Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Flavors of Home..... Comforting Aromas and Wonderful Color!

I spent some time in a little town called "Tepoztlan" which is in the state of Morelos, about 70 miles from Mexico City. It is one of the "Pueblos Magicos" of Mexico (Magical towns of Mexico) which by reason of their natural beauty, cultural riches, or historical relevance render a "magical experience" to all who visit there and definitely worth knowing. There are about 35 "Pueblos Magicos" all over Mexico. But getting back to Tepoztlan, I mean a town of about 30,000 inhabitants which is not that small but it's not big town either, but it's just enough to have everything you'd need and have a good time.

Located in the mountains means a great climate and lovely views all around. Of course it has the requisite Mexico items: great central market full of organic vegetables, flowers all over town that lift your spirits every day, great ice cream shops known far and wide for it's unusual flavors, beautiful churches, indigenous celebrations that added to the religious ones make for a year round excuse for music and dances, friendly locals, great food. Come to think about it, I can't recall why I decided to move from there.

Looking through some photographs I found, many years and a lifetime ago, of good friends who stayed behind and over time lost contact with is always sad, but it also gives me an incentive to maybe think that someday we could return..... even Ricardo, who has never been there, agrees it looks like a pretty cool place and having a cool climate fulfills his basic requirements, so who knows?

I found some great classic dishes of food from the area you might like to see and make. Again, nothing hard to make and most ingredients can now be found almost anywhere you live..... how about tasting some central Mexico food? You'd love it, guaranteed!

Let's get started, ok?

Ensalda de Rabanos con Betabel (Radish and Beet Salad).- The taste is wonderful and you won't believe the colors!

20 small radishes, trimmed
2 sticks butter, softened
20 golden or albino beets, trimmed, peeled
1 tsp red wine vinegar
2 tsp olive oil
1 bunch baby arugula (or your favorite greens)

Very thinly slice radishes and beets either with slicer or knife. Melt butter with 1/4 tsp each of salt and pepper. Arrange 1 layer of radishes, overlapping slightly, in bottom of small custard dish or ramekin (to hold them together), then lightly brush with melted butter. Arrange a layer of beets on top and brush with butter. Repeat layering, alternating radishes and beets and brushing with butter in between, until dishes are filled to about 1 inch from top (about 4 layers of each vegetable). Let stand at room temperature until butter solidifies to hold "terrines" together.

Whisk together vinegar, oil, and a pinch each of salt and pepper, then toss arugula with vinaigrette to coat. Un-mold terrines onto plates and serve with salad.

Doraditas de Betabel o Verdura (Beet or Veggie Chips).- There is no limit to the vegetables you can use for this, they're all great!

2 medium beets with stems trimmed to 1 inch (carrots, turnips, etc)
1 cup water
1 cup sugar

2 tbl finely chopped shallot
1 tbl olive oil
3/4 tsp curry powder (use Turmeric)
3/4 cup sour cream
1 1/2 tbl finely chopped fresh chives
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp black pepper

MAKE CHIPS: Peel beets, then slice paper-thin with slicer or knife, using stems as handles. Bring water and sugar to a boil in a heavy saucepan, stirring until sugar is dissolved. Add beets, then remove pan from heat and let stand 15 min. Drain beets in a colander, discarding liquid, then let stand in colander 15 min more.

Put oven rack in middle position and preheat oven to 225F. Line a shallow baking pan with nonstick liner (paper or spray), then arrange beet slices snugly in 1 layer and season with salt and pepper. Bake beets until dry, about 1 hour. Immediately transfer chips to a rack to cool (chips will crisp as they cool).

MAKE CURRIED CREAM WHILE BEETS BAKE: Cook shallot in oil in a small skillet over moderate heat, stirring frequently, until golden, 3 to 4 min. Stir in curry powder and cook, stirring, 1 min. Stir shallot into sour cream in a bowl along with chives, salt, and pepper. Serve curried cream with beet chips.

Sopa de Cilantro (Cilantro Soup).- A vibrant and light soup that's big on flavor.....

1 1/2 lb cilantro (5 large bunches)
4 cups chicken broth
1 tbl olive oil
8oz blanched almonds (1 ½ cups)
2 tbl butter
1/2 cup chopped white onion
1/2 cup chopped leek
1 garlic clove, chopped
1 1/2 tsp all-purpose flour
1/4 cup dry white wine
3 cups whole milk
1 tsp salt

Cut bottom 2 inches of stems from cilantro bunches, then rinse well in several changes of cold water and drain. Bring a large pot of water to a boil and add cilantro, pushing it under water. Cook 3 min, then drain and transfer to a bowl of ice water to stop cooking. Drain, pressing water from cilantro, then chop. Puree cilantro with 3 cups chicken broth, in batches if necessary, until smooth, 2 to 3 min per batch. Pour through a medium mesh sieve set over a large bowl, pressing hard on solids. (If you have a lot of solids left, return to blender with the remaining cup of chicken broth and blend again. Strain into bowl.) Heat olive oil in a med heavy skillet over med heat, then add almonds and cook, stirring, until golden, 5 to 8 min. Reserve. Heat butter in a 4- to 5-quart heavy pot over med-low heat, then add onion, leek, and garlic and cook, stirring, until softened, 3 to 5 min. Add flour and cook, stirring, 1 min. Add wine in a slow stream, stirring, and cook, stirring, 1 min. Whisk in milk in a slow stream, then add salt and bring to a simmer, stirring. Remove from heat.

Put milk mixture and fried almonds in blender, in batches if necessary, and blend until smooth, at least 3 min per batch. Return milk mixture to pot and bring to a simmer over med heat, stirring (be careful the bottom doesn't burn). Stir in cilantro liquid and return to a simmer, stirring occasionally. Season with salt to taste.

Tamales de Flor de Calabaza (Squash Blossom Tamales).- Delicate taste and beautiful color will make these a family favorite....

30 dried corn husks, preferably with rounded base
8oz (1 cup) pork lard
3 cups tamale flour, such as Maseca
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
2 cups warm water
2/3 cup corn oil
3/4lb squash blossoms (in bunches on the stem as sold in Mexico 25 to 30 blossoms), or substitute 1 cup fresh corn kernels
3/4 lb zucchini, rinsed well and cut into 1/2-inch dice (3 cups)

Soak corn husks in cold water at least 30 min. Beat pork lard in a standing mixer with whip attachment until very fluffy, 3 to 5 min. Meanwhile knead together tamale flour, salt, baking powder and water in a large bowl until it forms a dough. Add half of dough to pork lard and mix to combine. Add oil and remaining dough to bowl and beat on med-high speed until it has the texture of a fluffy frosting and a tablespoonful floats in a glass of water, 10 to 15 min. (If you are using a hand held mixer double the beating times.) Season with salt to taste (mixture should taste slightly salty as salt will leach out during steaming). If using zucchini flowers, break or cut off stems and side barbs around base of flower and coarsely chop blossoms. Mix zucchini into tamale batter with your hands or a spatula, then gently stir in zucchini flowers (if using corn, add along with zucchini).

Fill a corn husk with a heaping serving spoon of batter (about 1/3 cup) and enclose in husk, doubling pointed end over bottom half. Repeat with remaining husks and fit, standing up with rounded ends up, into the deep steamer basket of a pasta pot. Put about 1 inch water into pot and a coin so you can tell if water evaporates (the giggling noise from the coin will stop). Bring water to a boil, then insert steamer basket and cover with additional corn husks, a plastic shopping bag, then a damp cloth and the lid. Steam tamales, adding more boiling water if necessary, until the tamale comes away from the husk when opened, 45 to 50 min. If you can't find corn husks with rounded bottoms, fill the middle of the husk with batter, then enclose on both sides and fold over both top and bottom. It will not matter which end is up in steamer.
You can substitute 1 cup of additional corn oil for the pork lard for vegetarian tamales. In this case all the whipping will be done once all the dough and oil is added to the bowl. Increase whipping time as necessary to have a very fluffy batter.

Tamales keep, chilled in a plastic bag, 3 days or frozen up to 3 months. To reheat tamales, defrost over night in the refrigerator (if frozen), then put in a deep plate with a little water on bottom and microwave 1 minute per 1 or 2 tamales.

Chiles Anchos Rellenos de Queso (Stuffed Ancho Chiles).- A different preparation yet just as tasty....

2 lbs tomatoes, coarsely chopped
1/2 cup chopped white onion
2 garlic cloves
1 cup cold water
1¼ cups corn oil, divided
2 cups boiling-hot water
6 large (5- by 3-inch) dried ancho chiles, wiped clean (should be very soft)
6oz Oaxaca string cheese or mozzarella string cheese, shredded by hand into strings (1 1/4 cup packed)
4oz queso añejo, finely grated (1 cup)
5 large eggs, separated

Purée tomatoes, onion, and garlic with water and 3/4 tsp salt in a blender until smooth. Strain through a med-mesh sieve into a bowl, pressing on and then discarding solids. Heat 1/4 cup oil in a heavy skillet over med heat until it shimmers. Add tomato mixture and simmer over low heat, stirring occasionally, until thickened slightly and a pool of oil forms around bubbles, about 20 min. Stir in enough of boiling-hot water to reach the consistency of a thin broth. Season with salt. Keep warm over low heat.

While sauce simmers, slit 1 side of each chile lengthwise and remove seeds and veins, keeping chiles intact. Fill each chile first with about 3 tbl packed Oaxaca cheese and then with about 2 tbl queso añejo and close chiles around filling as well as possible. Put flour in a wide bowl and carefully dredge chiles in flour (make sure filling doesn't fall out), gently knocking off excess, and reserve on a plate. Heat remaining cup oil in a heavy nonstick skillet over med heat until it shimmers.

Meanwhile, beat egg whites with a pinch of salt using an electric mixer at med-high speed until they just hold soft peaks. Beat yolks briefly to loosen, then fold into whites with a rubber spatula gently but thoroughly. Working in batches of 3, dip floured chiles, one by one, in egg batter to coat, transferring to skillet. Fry chiles, turning once with a slotted spoon, until batter is golden all over, about 1 min. Transfer fried chiles to warm tomato broth, turning to coat, then let stand 2 min so they absorb some of broth. Serve chiles with broth. Look for chiles that are soft and pliable enough not to need soaking, otherwise you'll have to soak in hot water until softened then dry really well.
Chiles can be stuffed and coated with flour 1 day ahead and chilled.
Tomato broth can be made 1 day ahead and chilled (covered once cool). Bring to a bare simmer before frying chiles.

Chimichangas de Manzana (Fried Apple Packets).- Easy and very tasty apple fritters that everyone will love!

1 cup unsweetened apple pie filling or 4 apples, peeled, sliced & cooked with cinnamon
6 tbl corn starch
1/2 cup sugar
1/3 cup brown sugar
1 tsp ground cinnamon
6 flour tortillas (12")
Oil for frying

If you're using fresh apples, put in sauce pan with 1/4 cup sugar, 1 tsp ground cinnamon, 1/8 tsp nutmeg and 2 tbl water and cook over low heat, covered, until apples are tender. Cool. Otherwise, if you're using a canned filling, then in a saucepan, heat and thicken apple filling with corn starch. Add white and brown sugar and cinnamon. When the mixture thickens, leave covered to simmer for a few minutes.Taste for desired sweetness.

Take a flour tortilla and spoon a row of apple mixture along one end of the tortilla. Fold over bottom, covering apple mixture, then fold over both sides. Roll tortilla up snugly. Prepare the rest of tortillas in the same way. If tortillas are hard, soften in microwave for 10 sec so they don't break when folded.

Deep fry the chimichangas to a golden brown and place on a plate with a double-thickness of paper toweling to absorb any excess oil. Serve warm. You can sprinkle with powdered sugar.
NOTE: You can use any other fruit filling you prefer to these, even use cream cheese too. If you'd like a flakier dough then use store-bought puff pastry.

Trufas de Chile Ancho y Canela (Ancho and Cinnamon Truffles).- As a snack or gift, these candies are perfect!

2 tbl Ancho chile, ground up in spice grinder (or buy powdered)
2 tbl ground cinnamon
2 tsp Cayenne pepper
3 cups Heavy cream
1 tsp Kosher salt
2 lbs dark bittter chocolate
4 cups cocoa powder
1 tbl Ancho powder (keep separate from the rest)

Combine ground ancho chili, cinnamon, heavy cream, cayenne pepper and salt. Bring to a boil cover and steep for 2 hours.

Chop dark bitter chocolate into one-inch pieces. Bring spice-and-cream mixture back to a boil and add the chopped chocolate pieces. Mix until combined and smooth. If lumps remain, stir over a double boiler until smooth.

Pour mixture into a parchment-lined pan. Refrigerate until set. With a small spoon, scoop out 50 equally sized balls (these are ganache balls). Roll and smooth the balls with your hands.

Mix cocoa powder and ancho chili powder in a small bowl. Roll ganache balls in cocoa and chili mixture.

I've made the radish salad and the Ancho chiles are sitting on the stove ready for frying but I'll wait until the last moment before doing it. I made carrot and turnip chips for snacking and I'll have some leftover dip to use to stuff some celery sticks tomorrow.

Middle of the week, nothing much going on yet plenty of projects on the horizon. Sending everyone our best wishes..... Talk soon.........

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