Foodie bliss

Every now and again I find myself enjoying what I describe as a gastronomical religious experience. I’m a food snob, I admit it. I love good food, the rest isn’t worth the calories. I recently had one of those meals in Austin, Texas.

Do you know who Tyson Cole is? Only the latest recipient of the James Beard Award for Best Chef in the Southwest, an honor that celebrates how he expresses his genius on plate after plate at Uchi and its little sister dining room, Uchiko.

On the recommendation of a local, I had a meal at Uchiko my last night in town. You can read all about it over at Eating Our Words. I thumbed through their cookbook while I ate my Fried Milk dessert, immediately knew I had to own a copy. Armed with the cookbook featuring fantastic cooking techniques and my lingering Uchiko-buzz, I attempted a new dish inspired by Cole and his cookbook (by the way, you really should a copy of it). You can click on this link to see more of the Uchiko food porn shots.

I came across a recipe for tuna steak coupled with compressed watermelon and other fancy accoutrements I chose to skip. I don’t really have a recipe for this, I’ll simply walk you through the method. This was very easy and quick to put together. I decided to allow the tuna steaks to marinate for about an hour and at the same time this allowed me time to dehydrate the watermelon slices.

Tuna Steaks with Dehydrated Watermelon
serves 2

For the steaks:
2 tuna steaks, marinated
Marinade:
2 tbsps extra virgin olive oil
Crushed black pepper
Sea salt

Dehydrated Watermelon
4 watermelon slices (about 1/2-in thick)
Fish sauce
Cooling rack
Remove any seeds and sprinkle each side of the watermelon slices with a couple drops of the fish sauce. Then place them on the cooling rack over a cookie sheet and allow some of the liquid to drain out of the watermelon.

Peach & Habanero Sauce
2-3 ripe peaches, peeled & diced
Water
Pinch of salt
Habanero sauce, to taste
Throw everything, except the water, into a small saucepan. Add enough water just to come to the tops of the peach cubes, bring it to a slow boil/heavy simmer and cook until the peaches have softened to mush. Keep warm.

Sear the steaks in a nonstick skillet, we like ours medium rare, but cook it to your preference. Lay 2 slices of watermelon, spread a bit of the peach sauce and top with the seared tuna steaks.

I know this combination of ingredients may sound odd, but it really works. The tuna steaks were simply flavored, so you can really appreciate their flavor. The watermelon, which is always just mildly sweet, is accented by the complex saltiness of the fish sauce and all of this balanced out by the fresh sweetness and spiciness of the peach sauce. It was a perfectly harmonized dish.

Enjoy!
Cookingly yours,
Anamaris

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Following someone else’s lead

This is a recipe I found in Jorge Jurado’s cookbook, Sabores de Panamá. I should tell you it isn’t a ‘traditional’ Panamanian dish, but rather an interpretation by this talented chef utilizing ingredients commonly found in Panama. His recipe called for beef shanks, but I had just picked up some short ribs and decided to use them instead. It turned out beautifully.

The intense combination of spices, together with the deep and rich color of the final dish made this reminiscent of Mexican mole. I can’t really think of a traditional Panamanian dish that is even remotely similar to mole, but this is a rocking interpretation!

Costillas Braseadas con Cafe, Chocolate y Anis Estrellado (Coffee, chocolate and anise braised short ribs)

Marinade – a day ahead
2-1/2 lbs short ribs
1/2 bottle red wine (one you would drink)
3 garlic cloves, diced
1 tbsp instant coffee
2 carrots, sliced
1 bay leaf
12 peppercorns
2 star anise pods
2 tbsps olive oil
1 tbsp salt
Combine all the ingredients in a ziploc bag and allow the ribs to marinate overnight or, at least for a few hours. Turn the ribs occasionally.

Braising – day of
1-1/2 onions, chopped
4 garlic cloves, chopped
Marinated ribs and the carrots
Extra virgin olive oil
Approx 2 cps broth (chicken/beef/veg)
1 tbsp sugar
1 oz bittersweet chocolate
Salt to taste

Remove the ribs from the marinade and pat dry with a paper towel. Meanwhile, heat a Dutch oven to medium-high and add the olive oil. Brown the dry ribs on all sides, remove from the pan and set aside.

Drain the excess fat, leaving about 2 tbsp of oil/fat in the pan. Add the onions, garlic and carrots and allow to cook until they begin to caramelize. Return the ribs to the pan and add the marinade liquid, broth, sugar and chocolate.

There should be enough liquid for the ribs to be completely submerged. Bring it to a boil, then reduce the temperature to low to allow for a slow simmer. This will continue to simmer for about 2 hours, until the meat is tender and falling off the bone.

I, of course, served it over rice. I love rice, sue me! I think it would be really nice with roasted veggies too, though. For more food porn, click here.

Cookingly yours,
Anamaris

Fideos a la Shun, sorta

My dear friend Shun, as I affectionately call her, shared this dish with me many moons ago, and I was hooked after my first try. Fideos (noodles) are a simple symphony of spicy, smoky and fresh flavors. It is sometimes called sopa de fideos, which translates to dry noodle soup.

It makes for a great side dish, but I often eat it as a main course. Traditionally, it is served with crema fresca (creme fraiche), queso fresco and avocado. A great option for a meat-free menu, and delicious to boot. Another plus, it is prepared in a jiffy or rápidito! I made this batch at the last minute to take to a party and was unable to find tomatoes that were ripe enough, so I opted for good canned ones. Likewise, I had no luck in the avocado front, so no avocados for me! You decide how much heat you want and adjust the number of serranos accordingly, you may also remove the seeds, this will further reduce the heat level.

Fideos a la Shun
12 oz fideo pasta or angel hair
4 tbsp olive oil
1 medium onion
2 garlic cloves, whole
1 or 2 serrano peppers, to taste
5 fresh Roma tomatoes, ripened OR
1 can (15 oz.) stewed tomatoes
2 tbsp chicken flavor bouillon (like Knorr or Maggi)
Water
1/2 tsp dried oregano
1/2 tsp cumin powder
Salt and pepper to taste
For plating:
Queso fresco, crumbled
Crema fresca
Avocado slices or small cubes

I would suggested getting the sauce ready first. Shun’s recipe calls for the onion, garlic, serranos and fresh tomatoes to be roasted first. You can skip this step, but it does add an intensity and complexity to the dish, so if you have the time–about 10-15 extra minutes–you should do it.

I use my comal or grill pan for this, getting it nice and hot, then sear the sliced onion, whole serranos, garlic and tomatoes (fresh). Once  seared, dump the whole thing into your blender or food processor, adding the chicken bouillon, cumin, oregano, salt & pepper and enough water to get things moving. Set aside.

Heat a large saute pan over high heat add the oil and break the pasta into it, the purpose of this step is to toast the pasta, but don’t walk away, it burns rather quickly and that will ruin the flavor of the dish. The noodles will change color and turn golden brown.

Carefully, VERY carefully add the pureed sauce and watch yourself! It becomes the evil spitty monster at this point, add enough water to ensure the noodles are submerged in liquid. Lower the heat so it simmers gently, check the seasoning and adjust as necessary.

The noodles should be al dente, when done. It will take about 20 minutes for the pasta to cook and you may need to add more water as it cooks down. To plate: spoon some noodles onto a plate, top with crema, avocado and the crumbled cheese. Pull up a chair and enjoy!

To see more of the step-by-step process, click here.

Cookingly yours,
Anamaris
PS: Thanks, Shuni!

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

Panama Culinary Tour: Guacho de Mariscos

This is one of two dishes I prepared to participate in Foodalogue’s Culinary Tour, this time visiting my stomping grounds, Panama! This dish came to be as a result of a ‘What’s in the Bag‘ challenge posed by my dear Hubbz. He went to the store and brought everything but the  butcher’s block, which I then had to incorporate into a Latin meal. 

Seafood Guacho at Las Tinajas in Panama

Guacho (pronounced Wah-cho) is a popular Panamanian specialty; a slightly soupy rice dish, similar to an Italian risotto or a Puerto rican asopao. Unlike risotto, guacho is made from regular, long grain white rice that is soaked in water for a bit before it is sautéed and simmered in the cooking liquid of choice. The dish is then flavored and augmented with an array of  local ingredients; there’s always some sort of meat or protein from pork, chicken, cured pig’s tails, or seafood, in addition to various beans and roots such as yuca and otoe.

Different from the way I’ve usually explained how to cook rice, the rice in guacho wants for more liquid and a longer cooking time, this allows for the rice starches to develop into a creamy, rich frenzy. I pretty much stuck to the traditional elements of the dish, only straying away in the preparation of the sofrito and by adding mushrooms to the rice itself.

Panamanian sofrito is generally made with onions, bell peppers, tomatoes, garlic and a few other aromatics, this time I included dried chile ancho and guajillos. But enough chatter, let’s cook!

Guacho de Mariscos y Hongos (Seafood & Mushroom Guacho)
6-8 servings

For the guacho:
2 cps long grain rice, soaked
Water
1/2 cp bacon, chopped
Extra virgin olive oil
1 cp mushrooms, diced
1/2 cp shallots, diced
About 8 cps seafood broth
1 cp shrimp, peeled & deveined
1 cp scallops
Sea salt
5 tbsps chile puree
2 cps sofrito

For the sofrito:
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 cp yellow onions, finely chopped
1 clove garlic, crushed
3 green onion sprigs, finely chopped
3 ripe tomatoes, finely diced
6 tbsps chile puree
Sea salt and a pinch of sugar
In a medium pan heat the oil and add the onions, cook them until soften before adding the garlic and green onions. Then add the tomatoes, 1/2 cp water and chile puree, lower the temperature and allow it to simmer for about 20 minutes. Keep warm.

For the seafood broth: I used the skins from the shrimp, bringing them to a simmer with plenty of water, 1 clove garlic, one of the dry ancho chilies, cilantro (culantro, if you can find it), 1 carrot, salt & pepper. Strain and set aside.

For the chile puree: Rinse and seed the chilies–remember Panamanian food is not typically spicy hot. Put 2 ancho and 1 guajillo chilies in a small pot with 2 cps water, 1 clove garlic, a pinch of salt and simmer for about 10 minutes until the chilies soften. Allow it to cool before running it through the blender. Set aside.

For plating: Reserve a few shrimp and scallops to place over the finished dish.

Preparation – Guacho:

Rinse the rice, then add enough cool water to cover it and allow it to soak for at least 20 minutes and up to 1 hour. In a large pan, render the fat from the bacon, but don’t crisp it. Add the onions and allow to cook until they begin to soften. Then add the mushrooms and cook for about 3 minutes.

Drain the rice and add to the pan. If necessary, add a bit more olive oil, just enough to coat all the grains. Add 2 tbsps of the chile puree, 6 cps of the seafood broth and adjust the seasoning by adding sea salt as necessary. Lower the temperature to medium-low and allow it to simmer until the broth evaporates. Stir it every so often to make sure nothing gets stuck to the bottom of the pan.

While the rice is cooking, prepare the seafood: chop the shrimp and scallops to bite sizes (remember to save a few of each for plating). Marinate all the seafood (including those for plating) with 2 tbsps of the chile puree and a bit of sea salt and black pepper; set aside until needed.

Once the broth has evaporated, check the doneness of the rice grains. They should be fully open and swollen. If the liquid has evaporated completely, add a bit more broth or water, then add the chopped seafood. Stir in the seafood, bring the temperature to low and allowing to cook covered for another 5 minutes.

In the meantime, saute the reserved shrimp in a bit of olive oil, set aside. When ready to serve, spoon some guacho on the bottom of a bowl, top generously with a couple tbsps of sofrito and top with the sautéed seafood. Enjoy and Buen Provecho!

For the rest of the yummy guacho shots, follow this link. You can also see the other dish, Langostinos en Caramelo de Maracuyá  (Prawns in Passion Fruit Caramel) by following this link. And don’t miss the entries submitted by other food bloggers, visit Foodalogue for the tasty bits.

Cookingly yours,
Anamaris

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

The tale of two moles

I’ve never made mole before. Not really. I wanted to share these recipes with you so you’d have something to work with for Turkey’s Day After. It’s impossible to avoid having 100 lbs of leftover turkey and you can only eat so many sandwiches.

Let me try to describe the flavors of these dishes to you and do them justice. I’ll start by saying they’re similar in the complexity of flavors, at once surprising and familiar. Yet, they’re also  in perfect contrast to each other.

Red mole seemed to have an inherent nuttiness that reminded me of peanut butter and the slightly bitter sweetness of chocolate. There’s smokiness that makes you wonder if this is a sauce that was developed from an old roux. It is rich and spicy, not in term of heat but flavor. Yet, it doesn’t taste like 5 different spices, they’re not individually identifiable, but you can tell they’ve come together to bring out the best in each other.

On the other hand, the pipián sauce or green mole tasted light and vibrant, with a nice pungent bite. The lightness of it seeming to fight against the creaminess of the sauce. I’m not sure how to explain it, other than to say it tasted as though we were eating something rich and decadent, while knowing nothing heavy or rich was added.

I’m not going to lie and say these are easy recipes, but they were not too difficult either. Scratch that. They’re not difficult at all, what they are is involved. Lots of steps, which is why I cheated a bit. We have 2 versions of the traditional Mexican sauce: Turkey in Mole Rojo and Turkey in Pipián Verde (green mole).

These recipes come from Bayless’ cookbook, Mexico – One Plate At A Time, and you’ll notice there is at least one other post in the last few days that was inspired by the book. Check out the Green Beans & Carrots in Escabeche. They are incredibly delicious.

A couple of side notes:

  1. The website recipe is for a very large batch, it’s actually doubled the one in the book. I don’t think you’re feeding a small army, so I’m offering the book version. I had enough sauce to save about 4-6 cps for later use.
  2. Bayless calls for a whole boneless turkey breast (uncooked). Since I’m not a breast fan, I went with thighs and kept the bones in the mix.
  3. If you are making this with leftover turkey, simply add the cooked meat once the sauce has reduced.
  4. I have an old, kick-ass blender that can puree almost anything to a pulp. This is to say I skipped the straining part, you may need to strain it if your blender doesn’t do as well and/or if you have issues with tidbits of sesame seeds.
  5. Use an oven-safe pan or dutch oven. You will cook on the stove and finish it in the oven.

Are you ready for this? Check out the recipe posts, Turkey in Red Mole and Turkey in Pumpkin Seed Sauce.