Tuesday, May 4, 2021

Mexico's Crazy Corn!

When I was a kid, I remember when my Mom and Dad returned from a vacation in Veracruz, Mexico. My Mom told us that they put mayonnaise on corn on the cob, and we thought that sounded extremely gross! "Elote Asado" (Mexican Grilled Corn) is perhaps the most popular street food in Mexico. Sweet ears of corn are grilled until tender, slathered with mayonnaise, Mexican crema, or a mixture of both, then rolled in cotija cheese, dusted with chili powder, and served with a wedge of lime. I know it sounds crazy, but it is quite delicious!

I recommend starting with the freshest, sweetest corn you can find. I also recommend seeking out authentic Mexican crema, as opposed to using sour cream. In addition, I have to admit that I don't care for the squeeze of lime. I know...dumb gringo! (FYI: If you serve this to anyone with facial hair, have plenty of napkins available! It's pretty funny to watch!) Anyway, this is a fun and authentic recipe to celebrate Cinco de Mayo! Try it and let me know what you think! Happy Cinco!

Elote Asado (Mexican Grilled Corn with Crema, Cheese, and Chili)

Serves 4

4 ears of corn
1/4 cup mayonnaise
3/4 cup Mexican crema
1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro
1 cup grated cotija cheese
Chili powder
4 lime wedges, for garnish

Pull the husks down the corn, but leave some attached to make a handle. (I like to tear a husk or two to tie the husks together.) Grill the corn on a hot grill, turning occasionally until tender and slightly charred, approximately 8-10 minutes. Mix the mayonnaise, crema, and cilantro together in a small bowl. Spread the cotija cheese on a plate to allow easy rolling. When the corn is done, slather it liberally with the mayo/crema/cilantro mixture. Roll it in the cotija cheese. Sprinkle with chili powder, to taste. Serve with lime wedges.

Saturday, April 17, 2021

The Julia Child of Texas

Helen Corbitt was born on January 25, 1906 in upstate New York. After receiving a degree in home economics from Skidmore College in Saratoga Springs, New York, her plans for medical school fell apart as a result of the Great Depression. She began work as a therapeutic dietitian in New Jersey and New York before being offered a teaching position at the University of Texas in Austin. She reportedly told the Dallas Times Herald, "Who the hell wants to go to Texas?," "Only I didn't say 'hell' in those days. I learned to swear in Texas." Only a few weeks after arriving, she was requested to cater a convention using only Texas products, which in those days was stark to say the least. However, Helen pushed up her sleeves and created a sublime mixture of black eyed peas, garlic, onion, vinegar, and oil, which became known as the legendary "Texas Caviar."

Helen's career took off, working at the Houston Country Club, the Driskill Hotel (where she fed the likes of Lyndon Johnson, who used many of her recipes at the White House), before finding her perfect fit at the Zodiac Room in 1955, at the Neiman Marcus flagship store in Dallas. With her focus on using only the freshest ingredients, the Zodiac Room was a huge success with appreciative Texans. She cooked for movie stars, socialites, royalty, and dignitaries, as well as the general public who could treat themselves at the standup counter on the main floor. According to Stanley Marcus's memoir Minding the Store, after complaining that the Zodiac Room has never showed profit, Helen replied, "You didn't mention money when you employed me. You simply said that you wanted the best food in the country. I've given you that."

After retiring from Neiman Marcus in 1969, she began lecturing around the country and writing cookbooks. Her first cookbook, Helen Corbitt's Cookbook (1957), sold more than 300,00 copies and is a mainstay in many Texas homes. With their worn-out pages still lovingly used today, I would be remiss not to share one of her most famous creations, "Poppy Seed Dressing," used for her "Citrus and Avocado Salad," which I lovingly call "Texas Sunshine Salad." The original recipe calls for Texas's renowned Ruby red grapefruit, but I actually prefer to use navel oranges. The combination of the sweet vinaigrette, creamy avocado, and tart citrus is surprisingly delicious! I find it a pleasing counterpart to Texas and Mexican cuisine, and especially refreshing on frigid winter days to remind us that the summer sun will soon be here again!

Texas Sunshine Salad (Citrus and Avocado Salad)

Serves 4

2 grapefruits or oranges
2 ripe avocados, peeled, seeded, and sliced
Lettuce leaves to form the base of the salad (I use 1 large head of Boston lettuce in this recipe.)
Poppy seed dressing (recipe follows)

First cut the ends off each grapefruit/orange. Set cut-side down on cutting board and run a knife down each side in an arch shape to remove the peel and white pith. With a sharp knife, slice into each section along the inside of each membrane. Repeat with the remaining sections. Set aside. Can be refrigerated until ready to use.

Just before serving, arrange the lettuce leaves on a platter. Decoratively arrange the avocado slices and grapefruit/orange segments on top of the lettuce. Drizzle some poppy seed dressing over the salad, serving extra dressing at the table. Serve at once!

Helen Corbitt's Poppy Seed Dressing

Makes approximately 2 cups (This recipe can easily be reduce by half.)

1/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup honey
1/4 cup white vinegar
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 teaspoon dry mustard
1 teaspoon grated onion
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon paprika (optional)
1 cup oil, preferably canola and never olive oil
1 tablespoon poppy seeds

Place everything in a mason jar and shake until emulsified. (Or you can use a food processor if you like to clean them...) Will keep in the refrigerator for a couple of weeks. Shake before using.

Thanks to Texas Monthly, "Tastemaker of the Century-Helen Corbitt," written by Prudence Mackintosh, December 1999.
Recipe adapted from Helen Corbitt's Cookbook, and Texas Home Cooking.

Wednesday, March 31, 2021

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.)

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)

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

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

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!