When I peel shrimp, I think of Uncle Johnny.

Actually my great uncle, and Hawaiian, I was eight years old and helping him peel shrimp in his Los Angeles home when he stopped me.

“You’re throwing away good meat,” he said. He picked up one of my discards, pulling at the tail fins and twisting the shell. There, under the telson, the small pointed section at the tip of the shell, was meat I had tossed aside.

I felt such pride when I was able to replicate his technique and earned a nod of approval. From that moment I haven’t peeled shrimp without endeavoring to leave the tail meat attached.

Which brings me to this shrimp ceviche. It’s everything you could ask for in a summer meal — seafood, cilantro, lime, avocado, tomatoes at their best — and the only equipment it requires is a chef’s knife and cutting board. An added bonus? You’ll get to practice your shrimp peeling skills.

Family tensions effectively ended my relationship with Uncle Johnny. But when I peel shrimp, I don’t think of the man who didn’t let us say goodbye to my aunt. I think of chocolate-covered macadamia nuts, train tickets to Hawaii, and the sunny afternoon when he taught me how to peel shrimp like an islander. [click to continue…]



How rude of me

by April on August 28, 2011

Have I not introduced you yet?

Meet my husband, Luis.

I must introduce you because more often than not, he is in the kitchen with me. We watch cooking shows together, think an afternoon at Sur la Table is a good time, and dream up culinary adventures both near and far. He’s my Paul Child.

But I love him for more than his culinary skill. He makes me laugh harder than anyone (yes, including Steve Martin). He speaks Spanish. He never fails to open the door and always thinks to do things like walk my friend to her car because she’s by herself and it’s late. He says the J.CREW models are too skinny. He has a quiet confidence, never boastful. He’s perfectly content right where he is, but goes along with my crazy plans anyway.

He is most definitely my favorite.



Food in film: Kings of Pastry

by April on August 21, 2011

A documentary about a pastry competition might not sound like compelling cinema, but you’ll find yourself rooting for your favorite chefs, feeling the heartbreak of a shattered sugar sculpture, and on the edge of your seat as the winners of the prestigious Meilleurs Ouvriers de France (M.O.F.) competition, or Best Craftsmen in France, are announced.

Created in 1924, the Meilleurs Ouvriers de France began as a way to preserve the standard of French artisan trades. The pastry competition is considered one of the most rigorous of the M.O.F. contests. There are coaches, assistants, and the entire process takes two years—it’s the Olympics of pastry.

In Kings of Pastry, we follow three of 16 French pastry chefs as they travel to Lyon for three days of making chocolates, sugar sculptures, candies, and cakes, hoping to be declared the best by President Nicolas Sarkozy and awarded the blue, white and red striped collar. (Luis commented that in the States, the president meets and congratulates Superbowl winners.) This isn’t your grandma’s birthday cake, we’re talking serious artistry. Chefs take a ball of sugar and blow it into a figurine like glass artists and spend hours diagramming and baking their creations for the contest only to take a couple bites, critique it, and throw away the rest to start again.

One of the finalists, chef Jacquy Pfeiffer, cofounder of Chicago’s French Pastry School, travels to his hometown of Alsace six weeks before the contest to practice. I particularly liked what he said in the beginning of the film about the food culture in France: “The idea in France is to eat the best possible on a daily basis, but just in small quantities so your brain is happy,” he explains. “You don’t starve yourself and then eat like a pig at the all-you-can-eat on Saturday night. That doesn’t exist in France—they don’t exist, all-you-can-eat.”

Two other finalists profiled are chef Regis Lazard, competing again after dropping his sugar sculpture the first time, and chef Philippe Rigollot from Maison Pic.

I don’t want to spoil the end by telling which of the three chefs win the title of M.O.F., but I will say this film will give you a new appreciation for great pastry artisans and the work that goes into perfecting their craft.



I recently wrote about how this native Texan can’t stand to hear people complain about the heat. Then I complained about the heat. Long story short: worst drought since 1895, the year the state began keeping records, and 50+ days of 100+ temps this summer.

I keep thinking of bears, hibernating in caves to conserve energy. Only I’m hibernating in my house to prevent heatstroke. The upside? These paletas de piña couldn’t be more appreciated or taste more delicious than they do right now, and no oven required.

It looks like an ice pop, right? Oh, but paletas are so much more than ice. Translated as “little stick,” pineapple paletas are made from fresh fruit and sugar. Instead of the idea of a pineapple—some overly sweet juice concentrate—you get the whole piña.

Unfortunately even in Texas there isn’t a paletería on every street corner. But they couldn’t be easier to make—the hardest part is waiting for them to freeze.

Up next, arroz con leche. Who’s with me?

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Free-Form Stone-Fruit Tartlet

by April on August 14, 2011

Some of the best desserts are the ones that keep it simple, and it doesn’t get much more simple than a celebration of summer in fruit-tart form.

And because the days are long and lazy it seems even more fitting for rustic dessert of ripe fruit sitting atop a delicate, flaky pastry crust, with little concern for perfect edges. In fact, the more imperfect, the better.

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