Posts Tagged ‘cuisine

10
Jan
11

Happy freezer, full of beans

In the past week, I cooked up our stashes of dried cannellini, chickpeas, red beans, and black beans, then froze them, to make them super quick and impulsive to use.

happy freezer, full of beans

I discovered that I have to treat the black beans (and, eventually, the pinto beans) differently than the others. Red beans, chickpeas, and cannellini I can cook to softness in the pressure cooker, and it doesn’t matter to me how their liquid turns out. Black beans, though, I have to stop short of fully cooked, then transfer them to an open pot, in order to get the thick, sludgy, reduced liquid that signifies properly cooked black beans to me. With pinto beans, it’s going to be the same. How else would you later make them into proper charro beans, or borracho beans, or even refrieds? Thin bean water straight from the pressure cooker is not going to do.

17
Sep
10

tamales’ elopments with mid-American cuisine

After the Chicago World’s Fair introduced the rest of the country to Texas Mexican food in 1893, tamales ran off and eloped with multiple US regional cuisines. They turned up in the South, gravy-drenched and wearing nothing but cornmeal masa. They also gave birth to tamale pie, the hot-dish version of themselves that only the Midwest could have sired. In Texas, we continued to eat our nixtamal dumplings filled with puerco con chile. (No need to say chile colorado, since there was only one color of chile in Texas). It wasn’t until the 1990s that California came to us, bearing what it swore were authentic Mexican tamales, and therefore much better than ours. Despite their sneering tone, some of us wiped the orange grease from our fingers and had a taste, deciding that black bean tamales and chicken-and-green-chile tamales might be alright, too.

11
Sep
10

serendipitous cooking methods

My grandmother likes her Mexican rice dry (she’s a fan of raspas, the scrapings from the bottom of the pan), while my grandfather likes his with a little juice. Her rules for rice-making are: brown the onions and garlic, then the rice, then add liquid and let it be. Don’t stir it, don’t give it the ojo. The more times I’ve tried this method, the more I’ve come to think that it is meant to give uneven results–just to make everyone happy. In Boston, I blamed the crispy edges and juicy middle (plus the stray hard grains) on our dented, slanted stove. Here in San Francisco, our electric cooktop is perfectly flat–and still no luck. Maybe next time I’ll stir it. Not much, I promise. It’s not risotto. But just enough to get rid of the undercooked bits. Nobody likes those.

Austin Clarke has even worse suspicions about the traditional Barbadian method of preparing rice and beans in one pot. In Pig Tails n Breadfruit, he writes:

The woman cooking this food probably had only one utensil to her name in which to cook her food. But cooking any kind of peas or beans in the same pot as you cook rice is a very tricky thing to do. Sometimes, the peas or the beans does be cooked, and when you hear the shout, the damn rice does be hard. At other times, the rice does be cooked soft, and oh Lord, the peas or the beans does be hard as bullets.

He advises preparing them separately, unless you are an expert.

02
Sep
10

writing but not blogging: rice edition

I’m still squeezing in some time to write, but most of it hasn’t been too bloggable. I spent about half an hour after work last Thursday (8/26) at 826 Valencia‘s Write-a-Thon, in support of their after-school tutoring and other work. Here’s part of what I scribbled down:

…Southerners—whether black, white, or other—led the United States in rice consumption before easy shipping, broadcast media, and convenience foods started to wear away at the country’s regional cuisines. The states that led in rice production also led in rice consumption: South Carolina, Louisiana, Texas. South Carolina is where rice was first cultivated in future United States territory—in fact, South Carolinian rice planters chose their slaves particularly for their expertise growing the grain in Africa. After the Civil War, Louisiana took the rice-growing crown that South Carolina had worn for almost two hundred years. In the twentieth century, newcomer Arkansas and long-time secondary producer Texas “vied with Louisiana for dominance.”

Outside of the South, certain ethnic groups were associated with rice-eating: East Asians in California, Caribbeans in New York. In Texas (along with New Mexico and California), so were Mexican Americans. Rice was also associated with poverty, and the rice-eating regions and ethnic groups were, overall, poor.

At the time of the first National Food Consumption Survey in 1955, there was already a sign of the trendiness that would nationalize rice-eating and make rice a relatively chic grain. Rice consumption remained high among the poor and dropped as incomes increased—all the way to the upper end of the income distribution, where there was an uptick in rice consumption. By the mid-fifties, rice was well on its way to overcoming its traditional image as a fattening grain for the poor and ethnic.8 In fact, it would soon play a large role in a countercultural “western arcadian lifestyle,” the culinary branch of which would mature in the 1970s with Alice Waters’ California take on nouvelle cuisine and its emphasis on “light, fresh foods in their natural forms.” What could be lighter, fresher, or more natural than (self-evidently slimming) Asian cuisines, which both nouvelle and California cuisine appropriated gladly?

All of the quotes are from a 1983 Geographical Review article by James R. and Barbara G. Shortridge on the changes in US rice consumption between 1955 and 1980. The Shortridges find it an anomaly that Texas, alone among Southern rice-producing states, had increased consumption during that time, but I’m pretty sure it has to do with the state’s increased production, its Asian immigration during the period, and the growing popularity of Tex-Mex at the time.


Long-Grain White Rice

24
Aug
10

mis primeros tamales de elote: a Tex-Mex/Sonoran/Guatemalan fusion

Today’s lunch is tamales de elote (sweet corn tamales), mostly following Bill and Cheryl Alters Jamison’s recipe in The Border Cookbook. They label the recipe Sonoran; I first had these in Guatemala, so they can’t be limited to Sonora, at least.

I followed the Jamisons’ recipe for the masa almost exactly, but I left out their filling of mild cheddar and strips of peppers. I had the idea of filling the tamales with a sauce made of our household’s favorite (and Guatemala-inspired) corn-on-the-cob fixins: mayonnaise, lime juice, and Texas-style chili powder. When Glenn was over last week for BLTs and corn on the cob, we set these things out on the table. He looked bemused and asked, “Where’s the butter?”

sauce ingredients

As I started to prepare things, I had second thoughts about the filling. Steamed mayonnaise… It could: A. Run; B. Curdle; C. Kill us. None of these possibilities were appealing, so I saved the sauce for a topping.

I also deviated from the Jamisons’ recipe in how big I made my tamales. They claim that their masa recipe yields enough for 10-12 large tamales. I don’t know where they’re getting their corn husks, or worse, how much masa they’re cramming into each one, but I opted for a couple dozen wee guys, instead. I’m getting the impression that it’s very Tex-Mex to make small-ish tamales.* Some in Guatemala were small, too, but many were overstuffed by my standards. I’ve had a few in California, and they’ve all been overstuffed. It makes the masa gummy and the whole package just kind of gross. So small it is in my kitchen.

ready to steam

Also, I don’t know who the Jamisons’ hypothetical eaters are, but neither J-P nor I could get through more than three little guys in one sitting. With those size and serving caveats in mind, here’s the Jamisons’ masa recipe and my sauce recipe.

Masa for tamales de elote

  • 4 cups fresh corn kernels (from 4-5 ears; reserve the husks by cutting off the stem and peeling carefully, then keeping moist in a damp kitchen towel)
  • 1/2 cup (one stick) unsalted butter
  • 1 cup masa harina
  • 1/2 cup stone-ground cornmeal
  • 1 tsp sugar, if the corn isn’t very sweet (optional)
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp salt
  • pinch cayenne
  • 1-3 Tbsp milk, if needed

Puree two cups of corn kernels with the butter. (I added the cream, which I used instead of milk, at this point, because our tiny food processor couldn’t handle the corn and butter alone.) You might be tempted to stop here (this stuff is good).

manna

Add the other ingredients and mix well. Then smear the masa into your reserved corn husks, wrap up the husks, and steam the tamales for 40-50 minutes. They’re done when they don’t stick to the husk anymore.

sauced

Next time, I would leave out the cornmeal (it gave too much of an uncooked taste and crumbly texture) and up the overall proportion of fresh corn, trying to approach the soft, sweet ideal I have from Guatemala. The sauce stays, though.

Sauce for tamales de elote

  • 1/3 cup mayonnaise
  • juice of 1/2 lime
  • 1 tsp Texas red chili powder

Combine and mix well.

sauce
Even the bowl it’s in is part of a Guatemalan-made set. More pics of the process here.


* My mother remembers my great aunt Antonia chiding my great-grandmother for putting so much meat in the tamales they were going to sell to gringos. As soon as Antonia looked away, my great-grandmother was back at it–she just couldn’t give up the norm that plenty = quality for the norm that stinginess = profit. Even so, these weren’t as big as the huge California-style tamales that turn me off.

17
Aug
10

Momo’s chicken soup

PJ’s “small and beautiful”* celery soup from a couple of weeks ago made me want my grandmother’s similarly delicate and unassuming chicken soup.

Yields about 3 quarts

Phase 1

  • 1/2 pound chicken scraps (backs, necks, wingtips, whatever)
  • water to cover
  • salt to taste

Put the chicken scraps in a stockpot with water to cover and salt to taste. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer and cook, covered, for 30 minutes.

Phase 2

  • 1 medium potato, chopped large
  • 1/2 yellow onion, chopped large
  • 5 medium cloves garlic, quartered
  • 3 small stalks celery, chopped large
  • 1 medium jalapeño (seeded and deveined if that’s your thing; I don’t), chopped large**
  • 1/2 pound bone-in, proper cuts of chicken (I prefer legs and thighs); remove skins and excess fat (there’s already plenty in there)***
  • juice of half a medium lime
  • more salt
  • a generous dash ground cumin
  • lots of fresh ground black pepper
  • about 3 cups more water

DSCF0453

While Phase 1 is simmering, prepare the ingredients for Phase 2. Skim the gunk off the top, then add everything on the list above. Return to a simmer and let cook, covered, until the freshly added chicken is done (another 20-30 minutes).

Phase 3

  • 1 ear corn, hacked into rounds that will just fit on a soup spoon to be nibbled at****
  • 1 double handful cilantro*****
  • maybe some more salt, pepper, cumin and/or lime juice, to taste

DSCF0457

Fish the chicken out of the soup and put in the ingredients listed above, returning to a covered simmer for while you shred the proper chicken parts. Discard the bones and the chicken scraps from Phase 1. Return the shredded chicken to the pot for 5 minutes or so, and you’re done.

DSCF0458


* Small and beautiful, as opposed to aiming for the TV chef goal of “bigass flavor.”

** My grandmother has ulcers and has been told not to eat spicy foods, but at least one chile always makes it in. When I asked her to describe what she put in this soup, the jalapeño was an afterthought. “Oh, and a pepper.” For flavor, of course.

*** I used boneless this time and relearned the important lesson that it cooks too fast and gets rubbery. Bone-in is the way to go. Can’t get it falling-off-the-bone tender without a bone to fall off of.

**** I may help my diners by shredding the chicken before serving (my grandmother certainly doesn’t), but the rounds of corn are non-negotiable. Nibbling them is half the fun. (For a non-summer version of this soup, just leave the corn out.)

***** Every time I rake a fork through a handful of parsley or cilantro to get the leaves off the stalks, I think of John Kraemer, who taught me that quick and easy technique.

08
Aug
10

chile pies (& ice cream)

We met Julie at Chile Pies (& Ice Cream), at the corner of Baker and Fulton, for lunch today. Liza has been telling us about this place for a while, and we almost went last weekend–until Steve decided to cook us a French feast and I showed up with a chocolate hazelnut confection from Tartine. The desire to go out faded.

It turns out there’s a more full-service place called Green Chile Kitchen a block away at Baker and McAllister, and the menu looks good enough that I’m sure we’ll give it a try some day. But the draw to the smaller, simpler Chile Pies (& Ice Cream) was the Frito pie, served à la bag. Julie, child of health-food nuts, had never experienced such a thing; J-P and I both remembered it fondly from concession stands at football games.

I admired Chile Pies’ modular approach to Frito Pie. Three soup tureens, one with ground beef, one with beans, one with chili. You want vegetarian? They serve you from the latter two only. You want less spicy? I presume they leave off the chili. Instead of garnishing with Colby and pickled jalapeños, as is traditional at Texas sporting events, these pies were topped with cheese, sour cream, and pico (still legit), plus lettuce. The last was a stretch, we assumed a concession to Californian tastes. The chili would have been tastier if all the ingredients were simmered together, but it was still satisfying.

For dessert, Julie had lemon-butter pie with cardamom ice cream. J-P and I each had a slice of green-chile-and-apple pie (this is such a good idea!), he with lemon cookie ice cream, me with cardamom ice cream, both with red-chile honey on top.

07
Aug
10

rice

At Eric’s tonight, J-P commented on how we’ve apparently passed the American norm for rice consumption at Chinese restaurants, as we never seem to get served enough for the amount of other food. This, he said, even though he was sure I could agree that a bowl of plain, steamed white rice holds little appeal.

I demurred. Not that it’s my favorite way to eat rice, but it is sweet and simple and sometimes appealing.

Well, he said, I guess growing up in a culture that eats rice with its meals might give you a different take on it.

I never realized that rice was a thing like that, I said. Seriously, you didn’t eat rice? If you had, say, chicken and vegetables (my mother’s cooking wasn’t great), you wouldn’t have rice with that? Not even Mexican rice, just plain steamed, with a little salt and butter?

Nope, he said.


Long-Grain White Rice

03
Aug
10

corn and tomato tart

salad and tart

Last night, J-P and I swapped chores: he did the overdue laundry, I made a fancy dinner.

I got the recipe online a few years ago, probably after looking at yet another week’s delivery of CSA corn and tomatoes with a mixture of delight and despair. I’ve made it enough times at this point that it didn’t matter last night that I couldn’t find my printed recipe and couldn’t be bothered with looking it up online again. Here’s what I did:

  • Before work, take a bag of pie crust scraps from the freezer and put them in the fridge to thaw.
  • After work, roll out enough dough to form a 9-inch or so round.
  • Put the rolled dough back in the fridge; the rest goes back in the freezer.
  • Heat the oven to 350 F.
  • Heat some olive oil in a large pan.
  • Slice 3/4 of a large yellow onion, chop half a yellow bell pepper, and chop one small jalapeño.
  • Cook those in the olive oil with some salt until they are soft and sweet.
  • Slice the kernels off three ears of corn.
  • Add the corn to the pan and cook briefly, then let vegetables cool.
  • Slice one medium-large tomato.
  • Grate some cheese in the gruyère range. Last night I used an idiazabal.
  • Beat an egg with a little salt. (Are those veggies cooled yet?)
  • Dust a flat cookie sheet (no sides–I turn mine over for this) with cornmeal.
  • Put the crust on the cookie sheet.
  • Pile the corn-onion-pepper mixture (as much as you can fit) in the middle of the crust, leaving an inch or so bare around the edge. (Reserve the rest of the filling, or make less in the first place.)
  • Put tomato slices on top and sprinkle with cheese.
  • Pinch up the edges of the crust, then brush exposed crust with egg and sprinkle with cornmeal.
  • Bake about 40 minutes.
  • Top with fresh black pepper and serve.

The original recipe calls for a crust from a softer dough that contains cornmeal, but using what I had with a tactical dusting of cornmeal gave a pleasantly crunchy result. The original lacks peppers but has basil; we had peppers and lacked basil. The change gave just the tiniest hint of bite, not enough to mess with the tart’s otherwise delicate flavor.

The inside bottom crust came out a little damp from the huge pile of vegetables I put on top. Next time, I will poke holes in the bottom (it also inflated a bit), brush it with egg before adding the filling, and put a layer of tomato slices in the bottom before adding the corn-onion mixture.

Note that the filling is very loose and won’t hold together when the tart is cut. I don’t find it a problem, but if you do, I can think of two fixes. One, use less filling and hope the cheese on top acts as a binder. Two, add some beaten egg to the filling.

30
Jul
10

making new foods familiar

Wednesday‘s NYT article on Korean tacos made me think of Richard Wilk’s Home Cooking in the Global Village: Caribbean Food from Buccaneers to Ecotourists, which discusses, in depth and in the context of Belizean cuisine, six ways in which cuisines interact and exchange elements. One of those six is, of course, wrapping or stuffing: “physically enclosing something new or foreign within a familiar wrapper, or vice versa.”

White bread or hamburger buns can civilize otherwise low-status local foods, “making them acceptable to middle class and foreign tastes.” In Belize, the result is something similar to the Mexican torta compuesta; Belizeans are even able to civilize gibnut* (a jungle rodent) by using a bun to dress it up as a hamburger. Local, low-status food + foreign, high-status form = sudden acceptability.

Wilk also notes that local wrappings can make foreign foods local. In Belize, “canned tomato paste and Campbell’s vegetable soup” make their way into tamales wrapped in locally familiar banana leaves. In Mexico, he says, corn tortillas play the role of banana leaves “in wrapping all kinds of ingredients; the name of the dish and the mode of preparation as tacos or enchiladas or gorditas remains familiar, even if the stuffing is alien or strange.”

And now, restaurateur John Ban tells us, corn tortillas are a familiar enough wrapper in the United States that they can turn Korean barbeque into recognizably American food.

Note that this essential Americanness did not skip the humble Tex-Mex flour tortilla for the newer-to-these-shores but more “authentic” corn version; think of every wrap joint you’ve ever been to. Though perhaps that’s a case of the fillings, which undoubtedly cater to a particularly bland American taste, civilizing the wrapper. And giving “wrap” makers the latitude to take out the lard and replace it with spinach. Or flax seeds. Or whatever.

Maybe the very American health consciousness of the wrap is a way of mitigating any remaining suspicions that its form–essentially a street food–might arouse that the wrapper “conceals suspicious or even dangerous ingredients.”

—–
* Gibnut is technically Cuniculus paca. WIkipedia reports that it is known as “paca” throughout most of its range, which extends from central Mexico to northern Argentina. The article proceeds to give the other names by which it is known in Mexico, Guatemala, Belize, Honduras, Costa Rica, Panama, Venezuela, Guyana, Trinidad, Colombia, Ecuador, Bolivia, and Peru–leaving us to wonder where it is actually called “paca.”

The most interesting names for today’s discussion are its Latin name (cuniculus being part of the scientific name for rabbit) and those from Panama (conejo pintado, or “painted rabbit”) and the Venezuela-Guyana-Trinidad axis (lapa-labba-lappe, all variations on the French lapin, meaning “rabbit”). Civilizing foreign ingredients through language.

For those familiar with the campo cuisine of Guatemala, we are of course talking about tepezcuintle here. It’s not bad: white meat, pleasantly gamy, though a little stringy.

tepezcuintle




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