Marx Madness

Remember last year when my foodie obsession with Marx Foods began? I remember it like it was just yesterday, aahh that Mangalitsa ham *sigh*. Well, thanks to that very gorgeous piece of ham, I’ve been lucky enough to receive samples of their products as rewards for creating recipes. I’ve gotten so many goodies, it’s madness! The best part is that it allows me to stretch my foodie wings and palate and that makes me a better (and bigger) foodie, cook, aficionada, etc, etc.

Tellicherry Peppercorns from Marx Foods

I submitted recipes for more of their contests, which means I’ve gotten more goodies. I have a box of yummy things in my pantry. Since work has been so hectic, I’ve not had much time to experiment in the kitchen, even less time to share the results with you guys. But I’ve been dying to tell you about a couple of dishes I came up with using some of my loot. This post is not a very good step-by-step one. I blame it on work and exhaustion, that said, these two dishes are way too good not to share with you! Oh.eM.Gee!!! These were sooooo good! I’m drooling  just thinking about them.

 Keep in mind, many of the spices were gifts from the good Marx Foods peeps, they are not paying me to say good things about them. What they do want is some honest feedback about their products and hopefully, if all is good, that may generate new customers for them. I know I’m onboard. OK, that’s my little disclaimer, on with the food!
I made two separate dishes for this evening, a Chayote and Mushroom Cream as an appetizer and, for the entrée, Beef Cheeks with Ancho & Guajillo Peppers over White Truffle Rice Cakes. Yeah. Uhuh. Sounds über
good, doesn’t it? I can’t tell you how good they both were, but I’m gonna try.

Let’s start with the soup. You probably know I’m a huge fan of chayote squash, it was one of the few veggies my Mami could get me to eat when I was a kid. As of late, I’ve been using them in a few new-to-me ways, you can find some really good recipes on my blog by doing a ‘chayote’ search. This little vegetable has a very mild taste most similar to a yellow squash IMO.

Chayote and Mushroom Cream

For the soup, I used a variety of dehydrated mushrooms, oyster, porcini and shitake, from Marx Foods. I steeped them in hot water for about an hour, then strained them out and used the reserved liquid to cook the chayotes. I ran the mushroom broth through a coffee filter to catch any grit–though there was none to be found.

Oyster, Shitake and Porcini Mushrooms

I peeled and cubed 3 chayotes, then cooked them until tender in the mushroom broth (you may need to add a bit more water, just enough to cover the chayotes. The broth was seasoned with Smoked Salt. Once the chayotes are tender, run them through the blender to puree the soup. Return to the pot and add heavy cream, about 1/2 cp or to taste.

Smoked Salt and Tellicherry Peppercorns

While the chayotes cooked, I roughly chopped the mushrooms and sautéed them in 2-3 tbsp of butter. I added 1 tsp ground Tellicherry Peppercorns, more Smoked Salt and about 1/2 cp of dry sherry that was cooked into the mushrooms. Keep warm.

To plate: pour the cream in your bowl, top with a dollop of  the sautéed mushrooms, a sprinkling of the Smoked Salt and grated Manchego or Parmesan cheese.

Now, what can I tell you about the entrée…??? I had never cooked beef cheeks before, but I find myself obsessed with them now. I will admit it isn’t one of those things you can make on the fly, because that meat needs to be brought into submission before making it magical. I certainly hope you give it a try, the rewards are indescribable. The meat is melt in your mouth tender and possesses a sweet unctuousness about it.

Ancho & Guajillo Chilies

For this recipe I finished the cheeks with Guajillo & Ancho Peppers and a bit of Fennel Pollen, this gave the final dish a perfect balance of sweet, savory and spiciness that had The Hubbz and I swooning over our plates. The above decadence sat atop rice cakes that had been laced with White Truffle Oil and cream before being crisped in butter.

Fennel Polen from Marx Foods

The scent and taste of the Truffle Oil was so rich and intoxicating, it played beautifully against the other ingredients. I then channelled Iron Chef Symon and topped this concoction with a watercress salad that helped cut through this incredibly rich plate. Let’s get to it, shall we?

Beef Cheeks with Ancho & Guajillo Peppers and White Truffle Rice Cakes

To prepare the beef cheeks, I removed any excess fat and tendons early in the day, just before allowing it to braise for an hour or so in water that was seasoned with a couple cloves of garlic (peels and all), bay leaf, salt & pepper. Once tender, cut into cubes, but make sure to reserve the broth produced.

I simmered 2 guajillos and 2 anchos in about 1 cp of the reserved broth, just until they became soft, about 10-15 minutes. If you want to minimize the heat in the dish, remove the seeds before steeping the peppers. I allowed the peppers to cool just enough to handle and chopped them up and added them to a hot pan with about 1tbsp of extra virgin olive oil, followed by 2 tsps of Fennel Pollen, the zest of 1 orange, 1/4 cp of dry sherry, the cubed meat and seasoned with salt & pepper. I added enough of the reserved broth to simmer the beef until it was melt-in-my-mouth tender, about 30-40 minutes.

While the cheeks cooked, I added 1 tbsp of  White Truffle Oil and 3 tbsp of heavy cream  and 2 tbsp of finely chopped chives to about 2 cps of cooked leftover jasmine rice. I formed the mixture into 4 patties and placed them in the freezer for about an hour to make them easier to handle. Once they were firm on the outside, I  ran them through a breading station: flour-egg-panko crumbs. These were then crisped in a skillet in a combo of butter and oil until golden brown.

I made a make-shift vinaigrette for the watercress, by combining the juice of the orange with a bit of Truffle Oil (probably less than 2 tsps), I dressed the watercress with the vinaigrette and a sprinkling of salt & pepper just before serving.

To plate: I placed 2 rice cakes on the plate, topped them with the beef braise and topped that with the watercress salad. Once you make this and take the first bite, you really will think you died and went on to happy orgasmic heaven.

About the Marx Foods ingredients aka The Loot:

Tellicherry Peppercorns: I love these and will be adding them to my pepper mill. Its black peppers on roids! Really big, bold peppery goodness. A must have.

Smoked Salt: I think it is really cool just to look at, but the flavor it adds to your food is surprising. It really makes it taste smoky. Really excited to have my hands on this one.

Dried mushrooms : These were good, but I wasn’t wild about the texture of them, it made me think of seaweed. I still have some left and will try them again, because I think I might’ve not reconstituted them properly. For now, I’m sticking to the fresh stuff.

Dried Guajillo and Ancho Peppers: I simply love these and I’m pretty familiar with them and have them available at almost every grocery store here in town. I did notice that these seemed ‘cleaner’?? Sometimes when I pick them up at the grocers here they look ‘dusty’ and I rinse them before use. The Marx peppers were ready to go.

Fennel Pollen: Yeah, another keeper. This was the second time I incorporated it into a recipe and I absolutely love it!

White Truffle Oil: This baby is sooo good, it should come with its own choir so that you here them chant ‘aaaaaaaaah’ everytime you open the bottle. Gimme, gimme!

There’s more Marx Goodness to come, so stay tuned.

Cookingly yours,
Anamaris

Pupusas: little pockets of yum!

Around the holidays, I made some Mexican tamales, those were oh so good, we’re still eating on them. But I had a bit of the corn masa leftover… oh, what to do? What to do? The Hubbz loves Salvadorian pupusas and has been asking me to try my hand at them for a while. Leftover masa? Perfect opportunity.

White corn is very popular throughout all of Central America, except for Panama. In my little country, yellow corn is king, the white variety wasn’t really known until recent years.

Pupusas, a funny name for the Spanish speakers, but a seriously delicious treat. Salvadorian pupusas are similar to Venezuelan arepas and Mexican gorditas, except that pupusas are filled, then grilled. A sort of round corn empanada, really. Most commonly, you’ll find these filled with chicharrón (fatty, crisp pork), cheese and black beans. However, fillings are only limited by the cook’s imagination.

I opted to go for the cheese and chicharrón filling. Since I had rendered some pork fat, I was in possession of some choice pork cracklings and there’s ALWAYS queso fresco in da’ house! Check it out:

Pork & Cheese Pupusas

I mixed some of the fresh masa with a bit of pork lard and seasoned it with salt. It isn’t necessary to add either of those things, but I find the corn masa to be bland and dry and I wanted a flavorful, moist pupusa. If you’re using dry masa, simply follow the packaging instructions and add enough water to have a somewhat soft and pliable dough, season or not as you prefer. Shape the masa into balls.

Then flatten and begin adding the filling. I’ve seen this done from a single ball that is stuffed and flattened, but I found it a lot easier to use 2 flatten balls, put the filling on top of one and top with the other half. Seal the edges by pinching them together.

If you have a comal or a cast iron skillet, that’s the best way to grill these. If not, any non-stick skillet will work. Brown on each side over medium temperature. You want to make sure the dough cooks through and the filling is warmed up, so watch the temperature. They should sound kinda hollow when  you thump them, that’s how I know they’re cooked through.

Typically, these are served with curtido, a pickled cabbage salad. I’m not a cabbage fan, but I did have pickled carrots and I made a dipping sauce with crema fresca and homemade salsa. Yum!

Here’s more pupusa action here.

Cookingly yours,
Anamaris

Eating out in Houston: Nielsens Deli

At the corner or Richmond and Mid Lane sits an unassuming establishment called Nielsens Deli. I had driven by this place countless times since moving to Houston, but never thought about stopping by, I imagined it was just a deli selling deli meats. Recently, a good friend invited me out for a quick lunch promising me I would have the best potato salad and deviled eggs EVAH! Off to Nielsens we went.

As you walk into the stand-alone building, you’ll come into a long narrow room, the deli counter will be just a couple of feet and directly across from the front door, that’s where you place your order, unless you’ve called it in. Turn right and to the opposite end of the room, pick up some chips and pay for your order. If you’re dining in, you can grab one of the stools lined up against the storefront glass. If you’re feeling particularly playful, tease the incoming customers as they come up to the counter.

Ok, this is a food blog, right? Let’s talk shop. First, I was tickled by the lingo I heard as I approached the counter. The customers, regulars no doubt, have learned how to properly order their meals: ‘a Jr Corned beef, extra spread on rye and a pixie potato salad‘. It made me think of a kinder, gentler soup Nazi.

I’m not a big sandwich person, it just doesn’t seem like a meal, but these sandwiches are awesome! I had the corned beef on white with extra spread (they make their own mayo…OHMY!), an egg and a pixie of egg salad. Let me tell you, this corned beef was good and piled high on the homemade bread. No skimping here.

Anni had the turkey on white, extra spread an egg and a pixie of potato salad. I had a bite of her turkey and was surprised by how flavorful it was. They’ve been roasting their own turkey breasts since the deli opened in 1952, I think they have it down.

Now. For the really exciting part. Those sides. I love potato salad, but not the mustardy kind and not with a bunch of stuff in it. KISS (keep it simple, sweetie) is my motto. And KISS it they do. Loads of their amazing homemade mayo, piled with eggs and celery for some crunch, this potato salad ROCKS! It is so good that years ago Gourmet magazine sent a letter requesting their recipe!

Then we go into the deviled egg territory. Insanity, that is all I can say about it. Next time I go, I will have the chicken salad sandwich, apparently it is incredible. And I believe it, because I had a pixie of the egg salad… it was as if they just chopped the deviled eggs and stirred it all up.

If you’re from Houston, you should definitely visit this Houston institution, do it soon! It’s just inside the loop at Richmond. If you’re coming to Houston for a visit, put this one on the list.

Nielsen’s Deli (daily from 8:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m)
4500 Richmond Avenue
713.963.8005

Eating around,
Anamaris

A shrimp is not just a shrimp

I made this awesome dish as my contribution to Foodalogue’s Culinary Tour as she takes us and her readers to my homeland, Panama! The criteria to participate in the tour is pretty relaxed, you can either  prepare a traditional dish in a) a traditional way, b) traditional dish modernized or c) just implement local ingredients and/or techniques. This particular recipe is one of 2 I shared and it showcases local ingredients in a modern or contemporary way, the other was an almost traditional Seafood Guacho.

The recipe comes from a beautiful cookbook I picked up on my last trip to Panama. ‘Sabores de Panamá(Flavors of Panama) by Jorge Jurado, one of Panama’s renown chefs who has tasked himself with bringing traditional Panamanian dishes to the next level. The recipe showcases popular local ingredients: shrimp, passion fruit, chayote squash, coconut and sugar cane, these are then elevated when combined with fish sauce and smoked paprika and a beautiful presentation.

Let’s talk about the ingredients, shall we? Panama is all about the seafood, man. So much so that it is sold door-to-door. Yep, you read right. A few years ago, my dear friend Dorothy went to Panama with me and we stayed at my parents’ home. One morning while we were starting to wake up, we heard a man’s voice over a loudspeaker saying ‘Pescao, pescao, pargo, corvina, cojinoa, PESCAO’. A wave of giggles ensued, she looked at me awestruck. I had mentioned this phenomena to her, but I think she secretly doubted my honesty. See, about 3 times a week, there’s a guy in a truck who drives around my parents’ hood selling the morning catches, it doesn’t get any fresher than that. We didn’t have the ice cream truck, we get the seafood truck.

OK, back to the components of this magical dish. Chayote is a variety of squash that is as readily available in Panamá as zucchini and yellow squash is in the US. Like zucchini, it is very light, has a great deal of water content and a very mild taste with a discernible sweetness. A tart and luscious caramel made of raspadura, unrefined sugar cane, and passion fruit works beautifully with the mild flavors of the chayote and the spiciness of the smoked paprika and habanero pepper and the creamy coconut sauce. I fell in love with this dish, I think you will too.

Langostinos con Caramelo de Maracuya, Chayote y Aire de Coco (Prawns with Passion Fruit Caramel, Chayote and Coconut Foam)

For the prawns:
20 head-on large prawns, peeled & deveined
1 tbsp Spanish paprika
1 tbsp brown sugar
1 garlic clove, crushed
Sea salt & black pepper
Mix the ingredients together and use to marinate the prawns. Allow them to marinate while you prepare the rest of the components.

For the chayote:
4 chayote squash, halved
4 rosemary sprigs
Sea salt & black pepper
The recipe suggested peeling the chayotes and cooking in the microwave with a bit of olive oil. I don’t like handling raw chayotes, they have a sticky sap that is a pain to remove from your hands. Instead, I placed them in a pot over a steam tray, added water to the bottom, sprinkled salt & pepper over them and tucked the rosemary sprigs around them. They steamed for about 10-15 minutes and I peeled them just before serving. Easy breezy.

For the passion fruit caramel:
1/2 cp raspadura, crumbled
4 tbsp unsalted butter
1/2 cp passion fruit concentrate
If you cannot find raspadura, you can substitute with dark brown sugar. Melt the raspadura in a small pan and allow it to cook until it becomes caramel. Add the butter and passion fruit concentrate and cook until it thickens again, about 15 minutes. Set aside.

For the coconut foam:
1 cp unsweetened coconut milk
1 tbsp fish sauce
1 tsp fresh ginger, crushed
1/2 tsp habanero paste
1/4 tsp soy sauce
Combine all the ingredients into a small pan and bring to a boil. I didn’t end up with foam, he suggests using a hand blender, which I do not own, so I put mine into the blender. If you do own a hand blender, then keep this warm and use the blender to froth it just as you are finished plating. If you don’t, I suggest cooking down the sauce a bit, to reduce and thicken it, then you can spoon it right over the prawns.

Putting it together:
Heat a skillet and add a bit of olive oil and butter, saute the prawns, cooking for a couple of minutes on both sides (if you’re not a fan of foods with a face, feel free to remove the heads, but there is a lot of flavor there). Set aside, but keep warm.

On a plate, spread about 1 tbsp of the caramel, top with the chayote, then place a prawn atop the squash. Top witht he coconut foam or cream and be ready to ooooh and aaaah in enjoyment.


I can’t wait to make this again. Do stop by and take in Joan’s tour. For more shrimpy shots, click here and go here to see my second dish, Guacho de Mariscos y Hongos.

Cookingly yours,
Anamaris

Foodalogue’s Culinary Tour: Destination Panamá

The first time I came across Joan’s blog, Foodalogue, was because of her Culinary Tour events. She chooses a country and invites her readers on a virtual tour of that country and its cuisine. Joan’s rules for her tour are very relaxed; one can make a traditional dish in  a traditional way, OR modernize a traditional dish, OR utilize the ingredients and/or techniques of the country in your own way. The world tour will end this year visiting 7 new countries and Panama will be kicking things off.

As a 100% Panameña (that’s Panamanian for non-Spanish speakers), I am required to participate and represent. Really, it’s in the constitution or something. When most people think of Panama, they think of the Panama Canal and Noriega, so before we dive into the grub, let me share some so facts regarding my homeland.

  • Our borders are  the Caribbean Sea, the Pacific Ocean, Colombia and Costa Rica.
  • According to the 2010 country rankings by the World Economic Council of Global Competitiveness, Panama ranks 53 out of 139 countries and is expected to end up in the top 50 this year.
  • As of 2010 it is the second most competitive economy in Latin America.
  • Panama has the largest rainforest in the Western Hemisphere outside the Amazon.
  • Basketball is big there and a number of well-known NBA players hail from the little country, including Rolando Blackman (four-time NBA All-Star) and Kevin Daley of the Harlem Globetrotters.
  • Another big game, baseball. Rod Carew and Mariano Rivera both hit balls in Panama before hitting the big time.

  • Panama’s cuisine is influenced by its diverse population of Hispanic, native Indian, European, African and even Chinese migrations.
  • Unlike many of the neighboring countries, Panamanian food is not particularly spicy (heat).
  • Yellow corn is often used for many of our dishes and fish, seafood and shellfish dishes are Panamanian specialties. For more detailed food info, check this link.

Anydoo, this past year I’ve shared many recipes and told you about foods from Panama and you can be assured that there are plenty more to come starting with 2 dishes I submitted for Joan’s tour. The first is a modern rendition using local ingredients, which could work as a beautiful appetizer, though The Hubbz and I scarfed it down as our entrée the other night. The second came as a result of one of our ‘What’s in the Bag‘ evenings. The Hubbz went to the store and brought everything but the  butcher’s block, which I then had to incorporate into a meal. It is a pretty traditional dish, with a very tiny itsy bitsy twist. Ready? Here we go.

For an appetizer: Langostinos en Caramelo de Maracuyá con Aire de Coco (Prawns in Passion Fruit Caramel and Coconut Foam).

This was incredible with an exciting and complex flavor profile. I followed a recipe from Jorge Jurado’s latest cookbook ‘Sabores de Panamá(Flavors of Panama). Jurado is a renown chef in Panama, who is at the forefront of a movement to elevate Panamanian dishes to haute cuisine.

In this recipe, Jurado makes use of popular local flavors: shrimp, passion fruit, chayote squash, coconut and sugar cane and hypes them up with fish sauce and smoked paprika. The final dish is assembled a layer at a time and topped with coconut foam–which I wasn’t able to accomplish, but still ended up with an insanely delicious sauce that tasted of the sea and tropical fruits. That sauce alone would make a dish unforgettable.

This dish wasn’t complicated to put together, but it does have a lot of steps. Because I usually offer step-by-step photo instructions for my dishes, I’ll limit this post to a review and description then direct you here for the how-to.

As an entrée, I offer you a semi-traditional Guacho de Mariscos y Hongos

Guacho (pronounced WAH-cho) is a sort of risotto that is topped with a flavorful sofrito. The primary, always present, ingredients in any guacho are rice and the sofrito that crowns it. Secondary and tertiary ingredients would include an assortment of any of these: various beans, pork, chicken, cured pig’s tails, seafood, and roots such as yuca and otoe.

Panamanian sofrito is generally made with onions, bell peppers, tomatoes, garlic and a few other aromatics, but this time, I added a puree made from dried chile ancho and guajillos. Also, mushrooms are not traditionally added to this dish.

For the guacho, I made a seafood broth with the shrimp skins and used it as cooking liquid for the rice which cooks until swollen plump. The seafood is added just at the end to prevent overcooking. Let me tell you, this is seafood heaven. The rice is laden with seafood and bacon flavors and is complimented by the sweetness of the shrimp and scallops. To add some textural interest, I pan-fried a few of the shrimp & scallops to top each serving. You can check out this post for the step by step recipe.

There you have it! Panamá en tu plato (Panama on your plate). Next stop… ALASKA!

Cookingly yours,
Anamaris

Thanksgiving Dinner: The Starter

Every meal should have a beginning, a middle and end, just like a good story. The appetizer sets the mood and expectations for what’s to come. Consider it foreplay. You want it to make an impression, to tease but not overshadow.

When I thought about the components for this meal, I knew I wanted to incorporate the ‘traditional’ Thanksgiving ingredients. I also knew I would need to befriend the sweet potato, it’s not one of my favorites. You may recall another post where sweet potato was the star, but dressed in different wardrobe. That’s how I trick myself into liking it.

When I thought about a starter for this meal and considered using sweet potatoes, I wanted to remove most of that barely there sweetness and stay away from the common spices paired with it. The addition of chorizo made this soup even more savory and hearty. This soup is delicious! AND light AND easy. You should definitely try it. You can make the components for the cream ahead of time, then reheat and put it together just before serving.

Sweet Potato Cream with Chorizo
serves 6-8

3-4 medium sweet potatoes
1 bay leaf
2 cloves garlic, peeled
Chicken stock or water
Sea salt
1 tsp cumin
Crema fresca or creme fraiche

For the chorizo:
1 large onion, chopped
1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
2 tsps balsamic vinegar
1 tbsp sherry or wine
8 ozs Mexican chorizo
Sea salt
Sugar
Black pepper

Peel and chop the potatoes before putting them in a medium saucepan with the stock/water, bay leaf, garlic and salt. Boil and cook until tender. Allow them to cool in the boiling liquid before running through a blender. The sweet potatoes will be very dense, you may need to add additional water in order to puree.

To prepare the chorizo: cook the onions in the oil over medium high heat until softened and the onions begin to turn golden. Add the balsamic vinegar and sherry, cook until it evaporates.

Add the chorizo into the onion mixture, making sure to break it apart so it is a crumble. Chorizo should be thoroughly cooked, but keep the temperature at medium to avoid burning it. Add a couple tablespoons of water and cover with a tight-fitting lid, lower the temperature and allow it to cook for about 10 minutes. Adjust the seasonings as necessary, if you find it to be too tart, add a pinch of sugar. Allow it to cool. Remove the excess fat once it cools down.

To assemble: Pour the hot soup into a bowl, drizzle with cream, then drop a dollop of chorizo in the center.

Enjoy! Check out the rest of this meal here.

Cookingly yours,
Anamaris