Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Cooking Extravaganza!

Tonight, I had a cooking extravaganza. They've been working me to the bone at work for like 3 weeks, I haven't turned on my stove in like 2 weeks, its been rough. But, tonight, I finally got to leave by 6:15, so I got home in time to cook dinner for myself! It made me so happy, I love cooking.

So I was, perhaps, a little ambitious; I made hummus, beans, and tortilla soup.

The hummus was the quick thing that I could make so I could eat soon after getting home. I've made it before, and I'll make it again. Particularly because I haven't quite gotten the texture right. But also, its fun to see how the different flavors come through. This time, in trying to get it smoother, I added too much tahini, so in flavor and textured, it needed to be balanced by olive oil and lemon. Both times I've made it, the raw garlic is too strong. But I think this is the fun part of the recipe. Eventually, I would like to start adding different flavors like you can get in the store (roasted peppers, roasted garlic, uhm, etc.) but for now, I'm sticking to the basic recipe.

a la Mark Bittman

2 cups drained well-cooked or canned chickpeas, cooking liquid reserved if possible (I cooked mine but I don't think it matters)
1/2 cup tahini with some of its oil if you like, more to taste
1/4 cup evoo, plus more for garnish
2 cloves of garlic peeled
juice of 1 lemon, plus more as needed
salt and freshly ground pepper
1 table spoon ground cumin, or paprika, or cayenne
parsley for garnish (I never have any, so I leave it out)

Put everything into your handy dandy food processor. Blend until smooth. Add cooking liquid or water to reach desired consistency. Taste, and adjust seasoning as needed. Serve with pita or veggies.

(It should be said now, I don't measure anything. I pretty much just add the listed ingredients, and taste things. Which can work well, or can be a disaster. So tasting and adjusting is an important step.)

So after the hummus was made and eaten, a bottle of wine was opened, and two episodes of Scrubs were watched, I started the recipes that actually count towards the challenge.

My grandmother always made beans in a pressure cooker, and until recently, I thought that it was special somehow. Turns out, its just so that it is faster.

Recipe #3: Beans
a la Diana Kennedy

This recipe is for a lot more beans than I made. I think I only had maybe half a pound of beans. I didn't want to commit to a full pound of beans on my first attempt :)

1 pound of dried beans (I used pintos, but you can also use black beans)
10 to 12 cups of hot water
1/3 cups roughly sliced white onion
2 tablespoons pork lard (I don't have any, I used shortening)
salt to taste

Rinse the beans, and remove anything that is not a bean (rocks, dirt clumps, etc). Put them in a pot, and more than cover them with hot water. Add onions and lard and bring to a boil. Once it boils, cover and lower to a simmer. Time varies greatly here; I cooked them for about an hour and 20 minutes, Diana says 2.5 hours to 4 hours for black beans. Basically,cook until the beans are soft and the skins are breaking open. Add salt, cook for another half hour, until the beans are completely soft.

Tomorrow, or sometime this weekend I'm going to refry the beans, so that will be another recipe. (I tried to today, but it wasn't working, so I aborted the plan.)

Recipe #4 Tortilla Soup
a la Diana Kennedy

This is not at all the tortilla soup recipe I grew up with, which called for a can of corn, can of beans, can of tomatoes and a chopped up zucchini. But all I needed was to use up the disaster tortillas from 2 weeks ago, so I chose this recipe instead, which just calls for broth and fried tortillas.

Vegetable oil for frying
tortillas for frying, cut into strips and dried
12 ounces tomatoes, broiled (actually, because its the middle of February in New York, I used canned tomatoes...)
1 garlic clove
6 cups chicken stock
2 large springs epazote (I couldn't find any, so I omitted)
2 pasilla chiles, fried crisp
6 tablespoons grated cheese

Heat oil in a large skillet, fry the chiles. Remove them, put them in the food processor. Add tomatoes, garlic, onion, and process until smooth. Add to oil in a pot, and fry for about 5 minutes, until sauce is well seasoned and has reduced. (Warning, this will bubble like CRAZY. My stove top is currently a MESS. Cover this with a lid or a splatter cover thing.) Add chicken broth and continue to cook.
Fry the tortillas until lightly browned. Make sure that they are crispy, not just damp with oil (like my first batch). Just before serving, add epazote. Serve each portion with cheese and crispy tortilla strips.

Yay for cooking!

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Valentines Day and the discovery of old mistakes

For valentine's day last week, my sweetie gave me a gift to help me with The Challenge. He gave me Diana Kennedy's The Essential Cuisines of Mexico, which is a combination of her first three books. According to wikipedia (the source of all knowledge), Kennedy is ... actually, it turns out Kennedy's page provides almost no information. According to Elise at Simple Recipes, she is "The grande dame of Mexican cooking." Because I was visiting him last weekend, and could therefore not cook (he lives in a dorm), I had to content myself with reading the book. (Yes, I read cookbooks. This is not the first time. I'm still slightly embarrassed by it though.)

I have not yet finished it, but it did bring to light why my enchiladas were so terrible. Apparently, you are supposed to lightly fry the tortillas before rolling them, so that the dish is moist. It is not enough to pour the sauce over the dish. That will not make them moist enough. It is also not essential to bake them. And, good tortillas should be used (though I did not need the book to tell me this). My tortillas were not good. A rolling pin does not seem to be an acceptable method to form corn tortilla's by any standard that I can find. They should be formed either by "patting" by hand (33 pats is the perfect number, according to Kennedy) or by using a tortilla press. But the lesson learned is that I am not yet comfortable enough in Mexican cuisine to be able to fly by the seat of my pants, so I will have to follow recipes for a while.

I had hoped to cook at least once this week, but it was an exhausting week at work, I never made it home before 8:30pm, and I don't want to start cooking at that time. So no new food posts for now. But, a list of things to anticipate:

Beans (I have them, I just need to make them)
Bolillos (bean sandwiches, an obvious use of the previous ingredient)
Tortilla Ball soup (kind of like matzo ball soup, and a way to use the remaining tortilla's from recipe #1)

Monday, February 11, 2008

Recipes #1 and #2 - Corn tortillas and Enchiladas

So, there were supposed to be pictures with this post. But the camera I'm using only holds three pictures. So I have three pictures, and then the batteries died. List of things to buy: double A batteries, and a memory card-y thing.

On to the food, sans pictures.

#1 Corn Tortillas

I read at length about needing special flour (corn and lime, the mineral, not the citrus food). I happen to have accidentally bought some last summer, and had it in my freezer. I bought it at Whole Foods, but I don't have the package anymore. I don't have a fancy tortilla press like Lisa or Elise, but I did the best I could. With a rolling pin and two pieces of parchment paper, eventually got my tortillas thin enough. The ingredient list is simple enough (masa harina and hot water, added slowly enough to make a dough). The first few were too thick, but with a little practice, they got thinner. However, my complaint is that they are not as flimsy as store bought tortillas. This might sound like a good thing, but it isn't. Tortillas need to be able to be folded and rolled easily WITHOUT breaking. Mine could not do that. Which leads us to recipe #2.

#2 Red Enchiladas

I remember my grandmother's enchilada sauce to be thick and a deep red. Mine turned out to be neither. I haven't actually tried the enchiladas yet though, so I can't say if they are good or not.

5 dried chilies
2 cloves of garlic
1/2 onion

1. Boil water, once it boils, turn off the fire and drop the chilies in. Let them sit to soften.
2. Place chilies, garlic, and onions into a food processor. Process until smooth. If you have a sift, run the sauce through it. I didn't have one, so no big deal.
2. Make a roux out of the oil and the flour. Add the processed sauce to the roux to thicken it slightly.

Filling: I like cheese enchiladas, but I don't find them filling enough, so I did something a little unorthodox and filled them with both cheese and meat. My meat of choice was pork tenderloin, which I broiled with some salt and pepper. I shredded it, added red sauce to coat the meat.

Making the enchilada:
Add some meat and cheese in the first third of the tortilla. Roll as tightly as possible. Lay the roll in the bottom of a baking dish (I used my bread loaf pan because its all I had. Insert picture here of rolls going in slanted because they are too big for the pan). Repeat until you run out of ingredients or your dish is full. Between layers, add cheese. Cover the whole thing with lots of sauce, and more cheese. Bake until the cheese melts. Enjoy!

Sunday, February 3, 2008


1) Buying a piece of produce - in my case 2 mangoes - when you know that they are waaay out of season and not even kind of ripe just because a recipe calls for it. It will not be good. Fortunately for me, the recipe called for cooking the mango in sugar and vinegar, so it was so broken down you can't tell. But I know in my heart of hearts that if those mangoes were ripe, the chutney would be better. Infinitely better.

2) Using the broiler when you do not know how to turn off your fire alarms. Again, this time, I was fortunate. A kind soul who lives upstairs came to show me how to turn them off. But this is probably the 15th time that I've set my alarms off since I moved into the apartment in September, and I've now just learned. Thank you Mitch!

The recipe I made was Curried Pork Tenderloin with Chutney and Arugala from How to Cook Everything by Mark Bittman, and it will be delicious for lunch the week. I highly recommend it. Pictures of food will come later. :)

The Challenge

So I've been talking about blogging about food for just about forever. I love to eat, and I really enjoy cooking, but I've been held back by the fact that I feel like I'm not a writer. But the BF finally got tired of hearing me talk about blogging, and he issued a challenge over brunch.

We were at Chavella's in Brooklyn (Classon Ave and Park Place), and I made the comment that I would be willing to stop cooking and just eat there all the time. Chavella's is that good, it is better than the stuff my grandmother used to make (shh don't tell her). He challenged me not to stop cooking, but to cook the stuff that they sell, the food I grew up on: over the next 4 months, 30 Mexican meals, starting today, February 3rd.*

An aunt of mine at some point published a Mexican cooking book, but sadly, I lost my copy during one of the four moves that I made in the three months after graduating from college. So, I will be making stuff up, calling my mother, and pulling stuff from untraditional sources until March (aka the internet), when I'm going back to the family ranch for a reunion. I will get another copy of the book then.

So, here I go. Here is my wish list of things I want to make for this challenge. Some of these may happen, some of them probably won't, but at least it will give me some focus.

Refried beans, from scratch, without a pressure cooker
Chiles rellenos, 2 ways (stuffed with meat, and stuffed with cheese)
Tortillas from scratch, maybe flour, maybe corn, maybe both
Huevos Rancheros
Green Enchiladas
Tres Leches Cake
White Pozole
At least 3 different kinds of tacos

*In terms of rules, we didn't decide if the recipes had to be start to finish meals, or if I could do a dish that was not a full meal. In the interest of challenging myself, I will attempt to do as much many full meals as possible.