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.