Archive for December 2009

The Best For Last

December 31st, 2009 — 10:23am

Ripe Avocado

This will be my last post to the blog this year. So I thought I would write about perhaps my favorite recipe; guacamole. Before I started doing business in Mexico I was never a big fan of guacamole. From my experience it never really tasted like much and the texture seemed a bit off-putting. In most restaurants it all seemed like a creamy green paste. Something more akin to mashed potatoes dyed green for St. Patrick’s Day.

I began to change my opinion when guacamole began showing up as an accompaniment to my lunches in Mexico. The creamy green paste had morphed into a chunky mash that had the distinct taste of avocado, cilantro, and lime. There were variations on the theme, some had tomato, some had none. And whenever I asked for a guacamole recipe it was explained to me that there was no recipe for guacamole. You just made it however your mother and grandmother made it. So once again, as is common in foreign lands, I was handed an ingredient list; avocado, onion, tomato (optional), cilantro, salt, and lime.

I spent some time experimenting and I came up with a recipe of my own. The trick is to have very ripe avocadoes but not too ripe. This takes a bit of trial and error. When cut open the center of the avocado should be a buttery yellow and the edges will be green. An under ripe avocado will still be mostly green in the middle and almost impossible to mash. An over ripe avocado will have brown areas running through it. The brown areas are very bitter and spoil the overall flavor of the guacamole.

Once you get the ripeness down the rest is very simple. There is only one problem with this recipe. You can never make enough. Whenever we have a neighborhood party I make a big batch thinking that this time it will be enough to satisfy everyone. It is the first place people head when they enter the party, and it is the first thing to

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be completely consumed. And it is tempting to eat a whole bowl of it by yourself. I have done it on many occasions. But as your mother told you it will spoil your appetite for dinner, which just means I have guacamole for dinner that night.

So as we say “adios” to 2009 I leave you with the best for the last day, my recipe for guacamole. Prospero aňo nuevo.

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Internet Porknography

December 29th, 2009 — 10:21am


Just about the time you think you have seen and heard just about anything, you find that the internet once again is full of surprises.  I was doing a bit of research on cuts of pork. I was preparing an homage to pork much like my presentation on beef a few weeks back.  I came across a classification of pork called “porknography” on the web site.  At first I thought this might be a little bit offensive to some.  But if you think about it we study many “-graphy’s.” So why not study porknography?  I doubt it will catch on.  But it may be something to bring up in at your next cocktail party; “Helen, did you know I have been thinking about producing a porknography video?” 

This misses the whole point of today’s blog, my homage to pork.  Based on USDA statistics we consume about 51 pounds of pork per capita in the United States.  This follows behind 91 pounds of chicken and 67 pounds of beef per capita.  In our household I do think we meet our chicken and pork quota and it is unlikely we come close to meeting the beef quota.  I also flaunt all the demographics for pork consumption; younger people who live in rural areas in the Midwest eat the most pork.  So those of us who are aging in urban areas in the Southwest should not be contributing as much to the national tally.  As with many other areas I guess I will just have to break with tradition.

When growing up we were most likely to meet pork in the form of bacon, sausage or Spam (the canned variety, not the internet variety).  My mother did treat the pork shoulder as a special Sunday dinner staple.  And on a rare occasion we ate pork chops, usually cooked to a leathery texture and covered in onion soup mix.  I wish I could say “those were the good old days.”  I will refrain.

My new found love of pork began when I started cooking in earnest and found the pork loin roast, the pork tenderloin (more commonly called the filet everywhere else), and peppered bacon.  Not only do I enjoy cooking and consuming these cuts, but they turn out to be some of the most versatile cuts of meat, which means you do not get the old ho-hum expressions like “steak again?”  In fact I can think of about 20 ways to prepare and serve a pork tenderloin.  None of them elicit any yawns or consternation.

I know most people use a marinade for their pork tenderloins.  I have used many and enjoyed them all.  But I always seem to return to using a pork rub, wrapping the tenderloin in a bit of bacon and cooking it on the grill.  Fast, easy, and delicious.  You can find my recipe here.

Now one final question.  Were you more likely to read this post if I titled it “Homage to Pork” or “Internet Porknogrpahy.”  I rest my case.

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Better Late Than Never

December 27th, 2009 — 10:21am

There seemed to be a bit of confusion this Christmas day about who was supposed to be making the dessert. Will was making the main course this year so I guess he figured I would pick up his baking duties. Of course without any planning I had no idea what to make, literally, at the very last minute.

Around Halloween I found some cute little pumpkins, about 5 inches in diameter, at the local grocery store. I was going to carve them and put them in the window. But like most of my plans for such things the pumpkins never got carved and they have been sitting in a bowl ever since then.

I noticed that on the bottom of each pumpkin was a very simple recipe for pumpkin pie. It required the baking of the pumpkin, mixing with some simple ingredients, and baking the pie for about an hour. The result was a very nice pumpkin pie. It was not overly sweet and the pie filling was not overly dense. And for someone who does not really make anything resembling a pastry I was pretty happy with the recipe and the process.

I had never seen the pumpkins until this year at the grocery store. They are grown and packaged by AMF Farms, Inc. Their web site is dedicated more toward decorating the pumpkins but the Sugar Pie Pumpkins that I used were perfect for baking. I include the recipe here.

And, yes, you may be wondering why I still had pumpkins left over from Halloween. They seemed to have remained perfectly intact so I kept them on display. And thankfully I did so. We would have had to have vanilla ice cream for dessert instead of a great pumpkin pie.

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Christmas Traditions

December 24th, 2009 — 10:56am

When there are just two of you and you live with two cats and a parakeet there are not a whole lot of sacred Christmas traditions.  There is of course the traditional bag of catnip-scented small furry toys under the tree; which when opened will be lost under the furniture within 15 minutes only to be resurrected by the poor vacuum cleaner. There will be the two cats that will jump about in the wrapping paper once they have lost all their toys. Inevitably one of them gets some tape stuck to their back and they run frantically down the hallway trying to escape.  And of course the two of us will sit about afterwards wondering why we bought all this stuff when we spend more time each year throwing things away.

Every year I think about starting a new tradition.  Last Christmas we bought some amaryllis marked down at Target.  We decided instead of throwing them away after they bloomed that we would put them in the garden so they could recharge.  We plucked them from the garden on Labor Day and replanted them on October 28 (eight weeks before Christmas) and it looks like they may actually bloom Christmas day.  This allows us to celebrate a more contemporary Christmas miracle and the amaryllis now double as a new Labor Day tradition as well.  Who knows what will happen when you buy markdowns at Target.

There is a food tradition that we established about 5 years ago.  We went to the extravagance of buying a prime rib roast (on sale of course).  Having never cooked one before that time I watched all the cooking shows to see whose recipe seemed most appealing.  I chose the Tyler Florence method which includes horseradish, garlic and a lot of salt.  It was good, if a bit salty, and the lion’s share was consumed by Will’s niece and her boyfriend who were home from college, obviously suffering from CFF (College Food Fatigue).  The roast which was large enough to serve eight portions was gone after a couple of hours of food gorging by the youngsters.

I have since amended the original recipe to fit more with my culinary tastes.  I cut out about ¾’s of the salt and added some rosemary to the recipe.  The result is a bit more subtle on the salty flavor and I think the rosemary is a nice contrast with the horseradish.  The college students have since graduated but they will be back this year with new careers and a new baby.  I’ll let you know what they think of the new recipe.  In the mean time you can find my amended Tyler Florence method here.

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Guessing Games

December 23rd, 2009 — 9:58am

Pinto BeansI pride myself on being able to figure out a recipe from a simple list of ingredients. From a little bit of experience a few guesses usually works into a decent copy of the original recipe. Although this works out most of the time there are times when the outcome is not such a good copy and in a few cases inedible.

This recently happened when I tried to make a pot of Borracho Beans, a pinto bean preparation from Mexico that includes the beans being served in a broth. I mean how complicated can some beans, some jalapenos, and some bacon be to throw together into a nice plate of beans? As it turns out, it is pretty complicated. The version I guessed at was pretty bad.

Then, Nancy, at the wine store comes to the rescue. Not only did she provide me with a list of ingredients but a full summary of how to actually cook the beans. (She also gives me a $1 discount when I buy two bottles of wine.) The first time anyone from a foreign land ever offered me a full recipe. There is no secret ingredient but there is a right way to prepare the beans.

The Borracho Beans or Frijoles Borrachos are served in a broth made from cooking the beans with ham, bacon, and a bottle of beer. No one has ever been able to tell me where the term borracho, which means drunk, comes from. Some say it is because they are cooked in beer. Some say because they are drunk with the broth. Others say you eat them to cure a hangover. Whatever the terminology, these beans can stand on their own as an entrée, or more commonly, as presented in Mexico, served as a side dish in a small bowl. I offer you the second recipe submitted to the blog, Borracho Beans, here.

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Winter Greens

December 19th, 2009 — 8:00am
Winter Salad Greens

Winter Salad Greens

We are pretty lucky here in North Texas.  We can grow some type of greens or vegetables in just about any month of the year.  It is not always easy though.  This year we have had an inordinately cold beginning to the winter as I described in my post on December 2.  Because we live on the golf course we also tend to get frosts when other parts of the Dallas area remain above freezing.  (We also remain about 5 degrees cooler at night during the summer so there is good news as well.)

We always plant a crop of winter greens that miraculously manage to tough it out during even the coldest parts of the winter.  Unfortunately this year many of the more tender lettuces have already gone the way of the basil and are no more.  I managed to pull together some greens last night for a salad; some frisée, mustard greens, arugula, Italian sorrel, and a bit of wintergreen mint.  At first I thought that this would make a bitter mix.  Although as one could figure out from my article “Fresh Is Best,” the fresh-picked greens had a surprisingly mild taste.  Even the mustard greens, which most people would steam first and then eat had a wonderfully mild, peppery mustard flavor.  Not bad for the end of December.

Of course with fresh greens it is always best to keep the dressing simple.  I always fall back on a basic vinaigrette; extra-virgin olive oil, red wine vinegar, balsamic vinegar, salt, pepper, and a bit of mustard.  I never measure the ingredients so the result is always just a bit different.  But I have found it to be the best and easiest way to dress a plate of greens.  It accents the flavors of the greens nicely without overwhelming them.

Our salad was in the French style; just greens.  I like a bit of feta cheese now and then with the vinaigrette.  It adds a nice brininess to the taste. So whether you are slogging through the winter with some iceberg lettuce, or you are in a place where the fresh greens still grow, I have posted my basic vinaigrette dressing here.

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Holiday Party Helpers

December 17th, 2009 — 8:00am

ee1dd744d58f37f4_landingWhen I throw a party, or I am invited to bring something to a party, I usually fall back on a few easy-to-make appetizers.  These include the usual guacamole, a smattering of dips and spreads, and some finger sandwiches, all of which take no effort to make and look pretty in a bowl or on a platter.  My most popular contribution is the guacamole.  When I have a neighborhood wine party people tend to congregate around the guacamole bowl until it is all gone; this is usually in the first 15 minutes.

I tend to like something more savory so I usually opt for a tapenade; a mixture of sun dried tomatoes, olives, rosemary and feta cheese.  It combines the sweetness of the tomatoes with the brininess of the olives and feta.  When it is all mashed together it has a great mouth feel and it goes well with crackers or toasted bread.

It is also a great optical illusion.  People love it but they also have a hard time figuring out exactly what is in it. It is fun to watch as they take a bite and first look at the spread on the cracker, then look in the bowl, then look back at the cracker as if somehow the tapenade is going to speak to them.  Oh well, we all have to get our jollies somehow.

It is an incredibly easy 15 minute recipe.  It stores well in the refrigerator for a few days so you can use the leftovers for your own purposes.  I stuffed chicken breasts with the leftovers one time and it turned out pretty good.  A bit messy when turning the breasts, but the finished product was tasty.  I give you my easy tapenade recipe here.

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Calling All Recipes

December 15th, 2009 — 10:37am


I knew blogging was going to be a long lonely trudge.  But I never knew how lonely until I asked all of my family and friends to submit recipes and comments.  After all this waiting and wondering I was given two recipes.  One was from my reliable Aunt Marilyn and one was from the lady at the wine store, who I hardly know.  I could understand this if I was an only child and I lived like a hermit.  But two recipes!?

Now I know some of you know how to bake.  Maybe the Christmas cookies with the fruit preserve filling could be submitted.  I know one of you made a baked salmon that was very good; after all I helped you take it out of the pan.  Maybe that person could thank me with the recipe.  Or maybe even the recipe from college where someone combined potatoes, rice, and cheese because we could not afford anything else.  I would even take that as a submission. 

So I will try this one more/last time.  How about sending a few very simple recipes that you enjoy making.  The theme here is “Good Food, Little Time.” Send something along that you throw together when you get home from work and you do not have the energy to fix anything else.  I think that fits the idea perfectly.

miltonpotI want to thank Aunt Marilyn for her recipe she calls “Milton Cajun.”  It takes about 30 minutes to prepare, you can make it ahead, and it is really good.  It is exactly what we are looking to prepare.  I did spice up the recipe just a bit as the Cajun’s down here like their food hotter than the Cajun’s in Massachusetts. But spicy or not it is one for the recipe books.  You can find Aunt Marilyn’s recipe here.

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Apricots And What?

December 11th, 2009 — 10:57am


During my year of being a private chef (or as my employer once called it “The Year of Living Dangerously”) I was handed some unusual requests for meals.  My employer’s parents were immigrants from Algeria so he was used to more of a Middle Eastern diet.  So I did a bit of research and found that grains and dried fruits comprised a large part of the diet.  When I did even more research I was coming up with recipes that included dried apricots and cinnamon mixed with couscous.

Now, I am not a great fan of baking.  And when you mention apricots and cinnamon in the same sentence I am assuming you are making scones or some other type of pastry.  (Scones are about as difficult as I get when baking.)  But I was finding all these recipes including apricots, dates, and raisins which were combined with cinnamon, cumin, and anise and all of this was folded into couscous or bulgur. 

It sounded like all these things mixed together would be at best odd and at worst terrible.  But sometimes blind faith is a good thing.  And of course none of these recipes had anything other than a list of ingredients. (I guess they don’t use teaspoons in Algeria.) So off I went and developed my own strange recipe.  Quite frankly it turned out to be one of my very favorite dishes; cinnamon and all.

The first attempt was made with couscous.  I liked it.  My employer liked it.  And one night I ran out of couscous, but I had some orzo, and a new dish was born.  I loved it.  My employer loved it.  The rest is history.  The Middle Eastern Orzo I made, based loosely on some ingredient list, is a very versatile dish.  It makes a great side dish.  If you are a vegetarian it makes a great entrée.  And if you hate gluten you can substitute quinoa and it makes a great gluten free dish.  Even better, if you have some leftovers, add a little bit of vinaigrette the next day and it makes a great cold salad.  It kind of makes you want to move to Algeria; well maybe not.  I posted my recipe here.

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Where’s The Beef?

December 8th, 2009 — 3:41pm

We are not a household that eats a lot of beef.  We do not consume our 67 pounds of beef per capita that people in the United States consume.  In order to keep up with the rest of you our household would need to consume 134 pounds of beef per year or roughly 2.6 pounds per week.  We do not even come close.  We do enjoy the occasional steak, meatballs, or hamburger.  It is just that in my opinion, for the cost, there are a lot of other foods I would like to spend my money on that taste a lot better.

Most of the beef we consume is fattened with corn which does not do much for the flavor.  I can remember eating a steak in Venezuela that tasted like it had been well seasoned with herbs; mostly thyme and rosemary.  It turns out the cow, before it had been slaughtered, had actually been grazing on the local hillsides where thyme and rosemary grew wild and therefore became part of the flavor of the beef.  All the cook had to do was add some salt and pepper before the steak went on the grill.  I would consume more of that beef if it were available.

At a price low enough I will buy a few steaks.  This happens about once per month, and especially around the holiday season when the local stores try to out sell each other in the meat department.  But what do you do to all that flavorless meat? Sure a good amount of salt and pepper helps. For me it does need just a bit of something else.

In a panic a few years ago I developed a condiment when I did not have the usual ingredients for an herb butter or béarnaise sauce.  The sauce is based on diced tomatoes and diced green chilies some spices and just a bit of balsamic vinegar.  It is a little bit savory, a little bit spicy, and a little bit sweet.  It does not pack in all that fat from the butter so you can tell people eating the steak is actually healthy for them. It also makes an interesting spread so you can use the leftovers on a sandwich the next day.  The sous chef in the house, Will, spread it on a tortilla and made some interesting turkey tacos with it.  Who knows maybe I have invented the replacement for ketchup.  You can find the recipe here.

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