Wednesday, May 11, 2016

"Mesa Mexicana" and "Pati's Mexican Table" - Shrimp Ceviche and Classic Avocado Soup for Cinco de Mayo!

Date I made these recipes:  May 5, 2016 – Cinco de Mayo

Mesa Mexicana by Mary Sue Milliken and Susan Feniger with Helene Siegel
Published by:  William Morrow and Company, Inc.
ISBN: 0-688-10649-8; © 1994
Purchased at Arc's Value Village Richfield
Recipe:  Shrimp Ceviche – p. 90

Pati's Mexican Table – The Secrets of Real Mexican Home Cooking (As seen on Public Television) by Pati Jinich
Published by:  A Rux Martin Book/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
ISBN: 978-0-547-63647-4; © 2013
Purchased at The Bookcase, Wayzata, MN (now closed)
Recipe:  Classic Avocado Soup (Sopa de Aguacate) – p. 64-66

May is one busy month.  We have your May Day (May 1st) celebration (which here in Mpls, is held at Powderhorn Park every year), then my late parent's anniversary a few days later, then Cinco de Mayo, the Kentucky Derby, my wedding anniversary, and then before you know it, we'll be looking at Memorial Day.  I'm exhausted already.

And then there's the fact that I was pretty busy in late April making dishes for Queen Elizabeth's 90th birthday and then dishes to honor a late friend's birthday.  So when Cinco de Mayo came around, I almost bagged the whole thing (i.e. cooking) but no.  No, I'm a "professional," I have the cookbooks, I can do this.

And so I did but I kept things simple.  And this was not an easy thing to do because both of these featured cookbooks celebrate the art of scratch cooking and include recipes for things like salsa and other sauces, tortillas (flour and corn) and many other dishes that require just a bit more time than I was prepared to spend. 

And so it came to pass that I made "Shrimp Ceviche" from the Mesa Mexicana cookbook written by two favorite cookbook authors, Mary Sue Milliken and Susan Feniger and "Classic Avocado Soup" from Pati's Mexican Table written by the always delightful Pati Jinich.

In last week's blog about Australian food, I noted that I liked one dish, a salad with shrimp and beets and carrots a lot, but was "meh" on the meat ball soup.  Seems I had a theme going because this time around, I was "meh" on the ceviche but (mostly) thumb's up on the soup.  Go figure.

And now, on to the cookbooks, starting with Mesa Mexicana.  Had I more time, I might well have made another dish and would likely have found it delicious but I was pushing the envelope on observing Cinco de Mayo in a timely manner and so wanted something easy.  This eliminated a good portion of tasty-sounding recipes and so I urge you to give this book a whirl even though the ceviche fell flat for me.

That said, I've never had ceviche before and so maybe I was expecting a different flavor profile than I got?  I am not a huge fan of red onion or cilantro so that may have been it.
(Some people hate cilantro.  I don't mind it but I don't love it either.) And I wasn't exactly enamored with the clam juice so that may have been it.  Or I might have gone too light on the lime juice although I used the amount listed in the recipe. 

What I did like was that you partially cook the shrimp first; I am no fan of raw seafood.  And I liked the lime but just didn't feel it did anything to the dish.  And so this was rather disappointing but not such that I'm hatin' on [authors] Mary Sue and Susan because I'm not.  I just made a mistake in judgment about the recipe this time around.

Whereas folks, the soup fared much better.  It too, contained cilantro but not a lot (plus, I halved the recipe) and all the ingredients combined gave the somewhat bland tasting avocado a bit of zip and flavor.  I like avocado but eating one does not send one's taste buds soaring – just sayin'.  Still, I had some the other night and it seemed like it was missing something.  Maybe more salt or maybe some ground cumin or some other spice because it was good but not great. 

Since I've talked and written about Mary Sue Milliken and Susan Feniger in a previous blog, let's take a moment to talk about Pati Jinich.  I think I first saw Pati on the TV show, The Chew but it looks like she spends most of her time hosting the PBS show, Pati's Mexican Table (the same name as today's cookbook).  Pati is a native of Mexico and I like her style of cooking—clean, fresh, fairly healthy.  What I also like is that we get a chance to sample Mexican food that isn't Tex-Mex in disguise (i.e. more Texas influenced than true Mexican). Like most cuisines, Mexican cooking varies by region. Coastal areas are known for seafood whereas parts of the interior are known for using various cactus and other earthly delights.

If you have more time, these are just some of the recipes I considered:  Mesa Mexicano – "Vegetarian Burritos" (p. 147); "Green chicken Chilaquiles Casserole" (p. 116); "Potato Poblano Soup" (p. 106), and "Coconut Flan" (p. 230).  From Pati's Mexican Table: "Avocado and Hearts of Palm Salad (with corn)" (p. 46); "Chicken Tinga" (p. 140), and "Red Rice" (p. 224).

So that's my Cinco de Mayo story and I'm sticking to it!  Meanwhile, here you go:  Mexican food made simple.  Enjoy.

Shrimp Ceviche – Serves 4 to 6 as an appetizer (makes enough for 12 tacos)
Author's Note:  "This simple ceviche is a good choice for entertaining since the fish is partly precooked, eliminating any qualms guests might have about raw fish."

4 cups fish stock or clam juice
1 pound peeled rock shrimp or 1 ¼ pounds small shrimp, shell on
1 small red onion, finely diced
1 to 2 serrano chiles, stemmed, seeded if desired and finely chopped (Ann's Note:  if you can't find serrano, substitute jalapeno but use a little less)
2 large bunches cilantro, stems trimmed and roughly chopped (Ann's Note:  if you are not a fan of cilantro, use a small amount)
¼ cup freshly squeezed lime juice
1 teaspoon salt

Bring the stock or clam juice to a boil in a large saucepan or stockpot.  Add the shrimp and cook 30 seconds for rock shrimp, 1 minute for shrimp in the shell.  (For the marinade to really soak into the shrimp and the texture to remain crisp rather than rubbery, resist any temptation to overcook.)  Strain, reserving the liquid, and spread the shrimp on a baking sheet to cool.  When cool enough to handle, peel the shrimp if necessary.

Combine all of the remaining ingredients with the shrimp and 1 cup of the reserved cooking liquid in a bowl and mix well.  Cover with plastic and chill thoroughly before serving.

Variation:  marinate ¾ pound sea bass or snapper fillets, cut in chunks, in ½ cup freshly squeezed lime juice until opaque.  Drain and discard the juice.  Combine the fish with 1 cup clam juice and the remaining marinade ingredients listed above with an additional tablespoon or two of lime juice.

Classic Avocado Soup – serves 8 – can be made up to 12 hours ahead, covered, and refrigerated.
From the author:  "I have tasted many avocado soups, but this one, based on a recipe from Dona Maria Rose Marmolejo, the former cook at the ambassador's residence in Washington, D.C. is creamier, lighter, and yet more luxurious than any other I've had."

2 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 ½ cups coarsely chopped white onions
¾ cup loosely packed cilantro leaves
3 large ripe Hass avocados, halved, pitted, meat scooped out, and cut into chunks
6 cups broth from Mexican chicken broth (p. 87) or canned chicken or vegetable broth
1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lime juice, or to taste
¾ teaspoon kosher or coarse sea salt, or to taste
1 ½ cups Tortilla Crisps (p. 66) or croutons for garnish
1 cup diced queso fresco, Cotija, farmer cheese, or mild feta for garnish

Heat the oil and butter in a medium skillet over medium heat until the butter melts and begins to foam.  Add the onions and cook, stirring occasionally, until completely softened and lightly browned, 15 to 20 minutes.  Stir in the cilantro and cook until it wilts, about 30 seconds.  Remove from the heat.

Working in batches if necessary, place the avocados in a blender or food processor, along with the onion mixture, broth, lime juice, and slat, and puree until smooth.  Taste for seasoning.

Serve the soup at room temperature, or chill and serve cold.  Top each serving with some of the tortilla crisps or croutons and cheese, or pass the garnishes in bowls at the table and let your guests customize.

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