Sunday, October 22, 2017

Aztec Chocolate Skulls

The cacao tree, which yields the berries, or "beans," that are the basis of chocolate, first appeared somewhere between Mexico and South America; but, the processing and culinary use of cacao was first developed in what is now Mexico. Mexican chocolate (which also refers to the foamy drink) is the round, flat disks of cinnamon-scented chocolate. The word "cacao" can be traced back to the Olmec inhabitants of Tabasco, Chiapas, Veracruz, and parts of Central America, and was passed on to the lowland Maya who succeeded them in this territory. The Maya, who flourished for eight centuries before the Spanish arrived, used their beloved chocolate in rituals such as wedding ceremonies. The Aztecs, who later came to dominate central Mexico, believed that chocolate symbolized power and glory, and used it as part of their rituals by giving the drink to human offerings in order to bless the sacrifice. Creepy! 

With Halloween and Day of the Dead almost here, I wanted to share this delightfully spooky, super easy recipe for "Aztec Chocolate Skulls." I used commercially available silicone skull molds (mine were made by Wilton and designated for ice cubes), Ibarra Mexican chocolate, milk chocolate chips, rice krispies, and edible gold flakes (purchased from Sur la Table). The combination makes an exotically delicious treat, perfect for the Aztec Gods! 


Aztec Chocolate Skulls

Makes 15 skulls, depending on the size of your mold.

Ingredients:

1 disk Ibarra Mexican chocolate
5 ounces milk chocolate chips
1/2 cup rice krispies
Edible gold flakes (optional)

Directions:

Sprinkle the mold with gold flakes, set aside. Bash the disk of Ibarra (still in it's package) against a cutting board, to break it up a bit. (It's hard as a rock!) Open the package, and drop the Ibarra and half the milk chocolate chips into a bowl placed over a pan of simmering water. (See Gadgets, for "No Double Boiler?") 


With a spoon, keep turning and squashing the chunks of Ibarra until it is completely softened and mixed with the milk chocolate. 


Remove from the heat and stir in the remaining milk chocolate until completely melted. Stir in the rice krispies. With a spoon, spoon the chocolate evenly in the mold, pressing down with your fingers.


Refrigerate until set, about 2 hours. Pop them out of their molds and serve!

Thanks to Karen Hursh Graber for the background on Mexican chocolate via Mexconnect.

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Devilishly Good Chicken!

Foods that are highly seasoned (e.g., mustard, chilies, etc.) or sinfully rich (e.g., chocolate cake) have been referred to as "deviled" since the 18th century. In 1868, The William Underwood Company began selling a mixture of ground ham with seasonings which they named "deviled ham." In fact, their devil logo is one of the oldest trademarked logo still in use today. While I love highly seasoned food, canned ham is not my kind of thing. Trust me. I used to audit food processing plants (like Ballpark Franks), haven't eaten one since!
Image result for deviled ham
The original Underwood Deviled Ham logo.
With Halloween almost here, I want to share this wickedly addictive recipe from Williams-Sonoma for "Chicken Thighs Diavolo." Diavolo means devil in Italian, but only dishes invented by Italian-Americans use the term. In Italy, they would refer to a spicy dish as all-arrabiata meaning "angry-style." I digress. Anyway, these chicken thighs are marinated in a wonderful blend of cider vinegar and five different chili spices, then grilled to juicy perfection. Delicious! I love this marinade so much! In addition, you could use it on practically any cut of chicken or even pork. I don't know who created this spice blend, but they must have sold their soul to the devil to create it!


Chicken Thighs Diavolo

Serves 6

Ingredients:
For the marinade
1/4 cup cider vinegar
2 tablespoons paprika
1 tablespoon cayenne pepper
1 tablespoon granulated garlic
1 tablespoon coarse salt
1 tablespoon freshly ground black pepper
2 teaspoons chili powder
1 teaspoon Thai chili paste or red pepper flakes (I use Chili Garlic Sauce by Huy Fung Foods, Inc.)
1 teaspoon hot-pepper sauce (I use Cholula.)
1/2 cup water

For the Chicken Thighs
3 pounds bone-in chicken thighs, trimmed of any excess skin and fat
1 or 2 handfuls wood chips, soaked in water for 30 minutes. (I use mesquite.)
1 large disposable aluminum roasting pan

Directions:
In a bowl, combine marinade ingredients and whisk until the salt and granulated garlic dissolve. Taste and adjust the seasonings; the sauce should be bright red and very spicy. Pour half the sauce into a small serving bowl and set aside.

Rinse the chicken under cold running water and pat dry with paper towels. Using a sharp knife, score the chicken to the bone in several places to expose the flesh. Place the chicken in a large disposable aluminum roasting pan, pour the remaining sauce over the top and turn to coat well. Cover and refrigerate for at least 1 hour or up to 4 hours. Remove from the refrigerator 10 minutes before grilling.

Prepare a charcoal or gas grill for indirect grilling over medium heat.

For a charcoal grill: Sprinkle the wood chips over the coals. Place the pan with the thighs on the cooler side of the grill, cover and cook until cooked through, about 30 minutes. Transfer the thighs to the grate directly over the coals, brush with the marinade from the pan and grill, turning often, until nicely charred on all sides, 3 to 5 minutes more.

For a gas grill: Increase a burner to high. Heat a smoker box half full of chips until smoking, then reduce the heat to medium-low. Place the pan with the thighs over unlit burners, cover and cook until cooked through, about 30 minutes. Transfer the thighs to the grate directly over the heat, brush with the marinade from the pan and grill, turning often, until nicely charred on all sides, 3 to 5 minutes more.

Transfer the chicken to a platter. Serve immediately and pass the reserved sauce alongside.

Saturday, August 26, 2017

Batten Down the Hatches!

I grew up on the Texas Gulf Coast and have been through several hurricanes. I realize how absolutely boring it can be, being couped up inside your home. For my friends and family in Eastern South Texas (or even if you're not), try this beautiful (and potent) cocktail in horror of Hurricane Harvey. Drink this and you are guaranteed a little fun! Good luck! X0X0


Hurricane

Ingredients:

3 parts dark rum (1 1/2 oz.)
3 parts light rum (1 1/2 oz.)
2 parts passion fruit syrup (1 oz.), if you can't find passion fruit syrup, just try any grenadine syrup blend
Fresh lime juice (1 tablespoon)

Directions:

Shake all ingredients with cracked ice in a cocktail shaker.  Strain into a chilled cocktail glass.

This makes one beautiful cocktail!

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Just in Time for 4th of July - Strawberry Shortcake!

I just got back from my Texas road-trip to my hometown of Corpus Christi, Texas, just in time for 4th of July! After seeing fields, and fields, and fields of strawberries growing along the gulf coast, I just had to make my absolute favorite, "Long-on-Strawberry Shortcake!" I'm not sure where I got this recipe, but I love it! Instead of a biscuit, it is a moist, light cake, made with cake flour, poppy seeds, crushed strawberries, and even some almond extract! Topped with sliced berries and whipped cream, it makes a nice presentation and tastes fantastic! In addition, it only takes 30 minutes, start to finish! It is a nice variation of a true American classic!


Long-on-Strawberry Shortcake

Serves 8-10

Ingredients:
For the Cake
2 cups cake flour (like Swan's Down)
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon poppy seeds
1 1/2 cups sugar
3/4 cup unsalted butter, softened
3 large eggs, separated
1/4 cup crushed (with a fork), ripe strawberries
1 teaspoon almond extract
2, 9" round cake pans and parchment paper

For the Topping
1 cup heavy whipping cream
1/3 cup confectioners' sugar
2 pints fresh ripe strawberries, sliced
3 pretty, small, whole berries, for garnish

Directions:
For the Cake
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease two 9" round cake pans. Cut parchment circles to fit the pans, place in the pans, grease the parchment, and flour the entire inside of the pan. Tap out any excess flour.

Stir together the flour, baking powder, salt, and poppy seeds in a bowl.

With an electric mixer, cream together the sugar and butter. Add the egg yolks, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Combine 3/4 cup water and the almond extract with the crushed strawberries. Add the fruit mixture in thirds, alternating with the dry ingredients. Continue beating until all the ingredients are well incorporated.

With the mixer, beat the egg whites until stiff. Fold them into the batter.

Pour the batter evenly into the prepared pans, and bake for 20 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool the layers for 5 minutes in the pans. Remove the layers from the pan and continue to cool on cooling racks.

For the Topping
While the cakes are baking, whip the cream and 1 tablespoon of the confectioners' sugar. Refrigerate until ready to use.

Combine the sliced strawberries with the remaining confectioners' sugar, a tablespoon or two at a time, until desired sweetness.

Assembling the Cake
Remove the parchment rounds from the layers. Transfer one layer to a serving plate. Top with half the sliced berries and spread 1/2 of the whipped cream over the berries. Top with the remaining cake layer, the rest of the sliced berries, the remainder of the whipped cream, and garnish with the 3 remaining whole berries. Pretty and Yum!

Monday, July 3, 2017

Keep Austin Weird!


In honor of my recent Texas road-trip, I am going to share an excellent recipe for Texas sheet cake, specifically, "The Driskill's 1886 Room Chocolate Sheet Cake!" The Driskill Hotel was built in 1886 in downtown Austin, as the showplace of cattle baron Jesse Driskill. In addition to being a legendary landmark of Texas hospitality, it is listed as a member of The Historic Hotels of America and Associated Luxury Hotels International. If you ever find yourself in Austin, staying at the Driskill will put you in the center of everything, including the Texas State Capital, the Austin Convention Center, Lady Bird Lake, The Long Center, Austin City Limits at the Moody Theater, as well as excellent shopping, dining, and convenient access to the colorful 6th Street Music Scene

Like Austin, known as the "Live Music Capital of the World," and whose motto is "Keep Austin Weird," Texas sheet cake is unique all it's own! You bake an incredibly moist cake in a sheet pan, and while it is still warm, you pour the warm icing over the cake! This cake is so good, it is a cherished recipe of the Heritage Society of Austin! In addition, because this cake is so moist, you can even make it up to 2 days ahead, covered and refrigerated! It's perfect for any celebration!


The Driskill's 1886 Room Chocolate Sheet Cake

Makes one 9"x13" sheet cake

Ingredients:
For the Cake
1 cup unsalted butter
2/3 cup water
1/2 heaping cup cocoa (unsweetened)
2 cups all-purpose flour, sifted
2 cups sugar
1 teaspoon salt
2 eggs, beaten lightly
1 cup buttermilk
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 heaping teaspoon baking soda

For the Icing
1/2 cup unsalted butter
3 heaping tablespoons cocoa (unsweetened)
4 tablespoons half-and-half
2 cups powdered sugar
1 cup chopped pecans, toasted
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Directions:
For the Cake
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour a 9"x13" cake pan.

Melt the butter in a large, heavy saucepan over medium heat. Remove the pan from the heat and add the water and cocoa, stirring well.


Sift together the flour, sugar, and salt, and stir them into the chocolate mixture.


In a large bowl, combine the eggs, buttermilk, vanilla, and baking soda, add the chocolate mixture, and mix well.


Spoon the cake batter (or gently pour) into the prepared pan, and bake 30 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

For the Icing
While the cake is baking, melt the butter with the cocoa in a heavy saucepan over medium heat. Add the half-and-half, and heat it through. Mix in the remaining ingredients, blend well, and remove the pan from the heat.


Finishing the Cake
While the cake and icing are still warm, gently pour the icing over the cake. Serve the cake warm or at room temperature.

Recipe adapted from Texas Home Cooking, by Cheryl and Bill Jamison.

Sunday, July 2, 2017

Crab Cakes for a Homesick Texan


Concluding my series of recipes, paying homage to my recent Texas road-trip, I must mention Texas's extensive gulf coast of 372 miles! That is more coast than any other state, with the exception of Florida, Alaska, and California! This beautiful shoreline along the Gulf of Mexico is brimming with such shellfish as shrimp, blue crabs, and oysters, and fish, such as red snapper, black sea bass, grouper, mackerel, and marlin, just to name a few! Considering that not everyone has access to stellar fresh seafood (like me, unfortunately), I'm going to share my favorite recipe for "Mexican Crab Cakes with Jalapeno Aioli!"

These crab cakes are exceptional, loaded with jumbo lump crab meat (which can be purchased at almost any grocery), elevated with the fiery habanero chile, and adorned with a delicious jalapeno aioli! Remember that habanero chiles are HOT!!! So, be careful not to touch your eyes, nose, etc., or better yet, wear gloves! A simple green salad or Tri-Color Salad with Lime-Honey Vinaigrette makes a nice accompaniment. So, whenever I feel homesick for some excellent Texas seafood, I always make these, and I feel better!!!


Mexican Crab Cakes with Jalapeno Aioli

Serves 4-6

Ingredients:
For the Jalapeno Aioli
1 jalapeno chile, seeded (optional)
1 tablespoons fresh squeezed lime juice
1 cup mayonnaise
1/4 cup fresh cilantro leaves, plus more for garnish
1/4 teaspoon Kosher or sea salt, more or less to taste
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper


For the Crab Cakes
1 pound jumbo lump crab meat
1 habanero chile, seeded (optional), chopped
2 teaspoons fresh squeezed lime juice
2 teaspoons fresh cilantro, chopped
3 teaspoons bread crumbs
1 egg
2 teaspoons mayonnaise
1/2 teaspoon Kosher or sea salt, more or less to taste
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, more or less to taste
1 tablespoon butter
1 tablespoon olive oil

Directions:
For the Aioli
Place all the ingredients in a food processor and process until smooth. Refrigerate until ready to use.

For the Crab Cakes
Combine the crab meat, habanero, cilantro, breadcrumbs, mayonnaise, egg, and lime juice in a large bowl. Season with salt and pepper. Form 4-6 crab cakes, depending on how chubby and big you want them. You can prepare them in advance and keep them refrigerated for up to 2 days.

Heat a large skillet (non-stick is nice here) over medium-high heat, melt 1 tablespoon of butter into 1 tablespoon of oil. Once it starts to sizzle, add as many crab cakes as will fit without being crowded. Cook 3 minutes per side, or until golden.

To Serve
Top each crab cake with some of the jalapeno aioli and sprinkle with some freshly chopped cilantro. Nice!

This recipe, created by Chef Alfredo Solis of Ceiba Restaurant in Washington, DC, comes to me from Pati Jinich of Patis Mexican Table. Thanks Pati, I owe you one!

Saturday, July 1, 2017

Remember the Alamo!



I think everyone has a place where they instinctually feel at home, for me that is central and south Texas. The kindness and generosity of the people is truly infectious, and not surprising due to the long history of the area! Let's start with the beautiful city of San Antonio! In 1691, a group of Spanish explorers and missionaries came upon the river and Native American settlement on June 13, the feast day of Saint Anthony of Padova, Italy, and named the place and river "San Antonio" in his honor. Following several Spanish missions established in the area, from 1718 through 1731, sixteen families who had been colonists in the Canary Islands, arrived in San Antonio, by royal decree of the King of Spain, and founded La Villa de San Fernando, and established the first civil government in Texas and the San Fernando Cathedral (built between 1738-1750). The San Fernando Cathedral is the oldest cathedral in the United States, and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. In addition, the Cathedral is the resting place of the fallen heroes of the Alamo, including Davy Crockett, William Travis, and Jim Bowie. If you ever find yourself in San Antonio, besides visiting the Alamo, the San Fernando Cathedral should be on your list!

View of the San Fernando Cathedral from my amazing terrace at the Drury Plaza - San Antonio Riverwalk located in the restored Alamo National Bank Building, Room 971, in the San Fernando Tower! (Great Hotel Room!) 

My favorite part of San Antonio is the enchanting San Antonio Riverwalk, aka., Paseo Del Rio. The San Antonio Riverwalk was transformed in the 1920s, diverting the river's flow and paving over the riverbanks, creating a pedestrian mall, home to galleries, shops, and restaurants, it is a must-see! The oldest restaurant along the Riverwalk is Casa Rio. The restaurant founded in 1946, sits on land first granted title in 1777 by the King of Spain. The existing Spanish Colonial hacienda became the core of Casa Rio, where the huge cedar door and window lintels, the fireplace, and the thick rock walls, are still evident. Although the food is typical, sub-par tourist faire, like most along the Riverwalk, Casa Rio is definitely a place to visit.

View of Casa Rio from the Commerce Street Bridge, the first bridge built to span the river!

So, in honor of San Antonio, I made a classic "Chiles Rellenos," found on any self-respecting Mexican menu! Chiles Rellenos, or stuffed chiles, are one of the most emblematic dishes in Mexican cuisine, with origins dating back to the Spanish conquest of Mexico in the 16th century. It consists of roasted poblano chiles stuffed with cheese or meats and covered in an egg batter, fried, and served with a light tomato broth. Because the chiles relleno is traditionally made with poblano chiles, a term used to refer to people and things from the city and state of Puebla, it is widely considered to have originated in Puebla, and is rumored to have been created by the local nuns! This delicious cheese stuffed version is truly simple, no toothpicks, no dipping, no freezing, if you've never made chiles rellenos before, this is your recipe! You'll love it!


Chiles Rellenos

Serves 4

Ingredients:
For the Salsa
1 pound Roma tomatoes, cored and halved
1/2 medium white onion, cut into 1/2" slices
2 medium garlic cloves, peeled and smashed
1 medium serrano chile, stemmed
1 teaspoon freshly squeezed lime juice, or more to taste
1 teaspoon Kosher salt, or more to taste

For the Chiles Rellenos
5 medium poblano chiles (I always make an extra one, just in case one tears beyond repair)
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to season chiles
8 ounces (about 3 cups) shredded Monterey Jack, Chihuahua, or queso Oaxaca cheese
4 large eggs, separated
1/2 teaspoon Kosher salt, for the egg whites
1 cup canola oil

Directions:
For the Salsa
Preheat your broiler and arrange a rack in the upper third of the oven.

Place the tomato halves, (skin-side up), onion slices, garlic, and serrano on a baking sheet. Broil until the tomato skins start to blacken and blister, about 7 minutes. Remove from the broiler and transfer the ingredients to a blender. Add the lime juice and salt, and blend into a smooth puree. Taste and season with additional salt or lime to taste.

Transfer to a small saucepan and keep warm over very low heat.

For the Chiles Rellenos
Lay 1 chile on a cutting board so that it sits flat naturally without rolling. Using a sharp pairing knife, make two cuts forming a "T" by first slicing down the middle of the chile lengthwise from stem to tip, them making a second cut perpendicular to the first about 1/2" from the stem, slicing only halfway through the chile. Don't cut the stem end completely off! Carefully open the flaps to expose the interior of the chile, and using a pairing knife and/or kitchen shears, carefully remove all the seeds, ribs, and any core. You can rinse the chile under cold water to flush out any extra seeds. Dry thoroughly with paper towels, inside and out. Repeat with the remaining chiles.

Turn 2 gas burners to medium-high heat. Place 1 chile directly on each burner and roast, turning occasionally with tongs, until blackened and blistered on all sides. Repeat with the remaining chiles. Check my "Techniques" tab for additional guidance on How to Roast a Chile. If you don't have a gas stove, place all the chiles directly on a high oven rack under the broiler, turning occasionally with tongs, until the chiles blacken and blister on all sides, about 8-10 minutes. When the chiles are blackened, place in a large, heatproof bowl, and tightly cover with plastic wrap. Let cool about 15 minutes.

Using the side a knife, can use a butter knife to prevent tearing, scrape away and discard the charred skins. Try not to tear the chiles! Season the inside and outside of the chiles with salt and pepper. Stuff each chile, trying not to tear them, with a quarter of the cheese (about 2/3 cup) and close the flaps over the cheese. Set aside.


Whisk the egg yolks in a medium bowl until lightened in color and frothy, about 2 minutes, set aside. Place the egg whites and 1/2 teaspoon salt in a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment. Beat on high until stiff peaks form, about 1 1/2 minutes. Remove the bowl from the mixer and gently fold in the egg yolks with a rubber spatula until just combined. Set aside.


Heat the oil in a large frying pan over medium-high heat until hot, about 4 minutes. Check to see if the oil is hot by submerging the handle of a wooden spoon until it touches the bottom of the pan, the oil is ready if bubbles form around the handle.


Working with 1 chile at a time, drop about 1/2 cup of the egg batter into the oil using a rubber spatula to spread it to about the same size as the stuffed chile. The batter will puff up considerably, it's supposed to! 


Lay the chile, seam-side down on top of the mound of batter.


Drop another 1/2 cup of the batter on top of the chile, spreading it with the rubber spatula to cover the sides and encase the chile.


Cook without disturbing until the bottom of the chile relleno is golden brown, about 2-3 minutes. Using a spatula and a fork, carefully flip the chile relleno over and cook until the other side is golden brown, about 2-3 minutes. (If the sides of the chile aren't browned, using a spatula or tongs, carefully turn it onto each side to brown.)


When done, transfer the chiles rellenos to a cooling rack and season with a pinch of salt. You can place them in a low oven to keep warm, while finishing the remaining chiles.

Plating the Dish
Place about 1/4 of the salsa into four individual wide bowls or plates, top each with a chile relleno, garnish with a sprig of cilantro. Serve immediately, passing any remaining sauce on the side. Delicioso!

***You may also be interested in Chorizo Stuffed Poblano Peppers!

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Boy Bait

Want to make your man swoon? Barbecue him some ribs! I don't know a man around who doesn't go crazy for some good ribs! (It must be some innate caveman thing.) This recipe utilizes a basic dry rub of paprika, salt, sugar, garlic powder, onion powder, and pepper. The ribs are then smoked over a pan of water while maintaining a temperature between 300-350 degrees for about 3 hours. I know the temperature is higher than most "experts" would swear by, but it is exactly the way I make my Memphis-Style Spareribs and it has never let me down. I do brush these ribs with a little barbecue sauce (my favorite being Sweet Baby Ray's Sweet 'n Spicy) and wrap them in foil for the last 30 minutes. So ladies, push your man aside and make him the best ribs he's ever had! (Make sure you really like him, because he just might propose!) Coleslawpotato salad, and grilled corn are obvious accompaniments.


Best Barbecue Ribs

Serves 4-6

Ingredients:

For the Dry Rub
1/2 cup paprika
1/4 cup Kosher salt
1/4 cup sugar
2 tablespoons garlic powder
2 tablespoons onion powder
2 tablespoons freshly ground black pepper

For the Ribs 
4 lbs pork sparerib slabs, preferably St. Louis style cut, if possible
3-4 handfuls mesquite and cherry wood chips, soaked in water
Your favorite barbecue sauce

Directions:

Remove the membrane from the bone-side of the ribs by sliding a knife under the membrane at the edges and using a paper towel, pull the membrane off. Gross! Mix all the dry rub ingredients in a bowl, and pat it all over the spareribs, rubbing it in well. Place the ribs in a dish, cover, and refrigerate for at least 1 hour or for up to 4 hours. Remove from the refrigerator at least 30 minutes before barbecuing. (I also cut each slab in half to ensure they fit in my Weber grill.)


Prepare a charcoal grill for barbecuing over medium-low heat (300-350 degrees).

Place an aluminum drip pan half full of water in the center of the fire bed. Sprinkle some of the wood chips on the coals. Place the ribs on the grill rack over the drip pan.

Cover and grill and smoke the ribs, rotating them every 30 minutes or so (the ribs along the outside will cook faster, so it's good to rotate to the inside, etc.) and adding more wood chips, more coals, and more water to the drip pan as needed.


Continue to cover, grill, and smoke the ribs until they are tender and a toothpick can easily be inserted between the ribs, about 2 1/2-3 hours. Brush the ribs with a little barbecue sauce, stack, and wrap in foil for the last 1/2 hour.



To serve, cut the slabs into separate ribs and pile on top of a platter and serve proudly! With lots of napkins!

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Santa Maria Style BBQ and The Hitching Post

Memorial Day weekend is this weekend and marks the beginning of summer break, my husband's birthday, and the official kickoff of the barbecue season! Yippee! Why not fire up the grill and throw a "Santa Maria style barbecue!" Santa Maria style barbecue, named for the town along the central coast of California, is a regional tradition dating back to the mid-1800's. It wasn't until the 1950's, when Tri-Tip became all the rage and a signature cut of this style of barbecue. (For more on Tri-Tip, see Introducing, The One And Only, Tri-Tip!) According to the Santa Maria Valley Chamber of Commerce, the official Santa Maria style barbecue menu consists of barbecued Tri-Tip, seasoned simply with salt, pepper, and garlic salt, and cooked over red oak, pinquito beans (indigenous to the area), fresh salsa, grilled French bread dipped in butter, macaroni and cheese, tossed green salad, and a strawberry dessert, like my Long-on-Strawberry Shortcake. In addition, they recommend a local Pinot Noir or Syrah to round out the menu. Fantastic!

This recipe, from Frank Ostini of the iconic The Hitching Post and The Hitching Post II restaurants, family owned since 1952, takes Tri-Tip to another level! The secret is their "magic dust" seasoning which adds a few extra ingredients to the traditional dry rub. The Tri-Tip is then basted with a garlic-infused vegetable oil and red wine vinegar mixture. The result is a beautiful beefy masterpiece! Don't forget to check back for the perfect zesty Pinto Bean Salad, a variation of the classic pinquito beans that MUST accompany Santa Maria style barbecue!


"Santa Maria Style BBQ" Oakwood Grilled Tri-Tip

Serves 4, but can easily be doubled for a crowd!

Ingredients:

For the Tri-Tip
1, 3 lb Tri-Tip roast
Handful of red oak chips, for the grill

For the magic dust dry rub
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 teaspoon white pepper
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/2 teaspoon onion powder
1 tablespoon granulated garlic
1 tablespoon Kosher salt

For the basting mixture
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
1/4 cup garlic-infused vegetable oil (heat oil in a small pot with a few crushed garlic cloves until the garlic just turns golden, remove from heat and allow to cool)

Directions:
Soak the wood chips in enough cool water to cover for at least an hour before grilling.

Coat both sides of the Tri-Tip with half the dry rub, pressing to adhere. Let rest for 30 minutes at room temperature. Meanwhile prepare a charcoal grill to medium hot, placing the hot coals to one side, leaving the other side without coals for indirect cooking. When the coals have all acquired a nice ash coating (will look light gray), remove the wood chips from their soaking water, and throw over the coals. Next, add the Tri-Tip, fat side down and sear for about 5 minutes, uncovered, until charred. Turn the Tri-Tip over, fat side up and sear for another 5 minutes, uncovered, until charred.


Next, place the Tri-Tip to the indirect side of the grill (without coals), baste with some of the basting mixture and sprinkle with some of the remaining dry rub. Cover and cook for another 5 minutes or so, flip the Tri-Tip and baste again and sprinkle with some more dry rub. (You want to baste and sprinkle with the dry rub each time you flip the Tri-Tip, about 4 times.) Continue to cover and cook until an internal temperature of 125-130, about 30 minutes. (A thermometer, designed for grilling  makes this a lot easier! Check out Gadgets for my top pick!) Remove the Tri-Tip to a cutting board and let rest at least 10 minutes before cutting into 1/2" slices against the grain.

Recipe adapted from Frank Ostini via Bobby Flay. Thanks Frank!

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

The Pastry War, Maximilian, and the History of French-Mexican Cuisine

In 2010, The United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) listed traditional French and Mexican cuisines on the list of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. This is the first time that a nation's cuisine has made the list. While any good foodie knows the immense importance of French cuisine, I am glad that Mexican cuisine is finally getting it's due! Mexican cuisine, built on a foundation of corn, beans, and chili peppers, is a fusion of indigenous Mesoamerican and European cuisines (especially Spanish) following the Spanish conquest of the Aztec Empire in the early 1500s. But did you know that the French have influence as well? 

Following Mexico's independence from Spain (1810-1821), in which immigration was previously prohibited by Spanish authorities, the first wave of French immigrants arrived in Veracruz in the 1830s. At the time, the Mexican economy was weak and had many loans from France and were default on all of them! Many incidences of French immigrants losing their lives and/or property due to inebriated Mexican officials and criminals occurred. After a report by restaurant owner Monsieur Remontel that an assault on his pastry supply valued at 60,000 pesos had occurred, the French demanded 600,000 pesos for alleged losses of property. Mexico refused to pay. So, in 1838 a French fleet began a blockade of Mexico's east coast seaports, launching war. French troops invaded Veracruz and defeated the Mexican troops. After British intervention, Mexico finally agreed to pay the 600,000 pesos thus ending the war. This little known page from Mexico's history was dubbed by a French journalist as "The Pastry War."

Thirty years later, in July of 1861, Mexico's President Benito Jaurez suspended interest payments to all foreign countries, angering their major creditors, specifically Spain, France, and Britain. Napoleon wanted military intervention in order to ensure European access to Latin American markets. On October 31, the three European powers signed the Treaty of London to unite their efforts to receive payments from Mexico. On December 8, British, Spanish, and French fleets arrived in Veracruz. However, when the British and Spanish realized that France planned to seize all of Mexico (known as The French Intervention in Mexico), they quickly withdrew. The French fought many battles with Mexican troops, including their defeat in the Battle of Puebla in 1862, becoming the Cinco de Mayo holiday we love today. With more and more French troops arriving, they finally seized the capital. In 1863, backed by Napoleon, Archduke Ferdinand Maximilian (Emperor Maximiliano of Mexico) was proclaimed Emperor of Mexico. In 1864, the new emperor along with his wife Princess Charlotte of Belgium (Empress Carlota of Mexico), arrived in Veracruz to "wild enthusiasm" from the crowds. 

Maximilian and Carlota chose their seat in Mexico City and were known for lavish feasts morning, noon, and night. Upon Carlota's insistence, French cuisine was always on the menu. Following the Emperor and Empress, French cuisine was embraced by the upper classes, promoting "la comida afrancescada" or "Frenchified cooking." Unfortunately for Maximilian and Carlota, their reign did not last long. After the end of the American Civil War, the US increased diplomatic pressure to persuade Napoleon to end support of Maximilian and withdraw French troops, which he did in 1866. Carlota fled to Europe to seek assistance for her husband where she had a nervous breakdown and lived the rest of her life in seclusion, perhaps in a mental facility in Belgium. Maximilian was executed in Mexico on June 19, 1867. 

During the years that followed, French influences permeated Mexican cuisine, incorporating French terms and sauces to the Mexican culinary repertoire. In addition, native ingredients worked exceedingly well with French techniques. Although many may believe these dishes are new to Mexican cuisine, they are actually offshoots of the French-Mexican culinary fusion of the 19th century! Today, it is estimated that there are approximately 10,000 French Mexicans in the state of Veracruz alone! If you are at all interested in the fusion of French-Mexican cuisine, or would like a sophisticated take on the flavors of Mexico with a French twist, I strongly recommend making "Mushroom Crepes with Poblano Cream Sauce!" It is so absolutely delicious! As this recipe incorporates French and Mexican techniques (both of which can be time-consuming), plan to make some of the parts ahead of time, e.g., crepes and sauce a day or two in advance. I promise you'll love it! Vive la France! Viva la Mexico!


Mushroom Crepes with Poblano Cream Sauce

Serves 6

Ingredients:
For the crepes
2 cups whole milk
3 large eggs
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted, cooled
1 teaspoon fine sea salt
2 cups sifted all purpose flour
Additional melted butter, for cooking the crepes

For the sauce
6 large poblano chiles (For more on poblanos, see For the Love of Poblanos!)
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/4 cup chopped white onion
1 small garlic clove, minced
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 cups warm whole milk
1/2 cup fresh whipping cream
1 cup coarsely grated queso manchego, Muenster cheese (about 4 ounces)
3 tablespoons canola oil
1/2 fresh corn kernels (if not available, use frozen or even can)
Fresh cilantro sprigs, for garnish

For the mushroom filling
1/3 cup canola oil
2 cups white onions, chopped
1 pound fresh shiitake mushrooms, stemmed, caps thinly sliced (a combination of wild mushrooms works very well here, but remember to never eat the shiitake stems - they are too tough!)
2 tablespoons minced epazote or fresh cilantro
4 teaspoons minced garlic

Directions:
For the crepes (Can be made 2 days ahead, wrap, and chill.)
Blend milk, eggs, 2 tablespoons melted butter, and salt in blender 5 seconds. Add flour, 1/2 cup at a time, blending batter until smooth after each addition. Let rest 1-2 hours. Reblend batter 5 seconds before using.

Heat a nonstick skillet or crepe pan (see Gadgets) over medium-high heat until hot. Coat the pan lightly with butter and pour in about 1/4 cup of the batter. Lift the pan from the heat, tilting and rotating, to allow the batter to spread evenly. Return the pan to the heat and allow to cook until dry on top and lightly browned on the edges. Loosen the edges with a plastic or rubber spatula and flip the crepe over using your fingers or spatula, then cook the other side for about 15 seconds, or until lightly browned. (For pictures, see Crazy Crepe Man!) Remove the crepe to a plate. Repeat with the remaining batter, stacking the crepes as they are cooked.

For the sauce (Can be made 1 day ahead. Cover and chill. Whisk over medium heat until just warm before continuing.)
Char chiles directly over gas flame or in broiler until blackened on all sides. Enclose in paper bag or bowl covered in plastic wrap for 10 minutes. Peel, seed, and thinly slice chiles. Set aside. (See Techniques)

Melt butter in medium saucepan over medium heat. Add onion; saute until soft, about 2 minutes. Add garlic; stir 30 seconds. Whisk in flour and continue to cook 1 minute. Whisk in warm milk and bring to boil, whisking constantly. Reduce heat to medium-low; simmer until sauce thickens, whisking occasionally, about 5 minutes. Pour sauce into blender. Add cream and half of roasted chiles (reserve remaining chiles for garnish). Blend sauce until smooth. Season with salt (at least 1 tsp or so) and pepper. Set aside.

For the mushroom filling
Heat oil in large skillet over medium-high heat. Add onions and saute until translucent, about 3 minutes. Add mushrooms, epazote or cilantro, and garlic. Saute until mushrooms are brown and mushroom liquid has evaporated, about 10 minutes. Season with salt and pepper.

Finishing the dish
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Brush a baking sheet with some canola oil or line with parchment. Arrange 1 crepe, brown spots up, on work surface. Place 2 packed tablespoons filling in the center. Fold crepe in half, then half again, forming a triangle. Place filled crepe on prepared sheet. Repeat with the remaining crepes until filling is gone. (Can be filled and folded 1 day ahead. Cover and chill until ready to use.)

Pour 1/4 cup sauce into the center of 6 ovenproof plates. Top each with 2 filled crepes. Pour 1/4 cup sauce over. Sprinkle evenly with the cheese. Bake until the cheese melts, about 12 minutes.

Meanwhile, heat 3 tablespoons canola oil in heavy medium skillet over medium-high heat. Add reserved poblano chiles and corn; saute until heated through, about 2 minutes. Sprinkle with salt.

Garnish crepes with sauteed chiles and corn, then cilantro sprigs, and serve. Mmmmm!

Recipe adapted from Bon Appetit and Mexconnect.com.

Friday, April 14, 2017

Rabbits, Eggs, and Simnel Cake

In ancient times, Easter was celebrated in honor of the spring or vernal equinox, symbolizing the end of winter (death) and the rebirth of life, as well as the importance of fertility. The word Easter is believed to have originated from the Anglo-Saxon goddess of dawn, Eostre, from whom "east" (where the sun rises), "Easter," and even the female hormone "estrogen" got its name. Eostre's feast day was held on the first full moon following the vernal equinox. Eostre's two symbols were the hare (one with a particularly high libido) and the egg, which symbolizes the possibility of new life.

In European folklore, when wild hares abandoned their nests, they were sometimes taken over by plovers, who would lay their eggs in them. The locals would then find the eggs in the bunny nests. Further, in the 16th century, we see the appearance of the "Easter Bunny" in German writings. The legend said that if good children built a nest out of their caps or bonnets, they would be rewarded with colored eggs. The legend was then brought to America in the 18th century, by German immigrants.

And finally, I must mention the "Simnel Cake," eaten during Easter in the UK, Ireland, and other European countries. Simnel cake is a type of fruit cake, made with a layer of marzipan or almond paste baked in the middle of the cake, and topped off with a ring of eleven marzipan balls, said to represent the true disciples of Jesus (Judas is omitted), and sometimes a ball in the middle to represent Christ. I don't care for simnel cake, but I do have a sublime recipe for "Mascarpone-Filled Cake with Sherried Berries." This recipe from Shelley Wiseman is a light buttermilk cake, filled with a layer of mascarpone cream, and topped off with very sophisticated Sherry-spiked berries. I love this cake so much, it may be my absolute favorite! It makes the perfect ending to any Easter celebration!


Mascarpone-Filled Cake with Sherried Berries

Serves 8-12, (cake and cream can be made a day ahead, store cake covered at room temperature)

Ingredients:

For the cake
2 cups sifted cake flour (not self-rising), like Swans Down
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 stick unsalted butter, softened
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 large eggs
1 cup well-shaken buttermilk

For the berries
1/2 cup Fino (dry) Sherry
1/2 cup sugar
4 cups mixed berries, cut if large

For the cream
8 ounces mascarpone (1 cup)
1 cup chilled heavy cream
1/4 cup sugar

Directions:

For the cake
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees with oven rack in the middle. Butter a 9" round cake pan (2 inches deep). Line the bottom with a round of parchment paper, then butter the parchment.

Sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.

Beat together the butter and sugar in a large bowl with an electric mixer until pale and fluffy. Beat in vanilla. Add eggs 1 at a time, beating well after each addition. With mixer at low speed, beat in the buttermilk until just combined. Add flour mixture in 3 batches, mixing after each addition until just combined.

Spread batter in cake pan, smoothing top. Rap the pan on the counter several times.

Bake until golden and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, 35-40 minutes. Cool in pan on a rack 10 minutes. Run a knife around the edge of cake to loosen, then invert onto a plate. Discard the paper and reinvert cake onto rack to cool completely.

Macerate the berries
Bring Sherry and sugar to a boil in a small heavy saucepan, stirring until sugar has dissolved. Put berries in a bowl and pour hot syrup over them. gently tossing to coat. Let stand at least 15 minutes before serving.

Make cream and assemble cake
Beat mascarpone, cream, and sugar in a large bowl using cleaned beaters until mixture just holds stiff peaks.

Halve cake horizontally with a long serrated knife. Carefully remove top half and reserve. Put bottom half on a plate, then spread evenly with all of the cream and replace top half. Serve with berries. It's Fantastic!


Thursday, April 13, 2017

Easy Easter Lamb - Just Throw it on the Bahbie!

Lamb is not commonly eaten in the US. It is less than 1% of the total meat consumed per person, per year. This is due to the fact that lamb is not always readily available in US markets, and very expensive compared to other protein choices. In addition, I know many people who have never even tasted lamb or others who say they don't like the flavor. That's too bad. After all, lamb makes a stunning centerpiece to any Easter table. So, for those of you who are willing to give it a try, I have the perfect recipe for you!

This recipe for "Grilled Leg of Lamb with Rosemary, Garlic, and Mustard," from the April 2010 issue of Bon Appetit, is truly special. The leg of lamb is butterflied, studded with garlic, and marinated overnight in an effortless mixture of whole grain Dijon mustard, olive oil, white wine, rosemary, and lemon. The lamb is then grilled over direct heat for approximately 17 minutes per side, or until the internal temperature reaches 130 degrees. (You'll need a reliable meat thermometer, see Gadgets.) Not only does this free up your oven, grilling the lamb creates a delicious mustardy crust with a flavorful and moist interior that is not gamey in the least! You will convert any non-lamb-lover with this recipe! I like to serve it with "Tuscan Tomato, Basil, and Mint Vinaigrette" that compliments it nicely. This vinaigrette is one of my personal favorites that I have been making for years. It is phenomenal with lamb and also delicious with chicken and fish. And finally, a nice bottle of Syrah is the perfect accompaniment with grilled lamb.


Grilled Leg of Lamb with Rosemary, Garlic, and Mustard

Serves 10-12 (If you want to serve less, use a 3-4 lb boneless leg of lamb instead.)

Ingredients:
1 well-trimmed 6-lb boneless leg of lamb, butterflied to even 2" thickness (I have found that one cut is all that is needed to butterfly a boneless leg of lamb. Easy!)
8 garlic cloves, peeled, divided
1/2 cup whole grain Dijon mustard
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1/4 cup dry white wine
2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh rosemary
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
Nonstick vegetable oil spray (for the grill)
Fresh rosemary sprigs and fresh Italian parsley sprigs (for garnish)

Directions:
Open lamb like book on work surface. Using tip of small knife, make 1/2"-deep slits all over lamb. Thinly slice 4 garlic cloves. Insert garlic slices into slits in lamb.


Combine remaining 4 garlic cloves, mustard, olive oil, white wine, rosemary, and lemon juice in processor. Blend until coarse puree forms. Spread underside of lamb with half of puree. Place lamb, seasoned side down, in 15x10x2" glass baking dish. Spread remaining puree over top of lamb. Cover lamb with plastic wrap and chill overnight.


Let lamb stand at room temperature 2 hours. Coat grill rack with nonstick spray and prepare barbecue (medium-high heat). Remove lamb from marinade and season generously with salt and pepper on both sides. Grill lamb to desired doneness, about 17 minutes per side, or until an internal temperature in the thickest part reaches 130 degrees. Transfer lamb to cutting board; let rest at least 10 minutes.

Thinly slice lamb against grain. Overlap slices on platter. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Garnish with fresh herb sprigs. Enjoy!


Tuscan Tomato, Basil, and Mint Vinaigrette

Serves 6-10 or approximately 2 1/2 cups

Ingredients:
1 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
10 tablespoons red wine vinegar
2 1/2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
3/4 cup chopped fresh mint
2/3 cup chopped fresh basil
2 1/2 tablespoons chopped fresh marjoram or oregano
1 1/4 teaspoon sugar
1 1/4 teaspoon Kosher salt
1 2/3 cup chopped/seeded plum tomatoes
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Directions:
Whisk all ingredients, except for the tomatoes. Stir in the tomatoes and season with pepper to taste. (Can be made 2 hours ahead. Let stand at room temperature.)

Mmmm! I wouldn't serve lamb without it!