Tuesday, February 3, 2009

"Three Rivers Renaissance Cookbook IV" & "Three Rivers Cookbook - 'The Good Taste of Pittsburgh'" - Tortilla Rice Soup and Tamale Ring

Date I made this recipe: February 1, 2009 (Super Bowl Sunday)

Three Rivers Renaissance Cookbook IV by the Child Health Association of Sewickley (PA)
Published by: Child Health Association of Sewickley
© 1980
Recipe: Tortilla Rice Soup submitted by Leslie S. Kelly – p. 39

Three Rivers Cookbook -“The Good Taste of Pittsburgh” by the Child Health Association of Sewickley, Inc.
© 1973
Recipe: Tamale Ring submitted by Mrs. Robinson F. Barker – p. 121

Well, today is Super Bowl Sunday and even though I didn’t really give a diddley boo as to who won (because it’s all about the commercials, right?), I wanted to acknowledge the day and like the Super Bowl, there was a clear winner in the dish department. But before I get to that, please indulge me in a teeny rant against the machine that is known as Top Chef.

For those of you who don’t know, Top Chef is a TV show on Bravo in which chefs compete on a weekly basis to be the last one standing and therefore, Top Chef. Every week they are presented a new challenge with one person emerging as the winner and advancing on, and another, the loser who is told to pack his/her knives and go.

And so it came to pass that last Wednesday, the producers (that would be you, Tom Colicchio!) decided to focus the show around the upcoming Super Bowl and brought in cheftestants from previous seasons to compete against this year’s contestants to make a signature dish representing the food of one of the NFL teams selected for this challenge.

And so it also came to pass that the Miami Dolphin contestants got seafood, the New Orleans team got crawfish, Seattle had salmon and so on and so forth, and then came Green Bay (the greatest team of all times) and my dear, darling Italian stud-muffin, Fabio, this season’s hottie contestant got….drum roll….venison.

Whaaaa?????????? Tom Colicchio, are you out of your mind? The word we are looking for, dear Thomas, is “bratwurst” (or brats). I mean, sure, venison is popular in that region but I can guarantee you, Thomas, as a lifelong member of Packer Nation, we do not run to the concession stands during a break in the action for venison. We do not tailgate, dear Thomas, for venison. We live for brats and beer…or brats soaked in beer…or beer (who the hell needs a brat, anyway?) but never, ever, ever for venison. Sheesh. Any Wisconsonite knows that.

And so it eventually came to pass that Fabio was on the chopping block for overcooking his venison and for misusing cheddar cheese in his salad although I hardly know how it is possible to misuse Wisconsin cheddar; really, these judges have antlers stuck up their…. At least he was spared for another week (and good thing, too, because je t’adore his Italian accent…and yes, I realize that phrase is French) but so is the evil, egotistical (“I love me, who do you love?”) Stefan who, sad to say, seems poised to take the contest this year (but so help me, if he wins Fan Favorite, I am outta here).

But I digress. This week is about the actual Super Bowl where men do not have to cook venison in the shape of a bratwurst (now that would have been something, huh?!) to show their mettle.

This year’s contest pitted the Pittsburg Steelers (no pun intended on the “pitted”) and the Arizona Cardinals. It was a very close game and it looked like the Cardinals just might pull it off when the Steelers scored a touchdown with 35 seconds to go to take a 4-point lead. Nuts. Although I intended to root for the Steelers, the fact that Arizona was such an underdog got to me and so I started pulling for them and they came oh-so-close; maybe next year?

So speaking of hits and misses, winners and losers, and Pittsburg and Arizona, I think I was very creative in finding foods from both camps to serve for Super Bowl Sunday. And here’s how: I have two Pittsburg cookbooks but not one specifically for Arizona, and so was momentarily stumped until I found a recipe for Tortilla Rice Soup in the Pittsburg cookbook. Ah ha! Tortilla + Rice = Southwest = Arizona = touchdown! (You see how easy that was?) And the dish was, in fact, a winner.

But then the challenge was to find another Southwest dish to go with the soup in the other Pittsburg cookbook I had and I almost threw in the towel until I came across the Tamale Ring recipe. And while it tasted okay, it didn’t turn out like I thought it would and so that dish, dear reader, was a loser.

Methinks the reason that the Tamale Ring was a loser was because it was supposed to set up more like a bread pudding or a spoon bread, especially since it was baked in a water bath, but instead didn’t have enough liquid and so ended up being more like savory bread in texture. That didn’t seem right. The other thing that didn’t seem right was the look as it was much too red from the chili powder for my satisfaction.

Part of the problem with recipes submitted by the home cook is that the instructions are sometimes lacking. With the tamale ring, I was instructed to put one can of corn through a grinder but as I did so I wondered if I was supposed to include the can liquid or not; I decided “not.” And then the tomatoes were supposed to be drained and so what this left was a glop of “dough” without any liquid and I don’t think this was supposed to happen. But seeing as how I couldn’t just call up Mrs. Robinson F. Barker who submitted the recipe, I went with what I thought was best and like the Cardinals’ efforts, it just wasn’t good enough.

The soup, on the other hand, was really good although I almost ruined it by forgetting to turn off the burner resulting in most of the liquid evaporating off the top. No doubt this happened during a commercial break seeing as how that’s the real reason I tuned in to the game in the first place. (But let’s contemplate for a minute what’s wrong with this picture: you skip watching the game so you can be in your seat for the commercials?).

So…is it too early to start chanting “Go Pack Go!” for next year’s Super Bowl?? If so, I promise you, dear reader, there will be no such silliness as venison. Stay tuned.

Tortilla Rice Soup – serves 4
Cooking spray
1/3 cup green oinion, sliced
4 cups chicken broth
1 14 ½-ounce can diced tomatoes with green chiles, undrained
1 cup cooked chicken breast, cubed
2 4-oz cans chopped green chiles
Salt and pepper
1 T fresh lime juice
2 cups cooked rice
Tortilla chips for garnish
½ cup chopped tomato for garnish
½ cup cubed avocado for garnish
4 lime slices and chopped cilantro, for garnish

Coat a Dutch oven or large saucepan with cooking pray. Saute onions over m,edium high heat until tender. Add broth, tomatoes, chicken and chiles. Reduce heat. Cover and simmer for 20 minutes. Stir in salt, pepper and lime juice. Just before serving, add rice.

Pour into soup bowls and top with tortilla chips, chopped tomatoes and avocado. Garnish with lime slices and cilantro.

Tamale Ring – serves 6
½ large can of tomatoes, strained
1 can of corn put through a grinder
1 green pepper, chopped
1 pint ripe olives, chopped
1 clove garlic
1 cup white corn meal
1 large T chili powder
2 eggs beaten separately

Mix the first five ingredients; add remaining ingredients and mix well. Bake 1 hour in a buttered ring mold set in a pan of water at 350. (The author says to serve with creamed chicken or shrimp but I’m sorry, that texture combination didn’t work for me so instead I served it with my soup.).

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