Wednesday, March 31, 2010

A friend lost... but hopefully not forever...

I woke up this morning thinking about boiling eggs for Easter... I was planning on writing a quick blog this morning about the folklore surrounding eggs and spring. Something all together different happened, however. I went to my trusty recipe box in search of the recipe card I pull out each Easter...the one titled "Perfect Hard Boiled Eggs," the one with the little lamb in the corner with the words "From Mom's Kitchen" penned in the middle... it's a little faded yes... but perfectly legible. I went to the tab labeled EGGS AND CHEESE... and couldn't find it. Perhaps I stuck it in MISCELLANEOUS... but sadly it wasn't there either. So I went through the whole box and looked at each card and newspaper clipping. It was, as always, a little trip down memory lane... but today it was a slightly panicked one. After I looked through the recipe box I tried all my desk drawers, and junk drawers and then I looked through the kitchen drawers... but alas I could not find it.

I know... I know... Do I really need a recipe for hard cooked eggs? After all I am a seasoned cook who can Iron Chef a meal out of a frat boys pantry... The answer is no... and yes. I can certainly make a hard boiled egg... but I can't make THE hard boiled eggs I've been making every year since my girls were born. My recipe box has been with me since I got my first apartment. My mother hand penned lots of recipes for me then... and over the years I've added things clipped from magazines... recipe cards sent to me by my late grandmother... and even recipes found in an old trunk that I had copied out of a teen magazine when I was 12. I don't really need these recipes... in fact I rarely use them... But what I do need is the memories that they represent.

Hopefully I will find it... Maybe it's tucked inside a recipe book... or perhaps it fell behind the fridge and I'll find it next time I am feeling industrious enough to sweep back there. I'm going to mom's house after I publish this. Perhaps she'll be good enough to make me a new one (but somehow at almost 40 years old I can't really picture myself asking her for a hard boiled egg recipe).... I wonder if she still has the rubber stamp with the lamb on it?

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Pleased to meat you....

On this day in history in 1966 the Beatles posed with mutilated dolls & butchered meat for the cover of the "Yesterday & Today." I can't think of a better way to celebrate this than by talking about MEAT!

I grew up in the 70's and as a result I ate my share of ground beef. Regular staples in our household included; macaroni and meat, chili (or as I knew it-taco soup), hamburgers wrapped in bacon, tacos seasoned with McCormick taco seasoning, and a wide variety of other delicious recipes cut from the pages of ladies magazines. My mother provided very healthy and balanced diet for us growing up...healthy cereals , whole wheat bread, yogurt, fruits and veggies... but in the 1970's ground beef was the King for feeding a hungry family... and my early diet was shaped by this fact. So in 1988 when I turned to a life a vegetarianism I expected my family to be a little shocked. To my surprise they took it really well. In fact my mother became a vegetarian too. But this is not about my years as a vegetarian... and later a pescetarian. This is about carne and my transition back to being a carnivore.

In February of 2002 I was living in Mexico. I had been living there for more than 6 months already and I had done so as a vegetarian. Sure I had broken down once and dined on Rotisserie chicken... but overall I didn't find it that hard to maintain the diet I had been living by for 15 years. One day in that fateful February my husband proposed an experiment... A semana de carne... a week of meat. During this week we would sample a new meat dish from Mexico everyday and see where it took us. We did not start out slowly. Our first day we dined on barbacoa de borrego (BBQed sheep)... and during the week we sampled Chorizo, bistek, tacos de cabeza, tacos de pastor, and pica dillo. I expected to have digestive woes based on a belief that so many years as a vegetarian would strip my body of the enzymes needed to digest meat... but either this theory is a myth or the small amount of fish I consumed over the years kept my enzymes in check. I didn't end the week untouched by the experience, however... I was transformed. I became an unrepentant meat eater again... and I haven't looked back.

Tacos Bistek

skirt steak or bistek sliced thin
corn tortilla
pico de gallo
To make authentic Mexican style tacos salt beef or marinate it in a little soy sauce or salsa Inglesa (Worcestershire) . Cook it on the grill until fully cooked. The trick is to cut the beef into very small pieces to insure a tender texture. Place the cut meat on corn tortillas and serve with a variety of salsas, limes, grilled onions and pico de gallo.

Salsa Chile Guajillo

This simple recipe salsa does wonderful things for grilled meats or tacos. If
you have any left over, it will last in the refrigerator for several days. We
had friends visiting from Denmark over spring break and I made this salsa along with pico de gallo and my standard salsa to go with Mexican style tacos... It was wonderful!

12 chiles guajillos, seeds and veins removed
1 large tomato, roasted and peeled (I was out of tomatoes so I used about 1/2 c
- 1 cup of tomatoe sauce)
1 clove garlic (I used 3)
2 teaspoons of salt
1/4 cup water (It turned out a bit thick so I added about a 1/4 c more to thin
it out)

Directions for Salsa Chile Guajillo
On a comal or iron skillet, toast the chiles well, about 2 minutes. Rinse but do
not soak.

In a blender, puree the chiles withthe tomato, garlic, salt and water.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Tradition! Tradition!

A couple of years ago I stumbled across a web site dedicated to the preservation of Irish Soda bread. I had no idea it was even in danger... but apparently people have been putting things like like whiskey, fruit, sugar, and god forbid orange zest into their recipes and daring to call it traditional. Well this Saint Patrick's Day I decided to try the authentic recipe myself... I combined the flour, baking soda, buttermilk and salt (my hand paused briefly over the orange zester, but I resisted the temptation). I kneaded it sparingly, placed it into a round pan, cut a cross in the dough and put it in the oven to bake. Then I finish cooking my less than traditional St. Patrick's Day feast of aloo matar and channa masala and cracked open a Sierra Nevada Pale Ale (the store was out of Guinness).
That night at dinner the bread was a hit. My husband thought that it was a bit lacking in the flavor department... but my friend Sara and the 5 and under crowd loved it. My older daughter who is suspicious of foods that are "mixed together" stayed away from the Indian food and dined on warm Irish bread with peanut butter and did her sister and friend.

After dinner I pondered the concept of traditional recipes vs innovation and tried to decide where I stand on it. At heart I am an innovative cook who believes that if you ain't got it in the pantry try something new... but at the same time as a collector of foodlore I love traditions and recipes that are handed down over the generations. I once posted a recipe in a Greek food forum for Meatless Moussaka. The recipe was removed from the list and I was informed by the moderator that this was not a traditional recipe... Who knew that taking the meat out of the moussaka was so controversial? I have in fact run afoul of traditional cooks on many occasions: I've made tamales without lard, I've cooked seafood and rice in a paella pan and called it paella, I've made somosas with refrigerator biscuits... I've even made gumbo with a roux that a creole would turn his nose up at (although a cajun would probably tip his hat).

I'm happy to say that I've decided where I stand. I am right smack dab in the middle of it all. Some occasions call for traditions and others for innovations.... and who knows one day one of your innovations may turn out to be a new tradition... Maybe one that is passed down through the generations. Heck... maybe your great granddaughter will even make a web site dedicated to it's preservation of one of your reckless innovations.

You Tube Video from fiddler on the roof.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Lift a pint of Guiness to the man who drove the snakes from Ireland...

It's Saint Patrick's Day... It's time to lift a pint of Guinness with your friends, pin a shamrock on your shirt, and celebrate....but why? Everyone knows that St. Patrick drove the snakes from his native country of Ireland... right??? And what about the time that he compared the lovely shamrock to the holy trinity?

Well the truth is that St. Patrick wasn't even Irish, he was English, and I'm pretty sure that Ireland was snake-free long before he hit the scene. As far as the shamrock/trinity story goes I don't really know if he said it or not... but wouldn't that make a four leaf clover a symbol of blasphemy rather than a charm of good luck? All that aside Saint Patrick is the patron saint of Ireland (although he has never been officially canonized) because he brought Christianity to the pagans... and he did it in a unique and effective way. Instead of getting rid of pagan rituals and symbols he merged and transformed them into christian symbols... But enough of the man... this is not what I'm here to write about. There are hundreds... possibly thousands of articles about St. Patrick. I'm here to write about the BEER!

Am I the only one that thinks that Guinness is seriously overrated? I don't hate it... but I certainly don't love it. In fact when my husband and I were planning on taking a walking trip in Europe we decided against Ireland because after a long day of walking we couldn't imagine settling down at a pub and having the only choice be Guinness (the irony is that now we are traveling to a country with no real beer to speak of... but that's a story for another day). But maybe Guiness is an appropriate choice for a St. Patricks day beer. It is, afterall, surrounded by as many myths as St. Patrick himself.

For one thing... dark does not equal strong. In fact Bud light has more alcohol than a Guiness on draft. Maybe this myth is perpetuated by the fact that many people drink it in combinations with another famous beverage from Ireland... Jameson. On the plus side for Guinness... it's not really all that high in calories either. A pint of Guinness only has about 170 calories... less than most 16 oz coffee drinks at Starbucks. You can find a whole host of other myths surrounding Guinness here.

I don't know about you... but this Saint Patrick's Day I plan on baking a loaf of Irish bread... and doing something that the man himself did...No I will not drive the snakes from Texas or convert my pagen children... What I will do is merge two traditions into one... Yes I will drink a pint of Guinness... but after that I plan on celebrating St. Patricks day my own way. I'm going to drink a pint of the only true green beer I know... Sierra Nevada!

Thursday, March 4, 2010

With Friends Like These- Part 2

Well my ten days in chain letter baking hell are at an end.... almost. I decided not to give the starters out to friends. No one wanted them and I decided not to make any enemies. Another thought was to have my husband pass them out at work (afterall that is where he got the starter to begin with)... but why risk job security over fermented flour, milk and sugar. I also opted against passing them out to neighbors. With an oak tree that produces thousands of bags of leaves annually (that blow onto neighbors yards) and a brewing feud concerning cars and cat poop why add fuel to the fire.

I decided instead that I was going to make all the bread myself and pass it out as gifts to friends. What could be a more perfect solution? Who wouldn't opt for fresh baked coffee cake over some goopy bag of mush that forces you to contemplate your relationships? The trouble is that baking day came and the weather was fantastic outside. Spring fever set in and I couldn't face a day of baking. Luckily I found out that you can freeze the starters and either defrost and use it to bake right away... or start the chain again. If you find yourself in a similar situation you might want to check out this link.

Here are a few funny links I found about Amish Friendship bread:

Monday, March 1, 2010


Last night we had friends over for dinner and made Paella. I prepped the ingredients and Paul put it all together on the grill. This was the first time that we cooked it on the grill and it was fantastic. They had shrimp scallops and crab legs available at grocery store... and how could you possibly go wrong with that? The first time I made Paella it was a friend’s birthday and for a birthday meal she requested Spanish cuisine. What she really wanted was Paella. When I began doing my research I had no idea that it would become one of my biggest culinary obsessions.
My first batch of Paella was cooked in an ordinary non-stick skillet. After that first bite, however, I knew that I would invest in my own Paella pan. In addition to the new cookware Paella introduced me to the pungent fragrance and vibrant red strands of saffron, numerous varieties of olive oil; and the joy of steamed mussels.

In Spain, men most often cook Paella, much like B-B-Q in the U.S. Another similarity to B-B-Q is that it is cooked on an outdoor fire. After the Paella is finished the family gathers around and consumes it straight out of the pan. They savor the crispy outer edges first making their way to the center squeezing lemon on it as they go. The pan is then merely wiped clean and stored for future celebrations.

Strict purist make a distinction between true paella and other rice dishes cooked in a paella pan. According to The Heritage of Spanish Cooking the original dish is called paella Valencia and can only be made on a wood fire using the traditional ingredients. The traditional ingredients are; rice, rabbit (or pork), chicken, snails, green beans, lima beans, tomatoes, olive oil, saffron, water and salt. But whether I say paella and you say paella-esque, my favorite way to make Paella is with seafood. Other variations that I’ve tried are excellent as well. After fishing in Winchester, Texas at a friends cabin I made a version that used green beans and several Blue Gil caught in Ross Lake. A delicious and time saving option is to buy a rotisserie chicken. It’s especially tasty when you can find a rotisserie that uses a wood fire. Then you get the outdoor flavor even when you cook it on your kitchen stove. Substituting chickpeas for the seafood creates a vegetarian version. Whatever you decide to include is fine. Just use you imagination. Paella is most likely named after the pan that it is cooked in, but the following legend is far more beautiful and my preferred choice for explaining the origin of this truly exquisite dish!

Here is the story: A Spanish princess traveling through southern Spain stopped at a small inn. The owner ,a young man struck by the princess’ beauty, decided to personally prepare the evenings feast for the princess as a gesture of his affection. Into a casserole dish he put his finest seafood meats and rice. He seasoned it with wine, olive oil, onions, garlic, and added the freshest tomatoes, peas, and asparagus from his garden. The princess was so delighted with the aroma and delicate flavor of the dish that after her meal she asked for the name. Since the young man had prepared the dish especially for her he decided to call it por ella (translation --"for her" ) or paella. (paraphrased from the book: Clarita's Cocina by Clarita Garcia)


Here is a basic recipe. They didn't have mussels last night so we used crab legs. These were precooked so we added them at the end of the cooking time in order to warm them.

Serve with lemon wedges

1/2-lb. shrimp, peeled (reserve the shells for broth)
a pinch of saffron threads
salt to taste or vegetable bouillon
1/4 C. olive oil
1/2-lb scallops
1/2 onion, chopped finely
6 garlic cloves, minced
1 tomato, halved and grated
1 1/2 C. Paella or medium grain rice
1 red bell pepper sliced
8 or more mussels
1 lemon, cut in wedges for garnish

In a medium saucepan, boil 4-6 cups of salted water. Add the shrimp shells and vegetable odds and ends and simmer, covered, for about 10 minutes. Strain the broth, and return it to the saucepan. Toast the saffron gently, crush the threads with the back of a spoon, and add to the shrimp shell broth. Taste for salt; the broth should be well-seasoned. In a 14-inch paella pan or a large frying pan, heat the oil on high. When the oil is hot, sauté the shrimp and scallops until almost cooked through. Set aside. Reduce the heat to medium and sauté the onion and garlic until the onion softens, about 5 min. Add the tomato and season with salt, sauté until the mixture, called the sofrito, has darkened and is a thick purée. When the tomato-onion sofrito is ready, add rice to the pan. Sauté until the rice loses its opaqueness. Increase the heat to medium-high. Pour in 3 cups of the simmering broth (reserving the remaining ) and stir or shake the pan to evenly distribute the rice in the pan. Bring the liquid to a boil. From this point on, do not stir the rice. Add the bell pepper. Cook the paella on medium-high, rotating and moving the pan to distribute the heat. If possible you might want to distribute the pan on two burners to keep the heat more even. Add mussels by submerging them in the broth to cook on top of the rice. When the rice begins to appear above the liquid, after 8 to 10 min., reduce the heat to medium low. Continue to simmer, rotating the pan as necessary, until the liquid has been absorbed, about 10 min. more. Taste a grain of rice just below the top layer; it should be al dente. (If the rice is not done add more broth to the pan and cook a few minutes more. Arrange the shrimp and scallops in the pan. Cover with aluminum foil and cook gently for another 2 min. to help ensure that the top layer of rice is evenly cooked. With the foil still in place, increase the heat to medium-high and, rotating the pan, cook for about 2 min., until the bottom layer of rice starts to caramelize, creating the socarrat. The rice may crackle somewhat, but if it starts to burn, remove the pan from the heat immediately. Let the paella rest off the heat for 5 min.

Sofrito (which means "lightly Fried") is a basic preparation widely used in Spanish cooking. Every sofrito is made with garlic, onions or both, many also include tomatoes, red or green bell peppers, parsley and meats: some are thickened with ground almonds, sieved hard-cooked egg yolks or even bread crumbs. Whatever the ingredients, they are generally chopped and usually cooked in olive oil.
From Time-Life Books: The Cooking of Spain and Portugal



Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...