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Category Archives: Culinary Hopscotch

Wheels Up in Less than a Week!

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Dorm Microwave and FridgeOne week from today, I’ll be sitting in sunny Orlando at our first day of JetBlue training. I’m in the process of getting organized and not the least bit worried about packing, which is why I have time for this blog. Yes, this is abnormal for most females, but I packed in a carry-on for three months when I went to Europe for Culinary Hopscotch. I figure this should be a drop in the bucket.*

The thing that has me the most perturbed isn’t what I’ll wear on the first day of school or if I’m going to forget all of the airport codes when I get there. It’s how I’m going to eat for three weeks. You didn’t think I’d let this get too far from Culinary Hopscotch’s original roots, did you?

Here’s the deal. Breakfast is included at the hotel, but we’re on our own for lunch and dinner. Seems fine, but I refuse to subject myself to Tony Romas and other airport-adjacent chain restaurants for 21 days. My waistline and palette can’t handle it. And when you factor in that our rooms only have a microwave and a fridge, I get a familiar, September 1998 feeling, like when I flung open the door to my UCSB dorm for the first time.

Drastic times call for drastic measures, so I’ve conjured up a manual, we’ll call it, to help me think of things I can easily prepare with these rudimentary appliances. Hop into the suitcase, PETA’s Vegan College Cookbook…you’re coming to Orlando with me! Turns out that finding a microwave-friendly cookbook is, ironically, kind of a PITA.

While I won’t “Let PETA turn (my) room into the campus destination for amazing vegan food” (it seriously says that), I’m hoping that the “on a budget” and the “most complicated kitchenware you’ll ever need is a microwave” advertisements pan out. Screw the parts about stocking my mini fridge with things that never had a pulse and not putting metal in the microwave; I’m appliance-challenged, not an idiot. Or maybe I am. I spent $10.50 of my hard-earned American money on a book with a recipe called “Brainy Bac’n Cheese Toast.” Top one slice of bread with tomatoes, fakin’ bits, and cheese. Microwave and top with the remaining slice of bread.

Here’s hoping I don’t toss PETA in the trash on my way to a heaping plate of Tony Romas’ ribs. Or worse, use the book as a placemat.

*I’m also checking bags for the first time in about five years thanks to a business-casual dress code

Cooking at Casa de Colores

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Due to technical difficulties, I cannot get the photos off my camera. I will update the post with my actual pictures as soon as I can. In the meantime, this is the grinder at the tortilleria where we sampled the amazing Nixtomal corn tortillas!

After spending a week in Cabo at perhaps the most ridiculous house I’ve ever stepped foot in, I had an epiphany: working after a week of vacation reminds me that I’d rather be on vacation. I think I’ve been holding onto this post in my head as a way of prolonging the week we spent doing nothing. Well, almost nothing. Between Coronitas and dips in the pool, I managed to sneak in a cooking class. And boy…I’m glad I did.

If you ask an American what Mexican food is, you’ll get a different answer depending on the geographic location of the person you’re interviewing. In middle America, Tex-Mex is all the rage, but a Californian would hang you for trying to pass off  anything as Mexican that wasn’t fresh tacos or a bulging burrito. And then there’s actual Mexican food that doesn’t resemble either of these things.

My Cabo cooking class was titled “Mexican Comfort Foods.” Not having a ton of experience in the genre, short of what I filled up on at Gay and Larry’s growing up (RIP), I wasn’t really sure what I was in for. I met Donna in the parking lot of a large grocery store near downtown, and truth be told, I wasn’t sure who I was looking for, how many people were going to be in our class, or what we’d be doing that day. One of my favorite parts about taking all of these different classes around the world is that no two have proved to be the same yet. And this was no different.

Once we assembled our group, Donna had me jump into her car and she whisked us over to an authentic tortilleria for lunch. Lunch? I thought I was going to a cooking class. Smart not to argue, we pulled up to the al fresco restaurant and sampled some of the freshest tortillas this side of Oaxaca. The “Tortilla Goddesses,” as Donna so dubiously named them, barely speak English and turn out hot corn tortillas straight from the comal. They start by making their own Nixtomal, a mixture of corn, limestone and filtered water that’s passed through a grinder. That’s their masa, and this technique has been going on for thousands of years thanks to the Aztecs. There I was, literally eating history. My God, history tastes good.

From there, we headed back to Casa de Colores, or “House of Colors” in Spanish, where Donna lives. Her charming abode is perched on a lookout in Cabo and you can see all the way to the ocean. It’s also aptly named–the terracotta exterior is trimmed with colors borrowed from the rainbow, and in Mexico, this aesthetic just works. She conducts the cooking classes from the upstairs part of her house in a well-equipped kitchen that is perfect for groups of about six people. That day, there were five of us and Donna.

When we arrived, she served us a delicious Agua de Mandarinas “fresh water” to wet our whistle and get us ready for a serious dose of Mexican comfort classics. We started with a discussion of the comal, a word she uttered at the tortilleria that left all of us scratching our heads. Whether industrial sized or plate-sized, a comal is a staple in a Mexican kitchen. Put simply, it’s a disk of steel that you cook on with dry heat. We immediately put the comal to work with roma tomatoes, a white onion, serrano chilies, and garlic. We were making a cooked salsa!

After we blistered the ingredients on the comal, we transferred them to a blender and pulsed it all together. The juice from the tomatoes served as the liquid, and what we tasted was smokey and fresh. To deepen the flavor further and thicken it up, we “fried the salsa” for 10-15 minutes in a Tbsp of oil on the stove top. It really did the trick, enriching the flavor and deepening the impact.

That was our fresh salsa, but we also had a discussion and worked with dried chilies. I think one of the most common misconceptions is that Mexican ingredients like the ones we used are hard to find. Guilty of the same assumption, I was wondering where I was going to find dried guajillo chilies in Portland. So you can imagine my surprise when I flipped open the Penzey’s Spice catalog that came in the mail to find they sell them there…right up the street. I also happened to spot Nopales (cactus paddles) in our regular old Safeway yesterday too. So, there you have it…even in rainy Portland, we’re cookin’ Mexican!

Back to the guajillos. These deep red peppers are fairly mild but have a great flavor, and are very popular in Mexican sauces. Donna pulled out a few dried ones, we smelled them and felt their texture, and then we chopped them up. We reconstituted them with boiling water from the stove, and let them sit for a bit to come back to life. This “Devil Salsa” that we were putting together was a cinch. We pureed the chilies in a blender with their water, and then passed them through a sieve to strain out the tough parts of the skin that no self-respecting human would want to chew on. From there, we simmered the sauce for a bit and that was that. We would turn our salsa into a masa dumpling soup, use it later on our chile rellenos, and Donna also mentioned that we could use it to make “Camarones Diavola,” or devil shrimp served over rice. Another option: add chicken stock and turn it into a tortilla soup. “Devil Salsa:” the gift that keeps on giving!

Another enlightening part of this class was the chile relleno. I remember my Grandma Elsie always ordering this dish, but I never really knew what it was. With my childish, undeveloped palette, I never asked to try it, but suspected that it was a deep-fried chili pepper stuffed with cheese. I was sort of right. The only difference in the traditional Mexican version is that it’s coated with a fluffy egg mixture that creates an omelette around the chili when it’s fried in the hot oil. A lot of restaurants will take short cuts and bread and deep-fry a chili to pass off as a relleno. It’s a cheap knockoff though, kind of like plastic shoes that cut your feet.

If you’re headed to Cabo, take a break from the chi-chi’s and guys selling your name on a grain of rice. Make some time to venture out of the mayhem and sample some authentic Mexican cuisine.  At Casa de Colores, you’ll learn about a tortilla environment, discuss moles, and talk a lot about Mexico’s culinary culture that stretches from border to border. And you’ll also start to realize that although Mexico borders Texas, it scoffs at anything Velveeta or Rotel related.

Casa de Colores…A Tasty Corner of Cabo

Email Donna at for a schedule of classes

Cabo Cooking Class: Booked!

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Despite this pretty mild winter we’ve had in the Pacific Northwest, I’m really looking forward to our upcoming trip to Cabo. It pays to have family members who bid on ridiculous auction items like the mansion at the Palmilla where we are staying. Ok, I don’t really know if it’s a mansion officially, but it’s a grande casa for sure.

I figured while we’re there, I better scout out a cooking class, which is exactly what I did. Here is the description of what I’ll be cooking:

MEXICAN COMFORT FOODS- Foods that taste like home in Mexico include corn masa antojitos like Tlacoyos con Salsa Verde (delicate turnovers of blue masa stuffed with yellow fava beans served in a green sauce a colorful Central Mexican street favorite), Ensalada de Nopales (fresh nopal cactus salad with bright, crisp vegetables), Albondigas (savory meatball and vegetable soup) and Tortitas de Papa en Salsa Roja (crisp fried potato-cheese cakes with a red sauce)… and maybe even Minguichi (strips of roasted poblano pepper in a melted cheese sauce Michoacan style, delicious tucked into hot tortillas).  For dessert caramelized roasted Camotes (sweet potatoes) and cream.  Yum!

As I’m sure you can imagine, this Southern California native is dearly missing her daily dose of quality Mexican cuisine. So, in between sunning myself on the beach, catamaran cruises, and downing copious margaritas, I’ll be rolling up my sleeves until I’m elbow-deep in masa. Stay tuned for the blog about my adventure!

Banging Around a Berlin Kitchen

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Overdue is normally a word reserved for library books, but it’s fitting here, as the cooking class that I took in Berlin happened the Friday before Thanksgiving. That was November 18th for those keeping track, meaning I’m a solid month behind schedule in getting this posted. Demerit.

I guess I could blame it on the fact that I’ve been busy translating the recipes or making a failed attempt at piecing the marathon seven-hour long evening back together. But neither of those are really true. Minus part of the piecing, but that took place on my RyanAir flight from Berlin Schoenefeld back to London EARLY Saturday morning when the alarm went off. I found myself scratching my head wondering how a harmless cooking class turned into nearly a full day’s work, three full-course meals, and more bottles of wine than we properly counted, but hopefully paid for. At least I hope someone did.

Just getting to this class was a victory because it had been on my list during the original installment of Culinary Hopscotch. But as these things go (and went on that trip), Berlin was smack dab where my bank account reached an all-time low and I mentally began the journey home. There were no funds for the Kochen & Würzen class that time, but this trip to Berlin would be different. I was on a mission; I had a second chance at my class, on a day when Blane Gish (an American expat) was hosting, and I would be there to cook alongside him. I was doing it come hell or high water.

And I did…with two of my American friends, and about 10 of our newest German ones. It was, hands down, the most rammed cooking class I’ve been apart of, with the exception of my demonstration-based classes where you could hardly see let alone get your hands on a whisk. Being that Blane was an expat, I had assumed the class would be taught in English. It was. Kind of. Since 7/8’s of the class was German-speaking, he conducted the class that way, with random English commentary sprinkled in. Despite wondering what the hell was going on for a good portion of it, I was in awe of his command of the German language. It’s something I want desperately to learn, but my God, it’s a major pain in the ass with all of those cases. I digress. Sort of. Blane handed my friends and I the recipes, and low and behold, they were entirely in German. We looked at each other, had a laugh, and decided to get on with it. Surely there was a plan for us Amerikaneren.

Basiskurs feines Geflügel

Gebratene getrüffelte Perlhuhnbrust an Kürbis-Lauch-Risotto

Wachtel aus dem Ofen, gefüllt mit Prosecco-Sauerkraut und Thymiankartoffeln

Entenbrust mit Zimt-Orangensauce, Pommes Dauphin und Gemüse der Saison

Ouittenmousse mit Cranberry-Kompott

Yep, those were the dishes we would be making that evening, and our method of finding our way around the kitchen and the recipes was to pair up with a German ally, and be shown the ropes that way. It worked, until my partner began pouring glass after glass after glass of wine, which made for a comical evening. Especially when we washed and dried the Wachtel (those are Cornish Game Hens for the uninitiated) together, laughing mostly about the English name for which I had no explanation. We walked through the recipe together, me pointing out the few German food-related words I did know, and her marveling at the fact that an American could even piece together a sentence or two of her native tongue.

After we  banged around the smallish kitchen, our class of 12-13 came together on three separate occasions over a fully prepared meal in the dining room. There was, of course, more wine to go with them. When the third of the three meals was nearing completion, I had a look at my phone. It was nearly 1:00 a.m., and it made sense to me why Blane had asked early on if we needed to be out of there at a certain time. No, no…we could catch a taxi home, so we weren’t on any U-bahn time constraints. But it all made sense now, and I could hear the nagging chime of my cell phone alarm bellowing at 5:45 a.m., telling me it was time to get up, surely hungover, for my early morning flight. Tick one for foreshadowing.

If you find yourself trolling Berlin’s duplicitous city streets–the ones that once forced out foreigners but now offer them staggering autonomy, the ones that once hid behind a wall that no longer stands, the ones who know their storied roots but watch progress grow where things have fallen down–make it a point to find Kochen & Würzen. You’ll learn your way around a German kitchen, but also find a place where everybody knows your name even when you can’t remember it yourself.

Find Yourself the Spice Monkey

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There has got to be a way for me to convince Nikita to open a Spice Monkey in the USA. First things first: convincing him to give me the recipe for the flat rice snack we had. I’m vowing to figure it out.

Today, I traveled far from Fulham to Alexandra Palace. My beginners Indian cooking class was at Nikita’s family home, and I knew upon entry that I was in for a truly authentic experience. His adorable tiny mother, Mrs. G, acted as sous chef, and despite my early arrival, they welcomed me in from the impending rain. While we were chatting, I had a look at the table that was covered in an array of colorful spices, the nucleus of any Indian recipe. Clearly, spices were going to be a large part of our conversation.

Our class took place in their greenhouse, and there were just three of us and Nikita, which was fabulous from a learner’s vantage point. We spent a solid hour pouring over the different spices, their taste, their texture, and their origins. He had everything, from dried coriander and two kinds of cardamom to mustard seeds, fenugreek, and ground red pepper. Let us not forget turmeric; my hands and nails are currently stained a gorgeous yellow hue. He even had fresh turmeric, which I had never seen nor tasted before, but it was amazing. I presumed it was ginger by it’s looks, but as they say, “don’t judge a book by its cover.”

From these spices, we created a variety of masalas. Garam masala is probably the most common and widely recognised, and in a grinder, we made our own version after toasting the different seeds in a dry pan. We also created a version that we didn’t toast at all, and it was great to be able to compare and contrast the two with our noses. Much of what we did today was sensory oriented. It was a wonderful way of getting familiar with so many spices that we have seen, heard about, or shoved to the back of our cupboards after using them just one time. One of Nikita’s biggest points was not to get overwhelmed by the options; use what you like that day, and if you leave something out (like we did a few times), c’est la vie.

Our menu today consisted of aromatic rice, Mrs. G’s chicken curry, cauliflower bhagi, potato curry, and shrikanda, an Indian dessert. I had no idea that Indians had such a sweet tooth, but evidently, that is the case, and randomly, I think the dessert may have been my favourite dish. Most people think of curry as blow-your-head-off hot, oily, and generally difficult to prepare, but I learned today that none of that is the case. In fact, with some thoughtful planning, I think an Indian feast would be the perfect way to entertain. We need to be more adventurous with our palettes in America, and it would be nice if you didn’t have to drive ten towns away to find a decent curry. I always lament that when leaving London because there are about as many Indian places here as there are Mexican joints in California. Are all of them good? Now, I think we all know the answer to that one.

Point being, don’t be discouraged when it comes to experimenting with Indian food in your own kitchen. Try your hand at it with a cookbook and only buy small quantities of the spices until you decide which combinations suit your taste best. Better yet, if you can swing it, make a trip to Spice Monkey and take a class. You’ll be happy you did. I can’t tell you how much easier it was to learn from an expert and see things firsthand. I will be back for another class with Nikita, mark my words.

For now, I’m hanging up my apron to head back to America. Next stop: California followed by a more permanent stop in Portland, Oregon. It may be time for a move into the culinary world, because with each of these classes, I realise more and more that this is what I’m meant to be doing whether it’s stirring, writing, teaching, or otherwise.

The Spice Monkey

Culinary Hopscotch Continues!

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I cannot wait for June. I just can’t. Not only are we heading to Capri to see our good friends tie the knot, but we will also be spending some time in London. 

It’s an amazing city…a favorite in fact. And despite the stereotypes about the food, I’m planning to take some cooking classes while I’m there. 

Keep your eye on the blog for the latest and greatest!

Happy Holidays from Culinary Hopscotch

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I’ve been backed-up with holiday functions for the last five days. And being that I’ll be out of town for Christmas and recently moved into a new place, I decided to have the girls over this evening for a home-cooked meal and a holiday gift exchange. 

The weather in California is dreary at best right now, and while looking out the window and thinking about what to make tonight, I’m realizing that this is the first break in the rain that we’ve had in a few days. What to make? Something cozy. Something comforting. Done.

On the Menu: 

  • Mache Salad with Citrus Spring Onion Vinaigrette & Avocado
  • Cornbread
  • Goat Cheese & Chive Smashed Potatoes
  • Mini Turkey Meatloaves 
  • Homemade Chocolate Lollipops with Slivered Almonds, Peppermint-White Chocolate Dust & Fleur de Sel 


Mache is a tender lettuce also known as lamb’s ear. I first used this in Bordeaux during my cooking class, and have been wishing for it ever since. Perhaps I didn’t search well enough because I found it today at Trader Joe’s in the bagged salad section. It’s grown hydroponically so sometimes you’ll find it in plastic cartons with the sponge still attached. Just snip it off. 

For the dressing, combine the juice of a lemon, 1/2 cup of extra virgin olive oil, 1/4 cup of spring onion, one small clove of garlic, minced, and season with salt and pepper. Whisk to combine and pour over the mache topped with slices of avocado. 


I cheated and used boxed cornbread mix. It’s just as good and makes things simple, freeing up my time and attention for the rest of the meal.

Goat Cheese & Chive Smashed Potatoes

Before you get jumpy about how fattening these sound, just know that these potatoes are surprisingly figure-friendly. Goat cheese is lower in fat than you think, and I opted to use Yukon Gold potatoes that are a good source of Vitamin C. You can peel the potatoes, or leave the skin-on, which is what I did because I like the variation in texture. The goat cheese helps the milk and butter make the potatoes creamy, and the chives give it a punch of color and a punch on your tongue. 

Cover the potatoes with cold water and boil until fork tender, approximately 15-20 minutes. Drain and return to pan. Add in 5 ounces of goat cheese, 4 Tbsp of butter, and start with a 1/2 cup of milk. Season with salt and pepper. Mash with a potato masher, or you can mash them with a fork. Add more milk if necessary, and stir in the chives when you achieve the desired consistency.

Mini Turkey Meatloaves

One of the challenges of cooking for a group is that not everyone likes the same things. This person doesn’t eat red meat, this person doesn’t like mushrooms, and so forth. It’s an ongoing challenge. Tonight, I’m making meatloaf work for everyone by using ground turkey. And I’m livening it up by making the mini meatloaves in a muffin tin. Charming, quicker, and a good way to portion the meatloaf: winner.

My meatloaf recipe is a combination of ground meat (turkey this time), garlic, shallot, onion, Panko breadcrumbs, egg, ground sage or poultry seasoning, and salt and pepper. Using your hands, combine it in a bowl until just mixed. Over-mixing will cause the meat to become tough. Spray a muffin tin with non-stick cooking spray, making sure to coat it well. Drop the meatloaf mixture into each cup, taking care not to pack it down too much. Bake at 350 degrees for 25-30 minutes, or until a toothpick or knife emerges clean from the center. 

Chocolate Lollipops

This recipe came from Ina Garten as part of her ‘Barefoot in London’ episode on The Food Network. For people who hate to bake (myself included), this should be your new go-to dessert. It’s incredibly simple. 

Take 12 ounces of semi-sweet or white chocolate chips and place in a microwave-safe bowl. In 30-second intervals, microwave the chocolate, stirring in between. Repeat three times, and add 4 more ounces of chocolate. Allow it to melt, and stir with a rubber spatula until smooth and completely melted. Spoon the chocolate onto a parchment-, wax- or Silpat-lined baking sheet, and insert a lollipop stick. Give it a little turn to make sure it’s covered in chocolate. Decorate with nuts, dried fruit, or additional candy, and allow to harden for approximately 45 minutes to an hour. I chose slivered almonds, a sprinkle of fleur de sel, and I used a microplane to shave white chocolate-peppermint flakes over mine. They look like they sat out in the snow.
Bon appetit! 

I hope these recipes give you ideas for one of your remaining meals of 2010. And if you run out of time, give them a try in 2011. Happy holidays from Culinary Hopscotch!