Thursday, May 29, 2008
What appealed to me about the recipe is that I almost always have broccoli and goat cheese handy. I set my oven to 375 degrees and prepared my souffle dish. The recipe called for just coating it with a cooking spray but I have had more success in the past with oiling and flouring the dish. You just put a scant tablespoon of oil or butter in the dish and use a paper towel to coat the pan - taking care to get the corners. Then take a bit of flour (about 2 tablespoons) and carefully move the dish around to get the flour to coat all the surfaces; gently tap out any excess. Set this aside so it is ready to be filled with the batter and placed in the oven.
Next I washed and set up my broccoli (approximately 1 1/2 cups) to steam. I didn't chop it just yet as I want my florets to stay intact while they steam. I will chop them just before I add them to the batter. (The recipe calls for you to steam the broccoli in the microwave the only reason that I don't do this is personal preference. I almost never use my microwave except to melt butter and heat up leftovers.)
Next I set up my ingredients for the cheese sauce base. It is a good idea to have everything measured and set up since a cheese sauce requires immediate action on each step. My biggest problem with putting together a cheese sauce is that it almost never fails that Luis wants my attention suddenly when I am cooking one. I hate telling someone to hold that thought but dinner is at stake so sometimes you just have to. I add 1 tablespoon of butter and 1 tablespoon of olive oil to my saucepan. Then I measure out 2 tablespoons of all-purpose flour; 1 1/4 cup of milk (I use skim milk because that is the only kind that I buy); and in a third small dish I measure out 1 teaspoon of Dijon mustard, 1/4 teaspoon of salt, 1/4 teaspoon rosemary (in this case I used fresh rosemary so about 1/2 tsp).
Before I start the sauce, I carefully crumble my 1/2 cup of goat cheese (you can substitute any type of cheese but goat cheese and rosemary compliment each other well). I also set up my eggs; I take five large eggs and carefully separate the yolks and egg whites. I will need all five of the egg whites but only three of the yolks for this recipe. (I put the two extra yolks in the fridge in case I find some use for them in the next day or so.)
Finally, with everything set up, I am ready to get the show started. My final check is to determine when our dinner guest is arriving because souffle needs to be served immediately. It is one of those dishes that looks amazing coming out of the oven and then quickly deflates. I turn the burner under the butter and oil to medium-high heat. When it starts to sizzle, I add the flour and quickly whisk it in for about a minute. I don't want it to get too dark but I do want it to lightly brown. Then I add the milk and whisk it quickly to prevent lumps and finally add the mustard, salt and rosemary. I let this cook - whisking constantly - until the sauce begins to thicken. The consistency should be somewhat creamy - the idea being if you were to pour this over pasta it would coat the pasta nicely; it would be neither watery nor gloppy.
Turn off the burner and remove the pan from the stove top. Immediately add the goat cheese and three eggs yolks and whisk them in until the cheese is melted. Transfer this mixture to a large bowl as you will be adding the eggs whites in the final step.
Now your egg whites should be started with an electric hand mixer; set the mixer in the bowl and turn on the high. Whisk the eggs whites until they start to form soft peaks. Turn off the mixer and add a 1/4 teaspoon of cream of tartar. (Cream of Tartar is optional but it helps give your whites a bit of an advantage; it helps stabilize the egg whites and give a bit more volume when whisking them.) Now continue whisking the whites until the peaks of egg whites are very stiff. Using a spatula, gently add about half the whites to the cheese sauce and fold in. Next add the broccoli and the remaining egg whites and continue folding in the mixture until there are no more foamy white streaks. Pour this mixture into the prepared souffle dish and put it into the pre-heated oven. Cook for about 30 minutes (if using individual ramekins cook for about 20 minutes). When cooked it should looked very puffed and have a nicely browned crown. Serve immediately.
Now that the souffle is cooking, I am going to start on the soup. I am making a simple, tomato puree soup. I get the following ingredients handy: one tablespoon of butter; 1/4 cup diced onion; 1/4 cup diced celery (optional if you simply don't have it but can be missed); one tablespoon of all-purpose flour; 2 cups of beef broth; 2 cans of chopped tomatoes (with juice); 1 teaspoon of sugar; 1-2 teaspoons of dried basil (double if using fresh); and salt and pepper to taste. In a pot, I heat the butter over medium-high heat and when it starts sizzling I add the onion and celery to saute them. When the onion starts to get translucent, I add the flour and stir to coat the cooked onion and celery. Then I add the beef broth and stir it all quickly to prevent lumps of flour from forming. Then I add the tomatoes, basil, sugar and salt and pepper. I cook for at least 20 minutes; remove it from the stove and puree it using an inverted hand mixer. If you have croutons, you can float a few in the soup when serving to add a bit of crunch.
The souffle came out beautifully but by the time I got the camera it was already starting to deflate so it wasn't worth the picture. Next time I will take the shot while it is still in the oven...
Saturday, May 24, 2008
First I made a sweet, buttery pie crust since it would have to chill a bit before rolling it out. In my food processor, I put 1 1/8 cup of all-purpose white flour, 1/2 teaspoon salt, 2 tablespoons of sugar - I pulsed this mixture once or twice then added; 1 stick (8 tablespoons) of butter cut into pieces. I processed the flour mixture and butter for about 10 seconds - or until the consistency of cornmeal. I placed this mixture in a bowl and added 1 egg yolk and about 3 tablespoons of ice water - using a spatula I gradually mixed and gathered the mixture into the form of a ball. I then flattened the ball slightly, wrapped in plastic wrap and put in the freezer for 10 minutes. (If the mixture still seems dry continue to add 1/2 teaspoon of ice water at a time until it comes together. Additionally, rather than placing the dough in the freezer you can place it in the fridge but do not use it for at least 30 minutes.)
As you wait for the dough to chill, wash the berries you plan to use. I happen to have some strawberries. I wash, dry and de-stem each of them then slice them thinly; I want to place them in a thin layer over the pastry. When I have two cups of the strawberries sliced, I toss them with a scant teaspoon of sugar and a small capful of orange liqueur (you can substitute a squeeze of fresh lemon juice). I set these to the side until the pastry is ready to be rolled.
I turn my oven onto 425 degrees to bake. After the dough has set for 10 minutes, I place the dough on a floured board and gently roll it out. It doesn't have to be beautiful but you want it to get it to be a rough 9- to 10-inch circle. You place the rolled pastry on the cookie sheet and gently fix any holes or cracks by pinching with your fingers or "filling in" with a bit of extra pastry from the edges. Then gently place the fruit on top of the pastry and leave yourself about an inch to an inch and a half of an edge. You will gently fold this over to keep the juices from spilling onto the cookies sheet. The whole thing should resemble a fruit pizza essentially.
Melt 2 tablespoons of butter and gently brush the exposed pasty and the top of the fruit all over. Bake the tart for 20-30 minutes; until the pastry is golden brown and the fruit is bubbly. Remove from the oven and cool before serving. You can serve warm or at room temperature with a bit of whipped cream or ice cream.
One night while at a friend's house for dinner she completely changed my outlook - she made a wonderful pureed vegetable soup in about 30 minutes. Suddenly our whole outlook for winter changed - we could have soup much more often and I no longer had to make huge pots of one type of soup to freeze it for future use.
The beauty of this recipe is that it contained vegetables that I typically keep in my fridge; onion, garlic, carrot, zucchini, broccoli and potatoes. However, you can vary it if you lack an ingredient or want to tweak the flavor. Additionally, you increase or decrease the ingredients depending how much you want to make. It does freeze and reheat well but it is so easy to make on the fly that small batches are good too.
To start, rough cut all your vegetables - they don't have to be pretty because you will be pureeing them all. (I wash the carrots, zucchini, broccoli and potatoes with vegetable wash but do not peel anything.) Use the following amounts for a vegetables will produce roughly 10 cups of soup;
- 1 small onion
- 2-3 cloves garlic
- 3 medium-sized carrots with skin
- 2 medium-sized zucchini
- 1 small head and stem of broccoli (or half a bag prewashed)
- 5-6 medium-to-large baby potatoes with skin
In a larger, deep-sided pot heat about 1-2 tablespoons of olive oil and saute all the vegetables for about 5 minutes - stirring intermittently. Then add 1 quart of broth - I tend to use vegetable but chicken is also good. You want the liquid to just cover the vegetables so you might have to add another cup or so of water. Cook over medium to low heat until the carrots and potatoes are soft - about 20 minutes.
Turn off the burner and remove the pot from the stove (or to a cool burner). The fastest and least messy way to puree the soup it to use an immersion hand blender. However, if you only have a traditional blender you will have to puree in batches. I suggest using a slotted spoon to scoop out vegetables and using only a bit of your broth - this will minimize the danger of the lid of your blender "popping" off with the pressure from the heat. You might even consider letting the soup cool a bit before pureeing in a traditional blender.
When you have pureed the soup, salt and pepper to taste and add one teaspoon of dried thyme (optional but adds nice flavor). If you want the consistency to be a bit thinner simply add more broth or water. You can serve with wheat crackers and some nice mild cheese as a side. Frankly sometimes just having a bowl or two of soup with crackers and cheese is enough for us for dinner but usually I serve with oven-baked chicken thighs or a fillet of sole. If you are having a dinner party, you can simply use this as an opening course.
Thursday, May 22, 2008
- half of a small, onion - thinly sliced;
- 1 clove of garlic - finely chopped/minced;
- 5-6 crimini mushrooms - thinly sliced;
- 2 cups broccoli - cut into bite-sized pieces and steamed.
I set the burner to medium-high under a large skillet with a bit more than a tablespoon of olive oil (add more if needed). When the oil starts to smoke, I add the onion and saute it for 1-2 minutes until it starts to become translucent. I then add the garlic and when the smell starts to rise up from the pan, I add the mushrooms. As the mushrooms are cooking, I slice the sausage into bite-sized pieces. Just as the onion, garlic and mushroom mixture starts to brown I carefully add about 1/4 of white wine. (Alternatively, you can add broth but I like how the wine cooks away. You don't want very much liquid at all.)
Just as the wine starts to cook away (and it will happen quickly) I add the sliced, chicken apple sausage and the steamed, broccoli and stir it all together. At this point, turn off the burner, cover and set the saute to the side. If you pasta is cooked already, drain it, put it in a large serving bowl with 1-2 tablespoons of butter (this is optional but it adds a bit of richness to the sauce. Alternatively, use a vegan, heart healthy substitute like Earthbalance if you love butter like I do you honestly won't notice the difference.) Add the vegetable and sausage to the pasta and toss it all together. Then bring to the table so everyone can help themselves. I typically serve with bread and cheese as a side.
This recipe is typically enough for us to have a serving plus a bit extra for dinner and then enough for two lunches the next day.
Sunday, May 18, 2008
Tuesday night I decided to steam a bag of tamales. When we packed up the tamales, we put about 20-25 tamales in Ziploc Freezer bags. I feel it is most efficient to steam a batch versus just a few at a time so I set up a large steamer pan. Ideally, you would set up a bed of wet corn husks on top of the steamer pan to protect the tamales from direct steam contact and enhance flavor. However, I have none left from our Sunday event so it is okay to just steam them directly in a pinch. I prefer a pan large enough to stand the tamales upright so that they cook more evenly. However, some people cook them by stacking them.
If you defrost the tamales, it should take about an hour to steam them. (Frozen tamales can take 60 to 90 minutes to cook.) The masa becomes light and fluffy - similar to a muffin. When I believe the tamales might be done, I take one out and unwrap it to confirm that the masa is cooked all around. If it isn't, I just return it to the pan and let it cook some more. Having 20-25 tamales is a bit much for two people to eat in a week so after we eat a few for dinner I return the rest of the cooked ones to the freezer. Now when I want to have some more we will only have to heat them for about 10-20 minutes (depending on whether the tamales are defrosted or frozen) in a steamer.
Additionally, I discovered that the sweet tamales were really good drizzled with honey just after they were taken out of the steamer. The honey enhanced the flavor just a enough. However, I still feel the need to perfect this recipe.
Also, we have one injury confirmation - a sprained finger from kneading masa dough. Marnie joked that she might have hurt herself but she said later her finger was swollen and she purchased a splint to minimize movement. So far she says she is impressing everyone who asks how she injured herself that it was due to making tamales.
She took the medium-sized jicama that I had, washed it (since it is a underground tuber it is a good idea to clean the outer part to prevent food poisoning from e-coli that might have been in the fertilizer), peeled off the skin, and sliced the jicama into french fry sticks.
She then grated the zest of a medium-sized orange over the jicama and then added the juice as well. She finely sliced half a medium-sized red onion and chopped a few sprigs of cilantro. However, she felt it was still missing some tartness so she then grated the zest of a lime and added the juice of the lime as well. Her final ingredient as to add a bit of chili powder over it all.
This salad was crunchy and refreshing and didn't last very long.
Monday, May 12, 2008
A few weeks in advance I send out an Evite so that I can get a sense of how many people will be able to attend and then estimate how much of the ingredients need to be purchased. Gathering all the ingredients is a big project but living in San Francisco makes life a bit easier. La Palma Mexicatessen is a great source for masa (the primary ingredient) and the corn husks that we use to wrap our tamales. You can purchase masa that has been pre-mixed with lard, broth and baking powder but we prefer to mix these ingredients in ourselves. In the past we have purchased the pre-mixed masa and still spent a lot of time working the masa with our hands to get it aerated enough. The secret to light and fluffy tamales is aerating the dough until a small lump floats in a glass of water.
I spent over a week gathering ingredients; first for the green mole which will be used to flavor the meat fillings and gradually gathering other items that will be needed. I would prefer to stick to one type of meat - pork - but over the years there have been requests for other fillings and even for sweet tamales. La Palma sells a sweet tamale dough; it is fully mixed with all the ingredients as well as raisins and flecks of cinnamon. Unfortunately, I have been spoiled by strawberry and pineapple tamales we found during our travels in Mexico and don't find this sweet mix to be up to par at all. Trinidad, my mother-in-law, has tried jam and even dried fruit or candy but I still have dreams about perfectly flavored, light and fluffy strawberry tamales.
This year I have made it my mission to achieve that sweet tamale as well as make seven other fillings: red and green chicken; red and green pork (carnitas); beef; picadillo; grilled corn and cheese; and rajas (poblano chili and cheese). It will be quite a feat but I have 20 estimated helpers and I am going to cheat - I purchase three roasted chickens from Costco and six packages of Pork Carnitas from Trader Joe's - this saves significant time on cooking meat fillings. I purchase 70 pounds of masa quebrada simple (that is rough ground hominy and unmixed), 4 pounds of lard (you can substitute solid vegetable shortening), 2 cups of baking powder, six bags of pre-washed corn husks, a flat of strawberries, two pineapples, and 4 pounds of ground beef.
My reference for ingredient measurements is Authentic Mexican by Rick Bayless. His recipe for tamales using 1 pound (approximately 2 cups) of masa, 1/2 cup lard, 2/3 cup broth, 1 teaspoon of baking powder and about 1/2 teaspoon of salt (depending how salty the broth is). This recipe estimates it will make 16 medium-sized tamales; therefore 70 pounds of masa should yield over 1,100 tamales and each helper will leave with over 50 tamales each. This is exactly why this is a full, day; fully staffed function.
Before the event, I set most of the corn husks in a large pan full of hot water and weigh the lid down to keep the husks fully submerged. (Unfortunately, I will have to do this in two or even three batches because I don't have a large enough pan to accommodate all the corn husks). I cook the picadillo and make sure all my ingredients are handy and ready.
When everyone arrives, I give them a moment to grab a bagel, some coffee and even champagne before I set them up kneading masa. We separate the 70 pounds of masa dough into four, 20 quart bowls and add the requisite amounts of shortening/lard and baking powder. Kneading the masa is the longest part of this process so the bulk of the work will be there.
My first helper, Danielle gets to work cutting up some pineapple and strawberries. The fruit tamales require the addition of a cup of fruit puree per pound of masa rather than broth. I plan to set aside about 10 pounds of the masa (five pounds per flavor) and for the moment I am going to add sugar and shortening to this 10 pounds then separate it again to add the respective purees.
When I have enough people working on the masa, I set the next batch of helpers to shredding the meat. Since both the chickens and pork carnitas are pre-cooked the meat just needs to be shredded and seasoned to be ready as a filling for tamales. When all the meat is shredded, I separate it into batches and season some of the pork and chicken with green mole and the rest I season with a bit of mole poblano and a can of spicy tomato sauce (El Pato Sauce). Additionally, I add a lot of salt - you want the flavoring to be pretty intense (spicy, flavorful and/or salty) to offset the blandness of the masa dough.
Rajas are a "vegetarian" tamale (fully vegetarian if you use solid vegetable shortening and vegetable broth). It is made by placing thin strips of slightly grilled, poblano chilis and queso fresco on the bed of masa. The cheese melts when the tamales get steamed and it is a really delicious filling - especially if you are a fan of chili rellenos (poblanos stuffed with cheese; battered; fried and covered with light tomato sauce), which is one of my favorite dishes. Another vegetarian tamale we created last year was to use a bag of frozen, roasted corn - a Trader Joe's item - and mixing it with shredded cheese; approximately two cups.
I spend the whole day funneling ingredients to the workers and checking the masa for float worthy status, plus setting up the tamales to cook. I have a large, 30 quart pan which I placed a steamer at the bottom with about 2 inches of water. I then take some of the wet corn husks and made a bed in which to place the tamales. I place enough tamales in the pan so that they can stand up so that the open part of the husk is pointing toward the lid of the pan. At around 6:00 pm (we started at 11:00 am) the first batch of tamales is fully cooked.
The tamales that are taken home will be uncooked and I tell everyone to freeze them when they get home. By freezing the tamales uncooked, you get a much fresher tasting tamal. You can remove tamales right from the freezer and steam for about 90 minutes. (If they are unfrozen or fresh they only take about 60 minutes.) It is easy to tell if a tamal is fully cooked because the masa goes from a soft mush to a spongy dough. You can just open the corn husk to confirm doneness.
Everyone worked tirelessly to knead the masa and fill tamales. Luis kept the workers hydrated by refreshing champagne, beers, sodas, agua frescas, etc. He also took the vacuum out numerous times to clean up masa from the floor. His justification is he wanted us all to impress any random arrival with our ability to keep the floor clean during such a massive project.
So next year, I will purchase masa fina, mixta (finely ground, masa mixed with everything) and just knead it to aerate it better. We spent too long kneading the masa again and it wasn't salty enough. Unfortunately, I totally forgot that the puree replaced the broth in the sweet tamales so my quest for the perfect sweet tamal is as yet unfulfilled.
In a large, deep-sided pan heat a 1/4 cup of olive oil, turn the heat to medium or medium high and when the oil is hot add about 1.5-2 pounds of ground beef. Stir the beef around until evenly browned. This step can take about 5-7 minutes so as you periodically stir and check it take the time to dice half a medium onion, mince 1-2 cloves of garlic and 1 jalapeno chili (optional). When the meat is browned, add the onion, garlic and jalapeno; you want to cook it a bit to get the vegetables a bit translucent (2-3 minutes). Pour in one bottle or can of beer and let boil away a bit which will evaporate all the alcohol in the beer. The addition of beer serves to tenderize the beef and give the dish a richer flavor.
After about five minutes, add a 15 ounce can of tomato sauce to the whole mixture and move to a back burner on a low setting. Cover the pan and let cook for at least 30 minutes. When it comes time to use this as a tamal filling we will actually drain the sauce so that the filling isn't so runny.