The Catalyst

A Writing Teacher Writes (plus some writing prompts and recipes)

Recipes for Friendship August 12, 2015

Filed under: Mexico,Recipes,Writing Prompts + — Christopher P. DeLorenzo @ 1:38 pm
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This recipe is another one from my forthcoming memoir cookbook. It’s for a simple, savory sauce that you can use on chicken or fish, or use as an alternative to salsa.

The green sauce recipe was inspired by my visits to Puerto Vallarta and my friendship with Erick and Juan Carlos (click here to read my earlier story about cooking with these men). It’s simple and beautiful.

I’ve also included a few writing prompts below as well.  Enjoy.   IMG_1121-2

Prompts:

Everyone is more beautiful in Puerto Vallarta.

Is it almost time to eat again?

Te amo means I love you.

_________________________

Erick’s Green Sauce (also known as Poblano Soup)

 

Ingredients

5 medium-sized fresh green Poblano Peppers

1 large red or yellow onion

2 Tablespoons olive oil

2 Tablespoons butter

1 cup sour cream

(Note: Poblanos are sometimes called Pasilla Peppers in California)

 

Directions

Cut the peppers in half and remove the veins and seeds, then chop into small pieces.

Dice the onion and sauté with peppers in olive oil over medium heat until very soft, about 20 minutes, then add butter and melt, mixing in well.

Add the sauté mixture to a food processor (a blender will work, too) and puree until smooth.

Add sour cream and blend well.

Makes about four cups.

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Mexican Inspiration July 3, 2015

Filed under: essays,Mexico,Recipes,Writing Prompts + — Christopher P. DeLorenzo @ 2:53 pm
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This piece eventually made it into my cookbook memoir manuscript, and I thought I’d share it with you here. Some prompts to go along with it are:

Ai! Papi!                                                            photo(27)

I never wanted to leave

Handsome men everywhere

____________________________

Mexican Inspiration

I met Erick when I checked into Casa Cupula, a boutique hotel set on a hill overlooking the Bay of Banderas. The house I rent for the writing retreats in Puerto Vallarta is next door to the hotel, so I always spend a few days on my own there before the retreat begins. Erick was working at the hotel as a concierge.

There you are, Señor DeLorenzo,” he said teasingly the afternoon I arrived. “I’ve been waiting for you a very long time.”

“And I’ve been waiting for a man like you all my life,” I replied, not missing a chance to flirt.

“Aha!” he said, genuinely amused. “Very good.”

I had a crush on Erick about fifteen minutes after we met. He’s very handsome, but it was more than his good looks that caught my attention: it was his love of language and his use of idiomatic expressions in English. When he said, “That really doesn’t cut the mustard,” or “The sweet smell of success,” in his light Spanish accent, I found him absolutely charming.

My workshop participants arrived a few days later, and we began our week-long retreat, but I still made time to visit with Erick every day. Sometimes I meet someone I feel I have known before, and Erick was one of those people. Later, I also fell in love with his chocolate Chihuahua named Dario and his boyfriend at the time, Juan Carlos, but Erick came first. Talking to him is pleasurable in every way. He loves to read, and we spent time talking about some of our favorite books. But I think our relationship really deepened the night we spoke about food.

On that night, Erick had ordered food from the kitchen at the hotel at about ten o’clock, but they somehow overlooked his order; then the kitchen closed. Because he worked until midnight, this meant that he was going to have to work for several hours with a growling stomach, and like me, when he’s hungry, he gets a little grouchy. By the time I dropped by to see him that night at 10:30, he was beyond hungry, so I offered to bring him a plate of leftovers.

We have a cook at the retreat house named Ana, and her meals are really good. I brought Erick some of Ana’s chicken tinga enchiladas, mashed beans, and for dessert, a slice of coco pie: a coconut custard pie set in a buttery crust of Maria’s Gamesa, which are thin, Mexican butter cookies.

“Oh thank God!” Erick said, peeling the plastic wrap from the plate I had just warmed in the microwave. “You are an angel. Do you want to marry me?” I smirked at his Latin movie star face: heart-shaped, caramel brown, those long lashes and large chocolate-brown eyes.

“Don’t tease me,” I said, sitting down on the other side of the lobby desk. “I’m already choosing the colors for the bridesmaid dresses.”

“Mauve,” he joked. “I insist on mauve.” Then he discovered the pie. “What’s this?”

“Coco pie.”

“Sí?”

“Sí, Señor.”

“Wow. You must really be in love.”

“I am, ” I said. “Eat.”

I had four days on my own in Puerto Vallarta after the retreat ended. It was a rare mini-vacation for me, and I had reserved a room at a less expensive hotel down the hill near the beach. Although I was saving about $75 a night, I realized that first afternoon I had made a mistake: I should have bookended my visit with another four nights at Casa Cupula. This larger hotel was filled with families, so taking a nap was impossible; children ran up and down the open hallways laughing and playing tag. The noise from the street was also difficult to block out, and the beds were hard as stone.

“You’re staying there?” Erick said, when I told him about my first restless night. “That place is awful.”

“It’s not that bad,” I lied, trying not to sound ungrateful.

“It’s bad, honey,” he said, seeing through my polite front. “There’s an extra room at the guest house Juan Carlos and I manage. Come stay with us. We have a huge kitchen. We can cook together.”

“Really?” I said. “You’re sure?”

“I insist,” he said.

At Casa Allegre, I had my own room—a big cushy bed with an embroidered bedspread—and my own bathroom with a huge shower. There was no one else staying there for a few days, so we had the pool to ourselves, as well as an open living room area, where we lounged around and got to know one another better.

The open kitchen had a large Viking stove against one wall, a double-sided stainless-steel sink on the other side; a long, rectangular prep counter sat squarely in the center. A large rustic hutch filled with hand-made Mexican earthenware stood at the edge of the kitchen, and beyond that was a courtyard. It was as close to a dream kitchen as I have ever gotten.

Erick and I spent a lot of time together in that kitchen. He’d cook one night and I’d cook another. That’s where he taught me how to make his red sauce, and later, his green sauce, which is actually Poblano Soup. Juan Carlos was quite a good cook too. It seemed for several days all we did was laugh, cook, and flirt.

The first afternoon we spent together, they took me to their favorite taco stand at the corner of Naranja and Carranza Streets, with Dario in tow. I felt lazy and loose in a way I never feel anywhere but Mexico. It may have been the company of these three sweet creatures, or the heat of the afternoon, but I couldn’t remember how to say “bacon” in Spanish (tocino), and asked Erick every time I took a bite of the shrimp and bacon tacos.

We were on our way to the mercado, the local market. It spanned just a few blocks, but consisted of several quiet squares framed by open-air produce markets. On one jagged, cobblestone, dead-end street, we visited the spice market, the cheese counter, and the tortilleria, where fresh tortillas traveled from a rickety conveyor belt to a great oven, then stacked in steaming piles. On another block, we passed through a wrought-iron gate and entered a courtyard with a fountain framed by butcher shops.

They took it for granted that I knew about the market already, but to this day I have never found it in any guide book or in any tourist publication. The produce was piled in loose pyramids, contained by wooden crates: mangos, many kinds of squash, and every kind of pepper you could imagine. Spices purchased by the kilo sat in big barrels. To some of you, this is perhaps a typical open market, but to me, a suburban kid used to large grocery stores, it was new and special. I fantasized what it would be like to live there, shopping at the market for dinner, holding Dario under my arm like Frida Kahlo.

Erick and Juan Carlos also took me to what has now become one of my favorite restaurants in Puerto Vallarta, El Arrayán. It was here that I became obsessed with their specialty cake called, Dionix, a cake made with carrots, nuts, and chocolate chips, topped with a Grand Marnier icing. They wouldn’t give me the secret family recipe, but I later found something similar, a Chilean specialty dessert called Que Que Zanahoria.

Erick, it turned out, was obsessed with carrot cake. I later shared a recipe for classic carrot cake I had found in a recent issue of Saveur. He insisted on a variation: his own nutmeg butter cream frosting. And since Ana had given me her coco pie recipe, I made them one, and left behind half a pie the day I left for home, teary and sentimental as ever.

My tenderness for Erick and Juan Carlos is just one of many possibilities that can arise between people from two different cultures who both love to eat. Our friendship began with a flirtation, the recognition of a similar sense of humor, and the love of little dogs and Latin-based languages, but like so many of my friendships, it blossomed at the kitchen counter, standing side by side, while we prepared a meal together. And I am so grateful for that.

 

Baking my way into the New Year January 1, 2015

Filed under: Grief,Recipes,Vignettes,Writing Prompts + — Christopher P. DeLorenzo @ 3:00 pm

First, a few prompts:                                                            pecan pie

A layer of chocolate on the bottom

Those brownies made me feel so much better

A pug-nosed pal of my own

__________________________

I rarely post anything personal in this first section, the “prompt” section, but I came across this piece today, and wanted to share it for the new year.

Yes, I know the new year is an artificially created date in some ways; the day after December 31st is not so different than the one before it. Still, we humans need these checkpoints, these ritualistic times when we can reflect, and re-evaluate, and plan for the future.

I share this piece with you so that you will be inspired to write about what you hope for and dream of in the future. And to remind you to write it down. (How many times do I have to say that?) When you write it down, you begin to manifest it, to make sense of it, to make it real. Write it down. It’s always the first step.

Happy, happy new year, everyone.

______________________________________________________________________

In my darkest moments, when I can’t turn off the chatter in my head, when the boulders in my path stop me dead in my tracks, I bake. Blondies with dark chocolate chips, lemon bundt cake drizzled with a lemon sugar glaze, pecan pie with a layer of chocolate melted on the bottom. Old standbys that comfort me: blending butter and sugar and eggs, buttering and flouring pans, rolling out pie dough.

Baking is the ultimate act of living in the moment. If you aren’t paying attention to what you’re doing—sifting baking powder into unbleached flour, adding salt and vanilla, cracking eggs on the side of a green Pyrex bowl (the same one your mother used to prepare chocolate chip cookies)—if you aren’t right there in the moment, you’ll surely screw something up.

Baking also creates a wonderful anticipation, a sense of hope and joy. As the alchemy begins you can witness the crust browning, the cookies rising, the cake pulling away from the sides of the pan. And of course, you can dream about how it will taste, what you might serve it with: crème frâiche with lemon zest, or salted caramel gelato.

But in those darker moments, baking also helps me to dream. While I’m baking, I will conjure up ideas for what’s next: a blackberry upside down cake, coconut mini-muffins with dark chocolate frosting, rose macaroons, lavender meringue cookies, sweet potato pie with a graham flour crust. Things I’ve never made before.

As I grow older, I find baking more and more therapeutic, and I wonder if I might be able to use it as a model for manifesting other important parts of my future: for instance, a house or a partner, a cottage industry, a short film, a song with my voice in it, a dog I can love and call my own. Maybe the coffee date is the beginning of that, maybe my medicinal brownies will win an award, maybe my favorite deejay will want to play my humble little track loud at Mighty on a Saturday night, maybe my love for my ex’s bulldog will lead me to a pug-nosed pal of my own.

The difference, you might argue, is that baking is more dependable: you buy the ingredients and follow the recipe, right? Well, not always. Some recipes are faulty; all pans don’t conduct heat the same way; changing the type of sugar or flour can ruin a cake; melted butter can flatten a cookie.

There’s a lesson here. When I want to bake something and it flops, I try it again. I adjust the oven temperature, buy a new pan, add an additional 1/4 cup of flour or sugar or buttermilk. I omit the egg yolks or substitute canola oil. But I rarely give up until I reach the goal I set out to reach. I don’t give up.

It’s wonderful to think about, isn’t it, this sweet discipline? To practice thinking and acting this way. To practice, and practice, and practice again. To not give up so easily. It’s wonderful to think about.

 

Evil Peanut Butter Cheesecake September 23, 2014

Filed under: Recipes,Vignettes,Writing Prompts + — Christopher P. DeLorenzo @ 11:36 pm
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Today’s post is simply an excuse to share a recipe with you. It’s from my forthcoming memoir cookbook.  pbutter

Here are a few writing prompts to go with it: 

Cheesecake for breakfast

I love you, but you’re evil

Chocolate, chocolate, chocolate

______________________

In our family, if something is so delicious that you can’t stop eating it, we call it “evil.” There’s really no religious connotation here, but we use “evil” as an adjective with subtext: it’s so damn good it has power over you. It’s one of the highest compliments we can give a cook or a baker. My sister often says this to me right after taking her first mouthful of my chocolate fudge cake. “Oh my God,” she’ll say, closing her eyes and savoring that first bite. “You’re evil.”

My father was a great baker, and cheesecakes were his forte, but for me, this recipe was his most evil. I’m crazy about peanut butter as it is, and cheesecake is my favorite dessert, so when he combined the two (and topped it with a chocolate sour cream), he really hooked me.

It must be twenty-five years since I first tasted this, but even today, as I write this, I clearly remember anticipating my next slice. One morning I awakened and had a slice right after breakfast. (This is admittedly over the top. I mean, I have to draw the line somewhere, don’t I?) The following morning I simply had a slice for breakfast, with a cup of strong coffee, of course. Nutritionally speaking, it’s not my proudest moment, but it is at the top of my list of extremely pleasurable food memories. And there’s nothing evil about that.

 

Evil Peanut Butter Cheesecake

Ingredients

For the Crust:

12 oz. vanilla wafers (or a comparable crunchy cookie)

1/2 cup granulated sugar

2 Tablespoons butter

 

For the Filling:

16 oz. cream cheese

1 1/2 cups granulated sugar

2/3 cup creamy peanut butter

5 eggs

1/2 cup sour cream

2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice

 

For the Topping:

8 oz. sour cream

3/4 semi-sweet or dark chocolate chips, melted

1/2 cup sugar

Prepare the crust: Preheat oven to 350 degree Fahrenheit. Butter the bottom and sides of a 9-inch springform pan. Combine all ingredients in a food processor until the crumbs are uniform and the mixture begins to get sticky. Press the mixture into the bottom and up the sides of the prepared springform pan.

Mix the filling: Combine all the ingredients in a food processor (or use a standing mixer/hand mixer). Spread filling evenly in the pan with the prepared crust. Bake until the center is firm, about 70-80 minutes (the center may crack a bit; this is normal for cheesecakes, so don’t worry). Remove cake from oven, but leave oven set at 350. Let stand at room temperature for 15 minutes before adding topping (you will bake it 10 minutes more after you add the topping).

Prepare the topping: Blend all ingredients using a standing mixer/hand mixer. Spread evenly over cheesecake, and bake 10 minutes in the 350 degree oven.

Let cake cool completely before running a knife around the edge and releasing from the springform. Refrigerate at least three hours before serving. Can be made the day before.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Flourless Chocolate Love August 13, 2014

Filed under: Recipes,Writing Prompts + — Christopher P. DeLorenzo @ 12:10 am
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This week I’m on retreat and working on my memoir cookbook, but I thought I’d share this recipe for Flourless Chocolate Cake. It’s a keeper.                                                      flourless-chocolate-cake1                                                    

A few prompts to go with your cake:

Covered in whipped cream

He loves me, he loves me not

What we lose is greater on either side

Enjoy.

________________________________

Flourless Chocolate Cake

Ingredients

12 ounces bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, broken into small pieces

3/4 cup butter (1 1/2 sticks), cut into pieces

6 large eggs

1 cup sugar, divided in half

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 Tablespoon powdered sugar, for sprinkling over the top (optional)

Directions

Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit

Line the bottom of a 9-inch springform pan (a 10-inch will work too if that’s all you have)

Butter the pan, including the paper lining, and wrap the outside of the pan with aluminum foil to avoid leakage.

Place chocolate in a double-boiler and melt on high heat until it breaks softly when pressed with a wooden spoon. (If you don’t have a double-boiler you can use a saucepan and melt over medium-low heat.)

Add the butter to the chocolate and mix together until melted and combined.

Remove the chocolate mixture from the heat and cool to lukewarm, stirring once or twice to keep it from separating. Do not allow to harden.

Separate the eggs and set aside the 6 egg yolks.

Using an electric mixer, beat the egg whites until soft peaks begin to form and cling to the beaters, then gradually add 1/2 cup of sugar, beating until firm peaks form. Set aside.

Using an electric mixer (with clean beaters), beat the egg yolks and additional 1/2 cup of sugar in a large bowl until very thick and pale, about three minutes. Add vanilla extract and lukewarm chocolate mixture until blended.

In three batches, using a rubber spatula, fold in the whipped egg whites, drawing the whites up and over the center of the chocolate mixture. Pour batter into prepared pan.

Bake for 30-35 minutes, or until the cake top is puffed and cracked and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out with moist crumbs on it. Cool cake on rack; the cake will deflate a bit.

Once the pan is cool enough to touch with bare hands, slowly run a butter knife around the edge and release the cake from the pan. Allow cake to cool completely, then cover it with a plate and invert it. Carefully peel the paper off, then using another plate, flip the cake back over.

Dust with powdered sugar. Serve with a dollop of whipped cream (optional).

 

 

 

Carmen’s Frittata March 5, 2014

Filed under: Recipes,Writing Prompts + — Christopher P. DeLorenzo @ 5:25 pm

image

This recipe is one I’ve put off posting for a long time. I think my reluctance has to do with the fact that this is such a simple recipe; I’m worried everyone will make it, realize how easy it is, and stop complimenting me when I serve it (at one of my Men’s Writing Brunches, for instance).

Anyway, here it is, with a few food-inspired writing prompts to go with it.

Sweet as sugar, Sugar

At the kitchen table

The smell of coffee and bacon

——————————————————————–

Carmen’s Frittata

Ingredients

2 teaspoons olive oil

1 medium red onion, diced

1 can artichoke hearts, drained of liquid, quartered

1 cup mushrooms, sliced

5 ounces spinach (or one small pre-washed bag) without stems, wilted in microwave or on stovetop with 1 Tablespoon water

1 cup cheddar cheese, grated

9 eggs, beaten with 2 Tablespoons whole milk

2 teaspoons Herbs de Provence

Generous sprinkles of salt and pepper

Directions

Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.

Sauté diced onion with 2 teaspoons olive oil until slightly soft, not quite translucent. Add to a large bowl. Set aside.

In the same pan, sauté sliced mushrooms until they begin to shrink and soften, adding more olive oil if necessary.

Add mushrooms to large bowl with onions, add artichoke hearts, wilted spinach, and mix together. Pour in beaten eggs, and mix in cheese. Pour into a buttered 13 x 9 rectangular baking dish and bake until the top and edges are slightly brown and set, about 35 minutes.

The frittata will appear to be too soft to slice while still hot, so allow to cool. Slice into generous squares, and serve at room temperature.

Note: There’s really no way to mess this up, and you can add any ingredients you like, including cooked bacon, sausage, sun-dried tomatoes, shallots, bell peppers, and any variation of cheeses. Just make sure to sauté the vegetables first, until slightly soft. They will continue to cook and soften in the oven.

 

Have your cake and eat it too November 29, 2013

Filed under: Recipes,Writing Prompts + — Christopher P. DeLorenzo @ 11:07 am
Maple-Pumpkin stack cake

I had to post this “day after” pumpkin cake recipe, because it just seems too perfect. It looks easy to prepare, so for all you novice bakers, this is your cake! I got the recipe from Chris Kimball, host of the PBS show America’s Test Kitchen, via an NPR. Check out the link here for more fall recipes.

Here are a couple of prompts to go with this recipe:

What’s the matter, pumpkin?

It’s my birthday and I can cry if I want to

Your feelings are seasonally appropriate

Maple-Pumpkin Stack Cake

Makes 1 cake

1 1/2 cups (7 1/2 ounces) all-purpose flour

2 teaspoons pumpkin pie spice

1 teaspoon baking powder

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon salt

1 1/4 cups (8 3/4 ounces) sugar

8 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled

3 large eggs

1 (15-ounce) can unsweetened pumpkin puree

1 1/2 cups heavy cream, chilled

1/4 cup maple syrup

1/4 cup pecans, toasted and chopped

Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 350 degrees. Grease two 8-inch round cake pans, line with parchment paper. Grease parchment and flour pans.

Whisk flour, pumpkin pie spice, baking powder, baking soda, and salt together in bowl. Using stand mixer fitted with paddle, beat sugar, butter, and eggs on medium-high speed until pale and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Reduce speed to low, add pumpkin, and mix until incorporated. Slowly add flour mixture and mix until only few small flour streaks remain, about 30 seconds.

Spread one-fourth of batter (about 1 cup) in even layer in each prepared pan. Bake until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean, 12 to 14 minutes. Let cool on wire rack for 10 minutes. Invert each cake onto large plate, peel off parchment, and invert again onto lightly greased rack. Cool completely. Reprep pans and repeat with remaining batter.

Using dry, clean bowl and whisk attachment, whip cream and maple syrup together on medium speed until stiff peaks form, about 3 minutes. Place 1 cake layer on cake plate or pedestal, then spread one-fourth of whipped cream (scant cup) evenly over top. Repeat with remaining cake layers and whipped cream. Sprinkle pecans on top and serve.