Monday, July 12, 2010

Revisiting some old favorites.....Mmmmm!

For some reason we seem to go in spurts and fall into "loops" making the same foods over and over, maybe because it's easy to do and we're used to preparing it or maybe just because there's no effort involved or I should say, extra effort needed to shop, prepare and eat stuff we're comfortable with.... even though we are always on the hunt for new, different and exciting dishes to serve my family, for us at least and due to all this variety that we tend to sometimes forget some old favorites.

While watching some food programs on the new Food Channel got us thinking about old friends or foods we used to love and haven't had in a while and that set us on other "tangents" to take to re-discover great foods. So over the weekend we decided to take a stroll down food memory lane and eat great food from the old days.....

I went through a box in the closet that has some restaurant critic reviews and the old menu's from the original "Quinta Belina" Fonda in Puerto Vallarta 15 years ago! Whoa, long time and so we were sitting there looking at our old menu, incredible seeing the prices for heavy duty Mexican Food that was so great it got us on this road down the culinary path. Hard to imagine things were so cheap back then that we could produce a complete "prix fixe" meal for only $20 pesos!!!! At today's exchange rate that would mean you could get soup, main dish with two sides, dessert and a drink for $1.57 US! Not even fast food is that cheap! Nowadays tacos are a dollar each!......of course that was 15 years ago but still...... Rent for a 3br/2br apartment with a huge ocean view terrace, 2 blocks from the malecon in Puerto Vallarta used to be $1500 pesos a month or $117.50US!..... such a good deal...... To this date we still miss PV and wish we could return.....

The menu gave me some great ideas for meals as you can imagine and so yesterday we had "Albondigas al Chipotle" to eat while we watched the finals game of the World Cup with our favorite "Arroz con Morron" on the side. Had some appetizers before and we recalled "Quesadillas de Flor de Calabaza" (yes, got fresh flowers from Cardena's Market as well as Epazote)- a nice "Ensalada de Aguacate con Queso" and didn't stick to the Mexican theme for dessert but had a lovely fresh fruit tart.....

Want to join us on our nostalgia menu day? Here are the recipes and more to come:

Albondigas al Chipotle (Meatballs in Chipotle Sauce).- Tender meatballs bathed in a sweet-spicy Chipotle salsa that will make your taste buds dance..... A great appetizer or hearty main dish.

3 lbs ground beef
salt & pepper (be generous)
2 eggs
3 pieces of hard, stale bread soaked in about 1/3 cup of milk
1/8 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
grated cheese (optional, can be Cotija, Parmessan....)

6-8 whole Roma tomatoes
1/2 onion, cut in half
3-5 garlic cloves
3-4 Chipotle peppers, canned
1/4 cup sugar
salt & pepper to taste
1/2-1 cup cilantro leaves, chopped

In a large bowl put the meat and add the salt and pepper. Take the stale bread, that's been soaking in the bread and should be softer now and squeeze the milk out of it (most of it) with your hands and add it to the meat. Add the eggs & nutmeg (and cheese if you're using it). Be generous with the seasonings. Now work the meat really well with your hands until it's all well mixed and incorporated and the eggs can't be seen anymore. Make meatballs by rolling them between your palms or however you like best (using an ice cream scoop or whatever but make sure they're nice and even and all the same size). If you're unsure about the amount of seasonings, make a test ball, fry it up and taste it, this will let you know how the meatballs will taste when cooked. When you're done....

In a large pan with a little oil bring to temperature so its hot over med-high heat and put some meatballs in the pan (don't crowd them) and fry until golden brown on one side before turning gently so that all sides are browned. Once done place them in a paper lined plate so they will be ready for the sauce.

Meanwhile set the tomatoes, onion and garlic and cover with water. Set it on the stove over med-high heat and allow to come to a boil, reduce heat some and cook for about 15 min. Save about 1 cup of the cooking liquid and drain off the rest. Put the veggies into the blender and add the rest of the ingredients for the sauce. If you're unsure about the peppers and sugar I would start off with 1 pepper and 2 tbl of sugar, blend to smooth and taste, then decide if you need more heat and more sugar or salt or whatever. Add the cilantro at the end and blend.

The meatballs are all browned now and your sauce is done. You can use the same pans too if you like, you will need about 2 tbl of the leftover meatball oil on the pan, over med-high heat. Pour in the sauce and bring to a boil and let simmer, at a good pace too, for at least 30 min. You want the sauce to begin to thicken, once it does start then add the meatballs and let them simmer along with the sauce until it thickens to the point where it covers the meatballs well and you like it.
NOTE: These can be your base meatballs and can be used for almost any kind of sauce you like from Italian to Sweet and Sour. Yum!

Arroz con Morron Dulce (Rice with Sweet Red Peppers).- Wonderful fluffy rice with the hint of sweet red pepper that is so good it can be eaten all by itself.

2 cups long grain rice
2 tbl butter
2 tbl oil (I like olive but you can use vegetable)
salt and pepper to taste
1 whole sweet red pepper, de-seeded and cut in strips
4 cups chicken stock
3 tbl cilantro leaves, chopped

In a large pan with cover and over med-high heat add the butter and oil and bring to temperature. Add the rice and stir fry until it changes color to a matte white, don't brown. Add the red pepper, salt and pepper, cilantro and chicken stock. Cover and reduce the heat to low and cook for about 15 min and then check to insure all the liquid has been absorbed and that the rice has "bloomed", if still hard add more stock (about 1/4-1/3 cup) and give it 10 more minutes. If almost all the liquid is gone and rice is soft, turn off heat and allow to steam and rest for 10 min before serving.
NOTE: You can change the vegetables, add meats or other spices and add other stocks.

Quesadillas de Flor de Calabaza (Zucchini Blossom Quesadillas).- A fantastic appetizer or main dish with delicate flavors known as one of the most traditional dishes from the heart of Mexico.....

2-3 cups Maseca corn flour or 1 Kilo fresh masa from tortilleria
Oaxaca, Asadero, Jack or ? melting cheese, grated or in thin slices
1 bunch zucchini flowers, stems cut and insides removed, rinsed
1 bunch Epazote, leaves only, cleaned
1 cup green Tomatillo sauce
Sour Cream or Mexican Crema

Put the Maseca in large bowl and add about 1 cup of water and work in with your hands. Add water a little at a time until it becomes an easy to handle "masa" tender and non-sticky that you can extend and press with your hands like for making tortillas. Use a tortillas press with 2 plastic sheets or open up a large zip lock bag and place a masa ball (about 2 inches diam) in the center and press or use a rolling pin to make a tortilla about 6 inches diam and rather thin. Place some cheese on one side of the tortilla, add some blooms and 1 Epazote leaf and fold over to make a half moon shape. Press the ends together really well to seal and lay aside, covered with a moist towel until you are done.

In a large pan with a little oil, fry the quesadillas one at a time until golden brown on one side turn and fry the other side then lay on paper towels to drain. To serve put the quesadillas on a plate, drizzle some Tomatillo Salsa over them and put a small dollop or drizzle of cream on top.
NOTE: Traditional quesadillas that can be done with almost any filling.

Ensalada de Aguacate con Queso (Cheese and Avocado Salad).- One of our favorite salads that we make whenever the avocados are ripe. Just great!

1 head of lettuce, Iceberg or Romaine or whatever you like best
1/2 red onion, cut in thin strips
3-4 tomatoes, cut in sections
2 tbl cilantro leaves, chopped
croutons (optional but great)
3 small ripe avocados, cut in cubes
1 cup shredded cheese, Cotija or Parmessan

1/4 cup vinegar (white, red wine) or lemon juice
1-2 tbl mustard (brown, Dijon, yellow)
1-2 tbl water
salt & pepper to taste
1 tsp dried oregano, crushed
1 tsp dried basil, crushed
1/2-1 cup oil (olive, vegetable)
1/3 cup shredded cheese (same as above)

Clean the lettuce and shred into pieces. Add the rest of the vegetables but leave the avocado until the end. Add cheese and toss well.

In a jar or small bowl add the vinegar and mustard and whisk. Add the rest of the ingredients for the dressing, except the cheese, and whisk until well combined and emulsified. Taste and adjust seasonings. Add the cheese and the avocado and mix well. Do not add until 5 min before serving so lettuce doesn't wilt. If this won't be for a while, put everything in the fridge so it will be cool, add the dressing at the last minute, toss well and serve.

Fruit and Pastry Cream Tart.- What can I say about this? Wonderful, versatile, sinful....

Tart Crust:
1 1/2 cups flour
1/8 tsp salt
1/2 cup butter
1/4 cup white sugar
1 large egg, lightly beaten

Pastry Cream:
1 1/4 cups milk
1 tsp vanilla
3 large egg yolks
1/4 cup granulated white sugar
1/8 cup all-purpose flour
2 tbl cornstarch
3/4 tbl liqueur (Grand Marnier, Brandy, Kirsch) (optional)

Apricot Glaze: (optional)
1/2 cup apricot jam or preserves
1 tbl Grand Marnier or water (can also use other liqueurs)
2-3 cups mixed fruit, such as raspberries, blackberries, strawberries, kiwifruit, bananas, plums, pineapple, melon, etc.

Sweet Pastry Crust: In a separate bowl, sift or whisk together the flour and salt. Place the butter in your mixer and beat until softened. Add sugar and beat until light and fluffy. Gradually add the beaten egg, beating just until incorporated. (Do not over mix or the butter will separate and lighten in color.) Add flour mixture all at once and mix just until it forms a ball. (Do not over mix or the pastry will be hard when baked.) Flatten the pastry into a disk, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate for 20 min or until firm.

Have ready an 8-9 inch tart pan with removable bottom. On a lightly floured surface, roll out the pastry into an 11-12 inch circle that is about 1/8 inch thick. To prevent the pastry from sticking to the counter and to ensure uniform thickness, keep lifting up and turning the pastry a quarter turn as you roll (always roll from the center of the pastry outwards to get uniform thickness). To make sure it is the right size, take your tart pan, flip it over, and place it on the rolled out pastry. The pastry should be about an inch larger than pan.

When the pastry is rolled to the desired size, lightly roll pastry around your rolling pin, dusting off any excess flour as you roll. Unroll onto top of tart pan. Never pull pastry or you will get shrinkage (shrinkage is caused by too much pulling of the pastry when placing it in the pan). Gently lay in pan and with a small floured piece of pastry, lightly press pastry into bottom and up sides of pan. Roll your rolling pin over top of pan to get rid of excess pastry. With a thumb up movement, again press dough into pan. Roll rolling pin over top again to get rid of any extra pastry. Prick bottom of dough (this will prevent the dough from puffing up as it bakes). Cover and refrigerate for 20 min to chill the butter and to rest the gluten.

Preheat oven to 400 F and place rack in center of oven. Line unbaked pastry shell with parchment paper or aluminum foil. Fill tart pan with pie weights, rice or beans, making sure the weights are to the top of the pan and evenly distributed over the entire surface. Bake crust for 20 to 25 min until crust is dry and lightly golden brown. Remove weights and cool crust on wire rack before filling.

Pastry Cream: In a med-sized bowl, mix the sugar and egg yolks together with a wooden spoon. (Never let the mixture sit too long or you will get pieces of egg forming.) Sift the flour and cornstarch together and then add to the egg mixture, mixing until you get a smooth paste. Set aside. Meanwhile, in a saucepan combine the milk and vanilla on med heat until boiling. (The milk will foam up to the top of pan when done, so watch carefully.) Remove from heat and add slowly to egg mixture, whisking constantly to prevent curdling.

Place the egg mixture back into a med saucepan and cook over med heat until boiling, whisking constantly. When it boils, whisk mixture constantly for another 30-60 sec until it becomes very thick and it is hard to stir.

Remove from heat and immediately whisk in the liqueur (if using). Pour into a clean bowl and immediately cover the surface with plastic wrap to prevent a crust from forming.Make sure the plastic is up against the cream or condensation will form. Cool. If not using right away refrigerate until needed, up to 3 days. Beat before using to get rid of any lumps that may have formed.

Apricot Glaze: Heat the apricot jam or preserves and water (if using) in a small saucepan over med heat until liquid (melted). Remove from heat and strain the jam through a fine strainer to remove any fruit lumps. (If using, add the liqueur at this point.) Let cool until it is only slightly warm.

Variation: If glazing strawberries, raspberries or any other red fruit you can make a red currant glaze. Gently whisk 1/2 cup of red currant jelly over med heat until melted. Let cool slightly and then lightly glaze the fruit using a pastry brush.
NOTE: The variations for this tart are endless, different fruits and with or without liqueurs.

Spread a thin layer of apricot glaze or melted chocolate over the bottom and sides of tart to prevent the crust from getting soggy. Let the glaze dry between 20-30 min. Spread the Pastry Cream into the tart, filling about 3/4 full. Level with a spatula.

To decorate the tart you will need 2 to 3 cups mixed fresh fruit (such as berries, bananas, oranges, kiwifruit, plums, pineapple, and melon or toasted coconut...). Prepare the fruit by gently washing and drying. Peel and slice the bananas, plums and kiwifruit. The strawberries will need to be sliced also. Arranging the fruit on the tart can be done either randomly or in concentric overlapping circles, starting at the outside edge. Try to cover all the pastry cream with fruit so that no pastry cream is showing through.

After arranging the fruit, rewarm the glaze, if using, and gently brush a light coat on the fruit. Do not put it on too thick or it will look like Jell-O. Try not to get any glaze on the tart shell. The idea is to make the fruit look shiny. If not serving immediately, refrigerate. Take out about 30 min before serving to give the fruit and cream a chance to warm to room temperature.

Don't be put off from making the fruit tart because of the long instructions, it's not hard and the results are so worth it, once you see it's easy to make you will see all the ways you can use this and the different flavors this can have. Looks fantastic and tastes even better. You could also do individual tartlets too.

I hope you will make some or all of these for your family, I know you will love them. Today I am using up all the leftover we have, cleaning the fridge, and making some "Huaraches" for lunch and some giant "Sarape Burritos" (regular burritos topped with either red or green sauce, cheese and Sour Cream) while we watch a movie tonight. I've got Persian Lemon Lemonade cooling and we've still got half the fruit tart too. Sure to be a great evening but we're sad the World Cup is over..... All our best to you and yours, talk soon...........

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