Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Pan de Muertos - Bread of the Dead



http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/d/dd/Elementos_ofrenda.JPG
Elements of an alter: marigold leaves, cut paper for banners and bread

UPDATE 11/1/13: Today I made my pan de muertos the same as always, but added an orange glaze, as they do in some parts of Mexico. Wow! It is soooo good! Super simple: 1/2 cup sugar and 1/3 cup orange juice boiled together for 2 minutes. When the loaf comes out of the oven, brush the glaze all over and sprinkle sugar over all. (also please note: I have clarified the baking times in the recipe below. For 2 medium loaves, it should take about 30 minutes; for 1 large loaf, it might take about 40. Watch it carefully and when you tap it and it sounds hollow, it's done!)


Today is foggy and cold, and feeling very much like November.

I've been thinking about the Pan de Muertos, which is so popular across Mexico and parts of the U.S. during Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) festivities November 1st and 2nd. This holiday pre-dates the arrival of Christianity in Mexico and was celebrated by the Aztecs. It is called mihcailhuitl in the Aztec language, Nahuatl.

Far from being a somber and mournful occasion, Day of the Dead is a celebration of life and the lives of those who have gone before us. It is an invitation to the spirits of our beloved deceased to come for a visit, to stay and rest awhile and to hear our prayers for and stories about them, to know that they are not forgotten.

Prevalent in these celebrations is the bread of the dead. I make some every year and it is simply delicious, sweet with a slight taste of anise. While the bread can be shaped into animals or angels (for instance), we make the round loaf decorated with dough bones.

My little Dia de los Muertos alter, on my mantle, has reminders of those I have loved who have left the earth. To name a few: a red rose and ceramic bird for one friend, a Maria doll and jar of mole for another (see here for that story), a tiny glass ring box from one grandma, one of the whisks my other grandma used. And this year, I have added a tube of red lipstick to honor my beautiful aunt who died just a few weeks ago. We will enjoy the bread with happy memories of them in mind.

Here is the recipe, from the Mexican state of Puebla, via Karen Hursh Graber. I have used it for years:

Pan de Muertos
makes 1 large bread or 2 medium

1 1/2 cups flour
1/2 cup sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon of anise seeds
2 packets yeast
1/2 cup milk
1/2 cup water
1/2 cup butter
4 eggs
3 - 4 1/2 cups flour

Mix the first five dry ingredients in a large bowl.

In a small pan, heat milk, water and butter, just until butter is melted. Add this liquid mixture to the dry mixture and beat well.

Mix in eggs and 1 1/2 cup flour; beat well. Add some flour, little by little, until the dough holds together and can be poured out onto a floured surface. Knead for 5-10 minutes or until the dough is pliable and elastic.

Put the dough in a greased bowl and let rise until doubled. Punch dough down. Pull off a small part of the dough and reserve. Shape the remainder into a ball. With the reserved dough, form some bone shapes and place these on top of the dough ball.

Let rise another hour.

Bake at 350 degrees for about 30 minutes for 2 medium loaves or about 40 minutes for one large loaf. After baking, sprinkle with confectioner's sugar and colored sugar.*

* I prefer to use coarse sugar.

Miquiztlaxcalli--Nahuatl (language of the Aztecs) for pan de muertos



If you are interested in learning more, here is an excellent and lovely explanation of  Dia de los Muertos  from mex.com: Dia de Muertos  And, while my little alter is humble, there are truly some magnificent ones being built right now. If you would like to make your own alter, here is a great resource: Day of the Dead Alters  Of course, there are many helpful online resources.







Friday, August 30, 2013

The Right Ingredients - caprese salad

from the Caprese kit

Last Saturday, my sister brought over a paper bag with what she called a "Caprese kit" inside:  fresh tomatoes and basil from her garden, fresh mozzerella from the local cheese shop and a crusty baguette from a local bakery.

Wow! The depth of the rich tomato and peppery basil combined with cool, mild, fresh mozzerella and crispy, lightly salted bread to make a memorable lunch. I drizzled on very good olive oil and sprinkled sea salt and fresh crushed pepper. Sublime! This is an exercise in using the best ingredients to create a very simple meal. A loaf of white bread, store-bought tomatoes, shredded pizza-topping mozzerella, dried basil, any old olive oil. Well, change out any of these ingredients and you've lost the whole experience.

Reminds me of a quote by Mark Twain:

The difference between the almost right word and the right word is really a large matter--it's the difference between the lightning bug and the lightning.  





Saturday, June 8, 2013

Cheerio Treats


When my son was little, he loved Cheerios. He loved them so much my sister called him Christian-oat-e-os. When he was still a toddler, we were invited to a family potluck. While looking for a dessert to take, I came upon this recipe--was it on the Cheerios box? Or the Marshmallows package? It's too long ago to remember. But I took these treats to the potluck and they were a smash hit!

Through the years we have made Cheerio Treats: for school parties, potlucks, picnics, and just for fun. They always disappear quickly. So, a few weeks ago, it was fitting when my son told me about a group of seniors getting together for a graduation picnic: He asked if I would make Cheerio Treats. How could I refuse?

Here is the very simple recipe, which I not only know by heart, but have in my heart:

Cheerio Treats
Makes about 18 treats

3 tablespoons butter
1 (10 ounce) bag marshmallows
1/2 cup peanut butter
5 1/2 cups Cheerios
1 cup M & Ms

Line an 8x8 or 9x9 pan with aluminum foil. Spray foil with cooking spray.

In a large pan, melt butter and stir in marshmallows. When marshmallows are nearly melted, stir in peanut butter. Remove from heat and stir in Cheerios. When Cheerios are integrated, stir in M & Ms and quickly turn into prepared pan. Press into pan with a spatula or with fingers which have been sprayed with a little cooking spray.

Wait until cooled, or as long as you can. Remove from pan, using the aluminum foil's edges. Carefully peel away the foil and, with a very sharp knife, cut into nine pieces. I like to slice each piece diagonally.




Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Beet and Goat Cheese Salad


When I was a little girl, each summer my mom canned quart after quart of pickled beets. I loved them and once sat down at the kitchen table in that hot, steamy kitchen and ate a whole quart of them before she could get them canned. When I went to school, the cafeteria offered something called Harvard Beets. When I bit into one, I found it disgusting. These beets weren't pickled at all--just boiled to death, diced and doused with butter (or more likely margarine). After discovering Harvard Beets, I avoided any beet other than my mom's.

But, as a grown-up, I discovered roasted beets--a whole different thing. Roasted with olive oil, salt and pepper, they retain their jeweled colors and the flavor is unbelievable! Next to my mom's pickled beets, these are the best.

So, I love this salad. While I've had it in restaurants, I like my version: crispy, crunchy, sweet walnuts, smooth goat cheese, roasted red and golden beets, on a bed of fresh spring greens with a simple vinaigrette. Yum! Here's how I do it:

Roasted Beets
3 large or 4 medium or small red beets
3 large or 4 medium or small golden beets
Olive oil
Salt and Pepper

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Cut off beet greens, leaving about an inch at the top and do not cut off any straggly root or peel the beets. This will ensure that the color doesn't drain out of the beets while cooking. Scrub beets and drizzle with olive oil, salt and pepper. Wrap the red beets and golden beets separately into foil packets. Place on a baking sheet lined with foil and bake for anywhere from 20 minutes (for new, small beets) to 1 hour (for larger beets). Check with a fork to make certain they are tender but not mushy. Peel, dice and place into separate containers and refrigerate for up to 3 days.

Sweetened Walnuts
3/4 cup walnut pieces
1 cup sugar
1 cup water

Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Place all three ingredients into a sauce pan and bring to a boil. Strain walnuts and spread on a cookie sheet lined with foil or parchment. Bake for 10-15 minutes. Cool and store in a container for up to 1 week.

Red Wine Vinaigrette
1/3 cup red wine vinegar
2/3 cup good olive oil (first cold pressed)
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
salt and pepper

Mix all ingredients in a jar with tight fitting lid and shake until mixed. Taste on a piece of lettuce and adjust ingredients as you like.

To compose the salad:
This can make up to 4 main-course salads

box or large bag of spring greens
goat cheese (4 ounces)
Roasted beets
Sweetened walnuts
Vinaigrette

Put spring greens into a bowl and toss with a bit of vinaigrette. Then, place a bed of the greens on each plate. Sprinkle each with cheese, beets, and walnuts. Serve with extra vinaigrette. With a crusty baguette, this makes a fine meal!











Friday, April 5, 2013

Vegas, Baby!

Entrance to the Bucchanal Buffet, "One Epic Feast"
yelp.com

My son, C, and I just got back from spending a few days in Las Vegas. We decided to get away for some warm weather, sun and something completely different. He will graduate from high school in a few weeks and it seemed like a good time to spend some uninterrupted time with him. We had so much fun! (Can anyone tell me how to stop tearing up every time I drive by the high school?) 

We drove to Vegas and did pretty much everything on the cheap (as best we could there, anyway). However, one of our splurges was a room at Caesar's Palace, through expedia. C wanted to stay there because "The Hangover" took place there and, being an 18 year old guy, it is one of his favorite movies (One of the characters asks the registration desk, "Did Caesar really stay here?") Lucky us, we got upgraded to a gorgeous room on the 35th floor with a view of the Strip, the Bellagio Fountains and the mountains. Our room had a jetted tub, two TVs, over 600 square feet and total luxury. Right now I am so jealous of my past self :)

Our other splurge was breakfast one morning there at The Bucchanal Buffet. We arrived at 8 a.m. and there wasn't much of a line, although their queues are notorious. It is such a pretty place with light streaming in from the pool area and a clever use of glass throughout, such as chandeliers made of wine glasses. And the food presentation is gorgeous. Most buffets we've been to in Las Vegas (or anywhere for that matter) are big piles of food in stainless steel pans. It tastes okay, but nothing special. But the Bucchanal takes breakfast to another level. C and I are both breakfast lovers so we enjoyed the experience immensely.

Since I somehow missed the "Oh that is so pretty, I need to get a picture of it" gene, I found some pics at yelp.com which help to describe the experience. 

Viva Las Vegas!

Such pretty decor
yelp.com
Gorgeous!
yelp.com

Which kind of juice would you prefer?
yelp.com
Look at these nibbles! Beautifully presented
yelp.com
Maybe you would like a crepe?
yelp.com
Cute mini quiches
yelp.com
For breakfast? Why not? And a great presentation.
yelp.com
How about some infused honey for that croissant?
yelp.com


Yes, indeed. There was plenty of Asian food.
yelp.com

Pretty yogurt and berries
yelp.com

A dainty little madame croquette
yelp.com






Saturday, March 23, 2013

Chili-Mac

Chili Mac

Rats. It is snowing here this morning, and while we need the moisture, it is a winter snow--small, icy flakes pushed hard by cold wind and made just plain mean. I much prefer the spring snows we get in Colorado--big, fat flakes, hitting your face like wet kisses. Typically, these snows occur at or slightly above freezing so the flakes don't last once they hit the ground.

While the calendar says it is spring, this kind of day sends me right to the kitchen to cook something toasty and to warm up our house. Today, I think it will be my special Chili Mac, with skillet corn bread (I will post this recipe later) and carrot and celery sticks. This recipe makes a lot, and will reheat beautifully for meals later in the week.

Note: The chili mac can be made spicier with the addition of hot sauce. I love El Pato's Hot Sauce, which is available in my grocery store's Latin American section. Typically I use only about 1/2 can because Dan gets an itchy scalp if food is too hot :) You can add more if your family can take it, or none at all. (See picture of the can below.)

Chili-Mac8-10 servings

1 pound ground beef
1 onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced or pressed
2 teaspoons chili powder
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon pepper
1 teaspoon dried oregano--preferrably Mexican-style
1 (28 ounce) can diced tomatoes
1 (28 ounce) can tomato sauce
El Pato Hot Tomato Sauce (optional--see note above)
1 (14 1/2 ounce) can beef broth
2 (16 ounce each) cans beans--your choice: pinto, black, kidney, etc., drained and rinsed
1/4 cup packed light brown sugar
1 pound cellentani or elbow macaroni (Barilla is the very best!)
Shredded cheddar, sour cream, chopped green onion for garnish, if desired

In a large pot, brown beef, onion and garlic about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add spices and stir for 1-2 minutes, until fragrant. Add tomatoes, tomato sauce, hot tomato sauce, and beef broth. Fill broth can with water and add that as well. Stir in beans and brown sugar. Lower heat and simmer with lid askew for about 30 minutes.

While chili is simmering, fill another large pot with cold water; when boiling add salt and pasta of your choice. Cook according to package instructions. Drain and stir in a little olive oil.

When pasta is cooked and chili is done, serve the chili over the pasta and garnish, if desired. And, yes, I do! This dish tastes great with the addition of the garnishes.

I usually serve the chili over the mac for the first meal and then add the leftovers together and refrigerate. It is simple to scoop out and reheat a bowl anytime you want one!

Add as little or as much as you like!


Thursday, March 14, 2013

Oh those naughty leprechauns!

St. Patrick’s Day is one of my family’s favorite holidays; after all  Dan and I both have Irish roots. When our kiddos were little, the leprechauns came every St. Paddy’s Day eve to play tricks and leave candy gold coins. One year, the leprechauns put all the chairs on top of the kitchen table. Another year, the kids found their underwear hanging from the chandelier above our table. Always, the leprechauns dyed the milk green. I remember my kids just shaking their heads and saying, "Oh, those naughty leprechauns...."

My kiddos are now 18 and 16. Last year, I was thinking the leprechaun pranks finally might be too childish, when my oldest asked nonchalantly, "So, are the leprechauns coming again this year?" And, so, they did.

I happened upon some great leprechaun tricks on pinterest and have included them in this post. Such clever people out there! And, you can search for treasure hunt ideas and for food ideas, too. (Love the glasses of Sprite with green ice cubes!) There are some great ideas for leprechaun traps, too. See my favorite at the bottom of this post! Good luck and happy leprechaun hunting!

Éirinn go Brách!

Leprechaun Tricks

A Differentiated Kindergarten

Coolest Family on the Block
Green water trick (make all the faucets dispense green water - pesky leprechauns! The secret is nothing more than a few coloring tablets secretly hidden in the screen of the faucet. The tablets are called Fizzy Tablets or True Color Tablets. You can find them on-line or occasionally at a department store.Don't use Easter egg dye tablets because they stain!)
The Muddy Princess

Happy Home Fairy

Happy Home Fairy

And, here's my favorite for a leprechaun trap! What fun this would be to make:

Recipe by Photo




Friday, March 8, 2013

Irish Cottage Pie

We are due for another snowstorm tomorrow and we hope it's a good one! Here in Colorado we count on March and April to bring us the lion's share of our moisture for the year. Besides, spring snowstorms aren't like those in the winter. Flakes are giant and wet and generally don't stick around long. They make the air smell wonderful and green up our yards, making me dream of that lovely little Emerald Isle.

Here is a wonderful, warming casserole, perfect for this time of year. It is similar to a Shepard's pie but uses ground beef rather than ground lamb. Traditional Irish pies don't include cheese as an ingredient. However, if you wish, you can shred a handful of cheddar and stir in or sprinkle it over the top of the potatoes before baking. I understand that these pies are served with spring green peas traditionally.


wikimedia


Irish Cottage Pie

Serves 6 to 8


for the potato topping (and the creamiest potatoes ever!):
4 pounds potatoes, peeled and chopped
2 cups milk
3 tablespoons butter, divided
1/2 teaspoon thyme
salt and pepper
fresh, minced parsley for garnish, if desired


for the filling:
2 pounds, ground beef
1 tablespoon oil
2 onions, finely chopped
4 carrots, finely chopped
4 stalks celery, finely chopped
4 tomatoes, chopped
1 can (14 1/2 ounces) beef broth
2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
1/2 teaspoon thyme
1/4 teaspoon sage
1 tablespoon fresh parsley, minced
3 tablespoons flour
salt and pepper


Boil potatoes until tender, about 20 minutes. Drain and place potatoes back in pan. Turn the burner underneath potatoes on to low and stir constantly for a few minutes to slightly dry the potatoes. They will begin to smell like baked potatoes. Remove from heat. Meanwhile, heat milk, 2 tablespoons butter and thyme together, just until butter is melted. Mash potatoes or, for the creamiest potatoes use a potato ricer. Whisk in the milk mixture and add salt and pepper to taste. Cover and set aside.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Spray a 9 x 13 baking dish with non-stick spray and set aside.

Brown beef, sprinkling with a little salt and pepper, and remove from pan and set aside on a few layers of paper towel to drain.

Drain fat from pan and wipe clean with a paper towel. Heat oil in pan and add onion, carrot and celery. Saute until onions are tender. Add tomatoes and cook for 2-3 minutes.

In a small bowl, whisk together broth, Worcestershire sauce, seasonings and flour. Stir into vegetables and return hamburger to the pan. Cook for a few minutes until sauce thickens.

Transfer to the prepared baking dish and top with mashed potatoes. Score the potatoes with a fork or make peaks on the potatoes with a spoon; dot with remaining 1 tablespoon butter. Bake uncovered for 30-40 minutes or until mixture is bubbly and mashed potatoes begin to brown on the peaks. Sprinkle with fresh parsley, if desired.




                                                                                 

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Grandma D's Cinnamon Rolls


wikimedia
I seem to awaken earlier each morning, these days. I have no idea what's going on because I have always been a sleepy head in the mornings.

This morning I woke up at 5:30 a.m. thinking about my grandma's wonderful cinnamon rolls--big, soft, yeasty pillows of goodness, not too sweet! So, I got up and made some. I watched dawn approach as I worked in my warm, cozy kitchen. Outside, it was snowing--big, fat, wet flakes. I thought about how many times my grandma had done this very same thing.

My grandma was a lovely woman--soft and sweet like the cinnamon rolls she made! She always smelled of Ponds lotion, which she kept on the sill of her kitchen window. She was an expert at making things out of not much. And, isn't that the amazing thing about so much of women's work? She took a few scraps of material and made warm, colorful quilts with delicate hand stitches. She took a few seeds, some soil and water, and created a most beautiful garden. And, she took a few simple ingredients and made platters of food for her big family. The result always was Gestalt: the whole is greater than the sum of the parts.

Making anything with yeast is easy work, but it takes time because the dough needs to rise. It was worth it this morning. My sleepy-head kids followed their noses into the kitchen, which was warm and cinnamon-y smelling--a lot like my memories of my grandma's kitchen.

Note: if you prefer to make these the night before, I've included overnight directions at the end of the recipe. This recipe makes a lot of rolls; I suppose you could cut it in half. But, since you are making them, why not make a full recipe and freeze half for later, if you like.

Grandma D's Cinnamon Rolls
Makes about 24

Dough:
2 (1/4 ounce) envelopes yeast
1/2 cup lukewarm water
1 1/2 cup lukewarm milk
1/2 cup sugar
2 teaspoons salt
2 eggs
1/2 cup soft butter or shortening
7 to 7 1/2 cups flour

Filling:
1/4 to 1/2 cup butter
sugar
cinnamon

Glaze (if desired):
2 cups powdered sugar for glaze
2-3 teaspoons milk for glaze

Pour lukewarm water into a bowl and sprinkle yeast over. Let sit for 5 minutes, then stir well.

Meanwhile, in a saucepan, heat the milk just until lukewarm (it's like when you used to prepare bottles for your baby--test on your wrist--if you can't really feel the temperature of the milk, it's perfect!) Add the 1/2 cup sugar, salt and yeast mixture.

Beat the eggs and stir into the mixture, along with the 1/2 butter or shortening. Pour into a large bowl and begin adding flour. Stir flour in with spoon and then by hand as the mixture comes together. My grandma's recipe says: "For excellent eating and keeping quality, keep dough as soft as possible." Add just enough flour so that the dough can be handled without being sticky.

At this point, you can knead the dough by hand or with your mixer's dough attachment. Knead about 5 minutes. If you have aggressions to work out, I recommend the by-hand method :)

Cover bowl with a tea towel and place in a warm spot. (I have a microwave above my oven and a light below the microwave that illuminates the stove top. I turn the light on and place the dough inside the microwave. The light's warmth rises, making this a perfect spot for letting dough rise). Let dough rise for one hour.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Punch dough down and place on a well-floured counter. Roll the dough into an oblong shape--about 1/2 inch or so thick. The long side of the dough should be nearest you. Spread softened butter over and then sprinkle with sugar and cinnamon. I keep the cinnamon and sugar pretty light, but you can add as much as you want, depending on your sweet tooth.

Beginning with the longest side opposite you, tightly roll the dough toward you, creating a log. Cut the log in half. Then cut each log into 1 inch slices, making about 12 rolls per log.

Place 12 rolls in a greased 13 x 9 inch pan. Repeat with a second greased 13 x 9 pan and the second log.

Cover each pan with a dish towel and allow to rise another hour, or until rolls have doubled in size.

Bake 20 to 30 minutes until golden brown.

If you like, prepare a quick glaze by pouring 2-3 teaspoons of milk into the powered sugar. Drizzle glaze while rolls are still warm.

Overnight directions: Place cut cinnamon rolls into pans, as instructed above. Cover each pan with plastic wrap and place in fridge overnight or up to 16 hours. In the morning, remove from fridge, remove plastic wrap, cover with dish towels and place in warm spot until doubled. Bake as above.













Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Pork Tenderloin, A Dinner-Fast Idea

Poor pork tenderloin--it is virtually unknown on most weeknight dinner tables.

Why is that? Many people think pork is fattening, hard to cook, time-consuming and tends to be dry.

However, pork tenderloin is a great weeknight, healthful meal. It is low in fat and high in protein. If you buy good pork (I like to buy it at Whole Food's meat counter), it will not be soaked in salty chemicals. In fact, a plain piece is lower in sodium than chicken. Its cholesterol level is comparable to other meats. Click here for the complete nutritional information.

It also is delicious. And versatile.

Here is one of my favorite ways to cook a basic pork tenderloin. I've included a recipe for a quick glaze at the end.

One note about cooking pork: I highly recommend using a meat thermometer to make certain the pork doesn't get overdone. It is pretty much inedible when overcooked. I like a meat thermometer like this one because the probe is left in the meat, in the oven, while the display sits on the counter. And, it alerts you when the meat's internal temperature hits the mark. You can get all sorts of fancy meat thermometers if you want to pay a price, but a good, basic digital will work just as well.

A final note: In 2011, the government lowered the required internal temperature for pork from 160 degrees to 145 (you can read about it here). This leaves the pork a little pink in the middle, very juicy and perfectly safe. No wonder pork has had such a bad reputation for being dry.

How to Roast a Pork Tenderloin
Serves 4-5

1 pork tenderloin
1-2 tablespoons canola oil
Sea salt

Preheat oven to 425 degrees and remove meat from fridge about 30 minutes before cooking. This is a good time to prepare a glaze or rub, if you are using one.

Add a tablespoon or so of canola oil to the bottom of an oven-proof pan. I love to use my large cast-iron pan for this. Apply a rub, if using, or sprinkle the meat with a bit of sea salt if desired. Set the pan over medium high heat and lay in the tenderloin. Sear on all four sides for about 5 minutes each. Remove from heat and apply a glaze, if using.

Place skillet in oven, insert the meat thermometer probe, if using, and roast, bringing the internal temperature to 145. It will take about 15 minutes. Remove from oven and tent with foil for about 5 minutes.

Tangy-Sweet Glaze for Pork Tenderloin
1 1/2 Tablespoons yellow mustard
1  1/2 teaspoons molasses
1 1/2 teaspoons apple cider vinegar
1/2 teaspoon canola oil
1/2 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1/8 teaspoon sea salt, if desired
1 - 2 drops hot sauce

Combine all ingredients in a small bowl and whisk. Add to tenderloin after searing and before sliding it into the oven.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

ZZ and me


New Orleans at Carnival
Do you know the bluesy Miss ZZ Ward? If you don't, you must go right now to her website and listen to her: ZZ Ward. "Put the Gun Down," is her very popular song, but I love all of them and have downloaded them to my ipod, which I listen to when I cook. Just ZZ and me in the kitchen.

There are obvious problems with this song. Guns are not anything to sing about these days, although the "gun" here refers to the Other Woman. And, secondly, this song assumes that men don't always think with their brains (okay, there is some evidence to support this) and that they are easily lead into temptation. C'mon guys, use your brains. How could you do ZZ wrong?

But, I digress.

So, what does a very young woman from Pennsylvania know about singing the blues? A lot, it turns out. It makes me feel better about being a woman from Kansas who loves to cook all sorts of ethnic foods. Just because you weren't born there, doesn't mean you can't learn to sing the blues...or cook Cajun.

And, with Mardi Gras right around the corner (February 12 this year), one of my favorite cuisines is front and center. Talk about being led into temptation! Gumbo, Shrimp and Grits, Dirty Rice, Shrimp Etoufee! Definitely not diet food. Not necessarily good for the body but a tonic for the soul. A balm for the world weary. Kinda reminds me of the blues. Take it away, ZZ!

Here is my recipe for Jambalaya, which actually is not too fattening, if you control the amount of sausage you add. Measure and prepare all ingredients in advance before you start and it is an easy dish to make, leaving you with plenty of time to catch beads and drink Hurricanes.

Jambalaya


Jambalaya
Serves 4-6

1-2 tablespoons olive oil
1 boneless, skinless chicken breast, diced
2-3 links fully cooked Andouille sausage, sliced (I love aidells)
2 green peppers, chopped
1 medium onion, chopped
2 stalks celery, chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 1/2 teaspoon dried basil
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 bay leaf
1/2 teaspoon salt
A dash or two of hot sauce
1 (14 1/2 ounce) can tomatoes (your choice--diced or whole)
1 (8 ounce) can tomato sauce
3 cups chicken broth
1 cup white rice, well rinsed
1 pound shrimp, peeled and de-veined
Fresh parsley

Heat olive oil and quickly saute chicken and sausage. Remove and set aside. To the same pan, add vegetables, spices and hot sauce and saute until veggies are tender-crisp. Add tomatoes, tomato sauce, broth and rice and  bring to a boil. Cover, reduce heat and simmer for 15 minutes or until rice is done. Add in chicken, sausage and shrimp and cook just until shrimp is done.

Remove from heat and sprinkle with parsley. Serve with extra hot sauce, if desired.




Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Cochinita Pibil/Yucatecan Roasted Pork

 
Akumal, Mexico
photo from locogringo.com


Are you winter-weary? Well, I shouldn't be because we have had a very mild winter so far. We just got a bit of snow yesterday, which we all are celebrating because our weather has been so dry.

Still....

Nearly 30 years ago, at about this time of year, I was desperate to get away from the cold and the brown of winter. I went to a travel agent (this was a long time ago!) and said, "I need to go somewhere warm."

Thus began Dan's and my love affair with Mexico. That first year, we went to Cancun, which was then a miniature version of its current self. We traveled to a little village called Playa del Carmen, where chickens roamed the cobbled stones and scratched along dirt roads. We ate spicy tortilla soup and drank Dos Equis in an old hotel restaurant right on the water.

In the past 30 years, we have stayed up and down the coast of the "Costa Maya." Things have changed a lot there. In Playa, the chicken coops have been replaced by chic boutiques and cruise ships drop swarms of visitors, from far-flung corners of the earth.

But, our love of the place has endured--turquoise water flecked with the sparkling sun and pure white sand which somehow manages to stay cool. Hibiscus and bougainvilla grow wild with abandon, tumbling over gracious haciendas and humble casitas alike.

 Magical. And, one of the best things about this area of the Yucatan? The cuisine is incredible, fresh, complex: a blend of Mayan, Caribbean and Spanish. 

Because I am longing for a Yucatecan meal, I think tonight will be cochinita pibil, translated from Mayan as "little pig in a pit." Traditionally, a whole suckling pig is slow-roasted in a barbecue pit in the ground. I do not have a cochinita or a way to cook it  pibil (underground) but I do have a package of pork shoulder, a slow-cooker and Rick Bayless' elegantly easy home-method recipe (from his wonderful cookbook, Mexican Everyday). Let us begin!



Cochinitia Pibil
photo by Jon Sullivan

Cochinita Pibil
Serves 6

Half a 3.5 ounce package achiote seasoning*
3/4 cup fresh lime juice (divided)
salt
half a 1-pound package banana leaves, defrosted if frozen (optional)
3-pound bone-in pork shoulder roast
1 large white onion, sliced about 1/4 inch thick
1 large red onion, thinly sliced
Bottled habanero sauce, if desired (such as Frontera brand)

Fresh corn tortillas, toasted; or rice

Place achiote seasoning, 1/2 cup lime juice and 2 teaspoons salt into a small bowl and use back of spoon to create a smooth, thick marinade.

If you have banana leaves, cut two 2-foot sections and use them to line a slow-cooker: Lay one down the length, the other across the width. Lay in the pork and pour marinade over and around the roast. Scatter white onion over top. (I never can seem to find banana leaves when I need them, so usually I make this dish without.)

Pour 1/2 cup water around meat. Fold up banana leaves (if using) to roughly cover everything. Cover and slow-cook on high for 6 hours, until meat is fall-off-the-bone tender.

While meat is cooking, combine red onion and remaining 1/4 cup lime juice in small bowl. Sprinkle with 1/2 teaspoon salt, toss and set aside to marinate, stirring from time to time.

Use tongs to transfer the meat and onions to dinner plates. Spoon off any fat floating in the juices. If there is a lot of brothy sauce--2 cups or more--ladle it into a saucepan and boil it down to about 1 cup to concentrate flavors. Taste sauce and season with salt if needed; then spoon over meat. Top with lime-marinated red onions and serve with hot sauce, if desired. Make tacos with toasted tortillas or serve over rice.


*Achiote seasoning is earthy and rustic; not at all spicy.
It can be purchased at Mexican groceries
or through many on-line stores (including amazon).


Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Speedy Risotto

Mushroom Risotto

My clan loves risotto anytime of the year. But, we crave it especially during these cold, dark days when comfort food makes us so happy. My sister makes a divine risotto the old fashioned way (stir, stir, stir, pour in broth, stir, stir, stir). However, I must confess to a severe lack of patience with that method.

But, I discovered a way to feed our need for risotto in just a few minutes--my trusty pressure cooker! I have a Fagor electric pressure cooker which can be a personal chef's--or a home cook's--best friend. I make broths and soups and parts of recipes with it all the time. It works beautifully for risotto, turning out a creamy, perfectly textured dish each time.

Risotto is incredibly versatile and you can add most anything to it. Today, I will give you my recipe for Mushroom Risotto, using the Fagor cookbook's "Fagor's Never Fail Risotto" recipe as the base. Enjoy!

Mushroom Risotto
Serves 4-6

Handful of porcini mushrooms
1 cup warm water
3 tablespoons olive oil, divided
1 tablespoon butter
1/4 cup diced onion or shallot
1 pound crimini mushrooms, sliced
1 tablespoon thyme (or 2 tablespoons fresh thyme)
salt and pepper
1 cup Arborio rice
2 cups chicken broth
1/4 cup white wine
1/4 cup grated Parmigiano Reggiano
Fresh Italian parsley, minced

Rehydrate porcinis in warm water; carefully drain mushrooms to avoid any grit that has settled at the bottom. Discard liquid and set aside porcinis.

While procinis are rehydrating, in a large pan, saute garlic and onion in 1 tablespoon olive oil and butter, until onion is translucent. Stir in criminis and thyme; saute until mushrooms give up their water and become browned. Add the rehydrated porcinis and saute for another minute or so. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and set aside.

Pour remaining 2 tablespooons olive oil into the pressure cooker and turn on the "browning" setting. Add rice and saute about 5 minutes. This keeps the rice grains from sticking to each other. Turn off browning setting, add remainder of broth and wine. Close the lid and turn the knob to "pressure." Set the timer for 10 minutes on high pressure.

When done, release pressure and open cooker. Stir in the mushroom mixture and cheese. Serve, sprinkled with parsley.



Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Mama Scanloni's Ground Chicken Parmesan


Yum!! The good stuff! Parmigiano Reggiano (photo by Jon Sullivan)

Okay, I'm not Italian and this dish would never qualify as authentic. However, whenever I find a dish that my whole family loves, I call it a success. And, my family loves this one.

I do love love love Chicken Parmesan, but it can be heavy and fatty. It often calls for heavy breading with butter, bread crumbs, eggs, and seems to call for loads of cheese. I made this version which sneaks in some veggies and eliminates the breading (I promise, you won't even miss it). Ground chicken can be dry, so the addition of veggies keeps it moist and light.

If you use parmigiano reggiano--the good stuff--you can use less and still get a real punch of flavor. Serve this with a side of pasta--we like the Barilla White Fiber pasta--and a green, such as sauteed spinach. Don't forget a glass of red for the adults and maybe a glass of purple (grape juice) for the kids. How civilized!

Ground Chicken Parmesan
makes 4-6 servings

1 pound ground chicken breast
1/2 zucchini, shredded (slice remainder and reserve)
1 medium carrot, shredded
1/2 cup onion, minced
1 clove garlic, minced or pressed
1/4 cup bread crumbs
1 egg white
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup grated parmigiano reggiano
1 teaspoon - 1 tablespoon olive oil

1 quart good quality marinara sauce (or make your own with this recipe)

Part-skim shredded mozzarella, if desired
grated parmigiano reggiano

8 oz your choice pasta, prepared according to directions

Prepare four to six individual baking dishes (or an 8 x 8 baking pan) by spraying with cooking spray and covering the bottom of each with marinara sauce (2-3 tablespoons should be enough).  Place dishes on a baking sheet layered with aluminum foil.

Place ground chicken breast in medium bowl and add zucchini, carrot, onion, garlic, bread crumbs, egg white, salt and Parmesan. Mix gently with hands. The patties will be a little sticky.

Form four to six patties from the mixture, making them as thin as possible. Heat oil in a frying pan and place the patties in. Cook a few minutes on one side until brown. Flip to the other side and brown. Lower heat, cover and cook until meat thermometer registers 165 degrees.

Remove patties from pan and place one each onto the marinara sauce in individual baking dishes.

Add reserved sliced zucchini to the frying pan and saute until tender. Pour remaining marinara sauce into pan and heat together with the zucchini.

Divide marinara sauce equally over patties. Sprinkle with mozzarella and/or parmesan. For my kids, I add a little mozzarella plus the parm. For the adults, just a sprinkling of parmesan is perfect.

Slide the baking sheet with the dishes of chicken Parmesan into the oven and broil for 2-3 minutes or until cheese is golden and sauce is bubbly.





Friday, January 11, 2013

Blueberries in the Winter? Make Muffins!




Oh blueberries, I miss you so in the wintertime. But, I've found frozen blueberries to be an excellent substitute, especially in baking.

I have made these muffins for many years and honestly this recipe allows all sorts of adaptations. I will list a few of my favorite at the end of this post. These muffins go together very quickly, making them perfect for breakfast. Any leftovers go beautifully with a cup of coffee or tea in the afternoon. Ahem.

Make these soon! They are a little taste of summer when the snow flies.

Blueberry Muffins with Streusel
makes about 1 dozen

Muffins:
1 egg
1 cup milk
1/4 cup canola oil
2 cups all purpose flour
1/4 cup sugar
3 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup frozen (or fresh) blueberries, thawed and drained

Streusel:
1/4 cup flour
2 tablespoons packed brown sugar
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 tablespoons cold butter
2-3 tablespoons chopped walnuts

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Using a regular-sized muffin tin, spray cup bottoms only with cooking spray.

Crack egg in medium bowl and beat with a fork. Stir in milk and oil. In another bowl, place the flour, sugar, baking powder and salt and stir with a whisk. Add dry mixture into wet and stir just until moistened. Batter will be lumpy but do not over mix it. Then, carefully fold in blueberries.

Fill muffin cups 1/2 full.

Mix together flour, sugar, cinnamon and cut in the butter until crumbly. Add walnuts, stir and sprinkle equally over the uncooked muffins.

Bake 20-25 minutes until browned.

Other variations:

Peach Muffins. These are a family favorite made in the summer with the ripest, juiciest peaches you can find. Just replace the blueberries with 1 cup chopped peaches.

Cinnamon-Sugar Muffins. Just remove the blueberries. These are delicious right out of the oven!

Stawberry-Almond Muffins. Replace blueberries with 1 cup chopped strawberries (frozen stawberries are okay here, too) and change out the walnuts for chopped or slivered almonds in the streusel.

Mango-Macademia Muffins. Substitute blueberries for a cup of fresh or jarred chopped mango. Replace walnuts with roughly chopped macademia nuts in the struesel for a tropical taste on a cold morning.