Chefs Of Mexico Dinner Series

Through his Chefs of Mexico Series, Chef Erwin Ramos of the Ole Restaurant Group is taking diners on a journey through the various regional cuisines of Mexico with some of Mexico’s best chefs. This past Sunday night, he brought chef/author Fany Gerson of La Newyorkina to Zocalo.

Gerson, who graduated from the Culinary Institute of America, has worked in restaurants including Eleven Madison Park and Rosa Mexicano and has written two cookbooks: the James Beard nominated My Sweet Mexico and Paletas: Authentic Recipes for Mexican Ice Pops, Aguas Frescas, & Shaved Ice. She dreams of owning a little shop and selling paletas (Mexican ice pops) at it, and she's well on her way with a number of street carts (in New York).

I was invited to this dinner as media and brought Jeff along with me. I was excited to see what these two chefs could do together. Gerson and Ramos presented a four-course dinner highlighting the cuisine of Mexico city, which Gerson described as "a melting pot." She explained that it's where people take the dishes they grew up with and add a little twist.

We started the evening with lime chia agua fresca. I had actually never had chia seeds and was interested to see what the drink would be like. It was very refreshing and surprisingly smooth. It reminded me of a lime version of lemonade. Jeff, who had also never tried chia seeds before, even had a second glass.

To kick off the meal, we were served an amuse-bouche of house-made masa filled with roasted tomato salsa and topped with cactus leaves and cotija cheese. Cactus leaves were another first for me. Their texture reminded me of a peeled, cooked pepper. I thoroughly enjoyed this little bite, with its balanced combination of flavors.

Our first course was fresh tuna tostadas with fried leeks, avocado, and guajillo aioli. The tostadas were perfectly salty; the tuna fresh and silky; and the fried leeks, aioli, and avocado worthy accompaniments, each adding their own notes and textures to the dish. This ended up being both my and Jeff's favorite course (and he thought he didn't like raw tuna!).

Our second course was crema panna cotta and roasted beet salad with tangerines, spiced candied pepitas, and honey vinaigrette. Like the first course, this salad had a lot of flavors and textures going on, but they mingled nicely. The crema panna cotta was tangy and a little salty and had a texture more like sour cream or yogurt than panna cotta. Its tangy, savory flavor complemented the sweet beets and tangerines. The whole dish had just the right sweet/acidic balance. And it was plated beautifully.

For the main course, we had a choice of duck or pork belly in a green sauce with potatoes and spinach or achiote-marinated shrimp (and the menu noted that a vegetarian option was also available). Jeff chose the duck and I went with the shrimp. Rice was set on the table to accompany the entrees.

The duck was perfectly cooked, though we both wished the skin was a bit crispier. The green sauce was incredibly hot, and I was relieved I hadn't ordered it because I really couldn't handle that much heat. Jeff tackled it well though.

I was a little disappointed in the achiote-marinated shrimp. It came with plantains, a black bean sauce, and pickled red onion. The components were nicely cooked, but I found the flavor a little monodimensional. It could be that I just expected more after the tuna tostadas and beet salad, which were both full of various flavors. The dish was still good though... I just think it needed a little punch.

When it came time for dessert, we could not escape the heat. Plates of chipotle boca negra with sweet tomatillo sauce and whipped cream were presented to us. I've had Mexican chocolate cakes and cookies before but never any this hot. There was fire in each bite of the decadent chocolate cake. The sweet tomatillo salsa and whipped cream only helped slightly to cut the compounding heat. This is definitely a fabulous dessert for you heat-seekers out there. I wimped out about halfway through.

Fortunately, that was not our only sweet treat. Gerson brought some of her paletas on the trip with her, packed with dry ice, and bowls filled with the hibiscus, coconut, and mango pops made the rounds. Jeff tried a mango pop, and I opted for hibiscus (how can you say no to that gorgeous pink color?). The mango pop was cooling at first but ended up having some spiciness to it toward the center. The hibiscus pop was sweet and refreshing... and I wish I had a whole fridge of them. I also wish I had bought Gerson's book so I could make them at home. (I'm adding it to my wish list and will likely get it when we have our own house and I have somewhere to put it!)

The night was full of interesting dishes and new-to-me ingredients. It was fun to see the collaboration between the two chefs. Just from hearing her talk, I can tell that Gerson is very passionate about her culture and her cooking. She seems energetic, happy, and full of optimism. Maybe by the time I get a chance to head to New York, she'll have her shop all set up.

If you're interesting in attending one of the dinners in the the Chefs of Mexico series, there will be two more. These will be held on June 24 and July 29 at Ole and will feature Poblano and Oaxacan cuisine, respectively. Guest chefs Maria Elena Martinez and Pilar Cabrero will join Ramos in the kitchen. The dinners are $40 per person and start at 6 pm. Head over to Zocalo's event page for more information.

This dinner was complimentary, but as always my opinions are my own.

What's your favorite Mexican food?

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Balsamic-Marinated Flank Steak

Balsamic-marinated flank steak

Hope you all had a fabulous Memorial Day Weekend! I had an amazing one -- from a mini bachelorette party, which I will definitely tell you all about soon, to a day of shopping with my future mother- and sister-in-law. 

I really didn't do any cooking this weekend, but a couple weekends ago, I found a great new recipe for the grill (in Food & Wine magazine). On these hot, hot days we've been having lately, I've been so grateful that Jeff's parents' have a grill for us to use. It's so nice to be able to hang outside and make dinner instead of being stuck in a hot kitchen. And even better that Jeff helps out with a lot of the grilling so we spend more time together, as opposed to our usual arrangement of me cooking and him cleaning. (Of course, this means there's one downside: I have to help clean sometimes. It's worth it though.)

Balsamic-marinated flank steak

This particular recipe was for flank steak marinated in a homemade balsamic dressing. The picture of the perfectly grilled flank steak caught my eye, and when I showed it to Jeff, he was interested as well. 

Balsamic-marinated flank steak

I started by making the marinade: I mixed garlic, fresh rosemary, dried oregano, mustard, and balsamic vinegar in the blender and then drizzled in olive oil until the mixture was creamy. Then I seasoned it with a little salt and pepper.

I poured the marinade over the flank steak, turned the steak to make sure every bit of it was coated with the flavorful mixture, covered it, and refrigerated it for about 4 hours.

Balsamic-marinated flank steak

Balsamic-marinated flank steak

Then I had Jeff take the steak out of the marinade (simply letting the excess drip off) and throw it on the grill.

Balsamic-marinated flank steak

Balsamic-marinated flank steak

While he grilled the steak, I lightly oiled some baguette slices, zucchini halves, and scallions and added those to the grill. I also wrapped some halved grape tomatoes in foil with a little olive oil and salt and pepper, and let those warm and soften on the grill.

When the steak was ready, we let it rest for about 5 minutes, and then Jeff thinly sliced it against the grain.

Balsamic-marinated flank steak

I plated it with the grilled bread and veggies, and we dug in. I had reserved a bit of the marinade to serve with dinner, and it really added a lot of flavor to the steak and veggies. Flank steak isn't the most tender cut of meat by any stretch, but not overcooking it and thinly slicing it helped with that.

Balsamic-marinated flank steak

While this dinner had a lot of components, the whole thing came together very easily, and we were able to make everything on the grill, so there were no pots and pans to clean.

Have you been enjoying any easy meals lately?


Grilled Salmon And Romaine With Rosemary, Garlic, And Lemon Baste

Grilled salmon and romaine

I'm starting to think that maybe I'm just hopeless when it comes to grilling. It's not that I can't do it -- whatever I make comes out okay -- I just don't feel like I'm doing it the right way or the best way. I feel like there are these unspoken rules of grilling that I never learned. What's a hot fire? What's a medium-hot fire? Do you grill with the lid open or closed? Does it vary depending on what you're grilling? I just kind of guess, cross my fingers, and hope for the best. (Then I think about how much I love baking, the exactness, the precision.)

I thought my grilling woes might be resolved when I received a review copy of The Gardener & the Grill: The Bounty of the Garden Meets the Sizzle of the Grill by Karen Adler and Judith Fertig. Adler and Fertig are known as the BBQ Queens. They've appeared on the Food Network and Better Homes & Gardens TV and also teach grilling classes. I hoped they could help me.

I was instantly pulled into the cookbook, which focuses on combining seasonal fruits, veggies, and herbs from one's garden or local farmers' market with other ingredients to make some fabulous appetizers, dinners, and desserts on the grill. I loved the idea of grilling recipes with a heavy produce focus. I loved the idea of "from seed to sizzle."

The book is full of tips on gardening and grilling. I skimmed it cover to cover, learning terms such as grill roasting and stir-grilling. The first chapter is called Pantry and includes recipes for seasoning salts, sauces, dressings, and marinades. These basic recipes are incorporated into many of the recipes that appear later in the book, and many can be substituted for each other to bring new flavors to a dish. The chapters that follow are Appetizers; Sandwiches, Flatbreads & Pizzas; Soup & Salad; Meat, Poultry & Fish; Vegetable Sides; and Fruits & Desserts.

There were so many recipes I wanted to try from each chapter, but I figured I should start with something simple and went with the High-Heat Grilled Romaine Salad. The salad uses the Rosemary, Garlic, and Lemon Baste from the Pantry chapter, and I thought the baste sounded like a good match for salmon. I decided to use the Char-Grilled Salmon and Baby Squash recipe as guidance for grilling a couple of salmon fillets to go with the romaine salad.

Grilled salmon and romaine

Grilled Salmon And Romaine With Rosemary, Garlic, And Lemon Baste (adapted from The Gardener & the Grill)


1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh rosemary
Kosher salt and pepper
2 garlic cloves
Olive oil
Zest and juice of 1 lemon
2 (6-ounce) skin-on salmon fillets (don't forget to remove the pinbones)
1 heart of romaine, halved, rinsed, and dried
Shaved Parmesan cheese (optional)
Grape tomatoes, halved (optional)


Combine rosemary, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and garlic in food processor and pulse until coarsely chopped. Add 1/2 cup olive oil and pulse again. Add lemon zest and juice and pulse, then season with salt and pepper. Set baste aside.

Prepare a hot fire in your grill.

Lightly coat salmon fillets with olive oil, and season flesh side with salt and pepper.

Brush cut side of romaine hearts with olive oil and season with salt and pepper.

Grill salmon, flesh side down, for about 5 minutes. Turn, and grill for another 5 minutes, or until cooked through. (My salmon stuck to the grill and required some finagling to flip. Not sure how to prevent that.)

After turning the salmon, place the romaine heart halves on the grill, cut side down, and grill until leaves are browned on outside edges and lettuce has grill marks, about 3 to 4 minutes.

Set out two plates. Transfer a romaine heart half and a salmon fillet to each plate. Spoon rosemary, garlic, and lemon baste over salmon and romaine. Top romaine with Parmesan and grape tomatoes, if desired. Serve.

Grilled salmon and romaine

While this is my condensed, adapted version of three different recipes and it's not written exactly as in the book, there is no additional grilling information in the recipes I followed. As with my other attempts at grilling, I wasn't sure how hot my hot fire should be, and I didn't know whether to leave the grill lid open or closed. I took these instructions to be what the authors consider basic grilling, which sounded like keeping the food over direct heat and grilling with the lid open, based on what they wrote in the Specialty Grilling Techniques section. (For techniques such as grill roasting, indirect grilling, plank-roasting, etc., there is more detail in this section.) For me, it would be nice to have exact instructions in each recipe, even when the technique is just "basic grilling." Is this just common sense? Maybe I am too much of a beginning griller.

At any rate, we ended up with a tasty meal. The Rosemary, Garlic, and Lemon Baste was extremely flavorful and complemented the salmon and romaine well. I can only imagine how good it must be with homegrown rosemary (I bought mine at the supermarket). And this was my first time trying grilled romaine, and I am definitely hooked. As the authors say, "It's the best of all possible worlds -- lettuce with a fresh crunch, but the flavor of the grill."

While I'm not sure it will make me an expert griller (don't worry! I'm not giving up.), this is a beautiful book with gorgeous pictures, interesting recipes, and tons of information about produce and gardening and how it relates to grilling. I look forward to trying more recipes -- like Grilled Zucchini and Yellow Squash Stacks with Feta and Black Olives; Wood-Grilled Spring Onion, Brie, and Kalamata Olive Pizza; and Grilled Pears with Honey-Cinnamon Creme Fraiche -- and to using the gardening tips when we have a garden someday.

Do you have any grilling advice for me? What are your favorite fruits and veggies to grill?


Vegetable Lasagna

Vegetable lasagna

The cold and rainy weather, an intense craving for veggies, and Meghan's healthy lasagna inspired me to whip up a little vegetable lasagna of my own last week.

During a quick trip to the grocery store on the way home from work, I walked around the produce section collecting veggies I thought would work well and ended up with an onion, a couple of yellow squashes, a zucchini, and a package of baby spinach. Then I headed to the pasta aisle for some no-boil noodles and a box of Pomi diced tomatoes. (I wanted chunks of tomatoes rather than sauce.) Some mozzarella, Parmesan, and ricotta rounded out my purchases.

I got everything home and started by dicing and sautéing the onion. I cut the squashes and zucchini in half lengthwise and then sliced them and sautéed them, adding handfuls of baby spinach to wilt in the pan once the squash was almost done. I stirred half of the onion back in at the end.

While my veggies cooked, I stirred two eggs into the ricotta (15 ounces), added some generous handfuls of shredded mozzarella, and seasoned the mixture with salt and pepper. (I used half of this cheese mixture in my lasagna and used the rest to make a non-veggie lasagna for Jeff.)

Then I simply layered. I spread some diced tomatoes in the bottom of the pan and topped them with noodles. I spread some of the ricotta mixture on top of the noodles and spooned half of the vegetable mixture on top.

Vegetable lasagna

I spread more diced tomatoes over the veggies, sprinkled the parmesan on top and repeated with the next layer.

Vegetable lasagna

For the top layer, I covered the veggies with noodles, poured the rest of the diced tomatoes on top, and covered the tomatoes with mozzarella.

Vegetable lasagna

I baked the lasagna, covered with foil, at 350 for 50 minutes. Then I uncovered it and baked it for another 10 minutes, until the mozzarella was nice and melty. After letting it sit for 10 minutes, I dug in.

Vegetable lasagna

All my veggie cravings plus some comfort food cravings were instantly satisfied. And I had plenty of leftovers to get me through the rest of the week.

What veggies would be in your ideal vegetable lasagna?


Spring Menu Tasting At Bond

Given that I've been to the Langham before, namely for brunch at Cafe Fleuri, I was surprised to discover that the hotel houses another restaurant I'd never been to and hadn't heard much about. Bond resides in what was formerly the Member's Court in the former Federal Reserve Bank of Boston.

Bond, Boston, Mass.

A couple of weeks ago, I was invited to a media tasting of Bond's new food and cocktail menus. I was in awe of how beautiful the space is from the moment I ascended the staircase and entered the lounge. The decor and name pay tribute to the restaurant and lounge's heritage. Sparkling chandeliers dangle from 20-foot-high ornate ceilings, plush chairs abound, and oversized bonds adorn the walls.

Bond, Boston, Mass.

I arrived with Meghan and Daisy, and we found Lin already enjoying a cocktail. We all settled in at one of the reserved tables and caught up while poring over the menus and snacking on housemade potato chips and dip.

Housemade potato chips at Bond, Boston, Mass.

For my first drink, I decided to try The Fed, which features Bacardi Oakheart Rum, St-Germain, fresh lime juice, and ginger soda. I found it similar to a dark and stormy but sweeter and less spicy.

The Fed at Bond, Boston, Mass.

Soon waiters started bringing out plates of food, round after round. First to arrive were the Vietnamese fresh spring rolls. They were filled with shrimp, chicken, and a spicy peanut sauce. I loved the mixture of flavors the compact bite offered: peanutty and minty, sweet and spicy, bursting with cilantro.

Fresh spring rolls at Bond, Boston, Mass.

Next up was a simple appetizer of heirloom tomatoes stuffed with Stracchino cheese in a dish of olive oil and balsamic vinegar. I thought it was such a cute idea to stuff the tomatoes. And the creamy, smooth, mild-flavored cheese was just the right stuffing.

Heirloom tomatoes with Stracchino cheese at Bond, Boston, Mass.

The next dish ended up being my favorite of all the offerings: crispy Point Judith calamari with sweet chili sauce, black sesame seeds, and cilantro. I'd never had calamari dressed this way, and I couldn't stop eating the spicy-sweet rings. We kept this dish on the table for most of the evening and the rings remained crispy for quite a while.

Calamari at Bond, Boston, Mass.

The next dish, the grilled baby corn with Espelette, cotija cheese, aioli, and lime, was the only one I wasn't fond of. Something about the flavor and texture of baby corn just doesn't do it for me. I loved the accompaniments though and think this dish would be wonderful with regular corn on the cob sliced into medallions.

Grilled baby corn at Bond, Boston, Mass.

The sweet soy and ginger chicken wings won me over on presentation alone. I've never seen such fancy, lounge-worthy chicken wings. And not only did they impress with their looks, but they were quite tasty too and easy to eat. I learned that the chef poaches the wings first, which makes them very tender and moist. Then they get great flavor from a little charring and some candied ginger.

Soy and ginger chicken wings at Bond, Boston, Mass.

At that point I was ready for another drink and chose The Appraisal, which the menu said was made with Beefeater Gin, St-Germain, brown sugar, and grapes and peas. I didn't find any grapes in my drink, which was full of gin flavor and on the sweet side.

The Appraisal at Bond, Boston, Mass.

When I saw lobster and chorizo quesadillas on the menu, I was thinking of the typical pub fare quesadilla, but what arrived at our table was a long plate of beautifully presented bite-size quesadilla rolls. These were chock-full of lobster, queso blanco, sweet corn, and smoky chorizo. This was another appetizer I could see myself coming back for.

Lobster and chorizo quesadillas at Bond, Boston, Mass.

The final savory dish was the flat bread pizza with Great Hill Blue, grilled stone fruit, pancetta, and arugula. Had I not had so many other appetizers, I would have polished off the whole thing. I loved the combination of flavors and the chewy-crispy crust.

Flat bread pizza at Bond, Boston, Mass.

We had a little break between "dinner" and dessert during which we enjoyed the sounds of jazz singer Gian Farone. You can hear emerging jazz artists at Bond every Wednesday from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m.

Dessert is pretty much always the most anticipated course for me, and I couldn't wait to see what Bond had to offer. We received the chocolate tasting, which featured milk chocolate powder, Guanaja ice cream, white chocolate brûlée, and smoked chocolate cake. Of these, I really only liked the first two. The chocolate powder was fun and interesting. I expected it to be powdery like hot cocoa mix, but it actually melted away to smooth chocolate on your tongue. The ice cream was rich and intense and served atop chocolate pearls. The brûlée was just okay and the smoked chocolate cake reminded me of Laphroaig, and that's not a good thing.

We also tried the strawberry rhubarb gratin with mascarpone mousse, mint, and black pepper sable. This was awesome. The mascarpone mousse reminded me of panna cotta, and the soft rhubarb and fresh strawberries added a light component to the dessert.

Desserts at Bond, Boston, Mass.

The last dessert was the sticky toffee pudding with brown butter ice cream and Booker's Whiskey caramel. I set myself up to not like this dessert, as sticky toffee pudding is usually too mushy for me, but this one was both moist and firm, and the caramel and ice cream were flavorful accompaniments. I kept going back for more.

Sticky toffee pudding at Bond, Boston, Mass.

I can't believe I've gone this long without venturing into Bond. I truly enjoyed nearly everything we had and loved the swanky, elegant atmosphere. I can't wait to go back, especially for calamari and lobster quesadillas.

Thank you to Mallory for inviting me, to everyone at Bond for making us feel welcome and providing us with such great service, and especially to executive chef Mark Sapienza for sending out such an incredible spread.

This tasting was complimentary, but as always these are my honest opinions.

Have you had any noteworthy dishes lately?

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