Monday, March 30, 2009

"Cook, Eat, Cha Cha Cha" & "Cafe Pasqual's Cookbook " & "Elena's Secrets of Mexican Cooking" - Tomatillo Salsa, Meatball Soup, Chicken in Orange Juice

Date I made these recipes: March 29, 2009

Cook, Eat, Cha Cha Cha – Festive New World Recipes by Philip Bellber
Published by: Chronicle Books
ISBN: 0-8118-1146-8 © 1997
(Note: this book is named for a restaurant in San Francisco. You should try it out if you go there!
Recipe: Tomatillo Salsa – p. 90

Café Pasqual’s Cookbook – Spirited Recipes from Santa Fe by Katharine Kagel
Published by: Chronicle Books
ISBN: 0-8118-0293-0 © 1993
(Note: this book is also named for a restaurant in Santa Fe. You should try it out if you go there! Perhaps you already have and are like me—cannot remember!) The book is larger than the photo displayed as the book wouldn’t fit on my scanner screen.
Recipe: Meatball Soup (Sopa de Albondigas) - p. 82

Elena’s Secrets of Mexican Cooking by Elena Zelayeta
Published by: Prentice-Hall, Inc.
© 1958
Recipe: Chicken in Orange Juice (Pollo en Jugo de Naranja) – p. 59

So here’s how today’s recipe selections went down: I was cleaning out my refrigerator and I noticed I had leftover (canned) tomatillos from a recipe I made a couple of weeks ago. Being my mother’s daughter, I can’t bear to throw out food so I decided to find a recipe using tomatillos. The recipe I selected was for salsa and it was darned good. But I couldn’t just serve salsa and call it a day so I investigated further and there, on the tippy-top shelf of my collection were two more Mexican/southwestern cookbooks.

Now I’ve been to Santa Fe, home of Café Pasqual’s but sad to say, I can’t recall eating there (In my defense, I was there over 10 years ago and hey, some days I can’t remember where I put my car keys!). There were several recipes in the book that sounded good, such that had I eaten there, I likely would have remembered them, but I was most drawn to the meatball soup recipe (sopa de albondigas). So now I was up to one appetizer and one soup recipe but I still felt I needed just one more item to complete the meal so I pulled Elena’s Secrets of Mexican Cooking from the shelf and made her recipe for chicken in orange juice.

Each dish was relatively easy to make but I spent about 4 hours total in my kitchen either prepping or roasting or blending for one of the three dishes all the while watching Michigan State beat Louisville in basketball to advance to the Final Four. It was probably a good thing my husband wasn’t in the kitchen with me as I found myself waving my kitchen knife several times over in response to a play the team made. After that I switched to golf and would have seen Tiger Woods win on the last hole except I realized I was short two quarts of chicken broth and had to run to the store. I hate it when that happens! (I am now fully re-stocked.)

As to taste, the salsa was fantastic, such that I didn’t bother to add the red onion or red pepper as I worried that it would ruin the flavor. If left to my own devices, I could have seriously eaten my way through the entire batch it was that yummy! The meatball soup was also tasty, probably because I used a quart of my own broth that I had in the freezer although I must say that the taste of cilantro in this was a little strong (read: soapy) and so that took getting used to. Cilantro is a funny thing; when blended in something like salsa, it’s fine but as a star ingredient in the meatballs, it’s another story.

As to the chicken, it was fine but a little weak on flavor. I’m hoping that this type of recipe benefits from overnight refrigeration as all I could taste was the chicken—not the orange juice, wine or even the spices. And might I just comment on the ginormous chicken breasts included in my chicken packet? My god, they took up three-quarters of the pan! Those poor little wings and drummies almost didn’t stand a chance!

These were all good dishes to make on a somewhat gray day where spring is almost here but is teasing the heck out of us. Snow is forecast for later this week—can you stand it? (I can’t!).

Tomatillo Salsa – Makes 2 ½ cups
2 pounds tomatillos, husked (I used half canned, half fresh)
¾ onion, coarsely chopped
6 garlic cloves
1/3 cup olive oil
2 jalapeno chilies, seeded
1 bunch fresh cilantro, stemmed
5 scallions, finely chopped, including some green tops
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
¼ cp fresh lemon juice
¼ cup molasses
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
1 red bell pepper, seeded, deveined, and cut into ¼-inch dice (Note: I didn’t add this)
3 tablespoons finely diced red onion (Note: I didn’t add this)

Preheat the oven to 375. Put the tomatillos, onion and garlic in a baking pan. Drizzle the olive oil over and bake for 12 to 15 minutes, or until the tomatillos are slightly brown and soft.

Put the tomatillos mixture in a blender or food processor. Add the jalapenos, cilantro, scallions, vinegar, lemon juice, tamarind juice and molasses, and puree.

Add salt and pepper. Stir in the red bell pepper and red onion.

Meatball Soup (Sopa de Albondigas) – serves 8
4 quarts chicken stock or broth
2 pounds lean ground beef
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 bunch fresh cilantro (coriander), stemmed and roughly chopped
½ large white onion, finely chopped
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
Fresh cilantro sprigs for garnish (optional)

Put the chicken stock into a large pot and bring slowly to a boil. Meanwhile, combine the beef, cumin, chopped cilantro, onion, flour, and salt in a large bowl. Mix together well. Form into walnut-sized balls.

Gently slip the meatballs into the boiling stock, reduce the heat to low, and simmer until cooked through, about 25 minutes. Cut the meatball open to test for doneness before serving.

Ladle into individual bowls and serve garnished with cilantro sprigs, if desired.

Note: well, duh, people. I was reading over the instructions to combine the beef and spices and realized I completely forgot to add the ground cumin. That probably explains why the cilantro was so dominant. Oops! But let me just say that the meatballs were yummy anyway! (As my dad would say: If all else fails, read the instructions!).

Chicken in Orange Juice (Pollo en Jugo de Naranja) – Serves 3 or 4
1 frying chicken, disjoined
Seasoned flour
Oil for frying
1 cup orange juice
1 cup white table wine
½ cup raisins
½ cup blanched ground almonds (Note: I bought whole blanched almonds and ground them in my coffee grinder)
½ cup crushed pineapple
2 tablespoons sugar
¼ teaspoon cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon cloves

Dredge the chicken with seasoned flour and brown in oil. Place the chicken in a shallow glass baking dish. Combine all other ingredients and pour over chicken. Bake at 325, basting often, for 30 minutes. Raise temperature to 350 and bake 15 minutes longer.

Note: oh my god! I must have been overly absorbed in my basketball game because people, I just realized I left out the sugar! (And no, I didn’t drink any of the wine before adding it to the mix!) I’ve accidentally omitted an ingredient before but never two in one cooking session. Oh the horror, the horror….. (Don’t you think the least Michigan State could do is to offer me courtside seats for next week’s game? So a little road trip to Michigan is in order, so what?!)

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

"Death Warmed Over" & "Being Dead Is No Excuse" - Chicken and Rice Casserole and Beef and Macaroni Casserole

(Warning: These images/titles may be a little off-putting but read on!)
Date I made these recipes: March 22, 2009

Death Warmed Over – Funeral Food, Rituals, and Customs from Around the World by Lisa Rogak
Published by: Ten Speed Press
ISBN: 1-58008-563-6 © 2004
Recipe: (Lutheran) Funeral Hot Dish (Beef and Macaroni Casserole) – p. 88-89

Being Dead is No Excuse – The Official Southern Ladies Guide to Hosting the Perfect Funeral by Gayden Metcalfe and Charlotte Hays
Published by: Miramax Books
ISBN: 140135934-5 © 2005
Recipe: The Crocheted-Bedpan-Award Chicken – p. 147-148 (Chicken and Rice Casserole)

You wouldn’t think that listening to Garrison Keillor on MPR’s A Prairie Home Companion would necessarily prompt me to finally make some recipes out of these books but that’s exactly what happened.

You see, Garrison’s older brother died a few weeks ago due to a slip and fall on the ice and listening to Garrison this past Saturday reminded me that perhaps it was time to just damn the torpedoes and pull out these books after all. Up until now, I’ve been hesitant because of the cover photo of Death Warmed Over (a little irreverent but hopefully not too insulting to you all) and the titles (Being Dead is No Excuse—hmmm) and well, the general discomfort people have with talking about death and dying. But since this is a cookbook blog, the subject of death and dying is only a lead-in to a discussion about funeral food.

A year ago on March 2nd, my mother passed away and after I got back from the funeral, my friends were stunned to hear that nobody brought food to the house. Maybe folks saw me and my sister-in-law buying out Glenn’s Market (specifically the deli section) and thought we didn’t need anything—who knows? (I have to say that our family’s running joke about shopping at Glenn’s is that no matter what you buy, it costs you $3. Cookies? $3. Soda? $3. Carrots? $3.) But let me just say that even though people didn’t bring food to the house, the ladies of the St. Anthony Guild of Sacred Heart Catholic Church outdid themselves on the funeral luncheon.

Although I was too wound up to eat much, there were comfort food favorites galore to choose from such as spaghetti pie, lasagna, meatballs, deviled eggs and the like as well as an entire table of desserts. No sandwiches and potato salad for this crowd, no sir! In my mind, I can still see that laden table and it brings me great joy and comfort.

In January of this year, one of my sister-in-law’s, Mary Martin passed away at age 50 from ovarian cancer. She was only 4 months older than me and lived just over a year after being diagnosed. My husband, Andy and I spent President Obama’s inauguration day driving to South Dakota for the funeral and then on to Nebraska, her home state, for the burial. A luncheon was held after each event featuring potato salads, macaroni salads and no less than four Jell-O salads. Seriously folks, the Jell-O alone made me want to cry.

Although the books featured in this blog might be a bit irreverent, it just goes to show you how important food is to a grieving family at a time of great stress and sorrow. I dare say that Midwestern church ladies are a little bit more reserved than those from the south but the attention to detail and the thought of putting out your best efforts for the family is still there. And in the end, that’s what matters.

As to these recipes, I think the chicken dish would have benefited from a little more rice, a little less water and a little less spice. The spice was almost overpowering even though only a teaspoon each was used.

On the other hand, the (Lutheran) Funeral Hot Dish was typical Lutheran in that it was low-key and had absolutely no spice. The running joke in this state, though, is that if you want a spice, add ketchup! The casserole was good but were I to make it again, I would add shredded cheese to the mix to add a little bit more zip; I used cheddar and I think that was a better choice than American. Some chili powder wouldn’t hurt, either, but uff dah—if you live in Minnesota exercise some caution!

At the end of the day, if you find yourself in a position to be at the giving or receiving end of a funeral luncheon keep in mind that food can be like music in soothing the soul. Nothing says love more than a hot casserole, a Jell-O salad or a homemade cake or pie…and that’s the way it ought to be.

Funeral Hot Dish – Serves 8
1 pound ground beef
1 yellow onion, chopped
1 pound macaroni, cooked, drained and cooled
1 10-1/2 –ounce can condensed tomato soup
1 14-ounce can corn, drained
1 14-ounce can chopped tomatoes
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
4 slices of American cheese

Preheat the oven to 325. In a large saucepan over medium heat, brown the ground beef and onion. Grease a four-quart casserole dish. Add the cooked beef, onion, macaroni, soup, corn, tomatoes and salt and pepper to taste. Mix well. Top with the cheese slices and bake for 30 minutes.

The Crocheted-Bedpan-Award Chicken – Serves 8
6 slices uncooked bacon
10 chicken breast tenderloins
1 cup uncooked instant brown rice
1 can (10 ¾ ounces) cream of asparagus soup (actually, cream of anything will work)
1 teaspoon basil
1 teaspoon oregano
Grating of fresh nutmeg
Salt and pepper
Sprinkling of cayenne pepper

Preheat the oven to 300.

Cover the bottom of a 9 x 13-inch baking dish with bacon. Put the chicken tenderloins on top of the bacon. Pour the rice evenly over the chicken. Mix one cup of water with the canned soup. To this mixture add basil, oregano, and nutmeg, and pour it over the chicken. Sprinkle with salt, pepper, and cayenne. Cover the dish with aluminum foil and bake for 90 minutes. (Author’s note: “This should be taken cooked to the bereaved…You can’t take a casserole that requires and hour and a half to cook as an offering.”)

Friday, March 20, 2009

"James Beard's American Cookery" - Corned Beef Hash

Date I made this recipe: Wednesday, March 18, 2009

James Beard’s American Cookery by James Beard
Published by: Little, Brown and Company
© 1972
Recipe: Corned Beef Hash – p. 304-305

As I mentioned in my previous blog about corned beef and cabbage, corned beef hash is one of my favorite meals and so I made sure to save enough of it to have leftovers.

Unlike previous blog postings where I can be a bit…chatty, there isn’t much to say about corned beef hash because it is so simple to make. You dice your leftover corned beef and potatoes, add a little onion that’s also been chopped, melt some butter in a pan, throw on some salt and pepper and, if desired, nutmeg and there you have it! Comfort food 101! I think my husband and I ate the entire pan of it in less than 15 minutes (I was starving).

Of course, inhaling the dish as quickly as we did didn’t allow us to appreciate it in the way the legendary author, James Beard, intended, but some things are meant to be eaten with gusto.

For those of you who don’t have leftover corned beef lying around, James included a recipe using canned corned beef and canned corned beef hash and so I will include instructions below. It’s the least I can do seeing that out of all the (probably) wonderful recipes included in this book, I selected a dish using leftovers, but hey, the guy had me at “For many people this is the best part of the corned beef.”

I couldn’t agree more. Enjoy!

Corned Beef Hash - serving size unknown but note: the yield on this dish is dependent on how much leftover corned beef and potatoes you have!
2 pounds cold corned beef
4 to 6 cold boiled potatoes of medium size, coarsely chopped
1 medium size onion, finely chopped
Freshly ground pepper
¼ teaspoon nutmeg
Butter of beef drippings
Heavy cream or boiling water (optional)

Chop the meat fairly fine with a knife rather than put it through the grinder. Combine the potatoes and onion with the meat and add a few good grinds of black pepper and the nutmeg. Blend well and allow to rest in the refrigerator several hours or overnight. (I skipped that step—who has time to wait?!)

When ready to cook, melt just enough butter or beef drippings in a heavy skillet to cover the bottom – 4 to 6 tablespoons. Add the hash and press down somewhat firmly. When the hash begins to develop a crust on the bottom, turn with a spatula so that some of the crust is brought to the top. At this point many people add about ½ cup of heavy cream or some boiling water, which enables the bottom crust to form more quickly. I prefer to cook the hash slowly to develop the crust, turning it several times. (This is James Beard’s instruction). When it has crusted nicely, loosen it with a spatula, fold it once, and turn it out on a platter, crusty side up. Serve with poached eggs, toast, and chili sauce.

Quick Corned Beef Hash
1 can corned beef
1 can corned beef hash
1 small onion, finely chopped
½ teaspoon freshly ground pepper
¼ teaspoon nutmeg
5 tablespoons butter or beef drippings

Chop the canned corned beef rather coarsely and combine with the corned beef hash and chopped onion. Heat the butter or beef drippings in a heavy skillet, and cook the hash, pressing it down well to start a crust. Scrape the bottom with a spatula and bring some of the crisp bits to the top. Continue doing this until the crusty and the soft parts are equally mixed. Then let the bottom crust uniformly. Using a spatula, fold over the hash as you would an omelet and turn out on a hot platter.

PS-This book probably came with a dust jacket and no doubt it was way more interesting than the boring cover on this blog but I don’t have it so there you go.

Monday, March 16, 2009

"The Boston Cooking-School Cook Book" by Fannie Merritt Farmer - Corned Beef and Cabbage

Date I made this recipe: March 15, 2009

The Boston Cooking-School Cook Book by Fannie Merritt Farmer
Published by: Little, Brown and Company
© 1901; this printing 1909
Recipe: Boiled dinner – p. 206

Well St. Patrick’s Day is this Tuesday and this year, I am ahead of the curve. I made this dish on Sunday night so that we could have corned beef hash for dinner on Tuesday. I LOVE corned beef hash but when I was growing up, mom never made hash out of the leftovers. Good old canned corned beef hash was good enough for us.

This is one of the easiest recipes I’ve ever made and yet the instructions in this book were a bit vague (cookbook authors in the early 1900’s didn’t have a need to print every detail like today’s authors) and so I cheated and looked online as well as referenced other cookbooks to get a sense of cooking time. I needn’t have bothered since the corned beef brisket I purchased had instructions (although they were teeny weenie and printed at the very bottom) but I liked the research portion of my program.

I chose this particular recipe book because when I think of St. Patrick’s Day, I think of Boston and this book (actually, this famous book) is from Fannie Merritt Farmer’s Boston Cooking School. In culinary circles and among cookbook collectors, this book is still highly prized.

Although I’m sure she did not intend to be funny, Fanny’s description of corned beef cracked me up to no end: “Corned beef has but little nutritive value. It is used to give variety to our diet in the summer, when fresh meats prove too stimulating. (I had no idea that fresh meats were stimulating!) It is eaten by the workingman to give bulk to his food.”

Like most people, when my mother made corned beef, she added cabbage, potatoes and carrots although I’m fairly sure she did not do this to bulk up my dad’s food. My mom also created a special sauce for her corned beef that was made of equal parts of Miracle Whip and mustard. When I told my husband this he gave me look best described as “Ew” and got out the horseradish. I went with mom’s favorite, something she probably developed to make sure we ate the boiled cabbage and just had the best walk down memory lane.

Happy St. Paddy’s Day everyone! Erin Go Bragh! (Ireland Forever!)

Boiled Dinner a/k/a Corned Beef and Cabbage – serving size not indicated
1 corned beef brisket (mine was 2 pounds)
1-2 heads of cabbage (1 used one for two people)
Potatoes (small Irish white potatoes are best but you can use any)
Turnips (if desired)
Beets (?? I’ve never heard of beets in a boiled dinner)

To boil the corned beef
Wipe the meat and tie securely in shape, if this has not been already done at market. (I didn’t tie my meat). Put in kettle, cover with cold water, and bring slowly to boiling point. Boil five minutes, remove scum, and cook at a lower temperature until tender.

Since “until tender” is not a good gauge of time, I looked online and found that 2-3 hours for a 2 lb brisket is about right. I also boiled mine for ½ hour, using the online instructions, rather than Fannie’s 5 minutes but I think it all comes out in the wash so do what you feel is best.

Cool slightly in water in which it was cooked, remove to a dish, cover and place on cover a weight, that meat may be well pressed.

To cook the vegetables
After removing the meat from the water, skim off the fat and cook vegetables (with exception of beets, which require a long time for cooking) in this water. Carrots require a longer time for cooking than cabbage or turnips. Carrots and turnips, if small, may be cooked whole; if large, cut in pieces. Cabbage and beets are served in separate dishes, other vegetables on the same dish with the meat.

To save time, I cooked all the vegetables separately (the carrots, potatoes and the cabbage) and then added them to the corned beef pot just before serving. If I hadn’t done so, I would have had to cook the mixture for another half hour and it was getting late.

Monday, March 9, 2009

"The Cuisines of Mexico" by Diana Kennedy - Mole de Olla - Mole cooked in a pot

Date I made this recipe: March 8, 2009

The Cuisines of Mexico by Diana Kennedy, foreword by Craig Claiborne
Published by: Harper & Row, Publishers
© 1972
Recipe: Mole de Olla – Mole cooked in a pot – p. 160-161

People, I have been having some weird dreams lately and this latest one takes the cake (no pun intended).

Despite my taking Tom Colicchio of Top Chef to task a few weeks ago for having Top Chef contestants cook venison to represent Green Bay Packer food, he invited me to have dinner with him, (“in my dreams" takes on a new meaning, doesn’t it?) and of course, I accepted.

So in my dream, we ate at this very opulent restaurant with cathedral ceilings and beautiful chandeliers. To my left sat a female food writer but darned if I could tell you who she was, and to my right sat Tom.

And so there we were in this beautiful setting and the food came and it was…and I’m desperately trying to recall this…something akin to either a Monte Carlo sandwich or an egg on top of a steak covered in mushroom soup sauce.

So in my dream, Tom turned to me to ask what I thought and I said something to the effect that the meal was too casual for such an opulent setting. Tom agreed and promptly called over the owner…or a server…or the bus person, who knows, and that person invited me and Tom to another dinner (a secret dinner?). So Tom accepted and then turned to me and said something to the effect of “Oh, it’s too bad you don’t have the right credentials to go to this dinner.” I confidently and quickly replied that I did have the right credentials—I worked in the kitchen of Sacred Heart School (while failing to mention I was mostly the pot and pan gal) when I was in sixth grade. And that seemed to do it and we laughed ha ha and then I woke up! (Note to Tom: Call me!)

And so after waking up, the first thing I did was to go to The Splendid Table’s website - - to make sure Diana Kennedy, the inspiration for this week’s meal, had indeed been a guest last week and whew, she was! (Note to self: is a cocktail adjustment in order before bedtime?)

For those of you who don’t know, Diana Kennedy is an Englishwoman who has been living in Mexico and writing about its food for years and years. She’s published several books, of which the book I used, The Cuisines of Mexico, is one of them. And after listening to her talk to Lynne Rossetto Kasper I decided to make something from her book. And might I just say that I was in trouble from the get-go.

Now by trouble I mean that while I am not necessarily a health nut, I didn’t want to buy lard for one recipe only to have it sit unused in my refrigerator and folks, a vast majority of the recipes call for lard.

Not to be deterred, I thought I’d make a mole but my mole and Diana’s mole are two different moles. I was thinking of mole that contains Mexican chocolate or coco (and not for one second should you equate Mexican chocolate to American; we’re not talking Hershey Bars here) but Diana’s didn’t contain one ounce of that ingredient. Instead, it contained a puree of green tomatoes, peppers, garlic and onion and it was very good but there were still issues, the biggest one being sourcing the remaining ingredients.

I’ve mentioned before that Minneapolis and St. Paul have some very good Hispanic markets, El Burrito Mercado being one of them - And so we stopped there thinking (correctly) that they would have what we were looking for. And yet this “panel” of me and my husband was still stumped. We found the chayote (vegetable pear) easily enough and then we found the chiles we were looking for, anchos and pasilla, but then had to stop and re-read the recipe because the peppers we found were dried and we weren’t sure that was correct. Here’s what the recipe said:

“…toast the chilies well, turning them frequently so that they do not burn. When they are cool enough to handle, remove the seeds and veins-do not soak them-and put them in a blender.”

Read one way, it sounds as though fresh chilies are required, especially when it comes to the instruction "remove the seeds and veins” but if read another way, the “do not soak them” directive seems to indicate that the chilies would indeed be dried.

So we hemmed and hawed and hemmed and hawed and finally decided to go with comparable fresh chiles. So we used Anaheim and poblanos and the taste was just fine but I can’t help wondering if we should have used the dried.

The next problem was the requirement to use 1 cup of tomates verdes, drained—basically, green tomatoes but green tomatoes are not readily available in the winter. Let me just reiterate again how much I hate unclear instructions! In this case, we decided to go with canned tomatillos and I think that is what Diana intended us to use but who can know for sure?!

When we finally got home from our exhausting little adventure in Mexican food shopping, I looked at the copyright date on this book, 1972, and marveled at the fact that Diana must have had confidence that these ingredients would be readily available outside of Mexico. I’m no food historian, but I can declare with total confidence that NONE of this stuff was available in my hometown in 1972…or 1982…or any other year thereafter. As to the Twin Cities, I’m not a native but I’m guessing it was probably hard to source some of this stuff here as well.

And so I hope Diana approves of these little substitutions because the dish was very tasty and I had a hard time stopping myself from eating the entire pot - “6 servings” might be a tad too generous!

By the way, "mole" is pronounced "mo-lay," not mole (as in the rodent). Minnesotans of Scandanavian background might be tempted to pronounce it "mo-lee" but that's because "Ole" (pronounced O-Lee) is a common Sandanavian male name and poor Ole is usually part of a series of jokes that either being with "Sven and Ole..." or (more popular) "Ole and Lena ..." (to read Ole and Lena jokes, click on this link:

Mole de Olla (Mole cooked in a pot) – 6 servings (Note: this mole is a cross between a soup and a stew)
3 pounds pork neck bones or 3 pounds boiling beef (brisket or a shoulder cut), with bone
2 quarts water
2 teaspoons salt, or to taste
A comal or griddle
4 chiles anchos
4 chiles pasilla
A blender
1 cup tomates verdes, drained
½ medium onion
2 cloves garlic, peeled
1 pinch of cumin seeds or dried cumin
A small frying pan
3 tablespoons peanut or safflower oil
½ pound zucchini squash (2 medium)
¼ pound green beans
1 large ear of corn (or frozen corn kernels, thawed)
1 small chayote (1/2 pound)
3 small potatoes (1/2 pound)
3 sprigs epazote for garnish
Salt as necessary

Have the butcher cut the meat and bones into serving pieces. (This is Diana’s direction; I cut the meat myself). Cover them with the water, add the salt and bring to a boil. Lower the flame and simmer the meat, uncovered, until it is tender – about 50 minutes for the pork and 1 hour and 10 minutes for the beef.

Meanwhile prepare the chilies. Heat the comal (or griddle or, if using fresh chiles, roast them over a low flame) and toast the chilies well, turning them frequently so they do not burn. When they are cool enough to handle, remove the seeds and veins – do not soak them – and put them into the blender. Blend the chilies with the rest of the ingredients until smooth.

Heat the oil and fry the sauce for about 5 minutes. Add it to the meat in the pan.

Clean and trim the squash and cut them into halves, then into fours lengthwise. Trim the beans and cut them into halves. Cut the corn into 6 pieces (or thaw corn kernels and add a few handfuls to the mix). Cut the chayote open and remove the core, then cut into ¼-inch wedges. Skin the potatoes and cut them into cubes. (Note: I don’t know that the chayote added much in the way of flavor to the dish so if you can’t find it, don’t stress).

When the meat is tender, add the vegetables and cook the mole slowly, uncovered, for about 30 minutes or until the vegetables are cooked. Add the epazote about 5 minutes before the mole is ready, and add salt as necessary.

Serve in large, deep coup bowls, with hot tortillas, wedges of lime and finely chopped onion on the side.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

"The New York Cabbie Cookbook" - Greek Macaroni Pie - Pastitsio

Date I made this recipe: Sunday, March 1, 2009

The New York Cabbie Cookbook – More than 120 Authentic Homestyle Recipes from Around the Globe All from Cabbies! by Mary Ellen Winston and Holly Garrison
Published by: Running Press Book Publishers
ISBN: 0-7624-1228-3
Recipe – Greek Macaroni Pie (Pastitsio) submitted by cabbie Sophie Polykratis – p. 116-117

I’ve been to New York an awful lot over the course of my life and I’ve ridden in my fair share of cabs and have my share of stories: I’ve been taken Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride through the streets of Manhattan, I’ve had to guess the cross street of one of my destinations and I’ve had near-death experiences when overeager cab drivers decided to play drag racers on the streets of Manhattan. And yet I’ve never wanted to ride in a cab more than I want to ride in the Cash Cab.

That’s right. Cash Cab. It’s a game show on the Discovery Channel that takes place in a cab - Here’s how it works: a mini-van cab (never a sedan, just in case you go hunting for it) pulls up and the unsuspecting contestants/riders get in. Then music plays, lights start flashing and Ben Bailey, the host of the show (and the cab driver) announces that the individuals are on Cash Cab, briefly explains the rules and asks if they want to play. Sometimes the riders recognize him and the show and are eager to play along, other times they have to be coaxed although seriously, how hard is it to decide to answer questions for money along the way?

Because people, this game is all about earning money. As Ben drives them to their destination, he also asks them a series of questions. The first couple of questions are worth $25 ($50 if you’re on Cash Cab After Dark), the next are worth $50 and the last are worth $100. If they answer three questions incorrectly, Ben kicks them to the curb and they are done-game over! If they need some help, they get one mobile shout out and one street shout out (these are oftentimes hilarious as the contestants must try to find people on the street who look competent enough to answer the question); believe it or not, some contestants forget about these shout-outs until it is too late. (This forgetfulness about drives my husband crazy – he’s always yelling at the screen “Use your shout out, use your shout out!”)

And so if the riders are lucky they will earn money all the way to their destination (oftentimes 30 blocks or more) and get the opportunity to go for double or nothing on a video bonus round.

Now my husband absolutely loves this show and almost always yells at the contestants to go for the video bonus. I love this show, too, but I love money more, and so right now we have an unofficial understanding that if we are so lucky to hail this cab the next time in New York, and if we are so lucky as to get to our destination without being kicked out then we will take the money and run. I don’t care how much money we win, we are leaving.

But my guy always has that glint in his eye when he nods his head in agreement and so I’m never quite sure we’ll be on the same page should we end up on the show. He thinks that the video bonus is often a softball and yet just the other day, we just watched some guy earn $900 on the way to his destination only to blow it on the bonus round. (This time around, though, Andy and I knew the answer and were screaming it at the screen “It’s in Ohio. Dude, it’s in Ohio! Say Ohio!” But he did not say “Ohio” in response to the question “Where is Cedar Point Amusement Park located?” )

And so even though we differ what to do with our winnings should we actually land on the show and then win something, we were in agreement that tonight’s dinner, in honor of his birthday, should come from this cookbook. If we can’t be in New York in Cash Cab then cooking from a cabbie cookbook is the next, best thing (even if there’s no money involved).

By the way, if you are in New York, Astoria, Queens, has a fairly large Greek community. Years ago, a friend and I went to The Museum of the Moving Image in Queens and then went to a Greek restaurant to eat. These days, Queens (or “Quins” as some of my Hispanic friends say) is full of all kinds of ethnic groups and so you should be able to branch out and have some of the other types of food and dishes found in this cookbook.

The other advantage to living in or visiting New York, besides the great variety of ethnic foods, (and searching for Cash Cab) is that you’ll likely be able to find some of the ingredients called for in this recipe. I finally found both bucatini and perciatelli pasta at an Italian grocery store here in town (Cossetta’s) but struck out on the cheese (and so substituted parmesan) and zwieback crumbs. I suppose I could have called a cab (we don’t hail a cab in these parts) to take me to a few Mediterranean grocery stores but the cabbies most certainly wouldn’t have paid me by the answer and so that was that. I mean, who pays the driver these days when the driver can pay you?!

Enjoy your pastitsio – Oopa!

Greek Macaroni Pie (Pastitsio) – Makes 8 servings
Meat Sauce
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 large yellow onion, finely chopped (about 1 cup)
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 pound ground beef (90 percent lean)
1 ½ teaspoons dried oregano leaves (Greek, if possible), crumbled
½ teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
½ cup canned tomato sauce
2-inch cinnamon stick
5 whole cloves, tied into a small piece of cheesecloth
8 ounces bucatini or perciatelli (a thin, hollow spaghetti), broken in half
Bechamel Sauce
½ cup all-purpose flour
¼ pound (1 stick) butter
6 cups whole milk
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon ground white pepper
1 cup freshly grated Kefalotiri or good-quality Parmesan cheese
1 cup zwieback crumbs (ground in a food processor. Note: the author indicates that you can use paxmimadi, a Greek bread, but good luck finding that. Regular bread crumbs are NOT a good substitute so I just left them out.)

Prepare the Meat Sauce: Heat the oil in a large skillet set over medium-high heat. Add the onion, and cook, stirring frequently, until softened, 3 to 5 minutes. Stir in the garlic and cook just until softened, about 1 minute more. Add the ground beef, and cook, breaking up the meat with the side of a spoon, until it is crumbled and no pink remains. Stir in the oregano, salt and pepper until well blended. Stir in the tomato sauce, cinnamon stick, and cheese-cloth packet of cloves. Reduce the heat, and simmer, covered, for 20 minutes. Uncover, and continue cooking, stirring, until most of the liquid has evaporated and been absorbed into the meat. Remove from the heat and set aside.

While the meat sauce is cooking, boil the pasta in a large pot of lightly salted water until barely tender, about 10 minutes. Drain into a colander and rinse very well with cold water and set aside.

Preheat the oven to 350. Grease a 9 x 13 baking dish and set aside.

Prepare the Bechamel Sauce: Heat the butter in a large, heavy saucepan over medium heat until bubbly. Add the flour, and cook, stirring constantly, until the mixture bubbles. Rapidly whisk in the milk, and continue to cook, stirring with the whisk, until all the sauce simmers and is thick and smooth. Remove from the heat.

In a small bowl, beat the eggs until well blended. Stir a couple of spoonful of the hot milk mixture into the eggs to temper them, then rapidly whisk the egg mixture into the milk mixture. Season with salt and white pepper.

Evenly arrange half the pasta in the bottom of the prepared baking dish and sprinkle evenly with half the cheese. Remove the cinnamon stick and cloves from the meat sauce. Spoon all the meat sauce over the pasta. Add the remaining pasta, and sprinkle evenly with the remaining cheese. Spoon the béchamel sauce evenly over the top, smoothing it lightly with the back of a spoon. Sprinkle evenly with the crumbs.

Bake for about 30 minutes or until hot and bubbly. Remove from the oven and let stand for about 20 minutes before cutting into serving portions.