cheese pupusas with pickled slaw

We were in the car on our way to go surfing last weekend when Jordan turned to me and said, “Let’s make pupusas”. “Sure, let’s do it,” I replied without blinking an eye. It was decided, pupusas for dinner. What about the winding drive up Highway 1 made him think of pupusas, I have no idea. What I do know is that when you’ve been cooking and writing about it long enough, you tend to dive headfirst into this type of thing. We stopped questioning each other’s food whims long ago. Semi-obscure regional dish, why not. Grind our own meat for a three pound loaf of country pate, seems reasonable. Wedding cake in one hundred square feet of kitchen, it’ll be fun. Unlike most other areas of my life, the kitchen seems to be the place where I have the guts to just go for it. No questions, no fear, no regrets. Behold, PUPUSAS!


Now isn’t that pretty. Maybe I should get ‘no fear, no regrets’ and a sexy papusa tattooed on my arm as a reminder to be more adventurous in the rest of my life …

Pupusas are traditional dish from El Salvador. They’re basically a corn dough that is filled with a mixture of cheese, beans or braised meat, flattened into a half inch thick disc and then pan fried or cooked on a grill.  Although I do indeed have an adorable Salvadoran grandma, I haven’t yet had the chance to learn how to make pupusas autenticas. It’s on my list, but in the meantime, I’m working off of this recipe. It’s a fusion of a several recipes found on the internet, and despite it’s lack of pedigree it turned out pretty dang delicious. It’s hard to go wrong with cheesy corn bread topped with tangy spicy slaw, wouldn’t you agree?

Pupusas de Queso con Curtido 
For the pupusas
2 cups masa harina (Maseca is a common brand, Bob’s Red Mill also makes one)
1 1/3 cups warm water
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup grated mozzarella, monterey jack or quesillo cheese
butter or oil for cooking them

First, grate the cheese. Then make the masa. In a large bowl, combine the masa harina, salt and warm water. Using your hands, mix the dough until a soft and just slightly sticky dough forms. You’ll just need to knead it for a minute or two. If it is too crumbly, add some more water. If it is too wet, add a few tablespoons of masa harina. Let the dough sit for 10 – 15 minutes to let the masa harina fully hydrate.


Shape the dough into eight 2″ balls. Press your thumb into the center of the ball and pinch it into a bowl shape using your thumb and fingers. Fill the hole with about a tablespoon of cheese (or other filling like refried beans or braised pork). Pinch the edges of the bowl closed to cover the cheese. Then flatten the ball into a disc using your hands. Flatten a until the disc is about 1/3″ thick. Repeat with the rest of the balls of masa. Refrigerate until you’re ready to fry up the pupusas.

pupusa collage

We made this little video of how to shape the pupusas if my explanation above confuses more than it helps. Cinematography is not a strength here at the Answer is Always Pork, but this will get the job done.

For the curtido
1/2 head of cabbage, sliced thinly
1 carrot, grated
1 onion, sliced thinly
1/2 cup apple cider vinegar
1/4 cup water
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon brown sugar
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon chili flakes


In a large bowl, combine the sliced cabbage, carrot and onion. In a small bowl, combine the vinegar, water, salt, sugar, oregano and chili flake. Whisk to dissolve the sugar and salt. Pour over the cabbage mixture. Cover and refrigerate for a few hours or overnight.

In a sauté pan over medium heat, melt some butter or heat some oil. Cook the pupusas, about 5 minutes per side, until golden brown all over and deep brown in spots. You’ll see the cheese start to ooze out of them. Serve topped with the curtido, plus some guacamole, crema and salsa if you’re a Californian and bastardizing traditional foodstuffs is right up your alley. Buen provecho!




julia child’s beef bourguignon

For my 22nd birthday, my Nonnie gave me a copy of Mastering the Art of French Cooking. Sitting at her kitchen table, as I unwrapped the tome that changed home cooking so monumentally, she gave me some advice. “Make the beef bourguignon first. And do not skip the bacon.”


Like she is on most things culinary and otherwise, my Nonnie was right. Julia Child’s beef bourguignon is perfection, worth every bit of effort, and the bacon is absolutely essential. It is easily the best braised beef I’ve ever made and I’m sure those who’ve had the pleasure of eating it with us in years since I was first gifted the book would also agree.

And what is winter for if it isn’t to embrace braising? Dedicate an afternoon to Julia’s beef bourguignon, and don’t even think about skipping the bacon.


Beef Bourguignon, adapted very slightly from Mastering the Art of French Cooking by Julia Child
6 oz bacon, cut into 1/2″ pieces
3 lbs lean stewing beef, cut into 2″ chunks (we used chuck roast)
1 carrot, sliced
1 onion, sliced
salt, pepper, olive oil
3 cups red wine
2 – 3 cups beef stock
1 tablespoon tomato paste
2 garlic cloves, mashed
1/2 teaspoon thyme
1 bay leaf, crumbled
20 small white onions, brown-braised
1 lb fresh mushrooms, cut into halves or quarters, sautéed in butter

beef-bourguignon--2 beef-bourguignon--3

Preheat your oven to 450° F.  If you know your bacon is quite smoky, you may want to boil the bacon in some water for a few minutes to take out some of the smoke flavor before you sauté it. This is what Julia recommends, but I usually skip this step and skip right ahead to sautéing. In a cast iron pot, sauté the bacon over medium heat. After the bacon has browned lightly, remove it with a slotted spoon and set it aside. Take the pot with the bacon fat off the heat.

Cut the beef into 2 inch cubes and then pat them dry with paper towels. Heat the pot with the bacon fat over medium high heat until the fat is nearly smoking. If your bacon didn’t render off much fat, I would add a tablespoon of oil to the pot. Add a few cubes of the beef. Sear them, letting them sit without disturbing them for a few minutes per side, until they are a deep brown. Be sure to not crowd the pan or the beef will steam instead of browning. For about 2.5 pounds of meat, I did mine in four batches.

beef-bourguignon--4 beef-bourguignon--5

While the beef is browning, cut the onion and carrot into chunks. After browning the last of the meat, add the vegetables. Brown them slightly and then remove them and set them aside.

Put the beef and bacon back into the pot. Add 1 teaspoon of salt and some fresh black pepper. Toss the beef to coat. Add 2 tablespoons of flour and toss to coat again. Set the pot in the middle of your 450° oven and cook for 4 minutes. Toss the meat and cook for another 4 minutes in the oven. Reduce the heat of the oven to 325°. Return the pot to the stove top and add the vegetables, wine, broth, tomato paste, garlic, and herbs. The meat should be just barely covered by liquid. Bring to a simmer on the stove top and then place in the oven. Cook in the oven for 2 1/2 to 3 hours. The meat is done when a fork pierces it easily.

While the beef is cooking, prepare the pearl onions. For the pearl onions, peel them if using fresh. If using frozen, defrost in water. Melt 1 tablespoon of butter over medium heat. Add the onions and brown them on each side. Once browned, add 1/2 cup beef stock, a pinch of thyme and a bay leaf and reduce the heat to low. Let simmer covered for 20 minutes, until the onions are cooked through.



If you’re making this in advance, you can prepare the beef and onions up until this point and then refrigerate them. You can then rewarm the beef by simmering it on the stove over low heat for 15 – 20 minutes before serving. I like to saute my mushrooms the day of serving because they are pretty easy to do while you’re cooking the potatoes.

In the last 45 minutes of cooking for the beef or 45 minutes before you want to eat, peel a few potatoes and cut them into quarters. Put them in a sauce pan and cover them with water. Season the water until it taste like sea water. Bring the potatoes to a boil and cook until tender, about 20 – 25 minutes. Drain the potatoes and mash them, adding a bit of butter, milk, salt and pepper to taste. I usually do this in my kitchen aid mixer.

For the mushrooms, clean 1 pound of mushrooms and then cut them into halves or quarters depending on their size. Sauté over medium heat in 2 tablespoons of butter, until browned and cooked through, about 10 minutes.

When the meat is tender, remove it from the oven and place on the stovetop. Skim off any fat that may be floating on the surface of the meat. In my experience, there is very little beef fat to skim off, but I generally cook with leaner grass-fed beef.  You skim off any fat to prevent a greasy gravy because greasy gravy is gross. Taste the sauce for seasoning; it may need a little salt or pepper. Before serving, add in the braised onions and sautéed mushrooms to pot along with the beef and vegetables. Serve over mashed potatoes with a gravy boat of extra sauce on the side.





lentil salad with poached eggs

Before heading off for our Christmas festivities, Jordan and I spent a Saturday poking around Berkeley. My idea was to grab lunch at Cheeseboard, find a few outstanding gifts and then check out Berkeley Bowl, an independent supermarket of epic proportions (40,000 square feet!). The line for Cheeseboard was around the block, so we grabbed some pastrami at Saul’s Deli instead. (Not a bad call. The waffles are also delicious). Gift shopping was mostly unsuccessful, but if we’re honest, this outing was planned around the food.

Once at Berkeley Bowl, we dutifully explored each aisle with special attention paid to the vast beer selection and exotic produce. It’s a fun place to kill a few hours if you like food. We were on our way out with an assortment of tasty treats when we realized we’d spent two hours in a grocery store and still hadn’t planned anything for dinner. After a lunch of pastrami, something vegetarian for dinner seemed reasonable. I recalled some sort of lentil salad and out of grocery store fatigue we decided to run with it. At Berkeley Bowl, they have at least six types of lentils for anyone who might be counting. I chose the prettiest ones, black beluga lentils.


This dish is simple and beautiful. The egg yolk when combined with the vinegar dressing from the lentils makes the most delicious sauce. Let’s take a moment to appreciate the perfection that is a runny egg yolk. It would be a tremendous effort to make a sauce as lovely from anything else, but with eggs it is simple—just don’t overcook them.

The salad also keeps quite well. Eat it cold from the fridge the next day for lunch, or snag a few bites before you run out the door in the morning. I can also imagine swapping the egg for poached or pan-fried fish. If you’re not an egg person but want to keep it vegetarian, you could add some crumbled goat cheese or feta.

Lentil Salad with Poached Eggs, adapted from The Art of Simple Food by Alice Waters
1 cup lentils (we used black Beluga lentils because they hold their shape when cooked, plus they are quite pretty)
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
salt and pepper
3 tablespoons olive oil
3 tablespoons finely diced shallot
3 tablespoons chopped parsley
1 – 2 eggs per person, depending on how hungry you are

Pick out any grit from the lentils and rinse them with cold water. Put them in a medium saucepan and over with water by 3 inches. Season the water with salt until it tastes like salt water. Bring to a boil and then simmer for 30 minutes, until the lentils are tender. Drain the lentils and pour into a large bowl.

Toss the lentils with the vinegar and season with salt and pepper. Let sit for 5 minutes. Taste again and add more salt or vinegar if needed. Add the olive oil, shallot and parsley and toss to combine. Set aside.

To poach the eggs, rinse the saucepan you cooked the lentils in and fill it with 4 – 5 inches of water. Bring to just under a simmer and add 1 teaspoon white vinegar. Crack an egg into a small cup or mug. Stir the water gently in a circle to form a whirlpool. As the whirlpool spinning begins to slow, gently pour the egg into the water. If you get the cup as close to the surface of the water as possible before pouring it in, it is easier to keep the white from going all over the place. Fresh eggs also make this easier (but I’m sure you all already know that!). Use a spoon to snuggle the white around the yolk. Let cook for 3 – 4 minutes and then remove with a slotted spoon.  I can usually cook about 3 or 4 eggs at a time in a 3 1/2 quart saucepan. If you’re making any more than that, I’d do them in batches. You can also trim off the little egg white tails that furl off the egg to make your poached eggs look even more perfect, but I’m not that fussy. (Our friend Roche also shared this video in the comments, which is for a technique he finds flawless.)

To serve, mound the lentils on a plate and top with a poached egg and some fresh pepper. Enjoy!



Ps. Today marks Jordan and I’s eighth anniversary. (!!!) I wouldn’t have found a smarter, funnier or handsomer fella if I tried. I couldn’t be more happy or more grateful. I love you Jordan!

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Randomness Recipes Thoughts on Life

goodbye 2013

I was more than ready to say goodbye to 2013, I think I’ve been ready since July. 2013 was a bit brutal and I’m glad to be rid of her, to be quite honest about it. But, seeing as I’m sick in bed with a head cold and my consumption of TLC trash tv is getting embarrassing, I decided to give the year a closer look.

Though the lows of this past year were by far some of the lowest, and the trials some of my toughest, there is also so so much goodness in our lives. For our loving families, for our wonderful friends who feel like family, and for the silly hounds that fill my heart with joy, I am tremendously grateful. I’m also pretty dang proud that this little family of mine, Jordan, Willow and I, weathered this storm of a year. So, feeling sappy and full of snot, here are some of my favorite moments from 2013.





















Onwards and upwards. 2014 we’re ready for you.