Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Save Those Carcasses!

I know, I know. Food blogs this week are filled with orgies of culinary debauchery. Luscious photos of golden roasted turkey with all the trimmings, including nostalgia. It is enough to make one weep.

I adore Thanksgiving; it is my favorite holiday, and not only because it is centered around food. There is something so beautiful about a day set aside just to be grateful. No presents to buy, no exhausting flurry of preparations. Just a day to gather with family and friends, hold hands in thankfulness and--dig in to the incredible bounty! Christmas could learn a lot from Thanksgiving.

After the big dinner, when you are packing away the glorious leftovers, don't overlook the bones!

By that point, I know, we are weary of the whole thing. But, if you can summon up the courage to face the bones, you will be so glad. And, in the spirit of being grateful for what we have, it seems a shame to throw away something perfectly good.

If you have ham, wrap the bone tightly and put it in the freezer. One snowy evening, it will make a delicious--and economical--bean soup (I'll provide you with some ideas later).

And the turkey carcass? Do NOT throw that away--it is pure gold! The broth you can make from one of these babies is incredible. Make it the next day or wrap up the whole mess and toss it in the freezer for later.

Now don't be afraid. Making broth is easy. I do it all the time and it makes such a difference in any dish--especially soups.

This is no fail--give it a try!

Turkey Broth

In a large pot, place the turkey carcass, including any fat or skin. Add a bay leaf, 2 scrubbed or peeled carrots, 2 celery stalks, an onion chopped into quarters, a few sprigs of fresh thyme and parsley, a tablespoon of peppercorns (crush them in your hands slightly--smells so good!) and a sprinkling of salt. You can also toss in a few mushrooms, a turnip, potato, or other mild vegetable. Pour in enough water to cover everything.

1. Bring to a boil, lower heat to a simmer and cover. In the beginning you might want to skim off some foam (just use a large spoon) as this tends to cloud the broth. Check it occasionally. The longer you cook it, the richer the broth. Aim for 3-4 hours and add water if needed. (Definitely, I have cooked broth for a shorter period and it tasted so much better than store bought).

2. When you've tasted the broth and it meets your satisfaction (you might need to add salt), turn the heat off. Remove large pieces and discard.

3. Strain the broth and then skim the fat from it. There are two ways to do this: If you have a degreaser pitcher (I highly recommend one of these--they are so handy) pour in the broth in batches and let it settle, then pour out the broth leaving the fat behind. Or, place the cooled broth into the refrigerator and let the fat solidify--then simply skim it off the top. (Don't put the broth in the fridge right out of the pan--let it cool a bit first. I like to use an ice bath--place a stainless steel bowl of broth into a larger bowl of ice. Stir occasionally and it will cook quickly.) Broth freezes beautifully.

Make a turkey-vegetable soup or just a simple vegetable soup with the broth. You will love the flavor. Here's a warning, though: Once you have made your own broth you have definitely raised the bar. It will be difficult to go back to the canned varieties.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Apple Crisp

Fuji Apples
photo from wikimedia

Fall is the season for apples and one of my favorite ways to make them more fattening is apple crisp.

This great weeknight recipe includes oatmeal and nuts so that you feel less guilty, since you are boosting the nutritional power of the dessert. Also, it is very yummy.

Apple Crisp
Serves 8

6 large Fuji Apples (or other cooking apple, 3 - 3.5 pounds)
2 tablespoons sugar
1 1/2 tablespoon flour
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1 tablespoon lemon juice

2/3 cup walnuts, chopped
3/4 cup old fashioned oatmeal
3/4 cup flour
6 tablespoons brown sugar
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1 1/2 sticks cold butter (you can use margarine if you feel you have to)

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Spray a 2 1/2 qt baking dish with cooking spray.

Toast walnuts in a pan on top of stove until they smell, well, toasty. It only takes a few minutes, so watch them carefully so they don't burn. Spread walnuts on a cool plate and set aside.

Peel and core apples and slice into a large bowl. Add sugar, flour, cinnamon and lemon juice. Stir to coat and dump into prepared baking dish.

For the topping, stir together oatmeal, flour, brown sugar and cinnamon. Cut butter sticks into small cubes and work into the flour mixture with a pastry blender or your fingers. You are looking for a crumbly texture. When the mix comes together, add the toasted walnuts and incorporate quickly.

Sprinkle topping over apples and bake for 45-55 minutes, until topping is brown and apples are bubbling.

I like apple crisp all on its own, but you can add a scoop of ice cream or pour a little cream over your serving. Also, the leftovers are delicious for breakfast. ;-)

*If you like, you can sprinkle dried cranberries over the fruit mixture before adding the topping and baking.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

"One cow, make it cry," and other diner lingo

Photo from wikimedia

While researching vintage restaurant ware for an earlier post, I ran across a very entertaining website called For instance, "one cow, make it cry," means a hamburger with onions. "Burn one, take it through the garden and pin a rose on it" means grill a hamburger and serve it with lettuce and tomato.

This all-American slang went by the wayside as fast-food restaurants began to take over in the 1970s. But, it is so uniquely American, I hope the retro diners and roadside cafes will keep these treasures alive.

Here are some fun examples (all from

Soup jockey = waitress
photo from wikimedia

Mike and Ike with Yum Yum = Salt and Pepper with Sugar
photo from wikimedia

City juice = glass of water
photo from wikimedia

Cluck and grunt with a stack of Vermont =
eggs and bacon with pancakes and syrup
photo from wikimedia

Butcher's revenge in a fog = meatloaf and mashed potatoes

Nervous pudding = Jello
photo from wikimedia

Eve with a lid on = apple pie
photo from wikimedia

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Vintage Restaurant Ware

photo from Julius Schorzman

Talk about unintended consequences! (this time, in a good way!)

In 1901, Larkin Soap Company established a second business, the Buffalo Pottery Company, in order to sell more soap. Purchasing their soap provided customers with certificates with which to purchase dishware. Buffalo went on to create commercial restaurant ware for diners, railroad companies, hotels and military.

It is somewhat ironic that no one hears of Larkin soap these days, but Buffalo china has become a beloved piece of Americana. Its simple, pure, clean lines are not only beautiful (and practically indestructible!) , but make us nostalgic for a time when "fast food" meant something very different than it does now.

Today, Buffalo China is a subdivision of Oneida and continues to make commercial dishware for eateries everywhere. But the vintage pieces are sought after by collectors and some bring quite a high price. Other pieces can be purchased for modest amounts.

Following are some Buffalo pieces I found for sale on the internet. I have included links to the websites in case you would like more information on any. Please note, I am not familiar with the vendors so if you should pursue one of these pieces, please do your research as you normally would.

I am especially partial to the little pitchers, used for cream, milk or syrup.

circa 1930s,

red and white pattern

Especially this little "blue willow" design:

I also love cups and saucers. This lune blue pattern is lovely:

Imagine all the coffee that has been served in this cup:
Niagara Pattern

And bacon, eggs and hash browns on these plates:

How about some hearty chili from these bowls:
maroon-sprayed soup bowls

And blue-plate specials! Meatloaf, baked chicken or turkey with mashed potatoes and a veggie, the special was a good, square meal for not much money. Typically, the special changed daily and "no substitutions" was strictly enforced.

According to the Random House Webster's Dictionary, the blue plate was "a plate often decorated with a blue willow pattern, divided by ridges into sections for holding apart several kinds of food." This special dish ware saved on dishwashing because the whole meal was brought on one plate, rather than many smaller ones. Therefore, the blue-plate specials were less expensive than those plates on the regular menu.

The dinnerware came in many different designs and often showcased the name or logo of a railroad, a hotel or even the military.

Don't you love "Chessie"? She was the symbol for the Chesapeake and Ohio railway, whose motto was "sleep like a kitten." As you might imagine, these pieces go for a pretty penny now.
As a side note, Chessie was instrumental in the war effort. "Peake" is off to war and Chessie is his pin-up girl:

I think, though, my favorite Buffalo China is white.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

The Old Hotel

Since it is Halloween week, I'm going to tell you a little story.

When I was a girl, my dad's first shop was on the downtown square of our small, midwestern town. The red-brick building had once been a hotel.

He displayed televisions for sale on the main floor (the old hotel lobby) and had a shop in the back where he worked on TVs and kept electrical supplies. My mom answered the phones, assisted with sales and handled the books, so we walked there after school.

The first floor didn't hold much interest for my sister, brother and me. But the second floor was more intriguing. Hotel rooms were located on that floor and they were still furnished!! It was at once creepy and fun to be up there, amongst the 1930s-1950s decor.

Many of the rooms were completely set up, as if expecting a guest at any moment. However, the rooms had been abandoned for so long, there was a thick layer of dust on everything. Sometimes, the crumbling drapes in a room were closed and we had to turn on a lamp to see. Other rooms had drapes and sheers pulled back and thin late-afternoon sunlight streamed in through the wavy, dust-caked windows.

The furniture was unique in each room some with iron headboards, some with wooden, and some more recent ones that were white-vinyl covered and quilted with brass tacks. I think it was never a particularly elegant hotel, but I believe it must once have been a good, comfortable place to stay.

We played hide and seek, running through the maze of hallways, tromping on faded, flowered carpets that lined the creaking floors. It was quite a thrilling thing to come around a corner and see a long hallway lined with doorways, and wonder if a sibling (or a ghostly someone else???) might jump out at you as you moved along the wall. Can you say "redrum"?

Sometimes, we would scare ourselves to death. We'd hear a spooky noise or see an erie shadow and come skidding and scrambling down the stairs and back into the land of the living. Mom was not amused, especially when there was a customer in the store.

A child's imagination is a powerful thing and I can tell you I nearly jumped out of my Mary-Janes more than once up there.

There had been a cafe at one point, too, and there were stacks of restaurant ware and kitchen equipment heaped on the furniture in one room: plates and bowls, coffee cups and saucers, mustard and ketchup squeeze bottles. We often played restaurant, serving imaginary meals and crooking our pinkies up to sip imaginary coffee from the old cups. That is, until a chill would run up someone's spine, and we'd all go screaming and tripping down the stairs again.

I loved all those dishes and I think this was where I first fell for restaurant ware. I have collected a few pieces and about 8 years ago, we purchased a set of new Buffalo china, which we use every day. Yes, they still make it!

Feeling nostalgic today, I searched out some vintage restaurant ware, especially the Buffalo china. I will share what I found with you in the next post.

But, back to the story. The business thrived and Dad and Mom later moved the store to a better spot. It was modern, spacious and well-lighted. All very nice for the adults, but, we kids never quite accepted the new place. There were no shadowy corners or dark hallways to poke around in and worst of all, not even one tiny, spine-tingling chill in the whole place.

Friday, October 22, 2010

A rare Autumn

We have had a glorious autumn here on the front range in Colorado. Brilliant blue skies, warm, sunny days and cool, clear evenings put a spring in everyone's step.

Most people I know love autumn. To me, it always has been tinged with a bit of meloncholy, probably because I love summer so much. But, I have a sure-fire antedote: I cook!

Although Oktoberfest is long gone, this recipe, from Whole Foods, is one I make all season long. I love the combination of sweet, sour and savory flavors. Serve with a good German beer, if you like.

Baked Sausage and Sauerkraut with Apples

Serves 8

3 tablespoons butter, divided
1 large onion, cut in half and thinly sliced
2 rosemary sprigs
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
2 pounds large raw pork sausage links, left whole*
4 cups good quality sauerkraut, well drained
1/2 cup dry white wine
1/2 cup chicken broth
1 bay leaf
4 firm cooking apples, such as Fuji or Pippin, peeled, cored and sliced
1 tablespoon brown sugar
Dark, spicy German mustard

Preheat oven to 325 degrees.

In a large oven-safe skillet (I use my biggest cast iron pan), melt 1 tablespoon butter over medium heat. Saute onion and rosemary sprigs until onion is golden, about 10 minutes. Transfer to a plate and set aside.

Add olive oil to the skillet. Add sausages and cook, turning, just until skins are browned, about 5 minutes per side. Remove sausages to a plate.

Add sauerkraut and onions to skillet. Nestle sausages onto the top. Mix the wine and chicken broth together and pour slowly over the top. Add bay leaf to center of the pan. Cover with lid or foil and transfer pan to oven. Bake for 1 hour.

Meanwhile, prepare apples by melting remaining 2 tablespoons butter in large skillet. Add apples and sprinkle brown sugar over. Saute until just tender, about 5 to 10 minutes.

To serve, spoon baked sausage and sauerkraut onto a serving platter. Top with sauteed apples. Serve spicy mustard on the side.

*Nothing personal, Whole Foods, but I typically buy German sausage from my local butcher.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Simple Minestrone! (easy, girlfriends, it's vegetarian)

photo by Nigel Wedge

When we lived on the little ranch, I was so fortunate to have a huge garden (3500 square feet!) as well as a good-sized herb garden. Somehow our neighbor's chickens got wind of all this and three of them began visiting every afternoon. "The Girlfriends," as they came to be known, would strut and cluck their way to our house along the roadside, undaunted by the cars whizzing by.

Now, typically, the only way I like a chicken is roasted or grilled: when alive, they are sort of noisy and smelly as a rule. But these chickens had such personality! They gossiped and argued the whole time they worked, cleaning up my organic garden. They scratched and poked around (aerating the soil) and ate bugs harmful to my garden. In the late afternoon, they would again take to the roadside, heading home. It was totally a win-win.

During that time, I began making my favorite minestrone from my garden produce. Sometimes, if I want a more hearty soup, I'll make little ground chicken meatballs to toss in. But, out of respect for the Girlfriends, today the soup will be vegetarian. Hope you enjoy!

Easy Minestrone
Serves 4-6

2 or 3 tablespoons olive oil
1 leek, sliced
1 zucchini, sliced
2 carrots, sliced diagonally
2 celery sticks, sliced diagonally
1/4 - 1/2 pound fresh green beans, trimmed and cut into bite-sized pieces
6 cups (1 1/2 qt) vegetable stock (instructions below* if you want to make your own)
2 large chopped tomatoes (you can also use a small can of diced tomatoes)
1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme (or 1 teaspoon dried)
The rind from 1 wedge parmigiano reggiano**
1 (16 oz) can cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
1/2 cup pasta such as macaroni
Salt, pepper
Italian Parsley, chopped (if desired)
Pesto, homemade or store bought (if desired)

In a large pan, heat olive oil. Add leek, zucchini, carrots, celery and green beans and stir for about 5 minutes.

Add veggie stock, tomatoes, thyme and cheese rind and bring to a boil. Simmer very gently for about 20 minutes. Add cannellinis and pasta. Simmer for another 7-10 minutes (use instructions on pasta to determine the number of minutes). Taste for seasoning and add salt and pepper as needed.

Garnish with fresh parsley and a dollop of pesto.

* you could use store-bought vegetable stock, but it is so easy to make your own. Pour six cups cold water into a pan. Toss in:

one onion, quartered
two carrots (peel if they are very dirty)
two sticks celery
one potato, quartered
clove garlic
handful of parsley
1 bay leaf
tablespoon peppercorns, slightly crunched in the palm of your hand (smells so good!)
a few sprigs of thyme, or a teaspoon dried thyme

Boil for 30 minutes to 1 hour, depending on how much time you have. Strain the broth through a colander. This is 100 percent better than the canned version. You can control the salt and it tastes so fresh. It freezes beautifully until you need it. Try it!

** When I've grated down to the rind on a parmesan wedge, I toss it in a bag in the freezer. It flavors soups beautifully and is especially delicious in this soup. If you don't have a rind in your freezer, just buy a wedge and cut the rind off and toss it in! You'll be glad you did.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Cowboy Chili

photo by Jen P. at Flickr

Silver sage a' gleamin' in the pale twilight; Coyote yappin' on a hill,
Lazy winks of light along the pale skyline; Time for little doggies to be still.
Oh hey, we're on a holiday.
Coyote's nothin' scary, She's singin' to her dearie.
Hey oh, the lightnin's far away
So settle down ye doggies til the mornin'. *

I used to sing this coyboy's lullaby to my babies at bedtime, when the view from our house looked something like the above photo. We lived on five acres outside town and had a drop-dead gorgeous view of the front range. Of course, this setting led to many fantasies about cowboys and ranches (we weren't much of the cowboy- or ranch-types, although we did board horses for awhile). We really did hear coyotes quite often and the stars were brilliant without any light pollution. The view was particularly magnificent at the end of the day when we would rock our babes to sleep while watching the sun sink behind the mountains. I suspect they had many sweet dreams of riding the open range. I know I did.

Cowboys spend lots of time out on the trail, where the evenings can get downright cold. One thing every cowboy needs is a good chili recipe. It has to be hearty, meaty, warming and robust. It should be at least somewhat spicy, although for the tenderfoot-types, the heat can be turned down.

Following is my favorite recipe for chili, which has a red chile and tomato base. It takes some time to cook and it is hard to be patient when the aroma starts to fill the house. But, your patience will be rewarded when you dig in. A side of corn bread (make it in a cast iron skillet!) is all you need. Well, that and maybe some Gene Autry music in the background.

Note: ancho chiles, which are mild and on the sweet side, are frequently mislabeled pasilla chiles in markets. Look for a chile that looks like this guy below (from The Cook's Thesaurus). If you have not cooked with dried chiles before, this recipe is an excellent introduction. You will soon be addicted to the sauces you can create by varying the dried chiles.
Cowboy Chili
Serves 8

4 ancho chiles (dried)
4 tablespoons olive oil
3 pounds beef stew meat, cut into 1" cubes
1 large onion, thinly sliced
8 cloves garlic, sliced or minced
1 cup finely chopped carrot
1-2 chopped chipotle chile in adobo
bottle dark beer
1 1/2 tablespoons cumin
1-3 tablespoons chile powder (depends on your level of tender-footedness)
1 large (16 oz) can tomato sauce
2 cups low sodium beef broth
Cayenne Pepper to taste (optional--again, the tenderfoot thing)
2 cans (14 1/2 oz each) pinto beans

Remove stem and seeds from chiles and place in a bowl; cover with hot tap water. Cover chiles with a plate to keep them submerged. Let soak for 20 minutes or until soft.

Meanwhile, pour 1 tablespoon oil into a dutch oven or large pan; when hot, add 1/2 the meat, salt and pepper and brown. This is an important step: do not crowd the meat and take your time browning it to fully develop the flavor. Remove browned meat to a plate and repeat with other half.

Add 2 tablespoons olive oil to pan and add onions, garlic and carrots. Saute until onions are soft and translucent.

While the vegetables are cooking, remove chiles from water and place them in a blender. Add the chipotle chile, a bit of the soaking water and some of the beer (about 1/2 cup each). Puree to a smooth consistency. Add water or beer as needed to make the sauce pourable.

Strain the chile mixture into the pan with the vegetables and stir together. Add cumin and chile powder and cook and stir until the sauce darkens and thickens, about 5 minutes. Add the beef to the pan and stir.

Pour in the rest of the beer as well as the tomato sauce and beef broth. Cover and simmer for about 2 hours. Taste for seasoning, adding salt, pepper and cayenne if necessary. If the chili seems thick you can add extra water.

Add beans to the pan and stir. Allow to simmer uncovered for about 5 minutes.

*I have been unsuccessful at finding the source of this song and the CD it is on seems to be long-lost from our collection (I think it was on a CD of lullabies from around the world). If anyone knows the author/artist, please let me know.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Cream of Broccoli Soup

It is rainy and dark this morning, and the fallen leaves, all shiny and gold, are plastered to the sidewalks and streets. It is warm and cheery inside, however, and I'm thinking about a pot of cream of broccoli soup for tonight.

Broccoli is a cool-weather crop, so fall is a great time to find it at its best. This recipe comes from my mom and is quick, delicious and comforting. Because there are so few ingredients, don't make substitutions to save calories with this one--just enjoy the velvety richness. Serve it with a crunchy green salad and a bit of crusty bread. A simple fall dinner.

Cream of Broccoli Soup
makes 4 generous bowls

4 cups chopped broccoli
1 cup finely chopped onion
1 quart chicken broth (homemade, if you have it, really shines here--or use a good quality, low sodium brand from the store)
4 tablespoons butter
4 tablespoons flour
1 and 1/2 cup milk
1/2 cup cream
a generous handful of shredded cheddar cheese
Salt to taste

Place broccoli and a bit of water in a bowl and microwave for 2 minutes.

Saute onion in butter until soft; add broccoli and saute briefly. Add chicken broth and bring to a boil. Put flour and milk in a small jar and shake until dissolved; pour into chicken broth mixture. Add cream; bring to a simmer and stir until soup thickens. Turn off heat and stir in cheddar cheese. Taste for salt and add if needed.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Fields of Gold

And, suddenly, it is fall...

I was away for a week and upon my return the season had changed. I realized this when I went to the market. I found myself buying sweet potatoes, apple cider, squash and pumpkins, crisp, crunchy apples and a bouquet of sunny sunflowers for my table.

We noticed it in the landscape, too, driving through Kansas. Farmers were cutting field corn and hay, leaving golden stubble in the wake; behind the fields, bushy green/golden trees lined streams and the occasional farm house. Brick-red milo fields bumped against vibrant green winter wheat. An autumn rainbow. It brought to mind the lovely song, Fields of Gold, by Sting.

In honor of the new season, I plan to share my favorite soups and stews with you in the coming days.

Today's recipe is an old autumn standby for me. I clipped this recipe years ago from a magazine (I've since forgotten the source) and through the years, have modified it. I love the distinct, earthy flavor of the parsnips. This stew can be served over brown rice or with a crusty baguette.

Harvest Stew
Serves 6

2 tablespoons olive oil
3 pounds boneless lamb stew meat, cut in 2-inch chunks
2 cups thinly sliced onions
3/4 cup dry white wine
1 (16-oz) can diced tomatoes
2 cups good beef broth
2 tablespoons tomato paste
2 tablespoons flour
8 cloves garlic, peeled and cut in halves
1 and 1/2 teaspoons dried thyme
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
4 each medium-size carrots and parsnips, peeled, halved lengthwise, cut in 4-inch pieces

Heat oil in Dutch oven or large pan. Brown half the meat at a time for at least 5 minutes. Take your time here--this is where you first begin to develop the stew's flavor. Do not crowd the pan or the meat will steam instead of brown. Remove browned meat to a plate.

Add onions to the pot and cook and stir occasionally for 5 minutes or until translucent. Watch the onions so they don't burn.

Return lamb and any juices to the pan and add the wine. Cook until reduced by half (3-5 minutes).

Add tomatoes, beef broth, tomato paste, flour, garlic, thyme and pepper, stirring to break up tomatoes and dissolve paste and flour. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, cover and simmer for 1 1/2 hours.

Stir in carrots and parsnips. Cover and continue simmering 45 minutes.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010


Beef Barbacoa Tacos
Photo by Thelmadatter

"First, buy a cow head...." the instructions read. A cow what?

Then, "Remove the eyes, tongue and ears of the beef head, and discard the tongue."

My stomach flipped and my heart sank and it occurred to me I might not have what it takes to do an authentic beef barbacoa. (If you would like to read how this is done, check out this recipe and also a post by one tough hermana, the Homesick Texan.)

I had plunged into my cookbooks and the internet in search of barbacoa, that wonderful Mexican method of cooking meat, which traditionally is steamed/roasted overnight in an outdoor pit (PLEASE don't tell my husband about this, or he will be out in our backyard digging a hole...again....)

Beef barbacoa seems to be a tex-mex and northern Mexican specialty. In fact, my favorite chef, Rick Bayless, mentions it only in passing. Another great Mexican food authority, Diane Kennedy, doesn't discuss it at all in her cookbooks.

Barbacoa, it seems, is made all over Mexico, but is regionally specific. In northern Mexico, goat is most often used; in the central region, lamb is used (this also is called birria), and in the Yucatan, pork is the most common (called cochinita p'bil or "little pig in a pit"). It is not unusual to find pork barbacoa in other parts of Mexico, typically referred to as carnitas.

Traditional barbacoa was made for centuries before the arrival of the Spanish. The meat is seasoned and wrapped in maguey, banana or agave leaves. A large pit is dug, about 3 ft deep, and when the coals are glowing, a large cauldron of water is set upon them. A grill is placed over the pot and the wrapped meat is placed on top. the pit is covered and left to cook overnight. The water contains vegetables, spices and maybe beans. While cooking, drippings from the meat above go into the water creating an amazing broth or consommé to serve alongside.

A current day pit for barbacoa
photo by Javier2k35

Internet sites recommend any number of cooking methods to replicate the flavor of traditional barbacoa: grilling, smoking or baking. Rick Bayless, in Mexico: One Plate at a Time, rigs up his kettle grill, preferring it for the smoky flavor it imparts. Since we have only a gas grill (again, please don't mention this to my husband) I reasoned (rationalized) that all the extra work would not be worth it. Then, I discovered an easier method in his book, Mexican Everyday, where he recommends a slow cooker!

I took off for our neighborhood wonderful tortilleria, which also has a meat counter, and found I could purchase beef cheeks (not the whole head, thank goodness!) or cachetes. Only $1.99 per pound!

Here is the recipe, "Slow-braised Lamb (or Goat) Jalisco0Style," from Bayless' cookbook, Mexican Everyday, with his modifications for using beef and my slight adaptation.

Makes 6 generous servings.

8 garlic cloves
1/4 cup ground ancho chile powder (you can buy this on the spice racks in our grocery stores)
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground black pepper
3 tablespoons cider vinegar
1/2 cup water
6 medium red skin or Yukon Gold potatoes, cut into 6 wedges each
3 pounds beef cheeks or bone-in chuck roast

!/2 cup chopped white onion, for garnish
1/2 cup chopped cilantro for garnish
1 lime, cut into six wedges for serving
hot sauce, if desired

You'll also need lots of fresh corn tortillas.

Smash garlic cloves, peel, and toss in a food processor one by one, completely chopping one before adding the next. Add chile powder, cumin, black pepper, vinegar, 1 teaspoon salt and 1/2 cup water. Pulse to blend.

Spread potatoes over bottom of slow cooker. Sprinkle generously with salt. Lay meat on top and pour marinade over all. Add enough water to cover potatoes and the lower 1/4 inch of the meat. Cover and slow-cook on high for 6 hours.

Remove the meat to a large plate, pulling out any bone, cutting out any visible gristle or fat and shredding. Use a slotted spoon to scoop the potatoes onto the plate with the meat. Keep warm.

Degrease broth from the slow cooker and pour into a pan. Reduce broth to concentrate flavors and ladle it over the meat and potatoes.

I like to toast the corn tortillas in a hot frying pan. They will still be very pliable, just warm and with a toasty flavor. Just place a tortilla in and let it heat, flip it once, flip it again and then place it in the folds of a clean dishtowel. Continue until you have all you need.

Mix together the onion and cilantro. Serve barbacoa on the tortillas, sprinkle with onion/cilantro mixture, and squeeze a lime wedge over. Potatoes can be served alongside.

¡Que Rico! You must make this soon!

Thursday, September 2, 2010

A Quinceañera

Deyja, pretty in purple, with the boys in her court

We never had been to a Quinceañera before, so we were happy to be invited to this one last weekend. Deyja is my son's girlfriend (he is to her left) and we have known her and her lovely family for several years.

The Quinceañera, a beloved tradition in Mexico and many parts of Latin America, is a coming of age celebration in a girl's 15th year ((quince años). A special mass on this day is a way for the parents to thank God for their daughter and to seek guidance as she approaches adulthood. Typically a dinner and dance follows. On this important day, for generations, families have introduced their daughter and celebrated the transformation of a little girl to a young woman. This event may be very elaborate or very simple, but typically there are certain elements included in most quiceaneras.

At Deyja's quinceanera, her mother spoke emotionally and tenderly to her (in Spanish, so I didn't get most of it, yet the emotion transcended words) and this was followed by the two of them dancing. Deyja's godfather then danced with her.

Next, her little sister brought a package to Deyja and inside were high heels. Her step-father replaced the Converse sneakers on her feet with the heels and then the two of them danced. This "changing of the shoes" was profoundly moving.

Afterward, the "last doll" was brought to Deyja, which she then gave to her little sister. The doll symbolizes the last of childhood things as the quinceañera moves toward adulthood. I can tell you that Deyja's little sister was very taken with the doll and seemed to be guarding it and admiring it for quite a while after the ceremony. Adorable!

Deyja presents the last doll to
her little sister as her mother looks on.

The dance portion came next, as Deyja and the boys in her court presented a choreographed dance. The boys had worked hard on this dance with hours of practice, and it showed. They did a fabulous job. After the court danced, an amazing hip hop troupe performed.

All ages were represented at the party from babies, to little ones running through the crowd with balloons to friends and cousins, aunts and grandparents. I love that Mexican events always include everyone of every age. Guests danced into the next morning.

Did you think I would forget about the food? But then, you know me better than that, don't you?

Beef Barbacoa, rice, beans and salad

It was spectacular! I love beef barbacoa and this weekend, I'm going to attempt to make it. I'll let you know the results!

And, congratulations Deyja! You are a beautiful quinceañera!

P.S. A special thanks to Cynthia Rothwell of Guatamalan Genes for helping me to better understand this cherished tradition. Much of the information above came from her.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

How hot was it?

Kansas weather item
from early August, 2010
graphic from KSNT Channel 27

We are just back from a visit with family in Kansas. Boy oh boy, it was so hot! (you're supposed to say: How hot was it?)

It was so hot, I saw a squirrel run down a tree, hit the sidewalk and burst into flames.

It was soooo hot, even the Gila Monsters at the zoo were carrying canteens.

It was so hot:

  • all the corn on the stalks started popping and flying through the air.

  • I saw a dog chasing a cat and they were both walking.

  • the birds had to pick up worms with potholders.

  • farmers were feeding their hens crushed ice so they wouldn't lay hard-boiled eggs.

  • the trees were whistling for the dogs.
  • Okay, one more: It has been so hot in Kansas this summer the devil has gone back to Hades, where it is cooler.

    And that is not taking into account the heat index, which factors humidity into the equation. Brutal summer!

    I love Kansas; I was born and raised there. But, I'm afraid I've become a sissy after living in Colorado for 22 years--I just can't stand the humidity anymore. So, to all you Kansans--you are a brave, strong and mighty people to endure such a summer. My hat's off to you! (but please, you should leave your hats on to stay shaded).

    Tuesday, August 10, 2010

    Summertime Sandwich

    Grilled Veggies
    photo by

    Is your garden overflowing with veggies? Or, maybe you went a little nuts at the farmers' market and bought more than you know what to do with? Here's a quick and delicious way to use August's bounty, whether you've planned to have so many vegetables on your counter or not.

    I love to make this dinner sandwich this time of year. The recipe is from the excellent book, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, by Barbara Kingsolver. A slice or two of prosciutto, ham or fried bacon can be added if you have reluctant vegetarians in the family.


    Summer squash (an assortment)
    Olive oil
    Salt and pepper

    Slice vegetables lengthwise into strips no thicker than ½ inch. Combine olive oil and spices (be generous with the herbs) and marinate vegetables, making sure all faces of the vegetable slices are covered. Then cook on grill until vegetables are partially blackened, you may want to use grill basket for onions and peppers.

    2 loaves French bread (16 to 18 inches)
    2 balls mozzarella (8 oz.)
    3 large tomatoes
    Basil leaves

    Cut loaves of bread lengthwise. Arrange bread on baking sheets and layer with slices of mozzarella first, grilled vegetables next, and slices of tomato last. Drizzle with a little bit of olive oil and place the baking sheets under a broiler until cheese in melted. Garnish with leaves of fresh basil. Cut in pieces to serve.