Tuesday, September 4, 2007

"Prairie Avenue Cookbook" & "Rick Bayless's Mexican Kitchen" - Green Corn Pudding and Seared Zucchini with Roasted Tomato, Chipotle and Chorizo

Date I made these recipes: September 3, 2007

Prairie Avenue Cookbook – Recipes and Recollections from Prominent 19th-Century Chicago Families by Carol Callahan
Published by: Southern Illinois University Press
ISBN: 0-8093-1815-6
© 1993
Recipe: Green Corn Pudding (Harvey Family Recipe) – p. 116

Rick Bayless’s Mexican Kitchen – Capturing the Vibrant Flavors of a World-Class Cuisine by Rick Bayless with Deann Groen Bayless and JeanMarie Brownson
Published by: Scribner
ISBN: 0-684-800006-3
© 1996
Recipe: Seared Zucchini with Roasted Tomato, Chipotle and Chorizo (Tinga de Calabacitas) – p. 216-217

“My kind of town, Chicago is, my kind of town, Chicago is…”

The weekend before Labor Day, my husband and I went on our annual road trip to Chicago to visit some friends who live in the Chicago suburb of Mt. Prospect. Our friends have always been gracious enough to line up an activity or two in the city itself over the weekend and when not exploring the sights, we feast on great Chicago food.

This time around, we feasted a little bit more than usual because they were without power from Thursday of that week until Sunday night after we left. It is not for nothing that Chicago is nicknamed “The Windy City.” A big storm pretty much knocked over every other tree in Mt. Prospect and adjoining suburbs, taking power lines down as they went, flooding basements and creating general havoc in the area. Businesses were down for days, people made do without electricity and generators could be heard all over the neighborhood. It really looked like a war zone when we drove up.

But even though our friends said they’d understand if we backed out, we were not deterred as a good time is usually had by all. I considered it to be an urban camping experience—the only kind of camping I like—as the only hardship was bringing a flashlight into the bathroom morning, noon and night.

Our pattern quickly became this: eat breakfast out, spend the entire day outside, spend a happy hour inside by candlelight and then once the sun set, break for a restaurant to wine and dine in air-conditioned splendor. Not a bad way to go.

And so in honor of our adventure, I pulled out my Chicago-related cookbooks. I have three, but am reserving the third one for another blog as it was hard to find a recipe to fit in with my selections for this week.

The first book I pulled off the shelf is the Prairie Avenue Cookbook, purchased years ago on another Chicago adventure. Out of all the recipes, the corn pudding recipe caught my eye as summer is now waning and I wanted to imbibe some sweet corn before it was too late.

The second book is Rick Bayless’s Mexican Kitchen. After all these years of visiting Chicago, I hate to say that I’ve never eaten in either of Rick’s restaurants, Frontera Grill or Topolobampo, but there it is. One only has so much time but they’re on my list.

Although a friend gave me Rick’s book years ago, I had yet to make anything from it. Tonight, Mexican food seemed like a good thing to have with the corn pudding and so down off the shelf it came. But I have to tell you folks, finding a recipe that wouldn’t scorch the skin off the roof of my mouth was challenging. As it is, I thought the recipe was slightly on the hot side whereas my husband thought it was perfect. He definitely tolerates spice better than I but then again, he misses a lot of the nuances that I pick up. He also loved the corn pudding whereas I thought it was a bit too sweet. So he gave the recipes two thumbs up whereas I gave it one and a half thumbs, sort of along the lines of the famous movie reviewer duo from Chicago, Siskel and Ebert.

And so about the corn pudding…the recipe said 12 ears of corn nicely grated. (as opposed to not nicely grated or angrily grated??!) Hmmm…did they mean “grated” grated or “grated” grated?!! I wasn’t sure if they meant for me to just strip the corn off the cob or to actually grate it with a grater. I consulted Andy and we decided it mean strip the corn off the cob. And this, of course, was entirely the wrong conclusion! The dish was good but very watery and we could have avoided that problem had we grated the corn which would have stripped the water out of the cob before cooking. Oh well, live and learn.

As to the tinga, we visited one of the best Mexican markets in the Twin Cities, El Burrito Mercado, http://www.elburritomercado.com/home.htm to find the chorizo, the queso fresco and the chipotles…and some Mexican pastries…and some Mexican drinks…and… Well, you get the picture. El Burrito also has a cafeteria with such good food that it was tempting just to order takeout and call it a day.

El Burrito Mercado also has a fine selection of votive candles which we will likely pack the next time we plan a trip to the Windy City. Maybe next time, we’ll even eat out at one of Rick’s restaurants. In the meantime, enjoy a wonderful taste of Chicago food…via Mexico…and the 19th century!

(By the way, one of the restaurants we visited time was Twin Anchors, located at 1655 North Sedgwick Street in Chicago’s Old Town. It’s a Chicago institution as evidenced by the crowd packed shoulder to shoulder in every space available. And so danged if I didn’t open up the magazine section of The Chicago Tribune to find a review of the place the day after we ate there! Way too cosmic. Even more cosmic than that: when I went to the website, Frank Sinatra started singing “My kind of Town Chicago is.” Ol’ Blue Eyes must have been channeling me when I wrote this because I had no idea when I started writing this review that the song I quoted at the beginning “My Kind of Town (Chicago Is)” would be playing on the website. Coincidence? I think not!

Green Corn Pudding (Harvey Family recipe) – Makes 10 servings.

12 large ears of sweet corn nicely grated (6 cups grated corn)
1 ½ pints sweet milk (3 cups whole milk)
4 eggs, beaten
2 tablespoons butter
½ teaspoon salt
1 cup sugar

The original recipe said: Bake slowly 2 hours. To be eaten without sauce. The author filled in the gaps: Modern Cooking Tip: The missing steps in preparation of this recipe are as follows: Mix all ingredients well and pour into buttered 3-quart mold. Place in a pan filled halfway up the side of the mold with warm water. Bake the pudding at 350 degrees for 2-2 ½ hours or until a knife inserted in the center comes out clean. Puree the mixture in a blender if you prefer a smooth-textured pudding.

As I mentioned above, I thought the cup of sugar was overkill but perhaps it wouldn’t have been had we followed the directions to “nicely grate” the corn. Sometimes, what is written is what is meant!

Seared Zucchini with Roasted Tomato, Chipotle and Chorizo – Makes 3 cups, 6 servings as an appetizer or side dish, 4 servings as a small main course

Note: we happened to have some zucchini on hand that we wanted to use up but this can be made with any tender summer squash or 3-4 cups of any vegetable cut into small pieces.

For 1 cup essential quick-cooked tomato-chipotle sauce base
1 to 2 stemmed, dried chipotle chiles (or canned chipotle chiles en adobo)
2 garlic cloves, unpeeled
12 ounces (2 medium-small round or 4 to 5 plum) ripe tomatoes (note: you can also use one 15-ounce can of tomatoes in place of the roasted ones)
Salt, about ¼ teaspoon

For the main dish
2 tablespoons olive or vegetable oil
4 medium zucchini, chopped into 3/8-inch dice
1 medium white onion, sliced
½ cup (4 ounces) chorizo sausage, casing removed
1 teaspoon dried oregano, preferably Mexican
1/3 cup crumbled Mexican queso fresco, queso anejo, mild feta, pressed, salted farmer’s cheese or Parmesan

Making the sauce:
Toast the dried chipotles on an ungreased griddle or heavy skillet over medium heat, turning regularly and pressing flat with a spatula, until they fully release their aroma into the kitchen, about 30 seconds. In a small bowl, cover chiles with hot water and let rehydrate 30 minutes, stirring occasionally to ensure even soaking. Drain and discard the water. (Canned chiles need only be removed from their sauce. Note: although Rick doesn’t mention this, if using canned chiles and you want less heat, you may want to rinse the sauce from the chiles. But if you’re like my husband, keep the sauce and go full throttle!)

While the chiles are soaking, roast the unpeeled garlic on the griddle or skillet turning occasionally, until soft and blackened in spots, about 15 minutes; cool and peel. Roast the tomatoes on a baking sheet 4 inches below a very hot broiler until blackened on one side, about 6 minutes, then flip and roast the other side. Cool, then peel, collecting all the juices.

In a food processor or blender, process the tomatoes, rehydrated or canned chiles and garlic until almost completely pureed (there should still be a little texture left to give the dish an attractive presentation). Taste and season with salt.

Finishing the dish:
Measure 1 tablespoon of the oil into a large (10- to 12-inch) heavy skillet and set over medium-high. When very hot, add the zucchini (the pieces should fit comfortably in a single layer), and stir regularly until nicely browned, about 5 minutes. With a slotted spoon, remove to a plate, spreading them into a single layer to stop the cooking.

Return the skillet to the heat, adding the remaining 1 tablespoon of oil, and scoop in the onion and chorizo. Cook, stirring frequently, until the onion is very soft and golden (and the chorizo is nearly cooked), about 7 minutes. Drain off all excess fat, and return the pan to the heat.

Add the tomato-chipotle sauce and the oregano, and stir for about 5 minutes as the sauce sears and thickens. Add the zucchini and heat through. Scoop into warm serving bowl, sprinkle with the cheese and your tinga is ready to eat.

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