Friday, January 28, 2011

A "Food Trance" Trip with Cleo Coyle

The Clare Cosi coffeehouse mystery series by Cleo Coyle is one of my favorites and one I buy often for gifts for other people. I also like the authors' Haunted Bookshop series! In addition to series that stay strong title after title with tight and interesting plots, delicious recipes and characters keep readers hungry for more. And I don't even drink coffee! Molly and I were delighted Cleo was able to join us for our celebration this month. We really appreciate how she made the dish and took a special picture just for this blog!-AA 

A “Food Trance” Trip with Cleo Coyle

Although my husband, Marc, and I have lived in big, bad, New York City for over twenty years, we were born and raised in little towns outside of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The rich mix of immigrants in the region introduced us to Italian, Irish, Polish, Ukrainian, German, Greek, and Danish cuisines.

Moving to New York opened up our culinary world even more. Our research for the Coffeehouse Mysteries also brought us wonderful foodie finds from coffee-producing countries of South and Central America, Africa, and Southeast Asia, among others.

When Amy asked if we had a flaming (or spicy) dish to celebrate the publication of Molly MacRae’s Lawn Order (congrats Molly!), I immediately thought of an amazing Peruvian comfort-food dish, one featured in Espresso Shot, a popular entry in our Coffeehouse series.

The instant our amateur sleuth, coffeehouse manager Clare Cosi, eats this dish at a pre-wedding bash for her ex-husband (a globetrotting coffee buyer for their shop) she slips into a “food trance.” It’s exactly what happens to me when I eat it, too. There are so many flavors coming at you in this baby your mind shuts down to simply enjoy the gastronomic moment.

Lomo Saltado is not a complicated dish, and the ingredients are far from exotic. It’s the Peruvian version of meat and potatoes, a real “mom and pop” kind of meal with versions served in most restaurants and homes in Peru. Like spaghetti sauce, meatloaf, Mulligan stew, or shepherd’s pie, lomo saltado is a dish in which every family tends to put their own unique spin on the basic recipe.

Natives of Peru in our Queens neighborhood made this dish for us. We loved it so much we adapted their recipe to make at home. It’s perfect for a cold winter night, and (as far as the “heat” issue goes), you can make it mild, spicy, or call-the-fire-department hot by adjusting the amount of jalapeño pepper up or down. We like our version best, because the heat is subtle and well balanced with the other flavors.

To complete your “virtual” trip to Peru, tune in to Peruvian radio as you eat! Just click this link and then click on the icon to listen to music from the Andes: Link courtesy of combat knife-maker (I kid you not) Newt Livesay.

To drink? Enjoy an authentic Peruvian cocktail—the Pisco Sour. Click here to watch a Peruvian bartender whip it up for you. By the end of the dinner, I swear you’ll be seeing Machu Picchu!



Approximately 6 servings

Boneless beef steaks, approximately two pounds (*See note on cuts)

2–3 russet potatoes (or use frozen French fries)

4 tablespoons vegetable or canola oil

4 cloves garlic, minced

1 teaspoon sea salt

1 teaspoon ground black pepper

2 tablespoons soy sauce

2 yellow onions, chopped

2 red onions, chopped

2 red peppers, chopped

2 yellow peppers, chopped

1 large (or 2 small) jalapeño pepper, sliced

1 tablespoon dried oregano

1⁄3 cup cilantro, chopped

1 cup white rice (optional)

*Note on beef – Almost any of your favorite cuts of beefsteak will work in this dish. We suggest sirloin, tri-tips, chuck, or flank steak. Just be sure to marinate the less expensive cuts to tenderize them. You’ll also want to cut against the grain on those cuts. To watch a short video on how to cut meat against the grain, click here:
Also remember that boneless cuts are easier to cut into strips, but you can certainly use bone-in if you don’t mind the extra bit of work.

Step 1 – Cut the meat into 1-inch strips and marinate for one to two hours. Use your favorite beef marinade recipe (see a quick one below) or simply cover the meat with plain cold coffee. Coffee is a fun, fast marinade that not only imparts an earthy note to beef but also helps tenderize it.

Step 2 – Julienne and fry the unpeeled potatoes in a separate pan and keep them warm. OR take a shortcut and use frozen fries. One of our Coffeehouse Mystery readers tells us that a pizza pan with holes in it will help your frozen fries become even crispier in the oven. (Shout-out of thanks to Nancy Prior Phillips for the tip!)

Step 3 – Place a large, nonstick skillet over medium heat and add the oil. Sauté your minced garlic and add the meat. When cooked through (two to three minutes) pour off the juice into a separate bowl. (You need to reserve the juice so it does not completely evaporate during the next step of cooking. You also need to remove liquid now so you don’t end up boiling everything.)

Step 4 –Add the sea salt, ground pepper, and soy sauce and stir to blend the flavors. Next add the onions, peppers, oregano, and cilantro. Return the meat juice that you reserved in the previous step. Cook, uncovered, over medium heat for 3–5 minutes.

To serve – Place meat and vegetables on a large, family style serving platter and garnish with fried potatoes. In Peru, this dish is also served with white rice. 

Our quick beef marinade – For about 2 pounds of meat cut into strips: Mix 2/3 cup soy sauce, 1 tablespoon lemon juice, ½ teaspoon salt, and ¼ teaspoon ground black pepper. OR simply pour enough cold coffee over the meat to cover. Follow recipe as directed above.

Thanks to Amy and Molly for the invitation to join you here today.

Eat with joy! ~ Cleo

Cleo Coyle is the pseudonym of Alice Alfonsi, who collaborates with her husband, Marc Cerasini, to write the Coffeehouse Mysteries and The Haunted Bookshop Mysteries, both of which are national bestselling series for Penguin's Berkley Prime Crime. When not haunting coffeehouses, wrangling stray cats, or hunting ghosts, Alice and Marc are also New York Times bestselling media tie-in writers. To get more of Cleo’s recipes, win free coffee, or find out more about her books, visit Cleo’s *virtual* coffeehouse at To watch the Coffeehouse Mystery book trailer, click here:

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