Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Lean Mexican-Style Chorizo

The first time I cooked Mexican chorizo at home, I was horrified. I opened up the casing, the contents glugged into the hot pan and started bubbling away, and I thought -- since it was sausage and sausage is generally a fattier food -- that it was at least 30% oil or some weird fat that rendered instantaneously. All of the chorizo and egg tacos I'd consumed in my past suddenly seemed... unseemly.

I now know that Mexican chorizo has a substantial amount of vinegar in it, which both flavors it and acts as a bacteria-killing preservative. Unlike Spanish chorizo, which is smoke-cured and sold at room temperature for slicing and serving as-is; Mexican chorizo is sold uncooked, refrigerated, and must be pan-fried into little crumbles before joining a given dish. Any place you might add bacon, you can add chorizo -- eggs, cooked greens, soups, salads, beans, etc. -- and because it's so heavily seasoned with garlic and onion and chiles and vinegar, you can even substitute a lean meat combination without diminishing its fantastic flavor.

Here JG pan-fried it with left-over rice and stirred in an egg at the end for chorizo-fried rice. It was tasty.

Recipe: Lean Mexican-Style Chorizo

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Red Lentils & Yogurt

I'm trying to make more Indian/South Asian food because up here in Yankee Land it's a lot easier to find the ingredients cheaply than it is for my Mexican staples. There are three Indian and Pakistani grocery stores within a three-block radius of mi casa and I've found them to be the best-priced purveyors of bulk spices around town, so I decided that this week I was switching from beans and rice to their South-Asian split-lentil counterpart: dals.
[Side note: I've heard that people in the food scene here don't consider Mexican cuisine to be a viable food trend, which hurt my heart a little... and gave me a serious jonesing for some homemade corn tortillas... and made me think they need to visit Berlin for a little enlightenment.]

On this particular night worknight, I wasn't up for any real effort [like blooming whole spices in oil], so I decided to try a super simple [Americanized?] version of a red lentil recipe I'd printed from the New York Times. I didn't have any sweet potatoes, so I just skipped them and added a whole 15oz can of diced tomatoes (with juice) instead. The ginger in my vegetable bin was, ahem, fuzzy so I doubled the dried ginger. I didn't have a Thai chili so I used a serrano, half-seeded. I actually had a fresh coconut, but didn't feel like splitting it and I also had a jar of dried, unsweetened coconut chips in the pantry [gotta love a well-stocked pantry], and I'd somehow used all my fresh cilantro, so I put a big dollop of unsweetened, fat-free yogurt on top.
Verdict? Tasty, perfectly acceptable alternative to beans, and clearly adaptable to my whims. I served it over brown rice for dinner and ate it swirled with yogurt [2:1] for lunch the next day.*

I do have one Indian cookbook, and though it is the source of my favorite recipe for mattar paneer [spicy peas w/ fresh cheese], I don't really love it for some reason and rarely reference it. If you've got recommendation for a book or blog on the subject, let me know in the comments.

*... actually it was breakfast, but it was great, and it would have been great for lunch, too.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Limey Peanuts

This recipe was inspired by a recent plane trip. A nice flight attendant gave me a slice of lime to go with my club soda [I'd never thought to ask] and I opted for peanuts over pretzels. I squeezed my lime and licked my fingers and popped a couple peanuts in my mouth. [A little uncouth, I know, but my other hand was holding my knitting and it was too hazardous to pull the little napkin from underneath my half-full can, one-handed, you see?] I liked the tangy, salty, peanutty combination very much. I decided to recreate it at home.

Without resorting to powdered citric acid, however, it's not easy to get a lot of bright lime flavor onto a peanut without also making it damp or slimy. I discovered two tricks for this. One is to use something even slimier [egg white] and bake it on. The other is that the papery peanut skins actually absorb the juice, and the smattering of skin-on nuts in my jar were so, so tasty that I'm going to advocate buying the spanish-style peanuts for this endeavor. You'll be glad you did.

Recipe: Spanish-Style Limey Peanuts

Friday, May 14, 2010

Huevos Motuleños for Breakfast or Dinner

JG and I eat a lot of beans and rice, and I often make extra rice to have on hand for leftovers-fried-rice. [We strongly believe that everything is better with fried egg.] This week, however, we somehow ended up with too many beans. I thought to myself, as I always do when putting away leftovers, "How would that taste with a fried egg on top?" And I realized that, of course, it would taste excellent because it would be huevos motuleños, or "eggs like the guys in Motul, (Yucatan) make 'em." And that's what we had for dinner the next night.

Cans of beans, jars of [homemade] salsa, and packages of corn tortillas are staples in my house. They're also cheap enough to buy that I'm going to suggest you go out and get them if you don't already have them and make huevos motuleños this weekend. They're a tasty midweek dinner and they're a killer weekend breakfast.

Recipe: Huevos Motuleños

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Greens, Beans, and Toasted Pasta

This tasty thrown-together dinner was loosely inspired by a NYT recipe for risotto-style pasta that I mentally bookmarked a while back.   My humble version was quick and healthy-hearty;  I'd say resulting whole was definitely greater than the sum of its parts. The collards maintain their tooth better than other greens and the starches released from the toasted pasta and the beans make a rich, creamy sauce.

The leftovers may have been even better. Overnight, the pasta soaked up the remaining liquid but retained its structural integrity. [Whole grain pasta, in my experience, never gets as mushy the white stuff.] While this pasta fagioli-esque dish was excellent hot, it also turned out to be an amazing cold pasta salad that would be a nice substitution for a mayo-based pasta salad at a picnic.

Recipe: Greens, Beans, and Toasted Pasta

Friday, May 7, 2010

Agua Fresca

I know I've seen plenty of other recipes out there for aguas fresca,"fresh waters" so if you read food blogs and you haven't made them yet, I probably won't convince you to try.

They're super tasty. I personally never liked cantaloupe until I tried it as an agua fresca. The melon/lime combo works amazingly well. I consider my first taste of agua fresca to have been a life-altering event.

They're refreshing. Because the fruit used to make them isn't quite as sweet as orange juice and the puree is further adulterated with water and lime juice, they don't leave you with that cloyingly sweet mouthfeel you sometimes get with OJ, but they do linger longer than a gulp of iced tea.... and they'll actually cut the heat of spicy foods, which makes them perfect for a fiesta.

They're interchangeable. The ratios work with any melon you want to try. Watermelon is another personal favorite [and who hasn't bought too much watermelon at some point and had an awkwardly-shaped hunk o'leftover dominating their fridge?]. In the height of summer, when grocery stores get all those different varietals (musk, tuscan, canary... etc.) you can explore the various flavors via fruit drink and not feel like you're eating melon _all the time_... and then you can try various melon medleys! The fun never stops!
They're adaptable. Equal parts agua fresca and sparkling water makes for a nice light spritzer, better than an Italian soda. A shot of rum, vodka, or tequila turns it into a unique adult beverage welcome at any outdoor party. Seriously, folks; the possibilities are endless with these things.

Recipe: Agua Fresca

Monday, May 3, 2010

Tres Leches para mi Cumpleaños

I like making myself birthday cakes. I also like throwing parties near my birthday so I have an excuse to make a goodly-sized cake that I won't then eat all by myself, one shameful bite at a time.  The best part is that if the party is not actually on my birthday, no one feels compelled to sing to me before we all dig in.

Last year I made a rum cake, but a baker friend of mine [You know those beautiful little tarts in the case at Whole Foods? Those are hers.]  brought over a tres leches or "three milk" cake... made all the more fantastic because where she's from in Brazil, they use coconut milk in lieu of heavy cream... It was the best tres leches I've ever had.
So I decided it had to be tres leches for mi fiesta... but, being The Whole-Grain Texan, I had to mix things up a little. Diana Kennedy has a recipe for an almond sponge cake in her Cuisines of Mexico that uses almost the same ingredients for the cake itself [crucially: 5 eggs, separated, and no butter] but used almond meal in lieu of flour... really more like a financier. I wasn't sure how it would hold up to the thorough dousing required of a tres leches so I opted to use more [white whole wheat] flour... and fat-free milks and light coconut milk....and was well pleased with the results. It tastes decadent, but it's only a little heavier than a stack of pancakes... and with a lot more protein!

This isn't a traditional tres leches, but I think we've pretty well established that I don't think traditional=better.... and it tastes fantastic, if I do say so myself. As one guest -- and San Antonio native -- put it, "This is really, really good; but you could never sell it at a Mexican bakery." I'm sure he's right, but I bet I could put it on the menu at a fancy hotel restaurant in Mexico City and have it singled out in at least a few travel books.

Am I getting a little too full of myself on this one? Well, you'll just have to make it [for Cinco de Mayo?] and decide for yourself.

Recipe: Tres Leches de Maria
If you have a standing mixer, you can whip the egg whites while you're mixing the batter, but keep an eye on them. This cake is "frosted" with whipped cream, which I whipped myself [which actually makes it Quatro Leches, plus the coconut milk]. I imagine you could use a lower-fat pre-made something, but I won't vouch for the texture. You could also just garnish it with a big pile of fresh or macerated strawberries... I think I might do that next time. The pictured cake is actually 1.5 recipes, 3-8x8 pans, because I wanted it to be tall and square like a fancy cake... but two layers would have been plenty... and you can certainly bake it in a more traditional 9x13 sheet pan.
5 eggs, separated
1 cup milk [I used skim]
1 cup sugar, divided use
1 tablespoon amaretto [almond liqueur]
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons white whole wheat flour
1/2 cup almond meal [2 oz, ground]
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon cream of tarter [or 1 teaspoon lemon juice]
1 can fat-free evaporated milk
1 can fat-free sweet and condensed milk
1 can light coconut milk (3rd press)
Optional Cream "Frosting":
1/2 pint, heavy cream (optional)
1 tablespoon honey
1/4 teaspoon almond extract
Slivered almonds or fresh fruit to garnish
Preheat oven to 300F. Line the bottom of 2-8x8 baking pans with parchment, then grease and flour the pans.
Put egg yolks in a big bowl and whites in a suitable one for whipping, and allow both to come to room temperature. Add milk, amaretto and 3/4 cup sugar to the yolks and whisk together to dissolve sugar, then whisk in remaining dry ingredients except the cream of tartar.
Whip egg whites on low speed until foamy, then add tartar and gradually increase speed as you slowly pour in the remaining 1/4 cup sugar. Beat on high speed until the whites are stiff and glossy.
Add about 1/3 of the whites to the batter and whisk in to incorporate and lighten. Switch to a rubber spatula and add remaining whites, gently folding the batter over itself until no big clumps of whites remain and batter is pretty much the same shade all over. Divide into two pans and bake for 60-75 minutes or until cake is evenly toasty golden brown and does not jiggle when moved. Move to a cooling rack and allow to cakes to cool to room temperature without removing from the pans.
Once cool, go around the edges of the pan with a knife, then turn out the cakes and remove the parchment. [Cake layers can be wrapped tightly in plastic and stored on the counter for a day or in the freezer for a week. Thaw completely before continuing.]

One to 4 hours before serving, combine leches in a 4-cup measuring cup or medium bowl. Place bottom cake layer on a serving plate or platter with a deep rim [and place that plate in a larger roasting pan, if possible]. Poke holes all over and slowly pour or spoon about half of the soaking liquid over the top. Try to get as much of the edges as possible. Let it sit ten minutes, then place the second layer on top and repeat the process. You will likely overflow your plate, but the cake will do its best to soak up everything you give it. Whip cream with sugar and almond extract and refrigerate until ready to serve. [The cake can sit out.]
To serve, use a big spoon and offset spatula to dollop and spread whipped cream all over the cake. Garnish with slivered almonds or fruit as desired.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Pedaling My Goods

I took an unplanned trip to the Midwest last week. As I chatted with various strangers, the first thing people tended to ask when I told them I didn't have a car anymore was "How do you buy groceries?"

Well, I don't take more than I can carry, which is a couple over-the-shoulder-bags for walking or a bag and a backpack via bicycle. Once the bags are full, it's time to go home. This time that meant putting back my favorite apples even though they were on sale...  the cantaloupe just took up too much space.  The flowers had to stick out the top of the bag and fared surprisingly well in the wind.

Can you tell I'm having a few friends over tonight for tacos?