Heat the oil in a medium skillet. Add the purée and seasonings. Add the cup of finely chopped cilantro. Cook for about 3 minutes. Add the sauce to the pot of chicken, pork and stock. Add the al dente vegetables and stir. Simmer covered to blend the flavors, about 10 minutes. The sauce should be medium thin — about the consistency of steak sauce. If the sauce is too thin, cook the stew a bit longer to thicken it. If the sauce is too thick, add more stock or water. Taste and adjust seasonings, if needed.

6. Serve the stew garnished with chopped cilantro leaves.

* Note: To t-score an onion, make a 1/2-inch-deep, cross-shaped cut at the narrowest end of the onion. The onion remains whole.

Main photo: Amalia Moreno-Damgaard’s salpícon. Credit: Copyright 2015 Martha Landry.

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A hearty cassoulet featuring rabbit confit, smoked pork belly and black garlic sausage helps ward off a cold winter night. Credit: Copyright Jared Spoffard

As the cold Northeastern winter laid yet another wet snow on New York City, Back Forty West, Peter Hoffman’s wonderful restaurant at 70 Prince Street, sported its sixth annual celebration of cassoulet. As Hoffman said in his introductory words, each year this festival brings folks together to enjoy different incarnations of this wonderful, rich slow cooked bubbling mixture of beans and meats.

Adam Gopnik, who has written extensively about cassoulet in his book, “The Table Comes First,” reminded us that the cassoulet originated in the south of France, but variations of it are found in most countries of the world — feijoda in Latin America; solet in Hungary; cholent, a traditional Jewish stew; fabada asturiana in Spain; pasulj in Serbia, or even just baked beans, sausage and sauerkraut as my Swedish mother loved to assemble. It is a simple, traditional mixture of slow-cooked — often on their own — white beans, and then added to any combination of lamb, pork skin, sausage or duck confit. The dish is named after its traditional cooking vessel, the casserole, a deep, round, earthernware pot with slanting sides, but any large, heavy Dutch oven or stainless steel stew pot will do.

Each year, Hoffman seeks to benefit a different charity. This year’s Back Forty evening benefited Drive Change, an organization that mentors, hires and trains formerly incarcerated youth in order to prepare its fare and operate the nonprofit’s food truck. Drive Change chef Jared Spafford, who was formerly from Marlowe and Daughters and Flying Pigs Farm, was one of five chefs whose cassoulet graced the evening. Spafford’s interpretation consisted of rabbit confit, smoked pork belly, and black garlic sausage (recipe below).

Chefs who contributed a cassoulet

Jon Check from Buttermilk Channel in Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn, divined an original Southwestern interpretation of cassoulet that included Rancho Gordo heirloom beans, lamb shoulder, pheasant sausage and pork belly.

Hoffman’s was a more traditional presentation coming straight from a heavy iron pot that was cooked over the fabulous open fire in the Back Forty West dining room and included a delicious mixture of Flageolet beans, duck confit, chorizo and smoked pork belly.

Sara Jenkins’ delicious addition of lamb shoulder with a small merguez sausage laid on the lentil bed was another original interpretation. Her restaurant in the East village, Porsena, focuses on inspired pasta dishes.

Peter Lipson from Northern Spy Food Co. on 12th Street concocted an original mixture using cattle beans, guanciale, merguez and pork belly with quickly cooked veggies and a garni of crushed spicy corn chips, cilantro and sour cream.  A Southwestern delight.

The meal ended with a radicchio citrus salad followed by grapefruit and orange sorbet on a spoon.

Upon leaving the restaurant, we visited the Snowday Food Truck parked out in front and were offered a Maple Snow Lolly (traditionally served with hot syrup dripped on snow).

A fabulous dining experience with a side of social change.   

Rabbit Confit, Smoked Pork Belly and Black Garlic Sausage Cassoulet

Cassoulets can be a simple throw-together meal made of leftover meats and beans. Recipe courtesy Jared Spafford  

Rabbit brine

Prep time: 10 minutes

Cook time: Brine for 24 hours

Total time: About 24 hours

Yield: 6 to 8 servings


1 quart whey

3/4 cup shallots, sliced

1/2 cup ginger, sliced

4 cloves garlic, smashed

2 Thai red chilies, split

2 kaffir lime leaves

8 sprigs thyme

4 bay leaves

1 1/2 tablespoon white peppercorn

1 1/2 tablespoon mustard seeds

1 tablespoon coriander seeds

1 teaspoon curry powder

1 rabbit, cut into 6 pieces


1. Bring whey to a simmer, cut heat, stir in all ingredients besides rabbit.

2. When solution cools, add rabbit. Place in ziplock bag and remove air; brine for 1 day.

Rabbit Confit


1 to 1 1/2 quarts lard

4 stalks celery

4 shallots, sliced

4 cloves garlic, smashed

8 sprigs thyme

8 sprigs parsley

3 bay leaves

3 puya chile

1 cascabel chile

1 teaspoon smoked paprika

1 teaspoon turmeric

2 tablespoons salt

1 tablespoon white peppercorn

1 teaspoon cardamom

1 rabbit, brined for 24 hours


1. Warm lard until it turns liquid, add all ingredients except rabbit. Let ingredients steep for 30 minutes, add rabbit.

2. Cook in oven at 300 F for 2 to 2 1/2 hours, until meat pulls away from bone cleanly. Remove from oven, let cool.

3. Place in fridge overnight (2 to 3 days is optimum).


Prep time: Soak overnight, sprout for 2 to 3 days

Cook time: 6 to 7 hours on low heat

Total time: Several days of preparation


3/4 pound scarlet runner beans

3/4 pound yellow eye peas

3/4 pound navy beans

2 quarts pork stock

1 quart water

1 cup cider vinegar

1 cup maple syrup

2 bay leaves

8 sprigs thyme

8 sprigs parsley

1 1/2 tablespoon mixed peppercorn

Peel from one orange

Peel from one lemon

1/2 cup salt


1. Soak beans overnight with 3 times volume of water. Drain next day. Leave beans in colander on counter for 2 to 3 days, rinsing beans until water runs clean a few times a day.

2. When beans have begun sprouting, add to Dutch oven with rest of ingredients.

3. Braise beans covered at 300 F for 4 hours. Remove cover and continue cooking until soft, 1 to 2 more hours. Remove from oven and let cool.

4. Let beans rest in container overnight (2 to 3 days is optimum).

Smoked Belly

1 pound slab bacon

Score skin in a diamond pattern. Roast in oven at 300 F for 2 to 3 hours, until fat is fully rendered and skin is crispy. Remove from oven and weight down in a pan over night in fridge to compress belly.

Black Garlic Sausage

Prep time: 45 minutes

Cook time: 10 minutes

Total time: 55 minutes


1 head garlic, roasted

4 cloves garlic, minced

1 head black garlic, mashed

2 teaspoon ground white pepper

2-plus tablespoons salt

2 pounds ground pork


1. Mash all garlic together in mortar to form a paste.

2. Thoroughly mix garlic paste, salt and pepper with ground pork. Cook small test piece to check seasoning, adjust with salt and pepper as needed.

3. Let mixture rest overnight.

4. Form 3/4-inch balls with sausage, do not overwork. Cook in oven at 400 F for 9 minutes. Remove and drain off drippings.


Prep time: 5 minutes

Cook time: 45 minutes

Total time: 50 minutes


1 cup white onion, diced

3 cloves garlic, minced

1 (16-ounce) can crushed tomatoes


1. Sweat onions and garlic until they turn light brown.

2. Add tomatoes and stir to combine.

3. Roast in oven uncovered at 375 F for 30 minutes. Reduce to 300 F and continue cooking for another 30 minutes. Remove and let cool


1 rabbit confit, meat shredded

Braised beans

Smoked belly, sliced

Black garlic sausage

Tomato mixture

Fold all ingredients together and place in oven at 300 F to warm through. Let stand for 15 minutes before serving. Dress with parsley, bread crumbs and maple syrup.

Main photo: A hearty cassoulet featuring rabbit confit, smoked pork belly and black garlic sausage helps ward off a cold winter night. Credit: Jared Spafford

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