¼ cup cilantro, chopped plus some extra for serving
2 tbsp. canola oil
1 large white onion, sliced crosswise into ¾"-thick rings, plus 1/2 cup roughly chopped, for serving
Juice of 2 limes, plus lime wedges for serving
1 lbs. skirt steak, cut crosswise into 4 steaks
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1 jalapeño, stemmed
Warm tortillas, for serving
Combine the first three ingredients in a bowl. Add steak and let marinate at room temperature for 30 minutes, flipping over after 15 minutes. If you are not in a rush, you can allow steak to marinate (turning over a few times) for up to 3 hours.
Heat a grill pan over high heat and grill, 5 minutes on each side (for medium/rare.)
Remove meat from pan, add salt and pepper, and let rest for 5 more minutes.
Meanwhile, place remaining onion and jalapeño on grill, and cook, turning as needed, until charred and softened, about 10 minutes.
Slice steaks into 1” strips and serve with grilled vegetables and warm tortillas.
Add fresh lime juice, chopped onion and cilantro. If you like, you can serve pico de gallo or salsa verde on the side.
What I want to do is surprise Husband with an elaborate dinner, one that involved hours of wrapping homemade puff pastry around fancy cuts of meats stuffed with equally extravagant aphrodisiac delicacies like oysters or asparagus or shaved truffles.
Of course, I’d wear the strappy stilettos.
“What strappy stilettos? You only wear those nasty slip-on sneaker things. You always say your feet weren’t designed for heels.”
Ignore that. That is my child in the background.
I do have strappy stilettos. They are midnight black and come equipped with thin sparkly straps that secure themselves around my slender (yes, slender) feet with the same expertise Christian Grey would secure Anastasia in his Red Room. There is no safe word with these shoes.
That’s how I’d start the evening.
“What about us? What are we having for dinner?”
That’s the other kid. Excuse me while I kick a box of cereal in that direction.
The house would be aglow in romantic scented candles.
“Fire hazard, Mom. Gosh. Don’t you know ANYTHING???”
That’s the sixteen year-old. Of course, that’s the sixteen year-old.
“And you can’t do scented anything, remember? Cause YOU…GET… HEADACHES!!!”
Okay. That was really, really loud. Where was I? The house aglow in romantic, scented candles. Me in sexy shoes.
I’d be wearing a silk something or other, something to show off that amazing flat stomach.
…One second please.
“STOP THAT LAUGHING! It was flat before YOU PEOPLE RUINED IT!!!!!!!”
Anyhow, there’d be smooth jazz playing, maybe some Miles Davis Autumn Leaves…
“Hey, isn’t that the song you wanted papi to learn to play on the saxophone you bought him? The sax that’s been sitting there gathering dust for a hundred years?”
Ignore them. As I said, Autumn Leaves would be playing in the background. I’d serve dinner. I’d look amazing. Husband would gaze into my eyes and…
“Ewwwww…get a room!”
“BTW papi isn’t here, remember?”
So they are in stereo now?
Okay fine. I’ll make this quick:
I look hot. I’ve made this fancy dinner. There’s dim lighting and sexy music.
There’s no children. There’s no children. There’s no children.
There’s just Husband and I. Maybe he’s gotten me roses or a gift or both (I don’t need it, I don’t need any of it, just him, but, hey, it’s not like I am going to say no) and we gaze into each other’s eyes and smile and say, “Happy Valentine’s Day!”
But here is how it really goes guys:
Husband is off in some other country for work, as usual. These kids, good God, these kids that I sometimes wanna kill (in the most loving way) are here. And they’re hungry. And dinner isn’t ready yet. So I’ve gotta do something quick. Something simple. I’ll throw a steak on the grill, make some mashed potatoes, offer up a nice green salad.
“We hate salad, Mother…”
Okay, whatever. Hopefully one day they’ll eat salad. One day after meals and meals and meals of watching their mother eat salad, something will click and they’ll eat a salad.
And then dessert, because after all, it’s still Valentine’s Day.
I need something to commemorate my love to my man, albeit apart and long distance. Something that would follow that amazing entrée I’ve made up in my head.
I’m thinking crepes.
Don’t be afraid!
Crepes are easy, really.
You can super cheat and buy them premade. (I’ve super cheated, yes I have.)
Or you can whip up a batch and keep them in the fridge- just pull them out whenever you want. They’ll last up to two weeks like that.
Raspberries go great with crepes and feel fancy. And you’re gonna love this: all you do is spread your favorite raspberry jam inside the crepe, roll it up, and sprinkle the outside with raspberries, confectioner’s sugar, and fresh whipped cream. Seriously! That’s it!
“Wait, did you say crepes?”
“Yes, yes! We want crepes! Can we have crepes?”
Oh no. They’re still here?
“Can we just have dessert for dinner, Mom?”
“Ooooh, yeah, dessert for dinner! Dessert for dinner! Dessert for dinner!”
Throw everything into the blender (start with the wet ingredients first.)
Blend until smooth, about 1 minute.
Let batter sit for at least 30 minutes. If you are organized and plan ahead, letting it sit overnight in an airtight container is the die-hard way to go (just mix it up when ready to use)! But don’t worry. I am unorganized and impulsive when it comes to food cravings which leads me to wanting crepes RIGHT NOW, i.e., letting the batter rest a half an hour works just fine.
Heat a 12-inch nonstick skillet over medium heat.
Lightly coat with butter or Pam.
Add 1/3 cup of the batter and swirl it around so it coats the whole skillet.
Cook for 2 minutes..
Use a spatula to carefully flip. Cook 1 minute.
Slide crepe off and repeat, coating pan each time.
You can keep crepes warm in a preheated oven or just store them in the refrigerator in a gallon-sized Ziploc bag, taking out what you need as you go. To heat, just microwave on high for 10 seconds.
Use 4 crepes (2 per person.)
Pick your favorite raspberry jam. Add 2 teaspoons in center of warm crepe and spread all around. Roll up crepe.
Sprinkle with fresh raspberries and confectioner’s sugar and add a dollop of whipped cream.
If you want it super fancy, include a sprig of mint for extra color. Repeat.
Today is National S’mores Day, so, even though she is away at camp, I’ve got celebrating with my daughter on my mind.
If there is such a thing as a S’mores Addict, she’s definitely one. I, on the other hand…not so much.
She is unsettled by this difference of opinion. I tell her it must be a cultural thing, that this quintessential American treat must not tickle my fancy because I grew up in Venezuela, where the closest thing to melted marshmallows was the leche condensada I’d have drizzled on the coconut raspados, or snow cones, for an extra 25 cents. Hershey’s never made it into my mother’s pantry – that pantry was bursting with local Venezuelan chocolate favorites with names that sung: Samba, Suzy, Cri-Cri, Ping-Pong!
It’s a tough sell. Ever since my daughter, a native South Floridian, has been old enough to chew, she’s been consuming anything S’mores-related and trying her darnest to win me over to the S’mores crowd.
Obviously, there is a constant supply of Hershey’s chocolate, graham crackers, and marshmallows in our pantry at all times.
And then, whatever S’mores-esque products The Marketing Gods come out with, we must buy:
S’mores Pop tarts.
S’mores ice cream.
S’mores Rice Krispies Treats
Even S’mores Goldfish!
My daughter promises me, with each new product purchased, that I will like S’mores this time around. I taste, hear Marketing Gods’ evil laughter and, well, tell her to go ahead and enjoy it, and leave it at that.
But my daughter is persistent, hopeful and never one to give up on whatever it is she sets her mind to. I do love her for that. So, when we found ourselves trying out a local restaurant, The Red Cow and I saw her face light up as she read the menu, I knew something was up.
“Mom, they have a S’mores brownie,” she announced. “You gotta, we’ve gotta…”
I knew the drill.
We’d get it.
I must try.
I will love S’mores this time around.
“Okay,” I told her, and the pact was done.
After devouring our Smoking Gun sandwiches the waitress placed the coveted dessert in front of my daughter, whose eyes looked like they were about to fall out.
Something strange happened.
Did I tell you that part?
The part where I heard music.
Not the country music crooning in the background (that stuff always makes 12-hour smoked brisket and cowboy potatoes taste better, you should know.)
It was more like church-choir music.
For a second.
As she placed the plate down.
The plate, which, OMG…glowed.
Not in a creepy, chemically way, no! In a golden-spiritual-live-in-the-present-Buddhist kind of way.
This all happened in seconds, see. While my daughter’s eyes popped out. I heard music. I saw a glow.
Then I rubbed my own eyes.
Because I was a jaded anti-s’mores Venezuelan, remember?
So something must be wrong with my eyes.
This dessert looked…
“Mom, this is beautiful,” my daughter stated.
Yes! Beautiful! Took the words right out of my mouth!
What can I tell you?
I want to tell you the truth: as cheesy as it sounds when I’ll type it out.
I want to tell you what happened, exactly as it did.
I want to tell you that I saw the light. I saw the S’mores light!
There was this enormous cloud of perfectly melted marshmallow hugging chocolate and some sort of graham cracker crust underneath and perched beside it an utterly unpretentious scoop of vanilla bean ice cream and good God I wanted to snatch that plate away from my child, my flesh and blood, and devour it all myself.
But I didn’t.
I still have an ounce of composure and an itty-bit of restraint.
I pride myself in believing I am a pretty-decently-okay parent.
So, I grabbed the sides of the wobbly table and said, as calmly as I could:
“No darling, go ahead.”
“What?” My daughter asked, confused. “Oh? You want some, Mom?” She offered, watching me closely, witnessing change.
“Oh, sweetie, thanks, but, you, uh, you can, um, just…”
There’s a very important part of this story I’ve left out.
It’s about my daughter.
I told you she’s sixteen.
I told you she’s a S’mores Addict.
I haven’t told you how incredibly giving and perceptive she is.
You see, at that moment, while an imaginary S’mores choir sang and our tiny table for two lit up with delicious joy, my daughter, the S’mores Addict, pushed the untouched plate under my chin.
“Here Mom, go for it. I’m sure you’re gonna love it this time.”
I’m not sure if it was that soft, sweet blanket of surrendered marshmallow or the rich chocolate brownie dancing with buttery graham crust underneath. It all tasted magnificent in the company of my girl, smiling and savoring the moment with me, without even taking her first bite.
“Con todo,” rolled off my tongue automatically whenever I approached those beloved metallic carts parked precariously on congested street corners in my hometown of Caracas.
It didn’t matter that it was steaming hot outside, that a distressing amount of flies were on a holding pattern awaiting tasty scraps or that I was standing in a puddle of questionable grey water at the time. All senses were zeroed in on the incomparable meal I was about to have.
The man in the white cap would give me a slight nod, an acknowledgment that I had requested my order “with everything,” and begin creating the best hot dog known to mankind in seven seconds flat.
He’d pluck the link out of murky waters and plop it onto a steamed bun, and then, the expert assembling began.
Diced onion. More diced onion.
A hefty grating of fresh white cheese.
And a huge mountain of shoestring potato chips to top it all off.
If he was a jovial guy, and they all were, he’d drizzle some more pink sauce on top. Because in Venezuela, you can never have too much salsa rosada.
The expertise used sprinkling, drizzling, squeezing, grating, and piling all items with such bravado and fanfare could have easily served as inspiration for Tom Cruise’s character, Brian Flanagan, in Cocktail. Not only were you being given the best hot dog in the world, but you were being given the best hot dog in the world with a show.
It was heaven in a bun. The type of experience you just had to close your eyes for, because your other senses would simply be short-circuited if they dared function at the same time.
I’d block out the horns and the people and, yes, even the flies, and I’d take a big bite filled with crunch and soft and heat and smoky meat and it was the most delightful, delicious six seconds of my life. And then I’d do it again and again and again until I’d be left with crumbs on my lips, a dirty napkin and a small mound of fallen potato sticks on the ground.
I’ll give you the recipe, but, unless you’re on a street corner in Sabana Grande or Las Mercedes, hearing the crazy car horns and the shouts of “epa mi pana!” or “como esta la vaina?” it’s really not the same.
1 hot dog, 1 bun
diced white onion
spicy sauce (use your favorite kind)
Salsa Rosada (Pink Sauce: a mixture of mayo, ketchup and a dab of spicy sauce)
Queso blanco, rayado (in Gringospeak this translates to any of those hard, white Latin cheeses they sell in most supermarkets. Take a chunk and grate it, plop that on top.)
It’s what I’ve been drilling into my children’s minds since they were tiny enough to eat a mushy pea.
My daughter came three years before her brother, so, naturally, she was subjected to these instructions first.
I’d say this about every food I placed in front of her, which back then, sat readily exposed in her plastic Barney dinner plate.
I was prepared. I’d read up on all the books. Books about those terrible twos and their picky eating habits. Kids that get hooked on deep-fried, over-processed remnants of chicken and pre-made frozen French fries laden with trans fats and, like little fast food addicts, can never kick the habit.
Mothers had also warned me with their battle stories of sautéed spinach tossed across the room, chunks of stew hanging off the chandeliers, or meatballs flung right into their faces as if their child was Roger Clemens pitching his famous dangerous splitter. There were endless sighs and moans and cries of horror from these women, women I respected, admired, looked up to, who suddenly sat in front of me defeated, with shoulders slumped and permanent stains on their shirts.
So I bought that plastic dinnerware set of Barney, my daughter’s favorite, and held my breath.
And much to my surprise, I watched her eat and not toss.
First it was taboule, heavy on the lemon and parsley, which she gobbled up with glee. If I paired it up with labneh it would be consumed even faster and with my daughter’s enchanting one-dimpled grin.
From that experience my confidence strengthened and I moved on to black beans. But not just any black beans, my nanny Yoli’s caraotas negras, a recipe that required hours of simmering the hearty legume with her famous sofrito of onions, garlic, tomatoes and green peppers.
As my daughter grew older, her demands for variety increased. Rarely did I have to ask her to try it, at least once.
There was baby octopus, sautéed in a pomodoro sauce, which she declared her all-time favorite food at age four. “The yummiest part is the tentacles,” she’d say, eagerly slurping them up.
If a preschooler is enamored with tentacles, you’ve nowhere else to go except to oysters, clams, mussels and snails, all of which were devoured faster than her peers could say “Happy Meal.” An empty plate would inevitably lead to those temper tantrums I’d read up about so fervently, but not because she didn’t approve of the dinner selection, because she wanted more.
Each time I nudged and introduced a new food, I was met by her sparkling enthusiastic eyes, adventurous spirit, and innate appreciation for world cuisine.
Roasted bone marrow.
Korean shrimp pancake.
Venezuelan tripe soup.
And then, she discovered foie gras.
Of course, my husband and I are to blame. “We created this,” he proclaimed (beaming, I might add), recalling that first moment her tiny hand grasped a sliver of Argentinean blood sausage and never let go. Our daughter, and later our son, have paid close attention to our passion for food and travel, becoming our culinary partners-in-crime, exploring the world with us and making the mandatory food stops I research and anticipate along the way.
In Paris, there was the lengthy line winding along Boulevard du Montparnasse for a chance to sample the legendary steak and frites at le Relais de l’Entrecôte. In the Basque town of Errenteria, there was the 6-hour culinary odyssey at the famed Mugaritz, a unique dining experience run by chef Andoni Luis Aduriz, the prodigy of Ferran Adrià, king of Molecular Gastronomy. In Marrakech, we made our way through the chaotic maze that is the Souk Semmarine and climbed up to the rooftop of a dilapidated structure where we dined on the finest lamb tagine, and in Johannesburg we came home with bags of biltong, a South African speciality of dried, seasoned game meat that quickly became my daughter’s favorite snack.
On our last trip to New York, I managed to land a coveted reservation at Prune, the tiny East Village restaurant of famed chef, Gabrielle Hamilton. As we studied the menu, our waitress placed a bowl of seasoned, fried chickpeas in front of us. My daughter was the first to grab a handful, pop them in her mouth, and then ask, “Mom, what are these?”
At fifteen, she was far from that toddler with the plastic Barney plate, learning about the wonderful pleasures of good food. Not once had I experienced the food ambivalence or rejection I had been warned about by those frustrated mothers so many years ago. Quite the contrary, my daughter has blossomed into a seasoned foodie, always willing and eager to try new things and quickly developing a growing repertoire of exotic favorites. I’m not sure if it was the excellent glass of Lebanese Château Musar that was already taking effect on me, but I suddenly started to tear up.
“Fried chickpeas,” I answered, beaming with pride.
“Hmmm. They’re awesome!” She replied, that one-dimped grin beaming back at me. “But we’re going to need a bigger bowl than that!”
2 15-oz. cans chickpeas, rinsed, drained, patted very dry
2 teaspoons finely grated lemon zest
Combine paprika and cayenne in a small bowl and set aside.
Heat oil in a 12” skillet over medium-high heat. Working in 2 batches, add chickpeas to skillet and sauté, stirring frequently, until golden and crispy, 15-20 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer chickpeas to paper towels to drain briefly. Place in a medium bowl. Sprinkle paprika mixture over; toss to coat.