Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Christmas Dinner 2008

The traditional Christmas dinner at the Peregos started at about 3pm. This year we had the pleasure of being with our good friends and neighbors Jeff and Vauna Stam and Treena, as well as Jenna's sister Julia and her family. Here is the menu we all enjoyed:

Toasted bread with walnuts spread
Toasted bread with sea-urchin meat (see photo)
Italian cold meats (prosciutto crudo, pancetta, salame di culatello - see photo)
Shrimp cocktail (Italian style)

Risotto with safron and sausage
Ravioli with ricotta cheese and spinach filling with butter and sauge sauce
Large rotini pasta with cream and smoked Italian bacon (pancetta affumicata)

Pork roast
Turkey roast
Baby carrots sauteed in butter

Christmas treats from Italy (gianduiotti with pear filling, hazelnut cookies, soft chocolate covered torrone, marzipan treats)

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Traveling and Eating Around Europe - September 2008

I have been in Europe for nearly a month now doing several things for work, school and a little also for myself. It has been a very intensive month with lot of traveling, preparing, studying, working, EATING, and with very little quality sleep! It is kind of hard when you have to change bed every one or two nights!! "Luckily" I have been now in Pavia at the university where I am getting my PhD for nearly a week and it has been nice to feel like you don't have to pack and leave the next day. That feeling will soon be gone since I am leaving today to spend the weekend at my parents, returning to Pavia for two more days, leaving for Alghero (Sardinia Island) on Wednesday for a scientific congress, and leaving for the United States the day after I fly back from Sardinia!!! But the words "flying home" are like music to my ears!

I started this month-long trip in Philadelphia, as recorded in my previous entry. After the rocambolesque, but successful attempt to fly to Europe nothwistanding the bad weather, I arrived as originally planned to Italy on Sunday September 7 only to discover that all my luggage did not make the connecting flight in France. That was not good as I was planning to leave the following day for the Czech Republic and I had pretty much only what I was wearing to take with me... Luckily, the luggage did arrive that evening and my parents were so kind to drive the two hour r/t to the airport to recover it for me.

I left as planned on Monday for Wien, Austria, rented a car and drove to Brno, Czech Republic that evening. I was stopped twice by the Czech police late at night. The first time they were just stopping random cars to ensure no one was smuggling anything in the country (interestingly, they removed the custom check point at the border to promote "free exchanges and travel" with other European countries, but then set a police check point about a mile past the border...). The second stop was when I was driving in the historic part of town that was limited to pedestrians and bicycles... One of the two cops had the booklet in his hands ready to give me a ticket, but before he said anything, I jumped out of the car (something that I would probably get shot for in the US) and explained to them that the GPS told me to turn in there and that I was lost on my way to the hotel). The cop did not speak any English or Italian, but I think he got the message. Took my GPS in his hands and in a broken English (more broken than mine!!) exclaimed: "Piece of s***!" and told me to follow their car to the hotel. No ticket was issued!!

The purpose of my short visit to Brno was to attend and speak at the EASR 2008 congress on Science and Religion. Months ago I submitted three abstracts and two were accepted for presentations. It was a positive experience, but the true surprise was to run into Christian Euvrard, who served as mission president in Milan Italy when I was a young child. He was also a presenter at the same congress. It was cool to have two LDS presenting at an interfaith congress dealing with different topics related to religion, but it was even cooler to find a friendly face in a stranger place. I left Brno right after lunch, to drive to Bratislava, where I spent the following two nights.

The drive to Bratislava was enjoyable and fairly quick. The nicest thing was that I could drive in the daylight, not like the night before as I was trying to find my way to Brno. Outside of Bratislava I met with my dear friend Dana, whom I knew from the BYU days. Dana spent two semesters at BYU working toward her PhD. It has been probably ten years since we last saw each other. I remembered that I was the one that left BYU first, going to Italy for a short vacation and Dana returned to her country shortly after. So that was it. I thought we never saw each other again, but there she was again... with her two kids in the car and her big friendly smile! It was sooo good to see her and one of the highlights of my journey through Europe.

I spent two days in Bratislava, meeting with a professor from the Bratislava University about working together to collect Slovakian DNA samples, visiting the beautiful city and eating great food (Dana even made me some Slovakian original Bryndzové halušky). Dana and her husband were wonderful hosts and I truly enjoyed my time with them, their kids and their funny dog Tommy. The only bad thing about this visit was that it was too short. I hope our paths will cross again!

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Porcini Mushrooms Extravaganza!

I am a big lover of Porcini mushrooms. In Italy you can buy them at about $25/lb. Here in Utah I have heard of only one place that sells them and the price is about $50/lb. A couple of year ago, a friend of mine told me that they are found up in the mountains, at about 9-11,000 feet. We did in fact find them back then and it was a very joyous day for me. Yesterday, we planned another trip. Ale Achilli came along. We left work at 3pm and were up past Woodland by 5pm. We found the first 4-5 right on the side of the road. After about 3 1/2 hours of walking among the beautiful pine trees, we felt satisfied with what we were able to find.

We did not get down to SLC until about 10.30pm and stopped at a grocery store to buy some fresh egg noodles. Although we were soooo tired, we could not wait to taste the gorgeous Porcini. We divided them in three groups: those that were going to be sacrified tonight, those that will be eaten tomorrow, and those that were a little older to be eaten fresh and that we sliced up and start drying to eat in the future in soups or risotto. It was a Porcini feast!!

Pasta with Porcini Mushrooms (for 4 people):
- 2 packages fresh egg noodles (we got Buitoni brand - ca. 1/2lb each)
- 1lb fresh Porcini mushrooms
- 2 cloves of garlic (peeled)
- 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
- 1/4 cup finely chopped fresh parsley
- salt and pepper to taste

Boil water for the pasta in a large pot. In the meantime, prepare the Porcini mushrooms as follow: clean the Porcini with a brush or kitchen towel. Remove excess dirt with a knife. Dice the Porcini mushroom and sautee them in a fry pan on medium heat with the olive oil and garlic. Let them cook until tender. Do not overcook or burn them!! Add salt and pepper to taste.

Add pasta to the boiling water. It will cook in less then 3 minutes. Drain and place back in the pot. Add the cooked Porcini mushrooms and stir well. Add more olive oil if necessary. Serve pasta in four bowls and sprinkle with the fresh parsely. Enjoy a trip to heaven!

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Ancona, Italy - August 2008

I am in Ancona, Italy... a lovely city on the Adriatic Sea coastline. I have never been here. I am attending a conference called DNA in Forensics. Lot of great researchers and interesting presentations. The nice perks are the room with a view of the sea and an extraordinary dinner at a local Trattoria with more seafood than I could eat (but I ate it all!!). In this picture I am having a local favorite: l'impiccato (the hangman). It is a bunch of fried seafood hanging upside-down from a metal stick. I was happy!

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Gnoccone Ripieno

This is a first for me, as I came across this recipe lately, browsing through the pages of a new Italian cookbook I recently purchased. Although it did not turn out just like the picture in the book, I was pretty satisfied and I probably figured out where I could improve. This is basically the same recipe for traditional gnocchi, without the frozen spinach (white gnocchi). Instead of making little potato dumplings, you keep the whole dough as one piece and you flattened with a rolling pin (or wit your hands!) until it is about 1/4 inch thick. It is better if you do it already on a kitchen rag as it might be difficult to move the dough once it is flattened (see picture).

At this time you can place on the flattened dough your favorite ingredients. I went for some sliced white mushrooms cooked in butter and garlic, and then finely chopped into a sauce using a blender. I spread the mushroom sauce on a thin layer of shredded mozzarella e Parmesan cheese and topped it with fresh spinach leafs.

Carefully, I rolled the dough using the rag and then tied the two extremities with a string. Make sure the rag is as tight as possible around it. That will give it a nice and firm cylindrical shape to the final cooked product. Place the whole thing into a large pan with boiling salted water for 30 minutes. Remove it from the pan and let it sit, still in the rag, until it has cool down (15-20 minutes). This is an important step as it will ensure that the large rolled dough keeps its cylindrical shape once you untie the ends and remove the rag.

At this point you can slice it and place the slices in a baking pan. Cover with small pieces of butter and with parmesan cheese and baked at 350F for few minutes, until cheese has melted. Enjoy!

Wednesday, April 16, 2008


This is a total knockout dish and one you can't ever get tired of, because there are so many little things you can do differently each time. Crespelle is the Italian adaptation of a France classic: Crepes. As you may already know, crepes can be prepared sweet (for desserts) or plain (for main dishes). This is the recipe for the plain (salty) crepes:

- Butter 40 grams;
- Flour 250 grams;
- 2 cups (500ml) milk;
- 3 eggs;
- A pinch of salt.

Sift flour into a mixing bowl with salt and milk (I used my KitchenAid). Mix well until it is lump-free. In a separate bowl, beat the eggs slightly and then add to the mix. Continue mixing for another minute or so, then remove bowl from mixer, cover with a kitchen rug or plastic wrap, and let it sit for 1/2 hour. Melt the butter in the microwave and add to the mix (stir with a spoon). If you have a crepe-maker, this is the time to finally use it... otherwise you can simply use a non-stick frying pan. If you are using the frying pan, place just enough mix to cover the bottom (help yourself with a spoon, but act quickly as it will harden right away). Cook for one minute on each side. Place on a plate and proceed with the next crepe.

After all the crepes are made (you should have a nice stack of 12-15 of them), you can proceed with preparing the filling (or you can prepare it while the crepe mix is resting). Three typical fillings used for CRESPELLE are ricotta cheese and spinach, ham and cheese, or mushrooms. This time I chose mushrooms. I cooked several sliced white mushrooms in a pan with some butter, dry parsley, and a crushed clove of garlic. When the mushrooms where fully cooked, I placed them in a food processor and obtained a nice mushroom paste which was easy to spread. I took my first crepe and spread half of it with a spoonful of the mushroom filling. Then I folded the crepe in half two times (to obtain a triangle shape). Place each crepe prepared this way in a baking Pyrex pan. In a saucepan, prepare 2 cups of bechamel sauce and pour it over the crepes. Sprinkle the top with some mozzarella or Parmesan cheese (or both) and a touch of dry parsley (for looks). Cover with an aluminum foil and bake for 30-40 minutes at 350. Alternatively, you can place 1-2 crepes (with filling and folded) on each plate and pour a little bit of the hot bechamel on them. Enjoy!!

Wednesday, March 12, 2008


Here is one of my very favorite and simplest recipes: Pesto sauce!! This sauce is delicious with any kind of pasta shapes, particularly linguini. It can also be used as a spread in sandwiches, on pizza, or with chicken. The ingredients I used made me 9 bags of pesto (I can use each bag with one pound of pasta), but this is what you need as condiment for just one pound of noodles:

- 3 packages (ca. 3 cups) fresh basil leaves;
- 1/4 cup of pine nuts;
- 1/4 cup grated or shredded parmesan cheese;
- 2/3 cup extra virgin olive oil (for a low fat recipe, you can substitute half of the olive oil with chicken broth);
- 2 cloves of garlic;
- salt and pepper to taste.

Place all the ingredients in a food processor and blend until you obtain a thick and smooth sauce. Pour on your favorite pasta noodle. Sprinkle additional parmesan cheese on the top of each plate.

Monday, March 3, 2008

Spinach Gnocchetti, Chicken Marsala, Lemon Meringue Pie, and Pistachio Gelato


- 4-6 potatoes;
- 1 egg;
- half package frozen spinach;
- white flour;

Peel and boil the potatoes as if you were preparing mush potatoes. When the potatoes are soft, whip them with one egg and the cooked spinach that you will have previously blended and pureed. Mix well, adding the flour gradually until you obtain a soft dough that does not stick to your fingers. On a well-floured counter, take small pieces of dough and roll them in the flour into a snake shape about the thickness of your finger. Cut with a knife every 3/4 inch and pass the individual pieces in the flour. Place them on a cookie sheet and freeze them. When hard, you can remove them with a spatula and place them in separate zip lock bags ready to use. To cook: boil water with a couple of TBSPs of salt. When the water boils, drop frozen gnocchetti and cook until they began to float. Drain and serve with your favorite sauce. Eat immediately. My favorite sauce is melted butter flavored with sage leaves... Yummy!!!


- 8 small pieces of chicken breast (chicken finger style similar to those used for the Chicken scaloppine);
- one cup white flour;
- one cup cooking Marsala wine;
- one package of white mushrooms, sliced;
- chopped fresh or dry parsley;
- one cup of butter;
- 2 TBSPs of minced garlic;
- 2 bouillon cubes.

Melt 3/4 of the butter in skillet or a large non-sticky frying pan and add the cubes. Pass Chicken in flour and place in the pan. Cook slowly until fully cooked (turn it once or twice). Increase heat and pour Marsala wine. On a separate pan, cook mushrooms in remaining butter with garlic and parsley. When mushrooms are done, add to chicken and serve together.


- 0ne shallow pie crust;
For the filling:
- 50 grams (2 TBSPs) white flour;
- 90 grams (3 TBSPs) potato or corn starch;
- 200 grams of white sugar;
- 3 cups boiling water;
- a pinch of salt;
- 3 eggs yokes;
- 1 lemon peel
- 8 TBSPs lemon juice;
- 1 TBSP butter;
For the meringue:
- 3 egg whites;
- 5 TBSPs of white sugar;
- 1 TBSP lemon juice.

Bake the pie crust following the instructions. Let it cool down. Prepare the filling as follow: in a sauce pan mix sugar, flour, and starch. Add the boiling water little at the time stirring continually. Keep stirring while cooking on low heat for 15 minutes. In a small bowl, beat the egg yokes and add few spoonfuls of the mix. Pour beaten eggs with mix in the suace pan and stir vigorously until you obtain a thick cream. Remove from heat and add the lemon peel, the lemon juice, the salt, and the butter. Mix well and pour inside the baked crust. Prepare the meringue as follow: beat the egg whites with a pinch of salt and one TBSP of lemon juice until firm. Add sugar and mix gently. Cover the pie with the meringue and sprinkle additional sugar on the top. You can caramelize the meringue by placing it back in the oven at 350 for 15 minutes or until the meringue is golden. Alternatively you can use a cooking torch (that is what I did). Refrigerate for few hours. Serve cold.


The base recipe is the same as for the other gelato flavors I made in the past (see for example the Oreos Gelato one). After placing the gelato custard base in the ice-cream maker, let it freeze for a while and five-ten minutes before the ice-cream is ready, add one package of Pistachio flavored Jell-O. I know it sounds silly, but I guarantee you will be pleasantly surprised!

Friday, February 29, 2008

Chicken Scaloppine

As many other bloggers have probably already figured it out... you only get the chance to write a blog entry on February 29th once every four years... So here is my chance too and I want to celebrate it with one of my very favorite recipes: chicken scaloppine!!

Recipe for four people:
- 4 chicken breast halves or 8-12 pieces of chicken tenders;
- 1 cup of butter;
- 4-5 fresh sage leaves (optional);
- 1 bouillon cube;
- 1 cup cooking white wine;
- 1 cup white flour;
- 1 cup whipping cream or half and half (optional).

Cut the chicken breast in small pieces and tenderize them (about 1/4 inch thick) or use the chicken tenders directly. Pass them in flour. Melt the butter in a large non-stick frying pan (I use my wonderful Cusinart electric skillet). Add cube and sage to butter, then the chicken. Cook at low-medium heat until chicken is fully cooked (turn it an cook it on both sides). Increase heat to medium and add wine. Keep miving the chicken around the pan to make sure they won't stick to it. Let wine evaporate and decrease heat to low-medium. For a richer sauce, stir cream in it and continue to cook for few more minutes. Serve hot. (Mushpotatoes make a great side dish).

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Oreos Gelato and Italian Hot Chocolate

The base for the gelato (Italian ice-cream) recipe is similar as the one for chocolate gelato:

- 4 egg yokes;
- 180 grams of granulated white sugar;
- 1 tsp of vanilla beans or 2 tsps of vanilla extract;
- 1 and 1/2 cup skim milk;
- 1 and 1/2 cup whipping cream;
- 10-12 Oreo cookies broken in small pieces.

Beat the eggs with sugar and vanilla at high speed (I used my Kitchen Aid mixer). Decrease speed and mix in milk and cream. Pour in a sauce pan and cook on low-medium heat until cream thickens. Stir continually! Place cream in a bowl and place bowl in a ice bath. Stir occasionally until cream is cold. Add to cream to the ice-cream maker. When cream begins to freeze, add the crumbed Oreos. Don't eat it all at once and make sure to share it with others!!

This is definetely another family favorite, particularly in this long Utah winters! In Italy, you would just go to a pastry shop or a bar with your friends to have hot chocolate.
- 2-3 cups milk (any kind, but I prefer whole milk);
- 1 1/2 Tbsp of corn or potato starch (white flour would do it to);
- 2 Tbsp of unsweetened Hershey's cocoa powder;
- 4 Tbsp of sugar;
- 1 cup whipping cream;
- Ground cinnamon powder.

Place the milk, the starch (or flour), cocoa, and 3 Tbsp of sugar in the blender at the lowest speed. Place mix in a sauce pan and cook on low-medium heat stirring continually until hot and dense. Whip the cream with the remaining sugar. Pour hot chocolate in mugs with a generous amunt of whipping cream. Sprinkle a touch of cinnamon on the top. Enjoy heaven!!

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Pasta al Forno, Ragu Sauce, Bechamel Sauce, Creme Brulee', Four Cheese Pasta, and Spaghetti Carbonara

Another weekend at home with lots of time to play in the kitchen... what more can a man wish for? Because of work and school, weekends dedicated to "wholesome cooking mental therapy" are not taken for granted around here. Here is what I came up with in the past couple of days:

1. Pasta al forno (baked pasta);
2. Creme brulee';
3. Four cheese pasta;
4. Spaghetti Carbonara;
5. European style hot chocolate;
6. Oreo's gelato.


It seems that I have been making a lot of this lately. It is a complete meal and it can be stored in the fridge or freezer for that one last minute meal during the week when there is no time to make dinner. I try to make it a little different each time as to keep my hungry crowd interested. By the way, in case I did not mentioned that before, Costco has the absolute best Italian pasta ever. The brand is Garofalo and it is imported from Naples, where they have been making it since 1789 using the old fashion brass equipment to shape and cut the noodles. Believe it or not, the price is better than what you would pay for it in Italy and it is very hard to find it in Italian grocery stores... So you can imagine my surprise when I learned about it and found right here in Utah! :

- Penne pasta;
- Ragu' sauce (meat sauce);
- Bechamel sauce (white sauce);
- Shredded mozzarella cheese;
- Shredded Parmesan cheese;
- Dry basil.

For the Ragu' sauce:
- 2 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil;
- 1 carrot finely chopped;
- 1/4 onion finely chopped;
- 1 bouillon cube;
- 1lb lean ground beef;
- 2 cans of tomato sauce (15oz. each);
- salt and pepper to taste;
- 1 pinch of sugar.

Saute the carrot and onion in the oil in a medium size sauce pan. Add the bouillon cube and ground beef. Stir well until beef is brown. Add tomato sauce and 1/2 can of water (about 1 cup). Add salt, pepper and sugar. Continue to cook on low heat for at least one hour, stirring occasionally.

For the bechamel sauce:
- 1/2 cup of butter;
- 1 tsp of nutmeg;
- 1 pinch of black pepper;
- 1/2 cup of white flour;
- 1 qt. milk.

Place butter, nutmeg and black pepper in a sauce pan and melt on low heat. Mix half of the milk with the flour in a blender and add it to the butter together with the rest of the milk. Stir continually on low-medium heat until sauce thickens.

Putting it all together:

Cook and drain pasta. Mix with Ragu' sauce and place in a pyrex pan (13x9). Pour the bechamel on the past with the help of a large spoon. Generously sprinkle the cheeses and add a touch of dry basil for color and taste. Cover with aluminum foil and place in the fridge or freezer until ready to eat it. At that time, bake it for 1 hour at 350F, remove foil and bake for another 15 minutes, or until cheese has melted.


This is one of our family favorites!! We are probably going to eat it for family night on Monday.

- 3 cups whipping cream (you can use half and half if you want to cut down on the amount of calories and fat...);
- 6 egg yolks;
- 1 cup sugar;
- Pinch of salt;
- 1 and 1/2 tsp vanilla.

Cook cream in a saucepan until hot, without boiling. Mix eggs, sugar, vanilla and salt in a mixer at high speed. Slowly stir in the hot cream. Strain the mix through a tea colander and fill 8 ramekins. Fill to about 1/2 the height 2 medium or 1 large pyrex pan(s) with water and place ramekin with cream for a hot water bath. Place pyrex pan(s) on medium rack in the pre-heated over (300F) for ~60 minutes. Remove pan(s) and let sit until water cools down. Remove ramekins from water bath and cover each one with surround wrap. Place in the fridge until ready to eat (they can stay in the fridge as long as 2-3 days). When ready to serve, remove plastic wrap and sprinkle the top with 1 Tbsp of sugar. You can caramelize the sugar with the classic torch (I got mine as a Christmas present a couple of years ago and I love it!) or by placing the ramekins back in the oven and broil the sugar for a couple of minutes, keeping the oven open and making sure you don't over cook it.


- 1lb Rotini pasta (fusilli);
- 1 Tbsp butter;
- 1/2 tsp nutmeg;
- 1/2 bouillon cube;
- pinch of black pepper;
- 1/2 cup of whipping cream;
- 2 oz of cream cheese;
- 2/3 cup of shreeded mozzarella cheese;
- 1/3 cup of Parmesan cheese;

- 4-8 oz of your favorite cheese (in the past I have used Swiss, or Brie, or Gorgonzola cheese). Since I was making this for my children, I used Cheedar cheese.

In a small saucepan, melt the butter and add the numeg, pepper and cube. Add the cream and the cheeses. Stir continually over low heat until all cheeses melt and the sauce is rich and thick. Cook pasta and drain. Mix cheese sauce in and enjoy immediately.


We made this as a side dish for some friends on Sunday evening.

- 1 package of spaghetti (1lb);
- 4 egg yolks;

- 4oz of Pancetta (Italian cured bacon). You can use regular bacon if you like, but it won't be the same. Sorry. I buy my Pancetta at the deli counter at Harmons. They carry the Boar Head brand, which is really good. Have it cut paper thin.
- 1 cup whipping cream;
- 1/3 cup of Parmesan cheese;
- 1 clove of garlic, minced
- Black pepper and salt to taste;
- 2 Tbps of extra virgin olive oil.

Mix egg yolks, cream, 1 tbsp olive oil, cheese, salt and pepper in a bowl. Set aside. Cut pancetta in small pieces and place it in a fry pan on low-medium heat with oil and garlic. Cook pasta and drain. Mix in the cream sauce and pancetta and serve immediately.

I will talk about the Oreo's gelato and the hot chocolate tomorrow as it is getting kind of late and I am tired (and full). Buonanotte.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Valdostane and Berries Sherbet

For tonight's dinner I prepared two simple dishes with what I had already at home. The main course was my own version of the Valdostana steak:

- 6 small steaks tenderized;
- 6 slices of Swiss cheese;
- 6 slices of ham;
- Extra-virgin olive oil;
- 1 Bouillon cube.

I placed the tenderized steaks in olive oil and sprinkled the Bouillon cube on them. I cooked them in an electric skillet at low heat. When the steaks were nearly ready, I placed a slice of ham and a slice of cheese on each steak, turned the skillet to "warm" heat and covered it to let the cheese melt. I served them with a mix of sauteed vegetables.

For dessert I prepared a berries sherbet:

- 1/2 liter of water (ca. 2 cups);
- 400 grams of granulated sugar (a little less tha one lb);
- 250 grams of frozen berries (Costco mix: raspberries, blueberries, and blackberries) (a little more than 1/2 lb);
- Dry or fresh mint leaves (optional);
- 1 Tbsp of lemon juice;
- 2-3 Tbsp of orange juice (optional).

I boiled the water, sugar and one Tbsp of dry mint leaves for about 5 minutes to make the syrup base for the sherbet. Then I passed the syrup through a tea strainer into a bowl to remove all of the mint leaves and added the frozen berries. Following this step will quickly cool the syrup down. I also added the lemon and orange juice and let the berries and syrup "rest" until completly cool. At this point I blended the whole thing obtaining a rich berry mix similar to a smoothie and placed it in my icecream maker. You can decide to strain the berry mix before placing it in the icecream maker if you prefer removing skin and seeds. However, I like to leave them in for the texture and color they provide to the sherbet and because they are a great source of antioxidants. My kids loved it!

Mexico City Trip (February 8-10, 2008)

Last weekend I had the opportunity to take a short three-day trip to Mexico City, visiting a colleague of mine (Edgar). The main purpose of this trip was to meet with a couple of researchers from Mexico who are doing extensive DNA research on native populations. Mexico counts about 190 diverse ethnic and linguistics groups and it is a true gold mine for population geneticists. Although the trip was fairly quick, my friend packed the time with interesting activities.

The first nice thing was about this trip was that Delta gave me free upgrades to first class for both legs of my flight. Not bad...

I arrived at the Mexico City international airport on Friday afternoon. Mexico City has a lot of traffic and 25 million people that are trying to move quickly to where they need to go... I loved their taxi system made up mainly of grey and white old VW bugs. At every corner, you have people selling food or small day to day items. It is nearly impossible walk on sidewalks as that is the place for the small street vendors. Before Mexico City was built, there was a large lake in this valley. Gradually, the Aztecs brought land in and dry parts of the lake. The city's transportation system was based on the numerous canals that divided each lot of land. Today, most of the lake is gone, but a small section outside the city maintained the canal system with pictoresque boats for tourists to ride. Since I was a tourist, I went on such ride...

Dinner was also a special treat as we ate in an old building called the Tile Palace, which at one point was the residential home of a wealthy Spaniard family.

Edgar came over fairly early on Saturday morning to pick me up at the hotel where I was lodging (the Sheraton in the historic part of town). We spent the whole morning and part of the early afternoon meeting with the two researchers I came to meet. We discussed Native American haplogrouping, collection strategies and a couple scientific papers they recently published.

After our nearly 6 hours meeting, we traveled outside of Mexico City to a place called Teotihuacan, which houses one of the largest and nicest archeological sites of Mesoamerica. The two largest building are the Pyramid of the Sun and the Pyramid of the Moon, which Edgar and I both climbed. My legs were sore for the following three days... I found a site that has some neat information about this place (HERE). I got myself some small souvenirs, including a complete set of Aztecs gods carved in volcanic rock. I hope they will bring me good luck... :)

If you don't die from falling off the pyramids, they will finish you in here...

For dinner we went to a place called La Gruta (The Cave). This area has many natural caves that were used by the Aztecs as storage for food and other items, and also as a basement to some of the pyramids they built (used often as burials). This is one of the most interesting places I have ever dined at. We walked two stories underground in a semi-open cave packed with colorful chairs and tables. Dinner was also an interesting experience. We had fried pig skin with guacamole as an apetizer and then I ordered a Mexican sampler as the main dish. I also tried a dish called Mole... which is some sort of tortilla filled with chicken and smothered with a chocolate-base sauce... Not my favorite thing at all...but not bad enough to ruin the overall eating experience.

When I thought I gave everything I had to the day and I was happily getting closer to my hotel, I realized that Edgar had more plans for the evening (it was about 9pm...). We took the subway and visited a station with some models of the city of Mexico through the centuries. Then we walked around the historic center, visiting some more ruins, cathedrals, historical palaces, and some weirdos doing Woodoo like dances on the street. Lastly, we went through the traveling museum/display/exhibit of Ashes and Snow, which this year is hosted by Mexico City (in 2002 it opened in Venice, Italy and it has been in several large world cities since then). If you have never heard of it, you got to check their website at Ashes and Snow. What a surreal experience that was. The music, the images, the videos, the building... it was a walk in a different dimension. The artist, Gregory Colbert, spent years of his life documenting the interaction of animals and humans and his best pieces are part of this great show. If you will ever have the chance, you must go through one of this exhibits!! We completed the dinner with some Mexican flan at the Restaurant/Bar "La Opera."

Sunday was the day of departure. My flight was at 4pm. Edgar suggested we spent the morning touring the Anthropological museum, which is one of the finest collection of Paleoindians and Native mexicans culture and history. It was a journey through the history of this country and continent, something I really appreciate doing since my bulk of doctorate research is based on the genetic history of these people.

I flew home sleeping like a baby and with my mind filled of wonderful imagery from one of the most beutiful and diversified places on earth. This was my third trip to Mexico, but my first one to the country capital.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Baked Pasta, Cream Puffs, and Raspberry Pie

These last few days have been quite uneventful, I think... Last Saturday I spent another afternoon in the kitchen playing around with whatsoever I would find in the pantry and refrigerator. These are the most satisfying moments: when I am not planning any particular dishes and not grocery shopping for a particular recipe! Just looking around the house and getting some good ol' inspiration. My mother is the best at that. I remember looking around the house for a snack and finding little or nothing in the fridge or in the cupboards...then, she would call the family around the table for dinner, and voila'...some great meal was magically there...

I started with some baked pasta, lasagna style, using a large bag of frozen tomato sauce I made last summer from the tomatoes from our garden. While the sauce was cooking in a saucepan, I cooked some ground beef with olive oil and minced onions, carrots, and garlic. It smelled wonderful! I combined the beef with the sauce and let them "mingled" together on low heat for a while. In the mean time, I made some white bechamel sauce using butter, milk, flour and a pinch of nutmeg. Since I did not have any lasagna noodle around the house, I cooked some regular pasta, rotini shape, and mixed the tomato/beef sauce in it. Then I placed the pasta in a pirex pan (9x13) and poured the bechamel sauce on the top. I completed the thing with a generous amount of shredded mozzarella and parmesan cheese and a touch of dry basil leaves. I ended up making two pans just in case and we ate one on Sunday and gave the other one to a neighbor.

Then I got a craving for cream puffs. I made two large cookie sheets of them. The recipe is quite simple:

- 1 cup of water;
- 125 grams of butter;
- 1 pinch of salt;
- 150 grams of white flour;
- 4 eggs.

First, you boil the water with the butter and salt. Then you add the flour all together and you mix vigorously to remove all the lumps. While continuing to stir, cook for another 5 minutes, until the dough does not stick to the pan. Place it in a bowl and let it cool down. Add the eggs, one at the time, and stir vigorously until the mix is smooth and silky (I used my Kitchen Aid mixer with the flat attachment). With a chef's icing bag, I made little mounds the size of a walnut (about 1.5 inch from each other) on two greased cookie sheets and baked it for 20 minutes (until golden) at 350F. Do not open the oven!! I let the empty cream puffs cool down on a cooling rack and preapred the filling by mixing a vanilla flavored custard (I made my own, but you can use a Jell-o mix) with freshly whipped whipping cream (sweetened with powder sugar). This was a richer version of a Chantilly cream. With my chef's bag, I filled each puff and placed them in the refrigerator for Sunday dinner. We ate them with a lightly sprinkle of powder sugar on the top.

Sorry for not taking pictures of the two final products described above... I just did not think about it, but I will do it next time... promised.

Instead, I do have a picture of the raspberry pie I made using a broken crust I found in the freezer (it was quite a job to fix it up before I baked it). I used the leftover Chantilly cream from the cream puffs to fill the pie crust and then a bag of frozen raspberries I found in the freezer. I covered the whole thing with a light layer of fruit gelatine to keep the raspberries together until dinner on Sunday night (yep, we had two desserts!!):

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Joshua's Cooking!!!

My little Joshua.... How proud I am of him!! Following in his father's footsteps with his desire to experiment (or "play" as Jenna refers to it) in the kitchen. Here is his very first recipe, found in a children book: Bell Pepper Fantasy! He was sooo excited when he discovered that we actually had the ingredients in the refrigerator to make it:

- One green bell pepper
- One red bell pepper
- One carrot
- As much Ranch salad dressing to fill a bell pepper!

Cut the top of the green bell pepper and remove seeds (kind like a small bucket). Fill 3/4 of it with the Ranch salad dressing. Cut the carrot and the red bell pepper lengthwise in small sticks. Place inside the Ranch salad dressing. Enjoy!! Thank you Joshua!! You are quite the little chef!

Photo by Joshua

Monday, January 21, 2008

Pizza Time

I asked my boys what they felt like eating for Sunday dinner and they responded in one voice: PIZZZZAAAA!! So, Pizza it was. I made two kinds: a traditional cheese pizza with thin crust and slices of Mozzarella di Bufala and one that was a variant from a Calzone.

The dough is simple to make. I used my Kitchen Aid mixer with the dough hook attachment and placed 4 cups of white, all-purpose flour in the mixing bowl. In a tall glass, I combined lukewarm water with two Tbsp of dry yeast and let it sit for a couple of minutes. I added the water + yeast to the flour with a couple Tbsps of extra-virgin olive oil, mixed the whole thing and added few more Tbsps of lukewarm water as needed, until the dough was elastic to the touch and did not stick the the side of the bowl. I covered the bowl and let the dough raise for about 30 minutes. In the meantime I gathered everything I needed for the topping and the filling.
For the tomato sauce I used two 8oz can of tomato sauce (one for each pizza) mixed with some extra-virgin olive oil, minced or powder garlic, dry oregano, salt and pepper. I also add my shredded mozzarella cheese. When the dough was about twice the size and nice and fluffy, I flattened, cut the two ends (and kept them for the thin crust pizza) and spread the tomato sauce, cheese, and more extra-virgin olive oil to seal it:

Then I folded the edges over, placed the calzone on a greased cookie sheet, poured some more oil on the top (for a flakier texture), and baked it for 20 minutes at 400 degrees. I placed the thin crust pizza in the oven later and baked it for about 12 minutes:

Of course, "someone" wanted to help...