January 07, 2012

So Much More Than Just A Cup Of Coffee

Do you remember your first cup of coffee?  Did you ever stop to think about how many pivotal moments in your life were accompanied with a cup of hot, aromatic coffee sitting at your side?

So many of us love the smell of coffee first thing in the morning! For some it is energizing, for others it is comforting. But what happens when that robust aroma is not expected? You walk into a room in the middle of the day and bam, there it is, coffee! Where does it take you?

The smell of coffee is probably one of the first memories to take up residence in the baby-Toni brain. I find it hard to recall a morning, growing up, that coffee wasn't part of the scenario. I did not partake of the drinking of coffee, just the sniffing, until I was about  14 years old.  We were on a family vacation. We rented a 25 foot trailer and parked it north of Crescent City, California one night on our way to Oregon.  There was a large lagoon on the east side of us, as we slept that night, and the Pacific Ocean on the west side. I had never slept along side the ocean so I spent most of the night listening to the pounding surf and wondered how the water got to the lagoon and if we would be washed out to sea.

In the morning, the fog was thick and the ocean sounded angry.  Mom and Dad were sitting at the little table, warming their hands around their mugs as the steam rose above their coffee. Mom's coffee was black, no cream, no sugar. Dad's coffee; black, two sugars.  I sat there in my light grey jeans and navy blue sweatshirt, just a little shiver going on, not so much from the cold as the "BIG-ness" of the event. Ocean. Fog. Giant Sequoias. Mystical mists that detached themselves from the thick fog and floated towards our little traveling abode as if to probe the contents and determine our purpose for intruding.

Mom handed me a cup filled to the brim, coffee, cream and two sugars.  I wrapped my fingers around that cup and was warmed right down to my toes.  Sipping slowly, I felt the whole world opening up to me.  Instead of feeling like an intruder, I felt as if I belonged, probably the first time I felt like that in over 5 years, since leaving Colorado when I was 9. Not just belonged in California, but belonged on the beach that cold morning in the fog, belonged with those majestic trees. I was not an intruder, I was not an observer but I actually had a relationship with all the wildness of nature, I was in harmony with it. I wasn't afraid, and if the ocean had decided to come wash me away it would be an adventure not a battle.

Just one cup of hot coffee on a cold foggy morning on the ocean....pivotal!

Do you remember your first cup of coffee? What does that smell first thing in the morning do to you?  What pivotal moments in your life were accompanied with a hot cup of java?

January 02, 2012

Ceviche and Resolutions

Happy New Year to all.  2012, has a nice ring,  doesn't it?  My resolution for the new year is to blog more often, to blog those stories and events that I think about and to hesitate less about putting words to paper.

One, two, three....begin!

I am often asked for my recipe for Ceviche, which is raw shrimp marinated in lime and garlic. I thought I would put it down and then when asked how to make the magic I could just say, "Check it out on "musingsfrommara"! Cool idea...or not, but it will save me the time of writing it down each time I am asked!

Warning (and disclaimer):  I don't typically follow recipes and I don't measure, so everytime I cook something it is just a tiny bit different. I am going to list the ingredients and approximate amounts and you can change it up to suit your taste.  (Like the way I put it back on you if it doesn't taste as good as I've promised!)

1.5 pounds of shrimp. I like to use shrimp about 1 or 1.5 inch but you can use large prawns just clean and cut them up in 1" pieces or you can use the teeny weeny cocktail type shrimp. Your call.  I find that the size I use gives you a good bite.
1 large yellow onion
1 large armenian cucumber  or seedless cucumber  (equal to about 1.5 regular cucumbers)
3 or 4 cloves of garlic
4 or 5 stalks of celery
3 or 4 serrano peppers
1 very large red bell pepper
8 limes
3 or 4 or 5 green onions with good healthy stalks
sea salt

Not necessary but certainly suggested would be a couple of cold beers, Pacifico or Tecate, an extra lime and a little salt on a plate....for the cook and helpers!

Night before you are going to serve your ceviche (if you are using pre-cooked shrimp you can do this in the morning-of  but an all-night marination certainly adds to the scrumptiousness and makes the shrimp almost crunchy)....okay, back to night before....clean and peel shrimp, rinse well. This can take awhile if you are not used to it.  A CD of appropriate music can help prepare the mood and enlivens the task, Buena Vista Social Club or Cesaria Evoria  is right on the money. The music will travel down your finger tips, into the prawns and create magic!

Juice 6 or 7 of the limes and cover the shrimp with the juice.  Chop the garlic into tiny, tiny bits and mix in.  Refrigerate overnight.  I sometimes put mixture in a zip-lock baggie with the air all squeezed out but I like the taste better in the morning if I've used a glass or ceramic bowl....probably psychological but, hey, it's my kitchen and I do what I want!!!  Just make sure the juice covers all the shrimp.

Next day, at least 3 or 4 hours before serving get out all your ingredients and prepare your space for singing, dancing and creativity.  Chances are, you may have gone through the Pacifico, or if you had help with last night's prep  you may have shared the Tecate....Good For You!  So, this morning you will need to bring out the Long Island Ice Tea (chill your glass in the freezer, make sure the rum is good stuff  and celebrate the creativity of cooking).  Our musical accompaniment for this part of the dish demands tunes with a touch of Ole'...I prefer Gypsy Kings ....can use say "Bomboleo"?

Let the shrimp stay in the fridge will you chop the veggies. Ceviche tastes the best when it is really really really chilled!  Dice the onion, cucumber, celery, red bell pepper, green onions. Place into large bowl.  I would estimate that for the amount of shrimp about 1 1/2 cups of each veggie should be used.  I scoop all the seeds from the cucumber. Ceviche is all about the crisp of a bite so nothing mushy!

Ceviche was one of the best kept secrets of South America for, apparently, centuries!  Depending on where you are on the continent it is known as ceviche, seviche or even cebiche, but it is know as GOOD...uh, excuse me, BUENO!  MUEY BUENO!    Many consider ceviche the National Dish of Peru, suggesting that ancient indigenous people salted and marinated their fish and the Spanish introduced lemons and limes and the marriage of the two cultures created this marvelous dish. Some historians hold that ceviche's roots are in Arabia.  All I know is that in the making of Ceviche  there should be a great merriment!
When the cook celebrates life, dances and sings and toasts to God and Goddess, the partakers of the dish will be blessed with good food and life's blessings!

You are sipping that Long Island Ice Tea, aren't you?  By now you should have grasped the hand of anyone who has wandered into the kitchen and spun them around in your version of Salsa.  Your hips should be swaying to the music and every now and then arms up and feet stomping.  Kitchen Flamenco is mandatory! Wheelchair bound cooks....no excuses! Snap those fingers and spin! Ole'!

Serrano peppers....Thank You, God, for this little beauty.  I clean all the white membranes and seeds out. Did you know that peppers have been cultivated in South America (Ecuador) for over 6000 years.  Christopher Columbus encountered them in the Caribbean and took some back to Europe where most plants were kept as botanical exotics but the Monks (God bless the Monks!) experimented with the peppers and found them to be a real boost to their culinary arts!  I, personally, can't imagine a life without chili peppers. Maybe, just maybe, the poverty of the European kitchens in the middle ages was the cause of such turmoil such as witch hunts and Inquistitions.  The lack of delicious flavor will, indeed, make one cranky!

Rinse the cilantro and pull the leaves off the large stems.  I don't chop the cilantro as small as the veggies.  I kind of like the look of the wavy leaf here and there in the ceviche.  I chop about a quarter of a cup, loosely, sometimes more, sometimes less. Cilantro is definitely a "to-taste" ingredient.  I like lots, other like it not so much!

Drain the lime juice out of the shrimp. It will have a kind of milky tone to it and milky tones are not appetizing, unless you are talking about milk or vanilla ice cream.  I don't drain it in a colander though because I don't want to lose any of the little bits of garlic. Just tip the bowl and drain out what you can. Now mix it all together, veggies and shrimp mix.  Cut the last lime in half and cut a thin slice for garnishing. Juice the remaining halves of lime and add to mixture.  Add sea salt to taste, garnish with slice of lime and cilantro.  Return to fridge until serving time. Serve with a little salt dish of sea salt and invite your guests to use their fingers to salt the dish to their taste.  Fingers are essential tools to sensuous meals!

Serve as a salad, an appetizer, with chips as a salsa or on a hot day in the middle of summer serve poolside as the main dish with an ice cold beer and a shot of Patron!

Substitutes? Oh so many!  You can add roma tomatoes (remove the seeds, remember no mushy!), roasted corn is a great addition (adds color and taste!), black beans if you are looking for more protein but then you will have some moosh! An orange or yellow bell pepper for color and more crunch.  Sometimes I add a shake or two of dried red crushed peppers or will take another clove (or two) of fresh garlic and add it to mixture with veggies.  Pampered Chef has a wonderful little concoction, Buffalo Rub, and a little spritz of that can add some pizzazz!
I hope you like it!
Oh, if you're really lucky and blessed, your significant other will want to share the event with you and hang out! My husband Frank cleaned and straightened the pantry, discovered some long lost CD's  and hung out with me.

Culinary Hint:  Kissing in la Cocina adds flavor to every meal!