Friday, April 23, 2010

Seoul Food


I had a wonderful lunch on Thursday with a friend that I've known since grade school. We reconnect every now and again. Every time we do I find myself wondering why we don't see each other more often. We went out for Korean food... which was a new one for me... and I really loved it. The restaurant was called Korea House and it is tucked inside an aging shopping strip... It has a sushi bar and is cramped with small tables... Our table was in a far corner near a fire place, stuffed with wood and chimney-less. The table beside us was occupied by a girl in a vintage dress who texted non-stop throughout her lunch... she was then replaced by a young guy with earphones.
I ordered one of the lunch specials that included Pork Bulgogi (spicy BBQ pork) and Yaki Mandu (fried dumplings). It was served with fried rice and a watery noodle soup. She ordered Bi Bim Bap, which is a variety of vegetables, meats, and pickles topped with a fried egg. We were also served a selection of small dishes that included things like Kimchi, pickled zucchini, boiled potatoes, strangely prepared sprouts, beans that looked a lot like baked beans but were something totally different, and a really awesome marinated tofu. It was a truly interesting meal... and I plan on experimenting with cooking Korean food in the future.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Garden Fresh Tomato Sauce

A friend of mine was going out of town the other day and she brought over a bunch of fresh produce so that it wouldn't go to waste. One of the things she brought me was a bag of five or 6 vine ripened tomatoes that were about to go bad.... I decided to make up a batch of fresh pasta sauce and MAN was it good.

Here is what I did. I blanched the tomatoes in boiling water to loosen the skin and then peeled them. I pulsed them in the blender quickly to chop them up...but you could easily do this part by hand. I then sauteed onions and garlic until they were golden. I added some fresh Italian sausage and when it was completly browned I added the fresh tomatoes, 2 T. tomato paste, handfuls of fresh basil and oregano from my garden, salt and pepper to taste, and sliced black olives. I let it cook for about 45 minutes and then served it with steaming hot pasta. The sauce was so sweet and wonderful. It beats any jarred sauce hands down. Other wonderful additions would be red wine, sliced mushrooms, or any grated or chopped vegetables to add extra taste and nutrition. This will be great when my garden fresh tomatoes are ready to harvest. MMMMMMMmmmmm

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Tortas Mexicanas


Tortas

Tortas are Mexican sandwiches made on crusty rolls called bolilos. They are made with a variety of fillings. From the most simple queso and aguacate (cheese and avocados)to the complex Cubana (made with a variety of meats and cheeses including milanesa). There are also regional specialties like las Guacamayas... which are a specialty in the state of Guanajuato... they are basically pork rinds on a roll with salsa. Men walk around in the plazas carrying a basket of bread, a side holster with salsa, and a big pig skin strapped to their backs and make a sandwich for you on the spot. Other popular toppings are a variety of deli meats including salchicha (hot dog), al pastor (marinated pork), Milanesa (breaded steak or chicken), chile rellenos (stuffed peppers) and carnitas (fried pork). Tortas are great for breakfast, lunch, or dinner... Here are a few recipes...

Here is the basic recipe:
2 bolillos cut in half lengthwise
Condiments of your choice: mustard, mayo, aioli, salsa...etc...
sliced jalapenos
1/2 of an avocado
cheese
tomato slices
onion slice
Other additions of you choice...eggs, meat, tuna salad, sauteed vegetables, milanesa and beans.

Place tomato and onion slices on the bottom bun and top with cheese. Toast the bread in an oven until the cheese melts. Add jalapenos and/or salsa. Generously smear the top bun with mustard or mayo and spread a portion of each avocado on each top bun as well. You can also add lettuce or any other filling you desire... Sometimes we add a fried or scrambled egg... or some sauteed peppers, onion and garlic... Meats, tuna salad, or even some refried beans also make excellent addition... Use your imagination.

Milanesa

1 thinly pounded piece of steak or chicken for every sandwich
Bread crumbs
1-2 eggs
oil for frying

Dip meat in eggs and then in bread crumbs. Coat well and then fry in oil until golden brown and cooked through. Place on paper towel to drain off excessive oil.

The Best Damn Egg Salad

I had this egg salad often before I moved to Mexico... I think that it would make an excellent torta filling.

2 eggs, boiled salt and pepper to taste
1 green onion, finely chopped basil to taste
1/4-1/2 tomato, diced olive oil

Chop up eggs and add the onion and tomato. Season to taste and drizzle with olive oil. Serve on toast with a small amount of spicy mustard. Makes two large open-faced sandwiches.

Tuna Fish Cerviche Style

This a great change of pace from tuna with mayo. My friend Monica made it for me once. That was the first time I actually ate tuna from a can and enjoyed it.

Mix one can of tuna with ½ small diced tomato, a handful of diced red onion, fresh cilantro to taste, and the juice of ½ a lime. Add salt and pepper to taste and serve on crunchy bread with lettuce and tomatoes. Top with a dash of vinaigrette if desired.

Friday, April 9, 2010

The Beverages of Central Mexico


Agua de Frutas are everywhere in Mexico. They are served by the jarra (pitcher) or the glass. In street stalls they are served in bolsas (plastic bags) with a straw. Aguas are the beverage of choice with comida corrida. They come in a variety of flavors... lemon, lime, orange, jamaica, guayaba, pineapple, mango, papaya, strawberry... you name it. I have even had an agua with alfalfa in it. These are very easy to make... All you need is water, sugar and the your fruit of choice... Throw it all in a blender and wah-la!

When life gives you limas make limonada... We were incredibly lucky... while living in Mexico we had a lemon tree right outside our house that provides lemons year around... All we had to do is step out on the balcony and lemons were a short reach away... As a result of our good fortune lemonade was a staple in our house... Here is how we make it.
Take a bowl full of lemons, cut in half and squeeze out the juices until you have between a half a cup and a full cup... The amount depends on how tart the lemons are and how you like your lemonade... Pour this in a 2 liter pitcher with 1/2 cup to 1 cup of sugar... Fill the pitcher up with water, stir and garnish with mint and lemon rounds.

Guayabas... These are little yellow roundish fruits...that in my opinion smell just like cat piss... Sound appetizing? Well oddly enough they are... In the streets the aguas de guayaba are pink... but when I have made them at home they always come out yellow. I am not certain, but I am reasonably sure that some sort of a coloring is added to the street version.
To make Agua de guayaba you simply take 5 or 6 guayaba fruits, 1/2 -3/4 C sugar and put it in a blender covered with water. Blend until smooth, add mixture to a 2 liter pitcher and top off with water. Stir and serve.

Other Auga de Frutas... are made in the same way as the guayaba drink. Simply take the fruit of your choice and throw it in a blender with sugar and water. Some fruits, such as pineapple, are better if you strain out some of the pulp... The drinks here tend to be much thicker and textured than the juices in the United States, however. The seeds and pulp are part of the experience.

Horchata... is an agua made with rice. The rice is cooked and then soaked in water. The water is then drained and the rice is blended with almonds, sugar, cinnamon and more water. It is sometimes flavored with vanilla or chocolate. This is a cool and refreshing drink that tastes like a light malt or milkshake. It is great for a hangover.

Chocolate... is a popular beverage in Mexico. I have had it prepared two ways. One way is similar to hot chocolate in the states... You simply add chocolate tablets to milk while it’s heating and whip it into a frothy mix. I know that chocolate tablets from Mexico are available in most grocery stores in Texas... I am sure if you cannot find them there then a specialty market would probably have what you need.
The second way that I have had chocolate prepared is a drink called Champurrado. This uses a corn cereal or corn starch dissolved in water or milk (this mixture is called Atole which is also a wonderful beverage or breakfast cereal)... you then dissolve the chocolate tablets into this mixture. This beverage is often served with tamales and it will warm you to the core!

Alcoholic Beverages... When you saddle up to a bar in Mexico you will notice some key differences. Unless you are in a resort or coastal town it is unlikely that you will see the same varieties of alcohol that you see in most bars in the U.S. Ordering a whiskey sour or sex on the beach might get you some pretty strange looks. You will, however, find a new mix of interesting drinks.
One of my favorite discoveries here is a drink called a Michelada... It is an excellent drink for those days you are feeling a bit crudo (hung-over). It is similar to a bloody mary...but made with beer. Take the juice of a couple of limes, hot sauce (not the chunky kind, but the thin bottled stuff similar to tabasco), and a sauce that it similar to soy sauce. Place these ingredients in a salt rimmed glass over ice and then top with a cold beer...Very tasty!

Other popular drinks here are Mezcal and Tequila... These are both distilled beverages made from the agave plant. Mezcal is similar to tequila, but it is often considered to be of lower quality. What I have found, however, is that if you only have a small amount of money to spend a more expensive mezcal is often cheaper than and of better quality than a cheap tequila. Tequila is served in many ways. The most popular way is a shot served with a plate of limes and salt. A variation of this is served in three shot glasses... a shot of lime juice, a shot of tequila and a shot of tomato juice. ..The colors represent the colors of the Mexican flag. Tequila and mezcal are also served in a variety of cocktails. They are often mixed with refrescos such as fresca (not the watered down diet version available in the US, but a grapefruit soda that is really tasty) , squirt, or manzana (an apple soda). One of the most hilarious ways to drink tequila is a Che Cafe specialty...First you fill a shot glass 2/3 of the way full of tequila, and top off with a coffee liqueur. You then take the shot, swish it around in you mouth, lean your head back and ignite. Kids...don’t try this at home... and for gods sake don’t try it with straight tequila...you need an experienced bartender on hand to supervise.
One other drink made from the agave plant is called pulque... it has an interesting taste to say the least... I think that it deserves a whole story just for itself... so I'll save it for another day.

Do you like Pina Coladas? Well let me tell you about a great one that I had in Malinalco... After a wonderful meal of trout in mojo de ajo and potatoes we stopped at a little stand for a drink. The woman at the stand was making Pina Coladas in the shells of the pineapples. She took a pineapple and cut off the greenery at the top. She then took the top core and set it aside. She scooped out the fruit of the pineapple and put it in a blender with water. She blended it and strained out some of the pulp. The liquid was then placed back in the shell with ice, grenadine, cinnamon, tequila, rum and vodka (I was a bit concerned that the bottles were labeled rom and volka...but hey this was Mexico... what could possibly go wrong). It was garnished with a beautiful tropical flower and an umbrella made from the top core of the pineapple dipped in cinnamon.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Popcorn Balls!



April 6th is National Carmel Popcorn day and I thougth I'd celebrate it with a tall tale about the creation of the first popcorn ball...This is a great tall tale that I read in the book Keep the Buttered Side Up... but I also found it online at this site that has all kinds of fun stuff about the history and legends of popcorn, Cracker Jacks & popcorn balls.

Popcorn Balls

"During a hot rainy summer in the 1800's, a Nebraska farmer grew sugarcane on a hillside and corn in the valley below. Weather conditions, as is often the case in the midwest, varied from one field to the other. Rain clouds let loose over the cane fields while rays from the hot sun blistered the corn. It got so hot, in fact, that the corn began to pop.
At the same time the rain over the cain field washed the sugar from the stalks sending the syrupy stuff down the hill over the popped corn and rolling it into huge balls. The farmer wasn't able to share the popcorn balls, however, because a great horde of grasshoppers arrived, consuming every popcorn ball in sight--at least that's what he told everyone who was salivationg for one of the giant treats!" (from Keep the Buttered Side Up by Kathlyn Gay)


Nana’s Popcorn Balls

This recipe is very easy and comes from my Nana's kitchen. If you don’t have a microwave you can make the popcorn the old fashioned way. Pop one bag of microwave popcorn. Melt 26 caramel candies with 2 T. of water. Pour melted candy over popcorn and mix well. Form into balls and eat.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Eggs au naturale


If you've ever seen an egg hatch it's easy to understand why people throughout the ages have associated the egg with life, the earth, and the universe. Eggs are little bundles of life wrapped in a hard to the touch and yet delicate package. Since ancient times eggs have been used in fertility rites, farming rituals, divination, burials and even as sacrifices to appease the spirits. Coloring eggs has been an important part of many of these rituals and customs... so it is no wonder that colored eggs play a part in our modern Easter celebration. The christian celebration of the resurrection merges with the pagan celebrations of fertility and the rebirth of nature in spring.
Today we color our eggs with colored tablets dropped into cups of vinegar and water... but in the past eggs were dyed with natural colorings from plants such as onion skins, coffee, charcoal, grass, and beets. This Easter I decided that I'd try adding a little nature back into my Easter. I went to the store and bought some eggs, vinegar, beets, yellow onions, red cabbage, and of course some PAAS dye for the kids and I went to work. I found my instruction here... and here are some photos of my results and the process.

Here are the eggs boiling in a solution of grated beets and vinegar. The other pan is just plain boiled eggs that I used with the kids and the tablet dyes.

In this pan I used turmeric and vinegar.

These eggs are wrapped in onion skins and cheese cloth and then I boiled them in plain water. I think that these eggs came out the best of all.

The front pot has red cabbage and vinegar in it and the back the eggs wrapped in onion skins. The only thing the cabbage did was make my house smell like a German restaurant. I barely noticed a tint change on the eggs even when they soaked in the solution for hours.

Here is the finished product. The eggs on the left are from the onion skins and have a beautifully marbleized look. The eggs in the middle were dyed in the turmeric and the far right beets. The eggs were a little underwhelming (especially the cabbage) but it was a fun process and the eggs certainly have a natural look.




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