Thursday, April 30, 2015

¡Papa Oom Wow Wow!

Here're THE RIVINGTONS, for your entertainment:


(Of course, this video and song has absolutely nothing to do with today's dish, other than the word "papa".)

Papitas de Cambray Al Ajo.

This is a simple dish that lifts the humble, dumpy potato to a new level of can't-stop-eating them-garlicky glory.

I first saw the recipe in Mexico— The Beautiful Cookbook; recipes by Susanna Palazuelos and text by Marilyn Tausend. HarperCollins Publishers. (It's one of my favorite Mexican cookbooks.)

There's a recipe, which really isn't necessary. But here's an easy guidance.

Boil a kilo of very small (or not so small new potatoes in well salted water, until tender, about 20-25 minutes. Drain and set aside.

In a large skillet, heat up to 1/2 cup butter (really, IMO that's too much. A couple of tablespoons will do.)

Add 2 tablespoons of oil. I used olive oil.

Add up to 8 cloves of garlic, peeled and minced. (I had roasted garlic on hand, with very large cloves, so I just squeezed off about 6 cloves from the roasted head. I didn't bother mincing the garlic. It was already buttery soft and luscious. The choice is up to you how you like your garlic. If you hold off putting the minced garlic in the skillet as the papitas finish browning, you have a somewhat more refined dish. If you put whole garlic cloves in at the outset (whether raw or roasted), you get a fascinating caramelization.

 O.k. "BURNT", for which we of lusty primitive tastes crave and fight over.)

Add the potatoes and sauté 8-10 minutes over medium heat.

Salt and pepper to taste, plus the juice of 1 or 2 Mexican limes.

The Palazuelos recipe calls for 1/2 teaspoon of Tabasco Sauce! I used instead, about 1/3rd of a seeded chile manzano (Chile perón) in the skillet, and dusted the potatoes with a coarsely ground, medium picante chile seco. Finally, I added a very little Pimentón de La Vera, to give the dish a touch of smokiness.

This is a great dish to accompany grilled meats, but yesterday, it stood on its own as an irresistible appetizer.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Food Memories of a Brooklyn Childhood

Dedicated to my Mother, Helen; my Grandma Ann; Minnie, our Italian American neighbor, and especially to my Uncle Irwin, who fixed me spaghetti and meat sauce for breakfast when I requested it. Tradition should be honored, but never be a barrier to enjoyment.
I was born in Brooklyn, NY and spent the first seven years of my childhood there. We were in the Bensonhurst neighborhood. We lived in the attic apartment of a three family dwelling on 83rd Street. After we moved to Montreal, Canada in 1949, we made fairly frequent visits back to the old home place, where we'd stay in my maternal grandparents' second floor apartment on busy commercial 86th Street, facing the EL tracks.

Alas! I have no photographs to share, so I will have to depend on word pictures.

There are many food memories of Brooklyn, which to this day undoubtedly have had profound influences on my tastes. Some foods were a challenge, even slightly hazardous to eat. But they were fun, and I like to believe helped develop a sense of adventure in eating.

Among the earliest influences were our Italian neighbors, originating in either Napoli or Sicily. Wife and mother Minnie would cook deeply satisfying pastas and calamares and more, all redolent of sharp cheese, olive oil, garlic, herbs, economical but delicious seasoned breadcrumb toppings; served up hot, and accompanied by jugs of inexpensive red wine. (Which, of course, mi amici and I didn't partake.) Their ground floor apartment was infused with the aroma of hearty and savory food.

Close by my grandparents' apartment were numerous food attractions. One, that I have written about before was Hy Tulip's Deli, to which I would be dispatched from the apartment to buy hot dogs for take out, topped with steaming sauerkraut, and for me, a leaden potato knish with the appearance of an anti personnel mine. What a delight it was to open the steaming bag, deploy its contents on the scrubbed wooden kitchen table, and squirt spicy brown mustard from its brown paper cone onto the hot dog.

Sunday mornings at my grandparents' occasionally featured smoked fish from the "appetizing store", a narrow emporium jammed with every sort of pickled olives, pickled and smoked fish imaginable.

Our Sunday "brunch" (although that word had probably not been invented yet.) consisted of lox, smoked whitefish and/or carp; the latter garlicky, paprika dusted, oily and bony, but a delight to winkle out lush morsels through the bone barriers.

Equal importance must be given to the breads, baked in the Jewish bakery a few doors away. Besides dense, chewy, hand made bagels, there were even denser bialys, dusted with flour and carrying a small bit of chopped onions and poppy seeds. The bialys were so tough as to give your jaws a workout. Yet it was good and enjoyable exercise.

The kaiser rolls, real hand pleated ones, crusts were so crisp that they shattered into delightfully sharp flinders, our mouths soothed by generous applications of sweet butter.

Rye bread, its shiny crust speckled with caraway seeds, was every day fare, but no less valued for that.

In the late '40s. Pizza was for us an exotic, even forbidden dish. But my mother bravely took us to an Italian restaurant a few blocks away on 86th Street. At that time, as far as we knew, pizza was made and served in Italian restaurants, not in pizzerias. Definitely not in chain restaurants. It had a statue of an "obviously" Italian pizza chef holding up a pizza.

Pizza chef statue of those days
Out of fear of tref (non kosher) ingredients, we probably ordered a cheese pizza. In those days, the mozzarella on pizzas formed long, elastic strings when you ate it. You had to be careful that the hot strings didn't lash your chin, or drop on your shirt. That was part of the fun of eating pizza. Sadly, the strings seem to have vanished.

In later years, an inexpensive pizza by the slice store opened on 86th Street, where we could get a slice of tomato pie for 15¢, or a small fried cheese filled calzone. Or zeppole, nothing more than browned bubbly balls of fried dough, dusted with powdered sugar. A Brooklyn beignet.

Another exotic locale was a Cantonese restaurant, located on the second floor of a building overlooking 86th Street and the EL. It had the obligatory red color decor theme and somewhat tacky chinoiserie, and the food was basically "Slop Gooey", but great fun and a special treat for this kid. Of special note was the thin, watery egg drop soup, of which my mother facetiously claimed was made by running a pulley line over the soup pot and skimming the chicken over the boiling water. Thus, one chicken could supposedly be made to serve customers over several days.

Doubtlessly, not knowing anything different, we ate Chop Suey and Chow Mein, with lashings of soy sauce and hot mustard, washed down with nearly endless cups of weak tea.

The waiters were especially kind to well behaved children, and I would be rewarded with an almond cookie for cleaning my plate. Back then, the Chinese immigrant population was very small.(I think.) Now, this has changed.

Less pleasant food memories include the trek to the Kosher Chicken Store with my mother, who pushed a baby carriage with me in it . Feh! The store smelled musty, and it was staffed by these guys with long beards and curly sideburns. The idea was to select a chicken, and the employee would take it to the back and do it in. A little later, it would emerge, still warm, free of gross feathers, feet included. Then Mom would pay and we would make the long walk home.

One of the least pleasant aspects is when she took the bird to the gas range and burnt off the pin feathers. The smell made me gag. If I recall correctly, she'd then coat it with Kosher salt to "purify" it.

After a singe and purification, she'd boil it a while with onion, carrot, parsley, etc. When it was cooked, she'd look for the coveted unborn eggs and snack on this delicacy.  (Or maybe those were cooked separately. I don't know.)

Then there were the creepy, gnarled feet, which were fun to nibble. At least the toenails had been cut and tossed away.

This unquestionably nutritious, economical chicken dish can be duplicated by us lucky folks living in México, although most chickens I've seen for sale here have already been killed and plucked. (A neighbor lady until recently kept live chickens at the ready for a pot of caldo de pollo.)

It's fun to look back with fond food memories, but we live in the reality of the present day. The food adventures of childhood enable me to try different, even strange foods here on México.

Don Cuevas

Monday, April 06, 2015

Fishing For Compliments: Filete de Pescado en Hoja Santa

Pescado en Hoja Santa at El Muelle, Oaxaca. A simple, and picante version.

I am not a cooker of fish. We prefer to eat fish in marisquerías (seafood restaurants) where we can chose from a variety of species, cooked in a variety of ways.

There are occasional exceptions to my no fishing habits. One such was last Wednesday while visiting the home of Ms RedShoes in Morelia.

Taking Leaf of Our Senses
A few days before, while lunching at El Rincón de Las Delicias, I detected hoja santa in my green salad. When I asked Laurencia Tobías, one of the partners in the restaurant, she confirmed it. Hoja santa (Piper Auritum) is one of my favorite Mexican herbs. Laurencia gave me a pair of scissors and invited me to pick some from their organic garden outside. I was delighted and grateful.

On Wednesday, when Jennifer (MS RedShoes) suggested that I cook some tilapia filets for our comida, it was a natural step to use the hoja santa with the fish. Some fast Googling yielded several recipes with a wide spectrum of treatments. I chose one of the simplest, by Ana Saldaña.

A few modifications were deemed desirable.
I used a chile manzano (perón) instead of the chile guajillo, preferring the fruity fresh taste of the manzano to the dry, leathery guajillo.

Yes, we have no banana leaves. 
A major modification was that we had no banana leaves for the wrapping. I had asked about them at the corner vegetables and fruit store but they were unavailable. As nearly every restaurant in which I'd had this dish presented it wrapped it in aluminum foil, I wasn't preoccupied with the banana leaves. Besides, they must be cut to size and roasted to make them flexible. More work!  Would Diana Kennedy forgive me if I used foil? Probably not, pero así es. Tough bananas.

The hardest part of the recipe, now that the banana leaves were out of the picture, was the roasting of the onions, tomatoes, garlic and chiles. Not really hard, just taking a little time and patience. At Jennifer's request, I did this in a cast iron skillet.

The next departure from tradicíon was to chunk up—roughly chop, not liquefy— the above ingredients in a blender, not in a molcajete. Oh, the horror! Really, any Mexican housewife who can afford one has a licuadora (blender) in her kitchen. They are a must in the modern Mexican kitchen. The resultant salsa needed a squirt of lime juice to balance out the sweetness of the tomatoes.

Salsa roja cocida
The oven was preheating to 190º C (374º F) while I assembled the packets in this manner, a  somewhat daunting process:

• Foil
• Hoja santa
• Salsa roja cocida
• filete de pescado, sprinkled with salt and pepper mixture
• a sprig or two of parsley; no, NOT cilantro, as it would clash with the hoja santa
• olive oil, a few drops, when I remembered it
• hoja santa

Close and seal the foil packet well and place on a baking tray with sides.

Bake 15 minutes. Open a packet and see if the fish flakes when probed with a fork. Yes, the leaves are eaten with the fish. Some sources suggest removing the central spine of the hoja santa before further use, but I consider that an unnecessary refinement.

Suggested accompaniment: steamed white rice with toasted pine nuts, optional fried slices of plátano macho.
The extra hoja santa, chile and onion were roughly chopped to make a sort of "dry salsa".

We all approved the results. The fish was juicy, savory and aromatic, with just a slight kick from the chile.

The following Sunday (Easter), I cooked Blackened Salmon Filets with fresh asparagus and creamy mashed potatoes, but that is another posting.

Friday, April 03, 2015

Emilio's Grill— Plaza La Huerta, Morelia

Emilio's Grill looks like a fast food outlet in the Gastronómico food court, sandwiched between a bank, a Blockbuster and the Home Depot, at Plaza La Huerta shopping center in Morelia. But it is really a small self service restaurant with an ambitious menu of grilled meats, hamburgers, some seafood, salads and more. We have been pleased with our many lunches there over the last several years.

We usually have their chargrilled hamburgers, averaging about $70-$80 pesos, complete with French Fries or a salad, or nicely steamed vegetables, as you wish. But yesterday, we saw on the menu "Parrillada para dos" ( or para tres, cuatro, etc.). These are combinations of grilled boneless chicken, sirloin, and shrimp. There is another combo including chorizo and two other meats, but I wasn't paying attention. The parrilladas cost $155 pesos, a very good deal, indeed, for two hungry diners.

The parrilladas come with Papas Francesas, but as always, you can substitute salad or vegetables.

The salads and "guarniciones"—side dishes— are displayed as in a salad bar, but they are not self service. The employees will dish up your selection, and usually with a generous hand.

Some of the salads
Carbos offerings
You can help yourself to the several good salsas and condiments. We like the salsa de aguacate, a sort of smooth and more picante "guacamole". There are free totopos (tortilla chips). Yesterday we also tried some interesting fried, crisp garlic chips with flecks of red chile. The creamy, orangey salsa was picante, but too salty to our taste.

  A few salsas at our table
When the flashing buzzer alerted us (think: Outback Steakhouse) that our parrillada was ready, an employee carried it to our table because it was presented on a hot metal plate over a Sterno type burner. This is the modern version of the anafre. (a small stove).

La Parrillada ion its anafre
The shrimp and sirloin on our parrillada were the choice morsels. The sirloin was savory, tender and moist. The chicken was just o.k., but not bad. We liked the 5 shrimp, but I suggest you ask an employee to apagar  Put out the flame) of the anafre in order not to overcook the food. I should mention that this meal comes with ordinary tortillas.

Soft drinks, beer and aguas frescas are offered. We especially like their creamy horchata.

The seating and ambience at the Gastronómico food court is not conducive to long, leisurely lunches, nor business meetings.  You will never mistake it for a fine dining venue. But it's fine if you accept it as is is. And, since the video games area closed a few years ago, the noise level is more acceptable now.

The men's rest room, (far end of the food court) at least, appears to have been refurbished and was well maintained when we were there yesterday.

The Gastronómico food court is located towards the northern end of Plaza La Huerta, close to Home Depot.

Emilio's Grill also offers breakfast, but we have never tried that.

Food: ***

Service: Semi self service. It's not Fast Food. Meals are prepared to order, average wait, 10 minutes. Well supplied with decent plastic utensils, napkins, straws, etc. You only need to look or ask.

Prices: Average about $80 per person

Hygiene: Satisfactory

Parking: Just outside is the Plaza La Huerta parking lot.

I don't have info on their hours of operation, but I imagine that they open around 10 a.m. We are usually there in the early to mid afternoon.