Calling all Cooking Channel Addicts.

I admit it. I spend a LOT of time watching cooking shows, a lot. I’m obsessed with them, sometimes I imagine I am sitting in their kitchens having a glass of wine while they tell me about how they came up with the concept for the dish. One of my favorites is Extra Virgin, hosted by Debi Mazar (of LA Law fame) and her husband, an Italian farmer and chef she met while traveling in Italy. They’re a really cute couple and they prepare all the meals in their own quirky little kitchen. I want their kitchen.

Banner taken from CookingChannelTV.com

A few weeks ago, The Hubbz and I were watching a marathon of episodes on a Sunday afternoon, when we saw it. They made lasagna. Not just lasagna, though, Lasagne alla Bolognese. What I found out about this delicious dish is that it is less tomatoey, less cheesy, but still super creamy. Similarly to how my Mami taught me to make lasagne, the Bolognese incorporates quite a bit of Béchamel Sauce, which I’m now realizing isn’t a traditional component of a basic meat lasagne.

The Bolognese sauce consists of a slow cooked creamy ragu. In their recipe, Debi and Gabriele used a combination of beef, veal, and pork and they added pancetta to the sofrito. I decided to use lamb instead of veal and Spanish chorizo, instead of the pancetta. Traditionally, the Bolognese calls for Parmesan, in an effort to bring in my Latin roots to the table, I opted for an Argentinian Sardo cheese. Sardo is similar  in flavor to Parmesan, it is made of cow’s milk and has a mellow, yet rich, and lightly salty taste.

The lasagne was intensely flavorful and rich and, yes, creamy.The Hubbz loves to cheese up his meals, and even though there was very little cheese added, his need for cheese was satisfied. The sauce needs to cook for a while, so you’ll do well to start there, maybe even the day before. I actually made it in the space of a couple of hours, maybe 3 altogether.

Lasagne alla Bolognese for the Latina’s Soul

For the sauce:
1/2 cp Spanish chorizo, cubed
5 tbsp olive oil
1 yellow onion, chopped
3 carrots, chopped
2 celery stalks, chopped
3 cloves garlic, chopped
1 lb each ground beef, pork, lamb
Salt & black pepper
1/2 tsp each nutmeg and allspice
2-3 cps red wine
3 large cans stewed tomatoes
1 cp whole milk

Saute the chorizo in the oil for a few minutes before adding the onion, carrots, and celery; continue cooking until the onions are translucent. Then add the meats, break it up the large pieces with a wooden spoon; once the meat begins to brown, you can add the garlic, season with salt & pepper, and the spices.

After a couple of minutes, add the wine and cook briskly for a few minutes to allow the alcohol to evaporate completely, make sure to scrape any bits that may be stuck on the bottom of the pan. In the meantime, pulse the tomatoes in a blender or food processor, then add them to the meat. Taste the sauce and season again with salt and pepper as needed. Lower the temperature to medium and cook for about 2 1/2 hours, stirring occasionally. Finish the sauce by adding the milk, stir well and set aside, to cool off. While the sauce mellows down, start working on the bechamel.

For the Bechamel sauce:
1/2 cp butter (yep, that’s a whole stick)
1/2 cp flour
4 1/2 cps whole milk
Freshly grated nutmeg
Sea salt and black pepper

Melt the butter over medium heat and briskly stir in the flour, taking care to dissolve any lumps. At this point, you want to slowly toast/cook the flour without burning it. Gradually add the milk to the flour mixture, make sure to whisk it constantly and slowly bring the mixture to a boil. Reduce the heat to low, and simmer for a few minutes, until it thickens. Season the sauce with nutmeg, salt, and pepper. Set aside to cool.

Puting it all together:
Butter
Bolognese Sauce
Lasagne noodles
Bechamel sauce
3/4 cup grated Sardo cheese

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Butter the pan well–I used a 9×13 pyrex–and add a very thin layer of meat sauce. Followed by a layer of noodles, then Bechamel, and finally Sardo. Repeat a couple of times. At the top, cover the noodles with meat sauce and some Bechamel, add a few thin slices of butter and finish with some Sardo.

Bake for about 30 minutes.

Are you looking for more foodie porn? Click here.

Cookingly yours,
Anamaris

How Fredricksburg, Texas changed my mind.

If you haven’t guessed it by now, I’m a city girl. Through and through, die hard fan of cramped spaces, tall buildings and a store for any and every whim within a mile. I’ve never subscribed to the phrase ‘the great outdoors’, understood the need for great open spaces or been able to relax out in small town USA. If there isn’t a Target within 2 or 3 miles from my home, I think I would break into hives and hyperventilate. Granted, I don’t know for sure if that would happen, because I’ve never taken that chance; there are 2 Target stores within 3 miles of my home.

That said, I have been known to pay the occasional visit to small towns. I check out the oft-manmade charming towns, hit the usual haunts and try to mingle with the locals. I usually get all this done in 2 or 3 days tops, any longer and I begin experiencing urban life withdrawals. But the Hubbz and I needed a few days off and I was due in San Antonio for business, the perfect segue.

Fredricksburg is one of many small towns making up the Texas Hill Country. We drove through San Antonio and the outskirts of a few of the hill country towns before coming up on our final destination. As soon as you approach San Antonio, you will notice how the terrain changes from flat open spaces to hilly irregular areas. This may seem like an insignificant point if you live surrounded by hills and/or mountains, but if you live in Houston, the only time you look up is to see the top of a building. There are no hills to speak of. Flatlands rule here.

I am dismayed to say I didn’t take a lot of pictures on this trip. Dodo, my bestie, still cannot believe it. *I* cannot believe it. Photos were an afterthought, if that. I came back with something like 15 shots total, but I was so happy, relaxed and thrilled here, that I didn’t find the need to take a single shot of the town. Why would I take pictures of the next place I plan to call home? After all, I’ll see it everyday in a few years. Here’s wishing.

Bottom line is, I LOVED Fredericksburg. It is quaint and quiet. It is full of charm, but most of all, it is real. It’s not another made up town, where every other storefront looks the same. The spirit of the community is live and well here. Everyone seems to know each other and they are so friendly and proud of what they’ve created preserved. Whenever I thought of a small town, I pictured some dilapidated, worn out, dried out town. But Fredricksburg is fresh and clean and cute without trying or even meaning to.

One of the big draws to this area is the Wine Trail. Yep, you heard it here first, there are over 50 wineries up and down the region. In fact, this area is being touted as the 2nd fastest growing wine region in the US. And if there’s wine, there is me. It’s a rule. We hit only 4 vineyards of more than 50 currently opened in the Hill Country. We managed to come up with some favorites, so check out my next post. It’salmost  all about wine.

Small town yours,
Anamaris

Culinary tour: Turkey

This week Foodalogue’s Culinary Tour will take us to the Republic of Turkey. Do you have your passport? It’s ok, you don’t really need it, I can get you through. We’re going to Turkey this week. Not the bird, the country. Turkey calls Bulgaria, Greece and Syria neighbors–among others. Turkey is a relatively young country, established in 1923 after the defeat of the Ottoman empire. I’ve never been, but I hear it is simply breathtaking and exciting.

I can’t say I am intimately familiar with Turkish cuisine, but Google is my friend and I know more about it today than I did yesterday. Since Turkey was ruled by the Ottomans for a while, you will notice their cuisine harmonizes with that of Central Asia, the Middle East and the Balkans. As with most countries, the cuisine will vary from region to region, but there are still some common ingredients, such as eggplant, green peppers, lentils, pistachios and a number of herbs.

There is also an emphasis on desserts. Turns out, baklava is a Turkish specialty! Yes, I know. I always thought this was a Greek specialty, just as I thought it was always made with honey. How did I ever survive without the Internet, I will never know. What I do know is that baklava has strong ties to Turkey, that there are other desserts similar to it and they don’t have to include honey!!! A definite win in my book.

Wikipedia provided a very detailed compilation of Turkish desserts. The list started off with baklava and then mentioned other similar treats. Enter Sobiyet. I’m going to say that Sobiyet is the baklava’s uppity cousin. Or the fat one. Just like baklava, Sobiyet starts off with layers upon layers of buttery pastry, but it is then crowned with a creamy filling. I found an excellent recipe here.

Following Joan’s Culinary Tour, I have a choice as to how I honor the destination. I can:

  • go traditional: make one of the country’s national or traditional dishes.
  • choose a contemporary approach: take a traditional recipe and contemporize  it.
  • or go for a wild card and use the flavors and techniques of the country we are visiting, and create my own recipe.

This time I opted for a contemporary approach and tweaked the traditional Turkish recipe by substituting with my Latin stuff. Actually, I Panamanianized it, as the substitutions are very common ingredients in Panama. I added cashews, instead of using regular sugar or honey, I went for raspadura–unrefined sugar cane and I also added orange peel, cinnamon sticks and cloves for aromatics.

Cashew & Pistachio Sobiyet

I came across a delicious recipe by Mercedes over at Dessert Candy and followed it pretty closely except for the following changes:

For the custard filling: I allowed the milk to steep with a few cloves and a cinnamon stick, which I strained before adding the semolina. Once the custard had thickened, I added a bit of nutmeg and pureed raw cashews.

For the syrup: I replaced the sugar with raspadura, added the zest and of an orange, and a bit of vanilla extract.

For the assembly:  I sprinkled chopped cashews and pistachios over the custard. Also, when I had 2 or 3 sheets left, I topped the layer with more pistachios, I wanted the color to show through the top. I finished with more buttery phyllo.

I kinda free-formed it into a round; once all the layers were in place, I used the last 2 layers to  tuck all the edges under.

The result was a crisp, moist, sticky pastry that was (still is, there are a few pieces left) just sweet enough. The raspadura gave it a taste of caramel that seems to be perfumed with anise. It makes me think of toffee. Well, there are a lot more shots, if you care to look here.

This was an exciting destination, be sure to stop by and visit with my fellow travelers. Joan made a sinful looking dish with eggplant and my dear Norma made a 2-layer rice pudding. Join us at the next destination, Japan.

Cookingly yours,
Anamaris

Mangalitsa and a secret

Just before Xmas one of my recipes was chosen by the folks at Marx Foods as their favorite use of cured Mangalitsa ham. To my surprise, they sent me more Mangalitsa goodness! Only, this time, it was a fresh, not cured, piece of meat. A neck roll, to be precise. This was a gift from Marx Foods and Heath Putnam Farms (they raise the piggies).

After some research, I learned that this cut is known as Secreto (secret) in Spain because it is the butchers’ best kept secret and I can understand why they keep this cut to themselves. Per Heath, this cut is known as pork collar or coppa and it is all the rage at the  fancy eateries these days. He suggested preparing the roll in a couple different ways. First, I should slice a few pieces and sear them in a pan, then roast the rest. I listened and took his advice to heart; boy am I glad I did.

Since it arrived just around the holidays, my intention was to prepare and share with you another dish rooted in my Panamanian heritage , but, alas! I was so busy towards the end of the year, I never got around to posting it, though I did cook and eat it. Oh yes we did! I kept thinking about lomo relleno (stuffed loin), which is a dish typically served around the holidays. It can be beef or pork loin and it is generally stuffed with carrots, olives, raisins and many variations after that. Let’s talk pig!

Stuffed Mangalitsa Pork Collar

I wanted to make sure the meat itself was seasoned, so I made a nice rub for it. I combined Spanish paprika, pureed garlic, sea salt and black pepper with a bit of extra virgin olive oil and rubbed onto the pork collar, allowing it to marinate for a few hours.

For the stuffing I chopped and rendered the fat out of some bacon, then cooked in some chopped onions, garlic, cilantro and prunes. I did allow this to cool completely before stuffing the pork. I didn’t go fancy butterflying route, instead, I simply sliced the pork collar, just shy of about an inch from the opposite end and piled it with the stuffing*.

A little twine helped keep everything even and in place for searing and roasting. You can opt-out of pan searing and simply cook it at 450° for the first 15 minutes, then lowering the temperature to 300° for the remainder of the roasting time.

I placed it on a roasting rack with some carrots, onions and garlic strewn about the bottom of the pan. This was a 4-lb piece of meat an it roasted for about 3 hours or so, until the thermometer read 145°. I then removed it from the oven and allowed it to rest for about 15 minutes covered with foil. Believe me, we had a REALLY tough time staying away from it that long.

*Following Heath’s suggestion, and to keep us at bay while this baby roasted, I sliced off a few pieces of the collar before I made the cut for the stuffing. I heated a saute pan and added just a dab of olive oil and seared those little collar cutlets, they were about 1/2-inch thick and cooked for 2 minutes or so on each side, we still wanted them to be pink. That’s how we like our piggy. And…Oh.eM.Gee!!! We thought we’d died and gone to heaven.

Let me just try to explain something about Mangalitsa pork. It is obnoxiously delicious! I mean, I just know those little pigs trot around the pen mocking the other pigs and telling them how much better tasting they are. And you know what? THEY ARE!!! The Hubbz said this was better than beef tenderloin, yep. THAT good. The fat in the Mangalitsa is almost creamy buttery.  And the meat has a slight gamey sweetness to it. I don’t know what to say or think about it, all I know is this is some really good sh#t!

Back to the roast. Once it rested and all the juices had redistributed around, we snipped off the twine and began slicing the roast.

Undoubtedly, the prunes added a delicious sweetness to the meat, just a hint, don’t worry. We feasted on this roast for a couple of days. By the time we were down to just a few bits and ends, I pan fried them to get a bit of a crust on the meat and used it to topped toasts points that had been toasted with olive oil and gotten a light spread of a fig & olive tapennade. JOOOOOOOOOYYYYY!!!! Sorry, no pictures of that madness.

I will admit that we are completely in love with Mangalitsa and with the Secreto cut. I also have to admit this will be one of those things we purchase once a year for VERY special occasions, but purchase it we will! I’d like to thank Marx Foods and Heath Putnam Farms again for such a generous and DELICIOUS treat. You can see all the porky shots here.

Mangalitsa longingly yours,
Anamaris

A blast from the past, aka a needed break

I have to admit, I’m pooped. I’ve overdone it yet again. I went cruh-ah-zee with it all and I’m now feeling like cartoon characters probably do when they go splat against the wall.

I literally haven’t stopped since I got back from Panama and the funeral. I hit it hard at work and on the blog, hurling myself at every possible distraction and project that would keep me moving. I’m like a shark right now, constantly on the move, never resting, always on to the next thing. I don’t want this to be a woe is me post, I’m just trying to say I think I will slow it down a bit for the next few weeks. There will be posting, no worries, but I’m probably gonna mix it up a bit with new and old-er posts.

So what’s on the menu today? Well, you’re probably getting ready for the holidays. For most people that means lots of shopping, for me, its food and menu planning. What can I say, I love my food. So, I’m going to point you to a couple of old posts. Both of these showcase dishes that are ALWAYS present on a Panamanian holiday table. They also happen to be 2 of my absolute favorites. Ready?

There is  Arroz con Pollo. There always is Arroz con Pollo, I think it may be a law, one I will happily and faithfully abide by. When you see arroz con pollo on your plate, you know that the beautiful bright yellow rice is having a party of flavors with the chicken and the raisins and the olives and the capers and… The rice is having a really good time, trust me. Click the link for the recipe and you can see the full photostream here.

Then there will be Tamales. Whether they’re filled with chicken, pork, seafood or a combination of all of those, you will find these at your Tia’s table. I love these so much, I need to make another batch. You can too, just click this link for the recipe, the food shots are here.

What is always present on your holiday table?

Turkey in Red Mole Sauce… abridged

You can find the original recipe to this delicious mole on Rick Bayless’ site or, as I did, on this cookbook. The full version of the recipe includes all the peppers that need to be roasted, rehydrated and blended. I took a shortcut here. Instead of using the various peppers (chiles), I went for a prepared, store-bought mole under the assumption that it would include said peppers. I know. There are a few Mexican grandmothers turning in their graves as I type this. My only hope is that they don’t read English and maybe won’t understand the extent of my trespass. Move on.

I suppose my shortcut doesn’t allow me to judge the true tastes of the original recipe, but I can tell you that shortcut or no, this recipe rocks! This stuff is so delicious, I considered bathing in it. OK, I know you don’t need that graphic ingrained to your brain. My bad. Anyway, this would be awesome on chicken, pork, seafood, coffee, cookies, eh er…

Turkey in Red Mole Sauce (adapted from Mexico – One Plate at a Time)
makes about 10-12 cups of sauce

5 medium tomatillos, husked and rinsed
1/2 cp  sesame seeds
1/2 cp rich pork lard or vegetable oil (I used bacon fat)
4 garlic cloves, peeled
1/2 cp unskinned almonds
1/2 cp raisins
1/2 tsp cinnamon, (use ground Mexican canela if available)
1/4 tsp black pepper, freshly ground
1/4 tsp anise
1/8 tsp cloves
1 cp pre-packaged mole sauce
1 slice firm white bread, darkly toasted and broken into several pieces
1 oz (about 1/3 of a 3.3-ounce tablet) Mexican chocolate, roughly chopped
Salt
4 – 5 tbsp sugar
4 turkey thighs with skin & bones (approx 4lbs)

And now, for the steps:

Roast the tomatillos under a very hot broiler until splotchy black and thoroughly soft, about 5 minutes per side.  Scrape into a large bowl.

In a dry skillet over medium heat, toast the sesame seeds, stirring nearly constantly, until golden, about 5 minutes.  Scrape half of them in with the tomatillos.  Reserve the remainder for sprinkling on the turkey.

In a heavy-bottom pot or dutch over or Mexican cazuela, if you have one of those, heat the bacon fat over medium heat and fry the garlic and almonds, stirring regularly, until browned (the garlic should be soft), about 5 minutes.  With a slotted spoon, remove to the tomatillo bowl, draining as much fat as possible back into the pot.

Add the raisins to the hot pot.  Stir for 20 or 30 seconds, until they’ve puffed and browned slightly.  Scoop them out, draining as much fat as possible back into the pot, and add to the tomatillos. Set the pan aside off the heat.

To the tomatillo mixture, add the cinnamon, black pepper, anise, cloves, bread, mole sauce and chocolate.  Add 2 cups water and stir to combine.

In two batches, blend the tomatillo mixture as smoothly as possible (you may need an extra 1/2 cup water to keep everything moving through the blades), then strain it  into a bowl and set aside.

If you’re using uncooked turkey, this is when you will season the turkey with salt & pepper. Raise the temperature on the pan to medium-high and brown the thighs on all sides, this will take about 10 minutes. If you make the mole sauce ahead, you can move on to braising the thighs in the sauce. If you are still working on the sauce, go ahead and put the turkey in the fridge while the sauce gets ready.

Pour out any excess fat, you only need enough to leave a film on the bottom of the pan.  Add the blended tomatillo mixture and cook, stirring every few minutes until considerably darker and thicker, 15 to 20 minutes. You’re looking for the sauce to become the consistency of tomato paste. A word to the wise, use a spatter screen, this mole business is very spitty.

Add 6 cups of water to the pot and briskly simmer the mixture over medium to medium-low heat for 45 minutes for all the flavors to come together and mellow. If the mole has thickened beyond the consistency of a cream soup, stir in a little water.  Taste and season with salt and sugar.

Heat the oven to 325°. Lay the turkey in the mole, cover with a lid or foil and place in the oven. Cook until the thighs internal temperature registers 150, this will take about 40-55 minutes. Remove the turkey from the sauce and allow it to rest for a few minutes. Serve with generous amounts of mole sauce.

Check out the green mole here and for the rest of the mole porn shots, click here.

Cookingly yours,
Anamaris

Pavo en Pipian Verde (Turkey in Pumpkin Seed Sauce-green mole)

This is the fresh mole, that’s what I’m calling it because of A tangy, tomatillo-based sauce, thickened with toasted pumpkin seeds, it’s served with everything from chicken to fish and seafood.

Again, the recipe is based on Rick Bayless’ book, Mexico-One Plate at a Time, I only substituted turkey for chicken. The recipe is pretty straightforward, though there are a few steps to follow. As with the recipe for red mole, you can substitute uncooked turkey with your cooked leftovers. Simply prepare the sauce to completion, then add the cooked meat to heat through.

Pavo en Pipián Verde

1 turkey breast or 4 thighs (about 4lbs)
1 small white onion, sliced, divided use
4 garlic cloves, peeled and halved, divided use
1/2 tsp each dried marjoram and thyme
3 bay leaves
Salt to taste
1-1/4 cps hulled, untoasted pumpkin seeds
5-6 medium tomatillos, husked, rinsed and roughly chopped
2 large romaine lettuce leaves, torn into large pieces
2 serranos or 1 jalapeño, stemmed, roughly chopped
Leaves from a small sprig of epazote, plus an additional sprig for garnish
1/2 cp loosely packed chopped cilantro, plus a few sprigs for garnish
1-1/2 tbsp vegetable oil or olive oil
2 medium chayotes
2 medium zucchini

Poach the turkey: In a stock pan, add 10 cups water, half onion, 2 garlic cloves, marjoram, thyme, bay leaves and about 1-1/2 teaspoons salt. Bring to boil. Add the turkey, reduce heat to simmer. Simmer uncovered over medium heat for 20 minutes. Cover pot and let stand off heat for another 30 minutes. Remove turkey from pot. Strain broth and skim off fat that rises to top (can be done 1 day ahead).

Prepare sauce: In a saucepan, Dutch oven or cazuela (a traditional Mexican earthenware casserole with a lid), dry-toast pumpkin seeds. Set pot over medium heat, add the seeds and, when the first seed pops, stir constantly until all have popped from flat to round, about 5 minutes. Don’t let them darken past golden or the sauce will be brownish and slightly bitter. Cool. Set aside 3 tablespoons for garnish and transfer rest to blender.

Add remaining onion and garlic to blender, along with tomatillos, lettuce, chiles, epazote leaves and chopped cilantro. Pour in 1 cup of strained broth; cover and blend to smooth puree (can be done 1 day ahead).

In In the same pot you toasted the seeds, heat oil over medium-high heat. When hot enough to make a drop of puree sizzle sharply, add it all at once. Stir as mixture darkens slightly and thickens considerably, about 10 minutes. Stir in 2 more cups broth, reduce heat to medium-low and simmer about 20 minutes for flavors to mellow and sauce to thicken to medium consistency (it should coat spoon). Be careful, this is another spitty sauce.

While sauce is simmering, prepare the veggies. Peel the chayote and remove the seed. You may want to do this under running water as chayote has a sap that will stick to your hands and make them turn black. Cube the chayote after peeled, then blanch the vegetables in salted boiling water, cooking chayote about 3 minutes, then adding zucchini for 1 minute. Drain and spread vegetables on plate to stop cooking.

When sauce has simmered 20 minutes, it will likely look coarse. Smooth it to a velvety texture by reblending it in small batches (loosely covered to avoid blender explosions). Return sauce to pan, taste and season with salt, if needed, about 3/4 teaspoon. If sauce has thickened beyond a light cream-sauce consistency, thin it with a little remaining broth.

Remove skin from cooked turkey, if desired, cube and slip into sauce, then add cooked vegetables. Simmer over medium heat just long enough to heat everything, about 5 minutes, then spoon turkey, vegetables and sauce out onto warm serving platter. Sprinkle with reserved pumpkin seeds (you may want to crush them), decorate with sprigs of epazote and cilantro.

For the full mole action, check out the photostream.

Cookingly yours,
Anamaris