Andes Plane

HI! I hope everyone had a wonderful 4th of July! Peru and Ecuador were so amazing. My best friend Megan and I almost ripped up our return tickets back to California so we could stay longer! I’m going to share the details of the trip with you so please bear with me as there will be about 6 posts related to the trip coming up in the next two weeks. Normal posts will be resume after!  :) 

Piriwana Hostel CuscoPiriwana, our Hostel in Cusco

Our first destination in Peru was Cusco. We shared 6-person room in our hostel that consisted of 3 bunk beds and a private bathroom. Our room opened into the courtyard (pictured above) which was fun because there were always people hanging out there. Megan I ate the hostel’s complimentary breakfast in the morning which included unlimited bread with margarine and jam, cereal, coffee and mate de coca. Mate de coca, or coca tea, is awesome! It helps with altitude sickness and gives you energy so we drank this almost everyday in Peru. Cusco is just a little over 11,000 ft. in elevation so I immediately noticed the thinner air but didn’t feel any altitude sickness except for shortness of breath (quite possibly just due to my lack of exercise).

We were fortunate to be in Cusco the week before Inti Raymi, Cusco’s huge celebration of the Winter Solstice, so that we could see all of the pre-festival parades and events. Locals prepare for this festival throughout the year, so when it happens, it’s huge!! During our stay in Cusco, we saw parades that went all day, big events in Plaza de Armas (the city’s main square), and it was the first topic of conversation when we talked to anyone in the city. There were performances and parades everyday so it was really exciting to see so much of Cusco’s cultural festivities when we walked around.

Performance in the city's main square, Plaza de Armas

Performance in the city’s main square, Plaza de Armas

Kids dancing in the parade

Kids dancing in the parade

The crowds during the parade

The crowds during the parade

While in Cusco, we also checked out the Mercado de San Pedro, a local market in Cusco. It basically has everything you’d ever need. There are isles of textiles, rows upon rows of little stalls that serve as restaurant stands, fresh meats, veggies, grains in bulk, and more. There were a lot of locals here eating at the food stalls, sitting on stools elbow to elbow while they enjoyed their hot soups (caldo), freshly made juices (jugo), and meat dishes.

I think my favorite part of the Mercado de San Pedro might have been the meat/butcher section. It wasn’t like anything I’ve ever seen before! There were organs laid out on display, animal heads, and even brain–we had to brace ourselves! It’s fascinating though.

Mercado de San Pedro Cusco

octopus

In terms of textiles and souveniers, this market was a little more expensive than the others we visited so Megan and I went back to a market that was closer to our hostel to buy a few gifts. Ummm, we ended up buying WAY more than we intended. Oops.

san francisco mercado

After we dropped off our new finds at the hostel, we headed to Los Toldos, a rotisserie restaurant that serves amazing pollo a la brasa (roasted chicken). The moment you walk in, you can see all of the chickens that were previously roasted, and a new batch on the spit with the juices and fats dripping into the fire. I ordered the 1/4 pollo a la brasa which came with fries and a few types of dipping sauces, and Megan ordered chicken soup. Both of our dishes came with an unlimited salad bar too!

polllo a la brasa

The pollo a la brasa was incredible! So juicy and tender. Plus, the portion was huge. The 1/4 pollo dish cost 14 soles (about $5 USD) and I couldn’t even finish it.

After lunch, we made our way to the San Blas area so we could make a dinner reservation at Pachapapa, a place that we heard served delicious “cuy” aka guinea pig! Yep, guinea pig is a delicacy in Peru so we figured we had to try it. We made a reservation for later that night and put a 50% deposit down for the guinea pig. When we got to the restaurant for dinner, we were seated on an outdoor patio with heat lamps. You could also see where the chefs were cooking the cuy over the fire which was kind of neat. We ordered causa rellena (a potato dish) as an appetizer, our first pisco sours of the trip, and a chicha morada (a traditional, non-alcoholic drink made out of purple corn).

Pancha Papa in Cusco

Pancha Papa. Can you see the oven in the back?

cuy

Dinner was fantastic! The cuy was tasty but I wouldn’t exactly say we could see ourselves craving it in the future. They bring it out to you on a platter so you can take pictures and then they cut it into smaller pieces so it’s easier to eat. I can’t really compare it to anything I’ve eaten before but I guess you could say that it subtly resembles the taste of duck or quail. This was one of 2 meal splurges during our trip, and we were not disappointed. After we ate, we rolled ourselves back to our hostel to pack our day packs, leave our backpacks at the hostel’s storage room (because you can’t bring them on the train), and get ready to head to Aguas Calientes around 5am in the morning.

Meg Steph Cuy

—————————————————-

Then the 12 Hour Panic!

After we got on the bus that takes you to Peru Rail (the train that takes you to Aguas Calientes) in the morning, the bus was stopped after about 45 minutes of driving and we were told that all of the buses had to turn around due to a mudslide that happened the night before. The train is the only possible way to get to Aguas Calientes, which is the entrance town to Machu Picchu so we…sort of freaked out!!

Panicked from the fact that there was a chance we wouldn’t be able to see Machu Picchu during our trip, we tried to figure out alternative routes with the help of a wonderful woman from Australia that spoke better Spanish than us (I hope she made it to Machu Picchu the next day!). We asked the Peru Rail employees if we could walk past the mudslide or take a taxi all the way to Aguas Calientes but were told that the train was the only way in and out of the city–unless we wanted to cab 4 hours and then treck through the jungle for another 3 hours. And that was not going to happen so we went back to Cusco and were forced to frantically taxi around the city trying to change our hostel reservations, bus tickets, and Machu Picchu entrance tickets. Luckily, everything worked out and we were able to put Machu Picchu off for a few days and head down to Puno/Lake Titicaca instead! We had already planned on heading to Puno but not until after Machu Picchu so we were happy it all worked out.

Our overnight bus to Puno didn’t depart until 10pm that night, so we were able to check out some more areas of Cusco. We went to the cacao factory and bought/sampled a ton of delicious chocolate. We also got to visit the coca museum and learn about the history/importance of coca leaves in Peruvian culture!

Next stop…Puno and Lake Titicaca! :)

[Normal blog posts will resume in 2 weeks but I have a few recipes for you next week as well!]

This past weekend was awesome. And blueberry season has officially begun!

Blueberries Morning Light

What started as Girls Night In (proof here) became such a fun adventure in helping out at the Sierra Cascade Blueberry Farm stand at the SF Ferry Plaza Farmers Market last Saturday! Some of you may remember that I also helped Armen at the Berkeley Farmers Market last year. Armen is Will’s (my good friend and college roommate’s) mom.  And this year, we joined Will’s dad, John, at the Ferry Building.

As much as I missed Armen’s wonderful personality and natural ease when chatting with her devout blueberry fans this time around, the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market was such a fun experience!

Ferry Building Farmers Market

I’ve gone here on the weekends before but have never been on the selling side of the stand. We go to our spot and started setting up at 7:30am on Saturday morning. We couldn’t have asked for a more gorgeous day. The morning light…was ah-mazzzz-ingggggg.

Amanda Nicole Carolyn Blueberries

 Amanda, Carolyn, and Nicole pictured above.
John (the farmer!) below.

John

Of course, Nicole and I had to show off the goods….

Nicole Steph Blueberries

Blueberries

These blueberries taste amazing too. And they’ve been certified organic for over 20 years! (See blueberry mojitos and blueberry pie recipe if you’re in the blueberry mood.)

As I mentioned last year, helping this family sell their blueberries is truly incredible. Customers come up left and right asking for John and Armen…wondering how their sons are doing, what’s new on the farm, and just being genuinely happy that the Sierra Cascade blueberries are back at the market. The blueberries were 3 weeks early this season too, something John and Armen haven’t seen in previous seasons before.

Amanda, Carolyn, Nicole, and I had a blast dishing out these blueberries to everyone. So much so that we sold out half an hour before the farmers market closed! Even though it’s blurry, I couldn’t help but post the picture of all of us below.

Blueberry Stand Group

The rest of the market was fantastic as well. As a vendor, it’s really exciting to trade your produce with the other vendors. We walked away with delicious cheese, fresh veggies, and some killer lox sandwiches.

Cherries and Bread

There was also an awesome stand, EatWell Farm, that came by our table and chatted with us for a while. The sweet gal then came back with homemade naturally-fermented probiotic drinks for all of us (pictured below)! So nice of her and so glad I got to taste the Cherry Lavendar flavor they make. Seriously, that’s the true spirit of a local farmer and sustainable friend right there. Plus, I’m keeping the cool glass bottles to put flowers in at home :)

Cherry Lavender EatWell

We also got to see a lot of the chefs and kitchen staff of all the local restaurants get to the market early so they could get first pick of the best produce. It was really cool to ask what restaurant they were from. flour + water even stopped by and bought a flat of blueberries! I almost fainted. That gives you an idea of the quality of these blueberries :) Here are some more photos from the Farmers Market:

Carrots

eggs

Open Faced Lox Sandwiches
Group Photo Ferry Building
After we left the Ferry Building, we went and ate dinner at Bask in North Beach with even more college friends (one who flew in from Wisconsin!), and then my parents came to the city on Monday so I got to spend some time with them. Lots of food, sun, and great times this weekend.

How was everyone else’s long weekend?

Blackberry Mint Spritzer

This week was a two dinners in one night kind of week. Literally. Pad Thai at 5:30pm and then 3 amazingly delicious pizzas (split between 9 of us) around 9pm on a Wednesday night. I mean, my co-workers and I were hanging out in North Beach and since that neighborhood is the home of Little Italy, we had to check out Tony’s Pizza. I don’t regret a thing. And yeah, my co-workers love food as much as I do!  It’s awesome.

Blackberry and Mint Spritzer

This week I watched the Great Gatsby! That soundtrack is…wack. I mean it’s good but weird. Jay-Z produced it? I can tell! Overall, I liked the movie though. There were a few scenes that didn’t fit but it was a good movie! Now when I see a pic of Leo I can’t imagine him without his Jay Gatsby accent…old sport.

This week we also saw Guy Fieri at the food truck park by our office! He was filming an episode of Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dive. I don’t even really watch that show but I thought it was awesome that he was there (Guy is actually from my hometown Santa Rosa!). I watched him drive back and forth 5 feet at a time trying to record the intro to the show, and I also snapped some pics. It was fun :)

Blackberry Mint Spritzers

This week I mis-read my own recipe and baked up a disaster. A salty distaster, friends. The kind that you just have to toss in the trash. Note to self: Don’t attempt to make cookies when watching the Sharks game. Ugh.

This week I made this Blackberry Mint Spritzer! It’s so refreshing and bubbly and easy to drink. This spritzer is the perfect fake fancy drink to make if you’re looking for a last minute drink recipe on Memorial Day weekend! AKA it tastes and looks awesome but is suuuuuuper simple to make. Fruit, mint, and bubbles. Delish. I didn’t add any alcohol in it but if you want, just swap out 1.5 oz (a shot glass size) of the sparkling water for rum or vodka and you’ll have yourself a refreshing cocktail to start your weekend with. You could also pair this drink with these red, white, and blue chocolate dipped strawberries for a festive snack!

The week still has more adventures to come. A few of my college friends are coming into the city tonight and we’re going to have a girls night! Not like a let’s-hit-the-town girls night…but more of a 80-year-old-grandma girls night. My favorite kind of night. We’re going to order some take out, put on a chick flick, catch up on each other’s lives, and probably go to sleep at 10pm. Glorioussssss!

What are you up to for the 3 day weekend? Happy Friday!!

Blackberry Mint Spritzer
 
Ingredients
For the Simple Syrup (makes enough for 4-6 drinks)
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup water
For the Spritzer (makes 1 drink)
  • 5 blackberries
  • 10 mint leaves
  • 1/2 lime, juiced
  • 1.5 oz simple syrup (a little less than 1 shot glass!)
  • 1/2 cup sparkling water
  • Ice
  • Garnish (optional): extra mint leaves, 3 blackberries, lime slices

Instructions
For the Simple Syrup
  1. Comine the sugar and water in a small pot and bring mixture to a boil. Stir when needed.
  2. Once it boils, turn down the heat to low for about 2 minutes and let simmer until all the sugar is disolved. Let cool to room temperature.
For the Blackberry Spritzer
  1. Combine the blackberries, mint leaves, and simple syrup in a cup. Using a muddler (or the back of a wooden spoon), muddle everything together, squishing the juice from the blackberries and mint leaves.
  2. Then add the sparkling water and fresh lime juice.
  3. Fill the rest of the glass with ice, garnish with some sprigs of mint, a few black berries, a slice of lime and serve immediately.

Notes
Pro Tip #1: Use more or less simple syrup depending on how sweet or tart your blackberries are — taste testing is encouraged! Pro Tip #2: If you want to make this an alcoholic drink substitute 1.5 oz. of the sparkling water (about the size of 1 shot glass) with your favorite rum or vodka.

Chocolate Stout Cake with Baileys Chocolate Ganache

It’s March. WHERE HAS THE TIME GONE?! Life is weird and Mercury is in retrograde but this cake makes up for all of it. ;) Plus, this weekend is St. Paddy’s Day so it’s a perfect excuse to make some cake. This cake is delicious and super rich so all you need is a small slice (aka it will feed a huge group of people)! Three layers of a moist, fluffy chocolate stout cake with rich and creamy chocolate ganache in between. Oh, and did I mention that the ganache has irish cream in it???

If you’re looking for a cake that really tastes like Guinness or Baileys Irish Cream, you’re in the wrong place. The addition of stout and Irish cream in this particular recipe just really brings out a deeper and richer chocolate flavor overall. That’s actually one of my favorite aspects about it.

Ganache tip #1: There is a point where the ganache is too soft to spread on the cake but then too hard to spread evenly so I would test it out on the extra layer (YES, there’s an extra layer!) before you start putting it on the actual cake.

Ganache tip #2: You’ll want to but don’t eat too much of the ganache before you put it on the cake! This recipe makes JUST enough..but if you want thicker ganache, I suggest making 1.5-2x the recipe listed below.

Every once in a while I get the urge to make a dessert totally and completely over the top. This was one of those times. After contemplating on adding a 4th layer I resisted but only because I didn’t have enough chocolate ganache. So yeah, this cake comes with a bonus layer–do what you wish with it (cake pops, anyone?).

Let’s get festive for St. Paddy’s Day! :)

Chocolate Stout Cake with Baileys Ganache

This recipe was adapted from Oui, Chef.

Chocolate Guinness Cake with Baileys Irish Cream Chocolate Ganache
 
 

Serves: 12

Ingredients
For the Stout Cake:
  • 2 cups stout (A 14.9oz tall can of Guiness is the exact amount!)
  • 2 cups (4 sticks) butter, unsalted
  • 1 1/2 cups unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 4 cups sugar
  • 1 tablespoon baking soda
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
  • 4 large eggs
  • 1 1/3 cups sour cream
For the Ganache:
  • 2 cups heavy cream
  • 1 pound bittersweet (not unsweetened) or semisweet chocolate, chopped
  • 1/3 cup baleys (optional but encouraged)
  • sprinkles (again, optional but encouraged)

Instructions
For the Ganache
  1. In a large saucepan, bring the cream to a simmer over medium heat.
  2. Remove from heat and then whisk in the chocolate until everything is incorporated.
  3. Refrigerate the icing until it is at a good consistency to spread – about 2 hours (stirring every 20-30-mins).
  4. [you could also make this the night before and then microwave it for 15 second intervals until it softens to the right consistency - that's what I did!!].
For the Stout Cake
  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
  2. Butter 4 6-inch pans and dust with cocoa powder.
  3. In a large saucepan, bring the stout and butter to a simmer over medium heat. Add the cocoa powder while whisking until everything is incorporated. Allow to cool slightly.
  4. In a separate bowl, mix the flour, sugar, baking soda, and salt together.
  5. In another bowl, beat the eggs and sour cream together using a hand mixer. Slowly add the Stout/chocolate mixture to the egg/sour cream bowl and beat just enough to combine.
  6. Then add the flour mixture a little at a time, using a rubber spatula to fold and mix everything together (don’t overmix!).
  7. Divide the batter in the prepared pans (I filled mine about 2/3 of the way up).
  8. Bake for about 30-35 mins or until a toothpick comes out clean after being inserted in the middle. Then place the cakes on a cooling rack for about 10 minutes. After that, release the cake from the pans and let them cool completely on the cooling rack.
To Assemble the Cake
  1. Once the cakes are cooled, even out the top of each layer so that it is flat by using a large knife.
  2. Place the first layer on a plate or cake stand. Spread a layer of ganache on the top. Repeat for the other two layers.
  3. To frost the top/outside of the cake, place a large amount of ganache on the top and then spread it from the center to the edges, allowing excess ganache to go over the edge and onto the side of the cake.
  4. Then add more ganache (as much as needed) to finish frosting the sides of the cake.
  5. Optional: Top with some fun festive sprinkles.
  6. Let ganache set (about 15-30 mins) and then serve!

New Years in Tahoe – One Year Ago (Photo Credit: My good friend Willie)

Another year has come and gone even though it feels like January 1, 2012 was just yesterday! But my oh my so much has happened this year. As I launch this post, I’m in tahoe again for the fourth year in a row! Last year there was no snow at all and we went on hikes instead of to the ski resorts but this year has proved to be quite the opposite. Snow everywhere! YAYYY!

This is probably my favorite part of the year. Hiding out in a cabin, surrounded by a group of fantastic friends, ending 2012 and welcoming 2013 all at the same time. It’s crazy to think that it’s been a full 2 years since I started this blog! And I’m so glad I did. It’s a place for me to release my thoughts, post fun recipes, and share a little bit of me with you. :)

Thank you for reading along, all of your wonderful comments, and the encouragement to keep on blogging! This year has been an exciting one!!

Here are some 2012 highlights (woot woot!):

I discovered this spicy chipotle pesto, and it goes so well on pizza, bread, pasta, and so much more. It’s also nice and spicy!

I made sushi in Santa Barbara for my best friend Megan’s birthday.

I hosted a hot pot dinner for my entire family (aunts, uncles, cousins, and all!).

My love for blueberries has grown even more after helping out at the local farmers market. And also after making these blueberry mojitos below. And then a blueberry pie after that.

There were many weekend getaways and “camping” trips this year! :)

I’ve found my go-to cookie recipe and have made dozens of these salted dark chocolate chip hazelnut cookies throughout the year.

backpacked Big Sur with great friends and it. was. so. beautiful.

I switched jobs…TWICE this year! You knew about the first one, but I never mentioned the second job change. It was very sudden but exciting! So now I’m currently at another startup in SF called Get Satisfaction. And I LOVE IT! I love the people, the atmosphere, and what I do so it’s quite perfect. Below is a picture of part of my team and me on a team building off-site. Yep, we went sailing…

This baked pumpkin mac and cheese with sage is one of my new favorite mac and cheese recipes. It’s such wonderful comfort food with a touch of fall in each bite.

And my favorite highlight of 2012 was this year’s Holiday Project/Auction. I just love holiday spirit and I felt so much of it this year. So many individuals from all over the country came together for a good cause and a fun online holiday food auction. I’m so thankful to everyone who participated and contributed to this event! It truly made my year. Together, we raised over $3,000 for The Leukemia and Lymphoma Society and Lori (pictured below).

2012 was an awesome year but I have a feeling 2013 will be even better! :) I’ve got some fun recipes up my sleeve and can’t wait to share them with you.

Happy New Year, friends!!! Let’s make this year a great one!

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